Phillip Phillips

Photo via

As a prelude to the twelfth season of American Idol, rather than do a normal preview of this season’s talent, I wanted to do something with a more historical scope. My Reality Check podcast partner-in-crime Tiffany (@TVProducerLady) and I jumped on Skype for a couple hours and went through every single top 12 (13 in some seasons) finalist in all eleven previous seasons and discussed them ad nauseum.

We didn’t come up with a specific algorithm to grade each finalist. We looked at how well they did in their season and also, what kind of impact they’ve made after Idol. And it doesn’t only have to be in music. Jennifer Hudson says hello. We averaged our lists together and spit out a pretty raucous top 20.

We’ll first look at the five honorable mentions who didn’t make the top 20 list.

David Archuleta: Who knew that seventh season runner-up David Archuleta would be so famous in the Philippines?

Crystal Bowersox: In one of the decisions just about anyone would go back and change, Bowersox lost to the worst winner in American Idol history, Lee DeWyze. That should be the last mention of DeWyze anywhere on this list. Crystal has a new album dropping later this month and she’s set to play Patsy Cline in a Broadway production.

Tamyra Gray: Her fourth place finish in the inaugural year of the show was a disappointment, but she wrote Fantasia’s first single I Believe, acted in the TV show “Boston Public”, and married sort-of-back-in-the-day Kenny G lookalike Sam Watters from Color Me Badd. He doesn’t look like Kenny G anymore.

Blake Lewis: Lewis’ runner-up finish to Jordin Sparks in season six was the last time a female has won the show. Since then, Lewis released A.D.D. (Audio Day Dream) (which I kind of liked), Heartbreak On Vinyl, and has Portrait Of A Chameleon on track for release later this year. But really, he’s this high on our list because of this great Idol moment.

Haley Reinhart: The sultry singer with legs for days (and who Tiffany can’t stand) released her album last year and most importantly, also guest starred on an episode of 90210.

20. Taylor Hicks

Season: 5
Place: 1

At the age of 29, Taylor Hicks was the oldest winner in Idol history. With his salt and pepper hair color, he also looked like the oldest. Even after his debut album went platinum, Hicks’ pop career didn’t set the world on fire. It was still the lowest selling first album by an Idol winner at the time. I’m sure they’d love for their winners to sell so much now, ahem Lee DeWyze (wait, I said I wasn’t bringing up his name again).

He was dropped by Arista in 2008 and since then, has gone the independent route. That being said, Hicks is doing his thing in Vegas, performing five times per week. Does he make you proud?

19. Jessica Sanchez

Season: 11
Place: 2

Jessica may have been hardest to place because Tiffany and I both rated her on what we expect her to do since she hasn’t even released her first album yet. But she’s an explosion waiting to happen. If the Idol voting demographics were fair, Sanchez would’ve won her season last year. It’s not, and it didn’t happen. (Really, Idol should just do an all-male show since that’s all who the viewers vote for.)

Sanchez’s music career is ready to blossom. She’s going to be huge in the Philippines. Yes, bigger than David Archuleta. Her first single is set to come out soon and it’s with Ne-Yo. And she’s set to do “Glee”. While it’s hard to predict someone’s success, I have a feeling that if we did this list two years from now, we would probably have her ranked too low.

18. David Cook

Season: 7
Place: 1

I will admit to being a little disappointed with how Cook has done so far. I thought he’d be another Daughtry with his strong vocals. He breezed through season 7 of American Idol doing very creative riffs on songs like Billie Jean, Eleanor Rigby, and my favorite, his reworking of Lionel Richie’s Hello.

His debut did what Idol debuts were doing those days; it went platinum. But his follow-up, much like other Idol follow-ups, sold about 1/10th of that. He’s due to release his third post-Idol album in 2013.

By the way, the guy deserves props from me for dating Kimberly Caldwell a few years ago.

17. Scotty McCreery

Season: 10
Place: 1

McCreery is another who may end up much higher on this list if we were to put it together in a couple years. He has the it factor. I can see that and I’m not a huge country fan. I’ll let my buddy Matt Bjorke explain.

Taken from his review of McCreery’s album, Clear As Day:

From the very first moment I saw Scotty McCreery sing “Your Man” in his American Idol audition, I figured this was a kid who could have a career in country music and throughout the show, I was one of the ‘critics’ who kept steady with my belief in his chances at a big career and now, as the champion of the 10th season of American Idol, he has the chance to join Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood as the most successful winners of the show with the strong album that is Clear As Day, Scotty’s Mark Bright-produced 19/Interscope/Mercury Nashville album.

Country music fans take care of their artists and McCreery’s looks, sound, and charm will power him to continued success. And his future re-invention when he becomes 30 will bring him even more fans. The kid’s got a bright future ahead of him.

And he big timed Jack Black!

16. Ruben Studdard

Season: 2
Place: 1

Even though now superstar Kelly Clarkson won the first season, American Idol didn’t really become water cooler talk until Ruben vs. Clay in season two. Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken should have Fox stock. Those two, along with Simon Cowell, are really the reason American Idol took off. Studdard, the cool dude with the velvety voice faced off against Aiken, the goofy kid with the adult contemporary power pipes. Both men played their parts perfectly. It was Team Clay vs. Team Ruben and it seemed like everyone had an opinion.

Studdard’s releases have been an absolute mixed bag. His first release, Soulful was up and down and lacked actual soul. The Return was awful. But 2012’s Letters from Birmingham showed that Studdard has what it takes to make a great album. It’s soulful, heart-wrenching, and has a relationship theme. Can Studdard make a comeback ten years after Idol made him famous (or did he make Idol famous)?

15. Constantine Maroulis

ConstantineSeason: 4
Place: 6

How can someone who was eliminated at the halfway point of his season be on this list? It’s because of what he did after Idol. And really, the only thing memorable about his Idol run was how he’d eye f*** you in every song.

It wasn’t what Maroulis did in the music game that put him on our list. It’s what he’s done on Broadway. He starred as the lead in “Rock of Ages”, earning a Tony nomination. He’s currently in the works to be in “Jekyll And Hyde” with Deborah Cox which started off-Broadway and is slated to move on Broadway later this year.

(I actually met him at the Idol auditions in San Diego several years ago. He might’ve been up all night partying as he absolutely didn’t want to be there so early in the morning. And I don’t blame him. Thankfully, he wore sun glasses. I was scared he’d eye f*** me again.)

14. Diana DeGarmo

Season: 3
Place: 2

Diana DeGarmo may have very well have won many of the American Idol seasons that weren’t hers. And the only reason she didn’t win hers is because she ran into the juggernaut that was Fantasia. DeGarmo, much like Constantine, is on this list because of what she’s done on the stage, not in the recording studio.

She’s done Broadway versions of “Hairspray” and “Hair”, and has done other off-Broadway productions since 2005. She even joined the cast of the soap opera, “Young And The Restless” in 2011.

In a fun piece of Idol trivia, she and Idol alum Ace Young are set to be married later this summer after getting engaged in 2012. They’ve even teamed up for a TV show on the Hallmark Channel.

13. Kimberly Caldwell

Season: 2
Place: 7

Caldwell was one of the first Idol sex symbols, lasting as long as she did more so because of her looks than her vocals. And she’s used those looks as well as an engaging personality to become big in the hosting world. Tiffany, who is a producer in that world says that Kimberly is in big demand.

She’s hosted shows on CBS, Fox Sports, MTV, VH-1, and the Oxygen Network. She also used her Idol roots to host many shows pertaining to the TV show, which has always made an impression on me. She hasn’t forgotten where she came from.

12. Phillip Phillips

Season: 11
Place: 1

The guy with the most redundant name in the business also has a chance, alongside Scotty McCreery, to make Idol winners important again. Since Jordin Sparks’ win in season six, Idol winners haven’t been much of a big deal. Both McCreery and Phillips have a chance to do what Daughtry, Clarkson, and Carrie Underwood did before them – become real pop stars. He was the most interesting and bland contestant all at the same time. He just didn’t seem to care, which is part of his charm.

His single Home is the most successful American Idol single in seemingly forever. It’s everywhere. You see it used in tons of TV packages and commercials. His first album The World From The Side Of The Moon is solid work. He performed the National Anthem at the first game of the 2012 World Series. And his single Gone, Gone, Gone is just as catchy as Home is.

11. Elliott Yamin

Season: 5
Place: 3

During season five, Yamin was the diabetic kid who couldn’t hear and had a bad grill, but had such a soulful voice. He’s the most awkwardly impressive Idol contestant ever, showing that charisma and singing chops could go a long way on such a cosmetic show. Yamin is a Popblerd favorite as Big Money and I both feel like he has a crazy R&B album in him.

Yamin has stayed busy, constantly touring and creating album after album. He’s the most successful Idol artist who didn’t have a deal with a major label. He released his self-titled album in 2007. He then released two holiday albums back to back before coming back with Fight For Love in 2009. He released an album in Japan before 2012’s Let’s Get To What’s Real. Each of his regular US releases are consistently good.

This is still my favorite single from an American Idol alumnus ever.

Read part two of our list.

Be Sociable, Share!