If 'American Idol' is a reality show, then the harsh reality is that most of the finalists struggle to pay their bills once their time in the sun is over. For Jim Verraros, his time "in the sun" proved to be ironic.
"Three months after I was on the 'American Idol' tour," says Verraros, "I was working in a tanning salon. I had to deal with people coming into the salon saying, 'Weren't you that dude on 'American Idol'?' I got through those kinds of hard experiences with music."
When 'American Idol' debuted in 2002, Verraros was one of the most recognizable finalists on the show, thanks in large part to his memorable audition in which he talked about having deaf parents.
"When I watch 'American Idol' now," Verarros tells TMZ, "I have to smirk because these contestants have no idea what they're getting themselves into."
A native of the Chicago area, Verraros went from being on the cover of TV Guide in 2002 to now performing at bridal expos. It's not exactly a cruise ship, but it's pretty close.
Vanessa Olivarez's post-'Idol' career has also been tough. A contestant on the show's second season, Olivarez got her first cold hard slap of 'Idol' reality when she was excluded from the 'American Idol' tour.
Olivarez may be best remembered for her wildly colored hair (usually pink or bright red) and being criticized by 'Idol' judge Simon Cowell, who urged her to lose weight.
After being shut out of the 'American Idol' tour, Olivarez went on a Coca-Cola promotional tour, performing at shopping malls with other former 'Idol' contestants, including Verraros, Charles Grigsby, Ejay Day, RJ Helton and Kristin Holt. She did score some modest success by starring in the Toronto production of 'Hairspray' in 2004.
But sadly, by October 2005, Olivarez was back in her hometown of Atlanta performing to much smaller audiences at a puppet-theater show called 'Something Wicked.' Olivarez wasn't even recognizable in the show since she had to perform wearing a hooded mask.
But still she puts a positive spin on the experience: "It's so much harder to do puppetry than people think. I'm really glad I did it."
Olivarez is still pursuing a music career, working on solo material and her new band, Butterfly Stitch. But as for a record deal, she still doesn't have one.
Carmen Rasmusen, a finalist on 'Idol's' second season, was a favorite of judge Cowell. He championed her even when she was widely criticized for being one of the weakest singers in that season's group of finalists.
Salt Lake City native Rasmusen, who was 18 years old when she was an 'Idol' finalist in 2003, tells TMZ that she spent practically all of the money she made from 'Idol' on a college education which she has since abandoned.
"I went to Brigham Young University for a year," Rasmusen says, "and then I decided college wasn't for me because I wanted to pursue a career in entertainment. I lived off my 'Idol' money and I've had to live off of my savings."
A big entertainment career has proven elusive. Rasmusen and Verraros both released indie records with very little sales success.
Rasmusen, who got married last month, says her husband, a marketing student who has a full-time job, is the sole breadwinner in their household. She has, however, found a way to trade in on her fame -- by appearing with other former reality stars on NBC's 'Fear Factor,' in episodes that will start airing in late March.