It may be hard to believe, but American Idol has been on air for a full decade. Debuting during the summer of 2002, the TV talent show became a surprise ratings hit, and almost single-handedly made FOX one of the top three television networks. Despite countless spin-offs and copycats (American Juniors, X Factor, Rock Star: INXS, Nashville Star, Can You Duet, The Voice, etc.), the original series still has a hold on pop culture even into its 11th season.
With its changing roster of celebrity guests and judges, one thing is clear: its all about the contestants. But what have all of those singers been up to lately? So, starting with season one, let’s look back at who made the top five and see what they’re doing now.
5. R.J. Helton
Helton was voted off the show a week after forgetting the lyrics to Fred Astaire song. He then became the first of many former Idol contestants to become a successful Christian Contemporary artist, releasing his Real Life album in 2004.
Helton is currently working on secular music, with no known release date. Since coming out of the closet in 2007, Helton has decided to go into secular music, noting that he has still has a strong faith in God, but feels that he “can’t be who (he) want(s) to be” in the genre.
4. Tamyra Gray
Many viewers were outraged at her fourth place finish, but the singer soon established herself as an actress, joining the cast of FOX drama Boston Public in 2003. Since then, she has appeared in Broadway plays and got bit parts in TV series and movies. Gray has had some musical success, though, her 2004 album featured a Top 5 Dance chart hit, “Raindrops Will Fall”, and she was a part of the No.1 soundtrack to a movie she co-starred in, The Gospel.
In recent years, she has co-written songs for Jessica Simpson, Kristinia DeBarge, Kelly Clarkson, and season three winner Fantasia Barrino’s debut single, “I Believe”. At last check, she recorded an album’s worth of material and is now looking for a new record label. Last week at one of Clarkson’s concerts, the two surprised the audience by performing several songs together.
3. Nikki McKibbin
It was rumored at the time that several record labels pursued McKibbin for a record deal after the season ended, but she turned them down to spend more time with her son. The truth was that she was signed on to RCA, but they wanted her to have a country sound instead of what she preferred. She later ran a karaoke company and released an album, Unleashed in 2007.
Though she has appeared in several reality shows, (Fear Factor, Kill Reality) she came to terms with her addictions on Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew in 2008. Performing a potential single on Sober House the following year, she’s back in the music business, releasing her It Matters To Me album in 2010.
2. Justin Guarini
Rumors abounded that the show was rigged for him to win, but his debut album didn’t sell well. He co-starred with the winner in the poorly written box-office flop From Justin To Kelly, but his career is starting to look up. He appeared in several Broadway shows and is to co-star in the Stephen King-penned musical Ghost Brothers Of Darkland County.
1. Kelly Clarkson
Many so-called media experts doubted that the show could turn its winner into an overnight success, but her first single, “A Moment Like This” was released to radio stations immediately after her win. Many more hit singles (“Miss Independent”, “Break Away”, “Behind These Hazel Eyes”, “Because of You”, “My Life Would Suck Without You”, etc.) followed.
You would pretty much have to be hiding under a rock not to know what the original Idol is up to these days. One of the most popular female artists of our time, Kelly recently won an ACM award for her duet with country star Jason Aldean, “Don’t You Wanna Stay” and released a country version of her “Mr. Know It All” single, but she hasn’t abandoned regular pop music yet. Her “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” was recently used in commercials for Barely Legal and Toyota, and became a Billboard No. 1 hit. And in what is perhaps the biggest sign of her success to date, Kelly’s been added as a celebrity “mentor” to the singers on ABC’s upcoming Idol -knockoff, Duets.