Jacob Lusk made it all the way to American Idol's fifth place, but it was no easy road. The 23-year-old spa concierge from Compton, California, struggled to find his footing doing live performances on the Idol stage after wowing the judges early on with his off-the-charts Hollywood Week audition, "God Bless The Child."
Lusk knew he was in serious trouble Wednesday night after making song choices — like "No Air" — that were outside his R&B comfort zone. But he's not blaming anyone, including record mogul Jimmy Iovine, for pushing him in different directions. "I take full responsibility for my choices," says Lusk. "I messed up. Nobody else did."
TV Guide Magazine: Was the pressure getting to you?
Lusk: I was getting a little tired, probably. And really trying to do different things, do something that really wasn't my thing. This wasn't the time to do that. I didn't really have the greatest performance on Wednesday, and that's why I was sent home.
TV Guide Magazine: At what point did you know you were going down the wrong road?
Lusk: When I changed my song, because I was gonna sing "Ain't No Way." And maybe a Whitney song. But it got changed.
TV Guide Magazine: When the songs got changed, was it because you decided to change them or because you were advised to change them?
Lusk: It was a Jimmy [Iovine] thing. But I take full responsibility for my choices. I messed up. Nobody else did. I do wish I had sung different songs the last couple of weeks, so there's a lot of coulda, shoulda, woulda. But I'm happy with where I am. So blessed.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you think you were the victim of contradictory advice — be the gospel guy, don't just be the gospel guy?
Lusk: I definitely got some contradictory advice, but at the end of the day, it's up to me to be myself. When you're great, you're great. And nobody can argue with that.
TV Guide Magazine: What effect were the critiques having on you? It must've been so difficult to hear Jimmy Iovine's critique that you had lost confidence.
Lusk: I wouldn't call it soul destroying. But it definitely hurts to have someone beat you over the head with a baseball bat. It hurts a lot to have someone say things like that who calls himself a mentor.
TV Guide Magazine: You looked like you were waiting for the axe to fall last night.
Lusk: I had expected it, because of the judges' feedback. Everyone else was in their element and they soared. I tried to do something that wasn't my genre.
TV Guide Magazine: Earlier this season, Iovine scolded you for "preaching" to America before your performance of "Man In The Mirror." You said something about if you were voted off, America would know why. What did you mean?
Lusk: That comment had nothing to do with my vocal performance, or being voted in or voted out. I'm not the greatest singer in the world. It was more about what was going on in the world. The disaster in Japan had just happened a couple of days before. It was about me wanting people to look at themselves and looking at what we could do to change the world. Because the world is in a disastrous state. I was starting with me, that night.
TV Guide Magazine: After the show, you took everybody on stage and in the audience to "church."
Lusk: I made a joke: If I ever get off this show, we're going to church. We are not gonna cry, we're going to rejoice. I didn't want any sad faces. I wanted joy. It was not planned. I didn't even know my family was on stage until I looked up. They were just proud, happy. I wanted my grandmother to see me make it, and she did.
TV Guide Magazine: You've been through a lot of hard times, which gives your singing great depth.
Lusk: My mother and father divorced, my dad died when I was 12. I was picked on, beat up. It happened more when I was younger. As a little kid, I tried to fight back. I fought. As I got older, I got to be more of my own person. Then I started to let it roll off my back. I really roughed it out and became a man. Education and music are the only ways to get out of certain situations. That's what my plan was. In high school, I was student body president. I was speech/debate captain. I said, "If I want to get out of here, I gotta go to school." I went to college and took some music classes. That re-ignited my passion for singing. There were times when I didn't think I was going to make it. But I'm here.
TV Guide Magazine: You will go down as having the greatest audition in Idol history.
Lusk: It's a great honor. It was a happy moment. And so undeserved. During the performance, it had been a long week, and I was just tired. [A field of] 325 people had been whittled down to a hundred at that point in time. I was drained. A person went up before me and sang "God Bless The Child" and killed it. So I was scared. But I went up there and I changed some of the lyrics. I ended with "God bless the child that's got his own. I need my own." I didn't want to go back home to my normal life. I had to have my own. J. Lo has hers. Steven [Tyler] has his. I wanted mine. I didn't want to struggle anymore. I didn't want to wonder where my next meal was coming from. Or where I was going to live. Or how I was going to pay rent. And now I don't have to worry about that, ever again.
TV Guide Magazine: You've said you'd love to perform on the finale with one of the queens of R&B. Is there one in particular who would make you weak in the knees?
Lusk: There are three. Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle or Whitney Houston. They would all make me weak in the knees. I would frickin' lose it.
TV Guide Magazine: Are you going to concentrate on singing or acting?
Lusk: My primary focus is doing an album. I'd like to look into some theater, Broadway. You're gonna hear some traditional R&B, which I feel is missing from the scene. There aren't any Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass, Marvin Gaye singers out there. There's a lot of pop, bubble-gum, but not a lot of R&B. And that's what I bring naturally. I don't have to try to do that.
TV Guide Magazine: You love to bake. When you get out of this whirlwind, what is the first thing you want to bake?
Lusk: I want to bake a big pan of cornbread.
TV Guide Magazine: Is your cornbread sweet or spicy?
Lusk: It's sweet, it's sweet.
TV Guide Magazine: How many hours do you want to sleep right now?