We pause from Classic Rock to look back on recent pop music history.
It was just a summer replacement show based on an old-fashioned talent show format. I remember Sly & The Family Stone winning a summer TV talent show in the 1960’s, now Fox TV was trying it again with an American version of Britain’s “Pop Idol”. “American Idol” turned out to be a juggernaut for about a decade, starting in the summer of 2002, and then slowly faded out through 2015…although the ratings were still better than many hit shows.
The luckiest thing to ever happen to American Idol was that Kelly Clarkson tried out the first season, and eventually won. She could sing any style of music Idol threw at the contestants, and viewers loved her. Finding a real talent validated the show’s very existence.
So let’s look back at the entire run of Idol, and determine how good the show was at finding talent, and which contestants were ultimately the most successful.
There are various ways of measuring success, so let’s start with the most practical way…who is now worth the most money? It’s a surprising stat, because of the Top Ten contestants on the list, only 4 of them actually won the show.
- Carrie Underwood…$70-Million. Singing, Endorsing, Acting, Hosting.
- Kelly Clarkson…$28-Million. Singing, Endorsing, Writing.
- Jennifer Hudson…$20-Million. Acting (won Oscar), Singing, Endorsing.
- Adam Lambert…$12-Million. Singing solo & with rock group Queen.
- Jordon Sparks…$10-Million. Singing, own Clothing & Fragrance lines.
- Chris Daughtry…$8.5-Million. Rock group Daughtry.
- Clay Aiken…$6-Million. Singing, Broadway.
- Katharine McPhee…$6-Million. Acting (on TV’s “Scorpion”), Singing.
- David Cook…$5-Million. Singing, Endorsing.
- Daivd Archuleta…$5-Million. Singing.
Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Jordon Sparks, and David Cook are the four who won the show. The money figures are from “Business Insider”, 2016.
Carrie Underwood was the next big find, in season four. The shy girl from Oklahoma had never even been on a plane before Idol, and now she’s had 24 #1 singles on the Billboard country chart, and has been the most successful female country star for over a decade. Friend Miranda Lambert is close, and you might remember she got started on the “Nashville Star” talent show.
Another way we’re checking success is sales of recordings. These are the official sales of albums in the United States as of 2016:
- Carrie Underwood, season 4 winner…16-million.
- Kelly Clarkson, season 1 winner…14-million
- Chris Daughtry, season 5, #4…7.3-million
- Clay Aiken, season 2, #2…5-million
- Fantasia Barrino, season 3 winner…3-million
- Ruben Studdard, season 2 winner…2.6-million
- Scotty McCreary, season 10 winner…2.2-million
- Kellie Pickler, season 5, #6…1.5-million
- David Cook, season 7 winner…1.5-million
- Phillip Phillips, season 11 winner…1.5-million
Worldwide, Kelly Clarkson has sold the most.
Others who have sold over a million albums, and their season ranking are…Jennifer Hudson (#7), Jordon Sparks (#1), Adam Lambert (#2), and David Archuleta (#2).
By comparison, no winner or contestant of The Voice has sold anywhere near a million albums, and the most successful, Cassadee Pope, had an album reach #9, and a single reach #3 (on the country chart). The Voice concentrates on the judges instead of the contestants, and is a ratings winner, but a talent finding bust.
By concentrating on the contestants more than the judges, especially in the early half of their run, American Idol discovered talented people. It also gave the contestants enough exposure that the show served as a springboard to start their careers.
On the acting front…Katharine McPhee has had supporting roles in movies, starred for two years on the TV show “Smash”, and is now starring in her 4th season of TV’s “Scorpion” series. Another Katherine, Katie Stevens, was a top 10 finisher in 2010, and now has a starring role in new TV series “The Bold Type”. Contestants who have appeared on Broadway include Diana DeGarmo, Constantine Maroulis, Clay Aiken, Katie Webber, Fantasia Barrino, Jordon Sparks, and of course Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson. Do you remember “American Junior”? It was a teens & younger spinoff of American Idol for one season. One of the winners was Lucy Hale. She became a very popular actress in the successful “Pretty Little Liars” series.
One last thing. The most versatile performer after Kelly Clarkson was Haley Reinhart who finished third in 2011. She and Casey Abrams (shown above) brought Jazz to American Idol. Haley also sang Country, Pop, Rock, and anything else they asked her to sing. Popular musicians took notice of her talent. Lady Gaga gave permission for Haley to sing one of her unreleased songs, “You and I”. Led Zeppelin let Idol know that they would allow Haley to sing their songs for the first time on Idol, and she rocked “What Is And What Should Never Be”.
Haley and Casey have had modest success, together and solo. Haley had a #16 hit on the Adult Contemporary chart with “Can’t Help Falling In Love”, and an album, Listen Up!, that charted at #22. They sang and played with the Jazz group “Postmodern Jukebox” and there are extremely popular videos of those performances. A few years after her time on Idol, she still had eight of the top 10 “American Idol Performances” purchased on iTunes, and her performance of “House Of The Rising Sun” remains the #1 Idol Performance sold on iTunes.
Obviously, American Idol was a huge success at finding talent, and despite all their talent, I don’t think Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and others could have had their impressive careers without exposure on Idol.
American Idol is returning in 2018 on ABC (instead of Fox). It seems a little soon to bring it back, but all that really matters is that they find talented contestants.
Update: American Idol had a shorter season for 2018 (March 16th-May 21st), and 20-year-old Maddie Poppe won it. She’s a singer/songwriter/guitarist who shows promise. We’ll see if American Idol has found another successful artist.
Update 2: We also watched the finale of The Voice (the same week), and my wife and I think winner Brynn Cartelli (above) might become the first really successful artist that show has produced. Her coach was American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson. Brynn plays guitar & keyboards, writes songs, and is way more mature than a typical 15-year-old.