On Wednesday night, “American Idol” voters crowned Kris Allen the champion of season eight. And now that he’s bested Adam Lambert and been named the king of the “Idol” heap, we’re asking the question: “Where does he rate among the all-time ’Idol’ greats?”
Well, he doesn’t. At least not in our top 10, at least.
After combing through the previous eight “American Idol” seasons, and taking into consideration stuff like performances, compelling backstories and post-show careers, we’ve created the following list, our “Greatest ’Idol’ Contestants Of All Time.” Allen didn’t make the cut, but you might be surprised by who did.
10. Clay Aiken
He started out as the nerdy kid with the wire specs, got cut in the round of 32, came back as a wild card, got a makeover, became an unlikely heartthrob and rode a powerful set of pipes — and the whole “geek to chic” thing — all the way to the finals of season two, where he lost a nail-biter to Ruben Studdard. But he didn’t let that stop him: Post-“Idol,” he’s sold a ton of albums (his debut, Measure of a Man, bowed at #1, selling a staggering 613,000 copies in its first week), starred in Broadway plays, became a pop-culture touchstone, proved that he has a rather deft touch for comedy and, oh, came out of the closet . Not too shabby.
9. LaToya London
A total and complete powerhouse of a performer, London blew the socks off everybody for something like 10 consecutive weeks, earning high praise and standing ovations for her takes on “All by Myself,” “Ain’t Nobody” and “Somewhere.” But she won’t be remembered just for her voice: Drama seemed to follow her at every turn. When she and fellow divas Jennifer Hudson and Fantasia Barrino ended up in the bottom three, it provoked calls of racism (from Elton John, of all people) and brought into question the validity of the entire “Idol” voting system. London survived, but was eventually sent packing a few weeks later. Her ouster and tearful farewell performance of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” remain two of the most memorable “Idol” moments.
8. Elliott Yamin
People forget just how great Yamin was on the fifth season of “Idol,” earning high praise from judges and mentors alike. Simon Cowell called him “potentially the best male vocalist” in the show’s history, and his stirring take on Leon Russell’s “A Song for You” remains one of the finest “Idol” performances ever. Yamin ended up finishing third, behind Katharine McPhee and Taylor Hicks (seriously), and while his post-“Idol” career hasn’t been huge, his self-titled 2005 debut bowed at #3 and has since gone gold. Couple that with a compelling backstory (his hearing loss, his late mother’s battle with an undisclosed illness) and Yamin might be the most underrated Idol in history.
7. David Cook
With a voice tailor-made for modern-rock radio, an innate sense of humor and a penchant for taking risks with his arrangements, Cook was the everydude who became king during the seventh season of “Idol.” Having spent his formative years kicking around in various Midwestern rock outfits (Axium, the Midwest Kings), Cook put his training to good use, turning tunes like Lionel Richie’s “Hello” into angsty stompers. He bested runner-up David Archuleta by some 12 million votes, and post-“Idol,” his debut has gone platinum and spawned a pair of hit singles (“Light On” and “Time of My Life”).
6. Jennifer Hudson
Her exit from “Idol” was arguably the most shocking in show history, but she’s more than moved on. Hudson already has a Grammy and an Oscar to her name, and her self-titled debut album bowed at #2, selling more than 200,000 copies. Her run during the third season of “Idol” started rocky — she made the top 12 as a wild card, then spent two of the next three weeks in the bottom three — but she turned it around with a big-time take on Elton John’s “Circle of Life” and then kicked it into overdrive with a version of Whitney Houston’s untouchable “I Have Nothing.” And, in the spirit of Whitney, her scene-stealing version of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from “Dreamgirls” has since become an Everest several “Idol” contestants have attempted to scale, with disastrous results.
5. Adam Lambert
Seriously. With his style, flair for the dramatic and positively killer falsetto — not to mention the speculation about his personal life — Lambert breathed new life into “Idol” on the just-wrapped eighth season. His powerhouse takes on songs like “Mad World,” “Black or White” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” earned him the highest of praise from the judges (his original performance of “Mad World” might be one of the best in “Idol” history), while a cover story in Entertainment Weekly and a spot on “The O’Reilly Factor” made him a lightning rod for public scrutiny and a symbol of the red/blue-state divide that’s still prevalent in this country. Of course, he ended up losing in the finals to nice guy Kris Allen, but regardless of where he goes from here, in a lot of respects, Lambert’s already won.
4. Chris Daughtry
The greatest rocker in “American Idol” history, and he didn’t even win the competition. Daughtry’s sandpapery voice, authenticity and blue-collar personality made him stand out from any of the so-called “rock guys” who came before him (see: Bice, Bo), and he’s since become the benchmark against which “rock guys” who come after will be judged (see: Cook, David). His version of Fuel’s “Hemorrhage (In My Hands)” was so good, the guys in the band offered to make him their lead singer, and though he eventually finished fourth, his post-show career has been meteoric: His self-titled debut album went platinum in five weeks, becoming the fastest-selling rock debut in SoundScan history. It spent an astounding 116 weeks on the Billboard top 100, and has since been certified as quintuple-platinum.
3. Carrie Underwood
One of the strongest “Idol” contestants in history (she positively dominated the fourth season, never coming close to the bottom three) and the biggest star the show has ever produced. From her first audition, Simon Cowell predicted that not only would Underwood win the competition, but that she would “outsell all previous ’Idol’ winners,” and, uh, he was right on both counts. Underwood has become a massive country star, with her debut, Some Hearts, being certified septuple-platinum by the RIAA (it’s the fastest-selling country debut in the SoundScan era), and the follow-up, Carnival Ride, has sold more than 2.8 million copies to date and has remained in the top 100 for 82 weeks (and counting).
2. Kelly Clarkson
She’s the original Idol, and while her performances on the show were great (particularly the Motown stuff and her post-victory take on “A Moment Like This”), it’s Clarkson’s willingness to forge her own path post-“Idol” that lands her at #2. Her second album, Breakaway, featured the massive “Since U Been Gone” and showed her distancing herself from the show, and she’s only gone further off the path since. My December was really dark and personal, and the just-released All I Ever Wanted has already spawned two hit singles and showcases her growing artistic side. In a lot of ways, Clarkson is everything you could ask for in a pop star, and then some.
1. Fantasia Barrino
There has never been a better singer and performer in “Idol” history than Barrino, whose takes on Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” and — most notably — “Summertime” from “Porgy and Bess” (which left her in tears) have become the stuff of “AI” legend. Simon Cowell called her the greatest contestant not just in “American Idol” history, but in the entire international history of the show as well, and we’re not gonna disagree with him. Add to that the controversy surrounding her near-elimination, her personal struggles (which were so compelling that it spawned a best-selling autobiography and a highly rated Lifetime movie), and her post-show success (gold and platinum records, plus the role of Celie in the Broadway version of “The Color Purple,” which drew raves), there’s no one who comes close to matching Barrino. She’s the total package. And the greatest “Idol” contestant of all time.
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