After Tough Decade, ‘Idol’ Fan-Favorite Gets Second Chance With Help From Stars

American Idol fan favorites

Getty "American Idol" fan favorites Pia Toscano, Justin Guarini and Allison Iraheta in 2016

Powerhouse singer Pia Toscano wants the world to know she’s not a quitter — and she’s got plenty of star power behind her to prove it. The 33-year-old tried out for “American Idol” five times before finally making it onto season 10 of the show, and was an instant fan favorite.

But Toscano’s ninth place finish in 2011 shocked judges Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson along with viewers across America. With her head in her hands, Lopez exclaimed, “I have no idea what just happened here. I’m shocked. I’m angry. I don’t even know what to say.”

It was the end of an on-air journey Pia called “the most nerve-racking and whirlwind experience of my life” in a featured essay published in Billboard Magazine on August 18, 2022. It was also the beginning of more than a decade of false starts and strange twists on her path to becoming a successful solo artist. Now, thanks to a number of megastar mentors who believe in her — including Lopez — many in the music industry think her time has come to soar.

Toscano Says She’s Learned From the Best in the Business

David Foster and Pia Toscano

GettyDavid Foster and Pia Toscano perform in 2018

In her Billboard essay, Toscano said that despite placing ninth on “American Idol,” she thought she was on the cusp of a super successful solo career. Because she’d been so beloved on the show, she was invited to appear on major talk shows and was the first contestant to sign a recording contract with Interscope, with the option of a seven-album deal.

Toscano revealed she recorded over 60 songs but only one was released as a single, called “This Time.” She said she fought for another song, “Heart Attack,” to be her second single, but Demi Lovato recorded it instead — with Toscano’s vocals in the background — and it became a smash hit for her. Her record deal fell apart, and Toscano was left to pick up the pieces. 

She thought her next big break had come when she was invited to perform at Muhammad Ali’s 70th birthday party in Kentucky with legendary composer and producer David Foster, who’s created hit songs and albums for megastars including Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, and Madonna. Toscano had dreamed of working with him since she was a kid, but on the night of the birthday party, she had laryngitis.

“Still tried to perform anyway,” she wrote, “and absolutely blew it.” She said Foster didn’t give her the time of day for the next seven years.

Thankfully, Jennifer Lopez hadn’t forgotten how much she’d loved Toscano on “Idol” and she was willing to give the singer a second chance.

“As a judge, she really pushed me and was one of my biggest cheerleaders,” Toscano wrote. “She was also one of the first ones to console me the night I got eliminated and told me that she had so many doors slammed in her face and that this would only lead to more opening. I’ve heard that saying ‘when one door closes another one opens’ a million times before, but it just felt different coming from Jennifer Lopez. She was right, though: Another door did open, and she’s the one that opened it.”

Three years after Toscano’s “Idol” elimination, Lopez asked her to sing back-up during a guest performance on the show. Saying yes to that opportunity evolved into backing up Lopez on a promo tour, and then during her Las Vegas residency. Toscano wrote that she loved learning from one of the best in the business and that the superstar’s drive inspired her not to give up on her dreams of being a solo artist.

In 2016, she was invited to Lopez’s star-studded Christmas party and said that her anxiety was through the roof when she realized one of the famous guests would be David Foster. To her surprise, Lopez’s manager asked Toscano to sing a holiday tune and then asked Foster to accompany her on piano. When she hit the song’s high note, with Lopez locking eyes with her to cheer her on, Foster took notice and soon took Toscano under his wing. She has toured with him ever since, as well as with opera great Andrea Bocelli.

“I call David the gift that keeps on giving because he has brought so many beautiful experiences into my life,” she wrote of the producer, who’s married to season 5 “American Idol” winner Katharine McPhee Foster.

Now, Toscano Says She’s Finally Ready To Fly Solo

Pia Toscano – "Walk Through The Fire" (Official Music Video)Directed by Kyle Cogan Makeup by Stephen Moleski Hair by Toni Burns Styled by Roxy Flores Song: Nasri Atweh, Usher Raymond & Adam Messinger2022-07-25T23:24:20Z

All these years after that “Idol” elimination, Toscano is now finally celebrating the upcoming release of her debut album, “I’m Good,” due on her 34th birthday, Oct. 14.

Now working with indie label Poets Road Records, even Toscano’s first single, which dropped at midnight on August 19 with a slick music video, has star power behind it. “Walk Through the Fire” was co-written by Usher and Nasri, who’s written for Justin Bieber, H.E.R., and Halsey.

On Instagram, she thanked them and her new team for “providing me with a safe space to open up & turn an uncomfortable time into a turning point in my life. I am so grateful.”

“I am so grateful for the highs and the lows because it led me to an exciting new chapter,” Poscano wrote in her Billboard essay. “I will still continue to work on myself and will probably continue to face some letdowns in the future, but I will keep humbly persevering, because the word ‘NO’ only fuels me to go harder.”

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