September 4

This Day in History

Hollywood

Sep 4, 2002:

Kelly Clarkson wins first American Idol

On this day in 2002, Kelly Clarkson, a 20-year-old cocktail waitress from Texas, wins Season One of American Idol in a live television broadcast from Hollywood’s Kodak Theater. Clarkson came out on top in the amateur singing contest over 23-year-old runner-up Justin Guarini after millions of viewers cast their votes for her by phone. She was awarded a recording contract and went on to sell millions of albums and establish a successful music career. (Clarkson and Guarnini also co-starred in the 2003 box-office bomb From Justin to Kelly, which was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for that year’s worst film but lost to the Jennifer Lopez-Ben Affleck vehicle Gigli.) Starting with its first season, American Idol became one of the most popular TV programs in U.S. history and spawned a slew of talent-competition shows.

American Idol was based on a British TV show called Pop Idol, which was developed by the English-born entertainment executive Simon Fuller and debuted in the U.K. in 2001. The Idol concept was shopped around in the United States and reportedly rejected by several TV networks before Fox picked it up. The American Idol premiere, which aired on June 11, 2002, was co-hosted by Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman (who was dropped from the program after Season One) and starred a trio of judge--the acerbic British music executive Simon Cowell, the singer-choreographer Paul Abdul and the musician-producer Randy Jackson. The show followed the judges as they selected contestants, who were required to be teens or young adults, from open auditions around the United States. Contestants who made the cut were flown to Hollywood, where they were eventually narrowed to 10 finalists, who performed live on television and were critiqued by the judges. Home viewers phoned in their votes for their favorite performers and each week the contestant who received the lowest number of votes was eliminated from the competition.

Following Clarkson’s Season One victory, subsequent American Idol winners--Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks and David Cook--have had varying degrees of success in their music careers. In some cases, American Idol runner-ups, such as Clay Aiken (Season Two, second place) and Chris Daughtry (Season Five, fourth place), have sold more records than certain A.I. winners. Jennifer Hudson, who finished seventh in Season Three of the show, later won an Academy Award for her supporting performance in Dreamgirls (2006), the film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical.

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