It’s been five years since Leslie Hunt appeared on season 6 of American Idol. You remember Leslie Hunt, the quirky young lady who was voted off American Idol for scatting? Well, there’s more to Leslie Hunt than what viewers saw on American Idol, and Mystic Sounds went straight to the source to find out what Leslie is up to now, and to fill in some of the blanks on what we know of her musical past.
Mystic Sounds: It’s been five years now since you were on American Idol. You had something of a music career started before your appearance on that show; in 2006 you released a self-produced album, From the Strange to a Stranger, which is still available for purchase today. In addition to producing that album, what else can you tell us about your music career before you went on American Idol?
Leslie Hunt: I have been pursuing a career in music since I was sixteen years old. I joined a rock band in high school and started writing songs. We made a full length record, and then I released a six-song tape and distributed around my high school of all original music. My tape got into the hands of someone who introduced me to Jim Peterik [who] wrote the songs Eye Of The Tiger, Vehicle, Hold On Loosely, The Search Is Over, among many other hits. Jim mentored me for many years and really helped me with my songwriting. He helped me get a development deal with Sony when I was nineteen. It didn’t pan out at the time because I didn’t feel like I was ready as an artist. I still had some developing to do. I actually had a LOT of developing to do, because even when I was on American Idol as a twenty-three-year-old, I still hadn’t come into my own as a performer.
Bye Bye (Sony Demo) – Leslie Hunt
MS: Did you learn anything from your time on American Idol that helped you change the direction of your career for the better?
LH: I learned that it was time to focus on who I was as an artist, and to not get distracted anymore by things I could do as a singer. I started writing songs for the album Your Hair Is On Fire, which took about a year and a half to write and record, and I think that without that experience on Idol, I wouldn’t have had the same fire under me to commit myself to that project.
MS:Your Hair Is On Fire was your first album after American Idol, released in 2009 on your Ellenel Records label. What can you tell us about Ellenel Records and how the label came about?
LH: Ellenel Records was named as a tribute to my younger sister who died before the album was done. Her name was Lauren and she was my only sibling. When we were growing up, we played games and would often name things “L&L’s Puppet Theater” or “L&L’s Carwash,” etc. Ellenel is L&L spelled phonetically. However, I am hoping to put out my next record on an actual label, and not just my own.
Your Hair Is On Fire – Leslie Hunt
I Only Care About You When You’re Gone – Leslie Hunt
MS:American Dream Man, a single from Your Hair Is On Fire, is a fun and catchy pop song, with such a different feel to it than most of your other songs. What was your inspiration for it? No, really. We want the whole truth.
LH:American Dream Man was inspired by my then-fiance, who was a total metro sexual and I felt like he deserved an anthem. That’s all, pretty much!
American Dream Man – Leslie Hunt
MS: You’ve been working on a new studio album. In fact, you tweeted on March 2, saying, “I finished all nine lead vocals yesterday, in one seven hour session. I feel like I’m at the top of my game! BRING IT!!!” That’s majorly awesome. So give us an idea of what we will be hearing on your next album!
LH: My next album, Wait For It (available May 11th!) is sonically quite different than Your Hair Is On Fire, in that I started playing acoustic guitar, which greatly changed my songwriting style. There are only organic instruments on this record, and absolutely no programming. It has a very mellow, wooden sound, and the songs themselves are by far some of my most emotional to date. However, it is not as demanding on the listener as my last record was. I hope that it’s one of those “press play and walk away” type albums that you can hear all the way through and feel warm/fuzzy the whole time.
Wait For It – Leslie Hunt
MS: Besides having your solo career, you’re also the lead vocalist for the prog rock band District 97. I never would have pictured you in a gig like that, but the results sound fabulous. How did you come to join District 97?
LH: District 97 was an instrumental group comprised all of people I went to music school with. I opened for them at a little dive bar called Lilly’s in Chicago. When I heard their set, I was blown away and told the band leader/drummer Jonathan that I wanted to join the band. It has been three-and-a-half years and we have been touring, opening for big acts such as Kansas and Carl Palmer (Emerson, Lake and Palmer) and have two completed records. District 97 has definitely become a vital part of my musical identity.
MS: Kansas, wow! Dust in the Wind and Carry On Wayward Son are two of my all time favorite songs. What was it like to do a show with Kansas?
LH: The guys in Kansas are amazing people and performers. They are big supporters of ours and we have opened for them three times! There is talk of us definitely doing more shows with them, but nothing has been set yet.
MS: What are you willing to tell us about Eliza and how you balance your time between career and family?
LH: Eliza is an incredible kid, and being her mom is a total honor. She’s very independent, so I am able to work from home.
MS: You tweeted recently that you’ve been reading Ender’s Shadow. It sounds as though you haven’t had as much time to read as you’d like. Who are your favorite authors, and what other books are you looking forward to reading when you have the time?
LH: I have been making more time to read lately, because I find that it enriches my brain so much. Right now I’m reading the first of The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters series and it’s very, very good.
MS: Who colors your hair? Pictures have shown you with strawberry blonde hair, darker red hair, and black hair with blue highlights. What color is next?
LH: I have had black hair with purple-ish blue highlights for three and a half years now, and I’m not sick of it yet, so I guess the party continues! I go to a place called Strange Beauty Show in Chicago. I highly recommend them!
MS: What’s one thing you’d like everyone to know about Leslie Hunt that no one has asked?
LH: That’s a great question! I would like everyone to know that I need their support more than anything. It’s so unbelievably difficult to make a living as an original artist, and the more you show your support by spreading the word, buying a t-shirt and wearing it around, buying cds or mp3s, etc., the more of a chance I’ll have at continuing! I just want to make music that moves people, and I’m willing to work really hard to get it into as many hands as possible, but I can’t do it alone! That’s all. Oh, and thanks for reading this interview!
Thank you, Leslie, for honoring us with a peek at your life and future!
Above image of Leslie Hunt and MP3 embeds of her songs are used with her kind permission and are not to be redistributed without her permission. Catch up with Leslie at lesliehunt.net.