On September 4th, 2002, Justin Guarini and Kelly Clarkson stood on-stage for the announcement of the winner of the first-ever “American Idol” television singing contest.

‘Idol’ was supposed to be a simple little summer ‘replacement’ series, something to fill the summer months when viewership and advertising revenues are lower due to the main network programs moving into reruns. The show proved a stunning success, and the finale drew over 50 million viewers for this final announcement.

The program’s three recording industry judges: industry executive and manager Simon Cowell, producer and manager Randy Jackson, and former hit recording artist and choreographer Paula Abdul had selected the participants from a national casting call, but it was the public who voted via cellphone for the finalists.

When their results were tabulated and announced on that early September evening, it was 20-year-old Texas gal Kelly Clarkson who was crowned as the first-ever American Idol winner.

In the ensuing years, Clarkson has gone on to become a major pop star with nine Top-10 chart hits including ‘A Moment Like This’, ‘Miss Independent’ (for which she received a Grammy nomination), ‘Breakaway’, ‘Never Again’, and the Grammy-winning ‘Since U Been Gone’ among others. Her latest hit, ‘My Life Would Suck Without You’ is the #1 song in both the United States and Great Britain. Clarkson has proven to be a huge success story and beloved alumni for the show which is now in it’s 8th season, but she is not the only one.

Season Four was dominated almost from it’s first show by Carrie Underwood, who has gone on to become one of the most popular and award-winning ‘country’ artists in America. Underwood’s songs have made her a hit on the Pop, Country, and Christian charts with variety that ranges from ‘Jesus, Take the Wheel’ to ‘Before He Cheats’.

That same season saw another finalist, Chris Daughtry, emerge with a strong rock following that has enabled him to enjoy sustained success on the Pop, Rock, and Christian radio airwaves with songs like ‘It’s Not Over’, ‘Home’, and ‘What About Now’.

Season Six winner Jordin Sparks dominated last year’s charts with her hits ‘One Step at a Time’ and ‘Tattoo’, and last year’s season Seven winner David Cook may prove to be one of the best Idols of all over time.

Some of the Idol finalists who didn’t make it into the top five on the shows voting have gone on to successful film, stage, or recording careers as well. Season Three back in 2004 yielded a 6th runner-up in Jennifer Hudson who went on to win the Academy Award, Golden Globe, SAG, and Grammy in 2007 for her work in the previous years’ motion picture ‘Dreamgirls’.

Will any of the remaining 2009 finalists reach these levels of success? It’s hard to say, but a number of them have shown incredible talent already. My own list of favorites goes three deep and includes two of the males, Adam Lambert and Danny Gokey, as well as female Alexis Grace.

Every once in awhile the singers lay a dud with a performance, and it can get tiresome hearing Randy Jackson call someone ‘Dog’, watching Paula Abdul praise nearly everyone and struggle with criticism, and listen to Simon Cowell and host Ryan Seacrest act like they are involved in a feud.

New fourth-wheel judge Kara DioGuardi brought a lot to the early rounds, but seems to have settled in to a ‘you’ve got the pipes, you’ve got the chops, you picked the wrong song sweetie’ level of repetitiveness here in the Finals. And the ‘group song’ choices are often so lame as to become boring and contrived. But the fact is that the program is a juggernaut, one of the most popular programs in the history of American television with well over 30 million loyal viewers.

This season has perhaps the deepest field of legitimate talent, and the final ten weeks of the competition should be extremely competitive and entertaining on the Fox television network’s ‘Death Star’, a nickname that the program has been given by industry experts from other networks who want no parts of matching up with the media giant that ‘American Idol’ has become.

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