Pop Idol 20 years on: What happened next?
17 August 2022, 15:08
Pop Idol was the show that transformed the TV and music industries for the next two decades.
When watching clips of the show on YouTube now, it all seems rather sedate and understated compared to today's bombastic attention-grabbing shows, but Pop Idol was a true phenomenon when it debuted back in 2001.
February 2022 marked 20 years since Will Young was crowned the winner of Pop Idol's first series, beating Gareth Gates in a live final that saw more people engaged in the outcome than most General Elections.
But what happened to its finalists next, and what legacy does the show have?
Pre-Pop Idol: What came before it?
The singing talent competition was nothing new by 2001.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, we had shows like Opportunity Knocks, New Faces and Star Search, which gave members of the public the chance to become stars.
There was also the moment Sheena Easton went from obscurity to international pop icon thanks to her appearance on The Big Time in 1981.
But by the end of the 1990s, this kind of format hadn't been in vogue for a while.
However, 2000 saw the first series of Big Brother become a TV staple, and it brought with it a new era of reality TV and competition programming that the public couldn't get enough of.
The same year as Pop Idol saw the first series of Popstars. While it didn't have a public voting element, it was fascinating at the time to see everyday folks with a singing ability (mostly), being whittled down before being turned into a new pop band.
Featuring a certain Myleene Klass and future Corrie star Kym Marsh, Hear'Say were absolutely huge in 2000, but had sadly faded away within a year. But the show proved how popular these kind of shows could be.
Former Spice Girls manager and Popstars judge Simon Fuller then came up with the idea of fusing elements of Popstars and Big Brother: a singing competition that the public voted for, eliminating the least popular each week before the ultimate winner was found.
This show was also Ant & Dec's first proper 'adult' show, having predominantly done kids' shows like SMTV Live. Pop Idol became their first big primetime hit, catapulting them to TV icon status.
Pop Idol made extensive use of premium-priced viewer voting, with fans voting by telephone, mobile texting, via the 'red button' on digital TVs, or via the official website.
Very quickly, the show became the show to watch, and it felt like the whole nation was hooked.
Who were the Pop Idol judges?
The Saturday night shows initially followed the audition process, as hopefuls sang in front of four judges:
- Record producer and music executive Pete Waterman
- Music executive and music manager Simon Cowell
- Music promoter and music manager Nicki Chapman
- Radio DJ and TV personality Neil 'Dr' Fox
At the time, Simon Cowell was famous within the music industry for creating stars out of the likes of Robson and Jerome and the Power Rangers, but he was a relative unknown to regular viewers at home.
It was also the era where 'mean' was cool. Anne Robinson was a superstar thanks to her terrifying persona on The Weakest Link, and shows like Big Brother were all about conflict and fall-outs. Thus, Simon took on his 'nasty' tag and cranked it up to 11.
Poor singers would often face incredibly harsh criticisms from the judges, especially from Simon. Their reactions would often range from laughing out loud to utter disgust, But it worked for Simon, as he got poached for the American Idol spinoff, becoming a star across the pond.
Who were the Pop Idol contestants?
After whittling down the contestants to 50, the public them down top 10 after five live show 'heats'. Each group of 10 would see the top two each week go through to the main live finals.
One shock occurred in these stages. Darius Danesh had become something of an infamous figure after his appearance on Popstars the year before.
He came back for Pop Idol, and almost made it through to the finals, but finished in third place in his heat. However, a couple of weeks later, that heat's winner Rik Waller had to leave the show due to illness, allowing Darius another comeback.
The final contestants were:
- Jessica Garlick
- Aaron Bayley
- Laura Doherty
- Rosie Ribbons
- Hayley Evetts
- Zoe Birkett
- Darius Danesh
- Gareth Gates
- Will Young
In the week leading to the final show, finalists Gareth Gates and Will Young both went on individual nationwide publicity campaign tours, and they each had their own bus. It was a very big deal.
In the end, Will Young won the show, having received 53.1% of the record 8.7 million votes. Yes, 8.7 million!
What happened next for the finalists?
Real name Chris Niblett, Korben has since worked at Jemma Kidd Make Up School, and according to his LinkedIn page, he launched his own company, Evolve Beauty, in 2014. Since November 2014, he has been a Regional Education Manager at Estee Lauder Travel.
Despite having to leave the show early, Rik still had a top 10 hit with a cover of 'I Will Always Love You'.
In 2002, Rik appeared in Celebrity Fit Club and two years later featured in Channel 5's Back to Reality, having some fierce rows with Jade Goody before finishing in sixth place.
After being dropped by EMI, Rik formed his own band and signed an album deal with Red Admiral Records. Today, Rik goes by the name of Richard. He has also been working as an exam invigilator and has run a mobile karaoke and disco service with his dad.
Jessica later represented the UK at Eurovision in 2002, coming third place with 'Come Back' (no easy feat!).
She got married in 2004 and has two kids, and attempted a music comeback in 2009.
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Geordie Aaron is now part of the Aaron Bayley Band, who play weddings and private events in Newcastle and the rest of the North East.
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Laura graduated from the University of Ulster with a music degree in 2006, and has been teaching hip-hop dancing in schools.
She also married her childhood sweetheart back in 2008.
Rosie signed a five-album deal with Telstar Records after Pop Idol and had two top 20 singles - 'Blink' and 'A Little Bit' - and she supported Liberty X and Blue on tour.
Sadly, Telstar then faced financial issues and she was released from her contract, so her album was axed.
Rosie also tried out for Australian Idol in 2007 but didn't make it to the final 12. She also had a few features on various singles, with a certain singer called Ed Sheeran joining her on the song 'All Falls Down'.
Hayley went down the acting route after Pop Idol. She had a small part in Coronation Street and was also in Thriller – Live and Grease: The Musical (as Sandy, opposite Jonathan Wilkes).
She also returned to present Popstars: The Rivals Extra back in 2002 alongside Dane Bowers.
She later auditioned for The X Factor in 2012, but she didn't make it past boot camp. In 2016, Hayley almost represented Romania at Eurovision with the song 'Brand New Day'. However, she withdrew from the competition due to a severe knee injury.
Aged just 16 when appearing in Pop Idol, Zoe finished in fourth place and then had a number 12 single 'Treat Me Like a Lady'.
Zoe then turned to musical theatre, appearing in various shows and pantos. She was also engaged to Pop Idol 2 runner-up Mark Rhodes, and she later dated her panto co-star and Big Brother winner Anthony Hutton.
She later landed the lead female role in Thriller – Live in the West End and a UK tour. She also had a major role in Priscilla Queen of the Desert in 2009, and returned to Thriller in 2013. Zoe also replaced Alexandra Burke in The Bodyguard.
Zoe also became a Big Brother housemate in 2014, not in the Celebrity edition, but as a regular contestant. She finished in ninth place.
Then known as Darius Danesh, he had an epic comeback after finishing third in Pop Idol, having been something of a joke figure after his stint in Popstars.
His debut album Dive In was a big success, giving him five top 10 singles including the number one hit 'Colourblind'. He also supported Shakira during her world tour.
Darius - now who later went by his surname Campbell - has been a big success in musicals in recent years, including Chicago, Guys and Dolls, Gone with the Wind and From Here to Eternity.
Darius also won Popstar to Operastar in 2010 – and he was married to Canadian actress Natasha Henstridge (they filed for divorce in 2013).
Tragically, Darius passed away aged just 41 in 2022, at his flat in the States.
Gareth won a legion of fans during his stint on Pop Idol, thanks to his cute gelled spikes and stammer.
After the show, he scored several big hits, including the million-selling cover of 'Unchained Melody', the number one song 'Stupid Mistake', his Will duet 'The Long and Winding Road' and his questionable cover of 'Spirit in the Sky' with The Kumars.
A few more top 5 hits followed, but by his third album the hits had dried up, and his pop career was all but done by 2006.
He has made a return to TV in recent years, including competing on Dancing on Ice, and The Big Reunion.
Gareth has also been successful in stage musicals (like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Les Miserables, Loserville, Legally Blonde, Boogie Nights).
Gareth has also had a daughter called Missy, and has set up three performing arts academies with singer Jonathan Wilkes.
After winning Pop Idol, Will managed to sustain a successful music career, and has proved to be one of the few talent show winners to do so.
His winner's single 'Evergreen' is still one of the biggest selling singles of all time, and he's had many top 40 hits since then, including 'Leave Right Now', 'All Time Love', 'Your Game', and 'Jealousy'. He has released eight studio albums, all of which have made the UK top three, with the most recent being 2021's Crying on the Bathroom Floor.
Will has also done some acting, both on TV (like Mrs Henderson Presents, and Bedlam) and on stage, where he got an Olivier nomination in 2013 for his role in Cabaret.
In 2016, he appeared in Strictly Come Dancing, but he quit the show for "personal reasons". In 2021, he appeared on The Masked Singer.
Will is also celebrating his Pop Idol past by going on a 20th anniversary tour in 2022.