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Performance Wed Jun 13 2012

David Hernandez: 'Dancing' In Chicago


David Hernandez

The Riverfront Theater, one of Chicago's newest entertainment venues, is going strong with its Broadway-style music and dance revues; this week, the theater will feature the second production in its summer series, the ABBA-themed Dancing Queen, starring "American Idol" alum, singer David Hernandez. Here, Hernandez talks about life after "Idol," the famous singer that was his idol, and his thoughts on dancing--in Dancing Queen.

You've been singing for a while now--when did you know performing arts was in your blood?

I was about 6 years old when my grandpa took me to my first audition at Valley Youth Theatre, which was, at the time, a very small theater company Phoenix, Arizona. I got the part and after that, I just kept doing musicals, but because my parents were divorced early on, I never really had the ability to stay in the same place at one time because I went back and forth between them so much. So, I took a break from the arts for about ten years and when I was 17, I started recording and singing hooks for this rapper and I thought, "Oh--I have a really good recording voice--I should really try to do this." I just kept going and then took voice lessons because I realized I wasn't as trained as I needed to be. When I was about 21, I signed to Universal Records, but we decided to part ways. I auditioned for "[American] Idol" a few months later and the rest is history.

Speaking of "American Idol," controversy surrounded you during your time as a contestant on the show's seventh season--is there anything you want to add? You have seemingly moved on from all of it...

It's just sort of in my blood to be strong and have thick skin. My mom had me when she was 16 so she was very independent and taught me the same thing. That story is so tired--it's never been a secret--me being a dancer--it's a way to make an honest living. And if people want to judge me for that and not really see past that, that's their problem. Moving on from that, when I got off "Idol," I went on tour immediately with Diana DeGarmo and Kimberly Locke; I just started working professionally and it didn't really affect me as much as I thought it would. It didn't stifle me. I was very motivated.

There are a number of shows out now like "American Idol": "The Voice," "The Sing-Off," etc. Would you ever consider doing another singing/competition reality show again? Is it a case of "been there, done that" for you?

No--I would audition for other shows. Right now, I'm working on a scripted pilot that incorporates music--kind of like "Glee" meets "The Hills." But on the other side, I love the "The Voice"--because it's based off the person's voice and not their physical features or their story--and I'd probably audition for that if I had the time.

We left out another one--the newest one--"Duets"--which makes me wonder: If you could collaborate and do a duet with any singer--living or deceased--who would it be?

Wow--that's tough! Well, living, it would be either Beyonce or Christina Aguilera--deceased--I'd have to say Luther Vandross or Ray Charles.

I'm not surprised you said Luther Vandross... I guessed you were probably a fan.

Luther's been an inspiration since I was a kid. That's all my mom listened to. I grew up on Luther, Stevie [Wonder] and Ray. My mom only dated black guys; now, I don't know if that had an effect on me musically as far as soul and R&B go, but that's just all she listened to. But Luther is a no-brainer--his voice was smooth like butter.

Your CD is entitled "I Am Who I Am" and it's also the name of one of the songs. That's very "to the point"--it evens sounds a little personal--is it?

It's very personal and it's definitely autobiographical--it's my story. I've always had a very broken home growing up and as a little kid, adults don't realize the effect all that has. But I wrote that song in my laundry room one morning about 6 years ago and although that recording is so old and the rest of the songs are newer, I still wanted that one to be the essence of the record because being judged in the media, being scrutinized, having things said about you that aren't true or that are taken out of context--at the end of the day, the one thing you can't take from me is my ability to sing and write music. I am who I am--I'm the same old me--and that's who I'll always be.

How would you describe your sound? I definitely hear R&B, but I hear pop, too.

My manager and I describe it as "power R&B"--like a slow sound but still with full out wailing at the end--I want my music to encompass all that. Right now, I'm working with Printz Board from The Black Eyed Peas, who has produced a few records for them as well as for Macy Gray. We just finished our third song together. My new record is due out some time later this year and it's just awesome. I'm excited about this new project, as well.

You're in Chicago as a featured performer in Dancing Queen at the new Riverfront Theater--how did you get attached to this show?

My agent called me and said, "You are going to be part of this show if you want to take the job--and you don't have to do anything but stand there and sing." And I thought, "Oh, cool that's easy because I'm not a dancer--I'm a mover." I get here and on the first day, it's like, "Wait--this is a full on dance show!"


Cast: Dancing Queen.

So you'll be doing a lot more moving than you thought, huh...

[Laughs]. It has been a really cool experience for me; I've been able to really exercise my brain and my dancing skills. We don't do heavy dancing but there's more movement than in any show I've ever done. To be the "headliner" of the show, I feel a little nervous about that, but I'm sure it'll all work out in the end, especially after opening night when I'm sure we'll be more locked into the routine.

The show is an ode to the best in 70s music--were you already into this genre of music before?

It's definitely a new experience for me. I had never listened to ABBA's music before but it is cool to be opened up to a new genre. Now Motown or soul music--I'm there--I grew up on that stuff--but ABBA is all new for me. But it's cool--I like being pushed a little bit.

There's also a big tribute to [the late] Donna Summer, too, right?

Yes. Donna Summer--I'm so glad we're doing a tribute to her in this show. I met her in 2008 during my ["Idol"] finale and she was the sweetest lady ever--and she has so many hits. We also have a 70s section, a soul section and a Motown section in the show and even a Saturday Night Fever-esque section. We just hit all the bases--it's really like a giant party.

What songs will you be singing in the show?

I'm doing Donna Summer's "Last Dance" and "Hot Stuff." Now I won't tell you all the songs I'm singing, but I'm doing quite a few, though.

Will you be doing more Broadway-style shows like this?

Yes--I don't mind. I've always wanted to some sort of Broadway show but I've always wanted to do the newer ones like In the Heights or Spider-Man. Like I said, I'm not a singer-dancer--I'm more of a singer-mover. I would do it again, but I would definitely first make sure I knew and understood what kind of dancing was involved.

Besides the new music that'll be released later this year, what's up next for you?

I'm working on a tour called "Ballroom with a Twist" with Louis Van Amstel from "Dancing with the Stars." There are about 20 people in the cast and Gina Glocksen (Season 6 of "Idol") and I are the two lead singers on this tour. We're on the road--all over the country and the world--for the rest of the year with this tour. But my record with Printz Board is really what I'm anticipating because my heart lies with original music--it's been passion of mine since I was a little boy.

This is your first time visiting Chicago--is there anything you want to tell the Windy City?

It's just great to be in the city for the first time. Dancing Queen is a nonstop party--the dancers and singers are incredible--come on out and see us!


Dancing Queen runs June 14-24 at the Riverfront Theater, 650 W. Chicago Ave.; show days and times vary. Tickets are $35-$75 and are on sale online or by phone, 888-556-9484. For more information, visit the website.

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