Jackson, who was diagnosed with the disease six years ago, has been working on behalf of the American Heart Association's Heart of Diabetes Campaign to raise awareness about the disease and to show others how they can manage it.
Forget what works for your neighbor
The differences between Jackson's first season on American Idol and this year are night and day. In 2002, Jackson weighed more than 300 pounds. He never worked out, he partied hard, and he still ate foods rich in fat and sugar that were part of his Louisiana upbringing.
Now, the 210-pound Jackson, who's worked on more than 1,000 gold or platinum albums, is more likely to nosh on a Gala apple than apple pie and never misses a day on his treadmill.
"It was hard to get a handle on managing my diabetes," Jackson tells Health.com. "It took me about a year and a half to get it down to a science. I also dropped a ton of weight."
Jackson got an assist on weight loss with gastric bypass surgery, but his success managing his disease was all homegrown. He checks his blood sugar three times a day, eats healthy, and gets plenty of exercise.
His secret? "Find out what's going to really work for you. Forget about what works for your neighbor. Find out what works for you and if it will fit into your lifestyle. That's the thing you'll probably do the longest."
Committing to diet and exercise every day
For Jackson, putting a treadmill in the bedroom helped him get the much-needed exercise he wasn't getting after a day in the studio sitting at a mixing board. "That's all I do while I'm talking on the phone, watching TV, reading the newspaper," he says. "And I play tennis three times a week. That's the thing; you've got to find something that works for you that you can do every single day."
With food, he had to totally reprogram his diet, cutting back on foods rich in fat and sugar and learning to snack healthier. When he goes to the studio or shows up on the set of American Idol, he's usually got a crisp apple or a low-carb snack bar in his pocket.
Lately he's been swapping highly processed foods for more natural items. "It wears better on me," Jackson says.
Diabetes came as a shock
His ordeal with type 2 diabetes began six years ago with flu-like symptoms. "I started taking over-the-counter cold meds," he says. "I was thirsty all the time. I felt like I was running a temperature. I was tired. It was a very weird kind of feeling."
Jackson, who didn't enjoy doctor's visits, finally made an appointment. His blood sugar exceeded 500 (normal is between 80 and 120). "I had type 2 diabeteshuge wake-up call."
Jackson's father was diabetic, but he never thought it would happen to him. "I was predisposed," he admits. "I ate good food that was bad for me and had a family history of it."
Now he's our trying to get others to recognize the symptoms and inspire them to manage the disease by making good food choices and getting more exercise. "Consider that a third of the people walking around with [diabetes] don't realize they have it," he explains. "Most of the people who die with diabetes die from cardiovascular disease. I want to make people more aware of the disease."
"[With diabetes] you're never going to be out of harm's way," Jackson says. "It's a struggle every day. You can't run away from diabetes. That's one of the things that people have to face."
Jackson, in addition to encouraging would-be rock stars on American Idol, is encouraging real-life diabetics on the site iknowdiabetes.org. He shares his tips for managing the disease as well as his personal story. After six years, he feels pretty good about his performancea performance he'd even ask Simon Cowell to judge.
"He would love it," Jackson says, chuckling.