'American Idol' Auditions: A Look Back on the Best As 'Idol' Enters Its Final Season

Kevin Winter/Getty Images/FOX
Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, California on Aug. 4, 2002.

It's hard to believe, but tonight (Jan. 6) American Idol will air the first episode of its very last auditions.

That's a big deal, because auditions are where the journey begins -- or ends -- for every Idol contestant. Who can forget the first time Carrie Underwood walked into that audition room? Or Chris Daughtry (Simon Cowell said "no" if you can believe it!)? Or Kelly Clarkson, Jordin Sparks and Adam Lambert?

In honor of American Idol's final auditions, Idol Worship decided to take a look back on the auditions (in no particular order) of the artists who got their start on the Fox show. Enjoy this blast from the past as the series enters its last year.

Constantine Maroulis may be known as a Broadway star now with starring roles in Rock of Ages and Jekyll and Hyde, but when he auditioned for Season 4, he was fronting a rock band, Pray for the Soul of Betty. Sugar Ray singer Mark McGrath saw his potential, and predicted that a lot of "chicks" would disagree with Cowell's initial dismissal. Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson put him through, and the rest is history.

Another singer Cowell rejected, but boy, did he do well. Chris Daughtry's audition with "The Letter" was just a glimpse into the rock star that he is now. His band's Grammy-nominated debut, Daughtry, hit No. 1 on the Billboard top 200 chart with two hit singles, "Home" and "It's Not Over" (co-written by Ace Young), both charting in the top 5. Prophetically, Paula Abdul later told him during the competition that the audience should already be buying tickets to his shows, and people do!

Did the Season 9 editors have psychic powers? Why else would they have put Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox's auditions in the same package? Bowersox's audition of Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart" and DeWyze's soulful "'Aint No Sunshine" earned them both Golden Tickets, and both singers went all the way to the final two!

When Todrick Hall auditioned for Season 9, his claim to fame was appearing alongside Fantasia on Broadway in The Color Purple. His audition -- a very funny original song about why he should go to Hollywood -- didn't have Cowell jumping out of his chair, but it did offer a glimpse into why his YouTube videos and content from his MTV show are viral hits. He even used Pia Toscano, Adam Lambert and another unknown Idol auditioner -- Glee's Amber Riley -- in a hilarious Disney parody. He may not have survived to the top 12, but Hall definitely is a winner.

And while we are at it with Season 9, how about a look at Tori Kelly's audition? She's a Grammy nominee for Best New Artist and was honored at the Billboard Women in Music ceremony this December. Not too shabby!

Elliott Yamin said in his audition that he was "born ready," and the Season 5 singer knocked it out of the park with Donny Hathaway's "A Song For You" from the very first note. Yamin he went on to have a hit with "Wait for You," and recently toured with Season 6 runner-up, Blake Lewis.

  

As an extra treat, we unearthed Kris Allen's never-aired audition singing the same song Yamin auditioned with, Donny Hathaway's "A Song For You." Allen's modesty -- he said there were other singers probably better than him -- nearly cost him a vote from Cowell, but we all know how Season 8 ended! Allen returns to the show this season to help with auditions, and has a new album coming out in March!

She's a Grammy winner, Broadway star, best-selling writer and many other accolades now, but back then, Season 3 hopeful Fantasia Barrino was a 19-year old with a dream. It was evident from her very first song, "Killing Me Softly," that she was a contender, but her "Proud Mary" sealed the deal, getting high praise from Cowell as the "best" they had ever heard.

You had to love Clay Aiken's confidence for his audition. "You had some good talent, but I think as far as the top 10 goes, I could have been up there," he said when asked if he had watched the first season. His "Always and Forever" was flawless, and we all know where he finished in Season 2. His debut album was a hit, he starred on Broadway, he came in second on Celebrity Apprentice, and later ran for Congress. Well done, Clay!

When Jordin Sparks got in front of the judges for her Season 6 audition, Randy Jackson was blown away. We all know how that season ended.  Since then Sparks has several hit records, made many televised appearances, and even landed a few movie roles.

Season 4 runner-up Bo Bice felt American Idol could use a "kick" of some soul and rock, and won over the judges with The Allman Brother's "Whipping Post." If not for the presence of Bo that season, we may not have gotten future contestants Chris Daughtry, David Cook, or Taylor Hicks. Bice is still rocking out on the road as the singer of Blood, Sweat & Tears.

Speaking of Taylor Hicks, he's the Idol that started the trend of bringing an instrument on stage when he whipped out his harmonica. The Season 5 soul man confused Cowell with his Las Vegas audition, but the audience loved him and the "Soul Patrol" voted him all the way to win in the finale. Hicks even won a Grammy featured artist accolade for his inclusion on Jimmy Fallon's comedy album, Blow Your Pants Off, and returned to Vegas for a successful residency. 

"Pick Pickler!" It was hard not to completely be in Kellie Pickler's corner from her first audition. Her humble back story coupled with her strong delivery of Kelly Clarkson's "Since You Been Gone" (featured in all the commercials before Season 5) showed promise. Since then, she's released records, starred in her own show, CMT's I Love Kellie Pickler, and won Dancing With The Stars!

Who knew this Disney Cruise performer was a future Oscar winner? Jennifer Hudson's audition started a bit hostile when Jackson challenged her to be better than a cruise ship performance, but once she sang, all three judges were on board. Her Season 3 elimination came too early, but it was just the beginning for her, as she proved her star power with roles in Dreamgirls, Sex and the City, The Three Stooges and Spike Lee's Chi-Raq.The winner of a Grammy and an Oscar, could a Tony Award be next for her role in The Color Purple on Broadway? Her latest album, JHUD, is out now.  

Background singer Melinda Doolittle was so humble for her Season 6 audition, she was almost like the character "Hooks" in Police Academy whispering "I want to be a police officer." Then she sang Stevie Wonder's "For Once in My Life" and shocked Cowell, who called her a "brilliant singer." "Mindy Doo" had a phenomenal run that season all the way to the top 3! No longer in the background, Doolittle has released two albums, wrote an inspirational book, and is on tour with her own show, It Must Be Love.

 

Get out the tissues! Season 8 competitor Danny Gokey had the most emotional audition of all time, going in front of the judges just four weeks after his beloved wife passed away. He poured his soul into Marvin Gaye's "Heard it Through the Grapevine," earning praise for his "crazy vocals" by Jackson. Gokey has gone on to do wonderful things, releasing records, writing the book Hope in Front of Me and setting up the charity, Sophia's Heart, in memory of his wife. Gokey's contributions have gone on to help children deal with various ailments, as well as get scholarships.

Is this the real life? Who knew when Adam Lambert auditioned with Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and a plan to "give them a show," he would one day be fronting the band on tour? Even though Cowell called him "theatrical," he earned four yes votes to Hollywood and sure did put on a show all the way to the Season 8 finale. Seven years later, the Grammy nominated singer has done quite well for himself with three albums debuting in the top five, with Trespassing debuting at No. 1 the first week of release. His latest release, The Original High, debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 last summer.

Katharine McPhee was just 21 when she auditioned for Idol, talking about how she had the "stage mother" thing going on. But when she sang, "God Bless the Child," she was a "smashing" success. Who knew this kid would go on to star in the shows Smash and Scorpion

David Archuleta overcame vocal paralysis to make his way to the Season 7 Idol auditions. He was just 16 when he sang "Waiting on the World to Change" by John Mayer (with a little help from Randy Jackson). "I want to squish you!" said Paula Abdul. Archie made it all the way to runner-up. and continues to make great music. Check out "The Prayer" , which was released for Christmas last December.

David Cook found inspiration watching Chris Daughtry's season, and won over all three judges with Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer." Cook's run on Season 7 had special moments ("Billie Jean" for starters), and since then he has been Idol's MVP, appearing on subsequent seasons and giving contestant's valuable advice. Cook is on the road now supporting his new release, Digital Vein. 

Katie Stevens was just 16-years old when she auditioned for Season 9 with a beautiful tribute to her grandmother. Her rendition of "At Last" was accomplished beyond her years. Who knew at the time she would be a future MTV star on the show Faking It 

"Baby lock them doors!" The pride of Garner, North Carolina, Scotty McCreery was likable from the very first frame -- a baseball player who was polite, proud of his hometown, and knew exactly what he wanted to do. Then he sang with that deep baritone. He impressed judge Steven Tyler, who exclaimed "hell fire, save matches, **ck a duck and see what hatches," or whatever he meant. McCreery went on to win Season 10, and his debut, Clear as Day, was a big seller. McCreery promises a new album will be out this year.

The addition of Steven Tyler to the panel meant a second chance for Haley Reinhart to make it to Hollywood in Season 10, and we are grateful to him! Reinhart's gutsy audition of The Beatles song, "Oh, Darling" earned her that Golden Ticket, and she made it all the way to the top 3 that season. Since then, Reinhart has released an album, had many successes as one of the prominent female vocalists with Post Modern Jukebox, and yes, that is her (and Season 10 alum Casey Abrams on piano) singing "Can't Help Falling in Love With You" in the advertisement for Extra Gum.

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He auditioned in flip flops. Unbelievable if you think about it, but Phillip Phillips pretty much had the Idol audience at "hello" for Season 11 with his easy manner and knockout audition of "Superstition" and "Thriller." Since then, the Leesburg, Ga. guy with the "name you won't forget" recorded the song you won't forget -- "Home," the theme for the United States Women's Gymnastics Olympics team, and a huge hit. 

Season 14 alum Jax had a spectacular audition. Seated at a piano, she delivered a beautiful rendition of The Beatles' " I Want to Hold Your Hand" for Season 8 alum Adam Lambert, who sat in as a judge for Keith Urban in the Brooklyn auditions. Jax went on to finish in third place, and will release her first single, "La La Land"  on iTunes Jan. 6. 

 

The self-described "poster child for perseverance," Candice Glover was determined to make it back to Hollywood in Season 12, and finally earned that Golden Ticket, dahhhling, by taking the judges to church. "I'm obsessed with you," said Nicki Minaj. "I'm not even worthy to critique you." Mariah Carey dubbed her audition "the best singing" the judges had heard. They were on the money -- Glover won!

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The one that started it all. Kelly Clarkson's Season 1 audition was delightfully goofy, and Brian Dunklemen did the voiceover. Her audition of "Express Yourself" by Madonna (fun fact: earliest Randy Jackson name drop as he tells her he worked on that record) showcased what was to come. Clarkson is not only a hit maker and one of the biggest names in pop music, but now contestants audition singing the three-time Grammy winner's songs. All hail Queen Kelly!

Looking back on Carrie Underwood's Season 4 audition, it's amazing how nervous the future superstar was. She needn't have been with her perfect rendition of "I Can't Make You Love Me." She certainly won over Cowell and Jackson, and America the second she yelled, "I'm going to get to fly on a plane!" That she did -- all the way to Hollywood and a future of scoring seven Grammy Awards, multi-platinum records, awards show hosting gigs, and a starring role in The Sound of Music.

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