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Finalists say we haven't heard the last of them ...

"There's no shortcut to success." ...

#0C4B81 America Says Goodbye To "Idol" Contestants

#0C4B81 "American Idol" Season Five Top 24 Finalists

#0C4B81 Hollywood Audition Photos Of "American Idol" Season Five

#0C4B81 First Round Photos Of "American Idol" Season Five

#0C4B81 Get your "Idol" fix, where you'll find all the latest news and interviews

— by Corey Moss

The comments from a just-eliminated "American Idol" contestant are as predictable as Simon Cowell's wardrobe: "It was a blessing just to make the final 12 ... The world hasn't seen the last of me ..."

Actually, we probably have seen the last of you.

With another finals season of the most popular television show in the country starting next week, the odds look tougher than ever. There are four seasons in the history books now, and few, if any, of the 40 people who made it to the finals but didn't win or come in second have been able to transition their instant fame into legitimate stardom.

Millions of Americans watched or voted for them on "Idol," but of the 12th- through third-place finishers who have gone on to release records, only one has gone gold: second-season country singer Josh Gracin (around 646,500 copies sold), who finished fourth.

Another second-season singer, third-place finisher Kimberley Locke, has sold approximately 209,000 copies of One Love, but after her, the next-best loser is — tellingly — William Hung's Inspiration (194,00). Trailing in the dust of "She Bangs" are Tamyra Gray's The Dreamer (122,000), RJ Helton's Real Life (21,000), John Stevens' Red (18,000), George Huff's Miracles (17,000) and self-titled albums from Jasmine Trias (12,000) and Corey Clark (2,400).

Josh Gracin
Former Marine teams with Rascal Flatts producer Marty Williams. Download: Patriotic tear-jerker "The Other Little Soldier"

Kimberly Locke
R&B singer goes for the adult-contemporary audience. Download: Clay Aiken duet "Without You"

William Hung
Berkeley nerd outsmarts the record-buying public with Ricky Martin covers. Download: Latin/Chinese mash-up "Bailamos"

Tamyra Gray
Favorite loser gets her due with help from Scott Storch, Babyface. Download: Prince homage "Good Ol' Days"

John Stevens
Boy nextdoor gets his old-school croon on. Download: Lounge cover of Maroon 5's "This Love"
Compare that to sales of Kelly Clarkson's Breakaway (4,811,000), Clay Aiken's Measure of a Man (2,740,000), Carrie Underwood's Some Hearts (2,184,000), Ruben Studdard's Soulful (1,779,000) and Fantasia's Free Yourself (1,674,000) and it becomes quite clear: To make a significant impact in the music industry, making the final 12 of "American Idol" is not enough. You need to make the final two.

Why? Well, that's up for debate.

Some — including songwriter/producer Kara DioGuardi, who has worked with most of the winners and runners-up — say that at the end of the day, it's a show that's all about the winners. " 'American Idol' is the dream," she said, "it's not the dreams."

Another popular presumption is that finalists — who sign an agreement not to release music until the debut singles from the winner and runner-up are in stores and the subsequent Idols Live Tour is completed — are missing their window of opportunity.

"Pop culture has a short-term memory," said Andrew Wallenstein, senior TV reporter for The Hollywood Reporter. "And as much as we embrace these people who are great contestants year in and year out, for some reason we forget them two weeks after the show ends. And I think the problem is there is only so much room in our hearts for these big winners."

And by the time the singers finally can approach record labels, they are being met with apprehension, almost to where some might call being an "Idol" finalist a curse. After all, credibility is part of the music business, and doing cheesy Ford commercials and singing Stevie Wonder covers for Paula Abdul doesn't carry a lot of weight.

"I think these A&R guys are excited [about the 'Idol' experience], but at the same time they deal with people every day who have wide audiences, and I think they're nervous," said Jon Peter Lewis, a third-season finalist who is shopping a solo record. "I mean, 60 million people watched the finale the year I was on, and I think Fantasia sold just over a million. It's a small fraction of the viewers who actually buy the records."

"People all around in the industry — and I've had hundreds of meetings — everyone is a little gun shy," added Constantine Maroulis, one of last season's most experienced contestants. "You see the 'Idol' ratings and it seems like an obvious decision. We come in with a huge fanbase, television exposure and experience, relationships with the talk shows. What other artist that a label is about to break has that already? But people are a little hesitant."

There's no shortcut to success. ...
Photo: Fox

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 "Since U
 Been Gone"
 Since U Been Gone


 "What If"


 "Free Yourself" 
 Free Yourself


 "Jesus, Take
 the Wheel"
 Some Hearts