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.