Today is a deathly quiet day so far in the “Idol” world. This might be a good time to do this:
After eight seasons, we’ve had 95 ‘American Idol’ alums over eight seasons.
That’s 10 season one, 12 each for the next six seasons and 13 last year.
I’d say at least one third have now been able to leverage their fame into some semblance of a music career. In other words, many don’t have to go back to being a postal service worker or a Sonic waitress.
I decided just for fun to rank my top 25 most successful “Idol” contestants among those finalists (I’ll leave the likes of Frenchie Davis and William Hung out. We could do a separate, much shorter list of most successful “Idol” contestants who didn’t make the finals). This isn’t a judgment based on me liking them or not. It’s not just record sales. It’s how I perceive success to be. Feel free to rank your own top 5 or 10 on your own criteria.
1. Jennifer Hudson. Okay, she didn’t win and disappeared for a couple of years. During the season, I thought she was talented but at the time, fell in the shadow of Fantasia. Ultimately, she merely wasn’t quite ready for the primetime. When she got that “Dreamgirls” role, her life changed and our view of her changed, too. She’s the only “Idol” to branch out into movie acting and win the biggest awards for said acting. Plus, she’s an incredible singer who’s now in the “A List” category when it comes to recognition and respect. She’s, in effect, far transcended “Idol” and that’s quite a feat.
2. Carrie Underwood. She has seven No. 1 singles (and an eighth on the way), a stable full of awards and the respect of the country music industry and beyond. Though she’s had some tabloid moments thanks to a her penchant for football palyers and actors, she has maintained a clean-as-a-whistle reputation. She’s talented, likable and the perfect vehicle to prove ‘Idol” can create a star.
3. Kelly Clarkson. Being the first winner has its benefits. She was there early and we’ll always have warm and fuzzies for her for that reason alone. She still strikes me as incredibly down to earth and “real,” especially when she’s battling her record label or her weight. I don’t think that will ever change. She’s sold more albums than any other “Idol” over four albums and has more than a dozen big hits under her belt. You can’t help but root for her no matter what happens.
4. Chris Daughtry. He may be a bit Nickelback cookie cutter with his sound and his second album may be “no surprise,” but boy, his band is commercial gold! So far, he’s been a guaranteed hits generator and comes across as a truly earnest, if not terribly original, rocker.
5. Fantasia. Whether you like her or not, she’s hard to forget. She was a distinctive personality and singer from day one. Since the show, she’s had hit singles, a hit biopic, a hit bestselling book and accolades galore for her role on “The Color Purple.” I’ve seen her live multiple times and just emanates “star.”
6. Adam Lambert. Okay, he has not released an album yet, much less finish it. He didn’t even win. But he’s a tornado force to be reckoned with, a glam rocker “Idol” has never seen before and probably never will again. He made the cover of “Rolling Stone” when he came out. He’s the first “Idol” non winner to make the cover before the actual winner. The man hit No. 1 on the Amazon charts this week two months before its release.
7. Clay Aiken. Speaking of a man who didn’t win that captured a massive fan base, we have the delightfully fun Clay. Mocked for his “gay or not gay” tap dance, it’s interesting that this alone kept him in the spotlight far longer than if he had just come out in 2003. The Clay jokes have generally gone away in recent months, haven’t they? He brought out those Barry Manilow comparisons and sold a boatload of early CDs. He squandered some of his fan base by doing too many covers in recent years and not creating his own portfolio. He was well received recently doing “Spamalot.” If anything, we will watch his future endeavors with interest.
8. David Cook. Sure, that eyeliner was a bit much but he always struck me as a more original rocker than Daughtry – and less sullen. He seems to be able to laugh at himself more, too. While he hasn’t quite had Daughtry-level success, he has made a mark and it’s likely he’ll be in our sights for years to come.
8. Kellie Pickler. Three years ago, I would never have imagined putting her in the top 10 but she has earned it. She has made smart career choices, kept herself in the limelight via constant touring and goofy TV appearances and generated some decent songs to boot. She latched herself to the Taylor Swift bandwagon and got her first top 10 single this summer as a result. She still comes across as a sweet, bubbly, just less naive, personality.
9. Jordin Sparks. She is pure pop and has four genuine top 10 hits as a result. Still a teen-ager, she is a bit of a work in progress. It’s hard to say given the fickle nature of the pop world whether she’ll still be viable in five years but she seems to be a hard worker and quick learner. She is clearly the shining star during the arguably weakest “Idol’ season yet.
10. Ruben Studdard. Ruben surprised the world by beating Clay six years ago. He is now no longer talked about much. He tried to break into the R&B world but has been too old school to get much V-103/Hot 107.9-type airplay. His sales, as a result, have steadily eroded. He is now touring with “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ” and he seems at ease with himself. I still like him and he did sell quite a few records those first two years out.
11. David Archuleta. He has a dedicated fan base and one top 10 single under his belt. Once he outgrows hte Disney crowd, who knows?
12. Taylor Hicks. He is one of the more distinctive personalities ever to come out of “Idol.” He made great TV, which is why he won “Idol” in 2006. But his 70s-style rock-soul was never an easy sell commercially. He’s going to tour for the rest of his life and I’m sure he’ll be happy about that, even if it ends up being Smith’s Olde Bar-type places when he’s 50. He’s currently on the “Grease” national tour in a basically cameo role.
13. Kris Allen. It’s a bit premature to predict how successful Kris can be but he has a commercial look, a commercial sound and a good head on his shoulders. I predict he’ll do just fine.
14. Elliott Yamin. A true underdog, he came into the competition with virtually no stage experience and came out a modest star. He surprised the world with a massive hit with “Wait For You” in 2007. He hasn’t been able to duplicate that since but nobody seems to hate the guy. I hope he can find another hit or two down the road.
15. Katharine McPhee. She isn’t much of a pop artist but she manages to keep herself busy doing concerts and acting in films. Now she’s blonde. I’m not sure about that.
16. Justin Guarini. The poor guy became a butt of many many jokes when he bombed out and lost his record contract after season one. He has never been able to fully climb out of that abyss. But he did get work on TV Guide Channel, still gets concert dates and recently got married. He strikes me a nice guy who will find work.
17. Constantine Maroulis. Talk about a man people loved to hate! The man who visually humped the TV camera has actually found bliss on Broadway, even garnering himself a Tony nomination. The man’s a hustler.
18. Bo Bice. Like Taylor Hicks, his brand of 70s rock was never commercially viable. In fact, his first single proved that pop schlock isn’t for him. But again, like Taylor, he is a tour machine. He has a great fan base and they’ll follow him to whatever beer-sodden honkytonk he plays at. He is also an incredibly nice guy. He’s the only “Idol” ever to call me personally after I interviewed him to thank me for a story. Classy!
19. Bucky Covington. The man nobody thought much of season five now has three top 15 hits. Country music liked him and his unassuming persona clicked enough to make him a decent opening act for any big artist.
20. Diana DeGarmo. Snellville’s own hasn’t released a full album in ages and even pondered country music after doing that CMT show. But her heart and soul is in theatre. Her voice is perfect for it. She’s been on numerous shows now, the most recent being “The Toxic Avenger” in New York City.
21. Kimberley Locke. She had one pop hit “Eighth World Wonder” and a bunch of AC radio hits. She landed on “Celebrity Fit Club” and found herself a boyfriend. She can belt it out. Overall, she has managed to carve out a modest career.
22. Josh Gracin. Another season two vet, Gracin generated several country hits after he left the show but his last few songs have not done much. Good thing about country is even after you’ve left the charts, you can always do fairs and festivals and he has enough hits to do that for awhile.
23. Kimberly Caldwell. She is only now working on an album after all these years but she has kept her career alive via hosting shows on TV Guide Channel. (And dating David Cook for a while to boot.)
24. Chris Sligh. He only finished 10th season six but he found his niche in Christian music and pulled out a hit there. He is also a songwriter and got a No. 1 hit via “Here Comes Goodbye,” sung by Rascal Flatts. The man, as he noted recently on his blog, makes a good living doing what he loves and he works hard at it. Go Chris!
25. Ace Young. He co-wrote a hit with Daughtry and shows up each year on the Jerry Lewis telethons. He does a lot of charity work and has very fanatical fans. That says something.
Who else could have made the list? Tamyra Gray had some success on Broadway. Sanjaya wrote a book and ate bugs on “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Outta Here.” Anthony Fedorov did “Fear Factor” with Carmen Rasmussen and did the “Fantastiks.” Carly Smithson has joined what used to be Evanescence.
Trenyce and LaToya London both do theater. Mandisa wrote a book and sells CDs in Christian music, along with George Huff. Mikalah Gordon showed up on “Gone Country.” Nikki McKibbin has also done reality shows, as did Jessica Sierra (though she had to be in “Celebrity Rehab”). Blake Lewis released an album and has a second on his way. Brooke White came out with some tunes. Jason Castro is doing a mall tour.