Life After American Idol: Inside Pia Toscano's Attempted Comeback With Netflix's Westside After Years of Struggle

Plus, check in with other AI alumni through the years!

By Billy Nilles Nov 10, 2018 2:00 PMTags
Pia Toscano, WestsideNetflix

"There were a lot of blessings that came from Idol. A lot of open doors and amazing opportunities. I had gotten a recording contract with Interscope and I got to tour with the Idols around the world. There were a lot of really great experiences, but with that also came a roller coaster, you know?"

That's Pia Toscano, the presumed frontrunner on season 10 of the Fox-turned ABC reality hit American Idol whose early ousting still stands as one of the show's most shocking eliminations ever, opening up to E! News about life was like once the season wrapped and it was time to return to, well, reality.

After finishing ninth in her season, Toscano seemed poised to do big things in the music world, thanks in part to her enviable talent, her easy charm, and her much-discussed elimination. But as we've seen time and time again with alums of the show, what Idol giveth, the industry often quickly taketh away. 

American Idol: Where Are They Now?
Michael Becker / FOX

"A lot of self-doubt and a lot of missed opportunities. I lost my record deal. You're on a show that has new contestants every year, and so, of course people start to forget a little bit who you are and all that stuff," she explained. "So it's a scary thing when you get a taste of something like that. You get a taste and you think, ‘OK, I made it. I'm in it now. I'm going to create all this music.' And then some things just don't work out. Back then, it was very scary for me because I never lost hope that I would see the light at the end of the tunnel, but there were moments where it got very dark and where I did struggle to pay my rent."

After a lot of false starts, the New York native was forced to return to humble beginnings just to make ends meet. "I was, thank God, was able to go back to New York and sing with the wedding band that had once employed me. It became very up and down. I was booking all this work and then I couldn't book anything," she told us. "Listen, I'll be honest, I was very grateful that I could still have a job where I was singing and performing—and with people that I love and that were family to me. However, I was like, 'Man, I wish people would want me to sing my songs at their wedding. I can't wait until the day where these songs are mine.' So it was very humbling."

But after having to face down the indignity of curious wedding guests wondering where her career went wrong with a stiff upper lip—"I'd want be like, ‘Yes, I'm still doing that as well! I'm literally flying in, killing myself every weekend, from L.A. to work and do these weddings and make ends meet.'...It kept me sharp, though. It still kept me sharp, which was good."—she's making a return to the medium that briefly made her a household name. 

Toscano can be seen in Netflix's new unscripted series Westside, released on November 9, a music docu-series that follows a group of nine burgeoning artists as they attempt to create an ensemble performance for a Los Angeles nightclub, documenting their struggles with jobs, relationships, substance abuse and rejection along the way. And in a first for the genre, the reality is augmented with highly-produced music videos featuring the ensemble performing songs written by A-list songwriters like Ryan Tedder, Danja, Mutt Lange, Diane Warren and more, interspersed into the narrative to act as a sort of commentary on what's happening at that moment in the life of the artist performing the song.

Hear What William Hung, Ruben Studdard and More American Idol Alums Are Up to in This Hilarious Song

And while getting to work with such talented songwriters and music video directors was a dream come true for Toscano, she had to get used to letting her guard down when cameras were rolling. "I was afraid to show people my true self because I feel like as artists, and me personally...I feel like I failed if people really don't understand what I'm about or they don't like me or judge me, so I get closed off and I get scared to even say anything because I'm afraid of the reaction that I'll get," she told us. "I didn't how big those issues were for me until I had cameras in front of me and it was like, 'OK, hello, wake up! It's time to tell your story, girl. This is your moment to get people to know who you are.'"

To get past her own insecurities, she tells us she had to re-align what she really wanted out of the project. "I had to think, ‘My goal now is not to be famous.' Of course, I want respect and success, but the goal for me, now, is to help," Toscano admited. "And for other girls going through these crippling insecurities and self-doubts. If I could just reach one person. I had to get in the mindset like, ‘You are helping somebody with your story. Whether it's one girl or lots of girls or anybody, if you can help, it's worth opening up and truly being yourself, expressing how your feeling.' That's my goal right now with my music and everything. I feel like I don't have a purpose, really, if it's not to help."

And while she's certain she and her co-stars have much to offer to Netflix's global audience, she's learned along the way to take a wait-and-see approach to what might be next for her. "I don't like to expect too much because, you know, I just want to let things happen. I know God had his plan," she said. "I just hope people love the show. I believe that they will and we'll go on and make music and tell our stories even more and be a light at the end of the tunnel for a lot of people."

Of course, Toscano's fair from the only Idol alumni who has struggled to keep a career afloat following their time in the competition. For an update on some more notable names from the show's 16 seasons, read on!

Phillip Phillips

After Idol, the star rose to the top of the charts with his hit single, "Home," which also served as a theme song for NBC's coverage of the 2012 Summer Olympics. In 2015, he married his girlfriend, Hannah Blackwell, in a small ceremony while surrounded by his family and friends. Four years later, in 2019, they welcomed their first child together, a son named Patch

Lauren Alaina

The country darling finished second to Scotty McCreery, but she got her record deal and released her studio debut, Wildflower, in October 2011. Following her time on Idol, the singer presented with Scotty at the 2011 CMT Music Awards, made her Grand Ole Opry debut and even performed with Martina McBride at the CMA Music Festival. In 2017, she got her first nod from the CMA's when she was nominated for Best New Artist at the 2017 CMA's following her success with her album, Road Less Traveled. She even made her move to the big screen when she starred in a film of the same name as her album, which goes back to her country girl roots. Her latest hit includes "Ladies in the 90s." Most recently, she starred on season 28 of Dancing With the Stars.

Casey Abrams

The season 10 contestant only finished sixth—and that was partly because the judges used their one save of the season five weeks beforehand—but he was a cult fave. He performed on the Idols Live tour, cut a cover of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with fellow finalist (and rumored flame) Haley Reinhart, and ultimately signed with jazz label Concord. His self-titled debut album was released in 2012, and most recently, the star released an album named I Put A Spell On You, in which he delivers a soulful renditions of popular hits.

Scotty McCreery

The season 10 winner was the first Idol champ since Ruben Studdard to have his first album, Clear as Day, debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. He was named New Artist of the Year at the 2011 American Country Awards and sang the national anthem before Game 1 of the World Series that same year. In June 2018, the "This Is It" and "Five More Minutes" singer married longtime girlfriend Gabi Dugal

Adam Lambert

If publicity were a prize, the eighth season's controversial runner-up is a grand-slam winner. Since his time on the reality show, he's released several albums, headlined tours, received countless nominations (including a Grammy nod), followed in Freddie Mercury's footsteps touring as the frontman for Queen and has even starred in Fox's remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Not to forget that he briefly filled in as a guest judge on Idol. The singer also helped open up the 2019 Oscars with a performance of "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions." 

Bo Bice

The season four runner-up (to Carrie Underwood) is now married with three boys and a girl. Despite suffering serious health problems in 2006, the Southern rocker has released three hit albums since his stint on Idol.

Gabby Barrett

After coming in third on season 16 of Idol, the "I Hope" country singer focused on finishing her album. "I'm excited to play Stagecoach. And touring with Brad Paisley is the cherry on top to everything," she told E! News. "It's crazy to go on tour with him." Most recently, she and fellow alum Cade Foehner welcomed their first baby together.

Lee DeWyze

After joining the top 10 finalists' summer tour, he's now solo music career. DeWyze married model-actress Jonna Walsh, who he met on the set of his first music video following Idol. Nowadays, the star is a well-established singer-songwriter, with his tracks making it onto shows like The Walking Dead

Kris Allen

Nearly eclipsed in the media spotlight by his runner-up, Adam Lambert, the eighth season champ has enjoyed quiet success with his self-titled second album. Released in November 2009, it debuted at no. 11 on the Billboard 200, and one of its singles, "I Need to Know," was recently featured on an episode of The Vampire Diaries. In the meantime, the star has been growing his family, having welcomed three children with his high school sweetheart Katy O'Connell.

Taylor Hicks

After his season-five victory, the silver fox's eponymous album went platinum and he starred in a Broadway production of Grease. In more recent years, the singer has made the switch from music to TV as a host of a show called State-Plate, which focuses on the premise of farm-to-table eating. There were once rumors of him joining the reboot of the show, with him saying, "I'm just gonna be tight lipped about everything. I'm not confirming or denying it."

Crystal Bowersox

Runner-up to Lee DeWyze in season nine, the Janis Joplin-esque rocker married musician Brian Walker and released her first album, Farmer's Daughter, in December 2010. She lost her label deal when RCA disbanded Arista, J Records and Jive Records, but she made her acting debut on the second season of ABC's Body of Proof. In May 2013, the singer split from her husband. After her divorce she told The Boot that her second album was "the next chapter of my life."

Ruben Studdard

Before being dumped by his record label (along with Taylor Hicks) in early 2008, the Velvet Teddy Bear scored a Grammy nomination and released a handful of successful albums. Then, in 2013, the singer starred as one of the contestants on The Biggest Loser and quickly became a fan-favorite. He was eliminated twice, but took away valuable lessons from the show. He even reunited with Clay Aiken for a Broadway holiday show. 

Fantasia Barrino

This artist has had her fair share of drama, but she has also had her fair share of success in the years following her time on Idol. The singer says she was able to find happiness by marrying herself, before she committed to marrying her husband Kendall Taylor in 2015. While on the talk show Harry, the star said, "I married myself because I felt like before true love could come I needed to learn how to love myself again, and so for me I forgot about myself." In November 2020, she announced she was expecting! 

Kelly Clarkson

Much like a kiss, you never forget the first one. So it is with the winner of Idol's inaugural season. The mom of River and Remy has come a long way since winning American Idol in 2002, with many awards and number one hits under her belt. She's since starred on NBC's The Voice as a judge and is now hosting her own daytime talk show, The Kelly Clarkson Show.

Elliott Yamin

After American Idol, the season five finalist, who had a hit with the song "Wait for You," went to Angola where he worked alongside former Idol judge Kara DioGuardi to raise awareness for Malaria No More. Elliott also made news in 2010 after experiencing Chile's earthquake and living to tweet about it.

Carrie Underwood

From the moment she stepped onto the Idol stage, Underwood cemented her place in pop culture. Sure enough, not only did she win season four, but she's also gone on to become country music's reigning princess. The singer went on to co-host the CMA Awards for more than 10 years with fellow artist, Brad Paisley. And between balancing her music career with her hosting duties, the "Jesus Take The Wheel Singer" is a mom to her two sons.

Clay Aiken

The season two runner-up announced he was gay in September 2008 after fathering a son (via in vitro fertilization), Parker, with partner Jaymes Foster. Since then, the famous red-head switched from music to politics, even making a failed run for Congress in 2016. After losing in the election, the singer released a documentary on his journey. Other than his time in politics, he remains much the same with his sassy remarks about people and things, including American Idol and fellow contestants like Adam Lambert. 

Jennifer Hudson

She may not have won season three, but boy did J-Hud make up for it. Let's see: First an Oscar, then a Grammy for her performance in The Color Purple and a stint as a judge on The Voice. Not only did the performer showcase her strength and resilience in her career, but she also persevered when she divorced her husband of 10 years. This year, the star will wow once again when she stars as Aretha Franklin in a biopic on the legendary singer.

Constantine Maroulis

With his big hair and even bigger voice (who can forget his rousing rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody" during season four?), Constantine was a perfect fit for Broadway's Rock of Ages, for which he earned a Tony nom.

David Cook

The season seven winner's big hit "Time of My Life" may reflect his singing success, but the title could just as easily apply to his endeavors offstage. David visited Ethiopia in 2010 on behalf of the United Nations' efforts to empower women in that country. He also ran in the Race for Hope in D.C. to raise money for brain cancer research in honor of his brother Adam, who lost his brave fight with the disease in 2009.

Jordin Sparks

The season six champ set off some serious, well, sparks in 2007. Her Battlefield tour took her to 35 cities around the U.S., and (if that wasn't enough), she made her Broadway debut in 2010, starring in the musical In the Heights. Her success and good fortune has continued, with the star giving birth to her first son with husband Dana Isaiah in May of 2018. 

Katharine McPhee

Long before Bieber fever, there was McPheever, which has helped Katharine land both singing and acting work, at first most notably in the movie House Bunny, then the Broadway-inspired show Smash and then, the show Scorpion. In terms of her personal life, the star was married for six-years to Nick Cokas before calling it quits. The star seems to be doing just fine now that she's married to David Foster. They welcomed a baby boy in February 2021.

David Archuleta

This teenage heartthrob won the affection of America when he starred on the reality show. And now he's giving the love back. In 2012, the star embarked on a two-year mission for the Church of the Latter Day Saint's in Chile. Since his return in 2014 he has continued performing. He came out as member of the LGBTQ+ community in June 2021.

Maddie Poppe

After winning season 16, the "Little Things" singer released her first album. "There is a lot of different sounding songs on the album," she teased to E! News. "I can't pick just one [sound] to stick with because I really love them all so much and it's hard to stay in one vein." 

Caleb Lee Hutchinson

Since becoming the runner-up of season 16, the singer has focused on releasing new music and enjoying life's opportunities that come with appearing on the ABC series. "I've always loved music and I've always wanted to be an artist," Caleb Lee shared with E! News. "But I learned so much about entertainment. I got to go to Luke Bryan's last show for his tour and I got to come out and sing a song with him." 

Westside is available to stream now on Netflix.