A one-time aspiring pop star, Carly Smithson has recast herself—and maybe found herself—as a bona fide rock goddess. The American Idol Season 7 alum, who vowed voters with her enthusiastic stage presence and gale-force vocal power, last year joined hard-rock band We Are The Fallen, a new outfit formed by several former members of Evanescence. But Carly warns against comparisons: “This band is completely different,” the Irish lass tells us. “Evanescence is still together and currently making a new record. This band is a completely new thing.” After pursuing many different routes in the music scene, Carly seems most at home with the crunchy riffs and dark imagery of We Are The Fallen.
So spare us the Amy Lee references — Carly is her own phenomenal woman and performer, and one that was generous enough to chat with us about the Idol finale, who should really be taking Simon’s place for Season 10, and which pop acts impress her the most, despite the fact that she is “not one for pop music at all.” Jump below for our exclusive Carly Smithson interview.
Idolator: What did you think of Lee and Crystal and how the Idol finale turned out?
Carly: They were great! Great voices. I was really into Alanis Morissette when she walked out. And Christina Augilera is just stunning. Even though I don’t listen to pop, I can appreciate a ballad like that.
Why weren’t you there on stage with all the other former Idols?
I was supposed to do it, but we had a show in Arkansas the night before. My flight got in late, and I didn’t get to do it because rehearsal was at 9 a.m. We weren’t sure what it was going to be, there might have been choreography, so I just opted not to be a part of it. They’re like, “It’ll be fine!” And I’m like no, I’m that girl that goes the wrong way! I made it to the red carpet and the event just right on time.
What’s it like being the lone female on the road with all these men in your band and your crew?
They’re cool, they’re fun! They make fun of me all the time and get up to mischief and watch as many horror movies as they possible can. It’s like having 11 brothers, they’re always making sure they know where I’m going and that I’m safe. They’re good guys. My husband and I have a tattoo shop so I’m used to being surrounded by dorky metal guys.
Where’s the tattoo shop?
It’s 319 market street in San Diego. It’s called Nothing Sacred Tattoo. It’s a nice place when you come off a tour, all our friends stop by and say hello all day. It’s a chill environment like a living room.
Tell me how you got hooked up with Ben Moody [co-founder, guitarist and songwriter of We Are The Fallen, formerly of Evanscence]. We know you sang “Bring Me To Life” on the Idols Live tour, but how familiar were you with Evanscence?
I was obviously familiar with their radio songs, because you’d have to be living under a rock if you hadn’t been. But I wasn’t a huge follower. My friend was Ben’s roommate and I met him multiple times. His girlfriend found out I was friends with his roommate, and her mom started telling Ben, this girl is great and you gotta have her in your band! And he was like, I’m not about to have my girlfriend’s mom pick my band’s lead singer! So he let it go for weeks, and finally he let her show him my stuff on You Tube.
What song were you singing in the clip he saw?
Heart’s “Crazy On You.” It was a really great thing for me. He watched that song and called me straight away, we talked on the phone for hours. It was cool when I met [the band's other members, John LeCompt, and Rocky Gray and Marty O'Brien]—it was like we had known each other forever. We sat down just to write two songs in the beginning, and we ended up writing a whole record. The chemistry is unbelievable between all five of us.
Was it difficult at first coming into a band where everyone had worked together before?
No, because it is not a group that had been playing together for awhile. Evanescence is still together and currently making a new record. This band is a completely new thing. This band is completely different. It’s a little misunderstanding in the media that we’re Evanscence, but we’re not. It’s a completely separate new band. Ben left Evanescence seven or eight years ago. Ben and Marty had been working together for years, and Marty wasn’t in Evanescence. It’s not like they just started to create a new band.
What are you listening to now that you like?
I’m kind of stuck in the 80s with music. I listen to the old school Heart and Iron Maiden. The modern stuff I listen to is Sia. “You Have Been Loved” is one of my favorite songs. When Christina Aguilera sang ["You Lost Me" during the Idol finale], I thought, it hasto do something with Sia. It’s so obvious! That sound – I said to Marty, that has the flavor of Sia in it.
Good ears! “You Lost Me” was in fact written by Sia.
That makes sense!
Do you listen to pop music?
I am not one for pop music at all. I don’t listen to it that much, but I am very impressed with Lady Gaga. I think she is really creative and very new. It’s a very cool thing—you don’t know what she’s gonna wear, what she’s gonna do… even to listen to her in interviews, she’s amazingly well spoken and just very, very interesting.
What’s lacking in pop music that stops you from being a fan?
I don’t think there’s anything lacking, but I just love heavier music and more dramatic music. I grew up in theatre, I was in Les Miz when I was a kid. I love that, and I love rock music… combined is where I find myself in our record.
What was it like doing so much pop on American Idol since you’re not such a big fan of the genre?
On Idol, the one thing that I found difficult for me… a lot of the heavier bands, they don’t clear their songs for Idol. I would have personally liked to do a lot more rock music, but that’s the formula Idolhas. We had Dolly Parton, Mariah Carey, Neil Diamond… there wasn’t really a rock week during my time on the show. It was very important for me to come off the show and start writing, because I think many people misunderstood who I was as a performer, that I didn’t really have an outlet to do rock on the show.
You mentioned you did a lot of theatre growing up. Would you ever follow other Idol alumni journeys to Broadway?
I don’t know. I’d have to wait until I get to that point. Right now I wouldn’t think so. But maybe I will change my mind! Not so much Broadway, but I love operas. I love when there’s a massive, massive orchestra. I love soundtracks. I love the scores to Tim Burton’s movies.
Ah, Danny Elfman, the man is a genius. How much do you think those film soundtracks have influenced the music you’ve written for We Are The Fallen, including the main single “Bury Me Alive”?
Probably! There’s noting better for me personally than hearing those strings an the guitar and the drums pounding in my chest to perform to! That’s the amazing thing, when you can pull a vocal off a song and just feel everything.
Alright, the question everyone has been trying to answer for months now: Who could possibly replace Simon? Who’s your pick?
Simon Fuller. He’s the creator of the show, and very intelligent, wonderfully genius man. I think if anyone was going to take the title, I feel he would be a great choice. He develops all the careers of all the Idols after the show. I think that would be the smartest choice.
Could he be as nasty as Simon when critiquing singers?
I don’t think the next person should be the mean role, that’s Simon [Cowell]’s thing. They should be unique and do their own thing.
Now that you’ve spent some time on and off the show, what do you think of American Idol‘s role? Should we just watch it for entertainment, or does it really have the ability to find true musical artists?
As a person who ame off the show, I would hope so! It was a musical environment that I always wanted to be in. There was nothing greater than hanging out with somebody like [Season 7 contestant] Brooke White, whose whole life is music. I’ve seen wonderful artists come off the show. I think people have an idea of the show, that the people on it aren’t real artists. For me, I was a singer-songwriter for years before I came on the show, and the one thing I needed more in life was finances. I needed to be able to leave my job, I needed a foot in the door, and I needed to lock myself away from the world and make music my career. And as a bartender, that wasn’t possible for me at all. The one thing that is so important for a musician is to not have any distractions. And for me, that’s what Idol gave me.