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.
As "American Idol" turns 10, we celebrate the milestone with 10 of our favorite contestants.
The ratings are in, and the "American Idol" franchise is officially in trouble. Viewers of the season finale of the series dropped by 32% from last year, a fall that is part of an overall steady decline in viewership since its series peak in 2003. Back then, the "Idol" season was an event, but now it's just another show. The gleam is gone.
As a result, many commenters are wondering whether this marks the end of the run. Probably not, as it's still a ratings winner in the scheme of things. But it may mean that executive producer Simon Fuller and his team will be looking for ways to bring renewed excitement to a series that's struggling to climb out of a rut. Below are a few suggestions to get the "Idol" buzz back.
1. Open the field to all different kinds of vocalists. Which is to say, add young rappers into the mix. If it's fair to pit a pop vocalist such as Jessica Sanchez against a singer-songwriter like Phillip Phillips, why is it such a stretch to think that would-be MCs couldn't rank? Quality is quality, whether crooned, screamed or rhymed. If this is a pop music competition, it's ridiculous to exclude one of the most important creative engines the genre. Who knows, maybe we'll meet the next Kitty Pryde, Kreayshawn, or Riff Raff.
2. Include vocal groups. Every major label is looking for a female vocal group in the TLC and Destiny's Child vein right now, and with the rise of boy groups the Wanted and One Direction, all signs point to a return of packs of singing hunks. Let's manufacture some group hype.
3. Fire all three judges and replace them with Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green and Blake Shelton. As a twist, the early rounds could be "blind" by making the judges/coaches assess talent with their backs to the singers.
4. Add in a choreography element. Every Idol worth adoration should be able to not only to sing but dance. And considering the success of "Dancing With the Stars," an "Idol" choreography round could add some fuel. It certainly would have made Phillip Phillips' victory -- to say nothing of Kris Allen's or Lee DeWyze's -- less assured had they proved unable to effectively bust a move.
5. Add a juggling component to the dancing and singing. Bring in some professional clowns who can teach the young vocalists the ins and outs of keeping afloat flaming torches, knives and bowling balls. Such a move would balance the playing field even further, because some singers who can juggle aren't very good dancers, and some juggling dancers can barely sing. Imagine the thrill when America finds the perfect juggling vocalist with a knack for a little soft shoe.
6. Change the name of the show to "American (White Guy with Guitar) Idol."
7. Keep Jennifer Lopez but fire Randy Jackson, Steven Tyler and Ryan Seacrest. Replace them with Marc Anthony, Sean "Diddy" Combs and Ben Affleck.
8. Fire all three judges, then string Ryan Seacrest along for a few months while floating to the gossip sites the idea of firing him too. Change your mind and commit to Seacrest, then bring in Jay Leno as a judge. Fire him at the last minute, and as a replacement hire Conan O'Brien. Then fire Seacrest and replace him with Andy Richter.
9. Cancel the dang show already and replace it with a reboot of the classic 1970s reality competition show "Battle of the Network Stars." Watch as Tina Fey, Ashton Kutcher, the casts of "The Mentalist" and the "NCIS" franchise, Ryan Seacrest and others race through ridiculous obstacle courses in tight shirts and short shorts.
10. Keep Ryan Seacrest but add as his sidekick a dancing juggler who can sing -- if they can ever find one. They don't grow on trees, you know.
Any tips for a reboot? Add them in the comments below.
-- Randall Roberts
Photo: Phillip Phillips, left, Hollie Cavanaugh, Josh Ledet, Skylar and Jessica Sanchez. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox.
“Duets,” I already owe you an apology.
I didn't intentionally snub your premiere Thursday night. It wasn't a slip by the ole trusty DVR. But to be completely fair, there's a severe case of viewer fatigue happening.
The premise is rather enticing: four massive-selling superstars artists -- Kelly Clarkson, Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles, John Legend (who replaced Lionel Richie in the eleventh hour) and Robin Thicke -- not only coach their selected contestants, they sing side by side with them.
It pushes forward “The Voice’s” close-knit mentorship between acts and their respective coaches. Of course, folks are eliminated, there’s a "save me" song, a record deal (Disney-owned Hollywood Records, which, surprise, also owns ABC), blah, blah, blah.
The winner has been declared. A nation has decided, and we went to bed on Wednesday finally knowing that American Idol No. 11 is, in the words of dozens of Twitter commenters, another “white guy with guitar” (WGWG). Rest easy, America.
Phillip Phillips, a 21-year-old would-be troubadour with husk in his voice, a twinkle in his eye and a smile tailor-made for winning over the world’s grandmas, got the majority of the 132 million votes cast for the long-running Fox music competition.
He bested 16-year-old Jessica Sanchez, who can sustain a note for miles and who on the show’s finale performed a stunning duet of “And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going’ with Jennifer Holliday. This memorable moment, though, was too little, too late. With enough Southern grace to charm a nation of "Idol" watchers whose preferences have trended toward WGWG, the unflappable Phillips becomes the fifth of a kind in a row, following Scotty McCreery, Lee DeWyze, Kris Allen, and David Cook.
Who knew we still loved white guys with guitars so much?
Many "Idol" watchers did, which is probably one reason why viewership has nearly halved since the series’ peak in 2003, when 38 million people witnessed Ruben Studdard best Clay Aiken and established their relevance around water cooolers the nation over. (Aiken recently lost to Arsenio Hall on Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice," which isn't the path many would have predicted in 2003, when Aiken's debut album went platinum on the heels of his "Idol" star turn.)
After two hours of awards-show-like grandiosity, "American Idol" named its winner. The 11th season of the talent show competition came down to a battle between Southern good ol' boy Phillip Phillips, an acoustic strummer in the Matchbox Twenty/Dave Matthews mold, and 16-year-old Jessica Sanchez, a diva-to-be who approaches every vocal as if she had the lead role in "Disney on Ice."
After performances from Jennifer Lopez, John Fogerty, Reba McEntire and others, host Ryan Seacrest was ready to get to the moment that countless DVRs were no doubt fast-forwarding to. This season's winner, announced only after Phillips and Sanchez were forced to try to force some tears with a take on "Up Where We Belong," is Phillips.
After winning, Phillips strapped on his acoustic guitar to sing "Home," the light folk-rocker penned by Drew Pearson that won Phillips wild praise from judges on Tuesday's final performance show. He was brought to tears during the performance, and the 21-year-old Southerner has always been best when showing his more sentimental side.
Yet in a show that ran nearly 128 minutes, the winner was almost beside the point. Here's a look at some of the moments worth remembering -- or forgetting.
From smoldering to snoozing: Bruno Mars' cool little nod to James Brown "Runaway Baby" was bled dry of any hints of sultriness, instead given a schmaltzy, "Glee"-like makeover. It gave everyone a chance to spot the "American Idol" contestants that they've already forgotten -- the funny one! the one with the British accent! -- and came complete with a disco-influenced breakdown.
A meaningless record: Ratings for "American Idol" are down, but that hasn't hurt fans' abilities to hit redial when voting. Seacrest informed viewers that there was a record 132 million votes, a tally that would be impressive if everyone couldn't vote as many times as they wanted.
Where's a werewolf when you need one? Raspy-voiced legend John Fogerty was the latest in a long line of credible artists who agreed to lower himself to the level of "American Idol." Fogerty sounded fine on "Bad Moon Rising," but Phillips grimaced through every verse, curling each phrase as if he was singing a question. The "Idol," sporting what looked to be a beige drape with a collar, was better when he did less, and he largely stayed out of the way in "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" But hey, not everyone thought it was cringe-inducing, as cameras caught Carrie Underwood smiling away.
Hey America, we're sorry this guy didn't win: Nearly 25 minutes into the finale there was nary a sight of Sanchez. Yet third-place finisher Joshua Ledet sure was given prominent positioning. He was brought out to sing Elton John’s “Take Me to the Pilot” with Fantasia, but this wasn't the soul scorcher's best performance. The last few verses of the song were little more than the two of them trading yelps, like attack dogs playing chicken with each other.
When Season 11 of "American Idol" comes to a close in a few hours, no one should feel too sorry for the runner-up. One need only to look to this week's pop charts for evidence that the "American Idol" crown isn't a requisite to cultivating a fanbase. The theatrical pop-rocker Adam Lambert finished second on "American Idol" during its eighth season, and this week he earned his first No. 1 album in "Trespassing."
Lambert's "Trespassing," his second full-length since competing on the talent show, sold 77,000 copies in the U.S. in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The album's title track, meanwhile, has sold just north of 11,000 downloads.
This chart-topper, however, isn't entirely a cause for celebration. Lambert's 2009 debut, "For Your Entertainment," opened with a much heartier 198,000 copies sold in its first week, when it arrived at No. 3 during the holiday season. "Trespassing" can boast that it is the lowest-selling No. 1 since Amos Lee's "Mission Bell" opened with 40,000 copies a little more than a year ago.
Just behind Lambert is U.K. singing sensation Adele, whose "21" has been in the top 10 now for an astonishing 65 weeks and sold an additional 63,000 copies this week. The title has sold more than 9 million copies. Carrie Underwood, another "Idol" vet, had last week's No. 1 with "Blown Away," which this week sold 54,000 copies. In three weeks, "Blown Away" has sold more than 440,000 copies.
Rock 'n' roll hucksters Tenacious D landed in the top 10 with their latest, "Rize of the Fenix." The duo of Jack Black and Kyle Glass sold a little more than 44,000 copies of their latest, their first since the movie-musical "The Pick of Destiny" in 2006.
Sup Pop's elegant dream-pop act Beach House cracked the top 10 for the first time in its career. The indie duo's latest, "Bloom," entered at No. 7 with about 41,000 copies sold. The band's 2010 effort, "Teen Dream," was a career breakthrough, landing the act gigs at the Hollywood Bowl and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
The first thing that Phillip Phillips is going to need to do is change his name, or take on a nickname, if (or when) he becomes America's 11th American Idol. If he's to continue his pop career, he's going to need something less obvious. Maybe Phillip Danger, or Phil Trembley, or Flannel Phil. A name that has some pizazz so he can separate himself from the pack after concluding what host Ryan Seacrest described on Tuesday's final performance show as "one of the tightest finale races in our history."
If that's true — Seacrest is one of most hyperbole-prone hosts in the history of the universe — then 16-year-old powerhouse vocalist Jessica Sanchez on Tuesday didn't make that race any tighter. Though she's got just as much magnetism as Flannel Phil, Sanchez's performances were on the whole less captivating than his — especially the final songs of the evening, those picked as potential singles for the singers.
Sanchez chose a bland ballad called "Change Nothing," and Phillips, who earlier in the night had made Billy Joel's "Movin' Out" his own, opted for a high-energy march called "Home," and within those choices they answered the question that judge Jennifer Lopez posed during the two-hour event. She called these final performances "a battle of the opposites" before wondering, "How do you compare?"
It's hard to argue with a drum line, which Phillips rolled out during his song, "Home," a Mumford & Sons-style romp that conjured the rustic pleasures of (and copped a song title from) Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros. Judge Randy Jackson compared the song to Fleet Foxes, and was so impressed that the avalanche of "yo yo yo," "dude," and "dawg" compliments that sprung from his mouth Seacrest could have described as "one of the most excited bits of enthusiasm in our history."
So it's come down to this. After three months, thousands of voices, dozens of songs, hundreds of screams and fan-freakouts galore, the two finalists for this year's "American Idol" go head to head this evening for the final set of performances. On Wednesday, the world will learn whether Jessica Sanchez or Phillip Phillips lands for eternity on history's scrolls alongside kings, queens, Pharaohs, presidents and prime ministers as the reigning king of pop music by becoming Season 11 winner of "American Idol." Or something like that.
"American Idol" circa 2012, however, has struggled in the ratings -- down about 20% from this time last year. It's a shocking turn of events for a show that steamrolled its way into American hearts throughout the '00s, made dozens of young artists famous (and infamous), transformed a British jerk with a funny name and a boxy haircut named Simon Cowell into a man you love to hate, and introduced a rapt TV-watching culture to the pleasures of harshly judging strangers with dreams.
If you're one of the 20% who tuned out this year, or one of the millions who couldn't care less about a judged singing competition were it not for wanting to share some quality time with your family, or boyfriend or (most likely) your grandma, you're going to need a quick primer on the two finalists so you can have a semi-literate point of view. Here are some factoids to prepare you for the conclusion.
Jessica Sanchez, 16
Hometown: Chula Vista, Calif.
Quick bio: Jessica is a veteran at 16, having been featured prior to her "Idol" star turn on both "Showtime at the Apollo" at age 10 and on the first season of "America's Got Talent" at age 11. She's got a killer voice.
Past songs: Her choices are descriptive of her style: Among them, Jennifer Hudson's "Love You Like I Do," "I Will Always Love You" as performed by Whitney Houston, Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary," "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen, Luther Vandross' "Dance With My Father."
Famous singer she most suggests: A modern R&B vocalist, Sanchez comes across as a combination of Mariah Carey, Houston and Christina Aguilera. She's got a huge voice for such a tiny frame, loves to show off her range (maybe a bit too much), and with a flash of her smile makes Steven Tyler melt.
Handicapping: Oddsmakers are suggesting that Sanchez needs to nail her performances tonight in order to best the young Phillips. If so, a dollar bet will yield you about a $4 return.
Phillip Phillips, 21
Hometown: Leesburg, Ga.
Quick bio: A working man with a tech college background, Phillips has been riding the "Idol" gravy train all season. He's the only contestant who has never been up for elimination, and when he strums his acoustic guitar it's easy to understand why.
Past songs: Last week, Phillips had to perform the insufferable Matchbox 20 song "Disease," while Jimmy Iovine made him do Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonight." Those songs are tailor-made for Phillips' husky voice. He's also covered Queen's "Fat Bottom Girls," the Box Tops' "The Letter," Dave Matthews Band's "The Stone" and many other guy-rock classics. He also did a version of Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know."
Famous singer he most suggests: He's got the gravel of Dave Grohl -- but a little wimpier -- and the charm of John Mayer.
Handicapping: This baby is Phillips' to lose: Those twinkly eyes, that smile, his solid voice and his harmless demeanor so closely resemble the last few years' winners that all he has to do now is avoid a KONY 2012-style onstage meltdown. Most oddsmakers have him winning handily. Whether he'll survive the music business that has used and discarded most past winners/runners-up is another thing.
-- Randall Roberts
Photo: Phillip Phillips and Jessica Sanchez. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox.
The two-word name of the daylong pop music event, now in its 15th year, was repeated so many times during the eight hours of performances, both onstage by artists and during commercial breaks between each 20-minute set, that it felt as if the powerful radio station were still trying to persuade us to attend.
It was as if a roster that included, among others, heavy hitters Pitbull, Nicki Minaj, Wiz Khalifa, B.o.B. and Maroon 5 teamed with a crop of young risers such as J. Cole, Big Sean, the Wanted, Wallpaper and K’Naan — to say nothing of quickie “guest-host” appearances by Justin Bieber and Ryan Seacrest — weren’t enough. The music certainly was bountiful, even if, as is the case with most radio concerts, the presentation felt like an extended commercial for its own relevance.
Aside from originally being the name of a Ted Nugent song about a sexy dance, Wango Tango is KIIS-FM’s annual fan-day party, and each installment since the first in 1998 has featured dozens of America’s hottest and/or most buzzing pop music artists getting their 15 minutes onstage (in many cases, quite literally) for thousands of screaming teens and their parents, twentysomethings and ageless pop music and pop culture fanatics looking for musical bliss.
Hopefully the young'uns weren't watching "American Idol" Thursday night. The show sent the wrong message to today's youth: Have a little personality, and you're out.
"American Idol" voters last night sent home Heejun Han, whose genuine goofball image made him a downright rebel on the Fox series. This is a show, after all, that criticized homey rocker Phillip Phillips for having the audacity to ignore Tommy Hilfiger's advice and wear gray on the telecast.
So Han, who last week ran around the stage shouting Billy Joel's "My Life," a performance in which he seemed to forget the need to not be out of breath while singing, likely didn't have much longer to stick around. This sadly brings us one week closer to a battle of the bland between Phillips and Colton Dixon. In such a world, Han's class clown appeal definitely will be missed, especially since he was actually a good singer.
This week Han stepped up his game and proved he wasn't the "American Idol" equivalent of a propeller beanie hat. In covering the Donny Hathaway take on Leon Russell’s "A Song for You," Han delivered one of the week's most unique performances, his careful phrasing meticulous and intimate. It worked because Han under-sings -- a quiver or a scratch make an appearance but never dominate. The jokester showed he had a vulnerable side.
My colleague Chris Barton agreed. On this week's score card looking at performances on "American Idol" and "The Voice," Barton wrote: "warmly sincere without sounding mawkish, Han was so hellbent on being taken seriously that he covered Donny Hathaway, one of the most tragic stories in soul. Mission accomplished." And Barton is our jazz critic, so he is by default smarter than me.
"American Idol" tracker Amy Reiter said Han going home was definitely a loss. Who, she wondered, "will mouth the words on the teleprompter over Ryan Seacrest's shoulder now? Who will crack Jimmy Iovine's face into a reluctant smile with a confounding quip? Who will give the camera a sly look whenever he hugs an attractive female contestant or guest mentor?"