Musical Discoveries: Leslie, please will you tell us about your musical formation and background leading to American Idol.
Leslie Hunt: I was raised by a family of musicians, and music was always a big part of our day to day life. I learned to sing at a very young age and I always knew that I wanted to be a singer.
By the time I auditioned for American Idol, I had been a working musician since high school, and was in a number of bands around the Chicago area.
I had been singing in both original music and cover bands, and I think that my voice has developed the way that it has because of all of the diverse music that I've been singing over the years.
What can you tell us about your solo album?
Everyone that has heard it has dug it, as far as I know! It's a body of work that I'm very proud of, and that represents my life during varies stages and mindsets. It was a very big undertaking, and I could not be more pleased with the way that it turned out.
How did things go for you on Idol?
Things went fine for me on Idol. I think the producers saw something different in me, and were hoping that I would introduce some variety to the show's content. I didn't choose my songs very wisely in hindsight, because at the time of my audition, I had been singing a lot of soul and funk and was quite certain that I was a soul singer.
Now, as I have developed a distinctive style, and have become keenly aware of my voice's strengths, I would have played those up more. When voting time came, I sang "Natural Woman" and "Feeling Good." I scatted, mistakingly mimicking Nina Simone's exact style of handling the scat, which I think sounded unnatural. Scat needs to be sincere and totally improvised, and I learned that the hard way!
And how did the Idol experience lead to your connection with District 97?
I went to college with my bandmates, but we didn't really know each other that well because I was a composition major and they were all jazz majors. After our college days were over, Jonathan (the drummer/primary composer) became a fan of a band that I was in for a little while called Mark Twang.
After Idol, he contacted me and asked if I would be willing to open up for District 97, as they were instrumental back then, and I gladly obliged. After sticking around and witnessing the wizardry that is, and always has been, District 97, I was blown away and yearning to get involved. Jonathan was down with the idea and got to work on some music that contained vocals.
About four months later, I joined the band officially, and the rest is history!
How would you say you've adapted your vocal work to the District 97 sound?
Being in a band like District 97 has really changed my instrument for the better. My range is constantly being pushed to new heights, my stamina keeps getting better, and my pitch accuracy is becoming highly developed in order to sing some of the melodies in our music. As a performer, I am able to channel so much theatrical energy and exorcise so many demons in this band, which has also effected the way I approach singing as a means of expression.
After these songs for the District 97 album were recorded, what did you do next? How did you get them "out there"?
Honestly, Jonathan did basically everything! I'm pretty sure he sent out promo copies to labels, which resulted in us getting signed to a great label--Laser's Edge--that has turned out to be the best decision we have made thus far.
Tell us about your live performances. How do the audiences react?
My favorite thing in the whole wide world lately is performing live with this band, besides being the mother of my one-year-old daughter. The audiences usually react very favorably, making a special effort to let us know that they were blown away. They express an appreciation for the fact that we take a complex, at times slightly unaccessible genre like progressive rock and put a pop spin on in, opening the door to more listeners and giving the genre more of a youthful glow.
My onstage persona is basically my real life persona magnified. I have a ton of energy and am very much in touch with my emotions, however strong they might be. I am also a huge goofball, and am able to lighten the mood between songs with my weird sense of humor. At least it seems that way.
Before a show, I get focused; during, I go nuts; and afterwards, I smile ear to ear, so proud of the band that I'm in and the experience that we provided. Before a show, I keep to myself; during, I look people square in the eyes and try and get an exchange going; and afterwards, I feel very social and love to meet new people.
How important do you think "image" to a female recording artist these days where so much visual information is portrayed in the media?
I think image is important in that it's a way for someone to instantly recognize you, and to be reminded of the music you are a part of. It's like a logo, a slogan or a jingle. If you change your image too often, it puts your brand--and your band--back at square one, and extra effort will then have to be made to establish familiarity for people.
I think that women can have the most fun with their images, which is fun. As far as my image is concerned, I have a blast thinking of things to wear for a performance, ways to wear my hair, funky makeup ideas, as it's the only visual outlet I have to express myself. My hair stylist rocks and I always go to him for a cut/color.
How would you say the internet has influenced your artistic direction and connection with music lovers?
I'm not sure if the internet has influenced our artistic direction, but it has definitely effected our connection with music lovers. There are all kinds of blogs and forums that we check out to receive feedback of any kind. Our label's publicist is totally tuned into the world of progressive rock internet publications, as well as other music sites. It gives the listeners of our exact genre a place to go, whereas if we were living in a period where we were at the mercy of mainstream media, we definitely would not have been able to reach our audience in the same way.
In addition to music, what else and who else rocks your world and fills your waking hours?
I am a fairly domestic individual, and recently bought a home in Chicago, so I have fun making it beautiful. My daughter definitely rocks my world, as well as my dog. Us ladies have a lovely life together.
What are your plans, hopes and dreams looking out through the end of this year and into next?
I hope to see District 97 playing for audiences outside of the Chicagoland area, and eventually traveling the world. Also, I have a solo project that I hope to get up and running again in the near future. I'm also a producer and look forward to more studio projects. I am not exclusive with District 97, but am definitely focusing most of my energy on that at the moment.
Is there anything else you want to tell our readers that maybe I forgot to ask?
I would first of all like to thank you for reading this interview! Also, I would like you to know that I have a solo record out called Your Hair Is On Fire, available on iTunes as well as CDBaby. I'm very proud of it and I think you'll like it. Check out my website!