What did it mean to you to be able to perform Mariah Carey's 'Hero' in both Spanish and English in front of millions of people for your last song?
"It meant the world to me. It's what I've wanted to do my whole life. I've always had a vision of myself as a Latin American artist and to be able to sing a song of that magnitude in both languages on a show like American Idol was so... you know, America has got people from all cultures and it was my way of expressing myself."
What advice did you receive from the judges that you'll take with you as you go further in your career?
"Jennifer's been a fan of mine from the beginning - she told me that it was probably just my time [to go] but I know that she would have saved me if it was only up to her. She was rooting for me. She told me so! But I know that everything happens for a reason and if it was my time to go it's because I have so many amazing things coming soon. Steven and Randy both came to me at the end and gave me hugs and kisses and told me, 'You're amazing, you're going to go far. This is only the beginning', and it made me soak it all up."
What did you learn from working with Interscope chairman Jimmy Iovine and the producers?
"Working with the producers was definitely amazing - it's such a smart strategy that they've incorporated in the show. It shows us how our lives are going to change as a recording artist. Eventually we all want record deals out of this show, that's our goal, and having the opportunity to work with these producers is great. Every producer has his own unique flavour. I got to work with Jim Johnson, who wrote Beyoncé's 'Sweet Dreams', and I never would have expected that. He took my Selena song and made it new and exciting. I never saw myself as that pop artist but they turned it into something so fresh and new and that's what the show needed."
Seeing yourself as a Latin American artist, how would you have incorporated that vision going forward if you'd stayed in the competition?
"I didn't want to do it every week. I felt like I needed to do it for the first bit of time - I have sung 'Hero' in both languages and have known that song for so long, it is one of my dreams to sing it. I would have loved to have done 'I Will Always Love You', too, but I know I will one day. I wanted to focus going forward on letting America see what I could do. I was looking forward to Motown Week and Country Week. I wanted to incorporate everything I could to let America know that there was more to me than meets the eye. I wanted more uptempo songs, maybe some salsa or merengue would have been great. I wanted to do a little bit of everything."
What was it like to have Jennifer Lopez in your corner supporting you so strongly?
"It felt so great! I felt the love so much. I felt that she really understood me because I know she's gone through that before. We identified with each other so much. She struggled all her life too to get to where she's at and it's all hard work and perseverance. It was always love from her. I always felt safe when she was around because it was always genuine and she was really rooting for me. I've been following Jennifer for so long and I got to sing to her every single week. That, to me, was incredible."
Is there anything you would have done differently if you had to repeat the experience?
"No, not at all! Every song I chose was one that I wanted to sing. What I would have done differently is just gone up there with even more passion, more drama, more guts. But honestly, I am very proud of having made it this far. I never thought from auditioning on MySpace that I would have made it to the Top 12 on the best season ever. This was my time. If there was any season for me to be on the show, it had to have been this one."
Was there a stand-out moment that really defined the experience for you?
"Just the fact that I got to record 'I Could Fall In Love' and it's selling on iTunes... just to look up my name and something comes up for it [is great]. You know, Selena was my idol and she really inspired me. She never got to see her song progress and to be able to perform it on live television and have people buy it off of iTunes and to have fans telling me that I am making Selena proud... that's great. I just wanted to keep her memory alive and let people know that Latinas are back!"
Have you interacted much with your fans on Twitter and Facebook?
"Yes, I check in every day! My fellow contestants called me the Twitter queen because I'm the most responsive with my fans! I think that was a smart move - fans need to see us as human and be able to connect to us. I want to know what they're thinking, what songs they want me to do. I want them to realise that I'm a breathing, living human being. Every single person that has tweeted me said that they know it's not the end for me and that so much is coming. That gives me hope because that means as soon as I do release it, I'm going to have millions of people there buying it and watching it."
How do you stay so positive in the face of adversity?
"I always live by the words that everything happens for a reason. There have been plenty of instances in my life when I had to lose some things in order to gain others. Sometimes you don't understand it but in a few days or months, I will see why. Maybe if I stayed longer in the competition there would have been an opportunity that I missed out on. Maybe it was time for me to be on the show for a little bit to get my name out there. Now I'm looking forward to my career. I don't want to be known just for the Top 12 on American Idol, I want to be known as Karen Rodriguez, a crossover Latin American artist and I feel I've made that name for myself."
You've previously said that you'd love to do TV and movies. Can you tell us more about that?
"I'd love to do movies and commercials! I did a voiceover already in a movie while I was in high school. Coming from LaGuardia High School, I got to play the lead in West Side Story and it was my first really big play with 3,000 seats filled out every night. That made me believe more in myself as an actress. I've auditioned for West Side Story and In The Heights on Broadway, too. Now that people know who I am because of Idol, maybe there are more opportunities for me to do ads or anything I can get my hands on. That would be one of my dreams. Jennifer Lopez has been one of my idols in that sense - she has been so good about balancing music and movies. I would love to be like her."
What's next for you?
"I can't wait to go home and have time to reflect on everything that's happened. It's been a crazy couple of months. But I just can't wait to start writing, bettering myself as a musician and a signer. I'm going to work really hard to become that artist that's ready for anything that comes up. I still have to work on so many things but I know that this time off is going to really help me to better myself."
American Idol airs Wednesdays and Thursdays on Fox