The Untitled Magazine caught up with singer David Hernandez about his journey on American Idol, his career goals, and his new ventures as an artist and creative. David shared with us how he felt constantly shamed by news outlets and public opinion during the early stages of his career. The ups and downs led him to a place of complete comfortability in his body, sexuality, and performance abilities. The Latin American LGBTQ+ singer now puts his experiences toward his lyrics with emotional songs like “ily” and “Beautiful”. With his new EP “Don’t @ Me,” released in early 2022, a new album in the works, and a tour with the off-broadway musical “Naked Boys Singing”, Hernandez continues to reinvent himself and push boundaries as a performer.
What initially drew you to performing and music?
I think it’s always been in my DNA. I don’t have many family members that are entertainers, but I do have a few. I think somewhere along the lines, that gene was passed on to me. I remember being super young and starring in my first musical theater show. I’ll never forget being on stage and feeling like I was flying. I knew from that moment that I always wanted to be a performer.
As a teenager, you started recording music and later took the leap to move to Hollywood to pursue a singing career. What was that journey like?
Well, I started journaling when I was super young because my mom always had a journal. I never really thought anything of it but when melodies started coming to me in my teenage years, I started to combine those with lyrics I had written. That led to me recording hooks for rappers in my late teens, early 20s, and even in college before I had my first record deal. That deal didn’t end up being the best for me, but I met a great manager during that time who encouraged me to audition for American Idol shortly after. I was a little bit reluctant at first, but it proved to be a smart move for me. After the show, I stayed in Hollywood and decided that I was going to dig my heels in and pursue the dream I had always wanted. I slept on a couple of couches and bounced around town for a while until I got my own place with my best friend.
You have a long history with songwriting, what is your process?
Well, the process changes every time. Sometimes I come up with the lyric before the melody. Sometimes it’s the opposite. There are times when I wake up in the middle of the night and I’ll have to jot something down or record it in my voice notes. Sometimes I’m in the shower or even on a plane when things come to me. I’m also an actor so I’m observant in life. I like to watch what goes on around me and take it in like a sponge. It gives me a lot of inspiration. I love to collaborate as well.
Before your time on American Idol, you were a part of the singing group called “Vinyl Four” performing on cruise ships. What was that experience like?
That was a cool experience. I learned a lot about “blending” with a group. I was used to being a soloist so that experience was invaluable. I learned what it was like to sing background and hear dissonant barbershop harmonies. It was challenging, but years later I realized how much I needed it.
You landed a spot as a top 12 American Idol finalist in 2008, how did that change your career trajectory?
It completely changed everything I believe. It put me on the map nationally and internationally. I’ve been touring and making music for a living for the last 14 years. I would’ve never imagined that for me. It was also like Boot Camp for singers. We did not get a lot of sleep and we were always learning new material. Plus, we had to show up on stage in front of 35 million people every week. You really learned to sink or swim. I wouldn’t be the artist I am today without that experience.
Your most popular song, “Beautiful” made it to the Top 100 of the Billboard dance charts. When making the song, did you expect it to be such a hit?
When the song was presented to me, I had no idea it would be such a hit. I got in the studio with the producer of it and we laid those vocals in a couple of hours, ad-libs and backgrounds included. It was like a therapy session for me to be honest. You never know what people are going to like, but I do know that when you’re true to yourself, and that record was authentic to me.
What was the inspiration for your album, “Kingdom: The Mixtape”?
I felt like I had so many great songs that had never seen the light of day. I wanted to put them all on one album so that everybody could listen from top to bottom. A lot of them were recorded at different points in my life, so they had different sounds to them and different vocal techniques, etc. I thought it was important to show my body of work up until that point.
In September 2021, you completed your headlining 6-month residency in the Off-Broadway musical comedy “Naked Boys Singing.” Tell us about the show and your role!
That was an amazing, incredible ride! It was so liberating and freeing for me. For once I really felt comfortable in my own skin. Honestly, you had to be. All of us were on stage five nights a week completely naked in a musical comedy. Haha! It sharpened my skills as an actor and took me back to my musical theater days which I loved! I loved my cast and had a really great time spending those six months in Las Vegas.
You joined OnlyFans! What drew you into exploring a different side of entertainment?
I felt like I was so comfortable with my body, and all that conditioned shaming had finally left me, and I didn’t care what people had to say about my choices. Plus, I had a great photographer that was super respectful and always shot me in the best light possible. No one ever saw anything I did not want them to see. I was in full control. It was liberating and still is. And again, “Naked Boys” allowed me to explore that part of myself.
Tell us about your day performing at the Declare Yourself Inaugural Ball for Barack Obama, especially being alongside recording artists John Legend and Maroon 5?
Well, first of all, I had no idea it was going to be such a star-studded event. My friend Brent Miller, who still produces and works with Norman Lear, asked me to perform at the event. I had never been to D.C. I knew how major his presidency was going to be and for me to be a part of something like that was an honor. Looking back, I wish I would’ve soaked it in a little more.
“ily”, your latest single, is a very emotional song. Tell us about the inspiration behind the track and making the music video!
I wrote the song because no relationship is perfect. I think all of us are a little bit difficult in some respects. Some more than others. So, it was important for me to highlight queer relationships and normalize the trials and tribulations that come with them. They’re just like anyone else’s relationships really. We’re all looking for validation, encouragement, love, and understanding. The woman who plays the therapist in the music video is my friend Alexa who is actually trans. I also wanted to normalize the trans community having normal jobs and being a part of the social construct. I felt like the video really came out beautiful and accomplished everything I wanted it to.
Most recently in 2022, you released an EP titled “Don’t @ Me”, what was your goal with this EP?
I wanted to put out some of the most personal work that I’ve ever written to date. In the title track, I really take shots at Fox News for how they publicly dragged me during that time. I wanted to shine a light on those reporters that criticized my lifestyle. At the time, I didn’t even realize that I was the poster child for shaming. It took me years to get over it and to be honest, I still feel triggered over some things. It wasn’t right what happened, and I wanted to put out a song that normalized being queer and also being a stripper. I don’t think that you should ever be judged for your sexuality or what you do for a living. This was also a different time, so I just don’t think the world was quite ready yet. Story of my life. lol. Another important song on the album is “when it rains, it pours.” In this song, I talk about my struggles with mental health. I also want to work hard to destigmatize men’s mental health and addiction. That song for me was opening the platform for discussion. We shot the music video, it just hasn’t been released yet and it’s absolutely beautiful.
You support The Trevor Project, Human Rights Campaign, and GLAAD. When did you start supporting these organizations, and why?
Well, I’ve always supported organizations that support me. I am a part of the community that they are trying to protect. I love that. I’ve done probably over 30 human rights galas over the years. I’m a huge advocate for change, and I like being a part of these organizations anytime I can.
As a gay Latin-American artist, how is it important for you to have your artistry reflect your identity?
It’s super important. I really don’t think that you can be completely happy in life until you are your authentic self. There’s a lot of freedom in that. And I do believe that people can see through the smoke and mirrors. I think that once you’re OK with yourself and you’re able to comfortably stand tall and say this is who I am, other people that are like-minded get on board and it creates this whole community of support.
What are some of your main inspirations and dream collaborations?
I would like to be in a feature film and in a TV series. I would also like to have some of my music featured in those series or movies. They’re big dreams, but a lot of the stuff that I have accomplished also felt just as big. They’re all dreams that finally saw themselves come to fruition with hard work and dedication. I’m inspired by so many people. Both old and new. I would love to collaborate with John Legend and Ed Sheeran. I think they are both incredible songwriters. I would like to produce music with Ryan Tedder because I think he is a phenomenal vocalist and an incredible producer.
What are some upcoming projects listeners can expect from you in the future?
Well, there’s definitely a new album in the works. There’s a podcast and a documentary series coming soon! Lots of big things. Stay tuned!