Simon Fuller created the reality series Pop Idol
in 2001 for ITV in Britain, and the rest is history. The series quickly became a mega-hit and was franchised out around the world. Fuller himself took the reins of the US-incarnation American Idol
with fellow Brit Nigel Lythgoe in the Summer of 2002, bringing over Pop Idol
judge and heretofore unknown commodity Simon Cowell
with him. Randy Jackson
, record producer and bass player who'd performed with Bon Jovi and Journey (among others) was brought in as a judge, as was former Laker Girl and late eighties/early nineties pop star Paula Abdul
. Ryan Seacrest
, an up and coming Radio DJ, previously best known as the host of various crappy game shows, was given the job as lead host. Comedian Brian Dunkleman was hired on as Seacrest's co-host, though the partnership would not last – season one was Dunkleman's last. American Idol
made its debut on June 11, 2001 without much fanfare, receiving less than 10 million viewers in its first episode. Little did those first audiences know that what appeared to be just a souped-up and exhaustively covered talent show would soon become the most popular and profitable television series this country has ever known.
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The first season of American Idol was decidedly different from what we've seen in recent seasons. FOX and the Idol producers did not yet know what they had with the audition episodes. They were low budget and were glossed over in a mere one episode, which is unfathomable these days, when Idol takes a whole month to proceed through the auditions. Idol was originally a summer series, airing from June to September and, as a result, season one contained fewer episodes than any other season – FOX aired 25 season 1 episodes, as opposed to 38 in season 2, and over 40 in each season after that. The first episode covered the country-wide auditions (which took place in Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Dallas and Miami), episode two covered the Hollywood Round and by the third episode, Idol was down to its Top 30.
The Top 30 was split into three groups of ten. From each group (each got their own performance and results show), three singers advanced to the top ten. To fill out that final spot in the top ten, FOX aired a wild card show where the judges picked five of their favorites from the top 30 who didn't advance, let them perform once more, and then chose who the final member of the top ten would be. From there, weekly performances pared the top ten from 10 to 8 to 7 and so on.
Top Ten Finalists:
#10 - EJay Day
#10 – Jim Verraros
#8 – A..J. Gill
#7 – Ryan Starr
#6 – Christina Christian
#5 – RJ Helton
#4 – Tamyra Gray
#3 – Nikki McKibbin
#2 – Justin Guarini
#1 – Kelly Clarkson
Notable Season 1 Contestants:
RJ Helton and Jim Verraros:
Verraros gained attention for being the first openly gay American Idol contestant. RJ Helton, years later, came out of the closet.
Starr's gritty attractiveness garnered her a strong fan base, and since appearing on Idol has gone on to ply her hand at many a trade. She sold upwards of 400,000 units of her iTunes only exclusive single “My Religion” soon after Idol. She's created her own line of swimsuits, acted on TV shows like CSI
and That 70's Show
and starred in the third season VH-1's Surreal Life.
Tamyra has appeared in television, films, released a full-length record and performed on Broadway since appearing on American Idol. She recently married Color Me Badd singer Sam Watters and is currently playing Mimi Marquez in Rent on Broadway.
Though she didn't make the top ten, Holt has carved out a nice career for herself. A former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, Holt is the host of G4's “Cheat”, a series that catches viewers up to the newest cheats in video games. She's currently in a band and will host an upcoming interactive board game for Hasbro.
The runner-up seemed poised for stardom, but a combination of stifling contractual demands and the residual bad vibes from an ill-fated movie (which we'll get to in a second) tripped up what could have been a stellar career. Guarini has released two albums, none of which have found great success.
The crown jewel of season one and a major reason for both American Idol's
otherworldly success and record industry credibility, Kelly Clarkson is THE American Idol
. Blessed with a monstrous and unparalleled singing voice, the perky girl from Texas became an overnight sensation. She has since won Grammys, released three hit albums and sold over 16 million records worldwide.
Dunkleman was an unfunny foil to Seacrest's natural hosting abilities. He was mercifully let go after season one and Seacrest was handed the keys to the franchise. In retrospect, a great decision.
From Justin 2 Kelly:
Upon the far-reaching and unexpected success of Idol's first season, Simon Fuller decided to make a quickie film vehicle for his two breakout stars – Justin Guarini and Kelly Clarkson. The film musical, whose plot is not important, was a bomb of epic proportions, receiving across-the-board abysmal reviews. The film killed Guarini's career before it even started, yet had little effect on Clarkson's.
Perhaps a product of Dunkleman, the finalist singers were often asked to act in insipid, cutesy taped comedy skits. These were by and large scrapped after season one, and for good reason.
Members of the gay community were up in arms when it was discovered that the openly gay Jim Verraros was forced to take gay remarks off of his FOX profile page on the FOX website.
Last July, during a comedy show, Dunkleman said that he wished AIDS upon his former co-host Ryan Seacrest. While probably a joke, it was a poor one and in bad taste.
Kelly Clarkson/Clive Davis:
In producing her third album “My December”, Kelly Clarkson clashed with RCA head Clive Davis over the content on her album. Clarkson insisted on taking full creative control, while Davis thought the album was too dark and without enough potential radio hits. Clarkson has since left her management team and, though she mostly got her way with the album, it didn't sell near as well as her previous two.
-Oscar Dahl, BuddyTV Senior Writer
(Image Courtesy of FOX)