‘American Idol’: ranking the first 14 seasons, Ryan Seacrest, Harry Connick Jr.

The "Idol" judges in the early years. CREDIT: Fox

The “Idol” judges in the early years. CREDIT: Fox

I am on vacation from October 17 through November 1 so this is not going to feature anything “breaking” per se. Read the comments and the regulars will fill you in. This is actually just a holding spot for them to be able to interact. Read AJC Buzz (jbrett@ajc.com) or AJC Music Scene (mruggieri@ajc.com) for other entertainment news while I’m out. 

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Since I am not actually here, I am just going to do a list. Lists are always fun, right?

Here is how I rank the 14 seasons to date from my favorite to least favorite, colored by the passage of time. Feel free to do your own rankings!

Season 2

This was the year America began to realize this show was magical, that the summer season wasn’t a fluke. There was controversy (Corey Clark, ick). There were fun theme weeks (country rock! Billy Joel! Disco!?!)  There was the first country singer in the top 10 who also brought a touch of patriotism (Marine Josh Gracin). R&B was huge (Trenyce, Kimberly Locke). And Simon Cowell became a huge star with his tight shirts and crazy putdowns. Then there were the Claymates, a fan base that took dedication to new levels, went gaga over a most unlikely of pop stars Clay Aiken. But the “Velvet Teddy Bear” Ruben Studdard pulled out a win, shocking the Aiken fans. And believe me, those Claymates will always believe he won.

Season 5

This was the season “Idol” peaked in ratings (30 million viewers a week) and relevance. Rival networks called the show “the death star,” because it mowed everything else down. This top 10 was easily the most successful, generating a Vegas regular for a time (winner Taylor Hicks), a TV star (“Scorpion” regular Kat McPhee), a successful rocker (Chris Daughtry), a country darling (Kellie Pickler) and a contemporary Christian star (Mandisa.). This was my second year blogging about the show and the crowd on the blog skyrocketed. It was just a joy to be part of something so big.

Season 1

This was the season of innocence. It was perceived as a summer filler, low expectations. We had poor Brian Dunkelman and Ryan Cameron‘s blond tips as awkward combo hots. We had low-budget staging and lighting and taped music. The talent wasn’t deep. (A.J. Gil?) But there were four people with Atlanta ties in the top 10 so I followed it closely. I recall Justin Guarini’s dad Eldrin Bell dancing in the aisles.  Plus, the singers sang lots of classic, older music (Motown and standards, for instance) because that was probably what “Idol” could get cleared. In the end, we embraced Kelly Clarkson. Long live Kelly Clarkson! She legitimized the show, proving a reality competition show could create a superstar. Sure, the winning song (“A Moment Like This”) was pure cheese but it was apropos.

Season 3

This season in some ways wasn’t as deep as season two from a talent perspective. But it was the only year I ever traveled to Los Angeles to cover “Idol” in person. I attended a taping of Ryan Seacrest’s short-lived talk show. I visited 19 Entertainment offices and ran into Clay Aiken. I watched the finals live and talked to Snellville’s runner-up Diana DeGarmo. The winner Fantasia was beloved by some, hated by others but the good news: she generated deep emotion. And in one of the most controversial cuts in the show’s history, Jennifer Hudson came in sixth, with the three R&B divas in the bottom three, leading Elton John to say there was some sort of racist conspiracy going on. (There wasn’t.) For better or worse, this was also the year of the show’s most notorious over-achiever William Hung.

Season 4

One name: Carrie Underwood. This was my first year I began blogging about the show daily. I’m not sure many people were paying attention to me but I was deeply engaged, writing recaps when that was still somewhat of a novel thing to do. There were some great characters this season, including Constantine Maroulis (Those eyes! Those eyes!), Bo Bice (a true 1970s throwback rocker), a cool singer nobody remembers anymore but me (Nadia Turner, what happened to you?), the less-than-pretty dude who could still sing (Scott Savol), the woman who sang like she had marbles in her mouth (Mikalah Gordon) and of course, Underwood. She will always make that season truly memorable.

Season 7

The show had already peaked but was still a powerhouse by 2008. We ended up with the two Davids, Michael Johns (rest in peace), second-chance Carly Smithson, sweet Brooke White, and the final season with the original three judges by themselves. I thought the talent was rock solid, the contrasts between David Archuleta and David Cook fun and the overall vibe collegial. This was also the first year “Idol” allowed instruments, which immediately helped facilitate the whole WGWG movement.

Season 8

This season was similar to season 7, with two very different final two contestants: winner Kris Allen and runner-up Adam Lambert, who drew an international appeal and became the bigger star. Allen was a complete and utter dark horse, lapping early favorite Danny Gokey, who is now doing just fine in contemporary Christian. I thought he’d be the first finalist eliminated but he found his zone and surprised everyone. Overall, it was a solid season although Simon Cowell showed signs of restlessness and the arrival of Kara DioGuardi disrupted the flow to a degree. She started okay but then started trying too hard to impression Cowell and failed.

Season 10

This was the first year of Jennifer Lopez and Stephen Tyler and the first without Simon Cowell. It was also the final season unaffected by “The Voice.” I thought it was a decent season for talent, with two fresh-faced country finalists in Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina and several memorable characters (Pia Toscano, Haley Reinhart, Casey Abrams). It was also the only season which saw a ratings uptick since season five.

Season 11

This was just an okay season overall but Georgia did take home its only winner Phillip Phillips, who brought a cool Dave Matthews vibe to the proceedings. He was a nice counterpart to runner-up crooner Jessica Sanchez, who has done quite well in the Philippines.  Talent overall was okay but not as distinctive as season 10. As for Phillips, he took advantage of the massive hit “Home” and despite some issues with 19 Entertainment, is doing well. As for the judges, this trio felt quickly spent in its second round. It was clear Tyler was not adding much to the equation and Randy was more than past due done.

Season 6

After the pinnacle of season five, “Idol” finally took a hit with a less-than-grandiose follow up season, despite the very big “Idol Gives Back” charity event. The talent this year was a bit blah. Winner Jordin Sparks at least generated some hits after the show. I’m psyched Melinda Doolittle still talks “Idol” with Michael Slezak. But this season also created Sanjaya, which in a way was a sign the show was losing its coolness factor and elevated “Vote for the Worst” into the public realm, for better or worse.

Season 14

I liked this past season even as it became apparent nobody cared much anymore for the show except for a few diehards. It’s too bad because some of the talent from this season could hold up with, say, season 5. But they simply won’t get that type of career boost and the lack of buzz felt a bit sad to me. I doubt anyone will become a superstar but there was nothing to frown about with a top 3 in Nick Fradiani, Clark Beckham and Jax. I hope Big Machine and Scott Borchetta can make something of Nick.

Season 13

After the disastrous season 12 season, season 13 was a major lift but fans had already abandoned ship. This despite the welcome arrival of Harry Connick Jr. and return of Jennifer Lopez, cleansing the palate from last year’s judge’s panel.

Season 9: The only saving grace for me from this season was singer-songwriter and runner up Crystal Bowersox. Otherwise, I found the top 10 lackluster at best. And the winner was confounding: Lee DeWyze? Really?  The dude could barely sing in tune! And Ellen DeGeneres brought nothing to the judges’ panel. This was also Simon Cowell‘s final year, as he planned his departure for “The X Factor” and it showed. This was also the year of Atlanta’s own Larry “Pants on the Ground” Platt. Sad to say that was considered a highlight.

Season 12

I try to pretend this season never happened. We all know the whole Mariah Carey/Nicki Minaj dynamic was all wrong. That was perhaps the worst decision “Idol” has ever made, an effort to copy fresh newcomer “The Voice” in the worst way possible. I felt bad for poor Keith Urban, who was perfectly adequate. And the talent was by far the weakest going back to season one. The males were so bad, it was embarrassing. Yes, I’m talking to you Lazaro Arbos. At least still I remember your name! I don’t recall anyone else… at all. “The Voice” began eating “Idol” for lunch about now for good reason. While I liked the winner Candace Glover as a singer, she had no star personality and has yet to release an album.

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Ryan Seacrest circa 2003. CREDIT: Fox

Ryan Seacrest circa 2003. CREDIT: Fox

Ryan Seacrest is expected to receive an honorary degree from the University of Georgia. He entered the university intending to major in journalism but left for Hollywood by age 19. More details here.

He is also working on a CBS network comedy called “Squad Goals.” According to Variety: “The potential series is an ensemble comedy about a group of late 20-something friends who met in college and realize it’s time to finally grow up.”

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Harry Connick Jr. returns to the judge's table on "Idol" for a second year starting January 7, 2015. CREDIT: Fox

Harry Connick Jr. returns to the judge’s table on “Idol” for a second year starting January 7, 2015. CREDIT: Fox

“American Idol” judge Harry Connick Jr. is getting his own syndicated talk show in the fall of 2016.

“Harry” will debut in September 2016 in national syndication on Fox-owned TV stations in 17 markets, including Atlanta’s WAGA TV (Fox 5).

According to Deadline.com:

Drawing inspiration from the family-friendly variety shows of the past, Harry will include various segments — from comedic man-on-the-street interviews, live musical performances and parodies, to hilarious stunts and audience participation and surprises.

 

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