It’s impossible for a lot of people nowadays to have never heard of American Idol. For eight consecutive years, (from the 2003-04 season up to 2010-11), American Idol remained undisputed in terms of ratings and popular appeal. The show’s peak of popularity mostly rests on the judges – most famously the panel triumvirate of music producer Randy Jackson, singer Paula Abdul and the acerbic-tongued British entertainment executive Simon Cowell, as well as the contestants themselves of course. Jackson remained as a judge from the first up to the twelfth season.
When and how did American Idol start?
American Idol has its roots way back in Britain, or in Down Under depending on which you prefer.American Idol is based on the British series Pop Idol. Meanwhile, the inspiration behind Pop Idol was the New Zealand reality-based talent series Popstars, whose franchise also became popular in 50 countries.
UK’s Pop Idol was created by entertainment entrepreneur Simon Fuller and produced by Nigel Lythgoe. It became really popular there, running for three seasons. And more importantly, Pop Idol was the seed of the phenomenally popular global franchise, and that includes American Idol.
After Fuller and Cowell failed in their initial attempt to bring the Pop Idol idea to the United States, Fox bought the show in 2002. The show was originally named American Idol: The Search for a Superstar, and debuted in the summer that year – it became an instant hit, and would go on to lord over the primetime ratings for the next eight straight seasons.
The mechanics of the show start with a panel of judges to select singers at the audition, allowing what they think were the best singers to advance to the subsequent rounds – the eliminations and semi-finals – until only two contestants are left, battling it out in finals to claim the title of the year’s American Idol. During the course of the competition up to the finals, the judges continue to give critique to the contestants. The show allows (as it always has) participation from the television audience to vote for their favorite contestants through telephone.
Another unique element of American Idol, the unfolding of some of the contestant’s real-life struggles and backstage dramas, has contributed to the success of the show.
American Idol originally planned to feature four judges but several prospects such as DJ Stryker and radio personality Angie Martinez backed out so the show went on with their original three judges – Jackson, Abdul and Cowell. All three of them stayed until Season Eight, Abdul’s final stint as a judge before she left the show. That season also presented a fourth judge in the person of singer-songwriter and record producer Kara DiGuardi. Since then the judge’s lineup has shifted considerably, with celebrities such as Steven Tyler, Ellen DeGeneres, Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban. Harry Connick Jr. joins the judging panel along with Lopez and Urban for American Idol’s 14th season in 2015. AI eighth season runner-up Adam Lambert filled in for Urban during the Long Island (New York) auditions.
American Idol’s first season featured hosts Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman, but only Seacrest has continued emceeing the show up to the present.
In 2018, the show will make a return, but will be broadcast on ABC for the first time.
The American Idols
Here are the top American Idol winners, starting from the first up to the twelfth season:
Season 1 (2002) – Kelly Clarkson (the “Original American Idol”)
Season 2 (2003) – Ruben Studdard
Season 3 (2004) – Fantasia Barrino
Season 4 (2005) – Carrie Underwood
Season 5 (2006) – Taylor Hicks
Season 6 (2007) – Jordin Sparks
Season 7 (2008) – David Cook
Season 8 (2009) – Kris Allen
Season 9 (2010) – Lee DeWyze
Season 10 (2011) – Scotty McCreery
Season 11 (2012) – Phillip Phillips
Season 12 (2013) – Candice Glover
Season 13 (2014) – Caleb Johnson
Season 14 (2015) – Nick Fridiani
Season 15 (2016) – Trent Harmon
You may also read our article about The Biggest Success Stories to Emerge from Talent Shows to discover more famous people who came from talent shows.
The highest rating in American Idol’s history is in Season 5, where it averaged about 30.6 million viewers per episode. It was also where the show was broadcast in high definition for the first time.
Of course, the series has also been star-studded, with celebrities serving either as the contestant’s mentors, guest-judges or guest performers: Stevie Wonder, Lamont Dozier, Gladys Knight, Olivia Newton-John, Robin Gibb, Barry Gibb, Neil Sedaka, Donna Summer, Tony Bennett, Randy Travis, Dolly Parton, Andrew Lloyd Weber, Smokey Robinson as well as future judges Lopez, Carey and Connick, Jr.
Aside from the winners such as Clarkson, Studdard, Underwood and Cook in particular, other contestants who also became successful to varying degrees are Daughtry, Clay Aiken, Adam Lambert, Katharine McPhee, David Archuleta, Jennifer Hudson (who even won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her film debut in Dreamgirls).
The show’s undeniable impact on the entertainment industry
Despite earning its all-time low ratings in the latest season (Season Twelve), you can’t deny the show’s overall commercial success and astounding cultural impact. Advertisers and media sponsorships from companies such as Coca-Cola, Ford, AT&T (the service provider for text-voting from the television audiences) and Apple’s iTunes greatly benefited from the show’s success. American Idol‘s triumph and influence led to other reality-based talent search programs like The X-Factor, The Voice, and So Do You Think You Can Dance?
Most importantly, it continues to give hope to musically talented and deserving aspirants to ultimately fulfill their dreams of becoming the next American Idol.