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Top 10 ‘American Idol’ stories of 2012: new judges, successful alums, Seacrest

AMERICAN IDOL: SEASON 12: L-R: Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey, Ryan Seacrest, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban. CR: Michael Becker / FOX.

AMERICAN IDOL: SEASON 12: L-R: Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey, Ryan Seacrest, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban. CR: Michael Becker / FOX.

This was not a banner year for “American Idol,” though it had little to do with the actual talent presented to the world.

Besides the inevitable, inexorable aging of the show’s audience, which is now about 50 years old (vs. 32 when it debuted in 2002), the show was buffeted by competitive forces in the form of  “The Voice” and “The X Factor.” Ratings fell about 25 percent year over year to its lowest level since season one, when the show aired over the summer.

Here are my top 10 “Idol”-related stories of the year, which includes career updates of many of the biggest stars of “Idol” over the years.

10) Marry me! During the “Idol” finale, season 5 singer Ace Young proposed live to season 3 runner up Diana DeGarmo. She was genuinely surprised in one sense but the two have bonded closely since they met on Broadway during a production of “Hair.” The first true “Idol’ couple (though others have dated) have already set a wedding date on June 1 of 2013.

9) Clay is runner up – again. Season two runner up Aiken watched his career ebb over time. So he signed on for Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” to give himself a boost. Overall, he came across well, showing smarts and self-deprecating humor dealing with the likes of Lou Ferrigno, Aubrey “I’m a big star in my mind” O’Day and the emotional Lisa Lampanelli. In the end, he came in second as Trump gave the crown to former talk-show host Arsenio Hall, a move tat remaining Claymates found reason to be livid all over again. Did this actually give Aiken a genuine career steroid shot?  I’m sure Clay fans will provide me evidence soon enough.

8) A smash! Well, sort of. Season five runner-up Katharine McPhee landed a starring role in NBC series “Smash.” She became the first “Idol” alum to land such a plum prime-time role. In her case, she played an ingenue Broadway singer trying to land the job as Marilyn Monroe in a Broadway musical. While the pilot showed promise, the series in its freshman year veered from sublime, especially during many of its musical sequences, to cringe-inducing, especially its stilted dialogue and plotlines and annoying characters (Ellis anyone?). McPhee’s singing was often great. Her acting? Sometimes stiff but hardly the worst part of the show. Ratings were mediocre yet good enough for NBC to give it a 2013 renewal. The creative force behind season one Theresa Rebeck was dumped and many of said annoying characters (bye Ellis!) have been excised. Here’s hoping for a more consistent second season.

7) The successor. This was yet another banner year for Dunwoody High School grad and “Idol” host Ryan Seacrest. His relationship with Julianne Hough entered its third year. Two major investors Thomas H. Lee Partners and Bain Capital in January committed up to $300 million to his media company to help him grow. His Kardashian TV properties continued to blossom, whether you want them to or not. He may have dropped daily E! News coverage but in April, he signed a deal to expand his role onto sister station NBC, which included Olympics coverage. And with the death of his mentor Dick Clark, Seacrest will become the solo host of “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.” Yes, this is Seacrest’s world. We’re just living in it.

6) Ten years and still relevant. Season one winner Kelly Clarkson has survived a decade in the brutal music business with her dignity intact and enough chart-topping songs to generate a greatest hits album at the tender age of 30. Her career is as strong as ever. She sang the “Star Spangled Banner” at the Super Bowl. Her song “Stronger” was a No. 1 hit.  She was a mentor on an ABC summer series “Duets.” She became engaged to Reba McEntire’s stepson in November. All in all, life is good for Clarkson and we as “Idol” fans couldn’t be more proud.

5) Keep calm and Carrie on! Season four victor Carrie Underwood has now sold more albums than any other “Idol” with about 14 million to date. Her current album “Blown Away” has generated two top two hits in 2012: “Good Girl” and the title track. That makes 15 consecutive top 2 hits on the Billboard country chart over seven years dating back to “Jesus, Take the Wheel.” She hosted the CMAs for a fifth year with Brad Paisley. Last month, she landed a role as lead in a remake of “The Sound of Music.” She toured to sold-out crowds again, hitting Gwinnett Arena earlier this month, where she thanked “Idol” for getting her to where she’s at, something she certainly no longer needs to do but still does. Class act, that lady.

4) Depth chart. Sure, the judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler became mere wallpaper I more or less ignored this season, the novelty having long worn off. Not surprisingly, neither are coming back for season 12, though “Idol’ has kept Randy Jackson around for continuity and economic reasons. But I give them credit for one of the deepest top 10 casts to date in terms of talent and variety. I even liked No. 10 Erika Van Pelt, even if she has no prayer of ever being seen again on a big stage. Heejun Han started with promise but ultimately disappointed. Nonetheless, he may end up in a sitcom one day. DeAndre Brackensick may have used his falsetto too often but his infectious desire to please amped up the “Idol” live tour. Despite only finishing seventh, Colton Dixon signed a record deal and has a solid shot at a Christian pop music career. I could never get into rocker Elise Testone and her distracting hand gestures though she obviously had her fans that got her into the top 6. Skylar Laine brought a ballsy, throaty country strong presence to any episode.  Hollie Cavanagh was the black horse, raising her game near the end, as she blossomed into a passable stage singer. Joshua Ledet provided an over-the-top gospel spin to tunes and a Bruno Mars flair. Runner up Jessica Sanchez felt robotic to me at times but there’s no denying she has a voice beyond her years. And then there was the winner Phillip Phillips, a Dave Matthews clone who we’ll talk about soon. Despite a successful season in terms of talent, only three of these acts have signed record deals: Phillips, Sanchez and Dixon. A sign of the times.

3) The winner. Georgia had two runners up before season 11: the aforementioned DeGarmo and season 10’s Lauren Alaina. But the state broke through season 11 with Phillips. He was the rare early favorite show who ultimately won it all with his aw-shucks off-stage demeanor, his confident on-stage persona and his Joe Cocker-meets-Dave Matthews mannerisms and vocal style. I talked to him several times this year and he is undeniably likable, even as he suffered through painful kidney stones (ultimately involving post-show surgery), slept a lot and skipped many a Ford music video. The man landed a surprisingly effective “Idol” coronation song in “Home,” which became an anthem for the Olympic girls’ gymnastics team and a massive hit, selling more than two million downloads. He ultimately showed upon on dozens of TV shows and toured radio shows, including the Star 94 Jingle Jam earlier this month. While he hardly fashions himself as a pop star, he certainly has a solid shot at a long-term career. Next year, he opens for Matchbox Twenty.

2) Judge turnover. With Lopez and Tyler out, “Idol” dug into its pockets and came up with Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey and Keith Urban as judges, all three big A-list stars in their own right. Minaj got into heated arguments with an annoyed Carey in early audition episodes, the type of publicity “Idol” hopes to parlay into revived numbers. That’s debatable. Many viewers lament that these shows nowadays are more about the judges than the talent. We’ll see if they can entertain us and provide constructive critiques. Just think that season one, they had an unknown British record executive and a washed-up pop singer on the panel as well as name-dropping Jackson.

1) Brutal hit to ratings. This was the year when viewers began moving on to other shows. Ratings fell by an alarming rate to the point “The Voice” and shows such as “The Big Bang Theory” would beat “Idol” in 18-49 ratings while “NCIS” would regularly out-perform “Idol” in overall numbers. It’s hard enough to keep a decade-old show fresh but the audience for music reality shows is finite. “Idol” lost millions of viewersr to  both “The Voice” and “X Factor.” The new judges might give “Idol” a modest lift next month when it returns Jan. 16 but it’s likely to continue losing steam. At least “Idol” can take pride that it can still generate a modest star or two (as in Phillips) while the other two shows have been less successful on that front.

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26 comments Add your comment


December 27th, 2012
8:44 am


Great read, Rodney! I think you hit all Idol’s high(and low) points of 2012. I might have given “Home” its own spot on the list. It’s the first coronation song EVER to become an Olympics anthem, background music for a major motion picture trailer, theme song to a couple of commercials and it also has itself a number of copycat tunes. Pretty impressive for Idol


December 27th, 2012
9:06 am

Admittedly, I haven’t watched Idol in years, but I enjoyed this recap. That said, I still cringe when I see Nicki Minaj’s name next to Mariah Carey’s. I don’t consider Minaj an “A-lister” by any stretch of the imagination and I still wonder how she was hired for this show. I have only heard negative things about her, negative reviews of her performances, and the songs of hers played on the radio are interchangingly raunchy and annoying (I can only listen to a few seconds before turning the station). Not saying she’s less talented than say Paula Abdul, but in terms of mass appeal, I just didn’t see it and don’t get the logic behind hiring her.

1st mate

December 27th, 2012
9:18 am

TG, its called demographics. Idol wants to pull in the young audience, and Nicki has their attention. Plain and simple.


December 27th, 2012
9:56 am

Great write up Rodney ! Although I’ve seen all episodes of Idol since year one, I’ll give Idol a few shows to see how the new judges are gonna work out. I hope I’m still around for the top ten when all is said and done. I understand Idol’s wanting to bring in new, and younger viewers, I just hope it doesn’t run us older folks away for good.


December 27th, 2012
10:45 am

McPhee’s singing & dancing was the best part of Smash!! ‘Critics’ are now watching a few episodes of season 2 & say they got the ‘McPheever’ again!

Mercedes S.

December 27th, 2012
10:58 am

Thanks, Rodney! I would have ranked Cat McPhee higher, though. We love “Smash” in my house.

Question: A day or two before Christmas I was at Lenox and down by the “New Addition” as some of us still call it (food court, etc), I saw the American idol wrapping stand with a black girl sitting there, forlorn, without a present to wrap, without a single fan to be admired by. Don’t know who she was and I couldn’t very well walk up to her and ask.


December 27th, 2012
11:27 am

Thanks Rodney. I’ve already forgotten most of those people in point 4. I think those on the “depth” chart simply kept sinking into the depths of obscurity.

Atlanta Radio Insider

December 27th, 2012
12:15 pm

Radio News: Paul O’Malley, Cumulus Atlanta GM, Is Out Amidst Rumors of All News 106.7’s Sale

Seth T

December 27th, 2012
12:46 pm

Rumor from US Weekly is that Britney Spears will be cut from X-Factor, and LA Reid, as we know, is not returning.

Looking at blogs from various sites over the last Idol, The Voice and X-Factor seasons, many of us have a tendancy to assume future stardom for many of the artists, especially if they are doing a genre we like, – while they are on TV, on the big stage, with a pro band and all the lights.

While the boot-camp and experience and exposure gained on these shows is a big help, most of the “top 16/13″ or so on these shows, will be back to a normal life or just making a living in the fringes of the business after a year. The winners get a nice package and promo, but there are a goodly number of top 16/12 also-ran’s, that will rarely be heard from again.

Even “getting signed” is not a gaurantee of even modest success in the business. It depends upon how much money the Label and Management Company is willing invest. Touring is often essential to the promo of the artist, and touring can cost huge sums of money for Label. Certain gaurantees have to be made to the concert locations, staffing, band, etc., and the artist is dropped at the first sign of trouble.

Seth T

December 27th, 2012
2:02 pm

Rickey’s Site took a poll which covered the last 2 seasons (this year) of The Voice, The now completed X-Factor Season, and the American Idol Season from earlier this year. They listed the top 4 from each and asked for a “vote for your favorite” – I don’t know how many responders there were, but here is how it came out::

Who Was Your Favorite in the Top 4?

Jessica Sanchez 22.32%

Fifth Harmony 15.92%

Carly Rose Sonenclar 13.51%

Phillip Phillips 11.46%

Cassadee Pope 11.22%

Juliet Simms 5.79%

Hollie Cavanagh 5.07%

Joshua Ledet 2.77%

Terry McDermott 2.65%

Emblem3 2.41%

Chris Mann 2.29%

Tony Lucca 1.21%

Nicholas David 1.21%

Tate Stevens 1.21%

Trevin Hunte 0.72%

Jermaine Paul 0.24%


December 27th, 2012
2:41 pm

From Billboard, reporting on the Hot 100:

Phillip Phillips’ “Home” (8-9). With 110,000 (up 17%), “Home” passes 3 million downloads sold since its release.


December 27th, 2012
2:43 pm

Also from Billboard, regarding album sales:

2012 “American Idol” winner Phillip Phillips’ debut album, “The World From the Side of the Moon,” remains at No. 7 with 98,000 (up 44%). Its total sales stand at 475,000 after five weeks. It’s selling faster than any “Idol” finalist’s debut since 2008, when David Cook’s self-titled effort moved more than 478,000 by its third week.


December 27th, 2012
3:10 pm

Nicki Minaj is a no talent, foul mouth, fat blonde? who has zero talent. Her on show alone causes me not to watch


December 27th, 2012
3:17 pm

Agree with TG, that photo above would be practically perfect except for NM. She just does not fit in with that group. I put her in the same category as Madonna and Lady Gag Gag. Their music always depends on the “shock factor” and the talent leaves a lot to be desired. Someone like Beyonce would have been a more appropriate substitute for her.


December 27th, 2012
3:25 pm

Mercedes – American Idol wrapping stand? Huh? I didn’t make it to Lenox this year… what was that all about?

Rodney – quote: “(Carrie) thanked “Idol” for getting her to where she’s at, something she certainly no longer needs to do but still does. Class act, that lady.”

YEP. Could not agree more. Still by far, far, FAR the best winner Idol has ever had. :-) I can’t wait to see her as Maria in the Sound of Music! And I wish they’d get Kat McPhee for Liesl. (it could work… wasn’t Maria only just barely older than Liesl? and Kat looks young.)

Looking forward to Idol, but also scared that the choice of Minaj will be bad for the show. I’ll give her a chance, but from all I’ve seen and read she sounds pretty disastrous. My impression (which I hope I’ll be wrong about) is of a foul mouthed nasty brat who’s not actually a very good singer…. guess we’ll see…


December 27th, 2012
3:35 pm

And perhaps Mariah’s talent will balance things out. Over Christmas I was listening to her original “Merry Christmas” CD, an old favorite of mine… if you have never heard her version of “O Holy Night”, trust me, go and get it from iTunes NOW! (The early-mid-1990s version.)

She truly demonstrates what I believe they call a “nine-octave range”. You can hardly believe it’s the same singer at the beginning and the end of the song…

Atlanta Radio Insider

December 27th, 2012
5:00 pm

My Year In Review featuring a special “Thank You” to our viewers!

Seth T

December 27th, 2012
5:11 pm

Thanks for that info Sierra, interesting.

Mercedes S.

December 27th, 2012
5:26 pm

Minaj – this year’s Spears. Bet she won’t last beyond one season.
The wrapping stand, Jenny, was something Rodney wrote about before Christmas. “Idol” had rounded up local Idols from the Years Past and had them wrap presents, free of charge, for people who came up to them with gifts (for others). Forgot who RoHo wrote about… Bo Bice?


December 28th, 2012
8:26 am

I will watch this year for Keith Urban. I could stare at him for hours.


December 28th, 2012
12:02 pm

Pretty decent recap as usual, Roho. I’m not surprised at your opinionated jabs at Jessica (being robotic) and Joshua (being over the top), but I understand. If I was in your position, best believe I would take a jab or two at pp. In his case, it’s sometimes better to be lucky than good.


December 28th, 2012
1:29 pm

Jenny: First, HI! Haven’t seen you around lately. I’ve been gone a week as well (Vaca). I’m not sure we’re still “twins” – for me Carrie is okish, but Kelly is unsurpassed as the best by far ever on Idol!

Lots of work catching up after being off since last Fri – this ufortunately is our busiest time of year by far!

Ward Stillwagon

December 30th, 2012
3:25 pm

Nicki Minaj has not earned her dues. She simply is not qualified to be a judge. There are much better choices out there. Therefore, I will not be watching this year.


December 30th, 2012
9:51 pm

Nicki Minaj?!? This fan won’t be watching this season.


December 31st, 2012
11:14 am

Happy New year wherever the IDOL folks are.

Paul Sison

December 31st, 2012
10:15 pm

For me, only American Idol can create big and popular singers. Several superstars and many mini-stars and these mini-stars are known to most people. The X Factor USA is a big big production and it’s the exact opposite of American Idol’s simplicity. Yet, The X Factor USA’s winner doesnt even recognized at all by most people, best example is Melanie Amaro. I even thought that the 5 Million Dollar Recording Contract would just be wasted. The Voice’s winners aren’t so popular too. The Voice indeed kicks the asses of American Idol and The X Factor USA but the winners are weak.