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May 31, 2010

The ultimate 'American Idol' power ranking: 120 contestants on, Kelly Clarkson still reigns supreme

May 31, 2010 | 11:49 am

Pg192104 It's often been said that "American Idol" is really just a popularity contest. Sure, singing and showmanship is important, as is a contestant's back-story and TV persona, but when it comes to advancing in the competition, many an inferior vocalist have managed to make it well past their expiration date. And then comes life after "Idol," where alumni often have similar options -- put out an album, audition for stage roles, take the reality show route -- some achieving more success than others. So how do they all stack up?

We tackled that very question by recruiting a group of hardcore "Idol" followers (16 in total) to rank every Top 12 member (plus Anoop Desai, of last year's Top 13), select Top 24 contenders and a handful of noteworthy auditioners from No. 1 all the way down to No. 120.

The judging panel consisted of several journalists (a couple from the L.A. Times, others, such as People's Cynthia Wang and In Touch Weekly's Steve Gidlow, from national magazines); "Idol" bloggers Rickey Yaneza of and Lyndsey Parker of Yahoo's Reality Rocks; a handful of die-hard fans; and one former contestant, who prefers to remain anonymous.

The methodology went a little something like this: All were encouraged to be subjective and vote based on their own personal opinion, but to also take into account contestants position in the competition and post-"Idol" popularity. For the most part, points were awarded for album sales and radio hits, along with reality TV stints (from "Fantasia For Real" to "Celebrity Rehab"), award nominations and wins, and overall media presence after their show exit, whereas arrests and scandals often resulted in a downgrade.

As for the results? The top five may not be all that surprising, but there turned out to be plenty of peculiar positions such as newcomer Siobhan Magnus entering the list at No. 31, Season 4's Constantine Maroulis claiming a comfy spot in the Top 10, last year's fourth-place finisher Allison Iraheta coming it at 18, Season 2 footnote Frenchie Davis holding strong at No. 38 and jokester Nick Mitchell debuting in the Top 50. As for the opposite end of this less-than-scientific experiment? Top 24 cast-offs Joanna Pacitti and Chris Golightly land in the last slots, proving there's apparently nothing worse in "Idol"-land than getting disqualified before the competition even starts.

Read on for the Top 20 -- and another 100(!) Idols after the jump -- then let us know: What do you think of our power and popularity list and where would you rank your favorites?

1. Kelly Clarkson

She may not have sold as many albums or won as many Grammys as Season 4 winner Carrie Underwood, but no female voice in "American Idol" history is as instantly recognizable as Kelly Clarkson's, which is reason enough to give her the top spot. Indeed, the 2002 champ set the bar high for all seasons to follow, with eight Top 10 hits and 10 million records sold, but it's her ascent from cocktail waitress to international pop superstar that best demonstrates the show's entire purpose, and for that, she'll always be No. 1.

Carrie-small 2. Carrie Underwood

Way ahead of the "Idol" pack in terms of platinum plaques hanging on her walls and awards adorning many shelves, Carrie Underwood's career has blossomed in ways not even Simon Cowell could have imagined when he declared her the winner weeks before Season 4's end. That's because the Chekotah, Okla., native and former farm girl has everything you want in an Idol: undeniable talent, a wholesome vibe, positive outlook and limitless patience for the pageantry that comes with being an American Idol.

3. Jennifer Hudson

Perhaps the best example of the "Idol" voters getting it wrong, Season 3 finalist Jennifer Hudson was famously knocked out in seventh place, only to win an Oscar some three years later for her role in "Dreamgirls." Since then, she released one album to mostly positive reviews, while in her personal life, Jennifer has weathered incredible tragedy and also managed to drop 10 dress sizes. How does she do it all?

4. David Cook

The show's first bonafide rocker to win is the male equivalent of everything you want in an Idol, and the one to blame for the judges' constant calls to "switch things up." During Season 7, David Cook proved that Idols don't have to come wrapped in a predictable pop bow, that they can handle themselves on guitar and can reinterpret classic songs so that they appeal to multiple age groups. Sure, he was a cougar favorite, what with his good looks and charm, but Cook's ultimate victory had more to do with knowing himself and his musical identity than out-singing runner-up David Archuleta.  

Lamberthead 5. Adam Lambert

Risk-taker. Game-changer. Showstopper. Season 8 runner-up Adam Lambert is all these things and more. The San Diego native turned up the heat on the competition with his ultra-expressive, highly visual performances and an otherworldly wail. Now with Adam's "Idol" reputation preceding him, a radio hit under his belt, 600,000-plus albums sold and a coast-to-coast tour about to kick off, he's more popular than ever.

6. Fantasia

"Fantasia still holds the greatest 'Idol' performance of all-time with "Summertime." It has become the gold standard on the show. It's so good that even after some bad press over the last couple of years, many people, including Simon Cowell, still consider her one of the best singers to have come out of the last decade."

-- Rickey Yaneza,

Constantine-finale 7. Constantine Maroulis

"Hands down, the one 'Idol' that gave me something to live for every week. Constantine was the master of making love to the camera, and his post-'Idol' career has earned him Tony Award nominations (he and his mullet were something to behold in 'The Wedding Singer' and you just haven't lived until you've seen Constantine in 'Rock of Ages'), a role on 'Bold and the Beautiful,'  his own independent label, and he consistently plays to packed houses with his 'Night at the Rock Show' series in New York. Quite simply, he rocks."
-- Michele Amabile,  Trenton Times

8. Kris Allen

Last year's winner has seemingly taken the slow and steady approach to just about everything in his career thus far: from his progress during Season 8 to his post-"Idol" debut album and single, both of which have picked up steam in recent months. Expect the train to keep on rolling as Kris tours for much of this summer, both as a headliner and opening for Barenaked Ladies and Maroon 5.

9. Clay Aiken

Though it's been nearly seven years since the release of his multi-platinum debut, Clay Aiken's "Measure of a Man" was such a big seller that the Season 2 runner-up remains a given on practically any "Idol" Top 10. It doesn't hurt (or help) that some of the North Carolina native's post-show exploits have involved things such as coming out on the cover of People and sticking his hand in Kelly Ripa's face, which caused a huge firestorm and slowed down his guest host bookings. Outside of appearing in Broadway's "Spamalot," Clay has been somewhat reclusive since having a son in 2008. But that's about to change as he heads out on the road with Season 2 winner Ruben Studdard.

10. Chris Daughtry

With 6 million albums sold and a string of hit songs, Season 5's resident rocker Chris Daughtry is in a class by himself. He amped up the volume on "Idol" then took his radio-ready sound on the road with the band Daughtry, opening for the likes of Nickelback before heading out on his own arena tour, though he may have some work to do in the public relations department, seeing as he barely made our focus group's Top 10.

11. Elliott Yamin

After melting Paula Abdul's heart, Season 5's third-place finisher had a modest hit with 2007's "Wait For You" triggering big sales of his self-titled debut album. Elliott's follow-up didn't perform as well, but he's been busy nonetheless, traveling as far as Angola with "Idol Gives Back," and Chile, from where the Richmond, Va., native fled a magnitude 8.8 earthquake in February.

12. Ruben Studdard

He won Season 2, then toured the country with a national production of "Ain't Misbehavin'" and got a Grammy nomination for it, and while Ruben Studdard doesn't sell a gajillion albums, the Birmingham, Ala., native is still a lovable velvet teddy bear to countless fans. Perhaps looking to return to his "Idol" roots, Ruben is teaming up with his No. 2 Clay Aiken for a tour this summer.

13. Jordin Sparks

She's sometimes the forgotten Idol, devoid of the flashy pageantry that goes hand-in-hand with the title, but in the three years since Jordin Sparks' Season 6 win, the Arizona native's songs have been virtually inescapable -- in the best way. She made TV history by being the youngest "Idol" winner and has since devoted herself to numerous charitable endeavors, Jordin remains a class act all the way.

14. Katharine McPhee

"She was a runner-up who's since had two albums, was in the movie 'House Bunny' and made several TV appearances. Plus she went from brunette to blond. Even if you don't like her music, Katharine McPhee is relevant." -- Steve Gidlow, In Touch

Archie 15. David Archuleta

Season 7's other David is the ridiculously adorable Murray, Utah, native who, at 17, stole America's heart with his sweet-as-honey voice and overall demeanor. David Archuleta didn't end up winning, but his post-"Idol" life has been a series of accomplishments, from the hit single, "Crush," off his gold certified debut to appearances on TV shows like "iCarly" and "Hannah Montana" and an upcoming book, "Chords of Strength."

16. Kellie Pickler

"Her post-'Idol' success is stunning. Kellie Pickler is the female Chris Daughtry, but people tend to underestimate her (just like on the show) because of Carrie Underwood's success. She has sold more albums than Taylor Hicks, and most of her bad performances on the show have been forgotten. All we remember is that small town, wide-eyed country girl wanting to make it -- and she did." -- Rickey Yaneza

17. Bo Bice

Going up against Carrie Underwood is a daunting task no matter which way you slice it, but Bo Bice was the rare formidable and ultra-friendly competitor. Season 4's runner-up wore his long hair and bell bottom jeans proudly, answered every question with a gentlemanly "yessir" or "No ma'am," and rocked the "Idol" stage to its core. His major label deal didn't stretch too far, but as an indie artist with a new album just out, Bo's been busier than ever.

18. Allison Iraheta

She ended up at fourth place on Season 8, but the gravelly-voiced Allison Iraheta was a fan favorite from the start who appealed to a distinctly younger crowd. But even though the L.A. native had barely turned 17 when she competed on "Idol," she never compromised her own musical sensibility for the show and, in the end, won respect from the audience, if not the actual trophy. Her debut album "Just Like You" has underperformed when compared with fellow Season 8ers Adam Lambert and Danny Gokey, but have faith in Iraheta -- there's still time. 

19. Kimberley Locke

In some ways, Kimberley Locke may seem like a walking contradiction -- a black girl from Nashville who sings dance music? -- but spend five minutes with the third-place finisher from Season 2 and you quickly learn that she's full of career surprises. Like landing a post-"Idol" modeling contract with Lane Bryant and hooking up with Randy Jackson's label to release her latest single, "Strobelight."

20. Lee DeWyze

The newest member to the winner's club has yet to prove himself off the "Idol" stage, but clearly, there's faith in Chicago's former paint boy Lee DeWyze, who stuck to his song choice guns and emerged victorious. Up next: the "Idol" summer tour and his debut album for RCA Records, which should be out in the fall.

21.    Taylor Hicks

22.    Blake Lewis

"Blake was the first guy to do a cover on 'Idol' that really turned the song up on its end and changed it entirely. His Bon Jovi cover is the stuff of legend, and that moment alone pushed the show forward artistically. I think with that move (along with his Zombies cover and his Doug E. Fresh rap battle), he changed the public perception of what 'Idol' is all about and even made it almost seem cool. His pop-techno mashup style was actually most relevant to what was going on in modern music at the time, and the fact that he was able to beat out more typical powerhouse types like Melinda Doolittle and LaKisha Jones and make the finale, and the fact that he gave Jordin Sparks some serious competition, was genuinely encouraging -- a sign that America was ready for edgier entertainment." -- Lyndsey Parker, Yahoo

23.    Jason Castro

24.    Diana DeGarmo

"She had chutzpah!" -- Cynthia Wang, People

25.    Melinda Doolittle

"The little backup singer who could! Mindy Doo gave us something to smile about every week with her positive attitude, polished professionalism and an arena-worthy rendering of Bon Jovi's 'Have A Nice Day.' " -- Michele Amabile

26.    Justin Guarini

27.    Carly Smithson

28.    Crystal Bowersox

29.    Tamyra Gray

30.    Kimberly Caldwell

31.    Siobhan Magnus

"She loves Hanson and Hole, has Edward Gorey tattoos, has cool hippie parents who used to hang out with Black Flag, knows all the words to Sifl & Olly songs, has an uncle in Stryper, knows how to blow glass, wants to wear outfits made out Barbie heads and Halloween masks on the Idols Live Tour, and would have done the Sid Vicious version of 'My Way' if she'd made it to Sinatra Night. Plus, she can sing her butt off. What's not to love about this girl? It's a travesty that she didn't make the Season 9 finale, but then again, maybe she was just too cool." -- Lyndsey Parker

32.    Michael Johns

33.    Brooke White

34.    Mandisa

35.    Ace Young

36.    Danny Gokey

37.    Jon Peter Lewis

38.    Frenchie Davis

"I believe Frenchie would have won her season handily had she been allowed to compete. She was amazing on Broadway in 'Rent,' and has carved out a nice career cutting dance singles (a cover of Shannon's "Give Me Tonight" did well) AND she starred in "Aint Misbehavin" with an actual Idol winner -- Ruben Studdard. For that, she earned a Grammy nomination for Best Musical Album -- all without ever actually competing on the show. Frenchie rules!" -- Michele Amabile

39.    Anoop Desai

40.    Sanjaya

41.    Josh Gracin

42.    Nikki McKibbin

43.    Michael Lynche

44.    Casey James

45.    Bucky Covington

46.    Nick Mitchell/Norman Gentle

"Say what you want, but he was irresistible to watch. Snarky toward the show, but could actually sing!" -- Cynthia Wang

47.    Matt Giraud

48.    LaToya London

49.    Paris Bennett

50.    William Hung

"William Hung made a few movies in Asia and actually recorded 3 albums. If I had a dollar for every top 12 finalist that said I'll be getting an album out only to never be heard from again, I'd have enough money to buy Bo Bice's new CD. And if you ask anyone who Will Hung is, they'll remember" -- Steve Gidlow

51.    Chikezie

52.    Tatiana Del Toro

53.    Chris Sligh

54.    Alexis Grace

"She did the ‘unique sound thing before Siobhan, did the ‘talk back, lippy to the judges’ thing before Crystal, and just seemed kinda cool." -- Cynthia Wang

55.    Phil Stacey

56.    Syesha Mercado

57.    Alex Lambert

"The night Alex Lambert narrowly missed making the top 12 was one the great tragic nights in 'Idol' history. I frequently daydream about how differently this season would have panned out if that night had never happened, or if there'd been a Wild Card this season and they'd been given second chances. I think it would have been a much more interesting season, and I think Alex in particular -- with his underdog story, tween-friendly good looks, huge personality, and great voice, not to mention that awesome mullet -- might have had a chance to make it to the finale. I'm glad Alex got another shot on If I Can Dream (his original songs on that show are fantastic)." -- Lyndsey Parker

58.    Kevin Covais

59.    Lakisha Jones

60.    Ryan Starr

61.    Scott Macintyre

62.    Mikalah Gordon

63.    Kristy Lee Cook

64.    Megan Joy

65.    Lil Rounds

66.    George Huff

67.    Matthew Rogers

68.    Vonzell Solomon

69.    Anwar Robinson

70.    Jasmine Trias

71.    Andrew Garcia

72.    Anthony Federov

73.    Josiah Leming

"He is one of the great undiscovered talents of 'Idol.' Most people think of him as that kid who cried a lot and lived in his car -- someone who got a lot of screen time for his sob story alone -- but his music is so much better than what a lot of skeptics assume can come out of this show. I think he didn't go farther because the powers-that-be at 'Idol' knew he'd be difficult -- this is one guy who wanted to play his originals, and do his own arrangements (remember his Hollywood Week incident, when he shooed the band away because he wanted to do "Stand By Me" a cappella instead?), and just wouldn't play the game. I'm so glad he got a deal anyway. Some people probably assume his 15 minutes are up since it's been more than two years since he was last on 'Idol,' but Josiah is still only 20, and even if he's not the most commercially successful singer spawned by the show, I believe he'll be one of the most credible." -- Lyndsey Parker

74.    Corey Clark

"The most notorious Idol ever!" -- Steve Gidlow

75.    Chris Richardson

76.    Trenyce

77.    Didi Benami

78.    Jessica Sierra

A stint on "Celebrity Rehab" gave this Season season 4 also-ran a dose of publicity, but not necessarily the kind you want. And she's not the only "Idol" alum to graduate from Dr. Drew's program. Season 1's Nikki McKibbin (No. 42) has also battled substance abuse, but both have marked more than a year of sobriety since.

79.    Brandon Rogers

80.    Aaron Kelly

81.    David Hernandez

82.    Michael Sarver

83.    Gina Glocksen

84.    Lilly Scott

"I hope this isn't the last we've heard from Lilly, because I think she's amazing. Maybe, like Siobhan, she was just too cool for the show. Her line about her fans being too busy having real lives and riding bikes, instead of voting, was priceless." -- Lyndsey Parker

85.    Nadia Turner

86.    Christina Christian

87.    Rickey Smith

88.    John Stevens

89.    Amy Adams

90.    Tim Urban 

91.    A.J. Gil

92.    Mario Vasquez

93.    Amanda Overmyer

94.    RJ Helton

95.    Ramiele Malubay

96.    Paige Miles

97.    Nikko Smith

98.    Lean Labelle

99.    Carmen Rasmusen

100.    EJay Day

101.    Julia DeMato

102.    Lisa Tucker

103.    Jorge Núñez

104.    Charles Grisby

105.    Katie Stevens

106.    Lacey Brown

107.    Ayla Brown

108.    Danny Noriega

109.    Camile Velasco

110.    Todrick Hall

111.    Alex Wagner-Trugman

His parents put up every "Idol" has-been who comes through town and for that alone, Season 8 Top 36 contender Alex Wagner-Trugman deserves a shout-out and show of thanks here. Keep up with AWT on Twitter.

112.    Stephanie Edwards

113.    Scott Savol

114.    Melissa McGhee

115.    Haley Scarnato

116.    Jasmine Murray

117.    Vanessa Olivarez

118.    Lindsey Cardinale

119.    Joanna Pacitti

120.    Chris Golightly

"Chris Golightly, who had originally been selected for the top 24 and was disqualified in February for being in a recording contract at the time of his original audition. Don't any of these contestants read the rules? His dismissal gave us Tim Urban. For that he must be punished." -- Michele Amabile 

-- Shirley Halperin

Follow @IdolTracker on Twitter

Photo: Kelly Clarkson and Fantasia. Credit: Kristian Dowling /Fox/PictureGroup

Photo: Carrie Underwood. Credit: Gregg DeGuire / Fox/PictureGroup

Photo: Adam Lambert. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox/PictureGroup

Photo: Constantine Maroulis. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox/PictureGroup

Photo: David Archuleta. Credit: Gregg DeGuire/Fox/PictureGroup

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Comments (110)

You lost me when you placed Constantine at #7.

The "Ultimate Power Ranking"? Ultimate what? I think you forgot to put the word "fantasy" in that title. It's hard for me to believe that you expect this to be taken seriously as a piece of analytical work. I can only assume that a legitimate analysis was not the point of the exercise. I suppose it will accomplish its intended purpose.

Thanks! Great article. Love David Cook and what you say is so true. :)

This isn't a very respectable list past Kelly and Carrie being 1 and 2. I mean, Constantine and Fantasia? Both Kris Allen and Chris Daughtry are more talented, and they've had success and great careers each in their own right so far.

I would have to put Clay Akin, David Archuleta, Elliot Yamin higher than Constantine!

Sorry, can't take this list seriously at all. lmao The only ratings done right are the 1st two. Daughtry is the third most successful but he is #10??? And Constantine, David Cook, Kris and many others are way too high in comparison with how they have done post-idol. Did you draw numbers out of a cracker jack box?

Nice write up, and I'd pretty much have to agree with most of these rankings. I think I'd put Daughtry and Clay a bit higher because they are both iconic to the show (Daughtry for the "shock boot" and Clay for the Claymates which spawned every crazy fanbase with a cutesy name.) Why is there no mention of Cook's platinum plus album sales and two platinum singles?

David Archuleta at 15? I beg to differ. you mention his album and book which are great accomplishments but fail to mention as you did for "others" a hit single that is about to go platinum, a tour in the UK opening for Mcfly, winning fans at every stop, concerts in Asia to adoring fans, a very successful solo tour in sold out venues, a successful Christmas album and also a Christmas sold out tour across the states. A recipient of the Alma new artist award, asked to participate in the spanish version of We Are the World, "Somos El Mundo". He is currently working on album number 3... #15? I don't think so.

Watch over the next couple'a years... #28 is going to fly up that list.

Carrie Underwood should be top of the list, to be honest. I love Kelly, Jen Hudson, and Daughtry too, but Carrie has sold the most records, has won the most awards, has graced the cover of every major magazine there is.... and now she is acting on tv and in movies too. Carrie has won 5 Grammys, Kelly 2. As I said, I love Kelly too, but I would rank her number 2 in over all star power, as Carrie has long passed Kelly in terms of celebrity status, popularity, and awards won, albums sold, etc. Plus Carrie has the most number 1 hits of any Idol contestant or winner, beating Kelly.

Shirley, wow, nobody approves this list.
Cook before Daughtry and some who have accomplished more than him? To be honest, I don't know what he has done except his platinum album. No major hit songs and I really don't know what he sings now. Jordin, for example, sold as many albums and many more single, double platinum singles. When Cook copied other bands' covers 4, 5 in a row on the show, starting Hello by Incubus, I knew this guy is sneaky, not genuine and honest. Still in my book, not idol worthy.

How can this be any kind of ranking when there's nothing 'written' about Crystal Bowersox? Thank you, though, for including Constantine. Everyone forgets that he and Bo were the first two rockers who could sing on pitch and performed like kings. They changed the song choices for awhile, at least. It was just too bad that Carrie Underwood was the chosen one for that season. No, I never bought the voting thing but I thought it was clever. Watch any season backwards and the eliminations, usually around 7-4, are the singers who are the biggest threat to the winner. I knew this year's Idol was going to be the weakest ever since most of the truly wonderful contestants were left on the Top 24 stage.

The order of this list is a joke. Some people don't even belong on it.

daughtry 10?! he should be the highest ranked guy, and i don't even like his music.

Having Rickey comment on anything other than the contents of his mother's basement pretty much invalidates this entire article.

lol you got to be kidding a power ranking of life's biggest losers American Idols.
God you American's are so pathetic .

How is Constantine Maroulis # 7 when Chris Daughtry is #10? Daugherty should rightfully be #3 or #4. Constantine shouldn't have even cracked the top 20. Has he ever sold one record on his name alone? Was Constantine the anonymous Idol voter? Were Idols with successful record sales given a penalty? His ranking renders the list null and void. .

#7 Constantine Maroulis? Really?
And I love love love #2 Carrie Underwood and #4 David Cook! :)


Thank you for writing such a great review on Adam Lambert. I'm going to two of his concert's this summer, and I am so excited. He is just spectacular in person.

As someone who never bothered to watch American Idol and only started to follow the show because of Adam Lambert last year I'm surprised at how many names I have heard before. All in all, a pretty good list. Of course I am glad Adam Lambert gets the recognition he deserves IMHO. Was glad to see Kris allen there, too, things aren't as easy for him as you might expect considering he won the thing. BTW this season was so lackluster and mediocre that it reinforced my dislike for the show, I won't watch that again. Season 8 must have been a fluke...

This would have more credibility if was NOT involved, he is a basement dweller, and the biggest fool ever. I would not take anything he is involved in seriously.

The first four on the list seem absolutely right on. But why place Adam above Daughtry? I would move Daughtry to #5, replace Constantine with Archie and one is good to go. Thanks for the great list. Very thought provoking.

The first 6 are legitimate, reality-based choices. After that, insanity reigns. However, everyone is entitled to an opinion, no matter how skewered it is.

"All were encouraged to be subjective and vote based on their own personal opinion".
Definition of subjective: adj. "Proceeding from or taking place in a person's mind rather than the external world."
It is now my "subjective" opinion to rank this article as the most unnecessary, biased bunch of nonsense I have ever read. It's not even worth discussing any further.



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