‘American Idol’ year in review: Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, the farewell begins

AMERICAN IDOL XIV: Final 11: Clockwise from L: Rayvon Owen, Jax, Nick Fradiani, Adanna Duru, Daniel Seavey, Clark Beckham, Quentin Alexander, Tyanna Jones, Joey Cook, Qaasim Middleton and Maddie Walker (not pictured). CR: Michael Becker / FOX. © 2015 FOX Broadcasting.

AMERICAN IDOL XIV: Final 11: Clockwise from L: Rayvon Owen, Jax, Nick Fradiani, Adanna Duru, Daniel Seavey, Clark Beckham, Quentin Alexander, Tyanna Jones, Joey Cook, Qaasim Middleton and Maddie Walker (not pictured). CR: Michael Becker / FOX. © 2015 FOX Broadcasting.

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Monday, December 21, 2015

It’s amazing how far “American Idol” has fallen since its peak in 2006 when even folks who avoided the show couldn’t avoid the names Taylor Hicks or Chris Daughtry. Radio station morning shows gabbed about the contestants. E! and every entertainment news site covered it obsessively.

Fast foward nine years and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone on the street who knows who this season’s winner is, much less any of the other singers. “Survivor,” which is older than “Idol,” drew more viewers this past spring. Of my top 100 most popular blog entries year to date, only one was “Idol” related: the item identifying who won. (It was Nick Fradiani, by the way.)

The show is just another show. Four years after my Idol blog ended, a handful of you still follow my (mostly) weekly recitations on the show and its alums. Hopefully, some of the old loyalists will return for the final season coming in just two weeks January 6.

This was definitely the toughest year to come up with the top “American Idol”-related stories. Most of these are simply updates on the show’s most famous alum because nothing that happened season 14 ever reached the point of making real headlines.

The judges in Detroit. CREDIT: Fox

The judges in Detroit. CREDIT: Fox

1- The end is near: Fox finally said no mas as “Idol” ratings scraped bottom yet again. The season 14 finale drew a mere 8 million viewers, following a final two performance show that drew just 5.6 million. So the network announced 2016 as the 15th and final season, with early reports indicating the show will end in April instead of May. Regardless, this gives even former fans a chance to say goodbye. The promos have been drenched with nostalgia. Ryan Seacrest will be there as host until the end. And the producers kept the same three judges as seasons 13 and 14: Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. That’s good new to me. And I got to attend auditions in Athens, meet the judges in Atlanta for the next round of auditions in Midtdown and visited L.A. earlier this month to catch part of the showcase round.

AMERICAN IDOL XIV: AMERICAN IDOL XIV finalist Nick Fradiani during his hometown visit to Guilfor, NJ on Friday May 1, 2015. CR: Craig Blankenhorn /FOX. © FOX Broadcasting.

AMERICAN IDOL XIV: AMERICAN IDOL XIV finalist Nick Fradiani during his hometown visit to Guilfor, NJ on Friday May 1, 2015. CR: Craig Blankenhorn /FOX. © FOX Broadcasting.

2- There was a season 14, in case you didn’t notice: With an incredible lack of buzz, “Idol” soldered on through a season with a reasonably deep pool of talent but signs that a win – or time on the show at all – matters less and less. So sorry, Nick Fradiani, despite a passable first single (“Beautiful Life”) that got modest airplay. His ability to become a star rides less on “Idol” and more on his own talent, Scott Borchetta‘s label and other factors going forward. I feel bad for talented finalists such as Jax, Joey Cook and Quentin Alexander who could have parlayed “Idol” into big paydays if they had been born eight to 10 years earlier.

Carrie Underwood played her latest single "Smoke Break" with a guitar. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/ rho@ajc.com

Carrie Underwood played her latest single “Smoke Break” with a guitar at the Variety Playhouse earlier this year. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/ rho@ajc.com

3- Carrie Underwood has a baby and a new album: As an emissary for “Idol,” Carrie has been idyllic. Now a mom, she released her latest album “Storyteller” and continues to generate hit singles on the country chart, including “Smoke Break.” She now has 20 top two hits. In September, I got to see her live at the Variety Playhouse for a special CMT show taping, which was cool.

Kelly Clarkson pointing

4. Kelly Clarkson tours and gets pregnant again. With a new album to push, Clarkson hit the road but also got pregnant again. She became known for doing cool cover songs, from “Purple Rain” in Minneapolis to Tove Lo’s “Habits” in Detroit. Her final tour date before her voice gave out on her was Atlanta at Aaron’s Amphitheatre in September. (Read my coverage.)

5. Tour shrinkage. Only the top 5 were able to tour instead of the top 10 and the tour generally opted for smaller venues. And the tour for the first time skipped Atlanta. At least they were able to bring back a live band after season 13 suffered with taped tracks.

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 27: TV Producer Simon Cowell attends the 2015 Yahoo Digital Content NewFronts at Avery Fisher Hall on April 27, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Yahoo)

NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 27: TV Producer Simon Cowell attends the 2015 Yahoo Digital Content NewFronts at Avery Fisher Hall on April 27, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Yahoo)

6. Simon Cowell set to return to American TV in 2016. He hasn’t been on “Idol” since season 9 in 2010. And he hasn’t been on U.S. TV since 2013 when “X Factor” was cancelled. But he’s always been an executive producer of “America’s Got Talent.” With Howard Stern stepping down and any contractual obligations at Fox free and clear, he can now appear on NBC’s most popular summer series for season 11 this year. Good to have you back, Simon!

Danny Gokey landed a No. 1 hit last year on the Christian pop chart. CREDIT: publicity photo

Danny Gokey landed a No. 1 hit last year on the Christian pop chart. CREDIT: publicity photo

7. Hot on the Christian charts: Season 8’s Danny Gokey followed up his first No. 1 Christian hit “Hope in Front of Me” in 2014 with another top 10 hit this year with “More Than I Think I Am.”  He released a Christmas albumin September and his song “Life Up Your Eyes” is now at No. 8. He performed at the North Georgia Fair in September and I talked to him then.

Clay Aiken's run for a House seat was chronicled for Esquire for a four-part series starting April 7, 2015. CREDIT: Esquire

Clay Aiken’s run for a House seat was chronicled for Esquire for a four-part series starting April 7, 2015. CREDIT: Esquire

8. Clay Aiken ends up on Esquire. His failed 2014 House seat campaign in North Carolina was turned into a docu-series where you learned how much he cusses and how genuinely funny he can be as well. And there is sadness when his Democratic opponent dies and he expresses guilt about how he treated him. If you haven’t seen it, check it out here.

9. Other alum updates:  Kat McPhee enters the second season of “Scorpion” on CBS as a regular while releasing a horrendous video “Lick My Lips.” CMT debuted the “I Love Kellie Pickler” reality show this fall. Adam Lambert wrapped up his time as lead singer of Queen and released a new album. David Cook and Jordin Sparks also came out with new music. Ryan Seacrest hosted a short-lived Fox reality show called “Knock Knock Live.” Jennifer Hudson hit Broadway in “The Color Purple.” Lauren Alaina recovered from vocal issues. (My interview here.) Phillip Phillips is trying to get out of his management contract with 19. I also caught Crystal Bowersox at Eddie’s Attic earlier this year.

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