03/11/2011 at 05:00 PM EST
Nashville's Ashthon Jones admits that being the first finalist booted off American Idol
this season wasn't surprising – especially after sliding into the wildcard slot to round out the top 13 – but the singer plans to go full speed ahead with her music career.
"I'm so driven right now," she says. "I'd rather be tired doing this than sitting at home. I now know what it takes to live that star life."
Jones burst into tears when the judges opted not to save her following her redemption attempt by singing Diana Ross's "When You Tell Me That You Love Me" because she was overwhelmed, she says, that "I was leaving so soon and I really didn't want to leave my friends."
One pal in particular, fellow contestant Casey Abrams, always helped keep Jones's spirits up. "It's ridiculous how super funny he is," she says.
Although Abrams was absent from Thursday's show due to receiving blood transfusions
for his ulcerative colitis, Jones is confident that Abrams, 20, will "rise and keep performing. It's so scary, but he's strong and keeps on going."
After returning to Nashville, Jones, 25, will continue to write songs, draw portraits and plans to keep producer Rodney Jerkins, with whom she recorded on the show, on speed dial.
"He pushed me to hit notes that I'd never hit before," she says. "And though I can't hit notes like Beyoncé can, I would have loved to belt out one of her songs."