Top 20 most influential 'American Idol' alum songs, 'Idol' thoughts from all over

By RODNEY HO/, originally filed Thursday, April 7, 2016

One more list before we close shop on "American Idol" at 10 p.m.-ish tonight:

The top 20 most influential songs released by "American Idol" alums after they left the show. I will include coronation songs since a couple did become hits. This also means no covers from the show itself.

"American Idols" through the years.

VIDEO: "American Idol" Atlanta auditions, season 6

My video interview with Phillip Phillips way back when

My list of top 25 most influential "Idol" alum

1- "Since U Been Gone" Kelly Clarkson. The perfect pop song in so many ways. It won a well-deserved Grammy.

2. "Before He Cheats" Carrie Underwood. This was her biggest cross-over hit, providing Carrie with edge and attitude.

3- "Home" Phillip Phillips. The Olympics and 1,000 advertisers used this song, now firmly embedded in the minds of virtually everyone. Ironic that Phillips resisted singing this song when first presented it.

4- "A Moment Like This" Kelly Clarkson. This is full cheese but it was momentous because she was able to turn it into a huge hit in 2002. She hardly sings it anymore but it's still important for the show's credibility in its early going.

5- "No Air" Jordin Sparks with Chris Brown. Just a great song and one that still resonates to this day.

6- "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" Jennifer Hudson. This tune didn't really chart but it was a primary reason Hudson won the Oscar in "Dreamgirls."

7- "It's Not Over" Daughtry. Chris Daughtry has generated a ton of hits. This one exemplified his power on the pop charts in the late 2000s. He has a real ear for melody and hooks.

8- "Whataya Want From Me" Adam Lambert. Although Adam didn't become a Daughtry-like pop chart presence, he is now a respected world-wide star and has generated a few radio hits. This was his biggest.

9- "Nothin' to Lose" Josh Gracin. Remember Josh? He is virtually forgotten now but he was the first "Idol" to hit No. 1 on the country charts before Carrie Underwood had even left her farm. It's a goofy, sweet, incredibly catchy song.  Country has been one of the most supportive genres for "Idols" over the years.

10- "Invisible" Clay Aiken. I can't believe Clay only had one pop hit. But it was a good one.

11- "Best Days of Your Lives" Kellie Pickler. Kellie had several mid-sized country hits. This was her biggest one and it helped she had Taylor Swift as her vocal partner.

12- "Because of You" Kelly Clarkson. This list could have all her hits but I'm trying to spread the wealth a bit. This is just a personal favorite of mine of hers given its searingly personal pain. It also proved Kelly didn't always need Max Martin to have a hit. (Ahem.)

13- "Crush" David Archuleta. The nicest, sweetest kid to ever come out of the show. This song fit him well.

14- "Stronger" Mandisa. Remember her from season 5? Anyone not into Christian pop will have never heard this song but it was the first No. 1 song by an "American Idol" alum on the Christian charts. Check it out. It's really good. (And it has nothing to do with Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger")

15. "When I See U" Fantasia. This was Fantasia's only No. 1 hit on the R&B chart.

16. "Light On" David Cook. This was his biggest hit. Great soaring chorus.

17. "Live Like We're Dying" Kris Allen. His one and only hit. Not to be mistaken for the Tim McGraw song "Live Like You Were Dying."

18. "Wait For You" Elliott Yamin. He had only a single blockbuster but it still holds up a decade later.

19. "Jesus, Take the Wheel." Carrie Underwood. Carrie alone has enough hits to take up this entire top 20. This was notable for being her first big hit and it crossed over, too. Plus, how many pop songs have the word "Jesus" in it nowadays?

20. "Blown Away" Carrie Underwood. She has had so many great songs. This was her second biggest selling single behind only "Before He Cheats."

Another 20 notable songs: "Sorry 2004" Ruben Studdard, "I Love You This Big" and "See You Tonight" by Scotty McCreery, "Hope In Front of Me" Danny Gokey, "Over It" Katharine McPhee, "Beautiful Life," Nick Fradiani, Kelly Clarkson "Stronger" and "Miss Independent," Jordin Sparks "Tattoo," Phillip Phillips "Gone, Gone, Gone," Daughtry "Home,' Carrie Underwood "Wasted" and "Cowboy Casanova," Kellie Pickler "Red High Heels" and "I Wonder," Jennifer Hudson "Spotlight," Bucky Covington "A Different World," Kimberley Locke "8th World Wonder," Adam Lambert "Ghost Town," "If I Had You"


My colleague Gracie Bond Staples is from La'Porsha's hometown. Here's her second column on the potential "Idol" winner.


AMERICAN IDOL: Top 2 Revealed: L-R: Top 2 contestants Trent Harmon and La'Porsha Renae on AMERICAN IDOL airing Wednesday, April 6 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2016 FOX Broadcasting Co. Cr: Michael Becker/ FOX. This image is embargoed until Wednesday, April 6, 10:00PM PT / 12:00AM ET

And as the finish line approaches, here is how some other media is approaching the show's departure:

  • The esteemed TV Line writer/host Michael Slezak took the time to listen to hundreds of 'Idol" performances and pick his 30 favorites. His top pick is Fantasia's "Summertime." The biggest surprise is at No. 10-- a semifinalist I don't even remember singing "Georgia on My Mind."
  • Jon Caramanica of the New York Times blames social media for diluting the power of reality competition shows. "Idol" actually resisted social media in the early going, forcing contestants to take down their Twitter and Facebook pages. If you notice breakthrough pop stars nowadays, many were discovered via their YouTube pages, far more than reality competition shows.
  • The LA Times talked to Scott Borchetta about helping reality competition winners adjust and hopefully become stars.
  • On Twitter, Kelly Clarkson said she has never voted on "Idol" until now. Her pick: La'Porsha.
  • Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic actually liked the more recent seasons of "Idol" and explains why:
In its last seasons, American Idol could plausibly claim to be that rarest of things: mainstream entertainment that elevated its viewers (on a Fox reality show, no less). Behind the scenes, there may have been ruthless entertainment industry antics aplenty. But at least in front of the camera, no other reality TV show that I can think of has done more than late Idol to appeal to the best rather than the worst in Americans, grounding itself in genuine human emotions born of real stakes.
  • Songwriter Sam Hollander gives a piercing first person about life as an "Idol" songwriter in Billboard magazine.
  • The NY Daily News highlights the biggest non-winning "Idols," plucking the usual suspects.
  • Variety says "Idol" ratings are down about 5 percent this year over last year so far, which is what I would have expected. The show is averaging 11 million viewers Live +7. If you count whatever big number "Idol" gets tonight, that differential will be smaller. I anticipate tonight will draw 18 to 20 million overnight viewers. It won't even be close to what the finales drew the first 11 seasons, but it will be double the typical overnight number.
  • Some TV writers still hate the show for all the wrong reasons. Read Chris Richards in The Washington Post, who seems to be stuck in some sort of 2003 time warp about "Idol."
“American Idol” was never a show about singing. It was a show about humiliation. It taught viewers to espouse the faux-expertise of Simon Cowell and his unimaginative hench-judges, which, in turn, empowered them to crush some stranger’s dreams from behind the safety of their flip phones. But even the show’s telephonic elimination system wasn’t as demeaning as its ­season-launching audition process, in which our nation’s most hopeless hopefuls eagerly lined up for unprecedented public degradation. Some of these kids were lousy singers, no doubt, but the show’s most awkward auditions perpetuated the cretinous idea that atypical voices are good only for generating cheap laughs. Just imagine how many of your heroes would have been booted off the set. Lou Reed, Kate Bush, Neil Young, David Byrne and probably five dozen more. Sorry, dawgs. You’re not going to Hollywood.


"American Idol" series finale, 8 p.m.-10 p.m. tonight, April 7, Fox

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.