A contestant on Season 10 of “American Idol” last year, Karen Rodríguez is now ready to be a fan of the show for the first time as a regular viewer.

“I rarely watched the show before Season 10,” Rodríguez admitted to me during an interview to help promote Season 11, which premiered last week. “Now, I know what it’s like to be there, so I’m probably going to want to see everything.”

Last season, Rodríguez, who is half Dominican and half Peruvian, finished in 12th place after making it to the semifinals. She was commended by many Latino viewers for making a bold choice to sing in both English and Spanish during the competition.

During our interview, Rodríguez talked about why she connects more with Spanish-language music and what it’s really like singing in front of someone like Jennifer Lopez.

“American Idol” airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m. on Fox.

Last season when you were a contestant, why was it so important for you to perform in both English and Spanish?

Spanish is my first language. My parents are from the Dominican Republic and Peru. They both came to the U.S. to seek opportunities. For me to have an opportunity like “American Idol” speaks volumes. A lot Latinos are still coming over here to the U.S. to seek those same dreams, but there are so many out there who don’t feel like they’re represented. I wanted to be their voice and speak for all of them. I want to tell them, “You can be President. You can get that job. You can be the net big pop star.”

Did you ever worry you would disconnect yourself from the TV audience who were not bilingual?

No, because I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I am Latina and I am an American. Eventually when I do become the artist I know I can be I’m going to want to sing in both languages. I wanted to show people who I am from the very beginning. I want them to know I’ve been real this whole time.

When you sing in Spanish does it feel different than when you sing in English? Do you deliver the songs differently?

I think Spanish music is so much different than English music, especially the Spanish music I grew up hearing and singing. I think I might connect with Spanish a little more. Spanish music tends to have more emotion. There is a lot of pain in boleros and rancheras. When singers like Celia Cruz or Marc Anthony sing a song in Spanish about heartbreak, they leave their pain on the stage. You can hear the cries in their voices. That’s what I try to deliver as well.

What was it like singing in front of someone you idolize like Jennifer Lopez?

How many people get to sing in front of their idol every week? I had been following her career since I was eight years old. I grew up listening to all her songs and buying her albums. To have her there and develop a relationship with her through music was great. She’s been one of my guides in my career.

Last year was the first year Simon Cowell was not on the judges’ panel. Some critics said the judges were too easy on the contestants. Even Jennifer Lopez has stated the judges are going to be tougher this season. Did you feel like you received enough constructive criticism or would you have liked more?

I think it was the first time for Steven [Tyler] and Jennifer so they were trying different things out. Personally, I loved the judges when I was on the show. It was like they were doing comedy. We knew we weren’t going to go on stage and feel like we were going to be attacked. Contestants that had Simon judging them probably felt a little scared. For me, I just tried to go out there and do what I do. If they liked it, that was great. If they didn’t, they would tell us with care and love. I think that’s something everyone needs from their mentors. At the end of the day, I knew that when I performed on stage I was going to leave with a smile on my face.

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