The lucky 13 "American Idol" contenders who made it through to tonight's live show would do well to take a few minutes out of their hectic day and listen to Season 1 champ Kelly Clarkson as she rehearses for her appearance. After all, she is the prime example of how to handle the sudden success that can come with appearing on this TV talent contest.
Tonight, Kelly Clarkson will be belting out her smash hit "My Life Would Suck Without You." Back in January, that single broke the Billboard record as it jumped from No. 97 to the top spot in just one week. It was the first cut off her new album, "All I Ever Wanted," which is out today. And while this is only her fourth album, it is being touted as her comeback.
After being crowned the first "American Idol" winner back in the summer of 2002, Clarkson's debut disc "Thankful" went double platinum but met with only moderate critical approval. Her sophomore effort — "Breakaway" — was her breakthrough, selling 6 million copies and winning her Grammys in 2006 for best female pop vocal performance ("Since U Been Gone") and pop album. However, third time was not the charm as her introspective 2007 release "My December" barely went platinum and failed to impress the critics as well.
With this new album, Clarkson is said to have hit her stride once more. Ann Powers of the Los Angeles Times called the disc "a masterful rapprochement with the mainstream, full of cheerfully ear-snagging tunes, inventive production, exhilarating vocals and enough inherent Kelly-ness to put aside fears that her label bosses implanted blond electrodes in her brain to make her behave." And Leah Greenblat of Entertainment Weekly found, "the introspection Clarkson favored so heavily on 'December' is still there; now, though, she has perspective." However, there were those reviewers who were disappointed like Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune, who bemoaned that this album, "allows no room for the down-to-earth voice that Clarkson brings to her blog entries, the plainspoken charm she evinces in her concerts. She deserves better."
Among the other "American Idol" alumni, Season 4 champ Carrie Underwood has hauled home the most music awards hardware. She won the 2007 Grammy as best new artist and another for female country vocal performance ("Jesus, Take the Wheel") and she repeated in that category in both 2008 ("Before He Cheats") and 2009 ("Last Name"). Underwood has also won five American Music Awards, five Country Music Assn. Awards, six Academy of Country Music Awards, and six CMTs.
While Taylor Hicks won Season 5, it was fourth-place finisher Chris Daughtry who enjoyed far greater success fronting his own rock band. The group earned four 2008 Grammy nominations for their self-titled debut album ("Daughtry"). In a canny move, Hicks is also releasing his new album — "The Distance" — today.
Season 3 winner Fantasia earned four Grammy nominations in 2006 for her debut album ("Free Yourself") and another three in 2008 for her second ("Fantasia"). She has three Billboard Awards, including the prize for top-selling single of 2004 ("I Believe"). She is currently touring in the legit musical "The Color Purple" after wowing Broadway with her interpretation of the lead role that won LaChanze a Tony Award.
At the most recent Grammys, Fantasia contended alongside Season 3 seventh-place finisher Jennifer Hudson for best R&B duo or group performance with their duet "I'm His Only Woman." While they lost that bid, Hudson won the R&B album prize for her self-titled debut disc. She added that award to a mantle crowded with kudos, including an Oscar and a Golden Globe, for her 2006 movie debut in "Dreamgirls."
Season 2 champ Ruben Studdard picked up a Grammy nom in 2004 for best male R&B vocal performance ("Superstar"), but he lost to his idol, Luther Vandross. His fourth album — "Love IS" — will be released on May 19. Season 2 runner-up Clay Aiken has enjoyed commercial success if not critical acclaim. Although he has won three Billboard awards and was fan choice at the 2003 American Music Awards, he has yet to pick up any Grammy nods. Following the disappointing sales of "On My Way Here" he is without a record label.
Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks released her self-titled debut album in the fall of 2007 to good reviews and sales, including two platinum singles ("Tattoo" and "No Air") The latter of those landed her a recent Grammy nod for pop vocal collaboration.