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SOUNDCHECK

Nick Fradiani talks about the business side of winning 'American Idol,' writing new music and more

Jay Cridlin, Pop Music/Culture Critic

Wednesday, July 1, 2015 9:00am

If you spent time at the TradeWinds Island Grand Resort in the late ’80s or early ’90s, you may have bumped into a future American Idol.

“My family stayed in St. Pete every single summer of my life, from when I was I don’t know how old,” said Nick Fradiani, whose father, a professional musician, used to take summer gigs playing piano at the resort. “There are videos of me singing at the TradeWinds when I was like 4 years old.”

Oh, what those videos would go for today. Fradiani was crowned American Idol’s 14th champion in May, and he’ll headline the annual American Idol Live! tour, which kicks off a 37-date run at Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall on Tuesday (click here for details).

The Connecticut native wowed Idol crowds, judges and voters with his assured voice, sylish rock persona and, perhaps most of all, his poise. At 29, he’d already spent years kicking around the music business, achieving decent success with his band Beach Avenue, which in 2014 competed on NBC’s America’s Got Talent. He’s the second-oldest contestant to win American Idol, just behind Taylor Hicks; he is, in fact, four years older than Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks today.

Because of his experience, Fradiani said nerves were never a problem on Idol.

“If anything, the more people, I usually get more excited,” he said. “The most comfortable I ever felt was when we did the finale at the Dolby Theater, which was thousands of people and the most viewers that you’re going to get from the show. That’s when I felt most comfortable, no nerves whatsoever.”

Calling from Nashville, where he was co-writing songs for a debut album that he hopes to release by early next year, Fradiani talked about the business side of American Idol and more.

At what point in this whole process does the business side of winning the show really kick into high gear?

Throughout the show, you knew that you were signing with Scott (Borchetta of Big Machine Records) if you did win, but there was no talk at all, literally up until the day after the finale. Even when the show ended, because we had this single out (Beautiful Life) and it was being pushed to radio, they’ve just had me everywhere doing radio promotion. Yesterday was the first time I sat with them and really talked about what I want to do. We want to put together my list of people I’d love to work with, from producers to writers. It’s been kind of a whirlwind.

What does somebody in your position do in the two months between the finale and American Idol Live? How long are your days? What are your responsibilities?

Big Machine is really going all out in terms of promotion. The first couple of weeks have been total chaos — long, long days, a lot of travel, haven’t slept much. I did a lot of stuff in L.A. after the finale, then flew to New York and did a ton of radio, then flew to D.C. and did radio, as well as sang the national anthem at the U.S. Capitol on Memorial Day. I did a ton of radio in my home state of Connecticut. Then we went to Boston, Providence, Minnesota, Arkansas, all over the place, doing a lot of radio and TV news stuff. The more you can put yourself out there, the better. They’re putting me to work, for sure.

I have to imagine that appearing on America’s Got Talent prepared you in a lot of ways for Idol, but what surprised you about the Idol experience?

It was a lot different from America’s Got Talent. One, I was only on America’s Got Talent for two rounds, so obviously it was a much shorter experience. America’s Got Talent wasn’t really about the music, because it’s not a music show. You don’t get a lot of time to work on what you’re going to do musically. On American Idol, you really do; it’s focused on the music 24/7. You’re working with the best of the best, from your vocal coaches to people working on your overall stage performance. You have say in your lighting, what your stage looks like. I was under the impression that they’re going to tell you what to do, and it’s really not like that. The final say is always you.

Do you think your experience is the same or similar to the one that Kelly Clarkson went through, or Carrie Underwood or David Cook or Phillip Phillips?

When Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood won, the show was at a level where you can’t compare it to anything. I think at one point it was getting 30-something million, some absurd number of viewers. As soon as you got off you were so well known and so huge of a star right off the bat. Now, it doesn’t mean that if you win you’re going to be a star. You need to come forth with a really good album. You need to have the songs. Maybe The Voice is doing a little bit better at ratings at this point, but they’re not breaking big stars. It’s all about coming out with good music. You can’t just expect to come off the show and be a powerhouse star. It’s just not going to happen. You need to back it up with really good music.

In the early days, there was no instrumentation. You wouldn’t have been able to play guitar.

That’s right. That obviously helped me. I don’t think I would have auditioned if I couldn’t play an instrument. I probably would have said that’s not for me. It’s evolved quite a lot over the years. That has to happen, when you do a show for 15 years.

Is it ever challenging to reconcile what you’ve always wanted to accomplish in your life and career with what is being asked of you now, as part of this massive machine?

I’ve been around music my whole life, and obviously there is a bit of give and take with all this. After signing such an enormous record deal, I don’t think I should write every song. Maybe I’m not there yet. But I do know my record label’s heard all the stuff I did before, and they want me involved in the writing process. That’s what I’m really excited for in the whole process of making the album. I’m sure once you get more leverage, if I do really well the next couple of years, I’m going to have more say and more creative control, but what I’m really excited for is they’re already giving me a lot of creative control. It’s not like I’m a 16-year-old that came out and won, and I’m kind of clueless about what I want. I know what I want as an artist, and they understand that.

-- Jay Cridlin