After debuting in the summer of 2002, and becoming a ratings hit, American Idol began searching for new hopefuls several weeks after crowning their first winner. In a couple of months, the show returned with more elaborate sets, a wider selection of songs, one less host (Brian Dunkleman supposedly left to pursue a comedy career), and a whole lot of hype.
Despite all these changes, there was only one thing all of those millions of viewers really cared about: the contestants. But what have all of those singers been up to lately? Let’s take a look.
Born Lashundra Trenyce Cobbins, the judges “wildcard” pick became the target of gossip columnists after her past shoplifting arrest was made public.
After touring as a back-up singer for Wanda Dee is Russia and headlining a Las Vegas show, she has started a career in acting on the stage. In 2010, she was part of a revival of Ain’t Misbehaving with fellow contestants Ruben Studdard and Frenchie Davis. Most recently, she landed a role in the European leg of last year’s Thriller Live tour.
4. Josh Gracin
He was a Lance Corporal in the United States marines when he auditioned for the show that would make him become Idol’s first country music star. Fans of the show remember his tearjerker exit, when he held his baby daughter onstage during his final solo.
After being granted an honorable discharge, Gracin released a self-titled album that went gold and featured a No.1 hit single on the country charts. However, disappointing sales of his second album caused his record label to part ways with him. Last year, he independently released another album, Redemption, that has a more adult-contemporary sound.
3. Kimberly Locke
Kimberly Locke dealt with criticism from “mean judge” Simon Cowell, who told her she would have a better career if she lost weight. But it was her big voice that viewers cared about, as she went on to record several adult-contemporary and dance club hits.
After joining the cast of Celebrity Fit Club, Locke lost 27 pounds on the Jenny Craig plan and starred in a series of commercials for the company in 2006.
Despite releasing two albums with decent sales, the singer signed a “singles only” music agreement in 2010. “Finally Free” is her current release.
2. Clay Aiken
Despite his 2nd place finish, Aiken quickly became one of the biggest stars to emerge from the show. His cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was a No.1 hit and his debut album was among that year’s best-selling releases. He went on to co-write his own best-selling autobiography and co-headline a successful tour with Idol winner Kelly Clarkson.
Though his fans might not refer to themselves as “Claymates” anymore, his past albums have sold well. He is currently one of the contestants on The Celebrity Apprentice.
1. Ruben Studdard
Declared the winner by a mere 130,000 votes, “the velvet teddy bear”’s style of R&B proved successful, with a No.2 single and a debut album that sold well. Soon afterwards, he was involved in a lawsuit with the creators of the “205” jerseys that he wore on the show and was hospitalized for exhaustion and pneumonia shortly before the release of his second album.
Despite the declining sales of his subsequent albums, Ruben continues to record. His remake of “Celebrate Me Home” was used as Idol’s elimination theme for Season 7, and he and Clay Aiken toured together in 2010. Most recently, he garnered entertainment headlines for his 80 lb. weightloss due to a vegan diet and his recent divorce.