Whatever Happened To Paul McDonald From American Idol?

You don't have to be a winner on American Idol to be in the spotlight, with the likes of Jennifer Hudson, Haley Reinhart, and Adam Lambert going on to have big careers despite not placing first. In 2011, Paul McDonald stole the show with his original songs and smooth country voice, but ended up placing eighth in the competition. So where is Paul McDonald now?

Before American Idol, McDonald was in a band called the Grand Magnolias (via EW). Formed in 2006 as the Hightide Blues (via the Opelika Auburn News), the band changed their name to the Grand Magnolias a year prior to McDonald's appearance on the talent show. Due to McDonald's appearance on the show, their self-titled debut album made Billboard's Heatseekers chart and sales for the record increased 146%, according to USA Today

After leaving the show, McDonald left the Grand Magnolias and went on to craft a solo career. He released his first EP in 2015, and his debut record Modern Hearts in 2018 (via Spotify).

Paul McDonald got engaged in the new year

During his time on American Idol, Paul McDonald met actor Nikki Reed at a movie premiere (via Billboard). They began dating, going on to marry in 2011. They also released a five-song alternative country EP in 2012 (via MTV) under their own record label. The track "All I've Ever Needed" was featured on the Breaking Dawn Part 2 soundtrack (via YouTube), the last film in the Twilight Saga which Reed starred in as vampire Rosalie Cullen. The couple announced their separation in 2014, "citing irreconcilable differences," per Billboard

McDonald briefly dated actor Emily Kinney (The Walking Dead, The Flash) from 2017 to 2020 (via US Weekly), forming a music duo called the Sweethearts Deal in 2018 (via Yahoo! Entertainment). It's not clear when McDonald and Kinney parted ways, but on Jan. 11, 2021, McDonald revealed on Instagram that he proposed to girlfriend Leah Blevins, who he had been close friends with for "almost a decade."

The singer found inventive ways to perform during the pandemic

"Despite the state of the world, 2020 was the most phenomenal year of my life. With the events of the year slowing us all down, this time allowed me to put what is really important in my life at the forefront," Paul McDonald's engagement post read. "I've fallen head over heels in love with you & I continue to love you more and more as the days go on." 

Throughout 2020, McDonald played dozens of socially distanced gigs — a bulk of which took place during the summer for his The Stay Home Tour. Documenting his journey on Instagram, the singer spent a month and a half living out of his van, playing small gigs at houses across the country. As for upcoming shows, McDonald will take to the stage at the Glen Campbell Museum in Nashville on Feb. 25, where he'll be performing alongside Ashley Campbell and Adam Chaffins to audiences at the venue and via live stream.