LOS ANGELES – Less than two hours after winning “American Idol,” Noah Thompson barely has time to sit and eat, let alone check his phone.
The 20-year-old construction worker from Louisa, Kentucky, has an interview with “Good Morning America” in New York Monday morning, meaning he’s whisked into a car right after stepping off the “Idol” stage and off to an airport to catch a 10 pm red eye flight.
It’s a lot for Thompson, a small-town guy who had never been on a plane until his “Idol” audition in Austin, to process.
“Honestly, dude, I was just kind of numb,” Thompson tells USA TODAY over the phone about an hour after Sunday’s finale while eating pizza in the car. “It blew me away. I just didn’t know how to feel. Anybody could have won this show, you know what I mean? I just didn’t think that it was me.”
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Before “Idol,” Thompson says he led a “simple life,” working construction while raising his 1-year-old son, Walker. He wound up on “Idol” against his wishes, when his work friend Arthur signed him up without telling him.
“I just got shoved into this competition basically by my buddy, but I’m grateful for it,” he says. “I just didn’t expect this outcome at all. After Top 3 was when it really hit me.”
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Arthur first approached Thompson about “Idol” while the two were framing a wall at a school for work, but Thompson said he wasn’t interested. Lucky for Thompson, Arthur didn’t take no for an answer and signed him up anyway.
With no prior music experience, Thompson was a nervous wreck when walking into his audition for judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie.
“I can promise you, nobody’s walking into that audition room more nervous,” he says. “My heart was beating out of my chest. I couldn’t even look at the judges.”
Arthur, who accompanied Thompson to the audition, summed up Thompson’s talent and his relatability to the judges: “Other contestants, they’ve had vocal training. They do these crazy warm-ups. This is just straight raw, right here.”
Thompson says he still prefers not to warm up before singing, even after going through “Idol.”
“I don’t like all the noises people make when they warm up,” he says. “I don’t really do that. I feel weird when I do it, but I’m learning. I’m trying to take everything I can in from this whole process.”
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It is clearly paid off. Week after week, Thompson received rave reviews from the judges, who commended him on not just his vocals but also his authenticity in the country genre.
He says the best advice he received came from Richie.
“I remember Lionel had told me to step out on that stage with my big boots and just own the stage, and that always stuck with me,” he says. “I think about that a lot.”
But Lionel isn’t the only artist who influenced Thompson.
During an episode in which Carrie Underwood served as a guest mentor to the contestants, she teared up talking about Thompson’s journey on the show. Underwood, who won Season 4 of “Idol” in 2005, said “American Idol” was created for people like herself and Thompson, “who didn’t know to dream that big but knew that they wanted to do something.”
Thompson says he looks up to Underwood and admires how she has stayed true to herself, even as she catapulted to stardom. It’s something he hopes to emulate in his own career.
“I’m not trying to be somebody, you know what I mean? I’m just trying to be myself,” he says. “I didn’t wanna change for nobody or no one. I wanted to be who I was, and hopefully that was good enough.”
Looking toward life after “Idol,” Thompson doesn’t quite know what his future has in store, other than playing shows and making music. After visiting Los Angeles for the first time for Hollywood Week, he says Nashville is a better fit for him to start his career. “I need trees, you know what I mean?” he says.
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No matter what, Thompson plans to keep being himself while also fostering the confidence he found on “Idol.”
“It’s made me open up a lot and just grow,” he says. “It’s helped me with my confidence, just everything. I feel like it’s changed me in a lot of ways. It’s just changed everything, but it’s a good change for the better. I’m really looking forward to it.”
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