A year ago, Candice Glover would have dreaded having to perform during "American Idol's" results show, a night where dreams of victory are shattered for the contestant with the fewest votes.
But the days of singing for anyone's vote are behind Glover now. She's on the "Idol" stage rehearsing a medley of "Cried" and "Same Kinda Man," taken from her debut album, "Music Speaks." A group of decoys, filling in for this year's finalists, clap after each take as a substitute for host Ryan Seacrest assists her off a raised platform.
"When I turned into [the studio], I felt like I was a competitor," said Glover, 24, seated in her dressing room. "It was like graduating from high school and going back. All of those emotions come back."
Even returning to the "Idol" competition as a champion, the stakes are just as high for Glover. "Music Speaks" was released last month to mixed reviews, and the album debuted at No. 14 on the Billboard 200 with the lowest first week sales of any previous winner. But Glover had a lot of chips stacked against her.
Most of the focus during her run last year was on the show's sagging ratings, bitter judge rivalries and a pending reboot of the competition.
"Music Speaks" was originally set to arrive in July, two months to the date after her "Idol" win. The rush release would have capitalized on the spotlight that begins to dim as the show's annual tour winds down and a new season begins.
Instead, the album got pushed -- several times. Glover admits it was mostly her doing.
"At first, I wanted to rush it. I was like, 'Let's strike while the iron's hot. People aren't going to forget about me,' " she said. "And then I said, 'Wait a minute.' I don't know anybody who can make an album in two months." Glover's album went from an October release to hitting stores in mid-February, when "Idol" was deep into its rebooted 13th season.
"Me being such a perfectionist … I take all the time that I need, and that's why we kept pushing the album back," she said.
Glover initially regretted the delays, because "people forget about [the show]."
"But I had to get over that," she said. "I had to get over those nerves."
Watching "Idol" last year, it was clear that the aspiring R&B-soul diva from St. Helena Island, S.C., would easily take the crown -- and become the show's first female victor since 2007. Having auditioned for the competition three times -- she was rejected twice -- Glover instantly became a judges' favorite, and wowed viewers with her rich, church-bred voice and knockout takes on the Cure, Bruno Mars, Emeli Sandé, Adele and Drake.
The album was assembled by an impressive slew of collaborators, including Jazmine Sullivan, Harvey Mason Jr., the Jackie Boyz, Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins and Rock City.
Glover dips into vintage soul on "Same Kinda Man," transforms a woozy Mike Will Made It beat into a gospel stunner with "Passenger" and dials up the sass on "Kiss Me" and "In the Middle" (Season 3 champ Fantasia penned the tune and Glover previewed it on tour). Her flawless rendition of the Cure's "Lovesong" smartly closes the album and inspired her to write the slow-burner "Forever That Man."
With an R&B-heavy sound, the album sounds far from the mainstream pop one would expect from an "Idol" winner.
"This is the type of music I want to make. I'm proud of the whole album, and it took me this long to get to it," she admitted. "I came across a lot of songs that weren't me. But I wasn't trying to put out an album that's not me. People wanted me to do 'Teenage Dream' or 'Pour It Up,' they wanted one or the other from me.
"I had to learn to open my mouth and say something. I was very honest with [the label]. It took me awhile to get there, because it's a label and they can ax you in a minute."
While her debut didn't conquer the pop charts -- it bowed at No. 3 on Billboard's R&B chart behind Beyoncé and Toni Braxton & Babyface -- she's just happy fans embraced her.
"I'm blessed that people like my album as a whole. I was so nervous when it came out, but the reception has been great," she said, flashing a wide smile.
Glover then slid out of the dressing room and went to offer advice to the batch of nervous contestants, all of whom were hoping they were safe for another week.