"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.
"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.
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!
Westside is available to stream now on Netflix.