Who’s your ‘Idol?’

Nicole Fano

As the ninth season of “American Idol” kicks off, we take a trip back in “Idol” time. You know, when Paula Abdul was being…Paula Abdul.

Throughout the eight-year run of FOX’s “American Idol,” America has watched attentively as thousands of young hopefuls sang their hearts out each week on national television. So much emphasis is placed on the winner of “American Idol” each season, but can you name all of the past winners?

Kelly Clarkson made television history as the first winner of “American Idol.” After the show, Clarkson went on to sign a record deal with RCA Records where she released four albums to date. Her first album, “Thankful,” went double platinum after its release in 2003. Her second album, “Breakaway,” scored her two Grammy Awards. Clarkson’s third album, “My December,” was released in 2007 to lackluster sales and her latest album, “All I Ever Wanted” was released in 2009 with chart-topping singles like, “My Life Would Suck Without You” and “Already Gone.” Eleven of Clarkson’s singles became Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 list, including “Since U Been Gone” and “My Life Would Suck Without You.”

Unlike Kelly Clarkson, Season 2 winner Ruben Studdard had a difficult time transitioning into the music world. Since “Idol,” Studdard has signed a contract with J Records and released four studio albums throughout his career. Studdard has been nominated for several BET Awards, a Grammy Award, an American Music Award, and a Soul Train Award. In 2008, Studdard was dropped from J Records in addition to dropping nearly 100 pounds. Ruben does not currently have a formal record contract.

Season 3 winner Fantasia Barrino released her debut studio album “Free Yourself” in 2004. The album went platinum. In 2006, Barrino appeared on Broadway in the musical, “The Color Purple.” Currently, Barrino is in the studio finishing up her third album, which is scheduled for release later this year, and starring in her own VH1 reality series, “Fantasia For Real.”

The title of “American Idol” Season 4 went to country queen Carrie Underwood. Underwood’s debut album, “Some Hearts,” went septuple platinum. Her second album, “Carnival Ride,” produced five No. 1 hits on the country music charts. Underwood’s third album, “Play On,” was released in November 2009, and has since sold over one million copies. To date, Underwood has won four Grammy Awards, five American Music Awards, 14 Billboard Music Awards, six People’s Choice Awards and five Country Music Awards.

At age 29, Taylor Hicks earned the title as the oldest winner of “American Idol.”  After the show, Hicks signed a contract with Arista Records. In 2006, Hicks released his self-titled debut album. Unfortunately, Hicks has the lowest album sales of any “Idol” winner up until that point. In 2008, Arista Records and Hicks mutually parted ways. In 2009, Hicks released his second album titled “The Distance” under his own record label.

Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks was the youngest “Idol” winner at age 17. After the show, Sparks signed with Jive Records and released her debut album titled “Jordin Sparks.” The three singles from her album, “Tattoo,” “No Air,” and “One Step at a Time” all earned a high ranking on the Billboard Hot 100 list. In 2009, Sparks released her second studio album titled “Battlefield” which has not matched the success of her debut. Sparks has collaborated and toured with artists such as Chris Brown, the Jonas Brothers, Jesse McCartney and Alicia Keys.

Rocker David Cook earned the title of “American Idol” winner Season 7. Cook’s debut album was released in 2008 and went platinum. The album produced two top singles including “Light On” and “Come Back To Me.” Since his big win, Cook has appeared on “Saturday Night Live” and has worked with bands such as Lifehouse, Better Than Ezra and Collective Soul.

Female hearts broke all over the world when they learned that “American Idol” Season 8 winner Kris Allen was a married man. Allen signed with Jive Records and went on to release his self-titled album in 2009. Allen’s singles “No Boundaries” and his rendition of “Heartless” earned top spots on the Billboard Hot 100. After its first week of sales, Allen’s self-titled album sold over 80,000 copies. His album is currently the lowest selling debut album from any winner, though Allen is having success from his lead single, “Live Like You’re Dying.”

“American Idol” displayed its new makeover at the judges’ table in the Season 9 premiere on Jan. 12 with the absence of long-time judge Paula Abdul. Since Abdul’s departure from the show, this season has already featured guest judges such as Shania Twain, Mary J. Blige, Victoria Beckham and Kristin Chenoweth, Avril Lavigne and Katy Perry. Other scheduled guest judges include Joe Jonas and Neil Patrick Harris. Ellen DeGeneres was given Abdul’s former spot at the judges’ table (DeGeneres makes her first appearance during Hollywood week). Simon Cowell also announced on Jan. 11 that this will be his last season on the hit reality show.

Although “American Idol” Season 9 is still in its beginning stages, there are already several contestants to keep an eye on throughout the competition. The “American Idol” phenomenon is still strong going into its ninth season, and hopefully this year’s winner will be as successful as several of the “Idol” alums.