Syesha Mercado: "I Wasn't Going to Tell America 'This Is What I Went Through'"

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"I always wanted to sing because I wanted to touch people, and I've never lost that," American Idol's third-place finisher Syesha Mercado told Rock Daily last week when she stopped by our office. "I was able to do that with American Idol, and that's the most important thing for me as an artist."

But the season was not without its hardships for Mercado. "There were weeks when I got discouraged and I was like, 'I shouldn't be here. Everything is telling me I shouldn't be here,'" Mercado, the season's top female, confessed. Oft-criticized by the judges for not distinguishing herself from Whitney, Fantasia and the other big-voiced divas whose songs she performed, Mercado often found herself in the bottom three. "We're singing cover songs, and I'm not going to sing like Fantasia. I'm not going to emote like Fantasia and I'm not going to sing like Whitney Houston," she says. "And I don't expect people to expect me to sing like them." Mercado admits she felt comparisons were made on her performances more than other contestants, but emphasizes any criticism only made her stronger.

While other contestants freely spoke about their families and life outside Idol, Mercado was careful to keep her private life private — even though she had several people pass away while she was on the show, including her future father-in-law. "I tried to connect my song choices to something I was going through. I wasn't going to tell America 'today this is what I went through,' but I wanted it to come out through what I was doing," she explains. "That's one reason I chose 'I Will Always Love You'; I was singing it for those people that I lost."

These events, plus Mercado's experience with both acting and singing ("Acting is not where my heart is right now," she explains) are helping her discover her identity as an artist. The 21-year-old was prepping a demo of music akin to "Amy Winehouse, Alicia Keys and Fergie" before her stint on Idol but isn't sure what her debut record will sound like, or when it will come out. "Every day I'm evolving, I'm learning more about myself and I think within the entire process of being on the Idol tour and writing in my journal I'll learn more about what type of album I want to put out," she says.

Though she heads into tour rehearsals this week, Mercado was able to reveal that one of the three songs she performs will be a fan-favorite rendition of Keys' "If I Ain't Got You." She also voiced some worry about the packing requirements for the two-and-a-half month trek: "Now that the price of gas has skyrocketed, we have to pay for extra bags. I'm not going to laugh, it's going to be a little tough on me," she admits.