David Hernandez began singing at age six, starring in musicals and performing with various theater companies. At 15, he was writing original music and recording arrangements. He achieved worldwide fame, competing on TV’s American Idol, when he was 24.
But it wasn’t a life of sunshine and roses. “I had a rough childhood growing up, with little stability,” he recalls. “My mom had me when she was only 17, and there was always tension between my parents.”
David was also hiding secrets: his sexuality and a former job as a male stripper. When both were discovered by the tabloids and they outed him, David spiraled into a mental breakdown. He admits he still struggles with his emotions today. “I’m really great at hiding my depression, or at least, I think I am,” he says, “but my close friends and family can tell when I’m struggling.”
David sings about it in “When It Rains, It Pours,” the first single from his long-awaited autobiographical Don’t @ Me EP. We caught up with him in New York to learn more.
Hello, David. When did your journey with mental illness begin?
David Hernandez: It probably started when I was a little kid, but I didn’t really know what to call it. I grew up in a divorced household, splitting my time between my mom and my dad, and they didn’t get along. Once my stepmom came into the mix, things only got worse. I worked so hard to please both my parents and that eagerness to please has stuck with me through my entire adulthood. I’m in therapy now and only recently have been able to process some of the past traumas that have led to my current behaviors.
How did your time on American Idol impact your anxiety?
DH: Well, let’s just say it didn’t help.
I mean, being plucked from obscurity and catapulted in front of 35 million people at the age of 24 is no easy feat. It’s not that I didn’t want fame, I just didn’t know what it all entailed or the toll it would take.
Was there no one on set to help guide you and the other American Idols?
DH: There’s really no rulebook for this sort of situation and the days and nights were long and most of the time, we didn’t get much sleep. If you watch the show now, you can see how much of a toll it takes on some of the kids. Some break down, others leave the show. It’s not a normal thing to be scrutinized in front of the world. Looking back, I’m really proud of myself for being able to get through and come out on the other side.
You were outed on the show.
DH: Another traumatic event.
Have you forgiven the tabloids?
DH: Oh god, yes. Holding on to that stuff would only hold me back. I let go of it a long time ago because at the end of the day, I get that the media had a job to do. They battle to get out the most provocative stories and at the time, and my story was it. Do I wish that I would’ve been able to come out on my own terms? Yes. Do I wish that people didn’t make such a big deal out of me being a stripper? Yes. I’d like to think that my story in some way helped future generations. I see openly gay people and strippers auditioning for American Idol and The Voice and they’re not hiding anything anymore. I think that’s incredible.
What have you found to help your mental illness?
DH: I think what helps my anxiety is being able to say no… to people, events, and organizations. Not every environment is conducive to my well-being and sometimes I need to pass on things. I also love my alone time. I think it’s important to self-reflect and have honest conversations with yourself, without all of the noise. But I do think the most important thing is therapy. I’m not saying it’s a cure, but it helps to get in touch with your feelings and work out the past garbage that may
be responsible for your current behaviors. Often, when you talk a problem out, the answer spills from your mouth.
What is your message to others who are struggling?
DH: Seek therapy, talk to somebody, reach out. Be vulnerable and let people know how you feel because it’s the key to connectivity. It’s very possible someone close to you is going through something similar or has already gone through it and has a healthy way of healing that they can share with you. Lastly, do your best to love and forgive yourself. We only get one shot at this thing called life, so let’s make the most of it.
Visit: www.OfficialDavidHernandez.com. Follow David Hernandez on all socials @ DHernandezMusic