X Factor's Chris Rene on Fear of Cover Songs, Childhood Dance Class, and Unplugged Dreams

Chris Rene showed off the many sides of his personality during Season 1 of The X Factor: Crowd-pleasing urban artist, sensitive acoustic troubador, and optimistic young dad struggling to overcome a drug addiction. TVLine caught up with the third-place finisher to talk about his memorable audition, his fight to perform a second original track during the season, and a live-performance snafu you may or may not have caught.

Your performance of “Young Homie” was probably the most memorable of all the auditions from Season 1 of The X Factor. After it aired, though, a lot of people wondered if competing on a huge, network talent competition — and being thrown into the national spotlight — was a wise move for someone who’d only been clean and sober for a few months. I’m wondering if you ever had any worries about that, like “Should I wait a year before I try out for something like X Factor? Will that kind of pressure-cooker environment be too much for me to handle?” 
Let me tell you, I had nothing to lose at that point. In that kind of life that I’d been living, you’ve got a lot to lose. You have your life you could lose on a daily basis. And being clean and sober, fresh out of rehab — whether I was in the spotlight or wherever — that chance to be on the stage and show them who I was, that meant more to me than anything. I did not have fear about it at all; I only had happiness about it. I was proud that I actually had the guts to go up there and audition, straight out of rehab. I can’t say that it boosted my confidence, but it gave more meaning to my music, you know?

Tell me about “Young Homie.” When did you write it?
It’s probably two or three years old. I wrote it with my sister, Gina Rene. And I had two months clean and sober — 70 days — when I was on that stage, so I had to change the lyrics [which had originally been] “three years” to “two months.” And I was not ashamed to do that. I was actually happy because I knew someone out there might be going through the same thing as me.

Were you at all afraid of not doing a cover song for your audition, something the judges might already be familiar with?
I was afraid to do a cover song — because I don’t know any! [Laughs] Well, I knew a few, but it’s not my music and it’s not who I am. I thought, “They’re not going to get to see who I am if I don’t do an original song.”

That’s interesting, because the first couple weeks on the live stage, when you did “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” and “Superstar,” they didn’t quite resonate, and you didn’t seem 100 percent comfortable. Were you just getting the feel of being on that big stage, or was it more about the song selection?
Those are both very cool songs, but they weren’t totally my type of music, clearly, so I felt kind of weird doing them. I couldn’t give all of myself to it, no matter how hard I tried. But they turned out well, and I was actually surprised that I even pulled it off.

I thought when you did your version of “Gangster’s Paradise” or, rather, “Pastime Paradise,” was when you started to really hit your stride on the show. How did you decide to mix Coolio’s version with Stevie Wonder’s original, along with your own lyrics?
L.A. Reid and Claude Kelly and David Gray and me and Soulshock, the music producer, we all thought it’d be awesome if I could put my own spin on it. I’m like, “I didn’t know I was even able to do that,” in terms of writing my own verses. I was like, “Wow. If I can do that — write verses and then sing someone else’s hook — then I guarantee you I’ll do a good job.”

And even though you had the Coolio-esque rap, you went with the original Stevie Wonder hook, “Pastime Paradise.”
I was actually supposed to go with [Coolio's] verse — [Sings] As I walk through the valley in the shadow of death… — but the beat came in really quick and I was like, “Oops.” So I just went into my lyrics right away. I don’t know if you could see it [on TV] but I’m like, “Oops. OK. I’m good.”

A lot of times we heard comments from the judges about you having “the X Factor,” having something about your live performances that makes you compelling to watch, that makes people feel a certain degree of honesty and emotion. Is that something that you’ve always had within you? Or is it something you’ve had to work on during the course of your career?
When I look at the pictures of what I used to do when I was younger, I’m like “Daaaamn. I used to do that?” I used to take dance class back when I was eight, and looking at those pictures, I still have the same smile, the same everything from when I was a little kid. I was definitely born like this and born to do this. There’s this one shot of me in dance class, at my old elementary school, wearing black pants, black shoes and this black jacket. I was the only guy in the picture, and the rest were girls, but I just wanted to do it. I love dancing and entertaining and just seeing the reactions from people, so I definitely feel like I was born with a gift here.

Getting back to the competition for a moment, during the week where they made a last-minute change, and every contestant had to perform his or her “Save Me” song, you broke out another original: “Where Do We Go From Here?” Up to that point, you’d specialized in more of a hip-hop vibe and bigger production, and so it was a surprise to see you come out with a second original song that was a lot more stripped-down and acoustic. Was there any resistance to you doing a second original track at that point in the competition, especially one that was such a departure from your typical sound?
Well, the song was written by me and my brother, Gabriel Rene, maybe three or four years ago. And I showed [the producers] that song because originally, the track I had [for my "Save Me" song], well, it wasn’t my taste, and if I’d had to perform it, I would have been voted out. I couldn’t do it; I couldn’t learn the lyrics to it. So I grabbed the guitar and I said, “Please listen to this. I want this to be my ‘Save Me’ song. And they said, “Yes.” And I thought, if I end up in the bottom [singing this], I’ll be okay. I just felt confident with it. It reminds me of the Beatles or Jack Johnson or something that everybody can feel, no matter who you are or where you’re from. It’s universal.

I feel like that acoustic side of you is something we didn’t get to see as much on the show and I’m just wondering how big an aspect of your sound that is, versus the more urban vibe we heard on “Young Homie.”
I have probably a whole album full of songs like that, more stripped-down songs, and I got to show the world one of them. So now people have a better understanding of what I can and can’t do.

How will you navigate that in your post-X Factor career? It seems like record labels and radio both like to put artists in definitive boxes, and they might prefer you stick to one genre. What happens to the acoustic songs if that turns out to be the case?
Right now, I would like to work on an album of songs more like “Young Homie,” but bring more [live] instruments in as well. Ideally, I’d like to eventually do a tour where I redo all the songs in an acoustic style, too. I don’t know how the marketing works for something like that, but I think it would be very interesting for people to see those songs from two sides, you know what I mean?

We also saw you at the keyboards for your performance of Alicia Keys’ “No One” near the end of the season. Was it important for you to make sure people knew that you could play the piano?
Oh, yeah, definitely. I wanted people to know that there are many things I can do. And not just sing-rap, which I call ringing. I played it safe on the piano during “No One,” but it was definitely important for me to show people the piano skills, along with the singing and dancing.

So when you made it to the finale, how much emphasis did you place on winning? Was that your primary focus, or was it more about just going out and trying to do your best performance on those last two songs?
It was basically about giving back to all the fans, sharing with them what I came there to do in the first place, which was have a good time and to be myself. Because throughout the whole X Factor process, [the people involved] tell you, “Look, be yourselves.” So I just kept that in my head, “I’m not trying to be anyone else.” All I could do was go our there, show them fully who I am, and have a good time. And that’s what I did right to the end.

Comments (32)

  • David Gray, as in Please Forgive Me, David Gray?

    Comment by Danielle Notaro – January 16, 2012 03:11 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • I look forward to his future appearances on Intervention and Celebrity Rehab.

    Comment by Paul – January 16, 2012 03:13 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • jerk

      Comment by annabelle – January 16, 2012 05:45 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • Paul, I look forward to seeing your first born on those shows one day too. Karma ;)

      Comment by Renegade – January 16, 2012 06:53 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • and if he does… we who have felt his pure joy and honesty will be by his side, believing in him, and watching him grow even stronger.

      Comment by Kayla – January 16, 2012 11:48 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • His music career will sky-rocket you’ll see.

    Comment by Tay – January 16, 2012 03:18 PM PDT  Reply To This Post

    Comment by Bev – January 16, 2012 03:42 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • sorry guys ! change

      Comment by bev – January 16, 2012 07:13 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • Chris Rene is going to be a big star but he needs us fans to help him by buying his music. We really loved his music in the XFactor but he needs fans to buy his music in order to survive, so come on fans, hurry down to your favorite store and buy his records. Chris is such a humble person and very talented. Show him you care by buying his records and support him in his career.

      Comment by Luz – May 27, 2013 01:54 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Those who have not heard his original music are going to be shocked at the talent this young man has.

    Comment by Jayleen – January 16, 2012 03:59 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • I dont know, but this does not sound like Chris doing the talking to meI would like him to play the piano for a full song if he can

    Comment by judy – January 16, 2012 04:13 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • I am a huge Chris Rene fan. I am so excited to watch his career take off. I can say,”I was there from the beginning”.

    Comment by wanda – January 16, 2012 04:38 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • Yeah. You and millions of other people. Lucky lady.

      Comment by Coolio – January 16, 2012 08:03 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Great interview! Can’t wait to buy his new music!

    Comment by idolbeat – January 16, 2012 04:53 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Who?

    Comment by Realist – January 16, 2012 04:57 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Chris rene is one of kind!

    Comment by Dora – January 16, 2012 05:29 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Nice interview. He has a bright future ahead of him and I can’t wait to watch it!

    Comment by Vincy – January 16, 2012 05:33 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • I looked forward every week to Chris’ performances, his originality and amazing talent had me hooked from his first audition! I can’t wait to buy his cds and to attend his concerts!

    Comment by Lynda – January 16, 2012 06:01 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Chris is the Xfactor.. the total package. Singer,songwriter,musican,performer!! He is inspiring the world. Wait til he hits the radio..Worldwide to the top..

    Comment by Patsy Creech – January 16, 2012 06:06 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • This is such a nice article. The interviewer is good which gives Chris a chance to give thoughtful answers. I appreciate it on both parts. LOVE LIFE BABY!!!!

    Comment by Tracy Lynne – January 16, 2012 06:31 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Chris Rene is one is a billion!!!! He is the most talented acts ever appeared in the history of competition like Xfactor. We are so lucky to have him. LOVE LIFE!!!!

    Comment by tanzia mojib – January 16, 2012 06:53 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Patiently waiting for his album :-) He is BEYOND awesome!!!!

    Comment by Rainy Raina – January 16, 2012 06:56 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Cool interview, Slezak. Especially how you mentioned the “stripping it down and going acoustic.” honestly, I had no idea Chris could actually sing until all the bells and whistles had left the bulding! Have downloaded two of his songs, I’m surprised how much i like them!

    On a different note, did I miss the Drew interview? Or is there one coming?

    Comment by karenb – January 16, 2012 07:11 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Chris Rene is a brilliant artist. He has exactly what the music industry is missing right now. His music is full of light, and substance. I feel very lucky to be able to watch his journey. Without a doubt in my mind, he will go down in history as one of the greatest. Love Life Babbby!!

    Comment by Crystal – January 16, 2012 07:36 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • It’s good to hear fresh news about Chris. Global fans are waiting for his first release and contract to be announced! #LoveLife.Everyday..It’sTheChrisReneWay

    Comment by Debra – January 16, 2012 07:42 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • I hope poor Michael got to interview him over the phone. Looking at that nasty meth mouth in person would make anybody nauseous.

    Comment by Young Junkie – January 17, 2012 01:50 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Enaiya <——- Chris Rene's biggest fan!!!! LoveLifeBaby :-) I am a Proud Reneliens <3 <3 <3 Wait baby, I am coming to your Santa Cruz Homecoming Party all the way from NY. I will be right there with you on January 29th, on the stage ;-)

    Comment by Enaiya Enu – January 17, 2012 06:38 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Love you baby :)

    Comment by Mrs Homie – January 17, 2012 06:40 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • The truth will be out in the sales of itunes and world wide concert tickets of Chris Rene.. :) Just watch, just watch him shine!!!

    Comment by aishwarja – January 17, 2012 06:45 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • I love Chris…I hv been there with him since day 1…in my home town..city of Seattle where he tried out @ the Key arena. I follow him faithfully on twitter and Ustream..and he has given me hope! Thx Chris Rene~ I’m in it for the long run! Sobriety Rules! Recovery Rocks! XO

    Comment by Suzanne Lancaster – January 17, 2012 06:34 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Great interview with CHRIS! He really elaborated on his answers. He definitely has some magic to convert non-twitterers, non-utubers, rap-haters, non-believers, and addicts. He deserved to win the top prize for sure but he will quickly ascend to the top anyway because of all his many talents. I hope he is the next big thing in music and fashion because God knows they (and we the people) need him.

    Comment by geminigal – January 17, 2012 09:28 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Even Rihanna could see the special talent Chris has at LA Reid’s house. He is so charismatic that he pulls people to him. I knew from the beginning that Chris had a lot of success in his future. He is honest and I love his music. Some people say that he cannot sing, well, those people present during his audition with Homey, did they boo him or did they get up and give him a standing ovation? The judges were also overcome with his performance.Even Cowell, who called him a star!If he had not passed that audition, he would not have been in the XFactor.So, He should have won the XFactor instead of Melanie. She can sing but this is NOT all about singing but about personality, Charisma, the ability to connect with the public and I am sorry to say that both Melanie and Josh were lacking in this department.When the records come out to the public, We will see who sells the most. Iam already ready to buy Chris Rene’s album, whatever type of music he does.I am not a teenager but a mature lady and I feel that Chris deserved to win because of his talent. LOVE LIFE!

    Comment by Luz – January 23, 2012 01:17 PM PDT  Reply To This Post

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