Idle 'Idol:' Whatever Happened to Justin?

Kelly Clarkson's smiling runner-up is alive and well in L.A., but his career is stalled

Fantasia Barrino is the new American Idol, runner-up Diana DeGarmo is predicted to have a healthy career, last year’s Ruben Studdard is (literally) bigger than ever, Clay Aiken – not Courtney Love, despite the title of her last album – is America’s Sweetheart, and Season One Idol Kelly Clarkson is still going strong.

But what about Kelly’s runner-up and one-time movie costar, Justin Guarini?

Not only did the smiling moptop not participate in last Wednesday’s big finale of American Idol 3, he wasn’t so much as mentioned – by anybody.

Explaining the status of the fallen Idol, show producer Nigel Lythgoe told USA Today after Wednesday’s wrap-up: “Justin got really upset with his career going nowhere.”

Speaking to the Associated Press earlier this month, Guarini, 25, said he is planning a comeback after just stepping back from all the attention that surrounded his Idol appearance.

“I went to New Zealand,” he said of a November 2003 trip. “I jet-skied and bungee-jumped and kind of lived and got away from it all.”

He also cut off his signature locks. “It was just time,” he said “There was so much attached to that image in terms of the show and it was time to evolve.”

And despite the failure of his album, Justin Guarini, which was released in June 2003 and sold only 140,000 copies (compared to the million-plus sales of the other), along with the failure of his beach movie with Clarkson, From Justin to Kelly, and the loss of his RCA recording label and management company deals, the L.A.-based Guarini says he’s now back on track.

He’s hired a new agent and manager, auditions for movies, TV shows and Broadway musicals, and is working on a CD, though he has yet to snag a new recording contract.

“The direction I want to go in is real funky, a lot of R&B,” said Guarini, adding that he plans to write several of the songs himself. His next CD, he promises, will be the real Justin.

“I’d rather know I did my best,” he said, “even if people don’t like it.”

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