Sometimes there are moments when you think that you know how the rest of your life will play out, that you can see the journey clearly marked out in front of you, and then you turn around and discover that you couldn’t have been more wrong...and that you're happier than you ever were.
In 2002, when Justin Guarini rose through the ranks of American Idol contenders to face off against Kelly Clarkson in the show’s first-ever finale, they were the stars of the entertainment industry. They were both destined for stardom, no matter the outcome, and their futures were certain. But for Guarini, that future turned out to be even bigger and brighter than he could have imagined...even if it led him in a different direction than he might have thought.
Born in 1978, Justin has never been a stranger to the stage. He has been performing since the tender age of four, when he joined the Atlanta Boy’s Choir in his home state of Georgia. Then, after moving to, Pennsylvania with his mother Kathy and stepfather Jerry, Justin joined the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Boys Choir. He pursued his passion for the arts all throughout his school years, singing and starring in school stage productions, and attending both the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and the School for Film and Television in New York.
Then, in 2002, it didn’t just rain; it poured.
Shortly after auditioning and being selected for the first season of American Idol, Justin was offered a role in the Broadway production of The Lion King. It wasn’t an easy decision. Justin described The Lion King as “a dream almost come true,” but in the end he turned it down for Idol, saying “I knew I was onto something, and I wasn’t letting go.”
He was praised by Idol judge Simon Cowell, who told him “occasionally you’re very privileged when you do a competition like this to hear somebody undiscovered who has a voice like yours.” Justin took the season by storm, surpassing every other performer save Clarkson, who was eventually crowned the victor over Justin in the finale. Later, as a member of the Idol Tour, he was described by the Los Angeles Times as a “revelation,” and by the Boston Herald as “easily the best performer.”
Justin released two albums, his first in 2003 and his second in 2005, before shifting his focus. Between 2007 and 2011 he worked as a co-host on shows such as Idol Wrap and Idol Tonight and, with the TV Guide Network, went on to host live red carpets for Grammys, the Emmys, and the Oscars. In 2014 and 2015 he both produced and hosted “The Tonys in Times Square” with Clear Channel Spectacolor. And in 2010 he made his Broadway debut, in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. He was described by Patti LuPone as “very, very talented,” and “smart as a whip, he adapts instantly and he’s unbelievably sweet.” Since then he has appeared in several additional Broadway shows, including American Idiot, Romeo and Juliet, Wicked, and Paint Your Wagon, and has played the lead in regional performances of Rent, Chicago, Company and Joseph.
Those who might not remember him from his Idol days or find their way out to Broadway shows may (or may not, given his wardrobe) recognize Justin from his recent role as Lil’ Sweet in Diet Dr. Pepper television and Internet Commercials.
However, Justin’s favorite roles to date are those of Husband and Father. In 2009, while working on the American Idol experience at Walt Disney World, he proposed to his now-wife, Reina Capodici. They were married in September 2009, and Justin settled into a comfortable family life with Reina and her daughter, Lola. In 2011 their family grew with the birth of Justin’s first son, William, and in 2013 Justin and Reina welcomed a second son, Asher.
These days Justin maintains a happy balance between family man and performer. He has a strong personal belief in music education, and has both lobbied on Capitol Hill for the International Music Products Association to stop the slashing of music education and worked with Education Through Music LA to help fund music programs in disadvantaged schools. He is currently hard at work on an anticipated new album, funded by his fans and slated for a 2016 release.
It’s been a long road since Justin first stepped into the limelight in 2002 on the Idol stage, and one that was not marked out on any map. But through the years his love of music and performance has only grown, coupled with a strong dedication to family, and an unshakeable sense of both humor and fun. In 2002, no one would have argued that the young Idol talent with the signature afro had a bright future; now, Justin may no longer have the afro, but his future looks brighter than ever.