The surprise of any American Idol season is often the most intriguing contestant, and Houston's own Amber Holcomb is no different. The 18-year-old Spring resident continues to show the promise of a rewarding Season 12 arc, with her raw, untamed talent, breezy confidence and '90s-esque swagger that she astutely attributes to the Bayou City.
But being the dark horse also means facing an unpredictable Idol run, as Holcomb learned when she found herself in the bottom three last week after a surprisingly sophisticated performance.
"I like to dance. I want to do the ballads, also, but I want to be more upbeat. Like a more toned down Beyonce."
Thankfully, she's back Wednesday night (7 p.m. on Fox) to take on "The Music of Motor City," along with the seven other remaining contestants. After a hazard-free rehearsal, she took some time to chat with CultureMap about her Kelly Clarkson shout-out, that much-encouraged pink lipstick and the chances of a guy snatching the Idol crown (none).
CultureMap: You didn’t get much air time prior to the live episodes this season — you kind of came out of nowhere and barreled through the competition. How does that feel?
Amber Holcomb: It feels good, but at the same time, I’m like, "I gotta be that much better. They don’t even really know me."
CM: I thought your performance last week [of The Beatles' "She's Leaving Home"] was fantastic because it was mature and showed a different side of you, but the voters didn't seem to agree. Was it a scare being in the bottom three?
AH: You know what, I was really kind of scared. But I feel like if I really was going to get sent home, and if I would have had to sing for my save, I think [the judges] would have saved me.
CM: I agree with you, actually. Luckily that didn't happen. So do you have everything set for Motown week?
AH: I do. I’m actually really excited. Everybody’s like, "Oh Amber’s gonna kill — it’s Motown!"
CM: Can you give us any spoilers?
I can’t tell you what song . . .
CM: What was it like meeting [Idol mentor] Smokey Robinson? Did he give you any specific advice about your song choice or performance?
AH: He was so nice. He loved me. I didn’t know what to expect going in, but he loved me, and that made me feel so good. He actually told me that I just need to do it the way I did it for him, and I would be OK.
CM: Last week, Nicki [Minaj] told you to keep that sparkle in your eye if you want to stay out of the bottom three. Do you know how you’re going to do that — or what that even means?
AH: [Laughs.] All I do is sing. I don’t know where the sparkle comes from. I’m going to sing, and I’m going to be me.
CM: I think it comes from your personality shining through. Do you have a strategy for the types of songs you'll pick going forward, or will you just go week by week?
AH: I’m trying to stay away from the unpopular songs. My strategy is to stand out. I try to do everything with a song that will pretty much make it stand out, so that people won't forget it.
"I’m all about being different. If somebody sees something and is like, 'Oh, I would never wear that,' I’m like, 'Give it to me.' "
CM: Was there a piece of advice from the judges that really helped you or stuck with you?
AH: Um, the lipstick. [Laughs.] I had been wanting to try pink lipstick, but when [Minaj] asked me for it, that was the moment. I feel like if I had done it before, it wouldn’t have been right.
CM: I love your style on the show. It’s fun and bold and unique to you.
AH: I’m all about being different. If somebody sees something and is like, "Oh, I would never wear that," I’m like, "Give it to me." [Laughs.] I love being different. If it looks good, of course.
CM: You’ve been compared to a young Whitney Houston — is that how you see yourself, or are there other tricks in your bag that you want to show?
AH: Actually, I see myself like her a little bit, but more like hip hop-based. You know what I’m saying? I like to dance. I want to do the ballads, also, but I want to be more upbeat. Like a more toned down Beyonce.
CM: Speaking of Beyonce, do you think being from Texas — and particularly from Houston — has influenced your sound?
AH: I do! Coming from Houston, we already have that swag. So it automatically comes out, regardless.
CM: Tell me what the chemistry is like between you and the other contestants.
AH: We all really love each other. We’re like a family. It really is like that. We hang out as much as possible. We talk about everything. If we’re feeling sad, somebody will come up and be like, "What’s wrong with you?" We all care about each other.
CM: Does it feel like a competition even though you’re all friends?
AH: Actually, to me, I feel like it’s a showcase. We’re all so different. We all have our own little styles. I’m not going to say it’s not a competition because it is a competition, but it’s like we’re all just showcasing what we have to offer.
CM: Is there one contestant who's underrated or flying under the radar in your opinion?
CM: You do seem like the dark horse.
AH: Yeah, I’ve heard that. I do. I feel like because I wasn’t shown [in the earlier rounds], there’s a little bit more that I have to do [compared to] what everyone else has to do.
CM: Is there a contestant you’d like to duet with?
AH: I would love to sing with any of the guys, actually, because I love them all. Any one of them.
CM: Have any of the Idols or former Idol contestants reached out to you?
AH: Oh man. Kelly Clarkson mentioned me on Twitter. She told me I did a good job with “A Moment Like This.” It felt great. I remember saying in an interview that I wanted her to tweet me — and she did!
CM: What’s been your favorite memory so far with this whole Idol experience?
AH: The fog during rehearsal . . .
CM: Oh my goodness. Tell me about that.
AH: That was the best. We did [the fog] before in the dress rehearsal, and I had on boots, and I was perfectly fine walking down the stairs. But the second I put on the heels, it was like — well first of all, I couldn’t even see the stairs because of the fog; that right there was a problem. I was stuck in the middle of the stairs. I tried, but it was bad.
CM: I loved the package they put together. It was hilarious.
AH: Me too. Especially when I did it the second time. You couldn’t even see me through the fog.
CM: What’s the reception been like from friends and family back home in Houston?
AH: Aw, they’re so proud of me. Everybody’s like, "You’re doing amazing — don’t worry about being in the bottom three because you’re still good." It's really encouraging.
CM: Do they have watch parties?
AH: I’m not aware of them, but knowing my mom, I'm pretty sure she’s got something going on.
CM: I’m rooting for you to make the top three and bring the celebrations back to Houston [with the homecoming parade]. Have you thought about that at all?
AH: Exactly! I have maybe once or twice, but we’re still so early on in the competition. I do think about it every now and then, though.
"Oh man. Kelly Clarkson mentioned me on Twitter. She told me I did a good job with 'A Moment Like This.' "
CM: What do you miss about being home?
AH: I miss my car. I really do. Four or five months ago, I started driving, and I just got my car two months ago. Then I had to leave it. And I feel bad because I feel like nobody’s driving it back home. It’s just sitting there collecting dust.
CM: Time for the million dollar question: Can a guy win this season?
AH: Oh man. I think the girls are definitely taking over this season. The guys are good; don’t get me wrong. But the girls — I think we have this in the bag. The guys joke around about it. They’re like, "Yeah, a girl's gonna win.
A girl better win this season." No playing around.