Touring Idols reflect on a year of change

“I decided to audition this year because, really, honestly,
I feel like it could change my life.”
– Naima Adedapo, during her Idol audition interview —

Naimi Adedapo arrives for the American Idol finale. (AP Photo)Tonight, the top 11 American Idols from Season 10 will take the stage at the Maverik Center in Utah and perform in front of thousands of people.

Last week, some of those Idols took time to reflect on how their lives have changed since last summer when they turned out with thousands of others for auditions, just hoping to appear on the show.

For some, the change has been pretty dramatic.

Take Naima Adedapo. Personally, I cringed every time Idol referred to her as a custodian because it shortchanged her musical experience, which was considerable, and seemed to give the show too much credit for molding an undiscovered talent.

But the fact is, a year ago last week, Naima was part of the groundskeeping crew at Summerfest in Milwaukee, which bills itself as “the world’s largest musical festival.”

Safe to say she wasn’t doing that this year. Instead, she was rehearsing for the upcoming Idol tour, which will make stops in nearly 50 cities (including Philly, Baltimore, D.C. and Reading) between now and mid-September.

“Definitely it’s a change from changing the old garbage cans at Summerfest,” Naima said last Tuesday. “Tomorrow, last year, I was working Summerfest, cleaning toilets.”

Now, she’s one of the artists people will be paying to see.

There’s been another change, too.

“There are no more quick runs to the grocery stores. I can tell you that. There’s always someone with a camera,  ‘Aren’t you Naima from American Idol?’ … It’s pretty crazy, going from a place where no one knows you to a place where everyone, the whole world, knows you.”

At least Naima was working a year ago. James Durbin recalls that he was laid off two days before his Idol audition.

“This time last year, I was laid off, looking for job, trying to support my family in a dead-end apartment, borrowing money from my mom to live and get diapers,” he said, taking time out from the live chat to say hi to his wife, Heidi, and his young son, Hunter.

“Now, we’ve bought so many diapers, we live in a house made of diapers,” James said, in jest.  “It’s very absorbent.”

Scotty McCreery won American Idol, of course. But he jokes that the real winner was Paul McDonald.

After all, everyone knows Paul from his Idol run. Lots more people are familiar with his pre-Idol work with the Grand Magnolias and the Hightide Blues. And he’s now engaged to the lovely actress Nikki Reed.

A year ago, he admits, the future wasn’t looking nearly so bright. He had been a touring musician for six years. And while he had his family’s support, he wasn’t making a lot of money.

He might not have auditioned at all if it hadn’t been for a canceled gig in Colorado Springs. Instead, he found himself back in Nashville when Idol came calling.

And he still might not have auditioned if it hadn’t been for the prodding of his guitarist’s girlfriend, who was on “So You Think You Can Dance” at the time.

“She was like, ‘Get your lazy musician bum out of bed and walk five minutes down the street,’” Paul recalls. “I showed up eight hours late and sang ‘Tutti Frutti’ as a joke. Here I am, months and months later.”

His story prompted a good bit of razzing from the other Idols, who participated in the live interview.

“You could make a movie out if it,” quipped Haley Reinhart.

“Coming this summer: The Paul McDonald Story,” James Durbin added, in the voice he’d use if he had Ryan Seacrest’s job.

Paul took it in stride, smiling wide. “Try out for American Idol. Find your true love.”

And even if these Idols don’t become stars of the Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson ilk, they’ll likely be able to make a decent career out of music for years to come.

Which is something none of them could say a year ago.

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