A seventh season of American Idol has ended, and more than a week later, all I'm still hearing around the ol' Yahoo! watercooler is, "Oh, it's no big deal if David Archuleta/Michael Johns/Syesha Mercado/Chikezie/insert-runner-up's-name-here did not win. Surely they'll be offered record deals and become huge stars anyway. It doesn't matter who wins!"
Well, you know...people were saying the same thing about Vonzell Solomon after season 4.
Yes, sometimes it does matter who wins. Because not every runner-up can be the next Jennifer Hudson or Chris Daughtry. Some of them just become the next Scott Savol or Anthony Federov, never to be heard from again.
Other runners-up ARE heard from again...they're just, sadly, not heard by that many people. These coulda-been-contenders put out records of varying quality--sometimes on majors, sometimes on indies, sometimes out of the trunks of their cars--but unfortunately, most AmIdol viewers are already too preoccupied with the new season's Hollywood Week auditions to care what some footnoter from season 4 is up to now.
But I still care, of course. It's my job to care! So while I wait and see if David Archuleta will become the next Clay Aiken or will end up doing what most American Idol rejects pursue as a plan-B career these days (hosting TV shows ABOUT American Idol), I've dug up some videos by some former Idols who're trying to not be idle.
Let's start by going all the way back to season 1, and move on from there...
Looking back, it's hard to believe anyone was in suspense on season 1's finale night, when future superstar Kelly Clarkson beat out former-and-future wedding singer Justin by a sizable voting margin. But back then, the boy with the Sideshow Bob bob, Jacko-esque dance moves, and notably more limited vocal range seemed like he had a real shot. In fact, after Simon Cowell compared this Justin to a more famous one, Timberlake, the corkscrew-curled heartthrob seemed destined for success no matter what. Well, after one straight-to-Netflix movie musical (From Justin To Kelly) and one underpromoted major-label album, Justin surprisingly faded away. He later re-reared his curly head as the host of the TV Guide Channel's Idol Chat show alongside season 2 castoff (and rumored David Cook paramour) Kimberly Caldwell, but he continues to work on his music career. (In 2005 he released an album of standards, Stranger Things Have Happened, that--true to its title--garnered decent reviews.) Here's Justin performing his self-released new single, "Missing You," on the recent finale episode of Idol Chat:
The fact that Nikki McKibbin hasn't been a huge success since leaving Idol is, admittedly, less of shock. The real shocker was that she ever made it to third place at all, beating out frontrunners like Tamyra Gray. But Nikki was season 1's token "rocker" (meaning she had pink hair, wore studded wristbands, and sang Alannah Myles songs), so she had a default diehard following (these were the days before Daughtry and David Cook, after all). And in true rock 'n' roll fashion, after the show this former karaoke queen and exotic dancer rejected an offer from 19 Management and RCA to record a country album, and cultivated a darker, slightly Evanescence-esque new look that included raven-black locks, sooty eyeliner, and lots of leather, leather, leather. Perhaps it's Nikki's resulting bizarre video that's the biggest shocker of all:
Carmen wasn't supposed to be on season 2 of AmIdol: She didn't even make it through Hollywood Week, but Simon Cowell somehow remembered her and brought her back via the now-defunct "wild card" process. (Clay Aiken was also a wild card that season, but he'd made it through to the semi-final voting round, unlike Carmen.) Perhaps her inauspicious induction into the show itself explains why, after she left, she vanished almost instantly, and was barely recognizable when she resurfaced a few years later, reminiscing about her season 2 experience on American Idol Rewind with an impossible-to-ignore weird black mark on her forehead. (Apparently she had unhealed stitches from being whacked in the face by an errant guitar.) Well, in 2007, with both her stitches and career well faded, Carmen finally got around to releasing an independent country album. Here's an okay video from it:
Perhaps the most infamous Idol ever, Corey allegedly attempted to sleep his way to the top, but he ended up at rock bottom. Corey claimed he engaged in a torrid love affair with judge/cougar Paula Abdul while he was on the show, but even if that's true, his time on the Idol casting couch didn't help his career much. First he was disqualified from the show for failing to reveal a previous arrest; then he "wrote" an explotaitive E-book, They Told Me to Tell the Truth, So...: The Sex, Lies & Paulatics Of One Of America's Idols, detailing his supposed illicit affair and claiming it was his relationship with Paula that really got him kicked off the show. But his singing wasn't so hot, so he was bound to get kicked off sooner or later. Which probably explains why no one really cared when Corey released this single between his various arrests:
Season 3's theater-schooled second-placer, Diana Degarmo, was no match for that season's much gritter champ, Fantasia, but she's since fared decently outside the pop world. In 2006, she starred as Penny Pingleton in a Broadway production of Hairspray, and now--after being told robbed of her rightful victory on the CMT talent show Gone Country--she's reportedly recording a country-pop album in Nashville. Let's hope it's better than her forgettable post-Idol single, "Emotional":
There was no doubt that the camera loved this flower-child; however, the microphone didn't love her quite as much. Her vocals just weren't up to par with those of the two divas who beat her in season 3, the aforementioned Fantasia and Diana. But apparently this Filipina-American beauty has found an audience in other countries, including Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan, and of course the Philippines. Here are a couple videos of all that Jas, singing in both Tagalog and English:
Jon Peter Lewis
Simon likened him to a "pen salesman," but I'd buy anything this boy was selling. He's one of my personal favorite all-time runners-up, and season 3 got a whole lot less interesting for me once this goofball stalled in eighth place. He's since moved to Los Angeles to pursue music, and has released a couple of albums that unfortunately few people other than myself have noticed. But I still love me some JPL. Here's his latest not-at-all-bad video:
True to the persona he presented on American Idol season 3, ole Georgie boy visited the Yahoo! Music offices last year and was the friendliest guy one could ever hope to meet. So friendly, in fact, that he seemingly never wanted to leave, sitting around for hours telling tale after tale about his struggling pre-Idol days spent living in his car. (And this was looong before automotive-dwelling Josiah Leming became famous for doing the same!) But George was such a cheerful fellow, it was OK. None of us really wanted to go back to our desks anyway. Anyhoo, during George's marathon storytelling session, he repeatedly spoke about God guiding him toward his Idol destiny. So it makes sense that he ended up recording Christian music after the show. Now all he has to do is pray he finds a label that will actually properly promote his music, so he doesn't have to make the rounds chatting up website employees by himself all day. Anyway, here's George's characteristically positive video:
Season 3 winner Fantasia was always a favorite of Simon's, but an even bigger frontrunner that season was LaToya London. After her early audition of "All By Myself," she seemed destined to become the season 3 version of Tamyra Gray. And she did--in the sense that she became the woman everyone thought had the competition sewn up, but then stalled in fourth place. Just like Tamyra. LaToya has since done her share of acting (including performing in a touring version of The Color Purple, a play Fantasia also participated in on Broadway). But her 2005 indie album Love & Life came and went, despite an appearance by Black Thought of the Roots. Oh well. Here's BT and LL's underappreiated video, "Appreciate":
When bedroom-eyed rocker heartthrob Maroulis got voted off in season 4 (while creepy Scotty "The Body" Savol inexplicably stayed on), it was a shocker. But few doubted that this modern-day Greek god would nonetheless have a long and prosperous post-Idol career ahead of him. Guess the REAL shocker is that now, after a short and not all that well-received stint on CBS soap opera The Bold And The Beautiful, Constatine just co-hosts American Idol Extra with Gina Glocksen. However, he did release his first solo debut last year. It didn't sell that well, but you have to admit, he's still looking pretty bold and beautiful in this video from the album:
When Mario Vazquez, a seeming frontrunner in season 4, quit the show unexpectedly just after making the top 12, he claimed it was due to a family emergency. However, rumors soon surfaced that he'd quit because he'd been offered a record deal and didn't want to be beholden to 19 Management's iron-clad contracts. Whatever the real reason, it doesn't seem like leaving the show so early was a wise career move for Mario. Despite his single "Gallery" being co-written by Ne-Yo, according to Wikipedia he is the third-lowest-selling Idol contestant, just in front of Corey Clark and some chick named Ayla Brown. But "Gallery" was not a bad song, as you can witness here:
Season 5 was probably AmIdol's most prolific season. Though that season's champ, Taylor Hicks, remains the show's lowest-selling winner, he still shifted a respectable 700,000 or so units, and more top 12 runners-up went on to have decent careers than from the top 12 of any other season. Please note season 5 kickstarted the careers of Chris Daughtry, Elliott Yamin, Kelly Pickler, Bucky Covington, Ace Young (who co-wrote Daughtry's "It's Not Over"), and Katharine McPhee. However, one of season 5's standouts, little Paris Bennett (granddaughter of Sounds Of Blackness gospel legend Ann Nesby), has inexplicably not enjoyed the success of some of her more prominent peers. Her debut album, Princess P, was almost completely overlooked, but perhaps her sophomore effort, Simply Jazz--a collection of jazz standards--will fare better when it is released in fall 2008. In the meantime, enjoy Paris's underrated talents here:
Like George Huff, single-named season 5 soul diva Mandisa has gone the gospel route. Her album True Beauty debuted at number one on the Top Christian Albums charts (the first time a new female artist debuted in the top spot in the chart's 27-year history), and it debuted at an impressive #43 on the Billboard 200. However, she has yet to cross over to the secular pop world. Whatevs. Enjoy Mandisa's true beauty here:
When Chris auditioned on season 6, he said his goal was to make David Hasselhoff cry. Well, he did a lot more than that: He instantly became one of my favorite contenders that season (an opinion further solidified when he later covered MuteMath and Ray Lamontagne), and he made me cry when he was voted off. Sigh. Chris has since resumed making music on his own (as he warned future finalists on the season 7 Idol finale red carpet, "19 is NOT going to give you a record deal"). Here's a clip of him doing his thang on some TV show:
His Nosferatu-ish baldy looks were a little scary, but proud papa Phil's voice was scary-good. The season 6 chrome-domed wonder is now pursuing a country career, although he hasn't done quite as well as other country Idols like Bucky Covington, Josh Gracin, Kellie Pickler, or (duh) Carrie Underwood. Regardless, here's his little-seen first video:
And of course, this list would hardly be complete without...
Some people cite William Hung's season 3 audition--and the 15 minutes of megafame that followed it--as the exact moment when AmIdol jumped the proverbial shark. Others consider him the awesome archetypal hero who opened the door to countless other delightfully YouTubeable wannabes, like this season's Milo "No Sex Allowed" Turk, the Paula Stalker Guy, and of course, Renaldo "I Am Your Brother" Lapuz. But whether you're pro- or anti-Hung, you have to grudgingly admire a man who built an entire career, albeit a short-shelved one, on nothing but a single trainwreck Ricky Martin impression and a really positive attitude. And he hasn't done too shabbily, either: Mario Vazquez wishes he had Hung's record sales. However, it seems like the Hawaiian-shirted Hung has been hung out to dry, as he hasn't released an album in three years (incredibly, he put out four albums between 2004-2005). Here's video of big Willie in more triumphant times, Hungifying a Queen victory anthem:
So, will this season's finalists end up on a "where are they now?" list like this a few years from now? Or will they be scooping up Oscars and Grammys? We'll just have to wait and see.