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Top 24 ‘Idol’ contestants: What we know

February 14, 2008 |  5:42 pm

    Their official bios have been posted on Americanidol.com; their MySpace pages are turning private; their old, embarrassing videos will soon disappear from the ether.  But for now, here’s the buzz and rumors we could gather about the Top 24 contestants, vying for the title of American Idol. 

     Twenty-nine-year-old Michael Johns must sound better in person, because when we watch him on TV, he always just seems OK. Of course, it doesn’t really matter what we think, because girls on the "AI" blogs are already crushing hard. Michael was born in Australia and now lives in Los Angeles. In the past, he fronted two bands, the Rising and Film, and went by the name Michael Lee.

    For a mere 16-year-old, Alaina Whitaker seemed incredibly confident at her audition. According to the Greater Tulsa Reporter, Alaina, a Tulsa, Okla., native and self-proclaimed Carrie Underwood look-alike, has been performing with her sister Brittney since she was young. Anybody catch 'em at the Bixby Green Corn Festival?

    Twenty-four-year-old Carly Smithson is the most controversial contestant to emerge this season.  The Ireland native now lives in San Diego. She auditioned for "AI" during Season 5 under her maiden name, Hennessy, and made it through to Hollywood with rave reviews. Then she was forced to withdraw from the competition because the paperwork for her visa didn’t come through on time. She returned this season with a new, heavily tattooed hubby and is already getting more than her share of flak in the blogosphere. Whereas the ideal American Idol is pure and undiscovered, Carly has already been discovered –- and failed.

      Carly spent her youth touring Europe as Cosette in "Les Misérables." By age 10, she had already released her debut album in Ireland: "Carly's Christmas Album.” Then, after dropping out of high school, Carly scored a record deal with Vivendi Universal SA's MCA Records. MCA poured $2.2 million into Carly and her album "Ultimate High." After three months on the market, however, Carly’s album had sold just 378 copies. No, that’s not a typo. Will “Idol” be the second chance Carly needs, or will viewers choose a true unknown instead?

    Twenty-year-old Ramiele Malubay wants to be the first Asian American American Idol, riding on the tall shoulders of Jasmine Trias, who went on to become a star in the Philippines. We checked out Ramiele’s MySpace page, and from her sexy photo to some racy, unprintable quotes on her page, we’re thinking there’s more to Ramiele than the cute, innocent girl we've seen so far.

    Singing competitions are nothing new for 21-year-old Syesha Mercado. In 2006, Syesha was a contestant on ABC’s “The One: Making a Music Star.” She is the daughter of a Motown backup singer, and she grew up singing in a church choir. Syesha attended Booker High School in Sarasota, Fla., and then went on to be a theater major in college. Syesha’s MySpace page includes commercials she has shot for KFC, Ford and everything in between.  On her page, Syesha classifies herself as a “Singer/Actress/Dancer/Model/Writer/You Name It ... LOL.” Well, she certainly isn’t afraid of a little self-promotion. 

    We haven’t seen much of Kady Malloy since she wowed Simon Cowell with her vocal impressions at auditions. With Simon’s endorsement and “Team Malloy” T-shirts already selling online, the 18-year-old Houston stunner isn’t going anywhere any time soon. She’s getting a little flak in the blogosphere, however, because she isn’t the sort of undiscovered talent “Idol” aims to uncover; she released a self-titled debut album with Natalie Imbruglia and Mandy Moore producer Nick Treviseck.   

    Colton who? Seventeen-year-old Colton David Berry of Staunton, Va., isn’t one of the contestants we’ve gotten to know over the last few weeks, but he still managed to slide into the Top 24.  He started singing at 5 years old in church and cites Usher and Kelly Clarkson as his favorite pop singers. 

      Twenty-six-year-old Robbie Carrico looks like a rock star today, but he hasn’t always been so scruffy and hip; he was once a member of the pop band Boyz N Girlz United! A quick Google search turns up pictures of Robbie sporting mesh shirts and frosted hair -– and even a photo of Robbie with his rumored ex-girlfriend, Britney Spears!

      Brooke White, 24, has gotten more than her share of airtime this season, namely because nobody turns on the waterworks like she does. Hailing from Mesa, Ariz., Brooke was one of the only contestants who actually shone when she sang with her instrument: the keyboard. She got her start in high school plays and has a proclivity for “anything ‘artsy fartsy,’ drawing, decorating, music, doing hair ... beautifying.”

      If 25-year-old David Cook doesn’t succeed on “Idol,” he might have trouble finding work. After all, when asked what his talents were, other than singing, David answered, “I am an expert television watcher. I can also sleep and eat like nobody's business.” David hails from Blue Springs, Mo.

      When he’s not lifting weights or riding his motorcycle, 29-year-old Luke Menard makes time for some singing. He got his start late by “Idol” standards, since he didn’t start to sing until freshman year of high school.  Luke’s favorite quote is, "Don't fight. But if you have to ... hit first and hit hard."  So, watch your backs, wannabe Idols!

      According to her audition video, 24-year-old Kristy Lee Cook lives in a log cabin in Oregon, the same one she’s been in since she was 9. She likes horses and cage fighting, and she had to sell one of her horses to make it to the audition. A bit of creeping on the Web reveals Kristy to be more than just the cage-fighter next door. She has appeared in commercials for Sprite, Pier 1 and more, and she is signed with the Kim Dawson Agency for modeling.  “Idol” sleuths have already unearthed one of Kristy’s old music videos, in which she croons in front of a Confederate flag. 

      Where did 20-year-old Jason Castro come from, aside from Rockwall, Texas? We didn’t meet him until the Top 24 were named. With bright blue eyes and piles of dreadlocks, Jason will certainly stand out among his fellow contestants. When he’s not singing, Jason is pursuing other artistic endeavors, like drawing, painting and building.

      She may be young, but Amanda Overmyer seems far more mature than the average 23-year-old.  Hailing from Mulberry, Ind., Amanda works as a nurse, rides a Harley and loves to cook. With some Janis Joplin grit in her voice and an original look, Amanda is already enlivening the competition. She has been singing since she was a child, but unlike many of her fellow contestants, Amanda has never had formal training. 

      Not only is 25-year-old Joanne Borgella a plus-size model and a singer, but she’s also a reality star!  Borgella was crowned Miss F.A.T. on the 2005 reality show “Mo'Nique's Fat Chance.” When asked about her experience on the show, Joanne told Plus Model magazine, “It changed me! I have always been confident in myself, but like everyone else I did have some insecurity … . It took being around other women that felt the same way for me to be at ease and be happy with myself.”

      Hailing from Grand Prairie, Texas, 28-year-old Jason Yeager started out singing in church. According to Jason’s “Country Tonite” cast bio, he attended Dallas Baptist University. Also according to that bio, competing on TV is nothing new for Jason; he was a Top 25 finalist on "Making the Band."

      Chikezie Eze of didn’t make the cut last year, but that didn’t dampen his spirits. The 22-year-old Inglewood resident came back for more this season -– and made it through to the Top 24. Here are some facts about Chikezie from his blog: “I'm a shameless flirt. … If you bore me enough ... I just might disappear. … I believe a day without a hug is a wasted day.” And, according to his MySpace page, the “shameless flirt” is single.

      There were countless contestants with tough lives this season, but no sad story could compare to 19-year-old Asia'h Epperson’s. Just days before her Atlanta audition, Asia’h’s father died in a car accident. Despite her tragic circumstances, the self-professed “small-town country girl” from Joplin, Mo., made it into the Top 24. 

      Alexandrea Lushington is only 16, but that doesn’t mean she’s a newbie to the whole singing thing.  Alexandrea has been crooning steadily ever since she was 2 years old, in her grandfather’s church.  Alexandrea’s performance of “My Funny Valentine” wasn’t particularly memorable, but her 93-year-old great-grandmother was unforgettable. Alexandrea comes from Atlanta, and when she isn’t playing piano and singing, she’s writing scripts and stories. 

      It didn’t take long for “American Idol” fans to unearth pictures of Amy Jean Davis in her underwear. Just one day after her audition, Amy’s revealing photos are already making the rounds in the "AI" blogosphere. Here’s what we know about Amy so far, besides the fact that she looks great in a bikini: She was a contestant on “Nashville Star,” she’s 25 and she lives in Lowell, Ind.

      Sweet, 18-year-old Danny Noriega of Azusa was given the honor of wrapping up the audition round. He tried out for “Idol” once before, but his journey was a short one. Now he’s back, and he’s in it to win. Danny’s gentle speaking voice is misleading, because his singing voice is massive. “You’ve got a very good voice, Danny,” observed Simon, in a rare moment of utter wonder and sincerity. Danny’s MySpace profile is set to private, but we can see his mood (“weird”) and his personal quote (“you wanna piece of me?”). He’s already being called the next Sanjaya in "AI" chat rooms. Like Sanjaya before him, Danny’s sexuality is inspiring plenty of curiosity.  According to votefortheworst.com, Danny’s MySpace page reads, “Orientation: What do you think?”

      Seventeen-year-old David Archuleta’s sob story about his battle with vocal paralysis didn’t elicit much sympathy from the judges, namely because they had never heard of the ailment. “I heard no signs of any vocal, whatever,” commented Randy after David’s audition.  Even though David’s story didn’t register with the judges, his voice did, and he made it through to the Top 24. Despite his age, David, who lives in Murray, Utah, is hardly inexperienced. David won Star Search’s Junior Singer competition when he was 12. On his Star Search profile, the 12-year-old David said that he liked Bugs Bunny, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Lizzie McGuire.

      Producers didn’t showcase 24-year-old David Hernandez from Glendale, Ariz., until the Top 24 show.  “I loved it from note one,” commented Randy after his performance, and Simon noted how comfortable David looked on the Hollywood stage.  Perhaps some of David’s confidence comes from being a Top 5 finalist on “Arizona Idol.” David attended Westview High School and worked as a server at the Cheesecake Factory.

      Garrett Haley remains largely a mystery at this point.  We didn’t meet him until the Top 24 episode, and now his MySpace is set to private … Drat!  Here’s what we could amass from the "American Idol" website: Seventeen-year-old Garrett is a Backstreet Boys fan from Elida, Ohio, and his motto is "Go big or go home." When he’s not singing, Garrett is playing soccer and video games. 

-- Stephanie Lysaght

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