Ruben Studdard, Sanjaya Malakar and Ace Young were among many former “American Idol” contestants assembled to guest star on “American Idol Extra,” the Fox Reality Channel series that airs Thursdays. Hosted by J.D. Roberto with co-hosts Constantine Maroulis and Gina Glocksen, the weekly series features an interview with the seventh season “Idol” finalist who is eliminated during the results show on Wednesday and performances and interviews with former “Idols.” Billboard.com was present at the recent “American Idol Extra” taping and caught up with a dozen former contestants to find out what is going on in their lives.
DIANA DeGARMO: A new resident of Nashville, DeGarmo had two stints starring in “Hairspray” on Broadway, toured in the Broadway musical “Brooklyn” and was cast in another reality talent show, “Gone Country,” which just finished its seven-episode run on CMT.
The premise of “Gone Country” was for seven non-country celebrities to write and perform country songs. “I was paired with Keith Stegal and Shanna Crooks to write my song for the show. Shanna came up with the initial idea of the song, Keith found the perfect sound for the song and I found the melody. Shanna’s lyrics brought it all home.” DeGarmo, who is now signed to John Rich’s production company, will perform the result, “Right Back Where We Ended,” on “American Idol Extra” this season.
RUBEN STUDDARD: As reported at Billboard.com, Ruben has covered Kenny Loggins’ “Celebrate Me Home” as this year’s kiss-off song for eliminated “Idol” contestants. The track was produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who produced Ruben’s song on the 2005 Luther Vandross tribute album.
Although he parted ways with J Records, Ruben is already making plans for his next album. He has also been cast as Fats Waller in a touring production of “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” “I feel like I’m on course to have a very long career and I’m glad that I wasn’t a quick burner,” Ruben reflects. “I’m working on my fourth album. A lot of people don’t make it to that point. I feel like I’m exactly where I should be right now.”
ACE YOUNG: The fifth season finalist who co-wrote Daughtry’s hit single “It’s Not Over” has completed his first album, scheduled for release on May 13.
“When I finished the ‘Idol” tour, my brother Ryan asked me to make a list of the top five people I wanted to work with. Desmond Child was on top.” A meeting with Child scheduled for 30 minutes stretched to three-and-a-half hours. “It was the most interesting meeting I’ve ever been to,” says Young. “At the end of it Child said he would like to do one song or the whole album, whatever we wanted.”
Child executive produced the entire album and Young wrote 11 songs, collaborating with Child as well as Andreas Carlsson. Diane Warren contributed a song. It will be released on Pazzo Music through Universal’s Fontana imprint. A single, “Addicted,” will go to radio in April.
CHRIS SLIGH: The day he was voted off “American Idol,” sixth season finalist Chris Sligh received a number of calls and e-mails from record labels. Ultimately he signed with Atlanta-based Brash Music, run by CEO McQ (Mike McQuary) and president Steve Jones. “They caught the vision for the record I wanted to make,” enthuses Sligh.
The vision was to record a Christian album with several songs that could cross over to mainstream. Sligh likens it to, “when Michael W. Smith made those great records. It’s an art that’s been lost. You have Switchfoot and Relient K who are mainstream and Christian radio doesn’t touch them. I love the church but I also love the mainstream and I don’t feel they are diametrically opposed.”
Signed to music publisher Brentwood-Benson, Chris came up with a handful of songs for his own album and wrote additional material for other artists. One of his co-writes, “Empty Me,” has already gone to radio and was listed as “Most Added” at Christian AC radio last week by Billboard’s sister publication, Radio & Records. The album, “Running Back to You,” will be released on May 6. Ten of the tracks were produced by Bannister Brown and the other three were helmed by Will Owsley.
SANJAYA MALAKAR: So well known that he was parodied on “Saturday Night Live” twice, the effervescent Sanjaya is proof that you don’t have to win “American Idol” to become a pop culture icon. The sudden popularity hasn’t distracted the 18-year-old from his main goal. “I did ‘American Idol’ so I could pursue a career and now I’m writing songs and working with some producers to make sure my sound is there.”
Sanjaya recently relocated from Seattle to Los Angeles with his sister and cousin to work on music and hone his sound. His schedule is full, with a book signing for “Chicken Soup for the American Idol Soul,” in which he has contributed a chapter, charity performances in New York and back home in Seattle and a trip to Japan at the invitation of Yamaha to tour their plant and learn more about the one-of-a-kind customized D-Deck synthesizer the company has given him.
BO BICE: The fourth season runner-up is promoting his second album, “See the Light.” Released on an independent label and available exclusively through Walmart, the CD returns Bice to his southern rocker roots.
But the album is not the only thing occupying Bice’s time. “I went over to Afghanistan for 12 days with the non-profit organization Stars for Stripes.” Bice performed for U.S. troops stationed in that country. He was hitting the road again after his “American Idol Extra” taping. “We’re heading to Texas and Missouri, Atlantic City, New York, Pennsylvania. I’m doing some charity events for NASCAR and this summer I’m going to visit the kids at ‘Idol’ Camp.”
The two-week session is for children aged 10-15 who get an introduction to the music industry from visiting professionals and former Idols.
KEVIN COVAIS: A junior at Island Trees High School during his fifth season stint, Kevin Covais returned home to Levittown, N.Y. after “Idol” and graduated in June 2007. He enrolled at Hofstra University as a broadcast journalism major, but ended up at a different “College.” Covais started going on casting calls for movies and television. An audition he did for a Lionsgate film paid off. He won the role of Morris, a timid, nerdy student in “College.” The film is scheduled to open on April 11.
Pursuing an acting career is not going to dissuade Covais from singing. “On ‘Idol’ I had a lot of chances to perform pop and R&B. I don’t know that that’s me. I would love to do a Michael Buble meets Josh Groban thing. When you turn on that smooth station and hear some nice ballads, that could be me.”
LaKISHA JONES: When the sixth season summer “American Idols Live” tour arrived in New York, LaKisha Jones was asked to read for “The Color Purple” on Broadway. She auditioned and won a role right on the spot. Jones joined the show in November 2007 and played Sophia at matinees and the Church Soloist in the evening performances until the show closed on Feb. 24. For two months she was on stage with third season winner Fantasia, who played the lead until departing the show on Jan. 9.
With the Broadway experience under her belt, LaKisha is turning her attention to recording an album. “It’s a process that takes time and I’m very excited about getting my music out there. It’s going to be a mix of R&B with a little inspirational music.”
For “American Idol Extra,” LaKisha performed a cover of Kelly Price’s “Just As I Am.”
CHRIS RICHARDSON: The sixth season finalist who became best friends with Blake Lewis and wrote a couple of tracks for Lewis is working on his own first CD. “I’m writing the majority of the album but also teaming up with some great songwriters. I’ve been working in Los Angeles with Evan Bogart, who did some stuff with Sean Kingston.”
Richardson has recorded a single, “All Alone,” that has been issued on a compilation album marketed by Dreyer’s/Edy’s Ice Cream and is on a 10-week tour for Dreyer’s that ends April 30 in Milwaukee.
STEPHANIE EDWARDS: After competing on season six, Edwards received a letter from Savannah-based songwriter Julie Wilde suggesting they work together. The two clicked instantly and Edwards recorded Wilde’s “On Our Way” for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light The Night benefit walk. Sales of the single benefit the Society.
Edwards and Wilde have continued to collaborate, and Edwards will sing Wilde’s “Here I Am” on “American Idol Extra.” It was a song Wilde submitted for the online contest to choose the finale song for season six.
HALEY SCARNATO: The sixth season finalist happily admits that “American Idol” completely changed her life. “The show is truly a blessing. I would never be doing what I’m doing now, getting meetings with people who listen to what I want to do.”
Scarnato has been writing songs in Nashville, including a single, “Girls’ Night Out,” with Nick Lawrence. “It’s a country song with an edge, with some sass,” she says. Haley promises that her first album will deal with love, heartache, having fun and loving life. “That’s exactly what I’m doing right now!” she exclaims.
BRANDON ROGERS: Like other “Idol” finalists, the season six contender is still recognized wherever he goes. “I can’t say that I don’t welcome it,” he admits, “because anyone who wants to be a singer or performer wants people to know who they are.”
Rogers has been appearing regularly at the intimate Hotel CafÚ in Hollywood, with his next date there scheduled for March 21. Brandon is also concentrating on a recording career. “I’ve been recording and writing with different producers and songwriters. It’s been a great experience and I’m looking forward to doing more of it. I’ve recorded a few songs in various styles, looking to find my own unique voice. I think I’ve found it and I’m going to continue to write more songs like my probable first single, “‘Broken.”