The boys' club finally took a hit. Paul McDonald, the soulful, raspy-voice singer/songwriter from Nashville, says he had a feeling "in my gut" that it was his turn to be voted off American Idol. But there were no tears. In fact McDonald, who has toured for years with his band The Grand Magnolias, was surprised he made it as far as he did.
TV Guide Magazine: You always acted like American Idol was something you sort of stumbled into and couldn't quite believe they invited you in.
McDonald: It really was like that. I couldn't believe I lasted this long. I'm my own kind of original artist, and I'm not very good at singing all these cover tunes, but I guess I was all right enough for them to keep me around.
TV Guide Magazine: You said you had a feeling that it was your time to go.
McDonald: I did. I felt it in my gut. I felt like I had run my course. I tried to do these covers as good as I could, but it never really felt right. I was always kind of uncomfortable on the Idol stage just because it was out of my element. I really felt like I had gone as far as I could. Because I'm not the best singer. I'm a songwriter and an artist, and all these other people have amazing voices. So I could only go so far. And I knew it. And I thought, I think this is the night. And I was happy with it. Lauren Alaina — she's like my little sister — she said, "Don't you say that, Paul. You ain't goin' nowhere. Please don't leave me."
TV Guide Magazine: I was worried about Lauren because of her reaction the last time you were in the bottom three. She was inconsolable.
McDonald: I know. Whenever she gets down I try to pick her up, get her back on the page and remind her that she's a big star and that she's gonna be fine. And don't let what these people tell you on the Internet affect you. Quit reading that stuff. But she's fine. I told her, "I'm gonna have to leave sometime. I'm not gonna win this thing."
TV Guide Magazine: What's the difference between a 26 year old competing on the show and a 16 year old?
McDonald: For me, the whole thing was fun. But for these kids, they've been growing up watching American Idol for years, and some people have tried out year after year. And I almost would feel guilty if I had won, or gone any farther, because I kind of had my own thing going beforehand, and I know exactly who I am as an artist. I'm super thankful that they kept me around this long. But I really want some of these kids — these contestants who want it so, so bad — to win it. Because they're the true stars and I'm just hangin' out, being on their team. Cheering them on.
TV Guide Magazine: How intimidating was it, working with these high-powered record producers?
McDonald: It was so, so intimidating when I first went in there. Because to me, I know who these guys are. I've been working years and years and I know exactly what they've done. A bunch of these kids are like, "Who is this guy? Who are the Rolling Stones?" And I'm like, "You guys don't understand how good this is. This is top tier." Even if I had a hit song on the radio, I wouldn't have the chance to meet up with some of these guys. To me, that was super humbling. And these producers, I would do covers for them, but I would also show them original songs every time I came in there. And they would say, "That's what we need to be doing." It was almost like they were saying, "I can't wait for you to get kicked off so we can start recording." I would come in there and they would say, "All right, it's movie week. Play me a song from a movie." I'd sing a cover, and then I'd sing an original song and they'd be like, "Oh, that was great. Who was that?" And I'd say, "I wrote that." And they'd say, "Dude, we can't do that on the show." But I would try to trick them every week and bring in a new, original song, which they respected.
TV Guide Magazine: You wore your band's t-shirt last night, right?
McDonald: Yeah, I know. I felt good leaving on that note because it kind of showed that I was rockin' my own band's t-shirt, and that's what I really do. I didn't really get to showcase too much of my originality on the show. To an extent, but it was never my own songs and full force what I do all the time. So it felt good leaving that way, like, yeah, here's my band, and this is what I do back home.
TV Guide Magazine: You've said that the Grand Magnolias were really angry when you tried out for the show. But that changed pretty quickly, yes?
McDonald: It did. We literally spent all of our money on the new album and we got some big producers to work with us on it, and it was what we had been working towards for the past five years. At the time, we were looking at different labels to release it on. And I just stumbled into this American Idol thing kind of for fun, just to say that I did it, check it off my list of things I've done in my life. The band was like, "Dude, hopefully you don't make it any farther." But the farther along I got, the more they started getting nervous about their jobs and stuff. But in the end, it worked out good because the album was on iTunes and Billboard and stuff. So they got to pay their rent.
TV Guide Magazine: But your real life was on hold?
McDonald: Yeah, it was. I didn't really take it too seriously until it got to the Top 24. And I was like, whoa, man, this is getting to be a big deal. I didn't understand how big this TV show is, and how it puts you on the top tier. We're working with the biggest producers in the business and it blew my mind. I sat back and took it all in the other day. I'm so blessed.
TV Guide Magazine: You never needed a makeover?
McDonald: Yeah, all the hair and makeup people were like, "Yeah, you're fine." And I wore pretty much my own clothes the entire time.
TV Guide Magazine: What does it cost to dry clean that rhinestone suit?
McDonald: Oh, man. I think it was 45 bucks last time. I've only had it dry-cleaned once, and then the stylists out here washed it for me last time.