'American Idol': The Best Of 2008, By Jim Cantiello

On the eve of the new season, we take a look back at our favorite 'American Idol' videos of 2008.

The seventh season of "American Idol" will be remembered for lots of things: for allowing contestants to play instruments, for featuring the music of the Beatles, for the nail-biting David vs. David finale, and then there was that whole "Paula Accidentally Critiques a Performance Before She Actually Saw It" debacle.

But around the MTV News office, this season will be remembered as the year where we went "all in" with our coverage. With live blogs, 60-second recaps, breaking-news updates, exclusive music performances, in-depth home visits and "Idol" fanatic roundtables, MTV News had a blast dissecting every nanosecond of the pop-culture phenomenon. And without further ado, here are some of our favorite "Idol" videos produced in 2008.

"I'm Not Here to Make Friends": Jim's "Idol" Audition Video Diary

Having a correspondent or a news producer audition for "American Idol" was an idea that was thrown around the office for years, and each time it came up we hit the same road block: Fox wouldn't let our cameras inside the actual audition arena. But 2008 was the year when we threw caution to the wind and set out to tell our story anyway. And boy, was I glad I got to take part! This was honestly the most fun I've ever had on a news shoot. Everyone was super-nice and willing to do just about anything to get on camera. Plus, any shoot that gives me the excuse to utter the reality-TV cliché "I'm not here to make friends" is aces in my book.

"I Wouldn't Be Surprised If The Other One Wins": Simon Cowell on the "Idol" Finale Red Carpet

The "American Idol" finale red carpet is always a clusterf--- of epic proportions. Unless you're "Access Hollywood" or E!, you're not scoring an interview with any of the judges or current contestants. Instead, you're stuck fighting CBS Radio and Cat Fancy magazine for a couple of minutes with previous "Idol" also-rans who are plugging their independently released new single and/or memoir and/or perfume. So imagine our delight when King Cowell stopped to talk into our microphone and drop this bomb! Even though Simon said during the finale performance show that [artist id="3080429"]David Archuleta[/artist] had picked a better first single, he told us in this clip that he was having second thoughts about his endorsement and had been too hard on [artist id="2352551"]David Cook[/artist]. (He echoed this sentiment live on the air just a few hours later, before Cook took home the "Idol" crown.) MTV News heard it first!

Josiah Performs a New Song: "Angels Undercover"

Even though Josiah Leming didn't make it to the top 24, we were obsessed with his heartbreaking backstory and undeniable talent. Apparently, so were the folks at Warner Bros. Records, who signed the singer/songwriter to a recording contract the first chance they got. The night Josiah signed with them, he wrote this gut-wrenching song called "Angels Undercover," which he played for us in May while we sat in during his recording sessions. The label reps told us this track wouldn't be on his debut album. But we like to think our emotional response (as well as the rave reviews from MTV.com users) prompted Josiah to release the Angels Undercover EP last fall.

Does "Paulagate" Prove That "Idol" Is Rigged?

Often, the best part about "American Idol" is the Internet commentary that surrounds it, so for our "Idol Roundtable" this year, we booked the four "Idol" bloggers whose sites we visit the most during "Idol" season. This particular segment, where we discuss the controversy surrounding PaulaGate, was my favorite, if only because I found myself in the rare position of being the least cynical person in the room.

Forbidden Fruit or Brilliant Inspiration?

Sure, we were stretching when we claimed that the 1980 disco-schlock musical "The Apple" was the inspiration for "American Idol." But that doesn't change the fact that "Idol" executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, who choreographed the hilariously bad flick almost 30 years ago, keeps the credit hidden from his résumé. We're onto you, Lythgoe! (Random side note: Lythgoe stepped down from "American Idol" as soon as its seventh season wrapped in order to focus on his other hit reality competition show, "So You Think You Can Dance.")

"Idol" Ultimatums

In 2007, we produced a "Love Letter to 'Idol,' " where we listed all the reasons we are obsessed with the show and why we were so happy the new season was about to start. But after the '07 season unfolded in a depressingly underwhelming manner (Haley Scarnato? J.Lo as a singing coach?! Sanjaya??), we felt it was necessary to give the object of our affection some tough love. Sadly, the 2008 season was still a bit of a drag (Neil Diamond night? Really?) But all hope's not lost. Of the four suggestions we gave in our ultimatum, "Idol" seems to be heeding our advice, revamping the show in 2009 with a new judge (which will give Simon a reason to step up his game), a new audition process (less freaks, more backstories for the top 36), and the promise that they're going to feature the best talent yet. But don't they say that every year?

Josiah's Post-"Idol" Life

This was the first of our many shoots with the "Idol" castoff. It was just days after his "Idol" rejection episode aired, and we raced down to Tennessee to catch up with the young troubadour, who was back living at his folks' place. The stories we wrote and produced about Josiah always scored well with our audience — in some cases, a Josiah Leming story snagged more page views than one about David Cook or David Archuleta — which goes to show that you don't even have to make it to the semifinals in order to win a sizeable fanbase. At one point in this interview, Josiah told us, "[I'm] definitely trying to live down the whole 'homeless' kid livin' in his car who cries a lot." Ironically, his record label plans on playing that up in a huge way in 2009, when Leming's full-length debut album is released alongside a feature documentary all about the singer's home life.

David Archuleta: Where Did He Come From?

"American Idol" is a lot like a political campaign, and the contestant's high school is a lot like their campaign headquarters. We loved catching up with David Archuleta's current classmates, but it was our chat with his childhood vocal coach that really opened our eyes. After our interview, he played us a brilliant demo of "Imagine" that Archie recorded when he was only 12 years old, half a decade before he pulled that song out of his back pocket on TV and floored all of us — the viewers, the judges, the other contestants — with one of the best performances in "Idol" history!

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