Fortunate are those who have arrived at a place in their lives where they are sincerely unbothered by what other people think. David Hernandez — singer-songwriter, producer, actor, American Idol finalist, and fully-exposed star of his own just-published book of nude photography — has entered that sweet stage of his career where he’s unafraid to do all the things that excite him artistically, regardless of what his critics might have to say about it.
A prime reflection of the out performer’s take-me-as-I-am attitude is his latest EP, Don’t @ Me, a soul-baring collection of pop and R&B led by the saucy title track.
Diving headfirst into the most notorious period of Hernandez’s past, the song opens with audio of local news anchors reporting on the revelation that, prior to competing on season 7 of Idol, then-24-year old Hernandez had worked as a dancer at Phoenix gay strip club, Dick’s Cabaret.
“I remember when that news clip came out,” recalls Hernandez, on a Zoom call from his L.A. home. “I’m surprised it was still online, because this happened 13 years ago. When it came out, I was so mad at [the news anchors], that girl and that guy. Also, she’s a Latina and I’m Latin, too, and I’m like, ‘Yo, you couldn’t stand up?’ I was feeling a certain way at that time, but I’m so glad I found that clip because it set up the whole song.”
On the track — produced, like the entire EP, by Hernandez’s creative partner Push Kahlon — he sings about the backlash he’s received in the years since being outed while on Idol, and subsequently voted out of the competition.
“I’ve never really talked about how that made me feel,” says the singer, who previously released albums I Am Who I Am and KINGDOM: THE MIXTAPE. “I’ve been general in speaking about it, but I wanted to be more specific, and I think it was mainly for my fans, and the new fans, too, that didn’t really know how this journey has transpired, and how much it really affected and hurt me, but how it only strengthened me now. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger kind of thing.”
Stronger, more confident, and more adventurous in expressing his sexuality, Hernandez is “more sensual and explicit, lyrically and visually” on this record, with sonic teases like “Special,” a slow-jam about climaxing at the same time as a partner.
Then there’s the accompanying book, #NSFW, a deluxe bound volume of intimate photography shot by Noel Photo Studios. Hernandez bares all in the book, which was inspired, in part, by his positive experience performing in Naked Boys Singing! in Las Vegas. Pleased with how the book turned out, Hernandez is “continuing his nude artistic journey” on OnlyFans, releasing additional content to subscribers.
For Hernandez, embracing his sensuality on OnlyFans is an extension of owning his power as an independent artist, whether in front of the camera or in his music. He wasn’t always the one calling the shots in his career, he says, and now clearly he relishes that leverage.
“I think I needed to go through a lot of things I went through to finally get to a place where I was writing about the real shit that’s happened to me, and feel confident enough and not really care that there’d be backlash. And there has been backlash,” he says. “But I just don’t care anymore, honestly.
“I’m more at an ‘I’ve arrived’ place, and if you’re on board with that, cool, but if not, just keep it moving and don’t ‘at’ me. If you’re not in agreement with me, don’t waste your breath, because I certainly am not wasting mine on your life. You know what I mean? So let’s just keep going. It’s fine. It’s all good. I’m not for everybody.”
METRO WEEKLY: So, first question, maybe a loaded one, is how do you feel your artistry has changed since you competed on Idol?
DAVID HERNANDEZ: Oh, drastically. I’m like a whole ‘nother person when it comes to my artistry, probably just when it comes to me being a person. I was 24 at the time. Years have passed.
People used to tell me this all the time, “You have to live life in order to write about it,” and I’d be, “Yeah, yeah, you can always channel the feelings.” But it’s really true, though. I think it’s more authentic when you’ve actually been through it, because then your own words formulate instead of someone else’s, and you learn how to articulate your feelings. Especially as you get older, you learn more and more how to be clear. And I think back then I was a little fuzzy, I was a little muddy water. I thought I knew what I knew, and it turns out I knew nothing.
MW: When you say you knew nothing back then, are you talking about aspects of life and relationships, or the business?
HERNANDEZ: Both. Yeah, definitely relationships. Heartbreak. I thought, “Oh, my God, my world’s going to end.” Turns out, I would have several heartbreaks after that and I’m still here. So knowledge is power and experience is power. And the industry, oh, my God. Whew, I have learned. I have learned so much about just maintaining my artistic integrity and not giving away my power, my rights to my own music and stuff.
I think my first deal, that happened. I was only 21 when I signed with Universal, and when I walked away, they owned all the masters. And then when I did American Idol, they [released] that album. And, of course, I didn’t make any money off of it, although I produced and wrote it. So it’s always the devil’s in the details, and I never read those, but knowing entertainment now and being where I’m at now, I realize you need to get an attorney to read through all the damn things.
MW: I can see where maybe the Idol producers and FOX, now ABC, wouldn’t feel it’s in their interest to run some bootcamp explaining to people how all that stuff works, but do they? Is there any 101 on the stuff that doesn’t involve holding a microphone and finding your music?
HERNANDEZ: When it comes to legalities, no. I don’t think people want you to know that stuff, because, again, that’s power right there. And the last thing they want you to feel as an artist is power. When you’ve got this big conglomerate who’s trying to make money off of you in any way, shape, or form, I don’t think that it would be in their best interest for us to really know what that verbiage really means in the contract.
You’ve seen it happen with so many different artists, most recently YB and Atlantic. [Rapper YoungBoy Never Broke Again, feuding with label Atlantic Records, declared recently “the plan…is to stop being a slave to Atlantic.”] They’re still making money off him, but they won’t drop him. But yet they’re shelving him almost or blackballing him. Bottom line: Always get your own attorney. Don’t use their attorneys, ever.
MW: At what point following that experience did you feel you had power and control over what you were doing, what you were singing, how you were presenting yourself?
HERNANDEZ: Oh, man, to be honest, probably this last EP, I really started feeling I was coming into my own. I was writing about stuff that I would never write about, and nobody could say anything. I was the final gatekeeper. No matter what, it’s such a great feeling to put your okay on things, and not let people put out that artwork that you don’t look flattering in because only you know your body, or put out that record that you could have done that ad lib over again.
MW: What was your process of writing, producing, and recording this music?
HERNANDEZ: We recorded the album in seven days. I don’t know what it was. I mean, I would talk to my producer Push Kahlon and he was like, “Yo, when you get done with this Naked Boys Singing contract in Las Vegas, why don’t you just drop an EP?” And I was like, “Oh, my God, there’s so much going on right now.” Me transitioning back from Vegas to L.A., it’s just a whole… For me, it’s an environment thing, where I have to… I don’t know how to explain it. I’m a sensitive-ass ho, so sometimes I just need to sit in my space for a minute and look around, and just feel what I feel.
But he said, “Well, I think maybe you should just write about how you feel.” And I was like, “That is a great idea.” And I don’t know what happened, but it just started flowing out of me, and it was great because I brought my home studio with me to Vegas. So being able to produce yourself, it’s so freeing because it could be one in the morning and I’ll just turn on my amp and my microphone, and just lay some reference vocals. And then the next day, when I wake up, I’m like, “Oh, that sounded kinda dope. Let me write to it, and refine it more.”
I did that for seven days, and then I sent it to him and he mixed it, and that was it. And I was like, “Ooh!” And it was funny, because with “Don’t @ Me,” I was driving, it was a trip I was making to L.A. from Vegas to produce with my friend Trent Park, and I had called my boyfriend, Derek, and I was like, “I want to say something on this record, but I don’t want to come off as this Bitter Betty about it. But I want to let people know what happened. What’s a good title?” And we hung up, and then he texted me. He’s like, “What about Don’t @ Me?” You know how people @ you in the comments? I wrote the song based on that idea because I thought it was so clever, and I’m so grateful that he thought of that because I was just talking shit on that record.
MW: Yeah, you’re telling off “motherfuckers,” quote, unquote.
HERNANDEZ: Yes, absolutely. And I felt so good about it.
MW: Have you had an opportunity to perform any of these songs live? And what effect does that create for you, once you’ve had a chance to hear how an audience responds to it live?
HERNANDEZ: I haven’t had a chance yet. Yesterday, I was rehearsing it. I put on my Bluetooth speaker and I was in my shower and I was going through the whole EP, and there was a part of me that was, “Can you sing this shit live?” Because the intro, “Myself,” I am at the top, I’m wailing. And I remember laying that at one o’clock in the morning after a bottle of wine, and I was feeling myself. I was going off. And so I was like, “Can you channel that same thing?” And I did in the shower. I was surprised.
MW: Accompanying the new EP is the book #NSFW. First, where and how can folks get the book?
HERNANDEZ: The book is available if you go to www.officialdavidhernandez.com, there’s instructions on how to order the book. The book is $130, which includes shipping and handling. And you can pay via Venmo or PayPal. Just include your full name and address on there, because people forget the address and I’m messaging, “Can I get your address? Or this goes nowhere.” And you can also buy the hard copy of the CD Don’t @ Me. Everything’s personalized. So you can tell me whatever you want me to say on there, and that way you feel like it’s yours at home.
MW: Why did you want to do #NSFW to go with the record?
HERNANDEZ: Well, it all started off with Naked Boys Singing, that contract that started off last September, then we renewed another three months. So it was a total of a six-month contract. And halfway through that, I started shooting with this photographer, Noel Photo Studios.
My body was more snatched than it had ever been, and I was feeling very confident in my diet. I was so disciplined, and I’m so proud of myself for doing that, and I just wanted to immortalize it, for me, initially. And then I was talking to my friend, Chris Salvatore, who was my castmate, and he was telling me how much love there was on OnlyFans and how there was no shame. And I was, “Well, let me just ease into it. Let me do another photo shoot with Noel first.” And in that photo shoot, I was fully nude, and I never saw myself in that way. The photos were so well done and so beautiful and shot so… The lighting was on point. You know, everything’s about lighting. It was on point. And I was, “You know what? Let me just try this. Let me test the waters.” And I did, and it just blew up, and people were like, “Oh, my God, we want to see more.”
In my younger adult years, I would go to my friend’s condo in New York, and they have these books, The Penis Book and The Male Physique book and stuff. Initially, when I opened it up, I’m like, [wary] “Oh, God.” And then I saw that and I was, “Wow, these are beautiful penises. This is amazing.” Because a penis, generally speaking, isn’t really that cute. I mean, you get some that are but, for the most part, it depends on how they’re shot. And so I decided I wanted to do something similar, a coffee table or nightstand book that would be forever immortalized. Because in 30 years, obviously, I’m not going to look like that, but I’d like to be able to be like, “Yo, hi.”
But also with the book, what I thought was dope, is I incorporated a song lyric from one of my original songs past and present onto what correlated with that photo. So I thought that was a bit of creativity that I could put into that, instead of it just being a nude book. I wanted to throw just my whole artistry, because I am all those things. I’m sexual, I’m a singer/songwriter, I’m an actor. I don’t pigeonhole myself into one thing anymore.
MW: On the sexuality of the photographs, do you consider it erotica? Is that label crossing a line for you?
HERNANDEZ: It doesn’t really cross a line. It’s whatever you want to call it. Call it whatever makes you feel comfortable. There definitely are some photos in that that are erotic. But, honestly, it’s just whatever makes you feel comfortable. I have a lot of friends that are in the sex industry, that are sex workers, that I’m like, “Kudos to you. You are making way more money than I am, and I love that for you.”
MW: Of course, outside of sex workers, the sex industry, and porn, I’m thinking of something like Madonna’s Sex book, a great example of a music artist embracing their sexuality in a similar way. As much criticism as she got, I think that was a success in terms of what it turned out to be, and I’m sure she made money on it. But not a lot of people have followed in her footsteps doing that. Why do you think that is?
HERNANDEZ: Because it’s taboo. They’re not brave enough. Or maybe they’re scared of the backlash. She was actually the inspiration for this book, honestly. I remember seeing that book — my mom has that book — and I remember seeing that as a kid, and I thought that was really dope. My mom and me are very close. She had me when she was 16. Well, 17. Pregnant when she was 16. But we’ve always shared everything with each other. So nothing’s really ever been off-topic.
I love how Madonna has the metal hardcover, but I couldn’t find anyone that could distribute it like that. I wanted that so bad. I was, “Oh, that would be so fire if it could be all metal.” But we ended up with a really good quality book anyway.
But, yeah, she inspired that too. And she was so ahead of her time, and I remember people dragging her through the coals for that. “You’re a whore. You’re a slut. You’ll never be a good mother,” all those things. And I just think it’s so fire how we live in a time where shaming, it’s not a thing, or we’re moving further away from it being a thing, because 13 years ago…
Well, now, what happened to me 13 years ago, I probably would’ve won American Idol or made it further, I don’t know. “A former stripper that’s gay. What? Let’s hear what he has to say.” I don’t know.
MW: Yeah. I think the response would be different today. Although, on the other hand, we’re at a moment where a lot of people want to shut every bit of queerness away in a closet, and not have it mentioned to anybody under a certain age.
HERNANDEZ: That’s true.
MW: And what about your younger fans? Have you encountered or felt any response from younger fans about moving in this direction?
HERNANDEZ: Oh, yeah. I get messages all the time from younger fans. They’re usually in their twenties, but they’re living in remote areas, and a lot of them are just like, “You inspired me to want to come out, or to want to just live more authentically.” And I don’t know exactly what inspired that. What? Was it the book? Was it the album? I don’t know.
MW: Just being you.
HERNANDEZ: Just being me, yeah. I think also the way that I do the interviews, and talk and stuff. I think I, not intentionally, just make it relatable. I grew up very poor. My dad was a truck driver, my mom was a nurse. They’ve always been hard workers their whole life, but they’ve always been just, “Do you. Live your best life.”
I know not a lot of people have that opportunity. But back in 2016, one of my fans, it was a younger boy who had been following me since American Idol, I found out in 2016 that he had committed suicide, and that really hurt because I hadn’t come out publicly at that point. And this might not be for everybody, but I realized I do have a responsibility to just be myself, at least in this life, to at least live it authentically so that other people can be inspired by that. And to know that you can be all these things and also still achieve your goals.
So I would always say to my younger fans, just be you — and if you’re not in an environment where you can be you, just get out as soon as possible. By whatever means you can, because there’s so many communities out here that will love and embrace you, and they might not be your blood, but you can choose who your family is. That’s what I always encourage.
MW: That’s great advice. I had another question about the OnlyFans arena. Because, ultimately, it is another form of entertainment, a media outlet. How does working in that arena feel any different than working in other areas of entertainment that you’ve done — stage, TV, or music?
HERNANDEZ: I think it feels more vulnerable. I think it also feels more real that I can share those parts of myself with my fans on OnlyFans, because I’ve always suppressed my sexuality and my sexual identity because I thought that people couldn’t handle that. I was conditioned to believe that at an early age with my first record deal. I took photos with girls in front of Ferraris for my first album. I did not want that, but it was always encouraged, so I thought that was the way to go.
So [this] feels accepting. It feels like it’s part of who I am. I am a nudist. I’m an exhibitionist. I’m a nudist camp reject. I don’t care what you want to call it. If there was an event going on out somewhere in the middle of the woods right now at a lake, and they said, “It’s fully nude,” I’d be like, “Cool.” Five years ago I would’ve never done that. Now I’m just so comfortable with all the angles, because I think doing Naked Boys Singing made me realize that you can’t control everything, because I’m a control freak. People are going to see the less flattering angles of you, and that’s okay, because you’re human and you should embrace that and love that. It’s done a lot for my confidence, for sure.
MW: I saw Naked Boys Singing in New York a long time ago with a friend who, it seemed like they enjoyed it, but they were also really abashed about the nudity. Did you see that a lot in the audience — people who seemed to be both turned on and embarrassed?
HERNANDEZ: Oh, yeah. The audience, especially the girls in the bachelorette parties. Y’know, flaccid penis, or penis, in general, fully exposed, has always been like, “Oh, God!” But yet girls can go [onstage] and show their W.A.P., and it be not a thing. I’ve gotten removed off Instagram and Facebook so many times for showing my ass cheeks and I’m like, “How is that any different?” So it’s always a double standard.
MW: What about censorship? Have you encountered any outlets or platforms wanting to restrict anything that you put up, or any content that you’re producing?
HERNANDEZ: Yeah. Facebook did that to me, Instagram removed a couple of things. I was blocked on Facebook for 19 days. And then they said, “And after the 19 days, you’re going to move to the bottom of the algorithm for another 19 days.” It was just too much. I was, “Alright. Well, I guess I won’t post any more ass shots on Facebook.” Because I do have a fanbase on Facebook that I don’t want to block out. So I don’t know. I think that’s why there’s such a great space for OnlyFans, because you could do all those things and not be taken down for that. So if it’s your vibe, then join the OnlyFans. If not, then we’ll just keep it cute on Facebook.
MW: Does being on OnlyFans affect your day-to-day at all? Has that exposure bled into your interactions with people you meet in person?
HERNANDEZ: Honestly, surprisingly, no. I thought it would, and I was ready for that backlash, but I get a lot of people who are, “Okay, we see you. Alright. Working on your body. Okay. We’re not going to join, but we heard it’s nice.”
I’m sure there’s people that feel a certain way in the industry that would never want to hire me or give me a job, but they weren’t giving me jobs or hiring me anyway. So, I mean, what am I going to do? Give me another list of what you want me to be as an artist. You know what I mean? So, the people that mind don’t matter, and the people that matter don’t mind.
MW: Watching the behind the scenes on the video shoot for your single “ily,” it seems you have around you a lot of queer or LGBTQ creatives that you’re collaborating with. Has it been that way most of your career, or is this a recent thing? Is it a conscious thing? And how much of a difference does that make?
HERNANDEZ: It’s 100% a conscious thing. I love to employ queer people around me. I think it’s important. I’m a huge advocate of the underdog. That’s what me and my production company [Push’D Collective] stand for.
I love having queer people around me. They already get the struggle, they get where we come from, they get being objectified in this freakish way their whole lives, and I think it’s important to give those people jobs and opportunities. And my production company, we want to employ the underdog in the queer community, and also all facets of just different communities that have been marginalized. And so the trans community, the Black community, the Asian community. I think there are a lot of opportunities out there for us, and they’re just not being presented by different companies. I’m glad you noticed that, though, because everybody at that video shoot was queer, and that was very intentional.
MW: Was there a time in your career where that wasn’t the case, and that it was an issue for you?
HERNANDEZ: Well, yeah, because I had other people managing me and telling me what I needed to do. And I’d show up to video shoots and there’d already be a video shoot that was planned, and I would just sit in there, in the photoshoot. Even the content, the pronouns I would use were she/her, and if I would put out a song like that right now, not only would I laugh at me, but all my friends and family would laugh at me, “Really? Who are you singing to?” And she/her, it’s whatever you identify with, but the way that I was doing it at the time was very much to a cis woman.
MW: Are you planning to go back to Naked Boys, or join any other show that we know about?
HERNANDEZ: I never say never. I did not extend my contract, because I had other things I wanted to pursue in other avenues, but they’re still running and, who knows? Maybe in the future if there was a couple of weekends they wanted to have me back. And, I mean maybe. I mean, it’s not like I don’t know the material. I’m not closed off to it.
MW: And, just because it’s a similar thing and it’s also in Vegas, what about Chippendales? Because I know they do celebrity guests in Chippendales.
HERNANDEZ: I would love to. Hell, yeah. Honestly, I auditioned for Chippendales years and years ago, and I didn’t get the part. But, fuck yeah, I would do that. I have friends that are in it right now. I went and saw it when I was in Vegas. I would do it. I think it’s so funny if I were to get a gig like that, because it’s like, “Wow, David’s just on this naked train…” But David’s been on the naked train, honestly. He just suppressed it for a minute.
MW: Just out of curiosity, were you at all surprised that your fellow Idol, David Archuleta, came out semi-recently as a member of the LGBTQIA community?
HERNANDEZ: Yeah, I was. I think that’s amazing. But I have friends that grew up in really religious families, so I thought that was really brave of him and that did surprise me. But I’m super happy for him to be able to live authentically or, at least, to navigate his authenticity and figure out exactly where he wants to end up. I fully support him. He was always a sweet kid to me on the show. I’ve supported his music since then. We haven’t really talked in a number of years, but I see him. I follow him on Instagram. I see what he’s doing. And welcome to the community, bro. It’s a very loving community, for the most part.
MW: Do you still feel a part of the Idol family?
HERNANDEZ: Very much. Yeah, totally. I mean, listen, one of my best friends is Mikalah Gordon. I still talk to Brandon Rogers. Carly Smithson came to my show a few years ago. God, Ramiele Malubay, who was on my season. There’s so many other people that I met, like Haley Reinhart, that I met from doing shows together and stuff. It’s like an exclusive little community that we unintentionally are a part of, and that we can all relate to that experience because it was traumatizing and amazing at the same time. So, yeah, yeah.
MW: So, the last question, and this maybe will encompass some of the trauma but then the triumph, too — I was really struck by a quote of yours about the work that you’re currently doing: “This is who I’ve always been. I just didn’t give myself permission to be me, because I was always told not to.” It’s a simple statement but a profound message. A lot of people would want to live that way. How did you get there?
HERNANDEZ: Ooh. Well, I think, I feel the pandemic changed a lot for me. I was forced to look at myself in the mirror more than I would have liked to. I mean, listen, we lost a lot in the pandemic, but there was also a lot to be gained.
I used to just consider myself a singer and that was my worth and if I didn’t succeed at that, then I was worthless. And so I’ve rerouted my thinking. I’m so many different things. I think to get to that point, it takes experience, it takes life, and nobody can teach you that, and some people get there quicker. Some people it takes until they’re on their death bed to realize, “I am worthy, these are facets to myself that I don’t have to hide.”
But I just got tired of living in the dark, because it’s not a fun place to be, and it involves a lot of abuse to yourself. And so I’m still working through some of that trauma. I’m not perfect by any means, but I do give myself more permission to be who I am today than I ever have, for sure.
MW: Did you seek any outside help to heal yourself?
HERNANDEZ: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I did rehab, four years ago in January, actually, I’ve been clean from Xanax. I did that. I sought help for that. And then just in terms of childhood traumas and stuff, I’m still working towards that. I’m going to start seeing a therapist again in a couple of weeks after a little bit of this craziness dies down. But, I mean, I think we’re constantly just works of art, in the work of art, trying to figure out what things serve us and what things don’t. Sometimes we slip up, and I think not shaming ourselves and having more forgiveness for ourselves is essential in growth.
Don’t @ Me is available on Apple Music, Spotify, Tik Tok, Amazon, and all other major e-music retailers. See David Hernandez performing live this summer at El Paso Pride, Baton Rouge Pride, One Magical Weekend in Orlando, and more to come.
#NSFW is available at www.officialdavidhernandez.com.
Find David Hernandez on OnlyFans at www.onlyfans.com/dhernandezmusic.
Follow him on Twitter at @DHernandezmusic.
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