American Idol David Hernandez strips bare in his new album, Don’t @ Me, and his book of nude photos…
By Jason Salerno
David Hernandez knows about public shaming. When he was 24, competing on American Idol, Perez Hilton outed him to the world as gay and revealed his stripper past. The following week after the news broke, America voted to eliminate Hernandez from the show.
“I cried like a baby backstage. I mean, I was just a kid,” he reflects today. “Just when I had this big, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity based off of my God-given talent, it was all taken away from me and I became an instant pariah.”
His fall from grace led Hernandez to serious depression, followed by addiction, jail, and eventual rehab. “It got to be pretty dark,” he continues. “But God saw me through it and I learned to love myself, flaws and all, and to not allow the negative YouTube comments to bring me down.”
He sings about the reckoning and its aftermath in his provocative new EP, Don’t @ Me, and proves he’s no longer hiding anything in its accompanying book of nude photography, #NSFW.
Hernandez spoke with us from his home in Los Angeles.
Has Paula Abdul [a former American Idol judge] weighed in on the images in #NSFW yet?
Paula has not seen them! (Laughing) I’m pretty sure she would not want to! She’s like a sister/mentor to me.
What would Simon Cowell [a former American Idol judge] say if he were to see them?
Who cares what Simon would say? On the show, his critiques were always super harsh and hurtful. I was so young at the time and everything was new to me. His comments were pretty devastating. I have thicker skin today. Whatever he might say wouldn’t bother me.
American Idol did amazing things for many artists.
That’s true. In terms of my music career, I have a lot to be thankful for. Despite the fallout, the show put me on the map. It exposed me to 35 million people every week and helped me get my foot in the industry. Because of the exposure, I was able to sing at President Barack Obama’s inauguration, and performed with incredible artists like Bryan Adams, George Michael and Donna Summer. I’ve been a touring artist for over a decade, which is a blessing. Not many singers can say that they have worked consistently for so long. I’m grateful to the mentors and the producers for helping me to learn the ropes. Those lessons were invaluable.
Did the show support you when you were outed?
The producers were supportive. They allowed me to say whatever I wanted on the carpet. They never told me I couldn’t be myself or that I couldn’t confirm or deny the story. But I was young and without personal representation. I wasn’t ready to acknowledge my sexuality so publicly.
Did your fellow contestants lend a shoulder to cry on?
All of the contestants were super supportive, but they thought it best to ignore the story and keep moving forward in the competition. Unfortunately, the story overshadowed a lot of things.
You were the same season as David Archuleta [Archuleta finished second on the seventh season of American Idol]! How did he respond?
David was 16 at the time. I don’t think it was a focus for him at all. He was always super sweet, though.
What are your thoughts on his coming out?
I think I always kind of knew but, again, he was so young. I applaud David for being authentic to himself and his journey. I’m sure it has been difficult, but I’m happy that he was able to come out on his own terms. I hope that one day sexuality isn’t such a major topic of discussion and that people can just be people.
Let’s discuss your life after Idol. You took some wild turns, David: arrested for a DUI and landing in rehab. What was all that about?
Oh jeez, I can write a book…but the abridged version is that after the show and after the traumatic events of being outed, I fell into a toxic relationship and when we broke up, I started drinking a lot. To top it off, I had been taking Xanax to fall asleep, not realizing that it was super addicting. The combination of being at an all-time low in my life and relationship, and drinking and taking Xanax, sent me into a bit of a spiral. I made the stupid decision to drive home from a friend’s house, not realizing how intoxicated I was.
In retrospect, I’m happy the police officers pulled me over when they did, because who knows what could’ve happened? I’m lucky to have made it out alive.
How did you finally get sober?
Rehab and a great support system. I want to make clear that I went to rehab for prescription pills and not alcohol. I still drink wine, although I’ve cut back on that, too. I encourage everybody out there to do what’s best for them. There’s no ‘one shoe fits all’ in recovery. Everyone is unique and has different demons to conquer.
Tell us about your new EP.
It is some of the most personal work I’ve ever written and sung. I’m really excited about it. People will finally hear me speaking out about my past and how it affected me.
You get into some pretty graphic material, David.
I do, and it’s not just about my struggles. One song, “Special,” is a joyful song about climaxing with my partner. It’s very D’Angelo-inspired.
Why did you title the EP “Don’t @ Me”?
That’s for all the keyboard warriors out there who love to slide into my DMs with negative comments and unsolicited advice. If you don’t like what I’m doing, there’s no need to comment. Keep it moving.
What kind of advice do you get?
A talent manager messaged me on Instagram the other day. Let me find it. (Pulls out his cellphone) Here it is. He says: ‘David, who told you to go this route with your career? I am not saying I am a miracle worker but showing your ass is not going to help. Your voice, talent and face should be enough. DM back if interested or keep doing what you are doing.’ Who is this Simon Cowell wannabe telling me how to run my career? I learned long ago that listening to other people’s opinions has never gotten me anywhere. Every single time I’ve listened to myself and done what was authentic to me, I have excelled. By the way, I looked up his company and his followers are all fake.
What finally brought you to the point where you had no more f-cks?
In retrospect, competing on a nationally televised show so early in my life probably wasn’t the wisest thing for my mental health. It left me with PTSD where for so long, I was overly concerned about what the world thought of me. I think it’s true that the older you get, the less you really give a shit about things that don’t matter, like pleasing others. It’s not my job to make everyone happy. I need to make myself happy. I’m proud of who I am. Why hide it?
Is that what the album and book are about…coming out of hiding?
Yes, they’re about revealing myself, being vulnerable and transparent. The music is beautiful, as are the photos. The photographer captured the best in me and I’m excited for everyone to see it.
Everything seems to have come full circle for you.
That’s true. America may have sent me home for being a gay stripper, but look at me now…I’m gay, stripping again and making an honest living from it. I guess I get the last laugh! This is on my terms now. I even launched an OnlyFans page! A lot of the images in the book can also be found on my OnlyFans.
Are you ready to forgive Perez Hilton for outing you?
I can never forget how awful I felt being so publicly outed. Next to Britney Spears shaving her head, it was the only thing entertainment media was reporting on for weeks! At the time, it felt like the end of my world. But since then, Perez and I have become friends. We even chat on Instagram occasionally. I don’t hold a grudge against him. I mean, at the end of the day, it wouldn’t be healthy for me. Everything happens for a reason. I’ve grown up. I think we all have. It’s time to move on.
Follow David Hernandez on social media at DHernandezMusic, and visit OfficialDavidHernandez.com for more information.
JASON SALERNO is a freelance journalist, editor, ghostwriter, speaker and cartoonist. He lives in New York City’s Upper East Side, but longs for the day when he can find a reasonably priced apartment in Greenwich Village so he can live the life of a real beatnik poet.