Eleven years ago, memorably curly-topped contestant Justin Guarini made it to the finale of the inaugural season "American Idol." Though he placed second, his future still seemed bright; at the time, it wasn't hard to imagine that he'd go on to have as successful a career as his worthy opponent (and From Justin to Kelly co-star), winner Kelly Clarkson.
But that was not the case. His self-titled solo album for RCA Records was a flop, selling only roughly 150,000 copies; he was subsequently dropped from the label. From Justin to Kelly was a box-office bomb. Justin went on to eke out a modest career for himself in theater and TV hosting, but he fell on hard times, revealed in a surprisingly candid new blog post on his website, titled "Early Morning Madness."
While Justin doesn't come across as bitter, and seems grateful for the career opportunities that his "Idol" exposure has afforded him, his open letter is still a must-read for any current or future "Idol" contestant who naively believes that competing on a TV talent show will lead to guaranteed fame and fortune.
"There was a time when I would have had a car service drive me from my home to work. Now I drive myself to the station and take the train. There was a time when I wouldn't have been concerned about the amazing expense of eating at place like Green Symphony. Now, I budget," Justin writes. "I have spent days skipping meals in order to make sure I have enough. To make sure my children, and my wife have enough. There was a time when I couldn't walk the street w/o being stopped a hundred times for a photo or a press of flesh. Now one in a thousand might stop me, or notice. For the rest I might (might) trigger some dim memory, stuffed at the back of long unfired synaptic pathways overgrown with the clutter of social media.
"There was a time when I put on a brave face, smiled, and laughed to show that I was impervious and unafraid. Now, I'm unafraid to say that I am terrified. I am struggling to make each day meet the next without breaking down and curling up. Sometimes I envy people who sit at a desk all day (at least you know where your next meal is coming from). I'll smile, and laugh, and joke, and entertain…because sometimes it's the only way to keep the ghosts of regret and loss at bay. I am unafraid to be afraid, and in that fear I gather strength."
Judging from his conflicted post, Justin probably still wonders about what might have been — why he wasn't as successful as other "Idol" non-winners like Clay Aiken, Chris Daughtry, Kellie Pickler, Jennifer Hudson, or Adam Lambert. But he seems to be at peace with his lot in life. Last year, he spoke with Yahoo! Music's Reality Rocks and said he harbored no regrets, not even regarding the From Justin to Kelly cinematic disaster. "Every time it crosses my mind to regret doing that film, it usually coincides with when I get a paycheck from the royalties," he laughed. "It's a cult classic. It wasn't designed to win an Oscar. Either you love or you don't, but I am proud of it."
Last year, Justin also told Yahoo! Music that he was still happy to be associated with "Idol," even if things didn't turn out as he'd hoped. "It would be short-sighted of me to pooh-pooh 'American Idol,' because it gave me my break, just like anyone else's break. And I'm thankful for it. Nothing beats the impact that we made that first season. People still remember who I am and they care what I'm doing. People from other seasons can't always say that," he said. Justin also graciously insisted that Kelly deserved to win "Idol" Season 1 over him, because she had "the best voice, hands down."
Justin — along with Season 2 winner Ruben Studdard, another "Idol" alum who's had his share of career ups and downs — recently appeared on Oprah Winfrey's "Where Are They Now?" to discuss his struggles with post-"Idol" depression. But things are looking up for the ex-Idol: He will soon return to Broadway, where many "Idol" alums have experienced career comebacks, to star alongside Orlando Bloom in a new production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.