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.
When “American Idol” premiered on Fox-TV on June 11, 2002, it was far from certain that the “Search for a Superstar” (the show’s subtitle) was going to produce one. Music critics didn’t give the series much credibility and radio did not go out of its way to play songs by “Idol” finalists. The industry should have known better, based on the success of “Pop Idol” in the United Kingdom. The first of that show’s two seasons did produce two superstars, in Will Young and Gareth Gates. Young’s first record, “Anything Is Possible” / “Evergreen,” became the fastest-selling single in U.K. history and is the best-selling single of the 21st century. Gates’ first release, a remake of “Unchained Melody,” debuted at No. 1 on the official U.K. singles chart and was certified double platinum. The stage was set for similar success in America but there was no guarantee.
Then along came Kelly Clarkson, though the singer from Burleson, Texas, was not an obvious winner in the early days of season one of “American Idol.” Executive producer Nigel Lythgoe says, “Justin Guarini and Tamyra Gray, we all said right from the beginning, those two. Tamyra was going to win. Kelly didn’t come through. The only thing that stood out was her humor. It was only when we got into the top 10 that all of a sudden, [when Kelly sang] people would stand there open-mouthed.”
Clarkson demonstrated her sense of humor by switching places with Randy Jackson during her audition, but later, when she walked out on the set for the first time, Jackson leaned over to Paula Abdul and said “Who is that? Who is she??” Debra Byrd, vocal coach on “Idol” from season one to the beginning of season 11, explains, “They didn’t remember her. Kelly later said that was her fault. She had changed her look and her hair. But she just wasn’t on their radar.”
Over 12 years later, Clarkson is still very much on the radar, dominating the list of “Idol’s” top 100 songs on the Hot 100. She has 18 songs in the top 100, including six in the top 10, two of which rank No. 1 and No. 2.
Clarkson isn’t the only “Idol” to become a superstar. When the top 11 of season four were assigned the theme, “Billboard’s number one hits,” Carrie Underwood sang Heart’s “Alone.” After her performance, Simon Cowell made a bold prediction: “Not only will you win this show, you will sell more records than any other previous Idol winner.” Turns out, he was right. (“I’m sure he must love that,” Underwood laughs). Underwood is the best-selling Idol in the U.S. (Clarkson is tops internationally) and has more songs on the Idol 100 than anyone.
The success of “Idol” is even bigger than Clarkson and Underwood. The franchise has produced over 375 No. 1s to date, counting all national and domestic charts compiled by Billboard. So far, 68 finalists from the first 11 seasons have appeared on the Billboard charts.
To celebrate the series' 500th show and the finale of season 13, here are the top 100 songs by Idols based on chart performance on the Hot 100, with the stories behind the songs, many of them being told for the first time.
"Crawling Back to You" - Daughtry
Hot 100 Peak: No. 41 (2011)
Chris Daughtry and Marti Frederiksen wrote "Crawling Back to You" for the "Leave This Town" album. "The chorus was dark," says Chris. "Something wasn’t right. We changed the melody and it wasn’t better. Finally, we gave up." But there was something interesting about the tune that prevented them from abandoning it forever. Ultimately Daughtry and Frederiksen got back together at Chris’ house and found the right chord for the chorus, rewriting it in just three minutes. "We turned it in to [producer] Howard [Benson] that night." "Crawling Back to You" was the second single released from Daughtry’s third album, "Break the Spell."
"Dream Big" - David Cook
Hot 100 Peak: No. 15 (2008)
There were 10 finalists in the "American Idol" season seven songwriting contest. In addition to performing the winning song, "The Time of My Life," on the second night of the two-part finale, Cook was to select a song from the remaining nine to sing during the first night. "I was also singing U2 and Collective Soul and I wanted to find something that fell between those two," he explains. "A lot of songs submitted for the finale were grandiose. ‘Dream Big’ had more drive to it. The lyrics by Emily Shackelton were written from the viewpoint of a girl. I asked if she would allow me to change ‘girl’ to ‘boy’ without screwing with her rhyme sequences. She said yes, absolutely. It was fun to strap on the guitar, turn it up to 10 and go."
"When You Tell Me That You Love Me" - American Idol Finalists 4
Hot 100 Peak: No. 39 (2005)
When Diana Ross released this song in 1991, it failed to chart on the Hot 100 but was a hit in the U.K., where it peaked at No. 2. The song went to No. 2 again in 2005, when Westlife recorded it, with guest vocalist Ross. That same year, the song finally charted in America (for the first and only time), by the season four "Idol" finalists.
"Mad World" - Adam Lambert
Hot 100 Peak: No. 19 (2009)
"The theme was year of birth," Lambert says when asked why he performed Tears for Fears’ "Mad World" on "American Idol." "They gave us a list and that song popped out at me and I remembered the Gary Jules version from the movie, ‘Donnie Darko.’ It’s haunting and beautiful and it gets in your head and the words are amazing and I wanted to do it because I knew it would be different and very non-‘Idol’ and not showy. I wanted to pull back and sound really vulnerable and just do the song justice and they came up with a great arrangement of it, kind of this ambient, acoustic thing."
"If This Isn’t Love" - Jennifer Hudson
Hot 100 Peak: No. 63 (2009)
Brian Kennedy had a meeting with Clive Davis to find out the direction he was taking Hudson on her debut album. "I got home at two or three in the morning and started putting ideas down," says Kennedy. "No one knows this, but the original track was deleted by accident. It took me 20 minutes to make it and then six hours to recreate it." Lyrics were written by Planet VI (brothers Timothy and Theron Thomas) and Kennedy produced the recording.
"Red High Heels" - Kellie Pickler
Hot 100 Peak: No. 64 (2007)
Billboard gave Pickler’s first single a favorable review in October 2006. Deborah Evans Price called the song, "a frisky anthem" and said Pickler, "has an engaging voice and loads of personality, and both shine on this single." Citing her "abundance of spark and charisma," Price predicted, "she very well could follow in her heroes’ footsteps." Pickler will reprise the song as a duet with a member of the military on the CBS special "ACM Presents: An All-Star Salute to the Troops," airing May 20.
"And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going" - Jennifer Hudson
Hot 100 Peak: No. 60 (2007)
Producer Harvey Mason, Jr. had already recorded most of the "Dreamgirls" soundtrack when Jennifer Hudson was cast as Effie White, a role played by Jennifer Holliday on the Broadway stage. "We wanted to stand apart from the Jennifer Holliday version," Mason says. "We took great care to be similar but we wanted to do our own version of the song." Hudson came to the studio and performed the song perfectly in one take. "One woman sitting in the studio started crying after Jennifer’s performance," Mason recalls. "I looked over at the director, Bill Condon, and said, ‘What are we going to do now?’"
"Baby Mama" – Fantasia
Hot 100 Peak: No. 60 (2005)
This was a very personal song for Fantasia, who was 17 when she became pregnant with her daughter. Some found the lyrics controversial but Fantasia pointed out it was not about encouraging teen motherhood. The writing credits included the team of Barbara Acklin and Eugene Record because the track samples their 1974 composition, "There Will Never Be Any Peace (Until God Is Seated at the Conference Table)," No. 63 on the Hot 100 for Record’s group, the Chi-Lites.
"Waiting for Superman" – Daughtry
Hot 100 Peak: No. 66 (2014)
A rock song with a taste of EDM, "Waiting for Superman" was the first single from Daughtry’s fourth album, "Baptized." Long-time comic book fan Chris Daughtry, known to dress as Batman at the San Diego Comic-Con, wrote the song with bandmates Martin Johnson and Sam Hollander. While the single has peaked on the Hot 100, it is still in the top 20 of the Adult Contemporary tally.
"Heartless" - Kris Allen
Hot 100 Peak: No. 16 (2009)
Asked why he chose to sing this song on "Idol," Allen explains, "Adam [Lambert] and I would always run ideas by each other and I asked him, ‘What if I did "Heartless" by Kanye?’ and he said, ‘I think it would be genius.’ That gave me the confidence to run with it. And seriously, once I got into it, it was one of the easiest things that I’ve done. I just played it my way and sang it my way."
NEXT PAGE: 90-81 
The ranking of this list of the Top 100 'American Idol' Songs of all Time is based on actual performance on the weekly Billboard Hot 100 chart. Songs are ranked based on an inverse point system, with weeks at No. 1 earning the greatest value and weeks at No. 100 earning the least. To ensure equitable representation of the biggest hits from each era, certain time frames were weighted to account for the difference between turnover rates from those years.
"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.
NEXT PAGE: 80-71 
The Real Thing" - Bo Bice
Hot 100 Peak: No. 56 (2006)
"This was my first single after 'Idol,'" says Bice. "To be able to work with Clive Davis and have him call the shots and hand me such a great song was incredible. Marti Fredericksen, who is still a friend, wrote the song with Kara DioGuardi. Little did I know she would later become a judge on 'Idol.'"
"I Want to Live" - Josh Gracin
Hot 100 Peak: No. 45 (2004)
Before Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler, Bucky Covington, Danny Gokey, Casey James, Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina, "American Idol" produced its first country star. Gracin was serving in the United States Marines when he appeared on the show and was still in the military when he signed with Disney’s Lyric Street Records. Gracin noted at the time that he was thrilled to be signed to the same label as his idols, Rascal Flatts. His first single, "I Want to Live," peaked at No. 4 on Hot Country Songs.
Stay With Me (Brass Bed)" - Josh Gracin
Hot 100 Peak: No. 47 (2005)
Jedd Hughes was a 19-year-old student from Australia when songwriter Terry McBride spoke to his class at South Plains College near Lubbock, Texas. "I performed a few songs and then all of the students performed," says McBride. "Jedd was phenomenal. His guitar skills were so good." Hughes moved to Nashville and signed to McBride’s publishing company. They wrote a number of songs for Hughes to record, but one didn’t seem right for him. "'Brass Bed’ was a big love song and we didn’t think it fit on his album," McBride explains. "After we wrote it, Brett [James] went and demoed it and the next thing I knew, it was being recorded by Josh Gracin." When it was released as a single, the title was changed to "Stay With Me (Brass Bed)."
"8th World Wonder" - Kimberley Locke
Hot 100 Peak: No. 49 (2004)
Within an hour of Billboard compiling the Hot Singles Sales chart for the week ending March 27, 2004, "Idol" executive producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick were looking at a page proof rushed over from the Los Angeles office showing Locke's first single debuting at No. 1. Based on that chart success, they immediately booked her to perform her hit on the following week's results show.
"Don't Forget to Remember Me" - Carrie Underwood
Hot 100 Peak: No. 49 (2006)
A week before he wrote with Ashley Gorley and Morgane Hayes for the first time, Kelley Lovelace was sitting in his chair thinking up ideas and came up with the hook for this song, which the trio composed for Hayes to record. Ben Vaughn, who was at EMI Publishing at the time, called Lovelace to tell him he may have just gotten one of the biggest cuts of his life. "I didn't know who Carrie Underwood was," says Lovelace. "I had heard of her, but hadn't watched that much of the show. I started researching and realized what a great singer she was. Of course, she sounded phenomenal." When "Jesus, Take the Wheel" was released and soared to No. 1 on Hot Country Songs, the three writers realized that Vaughn was right.
"Mama's Song" - Carrie Underwood
Hot 100 Peak: No. 56 (2010)
Composed by the same four writers in the same session as her previous single, "Undo It," this song was very personal for Underwood as well as co-writer Kara DioGuardi. "Carrie was with her fiancé and I was getting married. My mother had passed away and Carrie has a very close relationship with her mother. We got on the subject of why there are all these songs for fathers and daughters. What about the mothers who changed our diapers?" "Mama's Song" came together in an hour. "I think everyone was crying when we wrote it," says DioGuardi, who wanted to play her advance copy at her wedding. "But I was afraid the DJ would put it on the internet."
"Because of You" - Reba McEntire w/ Kelly Clarkson
Hot 100 Peak: No. 50 (2007)
Two years after Clarkson took this song to No. 7 on the Hot 100, "Because of You" charted again as a duet between the first winner of "Idol" and Reba McEntire. The duo first recorded a song titled "A Lot Like You" for McEntire's "Duets" album but manager (and McEntire's husband) (and Clarkson's future father-in-law) Narvel Blackstock heard the two women rehearsing "Because of You" and suggested they record that for "Duets" instead.
NEXT PAGE: 70-61 
"Dark Side" - Kelly Clarkson
Hot 100 Peak: No. 42 (2012)
Songwriters busbee and Alexander Geringas were collaborating for the first time and spent their first day just getting to know each other. "We wrote a mediocre song," says busbee. "The next day Alex said, 'Let's write something for Kelly Clarkson.' I sat down at the piano and wondered what Kelly would want to say." What poured out was "Dark Side." "The concept popped into my head." The first demo had a female singer that was too slick for the song and the publisher suggested recording it again with a rock voice. "That demo was more pop-rock than Kelly's version."
"I Love You This Big" - Scotty McCreery
Hot 100 Peak: No. 11 (2011)
Ester Dean is known for penning songs for Mary J. Blige, Rihanna, Kelly Rowland and Nicki Minaj, so how did she end up co-writing for a country singer like season 11 winner McCreery? "I’m from Oklahoma," she says. "My father was in rodeo. It’s where I should be." "I Love You This Big" was originally written by Jay Smith and Ronnie Jackson from the point of view of a father singing to his kids and had to be revised by Dean and Brett James for the 17-year-old high school student.
"Two Black Cadillacs" - Carrie Underwood
Hot 100 Peak (to date): No. 41 (2013)
Written by Underwood with Hillary Lindsey and Josh Kear, this current single continues Underwood’s string of story songs with a dark edge. "Josh lives a few houses down from me," says Lindsey. "He’s like a mad scientist. He sits at home and comes up with ideas. He had the "two black Cadillacs" idea. It was a little more soulful so it was fun creating the story. Carrie took the video to another level."
NEXT: 70-61 
"Temporary Home" - Carrie Underwood
Hot 100 Peak: No. 41 (2010)
In his book, "The Purpose Driven Life," Pastor Rick Warren writes that this world is a "temporary home" and that when we leave here, it is not the end of existence. That was Underwood’s inspiration when she met with songwriters Luke Laird and Zac Maloy. "Carrie brought in the idea and had the title. I was just lucky to be in the room," says Laird. "She didn’t have the verses written, but knew what she wanted the verses to be about. I was strumming on the guitar. Carrie had the melody. It was a dream co-write. Carrie knew exactly where she wanted the story to go."
"What About Now" - Daughtry
Hot 100 Peak: No. 18 (2008)
"Clive Davis let me have my way on the first album," says Chris Daughtry. "He really let us take the reins." So when the legendary music executive asked the band to listen to a song written by former Evanescence members Ben Moody and David Hodges along with Josh Hartzler, the group was happy to consider "What About Now" for that debut album. It was the fifth and final single from Daughtry's first set to chart on the Hot 100 and the fourth extract to reach the top 20.
"Invisible" - Clay Aiken
Hot 100 Peak: No. 37 (2004)
Some people found the words to this song a bit creepy. "The lyrics are a little bit weird," Aiken concedes, agreeing with a Billboard reporter that he was singing about observing someone in their bedroom as a character invented by the songwriters, not himself. "I don't think people think that I'm actually watching somebody in their room. That's kind of nasty, and I don't encourage [it].
"See You Again" – Carrie Underwood
Hot 100 Peak: No. 34 (2013)
Underwood wrote three songs for the film "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" with Hillary Lindsey and David Hodges. The song chosen for the soundtrack was "There’s a Place for Us," but "See You Again," a tale of seeing loved ones in the afterlife, did not go unreleased. Underwood recorded it for her "Blown Away" album and it was the fourth single issued from that set.
"Nothin' to Lose" - Josh Gracin
Hot 100 Peak: No. 39 (2005)
Marcel Chagnon was signed to Mercury when he wrote this song with Kevin Savigar. Featuring rapid-fire lyrics, it appeared on his first album, released under the singular name Marcel. "Unfortunately his record didn't perform in the way we'd hoped," says Savigar. Gracin's producer, Marty Williams, stopped by the offices of music publisher Almo-Irving to find songs for the season two finalist's debut set and passed on everything. He was about to leave when he asked, "What about that song Marcel did?" Savigar recalls, "My publisher slyly said, 'I was just about to play you that one.' They went in and cut the song and it went to No. 1. Later I saw Josh at a party in Nashville and I asked him, 'Did you cut that all in one piece?' He said, 'He made me do it over and over and over again!'"
"Over It" - Katharine McPhee
Hot 100 Peak: No. 29 (2007)
Billy Steinberg and Josh Alexander played "Over It" for Clive Davis in his bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel and Davis said he wanted the song for McPhee. Steinberg, who produced the song with Alexander, believes that "Over It" was not "in her comfort zone," adding, "We were hell-bent on getting the tonality right. We nearly pushed her over the edge to get it exactly the way we wanted it."
"September" - Daughtry
Hot 100 Peak: No. 36 (2010)
"On the last date of the Bon Jovi tour I picked up my guitar to rehearse for the night and came up with the riff for 'September,'" says Chris Daughtry. Bandmate Josh Steely sent Chris a voice memo with some lyrical ideas and Chris sent back a lyric based on Steely's outline. "He said it was exactly what he was going for, remembering the summer and going back to school. When I was a kid, summer was a big thing, not so much now. I kept bugging the label that 'September' had to be a single, and be released at the time of the year when it will have meaning." "September" debuted on the Hot 100 at the end of August 2010. On the Adult Contemporary chart it had a 52-week run, lasting through every season.
"Free Yourself" - Fantasia
Hot 100 Peak: No. 41 (2005)
Missy Elliott wanted to create something for Fantasia that every woman could relate to. Elliott was inspired by what she calls the "unorthodox" structure of El DeBarge’s songwriting, using a B-section rare in contemporary R&B. "I had Jazmine Sullivan do the demo track," says Elliott. "When Fantasia heard her version, she had to take it up a notch, vocally." The season three winner recorded "Free Yourself" in less than an hour. "With Fantasia, you feel like you get your money’s worth," Elliott professes about seeing the American Idol in concert. "She’s incredible. I would never want to go on after her."
"God Bless the U.S.A." - American Idol Finalists
Hot 100 Peak: No. 4 (2003)
Season two's top 10 finalists performed this Lee Greenwood song as a group effort, but not before rewriting the line, "and I won’t forget the men who died." Susan Slamer, music supervisor on the first four seasons of "Idol," explains: "Josh Gracin, who was a Marine, decided that since men and women have died, the lyric should be changed to reflect that." Slamer had to call the publisher to get permission to change the lyric to "the ones who died" – and was turned down. Slamer suggested the publisher sue the show, so "Idol" could go public with the refusal and see how it played out in the press for Greenwood. The words were altered per Gracin's request, both on air and on the single released to raise funds for the American Red Cross.
"Solitaire" - Clay Aiken
Hot 100 Peak: No. 4 (2004)
Celebrity judge Neil Sedaka was moved to tears by Aiken's season two performance of this song, written 31 years earlier with Phil Cody. "I was overwhelmed by Clay's voice and I said, 'I've lost the song. It will forever be a Clay Aiken song.' The next night I was having dinner at Spago and Clive Davis came over and told me, 'We're going to record "Solitaire" with Clay.' Then I heard the record didn't come off well and it was not included in Clay's 'Measure Of A Man' CD. Clive said, 'I feel terrible, Neil. I'm going to re-record it.' I never heard the original, but the second recording was brilliant. Brilliant!"
NEXT PAGE: 60-51 
"Gallery" - Mario Vazquez
Hot 100 Peak: No. 35 (2006)
One month after Ne-Yo topped the Hot 100 with his debut chart single, "So Sick," J Records released this single, written by Ne-Yo (under his real name, Shaffer Smith) and Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel Eriksen, the Norwegian production team known as Stargate. When Vazquez was named a top 12 finalist for season four of Idol, some people thought the Bronx-born singer would go far in the competition. But Vazquez had two surprises in store: first, he dropped out of "Idol," citing "family" reasons, and second, despite leaving the show, he was signed to a label deal by Clive Davis. "Gallery" was his only song to appear on the Hot 100.
"Best Days of Your Life" - Kellie Pickler
Hot 100 Peak: No. 46 (2009)
Taylor Swift doesn’t only write songs about her own break-ups. She was on tour with Pickler and Brad Paisley when the two women wrote "Best Days of Your Life," based on Pickler’s broken relationship with a boyfriend. Swift sang backing vocals on the track. Pickler has released nine singles to date and this is the only one to make the top 10 of the Hot Country Songs chart. It’s her highest-ranked title on the Hot 100.
"Wasted" - Carrie Underwood
Hot 100 Peak: No. 37 (2007)
Songwriter Troy Verges had written "Wasted" in his title book and batted it around with Hillary Lindsey and Marv Green. "It took about three hours to write," Verges recalls. "We played with some different stories and characters. When we were going to demo it, there was an additional second verse and we felt like that was too much. It took too long to get to the second chorus, so we yanked it out. That song was a real education for me in fine-tuning a song during the demo process. It’s a big melody. Not everyone can sing those kinds of songs. Hillary is a great singer in her own right, but Carrie just owned that song in such a way that it made it hers. It’s one of the best vocal performances beating the demo I’ve ever heard."
"If I Had You" - Adam Lambert
Hot 100 Peak: No. 30 (2010)
Lambert says that Swedish writer/producer Max Martin and his team had already started writing this song when they were asked to send more music for the season eight runner-up's first album for 19/RCA. Lambert believes that Martin then wrote some lyrics especially for him, including, "Got the eye liner and the right amount of leather."
"Life After You" - Daughtry
Hot 100 Peak: No. 36 (2010)
Daughtry was touring with Bon Jovi when Chris got a call from Chad Kroeger of Nickelback. "He wanted to send me a song he was writing," says Chris. "He said if I didn't like it, he was sending it to Keith Urban. I lived with the song for a year and wasn't sure if it was for us. But we couldn't get it out of our heads. I wrote the bridge and Chad signed off on it." "Life After You" was the second single from the "Leave This Town" album following "No Surprise."
"When I See U" – Fantasia
Hot 100 Peak: No. 32 (2007)
The song was composed for Geffen artist Tori Kelly, who recorded it on her 12th birthday, according to co-writer Sam Watters. He says the young singer was "shockingly good." Then there was a regime change at the label and Kelly was dropped (she later auditioned for season nine of "Idol"). Bruce Waynne of the Midi Mafia production team played the song for Fantasia, who recorded it for her second album, but not before doing some research. "I started back at 'Idol' and went through all of those songs and what did people say and what did they like," the season three winner explains. "Then I went through my first album, 'Free Yourself,' and I got it. People like to hear me sing from my soul, from my heart. They don't want me to hold anything back. I have to stay true to myself and that's what this album was."
"All-American Girl" - Carrie Underwood
Hot 100 Peak: No. 27 (2008)
Based on their success with "Don't Forget to Remember Me," Kelley Lovelace and Ashley Gorley were scheduled for a one-day writing session with Underwood. They completed one song and figured that was it. "Carrie said, 'That didn't take long. I guess we've got time to write another one,'" says Lovelace. He pitched a song fragment he had for a song called "All-American Girl." "Carrie said, 'It's not about me, is it?' I said, 'No, it's about this guy who wanted a boy but has a daughter.' She said it was like her dad when he had her. From there, it took two-and-a-half hours. I hate to say it was magical, but the chemistry was perfect. Ashley and I were really excited. We went out in the parking lot, looked at each other and said, 'What the hell just happened?'"
"Last Name" - Carrie Underwood
Hot 100 Peak: No. 19 (2008)
"It was written the first day I wrote with Carrie and Hillary Lindsey," says Luke Laird. "Carrie had been in Las Vegas for the ACMs and we were just making up a story about Vegas. Carrie and Hillary started rapping on the verses." Lindsey confirms, "We had a blast writing that song. There were three girls in the room and Luke. Carrie told us about her trip to Vegas where she met a cute guy on the dance floor. The rest wasn't true. It was fun."
"Light On" - David Cook
Hot 100 Peak: No. 17 (2008)
When Cook's management played some songs for him to consider for his first post-"Idol" album, they prefaced "Light On" by telling him that it was written by Brian Howes and a gentleman named Chris Cornell. Yes, that Chris Cornell, from Soundgarden and Audioslave. "Any Chris Cornell song would be a challenge vocally," says Cook. "He's an amazing singer. I was really excited about that song; it was one of the first ones I cut." It was also the first single released from Cook's self-titled debut for 19/RCA. Cook and Cornell finally met – but much later, at the ear, nose and throat doctor. "I was sick and he was there with a family member," Cook explains. "The doctor put Chris in my room and said, 'You guys should meet.'"
"Just a Dream" - Carrie Underwood
Hot 100 Peak: No. 29 (2008)
"Gordie Sampson, Steven McEwan and I would camp out and just write," says Hillary Lindsey. "I think the music was [composed previously]. We had the music and the melody and the verses started flying out. It was clear it was about a girl going to a wedding but she was really going to a funeral. I called my mom about what you put in a shoe. If I'm writing a redneck song about rednecks fishing, I'll call my dad. We had the chorus with the hook, 'It was just a dream.' We were worried it was too clichéd, but then decided who cares if it's a cliché, when it's the truth."
NEXT PAGE: 50-41 
"I Told You So" - Carrie Underwood ft. Randy Travis
Hot 100 Peak: No. 9 (2009)
Travis first appeared on the Hot 100 in 1998 but he never reached the top 10 until his duet with Underwood peaked at No. 9 in 2009. He first cut his self-penned "I Told You So" in 1983, on a live album he recorded as Randy Ray. A studio version appeared on his 1988 album "Always & Forever" and a single went to No. 1 on the country chart. It was one of Underwood's favorite songs growing up and she recorded a cover version for her album "Carnival Ride." First issued as a solo single, it was quickly followed by a duet version that paired Underwood with Travis.
"I'll Stand By You" - Carrie Underwood
Hot 100 Peak: No. 6 (2007)
Billy Steinberg was a huge fan of the Pretenders and Chrissie Hynde and dreamt of working with her but thought she was too self-contained to collaborate with outside writers. "Tom Kelly and I threw out the idea that we would like to write for her and she said she wanted a hit and was open to writing with us." The result was "I'll Stand By You," which peaked at No. 16 in 1994. Some 13 years later, Underwood's single debuted at No. 6 after she performed it on the first "Idol Gives Back," during the sixth season of the Fox-TV series. Over 300,000 downloads were sold during the brief period the song was available, with all profits going to charity.
"Feels Like Tonight" -Daughtry
Hot 100 Peak: No. 24 (2008)
Chris Daughtry's initial reaction to "Feels Like Tonight" was that he didn't want to record it. "But I ended up loving the song. It has such a great melody with a simple lyric. Once I started singing it, I realized it's actually a fun song to sing." It was the fourth single to chart from Daughtry's debut album and the first not to list Chris in the writing credits. It was also the only single from the album to miss the top 20 of the Hot 100, peaking at No. 24.
"I Do Not Hook Up" - Kelly Clarkson
Hot 100 Peak: No. 20 (2009)
Katy Perry and Greg Wells were working on this song before Perry signed with Capitol, and then it was finished much later. "Katy came over to my house and we sat on the kitchen floor and wrote the rest of it," says Kara DioGuardi. "Kelly changed one of the lines. She wouldn't say, 'keep your thing in your pants.'" The new lyric: "Keep your hand in my hand."
"Spotlight" - Jennifer Hudson
Hot 100 Peak: No. 24 (2008)
After her success with "Dreamgirls," Hudson was signed to Arista. The first single from her debut album was written by Ne-Yo with Mikkel Eriksen and Tor Erik Hermanson, the two members of the Norwegian production team known as Stargate. "Spotlight" spent two weeks at No. 1 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. Hudson is only the second Idol to top this chart, after Fantasia, who did it with "When I See U."
"Undo It" - Carrie Underwood
Hot 100 Peak: No. 23 (2010)
Kara DioGuardi, Marti Frederikson, Luke Laird and Carrie Underwood wrote "Undo It" and the follow-up, "Mama's Song," in one five-hour stretch. "Undo It" was born in DioGuardi's bathroom. "I had this idea in the shower, put it down on my Dictaphone, brought it in and Carrie really liked it," says DioGuardi. The session marked the first time DioGuardi met Underwood and they spent part of the five hours just getting to know each other. "It's important to talk and make sure you have a common denominator, that you've gone through similar experiences," says DioGuardi. "We ordered some wine. We needed to vibe, and open up a dialogue on subjects everyone's been through."
"So Small" - Carrie Underwood
Hot 100 Peak: No. 17 (2007)
Luke Laird remembers the second day he got together with Hillary Lindsey and Carrie Underwood to write songs. "Hillary was playing mandolin and I was playing guitar." Lindsey explains, "I can't really play the mandolin but I can make a sound. I started playing a lick while Luke was on the phone and he pointed at me to keep playing so I wouldn't forget it. We had a melody but no idea. A friend's father had passed away and as we were talking, someone said, 'That's what matters. It makes everything else so small.'" Laird continues: "I woke up in the middle of the night, put on my headphones, listened to it and thought, 'This feels really special.'"
"Good Girl" - Carrie Underwood
Hot 100 Peak: No. 18 (2012)
Underwood was in Los Angeles when she met with Ashley Gorley and Chris DeStefano for a writing session. Gorley came up with the title that morning. "We worked through two or three different grooves with that title," he remembers. "Then we started something else, but came back to it. We got the 'Good girl, no good for you.’ We kept coming up with cool sections of the song. Most songs are verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. This is more verse, pre-chorus, chorus, post chorus and then something else and another part of the chorus. It was different, especially for country. We were writing over the electric guitar licks and drum patterns you hear on the record. Being in L.A. probably made us go a little more out of the box. But I’m not afraid to rock with her. She crushed the song."
"Blown Away" - Carrie Underwood
Hot 100 Peak: No. 20 (2012)
Listening to the thunderstorm and rain sound effects on this song, it would be easy to assume they appear on the track because of the lyrics. But actually, it's the other way around. Songwriters Chris Tompkins and Josh Kear, who also composed "Before He Cheats" for Underwood, wanted to write songs for her fourth album and met at Tompkins' office in Nashville. "I have a bank of sound effects on my keyboard and sometimes I'll goof off and Josh will roll his eyes at me," says Tompkins. "We messed around with this track, with drums and a string arrangement. I looped off thunderstorms and rain, all these sound effects. Then we wrote the verse." When they came up with, "There's not enough rain in Oklahoma to wash the sins out of that house," they realized, "This song really wants to be a Carrie Underwood song. It was a little dark and poppy. It had every characteristic of a Carrie song."
"Inside Your Heaven" - Bo Bice
Hot 100 Peak: No. 2 (2005)
When this single debuted at No. 2 on the Hot 100 the week of July 9, 2005, Carrie Underwood's version of the same song fell 1-3. It was the first time in the history of this chart that the same song occupied two of the top three positions. "I had to stand toe-to-toe with Carrie on the finale, singing the same song," says Bice. "Her version was so impressive and that's definitely when I realized what a tough competition this was."
NEXT PAGE: 40-31 
"Don't You Wanna Stay" - Jason Aldean w/ Kelly Clarkson
Hot 100 Peak: No. 31 (2011)
Andy Gibson, Paul Jenkins and Jason Sellers wrote this song and Gibson intended to record it himself. Then Jenkins and Sellers brought the song to Jason Aldean's producer, Michael Knox. "It was Jason Aldean's vision to turn the song into a duet," says Gibson. "He got hold of Kelly Clarkson." Their collaboration became the definitive version of the song and Gibson has no plans to ever record it. "I play it live so people can hear how it started out."
"Gone, Gone, Gone" – Phillip Phillips
Hot 100 Peak: No. 24 (2013)
A wise choice for the follow-up to "Home," the second single from Phillips’ album "The World from the Side of the Moon" topped eight Billboard charts, including Adult Contemporary and Triple A. The track was used on season 12 of "American Idol" as the goodbye song for departing contestants and is included in two film soundtracks: "Delivery Man" and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2."
"Truth Is" - Fantasia
Hot 100 Peak: No. 21 (2005)
"'Truth Is' was not written for Fantasia," says writer/producer Soulshock. "We just wrote songs. The track came first. It was kind of a hip-hop groove. We wanted to get a gritty sound, like vinyl static. We had the track going and thought about melodies. We wrote it very fast. Came up with the hook and we had a very rough mix of it. We were four guys (Soulshock, Karlin, J.Q. White and Alex Cantrall) in the studio, so we hired a demo singer because it wouldn't work sung by a guy. We sent it to Clive Davis, who loved it and sent it to Fantasia. She loved it and we got a note to fly to New Orleans where Fantasia was on the Idol tour. She was under tremendous pressure being on tour and having to record at the same time. During the first takes, I don't know if she felt it. We talked about the lyrics and suddenly she came out of her shell. We went in and she was just amazing. It got really soulful."
"Catch My Breath" - Kelly Clarkson
Hot 100 Peak: No. 19 (2013)
Eric Olson scrapped seven early versions of this song before he finally came up with the opening piano part. "It was a two-week process to get the riff," he says, "and then it only took four or five hours to get the music down." After he and Clarkson's musical director, Jason Halbert, wrote the music they sent the song to Clarkson. "Within a day or two, she had the full song written." Two weeks later, they recorded "Breath" during Clarkson's tour rehearsals. "Kelly was on crutches," Olson remembers. "So she sang the whole song sitting down. Even her worst takes were amazing – she was in and out in an hour and a half."
"Remind Me" - Brad Paisley Duet w/ Carrie Underwood
Hot 100 Peak: No. 17 (2011)
Brad Paisley had been working on his "This Is Country Music" album for months and was almost finished when he called songwriter Kelley Lovelace just as the Super Bowl was about to begin. "We were supposed to write with Sheryl Crow that week, so I thought he wanted to get an idea for Sheryl," says Lovelace. "Brad said, 'No, I'm trying to think of something for me. I'm missing something.' I had already pitched him everything I had. So I went over there after the game." Paisley looked through Lovelace's computer to scroll through his list of ideas. "He was thinking of Eminem and Rihanna's 'Love The Way You Lie' and the way the female vocal comes out of nowhere. He was looking for a song that could do something similar in a country version." Paisley found Lovelace's line "Remind me so I don't forget." "We all worked on it with Chris DuBois the next day. Then Brad left Carrie a voice mail." Paisley wanted a demo, so he asked Sheryl Crow to record it with him. "Then Carrie came in and they recorded it on Brad's farm. Brad wanted us there to come up with alternative lines in case Carrie didn't like something. We had to change a few things, but mostly we sat around listening to Carrie, saying, 'This is pretty awesome.'"
"Flying Without Wings" - Ruben Studdard
Hot 100 Peak: No. 2 (2003)
Simon Cowell signed Irish boy band Westlife to RCA in the U.K. Their third single, "Flying Without Wings," was released in 1999 and was the third of their 14 No. 1 hits. Four years later, as season two of "Idol" was coming to an end in America, Clive Davis met with the top four finalists and told them "Wings" would be the finale song for Ruben Studdard and Kimberley Locke, should they be in the top two. "I remember thinking, 'What am I going to do with this song?'" says Studdard. "But then I worked with Babyface on it and he showed me a few different things I could do with my vocals."
"I Believe" - Fantasia
Hot 100 Peak: No. 1 for one week (2004)
Songwriters Louis Biancaniello, Sam Watters and Tamyra Gray – the same Tamyra who competed in the first season of "Idol" – submitted a song titled "Through It All" for the winner of season three. When it was turned down, they sent in the other song they had written that week, "I Believe." Watters recalls, "Fantasia had a really extensive gospel music background singing at church and that song just put her right where she was really comfortable and she knocked it out in a heartbeat."
"No Surprise" - Daughtry
Hot 100 Peak: No. 15 (2009)
"We were almost done with the 'Leave This Town' album when we had a window of opportunity to go to Vancouver and write with Chad Kroeger," says Chris Daughtry, who had known the Nickelback founder for a while. "We were friends but we hadn't had the chance to write together." Kroeger had been working on a song with Eric Dill and Rune Westberg. "The chorus had been written," Daughtry confirms. We had to figure out what to say in the verses." The result was "No Surprise," which was released as the first single from Daughtry's second studio album.
"Cowboy Casanova" - Carrie Underwood
Hot 100 Peak: No. 11 (2009)
Underwood and Brett James (one of the writers on "Jesus, Take the Wheel") invited a third writer to work with them on this song: rap producer Mike Elizondo, best known for his work with Dr. Dre, 50 Cent and Eminem, but who had also produced for Natasha Bedingfield, Alanis Morissette and Fiona Apple. James credits Elizondo for the beat and the riffs on this track, one of Underwood’s highest-ranked songs on the Hot 100.
"Jesus, Take the Wheel" - Carrie Underwood
Hot 100 Peak: No. 20 (2006)
At one of their typical songwriting sessions, Brett James, Gordie Sampson and Hillary Lindsey were having coffee and catching up with what was going on in their lives. "Gordie was talking about his family," Lindsey remembers. "His aunt always said, 'When Jesus takes the wheel...' They started playing guitars and we started singing the melody. I don't feel like we had a big part in the writing of the song. It was like it was given to us." They didn't have any artist in mind. "I called my dad and we started talking about Carrie and he said, 'I think she's going to win.' I just wanted to have just one song on her album. Leslie Roberts and Renee Bell at RCA were fans of the song, so I think they got it in their hands. I do know it wasn't pitched that much. It certainly had never been recorded."
NEXT PAGE: 30-21 
"Do I Make You Proud" - Taylor Hicks
Hot 100 Peak: No. 1 for one week (2006)
Dave Way and the production duo known as Absolute were asked to work with Elliott Yamin, Katharine McPhee and Taylor Hicks, the top three finalists on season five, to prepare the coronation song for the winner. They recorded "Do I Make You Proud" with Yamin and the next day he was voted off the show. "We figured that was the end of that," says Way. "Then we got a call that Taylor wanted to record the song. We had one night to get it done and Taylor learned the song in the car on his way to the studio. His take on it was a lot different than Elliott's and to his credit, he really made that song his own. Not an easy thing to do, especially when you have to learn the song a half an hour before you're going to do the vocal. He did a great job."
"One Step at a Time" - Jordin Sparks
Hot 100 Peak: No. 17 (2008)
When Robbie Nevil and Lauren Evans received a track from Jonas Jeberg and Mich Hansen in Denmark, they hopped in Nevil's car and drove to the beach to write lyrics while overlooking the ocean. "We thought about who we were writing for and Jordin came to mind," says Evans. "I was familiar with her story, how she auditioned in Los Angeles but didn't make it to Hollywood Week and had the courage to audition again. I listened to the track and pictured her heels walking on the sidewalk. I blurted out, 'One step at a time.'" A few hours later the song was complete and the writers drove back to Nevil's office in Santa Monica to record the vocal for the demo. "So often your song is picked up by someone completely different than who you wrote it for," Evans says. "This song told Jordin's story and my story and everybody's story who pursues music."
"Over You" – Daughtry
Hot 100 Peak: No. 18 (2007)
Chris Daughtry and Brian Howes had already written the rock song "What I Want" and another tune that was never recorded when they collaborated on a third effort, "Over You." It was composed during the Idols summer tour that followed Chris' season on the show. "I wrote every day of the Idol tour, never taking a day off," he remembers. Daughtry and Howes set up shop in a hotel room in Alabama to write the song that originally had different lyrics and was titled "Half." Daughtry explains, "It didn't sound tough enough. We wanted more testosterone so we settled on a lyric change."
"The Time of My Life" - David Cook
Hot 100 Peak: No. 3 (2008)
The winner of season seven's songwriting competition was Regie Hamm, who was inspired by his wife Yolanda to submit "The Time of My Life" for the May finale. "The first time I heard it was at CBS Studios [home to "American Idol"]. I thought it was a great song but I asked if we could add some guitars," says Cook. The single spent 15 weeks at No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. During the summer of 2008, Cook and Hamm met on the Idols live tour. "At the end of a meet and greet, I got the chance to talk to him."
"Never Again" - Kelly Clarkson
Hot 100 Peak: No. 8 (2007)
Six years after its release, this song and its parent album, "My December," which expressed Clarkson's emotional pain after a breakup with David Hodges, are still making headlines. After Clive Davis wrote about both in his 2013 memoir, "The Soundtrack of My Life," Clarkson responded, saying in part, "'My December' was an album I needed to make for myself for many reasons and the fact that I was so completely disregarded and disrespected was so disheartening, there really aren't words to explain." "Never Again" was the only single from the album to chart on the Hot 100.
"Live Like We're Dying" - Kris Allen
Hot 100 Peak: No. 18 (2010)
This was a cover version of a song by the Irish band the Script, written by the group's Mark Sheehan and Danny O'Donoghue with Andrew Frampton and Steve Kipner. The original version was a bonus track on the Japanese edition of their debut album and the B-side of their first single "We Cry" in several countries, including the U.K. and Australia. Billboard's review of Allen's remake said he improved on the Script's recording, "with a nuanced vocal and a nimble, rhythmic delivery."
"Battlefield" - Jordin Sparks
Hot 100 Peak: No. 10 (2009)
Louis Biancaniello, Sam Watters, Wayne Wilkins and Ryan Tedder composed this song in Denver just after Tedder moved to the mile-high city. They had Christina Aguilera in mind. "Clive Davis liked it for Leona Lewis and Barry Weiss wanted it for the Backstreet Boys," says Watters. One morning, the writers were told the song was being considered as a duet for Rihanna and Chris Brown. Later that same day, reporters were breaking the story that Brown had assaulted Rihanna. That's when Jeff Fenster, then senior VP of A&R for Jive, told Watters that RCA/Jive Label Group chairman/CEO Weiss wanted "Battlefield" for Sparks.
"Mr. Know It All" - Kelly Clarkson
Hot 100 Peak: No. 10 (2011)
"I always wanted to write a song called 'Mr. Know It All.’ It’s like 'Mr. Big Stuff.’ These guys who think they know everything and think they can treat you any way they like," says Ester Dean, who composed this hit for Clarkson with Brian Kennedy, Brett James and Dante Jones. "It’s an anthem for women, but a different kind of anthem that says, 'You don’t know about me.’ I did the demo. I sang my little heart out." Kennedy adds, "Dante created the track a year ago. Ester came up with melodies and lyrics in our studio. We went to Nashville, where Kelly knocked it out in 45 minutes to an hour." The track was remixed for country radio by Dann Huff. "I liked the country version more than the pop version," says Kennedy.
"Whataya Want from Me" - Adam Lambert
Hot 100 Peak: No. 10 (2010)
Max Martin and P!nk wrote the song for the latter to record. She never released it but she did directly pass it along to Lambert, who included it on his first album for 19/RCA. Lambert recognized the song was about a relationship but saw another message in the lyrics, one to the public and the media – "Whataya want from me? I'm doing the best I can."
"Crush" - David Archuleta
Hot 100 Peak: No. 2 (2008)
Reviewing Archuleta’s debut single in Billboard, Chuck Taylor called it, "a hummable, age-appropriate midtempo pop ditty for the 17-year-old, showcasing his fine mass-appeal vocal stylings with creamy harmonies and some nice falsetto effects." The single debuted and peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100, a thrill for the long-time fan of the charts, who admitted he became "obsessed" with "The Billboard Book of Number One Hits" and "Billboard’s Hottest Hot 100 Hits" when he was 13. "There was a point where I read the books so much, people would ask me what was the number one song of this year or what was the number one song on their birthday," says Archuleta. "I discovered a lot of songs that way, songs I hadn’t heard before. I didn’t even know 'One Sweet Day’ until I saw it in the book. It was No. 1 for 16 weeks. Those are very influential books to me."
NEXT PAGE: 20-11 
"Walk Away" - Kelly Clarkson
Hot 100 Peak: No. 12 (2006)
"'Walk Away' is so much fun to sing," says Clarkson. "To me, it's like a Prince/Annie Lennox/Aerosmith song. It's very in-your-face. I absolutely love the Annie Lennox part in the bridge. The label didn't like this guitar part in the whole song, but I do that anytime I perform it. The guitar part is ridiculous. That's where it brings in Prince. It's a little all over the place, very feisty."
"Already Gone" - Kelly Clarkson
Hot 100 Peak: No. 13 (2009)
Clarkson wrote the song with Ryan Tedder but wasn't happy when she heard another song he had written – "Halo" by Beyoncé. Clarkson accused Tedder of using the same musical track for both songs. The OneRepublic frontman issued a statement denying that the tracks were the same: "They are two entirely different songs conceptually, melodically and lyrically and I would never try to dupe an artist such as Kelly Clarkson or Beyoncé into recording over the same musical track; the idea is both hurtful and absurd."
"Inside Your Heaven" - Carrie Underwood
Hot 100 Peak: No. 1 for one week (2005)
When songwriter Andreas Carlsson heard one of his songs was going to be recorded by the winner of season three, he thought it was "The Best of Me," written with Desmond Child and John Reid. Then he was told it was a song he had written a year and a half earlier, "Inside Your Heaven." Child produced the recording and says, "Carrie can sing a song from beginning to end without stopping. She doesn't make any mistakes and it's perfectly in tune and then she sings it again even better than before. She's stunning. She's also prepared. She goes in there and she knows the song. That's rare."
"Wait for You" - Elliott Yamin
Hot 100 Peak: No. 13 (2007)
When Danny Strick from Sony/ATV Music gave Yamin this song written by Taj Jackson and Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel Eriksen of the Stargate production team, the season five finalist wasn't crazy about it. "My manager urged me to give it a chance and go into the studio with Stargate. Everyone smelled a hit," says Yamin. Once he heard the finished track, Yamin agreed. One change the producers made from Jackson's demo: they lowered the key for Yamin. "I performed the song at the ASCAP Pop Music Awards," he recalls. "I invited Taj to sing it with me. We did it in my key and he adapted."
"Miss Independent" - Kelly Clarkson
Hot 100 Peak: No. 9 (2003)
Destiny's Child had this song on hold for their "Survivor" album and Christina Aguilera was also interested. "She helped start the lyric for the verse and part of the chorus," says producer and co-writer Rhett Lawrence. "The song didn't have lyrics for the chorus yet, so I wrote that with Christina. We decided to make the title 'Miss Independent.' The verse starts off as a song about a girl who's independent minded, then I decided to slip it in the opposite direction for the chorus. Then Christina decided not to record it. I played the track for Kelly without any lyrics, just the original track and she immediately said she wanted it to be her first single." Lawrence flew to Miami where Clarkson was filming the "From Justin to Kelly" movie. "We wrote the bridge and lyrics together because I wanted her to be part of it and she did a great job."
"Sorry 2004" - Ruben Studdard
Hot 100 Peak: No. 9 (2004)
Clive Davis was looking for a song that would garner radio airplay for Studdard and please "Idol" fans at the same time. Harvey Mason, Jr. and a team of writers composed this tune especially for the second season winner at a late-night writing session. "We called it 'Sorry 2004' because it was about Ruben apologizing for everything he did in the previous year and saying how he was going to spend 2004 making up for what he did," says Mason. The single was recorded over two days in Los Angeles and Mason found Studdard to be very mellow and easy-going. "He gave a great vocal performance."
"This Is the Night" - Clay Aiken
Hot 100 Peak: No. 1 for two weeks (2003)
The top four finalists from season two met with Clive Davis at his Beverly Hills Hotel bungalow and he played two songs for them without revealing which contestant would be singing which song. Aiken recalls, "He played 'This Is the Night' first and we realized this is going to be the 'A Moment Like This' of this year. I almost cried. 'This Is the Night' gave me chills. Then he played 'Flying Without Wings' and it was a great song and I loved it, but it didn't do what 'This Is the Night' did for me. And then he said, 'The first song I played, I'm going to assign…' and I had my fingers crossed, "Please God, let it be me, let it be," and he said, 'That's the song for Clay and Josh [Gracin].' Yes!" "This Is the Night" debuted at No. 1 the same week Ruben Studdard's "Flying Without Wings" debuted at No. 2, the first time in Hot 100 history that the top two songs on the chart were new entries.
"Home" - Daughtry
Hot 100 Peak: No. 8 (2007)
"I had already auditioned for 'Idol' and knew I was leaving for Hollywood," says Chris Daughtry, who had been writing songs since he was 16. "I was sitting on my couch – oddly, I wrote 'Home' at home. I felt it was a song that could go on pop radio." A year later, when his group Daughtry recorded the song for their debut album, it had the same structure and chords that Chris had fashioned at home in North Carolina. When the producers of "Idol" asked to use "Home" for the season six exit song for eliminated contestants, Chris' reply was an enthusiastic, "Absolutely, please use it."
"Tattoo" - Jordin Sparks
Hot 100 Peak: No. 8 (2007)
Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel Eriksen, better known as the Stargate production team, met with Amanda Ghost and Ian Dench at Battery Studios in New York to write "Tattoo," a title suggested by Ghost. "Amanda comes from a more artistic side. She does her best writing when she’s having fun," says Hermansen, adding, "Jordin was a pleasure to work with. She was wide-eyed and happy to be there. That’s one of the fun things about 'Idol.’ The singers are getting a chance of a lifetime and they’re really into it."
"A Moment Like This" - Kelly Clarkson
Hot 100 Peak: No. 1 for two weeks (2002)
"'A Moment Like This' is one of the most difficult songs I've ever had to sing," says Justin Guarini, who performed the song on the season one finale, as did Clarkson. "No conspiracy theory, it was written before anyone knew I going to be part of the finale. It's just not written for someone who does what I do. I struggled and struggled with it in the studio….There was a point after the finale when I was with Kelly and I said, 'Baby, I did everything, but you're going to win tomorrow night. I love you.'" "A Moment Like This" was the first "Idol" song to go to No. 1 on the Hot 100. When it jumped 52-1 the week of Oct. 5, 2002, it broke the Beatles' 38-year-old record for the biggest leap to the top ("Can't Buy Me Love" rocketed 27-1 the week of April 4, 1964).
NEXT PAGE: 10-1 
"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."
- List