Where Are The American Idol Top 10 Finalists From Season 1 Today?

When Simon Cowell left "American Idol" after the singing competition's 2010 season, he reflected on his time on the show in an interview with Oprah. "I remember the first year when we did this, and it was like an adventure," he said. "I loved that not knowing if it was going to be successful, and the buzz — we were kind of making it up every week." The show was successful, of course, spawning a ratings juggernaut that continues today, more than twenty years later.

That first season made a superstar out of Kelly Clarkson, who is still one of the show's most successful contestants of all time. However, the show's live competition rounds included nine other "Idol" hopefuls rounding out the Top 10. While none of Clarkson's fellow Season 1 competitors quite reached her level of fame, many of them found their own success, both within the entertainment world and in other industries. Read on to check in with where the Top 10 finalists from Season 1 are today, and learn who became a TV star, who's a teacher, who wrote songs for other artists and who's happily married and working in tech. 

EJay Day became a fitness instructor

EJay Day wasn't originally going to be part of the Top 10 group of finalists, but as The New York Post reported, finalist Delano Cagnolatti was found to have lied about his age. Cagnolatti was kicked out and Day was given his spot in the semifinals. Even though his performance of "I'll Be" was ultimately included on the show's "Greatest Moments" compilation CD, Day was subsequently the first contestant to be voted out.

After "Idol," Day has released several singles, some of which are no longer available. In 2003, he released two songs, "Calling All Angels" (with fellow "Idol" contestant AJ Gil, available on a physical CD from a charity called Give Kids the World) and a song called "Come Into My World." According to his official website, the latter received radio airplay in Atlanta, but wider release plans seem to have fizzled out. In 2014, the former "Idol" hopeful released a single called "Need You In My Life," which was uploaded to his YouTube channel.

According to his Facebook, Day worked as a singer on Norwegian Cruise Lines, and he's sung at vacation locations like Busch Gardens, Six Flags, and the Venetian in Vegas. When "American Idol" Season 1 contestants reunited for a Facebook chat in 2020, Day told former co-star Justin Guarini, "I had to come home and take care of some family, so it's been a minute since I've performed." He now works as a fitness instructor.

Jim Verraros has found success as a recruiter

Jim Verraros lasted one week into the "American Idol" semifinals before he was kicked off in the same episode as EJay Day. "You get out there and realize, 'Wow, I don't have a lot of credibility [in the industry] even though I became a household name in nine weeks,'" he later told MTV News. "You are forgotten just as fast." The year after "Idol," Verraros confirmed online chatter and officially came out as gay in an interview with The Advocate. "It was the best thing I could have done for myself," he said in The Windy City Times.

Thanks in part to his fame among the gay community, Verraros followed up his stint on "Idol" by starring in cult classic indie gay comedy "Eating Out." He told Punk Globe Magazine that he played a gay kid in love with a straight friend, adding, "I really loved doing 'Eating Out,' so I'd love to do some more independent films." Verraros returned for the 2006 sequel "Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds," and in 2008, he played a priest in "Another Gay Sequel."

He also focused on music in addition to acting. In 2005, Verraros released an album called "Rollercoaster," and in 2011 came a follow-up called "Do Not Disturb." In 2022, he teased a return to music, tweeting, "I've made the decision to go back into the studio. For fun. No pressure." According to his Twitter bio, Verraros primarily works as a recruiter for a tech company.

AJ Gil's still making music

A.J. Gil made his mark on the "American Idol" Top 10 with his rendition of "My Cherie Amour," which wound up being included on the season's compilation CD. He was eliminated the following week. After completing his contractually-mandated time on the "American Idols Live" tour, Gil starred in a film called "Destination Fame." The cast included Cuba Gooding Sr., Mario, Joe Jackson, and Doug E. Fresh. However, the film was not a success, and it didn't provide Gil with the career boost he was likely hoping for. He told The Daily Beast in 2012 that he had been homeless for a time, but had turned to God and was making music again. 

Gil released an album of Christian gospel songs in 2013 called "Life, Death and Resurrection." Announcing the project on Facebook (via Idol Chatter), Gil wrote, "Music has always been my passion, but music had become my idol! Long story short, God took music away from me for almost two years which allowed me to spend time seeking God and knowing Him in a much deeper level."

He still releases music regularly on YouTube as recently as late 2022, and he also runs his own recording studio. "I've been doing productions... artist development, I've been working on some independent film soundtracks," he told co-star Justin Guarini during the cast's reunion on Facebook. "I've been teaching voice lessons and vocal coaching. I've learned a lot."

Ryan Starr has gotten into the content creator game

While she was on "American Idol," Ryan Starr set herself apart from her competitors thanks to her rocker-chic fashion sense. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to get her over the finish line, and she came in seventh place. She wasn't shy about the fact that she regretted being tied to "Idol," telling the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "As soon as my contract's up, I'm going to separate myself from the show 100 percent. I'm cutting loose. I'm gone."

A few years after "Idol," Starr released an iTunes exclusive single called "My Religion." At the time, it was rare for artists to exclusively release their singles through the digital store, and according to MTV News, Starr's single broke records. However, she didn't make any money from the release. Instead, Starr headed back to reality television for the third season of "The Surreal Life." That was the season with Charo, Dave Coulier, and most infamously, Flavor Flav and Brigitte Nielsen. Without that season, we wouldn't have "The Flavor of Love," which means no Tiffany "New York" Pollard... and then where would we be?

Nowadays, Starr's Instagram bio describes her as a "content creator | singer | puppy foster." She runs a lifestyle website called She Is Ryan, and she recently launched a TikTok account. "I really got into the whole social media game," she told former rival Justin Guarini during the show's 2020 reunion. "It's really fun. I like using it to make a positive impact."

Christina Christian is thriving in tech

Christina Christian sailed through the "American Idol" competition, which made her elimination at sixth place quite the surprise. Entertainment Weekly called her axing a "shocker," especially because Christian wasn't actually present when she was voted out due to an unspecified medical emergency. "It's just been a lot of fun, a great learning experience," she told CNN the week after she was cut from the show. "We've all accomplished a great goal, and we are definitely going to go on from here."

Unlike most of her competitors, Christian never went on to release any music. She did, however, pick up a few small acting gigs on shows like "Burn Notice" and "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." She later told The Daily Beast that she spent time as a songwriter abroad, but she concluded, "I wrote for a while, but honestly I went on with the family life." 

She's now a technology consultant, according to her Twitter bio. She shares snapshots of her family life on Instagram, and she's also written a children's book called "I Believe In Me, Do You?" In 2020, she told Justin Guarini during the cast's 2020 Facebook chat that she's married to the same man she was with during "Idol." She grinned, "It's almost 21 years together. Three kids, two dogs ... and we're both working in technology and just having a blast."

RJ Helton got back to working with kids

RJ Helton's sultry performance of Stevie Wonder's "Lately" won the admiration of Simon Cowell and wound up on the show's "Greatest Moments" compilation. Helton, who worked as a kids' dance teacher before the show, made it all the way to fifth place. A few years later, the reality star dropped "Real Life," a contemporary Christian album with song titles like "Forgive" and "Why Don't We Pray." Speaking with Billboard, the "Idol" hopeful reflected, "I'm very strong now, much more outspoken than I used to be." However, on "The Today Show," the former contestant added, "I'm grateful to have been on 'Idol,' but I want to be my own artist and kind of hope people forget I was on the show."

In 2006, Helton came out on the Sirius radio show "OutQ in the Morning" (via People). "Just because I am gay does not mean I can't love God," he stated. In 2010, the out and proud singer teamed up with composer Scott Alan for a performance of Alan's song "Blessing," about a queer person seeking acceptance from their parents.

Nowadays, the curly-haired crooner still posts videos of song covers on Facebook. "I kind of put the music down for a while," Helton told former co-star Justin Guarini during the cast's Facebook livestream, "and started working with children, which is my biggest passion honestly."

Tamyra Gray's show biz career took off

Tamyra Gray was a fan favorite on "American Idol," so it was a minor scandal when she only made it to fourth place. USA Today reported that Fox received a record-breaking number of emails after her elimination (ah, 2002!), but she quieted speculation that the contest was rigged against her. "Everybody has their opinion, but the only thing I will say is that everything is legit," she insisted.

Shortly after getting the chop on "Idol," Gray signed on to a recurring role on "Boston Public." On the show, she shared the screen with none other than Whitney Houston. Other roles included appearances on "Tru Calling" and "What I Like About You," in addition to film parts in "The Gospel" and "Rachel Getting Married." She told Black Film that she's actually glad she didn't win. "If I had won, I wouldn't have been able to do any of this. Kelly hasn't been able to do any TV stuff," she reasoned. "Record labels just want you to sing." Still, Gray did indeed release an album called "The Dreamer" in 2005, though as Reality TV World reported, sales were disappointing.

Nevertheless, Gray has been working in entertainment ever since. She's a Broadway star, having been in shows like "Rent" and "Once On This Island." Among other credits, she also led the national tour of "If/Then" and acted in "Into the Woods" at the Hollywood Bowl. She also shares her life as a mother on Instagram.

Nikki McKibbin died young

Nikki McKibbin won fans on "American Idol" by performing hits by artists like Stevie Nicks. Ultimately, she was cut at the Final 3. "In the end, she wasn't as strong a singer as Kelly [Clarkson]," judge Paul Abdul told CBS News. McKibbin competed on numerous other reality shows after "American Idol," including showing up on "Fear Factor" and "Battle of the Network Stars." She also struggled with addiction after "Idol," which landed her on "Celebrity Rehab." She told MTV News that being criticized so harshly on "Idol" made her experience with addiction worse. "All I hope is that if someone sees my story, they'll be inspired to go out and get some help," she said.

The third place finisher released music in the years after her time on "Idol," including an album called "Unleashed" alongside rock band Rivethead. "I wouldn't be able to do that without the show," she told The Seattle Times, who noted that McKibbin was working as a waitress while promoting her music. She later started a band called Love Stricken Demise, and with them she released an EP called "Psychotrip." The red-haired rocker returned to "American Idol" for Season 13 — this time accompanying her son to his audition, according to People.

McKibbin tragically died of a brain aneurysm in 2020, age 42. "For a long time, I wasn't taking care of myself," she told People shortly before her death. "I wasn't being the person I should be. I'm in a better place now."

Justin Guarini landed a hit ad campaign

After he came in second on "American Idol," losing to Kelly Clarkson, Justin Guarini nevertheless was tied to the "Idol" brand after the show. He appeared alongside his castmate in "From Justin to Kelly," a musical where his character wooed hers on spring break. It flopped with the box office and critics alike, and both Guarini and Clarkson have acknowledged what a mess it was. 

A few years after "Idol," Guarini released an album. While the champ of his season's career took off straight away, Guarini's music debuted at no. 20. Guarini picked up a gig hosting an "Idol"-adjacent show for the TV Guide Network called "Idol Tonight." He also starred in a number of Broadway shows, including playing Fiyero in "Wicked" and Will in "American Idiot."

Guarini is still very much in the public eye, although many fans may not recognize the curly-haired singer who once had millions swooning over him on "American Idol." For years, Guarini has portrayed a mascot named "Lil Sweet" in a series of Dr. Pepper ads. "The funny thing is, that type of humor and that type of behavior, I do it around the house all day every day," he told Entertainment Weekly. "I remember saying during the shoot, 'I can't believe you guys are paying me to do this,' because that's the kind of stuff I do for my kids and my wife – make them laugh." Nowadays, Guarini teaches master classes about breaking into the entertainment industry. He is also available for booking on Cameo.

Kelly Clarkson continues to take the world by storm

Kelly Clarkson won the inaugural season of "American Idol." Unfortunate detour into moviemaking with "From Justin to Kelly" aside — "It was a very miserable time of my life," she later told the Los Angeles Times — Clarkson has dominated pop culture ever since. Forget calling her an "Idol" alum; iconic hits like "Since U Been Gone," "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)," "Breakaway," and "Behind These Hazel Eyes" have all cemented the Texan as one of the most enduring and beloved popstars of her entire generation.

In 2016, "American Idol" branded its 15th season as its last. (The show would later jump from Fox to ABC and keep the party going.) Clarkson returned to the "Idol" stage to perform "Piece By Piece," delivering an emotional rendition of the single about her absent father. "I'm so embarrassed. It's so funny to me that everybody was like, 'It was remarkable!'" she told the Z100 Morning Show (via Billboard). "Well, crying on national television isn't really my idea of a good time." She was also a guest judge on the episode, and the experience seems to have signaled a career transition. She now regularly sits on the judging panel of "The Voice."

Clarkson also has her own talk show, which is a daytime TV smash hit. She received a star on the Walk of Fame in 2022, right outside the Dolby Theatre, which is where she was crowned the first American Idol twenty years earlier. According to Billboard, she said, "I feel very lucky and fortunate."