'American Idol': Caleb Johnson on Winning Season 13, His Health and Performing with Kiss
'American Idol': Caleb Johnson on Winning Season 13, His Health and Performing with Kiss
Jeff Dodge
Jeff Dodge
Staff Writer, BuddyTV
The South has an American Idol representative yet again. Caleb Johnson won season 13 and now there's so much for him to look forward to, including touring the country with his fellow contestants and recording an album.

Caleb talked with reporters, including BuddyTV, about auditioning multiple times, being close friends with Jena Irene (and going to her prom), performing with Kiss, winning the show and his upcoming album. Also, after suffering bronchitis and a vocal cord hemorrhage, how far along is he in recovering? Read on to find out.

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Auditioning for American Idol

Caleb had auditioned for American Idol multiple times before making it. "The first two times, I really was kind of unsure about the whole experience. I kind of went into it without any experience, and not a lot of time spent under my belt writing and performing and jamming with my band and stuff."

After not advancing those first two times, "what I did was I took time off and just wrote and worked with my band and toured and did shows. And then when the time came this year, I felt like, you know what? I'm just going to give it one more shot. Let's see what happens. And let's just go all out, guns blazing, and see what happened. And now, the crazy thing is that I now just took the title home and it's just so incredible and it's an honor and it's insane."

During this third time, though, he wasn't quite sure at first if he had what it took to win. But once the live shows began, "I was like, man, you know what? I can do this, I can buckle down, I can pull it together and just give the best performances that I possibly can, week after week."

Being Friends with Jena and Going to Prom

Viewers were able to see Jena and Caleb bond with each other over the course of the season. And they now consider each other best friends. "[Jena is] absolutely amazing. First of all, she's a phenomenal singer and performer. And not only that, but she's just got a huge, huge heart, and she's so sweet and funny and kind. And for some reason, we just have this really weird, amazing connection where we just have so much fun together, and it's just so much fun."

That connection is so close that Caleb even went to Jena's prom as her date. Jena thought the idea was a joke initially, but Caleb was serious the whole time. "It's going to be really funny, and it's going to be maybe a little awkward, but we're going to have a blast," he said beforehand. "And it's definitely going to be a night that I'm not going to forget and she's not going to forget."

Jena posted a picture of the two of them right before prom, which you can see here.

Caleb would even like to record a duet with Jena for their albums. "We talked about it. We both love the idea; we would love to do that. I think it would be great." 

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Suffering from Health Woes

During the Top 3 performance show, it was revealed that Caleb had been suffering from bronchitis and had a small vocal cord hemorrhage. He was trying not to talk outside of his performances. But come finale time, he seemed ready to put all that behind him and performed with full force. But he is still in recovery mode.

"[I'm] not fully back, but I just have to conserve my energy and I've got to get some more rest and stuff. But yes, my voice hasn't completely healed 100%. There's still a minor hemorrhage, but with good rest and just giving my voice a rest for a couple days, the doctor said that it should be fine." He revealed that "there is a risk that it can get worse if I over-use it."

He does have the tour this summer, and so he has to make sure he's in tip-top shape, vocally, for that. "I now have to just take a different approach to not go 100 miles an hour because this whole process has really kind of prepared me for what's to come," he said. "And so I just have to take it very gently and not overdo it, and conserve my energy and my voice and strength because this is the big leagues now, so I have to take care of my instrument."

Performing with Kiss

The finale is a great time for the contestants because they can perform without worrying about comments from the judges or anything like that. And a perk is that many of them get to perform with big stars. For Caleb, that meant teaming up with Kiss.

On that experience, he said, "It was just really humbling and such an honor to get to play with -- literally, they are icons in rock. I think they just got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. And I grew up listening and loving their music so much."

Kiss is known for their face makeup and sticking out the tongue, but how are they off stage? "They were some of the nicest, most funny people I've ever met. So nice, they were really kind, and they had such great compliments of me. ... They were so nice and humble and generous and hilarious."

Caleb's brother, Houston, is a huge fan of Kiss, and he even came on stage with the makeup on. "What was so funny was the producers asked me jokingly [if I wanted to put on the makeup]. And I said, you know what? I don't think I could pull it off. The members of Kiss are so tall, I literally looked like a Hobbit compared to them on stage."

So his brother did it instead. "Houston is a huge, huge Kiss fan. And so when I found out that I was singing with them, I had to bring him on stage and let him see that because I knew he would just be thrilled to death. And so I'm really glad that he got to experience that and meet them. ... I think it's something that we'll both never forget." 

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Winning American Idol

Caleb was one of the frontrunners this season, so it didn't come as much of a surprise that he won. But it's rare for a rock singer to take the title. (The only other winner closest to him is David Cook.) "I am just thrilled to death because I was kind of unsure [since] Idol is a pop-based show with pop music. So it was really cool that I was really well-received by the judges and the audiences. ... And it was so cool because I sang stuff like Rush and Led Zeppelin and all kinds of these rock bands, and then I did Adele and Aretha Franklin and stuff like that."

He continued by saying, "It was a really amazing and surreal moment that when I won, I was like, 'Wow, I cannot believe that I won American Idol.' It's just so surreal, and it's an honor and it's amazing."

Caleb on His Debut Album

Now that Caleb has won Idol, he's guaranteed a record deal, with his debut album scheduled for August 12 (though a lot of people are hesitant to believe that date will stick considering last year's winner Candice Glover had her album delayed a couple times).

As for what kind of music he plans on recording, Caleb said, "The record itself is going to be a really heavy, soulful, convicted, powerful rock and roll record, with a lot of depth. I really want this to be an incredible and amazing experience because I'm a big album fan, so I love full albums. So I don't want this to be a singles, pop-based record."

He went on to say, "Just because it is American Idol doesn't mean I'm going to be a pop singer or a pop-rock singer. This is going to be a legitimate rock and roll, all killer no filler record. I really want it to make a really incredible impact in the music industry. So I'm really, really looking forward to recording and writing, and working with other writers, and just getting my band together and formed, and [get] ready to go out there and just hit the ground running."

He doesn't know specific plans for the album just yet. "But I'm going to sit down with the people at the label soon and just work it out and make sure that they're on the same page as me, and we all communicate and work together and just make it happen, and make this a really incredible and amazing experience." 

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