Sophomore Kyle Crews sings way to Hollywood on American Idol

Kyle Crews/Courtesy

On paper, Kyle Crews seems fairly straightforward: a tall, blonde and blue-eyed self-proclaimed “gentle giant” in the Kappa Alpha fraternity at UC Berkeley.

But Crews on paper does not necessarily match up with the real-life sophomore. Certainly, not many would expect him to be a fan of R&B and a contestant on American Idol.

Crews knows this, and often uses it to his advantage.

“It’s such an unexpected choice,” Crews said, referring to his selection of Monica’s “Angel of Mine” as his audition piece. “It’s a late ’90s R&B song and I’m a 6’3” white male — there’s definitely a shock factor.”

Crews was eliminated from the show in Wednesday evening’s episode after singing Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops!)” with four other contestants. But he is upbeat about his future prospects in the music industry, and is continuing to audition for musicals while still in San Diego.

“I got this far,” Crews said. “There are plenty of ways to make it in the industry … this is a great way to get exposure and it’s an amazing experience.”

When Crews originally auditioned for the judges, Steven Tyler called Crews’ voice “the best male voice we’ve heard so far.”

“I blacked out when he said that,” Crews said, laughing. “Everything became a big tornado around me and all I remember is J.Lo saying, ‘Yes, yes,’ and Randy calling me a star — it was insane.”

But perhaps this turn of events is not so surprising — Crews has, after all, been a singer and performer since he was eight years old and is a member of the UC Men’s Octet on campus, an experience he calls a “great musical outlet.” American Idol has long been part of Crews’ plans.

“I had always wanted to audition,” Crews said. “I grew up on Idol, and have been watching since the first season. Finally, I was like, you know what, I should do it.”

This resolution was enough to bring him to the audition in San Diego, but even it could not prevent the inevitable nerves.

“I was so nervous, trying to keep calm and stay out of my head,” Crews recalled. “I was shaking in my boots, though, and scoping out the competition to see how I measured up … Ryan Seacrest’s interview with me kind of eased the nerves and made me realize that this is supposed to be a fun experience, and it’s not the end of the world if I don’t make it.”

But he did make it, at least initially, as the judges’ enthusiastic reactions showed.

In order to properly follow his dreams, Crews has taken the semester off from school, saying that it was difficult to balance classes, Men’s Octet and preparing for the show. He said that he plans to return to UC Berkeley in the fall, and is quick to add that though he is currently undeclared, he is interested in political science.

“I’ve thought that maybe I should pursue an academic degree as a fallback,” Crews said. “Barely any people make it big in this business and I want to have a back-up.”

While Crews conceded to the extreme competitiveness of the music industry, his long-term goals remain unchanged.

“Definitely, my ultimate goal would be to be a recording artist,” Crews said. “Filling out Madison Square Garden is a dream. I’m trying right now just to ride the momentum … a lot of people saw the video of me auditioning and it’s been well received.”

He cites his fraternity as a major supportive source throughout his time on campus and during the show.

“They’ve been so supportive,” Crews said. “One of the reasons I joined was because they loved my voice and are so receptive of my singing — it felt right to be in a house in which your musicality is accepted.”

Crews is not the first UC Berkeley student to receive attention on the show. In 2004, then engineering student William Hung became infamous for his questionable rendition of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs” on the show. The judges gave Crews a much warmer reception.