After two girls left the competition in back to back weeks, Ben Briley became the first guy eliminated this season. He talked with reporters, including BuddyTV, about covering Elton John, why he thinks the judges turned against him (does he really think they threw him under the bus?) and his plans for the future. Also, was he surprised that the judges let America decide the final spot in the Top 30 between him and Neco Starr? Read on to find out.
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Letting America Decide
The judges had a hard time choosing who should fill the final spot in the Top 30. It came down to Ben and Neco Starr. Because they found it impossible, the judges ended up letting America decide.
I asked Ben about this, and he found that twist to be "definitely a surprise" because he wasn't expecting it. Him and Neco are "both so different, two completely different people. We weren't going to do a sing-off because that would have been pointless. We weren't going to do any tie-breaker or anything, so they thought the only way to find out was to get America to vote, to figure out which one would go through." Fortunately for him, Ben was the singer chosen and he made it all the way to the Top 11 as a result.
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However, it wasn't all sunshine and roses for Ben. On what ended up being his final week in the competition, he took on "Bennie and the Jets" and was penalized for it. Everyone expects him to come out and stick to country, so an Elton John song might have thrown everybody off. But why did he go down that route? "The whole reason I picked that song was to show my diversity and to show that I can do something else besides country music," he said. "I wanted to ... show people I could play the piano and I hadn't done that on the show yet."
While the judges and us as fans say that certain singers need to take risks and not do the same thing every week, Ben did just that but it didn't help. "That did kind of sting a little bit," he said.
He noted how the judges can be contradictory when it comes to sticking to know you know versus taking risks. "For one contestant, they'll say you're consistent but we need you to change something up, we need you to change a little bit. And then they'll say to somebody else, you need to stay in your lane or you don't need to venture out. And then when somebody finally does take a risk and takes a big step forward ... it gets shot down on national television."
That wasn't the only thing that Ben observed. He also took notice of how the judges were being a little too soft on some contestants this past week while being really though on him. "I'm not going to pretend to have a reason for that. ... I don't understand why. ... But I don't really let it bother me because at the end of the day, it was America who apparently got confused, and I think it was the judges' comments."
Pointing out one judge in particular, Ben went on to say that he didn't understand why Keith was talking about looking for growth with his artistry after he took such a risk and wasn't doing the same thing as in previous weeks. "I guess [what I did] was just too much. They wanted to see a certain thing from me -- never really knew what that was -- and I've definitely grown."
He went on to say, "But the artistic growth comment, I still don't understand. There are a lot of things about the past two weeks that I don't understand. I don't let it bother me because I just honestly don't care."
Harry Connick, Jr. called his voice throaty during his "Bennie and the Jets" performance. Ben was also confused by that because "that's how I sound in every song. ... I can only play what I know and sing what I know, so that throaty sound, that's just how my voice is and how I sound."
As he mentioned, what the judges say can sometimes sway the votes, and he believes that happened in this case because the judges "kind of just threw me under the bus, and it really kind of confused people that way, and their comments didn't help. ... But I can assure you that it does not affect me at all."
Randy's Off-Screen Support vs. On-Screen Criticism
The judges' comments are one area that Ben doesn't fully understand. But he's also confused about comments made by in-house mentor Randy Jackson. First, he really appreciated how much Randy helped him. "He really had my back, this week especially" when deciding on various aspects like whether or not to play the piano, if he should walk around the stage, if any of that would "take away from my singing." Randy was all for these creative decisions.
But then when Randy's commentary played during his recap videos during the results show, "He said that I confused people, so it was a complete 180 from what he actually told me. ... I think he was also kind of going off of what the judges said as well. And that was ultimately what sent me home was kind of what the judges said that swayed all the votes."
Like with the judges, though, Ben doesn't have any ill will toward Randy. "He's a nice guy. I wish we had more mentoring sessions with him because we only saw him probably about two, three times a week.
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After the reactions from the judges, he realized that he delivered "one of the weaker performances. I don't think it was the weakest, but it was definitely one of the weaker ones. And I knew I'd be in the Bottom 3, but I was a little surprised to go home." When he had to sing for the one Save of the season, he knew the judges wouldn't be using it on him because "they just had a chip on their shoulder or something"
Last week was an important week on American Idol
because whoever advanced to the Top 10 would be guaranteed a spot on the summer tour. Unfortunately, Ben missed out on that opportunity by one week. "That part does sting a little bit," he admitted. "And the good thing is I won't be away from my wife for an extended period of time. That was something I was kind of worried about."
Ben's Post-Idol Career
Now that Ben has been voted off American Idol
, he's looking toward the future and thinking about what he wants to do going forward. For the time being, he's still under contract. But he lives 30 minutes outside Music City, "so it shouldn't be too hard to book shows and start working on my own music and finding people who want to play it. And hopefully, I'll have a single out on the radio by the end of the year -- that's at least my goal."
At the end of our call, he reiterated that "You have definitely, definitely not seen the last of me because no one is going to outwork me. I have a goal, I have a mission and I have this ambition. ... I don't care about the fame or the money. I was never in it for either one of those reasons."
He finished by saying, "Hopefully, you'll see me soon, in a year or so, in a different context ... and maybe I'll have an album out by then. ... I'm not laying down. Whenever you hear about all these contestants that don't do anything, it's because some people just don't work hard. And if anything, I am a hard worker, and I intend to prove that to people."
American Idol airs Wednesdays at 8pm and Thursdays at 9pm on FOX.
(Image courtesy of FOX)