by Trent Vu
Reality singing shows are a big part of my life. It’s kind of sad actually. I have a near-encyclopaedic knowledge of all things pertaining to American Idol, The X Factor and The Voice. I can recite the names of the winners of the fifteen seasons of American Idol without breaking a sweat. It’s my party trick. And I wonder why I have no friends…
In April 2016, following a decline in ratings, American Idol was cancelled by Fox. Previously uncontested, Idol and its largely unchanged format had to compete for viewers in a saturated genre, with the emergence of The X Factor (RIP) and The Voice.
But just like former The X Factor U.S. judge Britney Spears, Idol triumphed through adversity and is back! Season 16 began airing on ABC a few weeks ago with a judging panel consisting of Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan. Yay!
And what better way to celebrate Idol’s return from the dead than to write about my favourite reality singing show alumni? While factors like consistency, artistry, delivery and vocals all play a part in my selections, this list is about the contestants that I’ve connected with the most throughout my years as a reality singing show nerd. Who will emerge victorious in the number one spot on my countdown? Read on to find out…
10. Cassadee Pope
Cassadee was the first reality singing show contestant that I ever really fell in love with, earning her a spot on my countdown. Although her first few performances in the third season of The Voice U.S. were a little shaky, the pop rock vocalist found her footing singing country songs – her performance of Miranda Lambert’s country ballad Over You, a song written by her Coach Blake Shelton, was nothing short of stellar. That’s not to say the former lead singer of pop punk band Hey Monday didn’t nail her covers of Michelle Branch’s Are You Happy Now? and Avril Lavigne’s I’m with You as well; country was just more of a natural fit for Cassadee, as demonstrated by her takes on Keith Urban’s Stupid Boy and Faith Hill’s Cry. After winning her season of The Voice, she was signed to Big Machine and released a chart topping country pop album. She’s even been nominated for a Grammy for her duet with Chris Young Think of You.
9. Jessica Sanchez
Asians don’t get the best treatment on Western reality singing shows. Just ask Katherine Ho, who got tripled montaged on Season 10 of The Voice U.S. when only short snippets of her Blind Audition, Battle and Knockout performances were shown on television, earning her about 30 seconds of screen time. But never has an Asian attracted, or demanded even, so much attention as Ms. Jessica Sanchez, even though she eventually lost the title to Phillip Phillips (what a name). You could argue that she might not have reinvented the wheel during her run on American Idol Season 11, but Lord Jesus could that girl sing. Jessica served up some serious vocals week in and week out; check out her performances of Stuttering, You Are So Beautiful, And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going and The Prayer.
8. Matt Corby
Looking back on Australian Idol, the original Aussie reality singing show hasn’t aged well at all. It’s all types of corny, with endless pageanty performances of those big diva ballads. However, with standout covers of Coldplay’s The Scientist, Damien Rice’s The Blower’s Daughter, Lior’s Bedouin Song and Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism, the then sixteen year old Matt Corby served up a totally different flavour than his fellow Australian Idol alums. Although Matt reached second place in the show’s fifth season (finishing as the runner up to Natalia Gauci), he has expressed negative feelings towards his reality show past, with a less than subtle lyric in his song We Could Be Friends – “I’m a child star on a show too overrated”. He has even gone so far as to call his time on Idol “a big fucking mistakes”. Sorry for dredging it up again, Matt!
7. Alisan Porter
Alisan Porter got her first taste of reality singing show stardom at the age of five, when she appeared on Star Search, eventually winning the competition. Almost 30 years later, with an impressive screen, Broadway and songwriting resume under her belt, Porter won the tenth season of The Voice U.S. Kicking off her run with a standout Blind Audition cover of Blue Bayou, Alisan showcased her incredible vocal range, exquisite phrasing and versatility in her performances of The Mamas and the Papas’ California Dreamin’, Joni Mitchell’s River, Demi Lovato’s Stone Cold, Patty Griffin’s Let Him Fly and Somewhere from West Side Story.
6. Kris Allen
I’ll be the first to admit that I generally gravitate more towards female voices. Male contestants just all sound the same to me. Although he was a part of American Idol’s long line of WGWG (white guys with guitars) winners, Kris differentiated himself with his incredible tone and a slew of great performances. With his covers of Bob Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love, Bill Wither’s Ain’t No Sunshine, Falling Slowly from Once, The Beatles’ Come Together, and an acoustic take on Kanye West’s Heartless, Kris eventually beat out front runner Adam Lambert (who coincidentally is a good friend of the previously mentioned Alisan Porter).
5. Amanda Brown
Amanda Brown competed on the same season as the aforementioned Cassadee Pope. Although she ended up finishing in a respectable fifth place, Amanda Brown is one of the best vocalists to ever hit The Voice stage. She hit her stride singing against Trevin Hunte in a Battle Rounds performance of Mariah Carey’s RnB classic Vision of Love. However, she really excelled when rocking out on The Voice stage, covering Grace Potter & The Nocturnals’ Paris (Ooh La La) and Whitesnake’s Here I Go Again, throwing a twist on Adele’s Someone Like You, and beasting through her take on Aerosmith’s Dream On. Outside of The Voice, Amanda has an impressive resume, having toured with Michael Bolton and has sung background for Stevie Wonder, Cee-Lo Green (her ex-Coach on The Voice), Adele and The Killers.
4. Reigan Derry
First competing on Australian Idol Season 4 at seventeen, Reigan’s journey didn’t last too long, after getting eliminated in eleventh place. Eight years later, after briefly being a part of Aussie pop duo Scarlett Belle, Reigan auditioned for the sixth season of X Factor Australia. She proved to be a chameleon, covering everything from Britney Spears’ Toxic to Divinyls’ Boys in Town, and Dog Days Are Over by Florence + the Machine to Burn for You by John Farnham. Although she delivered stellar performances each and every time, her standout moment was her gorgeous cover of Sam Smith’s Stay with Me. Unfortunately, Reigan was robbed of the Season 6 title after getting eliminated in fourth place, losing out in an elimination Sing Off against the season’s eventual winner Marlisa Punzalan. AND I’M STILL MAD!
3. Carrie Underwood
Before she became a queen of country music, Carrie Underwood kick started her massive career after winning Season 4 of American Idol. While she shone on country tracks like Rascal Flatt’s God Bless the Broken Road, Roy Orbison’s Crying and Martina McBride’s Independence Day, Carrie also showcased some rock and roll chops on Heart’s Alone and Pat Benatar’s Love is a Battlefield and nailed power ballads like Guy Sebastian’s Angels Brought Me Here and Air Supply’s Making Love out of Nothing At All. You can still hear aspects of these genres in her work today. With seven Grammy Awards, fourteen number one songs on the U.S. country charts and over 65 million records sold, she is one of the most successful artists of our time.
2. Little Mix
Anyone who has even had a brief conversation with me with know that I live and breathe Little Mix. On any other countdown, they probably would’ve been in the top spot. However, I will admit that their best performances on the eighth season of X Factor U.K. probably don’t reach the heights of some previously mentioned reality singing show alums. That’s not to say that they were awful though – their performances of Super Bass, Don’t Let Go (Love) and Cannonball were pretty great. But like a fine wine or a good cheese, Little Mix have become so much better as time has passed, developing into a girl group that delivers on vocals, choreography and plenty of sass. With a slew of bops, like Move, Black Magic, Shout Out to My Ex, Hair and (my personal favourite) Touch, they have positioned themselves as Queens of pop music.
1. Kelly Clarkson
And who else would be in my number one spot than Kelly Clarkson? She’s the O.G., having won the first season of American Idol in 2001. Her success on the show ushered in an era of reality singing shows, paving the way for shows like The Voice and X Factor (as well as The Sing-Off, Nashville Star, Duets, The Four, and so forth). In fact, in an odd full circle kind of way, Kelly is currently a Coach on Season 14 of The Voice U.S. But she wasn’t always the big star we know today. In fact, she was somewhat of an underdog during her time on Idol. It wasn’t until her iconic performance of Aretha Franklin’s (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman that she started attracting attention. After her coronation single A Moment Like This topped the Billboard Hot 100, Kelly has had ongoing commercial success and recently released her eighth studio album. From bops (My Life Would Suck Without You, I Do Not Hook Up) to ballads (Because of You, Sober), and EDM (her whole Piece by Piece album) to country (Don’t You Wanna Stay – her duet with Jason Aldean), Kelly has managed to stay relevant after all the years and is still killing it in the music industry.