Justin Guarini and the Overnight Success that Took 20 Years

The Podcasting Store
3 min readJan 12


by Drew Holmes

Justin did not want to go out that night. He was living in Los Angeles, thousands of miles from friends and family, and he decided to stay home, relax, and watch television instead.

Imagine tuning in to Saturday Night Live and seeing your face, knowing that you were about to be the butt of some mean-spirited joke. Imagine the punchline was that your record label had just dropped you only six months after the release of your debut album. Now imagine the label had yet to contact you and this was how the news broke.

Justin Guarini did not have to imagine this because for him it all really happened.

If you were watching television in 2002, you were likely viewing a new show called American Idol. The surprise smash of the summer, it made instant stars out of inaugural season winner Kelly Clarkson and runner up Justin Guarini. Despite not winning, Justin received a recording contract and was cast opposite Kelly in a feature film. Months before he had taken a chance to appear on Idol by declining the offer of his dream role in The Lion King on Broadway, something he had been working towards for years. Now one of the most recognizable faces in entertainment, the gamble had paid off and massive success was in sight.

But it was not to be. The film flopped, the album was a bust, and his meteoric rise to fame was matched only by his catastrophic fall. With the second season of Idol airing and a new crop of hopefuls stealing the hearts of America, Justin was no longer culturally relevant. Alone and humiliated he had a choice — accept defeat or find a new path forward.

From his Yahoo Entertainment interview:

“And so, that was a huge catalyst for me … to then say, ‘What am I going to do?’” Guarini explains. “Eventually I just got over myself and I said, ‘OK, either I’m going to allow myself to be defined by this experience, or I’m going to define this experience.’ And that set me on a journey of just doing what was required: putting myself out there, failing, trying again, failing again, trying again. Continuing to audition, continuing to work — and work and work and work.”

Quitting has a known outcome; perseverance can result in anything.

While filming the movie, Justin did not stay in his trailer during free time but engaged with the producers and crew to learn about the process of filmmaking. Instead of giving up on his paused dream of Broadway fame he continued to refine his craft, take auditions, and now has starred in more than a half dozen stage productions. 20 years after Idol, Justin is now the voice of a Disney cartoon villain. He has also been a commercial spokesman for Dr. Pepper for almost seven years. Despite the incredible odds against him, he has persevered and found success in the entertainment industry.

Justin Guarini found tremendous fame quickly and lost it just as fast. While the career he has does not resemble the one he originally pursued, his success is undeniable. What seemed like barriers in his way turned out to be steppingstones on a new path he was meant to travel. That path to success has led to places he could not have seen or imagined. Fortunately for Justin, he was brave enough to walk that path and not let his failures define him.

Read the Yahoo Entertainment article:


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