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"Idol's" Casey Abrams: Ulcerative colitis doesn't dictate my life

Casey Abrams performs on "American Idol," on Wednesday, March 23, 2011, in Los Angeles. AP Photo/Fox, Michael Becker

"American Idol" fan favorite Casey Abrams is back in the spotlight, teaming up with fellow-Idol contestant Haley Reinhart to put their spin on the Christmas classic, "Baby It's Cold Outside," set to be released on Nov. 21.

PICTURES: 11 things not to say to people with Crohn's or colitis

Abrams is also turning the spotlight on ulcerative colitis (UC), the chronic bowel disorder he's acknowledged having.

During season 10 of "Idol," Abrams was hospitalized and had to miss two shows but was saved by the judges. At first he was leery about the public knowing about his condition.

"During the show, I wanted to be known as the guy with the bass, not the guy with ulcerative colitis," he tells CBS News. "Now I am the guy with ulcerative colitis and people need to talk about it, as uncomfortable as it is."

More than 1.5 million Americans have ulcerative colitis or Chrohn's disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. Both conditions inflame the lining of the intestine, leading to bouts of watery diarrhea, rectal bleeding, abdominal cramps and pain, fever, and weight loss.

What's the difference? Crohn's disease can occur anywhere in the digestive tract, often spreading deep into the layers of affected tissues. UC usually affects only the innermost lining of the large intestine and rectum, the Mayo Clinic says.

What can people do to cope with these diseases?

Abrams, who was diagnosed with UC at age 19, warns people not to overlook the signs or pretend it doesn't exist.

"Go see a doctor and don't eat a lot of cheese products, nuts and cold salads, which may irritate the colon," he says.

Abrams has teamed up with Janssen Biotech and the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America and an IBD program called, in which people living with UC or Crohn's share their inspirational stories about living with the disease.

Abrams and panel of judges from the foundation selected nine finalists with UC and Crohn's disease and voters will decide who will be the next two "IBD Icons." The winners will win a trip to Las Vegas where they will meet Abrams and see him perform.