A year and a half ago, viewers of the fifth season of Fox TV's American Idol voted Elliot Yamin into third place, basically telling him they believed that winner Taylor Hicks and runner-up Katharine McPhee were more talented.
When the show ended, the prestigious 19 Productions talent agency told him the same thing - signing Hicks and McPhee, but not him.
These days, record buyers and radio listeners are telling Yamin they think he's the man.
It's Yamin who has a song, "Wait for You," that's still in the Top 10 on Billboard charts eight months after its release. At one point, it was the year's second-most played song.
It's Yamin who recently released a Christmas disc in a deal with Target stores.
And it's Yamin who has a recording contract that gives him an industry-head-turning 50 percent of profits.
But asked whether all that is affirmation he should have been the American Idol, Yamin brushes off the question.
"I'm no longer in competition," he says recently from a tour stop in Nashville, Tenn. He's at Washington's 9:30 Club on Monday.
"I'm not out there to sell more records than anybody. I'm just out there to make good music and to share it with people."
What Yamin, 29, had to overcome before American Idol is well documented: An insulin-dependent Type 1 diabetic with 90-percent deafness in his left ear, he was a 10th-grade dropout who floated - by his own account - among dozens of jobs such as a disc jockey and a worker at Foot Locker while doing little to follow his passion for singing.
"As you get older, you realize that those breaks aren't going to come to you - you're going to have to go after them," he says. "The bottom line was I wasn't. I always dreamed of being a singer, but I just didn't know how to go after it and even where to start."
He says his journey began as a fan of Idol, when friends would urge him to audition. "I just figured I had nothing to lose."
In the competition, he got unlikely encouragement from acerbic judge Simon Cowell, who said Yamin might have been the best male vocalist the show had seen. But after finishing third, he again was left to find his way.
Yamin says Danny Strick, president of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, heard songs he had written "and was really impressed and offered me a publishing deal."
He met with major labels, but with Strick and his manager, Jeff Rabhan, he decided to put a record out himself.
Strick revived a defunct 1970s label, Hickory Records, as Yamin's imprint and made him an equal partner.
"My deal is unique in that I'm actually like a shareholder," Yamin says. "I have a profit-sharing deal, a 50-50 deal. It's very sweet."
That's especially true now that his self-titled disc - an eclectic collection of jazz, blues and R&B-influenced; pop - debuted in March at No. 3 on Billboard's Top 200, making Yamin the highest-ever debut for an independent artist and the top-selling independent new artist debut ever. Last month, the disc went gold.
"I really couldn't imagine doing it any other way," he says. "'Course it didn't hurt that I gained a little notoriety and established my fan base on the show."
The disc's second single, "One Word," was released last week, and his deal with Strick and Hickory calls for one more album.
On Oct. 14, Target stores released his Christmas disc as one of three "NBC Sounds of the Season" holiday collections. In another unusual deal, he actually owns the rights to it and after the holiday season can sell it as he wishes.
Beyond his music, Yamin has become spokesman for several causes and campaigns. The obvious is diabetes awareness - he sells T-shirts and pins for a program called Life for a Child, part of Inspired by Diabetes (in spiredbydiabetes.com), and performed at the World Diabetes Day gathering in New York City. But he also has been tapped by such things as the school milk promotion Milk Rocks!
"Again, one of my goals just jumping into this whole Idol experience was to use this platform to do something positive," Yamin says.
Some say Yamin's change in appearance since his days on Idol has helped fuel his success. His close-cropped hair and crooked teeth are gone, he now has a mop of long curls and a reported $50,000 worth of donated dental work.
"I think it's stupid, to be honest with you," Yamin laughingly says of the attention to his appearance. "It hasn't changed the way I breathe, hasn't changed the way I sing, it hasn't changed or made me a different person. Just more confident about my smile. And these days, I have a lot to smile about."
Elliott Yamin performs Monday at the 9:30 Club, 815 V St. N.W., Washington. Doors open at 7 p.m., and tickets are $25. Tickets are available through tickets.com or by calling 800-955-5566.