Clay Aiken proved you don't have to win "American Idol" to succeed in entertainment, and now a number of former contestants are showing you don't even need to make the final two.
From the first season, Tamyra Gray, who co-wrote what will be Fantasia Barrino's first single, released her long-awaited debut album Tuesday. RJ Helton has a hit Christian album and just signed with Beyoncé's father, manager Mathew Knowles. Vanessa Olivarez, meanwhile, is playing the lead in the Toronto version of the Broadway musical "Hairspray."
Kimberley Locke, from season two, is climbing the charts with her debut LP, Joshua Gracin has a June release scheduled and Kimberly Caldwell recently signed with Randy Jackson and songwriter Diane Warren's new label.
" 'American Idol' is a great vehicle to get you in front of people," Gray said backstage at Wednesday's finale, where she was ushered from one major media outlet to another. "You don't really lose. There's no such thing. That's the beauty of it."
The finalists from season three (minus Matt Rogers and Leah LaBelle) will spend their summer on the "American Idol" tour (see "Don't Expect To Hear 'She Bangs' On This Year's 'Idol' Tour"), but you can bet Fantasia and Diana DeGarmo won't be the only ones sneaking in studio time and auditions.
In fact, each of the contestants has something up their sleeve.
- Jasmine Trias is interested in acting, but will make a record first. "I want to do a little bit of pop and R&B, like a Tamyra Gray type of thing," she said. "I want to go international with it."
- La Toya London will audition for movies and record an album. "I don't really want to put a label on it, R&B, pop or anything," she said of her music. "I just want to do music that really hits the soul. I love Sade's style, the different musical instruments and the mellow vibe, music that you can just ride in the car and sit with your loved one and make some babies to."
- George Huff will hit the studio. "I'll do classic soul type of music," he said. "I even thought about doing what I've been doing in the competition, that is to do classics of every [genre] that [soulful] way. It's really weird, but it's a good idea."
- John Stevens is splitting his meetings between jazz labels and colleges. "I could see myself on [Blue Note, Norah Jones' label], but for right now I'm concentrating on school and hopefully getting accepted into college, like Berklee College of Music or something like that."
- Jennifer Hudson wants to follow in the footsteps of a solo Beyoncé. "I do not do groups," she said. "I would like [my album] to be something inspirational, gospel or something sentimental, something that means something, something with a message."
- Jon Peter Lewis has Broadway and big-screen aspirations, but his first priority is finishing an album. "I'm doing a lot of songwriting," he said. "And I'm laying down some tracks, mostly in my own home recording studio for now. And then later on, who knows, we'll see."
- Camile Velasco is moving to Los Angeles with hopes of hitting the club circuit, possibly with a hip-hop group a la the Fugees. "I definitely will do more of a hip-hop or urban song style," she said. "I'd like to make it as an artist onstage, but if I can't do it onstage, then definitely behind the scenes."
- Amy Adams is contemplating making a country record. "It's something I'm looking into because I felt good doing [the Dixie Chicks' 'Sin Wagon']," she said. "It was something right up my alley where I didn't even feel afraid. ... I feel like I'm on top of my game and when I do come around it's going to be a bigger and better thing."
- Matt Rogers is auditioning for TV and movie roles, including a movie starring Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy. "My plans were to get enough publicity where I could use it as a stepping-stone into acting," he said. "I have several readings ... and someone even said that I might be up for Bob Barker's job on 'The Price Is Right' when he retires. If I do music, it would be in country music, which is pretty freaking ironic that I got eliminated during country week. But country music has always been my first love and I would say I see more promise for me in acting and less promise in music."
- Leah Labelle is keeping her options open. "Paula and Randy both told me that this is just the beginning and that so much is gonna come out of this for me," she said. "So many doors have opened. ... I'm going to see what I can do to start making my dream come true."