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+.