As Caleb Lee Hutchinson‘s star power slowly rose throughout American Idol‘s 16th season, his weight continued to drop. And by the time he was crowned the runner-up (behind girlfriend Maddie Poppe), Hutchinson had lost around 85 lbs.
The country singer, 19, started losing weight a few months before his audition, and kept it going through the high-pressure months of filming on American Idol. Hutchinson says he committed to dropping pounds and gaining muscle after years of hating his body.
“Throughout my whole life, I’ve always been overweight, and towards the end of my senior year in high school that was the biggest I’ve ever been,” he tells PEOPLE. “As a kid, I always figured I’d grow out of it.”
But it wasn’t that easy, and Hutchinson says the first step was changing his mindset.
“I used to really hate my body,” he says. “Before I even tried to lose any weight I had to learn to like myself.”
Once Hutchinson got there, he started with “small, short-term goals.” He cut out fast food and all drinks but water, and started working out.
“It’s weird, because I was super big, but I didn’t eat a whole lot. It was just garbage stuff, and I didn’t work out at all,” he says. “I never used to eat breakfast — I used to just eat one huge meal a day and eat throughout. Now I plan good meals and stay active. I started with walking, and then the walking turned into jogging, and then the jogging turned into running.”
By the time he auditioned for American Idol in August, Hutchinson had lost 45 to 50 lbs., and kept that progress going throughout filming. He revealed during a taping of the show in January that he was down 70 lbs., and Hutchinson now estimates he’s shaved 85 lbs. off his formerly 285-lb. body.
“In my mind losing weight was this big thing that was impossible to do, and then it just happened when I tried a little bit,” he says.
Hutchinson says he doesn’t have a certain number in mind, but he’s going to stick to his new lifestyle.
“I think the goal is just to be healthy,” he says. “I wouldn’t mind looking like Dwayne Johnson or something, but at the same time I just want to be happy and healthy. I’m not too worried about it.”
And even if he doesn’t look like The Rock, Hutchinson has Poppe on his side to tell him he looks good.
“She’s very supportive, and lets me know that I’m handsome no matter what,” Hutchinson says, with a laugh.