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September 22, 2009
Our Long Island Idol
We sat down with Smithtown, Long Island native Joe Murena, 29 an American Idol Season 4 finalist who’s debut album “If Ever” will be in stores, March 2010. Before Idol, Joe was a studio singer who overcame stage fright to perform at the infamous Apollo Theatre in Harlem. His Journey has been paved with the ups and downs of stardom. In Joe’s case…his journey continues.
Christine- Before you graced the American Idol stage you were a kid growing up in Smithtown Long Island. When did you realize you can sing?
Joe – Actually I was at a friend’s house. I was going on 16 and they had a karaoke machine, I was just playing around, and her sister in law heard me singing and, she came up to me and said “I’ve got to take you to the studio to meet a friend of mine!” It ended up being part of C&C Music Factory.
Christine – When did you start songwriting?
Joe- I always sang by myself if I was alone. I think I wrote songs prior to being 16. I started driving around 17, 18 and when you’re alone in your car, that’s when I really started writing.
Christine – What was your favorite song when you were young and who were your musical influences?
Joe – Steve Perry I have to say is my biggest influence by far. I love the Greatest Hits album of Journey. I love going on road trips, and hearing Doo Wop and Frankie Valli.
Christine – You were on Star Search and Showtime at the Apollo, tell us about those experiences?
Joe – That was actually the first time I ever performed live in front of anyone; it was on the Apollo Stage. I was terribly stricken with stage fright and got hypnotized by a Doctor named Dr. Besman, he’s from Long Island and I send everyone to him because I think he’s amazing. He’s into holistic stuff but he’s one of the most influential people I’ve had the opportunity of ever meeting.
A friend of mine, a chiropractor, told me to go meet this guy. I went to him and he hypnotized me to get over it. When I woke up, and I’m not sure I believed it at the time, but I woke up and he said “who’s Amelia?” I said that’s my nanny, my moms’ mom. Then he said you used to watch Showtime at the Apollo with her on TV…and I said yea. He told me you’re going to go tomorrow and you’re going to audition as soon as you can for the show. You gotta go on the show. I walked out of there frazzled, because every time it was on we would watch it together.
So I went to Harlem, I auditioned. I thought the audition went well. I got to meet Maxie Lewis, she was the producer for the show, I stepped off stage and I remember her saying “that was amazing!” I was like…really? I was in awe with the fact I even done that and the fact that people liked it.
Christine – How about Star Search?
Joe – That was the new one with Arsenio Hall. I went to New York. I auditioned, they eliminated everyone in the room I was in, but they kept me! There was another girl they kept she was in the room next to mine. Her name was Denise Hudson. They called me back to do another audition and I was late trying to get there. I was like I’m gonna be late! I gotta get there! I went down the wrong road, a one way road, and a cop jumped in front of me and starts screaming “where the fuck are you going?” I say I’m sorry I have an audition with Star Search. And she said “right this way!” She let me cut through all the way to the hotel I pulled right up and went right into the room and I sang. Then they have you wait a while and within a week they called me and said you made it on the show. We’re doing it again! That’s how my second audition went- I almost got a traffic ticket.
Christine – You were on Season 4 of American Idol within the Top 12 of the Boys. Describe the feeling of performing to such a large TV audience.
Joe – It’s interesting actually because The Apollo is a huge theatre when it’s packed. When you’re on a show like Idol it’s a studio audience and there’s cameras around, you kind of grasp the fact that everyone is watching you live, but to really get it while you’re doing it … you only kind of can. What I like is that when you’re performing, California has the time difference, so you get to perform and then you can watch it back. When it’s the 12 of us, they tape the day before the first episode because it’s hard to get it all in. When it aired I remember looking at it like, “Oh my god this is crazy” but I my mom called me to tell me Long Island is flipping out that you’re the first person from Long Island that made it. You can’t really grasp that when you’re there because they keep you in a bubble. For as long as I was there, I was away from my friends and family. All you think of is the goal. The studio audience was great because they’re waiting all day to get inside to get a glimpse to see who the Idols will be. But that audience wasn’t as intimidating as doing The Apollo for some reason. Maybe because it was historic, rubbing the stump there.
Christine – Worried about the Sandman coming to take you off the stage?
Joe – They had done a taping for another episode of Showtime at the Apollo and prior to me, this young girl came out, a white girl, and they booed her the minute she walked out and I thought “Oh my God, I’m dead” I felt really bad for her but I felt worse for me. Everybody there was really great but the one producer said the likelihood of the clown coming after you was really high. It was like his words were engraved in my head. He said “The likelihood is really high, so if he does, just graciously walk off stage” as he handed me the microphone. I said if that clown comes after me “he can chase me the fuck around” If I go out there and start singing he can come after me all he wants but I am finishing that song, and he laughed. He probably really thought that I was going to be back in. So when I stepped out, Rudy Rush was the host, and he says to the audience “who’s he remind you of?” and they yell “Ricky Martin!” All of a sudden I start doing the Ricky Martin Dance like an idiot and the audience screamed! I’m saying “I’m sorry I’m sorry. I set myself up!” I did Let’s Stay Together. You can’t go wrong with Al Greene but that was the most intimated I’ve felt, more than Idol. Live I don’t think is as scary when it’s on TV as in concert where you can see the faces.
Christine – So I watched your version of Let’s Stay Together on American Idol. Randy said “it was just good”, Paula felt you “brought it up from last week” and Simon agreed with Randy. I agreed with Paula. You walk off the stage week after week after being judged, how do you feel?
Joe – I was fortunate on the show that I never had anything negative thrown at me before that. I’ve watched them crush many people. It’s a beautiful show and brings a lot people together but the reality is they crush many dreams to make one. I was fortunate that I didn’t have to deal with that the whole way through. When the negative comments started and they tell you can’t say certain things, I didn’t want to be that guy that was disrespectful back and I understand they had a job to do. Simon called me a Portuguese nightclub singer and I had a thousand things I could have said, but you just try to take it as graciously as you can. Even the way you’re presented is manipulated; the collar being pulled out of my jacket and my shirt tucked in, that was not always the way I was originally coming out. They altered me quickly and threw me out there. I guess you take it, but at that moment, on that day I felt that everybody’s watching this, but I know my mom, my parents, and my family and friends…they’re Italian and home screaming at the TV! I’m just going “yea ok, thank you, thanks…” Criticism on any level is difficult.
Christine – You were voted off American Idol, you arrive back to Long Island and you’re met with a huge homecoming…do you feel beat down at this time or do you feel like a rock star?
Joe – When I got voted off the show, you leave beautiful-ville to go to another beautiful hotel. I stayed for an extra few days there. I actually had a friend fly out to help me take my stuff home. You pack 8 months of stuff plus the shopping that you do while you’re there, and all the stuff that was given to you. I had a week to almost detoxify myself and I couldn’t think that big coming to Long Island. I remember I couldn’t wait to get home to my family and what I thought was going to be normal again. I stepped off the plane at Macarthur Airport and I hear screaming. I’m like “what the hell is going on?” My friend that was with me told me that’s for you. That’s for me? What are you taking about? I see people, hundreds of people, people I knew, people I didn’t know, signs posters and I was like “Shit, this is great, imagine if I would of won?” Can you imagine, I wouldn’t have been landing in Macarthur it would have been JFK! It’s a world wind even at that point as the show still continues. I went back to the Finale, it was a whole year of my life that was dedicated to Idol, and then I was expected to go back to normal, maybe back to my job. When I landed there and saw what had taken place I knew it would never be that normal again.
Christine – Do you still watch the show?
Joe – I do watch it, I didn’t watch it as much the following season because I was so annoyed about the whole Taylor Hicks thing. I was like come on now, this is the guy? It’s difficult to know the formula of something and then to watch it again. I remember I watched it prior and I remember I was running on the treadmill when Fantasia won which was the year before mine. I remember going to hit the button but I didn’t and I slid right off the treadmill. My mom yells from upstairs “what’s the matter?” and like “I’m auditioning for Idol next year” while I was on my ass having flown off the treadmill.
Then the following year came, because I had said it, now my whole family was saying “you’re going.” It’s the most amazing moment in someone’s life. After you know what it’s like to be there, to watch other people go through it, the criticism almost cuts deeper than it did to me cause I know how they feel and I know that face in holding back when what you really want to tell them off. How lucky we were to have Paula Abdul because she was wonderful.
This year will I watch it? I probably won’t. I love Ellen but I just don’t think it’s the right formula anymore. The artist or singers that go on that show that don’t have Paula, they’re going to be missing an element that they’ll never get back again. That was her baby and she cradled every single singer that went on the show and was genuine about how she felt and she gave us all good luck charms from her jewelry company. I just can’t imagine her not being there, she was just a wonderful person, and I’m not saying Ellen isn’t. I don’t need to watch it anymore its run its course with me anyway.
Christine – Do you keep in touch with any of the other contestants?
Joe – Almost all of them, if I can. I think that our year because it was the top 12 guys and top 12 girls it was different, we got a chance to know each other. I still talk to Anthony Federov, and Mikalah Gordon is still a good friend of mine. She’s like my kid sister. I wish I got to speak to Carrie more but I understand she’s a diva, a superstar.
Christine – Your debut album “If Ever” will be in stores this winter? I was listening to some tracks on your website, do you write these amazing hooks?
Joe – Yea, do you like them?
Christine – I love them.
Christine – Will there be a tour supporting the album?
Joe – I hope so. That would be our goal. I would love to do anything I could. I love to get the music out to the masses as much as I could.
Christine – “Front Row” has a great hook and most people with a dream can relate to this song…what advice would you give a new artist or anyone with a “pipe dream”.
Joe – That’s a funny line, that line was actually used to me as a friend in high school. Just to not act too quick, not to take criticism to heart and be open to criticism at the same time. Everything happens for a reason and I think all singers should know that. Who I was at the time of Idol and who I am now is very different. I wouldn’t have been as proud to stand behind a product that I would have put out then as I am now….just don’t give up.
Christine – You are extremely Charity driven. Tell us with your association with the Rich Cronin Foundation.
Joe – I had a best friend growing up. Her name was Chrissy Pallazolo and she unfortunately passed away from Leukemia in 2006. Ironically it’s very weird how this whole thing worked out because when I first put the band together, Melissa (Joe’s manager) was doing something for the Hope Foundation. I really didn’t know Melissa, I knew her through my keyboard player and they asked us to be a part of it. This was prior to my friend having any illness at all. We went and performed, I guess maybe a year or so later my friend was diagnosed with it. I reached out to Melissa to help me put together a fundraiser for her. At that point that was all I could do was do a fundraiser, people love music and they support it. Unfortunately the week that we picked to do a fundraiser for her, Chrissy lost her battle with Leukemia. So the first single that’s coming out is called “If Ever” the name of the album will probably be called “If Ever” and it’s written for Chrissy. So it’s just weird how things all work its way full circle. I think that being on a show like Idol I was blessed with being wanted at fundraisers. My mom is an 8 years going strong breast cancer survivor, so I did many breast cancer walks and I always will because I think it’s so important. I did Autism awareness at Shea Stadium, I got to sing the anthem. The stadium was packed that day and the manager of the Mets said it was amazing to see so many people, that I should be really be happy and I was like “This has to do with me?” Because they heard a person from Idol was coming to do the anthem, if this is what I can do to help, I’ll always do that. I think it’s very important.
What I found interesting actually, doing the fundraisers and getting involved with Rich and Melissa is how many people don’t know how to get involved. They want to but they don’t know how. The beauty of Rich Cronin’s Hope Foundation is that it’s laid out and simple for people to become donors of bone marrow or just to even get tested to be a match. It’s so simple and it has saved so many lives that’s it’s wonderful. Rich is a survivor and God Bless him, he didn’t just survive and forget about it. He survived with Melissa and created this vehicle for other people to get involved and really help other people, which is really what it’s all about.
Christine – When you’re is not writing, singing or recording. What does Joe like to do?
Joe – I love to spend time with my nephews and my niece. I’m very family oriented. I hang out with my mom a lot and my friends. I can be very juvenile. I like to curl up on a couch and watch cartoons on Saturday.
Christine – Are you a sportsfan?
Joe – Somewhat, I don’t get into the whole scream at the TV like my dad but I can appreciate it. I like going to the gym, I love running because it makes me clear my head. When it comes to writing music it’s something I always do, I can never shut off, it’s my own personal turrets it’s happens all the time everyday, no matter where I am.
We went to go see LFO in concert, they were phenomenal! We were sitting there waiting for them to come out, I asked Melissa to give me her phone for a minute and I jotted down an idea. It will probably be one of the singles on the album. I just like to be normal. I have a great job, I love that part of my life too. I feel like I get to live almost like Hannah Montana.
by Christine Gerani
write by Mazhar Qureshi