When the first episode of “American Idol” aired in June 2002, few could have predicted that the reality singing competition show would transform the television landscape. Voting by text message for your favorite contestants (and watching them get played off by Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day”) became a national pastime for much of the early aughts. “Idol”s massive success gave way to shows like “The Voice,” “America’s Got Talent” and “The Masked Singer,” but none have managed to capture the dynamic of original judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell, anchored by longtime host Ryan Seacrest. The sovereignty of the Y2K pop diva, coupled with a tabloid-fueled culture and twice-weekly episode format set the stage for “Idol” to dominate water cooler conversation.
“Idol”s handle on the cultural zeitgeist (it was the highest-rated show on U.S. television for seven consecutive years) gave it the ability to launch winners into the national spotlight. Early victors like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Jordin Sparks channeled their overnight stardom into sustained careers. Other winners were less fortunate, or eventually overshadowed by their runner-up (see: Adam Lambert).
On the 20th anniversary of “American Idol,” TheWrap takes a look at each season’s champion and where they landed in the years following their big win.