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Lee DeWyze on new album, new 'Idol'

By Denise Quan, CNN
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Lee DeWyze's 'Sweet Serendipity'
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lee DeWyze won the last season of "American Idol"
  • His first post-Idol CD, "Live it Up," offers radio-friendly tunes
  • DeWyze says chemistry of new "Idol" judges should be "interesting"
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Los Angeles (CNN) -- Lee DeWyze may be the reigning "American Idol" champ, but he's also just a regular guy. In fact, his new single, "Sweet Serendipity," opens with the line, "I ain't got no car, and I've got one pair of jeans."

"That's pretty accurate," the 24-year-old Illinois native chuckles. "Even on the show, they were like, 'The Paint Store Guy,' and I was like, 'Yeah, everybody's got to go to work.' "

For six years, DeWyze toiled as a salesman for Mount Prospect Paint, 22 miles or so outside Chicago. After releasing two indie albums, he offers up his first post-Idol CD, "Live it Up."

It's radio-friendly singer-songwriter fare in the vein of Jason Mraz and John Mayer. There's one song with a ukulele intro that's reminiscent of Train's "Hey, Soul Sister," and another that evokes the sparse, wistful charm of "Hey There, Delilah" by Plain White T's.

DeWyze shares writing credit on 10 of the 11 tracks. "Being able to co-write on all these songs is something that was really important to me," he says. "I'm a songwriter, and I kind of pride myself in that."

Since "Idol" ended in May, he's moved to Los Angeles and is looking for a piece of real estate to call his own. "I've got a place now, but when the time is right, I want to totally settle down in one place," he confides during a break in filming the music video for "Sweet Serendipity."

We're in a loft on the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles. Between a wall of yellow and orange windows and a small army of lights from the production, the temperature nears triple digits. In a sport coat and tie, DeWyze doesn't break a sweat.

"Truthfully, for me, it's tiring," he admits. "But it's a good tired."

He's looking forward to the new season of "American Idol" with Steven Tyler as a judge. "I'm an Aerosmith fan, so I thought that was pretty awesome, right out of the gate. I support that decision 100 percent," he states emphatically.

Yet he doesn't seem so sure about the chemistry on the panel. "J Lo -- I mean, it's gonna be weird. Just the combination of people, I think, is really different, and I think it's cool, so it'll be interesting."

CNN: Winning the crown on "American Idol" is no longer a guarantee to becoming a successful recording artist.

Lee DeWyze: For me, the "American Idol" thing, as far as being the winner, really kind of ended for me once it was over, because you can't ride that wave forever. But at some point, you have to say to yourself, "There's more work to do."

CNN: At one point on "Idol," you were the underdog.

DeWyze: I know who I am as an artist. I've always known who I am as an artist. And the thing about "American Idol" -- it was finding a way to play that game.

I never would have sang a Seal song or a Shania Twain song, but here I am sitting in my room playing "Kiss From a Rose," and it's tough! But I'm so glad I did it. It did help me in a lot of ways outside of what kind of music I wanted to play.

It helped me let my guard down a little bit. It was a little tough for me at first, but it helped me play in front of an audience that was millions strong. I mean, I was going from playing to a couple hundred people to millions on TV, and that's just crazy.

CNN: Did you think the opportunity would ever come for you when you were working in a paint store?

DeWyze: I knew I was going to do music one way or another. I didn't know how I was going to do it. It didn't matter whether I'm playing in this coffee shop, or on this stage in an arena.

I've had people come to me and be like, "I didn't vote for you, man, but I really dig your song." And I'm like, "Thanks," you know, because it's cool. That's what it's about. I know what it's like on the other side. I know what it's like to be shoveling to pay bills. I know what it's like to not have a job.

CNN: Do you think it's selling out for Steven Tyler to be a new judge on "American Idol"?

DeWyze: I hate the words "selling out," because what is selling out? If you try something new, or you're successful at something -- you know, when I went onto "American Idol," some people would say, "That's selling out. Why don't you do it the hard way?" Well, it wasn't easy.

CNN: What do you think "Idol" needs to do to keep viewership up?

DeWyze: Mud wrestling. They need to have mud wrestling matches on stage after every performance. (He laughs) We had Simon Cowell, we had Paula, we had all of them, and they did their thing -- and Kara, and Ellen and Randy, they all did their things. Now it's time for you guys to do your thing. Don't try to copy what someone else did. Just do your thing. I think that'll make for an interesting show.