Fantasia Barrino's autobiography was called Life Is Not A Fairytale, and perhaps no memoir has ever been so aptly titled. Despite winning "American Idol" in Season 3 and going on to sell millions of records and earn eight Grammy nominations, she certainly hasn't lived an idyllic existence in her recent post-"Idol" years. And just when she seemed to get her life on track preparing the August 24 release of her comeback album, things went awry for the 26-year-old, as she found herself surrounded by scandal (she was accused in divorce court papers of breaking up a marriage, then was hospitalized this past Monday for overdosing on medication).
Thankfully, Fantasia's overdose was not life-threatening, but she's still proof that the "Idol" fairytale doesn't automatically lead to a happy ending. The Cinderella story behind the show is that once singers perform on what is arguably America's biggest stage, they're set for life. But for many "Idol" contestants, their troubles really begin once the show is over.
Here in, chronological order, are the most troubled "Idol" alums, all of whom have sadly failed to capitalize on the early promise of their reality fame.
Nikki McKibbin - This pink-haired rebel made it all the way to third place, but she later admitted that she used drugs on the set of "Idol" as a way to deal with the stress of facing Simon Cowell on live TV. She also said she was a victim of childhood abuse and an addict mother--sad circumstances which pretty much inevitably set her up for a lifetime of her own addiction struggles. Nikki struggled professionally as well: When "Idol" management company 19 Entertainment wanted her to go the country route and she insisted on recording rock 'n' roll, she eventually parted ways with them with no albums released. Her drug problems and health then worsened as the years went on, especially after her mother died from drug-related causes in 2007. A year later, a heartbroken Nikki signed up for VH1's "Celebrity Rehab" and "Sober House" to finally get clean. Apparently her run on those reality shows was more successful, because Nikki, who is now married, has been sober for more than two years. Perhaps now she is in the right place to relaunch her musical career at last.
Corey Clark - One of the most scandalous contestants in "Idol" history, this also-ran was disqualified from Season 2 after The Smoking Gun website reported that he had been arrested on domestic disturbance charges in 2002 and had not revealed this to the show's producers. (Many other "Idol" contestants have had arrest records, but were allowed to stay on the show because they disclosed this information early on.) However, Corey claimed it was not his undisclosed arrest record that earned him the boot, but his rumored affair with judge Paula Abdul. Corey tried to substantiate his case by releasing a cryptic voicemail message left for him by Paula, going on "Primetime Live," and penning a lurid tell-all E-book titled They Told Me To Tell The Truth, So...: The Sex, Lies and Paulatics of One of America's Idols. But Paula emerged from the scandal virtually unscathed (she even lampooned the incident in an "Idol" skit), while Corey went on to court even more trouble. Among Corey's many alleged crimes are passing bad checks at Wal-Mart, assaulting his manager during a food fight (yes, a food fight), trespassing on his estranged wife's stepfather's property, possession of a controlled substance, and abusing his wife (she filed for a domestic violence protective order in 2006). Not surprisingly, his musical career has floundered.
Julia DeMato - Julia was one of Season 2's more promising female contestants, even trumping judge favorite Kimberly Caldwell during the semifinals round, but she stalled at 10th place and quickly vanished from the public eye after that. However, in December 2005 she found herself back in the news for all the wrong reasons, when she was arrested and charged with a DUI and possession of marijuana and cocaine. Julia avoided jail by attending a drug education program and doing community service, and has since seemingly gotten her act together as a wife and mom. But her musical career never quite got off the ground.
Jessica Sierra - Along with Nikki McKibbin, Jessica is one of "Idol's" saddest casualties. She was a judge favorite in Season 4, possessing arguably the best female voice of that year (according to Simon Cowell, who adored her), but she only made it to 10th place. That, however, was the least of Jessica's worries. Shortly after leaving the show, she was stalked by a 59-year-old fanatic, Daniel Young; a year later, she was arrested for cocaine possession and assault. In many ways, Jessica's story parallelled Nikki McKibbin's: Jessica later appeared on "Celebrity Rehab," on which she revealed that she too had a family history of childhood abuse and drug addiction (her estranged mother actually died from a drug overdose while Jessica was still on "Idol"). While her season of "Celebrity Rehab" was still airing on VH1, Sierra was arrested again and charged with disorderly intoxication, resisting arrest, and probation violation. "Celebrity Rehab" doctor Drew Pinsky stood by her during the ordeal, even flying to Tampa for her hearing and testifying on her behalf. As part of her probation terms, Jessica was forbidden from getting within 100 yards of a camera or microphone--definitely a problem for a singer and reality star--but perhaps that is just what she needed, because as of this writing, Jessica is clean and sober. She is also a new mom, determined not to make the mistakes her own mother made.
Paula Goodspeed - Goodspeed was never a semifinalist--she was a bad-audition reject--but her death after Season 5 served as a cautionary tale for all prospective thin-skinned auditioners. In late 2008, the self-confessed Paula Abdul fanatic and troubled soul was found dead of an apparent drug overdose (possibly a suicide) outside Abdul's home, prompting prominent psychologist Dr. Bethany Marshall to say on "Good Morning America": "[Goodspeed] may have felt that her life as she knew it was over, simply because she was criticized on this show. Here's the problem with these kinds of shows. If you have a personality-disordered, fragile, vulnerable contestant who is very sensitive to criticism and you put the image of them being criticized on YouTube...plastered in front of millions of people--they're not Teflon-coated. They cannot handle it." Goodspeed's death ignited debate regarding whether "Idol" goes too far in exploiting emotionally fragile (possibly even mentally ill) contestants, but of course, bad auditions and vicious critiques remained a fundamental part of the show even after this scandal.
Chikezie Eze - This affable former LAX worker made one of Season 7's biggest impressions with his bluegrassy rendition of the Beatles' "She's A Woman," one of the few make-it-your-own-without-ruining-it Beatles covers in "Idol" history. Things looked promising for the singer, who later appeared on "General Hospital" and started work on an album. But earlier this year, he was arrested at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills and held on $50,000 bail. Prosecutors claimed Chikezie fraudulently tried using credit information from a man named Willem Grandia; Chikezie was then charged with attempted grand theft (since the two bottles of cologne he attempted to buy from Neiman Marcus cost approximately $1,300) and identity theft. He told TMZ he was trying to make a purchase with a card had never used before and it was flagged for having something "untrue" on the credit application. "I haven't done anything wrong myself and I'm pretty confident nothing is going to happen," he said. But as of this writing, the charges have not been dropped. Additionally, Chikezie is being sued by Bank Of America for allegedly overdrawing funds from his account and owing nearly $17,500. Things are not going so easy for Mr. Eze these days.
Jesse Langseth - A top 36 semifinalist who was brought back for the Wild Card round in Season 8 (and just so happens to be Jonny Lang's sister), this wild rocker girl got just a little too out of control last year in Minneapolis, not long after her "Idol" stint, when she was pulled over because her brake light was out. It was then that the police officer discovered that Jesse had a warrant for her arrest for driving on a suspended license, stemming from an August 2007 DUI, and she was arrested. She is still performing in Minneapolis now and, so far, staying out of further trouble.
Let's hope all of these talented people have brighter futures ahead of them.