It is almost that time of year again: when families everywhere gather together in their living rooms around the warmth of... their television set and tune in, households deep, for the premiere of American Idol. The eighth season of Fox' hit singing competition show is less than two weeks away, so what better time to look back at the past years and see just how many stars the show really spawned...
Nikki McKibbin was eliminated in the final three of the first season of American Idol, and though she had been in the bottom three a record six times prior to finally getting the boot, she had been my pick to go all the way. There was something about her raw, guttural voice toward which I just instinctively gravitated. At the time I thought it was just a hard rocker edge, not unlike that of Joan Jett or Chrissie Hynde or P!nk, but it turns out it may have just been the remnants of an alcohol-coated throat, as McKibbin appeared in the last season of VH1's Celebrity Rehab, in which she admitted she never performed on stage without having a drink or two to loosen up first. McKibbin released her solo album in 2007 after a brief stint with the Texas rock band, Downside, in 2005, but she will probably be most well known for her time on reality TV. American Idol aside, she has also appeared on Fear Factor, Battle of the Network Reality Stars, Kill Reality, and will subsequently air on this month's Celebrity Rehab follow-up spin-off Sober House.
The pixie-ish Carmen Rasmusen (Season 2) was a fan favorite, getting voted back on the show as a Wild Card after an initial early elimination, due to her petite blonde non-threatening demeanor. She spoke often of her strong Morman upbringing and the morality and values it imparted and seemed determined to be one of the contestants "who would also be a good role model" for young girls. Naturally, this gave comedian Kathy Griffin ample ammunition to include her in her act (during which she often name-dropped Kelly Clarkson and outed fellow Season 2 contestant Clay Aiken), but Rasmusen stuck to her beliefs, releasing a squeaky clean EP in in 2004 and then writing a book called "Staying In Tune" that basically serves as a hundred-plus page interview on how she manages to hold onto her values while facing the temptations of the entertainment industry. Little Rasmusen was married in December 2005 and was scheduled to give birth this past Christmas Eve, though at press time no official announcement of the birth has been made. It seems Rasmusen is doing what she can to keep her family out of the public eye.
Season 3's Jon Peter Lewis, or JPL as his fans affectionately know him, took some time after Idol to compose his debut album slowly and gradually, refusing to give into any bubblegum pop machine and instead wrote very reflective, soulful acoustic tracks. "Stories From Hollywood" spurned two singles but was only released limitedly, but his second album, "Breaking The Silence," which was released in 2008 was a collaboration with well-known musicians to back up his songwriting and vocal talent. It received a Critic's Choice review from Billboard Magazine and the title track has the distinguished honor of being one of only fifty songs that is programmed into Apple iPhones on display in stores all across the country. It's a far cry from the somewhat goofy, gap-toothed grinning dancing JPL became famous for on his season!
Though Constantine Maroulis (Season 4), with his long leather coat and even longer scraggly hair, emitted the aura of a hardcore rock star, his resume after the show seemed to have a bit of an identity crisis, as if he didn't seem to know if his true passion lay in music or in acting. Overall, it was undoubtedly obvious that he loved to be in the spotlight no matter what, though. Maroulis was the frontman for a band called Betty before Idol fame went to his head, but he split away from them in 2006 citing "creative and business differences" and instead pursued a bigger glory that ultimately found him starting his own record label and releasing his solo, self-titled debut a year later. Maroulis also had a deal with ABC to star in a sitcom loosely based on his own upbringing in the borough of Brooklyn, but the network ultimately passed on the project before it could ever be shot. He did manage to appear briefly on The Bold and the Beautiful before turning his attention full-force to the theater in productions of Jesus Christ Superstar and Rock of Ages, which New Line is now developing into a feature film. Maroulis will undoubtedly want to keep his role in the big screen adaptation, but despite the success of Idol-turned-actress Jennifer Hudson, he may still have a hard time convincing producers his talent is as big as his ego and he can carry a film; after all, does anyone remember From Justin to Kelly?
Ace Young (Season 5) made an appearance on an episode of VH1's Rock of Love Charm School with Sharon Osbourne during a challenge that had the girls relying on their personalities after being "made under," so to speak, with big frumpy clothing, prosthetics, and hairy moles, to win over three handsome, successful bachelors (Young being one of those bachelors). But Young has really only experienced moderate success post-Idol dabbling in music (he released his first single in 2006 and didn't drop another until 2008, though he also co-wrote a song of Daughtry's that was more successful than both of his own-- "It's Not Over"). Young, too, tried his hand at acting with a guest spot on Bones, and he is now combining both arts with his role as Kenicke in Grease on Broadway. However, Young appears to be content just riding the wave of fame his time on Idol provided him-- the same fame that garnered him a position on People's Hottest Bachelor list as well as invitations to some very special TNA events.
Hundreds upon hundreds were outraged when Melinda Doolittle didn't make it to the finals of her season (Season 6), but she has not been disappointing her fans since the show ended in 2007. She released a version of "My Funny Valentine," the song that really made viewers stand up and take notice of her on the show, and it will be followed by a full CD, "Coming Back To You," dropping in February. Every month Doolittle appears on a web series in which fans can interact with her and ask her questions about her life and her music, and she has become extremely involved in charity work, even traveling to Zambia with Laura Bush to raise awareness about the risks and dangers of malaria. Doolittle has been encouraging her fans to donate to the Malaria No More Cause, mentioning it on her American Idol Tour and on CNN, where she has been interviewed regarding her philanthropy.
Jason Castro (Season 7)'s laid back, surfer/stoner attitude endeared him to some American Idol voters and rubbed others the wrong way. Some thought he was cute and charming and others found him aloof and like he "just didn't give a crap" about the competition. Though he was accused of messing up songs on purpose and mouthing "Don't Vote" to the at home audience when his number flashed on the screen, those in his hometown were still uber-proud of the dreadlocked teen, and upon his arrival home, he was granted the honor of having a day named for him. He is currently still working on his album (it has been less than a year since he was booted from Idol after all), and he recorded a version of his hit "Hallelujah" for a Spanish independent film's soundtrack. Though he will most likely spend the majority of his spare time by voting for his brother Michael who has made it to Hollywood on the upcoming season.
All of these past contestants won hearts for very different reasons, and though they all went on the show with one common goal, their lives post-Idol have been a schmorgesborg, offering a wealth of possibility to all of the newbs about to be inducted into the American Idol family in the upcoming eighth season premiering on January 13.