Eden Prairie-native Mark Andrew just missed making the American Idol top 12 when he was eliminated on Wednesday night's episode. We talked to the 29-year-old landscaper by-day, local music fixture by-night, about trying to make it in the music biz, his stints on both American Idol and The Voice, how he likes being a new dad, and even his reverance for Harry Connick Jr.
Tess Collins: What inspired you to leave your landscaping gig and try out for American Idol?
Mark Andrew: I would probably say just the opportunity to get the national exposure. Minneapolis has a wonderful, rich music scene but the music industry is not fully present in Minnesota. To be able to get out what I do, my sound and personality on the national stage, that is what I was shooting for.
TC: For someone who has never heard you sing before, how would you describe your sound?
MA: I’ve been actually compared to a lot of people by fans. Probably the most common comparison that I’ve been hearing is Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, or Ray Lamontagne. Being compared to really successful and unique artists like that is definitely very flattering. I definitely appreciate it. I mean I am my own artist, have my own sound but at the same time comparison to those names is pretty awesome.
TC: How do you see the Minnesota music scene evolving in the next five, 10 years?
MA: There are a lot of great independent artists here. What I would hope to see is more independent artists learning to break out of Minnesota a little bit better. I have a lot of musician friends who are very talented, but they just don’t really know what to do besides play clubs in Minnesota. So hopefully some people will break out of the Minneapolis scene and get the national exposure they deserve.
TC: Are there any local artists that have really inspired you?
MA: I used to play with my older brother’s band, White Iron Band; they’ve always been an inspiration to me. I played with them a number of years ago, and they’ve been a band for, I think, 17 years now on the Minnesota music scene, and they’ve survived and they’re still doing really well. I just have a lot of friends that are in different bands that are really talented. They keep me going.
TC: You said you’ve done a lot of shows around the area, are there any specific venues that you especially enjoy playing at?
MA: The venue that has supported me the most for the past two years has been Famous Dave’s in Uptown. Besides that, the two coolest stages have been the Cabooze and First Avenue. First Avenue is a legendary stage. Purple Rain was filmed there. And the Cabooze, I’ve been playing there since I was 18. It’s just such a cool bar. It’s a great place and it has the tradition of kind of being rowdy and crazy over there.
TC: Moving on to your fame on American Idol, what was the vibe backstage?
MA: It’s so weird, you focus so much on just trying to get your song ready each week. Everyone is really professional and super talented and awesome. There are a lot of people sitting around singing songs and cracking jokes but besides that I just tried to stay really focused. I try to keep myself out of a lot of the little, behind-the-scenes stuff that happens. I tried to keep myself separated from all of that. I was the oldest guy on the show and the youngest kid is 15. So you can imagine the dynamics behind the scenes.
TC: Did you have any pre-show rituals or superstitions?
MA: My older brother that I used to play with always told me to pump myself up and get into that rock star mode. That’s something that I always try to do to beat the nerves and make sure I can get up and perform well. I kind of turn into somebody—it’s like acting. You’ve got to get up there and become somebody. So I would just get my brother’s voice in my head, telling me to get up there and do my thing.
TC: While you were auditioning and all throughout the process, which of the three judges (Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick Jr. and Keith Urban) did you find the most intimidating?
MA: Harry Connick Jr. He is the most musical of all three. He was a child virtuoso. When he was 12 he was playing with some of the best jazz musicians in the world. So, yeah, he’s a little intimidating. He’ll call you on your stuff when you screw up. He never said a bad thing to me though! Right after I was cut, Harry came up and spoke to me and he told me I have one of the most unique voices that he’s heard in a long time and to hit the ground running. He thinks that I could really go far in the music industry.
TC: What does it take to set yourself apart on that show?
MA: It takes being true to who you are as an artist. I tried my best in this competition to never be something that I’m not. I don’t know if it came to bite me in the end here. The last song that I got to sing was "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" and I changed it a bit because I’m not a Temptation, that’s not how I sing. I tried to change it to be more true to who I am. Some people really loved it, and other people thought I did a disservice to the song. At the same time, I did what I thought was best to represent myself as a singer. You have to make those choices. I never pretended to be something that I was not.
TC: What was the most challenging thing that you had to learn along the way?
MA: Probably performing without a guitar, it’s not something that I’ve done very much. I always play guitar when I’m with my band so to not have one in my hands was definitely difficult. I had to learn what to do with my hands and how to move on the stage. I worked with choreographers to work through some of those issues. So it was definitely a challenge, but I tried my best!
TC: It’s the 14th season of American Idol; do you have a favorite contestant from the past 13 seasons?
MA: Yeah, I think Adam Lambert is awesome. I’m a huge Queen fan and he plays with Queen so there might be a little of a jealousy factor involved.
TC: You were also a contestant on The Voice—you’ve now been on two hit talent reality shows. Do you think you’ll try again?
MA: I would hope right now that this springboarded me enough to work successfully in the music industry without having to do it again. It’s been really tough, I’ve had to be away from my family, my eight-month-old son and not make any money. It’s definitely a challenge. Hopefully I’m at a place where I can move on and people will support me and not have to do it again.
TC: Are there any songs you especially enjoy singing to your son?
MA: I was sitting at home with him and I was rehearsing a bunch of stuff for the House of Blues episodes that were being taped. So because of that, the song "Take Me to Church" by Hozier he knows pretty well. The other song that I sing to him a lot is "Shotgun Rider" by Tim McGraw. It’s one of my favorite songs out right now.
TC: Unfortunately, you are no longer on the show. What’s next?
MA: I’m going to come back to Minnesota and play some gigs and refine some of my set and try to get into the studio as soon as I can to get some material out for everybody. I have a lot of original material, so that’s definitely something I want to do. Maybe I’ll try to put together a coming home show.
TC: What do you think that it means for your family and for your fans in Minnesota that you made it this far?
MA: My family is definitely very proud and I hope that all the people who voted for me enjoyed my time on the show. I just hope that everyone will come out and see me when I’m back onstage in Minnesota and that I can put on a good show for them. I’ve got lots more songs to sing. I’m very thankful and I feel very blessed for all the support that everyone has given me. People don’t have to take time out of their lives and sit in front of the TV to watch and vote. It’s definitely a very surreal feeling to have this much support. I’m just ever grateful.