X Factor's Astro on 'Getting to Rihanna’s Level or Higher,' the Aggravation of Being Seen as Cocky

Let’s get one thing straight: The X Factor‘s pint-sized rapper Astro wants you to know he’s confident, not cocky. TVLine caught up with the 14-year-old contestant to get the low-down on how he writes lyrics, why he refused to participate in Boot Camp choreography, and what it’s like to perform 10 feet in front of Rihanna.

TVLINE So let’s talk about your whole X Factor journey from beginning to end, starting with your audition to the original track “Stop Looking at My Mom.” Watching it, it wasn’t initially clear you were doing a little bit of shtick for Simon — “Yo, yo, yo, yo, Simon! Yo, I see you, man. What is your problem? Are you serious?” — and I wonder, did you have any worry that while you were throwing a little attitude his way, he’d say, “Okay kid, get off the stage,” before you had a chance to perform?
Obviously everything I did, I did for a reason so, you know, I wasn’t worried about things like that. Things like that wouldn’t affect me. It’s the past, and it is what it is, it was what it was, and I’m focused on the now.

TVLINE I understand you’re focused on the now, and that’s great, but we still have to talk about your audition. As a viewer, the first thing that came to mind was, “Who is this kid being brash up there?” We don’t usually see that kind of behavior at a serious audition.
I mean, obviously I just wanted to shock people, because everybody was doing the same old “Hi, my name is.” Then they’d sing and leave. I wanted to do something different. And I believe I did that with the performance of “Stop Looking at My Mom.”

TVLINE I’m curious: When did you write that song? Was it specifically for the audition, or was it something you’d performed in the past?
I wrote that song like three years before.

TVLINE | I know that during the course of the show, you did mostly original lyrics, but in terms of a show like X Factor, or Idol, or The Voice, we generally don’t see people performing their own material. Were you concerned that first time on the stage, “How are they going to respond to an original?” Or even, “How will they respond to rap?”
I wasn’t the only one that auditioned with an original song for The X Factor, but you know, I wasn’t nervous at all. It’s just a “take it or leave it” type of situation for me. And I just felt like hip-hop is as good as any other genre, so when I went on stage, I was just ready, ready for war.

TVLINE We also saw you in Boot Camp at one point saying something along the lines of, “I don’t do choreographed dancing.” At that point, you’re an unsigned artist; you’re very early on in the process. Did you worry how that was going to come off to the judges and to the production, that you weren’t willing to participate in the same choreography every other contestant was being asked to do?
C’mon man, to be honest it’s kind of like, I had a mental image, and I’m a hip-hop artist, and the dances they were doing were crazy, all over the place, like video-shoot dancing. That wasn’t me. I wasn’t going to do it because I had to make sure my reputation wasn’t cheapened, and I’m held responsible to represent hip-hop as a young artist right now. So I didn’t want to do anything that might mess up the way people view me. I just stood my ground.

TVLINE Talk about a little bit about the Judges’ Houses round, where you were performing in front of Rihanna. I’d imagine that would be a pretty intense experience for most people your age, but you seemed pretty relaxed. Did you know Rihanna was going to be there ahead of time? And what was your first thought you realized you’d be performing 10 feet away from Rihanna and L.A. Reid?
I had a feeling there was going to be Rihanna or Beyoncé or somebody big, because of L.A.’s [connections]. But I’m not the type to be starstruck because I feel like I can get to Rihanna’s level or even higher if I work hard. Basically when I was performing in front of Rihanna, I was just thinking, “Oh man, this is crazy. This is stuff that people at home only dream of.” I went out there and had fun, and it got me to the live show.

TVLINE | Once you got to the live shows, you were cranking out a new song and new lyrics every week. How quick are you as a writer? What’s your writing process?
It depends on what mood I’m in. If I’m extra happy or excited, it’ll take me an hour or two to write a song. Or, if I’m really sad or something, it will take me about a day. But I have a specific way of writing; I just listen to the beat. I think about what I’m going to write over the beat. You know, basically a subject to write about, like a theme each week on X Factor.

TVLINE We’ve got to talk about your night in the bottom two with Stacy Francis, which I’m sure you’ve been asked about a lot. I’m just wondering, when you came out on stage and essentially said, “I don’t really know if I should perform a save-me song,” what was going on in your mind? Were you thinking, “I genuinely don’t know if I should perform this because the judges have probably already made up their minds on who to send home.” Or were you thinking, “I’m kind of annoyed, I don’t want to perform right now because I don’t deserve to be in jeopardy”?
Something happened the day before that I can’t talk about — something behind the scenes — and I thought that was X Factor‘s way of punishing me. But to be honest, that’s the past. I apologized to Team Astro and the Astronauts and hip-hop; what more could I do? I made a mistake and that’s the past, so I really don’t want to speak about that.

TVLINE Okay, but it is actually relevant if we’re talking about your X Factor run. I know when I’d interviewed Stacy…
That’s kind of negative energy. I can’t talk about it really.

TVLINE Fair enough. But I do think it’s interesting that on shows like X Factor, where the public has to pick up the phone and vote, talent is part of the process, but so is likability. And I think that there’s a difference between how a hip-hop artist might present himself — a little bit of swagger, a little bit of confidence, a little bit of an “I don’t care attitude” — and how an X Factor contestant might be expected to act in order to win the public vote. Do they smile a lot, are they perky and upbeat? How did you deal with those two different ways of presenting a public persona?
It’s really not an “I don’t care” attitude; people get confused. It’s a competitive sport. Maybe it’s just because I’m a hip-hop artist, but I find it funny how everybody focuses on how I’m cocky. But they don’t pay attention to what I’m actually saying each week. I’m doing these positive songs, and people are talking like “Oh he’s cocky, he’s cocky.” You know, I’m coming on there writing my own lyrics, and everything I did on that show was positive. It’s aggravating, and it’s not cockiness, it’s confidence. People are shocked when you believe in yourself, and I don’t understand it. It’s a competition for $5 million.

TVLINE Right. But when you’re interacting with Steve or the judges, or doing behind-the-scenes packages, I think audiences have come to expect big smiles and a sense of fun —  especially from 14-year-old contestants.
Well honestly man, I got like [180,000] followers on Twitter, and not to sound cocky, but that’s the most followers out of all of the contestants on The X Factor, still to this day. So when people are saying I’m not smiling, it makes no sense. I’m not doing this on purpose to be like a jerk or anything, but that’s not what I do. When I get a good comment on one song, I didn’t win $5 million. When I win the $5 million, then I’ll smile like that or whatever you want me to, but till then I’m not a Disney Channel kid. I’m from Brooklyn, New York. I’m a hip-hop artist. That’s just that. You’re going to have to accept me or just not be a fan, I guess.

TVLINE So how do you now navigate the next step of your career? You have to make the transition from contestant on a reality show to the actual hip-hop scene. Do you have any worries about being accepted in the hip-hop community coming off of The X Factor?
I’ve been writing way before X Factor and I’ve been doing shows before X Factor. And everything I did on this show was me being me. Same way I acted in the show is the same way I act now as an artist. Like I said, I’ve been grinding for like five years before this show, and now I can release music, release videos, and do much more. I’m glad I was able to be a part of The X Factor. The learning experience was great and all, but it’s not the end of the world for me; people will definitely be seeing more of me in the near future.

To get all of my X Factor recaps and interviews, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!

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  1. Kristi says:

    Wow this interview sure didn’t make me like him any more than I did during the show….

    • GG says:

      Made me like him less. He talks like everybody knows him…I never heard of him . He is a cocky little kid. i wonder what his grade point avg. is?

    • Crzywlfwmn says:

      I agree liking him is not easy. He is an arrogant brat that turned me off all the way through the competition until he was voted off. He showed the world that he is not star quality. It’s true a certain amount of ego is necessary to be a performer but that same performer also has to show character and humility. No matter how good an artist is ultimately it’s the fans and the media that can make or break a career. He needs to grow up and count his blessings because he’s not all that talented and he will be yesterday’s news. Go back to the ghetto little boy and when you become a man lets see what you’ve got then….

  2. DL says:

    No matter what he says he comes off as one cocky dude, but at the same time the attitude sets him apart and I think is more beneficial in the hip hop industry where artists are expected to have a certain swagger. He’s being himself and I have to respect that, especially because I think he has the talent to back it up. There’s room for a young hip hop artist with positive lyrics to appeal to the Bieber generation, among others, and perhaps broaden their horizons. I think Astro will definitely have a career.

    • Chris says:

      Not just in the hip hop industry, but in ANY industry. Those who have confidence and a vision are the ones who end up on top. In spite of what some people might say, I think that Astro does have his head screwed on straight. I wish I had his drive when I was 14!

      • Jessica says:

        The kid has drive; no doubt about that. In fact, I openly admit I wish I had as much drive at that age as he does; heck, I wish I did now. That being said, there is a monumental difference between “swagger”/”confidence” and absolute disrespect. He showed his behind and disrespected his fans and the venue that had given him an opportunity. Yes, he’ll no doubt have a successful career, but I can guarantee there’s a ton of potential fans that have written him off already — me included.

  3. Annie says:

    He’s a talented kid. With the right support he can go far.

  4. Steve says:

    Wow, how does he come across as more unlikable in this interview than he did on the show? I hate this kid!

  5. Kristin says:

    Astro has talent. That’s all there is to it. The kid has more talent than most adult hip hop artists! I hope we are able to hear more from him in the future!

  6. marg says:

    This kind of should have won!!!!

  7. hunter says:

    i cannot stand that kid. i wonder if maturity will change him in anyway. he has SUCH a defensive stance. i did appreciate his talent on the show.

  8. AJ says:

    Haven’t we seen this tired act before? His name is Kanye West.

    • Kate says:

      And he’s just as annoying as this little s*it. I don’t get the people that idolize this crap, listen to this crap, buy this crap and therefore support this crap.

      • Gata says:

        Different strokes for different folk. I don’t get people who like that character Lady Gaga, but do I go on blogs and talk about them for their choice – NO!!!

        I don’t get people who don’t listen to R&B an expect all Black folk to dig pop music, but do I go on blogs and question their taste – NO!!!

        In closing – who gives a flying fig about what you think about what “OTHER PEOPLE” find appealing…

      • whatevs says:

        Because people are like this are honest, not afraid to cover themselves in the face of any kind of fame. This kid is going to go far, and hopefully have the same vision and qualities that make his predecessor so awesome. Kanye West doesn’t make or produce “crap”, if anyone in the industry has any sense of creativity or genuine honesty in the world of a mainstream music, it’s Kanye. All of those people on the X Factor are all cliche singers, of which will have no creative influence. These shows are just producing the same thing we’ve already heard. Those beautiful voices have become ugly, and will continue to get more hideous because it has become a commodity. And if anything, I hope this whole industry collapses. In this age, we can do everything ourselves.

  9. lethargic says:

    Reading this interview I really want to strangle my computer monitor.

    “It’s confidence not cockiness” is the most over-used and tired excuse for asinine behavior these days. Look at Rachel. That was a girl that was confident in her ability. Yet she never acted like a spoiled brat.

  10. Jessica says:

    What a terribly bratty child doing nothing to better his image. If he was so worried about his “hard-core” image, maybe he shouldn’t have signed-up for the X Factor? I was done with him the second he refused to dance during boot camp. Know why I never considered trying out for any of these types of shows? That over-produced crap is stuff I wouldn’t do either, because it doesn’t mesh with the genre I typically enjoy performing. Maybe he should’ve thought about that prior to auditioning.

    Just another spoiled child – albeit talented – who clearly lacks even a remote amount of maturity or wisdom. And his “confidence” (sorry, kid; it’s cockiness) is more obnoxious and offensive than Kanye’s. Grow up, and maybe try this again when you can learn to not bawl like a child when you don’t get your way. I understand being disappointed and crushed in front of millions of people, but you have absolutely no class whatsoever.

    Also, I hate to break it to Astro, but no fourteen year old is “hard-core” or has an “image”. Sorry.

  11. Octodad says:

    Congratulations, Astro. You made me dislike you even more than before. I didn’t think that was possible.

  12. Jaded says:

    Wow. I’m not sure how you got through the interview without kicking his ass, Michael! I didn’t think it was possible to dislike this punky little brat any more than I did during the show, but I guess it is. He is SO irritating. He’s talented, but his personality SUCKS! It’s possible to be confident without acting like a jerk.

  13. RLH says:

    If I acted that way at 14 years old, my mom would have slapped me in to next week. I cannot believe that a parent would allow their kid to act this way. It’s disturbing.

    • crzywlfwmn says:

      Someone finally hit the nail on the head. He is undoubtedly the most disrespectful child I have seen on TV. Is this what the next generation is bringing into our society? I would have never been allowed to act or converse with an adult with that type of attitude. My parents would have given me an attitude adjustment. But then again that’s the difference between being raised and just growing up. No morals, no respect, nothing just like a wild animal.
      My dog has more class than that brat. Let me have him for a month I’ll teach him what it’s all about…..

  14. Shindig says:

    lol, “not to sound cocky” — how ironic. He realizes how incredibly stuck up he comes off as at the end, right? And being from Brooklyn means you can’t smile? sigh. i don’t even

  15. Darcy says:

    Kudos to Slezak for making it through this interview without throwing up (though, if this was a phone interview, I can only imagine the faces Michael was making). Also, great job with the questions. I imagine it’s tough putting the screws to a 14-year-old kid, but at least “Astro” made it easy.

  16. Angel says:

    Can we all remember that he is still a child. Now is the time that his confidence can be fostered and his cockiness humbled. Astro doesn’t behave that much differently then your average high school jock or most professional athletes. He exhudes talent, but lacks maturity that will hopefully come with a few more years cognitive development. Personally I believe he’s got great messages in his lyrics and hope he doesn’t fall into the industry’s theme of sex, money and ‘power’.

  17. karenb says:

    First of all, I thought it was great that both Slezak and Astro held their own in this interview! Pretty entertaining!

    I do like Astro and don’t have a problem with his “attitude.” He’s an original and I think that’s a good thing. For those who aren’t aware, rap has gone mainstream. It’s all my kids listen to, and they aren’t the stereotypical type kids who would listen to rap.

    Whoever said that Astro is more offensive and obnoxious than Kayne-well, that’s just crazy-talk. Kanye’s “lyrics” are completely disturbing and Astro’s are positive. Anyway, Kayne has made amends for his past behavior, and I think a 14 year old should be given the chance to redeem himself. Astro made huge strides forward the night he was sent home. No one seems to want to talk about that.

    And, yeah, for the record, I do think that coming from a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn has alot to do with his personality. I give him props for keeping it real.

    • Jessica says:

      I was referring to their media personalities, not their lyrics. I really don’t care about the lyrical aspect nor the neighborhood he came from. Rachel Crow was younger and miles above in maturity — and I liked Astro’s performances better than every single one of hers; I actually feel Astro is more talented than she is. That being said, his personality is beyond abhorrent, and while I never said anything along the lines of him not being “given the chance to redeem himself”, the outlook for his personality doesn’t look too great if it’s like this pre-success. If his personality doesn’t offend you, that’s great. I, personally, find it abhorrent; not everyone has to agree.

    • crzywlfwmn says:

      And adults like you give allowances to children and excusing their bad behavior. I don’t care what neighborhood a person is from a bad attitude constitutes poor management in the raising of that child. And he is a child. Hopefully someone can take him under their wing and mold the stupid out of him. But his behavior on the last show was totally to cover up his bad behavior from earlier. His ratings went way down. I expect to see him in news …a mug shot…

  18. darcy's evil twin says:

    Good grief! I don’t care for rap so perhaps all rap “artists” are this obnoxious but I just want to slap this little twerp upside his head and knock some humility into him. There’s a difference betweeen being confident and being downright annoying.
    Watching the X Factor finale right now!

  19. darcy's evil twin says:

    And speak of the Devil, there’s Astro with “fiddy cent”. Earlier the sound went out on my TV. My husband said “thank you” and I said “I didn’t mute the sound, I think that was the network censors”.

    • Billy says:

      The sound went out three times for 5 – 6 seconds each time.
      We were experiencing a mild thunderstorm here in N. Carolina and I thought at the time that was causing the muting.
      I was almost in tears that I missed some of the life-changing, life-affirming lyrics from these two *talents*, LOL.

  20. karenb says:

    He’s 14 for Pete’s sake! And Rachel’s meltdown wasn’t very mature, was it?! Not that I fault her for it-she’s just a kid, too.

  21. Owen says:

    Jim Cantiello, the Idol recapper who is the “good” recapper (as opposed to the “evil” recapper that is Slezak) covered X Factor back stage for XFactor.com. And he tweeted that Astro was never less than a complete gentleman backstage, ever.

  22. Stephen says:

    I read that there was a conflict because the producers told him to wear Sony headphones (Sony is a sponsor for X-Factor) and he went out with his own pair instead. Such a silly issue to punish the kid for – I’d be ticked off, too.

  23. Sarah says:

    Well he did audition for the show. So if they wanted him to wear a certain brand of headphones he should have sucked it up and done it. When you sign up for a show like The X Factor you know most decisions won’t be in your hands. If he had that big a problem with what they wanted him to do he should have never auditioned. His maturity level shows when he can’t follow simple instructions.

  24. boss says:

    this kid is just that a spoiled rotten no-talent kid who just does and says the same thing over and over. His “songs” are all the same and his attitude is a joke.

  25. Alex says:

    Haha haters gonna hate! He’s true to himself, and I admire that. There aren’t many people who can stand up and say “No, screw this, I’m doing it my way” and not care about who’s going to dislike them for it. All the other X Factor contestants were too busy worrying about being likable for the audience. As it turns out, the one who cared the least about being disliked is the one who got the most fans. I just downloaded Astro’s mixtape – it’s free, the link is on Twitter. If you like hip-hop, give it a shot. If not, guess he’s not for you.

  26. aunt_deen says:

    Oh, yeah. He didn’t come off as cocky AT ALL.

  27. Julianna says:

    One word: No.

  28. Maressa says:

    Yeah. Rachel has more twitter followers. Fact checking isn’t Astro’s strong point.

  29. Yo says:

    Good interview. This kid knows who he is and is absolutely dead honest – and he is very right about some things; for instance, he would have looked like a fool doing the choreographed dancing. He’s right; whatever happens, he is the one who will have to live with it: Going along with dumb show production has probably hurt more than one Idol contestant in their post-Idol careers. Too many of these kids let the producers develop their personae, then suffer later. Astro knew better. Smart kid.

  30. Hip Hop Is The Future says:

    Regardless Of What These Grown Ass Ppl Are Saying About This Kid, He’s Talented The Industry Needs Someone Like Him So What If He’s Cocky At Least He Doesn’t Put Up A Fake Goody Goody Image Like Miley Cirus Or Justin Beiber