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When American Idol first premiered back in 2002, viewers thought of the show as a pop music Willy Wonka, giving out Golden Tickets to talented unknowns. As the show went on, though, many of the show’s finalists and winners decided to follow different career paths, or at least not the typical pop star route. One runner-up ran for the House of Representatives. Another walked away from music to be a missionary. Read on for six American Idol winners whose lives took unexpected turns.
Justin Guarini – Justin Guarini’s last full album was released in 2005 and his last EP was released in 2008. He has kept busy with TV hosting and Broadway roles in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, American Idiot, and Wicked. He has also become the official spokesperson for Dr. Pepper.
Clay Aiken – Clay Aiken hasn’t released a studio album since 2012, but his political aspirations have kept him busy. He has been an outspoken supporter of gay rights, he served on the Presidential Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, and he was a UNICEF National Ambassador. He was also the Democratic nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives in North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district, but he lost to Republican Renee Ellmers.
Fantasia Barrino – Since winning American Idol, Fantasia Barrino has released studio albums and been nominated for eleven Grammy Awards with one win. She has also had successful runs on Broadway in The Color Purple and After Midnight, and she starred in the Lifetime Original Movie The Fantasia Barrino Story: Life is Not a Fairy Tale.
Diana DeGarmo – Like Guarini and Barrino, Diana DeGarmo released several albums but ended up pursuing musical theater. She has starred in The Toxic Avenger at New World Stages, Hair on Broadway, and Hairspray at the Hollywood Bowl.
Katharine McPhee – Katharine McPhee has released 3 albums, including a Christmas album, but she has been more visible on TV in NBC’s Smash and CBS’s Scorpion. On film, she has appeared in Shark Night 3D, The House Bunny, and Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding.
David Archuleta – After American Idol, David Archuleta took a pretty typical path with several hit singles and his first studio album. In 2012, however, Archuleta walked away from music for two years to do his Mormon mission. He is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and reportedly, his mission was in South America and possibly Chile.