Listening To Every ‘American Idol’ Winner For The First Time

American Idol, the Grande Dame of singing competitions in these United States, is has called it a day after its 15th season. Some people have been watching it from the beginning, some watched for a while, and based on the ratings, some folks definitely stopped watching it. There are also those who never watched the show. This is where I raise my hand.

As the person who also writes a series of articles predicated on his lack of knowledge with regard to modern pop music, it should come as no surprise that I have little to no familiarity with the competition-winning musicians whose careers have been launched by the show, either. Shameful? Perhaps, but it’s something that I’m willing to rectify for you (and also the money I’ll get paid for writing this).

I decided to listen to one big hit from every single winner of American Idol. I gave them all a fair shake, and now I do my best to regale you with this outside opinion. I will admit that one song does not make a sufficient sample size in terms of assessing these musicians and the true quality of them as artists, but this is not the place where Ruben Studdard’s deep cuts are assessed.

Kelly Clarkson – “Since U Been Gone”

Clarkson won the first American Idol. She was in that movie with the guy who came in second. I feel like naming the film and the guy would be too mean.

“Since U Been Gone” is a good song. I mean, that chorus is dope. You already probably knew that, but I just found out. The rest of it is also fine. It’s a nice, modest girl power song. I mean, it’s not Le Tigre’s “They Want Us to Make a Symphony Out of the Sound of Women Swallowing Their Own Tongues,” but it’s something strong and I’m all for that. It’s a little simplistic, but it’s also pop music, so that’s fair. I kind of want to listen to more Clarkson songs based on “Since U Been Gone.” Is the rest of her oeuvre like this? Because, if so, I’m in.

Ruben Studdard – “Sorry 2004”

With one song in the bank, I turn to Studdard. I was aware he had won American Idol, and that he beat Clay Aiken. This was all I knew about him. I don’t think he got a movie like Clarkson. I would have liked to see Studdard and Aiken starring in a movie. Maybe a remake of Midnight Run? Simon Cowell could have stepped in for Dennis Farina.

The song of choice for Studdard was “Sorry 2004,” a song wherein, I assumed, Studdard apologized to the year 2004. What Studdard did to the year 2004, I do not know. I also do not know if 2004 forgave him. It’s hard to get a hold of the year 2004. Last I heard, it had disappeared into the ether because time marches ever forward.

Whoever or whatever Studdard is apologizing to, he’s being kind of dull whilst doing in. I mean, “Sorry 2004” isn’t a bad song. Studdard’s voice is good, but it’s a fairly bland R&B type song.

Fantasia Barrino – “When I See U”

I’ve actually heard Fantasia sing. She played a character on an episode of The Simpsons wherein Lisa joins a singing competition for children. Fantasia’s character came in third. I know as a person on the internet I’m supposed to hate every Simpsons episode after, like, season 11, but I like this one, so pardon me.

Anyway, I like “When I See U” quite a bit. It’s an interesting song with cool instrumentation. Fantasia’s voice (which is really good) is almost like a complementary piece. The real star is whatever is making that steel drum sound. Probably a steel drum. The song is pretty solid lyrically. I think I like it more than “Since U Been Gone.” After three songs, I’m starting to regret not watching American Idol.

Carrie Underwood – “Before He Cheats”

Based on the title, this song sounds profoundly cynical. But this is a song about how Underwood’s former lover should have thought before he cheated. This is not a song about preemptively striking out of paranoia or a nihilistic sense of inevitability. As such, this is a classic “woman scorned” song, so now I get why it was so popular.

It’s a countrified tune, but it’s also a bit of a rocker, which I like. Underwood’s vocals work better in this context, too. The lyrics are a little iffy, and kind of silly, but they aren’t a huge issue. Honestly, this is a pretty alright song. This variation on Underwood is something I might want to listen to. Does she do a lot of sh*tkicking music about vandalism?

Taylor Hicks – “Do I Make You Proud?”

No, you don’t.

Jordin Sparks – “No Air”

“No Air” has Chris Brown on the track. Now, I may be way out of the loop on popular music, but I still know Brown is an a-hole. However, I am also a “separate the art and the artist” guy, so I still listened.

I didn’t really enjoy listening to it, though. It was mediocre. There are too many love songs, both on this list, and in general. We need more songs about big lizards in backyards.

David Cook – “The Time of My Life”

I wish this was the song from Dirty Dancing, but unfortunately, I’m not that lucky. Instead, it’s very Creed-ish (the band, not the film). Maybe I’m just saying that because he sings the words “arms open wide.” This song is so bad lyrically, and Cook is a mediocre singer.

You know, maybe I’m not the right person for American Idol. This is becoming clearer. I’m complaining about love songs and living life out loud songs, but aren’t those the cornerstones of pop music? Can I really blame these artists for doing what sells? Then again, most of these artists didn’t make headway, right? So, maybe I’m not wrong. Long story short, “The Time of My Life,” is a bad song and Dirty Dancing is great.

Kris Allen – “Live Like We’re Dying”

“Live Like We’re Dying” is nearly unlistenable. It makes me long for the days of “The Time of My Life.”

Allen has a weird ersatz hip-hop thing going on, and I will not begrudge white people rapping any more than I will begrudge Bad Brains shredding people’s faces off with hardcore punk. Let us not segregate musical genres. The real issue is that Allen, in particular, sounds like a doofus.

Lee DeWyze – “Sweet Serendipity”

I can enjoy bubblegum pop music. I don’t listen much these days, but I like a bunch of old pop music. Like, give me some old teenybopper Wall of Sound girl group stuff and I’m in. The Shangri-Las, Lesley Gore, et al. The thing about those songs, though, is that they sound great, and, lyrically, they are basically nothing. They are inoffensive.

This songs sounds like boring garbage and it is lyrically insipid.

At this point, I feel like I may have accidentally stumbled into one of those self-destructive internet stunts. You know, like those podcasts where people watch a terrible movie over and over or videos of people eating gross stuff? This has become, “A Man Destroys Himself by Listening to American Idol Winners.”

Scotty McCreery – “See You Tonight”

Scotty McCreery’s name reminds me of character actor Scoot McNairy, an actor I like. Do you watch Halt and Catch Fire? It’s a good show. He’s also in the movie Frank, which is about a band that makes pointedly inaccessible music.

McCreery’s voice is quintessentially “country.” I do not like country music much, but this song isn’t bad. It’s not good, but, well, it’s kind of okay. I wouldn’t mind hearing it again.

Phillip Phillips – “Home”

I really hope his actual name is Phillip Phillips. That’s delightful, if true. It’s also delightful if false, frankly. “Home” elicited literally nothing from me. I enjoyed the instrumental interludes. That’s all I got. Sorry, Phil Phil.

Candice Glover – “Cried”

This is a restrained piano ballad, so that part of it is merely okay, but Glover’s voice lifts the song and my spirits as I near the end of this journey.

Caleb Johnson – “Fighting Gravity”

The most popular song for Johnson on Spotify is his cover of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” so I’m thinking maybe, so far, his career hasn’t taken off. This song is dull in a similar vein to the other songs that are dull on this list. Eventually, I’m just repeating myself, because, in a fashion, American Idol is just repeating itself. They keep naming winners who are strikingly similar, and then the pop music machine turns them into facsimiles of the same archetype.

I only wish that there was a clear de-evolution of the artist as it went on. Like, if the first dude of this ilk had been good, but then each time they got progressively worse, until the final guy was just awful. That would be interesting intellectually. But it isn’t the truth. Everything is the same.

Nick Fradiani – “Beautiful Life”

Fradiani won the last iteration of American Idol before this season. Either this song is the worst of the bunch, or I’ve been made bitter and cold by this experience.

“Beautiful Life” includes the lyrics “haters can hate,” and “fakers can front,” which helps me understand how crimes of passion happen.

In case you’re wondering, I no longer regret not watching American Idol, but I honestly may check out more of Kelly Clarkson and Fantasia Barrino’s songs and both Studdard and Glover have great voices. So, it wasn’t a total loss for me, and maybe you discovered (or re-discovered) an Idol artist that you like. See, everybody wins!