In a way, Erika Van Pelt's concert at Mohegan Sun is a return visit.
Being part of the "American Idol" tour brings her back to the Sun, a place where she did what she calls random gigs over the years. The 26-year-old South Kingston, R.I., resident had worked at both the Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino, DJing and performing with her band.
Back then, she was at smaller venues like the Sun's Wolf Den and Lucky's Lounge. On Sunday, she'll be singing in the 10,000-seat Arena.
"Yeah, what the heck," she laughs. "I love it."
Van Pelt made it all the way to the top 10 on this season's "American Idol."
Van Pelt, an open and engaging conversationalist, chatted recently by phone about all things "Idol." Not only that, but she also talked about her connections to this region and about how she loves to play poker and blackjack - which, if she gets any downtime, she might do when she's at the Sun.
Oh, and of course she answered questions about her hair. Van Pelt was voted off the same week she chopped her long, blonde hair into a close-cropped jet-black 'do. While a lot of people suggested that the radical change might have cost her votes, Van Pelt laughs it off. She says she has always changed her hair drastically and often. In fact, it's now back to blonde (with a little blue) - despite what the publicity photos show.
The "Idol" top 10 are now past the midway point of the 45-concert tour:
"It's been great. Honestly, I felt like I didn't get to show myself on the (TV) show, as funny as that might sound. With all the editing and the fact that it was TV - and I almost said not real life, but you know what I mean. What's really cool about the tour - and it's what I've always loved about being a live musician, playing with my band or DJing or whatever I've done - there's something about being live in front of people that's really cool."
Van Pelt chose to sing Pink's "Glitter in the Air" on tour and says this concert gives her a chance to show her true musical self:
"I felt like I did my best work (on "Idol") before the live shows, during Hollywood Week or in Vegas. When it came down to the live shows, between the theme weeks and the way the show was stuctured, I honestly felt like I didn't get much of a fair shake. I'm certainly not bitter about it at all. I got a great opportunity. But that's what's great about the tour. I'm getting to show 100 percent myself. There are no TV cameras. There's no lag time. People are seeing me in the flesh, and they can see what I do onstage when I A) don't have to worry about a competition and B) don't have to worry about, you know, which boom I have to look at."
Van Pelt and her sister Sarah were members of the Chorus of Westerly when Erika was 12 or 13. Van Pelt, who recalls with a laugh, "I had this sweet bowl cut back then," has fond memories of the chorus:
"I remember more of the rehearsals (than the performances). I remember the smell of the rehearsal room - isn't that funny? I remember George Kent just being the sweetest man ever. I totally idolized him. I just thought he was the smartest man on Earth."
The tour schedule is a lot less punishing than the schedule was when "Idol" was airing:
"The show schedule was murder - I'll be totally honest about that. It was grueling. Wake up at the crack of dawn, not go to bed till 11 or 12 at night, singing basically all day, rehearsing, staging. All this madness, but also a ton of waiting around, which a lot of people I'm sure can agree sometimes is even more tiring. It was certainly mentally exhausting. And I hate competitions. I loathe, LOOOOOATHE them. I just personally am one of those people that thinks art should not be judged, and music is an art. I find it almost ... I don't want to say the wrong thing. I just don't feel right about it. So I was just insanely stressed out the entire time."
Which raises the question: if she dislikes competitions so much, why did she do "Idol"? Did she not believe in the competition aspect but was aware that the show would give her a great platform?
"That was certainly part of it. I didn't go into it saying I'm competing with these people. ... I'm not disillusioned in any way. I know there are thousands and thousands of singers who are far superior vocally. ... I know I've been given a gift, and I intend on utilizing that. But I also know my limits. And I know there are so many different kinds of singers out there. ...
"Once I made the tour and let it sink in, I was like, this is really cool. Even when I snuck into that 10th spot, I said to myself, if I go home this week - and obviously I did - I am totally content knowing I made it to the tour. I get to be on tour all summer with this really versatile group of singers. We are all so different. I think that's what makes it hard even for people at home to vote sometimes. Because it's just personal preference."
"American Idol" tour,
7 p.m. Sunday, Mohegan Sun Arena; $61, $71; mohegansun.com, 1-888-226-7711.