Ex-'Idol' hopeful avoids prison

By COLLEEN JENKINS, Times Staff Writer
Published November 20, 2007

TAMPA - Fresh off taping a celebrity rehab reality show in California, former American Idol contestant Jessica Sierra pleaded no contest Monday to felony charges in her hometown.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Gregory Holder sentenced Sierra, 22, to a yearlong probation on charges of battery and possession of cocaine.

The judge withheld a finding of guilt, so Sierra won't be considered a felon.

He warned her that if she violates her probation, she could get prison time.

For now, she'll head back west to continue her drug and alcohol treatment and submit to random drug screenings, said John Fitzgibbons, her defense attorney.

"This is a routine, standard sentence for a first-time offender with no prior record," he said.

Sierra tasted fame in 2005, when she made the Idol top 10. Her mug shot made headlines in April.

Authorities accused her of throwing a cocktail glass at a Hyde Park Cafe patron's head.

Wisam M. Hadad, who needed five stitches for the gash on his forehead, said Sierra claimed she had mistaken him for someone else.

He has sued for damages and objected to Sierra entering into a pretrial diversion program, which would have resulted in the charges being dropped if she had successfully completed it.

Sierra initially told police that Hadad had spit in her face but later said she wasn't sure.

Jail deputies said they found drugs in her purse and tacked on the possession charge.

She spent seven hours in jail.

Her rehab stint, too, will be public.

On Jan. 10, the first of eight episodes of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew will premiere on VH1.

Sierra was one of nine celebrity patients who underwent detoxification and treatment with the help of the Loveline radio show host, Dr. Drew Pinsky.

The identities of the other participants will be revealed next week, VH1 spokesman Scott Acord said.

Sierra is doing "very, very well" in rehabilitation, Fitzgibbons said.So well, in fact, that he expects probation officers will allow her to travel next month to Washington, D.C., to perform in a concert for disabled veterans.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or 813 226-3337.