On Tuesday, January 13, 2008, the eighth season of American Idol commenced. As the highest-rated show on television, American Idol‘s produced an immeasurable impact on the entertainment industry, with film stars (Jennifer Hudson), pop superstars (Kelly Clarkson) and publicity magnets (Clay Aiken) all sprouting from the competition.
A number of Idol participants adopted country music as their main mode of career transportation. In addition to Season Four champion Carrie Underwood, finalists Josh Gracin, Bucky Covington and Kellie Pickler have achieved varying levels of success on Music Row. Phil Stacey, Kristy Lee Cook and Bo Bice continue to polish their craft in the hopes that they’ll find favor with country listeners as well.
The best Idol contestant to date is Kelly Clarkson. Her blend of balls-to-the-wall rockers and fall-to-your-knees ballads were a magic potion to angry tween girls (and fans of pure pop bliss), and her ensuing success legitimized Idol as a cultural institution. Then, the floodgates opened. Kudos came from all corners of the musical universe with 2005’s “Since U Been Gone,” a sing-in-your-hairbrush salvo that Clarkson fires off with the strength of a gale force wind. Hip and happening, fueled by a melody that was half Strokes, half Swedish pop genius, “Since U Been Gone” gained a rare thing for mainstream radio songs: credibility. A change in her musical muse (Clarkson delved into deeper, darker tones on 2007’s My December) was met with turbulence; in June 2007, she shared her public “feuds” with famed record exec Clive Davis, she dumped her management team and she canceled a stadium tour.
Recent developments advance the notion that she’s ready to conquer the Top 40 parade again. Hailed as the return of pop’s prodigal daughter, Clarkson’s new album All I Ever Wanted (slated to ship on St. Patrick’s Day) is being positioned as a bounce back into the shinier rhythms of Clarkson’s earlier work. The bright, beaming colors of the album art (not to mention her goody-two-shoes, glammed-out pose) and the light, breezy feel of its first single, “My Life Would Suck Without You” signal a renewed energy. Lyrics like “Maybe I was stupid for telling you goodbye/Maybe I was wrong for tryin’ to pick a fight” hint coyly at the contretemps behind the black curtain. A masterstroke of marketing or an earnest ditty of devotion? No matter. The quasi-comeback kid kicks the tail out of a tale of resistant rapture.
There’s your Kelly Clarkson update. Now, who is your favorite Idol contestant, country or otherwise?
P.S. Who, in my view, is the best country Idol contestant so far? Well, Carrie Underwood, of course.