Mario Vazquez counts Demi Moore as a fan (her kids love him) and even had Diddy talking about signing him. But after becoming the first singer to quit American Idol last season, Vazquez made it on his own with an even bigger score: a deal with J Records, the same label that Idol winners Ruben Studdard and Fantasia share. Vazquez, 28, recently took time out from recording sessions to speak with PEOPLE.com about his roller-coaster ride with fame, his upcoming record and Idol’s Paula Abdul-Corey Clark scandal.
What was it like to audition for J Records Clive Davis, the man who discovered Whitney Houston and Alicia Keys?
Nerve-racking. I auditioned for him in May (after Idol’s fourth season) in his office. It was so surreal. I sang a cappella – “Whatever Happens,” the song I did in the Idol audition, and I did some other songs, such as Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed.” About a week later, I found out that I was being offered a record deal.
How do you want your album to sound?
I just want to make sure it’s a very good representation of myself and what I’ve grown up listening to in the Bronx. It’s going to be a fusion of everything: R&B, pop, some Latin-style with Spanish guitar.
Did Clive give you any advice?
Just to be yourself, be humble, and keep your feet on the ground because it’s going to be a big roller coaster.
What advice would you give this season’s Idol wannabes?
Just keep going at it and make your dreams come true. If that’s the thing for you, it’s only going to help you because your confidence will grow. Mine did. Being in such big venues and realizing that the public wants to hear you will just make you stronger and more passionate about your art.
What’s your response to rumors that Clay Aiken advised you to quit Idol?
(Laughs) It’s not true. Clay and I have the same lawyer. I can think that’s why people would make something like that up.
Who do you keep in touch with the most from Idol?
I’m very good friends with Nadia Turner. I speak to Bo Bice once in a blue moon.
What do you think of the Paula Abdul-Corey Clark scandal?
I was saddened by it. Paula Abdul is such a wonderful person. To hear negative stuff like that, especially the way it was displayed by Mr. Clark, it seemed tasteless.
Are you ever going to reveal why you left Idol?
When I said it was for personal reasons, it really was personal. Everyone has a right to change their mind, and mine changed. I wanted to take a risk and see if I could do this on my own terms.