Mandisa, 29, who famously earned an apology from Simon Cowell after he joked about her weight, is the latest singer to be voted off American Idol. The Antioch, Tenn., native (whose last name is Hundley) talks about her controversial song choice – and her crush on Ruben Studdard.
What was it like being in the bottom three with Elliot Yamin and Paris Bennett?
When there were six of us up there, I thought about the three divas from season three (Fantasia Barrino, LaToya London and Jennifer Hudson) being up there. When we went to commercial I said, “Remember what happened in season three?” I was right. I didn’t realize it was the three soul/R&B singers in the bottom three.
You’ve been compared to season two winner Ruben Studdard. How do you feel about that?
I love Ruben, so I’ll take it. I think there’s a little double standard when it comes to plus-size males compared to females. So often in media we see so many different images for how we should look, and you don’t get that with males. Tell Ruben to call me. He needs to give his sister a call!
Does that mean you have a little crush on Ruben?
Yeah, I do. He’s got to call me. I’m not going to call him.
Would you go on a date with him?
That would be nice.
How did you pick your song for the country music theme night?
They do provide us with a list of songs each week, but I didn’t even look at it. When I heard Shania Twain sing “Any Man of Mine,” I absolutely fell in love with it. I felt like it was a great song for me because it showed my personality and I had a fun time singing it.
But Simon called the choice "horrible."
I know Simon doesn’t like country music, but I absolutely love it. I don’t have any regrets. I realize he knows what he’s talking about and so I have to pay careful attention to what he says. But I think it’s a great song, and I think whoever wrote it is brilliant.
You wore gorgeous dresses and jewelry onstage. Did you feel sexy?
More than anything, I felt beautiful. When Simon said I was sexy that one night, I was a little bit embarrassed by it. I don’t get called that very often. I absolutely felt beautiful in those clothes.
As a confident plus-size woman, you’ve become a role model to your fans. What’s that like?
It’s so humbling. I didn’t set out to be a role model – I was just being me. What I stand for is the fact that you can be beautiful at any size. At the same time, I’m very vocal about the fact that my weight is something that I have to deal with. If that makes me a role model, that’s great. I think that anybody who’s my size would love for people to realize that you can be confident with who you are and at the same time you can be working to make yourself better.
How have you been doing that?
Since I first auditioned, I’ve lost a considerable amount of weight – about 30 lbs. I’m eating healthier. I have a sweets-related addiction. I’m getting over a lifetime of giving in to every indulgence with food.
How did your weight factor into the competition?
It’s more about singing. It’s about the whole package. (But) my platform immediately had to do with my weight and got me in the spotlight because of Simon’s comments.
What did Simon say to you after you were eliminated?
He told me he really liked me. He told me I had a great voice and he told me it’s all about the song. It’s all about the songs.
You’ve said Jesus saved your life. How?
It’s not anything in particular. Just the fact that I was lost and did not know where I was going or what I was doing. He absolutely saved me from that, and I’ll be living in eternity with him now.
I heard you sucked your thumb for 24 years.
I think it has affected my teeth, but I don’t think it’s affected my voice too much.
Did you consider sucking your thumb after last night’s results show?
No. I’ve been delivered from sucking my thumb and I will never go back to it. I read a book called The Financially Confident Woman, and it said if you want to start a new habit or get rid of a bad habit, you should do it for 21 days. So after 21 days it was gone. It’s turned into five years now.