The Voices

‘American Idol’ Finalists: From Sanjaya to Taylor Hicks, Where Are They Now? [PHOTOS]

We tracked down past Idols to ask them about their lives since the show.

Sanjaya Malakar tends bar in the East Village. Camile Velasco worked at a Subway in Los Angeles. A.J. Gil became homeless. And Jessica Sierra checked into rehab for cocaine addiction.

To be a contestant on American Idol is a dream … but what happens when the reality-TV show’s lights dim? To find out, The Daily Beast launched a special investigative project, interviewing 70 finalists from the first 10 seasons of the show. Some were difficult to track down, with no publicists and defunct MySpace pages. Nearly all the contestants we interviewed say they don’t regret doing Idol, but many are stuck in an entertainer’s purgatory: bouncing from one manager to the next, performing at local gigs, “working on music” that they’ll release independently (with no release date), trying to relive the Idol dream, years later.

Even some of the winners are struggling. Just ask Lee DeWyze, who talks about being dropped from RCA after being the least successful winner in the show’s history. Here are the untold stories of life after American Idol

Lee DeWyze: What Went Wrong After ‘Idol’

Sanjaya Malakar

Season 6, 7th place
Then: High school student
Now: East Village bartender
The infamous Idol finalist lives in a Queens apartment with two roommates. He mixes drinks at a pal’s East Village bar and performs for small crowds or does karaoke.
Odd jobs: Sanjaya wrote his memoirs, performed in Japan, and appeared (as himself) on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! But it was impossible to figure out what to do with his notoriety, and he’s gone through six managers. “I was young. I didn’t know anything. Some people took advantage. Some skimmed a little off the top, financially.”
On dating: “I’m sensitive, so people assume I’m gay. If I was, I’d be the happiest, awesome, gay flamboyant dude in the world. I dated a girl for almost three years. But it was also a lot of energy. I don’t have time to focus on somebody else."
The future: He’s working on a self-produced album, with a more mature Sanjaya sound. “Obviously, I don’t know if I’ll be successful.”
By Ramin Setoodeh

Granitz, WireImage / Getty Images

Camile Velasco

Season 3, 9th place
Then: Former IHOP employee
Now: Former Subway employee
After bouncing around for eight years with various record labels in New York and L.A., Velasco moved back to her native Hawaii, where she’s trying to put together an all-girl reggae band. “I’m producing the album myself.”
Subway?!?:  Yes, she worked there last year to pay the bills. “It was definitely a growing experience,” she says. “It was real and it was humbling. I do what I got to do, that’s the kind of girl I am. There were a few people who recognized me, like ‘I support you and you got an amazing voice.’”
Does she hate Subway now?: “No, I totally love Subway! My favorite sandwich is the BLT—with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, cucumbers, and lots of peppers, black as night. The trick is the chipotle. Have you tried Subway’s chipotle sauce? It’s really creamy.” 
Current day job: “I do fashion. Mostly resale vintage. I’ll get a flannel, sew a hoodie to it,” and she sells her finished creation to a consignment store. “Everything I do is art related.”
By Ramin Setoodeh

Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images

Jessica Sierra

Season 4, 10th place
Then
: Star Search contestant
Now
: Recovered cocaine addict
During her American Idol audition, Sierra’s mother died of a drug overdose. Sierra, who was 19 at the time, says she never got over that. After the show, her sadness culminated in two arrests, a cocaine addiction (and a stint on Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab), a sex tape, and a job at Hooters.
Why she lost:
“I think the judges or producers know from the beginning: this is the person that’s going to win. On my season, it was Carrie Underwood.”
Singing ambitions
: After Idol, she signed with a manager, tried to record an album, and juggled odd gigs—like performing at a wedding in Kazakhstan, for which she banked $50,000.
Lowest point
: But she still ended up broke and moved in with two friends in Florida. That’s when she started abusing cocaine. She finally got clean in 2008. “My mother died of a drug overdose,” she says. “I didn’t want to die like that.”
The Hooters years:
She’d earn tips from patrons who recognized her and asked her to sing. “I got a job there because I needed to make ends meet,” she says.
By Jake Heller

Kevin Winter, FOX / Getty images; Matt Beard

Justin Guarini

Season 1, 2nd place
Then
: New York theater
Now
: Atlanta theater
The man who nearly defeated Kelly Clarkson recently finished performing in a new musical in Atlanta (written by Stephen King), Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. He lives with his wife and three kids outside of Philadelphia. “No one knew what it was going to be—not even the producers,” he says of the series’ first season.
The
Idol black hole: “When you get off the show, there’s sort of this vacuum that a lot of people go through. All of a sudden, it feels like you’re on a rudderless ship, just finding your direction.”
Debut record:
“There was a different producer for every track. I could certainly say that album wasn’t me.” He’s since performed on Broadway twice, but his longest job was as a host on The TV Guide Network. “I had a wonderful four years with them,” he says. “Really fantastic—doing red carpet.”
On the
Idol movie From Justin to Kelly: “It’s playing on HBO all the time. It’s hilarious, because every couple of quarters I get a check from SAG and it makes me giggle. I loved making that movie. If I had to go back, I’d definitely do it again.”
By Ramin Setoodeh

Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Vonzell Solomon

Season 4, 3rd place
Then
: Mail carrier
Now
: Hotel singer in China
Solomon is engaged and considers herself a rising star—in China. Since December, she’s been performing a nightly act at the Venetian casino in Macao. But she misses her fiancé, hip-hop artist Rashaud Smoak, who lives in L.A.
On her international fans:
“Funny enough, American Idol is in syndication in different countries at different times. So even though I’ve been off Idol in years, I’ll get fan mail to my house from Indonesia.”
Strangest job after
Idol: “The United States Postal Service picked me up as a spokesperson, so I was on the tour with them for three months.”
Culture shock
: “Unfortunately, they spit a lot,” she says of the Macao tourists. “I’ve been here for three months and every time I hear it, I cannot believe it. It grosses me out and scares me.”
Sleepless in Asia:
She talked to us at 5:30 a.m. her time. “My dad’s on the East Coast, my fiancé’s on the West Coast, and I’m in China, so I’m always trying to figure out what time it is.”
By Jake Heller

AP Photo; John Babin

Corey Clark

Disqualified, Season 2
Then
: R&B vocal group member
Now
: College music student
Clark was kicked off the show when producers found out he didn’t disclose a prior arrest (he was charged with battery)—only he wasn’t done with Idol. In 2004, he gave a shocking interview claiming that he’d had an affair with Paula Abdul while he was a contestant and she privately coached him about singing and fashion. (Abdul maintained her innocence; Fox backed the Idol judge.) Clark is now married with three children, and, at 31, he’s studying music at Middle Tennessee State University. “To me, honestly, [Idol] lost its charm when it became a soap opera,” he says.
How
Idol ruined his life: “I kind of wish none of the situation would have happened at all, to be honest. It wasn’t worth the trouble that came attached to it, I mean all of it. I just wish none of it would’ve happened at all because if it wouldn’t have happened then I wouldn’t have had anything negative to deal with and my experience would have been untainted, I guess. But now, you go around and that’s all people want to talk to you about and it’s kind of like, I am a person—there’s more to me than that situation.”
By Berenice Garcia

Getty Images (2)

Didi Benami

Season 9, 10th place
Then
: Waitress
Now
: Correspondent for The Hollywood Reporter
Benami says she left the show with her vocal cords hemorrhaging (“I had a blood vessel that was about to burst”) and she was so emotionally distressed, she didn’t think she could ever sing again, because the producers kept trotting out the story line about her best friend who passed away. “I realized how depressed I really was on that show.”
Eclipsed by Simon Cowell:
“My season, particularly, I felt a little like it was more about the judges and about Simon leaving as opposed to our performances. It made it really difficult, not just for myself but for all of us, because we felt like, a little bit like, are we even here?”
Almost broke
: “I’m pretty out of money right now because everything that I made from Idol I have spent on getting the best training possible,” Benami says of her acting and singing classes. “I saved up some money before I came out to Los Angeles and I’m living off of my savings right now which is very hard for people to understand because they’re like ‘Don’t you make a lot of money on Idol?’ and it’s like, ‘No, you don’t.’”
By Berenice Garcia

AP Photo

Lil Rounds

Season 8, 7th place
Then
: Student loan collector
Now
: Trying to record Christian music
The mother of three has yet to release an album and is currently going through a divorce. But she says she’s found solace in recording Christian music. “I decided to go back to my roots,” she says, “where my heart was originally at.”
On why she lost: “
I stopped thinking about the audience and started focusing on the judges, instead of staying true to what I needed to do. Instead of being the daring person I am, I started conforming to what I thought they wanted to see. I think I became boring!”
Paula’s advice:
When Rounds was eliminated, she remembers that Abdul said to her, “‘You’re going into an industry where the men are going to dominate. As a woman, you’ve got to stand your ground and hold your own.’ I promised her I would—and I’m doing that.”
On getting divorced:
“It just came down to either staying in a marriage that’ll kill you or drive you crazy or standing on your own two feet. He did his part, but after Idol, that’s when a lot of things just started falling apart.”
By Melissa Leon

Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

Pia Toscano

Season 10, 9th place
Then
: Wedding singer
Now
: LA Kings National Anthem Singer (for playoffs only)
The Celine Dion ballad-lover had one of the most shocking exits in Idol history. She signed with 19 Entertainment, but her album doesn’t have a release date.
Idol exit: “When I was eliminated, I was devastated. I kept thinking: what is going to happen to my career? Am I going to go back home and sing with my wedding band?”
Stage fright:
“A lot of people don’t know I have performance anxiety. In order to have a great vocal performance, I would have to be as still as possible.”
Special gig:
Singing for Muhammad Ali’s 70th birthday. “I was one of his wife’s favorites.”
Why her album was delayed
: She moved to L.A. and has spent the last year recording 50 songs. “We want to raise the bar. I don’t really have a rush to get it out since I didn’t win.”
By Ramin Setoodeh

Kevin Winter / Getty Images; Kristin Barlowe

Kristy Lee Cook

Season 7, 7th place
Then
: Barrel horse racing
Now
: Deer hunter
Cook lives in Nashville, where she’s the host of Goin’ Country, a reality show about hunting on the NBC Sports Network.
Behind the Music:
After Idol, she released a single—“15 Minutes of Shame”—that entered the country charts. She’s now with a different label and has recorded nine songs for a possible upcoming album. “Everyone thinks that once you do the tour, you’ve made it, that you’ve got all this money and you’re set. But what you don’t realize is once you’re done, there’s another show that’s gonna start.”
Why She Hates Simon:
“One time I was the sickest out there”—with bronchitis—“and sang ‘Faithfully’ and did a really good job according to how I was feeling. But he didn’t care. Simon favored Carly [Smithson]. He didn’t give a rat’s butt about me. He had nothing nice to say even though I did a really good job. I didn’t have very much respect for him.”
Idol vs. The Voice: “If I had to choose, I’d do The Voice. I know it’s television and not everything is as it seems. But I like the fact that everybody on the show is very talented.”
By Miriam Shumway

Jason Merritt, FilmMagic for Fox Television Network / Getty Images

Ace Young

Season 5, 7th place
Then
: Home remodeling
Now
: Founder of Young Brothers Entertainment
Young’s management company has six artists, including his girlfriend (and Season 3 finalist) Diana DeGarmo, whom he met when they both stripped for Broadway’s Hair.
Musical debt:
After he left the show, Young put in $250,000 of his own money to finance his debut album—and lost most of it. “The thing you don’t want to get caught in is trying to prove something,” he says. “For my album, we didn’t even have a major label ready. We had to pull the plug and put it on iTunes.”
What
Idol losers need to do: “Here’s the hardest thing. If you don’t get off the show and say what you want to do, within the first week, truthfully, people don’t understand what you are musically, stylistically, and artist-wise. For a lot of the artists, all they are when they get off the show is someone who covered a couple songs and got good reviews.”
Naked job that he turned down:
“I was offered $100,000 to do Playgirl a week later. I was caught off guard that people wanted to see that. I’ve been doing music my whole life. The last thing I thought I would be doing was showing my dick.”
By Ramin Setoodeh

Kevin Winter / Getty Images

A.J. Gil

Season 1, 8th place
Then
: 17 years old
Now
: Was homeless—then he found God
Gil says his first manager post-Idol swindled him by taking too much control, and he eventually ended up homeless in Florida. He stayed with a friend, his sister and even lived out of his car. “I was struggling,” he says.
Special delivery:
He used some of his Idol allowance money to buy his family a computer, which they had never had.
Evil manager:
“I made the mistake of giving him power of attorney,” Gil says. “So he could sign any documents and handle money and he really wouldn’t have to run it by me. He had all the say. I really didn’t have anything.”
Saving grace:
He eventually moved to California, joined a church, sings with them, and hopes to release an album of Christian music. “I have a passion for Christ and that’s a lot of what I do,” he says. “There’s many avenues that are opened and I’m letting God guide me down them.”
By Miriam Shumway

Michael Buckner / Getty Images

Brandon Rogers

Season 6, 12th place
Then
: Backup singer for Christina Aguilera
Now
: Kim Kardashian’s wedding singer
He left the show in disgrace when he forgot the words to “You Can’t Hurry Love.” His debut album in 2006 failed to make any waves. He’s now the lead vocalist for a L.A. band called So & So World.
Making the rent:
Rogers lives in a one-bedroom, $1,200-a-month apartment in Los Angeles. “I’m not poor! Because I’ve been working in music for 10 years, I’m used to the ups and downs. So when it drops off, I don’t get depressed. Instead, I keep pushing.”
Here Comes the Bride:
He performed at Kim Kardashian’s ceremony last year. “It was so polished and primped and glossy and shiny, it looked like a television set,” he says.
What was Aguilera like?:
“Uhhh. I quit that job.”
By Jake Heller

Ray Mickshaw, WireImage / Getty Images

Constantine Maroulis

Season 4, 6th place
Then
: Struggling actor (and Elimidate winner)
Now
: Broadway star
After Idol, Maroulis scored a Tony nomination for his role as Drew Dillenbeck in Rock of Ages. Now, the 36-year-old rock singer is balancing rehearsals on two new (possibly Broadway-bound) musicals, Jekyll & Hyde and The Toxic Avenger. “Wait ‘til you see my new shit!” Maroulis says.
On
Rock of Ages groupies: “I’ve met everybody from Cameron Diaz to Tom Cruise, Vince Vaughn, Hugh Jackman. Freakin’ Paris Hilton! Zach Efron. A bunch of the New York Yankees came to the show— Johnny Damon, Nick Swisher, A-Rod.”
On getting recognized
: “People mind their own business, but there’s not a day that goes by where [someone] isn’t like, ‘What, Hey, Whoa!’ I love talking to people, but when someone drops the ‘Aren’t you from American Idol?’ in the middle of a store, it can be kind of silly.”
On his hair
: “I mean, I get my hair cut pretty regularly, but the last time it was short was probably in the early 2000s.”
What drives him:
“I’m just a normal person. I’m not tremendously successful. It’s not like I have a home in the Hamptons. But I have a family now. I have a baby daughter, so everything I work for is for her.”
By Jake Heller

AP Photo

David Hernandez

Season 7, 12th place
Then
: Stripper
Now
: Wants to act
“I really haven’t got a regular job since I got off Idol, thank God,” says Hernandez, who lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood near The Grove and scheduled this interview around his visit to the gym.
Notes on a scandal:
Hernandez made headlines during his Idol run when news broke that he used to be a stripper at a gay club in Arizona. “I was on CNN.com, right above Britney Spears after her hair-shaving moment,” he says. “It was emotional. My mom was upset people would judge me based on a former employment. I’m not really sure if that’s why I went home or if I picked a terrible song that week. I’ve let that go years ago.”
No. of agents:
6: “It’s all been me leaving,” he says. “They have to get what kind of artist you are.”
How he spends his time:
He appears in Ballroom With a Twist—a road show with performers from Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance. He just released an iTunes album, “I Am Who I Am.” He’s working on another album with producer Printz Board. And Hernandez auditions for TV pilots, even though he’s yet to land one. “I would love an Academy Award,” he says.
By Ramin Setoodeh

Kevin Winter / Getty Images; Courtesy of Jim Verraros

Jim Verraros

Season 1, 9th place
Then
: Student
Now
: Wedding fashion show planner
He’s the first gay Idol, even though he didn’t come out until later. Now he organizes bridal fashion shows in Chicago—and wed partner Bill Brennan in 2009.
On gay rumors:
Verraros remembers being horrified reading Idol message boards, because of how the public speculated about his sexual orientation.  “It was pretty bad,” he says. “It was all geared toward my sexuality, things were said like ‘A faggot will never win American Idol 'and ‘This kid should die.’ It was very, very gross and very hard to take, because I didn’t understand why people had this much hatred for me. People were really bothered by my mannerisms. I was subjected to years of gay-bashing from kids in school. It was kind of like reliving that experience.”
27 Dresses:
After his music career stalled, he traded his pop songs for high-end bridal designers like Ines Santo and Yumi Katrsura. “It still gives me that creative freedom to do something different. That’s why it brings me happiness. It’s still artistic.”
By Jake Heller

Frank Micelotta / Getty Images

Diana DeGarmo

Season 3, 2nd place
Then
: High school student
Now
: Soap opera actress
DeGarmo says that her label, RCA, pushed her to be Kelly Clarkson, when she really wanted to be a country singer. She’s now co-starring in The Young and the Restless.
What went wrong:
On the Idol tour, “they handed me a CD and said learn these songs; this is your album. They were very pop rock—Avril Lavigne meets Hilary Duff. I was 17 and I wanted to be the good artist. I did what I was told.”
On finding
Idol love: She met her boyfriend Ace Young on Broadway’s Hair. “We lived across the street from each other. He was a gentleman; he would walk me to and from the theater to make sure I was safe. So we became best friends.”
A new Diana:
She’s trying to rebrand herself as what she originally wanted to be—country—with singles on iTunes. “It’s hard when you’re a 20-year-old girl and people look at you like you’re a piece of meat,” she says. “I had to find people who believed in me.”
By Ramin Setoodeh

Getty Images; Harper Smith

Crystal Bowersox

Season 9, 2nd place
Then
: Single mom
Now
: Lives on a farm
Even though her album boasted a bigger debut than winner Lee DeWyze, she was still dropped from her label. Bowersox still occasionally performs, and she now lives outside of Portland, Oregon. “I’m living my dream, for sure,” she says.
Health crisis:
When Bowersox was hospitalized for Type 1 diabetes in the middle of the season, executive producer Ken Warwick offered her a free pass—to come back next season. “He came to my room and said, ‘Darling, you’re off the show,’” she remembers. “At first I thought he was kidding, but he was absolutely serious and I threw a fit.”
Wedding
: With Didi Benami as a bridesmaid, the singer-songwriter married her boyfriend Brian Walker on Oct. 10, 2010, and her son is now 3. “The competition wasn’t anything compared to being away from my son.”
Favorite hobby:
“My grandma taught me how to knit. I knit hats, scarves, socks. It’s relaxing. I really like it.”  
By Miriam Shumway

Michael Becker, FOX / Getty Images; Lyndon Jackson

Paul McDonald

Season 10, 8th place
Then
: Lead singer of Nashville band
Now
: Mr. Nikki Reed
After Idol, McDonald was burned out and worried that he had lost his identity as a musician. His band was unhappy with him because they’d been on the verge of signing a record deal before the show. He’s now writing songs for movies and TV shows, including an upcoming feature with Peter Facinelli.
Idol tour nightmare: “They made me sing a Rod Stewart song every night for 50 nights in a row on the road and I always felt, Good God. The song is great, but I didn’t want to sing this thing in the first place. So by the end of the tour, I didn’t even want to do music anymore. I was like, ‘This is hell.’ I didn’t want to continue in that machine.”
Vampire bride:
He met Nikki Reed at a movie premiere the Idols all attended, and they got hitched last October. “I can’t be mad, because I met my wife through the whole experience. I felt like that was the reason I was on the show.”
By Berenice Garcia

Ray Mickshaw, WireImage / Getty Images

Anwar Robinson

Season 4, 7th place
Then
: High School music teacher
Now
: High school music teacher (but he just quit)
Robinson says he makes $500 to $10,000 a performance and $65,000 annually as a high school music teacher in New Jersey. He recently quit teaching to focus on singing full-time.
On his sexual orientation:
“Because of my career as a teacher, I felt that the discussion of sexuality wasn’t appropriate for me, especially with my connection to children. So I actually never addressed it … It’s personal. It just is what it is. I need for people to not become distracted with that, because it can become a distraction. Let people read between the lines.”
But he supports gay marriage:
“I think that everyone should have the right to choose what they want for their own lives.”
Biggest star sighting
: He met Whitney Houston two days before her death, at R&B singer Kelly Price’s pre-Grammy party: “She took some 30 minutes with me in her private VIP section. She congratulated me, she hugged me and she introduced me to Bobbi Kristina. She was in such a good place. When songs would come on, we sang together.”
By Jake Heller

Ray Mickshaw, WireImage / Getty Images

Carmen Rasmusen (Herbert)

Season 2, 6th place
Then
: High school senior
Now
: Entertainment blogger for The Deseret News
She has released one album, “Nothin’ Like the Summer,” in 2007, before she decided the music life wasn’t for her. “I just started to think, this isn’t really what I want out of life,” Rasmusen says. “As soon as I had my boy, I thought, OK, I’m a stay-at-home mom.”
Self-esteem knock
: “I didn’t want to sing after American Idol,” she says. “I hated my voice and hated what it was. There were mean things said about me and I needed a year away from it. I wanted to do it for me and not anyone else.”
Relationship block:
Rasmusen’s husband, Brad Herbert (the son of Utah governor Gary Herbert), spotted her while she was singing at a Provo event. He went to approach her, but his mom supposedly protested, “She was on American Idol. You’re not going to date her!”
By Miriam Shumway

Jason Merritt / Getty Images

Tim Urban

Season 9, 7th place
Then
: Aspiring model
Now
: Aspiring actor
Since Idol, he’s released six songs on iTunes and dozens of YouTube videos of himself singing. He’s moved to Los Angeles to work with an acting coach, in the hopes of making it as a TV or film actor.
Body of work:
“Crazy awesome fans made a Twitter account for my pecs, for my abs, for my arms,” Urban says. “There were Twitter accounts for my teeth, my eyes, my hair flip. I guess it’s weird. My watch has 200 followers.”
Career plan
: “Obviously, I want to release a full-length album,” Urban says. “But alongside that, I really want to pursue acting. That door seems to be opening up.”
Back-up plan:
“If this whole music and acting thing doesn’t work out, I could see myself doing any number of different things,” Urban says. “I love marketing and public relations.”
By Ramin Setoodeh

Ray Mickshaw, FOX / Getty Images; Christina Teich

Scott MacIntyre

Season 8, 8th place
Then
: Marshall scholar
Now
: Writer and inspirational speaker
The first blind contestant on American Idol just released a new book, By Faith Not by Sight. His post Idol album, Heartstrings, only sold 1,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Why he did
Idol: “My whole goal in doing the group dancing on Idol and these things that have never been done before was trying to bridge the gap between the seeing world and me. I want people to feel comfortable around me. That’s the reason I never wore dark glasses on the show.”
Sorry, Simon:
MacIntyre loves The Voice, but has some harsh words for The X Factor. “It’s just a little weird having Simon and Paula on a different show—with a similar format to Idol. I haven’t really been able to grasp that one yet, for whatever reason. I think a lot of people are feeling that way.”
Another singing series!?
: MacIntyre has been approached to be a blind judge (along with Stevie Wonder) on a new singing reality show, that’s yet to be picked up. “I’ve always wanted to sit there and say, ‘You look fantastic tonight,’” he says.
By Jake Heller

Vince Bucci / Getty Images

Kellie Pickler

Season 5, 6th place
Then
: Roller-skating waitress
Now
: Country star
Pickler has released three country records, selling a total of 1.4 million albums (and 3.5 million digital singles), an impressive accomplishment for a sixth-place finisher. Last year, she married songwriter Kyle Jacobs.
Work ethic:
“I worked my ass off,” Pickler says. “As soon as American Idol was finished, I signed my record deal and went straight to work. I have not stopped.”
What she did right
: “I knew before I got in line for American Idol, I wanted to be in Nashville. I want to do what Dolly Parton does. A lot of people who go on American Idol, they aren’t sure what format they are.”
Most inspired use of paper:
“I’ve written songs on barf bag on airplanes, and I had to bum a pen off the flight attendant.”
By Ramin Setoodeh

Michael Becker, FOX / Getty Images

Danny Gokey

Season 8, 3rd place
Then
: Church worship director
Now
: Runs charity in his deceased wife’s name
He volunteers and teaches at Sophia’s Heart Foundation, a charity he created to honor his deceased wife. In January, he got remarried to Model Latina’s Leyicet Peralta.
Head doctor:
After you’re voted off, Gokey says, “they make you sit down with a shrink to make sure you’re stable. I went in a room, and I let the tears flow. I felt relieved because I fought through so much.”
Album pains:
“It was a tug of war in the studio,” he says. “I felt really strongly to go for a more soulful country sound. I didn’t want a gritty sound.” After the album hit stores, “we found out it didn’t work. If you can’t get it on the radio, you can’t climb the charts.” He left his label six months later, but says he has interest from many other labels.
A dream deferred
: “It’s a struggle to see your friends on the show who didn’t see their expectations come to pass, to see them struggle. Everyone is expecting Kelly Clarkson success, but they don’t see it.”
Side job
: He just released his own line of eyeglasses. “I’m expecting it to do really well.”
By Ramin Setoodeh

Chris Pizzello / AP Photo

Lauren Alaina

Season 10, 2nd place
Then
: High school sophomore
Now
: Country opening act
After losing Idol last year, Alaina has been touring for her new album, Wildflower. She’s been opening for country acts Sugarland and Jason Aldean.
She doesn’t feel like a loser:
“The whole point of the show is to get publicity,” Alaina says. “When you get in the Top 2, that’s as much publicity as you can get.”
On finishing high school:
“I do it on the computer, wherever I’m at. I make all A’s, even on the road. I don’t go back very often. When I do, I hang out with my friends during their lunch hour, just so I have that social interaction.”
The
Idol diet: She’s lost 35 pounds since she auditioned for Idol in 2010. “I just started eating better and exercising. I did it to feel more comfortable onstage.”
She still watches:
“I was really surprised that Colton got sent home,” she says. “I thought he was going to win. I didn’t vote for him the week he went home, so now I feel bad.”
By Ramin Setoodeh

Getty Images; Anthony Mongiello

Jon Peter Lewis

Season 3, 8th place
Then
: Local theater
Now
: Internet gabber
Since leaving the show, Lewis has released two albums on his own (they sold “somewhere in the 10,000 range,” he estimates). “Because I do things independently, I don’t have to sell as much to make money.” He’s developing a folk-rock opera and working on a book titled after his Internet show, American Nobody, which includes his commentary on recent Idol seasons.
Biggest regret:
After he was voted off, “I was getting four million hits on my website—just an enormous amount of hits. I could have monetized that somehow, but instead, I just sat on it and waited another year before I released my album.”
Financial struggles:
Lewis says he supports himself 100 percent through music, but it’s been an uphill battle. “There’s this perception that you’re locked into a contract after Idol and the money is flowing—that’s true for very few people.”
Camp counselor:
Lewis spent one summer advising kids who wanted to be on the show. “I was talking to this kid that said, ‘I don’t sing, I don’t dance or act but I want to be famous.’ And I said, ‘How are you going to do that? And he said, ‘I don’t care. I just want to be famous.’ I mean, what are we doing to people?”
By Miriam Shumway

Jason Merritt / Getty Images

Paige Miles

Season 9, 11th place
Then
: Preschool teacher
Now
: Writing music and performing
Michael Jackson died the day before Miles’s 2010 audition, which she took as a bad omen. To make matters worse, she came down with laryngitis on Idol, and she says her vocal cords didn't recover until after she was voted off. "It prepared me for the future, because it made me a fighter," she says.
Small-Town Celebrity:
When Miles returned to her native Naples, Florida, she says, "it was weird to go home. They had Paige Miles Day and I was given a key to the city. Everyone knew who I was, generations of kids. It was overwhelming, but it was awesome."
Current path:
"I'm out in Los Angeles—fighting, auditioning, working on my craft, singing, and performing all the time." She teaches hopeful singers how to write their own songs, while working on her music.
Strangest Request:
“I’ve been asked several times to perform at funerals. I’ve been singing in church my whole life, but who wants to voluntarily go to a funeral just because? I have done it for family members in the past, but it’s different when it’s a random person."
By Anna Klassen

Getty Images; Jack Menashe

Anthony Fedorov

Season 4, 4th place
Then
: College student
Now: Regional musical theater
Since Idol, Federov has been performing in regional musicals like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He admits that after the show, he had the unrealistic expectation that he would land a record deal. “Guess what? It’s not the case at all and it took me a long time to realize that it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than just being on Idol for me to get a record deal,” he says.
Biggest mistake:
“I made a little bit of money getting off the show. I was young and stupid and didn’t know any better and I thought that it would kind of never end. So I was spending left and right. Had I been smarter with my financial decisions I could have been in a much better financial position now than I currently am.”
What Simon Said
: After he was voted off, Cowell had some harsh words for Fedorov—off camera. “He’s like, ‘Anthony, you’re not ready. What you need to do is you need to crawl under a rock for the next five to six years. You’re likable, but you have a lot of work to do.’ I really took that to heart and I’ve just been working ever since.”
By Berenice Garcia

Michael Becker, FOX / AP Photo; 19 Entertainment

Stefano Langone

Season 10, 7th place
Then
: Pitchy
Now
: Still pitchy
Before Idol, he was recovering from a severe car accident and relearned how to walk. “I’m one of those people who keep going until the wheels fall off,” he says. His new single, “I’m on a Roll,” has sold 27,573 copies. 
Idol catastrophe: Langone returned to the Idol stage this season, and delivered a shaky performance—but he says it wasn’t his fault. “I was really down on myself after I watched it back, but I just found out yesterday” that the sound guy did something wrong, he says. 
Life motto: “I’ll be satisfied when I’m make a platinum record or when I’m opening for someone really big, or when I have my own tour. I want to be a force in the industry, and until then I’m going to keep working really hard. And even then, I probably won’t be satisfied. That’s just who I am.” 
Roommate horror story: He shared a room with Jacob Lusk. “Let’s just say it was cluttered. I would wake up and there would be his dirty underwear and socks all around.”  
By Miriam Shumway

Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Nikko Smith

Season 4, 9th place
Then
: Part of a “traveling variety show”
Now
: “Living the life of a struggling artist”
Smith returned to St. Louis, where he put together a band that subsequently broke up. He’s released a little-heard iTunes album and is working on a new one called “Speakaz Blow.” His father is baseball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.
Financial plan:
“All I do really is shows and record, so I am able to make a living off of performing. But I’m not making as much as I would like. It’s sometimes paycheck to paycheck.”
Love life:
“I’m married to the music, man … You get a little bit more after millions see you on television. So it was interesting.”
Idol’s cold reality: “A lot of people from Idol still have like magnificent talent, but going from household name to local celebrity in your hometown can be hard. A lot of people give up. I’m not down for that. I’m hungrier than I’ve ever been. I’m in it for life.”
By Jake Heller

Mandisa

Season 5, 9th place
Then
: Vocal jazz student
Now
: 100 pounds thinner
She signed with the Christian-oriented Sparrow Records, and has released four albums (and landed three Grammy nods for Christian Album of the Year). She knows that she’s beaten the Idol odds, because “there’s not really a whole lot of expectation for somebody who comes in ninth place,” she says.
Getting healthy:
Mandisa says it was agonizing to have Simon Cowell publically berate her weight on the show. “In the moment, I hated that. I wouldn’t have wished that anyone. But looking back now, it propelled me to go further on the show. I lost over 100 pounds since then.”
Idol’s singles club: “I long to be married,” Mandisa says. “It’s a very strong desire in my heart. I did this Christian dating service and I just got people saying, ‘Hey, you’re Mandisa!’ I want people to be interested in just me before they recognize who I am.” 
By Addison Schultz

Ray Mickshaw, WireImage / Getty Images

Kevin Covais

Season 5, 11th place
Then
: Chicken Little
Now
: Little Actor
He auditioned for Idol as a junior in high school, and earned the nickname “Chicken Little.” But he eventually gave up music for acting, and he’s appeared in small roles in ABC Family’s State of George and the 2008 comedy College. In Men in Black 3, he has the part of “intern.”
Why he quit music
: “I got off of Idol, and the opportunities to make music that I was hoping for weren’t there. On the flip side, I’m pretty much a full-time actor these days.” He ended our interview early to drive to an audition.
By Addison Schultz

AP Photo

Alexis Grace

Season 8, 11th place
Then
: Stay-at-home mom
Now
: Radio host in Memphis
She tried to go from American Idol to American Idiot on Broadway, but producers turned her down because she couldn’t dance. Instead, Grace landed a stint as Roxie Hart in a local production of Chicago.
On being eliminated:
“It’s a really vulnerable moment that everybody’s witnessing. It just sucks.”
On meeting her boyfriend:
He was a town reporter that did a story on her. “Then I ran into him at a coffee shop and we started talking and hanging out,” she says.
Look out, Seacrest:
She’s enjoying her gig as a morning-radio host. “Oh, I love it!” she says. “I get to connect with an audience every day and speak my mind, and obviously I don’t have a problem with talking, so it’s the perfect job for me.”
By Jake Heller

Ron Wurzer / Getty Images

Rickey Smith

Season 2, 8th place
Then
: Music student at Southwestern Adventist University
Now
: Assistant general manager at Coach’s Norman, a bar and grill
Smith spent a couple years in Los Angeles after Idol, then returned to Oklahoma City to tend bar. Now he occasionally performs with fellow Idol and Dancing with the Stars alums.
New Year’s Eve
: Smith has celebrated the last two New Year’s on the beach in Cabo San Lucas, performing with LaToya London and Melinda Doolittle. Staying in touch with people from his Idol days has helped Smith continue singing. “I don’t get as many gigs as I used to but the ones I do get I give 100 percent and have a lot of fun,” he says.
By Matthew DeLuca

M Becker, FOX / Getty Images; KB Productions, Inc.

Matt Giraud

Season 8, 5th place
Then
: Piano lounge singer
Now
: iTunes jazz singer
Matt Giraud received the first “Judge’s Save," but he was voted out two weeks later. He's still working on his first post-Idol album, and he recently performed at a benefit cruise with finalist Danny Gokey.
Biggest hit:
Giraud’s focus has been songwriting and touring. "I had my first No. 1 with Anna Wilson, 'You Don’t Know Me,' which was No. 1 one on iTunes jazz charts,” he says.
Idol posse:
Giraud says his iPod is full of Idol contestants from his season and past seasons. "I listen to a lot of them, everyone from Jacob Lusk to Jordin Sparks. All the Idols I was on the season with, I have all their records."
On getting saved:
"The energy in the room was crazy," he says. "Everyone was so happy. I was very honored and it felt pretty cool."
By Anna Klassen

Getty Images; Terence Burke

Siobhan Magnus

Season 9, 6th place
Then
: College dropout
Now
: Music “executive”
On TV, the plucky Magnus tried to push the boundaries of the show's dress code (she wore glitter makeup that looked like blood when she was told she couldn't wear blood). Now she's coloring outside the music industry's lines by creating her latest album independently.
Biggest regret:
"I only regretted it when I was not completely myself because I was really tired or grumpy," Magnus says. "Everyone has highs and lows. Sometimes you say, I want to go to bed forever, but we would always push each other through."
First album:
"We did everything independently,” she says. “It's an intimidating endeavor to decide to do this all by ourselves with no help from a label or agent, but it was a decision we made very carefully. Technically, I'm the executive of the company, which is ridiculous, but it sounds impressive to my grandparents. "
Dog offer:
“I had been asked if I would volunteer for a fundraiser for a new dog park, and would I come and do a dog kissing booth, where I would kiss dogs for charity. I love dogs, but that would be a little bit degrading.”
By Anna Klassen

Kevin Winter / Getty Images; Stephanie Harms

Nikki McKibbin

Season 1, 3rd place
Then
: Reality show singer (“Pop Stars”)
Now
: Teaches kids to sing
McKibbin fell into drugs and alcohol after the show, and was featured on a season of Celebrity Rehab, but she doesn’t blame Idol. “I made some mistakes,” she says. She’s currently clean and juggles a number of odd jobs, all tangentially related to music (her new single is “Psychotrip”).
Idol fight!: “Ryan Starr was the person in the house that I had problems with,” McKibbin says. “I’m a very light sleeper. She came in one night talking to somebody on the phone and saying all these horribly mean things about us. It got to the point where producers had to pull us off each other. It was pretty bad.”
Currently employed as:
“I have two bands. I teach vocal lessons to children. I do teach some adults as well. On the weekends, I run a rock and roll memorabilia store out of a flea market.”
Annual income: “It varies, about $40,000 to $50,000 a year. There are so many variables, with residual checks and appearances.”
By Berenice Garcia

AP Photo; Leslie Lewis Consulting

Blake Lewis

Season 6, 2nd place
Then
: Choir Boy
Now
: Face of the “Idol afterlife.”
The beatboxer who lost to Jordin Sparks says he's still sold almost 40,000 albums and played 1,000 shows.
Idol Convert: "I never watched Idol before I was on the show, because I was always making music or playing music. But ever since being on the show, Idol has become my community."
Fan gifts:
“I’ve received the typical panties and bras, but at lot of those times I was in a monogamous relationship. There was this one time when we had like four or five bras hanging from a ceiling fan in our dressing room.”
Future projects:
He's working on a third album, and pitching a reality TV show that's like Idol but "more of the industry, the hardships, and the journey."
By Anna Klassen

Getty Images; Mid-West Spring & Stamping

Amanda Overmyer

Season 7, 11th place
Then
: Respiratory Specialist
Now
: Sales and Marketing
Overmyer almost didn’t audition for Idol, until she felt "a crossroads" in her career as a respiratory specialist.
After Seacrest:
“It's not like record companies were knocking down my door. I didn't have any contract requests or management teams wanting to scoop me up. I had all this fleeting fame, with no direction, so my father and I started Overmyer Productions”—her own independent label—“and ran with it.”
Side jobs:
“I am a tour manager, band manager, agent, publicist, CEO, lead singer, and band mom. We have learned it as we go along. Every day is a struggle, but it is also an adventure!”
The future:
Overmyer has been working on her second album for “what seems like forever. The money isn't as bountiful as it was previously so it all has to be done in steps, but I can't complain, we've made a pretty good run! The good Lord continues to bless us every day.”
By Anna Klassen

Getty Images; 19 Entertainment

Casey Abrams

Season 10, 6th place
Then
: Camp counselor
Now
: Serial partier
Despite the fact that the judges used their save on Abrams, he didn’t land a record deal until mid-way through the tour (after Randy Jackson introduced him to the president of Concord Records). He’s now working on a jazz album and speaking out against inflammatory bowel disease, since he suffers from ulcerative colitis.
Worst day of his life
: “Right after getting voted off. I didn’t have any idea what was going to happen. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do in life anymore.’”
On
Idol rivalry: “Jealousy is a big part of life. During our tour, people left and right were getting deals. Pia was singing her single and Scotty had a publicist and Lauren had a manager. Haley was recording. James was recording. When your friends are getting their dreams come true, of course I was a little jealous. But I was more happy for them, because I think they all deserved it.”
Extracurricular activities:
He says he parties at least three times a week.
By Berenice Garcia

Michael Buckner / Getty Images

Phil Stacey

Season 6, 6th place
Then
: Active-duty U.S. Navy sailor
Now
: Minister
Even after being a finalist in a national singing competition and being judged by millions of American citizens, he thinks “80 percent of the people who auditioned were better than me. But for some reason, God smiled on me that day.” Oddly enough, Season 6 has three top-12 contestants who are now in the Christian music industry: Stacey, Melinda Doolittle, and Chris Sligh. 
Meltdown!: “We all had nervous breakdowns during the show. And it wasn’t the performing; it was the criticism right after you sang. Everyone in the industry will have a breakdown, even Adele. I was a constant nervous wreck.”
Weirdest performance:
“There was this one time when I thought I was doing a Christian event, and I went in and there were 12 people who were country fans and they were wasted. It was great; they were the most appreciative audience.”
Cash flow
: He works as a consultant, a worship minister, and a singer on tour. “I’ve been very blessed,” he says. 
By Miriam Shumway

Mark Mainz / AP Images for FOX; Marc Hom

Jason Castro

Season 7, 4th place
Then
: College dropout
Now
: Chart topper—in Asia
Castro’s first album in 2009 sold 100,000 copies and his single “Let’s Just Fall in Love Again” went to No. 1 in the Philippines, Singapore, and Norway. “I’ve gotten to travel around a lot, which has been really cool,” he says.
Family man:
He married his wife, Mandy, in 2010 and now has an 8-month-old baby girl.
Meet and greet:
“It can be really awkward sometimes, like when someone comes up and I’m eating with a mouthful, or when you can tell people are taking pictures when I’m not looking. You’ve always got to be put together. And that’s hard because I’m not really put together type of person.”
Lousy housing:
“My season, we stayed in these short-term apartments.”
By Miriam Shumway

Getty Images (2)

Katharine McPhee

Season 5, 2nd place
Then
: Struggling actress
Now
: Marilyn Monroe
McPhee’s debut album sold a respectable 380,000 copies, and she went on to record two others. But in recent years, she’s been focusing more on acting, with her comedic performances in The House Bunny and Community. On Smash, her Karen Cartwright went from a Broadway understudy to the star—playing Marilyn Monroe.
On acting:
“I have gone through a lot of agents in the last five years,” McPhee told The Daily Beast, earlier this year. “Just build my resume. Just get me a freakin’ job. It was really frustrating. I would be up for some big movie, not a huge part, but a decent part, and when it would come down to it, [they’d say] she’s great, but she doesn’t have experience. I can’t tell you how often that happens … Even if I didn’t have Idol, I’d have some other challenge that someone would want to pigeonhole me into—‘Oh, she came from a TV show, when TV wasn’t acceptable to become a movie star.’ It’s like, Jennifer Hudson will never be a movie star, and she’s proven them wrong.”
By Jace Lacob

Getty Images; Eric Gea

Mikalah Gordon

Season 4, 11th place
Then
: High school student
Now
: Host of cable’s YouToo TV
Gordon stopped singing after the show for three years because she was so traumatized by what fans were saying online, including speculation that she’d had work done (she was 16 when she was on the show). “Can we just set the record straight? I have not had any plastic surgery,” Gordon says.
Idol bad memories: “During my time on American Idol, my mom’s significant other passed away who I was really close with. My grandpa passed away and my uncle passed away, and I missed all of their funerals because I was doing the show.”
Going silent
: “I think the biggest misconception about me is that I was egotistical or confident—and that couldn’t be more off. I was heartbroken when I got kicked off the show. I didn’t sing for three years. I wouldn’t sing anywhere. I was upset about a lot of things. I did the show because I wanted to win and I wasn’t ready for the criticism.”
By Berenice Garcia

Getty Images; Michael Scott Slosar

James Durbin

Season 10, 4th place
Then
: Domino’s Pizza worker
Now
: Touring with the rock band Buckcherry
Durbin is now married and released a debut album last November, which peaked at No. 8 on Billboard’s Rock Album Chart.
On almost not making it to
Idol: “The week that I was going to audition on Idol, I tried to take the day off at Domino’s, but they told me I couldn’t have it. So I went on with my life, kept working. Then one day they brought us to the back room and told us, ‘We have no more money. We’re bankrupt.’ And everyone was going to lose their jobs. Well, then I was free to audition for Idol.”’
Modest home:
“It’s not like we’re living in the Hollywood Hills or anything. [My wife and son and I] live in a normal, two-bedroom house with a detached garage. We’re still renting, we haven’t bought anything.”
On songwriting:
“Right now I’m working on a song that has come from a really, really dark place.” Where?! “I’d rather not talk about it.”
By Melissa Leon

Michael Becker, FOX / Getty Images; Lillie Mae Public Relations

Anoop Desai

Season 8, 6th place
Then
: Graduate student
Now
: Oowee!
He was Idol’s first top 13th finalist and his elimination made Ellen DeGeneres “really mad."
On
Idol’s "stigma":  “From blogs to radio to everything like that, if you go to them and your introduction is, ‘Hey, this is Anoop Desai, he was on American Idol,’ they’ll be a little hesitant to put their brand and their name behind it because there have been a few hits, but there have also been a lot of misses.”
Music lesson:“
The music will always be the most important thing, but it is the music industry. There are egos, there’s money, there’s a lot of things that go into it, luck being one of them. I think a lot of people don’t take the time to really strategize.”
Three years later:
“I’ve got a promo tour coming up for my single ‘Oowee’ and have a couple side projects going on and I’ve also really gotten involved in the industry as a writer as well. That is my core right now—not only making music for myself but writing music for other people.” When asked who, he says: “I’m still working on getting my first placement.”
By Melissa Leon

Michael Buckner / Getty Images

Chris Sligh

Season 6, 10th place
Then
: Indie Christian singer
Now
: Pastor who sings
Sligh decided to quit music full-time after he became a father in 2010. Now he’s a pastor at a church in Colorado (and he’s releasing his next album for free).
Why touring wasn’t working:
“In 2008, I was gone 330 days out of the year on tour. With a baby there, I’m not willing to kill myself and be away from my kid to make six figures. I’m not giving up music because I do music full time at a church.”
On
Idol’s hard truth: “I didn’t go on Idol to be a Kardashian. I went because I wanted people to hear my music. And what I realized is that with American Idol fans, you’re their favorite that year. Over the last five years, 10 or 15 people have stuck with me and buy every album. But the millions of people that voted for me—where are they now? They don’t really care about Chris Sligh; they care about American Idol. And that used to bother me. It doesn’t really bother me anymore. I’ve come to terms with it.”
By Jake Heller

AP Photo

Haley Scarnato

Season 6, 8th place
Then
: Wedding singer
Now
: Sings at corporate events
Scarnato is a member of the country band Fairchild (with Jeff Fairchild, a finalist from Nashville Star).
Idol cameos: After she left the show, “I was called to do just appearances for corporate stuff”—like Dreyer’s and March of Dimes—“and I would just go in there and sign autographs and sing two songs and be done, and that was all. They liked having the Idol tag to any event.”
Help wanted!:
“I guess as far as what happens after Idol, I feel like there could be more help as to where to go, who to trust, who to talk to. When we’re on tour, we do get approached by a lot of people.”
Downside to fame:
“I had a crazy stalker in Nashville. My house got broken into. I had letters. And just threats. It was getting to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore. So I moved back home to San Antonio.”
By Jake Heller

Vince Bucci / Getty Images

Elliott Yamin

Season 5, 3rd place
Then
: Foot Locker and pharmacy employee
Now
: Indie artist
Yamin is one of the few who hit the Idol jackpot. That’s because he released his debut album in 2007 through a label for indie artists, which allowed him to pocket 50 percent of the revenue from the 527,000 copies sold.
Weirdest fan:
Shortly after Idol, Yamin remembers a Vancouver performance. “There was this middle-aged woman who just wandered onstage and she had these purple panties in her hand, and was waving them around while I was singing. It caught us all off guard—she was really inebriated. I was like, ‘How did this woman get on stage and why isn’t anyone removing her?’”
Life of an artist:
Yamin is getting ready to release his third album this year, and he’s been to Japan 11 times, where he has a huge following. He says he’s OK with not having a label backing him. “It just makes me work harder and understand the business more. What’s great about being an indie artist is the world is your oyster.”
By Addison Schultz

Getty Images; Courtesy of Brooke White

Brooke White

Season 7, 5th place
Then
: Nanny
Now
: Mommy
Before Idol, White moved to LA and worked as a nanny. Now she’s expecting her first child—and still trying to make it. Her band, Jack & White, will be performing at a park in Sacramento this summer. “I’m going to continue to support myself through my music,” she says.
After
Idol: Her debut album was released on iTunes. “My whole point of going on American Idol was certainly to have a real chance at a music career, and it’s really hard to sustain that post Idol. I call it the PIT—post Idol trauma. Every contestant has to survive the PIT if they want to go forward.”
Career advice:
“Don’t Google your own name.”
By Addison Schultz

Chris Pizzello / AP Photo; Harper Smith

Haley Reinhart

Season 10, 3rd place
Then
: Studied jazz in college
Now
: Listen Up!
The perpetual bottom-three dweller stuck around for a long time, and once she was finally eliminated, 19 Entertainment signed her. She is about to go on tour with her debut album “Listen Up!” in which she wrote most of the songs herself. “I hope that it goes great and everybody gives it a listen,” she says.
Here’s a Story
… : Of the Idol house, Reinhart remembers, “I feel like it’s the closest I’ll ever get to a sorority, with my girls. We were like the Brady Bunch, bunk-bed style. It was very close quarters.”
On fame:
"It’s a lot crazier than I imagined. We really cater to people around us but it’s our job and we enjoy it.”
The Real Ex-Factor:
“Casey [Abrams] and I are definitely still in touch and working on stuff together,” she says.
By Miriam Shumway

Bucky Covington

Season 5, 8th place
Then
: Car painter
Now
: Country singer
His 2007 country album sold a respectable 400,000 copies, but then his label shut down, leaving Bucky with no direction. He’s now working on a second album and is engaged to his publicist, Katherine Cook.
What not to do on
Idol: “If you were a butthole, you got axed.”
Lowest point
: “When my label shut down, I thought to myself, what the hell do I do now? I didn’t know the business. I didn’t know anything. I can’t sign with another label, because I’m still under this label. It took about a year.”
Favorite
Idol:“Taylor Hicks is a major, major performer.”
By Addison Schultz

Getty Images; Courtesy of Julia DeMato

Julia DeMato

Season 2, 10th place
Then
: Hair dresser
Now
: Hair dresser
After Idol, DeMato met with some small labels, but none of them signed her. She also had a brush with the law in 2005—she got a DUI and was charged with possession of narcotics. She returned to her old job as a hair dresser in Brookfield, Connecticut.
Fame withdrawal:
“The next season starts and it was very hard to watch, because it was such an amazing time in my life.”
Good listening:
“I still listen to our American Idol CD that we made in Season 2.”
Future plans:
She’s debating whether she wants to go back and try singing again. “I just had my pictures done.”
By Addison Schultz

Jemal Countess / Getty Images; Randee St. Nicholas

Naima Adedapo

Season 10, 11th place
Then
: Janitor
Now
: Released a reggae single
She recently traveled, with a group of other Idol finalists, to Australia to sing for members of the U.S. military stationed there. “That was a really nice adventure,” she says. She hopes to release an album soon.
Pressure cooker:
“The entire time I was on the show, I never had a day off. There was never a break. We were always recording or taping or making an appearance or rehearsing or choosing a song or a group song or shooting a Ford music video.”
Her own critic:
“A lot of people love my performance of ‘Umbrella,’ where I’m dancing around and moving around. But honestly, I didn’t like it. I didn’t think it was a great vocal performance.”
What
Idol meant: “I got to go on the tour, which provided money, of course. It wasn’t a substantial amount of money, however. It’s enough for me to be able to get by on rent and buy groceries for the family for a while.”
By Berenice Garcia

Bo Bice

Season 4, 2nd place
Then
: Guitar store manager
Now
: Gospel
The runner up to Carrie Underwood’s first album went gold with 670,000 copies. That was then. His third album, released in 2010, only sold 11,000 copies and Bice is now working on repositioning himself as a Southern gospel singer.
On auditioning:
“I knew about the show because Ruben Studdard won and living in Birmingham, Ala., everyone knew who Ruben was. That was probably the biggest thing that encouraged me to do it, besides my mom. We went and slept on the convention floor, just like every one of the 20,000 that showed up that day. It was very eye opening.”
Family man:
His wife recently gave birth to their fourth child, which has caused him to reassess his goals. “If you had a No. 1 single, how long can you keep a No. 1? It’s the cycle of our business. I would love to have a Grammy someday, but I don’t really think that drives me anymore. It’s just loving what I do.”
By Addison Schultz

Getty Images; Lawrence Music Group

Lacey Brown

Season 9, 12th place
Then
: Art student
Now
: Craftswoman
Brown hopes to release her first indie album this year, and as a side job, she sells her crafts in Nashville. "I have a small apartment, so I have to get rid of the stuff I make," she says.
Serial Auditioner:
Brown tried out for Season 9, after she finished 38 in Season 8. "Where I came from, there is no opportunity to meet industry people," she says.
Tearful Goodbyes:
“I’ve had two opportunities since the show to sing and talk with two children in their last hours of life. I had the opportunity to make them happy and smile when all they want to do is cry. It was a very hard thing to do, and I never thought that would be something someone would ask of me. It changed me a lot as an artist.”
By Anna Klassen

Getty Images; Dream On Production, LLC

Michael Sarver

Season 8, 10th place
Then
: Oil rig worker
Now: Owns a recording studio
After a country album and a Christmas album, Sarver says he’s been able to financially support himself through music. “I built a recording studio in the town I live in, so that’s also another source of income,” he says.
Idols Can’t Go Back: “You get home and you find out who your real friends are. People said I changed, I got cocky or I wasn’t as nice. I’ve had people accuse me of being a diva.”
Reality TV prejudice:
“There is a level of disrespect we receive from our peers in the music business. I will not name names, but I’ve had other country artists make comments about me as if we didn’t earn it to be there. We didn’t work the clubs in our careers, we didn’t do this or that. That does affect their gigs, whether or not they get shows, because you look at us and you wonder—are we just TV people are we actual real artists?”
By Berenice Garcia

Getty Images; Courtesy of Kimberly Caldwell

Kimberly Caldwell

Season 2, 7th place
Then
: Star Search contestant
Now
: Cable TV host
Caldwell’s 2009 album, Without Regrets, only sold 3,000 copies during its first week—but true to its title, she has no regrets!
OK, maybe just one:
“I wish I had 10 years under my belt, and could do it again,” she says of her time on Idol.
Odd jobs:
Deal or No Deal, a correspondent for Fox Sports, and the current host of Oxygen’s tattoo reality show Best Ink. “I really enjoy entertaining people,” she says.
By Addison Schultz

Getty Images; Courtesy of Melinda Doolittle

Melinda Doolittle

Season 6, 3rd place
Then
: Backup singer
Now
: Professional vocalist
She signed with an independent label after the show, but her critically-praised album didn’t make her into the kind of vocal star she was on TV. Still, her band has performed at the White House and Carnegie Hall.
Behind the scenes
: “We were really like a family, and every family has a tad bit of dysfunction. We had one contestant who would read the blogs a lot and tell us what they said. For the rest of us, who were trying to stay away from that, it was hard to hear.”
Income
: “It’s in the six figures—though I pay a lot of people.”
By Addison Schultz

Getty Images; Courtesy of Vanessa Olivarez

Vanessa Olivarez

Season 2, 12th place
Then
: Hair stylist
Now
: Sings songs about the Civil War
Olivarez is currently a member of two country bands, Granville Automatic and Mama’s Blue Dress, performing songs that she writes herself. (Granville releases historic songs like one described on its Web site about “a Civil War ghost seen at Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee.”) She traveled to 200 venues last year.
How she remembers
Idol: “It wasn’t all the glamour and glitz they made it out to be, but it also wasn’t a negative experience. Once you are on American Idol, you do your best to have a career separate from American Idol.”
Don’t call her:
“I don’t really keep up with anybody from Idol anymore. A lot of contestants can be bitter about it, and a lot of them don’t like to talk about it. ”
By Addison Schultz

Michael Buckner / Getty Images

Gina Glocksen (Ruzicka)

Season 6, 9th place
Then
: Dental hygienist
Now
: Rejected from The Voice
She sings cover songs with her band in Chicago, and says 100 percent of her income comes from making music, even though she never signed with a manager. Her new single is “Superhero.”
Idol blues: “It was very depressing after the tour; the next three months were so depressing. You get so used to performing every night and taking pictures, and then—nothing. It’s very, very depressing.”
Idol wedding: She married her husband Joe Ruzicka in 2008. “I had Jordin Sparks and Haley Scarnato there from my season. It was really, really cold but I didn’t care. We didn’t have a religious wedding. My husband is agnostic. We had his uncle was who was ordained online marry us.”
The Voice over: “I left my band for a bit and I auditioned for The Voice. I made it all the way to Hollywood. But they said you’ve already done it, so then I was out. But it’s OK, because I realized that everyone needs their shot, and I had mine on Idol.”
By Miriam Shumway

Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Christina Christian (Cewe)


Season 1, 6th place
Then
: College student
Now
: Account manager for an IT company
Soon after the tour, Christian married her boyfriend Nicholas Cewe and they have three children together. She’s dabbled in acting (with small parts on Burn Notice and CSI), but her full-time job is as an account manager at an IT solutions company. She spoke to us during her lunch break.
Bad advice
: She auditioned with an Alanis Morissette song, but the show pushed her to be more pop. “I wasn’t able to do the style I like,” she says.
Performing abroad
: After Idol, Christian says she spent time overseas singing and songwriting in Sweden, Tanzania, South Africa, and London. “I wrote for a while, but honestly I went on with the family life,” she says.
Back then
: “It’s very different than when we started, we were in the inaugural group. And it’s changed. You weren't able to see your family really when you were on the show.”
By Miriam Shumway

Granitz, WireImage / Getty Images

Matthew Rogers

Season 3, 11th place
Then
: College football
Now
: Hair loss spokesperson
The University of Washington football player became an Idol finalist after his girlfriend Teri, now his wife, encouraged him to audition. Since the show, he has been a recidivist TV show host—for Discovery Channel’s Really Big Things, CBS’ There Goes the Neighborhood, and currently Lifetime’s Coming Home (about war veterans and their families).
Family sacrifice:
He left showbiz in 2008, when his second son, Mason, was born with cystic fibrosis. “I had to go back and work in Internet sales, and that’s not what I want to be doing, but that’s what had to be done.”
Salary breakdown:
“About 30 percent comes from hosting television, 30 percent comes from a Bosley infomercial that I did, which was awesome. Another 30 percent comes from a network marketing company that I work with and the last 10 percent from my music.”
By Miriam Shumway

Mark Mainz / AP Photo

Carly Smithson

Season 7, 6th place
Then
: Give me a work visa, so I can be on American Idol!
Now
: Cirque Du Soleil
Since Idol, Smithson has signed with MCA Records and now Universal Republic with her band, We Are the Fallen, whose first album, “Tear the World Down,” hit No. 6 on Billboard’s hard rock albums. She is currently performing at the Cirque Du Soleil’s Viva Elvis show in Vegas. “I always felt Cirque was this underground community you never become a part of,” she says. “But I’m part of that secret society now.”
Idol’s downside: “I don’t feel like you get judged on what you’ve done. You get judged on what happens in that minute and 30 seconds. That was the one thing I got very frustrated with.”
Lots of calls:
“Your life is never, never normal after Idol. You get all these phone calls, everyone saying: you want to do this?”
Other jobs:
She appeared in an upcoming indie horror movie, The Final Act. She and her husband Todd Smithson run a tattoo parlor in San Diego. “It’s our little home,” she says. “It’s been so amazing. We’ve been really blessed.”
By Miriam Shumway

Mark Mainz / AP Photo

Ramiele Malubay

Season 7, 9th place
Then
: Nursing student
Now
: Dog clothes designer
She left her home in the Philippines to tour with the Idol gang. She’s had only one manager since the show, but she’s worked with seven or eight music producers—and struck out with most of them. “But I’ve found one now,” she says. “The process takes forever but the outcome will be a lot more rewarding.”
Dog clothes:
Her music doesn’t support her 100 percent—she also makes clothes for dogs (and sells them at her online store Bowties and Cutiepies). “I was actually in San Francisco for a little bit,” she says. “It was cold and to pass the time I would crochet.” 
Back to school:
She’s thinking about going back to nursing school, the career path that Idol interrupted. “I feel like there’s something missing,” she says. “I want to finish because I would feel better about myself.” 
By Miriam Shumway

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Carrie Underwood

13 million albums sold (according to Nielsen SoundScan)
Season 4, Winner
Then
: College student
Simon Cowell predicted that she’d become the most successful Idol of all time, and he was right. The country superstar is now on the road, touring with her fourth album, Blown Away. And that’s her only delivery—for now. Despite pregnancy speculation, she said that she and her husband (professional hockey player Mike Fisher) aren’t expanding their family. "We just want to be together and keep it as simple as possible,” she told ABC News. “And I think a baby would just make things so complicated right now."

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Kelly Clarkson

11.6 million albums sold
Season 1, Winner
Then
: Waitress
She’ll always be the original American Idol (and, many of us think, the best one). Clarkson is currently on tour with her fifth album, Stronger.  
Time warp:
“It feels like it’s been 30 years sometimes!” she told The Daily Beast last October. “I’ve done so much, I’m like ‘Oh, crap.’ It feels like a lot. I think it’s just because it happened so fast, 10 full-on years. But at the same time, there are some days when I feel like it just happened. It depends on the day.”

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Fantasia Barrino

2.9 million albums sold
Season 3, Winner
Then
: Single mom
Barrino’s albums have landed her eight Grammy nominations (and one win), she had a successful run in Broadway’s The Color Purple, and she played herself in a Lifetime made-for-TV movie. But she’s also been through a lot. In 2010, labeled a home wrecker by the tabloids for her relationship with a married man, Barrino attempted suicide. She has said that she’s in a better place, but she’s kept a low profile since then. On Mother’s Day, she performed at a special concert with Charlie Wilson in the Bronx.

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Ruben Studdard

2.6 million albums sold
Season 2, Winner
Then
: Do you have a job? “No.”
The Velvet Teddy Bear is a star no more. His new album, “Letters from Birmingham,” only sold 17,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The most ink he got this year was for a TMZ post called “Ruben Studdard Divorces Like a Champ,” about his split with wife Surata Zuri McCants. Despite numerous calls to his various representatives, we were told he wasn’t available to be interviewed, because he would be traveling overseas.

Kevin Winter / Getty Images

David Cook

1.5 million albums sold
Season 7, Winner
Then
: Struggling bassist
Cook’s self-titled first album was a major hit. But his follow-up, This Loud Morning, wasn’t so much. He recently opened for Jon Bon Jovi.
Biggest concert:
“My largest show to date was Manila,” Cook says. “The bill was myself and Archie [David Archuleta]. The number fluctuated. But I think the median value was $100,000.”
Even Hillary Clinton watches
Idol: “I remember I got asked to perform at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards,” Cook says. “I come to find out I was a special surprise guest for Hillary Clinton. How do you internalize that? Apparently she did watch the show, at least on Season 7.”
Honoring Adam:
His older brother died from brain cancer in 2009; every year, Cook runs in the National Brain Tumor Society’s Race for Hope in Washington, DC. “Nobody should have to go through what my brother and countless others have gone through with that disease. The sooner we can get rid of it, the better.”
By Ramin Setoodeh

Scotty McCreery

1.3 million albums sold
Season 10, Winner
Then
: High school student
His platinum album made him the most promising country debut on Idol since Carrie Underwood—but McCreery is already taking a break from music. In the fall, he enrolls as a freshman at North Carolina State University.

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Jordin Sparks

1.2 million albums sold
Season 7, Winner
Then
: High school student
She’s the last female winner—can that trend ever change?—of Idol, and the voice behind the very-successful single “No Air.” This August, Sparks tries to conquer the big screen, with the title role in Sparkle, Whitney Houston’s final film (Houston plays the role of Sparkle’s mom). For the soundtrack of the movie, the late diva and Sparks recorded an upcoming single, “Celebrate,” out June 4. “Her first movie and her first audition. She’s had a good history of getting what she goes for,” says her publicist. She also tried out for a role on Glee—but didn’t get that.

Taylor Hicks

767,000 albums sold
Season 5, Winner
Then
: Struggling musician
After he was dropped from his label Arista Records in 2008, Hicks released his next album on his own. Then he joined a traveling production of Grease, before moving to Nashville, where he’s been working on a country album.
Viva, Las Vegas:
This summer, Hicks will take the Soul Patrol to headline in Vegas, with a nightly performance at Bally’s. “Hopefully, I won’t be reliving the Hangover movie every night,” Hicks says. “But maybe so. I’m the first American Idol contestant to get a residency in Vegas. I think it will probably rival Celine Dion.”
On disappointing album sales:
“Every album can’t be a multi-platinum album,” he says. “To a certain degree, I was an independent artist to begin with. I think I will probably release 20 albums before it’s said or done.”
Career advice:
“There are more than 100 Top 10 contestants now. There are 11 winners. It’s very important to win the show. If you don’t, it’s tough.”
By Ramin Setoodeh

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Kris Allen

331,000 albums sold
Season 8 Winner
Then
: Shoe salesman
Allen’s second album, Thank You Camellia, comes out this week. “It’s a lot different, actually,” he says. “I got to spent a little more time on this one. I wrote every song on the record. I wanted it to be me.”
On his debut album’s sales:
“It was the most records I ever sold. The industry has changed so much, even as I’ve been on the show.”
His future:
“I don’t think this is happening at all, but worst-case scenario, I get dropped from my label. I feel like I’ve created enough of a fan base to make music on my own and have a super happy life and live comfortably.”
Road spouse:
His wife, Katy, has traveled with him on his tour bus. “We make sure she has her own bunk. Neither of us is big people, but the bunks are very small.”
Screen test:
“I tried out for a movie, and there was so some singing in it,” he says. “What I heard back was, the singing was great. The acting needs a lot of work.”
Splurge!: “
After I won, the biggest thing I bought was some land. We haven’t done anything with it. It’s back home in Arkansas.”
By Ramin Setoodeh

Lee DeWyze

149,000 albums sold
Season 9 winner

Then
: Paint salesman
After becoming the least successful Idol winner in the history of the franchise, DeWyze was dropped from his label. “Basically, I just don’t think RCA and I were on the same page,” he says. “I don’t think we were a great fit together from the beginning … [but] I didn’t necessarily expect it to end like that.”

Lee DeWyze: What Went Wrong After ‘Idol’

Audition story: “I’ve never actually told this to anybody before, but it’s the truth. Sitting in the United Center, there was a point where we had to sing this Katy Perry song ‘Hot n’ Cold’ over and over and over again, as a group. And after about 30 minutes of that, I was like, dude, I’m ready to go. I’m not a very self-conscious person but I had a very self-conscious moment where I was like this isn’t me.”
No winner’s glory:
“I can’t sit here and say winning American Idol was everything I thought it would be and that it’s perfect. I remember the first question I ever got as asked after I won was, ‘Who do you think is going to replace Simon Cowell?’”
Up next:
He’s now in studio, working on his own album and writing his own songs. “I’m going to be happy because I know that what I’m doing right now is what I’m supposed to be doing.  I’m excited to show everyone my new music.”
By Addison Schultz