Paul McDonald and Nikki Reed
04/15/2011 at 04:00 PM EDT
Fans of Paul McDonald may be upset that the singer was booted off American Idol
on Thursday's elimination
but actress Nikki Reed
– whom he says he is "officially dating" – is not.
"She is actually pumped," he said. "She said, 'Dude, you finally get to do your thing and be yourself and be the artist you are.' She is happy about the whole situation. She has been nothing but cool to me."
McDonald, 26, is also pumped because, he says, he really wanted to play the piano and show off his other talents.
"I have this other side that I didn't even start to show," he says. "I play keys. It's hard to do in a minute and a half of a cover song so I'm looking forward to doing my own thing and getting creative again."
Though he's been writing songs about "stuff going on in this whole L.A. scene," and sending them back to his band Grand Magnolias, McDonald says he doesn't know when they'll be able to cut more tracks and perform together again.
"I might have to release a solo album first," says the singer, who became good friends with fellow season 10 contestants Stefano Langone, James Durbin and roommate Jacob Lusk and was like a big brother to Lauren Alaina. "But I'd like to have the guys play on the record."
Though he flashed his pearly whites last night after getting the boot, McDonald says he does have one regret: "I probably shouldn't have been writing songs while I was out here," he says. "I should have been focusing more on learning [songs for Idol
But, he says, "I'm really, really happy about the way that I went out."