Discussion: American Idol, Crazy Eights

kellyclarkson1On 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.

kellyclarkson21Recent 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.


  1. Carrie Underwood.


    It’s not even close.

    Though I’ll say my second-favorite Idol, country or otherwise, was Melinda Doolittle. She wuz robbed.

  2. Kelly Clarkson for what shes done after the show but Melinda Doolittle was my favorite contestant so far. I’m really hoping they don’t lable somebody as country just to say they have one this year, we don’t need another Phil Stacey.

  3. From Justin to Kelly

    A lonely, sexually repressed man. A depressed woman. A summer camp. On this fateful night, they will meet… and their hearts will become one.

    ‘Nuff said!

    Kinda’ blows a hole in that whole Kelly mystique thing you got goin’ Blake! ;-)

    I do really like Kelly Clarkson though. She was the first. The original. Now try and guess who my fav is! :-)

  4. JHD: LOL!! I’m sure that’s a career decision Kelly wishes she could take back.

    I’m a very off and on watcher of the show (and completely missed the middle 4-5 seasons), but Kelly Clarkson is my favorite post-show Idol. Her second album is, as Blake put it, pure pop bliss.

    I listened to her new single the other day. She definitely is definitely going back to the vibe she had on her second album (very P!nk-ish). I wasn’t overly impressed with the single, but I am looking forward to hearing the entire album.

  5. my favorite contestant has got to be carrie underwood, she made the transition from idol to music star, and she still acknowledges AI in her speeches

  6. I’m watching (and blogging) the show, but I really despise the audtion portion of the show. Having said that, I’m really not hearing much pure country potential yet. Favorite Idol is Elliott Yamin, and while I rooted for Carrie, I’m kind of burned out on her, and it’s only CD #2. I’m a fan of Josh Gracin, although he lost me just a tad by covering “Telluride” on the new CD. That song will always pale in comparison to Tim’s, and being a CO boy, I take pride in my adopted home state.

  7. Kelly Clarkson for sure. I’ve been concerned about the health of her voice recently and I don’t care for her new single, but in her prime she could sing rings around absolutely any of them. But Melinda Doolittle was awesome, too, and not just because she went to my college!

  8. Have to say Kelly, all the way! I have all of her albums. And I have to admit that I even like her album, My December, which has some great music and shows what she can do musically — I think she has the most talent and potential and is willing to be herself, even if that means putting out an album that not every one likes — she does not have to be the critics darling, she just has to be happy with herself —

  9. Kelly Clarkson, most certainly. Her live performances of Patty Griffin’s “Up to the Mountain” and Marc Broussard’s “Home” make me hopeful that she might record a country-leaning album at some point when Dread Lord Clive Davis isn’t as quick to throw a hissyfit in the media because he doesn’t like her artistic choices.

    Although I understand why she’s divisive, I also dig Fantasia’s voice and delivery. It’s too bad she’s saddled with such consistently wretched material. Elliott Yamin is easily the best male vocalist the show has produced– and apparently he’s big in Japan– and I was pleasantly surprised that he actually managed to score a legitimate pop hit in the US. I’m also looking forward to Melinda Doolittle’s upcoming album, which is supposedly a retro-minded R&B record in the vein of Sharon Jones & The DAP Kings– the kind of thing that she should be able to kill.

  10. Carrie Underwood. She is easily the best vocalist to come off of American Idol and I think she shows the most promise of any of the contestants.

  11. Kevin, I agree. Melinda was definitely robbed. She deserved first place, but I got over it. xD

    I love Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson the most, though Jordin Sparks is ok too. Kellie Pickler’s second album was bad, but I used to like her.

  12. I’ve liked quite a few for various reasons. but Kelly is still the best Idol although if he’d had been a USA citizen, Kurt Nilsen would be. He’s crazy good (but from Norway). So Kelly it is. I do like David Cook and particularly Elliot Yamin.

    On the country side obviously I like Carrie Underwood. I have honestly thought that many of the contestants, including David Archuleta from last year, would do better in the current country climate than any other genre.

  13. I don’t follow Idol, however the Australian version did help bring forward a wonderful singer/songwriter.>

    Lisa Mitchell, the excellent singer/songwriter who came through, not as a winner, from Australian Idol in 2006. I think it is stretching it a bit to call her country, but there is certainly a country influence in her music.

    She used the opportunity she gained from this to advance her ambitions as a singer/songwriter and is just about to release her debut album.

    She has a wonderful song called “Slow” which is one of my favorites of the past couple of years.

    Lisa Mitchell on myspace: http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendID=92937172

  14. The Idols have produced my country singer and my fav. pop rock band, so I have a lot to owe these shows.

    Josh Gracin is my fav. country singer, partly because of his amazing song Stay With Me (Brass Bed). But there’s just something about the way he sings and his music that I love, and I can’t really explain it. I’ve also loved the first four singles off of his most recent album.

    Canadian Idol produced Jacob Hoggard, the lead singer of my fav. band (and fav. musical artist ever), Hedley. Part of the reason I like them is because their music is so diverse. “She’s So Sorry” is an extremely energetic rock single with tons of anger and passion put into it, while “For the Nights I Can’t Remember” is such a polar opposite, a beautiful emotional pop love ballad, and one of my fav. songs of all time. Hedley is capable of making me feel hyper and happy one minute, and sad and serious the next, unlike some bands or singers I know. They are amazing!

    David Archuleta, although not as exciting to me as Hedley, is still pretty good. I thought some of his CD was somewhat boring, but thought other tracks stood out very nicely. “You Can” is easily my fav., with a beautiful emotive vocal and a simple acoustic guitar played in several variations of the pleasant G chord. “Crush” also struck a chord with me. However, unlike Hedley, he doesn’t seem to be able to produce any happy sounding songs.

    And of course, I like Carrie Underwood too. She’s not my fav., but she has produced some great singles and songs so far.

  15. Clarkson’s new cover art and the bipolar lyricism of the single seems like a thinly-veiled joke about the Kelly-Clive feud. I’m expecting All I Ever Wanted to be a close cousin to Breakaway, but Clarkson seems to be intent on steering her own ship, and I’m looking forward to her being a force (again) in 2009.

    My December is an underrated record (her most cohesive set, even though there was nothing as strong as “Since U Been Gone”). The goth-goes-pop move was never intended to be a permanent career path, and Kelly had earned the right to wrestle a little creative control from her handlers and follow her musical muse. December isn’t even a radical departure from her previous work, but the slightest slide into the dark side turns off the average pop music fan (not to mention, the money-minded record execs).

    Again, in my mind, Kelly and Carrie Underwood are the cream of the Idol crop. There’s an interesting thesis about their respective career paths to this point hiding somewhere within their stories, and Carrie’s 3rd, 4th and 5th albums will be interesting in terms of content, concept and her overall desire for ownership of her art. Will she incorporate traditional strands of country into her music? Will she include new collaborators into the mix (Clarkson, for example, has consulted many of pop and rock’s creative minds)? Will she continue to stick with the tried-and-true? Will she fight with Mark Bright?

  16. Melinda Doolittle.
    I agree with Kevin, she was r-o-b-b-e-d! Melinda is the first and ONLY contestant I ever voted for. She is also an incredibly kind and genuine lady who deserves every bit of success that comes her way.
    I can not wait for her cd to come out next month!

    While not fans of theirs at the time of their shows, I have become a fan of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.
    I think it’s because I prefer to “discover” these folks on my own as opposed to being told I’m “supposed to adore the new AI!”.
    I look forward to seeing their careers progress.

  17. Carrie Underwood is hands down the best Idol to date. Since her win, she’s the only winner who has been able to maintain a high level of success. Look at Ruben, Fantasia, and Taylor Hicks…does anyone know what happened to them?? She also has one hell of a voice!

    I loved Kelly Clarkson after she won, but I lost interest after her My December album, I just didn’t get it (the album that is). Plus, her voice has gotten considerably hoarse since her days on Idol (just youtube her Cowboys Thanksgiving halftime show performance). I also like Jordin Sparks (I gotta root for my hometown girl! plus her performance of Jewel’s “Meant for You” song is amazing!), Josh Gracin, and Chris Daughtry (who soo should’ve won season 5!!).

    I’m excited this topic came up! I’m a huuuge fan of the show (I’ve watched every single episode of every single season)! I’m excited it’s back on!

  18. “Will she fight with Mark Bright?”

    Boy howdy I hope so! I love Carrie when she’s not so over-produced a la IKYW or ITYS. Probably why I like her early demo so much, that just had such simple production that it was all about the voice. Same can be said for her accoustic stuff and her bonus vids from Carnival Ride.

    One can only hope!

    I do see her moving in different directions. I’d love to be a fly on the wall during the production of this next album. At the same time she has to balance that whole “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” meme. Lookin’ forward to album #3. I bet I’m surprised. In a good way of course!

  19. Carrie and Kellie are by far the cream of the crop when it comes to that show. Vocally I don’t think they can be matched to date. Kellie has the whold raspy bluesy voice going for her which is very original, almost comparable to Mary J. Blige (not many can be). Carrie’s voice is very flexable, she can sing anything you put in front of her, and each note is perfect, hard to believe she has had no training.

    I’ve loved all of Kellie’s music, I think it was good for her to branch out on “My December”, whether it was a flop or not, I’m sure she learned a thing or two from it, also it brought her to Reba and her husband who have seemed to get her back on track. I am excited to see if this album will do well or be comparable to “Breakaway”, that’s what she needs right now. I was so excited when she said that after working with Reba she would like to do a bit of country oneday. If she had good material, Carrie would have some real country competition.

    As most I just loved Carrie from the start, she had the whole package and appeal, she is really the true “All American Girl”, and has continued to be without comprimising and staying true to herself and I don’t think fame will ever change her, she seems to have a good head on her shoulder’s. Her talent is undeniable, when you hear her being compared to (some may not agree, that’s ok, but she has been), Reba, Faith, Martina, Shania, lately with her third CMA wiht mostly to Shania, that is a huge complement. She shot right to the top and has sustained that position for three years now. What will come from the third album I think will be different, she seems like she may be ready to branch out a bit artistically, she mentioned she will be working with new writer’s, so there is the possibility we will see some change.

    I do love how AI used her for their promo commercials this year, you want to show off your best work write, they did display how dreams do come true.

  20. I forgot to mention that I have an appreciation for how they have stuck to their guns, and made the kind of music they wanted to. If you are a true artist you don’t comprimise. Kellie has proven that by leaving the god of the pop world Clive, that’s gutsy.

    As for Carrie people always try to bring you down when you are on top, their never happy, “she’s not country’, ‘she’s not country enough”, “there’s no twang”, “she hasn’t paid her dues” and I love this one ‘she will go pop oneday”. She may be quiet and shy but she sure does speak her mind and I do love and respect her response to these comments. She had this to say in Reality Magazine:

    Shutting the door on the age-old idea that if a song isn’t about a broken-down, alcohol-fueled, honky-tonk life, then it “ain’t” country, Carrie’s music ranges from sentimental and spiritual to sexy and sassy. “Country music is where I want to be and for you doubters out there thinking I might make a pop album, it’s just not gonna happen.”

    I respect both these women for making there place known.

  21. I haven’t watched the show very uch at all. However, Doolittle did really interest me enough to go and try to find youtube clips on her after watching country week a couple of years ago.

    I’m not nearly Carrie’s biggest fan, but I like her and think she’s probably AI’s best idol from the limited amount of times I’ve watched the show.

    As for Gracin being the male Martina McBride? Come again? I really don’t think his vocal range even comes close to matching hers. I guess I’ve never been impressed with his voice. To me, he even sounds like he’s straining on “Brass Bed”, the song that a lot of people tout as his finest vocal performance. While people (including myself) give Martina crap for showboating,she’s at least able to do it with incredible ease.

  22. Carrie Underwood by a thousand miles. No one can touch her and no one probably ever will. I really think she’ll show us what she’s really got on her next album. From the interviews I’ve read or heard, it seems she will be branching out and taking a few more risks and I can’t wait to hear the results!

    My second would have to be David Cook. Man, that guy can really sing! Kelly C. really seems to be losing her voice and I just don’t connect with any of her material anymore.

  23. Chris Sligh, the goofy guy with the big hair from the same season as Phil Stacey/Jordin Sparks has something to celebrate as his song, “Here Comes Goodbye” will be released Monday as Rascal Flatts’ next single. It was co-written by Clint Largerberg.

  24. Giving his penchant for “Shrieking Diva Syndrome,” I’d say that of the male AI people, Phil Stacey was more “male Martina” than Gracin, especially given their fondness for ‘uplifting message’ songs.

  25. Actually, Matt, I can hear more of a comparison between Stacey and McBride more than Gracin and McBride too, though I don’t think he really compares either.

    I’m not really a big fan of the “shrieking Deva syndrome” term, I’ll have to admit. It just doesn’t quite sit well with me.

  26. Leeann,

    I was using Stacey as the ‘country’ comparison although I think people like Anthony Federov and Clay Aiken align more to Martina vocally than Stacey.

    As for that shrieking diva syndrome” term, I don’t really use it all that much. In many ways it’s insulting to the singers. I know it’s a style lots of people hate (and I do hate too many vocal runs in songs) but it does take skill to sing that way.

  27. Matt,

    I agree with your AI assessments for sure.

    I’m not a fan of oversinging (and I think my tastes prove it), but I don’t like that term for the same reasons you don’t.

  28. Carrie, Carrie Carrie!! No questions asked. She has amazing range, can sing anything from country, to pop, to rock, not to mention her dozens of gorgeous covers that have done so much for charity. She can do almost anything with her voice, too, she has excellent voice control. She can make her voice soft and pain-stricken (Just A Dream) Tough and gritty (Before He Cheats, Last Name), she can start soft and build to power notes (How Great Thou Art). She has stayed with her country roots, and NEVER tried to sell herself as a pop artist, or remix her songs to pop radio. She has accomplished so many huge honors (Opry membership at 25, Grammy’s, all her songs going to number one, etc.)

    She has shown that she respects the country genre, and in turn she has gotten respect from huge country legends. Considering that many older country artists constantly seem to criticize today’s country for being “too pop” and what not, I think it’s speaks a lot about Carrie’s talent when she is able to garner so much praise from such respectable people.

    She has also grown as a preformer, and has started to explore her talents as a writer. I admire that Carrie admits she has lots of room to grow as an artist; she would never record her material unless she thought it stood up to great songs by outside writers.

    She has accomplished so much that has nothing to do with AI, and is still burning hot after four years, yet she still thanks AI for each and every one of her awards and accomplishments. She has shown that she is no flash in the pan- she is a true, legit artist who just used a talent show that happened to open a few doors for her.

    AI gave her the deal, she did all the work. The cover shoots, album promotion, making the albums, writing for the albums, doing albums, TV apperances, charity work, touring, and everything else that comes along with being an artist. Not to mention she was spot-on almost every week and was critized by millions of strangers.

    Carrie has proven she’s here to stay, and I say AMEN! She’s finally giving a voice to the women of country music- showing everyone that can do everything just as good, if not better, than the guys of country.

    She’s not a studio singer, which is incredibly refreshing in this day. She is able to sing just like the album in every setting, whether it acoustically, in concert, on TV, or acapella. Not to mention she still sounds amazing sick- a lot of times people don’t even know she’s suffering! She was sick during a recent Opry performance, and the only reason I knew she was sick was because her voice was hoarse when she tried to talk.

  29. But, I also like Jordin (although I kind of wish she was older, so she’d record more mature material)
    I like Josh’s voice (and I own his first album) but his songs are kind of boring, and he hasn’t had a good hit in awhile.

    I like some Kellie stuff- but she can’t compare to Carrie in terms of range or emotion.

    I LOVED David Cook on Idol and I think he has an awesome voice, but I cannot stand his first single- I didn’t bother to buy his first album. The label made him sing “screamy rock” instead of listenable “pop-rock” like Chris D.

    I really like Chris Daughtry- I voted for him all through AI, and although I wanted him to win, now I view it as a blessing in disguise. He got to make the album he wanted, and got to record what he wanted. He wasn’t told what to do by a label, and wasn’t tied to a contract. I think being told what to record is what happens to many AI artists- and then the downfall happens. I’m looking forward to hearing more from Chris.

    Ruben, Clay, Fantasia, Diana, and a few others have good voices, but I was never huge fans of any of them.

    I did buy Kelly’s second album, and I don’t deny she has a lot of talent. But, her songs all started to sound the same after awhile, and that got old for me. She wasn’t really showing growth as an artist in my eyes. And, she hasn’t shown as much versatily as Carrie- I’m sure she can sing almost anything, but I’ve never heard her take risks with covers or trying anything new. And, it kind of turned me off she didn’t stick with her pop roots- like she was confused about her artist identity. I like artists who know the direction they want to take their music, and they don’t drift from it too much and alient fans to become a completlely different artist.

    There are also lots of people from AI who have talent, but super-bland voices that they cannot do much with. Kristy Lee (with her several performances of God Bless The USA) and Phill Stacey (boring!) come to mind first, but there are others.

    Overall, I like artists who know their identity and don’t change it, can sing anything, and have the looks, presence and talent to substain success after the AI train stops. Carrie is the only one who has really done that, and respected the roots and stayed with her genre, so to me, she is the best AI contestant.

  30. Well, I’m not a big fan of AI… I used to watch the beginning, that’s so funny and things like that, but then I just stop…

    But I think Carrie (country or not) is who best fit in the concept of “Idol”. Not even speaking about her great voice, but as an artist, she’s exactly what the term “American Idol” could represent.
    Now, she proved SHE CAN SING, it’s time to show us something more, right?

    As I’m not addicted to the show, I just remember a few names I liked… Melinda Dollittle, Carly Smithson… I really liked David Archuleta last season, but I don’t like his music at all… hehe

  31. “American Idol” is the top-rated show on TV?? Even higher rated than Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty?

    Anyway, I stopped watching AI after the first season in which Kelly won. I heard her new single. It still sounds like a leftover from My December (which has got to be the worst album I’ve ever heard in my life).

    Between the AI contestants that I’ve heard, the ones who can sing and who has a pretty good public image are Kelly and Carrie Underwood. Josh Gracin is a really good-looking dude. Kellie Pickler is too ditsy.

  32. Leeann, I think Josh has the excact same approach to songs as Martina does, and I also think he (like her) is one of the finest vocalists there is.

    I forgot to add that I really, really like Kristy Lee Cook’s voice too.

  33. Although I wouldn’t place him among the absolute greatest in the genre, I have seen Gracin live once, and he is quite talented vocally (his recordings, for the most part, bear this out as well). Song selection seems to be his weakness.

  34. I just don’t hear it I guess. As I said before, the song that people say is one of his vocal best really sounds like he’s straining quite a bit to me. While I don’t think Tim McGraw comes close to being a superior vocalist, it was amazing that Gracin fell so short of McGraw’s vocal delivery on “Telluride.” Moreover, his voice is pretty genaric. I agree about the song selection being a problem for him though. He’s had a couple of catchy songs, but most of them have been weak and forgettable. I mean, I’m not one of McBride’s biggest fans these days, but I’m still baffled by the assertion that Gracin is even close to McBride’s vocal equivalent.

  35. I’m not saying he’s as good as Martina, I’m just saying that his voice posesses many of the same qualities, and that he sings in a similar fashion. Truth is, he could never be as good as her simply because he’s a man. Men are vastly inferior to women when it comes to music.
    That being said, Gracin is still my #2 male vocalist, Jimmy Wayne being #1.

  36. Favorite country idol:
    Carrie Underwood (of course)

    Favorite Idols:
    4. Fantasia
    3. David Cook
    2. Carrie Underwood
    1. Kelly Clarkson

  37. Dan,

    I agree with you. That comment Rainbow said can’t be ‘for realsies.’ While I like (or love) plenty female vocalist/artists, I’ve always gravitated more to male vocalists. I actually am baffled when other men say they only like ‘girl singers.’ I also don’t think males OR females are “vastly superior” to each other. That would be a case-by-case basis IMO.

  38. Yeah well, I sure don’t like lookin’ at hairy legs so I reckon I favor the females of the species!

    Except for maybe Keith Urban. He’s so pretty I may just become a switch-hitter! :-o

    And yeah, that was a joke. Just a disclaimer for the humor impaired!

    Yer Honor,




    The Defense rests! :-)

  39. “I actually am baffled when other men say they only like ‘girl singers.’ ”

    So am I. But I’m also baffled by guys who won’t listen to female singers at all — and there’s a lot out there who won’t. Looking through my Last FM stats, my musical tastes are pretty evenly divided between male and female singers. I will say, though, that the men seem less likely to pander to pop audiences than the women are. At least, that’s been the case until lately.

  40. An interesting question would be, gender aside,”Who are the top vocalists in country music?” It would be interesting to see what everyone’s top ten would be and why.

    On subject, Carrie Underwood is my favorite by a mile. Being a traditionalist and all this surprises even me. In my opinion, she is an exceptional singer and seems to be a genuine person. She is my favorite contemporary artist right now.

  41. Matt B.,

    I agree. His “My Maria” performance is a pretty good example of the kind of vocalist he is. Vince Gill is another I would include.

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