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Surviving The Hollywood Fame Bubble:

The Blake Lewis Feature Story

Remixing Your Life | After finishing runner-up on the sixth season of "American Idol," Blake Lewis traversed the highs and lows to get to where he is today, about to release his third album, Portrait of a Chameleon.

Rifting Along | Music in all forms have always been an outlet for Lewis, whether it's piano, guitar, a cappella, beatboxing or audio effect gadgets.

"Lost In Heaven" | Lewis plays one of his softer tracks off of the new album.
Bon Jovi Week On "Idol"
Lewis quickly became a fan favorite on his season of American Idol for his contemporary spins on well-known songs. He is perhaps most synonymous with "You Give Love A Bad Name," the Bon Jovi classic that landed Lewis in many all time greatest "American Idol" performances.

By Bryce Christian

The lights dim and silence envelops the theater as three silhouettes stand idly on stage. It’s the moment millions have been waiting for: The months-long journey is nearing closure.

The season six finale for Fox’s iconic reality singing show, “American Idol,” pitted effortless ballad belter, Jordin Sparks, against the cool, suave beatboxer, Blake Lewis. It was a stark contrast never before seen on the program. Both contestants had journeyed to the final relatively unscathed (Lewis landed in the bottom three just once). Each overcame weekly genre changes and Simon Cowell’s criticisms, which tend to fall like acid rain. And after a record 74 million cast votes, they stood side-by-side, hand-in-hand, as their family and friends looked on from the sidelines of the Kodak Theater in Hollywood.

The tension was palpable as the deliberate words left host Ryan Seacrest’s mouth: “And the winner…of American Idol 2007…is…”

“I knew I was going to get second, and it wasn’t on my terms,” Lewis reveals.

As I pull up to a corporate park across from the Van Nuys, Calif. airport, I can’t help but wonder if I somehow made it to the state of Nevada: it’s rather desolate, hazy and significantly warmer. The 40-minute journey from Los Angeles to meet up with Lewis at his friend’s studio has brought me deep into “the valley,” a place most Angelenos don’t frequent.

Blake greets me at the door and introduces me to the studio’s owner, Brett, and fellow “American Idol” peer Elliot Yamin (who finished in the top three the season prior to Blake’s).

Beers a plenty and gregarious pups roaming about, the atmosphere is super chill. “I try to keep Saturdays free for myself,” Blake says. I’m not sure whether to feel honored or to hurry the hell up. We set up at the mixing board where Blake mastered his upcoming album. The professional that he is, he double-checks with me to make sure the audio levels and lighting are good.

We rewind back to 2007.

Lewis would indeed place second, as Jordin Sparks took the Idol crown. The journey on Idol was a battle not only to compete against other contestants, but also to accurately represent himself, something that did not come easily for the Seattle native.

“I’m forever going to be the beatbox guy,” Lewis explains. “That’s what I did and that’s how they edited it to make me look when, in fact, I only beatboxed maybe 3 times on that whole show for maybe 30 seconds total… They were using that as a gimmick.”

Disagreements with the show’s producers were routine. “I just butted heads with them all the time. I was like, ‘No.’ I told them ‘No’ so much. They did not like me at all,” he recalls while laughing.

There was one battle Lewis would not win: the finalist’s single. “American Idol” finales have historically featured a newly-minted song to be performed by each finalist the night of the finale, which would become the winner’s first single.

“The songwriters were from Seattle, and they contacted me and they were like ‘We’re really sorry, we wrote this for Jordin,’” Lewis says. “And I was like, ‘That’s fine, but they’re not going to let me do my own arrangement.’ That’s what I prided myself on.”

Apart from beatboxing, Lewis earned fans through his contemporary, electropop-remakes of classics, like The Zombies’ “Time of the Season,” and more notably, Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name.” Unlike many contestants to appear on the show, Lewis possessed a critical understanding of his artistry and performing style. Although he wasn’t the biggest singer of his season, his ear for fresh sounds carried him through, week after week, until his creativity was stifled in the finale.

“I almost actually stopped the song and was going to say, ‘Thank you’ to America and walk off and bow out, but I didn’t—I bit my tongue.”

Lewis believes coming in second on “Idol” hasn’t really had an impact on his career, but will never actually know for certain.

“Had it not been for "Idol," would I still be where I am now? I think I would. Maybe that’s just my ego and my confidence in who I am as an artist and a communicator—and my craft, I guess. I knew I was going to be doing this form the time that I was 13.”

The Seattle performer does admit that the show taught him all about being a professional in the industry: managing interviews, recording full-length tracks in a studio, working with agents, etc. The most meaningful impact the show had, according to Lewis, was affording him a platform to share his music and reach new fans around the world.

Months after releasing his debut album, Audio Day Dream, with Arista/19 Recordings directly after “Idol,” Lewis was dropped from the label. The Hollywood-inflated reality bubble had burst. The glitz and glam was no more. It would be one of the toughest times for Lewis to overcome.

“I coped with it with a lot of wine, and weed and depression. I was depressed for like—I would say six months to a year…. I pushed away my family and friends,” Lewis confesses.

Los Angeles would soon become home to Lewis again. The move back would be a chance to do dig deep within and start over. The two years between Audio Day Dream and his second album, Heartbreak On Vinyl, would be a time of tremendous personal and spiritual growth.

Having skyrocketed to fame and enduring the reality crash thereafter, Lewis would eventually find a childhood dream come to fruition: the launch of his own record label, Audio Day Dream Records. The label’s first project is Lewis’ third studio album, Portrait of a Chameleon, out May 20.

Blake takes a break to play some of his new material for me on the piano. He sings “Lost In Heaven,” a song that showcases a softer side to the heavy-sounding, production-rich tracks he usually crafts.

He’s like a sugar-deprived kid in a candy store around music. There’s hardly ever a quiet moment, whether he sings a lyric that flashes through his mind or beatboxes random words. I first met Blake a few days before at a taping for “Reality Rewind” where he was performing. Setting up his audio equipment, the ebullient fella was whistling while working to the delight of the Seven Dwarfs, wherever they are.

Lewis lights up as he talks about the current project. It’s been nearly five years since the beats master has released new music. There is a sense of artistic and personal purpose to the new music.

“The chameleon changes colors, is always himself but can adapt to any environment and my music is that,” Lewis says. “For me it’s kind of a hybrid pop album and it juxtaposes many genres—and the industry doesn’t like that; they like to put you in a box and call you something and label you.”

But no one bosses this charismatic chameleon around. From his days on “Idol” to those as a seasoned pro, Lewis has always done Blake Lewis. He prides himself on his integrity—and deservedly so, in a pop music scene full of million-dollar label puppets. It’s the quality that sets artists apart from (Vitamin C-deficient) fame-seekers.

“I’ve played to a million people and I would rather play to 500 people every time—or less. I like the small venues. I like the intimacy. I like being able to be like, ‘Hey, what’s your name?’ and like grabbing them and bringing them on stage.”

He might not have walked away as the nominal “American Idol,” but Blake Lewis and his unique style would leave an imprint on the show for seasons to come.

“The producers said I kind of paved the way for—ushered in the new artists—the singer/songwriters—that’s cool, you know, but I wasn’t paving the way. I was just trying to be myself on a television show.”