“American Idol” has changed Ryan Hammond’s life in ways expected and unexpected.
The 25-year-old Modesto native was a finalist this season of the hit reality singing competition, which will crown a winner May 19. The celebrity judges eliminated Hammond after the “All-Star Duets” rounds, which aired in early April. Since then, the Modesto High School graduate has been working hard on his career, booking shows and speaking engagements.
But first, he will stop by his alma mater Friday, May 10, for a show with a few famous friends and fellow “American Idol” contestants. Joining him for the show will be Modesto native Effie Passero, who appeared on “Idol” last season, and Hammond’s fellow ousted contestants from this season, Nick Townsend and Margie Mays.
Next week, Hammond will fly out to Orlando, Fla., to speak and perform at conference for the Weight Loss Surgery Foundation of America. His dramatic weight loss journey, losing 170 pounds after gastric bypass surgery two years ago, was a frequent topic during his run on the reality series.
Since leaving the show, he has been approached by other weight loss groups and has been asked to be part of LGBTQ pride events this year. Next weekend, he will appear at the Long Beach Pride Parade.
While his singing earned him a Top 20 berth on the show, Hammond is still looking to improve. And he is still listening to the judges. A frequent topic of critique from the celebrity panel of Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan was that he needed to step up his performances and on-stage presence.
“’American Idol’ has just opened up so many doors for me to be able to perform all over,” he said. “You get all this exposure and everything. My advice was to grow in my performance, and that’s the opportunity I am getting now. Hopefully by the end of the year, I’m a completely different performer.”
Hammond is also working on a full-length, nine-song album of original mainstream pop and R&B music. He hopes to have it ready for release this summer. In 2018, he put out the EP “Tragedy to Triumph,” a six-song album of Christian music. Earlier this year, he released three mainstream pop singles, which are available for download via iTunes and other digital platforms.
While he gets to control all the songs on his new album, song choice was one of his biggest concerns while on Idol. He was eliminated after singing “Hold On, I’m Comin’ ” with Broadway star Cynthia Erivo. He hadn’t heard the soul single by Sam & Dave, which came out 27 years before he was born, before having to learn and perform it.
“I will say toward the end I wish I had gone a little more with my gut and not let the producers pressure me into what they wanted,” he said. “I told them that song choice was going to get me eliminated, and it did. It’s a show, so you don’t get a say in everything you sing. But I wish I had gone with my gut more in that last round.”
Hammond and fellow contestants Mays, who was known for her quirky personality, and Townsend, who moved viewers by talking about the tragic suicides of two of his brothers, said they wished the series had shown more actual singing. Since moving to ABC last year, “Idol” producers have leaned heavily on the featurettes and contestant profiles — sometimes interrupting performances to run backstory clips.
“They’re trying to tell a story, but at the same time we’re trying to put our music out there,” Hammond said. “They can find out our story later. There are managers, there are agents, there are record labels who were trying to hear us sing, and they didn’t get to hear us all the way.”
Mays and Hammond became friends during Hollywood Week, when they were in the same group. But their performance was cut entirely from the broadcast. Then in the Showcase Round where contestants traveled to Hawaii, Hammond befriended Townsend over their mutual love of coffee.
He brought them and last season’s Top 14 finisher Effie Passero, a Downey High graduate who used to perform frequently in the region under the name Francesca Bavaro).
“I knew Modesto would want to see Effie come back. And everyone always talks about these two,” he said of Mays and Townsend.
Since leaving the show in early April, Hammond has moved back to Modesto. He lived briefly in San Jose before returning. And already he’s getting noticed around town. At the Modesto farmers market this week, he heard someone say, “Oh my God, that’s the guy from ‘American Idol.’” And when dining at the Texas Roadhouse, the entire staff lined up to take pictures at his table.
“The influence (of being on ‘American Idol’) is still growing every single day, and the opportunities are still coming,” he said. “I got calls yesterday for other shows that are interested in bringing me out because they saw me on this show. They were like, ‘You didn’t make it far enough. What about our show?’”
Ryan Hammond & Friends from “American Idol”