LIL ROUNDS, 24
Born Lil Genele Coburn Rounds (she was named after her grandmother Lillie), the mom of three has a history of delivering the goods onstage, starting with her first solo gig (right) at Sharpe Elementary in Memphis. “I sang ‘Silent Night,'” she recalls. “It went really well. I got a standing ovation.”
SCOTT MACINTYRE, 23
“Because of my lack of vision, I was drawn to sound,” says the Redondo Beach, Calif., native, who says his lifelong blindness is like “looking through a coffee straw at the world.” Now living in Scottsdale, Ariz., he started playing piano by ear at age 3 and was composing at age 5. “I’ve known for years this is where my heart is,” he says.
ALLISON IRAHETA, 16
The Los Angeles teen who auditioned with Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman” has a natural reaction to her class photo: “Eeeewwww!” In grade school, she says, “they used to sit me in the corner because I would talk so much. I’m still a talker but I’ve learned to control myself.” Who’s to blame for her chattiness? “My crazy, loud, Latino family!” she says. “It’s awesome.”
DANIEL GOKEY, 28
It wasn’t his singing talent that the Milwaukee music teacher’s parents first noticed when he was small—it was his appetite. “For some reason I was always hungry,” Gokey says with a laugh. “It’s the same way now. I have to eat before I go to bed. My parents said I would cry and cry until they shoved a cracker down my throat. Persistent!” The vocalizing helped: When he was 12, his dad told him, “You have a good voice.”
AGE 8 mos.
KRIS ALLEN, 23
“My mom always tells me I was one of those happy babies that didn’t cry much,” says the business major from Conway, Ark., who married Katie, his high school sweetheart, in 2008. Although he loves R&B and country music, Allen’s instrument of choice is classical—the viola!
AGE 6 mos.
JASMINE MURRAY, 17
Don’t let that pensive baby-gaze fool you. “I was pretty much always happy,” says the high school junior from Starkville, Miss., who first impressed the judges with her version of Fergie‘s “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” “I still am. I almost always have a smile on my face.” Especially lately. “I am most at home,” Murray says, “onstage.”
MEGAN JOY CORKREY, 23
“My mom would put my hair up in curlers, and I’d wrap in this blanket and roll around,” says Corkrey, who now has her own 2-year-old at home in Sandy, Utah. As for her tattoo? It’s a castle with stained-glass windows picturing a king and a queen, “which are me and my mystery man,” she says. And who might that be? “I’m still looking for him.”
ANOOP DESAI, 22
The North Carolina-raised graduate student was destined to shine: “There’s a video of me somewhere singing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ when I was about 2 in South Africa with my mom’s parents,” Desai says. “That’s the first musical experience I remember.”
MATT GIRAUD, 23
“I was cool with my shades even then,” says the Belleville, Mich., native. “Isn’t my guitar funny? I was this little performer in my own little world.” Though he says people think he’s “all Hollywood” now, Giraud was a nature boy in his youth: “I remember climbing mountains and playing in the dirt.”
AGE 11 mos.
MICHAEL SARVER, 27
The father of two turned to music at age 11 as an escape from “a bit of abuse in my home,” he says. “My mom yanked us out of it.” The Jasper, Texas, native’s inspiration? Garth Brooks: “I found comfort in his lyrics.”
JORGE NUNEZ, 21
His love of The Little Mermaid may have inspired this swim at his aunt’s pool in Puerto Rico, but Nuñez didn’t take to music until he was 17. “I got into the school choir,” he says, “fell in love with it, and now I’m here.”
ALEXIS GRACE, 21
Even before this kindergarten shot was taken, Grace’s voice was making an impression. At 3, in Memphis, “I started singing loud at church, over everyone. I got the bug.” And she’s passing it on. Daughter Ryan, 2 (“she looks just like this picture!”), is already singing, says Grace, “on pitch! It’s kind of scary!”
ADAM LAMBERT, 27
The dyed hair and eyeliner on Idol? Even in his San Diego youth, there were hints of his colorful nature. His favorite Sesame Street character was Count von Count. Plus, “I had a Sleeping Beauty book on tape,” he says. “I memorized it and was acting it out in the car one day. I think my parents were like, ‘Our kid’s kind of out there!'”