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'American Idol' Alum Justin Guarini Pleads Poverty, Then Takes it Back? A Mom Explains

A day after the season one runner-up wrote of "skipping meals in order to make sure my children have enough," he tweeted that the media "completely missed the point."

Justin Guarini Headshot - P 2013
Getty Images

After penning an emotional open letter, which was picked up by numerous news outlets with such headlines as "I Skip Meals in Order to Feed My Kids," American Idol season one runner-up Justin Guarini is criticizing the media's coverage of his note.

“Obviously you completely missed the point of my letter @peoplemag,” tweeted the 34-year-old father of two on Aug. 16. “News isn't news anymore, and I'm nowhere near poverty. #twistedmytruth

So what truth was the singer and former TV host trying to convey on his website, where he wrote of "skipping meals in order to make sure I have enough … to make sure my children, and my wife have enough?"

What with Time magazine spouting the headline that the only way to truly have it all is to go childless, was Guarini offering his own counterpoint? As if to say that having it all might not necessarily mean having riches to travel or eat at five-star restaurants, but to savor simple moments like watching your child play in a McDonalds as he relishes his $4.99 Happy Meal? True, for a brief time Guarini, who came in second to Kelly Clarkson in 2002, lived the life of a celebrity-flush with cash, he plunked it down on hot clothes ($50 for a T-shirt?) and enjoyed the spoils of fame. But those days are behind him, as he writes, and these days -- although not as flashy -- have made him happier. More grounded. Settled. 

As the mother of three children, I see where Guarini is coming from, and I admire his honesty about the pressures of being the family breadwinner, especially on an artist's budget. He has two young boys, aged 4 and eight months, and is in the thick of it with the cost of diapers, baby food, pediatrician check-ups and growth spurts. My family is not living in poverty either (I actually have a dual career as a writer and a radio DJ in New Jersey), but when those kids come along, it’s a real eye opener!

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I can certainly understand skipping a meal in order to afford a pack of Pampers, baby wipes and assorted snacks. These things do not come cheaply. I have brought my kids out for a quick bite at McDonalds and sometimes just grab myself a coffee because, well, it shaves some cash off the bill.

Of course, many parents like to sign up their kids for activities. The average cost of a YMCA class is about $60 a session (less if you join for a membership of $400 or so a year). If you want your child to take a ten-week music class, it'll cost you around $100. It doesn’t sound like much, but if you are an entertainer like Guarini living in between theater jobs, it adds up.

The Doysletown, Penn. actor and singer hasn’t even entered the truly wallet shrinking years of sports (travel soccer? $500 to join), baseball (where parents are expected to volunteer working the concession stand and cleaning up the field), football (there goes your entire month of August -- two-hour practices four or five nights a week for an entire month at the Pop Warner level), and let’s not even go there if the Guarini boys want to try ice hockey.

What about parents of daughters? Dance lessons run around $45 a month for one class. Horseback lessons? That depends on the farm, but if you are dreaming of having a future equestrian in your family, your last name had better be Onassis or Springsteen. For those of us who believe -- read: hope -- that it’s cheaper for kids to play sports as they get older, think again. Sports programs have been cut in many school districts, and parents have to shell out money for the privilege to compete on behalf of their local middle school or high school.

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Don’t even get me started on the insanely overpriced birthday parties. Chuck E. Cheese charges $15 to $25 a head, depending on the package. It’s the same deal for parties at Bounce U., Pump It Up, Laser Tag and so on. If you opt for a bash at your own house, pizza is your best bet, so long as none of your kids' friends are lactose intolerant or vegan. Then there's the cost of the cake and the damage to your house, which is inevitable when you have 20 little ones running around. 

Camp can run in the thousands. Back-to-school shopping in the hundreds, where some schools mandate that kids in fifth grade and up own a 2-gigabyte flash drive. Food? If you want to eat healthy, it's going to cost you more. Gas: still at way-above-average prices, yet you need it in order to drive the kids to all of those activities!

Of course, nobody says you have to sign your kids up for activities, and I've discovered plenty of free, educational and fun activities that don't cost a cent. Among them: the library, free summer concerts sponsored by the likes of Radio Disney and movies in the park.

What Guarini is saying is that, even with all of these challenges, he feels like a rich man because he has his family. "Now I rent a home filled with love," he wrote. "I have a wife whom I love and who loves me (me!) and who lifts me up. Children who give me cherubic-lipped kisses before I leave for work and who are the most delicious morsels of joy and peace and prosperity."

And to that I say more power to him! Because it’s true -- there is no greater sense of pride watching your children grow into the adults they're destined to become. My oldest is in a summer program and will play Sharpay in High School Musical 2 this week, and I am so excited for opening night. I get a kick out of seeing my son swing multiple times to hit a ball (at his age, it’s swing until you hit -- not three strikes you’re out) or my little one just learning how to pedal her bicycle around the neighborhood.

And although Justin Guarini's finances might see an uptick with his new role on Broadway in Romeo and Juliet, I salute him for declaring that his greatest and most rewarding role in life isn’t on a stage, but at home with his wife and kids. So he wants to make sure they have everything they need, even if it means skipping a sandwich here and there. They are lucky to have him. He’s a good man.

Twitter: @MicheleAmabile