It wasn’t an easy ride to “American Idol’s” top 3 for Haley Reinhart.
The 20-year-old singer from Wheeling, Ill., known for her soulful renditions of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” and The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” on the 10th season of “Idol,” was actually passed over during her Chicago audition for season nine before then-judges Simon Cowell, Kara DioGuardi, Ellen Degeneres and current judge Randy Jackson. A year — and a new set of judges with Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler — made all the difference. But Reinhart almost didn’t audition for the show again.
“It was such a fast letdown [last year], and it felt like it was unfairly played out — I was judged within 10 seconds of a song that the judges didn’t know,” Reinhart said from Washington, a stop on the “American Idol Live” tour that heads into the Times Union Center on Sunday night.
“I was really bummed out — devastated really — and I didn’t want to go back. . . . I got a call the day before the audition and found out that people were trying to email me, telling me about the audition. I figured, it was in Milwaukee, that’s not too far, and if I’m getting a call for it on such late notice — I felt like there was a reason for it, so I went for it. You can’t ignore the signs, you know, and I feel like I’ve had plenty of those, not just throughout my ‘American Idol’ experience, but throughout my whole life.”
‘American Idol Live’
With: Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina, Haley Reinhart, James Durbin, Jacob Lusk, Casey Abrams, Stefano Langone, Paul McDonald, Pia Toscano, Naima Adedapo and Thia Megia
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Times Union Center, 51 S. Pearl St., Albany
How Much: $65, $45
More Info: 487-2000, www.timesunioncenter-albany.com
Reinhart steadily improved over the course of this year’s show, wowing viewers with her powerful classic rock- and jazz-influenced pipes, and earning supporters ranging from Tom Hanks to her idols in Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page to Lady Gaga, who let Reinhart sing a then-unreleased track, “You and I,” from her latest album “Born This Way.” But the judges were not always kind — she often found herself in the bottom three at the end of the week. Even still, Reinhart appreciated the new judges’ feedback, which she felt was more positive, actually.
“The part that I liked most about it was, other than the fact that Randy had the whole — with Simon leaving, he had to portray a part there that was lacking,” Reinhart said. “But for the most part, everybody shed a new light on the show. With these judges, there’s a lot more positive light over everything, and I really enjoyed that. I’ve watched the show since forever, and some things could get a little bit too serious or cruel, even though I agreed with Simon most of the time. But at the same time, I felt that this season, each judge really just portrayed a whole different vibe.”
This vibe seems to have rubbed off on this year’s 11 finalists on the American Idols Live tour — including, in descending order from their place in the show, season winner Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina, Reinhart, James Durbin, Jacob Lusk, Casey Abrams, Stefano Langone, Paul McDonald, Pia Toscano, Naima Adedapo and Thia Megia.
Unlike past tours, this tour features far more ensemble and duet performances from the Idols. “In previous seasons or tours, they had background singers,” Reinhart said. “We are each other’s background singers and dancers on this one. We’re loaded up here.”
Included in the set list is Reinhart’s duet with Abrams on Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’,” one of the past season’s more memorable moments. The duet was never actually planned — the two were first going to sing “It Takes Two,” then changed it to “Fever.”
“We were performing [‘Fever’] onstage, practicing, and the pianist, Ray Chew, started playing ‘Moanin’ ’ on the keys, so I started singing,” Reinhart said. “He said, ‘You know this song, this old jazz tune?’ We loved it. And then the producers came up — ‘ “Fever’s” great, but it might be too smooth for the crowd.’ So we just snuck ‘Moanin’ ’ right in there. That’s how things work out best sometimes, spontaneity.”
Reinhart’s solo numbers in the live show are the big crowd-pleasers from the TV show, “House of the Rising Sun” and “Bennie and the Jets.” Initially, she had wanted to try out some new songs.
“I wanted to do a song that I hadn’t done on the show, but they really encourage us to do the hits, the ones that are the crowd pleasers,” Reinhart said. “And I understand, and I love ‘Bennie’ and ‘House of the Rising Sun.’ ”
She won’t have to wait long to start singing new material, though. When the tour wraps up in Rochester on Sept. 10, Reinhart will head to New York City to begin recording her first album for Interscope Records, which signed her after she was eliminated from “American Idol” in May.
Currently, Reinhart is working on assembling a team of musicians and producers to work on the album. Since she was 8, Reinhart has sung with her parents in the family band — her father, Harry Reinhart, became the first parent to join an Idol contestant onstage, playing guitar during one of Reinhart’s final performances on Led Zeppelin’s “What is and What Should Never Be.” So she’s hoping to have each of her family members perform on the album.
“We’ve done the Reinharts Christmas family CD on our old 8-track in the basement; we’ve been on the radio singing Beatles songs, back home in Chicago,” Reinhart said.
“We have such a little Partridge Family thing going on. I love it. I would love nothing more than to have my family on the album, and hopefully all of them get to partake on it.”
After that, Reinhart will continue the transition from her life with her family in Illinois to living on her own in Los Angeles.
“This is my first time buying a car, I’m paying bills for the first time,” Reinhart said. “I’m learning a lot of new things. . . . I’m living the life and dream that I’ve dreamt of forever.”