Taylor Hicks won. Katharine McPhee placed.
But Elliott Yamin is showing that a third place finisher on “American Idol” can still make a dent in the music marketplace.
The 28-year-old singer, who was the second runner-up in “Idol’s” season five, made history in March when his self-titled debut album opened at No. 3 on the Billboard charts, the highest ever for an independent label solo artist. “Elliott Yamin” still sits in the Top 20 and has sold nearly 220,000 copies so far.
“I think people just believe in my talent,” says Yamin, who was born in Los Angeles and raised there and in Richmond, Va. “Being on (‘Idol’) as long as I was and getting that kind of exposure, I was able to establish a great rapport with fans.
“And they’re hardcore, man. They stuck with me and they waited patiently for my debut, and they’re still hanging on.”
Yamin, who speaks with a warm Southern twang, decided to take the independent route shortly before last year’s “American Idols Live!” tour. Despite notoriously acerbic Simon Cowell calling him “potentially the best male vocalist” ever on the show, Yamin learned that the “Idol” conglomerate of 19 Entertainment and SonyBMG weren’t planning to sign him to a deal. With the blessings of “Idol” founder Simon Fuller, Yamin put together his own Hickory Records label, and he says being outside of the corporate umbrella proved to be a blessing.
“I wasn’t part of the big ‘American Idol’ machine,” explains Yamin, who dueted with Mary J. Blige during his “Idol” tenure and had Stevie Wonder tell him he should pursue a career in music.
“Nobody told me I had to go in and record this song or that song or sound like this and that. It was a more organic process.”
Yamin was certainly well-suited to embrace that kind of challenge, too.
The son of an Israeli father and a mother who was a “local star” singing in Richmond, Yamin embraced music by osmosis despite being 90 percent deaf in his right ear and being diagnosed with diabetes when he was 16. During that “rough patch” in his life, he also dropped out of high school (later earning a graduation equivalence certificate) and worked a series of day jobs before auditioning for “Idol.” FROM PAGE D-1
“(Music) is one of the only things I’ve ever really had a true passion for,” Yamin says. “I never really had any plans to pursue a career in music, especially the past few years of my adult life; I’ve been so busy just with the daily grind of life itself, getting caught up in struggling to pay my rent, managing my diabetes, this, that and the other ...
“Sometimes you can get further away from what you really want to do. So being on (‘Idol’) just really afforded me the opportunities I wouldn’t have been able to seize, otherwise.”
Yamin says he “didn’t have much of a vision” for his album, other than he “wanted to use a lot of live instrumentation” and make “a vocally driven record.” He wasn’t even crazy about the first single, “Wait For You,” when he first received it from writer Taj Jackson.
“It sounded a little different than the way we cut it,” Yamin recalls. “He was singing in a higher pitch. I wasn’t that much a fan of the song.
“But it kind of grew on me again. So I went to New York to record it with (the production duo) Stargate, and once I got in the booth and started singing it, I got comfortable with the song and it grew on me. It sounded really great in the studio and gave me the confidence to put it on (the album).”
With “Wait For You” still on the ascent, Yamin isn’t picking his next single yet. He even makes the provocative comment that “it might be off the record, it might be a song that’s not on the record — maybe a duet with somebody.” But he’s not giving away any details yet.
“They’re just things we’re thinking of,” he says. “We’ve got a lot of things we’re talking about, a lot of ideas we’re entertaining now. We’ve done everything very unconventionally so far; I don’t think we’re gonna stop doing it that way any time soon.”
Elliott Yamin and Josh Hoge perform at 8 p.m. Wednesday (May 30th) at St. Andrew’s Hall, 431 E. Congress St., Detroit. Tickets are $20. Call (313) 961-6358 or visit www. livenation.com.
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