‘Idol’ finalist shares hopes and heartbreak

Former “American Idol” contestant Brooke White plays tonight at The Bottleneck.

It’s been more than a year since Brooke White experienced being a weekly staple of pop culture as a fifth-place finalist on “American Idol.”

Now the singer-songwriter with the distinctive, raspy voice and confident piano/guitar chops is back to performing for more intimate crowds — albeit on her own terms. (No ballads from “Evita” this go-round.)

The Arizona-bred White is roaming the country on the strength of her first post-“Idol” record “High Hopes & Heartbreak.” She’s joined on the road by fellow season seven alumni Michael Johns (eighth place), the pair alternating headlining sets while sharing the same band. They play tonight at the Bottleneck, 737 N.H.

“I want to make good music and connect with people on a real level,” the 26-year-old artist says.

This time no televisions are required to savor White’s charms.

Q: Is the title “High Hopes & Heartbreak” in any way aimed at your “American Idol” experience?

A: It encompasses my “Idol” experience, but it’s not aimed at it. It’s aimed at really going after your dreams. It came from a blog I’d written a couple years before “Idol,” and I was talking about my experience of getting into music. There was a sentence where I said, “It was a bumpy beginning fraught with high hopes and heartbreak — the types of experiences I’ve turned into songs.” When I read that sentence I knew right a way that was a perfect title that summed up the experience. It’s not meant to be a downer, it’s just the truth — you can’t have the happies without the sads, and they both make each other that much more meaningful.

Q: Any thoughts on the recent Paula Abdul/Ellen Degeneres changes?

A: At first, I thought it was kind of a media thing, to be honest. I thought for sure we’d see Paula back. And when I heard that she was really gone and they’d taken on Ellen, I didn’t see that coming at all. From my point of view, Paula was a very empathetic judge toward the contestants because she knows what it’s like to be in the spotlight, to deal with criticism and go through emotional ups and downs. But Ellen has massive likeability. Paula will be missed, but Ellen will be welcomed.

Q: How did you and Michael Johns decide to partner up for this tour?

A: We had some simultaneous career parallels I suppose. We released a record around the same time and ended up working with the same producer. He’d written a duet and asked me to sing on it. I keep in touch with all the Idols, and I’m still buddies with everybody. But he called me one day and said, “Brooke, what do you think of the idea of sharing a band and going on tour?” Before we knew it, it was really happening and here we are.

Q: How would you describe your fan base?

A: My fan base is genuine. It’s funny, because with Twitter and the Internet, we have this direct connection to fans these days. Getting to see it first-hand, they really are a genuine, caring group of people. It’s hard to maintain fans after “Idol,” because a lot of “Idol” fans are simply that: “Idol” fans. You’ll be replaced with a whole new group of people. So I’ve been fortunate enough to retain a great group of fans. Now we have to add people as we go.

Q: Is it difficult to be a good Mormon while being a full-time musician?

A: That’s a hilarious question (laughs). No. This is my life. I guess you could say there are challenges period about this business. But is it aimed at my faith? Not for me. This is who I am. At 26 years old, I’ve pretty much made my decisions about family and faith. People are really good to me about it. It’s part of who I am.

Q: What question do people ask you the most?

A: “How did ‘Idol’ change your life?” That is by far the biggest question. Either that or “What is Simon (Cowell) really like?”

Q: Did you ever come across a musical experience that changed your life?

A: All the time. That’s the reason I’m doing this. I’m so deeply affected by music. It’s such a powerful language. I remember being a teenager in my parents’ minivan driving to Disneyland and hearing “So Far Away.” There was something about that song and the message and (Carole King’s) voice that hit me. There’s these days where I’ll sit down with my guitar and hit a chord and I will literally find myself thinking, “That is why I do music.” There is something about the way that a chord affects me, the way that it feels and sounds. It happens all the time and it reminds me of why I’m here.

— Entertainment editor Jon Niccum can be reached at 832-7178.