As "American Idol" celebrates its 500th episode & Season 13 comes to a close, here's our countdown of "American Idol" alums' biggest Hot 100 hits ever - and the untold stories behind the songs.
"Low" - Kelly Clarkson
Hot 100 Peak: No. 58 (2003)
Jimmy Harry had a falling out with his girlfriend. "I went and got drunk and when I woke up, the chorus was there on my computer. I thought no one is ever going to do that song. I played it acoustically for my publisher. He wanted me to demo the song. I avoided it, but finally it got cut. I hadn’t thought about who should sing it, but knew it should be pitched more to girls. Danielle Brisebois, who wrote ‘Unwritten,’ did me a favor and sang on the demo." Harry wasn’t that familiar with Clarkson. "I didn’t know anything about her. I had seen one show. I thought, ‘If somebody’s going to do that song, cool.’"
"This Is My Now" - Jordin Sparks
Hot 100 Peak: No. 15 (2007)
Jeff Peabody was a worship leader and then a pastor when he started writing songs with a member of his congregation, Scott Krippayne. Peabody was watching season six of "American Idol" and saw the announcement of a songwriting contest to pick the coronation song for the winner. He told Krippayne they should enter, and they submitted a song called "Don’t You Dare." Then Peabody asked Krippayne if they should take one more shot. "Jeff sent me a good portion of the lyric. I came up with the melody and we finished it through phone and email. He sent me the lyric one morning and I was doing the demo by the end of the day." Peabody adds, "It was surreal, hearing we made it through each different round." When their song was named the winner, the two writers were flown to Los Angeles to be interviewed by the press and walk the red carpet at the season finale.
"Dreams" - Diana DeGarmo
Hot 100 Peak: No. 14 (2004)
Even though DeGarmo was only 16 years old when she recorded this song with producer Desmond Child, the session was a reunion for both of them. She was a seventh grader when a mutual friend arranged for her to audition for Child in his West Palm Beach home, singing "My Heart Will Go On" in his living room. "I always wanted to record one of his songs but it didn’t happen until four years later, when I was on ‘Idol,’" says DeGarmo.
"You Give Love a Bad Name" - Blake Lewis
Hot 100 Peak: No. 18 (2007)
"I’ve never been into Bon Jovi but I loved that song," says Lewis. "Not the original, but the remix Orbital did in a mash-up with Belinda Carlisle. Dave [Bryan] and Richie [Sambora] were stoked because they have kids and actually watch ["Idol"]. Jon Bon Jovi was skeptical, probably thinking, ‘He’s going to ruin my song,’ which was very legitimate. I did this 12-bar beatbox breakdown in the middle of his rock song. I did the whole thing half time. I cut out half the bass line and put keyboards in it. I had so much fun – I arranged all my own music on the show." Lewis returned to "Idol" this month to watch the season 13 finalists perform; coincidentally, Caleb Johnson chose to sing "You Give Love a Bad Name" that day.
"Come Back to Me" - David Cook
Hot 100 Peak: No. 63 (2009)
"‘If you love something let it go’ is always a romantic sentiment," says Cook. "I still love the arc of this song. It was written by a good friend of mine, Zac Malloy, along with Espionage (the Norwegian production team of Espen Lind and Amund Bjørklund). I knew Zac before ‘Idol’ when we both lived in Tulsa for a minute." Cook credits the songwriters as well as producer Rob Cavallo for the success of "Come Back to Me." "The song starts so delicately very sweet and gradually builds and builds and builds."
"No Boundaries" - Kris Allen
Hot 100 Peak: No. 11 (2009)
For the first time in the series’ history, an "Idol" judge wrote the season finale coronation song. "[Executive producer] Simon Fuller asked me if I wanted to take a stab at it," says Kara DioGuardi, who joined the show in season eight. "It was a disaster," she says candidly. "They put me together with Cathy Dennis. It was an odd pairing and it didn’t gel. The writing process was not easy. The main problem is that it was written for a female. If Alison [Iraheta] had won, it would have been a different story." Instead, the song was recorded by both Kris Allen and Adam Lambert. "It wasn’t the guys’ fault," DioGuardi believes. "The vocal range worked really well for a female but not a male. It was not the high point of my life."
"The Trouble with Girls" - Scotty McCreery
Hot 100 Peak: No. 55 (2012)
Chris Tompkins almost always writes songs in his own Nashville office, but when Philip White called and invited him to his place, Tompkins thought a change of scenery would be good. When he arrived at White’s office at Universal Music, he found that White had the title "The Trouble with Girls" and the first verse. "He sang the melody to me and I sat down at the piano and we fell into a chorus that sounded like a hit. We didn’t have Scotty in mind. We were just writing a song." Tompkins did a piano vocal for the demo, which White produced. They were happy that McCreery recorded it. "Whenever I would talk to my family or people from my hometown, they said they were watching Scotty on ‘American Idol.’ He’s got this confidence thing going for him and he loves what he does. And girls like that deep voice."
"Somewhere Over the Rainbow" - Katharine McPhee
Hot 100 Peak: No. 12 (2006)
Written by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg for the 1939 movie "The Wizard of Oz," this is easily the oldest song on the Idol top 100. On the penultimate episode of season five of "American Idol," this was Simon Cowell's "judge's choice" for McPhee. That same night, she performed "My Destiny," destined to be her coronation song if she won. She placed second and was signed to RCA. Her first single was a double-A side, coupling her version of Judy Garland's signature song with "My Destiny." The latter peaked at No. 60 on the Hot 100 while the former checked in at No. 12, making it the highest-ranking version of the 20th century classic in Hot 100 history, besting the No. 16 peak of a doo-wop version by the Demensions in 1960.
"See You Tonight" – Scotty McCreery
Hot 100 Peak: No. 52 (2014)
The title song from McCreery’s third studio album (including his Christmas release), "See You Tonight" became the season 11 champ’s first top 10 hit on Hot Country Songs. The single had a long journey to the upper portion of the charts; it took 44 weeks to reach the top 10 of the Country Airplay chart, the second longest trip into the top 10 in that chart’s history.
"A Different World" - Bucky Covington
Hot 100 Peak: No. 58 (2007)
Marc Nesler and his wife Jennifer Hanson wrote this song with Tony Martin for Hanson’s Capitol album. After an uptempo hit and another single that was a ballad, they were aiming for something in between. When Nesler signed with Disney’s music publishing arm, he was asked to cut a demo of this song with a male voice – his own. Doug Howard, head of Disney Music Publishing in Nashville, wanted the song for Covington, who was signed to Disney’s Lyric Street label. "Bucky loved the song, though the label didn’t think he was old enough to sing it," says Nesler. When Bucky was visiting radio stations to promote the song, "young girls would call in to tell him they loved the song because their dads told them how it was back in those days," Nesler adds.