On Dec. 17, 2013, Kelly Rowland and rock singer Jeff Gutt did a telephone conference call together with journalists to talk about their journey on "The X Factor" U.S. this year. Rowland is "The X Factor" mentor of 37-year-old Gutt, who is one of the three finalists who are competing in the show's third season finale. Fox will televise the season finale in two parts on Dec. 18 and Dec. 19, 2013. The other two finalists are boyfriend/girlfriend duo Alex & Sierra (who are both 22) and Latin pop singer Carlito Olivero, who is 24. Simon Cowell is Alex & Sierra's "X Factor" mentor. Paulina Rubio is Olivero's "X Factor" mentor.
Alex & Sierra are widely predicted to win, but Gutt and Rowland naturally think that Gutt will be the winner. Regardless of who wins, Gutt will likely get a recording contract with Sony Music, since that's what has happened to all of "The X Factor" U.S. contestants so far who made it to the Top 4.
Most of the conference call ended up being Gutt and Rowland praising each other and did not reveal anything new. However, Rowland was asked to comment on a few things that have been in the news recently.
During an "X Factor" telephone conference-call interview the day before, Cowell announced to the media that "The X Factor" U.S. will likely be renewed for a fourth season in 2014 and that he wants the show to have all-new judging panel.
When Rowland was asked if she plans to return to "The X Factor" U.S. judging panel in 2014, she replied: "I don't know what's going to happen next year. I know I absolutely enjoyed my being here this year. And if I was invited back, I would love to come back."
Meanwhile, Gutt had this to say when he was asked how he's been affected by Alex & Sierra getting more attention and more music sales than he's been getting: "It doesn't really affect me at all, just because I can only control the things that I control. All I'm trying to do is go up there and be the best version of me that I can. At the end of the day, they're going to do what they're going to do. And I'm going to do what I'm going to do. And we'll let the people decide."
On the day of the conference call, news broke that Rowland had announced on "The Queen Latifah Show" that she's been secretly engaged to her manager Tim Witherspoon. (Rowland's pre-recorded interview on "The Queen Latifah Show" was televised on Dec. 18, 2013.)
In "The X Factor" conference-call interview with journalists, Rowland was asked how Witherspoon supports her being on "The X Factor." Rowland answered, "The way everybody else does. Everybody watches, they tune in, they stay abreast to my contestants, and are very excited."
When the reporter asked Rowland for any news about her wedding, Rowland answered, "No, because this call isn't about that. I'm here to talk about Jeff and excited for Jeff and myself. And all of my friends are very excited about Jeff still being in this competition. And he's worked his ass off to be here."
Rowland also downplayed the heated and sometimes bitter arguments that she has gotten into with Cowell on the show. She said of their relationship: "We're very friendly, but I'm passionate, and so is Simon."
Here is what Rowland and Gutt said in the interview:
What is the most important lesson you two learned from each other?
Gutt: For me, everything Kelly has said to me has always been spot on. I’ve learned how to trust her. And I’ve also learned how to leave all of the negative baggage I’ve had and been carrying with me for years, and she’s helped me let go of all of that, which is amazing.
Rowland: With Jeff, I’ve learned just about being authentic and just standing your ground of who you are as an artist. I think that’s the beauty about Jeff Gutt, and I actually think that America has caught that. They’ve seen that, and that’s what they love about him as well. He has stuck to his style. He’s only evolved since being here. He hasn’t changed into anything else mentally or anything. He’s just Jeff Gutt.
How he’s presented himself from the beginning has always been him. He is an authentic artist, and I love that about him. I think that if you are in the music industry so long you start to see people waver or change just a little bit, and he’s never done that, and I admire that so much about him. He’s true to himself as a man, as a father, as an artist, and it’s exactly in that order. And I respect that about him.
Should we expect to see a collaboration with you two on a future album?
Gutt: Oh, I would love to. I would be honored to. That would be amazing. Oh my gosh, I don’t even know what to say about that.
Rowland: You just brought up a really great idea, and all I have to say is: “sold.” I’m definitely down with that.
Kelly, Simon Cowell said that he hoped Alex & Sierra win because they are the best act. How do you see the race among the three finalists?
Rowland: Well, Simon is supposed to say that; they’re his act. But I truly have the best first in “The X Factor” when it comes to being seasoned as an artist, when it comes to a specific sound, when it comes to just him being — like I said a second ago — being authentic to who they are, and Jeff is just that. I have the winner. Duh, Simon. I definitely have the winner, but he’s supposed to say that, but I disagree with him.
How do you see the other two acts: Alex & Sierra and Carlito Olivero?
Rowland: I think they’re very is talented. Carlito pulled out a hand nobody actually saw coming. I did not know he had so much talent as much as I did in the very last semi-final week. I’m like, “Who is this person that’s dancing?”
He’s singing on all the right keys, and it was just so much he pulled out of a hat, but it was very smart. I was so happy for him in that moment, and it’s really actually sweet to see him so happy for Jeff. And Jeff is so happy for him.
The same thing with Alex and Sierra, you know what I mean? They are very talented, and each artist is different, and they each have their own lane. Where I feel like us as judges and everybody that is working with these artists — some people that you don’t actually get to see that are behind the scenes, they work just as hard as the mentors do at shaping and sculpting and wanting the contestants to evolve. So we’ve got a great diversity of talent with the finalists.
Kelly, you looked fabulous in Beyoncé’s “Superpower” video. How did you manage to keep it such a secret, and what is your reaction overall to her self-titled album and to her strategy of releasing it without previously announcing it? How do you think it will affect artists like Jeff Gutt moving forward?
Rowland: I think that it was such a brilliant idea on my sister’s part, and I feel like it actually pushes every artist to just think out of the box. I also feel like it was such a movement. It wasn’t just a rolling out of an album. It was a movement that happened, which I actually told her. It was not my secret to tell, to be completely honest, and I think that it was genius —completely, completely genius.
And your reaction, Jeff?
Gutt: I don’t have the record yet. I’m still living in “X Factor” world, so I might get it afterwards.
Rowland: You’ve got to get it, Jeff. It is an incredible project my sister put together.
Gutt: I know. I have to clear space on my phone because of all the pictures I have from “X Factor.”
Kelly, Simon mentioned that there will be changes in the show’s judging panel. Will you be returning next year?
Rowland: I don’t know what’s going to happen next year. I know I’ve absolutely enjoyed my being here this year, and if I was invited back I would definitely come back.
Alex & Sierra obviously they’ve been receiving a ton of fanfare; they’re getting a ton of media hype. They’ve had No. 1 hits on iTunes, and they have tons of Twitter followers. Jeff, how does that buzz affect your confidence going into the finals? Does it intimidate you? Does it motivate you? What is your plan for really beating them and overcoming all the hype that they are receiving?
Gutt: It doesn’t really affect me at all just because I can only control the things I can control. All I’m trying to do is go up there and be the best version of me that I can, because at the end of the day they’re going to do what they’re going to do, and I’m going to do what I’m going to do, and we’ll let people decide.
Rowland: You brought up a very important word in that whole sentence, and you said it like three times, so obviously you think it is too, but you said “hype.” Hype, hype, hype, hype. The great thing about Alex & Sierra and the great thing about Jeff and the great thing about Carlito is what they all have in common is talent, and I think that behind hype there has to be talent.
Kelly, you’ve had the pleasure of working with Jeff for several weeks now. You’ve gotten to know each other very well. You guys have had plenty of conversations; you’ve shared plenty of advice and feedback. Of all the things that you’ve told Jeff over the past few weeks, what’s the one thing you really need him to remember on tomorrow’s show in order to have a chance of winning?
Rowland: He’s doing it right now … I remember telling him to drop his guard because we wanted to see who he is — to the core of who he is — as an artist, everything. And he’s done that. That’s why he’s still here, and I feel like he’s continuing to do that. When he’s on stage, he continues to open up, continues to show people who he is, and when he’s singing these lyrics, he’s sharing his heart and baring his heart and soul. And I think that people respond to that, and they have. That’s why he’s still here.
Jeff, you’ve made it to the finals. In your gut, do you feel that you are the X Factor, and do you think you were given the proper guidance from Kelly throughout the season?
Gutt: Well, absolutely. I feel like I lucked out completely and got the perfect judge for me, the perfect mentor. She has helped me not only with performing and things like that but just personally. All the things I was carrying with me, she helped me leave those all behind and look towards the future instead of looking back towards the past. What was the first part of your question again?
Do you feel like you are the X Factor?
Gutt: Oh yes, absolutely.
Rowland: Yes, he’s absolutely the X Factor.
Gutt: Yeah, if I didn’t feel I had the X Factor I would’ve been gone a long time ago. The first thing you have to do is believe in yourself, and Kelly’s really helped me with that a lot.
Kelly, how does your fiancé support you on “The X Factor”?
Rowland: The way everybody else does. Everybody watches; they tune in; they stay abreast to my contestants and are very excited.
Could you give us a wedding update?
Rowland: No, because this call isn’t about that. I’m here to talk about Jeff and excited for Jeff and myself. And all of my friends are very excited for Jeff still being in this competition. And he’s worked his ass off to be here.
How does it feel like seeing somebody right at the beginning of their career? Does it remind you of yourself?
Rowland: Absolutely. There were so many times where I feel like I’ve seen myself with something, maybe something that Jeff has gone through that week or a challenge or whatever it might be, or a place in my life where I felt like the strength that Jeff has in that moment I wish I had when I was going through it. It’s just been so many mirrors that I find that happened being here. And I’m so happy that I had this journey to ride through with Jeff, my road dog.
Jeff, you’ve had some tremendous performances this season, and things really seem to peak last week with your version of “Hallelujah,” but is there anything may be you’d take back or do differently? Any song choice or a strategic move or even a staging or something that you might regret or wish you’d done differently?
Gutt: Absolutely not. I think everything happens for a reason, and I think all the song selections have been spot-on. Kelly has been doing most of those, so I just have to just trust what she thinks and what her vision is for me, and I put in my two cents, and we go from there. It’s just all been working out. So I wouldn’t change anything, actually.
Rowland: But if he doesn’t like anything or it’s a challenge with anything, we always talk about it. And I think that’s the best part of actually having a mentor-and-contestant relationship. We hear each other, you know what I mean?
It’s not just, “This is my way; this is the way it should be.” It’s nothing like that. There are no egos here. And that’s with all of the judges. We all listen to each other. We listen to our contestants as well.
What you could say about the song choices for the finale?
Rowland: Brilliant! No, you have no idea how excited I am. It almost can’t come fast enough. I booked studios tonight actually just to get some creative flow out because of seeing the rehearsals yesterday. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, this is incredible.” So I can’t wait for everybody to see [the] show. It’s nothing but amazing. Jeff kills the show. I’m not just saying that, I swear. I swear, I swear, I swear it’s the truth.
Kelly, how you would describe your relationship with Simon Cowell?
Rowland: What do you mean?
Well, sometimes it’s very combative. Is that just the heat of the moment, or are you friendly?
Rowland: No, of course we’re friendly, but I’m passionate and so is Simon. So when he says how he feels about something and I disagree, I’m not going to hold my thought because it’s Simon Cowell. My name is Kelly Rowland. I don’t care. I’m going to say whatever it is I feel like I need to say too. And Demi feels the same way. And so does Pau [Paulina Rubio]. I think that’s why he has us on the panel.
Jeff, this question is for you. What you can talk about, in terms what you are preparing for the finale?
Gutt: One of the songs I’m doing for the finale is a song that I’ve been wanting to do since the beginning, and it’s a song that we’ve kind of just put on the burner in case I made it to the finale. Now I have, and it’s definitely going to be a moment.
What has this process been like from the beginning, and now you’re at the finale? What are the emotions that you’re feeling right now?
Gutt: Well, it’s a lot of work; it’s really long days. But it’s an amazing feeling just to know that I set a goal; I wanted to make it to this point and I wanted to win; and now I’m here. Just having that opportunity, it just means everything to me because I’ve struggled for a really long time. And all the lessons I’ve learned along the way have prepared me for this moment.
For more info: "The X Factor" U.S. website