Dunkleman, 48, got his career started on American Idol‘s first season in 2002. But after he quit before news of his firing reached him, he fell out of the spotlight, while co-host Ryan Seacrest shot to stardom and became a household name.
In a candid interview with GQ on Wednesday, the former TV host admitted that after a rough few years, which included dealing with depression, he is “happier now.”
“Yeah, you go through phases,” he explained. “I’m happier now than I was back then. I’m not depressed anymore — I used to struggle with depression a lot. I had a lot of anger. I feel like I’m a different person, especially what I’ve gone through in the last five years. I just feel like I’ve come out on the other side.”
“American Idol is something that I’ll always be proud of, because I beat out a lot of people for that,” said Dunkleman, who was (and still is) the only person to host the show besides Seacrest. “I was a part of history. I have a completely new appreciation for everything. That’s the difference: I live in gratitude now. I don’t live in resentment.”
And while he didn’t reach the same success as Seacrest, 44, Dunkleman has no regrets from his time on the Fox competition series.
“And I want to reiterate, I’m grateful for the opportunity to be on American Idol,” he said. “I don’t mean to come off ungrateful. It was a huge opportunity. It didn’t work out for me, it threw a huge wrench in my life for a decade or two, but here I am working for one of my old bosses from Idol again with Family Feud, and I just want to give 100 percent to every opportunity that’s given to me. Most people don’t get to do this at all, and I’m getting another chance.”
Earlier this month, Dunkleman revealed he would be joining Family Feud Live: Celebrity Edition, his first entertainment gig since Idol. The announcement came just several months after TMZ reported that he had been making a living as an Uber driver.
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“That started roughly two years ago, around St. Patrick’s Day,” Dunkleman told GQ about working for the ride service, which he was shamed for on social media. “Literally two weeks after the American Idol finale in 2016, I took my three-year-old and fled my living situation, moving away from my then-wife.”
Dunkleman explained that after he and his ex-wife, Kalea Dunkleman, were unable to reconcile, he moved to Glendale, California, and had custody of his son Jackson, now 5, for half of the week.
“The other half of the week, I sat in my one-bedroom in my underwear and I mourned,” he recalled.
“I collected unemployment for about six months, wanted to work in television, but that wasn’t an option without representatives — my manager and agent had dropped me after I took my son and went to Ellicottville,” added Dunkleman. “I decided, well, I’m not going to wait tables and I’m not going to bartend and get recognized all the time doing that. So I got rid of my BMW convertible, got a Prius, and started Uber driving. I thought, I hope this f—ing works. It did.”
After TMZ reported that Dunkleman was an Uber driver in March, the TV host defended himself on Twitter: “I chose to stop doing standup comedy and started driving an Uber so I could be there for my son as much as he needed after our life as we knew it was destroyed. Print that.”
His girlfriend, Andrea Whitney, later stepped in to defend her man, sharing a photo of Dunkleman and Jackson sitting on a hilltop overlooking Los Angeles with the caption, “This is why he’s an Uber driver. F— you @TMZ. #ImInLoveWithAnUberDriver.”