American Idol ends run in 2016: 6 memorable highlights from the talent show pioneer

The current judges of American Idol (from left) Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr. Fox Television announced on Monday that the venerable music reality show will be discontinued after its 15th season next year. -- PHOTO: STAR
The current judges of American Idol (from left) Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr. Fox Television announced on Monday that the venerable music reality show will be discontinued after its 15th season next year. -- PHOTO: STAR WORLD

SINGAPORE - The axe is finally falling on American Idol. Fox Television announced on Monday that the venerable music reality show will be discontinued after its 15th season next year.

Following its groundbreaking 2002 debut - inspired by the British series Pop Idols - the show has gone on to cement its place as one of the most successful programmes in the history of television. But a steady decline in viewership over the last couple of years sounded its death knell.

Here is a rundown of the good, the bad and the ugly through 14 years of Idol-mania.

1. The supporting cast

At the height of its popularity in 2006, American Idol was watched by almost 36 million viewers and was nicknamed the Death Star (a reference to a weapon of mass destruction in the Star Wars film series) for obliterating all other shows which tried to compete during its time slot.

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It had its original trio of judges - Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson - to thank for boosting its popularity, with Cowell a particular fans' favourite for his acid-tongued critique of contestants. Many argued that the show was never the same again after their departures (Cowell left in 2010, Abdul a year earlier and Jackson in 2013). The judges were replaced with a string of names including Ellen DeGeneres, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban.

Host Ryan Seacrest has been with the show the longest and will see the series to its conclusion in 2016.

2. Notable winners

American Idol has been credited with launching many an aspiring singer's career. Here are the three who stood out.

Kelly Clarkson

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American Idol's inaugural winner is also one of its most famous. Clarkson, with three Grammy awards to her name, also had three albums top Billboard's album chart

Her debut album, Thankful, sold over 4.5 million copies worldwide.

Carrie Underwood

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The country singer was crowned the winner of Season 4, and went on clinch seven Grammy Awards and sell more than 65 million records globally.

Underwood is also the highest earner among the American Idol alumni, with an estimated net worth of US$70 million in 2015.

Jordin Sparks

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Sparks clinched the top prize in the series' sixth season, which made her the youngest winner at just 17. Her self-titled debut album achieved platinum status and she has since gone on to act on Broadway and made her maiden film appearance alongside Whitney Houston in 2012's Sparkle.

3. The losers

It doesn't always pay to win the competition - the likes of Clay Aiken, Adam Lambert and Chris Daughtry are proof of that. Here are three who have gone on to bigger and better things.

Jennifer Hudson

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Hudson came in seventh place on the show's third season, which pales in comparison to her post-Idol achievements. Her big screen debut in 2006's Dreamgirls earned her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She also won a Grammy for her debut album, Jennifer Hudson.

Adam Lambert

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Season 8's flamboyant runner-up has forged a succesful music career and made headlines for being openly gay. He was recently on tour with British rock band Queen.

Chris Daughtry

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Daughtry could only finish fourth in Season 5, but now headlines his own band Daughtry. According to Nielsen, he has clocked seven million album sales and more than 15 million song downloads, making him the third-most successful American Idol contestant behind Underwood and Clarkson.

4. William Hung

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The auditions for American Idol have been fraught with its fair share of cringe-worthy moments - none more so than the Hong Kong-born Hung's astonishingly bad rendition of Ricky Martin's She Bangs in 2004.

The only difference? Hung, then a civil engineering student at the University of California, Berkeley, actually became an Internet sensation. He scored a US$25,000 record contract with Koch Entertainment and released three albums, appearing in talkshows across the country.

Hung brought the curtains down on his music career in 2011 to pursue a career in law enforcement as a statistical analyst with the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department.

5. Controversies

The show's voting process, which calls for viewers to chose their winners via telephone, SMS text and Internet voting, has come under fire over the years. Later seasons were also tainted with accusations of gender and racial bias.

Most notably, a campaign to influence Season 6's outcome was initiated, in which viewers were urged to vote for contestant Sanjaya Malakar, who was strangely popular and made it to seventh place despite the judges' criticism of his performances.

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Other incidents included contestants not providing accurate information about themselves, including their ages, and histories of criminal charges and past recording contracts.

6. Impact on Singapore

American Idol's proven format has led to it being adapted in over 46 regions around the world, including Singapore, Australia, Germany, India and Pakistan.

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Singapore Idol debuted in 2004 and was followed by two more seasons in 2006 and 2009. Taufik Batisah, Hady Mirza and Sezairi Sezali were the winners - Hady also won the first Asian Idol competition held in 2007.

mklee@sph.com.sg

Sources: BBC, The New York Times, The Times, Time, Marketwatch.com, MTV.com