Musical Discoveries: Didi, it's nice to meet you here, especially since we have really been enjoying your new record Reverie.
Didi Benami: Pleasure is all mine! Thanks for setting this up and for listening! I'm glad you are enjoying it!
Could you tell us a little bit of your life story and how you got into music?
I have always felt I had to sing and perform. A deep sincere desire to emote. I just can't imagine doing anything else.
I was born in NYC and even at a young age did plays in and outside of school and went out on auditions when my parents would let me, but really started to develop my craft seriously when I was in middle school. It helped that my fifth grade teacher Miss Baumann sang the national anthem for us on the last day of school. She had a beautiful voice and I thought that was inspiring and brave that she could get up in front of a bunch of crazy fifth graders.
I was inovoled with various choirs including Knoxville Childrens Choir where we had the opportunity to sing at all sorts of events and even with Jordin Hill who sang "Remember Me This Way" from one of my favorite movies, Casper. I sang the national anthem at basketball games throughout middle and high school as well as UT Volleyball games. And the funny thing is even though I was raised Jewish I sang in church and youth group because the people there were so supportive.
Either my best friend Scott or the youth leader Jeff would play guitar alongside. The people there were lovely and encouraged me to really follow my heart and sing like it was what I was put here to do. It was an incredible outlet for me growing up battling depression and an eating disorder. It gave me something to look forward to diong whenever I had the chance.
Music and singing in a lot of ways kept me sane, so I did it as much as I could. I sang at a bar with my friend's mom a few times, and even though I was underage I still got in somehow to sing.
I was a little nervous about pursuing music becuase you hear such horror stories about this industry And most of it turns out to actually be true, ha! It's a crazy world out here.
What artists would you say were some of your strongest musical influences growing up?
Gah, there are so many! Joni Mitchell, Imogen Heap, of course Whitney, Christina, Celiene -- grew up to them -- Sheryl Crow, Pink, Stevie Nicks, Mindy Smith, Mazzy Star, Feist, Colbie Calliat, Faith Hill, Shania Twain, Norah Jones. There are so many great ones, and let us never forget The Beatles.
How did you develop your vocal style?
It just came from my heart and my influences and of course it came with lots of work, time, practice and just "figuring it out."
What led you to approach and audition for American Idol?
I auditioned for American Idol because I felt an urgency to get my friend Rebecca Joy's music out. I was totally broke, had a rough few years prior to the show where I lost everything causing me to start over again and nothing left to lose. I wanted to honor her memory in a big way and if this was gonna be the way to do it, then so it was. Carpe Diem.
She really encouraged me to shoot for the moon, so here I am. Maybe it was part of my way of coping with the grief that my best friend and roommate was gone. I felt her joyful spirit could live on through her music. There were a lot of people that beleived in her and she would have wanted us to play on. She just wanted to get her music out into the world. I remember feeling that with her and taking on this passionate pursuit because she not only encouraged it but she ignited this fire in everyone who knew her to keep pushing hard for what we want, and I was inspired by her.
We shared some great memories and then just like that all of a sudden she was gone. I felt a tremendous sense of loss and vacancy after the tragedy and needed the world to remember this incredible soul that exisited and maybe even be inspired by her even though she wasn't physically here. To know the kind of person she was gave you hope and that we can follow our dreams and succeed. By continuing to sing her music, as well as my own journey that has developed alongside it. She will not be forgotten, she was so brilliant and radiant.
What would you say were the major takeaways for you from Idol?
I am so grateful that I had the pleasure and wonderful opportunity to work with some of the most incredibly brilliant, kind, talented and wonderful people in the business from musicians to vocal coaches to producers and judges. From Ron Anderson, to Rickey Minor and the all the guys that went along to play on the Tonight Show Band. They are truly incredible musicians; Dorian Holley, Matt Rhode -- who played keys for "Lost at Sea" on my record -- Debra Byrd, Michael Orland, Kara Dioguardi, Ellen Degeneres, Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell.
It led to so many opportunities after the show like not only making this new record but also getting to work with past idols, working on new ventures like my music video for "Trouble" with Nicholas Militello and Jordan Finnegan, getting to be the lead in Thoery of A Deadman's video for "Hurricane" and meeting some incredible people, like the incredible photographer Lee Cherry, and later getting to work with Nigel and Simon Lythgoe.
I feel very lucky to have had such incredible experiences, and met such fun, creative imagineers and supporters along the way. It definitely gave me more than a record's worth of material, that's for sure.
Why did you decide to use PledgeMusic as the financial platform to launch Reverie?
I decided to use PledgeMusic as the financial platform for this record because I had already spent all of my recources both surviving in Los Angeles, on medical bills, and putting the rest of what I had left into my music video and really wanted to get this album the attention I thought it deserved.
Also I liked that a part of the proceeds went to Argus Service Dog Foundation which benefitted wounded war veterans and people who really needed the assistance of a service dog. I am a bg animal rescue advocat, having rescued six dogs over the past few years since Idol and finding them the right forever homes. It is a cause that is very close to my heart. I was happy when I was done. I was in shock when we reached the goal in less than a week and I think I will do it for the next project too. I really love that I get to give back at the same time.
What advice do you have for other artists that are evaluating the different alternatives to develop, produce and release their music?
I would say that you should be as patient as possible with yourself and your process. Development doesnt happen over night. It takes time and persistence, practice, and you will get to where you think you want to be only to change your mind later. I also say go for it!
As far as crowd funding, be fearless and shoot for the moon, even if you miss you will land among the stars. It's a great way to connect and really get to know your fans. I really liked that aspect of it. Try the best you can to be fearless.
So where did you find your producer Billy and what can you say about your collaboration on Reverie?
Billy was a God Send. My A & R Joel Eckels introduced me to him and we immediatley clicked and it just felt right. Joel sent me Billy and Jamie Drake's song "Trouble" and right away I knew he got my direction with this project and my sound.
I worked with some really incredible writers on this album including Billy, Annaliese, Shane Alexander, Jamie Drake, Jason Gaviati, and Jordan Lawhead.
Tell our readers about the vocal layering in the recordings.
I love harmonies and layers! Imogen Heap does that a lot and I love that sound. Billy and I wanted to layer it up and use as much of the vocal instrument as we could, even down to the breathing into the mic. Myself, Jamie, and Annaliese all did all sorts of harmonies on the tracks and I think they turned out beautifully.
How long did it take, and what was the process that you two used to create the final product?
It took three years to write some of the songs that made the album, because I am a bit of a perfectionist. I kept writing and writing, I would think I had what I wanted to release and then change my mind. I'm always is such a different mood it's impossible to tell when you've got one of the songs or how you will be able to make it all cohesive. Billy really helped with that. I wanted it to be like a musical journey, hence the [album] name Reverie. I wanted it to be an experience the whole way through. A Trance.
Was there an Idol influence here too?
I was able to tell stories from a place of personal experience and my imagination bringing me to write about them after I wasn't so attached to the outcome or have expectations. Both being on that show and then taking some time away from the spotlight for a little gives you unique perspective. I wanted and needed to ingest everything, let go, and evolve and I'm glad I took the time to do so. Every single one of us had a unique journey on and off the show and we as musicians continued to hone our craft and stay in touch after the show. There is a camaraderie that is built from the Idol famliy. In fact, I made life long friends through the experience and after.
Your new fans are going to want to know what else you have recorded and where they might hear it. Are there other songs out there?
Of course there are! To name a few: there is the duet that I did with Keaton Simons "If I Hadn't Forgotten" that he co wrote with Jason Reeves and we plan to release that cover of "Terrified" that Reeves and I recorded as well as another tune we wrote that I promised everyone a while back -- more news on that soon!
What can you tell us about the Reverie album cover?
I felt like the main theme of the album was the dark vs the light so the cover was perfect. It was a tattered umbrella that would never hold up if it rained and I was wearing a black lace dress that the dark me wore in the music video for "Trouble." With the sunlight permeating through and looking like it was beaming from my heart, I felt it perfectly described the theme of this musical journey. The light in my heart that is always working to surpass the darkness.
Where are you performing live these days and what are your plans to tour in support of the album's release?
I just did a gig in Kansas recently and a show in LA, I think we may need to do another crowd sourcing campain to get on the road. I'm financing all this on my own and since this campain was just for marketing and PR, I think maybe we could do another one for people to see us out on the road.
Tell us about a Didi Benami live performance.
I like to play in intimate venues where people go for the music and really connect. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of arenas too, but I love to see someone's face that is enjoying what they are hearing and seeing. I love seeing people move with or be moved by the music Also I'm a poet and I want people to hear the words and get them to think. Places like Hotel Cafe, Room 5, Sassafras.
I like to crack jokes before I talk about my songs since a lot of them have a darkness / seriuosness to them, I want to lighten up the mood. Plus I like when people are happy, bottom line. I feel that energy. It's contagious.
What do you do to manage your "image"?
I mean you gotta do the best you can to stay healthy. I work out as much as I can and I love doing juice cleanses. When I'm always on the run it's just so easy and I don't even have to think about it, but diet and excersise are so important.
What roles do your official website, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media play in your professional life these days?
I have incredible fans and I know that because of social media. Social media is an interesting beast. It gives you access to connect, but it can sometimes be too much. I like to connect but it can be tough to keep up at times and you know, I also like to have time to just think and create with no computer or cell phone around.
Aside from music, what and who rocks your world these days?
I love to help with dog rescuing by fostering. I found lots of furever homes for several doggies since Idol and I ended up keeping one of them, my little rescue Moo, and I also love to act. I always have. It's a part of the storytelling I enjoy so much. I love the idea of being in the world in someone else's shoes and seeing the world the way others might see the world. You get so much perspective and insight. Bringing a character to life in a very real way is a very special and exhilerating.
Thanks for the interview Didi!