Celebrating 10 years of 'American Idol'
As "American Idol" turns 10, we celebrate the milestone with 10 of our favorite contestants.
Ten years ago, a little show called “American Idol” made its debut on Fox.
Hoping to find the next pop superstar, the music competition has more than made an indelible mark in pop culture and is responsible for its share of lasting voices (Kelly Clarkson! Carrie Underwood! Daughtry! Adam Lambert!) and plenty of disposable ones.
Over the years, the aging competition has had plenty of growing pains -- acid-tongued judge Simon Cowell exiting, ratings dips and odd personnel choices (love you Ellen, but come on) -- but despite the show’s missteps, millions continue to tune in to watch from auditions (both inspiring and craptastic) to finals, and predict who will walk away with the title.
Though recent winners of the competition have followed a distinct pattern -- a record number of 132 million votes helped Georgia-bred troubadour Phillip Phillips win this season -- contestants have found success in virtually every genre including pop, R&B, country, rock, gospel, dance and musical theater.
To celebrate the show’s landmark, here’s 10 songs from 10 of our favorite contestants to grace the “Idol” stage. Sorry fans of Season 9, that was a tough one for this writer to watch -– or like.
Carrie Underwood (Season 4, 2005). From the moment this Oklahoma girl dared to tackle a Tiffany song on the competition, her star power was undeniable, and unmatched.
Fantasia (Season 3, 2004). Those gospel-rooted pipes that can't be tamed earned this soul diva a spot. Sure, she's had plenty of personal woes, but those hard-earned experiences have made for a post-"Idol" discography rooted in gritty soul.
Adam Lambert (Season 8, 2009). Lambert's Broadway theatrics weren't enough to beat out Kris Allen (the second in a string of recent winners pegged as the “white guy with guitar”), but his unpredictable stage presence and limitless range brought excitement to the competition at a time when it desperately needed it. Bonus points for being one of the few contestants to prove you don't need to win the show to make your mark.
Ruben Studdard (Season 2, 2003). With a genteel smile, Southern charm and Luther Vandross-inflected vocals, the "Velvet Teddy Bear" won by a heated margin against Clay Aiken. To this day, he's still the most successful R&B crooner to hit the show. Believe it or not, before Scotty McCreery broke the cycle, Studdard was the last winner to have their post-"Idol" debut album bow at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
Daughtry (Season 5, 2006). If there was any greater justice for booted contestants on this competition, its the lasting success of Daughtry. And he's not the only voice we still hold a candle for from his season: Elliott Yamin, Mandisa and Katherine McPhee might have all lost out to Taylor Hicks on the competition, but as with Lambert, it didn't really matter.
Jennifer Hudson (Season 3, 2004). Like Daughtry, she got the last laugh after getting the boot. She's the only "Idol" to find her footing in music and film, and has the Grammy and Oscar to prove it.
Haley Reinhart (Season 10, 2011). Watching the bluesy ingenue offer bold showings of songs from Adele, Alanis Morissette and Elton John was a joy during a season that featured the most versatile voices in recent "Idol" memory: Eight of them scored major post-"Idol" deals. Her stellar debut is required listening for any "Idol" fanatic.
Jordin Sparks (Season 6, 2007). Sparks is the last woman to take the title, a spell we surely thought Jessica Sanchez would break. She might not have found the chart profile of past contestants, but Sparks has continued to transform into a multifaceted performer, diving into Broadway and now film with the upcoming "Sparkle" remake. Need a reminder of her vocal prowess? Check out the below clip:
Joshua Ledet (Season 11, 2012). Of all the contestants to hit the "Idol" stage this past season, no one was as consistent as Josh. There were plenty of moments where he solidified himself as one of the finest competitors on the show. He needs to issue a debut immediately.
Who's your favorite "Idol"? Sound off on your picks below.
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photo: Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Seacrest and Randy Jackson. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox