David Hernandez is the openly gay American Idol who made sure his new song, “ILY” (an abbreviation for I Love You) was not pronoun specific. The initial pre-chorus was written as I wouldn’t be the man I am if it weren’t for you. David changed the line to I wouldn’t be who I am, if it weren’t for you. “I want everyone to be able to identify with the song’s message,” he explains. “We are lacking inclusion in music and it needs to be recognized because inclusion inspires understanding and humanizes our experiences.”
The song’s music video pairs the American Idol with another gay heartthrob, Benji Schwimmer from So You Think You Can Dance, who plays David’s embattled love interest. Trans actress Alexa Abraxas also appears, playing a therapist who is helping the couple work through their relationship issues and back to the ILY.
“ILY. is not pronoun specific and that was intentional,” Hernandez points out. The initial pre-chorus was written as “I wouldn’t be the man I am if it weren’t for you”. Hernandez changed the line to “I wouldn’t be who I am, if it weren’t for you”. “I want everyone to be able to identify with the song’s message. We are lacking inclusion in music and it needs to be recognized because inclusion inspires understanding and humanizes our experiences.” Hernandez’s “ILY.” is being distributed independently and is available now on Apple Music, Spotify, Tik Tok, Amazon, and all other major e-music retailers.
It is important to David Hernandez that we normalize the LGBTQ experience, and instill in everyone that love is love, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. “Growing up, I was only taught the dynamic and gender roles between a man and a woman,” Hernandez reflects. “There was never any rule or guide book on how two men can coexist in a romantic relationship. Navigating it on my own has been challenging, especially when many people in the world still continue to view same sex relationships as not normal.”
The “ILY.” video, shot by Arno Diem, depicts two people in a relationship that are struggling with each other’s shortcomings and insecurities. They visit a therapist, played by trans actress, Alexa Abraxas, and discover that through the heartache, they share a common thread of love for one another and that for many, it’s the obstacles we overcome that make a relationship stronger. Benji Schwimmer from So You Think You Can Dance plays David Hernandez’s love interest in the video. He also choreographed the dance sequence that he taught to David in two days. “I had never danced so much in my career!” David laughs. “Benji is an incredible and patient teacher. He made the experience much less stressful and really helped me to connect the movement to the music. “
“Talent is a funny thing,” Benji Schwimmer reflects from his LA home. “It sometimes means you have to deal with personalities that aren’t the easiest to get along with because it goes hand in hand with one’s genius. That was not the case with David. Here you have an artist who not only can sing the roof off but also was on time for every rehearsal, practiced till we both were hot sweaty messes and never stopped seeking the best solutions to the project at hand. Beyond all of that, David is just an awesome, humble person, and it was a true pleasure to be able to move and create with someone I now call friend.”
David Hernandez began singing at age six, starring in musicals and performing with various theatre companies. At fifteen, he started writing original music and recording his arrangements. In addition to American Idol, he has showcased his talents on The Ellen Show, The Today Show, MTV’s TRL, EXTRA, Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, Teen Choice Awards, Idol Tonight, FOX-TV’s Idol Gives Back. He was named among TV Guides’ Sexiest Stars and opened for John Legend at President Barack Obama’s Inauguration. His previous single, Beautiful, released in 2016 became a Billboard Top 200 Dance Chart hit.
He has released two full-length albums, 2011’s I Am Who I Am and most recently, KINGDOM: THE MIXTAPE, an album that included twenty original tracks, many of which reflected on the love and loss he experienced since rising to fame on American Idol. David and Benji recall different experiences coming out. David’s was simple in that he phoned his mom after a breakup, crying, “Mom, someone broke my heart”. She asked, “Who baby? What’s her name?” David answered, “Shane.”
Benji’s coming out consisted of battling through fourteen years of reparative therapy within the Mormon church. He fought his temptations towards the same sex for many years until finally coming out via a 4-hour film documentary. David Hernandez hopes “ILY.” inspires acceptance and understanding as grace and love are essential. “We are all beautiful and intricate beings that just want to love and be loved,” he says. “This Pride season, be who you are unapologetically and authentically. Break free from judgment and live your best life! ILY.”
We spoke with David Hernandez from his home in Los Angeles.
ILY. is a beautiful song! What sparked the idea?
David Hernandez: I was inspired from a song by Lewis Capaldi. His songs are just so melodic and his voice is raspy and powerful. I wanted to capture something similar like that for ILY., but in my own way and style. I’ve always been a fan of belty chorus where it feels like I’m at the top of my range. Almost like if the song was sung by itself without any background vocals, it would be enough.
It has a great message.
David Hernandez: I agree. To be honest, I don’t feel like I say “I love you” enough to the people in my life that I truly mean the most. The day often gets away from us and then the weeks and then the months and the years… People come and go and then you’re left with regret for not telling them how you feel in the moment. That’s the place that the song really came from.
Do you have a favorite lyric?
David Hernandez: The first line: “I’m crazy, I change my mind, I go back-and-forth up-and-down all the time”, because, quite literally, that is me. Anyone that knows me, knows that I’m a Gemini and that I have a few different sides to me. I think it takes a really special person to be my partner. I also tour a lot and I’m hardly ever home so having trust and confidence is definitely a must if you want to be with me.
What inspired the music video?
David Hernandez: I sat down with my best friend James for lunch. We had a couple of Aperol spritzers and started throwing ideas around about dancing. I’m not a dancer but I’ve always been fascinated by contemporary work. I wanted to figure out a way to incorporate some of that in the video. Initially, I considered hiring two dancers to tell the story for me but I decided that I wanted to give dancing a try. I’ve learned that stepping out of my comfort zone yields great rewards.
So, you called up Benji from So You Think You Can Dance?
David Hernandez: I mentioned the concept to my good friend, Brady Kerr, and he suggested Benji. They’ve known one another since they were kids. Ironically, I was on the “Ballroom with a Twist” tour where I actually performed alongside Benji’s sister, Lacey. I didn’t know that one day I would eventually end up working with her brother!
How would you describe the experience?
David Hernandez: Benji is the most incredible dancer and a very patient teacher. When I discussed the idea with him, he got it right away but then made it better, mapping out the exact movements. I think conceptually, he really brought the song to life. On set he was super professional and guided me through the movements I was having difficulty with. Ultimately, he told me that his job was to make me look good and I think he did just that. Obviously, he’s a professional dancer but he choreographed the movements in such a way that really highlighted my strengths.
How did you get Alexa on board?
David Hernandez: Benji and I discussed who we thought our therapist should be. I wanted to highlight a trans actress because I think it’s important to normalize trans people in a professional working environment. Alexa happened to be a good friend of the videographer, Arno Diem. Arno put me in touch with Alexa. She’s one of my closest friends now. Super sweet!
What has been the best thing about working in the music industry so far?
David Hernandez: Well, I’m not typically a huge fan of the industry, but I will say that music has connected me to a lot of incredible people through my life and has opened up my heart. Music is a universal language. I think it’s stunning the way that it impacts people’s minds, influences their choices and changes their hearts for the better.
What projects are coming up for you next?
David Hernandez: I’m finishing up my next single and I have a few shows that are lined up. I’m excited to get back to touring! I’d love to create another visual for the upcoming single, but, “ILY.” Is so important to me that I’m gonna give it some time to catch some more fire and hit the mainstream.
David Hernandez’s “ILY.” is available now on Apple Music, Spotify, and all other major e-music retailers. Visit OfficialDavidHernandez.com