American Idol premieres its eighteenth season (its third on ABC) tomorrow night. As the show has played a big part in my life, I’m definitely going to be watching, but I’m erring on the side of caution after what I felt was a lacklustre seventeenth season. Most of that can be bestowed upon the trio of judges behind the panel; don’t get me wrong, I think they have amazing chemistry together (which is kind of an important detail, for those who don’t remember the Mariah/Nicki season), but their feedback to the contestants ultimately seems useless to me. But I’ll discuss that more after the premiere airs tomorrow night. For now, I wanted to take a look back through memory lane on some of my favourite contestants over the previous seventeen years.
20. Allison Iraheta (S8, 4th Place) – The crimson-headed rocker was an underdog in season eight, receiving minimal airtime amongst the group of finalists and finding herself (undeservingly) in the “bottom three” on three separate occasions before her eventual elimination in fourth place. Highlights from her run included Heart’s Alone, Michael Jackson’s Give In To Me, The Temptations’ Papa Was a Rolling Stone, Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff, the classic Someone to Watch Over Me, a powerful rendition of Janis Joplin’s Cry Baby and a duet with the eventual runner-up Adam Lambert to Foghat’s Slow Ride.
19. Melinda Doolittle (S6, 3rd Place) – Despite a third-place finisher, Melinda Doolittle shined in season six as one of Idol‘s most legendary vocalists. She handled a variety of songs with ease regardless of the genre, with highlights being Since You Been Gone, My Funny Valentine, I’m a Woman, Home, As Long As He Needs Me, Trouble is a Woman, There Will Come a Day, Have a Nice Day and Nutbush City Limits. She also notably recapped Idol years later alongside Michael Slezak, offering critiques as both a talented vocalist and someone who had experience on the show.
18. Carly Smithson (S7, 6th Place) – Unfortunately Carly came on Idol early enough in its run that her previous record label proved a tough hurdle for her to climb herself over. A talented singer in her own right, the Irish-born turned in some of my favourite performances from her season – Heart’s Crazy on You, Cyndi Lauper’s I Drove All Night, The Beatles’ Come Together and Blackbird, Dolly Parton’s Here You Come Again and finally taking on Superstar from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Post-Idol, she fronted the rock band We Are The Fallen for a few years as well.
17. Chris Richardson (S6, 5th Place) – Chris has unfortunately not done much with music following Idol. He was briefly apart of Lil’ Wayne’s label, and even featured on Tyga’s single Far Away. On Idol, though, he had a handful of performances I enjoyed, and he remained one of my favourites over the years. Nowadays, he’s married and has a daughter.
16. Laine Hardy (S17, 1st Place) – The reining American Idol, Laine was first featured on the show getting the final cut in the sixteenth season. I was excited to see him return last year, and overall I wound up being happy with his run as a fan of Southern Rock music. My favourite performances by him were Bring It on Home to Me, Hurricane, Oo-De-Lally and Johnny B. Goode, as well as his winning performance of his coronation single, Flame. He’s been teasing the release of his first single for a couple of months now, so I’m hoping we’ll see something soon now that Idol is set to begin.
15. Elliott Yamin (S5, 3rd Place) – Elliott’s an interesting entry for me to put on this list, as I’ve grown to like him more in the years since he was on Idol compared to when he was on the show. Overall, I didn’t get that invested in his season, and from what I did enjoy of it, Chris and Katharine were my favourites. But I’ve been a fan of the music that Elliott has released on his own, and getting to see him alongside Blake Lewis twice cemented him having a spot here for me.
14. Caleb Lee Hutchinson (S16, 2nd Place) – Caleb was one of my favourites from his season (his performance of When Doves Cry was personal favourite performance from that season), but it’s been following the growth of his career since his season’s ended that helped him maintain a spot here for me. After he released Left of Me and a cover of Post Malone’s Better Than as singles, he performed a set at last summer’s CMA Festival in Nashville where I heard some more of his original music. The subsequent self-titled EP – with material more serious than I think anyone had expected from Caleb – contained a few of those songs, and it’s been on heavy rotation since.
13. Chris Daughtry (S5, 4th Place) – A frontrunner in season five owing to performances such as Wanted Dead or Alive, Hemorrhage (In My Hands), Broken, Higher Ground, I Walk the Line, Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman and Renegade, Chris Daughtry’s subsequent elimination in season five has been hailed as Idol‘s most shocking elimination. He turned that momentum into a career though, being one of Idol’s most successful alumni with his band Daughtry. Andrew and I also randomly stumbled into him following Kelly Clarkson’s concert last March, and he (and his wife) were as nice as can be.
12. Kris Allen (S8, 1st Place) – Season 8’s other underdog in the finals, Kris Allen came victorious over Adam Lambert in an end that raised some controversy. One of my favourites early on from when the spoilers started pouring on, Kris ultimately showed his creativity and vocal talent with performances such as To Make You Feel My Love, Ain’t No Sunshine, Falling Slowly, She Works Hard for the Money and Heartless. His subsequent albums have all been some of my favourite work from an Idol alum, and he’s put on a consistent & fun show whenever I’ve seen him.
11. Kimberly Caldwell (S2, 7th Place) – Perhaps one of the more random inclusions on this list, but Kimberly was my favourite in her season and I’ve been following her career since. Though she herself has admitted to not taking Idol as seriously as she should’ve, I still personally enjoyed a handful of her performances – Come to My Window, Nowhere to Run and It’s Still Rock n Roll to Me being the highlights. Since her run on Idol finished, she hosted TVGuide’s coverage of Idol during its heyday, went on to host on MTV, had a cameo on Wrong Turn 2 and finally released her debut album Without Regret a few years back. Since then, she’s married and is currently pregnant with her second daughter.
10. Clark Beckham (S14, 2nd Place) – Despite hailing from my least favourite season of Idol, Clark Beckham is another contestant that I rank highly. With performances like When a Man Loves a Woman, It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World, Sunday Morning, Every Breath You Take, The Trouble With Love Is, Make It Rain, Boyfriend, Georgia on My Mind and Ain’t No Sunshine, Clark seemed like the foregone champion of season 14. In the end, he placed second to Nick Fradiani, but Clark’s career has been busy irregardless of his placement.
09. James Durbin (S10, 4th Place) – With an inspirational story, metal singer James Durbin was a frontrunner for the season ten crown. Like Chris Daughtry and Allison Iraheta before him, the rocker was shockingly eliminated in fourth place despite giving some incredible performances along the way. Since then, he’s been active with his solo career, and was even the lead singer of metal band Quiet Riot for a couple of years. Season 10 was another season that I wasn’t as big on as everyone else was, so James was definitely the highlight of the season for me.
08. Colton Dixon (S11, 7th Place) – Colton Dixon originally auditioned for American Idol in the tenth season and made it to the final cut before being eliminated. After a strong showing in season 11 with performances like Decode, Broken Heart, Piano Man, Love the Way You Lie, Time After Time and September, Colton was shockingly eliminated in seventh place after the judges used their save on Jessica Sanchez the week before. Since the season, however, Colton has carved a solid career for himself doing Christian rock music on the record label Sparrow Records. He recently annoyed a signing to Atlantic and released a new single entitled Miracles, so things seem to only be looking up for Colton!
07. Phillip Phillips (S11, 1st Place) – Despite a rocky journey due to his illnesses, Phillip Phillips ultimately wound up as the victor from the same season as Colton. Some of my favourite performances that he turned in in his season were In the Air Tonight, Superstition, Hard to Handle, Movin’ Out, Still Raining, U Got It Bad, The Stone, Have You Ever Seen the Rain?, Volcano, Beggin’, We’ve Got Tonight, and Home, as well as his two duets with Elise Testone – Stop Dragging My Heart Around and Somebody That I Used to Know. Though his post-Idol success was shrouded amidst a lawsuit against his record label, it can be argued he’s the last of the “big names” that Idol managed to put out before its viewership’s rapid decline that began in season 12.
06. Blake Lewis (S6, 2nd Place) – With performances like Somewhere Only We Know, Virtual Insanity, All Mixed Up, Time of the Season, I Need to Know, You Give Love a Bad Name, This Love and She Will Be Loved, it was Blake Lewis’s run in the sixth season of American Idol that made me follow the show religiously. Though he still holds a spot in my heart because of that, he has still slipped a few spots over the years. Nonetheless, I still go back to rewatch his performances fairly regularly, and have followed his career since then. His most recent album was Wanderlust Unknown, which was just released at the end of January.
05. Kelly Clarkson (S6, 2nd Place) –
04. David Cook (S7, 1st Place) –
03. Michael Sarver (S8, 10th Place) –
02. Trent Harmon (S15, 1st Place) –
01. Lee DeWyze (S9, 1st Place) –