American Idol Contestants: Their Professional Backgrounds

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As the top 24 contestants on American Idol begin singing for their reality show lives tomorrow night (voting is now on you, viewers), USA Today is running a feature that outlines the professional backgrounds of a few finalists.

Perhaps in response to the timid album sales of Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis, American Idol has passed a quintet of supposed ringers on to the finals, those that have actually had a recording deal with a label in the past. But that's a negative in the eyes of many.

"The reason I watch is to see someone journey from nowhere to stardom," Kevin Kotke, a fan from Milwaukee, told the newspaper. "The only kind of record a contestant should be able to claim is the $5 self-published kind from the mall."

Carly Smithson Album
But Season 7 contestants can claim quite a bit more than that:
  • Carly Smithson recorded for MCA, which lavished more than $2 million on her debut album, then dumped her when it sold poorly.
  • Kristy Lee Cook signed with Britney Spears' production company in 2001.
  • Michael Johns' band, The Rising, was dropped by Madonna's Maverick label.
  • Robbie Carrico sang with Boyz-N-Girlz United, an Orlando boy/girl band.
  • David Archuleta won $100,000 on Star Search in 2003.

While some fans are bothered by this sort of experience, American Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe says the flap "is a storm in a teacup… Let's just let the stories unfold."

He adds that show rules require only that contestants not be currently under contract: "We're looking for 'great,' and, yes, those people in all likelihood have had dealings with the industry before."

What do you think? Should American Idol contestant be wholly undiscovered?

Matt Richenthal is the Editor in Chief of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.


First year for me watching Idol. I enjoyed it untill I tried figuring out how AI and judges came to the conclusions that they did... very little logic, minimal helpful suggestions, lots of childish silliness by judges. Kind of hard to take them seriously. I took a liking to Danny Gokey, really every thing about him, his unique vocals, the 'just woke up in the morning' gravel voice, that made you want to crawl back under the sheets with him! Now it seems they could put any one against these kids. Why not dump in Whitney? She's in need of a new break, and maybe doesn't have a current contract? Must be loads of them around. Oh, yeah..and Adam Lambert? He's untouchable, and I think on hiatus at the moment so no contract. Oh, yeah, you did that one. How 'bout Liza? She must be free, and vocally just as exciting as ever, I'd watch. I'd even pick up her CD. Oh, well. I have kinda enjoyed the show this year, but sure not enough to invest Tue. and Wed. evenings for next year. I'm sure I can find something better to do... Like listen to a Paul Potts cd, or hopefully a nice R/B, S combo by Danny Gokey will be in the racks by then.


Face it people...American Idol is ALL about finding a recording artist as spoken by Simon during the auditions. One needs some experience somewhere to succeed. Period.


While it's understandable that truly great singers will most likely have had some kind of exposure (be it an impressive recording contract that went nowhere or some county fair gig), a true cinderella story is much more interesting. They tried to make Carrie Underwood out to be that but in reality she wasn't that either. She didn't go from milking cows one day in Oklahoma to being a top country star the next. She had been part of a band that at one point opened for a known country band. Here's the thing, I find it hard to belive that AI can't find a few cinderella stories out of the hundreds of thousands that audition. A friend of ours could have been such a story. He has an absolutely terrific voice and the rest of the package too as far as looks, right age, and so on. And I know he has a good recording voice because he recorded a CD ON HIS OWN. He tried out this year in Atlanta and didn't even make it past the first round. Why? Who knows...only AI does I guess. Maybe they didn't want another winner who came from Birmingham (his home). The AI judge who listened to him liked his voice but said, "You're not what we're looking for this year." It makes you wonder what goes on behind the scenes. Basically, I've never trusted 'reality shows' to be real.


Everyone needs a place to Start and these people did what they had to do. In David's case he was only 12 and couldn't even begin to try-out for American Idol for 4 more years and here he is. The others had bills to pay while at the same time they got some practical experience. If there had been a problem AI would have axed them in the beginning right after they were selected for Hollywood Week. So sit back and support these wonderful singers. And may the BEST singer become our NEXT American Idol.


They could care less what we like it's all about what sells. Well I'm not buying it. I'm out!!!!


I want a rags to riches idol. They commercialized this show. I'm done!!!


How unexciting. Why bother watching anymore? I liked it better when it was a rags to riches show.