Where are your Idols?
If you’re like me, you’ve watched American Idol since it debuted 11 long years ago. Like me, you may also wonder what happened to those contestants — winners and losers alike — who either peaked early and plummeted, or who shot up out of the blue, only to drift back into anonymity in a flash. A handful of Idol hotshots have succeeded in today’s unforgiving music industry, but many, many more have fallen into the depths of post-Idol despair.
Unlike Idol superstar alums Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson and Carrie Underwood, most of the show’s contestants have dwindled in popularity. Take, for example, season four runner-up Bo Bice. He started off strong with singles “Inside Your Heaven” and “The Real Thing”, riding the recognition that runners-up often found in the early years of the show, but Bice has since fallen completely from relevancy. His most recognized achievement in last few years was a 2010 television appearance where he won $50,000 on Don’t Forget the Lyrics — hardly a triumphant end to a brief singing career.
Some Idol winners have even had popularity problems. In the first few seasons of the show, winners achieved instant stardom and Billboard chart toppers — everyone knew who these prizewinners were. But recent winners such as season seven’s David Cook, season eight’s Kris Allen and season nine’s Lee DeWyze are not exactly names recognizable at the dinner table.
This can largely be attributed to each contestant’s inability to grasp the attention of the show’s fans, dooming their future record sales. Three years after his Idol appearance, Cook toured his 2011 album, This Loud Morning, with limited success. Allen released a sophomore album, Thank You Camellia, in May 2012, but music has in actuality become his side job. His main focuses these days are completing philanthropic work and becoming a first-time father. DeWyze, whose name is rarely remembered even by the most loyal Idol fans, is planning a 2012 tour, but his prospects of fame and fortune seem slim at best.
Even many of the earlier Idol finalists who carry a great degree of name recognition have just as little relevance as Cook, Allen and DeWyze. Season two winner Ruben Studdard recently released his fifth album, Letters From Birmingham, to little, if any, critical or commercial attention.
That doesn’t mean some earlier winners haven’t found ways to cash in, however. Season three winner Fantasia Barrino battled depression and an attempted suicide, but eventually won a Grammy in 2011 for Best R&B Performance with her song “Bittersweet” and then landed a movie role in the 2011 biopic Mahalia. Season five’s Taylor Hicks spent some time in a traveling tour of Grease, playing Teen Angel, and is now preparing to be a celebrity contestant on Fox’s The Choice.
Then there are the much better known contestants: Chris Daughtry found success with his band Daughtry; Adam Lambert released two well-received albums; and Katherine McPhee and Jennifer Hudson both snagged roles on NBC’s Smash. More recently, Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina have become prominent in the country music scene, and Phillip Phillips’ “Home” is one of the top songs in the country.
The two greatest contributions of the show, however, are Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. These two power-belters are everything we could hope to find from a singing show: singers with amazing vocal talent and an ability to market themselves. Their talents have certainly paid off, allowing them to rise from mere American Idol winners to global superstars. Hopefully the coming season will bring more of this top-tier talent and less of the forgettable Justin Guarinis and Bo Bices.