Before American Idol captivated audiences nationwide, another talent show enjoyed a long run on syndicated television. From 1983 to 1995, Star Search declared competition winners in male, female, group, and junior vocalist categories. Many years later it’s interesting, and possibly instructive, to take another look at Star Search. It’s particularly interesting to examine the contestants’ careers after the cameras stopped rolling, and to consider parallels with the American Idol graduates.
Not all of the Star Search contestants achieved highly visible careers in entertainment after the show ended. Some of the runner-ups became more famous than the show winners. Beyonce, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, and Britney Spears were all contestants on Star Search.
None of them won. Aguilera, Timberlake, and Spears were all recruited by Disney after the contest and benefited from consistent exposure to a national television audience through the Mickey Mouse Club, and from the continued support of the Disney company.
Season 1 male vocalist champion Sam Harris produced two early, well received albums following his Star Search win as well as several follow-up albums, and has worked continuously. Perhaps best recognized for his contributions to theater, Harris was nominated for a Drama Desk award for his performance as Doody in the original Broadway revival of GREASE, and has worked intermittently in both television and film. He has written as well as performed for the stage. His acclaimed Star Search performance of “Over the Rainbow” follows:
Season 2 male vocalist winner, Durell Coleman produced one album following his television victory, and subsequently toured in support of Anita Baker and BB King, among others. There was no follow-up album. In 1990 he joined the Los Angeles based Al McKay’s All Stars as vocal director and lead singer. In the mid 1990′s he organized the Durell Coleman Band, a special events band that provides entertainment for private parties and large corporate events in southern California.
Kenny James was the 1986 grand champion in the male vocalist category.
His musical efforts received limited attention after the competition ended; James is now a vocalist/performer on the cruise ship circuit.
David Nelson Slater was the 1987 male vocalist champion. He subsequently released two critially acclaimed country albums, but has since had difficulty with the law, serving jail time for forgery and theft. He now lives and continues to sing in Nashville.
It’s difficult to draw generalizations from such a small sample, but it does seem that diversification helps, and that American Idol contestants may benefit from expanding their brand beyond singing into other entertainment avenues. And not surprisingly, added face time in front of the television camera works. What’s also true is that talent is not enough to ensure a healthy career in the industry. All of the Star Search contestants and winners could sing, and sing well.