Most American Idols are made, not born. Sure, their singing ability may have been there from the start, but they walked into that audition room looking like just any boy- or girl-next-door. It was only after they were manhandled by a 19 Entertainment-supplied dream team of stylists, hairdressers, makeup artists, personal trainers, and cosmetic dentists that their superstar transformations were complete.
And of course, some less fortunate Idols end up going through changes on their own, both good and bad, once they leave the show and are left to their own devices.
So what sort of makeovers (or makeunders) will Season 9′s contestants undergo once “American Idol” is over? Will Siobhan Magnus ditch the Missy Elliott boots and Mr. Peabody spectacles once and for all? Will Crystal Bowersox comb out her dreads? Will Andrew Garcia cover up his neck tattoos? Will Casey James (gawd forbid) chop off his goldilocks? Who knows? But here are some of the more dramatic and drastic metamorphoses of Idols past.
Nikki McKibbin was Season 1′s token “rocker”–meaning she had pink hair, wore studded wristbands, and sang Alannah Myles songs. Like it or not, she set the flame-haired prototype for the Vanessa Olivarezes, Amy Adamses, Gina Glocksens, and Allison Irahetas to come. Still, perhaps the voting public wasn’t entirely convinced of darling Nikki’s rockin’-ness, given that she only made it to third place. After leaving the show, the former karaoke queen and exotic dancer was determined to prove she was a real rocker, even rejecting an offer from 19 and RCA to record a country album. She then cultivated a darker, slightly Evanescence-esque new look that included raven-black locks, sooty eyeliner, and lots of leather, leather, leather. Her self-released music didn’t quite take off, and then her image grew even darker, as she battled her drug demons on “Celebrity Rehab.” After getting clean, she ballooned in weight, but now, after almost two years of sobriety, Nikki has achieved a great deal in her personal life, even if her entertainment career is still in flux.
One of the most controversial contestants of Season 1 (Simon Cowell HATED him, yet he got enough votes to make the top 12), Jim Verraros continued to court controversy post-show by becoming the first “Idol” alum to come out as homosexual, long before Clay Aiken or Adam Lambert followed suit. And along with this out-and-proud confession came a whole new look for Jim. Gone were the dorky brush-cut hairdo, geek glasses, and pock-marked skin…suddenly Jim had reinvented himself as a pretty-boy club kid, complete with sideswept Zac Efron haircut, guyliner, mesh tank tops, and saucy pout. And this was YEARS before Danny Noriega hit the “Idol” circuit, too.
Perhaps no Idol has undergone quite as dramatic a metamorphosis as Clay Aiken. The Season 2 runner-up made his television debut as a bespectacled, scrawny pipsqueak, an image that totally belied his deep, manly voice. But by the time he returned to the “American Idol” stage for the Season 5 finale–sporting a brunette bob, suave suit, and filled-out face–he was nearly unrecognizable. (Post-makeover, he didn’t even remotely resemble his supposed lookalike, Michael Sandecki, the geeky fan he ambushed onstage that night for a surprise duet.) Later on Broadway–sporting flowing curly locks, medieval garb, and about 30 extra pounds–the new “Spamalot” star’s startling transformation continued.
“American Idol” Season 2 champ Ruben Studdard was always large and in charge, hence why he received comparisons to the similarly stocky Luther Vandross and earned the nickname “Velvet Teddy Bear.” But despite the fact that voters had never minded that there was more of Roooooben to love (he did, after all, beat out the much skinnier Clay Aiken), eventually Ruben Studdard’s weight became a scary health issue. Fearful about his family history of diabetes and hypertension, Studdard devised his own vegetarian diet and became the spokesman for his home state’s “Scale Back Alabama” fitness campaign–and he lost more than 100 pounds.
A true duck-to-swan fairytale heroine come to life, Kimberley Locke hardly came across as a babe when she auditioned in Season 2. But behind the mom jeans, unflattering geek glasses, and what Simon rudely called “weird hair,” lurked a great beauty to match Kim’s gorgeous voice. Her makeover began that season at the hands of skilled “Idol” stylists, but later–after signing up to be a Jenny Craig spokeswoman and losing 40 pounds on “Celebrity Fit Club”–her upgrade was complete. She looked so fine, she even caught the attention of her rumored future beau, “Celebrity Fit Club” drill sergeant Harvey Walden III.
The edgiest “American Idol” winner ever, Fantasia Barrino has never been one to shy away from extreme looks. She showed up for her “Idol” audition with nearly non-existent eyebrows, for instance, and on the cover of her self-titled sophomore album, she sported a Brigitte Nielsen-esque platinum crop and gold body paint. Later the wild Idol rocked a half-shaved, half-blonde, half-mohawk ‘do (with braces, yet) and a fuchsia crop, and on her recent VH1 reality show she flaunted a series of wigs and a newly toned physique. She’s ended up on some worst-dressed and worst-tressed lists, but whether it’s a hairdo or a hair-don’t, if there’s any Idol who can pull off crazy looks, it’s the aptly named Fantasia.
During Season 3 of “American Idol,” Jennifer Hudson was unfortunately upstaged by fellow divas Fantasia Barrino and LaToya London; so on the infamous and inexplicable evening when all of these divas ended up in the bottom three, she was the one sent packing. But a couple of years later, Jennifer landed the starmaking role as Effie in the film Dreamgirls and managed to do the impossible: upstage Beyonce. Beyonce! Her dramatic transformation from Idol also-ran to A-list movie star culminated in an actual Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress–and though she sadly wound up on many worst-dressed lists thanks to the space-cadet gold bolero jacket she wore on Oscar night, she still looked like a bona fide star. Now, as the newly svelte spokeswoman for Weight Watchers, J.Hud is truly through to Hollywood.
When Carrie Underwood belted out Heart’s “Alone” early on in the fourth season, Simon Cowell predicted she would be the winner. But this sweet blonde from Oklahoma still looked more like a farmgirl than a superstar. However, by the time her first solo tour rolled around in 2006 she had slimmed from a perfectly slim size 6 to an even more perfect size 2, and it wasn’t long before she had completely blossomed, scoring a place on People‘s list of “Most Beautiful People,” the title of “World’s Sexiest Vegetarian” by PETA, and hot-commodity boyfriends like Chace Crawford, Tony Romo, and finally fiancée Mike Fisher.
Taylor Hicks‘s everyman charm–bowl haircut, extra pudge, tacky dinner-theater jackets–endeared him to Middle America and helped him win on the most-watched “American Idol” season ever (despite the fact that his competition was the much more conventionally attractive Katharine McPhee). But when it came time for the Soul Patroller to compete in the pop marketplace, it was clear that his dad-like image needed an overhaul. He kept his trademark silver locks, but with a stylish new haircut, more fashionable threads, and a 22-pound weight loss, Taylor still seemed tailored for mainstream success. Unfortunately, his post-”Idol” album didn’t sell as much as his (now former) record label had hoped, but his new look still earned him the title of “America’s Most Eligible Bachelor” from People magazine, and later on, an angelic theater role in “Grease.”
Back in Season 5, runner-up Katharine McPhee lost out to silver-haired showman Taylor Hicks. Nowadays Katharine is looking a little silvery herself these days, with a bold new platinum crop. While Kat still looks beautiful (she would be pretty even with a Sanjaya-style Mohawk), and the Bardot/Sedgwick/Duffy-ish retro styling gives her a little needed edge, many fans continue to mourn the loss of the naturally brunette Idol’s gorgeous shampoo-commercial hair. Seriously, her risky, possibly fan-alienating makeover had the potential to be the worst backlash-inducing hair error since Felicity chopped her locks on the WB. But Kat’s album Unbroken has garnered a generally positive response. Still, in a case of “if it’s unbroken, don’t fix it,” Katharine has announced she is planning to return to her dark roots soon.
Elliott Yamin captured viewers’ hearts during Season 5 with his soulful singing, triumph-over-adversity back story, and close relationship with his loving mother. But no one considered Elliott to be heartthrob material, especially with his mouthful of snaggleteeth. Oh, what a difference a stylist–and a dentist–can make. When the third-place runner-up finally released his self-titled debut album, he had a whole new image: GQ haircut, cool clothes, and most importantly, a really nice set of pearly whites. If his music career doesn’t pan out, now this guy could actually earn a paycheck as a spokesmodel for Rembrandt.
Kellie Pickler was always a cutie, following in the Jessica Simpson-pioneered tradition of “stupid = hot” with her limited, Southern-drawled vocabulary. (“What’s a ballsy?” is right up there with “Is Chicken Of The Sea fish or chicken?” as far as dumb reality-TV quotes go.) And Kellie’s looking even cuter these days. Granted, while it doesn’t seem like her brain has undergone any sort of major makeover (her poor showing on “Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?” was proof of that), she’s looking good with her sleek Rihanna-esque bob, red high heels, and suspiciously larger chest. This girl’s made it to Hollywood, indeed.
Little Paris Bennett was the biggest standout during the Season 5 audition process. With a rich and mature singing voice that was in severe contrast to the 4’11″, 17-year-old body it came from, Paris made it all the way to the final five. Throughout the competition the judges complained about her wardrobe, which ranged from drab and khaki to pink and frilly, encouraging her to try to dress more her age. Now “Princess P,” who has since become a mom, is definitely looking more mature–but this time in a really good way.
Back in Season 6, Brandon Rogers sported a ‘fro that nearly put the follicles of Justin Guarini and Chris Sligh to shame. These days, the singer-songwriter/presenter is rockin’ a clean-shaven, chrome-domed look that has more in common with Chris Daughtry and Phil Stacey. Smooth!
Adam Lambert underwent a series of self-administered makeovers while Season 8 was still in progress, schizophrenically switching up his image from week to week to keep the viewers guessing (and voting). Sometimes he sported side-swept emo hair and head-to-toe rocker leather; other times, he opted for sedate button-down suits and an Elvis pompadour. But it was after “American Idol” was over that Glambert really felt free to take liberties with his persona (and his cosmetics case), spiking both his hair and his shoulderpads, liberally gluing rhinestones on his eyelids, and wearing enough makeup to earn himself a MAC Viva Glam campaign of his own. The glossy, glittery, gender-unspecific look Adam boldly rocked on his controversial For Your Entertainment album cover certainly was a drastic change from the low-key hoodie and jeans that he wore at his first “Idol” audition only eight months earlier.
Alex Lambert only made it to the top 16 this year, but even though Season 9 is far from over, Alex’s makeover has already begun. After a petition from fans to reinstate the unfairly ousted semifinalist resulted in him landing a role on the online reality show “If I Can Dream,” Alex ditched his most distinguishing feature: his mullet. His new hairdo has rendered him almost unrecognizable, but his talent remains. I’m still kind of hoping Alex covers Billy Ray Cyrus’s “I Want My Mullet Back” someday, though.