1 of 14
Season 7, eighth place
If you were outraged by Johns' early exit from American Idol's seventh season, or by the fact that he didn't land a deal with 19 Entertainment, it's time to let go of your anger. ''They weren't going to let an Australian win,'' Johns laughs. What's more, the 29-year-old heartthrob now has a deal with Sony to distribute his indie debut. Set to drop in March, the largely self-penned disc will have a rock-soul vibe and one song each from Grammy winners Diane Warren and John Shanks. ''I got this call: 'Michael, this is Diane Warren. Don't worry how I got your number; I got it,''' recalls Johns. ''It's been an absolutely crazy year.''
2 of 14
Season 6, fourth place
It's been a whirlwind couple of years since Jones ended her run on American Idol: She played two different roles in The Color Purple on Broadway; she got married; and now, she's getting ready to release her indie debut album, which will be distributed nationally through a deal with Sony RED. The first single, the midtempo R&B jam ''So Glad I'm Me,'' is streaming at Jones' MySpace page and is available at iTunes; now all Jones needs is a little help from her kissing buddy, Simon Cowell, to help book a return to the Idol stage this season to perform it. ''He owes me a whole lot,'' jokes Jones, 29. ''I gave him my lips and everything!''
3 of 14
Season 3, 2nd place
DeGarmo's goals for 2009 include recording a follow-up to her country album, Unplugged in Nashville; returning to the Great White Way after her well-received performance as Penny Pingleton in Hairspray; and landing a publishing deal to write songs for other artists. ''2009 is just going to be a big overhaul for me,'' she says. She's also in talks about a potential reality show starring former Idol contestants — but it's too early to tell where that will lead. Whatever happens, DeGarmo, 21, believes the election of Barack Obama bodes well for both the country — and her future as an entertainer: ''Entertainment always seems to flourish more when there is a Democrat in office.''
4 of 14
Season 7, fifth place
Brooke White: Card-carrying ''Dawg Pound'' member? You'd best believe it, seeing how it was Idol judge Randy Jackson who introduced White to Sanctuary Records CEO Carl Stubner, resulting in her deal with the indie label. After Idol, White said it took time to return to ''normal-ish.'' Explains the 25-year-old, ''You're walking around in public and people know personal details about your family: 'Your husband needs a haircut' and 'I'm sorry you missed your sister's wedding.' It's the weirdest thing.'' White likens the songs she's writing to organic loaves in a Wonder Bread world. ''I'm not a perfect singer,'' she says. ''My sound might be a little less symmetrical, but... it tastes real.''
5 of 14
Season 1, 3rd place
While the Idol rocker is better known now for her rehab stints on reality TV — VH1's Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew last fall and the follow-up, Sober House — she's okay with that. ''It's neat because people are saying, 'Oh my God, I have to tell you how big of an influence you've been on me!''' But McKibbin hasn't thrown in the microphone: She just released a single about her struggles, ''From Here to There,'' on her MySpace page, and a second single will debut on Sober House. Still, ''I would kill for an office job!'' says McKibbin, 30, who has an 11-year-old son. ''Most people won't hire me because of my hair. My hair is still really bright red.''
6 of 14
Season 5, 11th place
The contestant memorably nicknamed Chicken Little turned his focus to acting after leaving Idol. While his film debut in last year's College led to one of his more humiliating moments — rolling around in pig sludge/mud in his tighty whities — it did help him win new fans. (One person recently approached him on the street and said, ''Hey! You're that kid from College!'') Up next from this 19-year-old: a supporting role in Lindsay Lohan's upcoming flick Labor Pains, and possibly, the pickup of a pilot he taped last summer called Little Miss CEO. As for music? ''I would love to put out an album one day,'' says Covais, ''but acting has taken the forefront.''
7 of 14
Season 6, semifinalist
Cotter didn't really have time to mourn the fact that he fell one week short of cracking Idol's season 6 finals: The day after his ouster, his agent got a call from Fuse music network asking if he could schedule a screen test, and by July 2007, he'd joined the network's stable of on-air talent. Cotter says his favorite moments at Fuse include interviewing Queen Latifah, playing basketball at a charity event with New York Knicks star Allan Houston, and ''gawking at'' Jessica Alba. And next month, you can catch him in a new commercial for Domino's Pizza. ''I actually play the cooler Jared,'' he says with a chuckle, ''[compared] to Subway's Jared, that is.''
8 of 14
Season 2, 6th place
After leaving Idol, Rasmusen spent three years trying to convince labels in Nashville to sign her. ''Nashville had not warmed up to American Idol,'' says the 23-year-old. ''They didn't know enough about the show. It wasn't until after Carrie Underwood came along [that] they were like, 'Oh this is huge. You were on that show?''' In 2007, she signed with Lofton Creek Records and released Nothin' Like the Summer. While she has a second album in the works, another project is currently consuming her attention: Boston, her first son with husband Brad Herbert. ''Being a mom comes first,'' she says.
9 of 14
Season 4, 2nd place
Since finishing his Idol tour, Bice has released two albums — The Real Thing and See the Light, which sold 672,000 and 63,000 copies respectively, according to Nielsen SoundScan — and started his own record label, $ugarmoney/StratArt. In addition to releasing an album with Brothers of the Southland, a band that includes The Black Crowes' Steve Gorman and The Allman Brothers' ''Dangerous'' Dan Toler, he's working on a live CD and a documentary chronicling his tour in Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq. ''I get up every morning and I work hard,'' says Bice, 33. ''That's not something I want a pat on the back for. That's what you're supposed to do if you love something. And if you're lucky, you reap the rewards.''
10 of 14
Season 6, Semifinalist
After parting ways with Universal Motown over issues with her unreleased album's direction and style, Sloan has been focusing on her theatrical roots (Broadway's Hairspray) with roles in the L.A. productions of The Princess and the Black-Eyed Pea, Gulls, and Ray Charles Live!. She also appeared on ABC's Boston Legal (''I danced it up with William Shatner!'') and writes music for her church. But like most former Idol contestants, she's dying to get back into the pop-music limelight: ''I have recently started working on a new album,'' says the 29-year-old. ''I describe the sound as a funky hip-hop soul with a '60s flair.''
11 of 14
Season 6, 5th Place
After the Idols Live! tour, Richardson returned to the studio to work on a solo album, which he began prior to his Idol run. Six years in the making, the album — which he describes as pop/rock/R&B — has yet to secure a label. ''As much as you thought that there was going to be so many opportunities [after Idol], it almost seemed like doors were slowly closing,'' says Richardson, 24. He's remained close with his fellow season sixers, co-writing two songs on Blake Lewis' debut, A.D.D. (Audio Day Dream), and helping pen songs for Jordin Sparks' second album. Says Richardson, ''I'm taking my time and establishing [myself].''
12 of 14
Season 6, third place
Doolittle's bringing retro back — and she's in good company. Her debut album Coming Back to You (due Feb. 3) pays homage to the vocal stylings of her musical heroes — Tina Turner, Gladys Knight, and Sarah Vaughan — and it comes on the heels of successful old-school-with-a-twist discs from Amy Winehouse, Duffy, Adele, and Raphael Saadiq. ''People are excited about hearing live instruments,'' says the onetime backup singer, who got an added thrill from playing one-woman doo-wop group during her recording sessions. ''We started with me asking, 'Can I just lay down some background [vocals], so I know what to work with?''' says Doolittle. ''Once we started, I was like, 'Can I do more? I love this!'''
13 of 14
Season 6, Semifinalist
After Idol, Barba focused on finishing her architecture degree at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. She graduated last fall and has since turned her attention to prepping an album. ''We'll be in the studio by the end of the month,'' she says. ''It will definitely be pop, but more like pop R&B.'' The 22-year-old — who became a sensation during Idol thanks to semi-nude photos that leaked online — realizes she faces an uphill battle when it comes to capturing the industry's attention. ''I know the buzz might not be the same as it was in 2007, but it amazes me — almost two years later, I still get recognized!''
14 of 14
Season 5, 3rd place
He may have come in third behind Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee, but Yamin still managed to outsell the season's runner-up with his 2007 self-titled indie debut, which moved a whopping 519,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. He's now at work on his second full-length album, which he says will be ''a little more contemporary R&B-ish.'' When he's not recording, Yamin continues to promote diabetes awareness with organizations like the American Diabetes Association. Says the 30-year-old, who suffers from Type 1 diabetes, ''I want to keep on doing it as long as I have a voice to be heard.''
—By Michael Slezak, Tanner Stransky, Kate Ward, and Marc Vera