Nothing personal, Hollie Cavanagh says, but life is so much better now without American Idol judges critiquing her singing voice, her performance skills, her clothes and more or less her every move.
She's happier now that she no longer has to worry every week whether she'll be booted from TV's celebrated singing talent show.
"It's a lot less stressful," says Cavanagh, the North Texas resident who finished fourth this year on Idol. "Now I'm just having fun. I feel like doing backflips."
She's currently honing her performance skills onstage during the 10-week American Idol Live! Tour, which comes to American Airlines Center in Dallas on Sunday.
The annual road show shines a spotlight on each of the top 10 finalists, with this year's winner, Phillip Phillips, getting the big finish.
"My goal when I went on Idol was to get into the top 10, so this is definitely a dream come true," says Cavanagh, a British-born 19-year-old from McKinney. "But now that I'm on tour, it's kind of surreal."
For some of the vocalists, this will be the next step toward bigger careers. For others, this might be their last hurrahs before they return to lives of anonymity.
Cavanagh vows to keep working hard, because placing fourth on Idol isn't the end of the journey, as far as she's concerned. The show was just a shortcut to national exposure.
"If it weren't for Idol, I would definitely still be working hard," she says. "I would just be doing it the old-fashioned way. But either way, I'm still doing it. This is what I plan to do for the rest of my life."
In a very real sense, being on the American Idol Live! Tour is bigger even than doing the TV show, because no longer is she just someone hoping to win a TV talent contest. She's on the road. She's performing every night. She's officially a pro now.
She's looking forward to the Dallas show, because "I'll get to see my family and friends and I'll get to perform for everyone from my hometown."
In addition to doing a handful of group numbers with the other Idol finalists, Cavanagh also has two solos. She sings Adele's Rolling in the Deep (backed by Elise Testone and Erika Van Pelt) and Demi Lovato's Give Your Heart a Break.
Rolling in the Deep is an important song to Cavanagh. She sang it on the show during "Top Seven" week and did well with it at a time when she was struggling to avoid elimination.
"It was kind of a turning point on the show for me," she says. "Plus, we thought this is a good, upbeat song for the tour."
She came across Give Your Heart a Break after the show ended and found it to be a good match for her big, strong voice. "I really enjoy singing it."
When Cavanagh started out on Idol, she said her weakness was her lack of confidence and stage presence. But she has grown a lot as a performer, she says, as a result of the show and the tour.
"I still feel like I'm getting better every night that we go on," she says. "I'm excited to see where I'll be by the time we're doing our 40th show."
She also learned a lot during her time on Idol about having thick skin.
Cavanagh was often subjected to harsh critiques from the show's judges and some downright mean commentary from media and viewers online, yet she kept getting enough votes to stave off elimination until the field was winnowed down to four.
She says she didn't allow negative reviews to hurt her feelings or shake her belief in herself.
"I knew from the start that there were going to be people saying whatever they want about you," Cavanagh says. "When you're on the show, if you don't give your best performance, someone's going to come right out and say it. It's what happens and there's nothing I can do about it. But whatever people are saying, that's their opinion and it doesn't have anything to do with what I have to do.
"So I didn't let it bother me. I just didn't look at all the media stuff. I stayed away from it. I stayed focused on myself and my performance and doing the best that I can do."