Fighting fickleness of fame

CATCHING UP WITH... Justin Guarini

The `Idol' discovery is still confident that he can make a big comeback

May 02, 2004|By Steve Wartenberg | Steve Wartenberg,ALLENTOWN MORNING CALL

Sales of his first CD quickly went from bad to worse to disaster. From Justin to Kelly was a cinematic bomb that rivaled Gigli.

Then, as if all this weren't enough to put a kink in his curls, his record company and management company tossed him aside like a pair of dirty sweat socks.

While the careers of American Idol discoveries Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard have soared, Justin Guarini's has soured.

So, what did the 2002 Idol runner-up do when he hit rock bottom?

"I went to New Zealand," says Justin Guarini of his November 2003 trip. "I jet-skied and bungee-jumped and kind of lived and got away from it all."

And - say it ain't so, his faithful fans might cry - Guarini cut off his hair, turning his signature Sideshow Bob-like mop of creativity into a ho-hum do.

It wasn't, he said, some sort of self-destructive impulse made in the midst of depression.

"It was just time. There was so much attached to that image in terms of the show, and it was time to evolve."

After a wild ride from obscurity to stardom during the American Idol phenomenon, and his equally wild ride back down in 2003, Guarini said he has emerged with his confidence and determination intact.

"I have to laugh that I'm making a comeback at 25," says Guarini, who is only seven years out of his Bucks County, Pa., high school.

The beginning of the fall came with the release of his CD, Justin Guarini, in June 2003.

American Idol judge Randy Jackson said on Access Hollywood: "I think it was the wrong album, for the wrong guy, for the wrong Justin."

Naturally, Idol judge Simon Cowell was more brutal. During an interview with the New York Post, he said: "Justin is, and I mean this as a compliment, a sort of wedding-singer entertainer."

The compliment part is a little unclear.

The CD failed, Guarini says, because it wasn't the real Justin. "Very few of the songs were my choice."

The CD, which included a duet with 2002 American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson, sold about 140,000 copies, according to industry reports.

By comparison, Clarkson's CD debuted at No. 1 and has sold over 1 million copies, 2003 winner Ruben Studdard's CD debuted at No. 1, and runner-up Clay Aiken's CD also hit No. 1 and has sold over 2 million copies. All three will have new releases in 2004.

Even Season 2 third-place finisher Kimberley Locke scored a hit with her new CD, 8th World Wonder, has videos running on MTV and is making the rounds on television talk shows.

In contrast, Guarini recently made an appearance at a mall in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Guarini's failed CD was followed by the movie bomb From Justin to Kelly, a big Miami beach party from 20th Century Fox. While the film didn't seem to stall Clarkson's career, it was another in a long string of setbacks for Guarini:

He was dropped by RCA Records - and learned about it in a magazine article.

He was dropped by 19 Entertainment, his management company and the producer of American Idol and From Justin to Kelly.

In November 2003, he was sued by a Bethlehem, Pa., couple over a March 2002 traffic accident. According to Michael Snover, attorney for Louis and Adrienne Maiatico, the suit was settled, but he would not disclose the amount.

Guarini was not invited to participate in the 2003 American Idol Christmas show.

He was replaced on Clarkson's tour with Aiken.

"Finally, I threw my hands up and said enough," Guarini says, adding that it was time to take control of his career.

After he got back from New Zealand, he hired a new agent and manager and began working on a CD. He has yet to land a recording contract, but hopes to by the end of the year.

"The direction I want to go in is real funky, a lot of R&B," Guarini says, 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, even if people don't like it."

As for rebuilding his career as a singer/actor/personality, that's still up in the air.

Guarini, who still exudes charm and confidence, lives in Los Angeles and said he "has a lot of irons in the fire." Besides working on his new CD, he is auditioning for movies, television and Broadway musicals.

So far, no offers.

"I've learned the entertainment industry is truly the place for me. I don't feel like a failure in the least bit. I learned what I needed to learn to get me back to where I was - and beyond."

Guarini said he now has a new outlook on show business.

"I learned you can't rely on others to make the correct decisions for you. Be hands-on. I was trusting of the people around me, a little naive, and that came around to bite me in the end. Now, I have a brand-new start, but still have notoriety and steam from the show."

He also said he has a nice American Idol nest egg to make his comeback less stressful.

One sign that he may be on the way back up are the persistent rumors that he's engaged to party-girl Nicole Richie of The Simple Life.

Guarini, though, says they are just friends.

The Allentown Morning Call is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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