What Makes a Star Fall?

America's craze with contest shows like "American Idol" has a dark side of young people who enjoy a blast of the spotlight, then fall into trouble with drugs, the law or both.

Jessica Sierra is the latest example.

As a 19-year-old contestant on "Idol" Sierra told audience members that she'd always dreamed of being a star. She wowed the judges all the way to the Top 10, and later went on to tour the country in 2005 with the other season four finalists.

But now Sierra is appearing not in front of an arena of fans, but in a courtroom in front of a judge.

Sierra, 22, was arrested Dec. 1 after she was ejected from a bar in Tampa's Ybor City. Cops approached her when she began screaming at a bouncer outside the bar's door, according to the Hillsborough County police.

Sierra allegedly slapped one of the cops as they were taking her to the patrol car. After vomiting in the back of the car, an intoxicated Sierra propositioned one of the officers in a bid for her freedom, according to police.

The incident wasn't the ex-Idol's only recent brush with the law. Just two weeks earlier, Sierra pleaded no contest to charges of felony battery and possession charges (she allegedly had cocaine on her at the time of the arrest) stemming from an April 2007 incident, according to court records.

The most recent run-in with the law has the Tampa-born native facing new charges, including disorderly intoxication, resisting arrest and violating conditions of her parole, according to the police report.

In a video posted on TMZ.com, a popular gossip Web site, surveillance video from the Hillsborough County Jail shows a scantily clad Sierra yelling at jail officers before being led into a cell where she appears to then throw up.

During her first appearance in court Dec. 2, the judge told Sierra, "...the bar scene isn't working out well for you, I would suggest you find another form of entertainment," according to an ABC Action News report.

Sierra now faces up to 11 years plus 60 days in prison because her arrest may have violated the terms of her recent plea agreement, according to the ABC News affiliate. Sierra remains in jail after a county judge refused her bond.

A Fallen Idol

The charges facing Sierra are hard for those close to her to swallow -- many of whom are surprised that the girl they once clogged phone lines voting for while she performed on "Idol" is now singing a different tune from behind bars.

Sierra's home life has been rough -- her mother overdosed on drugs and died just a few years after the pair were reunited, leaving Sierra to be raised by her grandparents, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

But neighborhood acquaintances told the paper that despite Sierra's family problems, she was "bubbly," a "very good role model" and somewhat of a local celebrity after her appearance on the television show.

Sierra seems to be following a well-worn path from TV fame to trouble with drugs and or the law.

Other recent arrestees include Andre Birleanu, 25, one of the stars of the TV reality show "America's Most Smartest Model," who was charged with sexual misconduct and aggravated harassment, according to published reports. Birleanu was arrested in October for allegedly molesting a 19-year-old actress during a party at Cipriani Downtown, an upscale Manhattan restaurant, the New York Post reported.

In another incident, Jason Wahler, star of MTV's reality show "The Hills," served time in jail early this year after several drinking-related charges -- including assault -- that he accrued after his stint on on the show, according to People magazine. Wahler also spent time in a rehab facility.

Perhaps the most famous of the reality-show-gone-bad crowd is Richard Hatch, who won $1 million on "Survivor" and is now serving time in federal prison for failing to pay taxes on the $327,000 he earned as co-host of a Boston radio show and $28,000 in rent on property he owned.

The cases may all be part of the fall from grace that occurs after sudden fame, according to psychologists who specialize in issues facing people in the public spotlight.

The 'Idol' Factor

The stark differences between life on the "American Idol" set, where hairdressers and producers seemingly take care of the contestants down to their false eyelashes, to life back in a contestant's hometown, where, after a few months the novelty of celebrity wears off and attention fades, can take a toll on contestants.

"We're so preoccupied with trying to provide entertainment that we don't realize that these people have lives after our attention is gone," said Stuart Fischoff, a psychologist and senior editor of the Journal of Media Psychology. "When you take the person out of the [spotlight] it's like all of a sudden someone just turned off all the music and lights and you went from a Technicolor environment to a black and white world."

"This is why people collapse and get eaten up by Hollywood," Fischoff told ABCNEWS.com. "They all experience the same kind of transition collapse."

The pressures that come with appearing on the show certainly could have contributed to her woes, Fischoff said.

"Fame is funny because once you get it you don't want it to go away, but sometimes it does and nobody prepares you for that," said Robert Butterworth, a psychologist and president of Contemporary Psychology Associates. "And when you don't have fame, you start acting crazy. [Sierra] is someone who got attention and then it left."

Possible Safeguards for Future Idols

With the change of environment between reality shows like "American Idol" and the real world so vast, some psychologists suggest that programs should begin to recognize the negative effects on young people, and encourage mentorlike assistance.

"One problem with any of these kinds of shows is that they change people's lives and then walk away from them," said Fischoff, who described life after stardom as a "psychological minefield." "They don't assign someone to watch them for the next six months to see if you're going to screw up because of the celebrity that came while they were on the show."

"So what they can do is give them some information about what they can anticipate after the show," Fischoff said. "Say, 'Here's a person to call if you're confused and afraid and you don't know what to do.' Give them a guidance counselor, a mentor."

"What [stars like Sierra] have now is an uncertain future," he added. "What she had after 'American Idol' was the possibility her life could have turned in some fantastic direction. That becomes a very anxiety-driven situation."