Karen Rodriguez

It wasn't unanimous, but on Thursday night American Idol's bubbly Latina, Karen Rodriguez, was given her walking papers. Rodriguez, 21, is the second elimination from the Top 13, and once again, the judges decided not to use their one save to prevent her from going. But Rodriguez made everyone sit up and take notice when she was the only one chosen from some 33,000 online auditions to make it into the Top 24, and when she was able to skillfully blend English and Spanish in her performances of "Hero" and "Love Will Lead You Back." TV Guide Magazine spoke to the native New Yorker about her unique approach to Idol.

TV Guide Magazine: You sang in two languages, why?

Rodriguez: I wanted to stay true to myself. I wanted to show people that there is not a Latina-American right now doing the whole crossover thing, and I wanted to be that person. That was my purpose, to do that in front of millions of people.

TV Guide Magazine: Was it a strategic move, because the Latino population is growing?

Rodriguez: No, my thinking is that I wanted to represent for the Latinos, of course. But there's not somebody my age doing that right now. My inspiration has always been Selena, and she passed away about 16 years ago. And 16 years without someone like her doing both languages — we need that right now. I needed that. I wanted to be that person. Of course Latinos are growing every day, but that wasn't my thinking. I can't do anything to control the votes. I can only be myself and hopefully that will transmit through the screen to all the viewers in America.

TV Guide Magazine: After the show, you said that you felt it was your time to go. Why did you feel that way?

Rodriguez: I was kind of mentally preparing for everything. I would've loved to stay a couple more weeks, but I was realistic about the fact that this was the best season and I made the Top 13. I auditioned through MySpace, which was unheard of. I auditioned online. But at the same time, I always live through the words, "Everything happens for a reason." Right now that reason is not clear to me, but once opportunities start knocking... maybe it was my time to be free right now so when the opportunities come, I can find the things that I want to do, and I can shine more. I don't have to win to be an idol.

TV Guide Magazine: The pressures are huge, being on this show. How did you manage not to get sick?

Rodriguez: The first time I sang "Hero" for Top 24, I had the flu, I had strep throat. So many things happen to our bodies, especially when we're surrounded by 24 other people. So you're gonna get sick. But a big part of it is mental health. I feel like you need to be mentally prepared for what's to come. I've been singing since I was four or five, and I had it in my mind, clear, that this was where I wanted to be. Sometimes, the pressure is too much and people crack. But that never happened with me. The reason I might have left was because I didn't have enough votes, but at least it wasn't because I couldn't handle the heat.

TV Guide Magazine: What was the most challenging part?

Rodriguez: To remember that this is just a competition, not the end of the world. I feel like some people can let that get to their heads. I wanted to use the time I had on the show wisely, and market myself the best I could. I didn't let the heat of the competition get to my head. I didn't look around and say, "Oh, my God, he's better than me" or "She's better than me." There's been so many American Idol winners that win, but we don't get to hear from them after that.

TV Guide Magazine: I hear you dream of doing a duet with Jennifer Lopez's husband, Marc Anthony?

Rodriguez: I remember being 10, 11, cleaning my room and listening to him on my iPod. And I remember how I felt when I watched his performance at Madison Square Garden on TV. And that man is so powerful. I remember meeting him Hollywood Week and I shook his hand and in Spanish, I told him, "It's such a blessing to see you here." I remember in Vegas, after one of my performances, he told me, "Forget about being on stage. Forget about the words. Just sing like no one's there." I told him one of my dreams was to sing with him and he hugged me and said, "Let's pray so that that happens."

TV Guide Magazine: So sing like no one's listening?

Rodriguez: Yeah! That's what he does on stage. He really is himself onstage and that's why people love him. And I think maybe that's what I'm lacking. But you can only gain that by doing more performances. I might not be the most amazing singer right now, but Rome wasn't built in a day. And soon enough, I will become that artist.

TV Guide Magazine: Anything the judges said to you privately last night that really means something to you?

Rodriguez: Yes, Jennifer came up to me after the show and I said, "What was missing? What could I have done better?" And she said, "Nothing. You were perfect." And that was amazing. If Jennifer Lopez is telling me that I'm perfect, then I know I've done a pretty good job.

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