After a so-so revival last year when ABC took over “American Idol,” most fans are in agreement that the talent on display on Season 17 is a giant leap for singing kind. The show overall seems to be more entertaining. Yes, judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan are never going to be as scathingly funny as Simon Cowell in his snide heyday. But their personalities and musical knowledge complement each other and all three seem quite genuine in their quest to help the contestants to up their games.
Very early in this current edition of the show, the words “best season ever” were uttered. It is all subjective, of course, but with just one more episode and the three-hour finale left, No. 17 could go down in “Idol’ ‘history talent-wise once a winner is crowned. Of course, factoring into that assessment will be the winner’s post-show success as well.
But let’s take a trip in the wayback machine and look at four past seasons that might rank even higher on the talent and, perhaps, post-show success scale.
*Season 3 (2004): One of the season’s most enduring legacies is that of contestant William Hung‘s dreadful rendition of Ricky Martin‘s “She Bangs,” which continues to linger on in the cultural cloud of badness. He actually got a record deal and became the third best-seller of the season.
But there was the sublime trio known as the Three Divas — Fantasia Barrino (see video above) LaToya London and Jennifer Hudson — whose combined vocal strength could provide enough electricity to light up a major metropolis. One of the worst voting results ever had all three ladies in the bottom three, with Hudson being cut on the Top Seven result show after struggling with “Weekend in New England” on Barry Manilow week . Of course, Fantasia would go on to win and star on Broadway in “The Color Purple.” Hudson would claim a supporting Oscar as Effie in the big-screen adaptation of the stage musical “Dreamgirls.” London would come in fourth and would join a touring production of “The Color Purple.” All in all, five other contestants besides the Three Divas would release albums, including runner-up Diana DeGarmo, Jasmine Trias, George Huff, Camile Velasco and Leah Labelle.
*Season 5 (2006): An odd year when the eventual winner, bluesy and rootsy Taylor Hicks, never hit the heights of success afforded to other champs despite his devoted fan base known as the “Soul Patrol.” But the talent pool was incredibly deep, with 18 contestants — including all of the top 10 and several semi-finalists receiving record deals — nine of them with major labels.
Rocker Chris Daughtry, who was shockingly voted out after coming in fourth place, would go on to be the third best-selling artist who competed on the show, bested by winners Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. His self-titled debut album sold more than a million copies in just five weeks. Runner-up Katharine McPhee‘s debut album hit No. 2 on the Billboard charts. She would go on to star on the TV show “Smash.” Third-place finisher Elliott Yamin‘s self-titled album hit the top of Billboard’s indie album chart. Others who found success after competing include Bucky Covington, Mandisa and Kellie Pickler. Ace Young would star in a Broadway revivals of “Grease” and “Hair.”
*Season 8 (2009): Winner Kris Allen, who specialized in doing folky versions of modern pop songs and played a large array of instruments during his performances, didn’t quite achieve the heights that previous champs did. His coronation song, “No Boundaries” only made it into Billboard’s Top 20. But it would be the far more flashy runner-up and vocally pumped Adam Lambert who would go on to greater fame. His debut album, “For Your Entertainment,” debuted at No. 3 and his second, “Trespassing” hit No.1. — making him the first openly gay artist to top the album charts. As “Idol” fans know, the current front man of Queen coached the Season 17 hopefuls during Queen week and will perform on the finale on May 19.
Other standouts that year who received record deals were Danny Gokey and Allison Araheta, who came in third and fourth place, as well as Lil Rounds, Anoop Desai, Michael Sarver and Mickey Guyton.
*Season 10 (2011): This was the year when Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler joined Randy Jackson on the judging panel. Two teen-aged country finalists, Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery, were pitted against each other, with McCreery taking the prize. His first album, “Clear As Day,” became the first LP debut by an “Idol” winner to reach No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 since Season 2’s Ruben Studdard. McCreery would also be the youngest male artist to reach that sales perch.
Pia Toscano, perhaps one of the most polished and skilled singers to ever compete on “Idol,” was considered a front-runner early on but only made it to ninth place in what is still considered one of the show’s most shocking eliminations. Even actor Tom Hanks expressed his dismay. She would go on to have a career, appearing as a background singer for Lopez on a six-date tour and being a cast member on the Netflix music reality show “Westside.”
Toscano was among the eight artists on the season to sign to record labels. Besides McCreery and Alaina, they include third-place finisher Haley Reinhart, James Durbin, Casey Abrams, Stefano Langone and Naima Adedapo.
Vote in the poll below and tell us which if any of these seasons could be consider the best ever. And express your thoughts below if you think Season 17 has already taken the title.
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