I speak to musicians everyday who desperatley want to become famous, sell millions of records and pack arenas. Once in awhile I have a chance to chat with entertainers who have been to the mountain top only to look down at how far they had to fall. The space in between is reserved for those who live a “normal” life, but I’ve always been curious to know what it feels like after the crowd has stopped cheering and the units stop selling. I got my wish at CMJ 2009.
One panel in particular called, “Idol Views From Two Music Nation Leaders: USA and Sweden”, shed light on the life of American Idol finalists and their decent from fame. I normally wouldn’t have attended such a popcorn event, but after a brief conversation with Season 2 sensation, Kimberley Locke, I couldn’t help but to follow her into the 9th floor board room where the panel was to take place. When I arrived, I was shocked to discover that the audience only slightly out numbered the panelists .The mood was akward at first, but the hour long discussion proved to be intimate and extremly valuable.
Kimberly was joined by Season 3 finalist, Diana DeGarmo, whom I had only recognized by face, and the winner of the Swedish version Idol, Daniel Lindstrom. The moderator, American journalist, author and writer, Fred Bronson did an excellent job to uncover the joys and pains of these three musicians, and what implications their journey had on the aspiring artist in the room. Here are a few highlights from the discussion:
What was the experience like on American Idol?
Daniel Lindstrom: It was an eye opener. I had a picture of what (the music business) would be like. I thought it was all about the music, but it not. It’s all about the money.
Diana DeGarmo: It was like roller coaster ride without brakes.You learn that (American Idol) is a business before anything else.
Kimberley Locke: (Amercian Idol) was like “Entertainment Boot Camp 101”. You learn how to give an interview, give a sound byte, and how to deal with your fans. If you dont have a record deal once the show is over, you are on your own.
How is life after Idol?
Diana DeGarmo: I came out of the show signed to RCA. I released (Blue Sky) on Dec 7th of 2004. It wasnt a bad album, just not the right album. They tried to put me in a box with Avril Lavenge, but I wanted to make Country music.
Daniel Lindstrom: Two weeks after the show was over, my album was released [The record went gold]. I had no control of what was happening around me, so I stoped working with Sony/BMG after the 2nd album. I then released an indie record as my 3rd album and have more gigs now becuase I’ve learned how to have fun.
Kimberley Locke: American Idol had Right of Refusal, which means that after the show I had to wait 90 days for Sony/BMG to turn me down before I could sign with anyone else. I ended up signing with Curb Records. I dont know if it was the best decision, but no one else was bititing. The album was nothing like I wanted it to be, but I didnt care.
Ultimately the American Idols’ had seen a certain amount of financial, social or political success but that window of opportunity slammed shut as soon as the next season began. As an independent, you can take as much time as you want to create the type of music you love, define your own view of success and follow your own stop watch.
Kimberely told me outside of the conference room that she was auditioning for a role in Chicago on B’dway and recording an album with Randy Jackson. Trouble is she has no idea who her fans really are. She is so far removed from the direct fan relationship that is so important now, that the cost of producing and remarketing to her old American Idol fans will be astronomical. She is starting her project in the hole by a couple of million dollars.
Independents like Matthew Ebel who know exactly which of his fans buy, what, when and where are now at an advantage. His overhead is low and his fan base is growing. Who would you rather be?
Independent does not mean unsuccessful…
What ever our perosnal feelings are about American Idol, Kim has had eight # 1 singles [ 6 that I can verify], appeared on Celebrity Fit Club, signed to Ford Models 14 + division and done a ton of charitable work. Diana has had three # 1 singles [Only 1 can be verified], starred in Hairspray and is currently the lead in Toxic Avengers, an Off - Broadway musical.
When asked about their life before Idol the panelist gave these insights:
Kimberley Locke: I was headed to Law School [NYU was on her list] in 2002. I spent days crying on my moms couch as to whether or not to continue with Idol. On December 9th I left for Hollywood and the rest is history.
Diana DeGarmo: My mother never thought I had any talent until people started to tell her. I was too young to audition for the first two seasons, but when I was 16, wide eyed and busy tailed, I scheduled my family vaction around the Season 3 Hawaii audition. I ended up wearing the same outfit for four days.
Daniel Lindstrom: I had a day job and was writing songs for a local band. My goal was simple, I wanted to make a record before I was 30.
Daniel’s first album, “Coming True” went Double Platinum while his most recent independent release has only sold 3K units to date. Do you believe Daniel Lindstrom when he says that he is happier now (selling 3K records in 2009) as opposed to going 2X Platinum in 2004?