American Idol's Career Secret

By Emily Lambert | June 15, 2010 AAA

Anyone who watched the most recent season of "American Idol" knows that Lee DeWyze was a paint store clerk. Judge Simon Cowell mentioned it often during the competition. After the final episode, John Caramanica of The New York Times said that it was DeWyze's story and background that won over viewers and won him the show. Google "paint store clerk" and the top results are all about DeWyze.

Guess what, America? DeWyze had another job - in finance. Why didn't this little wrinkle to his narrative pop up on American Idol?

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"I didn't mention it on the show because it's not what I was doing at the time I auditioned," says DeWyze in an email sent via a personal representative. "My experience [as a trading floor clerk] was one I learned a lot from, and I think that I'll use many things from that job in my everyday life."

It's true that DeWyze has a past in paint retailing. In fact, he worked at Mount Prospect Paint for six years, according to the firm's website. It devotes a section to him, touting his "attentive customer service and his personable and likable demeanor."

It says DeWyze grew up a few houses from the store and started there working part-time shifts. His favorite paint color, according to the site, is Benjamin Moore's Tangelo (2017-30), in case a viewer wants to paint a room in DeWyze's honor.

What's not mentioned is that DeWyze also worked as a clerk on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (Nasdaq:CME), part of CME Group, in 2007 and 2008. The Chicago Merc is one of two large futures exchanges in downtown Chicago that merged to form CME Group.

It turns out that DeWyze worked in the financial derivatives market. Although DeWyze worked on a regulated futures exchange - not in the unregulated side of the derivatives market that was blamed for paralyzing the country's financial system in 2008 - that distinction might not have seemed too important to some of his less financially sophisticated fans. (For insight on how to trade the futures market, see Tips For Getting Into Futures Trading.)

DeWyze's finance job was of the unglamorous sort. He was a clerk for a broker on the trading floor, where people buy and sell futures in old-school pits by yelling numbers at each other. DeWyze worked in a pit where eurodollar futures are swapped, collecting trading cards and fetching coffee for his boss. Eventually he was made responsible for checking trades to make sure his boss hadn't made any errors.

DeWyze sang with the security guards on the trading floor, recalls Ashlee Busta, another former clerk who trained with him and remains in the industry.

"The kid's got drive," she says. "It was really something neat to watch his star rise."

Ryan McGuire, DeWyze's former trading boss, was also a drummer and producer at Chicago indie label WuLi Records who played with DeWyze. Among their gigs was a holiday party for other traders at the CME Club in December 2007. McGuire also produced DeWyze's first two albums, "So I'm Told" and "Slumberland".

McGuire gave DeWyze the job at a time when it was tough for him to make money in music. He says DeWyze picked up the business quickly and had the smarts to eventually work his way up to broker or trader.

But, by 2007, trading floor activity was slowing. More customers were trading electronically, bypassing the traders and clerks in the pits. There seemed no way to move up the ladder. So McGuire says he advised DeWyze to go back to his job selling paint. Which he did in what, you might argue, is a story made for TV. (Read about how financial careers are portrayed on TV and in the movies in Financial Careers According To Hollywood.)

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