I'm not gonna lie: This time it's personal. Over the past 13 years, I've spent more than a solid month of my life watching, writing and thinking about "American Idol." Yes, technically, it was my job, but 900 hours?
That includes hanging out at the paint shop where season 9 winner Lee DeWyze worked, watching Kris Allen cruise to his season 8 win with his pastor and bro'ing down with runner-up Crystal Bowersox's orthodontist at the Village Idiot bar in Maumee, Ohio.
All good things must come to an end, though, so I greeted Monday morning's (May 11) news that "Idol" would go to that great reality show graveyard in the sky after the 2016 season with a bittersweet joy. And then I took some time to compile a list of the greatest finalists in the history of "Idol."
Let's agree to disagree now, before things get uglier than a Nicki-Mariah shade-fest. Note: I didn't include anyone from the current season or seasons 12 and 13 because, well ... Also, these rankings are focused on "Idol" performances, not post-"Idol" careers and I purposely avoided the Sanjaya's of the world because after all the hours I've put in life is too short for joke contestants.
The first winner and still the greatest.
He lost to the bland Kris Allen, but nobody brought more originality, glam and over-the-top flash to the show... ever. Also, he handled the constant murmurs about his sexuality with grace and dignity and answered them in his own time.
Not really my thing, but Underwood is without question the second biggest name to emerge from "Idol" and a bona fide career country superstar. She had grace, poise and seemed born to win from the moment she two-stepped onto the stage. Plus she clucked like a chicken in her audition... so.
Enough drama for a Lifetime movie (yes, that happened), Fantasia is by far one of the most unpredictable, raw and complicatedly talented complicated winners in "Idol" history. She went on to hit songs, Broadway, her own reality show and a colorful personal life, but during her run, 'Tasia brought true grit to the otherwise squeaky clean winner's circle.
Season 6's third-place finisher is, in the minds of true "Idol"philes, one of the greatest non-winners ever. MD, who sang backup for gospel superstars BeBe and CeCe Winans (as well as former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald and R&B icon Aaron Neville) before auditioning, provided one of the best moments in show history with her take on the standard "My Funny Valentine." At one point, the judges literally ran out of nice things to say about her.
I was never thrilled by Scotty, but there has rarely been any "Idol" singer/winner who has been so consistent and determined to stick to his guns like Mr. "Baby Lock Them Doors." And he turned into a respectable star despite having one of the worst coronation songs of all time: "I Love You This Big."
One of the hardest things to do on "Idol" is rock, but this flame-haired teen just killed it with her unique style on season 8, making it all the way into the top 4. She wasn't, technically, the best singer, but her spirit soared.
I don't care how much heat I take for this one, season 4 sixth-place finisher Constantine brought it every week and had the hair (both chest and top of head) and the superstar quality that has turned him into a Tony-nominated Broadway attraction.
The Velvet Teddybear was subsequently overshadowed by season 2's runner-up, Clay Aiken, but Rubes absolutely deserved to win his year, if only because he never once stumbled or put up a single bad performance. His consistency is one for the ages, even if his post-"Idol" career kind of tanked.
During season one, it seemed like everyone had a shot, especially Broadway and "Boston Public" star Gray, who couldn't hide her disappointment when she washed out in fourth place. If you don't agree that the above performance is one of the most stirring in "Idol" history, well then, you and William Hung can go to a karaoke bar and cry in your beers. Because you're wrong.
Some people win "Idol" by surprising us, some by stubbornly sticking to their game plans and others by plain-old consistency and conviction. Every theme week, season 11 winner Phillips found a way to make each song his own, and he scored the biggest coronation hit of all time with "Home." Plus he redeemed the dreaded "cute white guys with guitars" run of bland winners.
Nobody could figure out how vocal powerhouse Hudson was booted in eighth place in season three. After going on to win an Oscar for her role in "Dreamgirls," and landing a number of other starring roles, Hudson's musical career has cooled down, but her "Idol" highlights are still among the most smoking' lines on her resume.
Yeah, his goofy Nashville suits were sometimes annoying and his enthusiasm could be a bit much at times, but season 10 eighth-place finisher McDonald was a solid, high-energy performer with an alluringly raspy voice who was unafraid to put some razzle-dazzle into his act every week.
I remember being annoyed by Ledet's personality, but there was no doubting his soulful screams and shouts and his expressive voice. He made it to third place in season 11, but in the end the audience just couldn't connect with him.
Ledet got aced out by second-place finisher and teen sensation Sanchez, whose effortless, emotional vocals seemed to portend a big musical career after she became the first finalist to make it after getting a Judges' Save.
Jazzy vocalist Reinhart had a throwback style that wasn't perfect for "Idol," but still landed her in third place in season 10 thanks to solid weekly performances and a sunshiny, positive personality.
At some point, there was definitely a "type" of "AI" singer. Whether it was the big, booming R&B shouter, the modest country crooner or the rock-star wannabe. But tattooed single mom Joy had something that definitely grabbed America ... for a few weeks anyway. She got booted in ninth place during season 8, but not before making an impression with her quirky vocals and goofy stage presence.
Speaking of quirky, season 9 sixth-place finisher Magnus remains one of the most unusual finalists in show history. Her impressive vocal range, outrageous fashion sense and killer version of the Beatles' "Across the Universe" earned her a spot on this list.
Grunty season 5 fourth-place finisher Daughtry is the only true rock star to ever emerge from "Idol." He did his thing, week in and week out, and managed to not drown in cheese during goofball Elvis and Great American Songbooks weeks.
The chilled-out, dreaded singer seemed a bit too disinterested to win during the battle of the Davids in season 7 (he placed fourth), but his take on "Hallelujah" is still one of the best of the many, many versions in "Idol" history.
Clay remains one of the most likable, approachable and humble runner-ups in "Idol" history. With his mix of country charm and Broadway belting power, the former Raleigh Boychoir member managed to climb from elimination to scoring a Wild Card and coming thisclose to beating Studdard.