(Angie Miller, aka Zealyn. Photo: Facebook)
American Idol has no doubt created amazing opportunities and opened countless doors for its contestants. But unfortunately, the sometimes-stigmatized show does come with baggage that can hurt artists struggling to establish themselves outside the reality TV bubble in a post-Idol world.
It’s understandable, then, that some Idol alumni have opted to distance themselves from the show, by recording under pseudonyms or forming new bands and projects. And interestingly, the result is some of the best music these artists have ever released.
You may not know these names, but take a listen to these Idol veterans’ recent music and you’ll no doubt recognize their talent.
You may remember Angie Miller from Season 12. She was the favorite from the start (show creator Simon Fuller even told Yahoo Music’s Reality Rocks he thinks she should have won), and after the finale – on which she memorably performed with Jessie J and Adam Lambert – 19 Recordings released her original song, “You Set Me Free.” But no record deal was forthcoming, and Miller couldn’t seem to shake the curse of that troubled season. This year, she rebranded herself as ethereal electro-indie chanteuse Zealyn, and premiered her single “Sleep on It” via the hipster publication Nylon – a credible promotional boost that, let’s face it, likely would have never happened if she were still recording under her given name. Zealyn’s debut seven-song EP, Limbic System, which has echoes of Sky Ferreira, Years & Years, and Little Boots, came out independently last week.
Anoop Desai was an early standout on Season 8, but he never quite recovered from the unjust critical bashing he received for his over-the-top “Beat It” performance on Michael Jackson Night. Immediately after his Idol run, Desai cranked things into high gear with a series of slickly produced independent music videos, but in 2013, he closed all of his social media and re-emerged as mysterious hip-hop/soul artist TOTEM. Now he is always photographed in shadow, and none of his bio information ever references his real name or his Idol past. So far, this makeover seems to be working: TOTEM has a gig next month at Lollapalooza, a world-famous festival that only one other Idol contestant, Haley Reinhart, has ever been invited to play. Anoop’s reinvention seems complete.
JOSIAH & THE BONNEVILLES
His Season 7 screentime was brief, but everyone, for better or worse, still remembers Josiah Leming, the “crying kid who lived in his car.” Leming was only 18 then, and while the robbed contestant almost immediately landed a contract with Warner Bros. and released the excellent Angels Undercover EP and Come on Kid album, that major-label deal eventually fell apart. Leming, now age 27, has been hustling ever since, and after dropping his last name, he’s secured a new deal with Vagrant Records – home to the 1975, Albert Hammond Jr., Bloc Party, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, PJ Harvey, and others. It’s safe to say his Idol past is far behind him now, though he still knows his way around a cover song, as evidenced by his excellent rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.” Listen to the title track of Josiah & The Bonnevilles’ new Cold Blood EP on Vagrant below.
Season 8 contestant Allison Iraheta hasn’t exactly disavowed her Idol past – for the show’s last two seasons, she sang backup for Rickey Minor’s house band, and she was a standout performer on the series finale. She even participated in a group number with alums Pia Toscano, Jessica Sanchez, and judge Jennifer Lopez in Season 13. But Iraheta was only 16 when she competed on Idol, and now, at age 24, she is all grown up and clearly moving on with her band Halo Circus, which she formed with her producer husband, Matthew Hager. Her rainbow-bright hair and raspy vocals are still unmistakable, but Halo Circus’s fierce debut album Bunny rocks way harder than anything from Iraheta’s Idol days – yes, even harder than “Cry Baby” and “Slow Ride,” which were admittedly awesome – and establishes her as an important new Rock en Español artist.
OK, so Jason Castro, the fourth-place finalist of Season 7, only dropped his first name (as well as his trademark dreadlocks). But he too has gone the band route, joining forces with his brother Michael (an Idol hopeful from Season 8) and sister Jackie in the eponymous trio Castro. The family band’s rollicking, rootsy debut EP, Diamond Dreams, came out last week – probably coincidentally on the same day that Zealyn and Halo Circus dropped their releases.
Season 6 finalist Brandon Rogers is back with a new indie pop ‘n’ soul band, B.Random – a play on his first name of course, but also a nod to Rogers’s wide-ranging musical influences. B.Random’s debut EP came out as a free download the week of the American Idol series finale, on which Rogers performed.
JACK AND WHITE
Season 7 songstress Brooke White formed this duo with singer-songwriter Jack Matranga on three wonderful, winsome folk-rock EPs: 2011’s Gemini, 2012’s Winter, and 2012’s Undercover, a decades-spanning cover-songs collection that featured Michael Fitzpatrick of Fitz & The Tantrums on a duet of ELO’s “Telephone Line.” Last year, after a long hiatus, Jack and White finally released their first full album, Lost. All four releases are well worth checking out.
One of a handful of singers to compete on both American Idol and rival show The Voice, Jon Peter Lewis, the lovable “pen salesman” and eighth-place finalist of Idol Season 3, re-emerged as one half of the Everly Brotherly duo Midas Whale on The Voice Season 4. Midas Whale were sadly cut during the Knockout Rounds, but they released a fantastic 2014 album, Sugar House, after raising more than $30,000 on Kickstarter. Lewis and his Midas Whale partner, Ryan Hayes, have also masterminded a musical, Deep Love: A Ghostly Rock Opera, which was one of 10 shows produced for the New York Musical Theatre Festival’s “Next Link Project" last year.
As Danny Noriega, this talented and flamboyant singer only made it to the top 16 of Idol Season 7. But Noriega’s drag alter ego, Adore Delano, got to the finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6, and is one of the most successful and beloved contestants to ever emerge from that show. Adore’s 2014 debut album, Till Death Do Us Party, went to #59 on the Billboard 200, #3 on the Dance/Electronic Albums chart, and #11 on the Independent Albums chart; this year’s follow-up, After Party, also cracked the Billboard 200 and debuted on the Dance/Electronic chart at #1. Adore is set to compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars 2 starting August 25, and there’s a good chance she will win. Party!