March 11, 2018 03:00 PM

 

Some people get lucky the first time. And then there are those like American Idol alum Rayvon Owen, who tried out for the singing competition “at least four or five times” before he made it to the final three in season 14. “I lost track of how many times I tried out!” he admits to PEOPLE.

Owen, who auditioned with a Katy Perry song in season 14, was a favorite of Jennifer Lopez‘s and was even saved once after getting voted off by the audience.

So how does it feel to get so close to winning and then miss it?

“I think everything happens for a reason,” Owen, now 26, says.

“I never even expected to get that far. Someone gave me the best advice and said, ‘Treat every performance like it’s your last,’ and it’s true! You’re up against so many good people that the chances of you making it through are so slim, no matter how talented you are. I saw so many talented people who didn’t get very far.”

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As for talented singers that do win the competition, it begs the question of why some of them — like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood — have thriving careers while others just seem to disappear?

“I think American Idol picks people out of small towns who don’t know much about the business or how to navigate it afterward,” Owen says. “They treat you so well on the show. You’re like A-list celebrities, getting flown around on private planes, and I think a lot of people assume it’s going to continue after the show ends. And it doesn’t.”

Rayvon Owen
Michael Becker/FOX via Getty

Owen adds, “You’d be surprised at how many of them also move back to their small towns and don’t take advantage of their momentum. The post-show support isn’t there. Even if you sign to the label… you think about albums like Candice Glover‘s, which was amazing, but I don’t know if the Idol label gave it the support it needed.”

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As for Owen’s career now, he says he’s recording a new project, came out as gay in 2016 and just got engaged to his boyfriend, YouTube star Shane Crone, at a Demi Lovato concert.

“I’m feeling very optimistic about my new chapter,” he says. “I’m an openly gay artist, and it’s been amazing to live an true authentic life. I feel like I can write more honestly. Idol was amazing and it taught me a lot, so now I’m just running with it.”

American Idol airs Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.

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