Just Sam — who won season 18 of American Idol in May during its first ever quarantined finale — follows not just in the footsteps of 17 previous Idol champions but the 170 top 10 finalists who preceded this season’s group. Those past competitors have recorded countless songs since Idol’s debut in 2002, including No. 1s on the Billboard Hot 100 for Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, Fantasia, Carrie Underwood and Taylor Hicks. But not every post-Idol track has been a hit. As auditions begin to find the 19th American Idol, here is a look back at 15 songs by alumni of the game-changing series that were overlooked and under-appreciated.
“Picture Perfect,” Didi Benami
Four years after singing hits like the Rolling Stones’ “Play with Fire” and Betty Everett’s “You’re No Good” on season 9 of American Idol, Didi Benami recorded an album of original songs, Reverie. “The definition of ‘reverie’ is ‘lost in a musical dream,’” Benami tells Billboard. “I felt like that encapsulated and cryptically represented a summation of my life and my journal of my life at the time. It’s what I wanted to say in my musical time capsule. I wanted to capture that photograph of my life via music. Every song was a specific chunk of my life. You better believe each song has special meaning and if it isn’t about someone, it’s about something.”
The first single from Reverie was “Trouble.” But there’s another track on the album that should have been a single – and a hit: “Picture Perfect.” “That song represents a time where I was depressed and felt unfulfilled. I needed help but was acting like I was just fine. I wanted to seem strong but I felt like I was living an inauthentic life so I was just going to hang on every part that seemed OK or somewhat alright and ignore all the signs telling me to take care of myself until I pushed myself too far.”
Benami wrote the harmonies in “Picture Perfect” in her car. “When I listen back to the record I think it stood out as a really good track. I was really happy with the way it turned out. It sounded really cool but we had pre-decided the order of the tracks and the singles were already established.”
One of the highlights of “Picture Perfect” is Benami hitting a particularly high note. “That note would not have been possible had I not been working with the most amazing vocal coach ever, Ron Anderson. He works with Alicia Keys and The Weeknd and he’s a life changer.”
How does Benami feel about the song six years after recording it? “I still love it,” she says. “It’s a powerful track and maybe if we put it out there more people will check it out. I’d love for it to get a little more love.”
“Desperate Girls & Stupid Boys,” Kimberly Caldwell
During Kimberly Caldwell’s run on Idol, her song choices included Martha & the Vandellas’ “Nowhere to Run” and Eddie Floyd’s “Knock on Wood.” She finished seventh in 2003. Eight years later, she released Without Regret, her debut album for Vanguard Records, which at the time was part of the Capitol label group. A year before the album was released, the label issued a single from Caldwell, “Desperate Girls & Stupid Boys.”
Although she didn’t write the song, Caldwell related to the sentiment expressed in the words. “I thought it was perfect for the time,” she says. “Coming from Texas, I was literally living in the middle of Hollywood, seeing a lot of stupid things happening all around. It’s easy to jump in and be desperate yourself. This song made it pretty clear that you just become another face in the crowd if you try to fit in. Stand up and stand out! These lyrics could not have been more spot on for the club scene in my twenties in Los Angeles.”
Was it easy to determine that “Desperate Girls & Stupid Boys” should be a single? “My labels Vanguard and Capitol knew immediately,” Caldwell remembers. “I’m an ‘artist,’ so of course I wanted a song I wrote to be the single. It was ultimately up to them back then. But I did think it had hit potential and was proud when it was climbing up the dance charts.”
Caldwell had many opportunities to perform the song live. “Everywhere from Ellen to Rachael Ray where I performed with a full band to really nail that pop vibe. While I was on a radio tour I traveled with just an acoustic guitar player and we would hit two to six cities a day for four months straight. That was a grind. I wound up in the hospital a couple of times on the road. And the song was a hit in the gay community, in the clubs. I performed it at numerous Prides all over the country and it was always so cool to see the crowd jump in and start singing along.”
Ten years after the song appeared on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart, it is still making an impact, especially with one person in particular. “My four-year-old daughter asks to hear mommy’s songs so I put that on for her the other day and she was dancing around. I hadn’t heard it in forever. So crazy thinking about where I was when I was originally recorded that song and how far I have come since, doing what I love as a correspondent on NBC California Live and now surrounded by so much love in my life. I’m grateful for the journey it allowed me to have.”
“Go On and Cry,” Diana DeGarmo
After finishing as the runner-up of season 3, a teen-aged Diana DeGarmo was signed to RCA and recorded her debut album, Blue Skies. The lead single, “Dreams,” hit No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. The obvious candidate for an additional single from the album was “Go On and Cry,” a stunning performance by DeGarmo that builds from a soft vocal to a powerful finish, but unfortunately that didn’t come to pass.
“The first time I heard the demo of ‘Go On and Cry’ I was blown away,” says DeGarmo. “Everything else that had been submitted for my album had more of a rock vibe and this gave me torch song soul. I loved it immediately.”
“Go On and Cry” was one of the last songs David Foster and his then-wife Linda Thompson wrote together. “I got to record it at their stunning home studio in Malibu surrounded by tapes of Whitney, Mariah, Celine and other divine singers who I have grown up idolizing. David engineered the session and used tape. We had two rolls going from his two favorite takes and he would use a pencil to ‘slap’ back and forth to choose the lines he liked to make the final edit. It was an inspiring experience. As for singing the song, it felt so natural. The way it is composed spoke to me right off the bat and we recorded the song in record time. David and Linda are master writers and I got to be the vessel for their art.”
DeGarmo may have been a newcomer to the music business when she recorded “Go On and Cry,” but she assumed it would be a single. “I never took into account how it would be for a radio listener or music executive to relate to a 17-year-old singing about deep heartache. Even at that age I had known my fair share of heartache and ‘Go On and Cry’ gave me the best way to let it out from the rooftops. Fresh from the Idol experience and high school, I had plenty of emotions to process. ‘Go On and Cry’ was my release.”
DeGarmo says the first time she heard the final edit of “Go On and Cry,” she finally felt like a professional singer. “It was all I had hoped to be as an artist and that is one of the main reasons it is such a stand-out on my first record. It was the only song I actually got to choose for my album Blue Skies. I have always loved performing ‘Go On and Cry.’ I may not get the opportunity as much anymore, but it will always have a special place in my heart and is for sure a ‘bring down the house’ number.”
“You’re Perfect,” Anthony Fedorov
Season 4’s Anthony Fedorov released his debut album, Never Over, in 2011 and dedicated it to his late brother, Denis, who died of cancer at age 28. “Creating the Never Over album including ‘You’re Perfect’ was definitely one of the most special experiences of my life. In many ways this was the beginning of my career as a songwriter, because prior to this I hadn’t really been writing. Songwriting helped me deal with the tremendous loss of my brother and find my true voice as an artist.”
Recalling how the song came together in the studio, Fedorov tells Billboard, “What I loved about how we built the track was that there was a lot of breathing room. The full arrangement doesn’t come in until the second chorus, about two minutes into the song. This approach really put the focus on the melody and the lyric. Lyrically the song is very simple but it’s honest. This was one of the first songs I ever wrote for my wife Jennifer.
“We really felt like the hook melody and the overall structure of this song had all the makings of being a single. There was this collective feeling we had every time we listened to the track that ‘this is the one.’ I knew early on that pop/rock was going to play a significant role in my sound as a recording artist. So when we were producing the track, we introduced the electric guitars right away and they were the bedrock for the rest of the track.
“One of the most important things I learned early on was the importance of using open vowels on high notes. The way we structured the last chorus really pushed the melody to the stratosphere. The lyric ‘you’re perfect just the way you are’ is the melodic peak and I’m so glad that damn high B landed on the word ‘are’. Otherwise it would not have worked. So when you get to that last chorus it’s the payoff that the whole song leads up to.”
“Heartbreak on Vinyl,” Blake Lewis
In 2010, season 6 runner-up Blake Lewis’ “Heartbreak on Vinyl” went to No. 1 on Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart. That wasn’t enough to allow the song to appear on the Hot 100, however, and it remains an underappreciated gem to come out of the Idol-verse.
Recalling the origin of the song, Lewis tells Billboard, “In 2009 I was walking in Union Square before my session in New York City and saw that the Virgin Megastore was closing down. My heart sunk immediately. If this behemoth of a company couldn’t keep their doors open, then the locally owned and operated stores stood no chance. This was the end of music culture to me. I ran to my session with Sam Hollander, who I’d written many songs with, and we started penning the story of my favorite record store, Easy Street in Seattle, closing. I had the melody really quickly and Sam and I went back and forth, line for line. It was the fastest and easiest song I’ve ever written. I think we were done in 40 minutes.”
What did Lewis think of the completed track? “I thought it was lush and I feel it still captures a nostalgic ’80s pop sensibility, which we were going for. I’ve performed this song in so many ways. I put a live version out with a string quartet on my album Strings, Spit, & Serenades. When I play this just on guitar or piano, it’s very intimate and I still put a lot of emotion behind the lyrics and melody.”
Despite the cinematic nature of the lyrics, there was never an official music video. “I fought with Tommy Boy Records about this. They were cheap and put that ‘fan video’ out secretly, then said they didn’t have any money. I could have made an amazing video with the right budget but they spent too much on my ‘Sad Song’ video, so they said. I had a concept and director ready to go and they wouldn’t budge.”
Lewis remembers the moment he found out the song’s chart fate. “That was a cool day. Never thought in a million years I’d have a No. 1 on Billboard and with not much promotion at all – just from disc jockeys getting behind it organically because they felt the lyrics and the meaning behind them. What a blessing.”
Lewis says that 10 years after “Heartbreak on Vinyl” went to No. 1, the song still means a lot to him. “I was a music junkie and the record store was my supplier. I could go into any record store and have amazing conversations with anyone there about life and the music that drives us and inspires us. I miss those days. At least there’s a resurgence in vinyl and a few stores have remained standing. I still put out my music on vinyl and fall in love with analog every day. Never let go!”
“Boy Next Door,” Jon Peter Lewis
Two years after he competed on season 3 of Idol, Jon Peter Lewis released his first album, Stories from Hollywood. Track 1 was “Boy Next Door,” a pop song with a strong hook.
“In my post-Idol haste to release some music, my then-roommate, Sky Elobar, wrote ‘Boy Next Door’ to help me finish the first album. I’m not really sure what his inspiration for the song was, but maybe it’s that I was literally one door away. The studio for that song was a hookup, again, from my roommate Sky. The space belonged to a friend of a friend somewhere in Hollywood. It was a basement with low ceilings. It might have even been a crawl space – I honestly don’t remember. There was something charming and comfortable about it. As far as recordings go, ‘Boy Next Door’ was a pretty uneventful session. It was one of three songs we knocked out that day.”
Lewis says that at the time he recorded it, he was skeptical of the song’s worth. “I was trying to just finish the album and, in my haste, I was far less discriminating than I might have otherwise been. It accomplished, however, exactly what I was looking for.”
“Turn to Grey” was a single that preceded the album’s release, followed by the title track. “Boy Next Door,” despite its pop potential, was never considered for single release.
“Looking back on this song is a lot like looking at a picture of myself from junior high school,” Lewis candidly admits. “I’m sure there are those who might say ‘awwwww!’ but I can’t help cringing.”
“Coulda Been,” Kimberley Locke
One day during the summer of 2003, the phone rang on Bryan Stewart’s desk. The senior vp for A&R and finance at Curb Records in Nashville greeted his friend, a music journalist, who asked, “Did you watch this season of American Idol?” Stewart replied, “We all watched it, and everyone thought Kimberley Locke should have won.” “That’s funny,” said the journalist. “I’m calling to see if you’d like to sign Kimberley to the label.”
At that point, the only imprint that had signed any Idols was RCA, the show’s official label home. But Stewart was interested and said he and label owner Mike Curb would go see Locke a few days later at the Idols summer tour’s next stop in Memphis.
They did, and they signed Locke to Curb. Her debut single, “8th World Wonder,” originally intended for LeAnn Rimes (who never recorded it), hit No. 6 on the Adult Contemporary chart and No. 49 on the Hot 100. An album, One Love, was released and it contained several candidates for a follow-up single. Ultimately, “Wrong” was chosen. It failed to find a berth on the Hot 100.
Stewart recalls, “In the U.K., ‘Coulda Been’ was being planned as the third single while in the U.S. we were trying to decide between ‘Coulda Been,’ ‘I Could’ and ‘You’ve Changed.’” That third title had the edge because it was receiving airplay on some Adult R&B stations. But it wasn’t to be. “Since the U.K. was going with ‘Coulda Been’ next, we decided to do the same here in the U.S. and shot a video for it.”
“I love that song,” says lyricist Shelly Peiken, who wrote “Coulda Been” with Guy Roche. Their previous collaborations included “What a Girl Wants,” a No. 1 hit for Christina Aguilera on the Hot 100. “I thought it was so hooky and so much fun to sing. It’s an earworm but not a tongue-twister. Kimberley did a really nice job with it.”
Peiken says that every song she writes is based on some personal experience. “There have been times when I broke up with someone or they broke up with me and I felt it was their loss. ‘Coulda Been’ is such a feel-good song. We broke up and I’m OK now, how about you? It’s a celebration of surviving, in a way that ‘I Will Survive’ isn’t. ‘I Will Survive’ is a raving anthem and this is more playful. It wasn’t hateful of the other person.”
Like “8th World Wonder,” “Coulda Been” was a perfect three-minute pop masterpiece, and if it had been the follow-up to that initial hit, it might have gained traction. But as the follow-up to “Wrong,” it missed every Billboard chart and only peaked at No. 90 in the U.K.
“Running Scared,” Scott MacIntyre & Katelyn MacIntyre
Season 8 top 10 contestant Scott MacIntyre made Idol history as the first blind finalist on the series. He has recorded a number of albums with his original songs since his Idol season, and two years after his run on the show, he recorded a rare cover version of “Running Scared,” the winning song in the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest. The original was a duet by Ell & Nikki from Azerbaijan, so Scott looked for a singing partner. He didn’t have to travel far from home to do that. He recorded the song in his own studio with his sister, Katelyn MacIntyre, who is also blind. Turns out that Katelyn has a lovely singing voice, just right for pop music (she also sings classical music and has appeared in stage musicals).
“I heard the song performed during Eurovision and was immediately hooked by the infectious melody and musical production,” says Scott. “Every long once-in-a-while, I record a cover song for fun and this was one of those times.”
Scott didn’t have access to the sheet music for the song, but he didn’t need it. “Being blind from birth, I had to develop my ears to be my eyes. Consequently, when I listen to someone else’s production, I hear most everything that’s going on almost immediately. I emulated a lot of what was originally done, but I also made it my own.”
The MacIntyres’ version rivaled and even surpassed the original but wasn’t officially released, beyond a posting of the audio on YouTube. “It was a joy to recreate such a catchy song,” Scott tells Billboard. “I just listened to my version of ‘Running Scared’ before talking to you and it still moves me. I think the vocals still sound relevant in today’s musical landscape, though if I were to produce it now, it would sound drastically different. Maybe that’s a small hint? Or maybe it’s not? We will see.”
“Without You,” Jessica Meuse featuring Bo Bice
When season 13 finalist Jessica Meuse was recording her debut album, Halfhearted, she reached out to a season 4 contestant to collaborate on a song that was not originally intended to be a duet. “It definitely evolved into one,” Meuse tells Billboard. “I’ve known Bo Bice for quite a while. He has this great, loving, good energy and we easily became friends.” Once Meuse decided that “Without You” should be a duet, she flew Bice to Hollywood to record the song at the famed Capitol Records studios.
The result was a playful back-and-forth between the two vocalists, reminiscent of Dinah Washington and Brook Benton’s pair of duets and Mickey and Sylvia’s “Love Is Strange.”
“In my solo version of the song, I had a few different notes and my annunciation of certain words was a bit different — but my range and vocal tone is very different from Bo’s. I wanted him to do what he wanted to do on it because, to me, that was why I had him there. If I wanted him to sing it precisely how I’d written it, I would’ve just sung it myself.”
“I’m in Love with My Best Friend’s Ex,” Vanessa Olivarez
While watching season 2, Canadian songwriter James Collins fell in love with Vanessa Olivarez’s voice and personality and was blown away by her performance of “Out Here On My Own” from the motion picture Fame. “I emailed her website and wrote her a note in a card sent via snail mail,” Collins recalls. “About a week later, her stepfather contacted me. After a few long telephone conversations and a recording session in Los Angeles, where Vanessa cut the vocals to ‘I’m In Love With My Best Friend’s Ex’ with producer Rob Rettberg and Julie Nyree Glasson, Vanessa flew up to Toronto and later to Vancouver, where Dave Pickell, Vanessa and I wrote and recorded ‘The One’ and ‘As Vain As You.’”
Collins felt that “The One” was the one for radio. “Vanessa’s vocals were out of this world and the song was so hauntingly beautiful. When the single was distributed to stores in Canada, we also included ‘I’m in Love with My Best Friend’s Ex.’” The lyrics were inspired by a true-life experience. “I did happen to go on a few dates with a good friend’s ex several months after they broke up. The friend was not too happy when they saw us walking out of a movie theater together. The title was a slight exaggeration – I was never in love, but ‘love’ works much better than ‘like’ or ‘lust.’ We did manage to get a great pop/dance song out of the drama. If one is a fan of ‘It’s Raining Men,’ there’s a distinct possibility they might enjoy ‘I’m in Love with My Best Friend’s Ex.’”
“The One” peaked at No. 9 in Canada and Collins still has the “Hits of the World” page in Billboard to prove it. “I’m in Love with My Best Friend’s Ex” also received some airplay north of the border, but not as much as “The One.” Still, there might be some life left in the “Ex.” “I still think it would be the perfect song for a drag queen to lip-sync to,” says Collins.
Olivarez, one of Idol’s magenta-haired finalists, is living in Nashville these days, signed to BMG Publishing as a songwriter.
“Can’t Fight It,” Rayvon Owen
A year after he was a season 14 finalist, Rayvon Owen came out as gay in an exclusive Billboard story that also included the premiere of his 2016 single, “Can’t Fight It.” When Owen received the first draft of a treatment for the music video of his first post-Idol single, he read the director’s idea for the last scene, in which Owen would leave a nightclub with a beautiful girl.
“When I read that treatment, I knew I couldn’t be dishonest,” Owen told Billboard. “Not that I ever lied to people in the past, but the truth had been omitted. I felt like I was doing a disservice because I’ve always been an honest, loving person.” The ending was changed so that in the video’s closing scene, Owen kissed a man.
Recently, Owen talked to Billboard again about “Can’t Fight It” and about the 2016 article that detailed his feelings about coming out.
“The inspiration for the song came out of a vibey atmosphere at home with my friend and co-writer, Mylen. I was in the midst of my post-Idol solo tour, and my life, of course, had completely changed. After being catapulted through such a huge machine, I was in a different place mentally. Sharing my voice, music and likeness in that way consistently pushed me to boldness. I began to see myself more authentically – which resulted in me writing more honestly and from the heart. ‘Can’t Fight It’ is essentially about surrendering to love but first I had to surrender to and accept myself.
“In its early stages, the song was more of a love anthem with a private undertone. I had experienced being in love, but knew it difficult to come by, and even more difficult to stick – especially when you don’t fully accept it for yourself. However, I did not anticipate the song would become my coming out song. Internally, I was considering coming out publicly, but still struggled to completely let go of fear. Less than two weeks after we wrote it, I happened to meet my now fiancé, which helped seal the deal and gave me courage to share my story. I knew I had to rework the concept of the video with director, Justin Clough, who was very supportive of the new vision. I knew I had to do the right thing by sharing my truth.”
Owen recorded the song at home. “It was just one of those songs that came out easy and felt really good to sing. The melodies flowed smoothly – it was meant to be. Mylen and I had a great time working with producers Nate Merchant and Isaiah Tejada bringing it to life. I felt it when I recorded it, so I knew listeners would feel it too.”
Owen vividly remembers how he felt the night before the Billboard story was posted, anticipating what the reaction would be. “It was scary and exciting all at the same time. Here I was, practicing what I was preaching, being vulnerable and sharing my innermost feelings with everyone, yet still afraid of rejection. I did get some pushback and negative comments, but every single internet troll and opposing remark was overshadowed by affirming words and messages of love and support from proud fans, LGBTQ+ folk and allies who were just happy for me. I was, and still am, extremely grateful for every single one. I never expected such positive feedback and I am stronger and better because of it.”
“Nothin’ Like the Summer,” Carmen Rasmusen
American Idol has produced a number of female country artists who have done well on the Billboard charts, including Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler, Kree Harrison, Lauren Alaina and Gabby Barrett. There should be another name on that list – Carmen Rasmusen, a contestant from Utah who finished in the top 10 of season 2. She was 17 years old when that season began.
Four years after her Idol run, Rasmusen signed with Lofton Creek Records (co-founded by Mike Borchetta, father of Big Machine’s Scott Borchetta) and released an album, Nothin’ Like the Summer. The 11 tracks featured a more mature, confident Rasmusen than the teenager who competed on Idol. The title track painted a vivid portrait of a lazy country summer filled with lemonade stands, swimming holes and sunshine. It was written by Rasmusen with Nashville royalty: Victoria Shaw and producer Jason Deere.
“When I first started recording this song, I struggled,” Rasmusen (now married to Brad Herbert, son of Utah’s Gov. Gary Herbert) confesses to Billboard. “I couldn’t get the vibe I wanted. My voice was louder and brighter and stronger than I wanted for this song – more like a carnival ride and I wanted a float down a lazy river. So I took a break. I walked around the mall and called my grandma. She was so reassuring. She told me I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore. I still felt like I was competing and being judged. That mentality stayed with me for a while. After I got back to the studio, I started singing from a different place in my voice, my own ‘sound.’ Jason stopped the recording. ‘That was it,’ he said. ‘Whatever you’re doing, do that.’ Once I started singing for me, it came so easy. It’s one of the songs I’m vocally most proud of.”
Rasmusen remembers the first time she heard the finished track. “I was with my mom in her car. She drove me down to the bottom of our circle in our neighborhood up in Bountiful, and we turned it up full blast and looked out over the twinkling lights of the Salt Lake Valley. I felt like I had accomplished something I’d wanted to do my whole life. I had made a song for the radio! It was an amazing feeling.”
The song remains Rasmusen’s favorite. “I wish we had released it earlier. I wish it would have gained more traction. It did win the ‘Pick it or Flick it’ competition on CMT and a New Music Weekly Award, but I think it is such a well-written song, that it deserved more recognition.”
“Baby It’s You,” Haley Reinhart
Season 10’s Haley Reinhart was born in 1990 but that didn’t stop her from recording an album of songs from the ’60s – songs she knew well thanks to her musician parents, Patti and Harry. What’s That Sound?, her debut set for the Concord label, was released in 2017 and included Reinhart’s versions of the Box Tops’ “The Letter,” Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and the Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon.” All of the tracks on the album were recorded on analogue tape using vintage gear.
The first single was one of Burt Bacharach’s most sensual songs, “Baby It’s You,” co-written by Luther Dixon and Mack David. The Shirelles’ 1961 recording hit No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, and in 1963, the Beatles covered it on their debut album, Please Please Me. In 1969, the Los Angeles-based pop/rock band Smith had the biggest hit version, peaking at No. 5 on the Hot 100. Fifteen years later, the song bubbled under the Hot 100 as a duet by Stacy Lattisaw and Johnny Gill.
Reinhart, who added even more levels of sensuality to the song, has described the 1960s as a time when people came together through love and rock n’ roll. She expressed a desire to keep the music and the positive messages of the era alive and current. Unfortunately, her take on “Baby It’s You” did not bring the song back to the Hot 100, even though her update is more than worthy of its predecessors.
“Arise,” Chris Sligh
Chris Sligh competed on Idol in 2007 and finished 10th for season 6. Today, he works as a songwriter and producer in Nashville, where he lives with his wife of 17 years and their nine-year-old daughter and six-year-old son.
After the season 6 finale, Sligh went on tour with the other top 10 finalists from his season, including Jordin Sparks, Blake Lewis and Melinda Doolittle. On the tour bus, he wrote a poem that became the song “Arise.” “Back in those days, I worked to write something every day, and this song started off as a lyric,” Sligh tells Billboard. “I was recording tracks for songs and I recorded the demo track for this in a dressing room on the Idol tour. My big influences at the time were Switchfoot and Relient K. I wanted to take their moody, emotive power pop and add a sense of grandness, which I think we achieved on the choruses.” The lavish production that gives “Arise” its sonic depth is the key to its strength; it peaked at No. 30 on the Christian AC Songs chart.
Sligh’s favorite memory of recording “Arise,” and the other songs for his Running Back to You album, was working with top Nashville session guitarist George Cocchini. “He brought in a 1959 Gibson Les Paul, tuned it up and gingerly placed it in my hands. He said, ‘Only play the part. Don’t move, don’t stand up, don’t rock back and forth. This is a $250,000 instrument you have in your hands.'”
“The Girl That Got Away,” Ace Young
Ace Young kicked his career into high gear right after his run on season 5. On that year’s summer tour, Young co-wrote a song with fellow contestant Chris Daughtry. “It’s Not Over” by the group Daughtry peaked at No. 4 on the Hot 100, topped the Adult Pop Songs and Pop Songs charts and was nominated for a Grammy for best rock song in 2007.
In 2008, Young released his eponymously titled debut album. Only one single was issued – “Addicted,” but there was another track that should have been a single, as it had the most hit potential of any song on the album. “Writing ‘The Girl That Got Away’ was a huge life transition for me post-American Idol. I was meeting new people every single day, tons of people all over the world. I felt like I was present for all those interactions but there were days when I personally met over a thousand people. This song was my love letter in a bottle. I felt I needed to write it down and throw it into the ocean to make sure I hadn’t missed meeting the true love of my life.”
Young remembers the recording session. “The highlight was hearing the strings being recorded in Nashville. They really made this song come to life from their opening riff, all the way through the song. I remember how I couldn’t stop smiling that day in the recording studio. It was an honor to work with Desmond Child, Andreas Carlsson and Kalle Engstrom on this song. Sonically, I am happy with all the songs from my first album.”
Although “The Girl That Got Away” didn’t make it to singlehood, Young says, “I definitely saw this as one of the singles. I already had a music video idea written up. It was going to be in New York City with my first sighting in a crowded Times Square. Second sighting getting coffee walking through crowded Central Park to finally see this person in a revolving door.”
Eventually, Young met the girl that didn’t get away, and it was in New York City. While starring on Broadway in a revival of Hair, Young fell in love with co-star Diana DeGarmo, who coincidentally also competed on Idol, in season 3. Young and DeGarmo were married in Los Angeles on June 1, 2013.