By Reagan Harrison and Brittany Menjivar
In 2015, Dalton Rapattoni stood before the American Idol judges and sang an acoustic cover of “Phantom of the Opera” while wearing floral Doc Martens. He ended up making it to third place on the show, impressing viewers with covers of both rock classics (like ““Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles) and modern alternative hits (like “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons). Now, he’s touring America in anticipation of Nobody’s Home, his debut album. His show includes everything from romantic ballads to high-energy rock songs, all performed with the same expressiveness he wowed the nation with on TV. As his loyal fans, called “Nobodies” in reference to the Emily Dickinson poem “I’m nobody, who are you?” will tell you, his career is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Recently, TYF writers Reagan Harrison and Brittany Menjivar had the chance to catch up with Rapattoni before his show at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Virginia. Read on to learn about his favorite musicals, his love for Emily Dickinson, his wildest dream (it involves Barack Obama), and, of course, Nobodys Home.
TYF: First of all, how has your week been so far?
Rapattoni: It’s been pretty good. We’ve been driving a lot, and I’ve been sleeping a lot, which is dope. When you’re on tour, a good week is based upon whether or not you showered often, and I have been able to do that, so that’s pretty good. It’s been a good week.
TYF: So, to start out, we know you were on American Idol. Which song was your favorite to perform?
Rapattoni: I think my favorite one on the show to perform was probably “Eleanor Rigby,” just because that was the first one that I was able to set up the stage direction for. So I was able to say, like, “I want cello players lined up in a V in the middle!” and all that stuff. That was probably the most fun. The most rewarding was probably “Bird Set Free,” just because I cried and that felt good to do onstage.
TYF: If you could only sing covers from one artist for the rest of your life, which artist would you choose?
Rapattoni: Oooh! That’s a good one. I think Pink Floyd, just because there are so many different ways to do that, and they have so much music that I don’t know if I would get tired of them. But that’s a super tough question. I would probably… I don’t know. I would explode if I had to do that. ‘Cause then you’re just a cover artist for the rest of your life, and it’s like, “Well, I don’t know what to do from here!”
TYF: We know that you’ve sung songs from Phantom of the Opera and Grease. If you could act in any musical, which one would it be?
Rapattoni: Oh, man. I would really wanna be in Hamilton.
TYF: That would be awesome.
Rapattoni: Being in Hamilton would be dope. Being in Les Mis would be dope. I’ve always wanted to be Marius in Les Mis. It’s a toss-up between the two of them, probably.
TYF: Who would you play in Hamilton?
Rapattoni: I don’t know, because they don’t really cast white dudes very often. (Laughs) So I don’t think I could play anybody, really. But I’d like to play Lafayette. That would be fun. But it’d be really hard to learn how to rap with a French accent. That’s pretty difficult.
TYF: Do you still keep in touch with anyone from the show?
Rapattoni: Yeah! I still talk to Trent quite a bit. I talk with Tristan [McIntosh]. I talk to Ameet Kanon. I talk to Avalon Young. I talk to most of the Top Ten, to be honest.
TYF: What can you tell us about your new album, Nobody’s Home?
Rapattoni: I can tell you that it comes out on September 22nd. I can tell you that there are 15 songs on it, and I think I can tell you that there’s a deluxe version coming out a little bit later. I think that’s an exclusive, ‘cause I don’t think I’ve said that out loud, but there is. And there’s maybe one or two sneaky songs on there.
TYF: Sneaky songs. Exciting.
Rapattoni: Yeah. It’s definitely a lot more optimistic than my stuff from the past. I like it, personally. (To the phone being used to record the interview) I hope you like it, people in the phone. (Laughs) It’s a fun one. It’s definitely different.
TYF: If I’m guessing correctly, is the album a reference to the whole Emily Dickinson thing, “I’m nobody, who are you?”
Rapattoni: To an extent. It’s a bit of a double entendre. People have been like, “Why isn’t there an apostrophe after the Y?” And I’m like, “Because if I added the apostrophe, it would denote an exact meaning of ‘Nobody is home.’” And we wanted it to be, “Nobody is home,” and also “The home belonging to nobodies,” “Nobody is at this home,” and… I liked it because it meant a lot of stuff. But yeah, it does have to do with Emily Dickinson. We haven’t been sued yet, which is cool. Looking forward to that in the future. Actually, Emily Dickinson’s estate has tweeted us before, so they seem to be good sports about it.
TYF: That’s so cool. What did they tweet you?
Rapattoni: They just tweeted me, “Love you! Come by the museum” or whatever. It was cool.
TYF: Have you been by the museum yet?
Rapattoni: I have not. I actually don’t know where it is.
TYF: On that note, do you have any favorite Emily Dickinson poems?
Rapattoni: Oooh. I like “I heard a fly buzz when I died.” That was pretty sad, but I liked it. That’s probably one of my favies.
TYF: That’s a good one. Also, on American Idol, you talked about how you gave kids lessons at the School of Rock [a music school for youth]. Is that something you still do?
Rapattoni: I do it on occasion. When I’m home, and when they really need help, like if a teacher gets sick, I’ll still sub in for lessons at the Dallas or the Rockwall school. But I don’t teach full time.
TYF: What are some of your favorite memories from doing that?
Rapattoni: I remember there was this kid—her name was Bella—and when she came to the school, she was a very girly girl, very preppy. And I gave her vocal lessons for a while, and then I went off to do Idol. And then when I came back, I went and saw a concert, and she was up there singing a Nirvana song, and she was wearing a Pink Floyd shirt, all rocked out. It brought a tear to my eye. That’s probably one of my favorite memories from teaching.
TYF: So you’ve commented on in the past and spoken about your experience with bipolar disorder as well as “fighting the stigma.” What advice would you give your fans, or people in general, who are dealing with mental illness?
Rapattoni: I would say to talk about it to people because, that’s the thing, people are going to… At first, when you tell people that you’re bipolar, they immediately are going to be somewhat afraid of you. That’s something I actually… I went up to New York to talk to the people of the Jed Foundation [a nonprofit working to promote emotional health and prevent suicide among young adults] about what we can do to kinda shift that perception of people with mental illness. What Hollywood does is, they use mental illness as a plot point. They’re like, “This person has bipolar disorder, therefore they killed someone,” or “This person has dissociative identity, so they’re a crazy, loony person!” So when people see that someone is bipolar, has DID [dissociative identity disorder], or has an anxiety disorder, they get afraid at first. But I like to tell people that I have bipolar disorder and show them that I’m kind of a normal dude so that they’re not as afraid next time that they meet someone with bipolar disorder. I’m very, very open about it, not because I want people to know that I am bipolar but because I want people to know that bipolar people can be normal. Vaguely normal, I suppose. (Laughs)
TYF: I believe you talked about that in the episode with Sia. What was it like working with her?
Rapattoni: It was pretty terrifying, to be honest! She’s so sweet and she’s honestly one of the nicest famous people I’ve ever met in my life. It’s always intimidating meeting someone who is that famous. I think the fact that she was so nice almost made her more intimidating because you didn’t want to mess up around her. I remember she asked me what kind of bipolar disorder I had, and I was so starstruck I couldn’t remember. I was like, (stutters in an exaggerated fashion, imitating himself) “[Bipolar] II!” “And she was like (in Sia voice), “Oh cool, that’s what I have.” It was crazy. It was a wacky day. I wish I had dressed better that day. I was wearing a big unicorn sweatshirt. I felt so stupid. It was a bad idea.
TYF: Bold choices are good choices sometimes, though.
Rapattoni: Yeah, I’m wearing a friggin’ Hawaiian shirt and checkered shoes. I look like I’m in a ska band today.
Harrison: Can you do any magic tricks?
Rapattoni: No, why?
TYF: I saw this interview where you were talking to someone about how you saw this Criss Angel show…
Rapattoni: Oh, Mindfreak! Yeah, I did and I wanted to…that must’ve been a long time ago that I said that. Yeah, I saw Criss Angel on Mindfreak in Las Vegas. It wasn’t called Mindfreak, it was called something else. But I was really obsessed with it for a day and then I got over it. That happens with me a lot.
TYF: You can’t do any magic tricks yourself, though?
Rapattoni: No, I mean, I can do the thing where you stand like this (sits on outside edges of feet) and lift yourself up like, “Oooh look I’m levitating!” but other than that, no.
TYF: Also, we saw your tweet that said, “Had a dream last night. I helped Barack Obama and his pet bird Earny convince their landlord not to evict them.” Have you had any other weird dreams since then?
Rapattoni: No, not in the “Barack Obama and Bird Saga.” That’s probably my favorite dream I’ve ever had in my entire life. It’s so weird because it felt so real and I still remember every bit of it, which is weird because I don’t remember anything about anything, ever. But for some reason, Barack Obama and his pet bird are still sunk in my head. I don’t know. I hope that that dream continues. I hope that there’s this sequel and me and Barack are living in an apartment together and we have a flock of birds and they bend to our will.
TYF: Can you give us the details of your dream?
Rapattoni: Yeah, so I was living in an apartment complex in L.A. or New York, it was a city. I go into the mailroom because for some reason that was the only way I could get in. My boy, Barack, is arguing with the landlord because Barack just had gotten done being president and he has a bunch of money. And he was like, “I’ve had this pet bird forever and he wants his own apartment.” And he’s like, “I want to just pay for an apartment for Earny. I’m not going to live there. I just want my bird to be able to live there.” Then the landlord was like, “No, I’m not going to rent an apartment to just a bird.” And then I was like, “I’ll live with the bird.” And then Barack was like, “Would you do that?” and I was like, “Yeah, dude, I’ll take care of him and stuff.” And then the landlord was like, “Cool, whatever, fine. If this dude’s living there, you can have the bird.” And so me and Barack would hang out and I would take care of his bird and clean up after him. His name was Earny and he was a cool bird. He was yellow and he had grey hair somehow on the top of his head. I don’t know how that works but it was dope.
TYF: That sounds really detailed.
Rapattoni: Yeah, it was! And I never have dreams that detailed. I think I took a bunch of ZzzQuil before I went to bed that night.
Menjivar: Anything else that you want to say to your fans?
Rapattoni: Nobodys Home comes out September 22nd. Please pre-order on iTunes. “Heaven” comes out August 5th. Thank you so much!