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Pia Toscano Debuts New Single, Talks New Album

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

A few months ago, when Pia Toscano was voted off "American Idol" in one of the biggest elimination shockers in "Idol" history, she thought her showbiz dream had come to an end. "I really did," she admits. "I was so upset. I thought, 'Oh no, this it, it's over. No one's going to want to work with someone who came in ninth place!'"

Well, obviously plenty of people, namely Jimmy Iovine, wanted to work with Pia, who is now signed to Interscope--despite her disappointing finish. In fact, she'd barely cleaned out her "Idol" dressing room or finished reading all the outraged protests in her Twitter feed before rumors stared circulating that Jimmy had already swept her up and signed her. However, Pia's Interscope deal was only officially announced this week, and she insists that it only came together recently. Her debut single "This Time," which she premiered Wednesday at the Idols Live Tour kickoff show in Salt Lake City, finally comes out July 12.

 

"I had to prove myself. I had to prove if I could do it," she says. "I didn't get a record deal the second I got off the show; there were rumors that I had, but the thing is I really had to prove myself. It's all what you make of everything; if you just go home after your elimination and pray that some label picks you up, it's not going to happen. You really have to hustle. I think the label could see that I just wanted it so bad, and that I was willing to work and work and work. So that's what led to the official signing of the deal."

Of course, the first inkling that all was not lost for Pia came as soon as the morning after her elimination, when the public outcry was so intense, "Idol" fans were practically storming the Fox gates with blazing pitchforks in hand, threatening to boycott the show entirely. The crazed reaction was similar to the protests surrounding previous controversial eliminations of contestants like Chris Daughtry and Jennifer Hudson, who, it should be noted, are now two of the most successful "Idol" alums ever. "That reaction completely surprised me," Pia admits. "After that, that's when it kind of clicked. That is when I realized, these are the fans who got me here, and who might buy my album."

That album is due out in the fall, and Pia is hard at work recording with producers like Rodney Jerkins (Michael Jackson, TLC, Destiny's Child), Rock Mafia (Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez), Heather Bright (Britney Spears, Justin Bieber), and Harvey Mason Jr. (Jordin Sparks, Leona Lewis, Justin Timberlake); she's hoping to work with other big-name hitmakers, like her dream collaborators Ryan Tedder and Evan Bogart. Ironically, getting booted off "Idol" so prematurely afforded her an early start on her album, and now she already has an impressive eight songs in the can.

Despite some Interweb rumblings that Pia might go in a country direction, following in the cowboy-booted footsteps of her "Idol" Season 10 castmates Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina, Pia assures fans her album will have a distinct R&B vibe. "When I was first starting on 'Idol' and meeting with producers, they asked, 'What kind of artist do you see yourself as--if you had to choose any artist, who would you be?' And I said, 'I wouldn't compare myself or try to be like any of these artists, but I'd like the sound of my album to be a mixture of Alicia Keys, Rihanna, and Christina Aguilera." Interestingly, Pia is now doing Alicia Keys's "Empire State Of Mind" and Rihanna's "California King Bed" on the Idols Live Tour.

One other song Pia is performing on the tour is the aforementioned original "This Time," penned by Ester Dean (Christina Aguilera, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj). This is a major risk--it's the first time that an "Idol" semifinalist has performed a new original single on the Idols Live Tour since fourth-placer Tamyra Gray (another one of the most shocking "Idol" castoffs ever) did so way back on the Season 1 tour. But Pia says the song went over quite well in Salt Lake, despite her fears. "It was concern, that it was not a familiar song, when everyone else on the tour is doing hits," she admits. "But the fans were very supportive."

"This Time" is a midtempo, girl-powered pop anthem, a bit of a departure from the old-fashioned ballads Pia famously belted on "Idol," but Pia says she sort of got prematurely pegged as a balladeer on the show. "My goal on 'Idol' was to prove myself as a singer, and I think I did that with the ballads," she begins. "But I didn't intend to do only ballads, it just worked out that way with the themes. Like with Elton John Week, I knew I could do better with 'Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me' than with 'Crocodile Rock'! But I had been looking forward to showing I can do more." She says there will definitely be some sexier, more upbeat tunes on her album, so she'll finally get to showcase that side of her personality in the studio.

Ironically, it was only when the "Idol" judges pushed Pia out of the ballad zone and encouraged her to sing peppier songs that she was actually voted off; in fact, she'd never even been in the bottom three before that. But Pia doesn't think it was her uptempo song that fateful week, "River Deep Mountain High," that got her eliminated. Nor does she blame the judges for her downfall. "With the judges' critiques, I feel like they were pushing me because they believed in me. I never took it as them asking me to change. And a lot of times I agreed with them, anyway." (How interesting, then, that she says "This Time" is "about being yourself and not changing for anybody...I feel like this song could pertain to a lot of things, including my 'American Idol' experience.")

Obviously, it would be hard for Pia to hold any sort of grudge at this point, since things have worked out for her just fine. A three-time auditioner, she almost didn't even return this season at all ("Jimmy Iovine is the reason I decided to audition again; knowing he was part of the process pushed me to come back"), and she thinks her early elimination this year may have been a blessing in disguise. "I feel like everybody has their time when they're supposed to leave the show, and that was my time. That was God's plan," she muses. "Maybe if I would have gone even a week further, I would not have gotten picked up by Interscope, or would not have had that huge public reaction and support when I did eventually get cut. Who knows?"

Who knows, indeed. But perhaps with "This Time," it's now Pia's time. What do you think of her new song and her chances for post-"Idol" success?

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