On Monday, Tiffany and I released part one of our list of the top 20 American Idol contestants of all-time. It featured seven guys and three girls. We’re flippin’ the script on you. The Idol girls are running this town. And when I say town, I really mean, part two of our list.
10. Kellie Pickler
Who would’ve thunk it? The young woman who was portrayed as the stereotypical dumb blonde on season five is one of the most successful recording artists out of all American Idol contestants. To be fair, the bloom may be off the rose as her last album has yet to sell 100,000 copies, but that’s only after her first two albums sold over 1.3 million units combined. And she may be able to make a little bit of a comeback. She’s set to star on the upcoming season of “Dancing With The Stars” (which I’m sure makes Nigel happy).
Pickler’s still just 26 and maybe “Dancing With The Stars” can give her the upstart that she needs.
9. Clay Aiken
Like I mentioned when discussing Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken was one of the main reasons for Idol’s early success. His rookie album Measure Of A Man (and no, not the fantastic Elton John song from the “Rocky V” soundtrack) sold 613,000 copies in the first week, which is still to this day, the best first week of any Idol album ever.
My ears still perk up when I hear this in grocery stores.
Aiken has displayed quite the knack for television. He’s gone the hosting route like many of his Idol colleagues. His best work was on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” where he came in second to Arsenio Hall. Aiken showed business savvy and toughness. Aiken also starred on Broadway in “Monty Python’s Spamalot”. Aiken’s quite the triple threat.
8. Jordin Sparks
Former New York Giants football player Phillippi Sparks’ baby girl has done pretty well for herself and is still just 23 years of age. After winning season six, Sparks’ post-Idol career has been excellent so far. Much like most of her Idol brethren, her first album sold really well, going platinum and spawning the big single No Air featuring the insufferable Chris Brown, while her follow up didn’t do so well, at least in the US.
But, that didn’t stop Miss Sparks. She too had a run on Broadway with “In the Heights”. And in her biggest role so far, she was given a lead part in the remake of Sparkle, best known as the last film Whitney Houston starred in before her death. Sparks will continue her actress-slash-singer role as she has a role in an upcoming film that also stars Jennifer Hudson. (More on Hudson later.)
I was impressed most by her role as herself on “Suite Life On Deck”.
7. Katharine McPhee
This is the one where people who don’t like McPhee call for my head. Sorry y’all, she’s a star.
McPhee finished second to Taylor Hicks in season five. It was one of their strongest seasons and she was front and center. Pop music stardom was probably not in the cards, even though she owns strong vocals. She comes across as someone playing pop star rather than someone who actually is. But that leads to other strengths. With a TV producer dad and cabaret singer mom, if she was going to make it, it was going to be in television or movies. She was in bit parts both on TV shows and in movies before breaking out with her feature role in Smash.
Smash has been a mild hit for NBC and I don’t exactly know anyone who watches the show. But with nearly 9 million viewers per week, it could be a bit of a liftoff point for McPhee. While I could entirely be wrong, I think her future is in movies.
6. Adam Lambert
When it comes to vocal prowess, he’s probably the greatest male performer in American Idol history. Going from Mad World to Tracks Of My Tears to A Change Is Gonna Come so effortlessly, Lambert really left everyone in the dust, Kris Allen included. Why did he come in second? Well, it’s because he’s gay. You remember the photo of him kissing another man that surfaced before the season was over. And if anyone argues that, they simply weren’t watching the shows during that season and they don’t understand the voting demographics. And I’m not hating on Allen. I thought his version of Heartless was brilliant and bought Live Like We’re Dying for my kids (ahem). But let’s be real about this. My friend George wrote about Allen not being able to sell out a 200 seat venue in a strip mall recently.
Enough about Kris Allen.
Adam Lambert crushed his season on American Idol. He may not have crushed it like Fantasia crushed it. But if you were going to rank Idol performer seasons, he’s probably in the top five and maybe in the top three. His first two albums were good (What Do You Want From Me is still on my workout playlist), though I think last year’s Trespassing was completely under-appreciated. It was one of the best fifteen albums I’d heard all year. But really, to understand how good Lambert is, you need only watch one of his best performances from his season.
Fantasia was like Jerry Rice during her season on American Idol. She was truly incomparable. To me, she owns the single best overall season in American Idol history. Kelly was great during her season. Ruben and Clay made Idol part of water cooler talk. Lambert destroyed season eight. Kevin Covais, well, he didn’t really destroy anything except my ear drums. But you get the point. The disparity between Fantasia and second and third place was huge.
And then, life happened. If this were simply about the show, Fantasia would be number one. But it’s not. It’s also about success after the show. It started off great. Free Yourself went platinum and she had released the ballsy Baby Mama which I thought was brilliant even if she caught flack for it.
She played herself in the a Lifetime movie that at the time was the second most viewed feature on the channel. She scored rave reviews playing Celie in the Broadway adaptation of “The Color Purple”. She released her second album, Fantasia, which I thought was very good. And then, the wheels started to fall off.
She was scheduled to play Mahalia Jackson in a movie and the project was put on hold allegedly because she was pregnant with the child of a married man. B-A-B-Y M-A-M-A! She released a horrendous reality TV series called “Fantasia For Real” that had me yearning for more of “What Chili Wants”. There was the suicide attempt which we’re still not sure if it was for real or for “Fantasia For Real”.
But there is still hope. Her third album was the lowest selling album of her career, but it didn’t dip that far below her second album. She has a fourth album coming out in 2013 and though I’m not sure there’s a whole lot of audience who is ready to buy a Fantasia album in 2013, if she makes good music, she can stay relevant.
Don’t ever forget.
4. Chris Daughtry
He’s the highest ranked male contestant on our list. Daughtry seemed like the most seasoned Idol contestant ever when he season five’s top act week after week. When he was eliminated during the 8th week, it was a shock. It’s because of him that Ryan Seacrest reminds fans to vote for their favorites because no one is ever safe. Daughtry also lived the overused line by the judges that a singer is so good, they could immediately record a certain song and have a hit. His last performance on Idol was May 10, 2006 and his first post-Idol release was on November 21, 2006. He basically did just that.
Daughtry is nearly 5x platinum and Chris is third to only Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood when it comes to overall album sales from American Idol alumni. His second album, released in 2009 didn’t quite reach the same status, but it still went platinum instead of taking the usual sophomore dip. His third album has been certified gold.
Daughtry doesn’t need to act. He just wants to sing. I’m sure he’s had offers to be on TV, do small parts in movies and other things that other alumni do, but he’s chosen his path in music and that’s where you see him.
3. Carrie Underwood
If you’re an aspiring singer who makes it on American Idol, you want to mirror what Carrie’s done. And to think, during her season on American Idol, all I did was make fun of her for her bad case of noassatall. I didn’t know I’d be making fun of one of the most successful music artists in the last 10 years. But the blueprint remains; be likable but not a push over, be pretty (or handsome) but don’t act like it (so the catty female voters don’t vote you off just because), sing your ass off, and when the judges fawn over you, pretend you don’t deserve it. As an aside, the best person to do the “I’m not worthy act” in American Idol history was David Archuleta.
If you are super talented and follow that blueprint, you can win this show (it’s also why I don’t think Angela Miller wins season 12; there’s no way she’s humble enough to follow the Carrie blueprint). I fell for it hook, line, and sinker in the finale. Yes, I was rooting for Bo Bice. But during the night before the final show, she had one of those moments where it seemed to hit her that she had a chance to win it. (I wish I could find it, but YouTube has seemingly deleted all of season five.) And right then and there, I changed my vote. I’m sorry Bo Bice.
Let’s get to some numbers. Her first album Some Hearts is certified 7x platinum. And while she hasn’t been able to keep up those ‘NSYNC-like numbers, she’s still guaranteed to go platinum with every release. All four of her albums have sold over 14 million units combined in the US.
And the woman has a wicked sense of humor. Remember when she dated Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo in 2007? The first single of her third album was titled Cowboy Casanova and featured lyrics about a certain someone who would only break your heart and might’ve been a cool drink of water, but was candy coated misery. Hmmm. Tony Romo played for the Cowboys. The song had the word cowboy in the title. Could that song be about him? Has to be right?
2. Jennifer Hudson
Jennifer Hudson is officially an A lister. And she’s done it without really having a hit album. I’ve actually found both of her albums boring.
Her movie career is a movie script in of itself. Her first role was as Effie White in the movie “Dreamgirls” based on the Broadway play. She beat out many actresses to step into the shoes of White, first played famously by Jennifer Holliday. In the defining moment of the movie, she belts out And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going and well, it just stays with you.
The knockout performance led to roles in the “Sex And The City” movie, “The Secret Life Of Bees” and she has three movies coming out in 2013.
She’s also now the go-to when it comes to special live performances. She did an amazing version of the Star Spangled Banner at Super Bowl XLIII. She performed at Michael Jackson’s memorial service. At the Grammys in 2012, she performed I Will Always Love You, paying tribute to Whitney Houston the day after she died. And at this year’s Academy Awards, she performed her “Dreamgirls” hit in an ode to musicals. She’s got it all.
1. Kelly Clarkson
I think you can make an argument for each of our top three to be number one on this list. Tiffany actually listed Hudson as number one and Clarkson as two. I had Clarkson as one and Underwood as two. But each of the top three could’ve been number one and you wouldn’t get an argument from me.
Kelly Clarkson was the absolute perfect storm. The first winner of American Idol is also the most successful. How lucky where they for it to happen that way? And it’s not like she’s really lost a thing. She may not sell as many albums per release as Carrie Underwood, but the girl has staying power in a day and age when artists have trouble staying relevant. And rather than trying to stay young like a lot of artists do, she grows with her audience, using her real life experiences in her music.
Her first album after winning the inaugural season of American Idol wasn’t the same kind of sound that would become her signature. It was more on the wannabe soulful tip, and didn’t seem to suit her like her future work did. But Thankful did feature my favorite Clarkson performance; the powerful Anytime. Her sound would lean more toward the pop-rock sound starting immediately with her next album. And with that album, she blew up like dynamite. Breakaway never made it to number one in the US, but it did sell over 6 million units. The follow-up wasn’t as successful, but here’s where my appreciation for her as an artist grows.
My December was recorded during a time in her life when her success got to her and she was feeling overwhelmed. As the story goes, Clive Davis thought the album was too dark and wanted another Breakaway. Clarkson fought him and eventually got her way. And she didn’t hide her feelings about Davis in interviews. That album wasn’t my cup of tea necessarily, but I loved the way she handled the situation.
While her last two albums didn’t catch fire, they are still respectable. I really enjoyed Stronger, which was carried by the single Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill Me) which became an anthem. And while I doubt it will gain the proper airplay, her recent single from a greatest hits album, Catch My Breath is also fantastic.
So I just heard Clive Davis is releasing a memoir and spreading false information about me and my music. I refuse to be bullied and I just have to clear up his memory lapses and misinformation for myself and for my fans. It feels like a violation. Growing up is awesome because you learn you don’t have to cower to anyone – even Clive Davis.
And it gets better. Read the entire thing. She’s the pioneer. She paved the way. Go, girl.