DAVID GREENE, host:
So if you're not among the tens of millions of Americans who watch and vote for "American Idol," meeting Elliott Yamin from Season 5 is a good place to start.
(Soundbite of TV show, "American Idol")
Mr. ELLIOTT YAMIN (Singer): (Singing) I don't wanna be anything other than me…
Ms. PAULA ABDUL (Judge, "American Idol"): Okay. You know what? I love the arrangement and I love that you made it your own, 'cause you are one funky white boy.
GREENE: That was Elliott Yamin making quite an impression on Paula Abdul. Yamin is that classic "Idol" story: young guy from Richmond, Virginia who dropped out of high school, bounced around in odd jobs, got his GED and then tried out for "American Idol" and placed third. His warm, self-effacing personality, his soulful vibe, awesome pipes, all combined with his love for his mom, sure won over fans of the show.
Elliott's covered R&B classics from Donnie Hathaway to Stevie Wonder, and that flavor runs throughout his second album, "Fight for Love." Here is the title song.
(Soundbite of song, "Fight for Love")
Mr. YAMIN: (Singing) You're the reason, the air I'm breathing, so don't go leaving, 'cause loving you is the only thing that ever really touched my soul.
GREENE: That's Elliott Yamin and his second album since appearing on "American Idol," and he's joining us from NPR West. Elliott, welcome.
Mr. YAMIN: Thanks for having me. How are you?
GREENE: I'm doing well. So Paula Abdul noted that you're one funky white boy.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GREENE: Where - this funk, where exactly did you find it?
Mr. YAMIN: I think it just comes from I guess my environment, my background, where I grew up and how I grew up. I was introduced to soul music at a very young age. My mom was a soul singer, and when I was a kid I remember trying to emulate Stevie Wonder's sound and Donnie Hathaway's sound. It's just part of who I am. You know, I'm a soulful kind of dude.
GREENE: It sounds that way. I hope you can take us through some of these new songs. If we could play a little bit of the first cut on the new album. It's "Let Love Be."
(Soundbite of song, "Let Love Be")
Mr. YAMIN: (Singing) I see you for the star that you are, but you gotta stop, breathe. Baby, it's not coincidence that you're here with me, 'cause you should have (unintelligible), yeah, yeah, yeah. Everybody knows when you find true love, you might not find it again, so take it by the hand, and let love be.
GREENE: Well, I want to talk a little bit about your post-"American Idol" life. Your last album was incredibly successful. How did you transition from being a part of "American Idol" to being Elliott Yamin?
Mr. YAMIN: There really was no transition. I'm still Elliott Yamin. I'm still the funky white Jewish boy from Richmond, Virginia.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. YAMIN: Everything that we went through on the show, all the hoops and that whole machine, coming out on the other end, I feel like I've really handled it well. And I learned how it handle it well all from the show. You know, it was like a celebrity boot camp, if you will.
GREENE: What is part of the boot camp? I mean, what prepares you to be a celebrity if you're on "American Idol"?
Mr. YAMIN: Well, you know, there was media - we did tons of media blitzes, we would shoot music videos every week, we would record background vocals for the group songs they do every week. I mean, our plate was really full. We had a really busy schedule. And all of that prepared me for everything that I do now in the business - you know, things like we're doing now, you know, this interview. And I'm just happy to be here, man.
GREENE: Let's play a little more music. This is a cut called "Can't Keep on Loving You." And talk about some of those things, how things kind of changed for you as we listen to your music now.
Mr. YAMIN: Yeah, this is one of my favorites on the album, actually.
(Soundbite of song, "Can't Keep on Loving You")
Mr. YAMIN: (Singing) She's always on my mind, there's no room left for thinking. I'm tired of waiting, soul is fading, it needs to happen now. 'Cause I'm running out of time, and I feel this ship is sinking. The doors are closed and I am frozen. I need her around. And it feels like we belong together. Can someone tell me where do I start?
There's this kind of desperation you hear in my voice when I'm saying, you know, how do I get close when this girl looks like an angel and I'm kind of like admiring from afar, you know?
GREENE: Well, I'm sure your fans want to know that this is a love album. Are you in a relationship right now?
Mr. YAMIN: I am. I am in a relationship. We've been - my girlfriend and I have been together for three - three - almost three years in May.
GREENE: And she's a model, I understand?
Mr. YAMIN: She is, yeah.
GREENE: Who is she, if you can tell?
Mr. YAMIN: She's a looker. Her name is Jaime Pace(ph). When you're in a relationship, it always helps. Because whether it's good or bad or up or down, there's always something to talk about and sing about and write about, you know?
GREENE: Singing the truth. You made a decision to go with an independent label, Hickory Records. What was behind that?
Mr. YAMIN: Initially I was offered a publishing deal through a couple of songs that I had wrote and submitted to Danny Strick at Sony/AJB Publishing. And Danny, my manager, Jeff, and I, we collectively kind of came to this agreement to just put the record out, do it ourselves, kind of resurrect this defunct label that existed back in the '70s called Hickory. And it was a label owned by Sony.
And so we wanted to do things our own way and not have to rely on the suits at the big labels, you know? I'm very proud of that most. To kind of capitalize on the exposure that I got on the show and, you know, kind of turn that into a career has been - has amazing. And I couldn't have done it without the team of individuals I have around me, you know?
GREENE: Are you still watching the show, "American Idol"?
Mr. YAMIN: I am, of course. I'll always be a fan of the show. You know, they're definitely doing different things to keep it interesting and they still have an amazing viewership. It goes so hand-in-hand with post-"Idol" artists, you know. It's a two-way street. It helps my career if the show is still around, and if I'm still around and still successful it kind of helps them too so.
GREENE: Do you have a favorite this season?
Mr. YAMIN: I really love Danny Gokey. I love how he sings from the heart. He really sings with a lot of emotion. You can really hear the pain in his voice.
(Soundbite of song)
Mr. DANNY GOKEY (Contestant, "American Idol"): (Singing) He (unintelligible) a river, come rain or come shine. I guess when you met me, it was just one of those days…
Mr. YAMIN: I think that's why I always get, you know, that guy reminds me of you, man. You know, everybody always tells me Danny reminds them of me.
GREENE: It is a small club. I mean, what about some of the people your year -Katherine McPhee, Taylor Hicks - you all stay in touch too?
Mr. YAMIN: We do, we do, actually. I'm really close with Taylor. And that was my family for three, four months. I made some really good, really good close friends. I met some amazing people, not just contestant-wise but people that work, you know, behind the scenes, like stage managers and camera guys and people in the band, just everybody. Everybody across the board is just, you know, standout people.
GREENE: I also know that your mom was always a big part of your "Idol," "American Idol" time, and she died not too long ago. And certainly my condolences.
Mr. YAMIN: Thank you.
GREENE: It wasn't long after you were on the show. What do you think she would say about the success we're seeing from you now?
Mr. YAMIN: She'd probably be keveling(ph) all over the place, and that means she'd be crying everywhere. I'm so blessed to have had that opportunity to share that whole experience with her, you know, and for her to see the man that I had become. Life goes on, but it's so weird without her, you know. I still pick up the phone and I call her, and the phone will be dialing and I realize, well, wait a minute, she's not here anymore, you know.
And it's just - she's always been the first person that I would call when any news, anything that ever happened. That was my best friend. I know she'd -she'd just be really proud. She'd be tickled with pride, you know?
GREENE: Can we hear her inspiration in any of the songs on this new album?
Mr. YAMIN: There's a song called "Someday" on there that usually when I play it for people, there's not a dry eye in the room, you know. So that's when you know you're doing something right.
(Soundbite of song, "Someday")
Mr. YAMIN: (Singing) Woke up this morning, needed to talk, picked up the phone and started to call. And that's when it hit me that you were gone.
GREENE: Is that tough to perform sometimes?
Mr. YAMIN: You know, I actually haven't performed that song yet, but I'm sure it will be.
GREENE: Well, people certainly remember her images and watching you during the show. I've been talking to Elliott Yamin. He's now out with his second album, "Fight for Love." Elliott, thanks so much for being with us and good luck to you.
Mr. YAMIN: Thanks for making time for us and it was a pleasure talking to you.
(Soundbite of song, "Someday")
Mr. YAMIN: (Singing) I tried to carry on but something's missing inside, I just want to know if you're above me. Show me some kind of sign…
GREENE: And if you can't get enough of Elliott Yamin, you can go to our Web site, NPR.org, and hear some of his full songs.
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene. Scott Simon returns next week. And Scott, if you're out there, you can tweet me. You know it gets a little lonely in this studio sometimes.