Jessica Sanchez can be herself again.
Though she only turned 17 earlier this month, the "American Idol" runner-up quickly learned that if she wanted to last on the show, she would have to try to give the audience what it wanted -- even if that didn't necessarily match what she wanted.
"At the beginning of the show, I tried 'Turn the Beat Around,' then I'd do a ballad, then I'd go back to fast songs," says Sanchez, calling from a tour stop in Sunrise, Fla. "I was trying to show that I had different sides of me, to show who I really am. There was a point in time when Jimmy Iovine, Interscope Records chief executive and 'American Idol' mentor] said that I can't be singing songs that I would want to put on my album. He said that this is a competition, so I should be singing 'competition' songs."
After being voted out by the public and then saved by the judges for a powerful version of Jazmine Sullivan's "Stuttering" -- a song Sanchez loves, but most of the public doesn't know -- she took Iovine's advice. "I took that as 'Let me sing my ballads,' " she says. "I don't think I really stayed true to myself. I'm happy now that I'm really able to show myself and I have the opportunity to do it."
Sanchez says she wants to show that someone like her can succeed, both on the show and in the music business. "I cover a lot of spots that are different," she says. "My Filipino heritage, my Mexican heritage, I'm a young girl. I was picked on. I was home-schooled. I'm really not the big social type. . . . I watched the show since the first season, and I know it would mean a lot to me if I saw someone who was the same race as me, who went through the same things as me, made it that far on the show. I never thought I would make it that far at all. I thought I was going to be one of those people you see in the background at the auditions."
She plans on showing off those traits that make her unique on this season's "Idols" summer tour, which stops at Nassau Coliseum Aug. 22. "It's more upbeat, more fun," she says of her set. "There's nothing slow. People can jam to it. It's more like the way I want my album to be."
While she's on tour, Sanchez is also working on her debut album for Interscope Records, which she hopes will be released in November.
She can't discuss many details of the project, though she says she does record on her days off from the tour and is thrilled with the wide range of songs that have been written for her.
Sanchez also can't talk about whether she really is joining the cast of "Glee" this season, even though it has been widely reported. ("Nothing is confirmed yet," she says.)
One thing she can happily discuss, though, is that she is dating DeAndre Brackensick, the 17-year-old soulful singer from San Jose, Calif., who finished eighth on "Idol" this season. "We were always best friends on the show," Sanchez says, laughing. "I always had a little crush on him, but this happened out of nowhere."
Being a couple makes the whole touring experience that much more enjoyable, says Sanchez, especially with the tour's extension to play the Philippines, where her mother is from, on her first trip abroad. "I thought it was going to be exhausting, but I'm having so much fun," she says. "It's a one-time thing to be out on the road with the rest of the group. It's just the best experience. It's amazing."
The tour makes Sanchez just that much more confident that she made the right choice for her career. "I can't wait to do this for the rest of my life," she says.
What next for 'American Idol's' top 10?
With the renewed success of Phillip Phillips' single "Home" -- thanks to its use as the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics team's theme song -- and Jessica Sanchez's reported TV role on "Glee," "American Idol" season 11's Top 2 are in pretty good positions after the show. What about the rest of this season's class?
JOSHUA LEDET -- The big-voiced 20-year-old from Westlake, La., may have been the judges' favorite, as well as producer Nigel Lythgoe, but the voting public had different ideas. He certainly has a great voice, but his success will likely hinge on whether he learns to control it.
HOLLIE CAVANAGH -- The Texas teenager sure loved her big ballads, which isn't exactly in step with today's pop music scene. If the scene moves toward her or she moves toward the scene, she could score.
SKYLAR LAINE -- The Mississippi teen could end up being the most successful singer in the bunch, ready to take on the country charts right now. Her fearless performances and powerful voice could make her the next Reba.
ELISE TESTONE -- The 28-year-old from Charleston, S.C., was one of the most unpredictable performers in the show's history -- mastering powerful rockers one week and seeming utterly lost the next. She could easily even that out as a professional.
COLTON DIXON -- The elimination of the 20-year-old from Murfreesboro, Tenn., was easily the season's biggest surprise. However, he may also be the contestant whose future success didn't really depend on winning. His charm and interesting voice will quickly make him one of Christian rock's biggest stars.
DEANDRE BRACKENSICK -- His memorable falsetto made him distinctive, but not necessarily commercial. Of course, the San Jose, Calif., teenager has plenty of time to grow into his own style.
HEEJUN HAN -- The 22-year-old from Flushing was quite the character and may have a future in acting or Broadway musicals. Or he could keep helping kids as a teacher, which seems to suit him well.
ERIKA VAN PELT -- The 26-year-old from Rhode Island had a strong voice and a willingness to do what it takes to move ahead. Surely that should count for something.
WHAT American Idol Live!
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Aug. 22, Nassau Coliseum
INFO $25.50-$61; 516-334-0800, livenation.com