THE WAY THEY WERE

DAVID ARCHULETA, 17 The youngest finalist, from Murray, Utah, "used to play around at the piano and make songs up about his life," says dad Jeff. David says he caught the singing bug at 7: "My dad showed me Les Misérables. I was just like, 'Wow, this is so cool!'"

BROOKE WHITE, 24 The soft-spoken singer from Mesa, Ariz., "was so timid as a child," says her father, Brad. "[Idol] is such a huge switch for her. She didn't sing for people until she was about 15."

CHIKEZIE, 22 His big smile is nothing new. Growing up in Inglewood, Calif., "Chikezie was always happy-go-lucky," says mom Chika Eze. "He always liked to hug. People used to line up and wait to get hugs from him!"

DAVID COOK, 25 Trick or treat! "I made that costume for him," says mom Beth Foraker. The Blue Springs, Mo.-raised Cook, who wowed the Idol judges with "Hello," always "acted older than what he was as a kid," adds his mom. "He'd stand on his bed with his guitar, wearing sunglasses, and pretend to be a rock star."

DAVID HERNANDEZ, 24 His grandmother nicknamed him Baby Boy, but former stripper Hernandez, who hails from Glendale, Ariz., admits he wasn't all innocence. "I was a mischievous one. I used to take my mom's coins out of her purse and buy kids sodas."

CARLY SMITHSON, 24 The Dublin native showed her curlier side growing up. "Her hair is still like that—we just spend a lot of time straightening it," says mom Marie Murray. "She's a great kid. I see how she nurtures the younger contestants. We're Irish; we like to hug."

AMANDA OVERMYER, 23 Don't call her Little Bo Peep. "My mom tried to make me wear stuff like this all the time," says the rocker. "We lived at the Little Rock Air Force Base. I dressed like that until I could dress myself!"

SYESHA MERCADO, 21 "This was [when I was part of the] Daughtrey Pride Dance Team [from Bradenton, Fla.]," she says. Just back from a national competition, "I won two gold medals." Her nickname as a kid? Sy-Sy.

MICHAEL JOHNS, 29 "That was my dog Lulu and my bear Humphrey B. Bear. I took that bear everywhere," says the Perth, Australia, native. "I was a rascal and kind of had a cheeky side. My mom used to say I could get away with murder because I'd do something bad and then I'd shrug my shoulders and tilt my head and have this little grin on my face and that was that." But will it work on Simon?

KRISTY LEE COOK, 24 "I was always singing and being a goofball," says the country-style vocalist from Selma, Ore. Her first performance? "The National Anthem for a rodeo. I was, like, 13."

RAMIELE MALUBAY, 21 Raised in Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and Florida, "she always wanted to hold a microphone," says mom Alice. Adds father Roger: "We Filipinos love karaoke! She used to love 'La Bamba.'"

JASON CASTRO, 20 Is he dialing in his vote to Idol? No, but he might have been crooning cross-country. "I remember singing into the phone to my grandma—she lived in Pennsylvania; we lived in Rowlett, Texas," says Castro of his pre-dreadlock days.

  • Contributors:
  • Monica Rizzo/Los Angeles,
  • Jed Dreben/Los Angeles.