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.
"It's Not Over" – Daughtry
Hot 100 Peak: No. 2 (2005)
Ace Young and Chris Daughtry met when they both auditioned for "Idol" in Denver. One year later, they were in Columbus, Ohio, on the summer live Idols tour. Daughtry was in his dressing room working on a song written by Gregg Wattenberg and Mark Wilkerson that they had submitted to Pete Gabarg, who was doing A&R for Daughtry's first album. "Chris needed a chorus for 'It's Not Over,' and we came up with it literally right before we went on stage," says Young. "It was the first thing I sang when I heard it. We came up with a couple of lyrics and the song was done. I had no idea it would become the number one rock song of the year. We were nominated for a Grammy and lost to Bruce Springsteen. It was amazing."
"Before He Cheats" - Carrie Underwood
Hot 100 Peak: No. 8 (2007)
When Chris Tompkins and Josh Kear wrote this song, they didn't have Underwood in mind. "I was thinking Gretchen Wilson, who had just had a big success with 'Redneck Woman,'" says Tompkins. After Underwood won "Idol," Tompkins' publisher said she was going to pitch the song to her. "Carrie flew into Nashville on a jet and all the song pluggers went on the jet and played her songs." The demo of "Before He Cheats" was more lighthearted and "cabaret," according to Tompkins. "It wasn't a big vocal, like Carrie. They made it a better song – I think it was Mark Bright's production, the musicians and Carrie's vocal." The song crossed over to pop, even though there was no remix for pop radio. "It's completely driven by that fiddle," says Tompkins. "I'm glad they realized whatever magic the single had translated to everyone." As a result of its pop crossover, the single remained on the Hot 100 for 64 weeks, the fifth longest run for any song in the chart's history.
"My Life Would Suck Without You" - Kelly Clarkson
Hot 100 Peak: No. 1 for two weeks (2009)
Co-producer/co-writer Dr. Luke credits Max Martin for coming up with the title of the song. "The chorus was written a long time ago," he says. "We wrote it after 'Since U Been Gone' and 'Behind These Hazel Eyes,' thinking, 'Hey, we'll write stuff for Kelly's next record.' The verse came about a long time later." Co-writer Claude Kelly was sleeping when he was awakened by a phone call from his manager. "He said, 'Dude, the song jumped from 97 to 1. It broke a record.' I had a feeling it was going to do okay, but I had no idea that it was going to jump that fast and jump that big."
"Because of You" - Kelly Clarkson
Hot 100 Peak: No. 7 (2005)
Clarkson wrote the song with David Hodges and Ben Moody of Evanescence. "Ben came over to my apartment in L.A. and my wisdom teeth had just been taken out and I looked horrible and we just started talking about a couple songs I wanted to do with him. He heard 'Because Of You' and fell in love with it and said, 'I so want to work with you. I love this song. It's so passionate and so very much from the heart.' I didn't think that one was going to catch him. I thought he was going to say, 'that's a little sappy.'"
"Home" - Phillip Phillips
Hot 100 Peak: No. 6 (2013)
Drew Pearson and Greg Holden had never met when their publishers arranged a one-day songwriting session. Pearson recalls, "He walked in my studio and we shook hands, talked for a few minutes and then sat down and wrote 'Home.’ I don't know if I ever told him, but after he sang the demo I secretly wanted Greg to take the song. He said in the session that he felt like the song was something he could sing. Then a few months later he sent me a video of him performing the song live, but that was as far as it got." Pearson’s publisher, Pulse Recording, sent "Home" to Jimmy Iovine at Interscope and that’s how it became Phillips’ finale song. To date, "Home" has topped 10 different Billboard charts, including Hot Digital Songs, Adult Contemporary, Adult Top 40 and Rock Digital Songs. It is the highest-ranked coronation song on the Idol 100. "Having a song in Billboard has been a dream of mine since I was a kid, so I had to keep pinching myself over the last year," says Pearson. "It’s been really exciting to see the song connect with so many people."
"Breakaway" - Kelly Clarkson
Hot 100 Peak: No. 6 (2004)
"I was about to go on stage and my manager said, 'Before you go on, there was an idea that was thrown to us about "The Princess Diaries 2" movie,'" Clarkson recalls. "The first movie was really cute…so I listened to it and what I love about 'Breakaway' is it's not a big power ballad. It's not like 'Miss Independent' or Usher's 'Yeah.' It's a really simple little lullaby anthem, and it's just pretty and the lyrics fit me to a 'T.' I thought it might be a great bridge song to hold the audience over until my next album."
"Behind These Hazel Eyes" - Kelly Clarkson
Hot 100 Peak: No. 6 (2005)
The last song recorded for Clarkson's second album was based on real life. "I wrote a song about a relationship that I thought was going really well and then all of a sudden, it wasn't, and you find out that the person is not that into you and you're like, 'Wow, we spent so much time together.' The lyrics are perfect for what I was feeling at that moment. The song hits more personally than a lot of the other ones."
"No Air" - Jordin Sparks & Chris Brown
Hot 100 Peak: No. 3 (2008)
"No Air" was created for a male artist to sing but co-writer Harvey Mason, Jr. played it for Sparks as an example of his work. "She reacted like she thought the song was average but then called Jeff Fenster, her A&R man, raving about it, saying 'I love it.' Jeff stalked us for six months. We agreed to give it to Jordin on the condition that they make it an event duet record." Mason and his team had been working with Chris Brown and suggested him as a singing partner. Mason spent time working on Sparks' vocal track, both in New York and Los Angeles. Then Brown recorded his part, and later, Sparks went back in the studio to "toughen up" her vocals, according to Mason.
"Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" - Kelly Clarkson
Hot 100 Peak: No. 1 for three weeks (2012)
The second single from Clarkson's "Stronger" album set new records by going to No. 1 on 15 different Billboard charts, including the Hot 100, Hot Digital Songs, Hot Dance Club Play, Adult Contemporary, Adult Top 40 and Mainstream Top 40 and by becoming the best-selling "Idol" single of all time. As of July 2012, "Stronger" had sold 3,510,000 copies, one thousand more than the previous record holder, Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats."
"Since U Been Gone" - Kelly Clarkson
Hot 100 Peak: No. 2 (2005)
Clarkson went to Sweden for two days to record "Since U Been Gone." "I'd love to tell you that I knew anything about Max Martin. I didn't even know that he had written a lot for Britney or Backstreet Boys. I was so in the dark but he's a heavy hitter, really talented and such a nice guy. He and Dr. Luke, they're both great guys." Clarkson remembers the first time she heard the song. "I said, 'This is really poppy. Do you mind if we rock the track up a little?' They put in some heavier guitars and harder drums. It's just a really fun song to sing. It's very explosive and a great contrast to a lot of the other songs on the album."