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Rodney HoRodney Ho

2012 flashback: My top 25 picks of biggest ‘American Idol’ alums of all time

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By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed January 13, 2012

For the third year, here’s my list of the 25 most successful “Idol” contestants to date. I based my rankings on album sales, radio airplay, movie and TV roles and Broadway stints, as well as name recognition and basic buzz with a totally unfair bias toward recent performance. And if I happen to like them more personally, well, that helps, too. This is not scientific in the least so please mock and attack me at will.

Compared to my last rankings in December 2010, there isn’t a lot of change near the top though I moved Diana DeGarmo into the top 10 for the first time, bumping Fantasia to No. 11. The season with the most contestants on this list: season five with six. No surprise there, eh?

And this is the first time my top 25 does not include every winner to date. Sorry, Lee DeWyze!

1 – Carrie Underwood (1 – last year’s ranking) This isn’t a hard decision. The season 4 winner is now an iconic figure in country music. She has sold more albums than any “Idol” to date. Every single she has released has gone top 2 on the country chart. Her last tour was massively successful. She even dabbled in acting last year in “Soul Surfer.” She has hosted the CMA Awards with Brad Paisley four years in a row. You get the drill.

2 – Kelly Clarkson (3) The original “Idol” winner is a very close second behind Carrie. She has created an impressive resume of hits, more than a dozen to date. Though she’s had a few bumps in the road, she’s held her own as an artist and remains an incredible singer. She is on album No. 5 and will not only perform on the Grammys next month but also sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl.

3- Jennifer Hudson (2) Hudson owns the only Oscar among “Idol” contestants. Nobody can ever take that away from her. Besides “Dreamgirls,” she had a well-regarded role in “Sex & The City” and an upcoming starring role in “Winnie” as Winnie Mandela. The season 3 sixth place finisher garnered a few R&B hits, too, and is now promoting her memoir “I Got That,” which came out Jan. 10. Her Weight Watchers ads are ubiquitous to boot.

4- Chris Daughtry (4) His third album with his band Daughtry isn’t doing quite as well as his first two but he is still generating a steady stream of radio hits. The season 5 fourth-place finisher has nine songs that have reached the top 10 on the Hot AC charts, where his group is a dominant force. He generates no controversy but is making a great living doing what he loves.

5- Adam Lambert (5) Some folks will scoff that I placed him this high again. The season 8 runner up still has only one album under his belt and the most headlines he’s gotten this past year was a drunken fight with his boyfriend that landed him in jail last month. But he still have a huge following internationally and his next album this year will give us a sign if he’s a keeper. Given his outsized personality and intelligence, I have confidence he’ll be around a long time going forward. Even casual “Idol’ fans know who he is and that does matter in this fickle pop culture world.

6- Kellie Pickler (8) The always charming Pickler has had the fourth most radio hits (eight) of any “Idol” contestant, only behind Daughtry, Clarkson and Underwood. And the season 5 sixth-place contestant has stayed in the spotlight steadily over the past five years.  She had a part in “90210″ last fall and is always a delight when she visits “Ellen.” Hopefully, her newest single “100 Proof” will get her back into the top 20 after her last single “Tough” peaked only at No. 30.

7- Clay Aiken (7) He is still one of the top-selling “Idol” alums to date and his name recognition is high, even among folks who don’t follow the show. The season 2 runner up’s fan base has shrunken, as evidenced by slow sales of his last album and tour. But he is going to be on NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice” next month and rumors have it that he does very very well.

8- Katharine McPhee (10) – She didn’t become a pop star but has been a working actor, keeping her name and face in the public sphere. Until now, the season 5 runner up hasn’t done anything exceptionally notable. But last year, she nabbed a starring role in a show NBC is giving the cushy post-”Voice” spot next month: “Smash.” If indeed, it becomes a smash, I’m sure I’ll have her in the top 5 by next year.

9 – Diana DeGarmo (16) – The lovable former Snellvillian has worked non-stop since “Idol,” mostly in Broadway productions from “Hair” to “Hairspray.” But the season 3 runner up has also branched out into TV and film, with her recent arrival as a cast member on “Young and the Restless” and a role in upcoming film “Wyatt Earp’s Revenge.”

10- Scotty McCreery (new) – The season 10 winner just went platinum with his latest debut album. Hardly anybody goes platinum anymore so that’s an impressive feat. The teen has managed to generate two radio hits despite resistance from many country program directors. So far, so good.

11- Fantasia (6) – Her biggest news this past year was a baby with a guy who is technically still married. That hardly qualifies as a career advancer. Over the past eight years, the season 3 winner has released three albums and has generated a few R&B hits. Though she is one of the most polarizing figures among “Idol” contestants, she has a fan base.

12- Ruben Studdard (11) – Ruben’s first album was a huge seller but the season 2 winner has seen steadily diminishing returns ever since. I love Ruben so I’m a bit sad that he hasn’t been able to do more with his career since 2003. He also suffered a divorce recently. I only wish him the best and hope he can pick himself up and have a better 2012.

13- Constantine Maroulis (17) – He’s the only “Idol” alum with a Tony nomination. I saw him on “Rock of Ages” at Fox Theatre this past year and was dutifully impressed. Can the season four sixth place finisher parlay that into another big career move?

14- David Cook (9) – After a successful opening album, the season 7 winner’s sophomore effort basically bombed. He’s a likable guy with genuine rock chops. Hopefully, he can make a comeback soon.

15- Jordin Sparks (14) – The season 6 winner started strong on the pop charts with a string of hits from her first album. Album No. 2 generated a hit in “Battlefield.” But her latest single “I Am Woman” went nowhere last year and the release of her third album was delayed. Her career appears to be at a bit of a crossroads.

16- Taylor Hicks (15) – He will always be the winner of the most popular “Idol” season ever (season 5) so I have to give him props, even if he’ll never sell oodles of records or get any radio airplay. He’s a road warrior and will tour until his lungs give out. Honestly, this past year, the only appearance I saw of him was a very funny one on Jimmy Fallon, where he sang Rebecca Black’s “Friday” with Stephen Colbert.

17- David Archuleta (13) – His second album died on the vine, poor guy. But the season 7 runner up still has a sizable, loyal fan base and in December, announced he will spend the next two years as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

18- Mandisa (new) – The season 5 ninth place contestant is now an established artist in the Christian music scene and garnered her first No. 1 single on the chart last year with “Stronger.”

19 – Kris Allen (12) – The season 8 winner managed one big hit “Live Like We’re Dying” but otherwise, he has been very very quiet. Expect a new album in 2012.

20 – Justin Guarini (23) – His mop-top is gone now but he will always be remembered as the season one runner up with that a smile that could light up a stadium. He has lately gotten more acting gigs, including a starring role on Broadway last year. He’ll be in Atlanta next month to prepare for a role in a musical at the Alliance Theatre created by Stephen King, John Mellencamp and T Bone Burnett.

21- Lauren Alaina (new) – Georgia peach and season 10 runner-up is currently in the shadow of Scotty but has gotten some modest country radio airplay for her first two singles.

22- Ellliot Yamin (18) – He’s still touring and came to Atlanta in October. Yamin, who finished third season 5, had one massive single with “Wait For You” and is big in Japan.

23- Bo Bice (21) – He remains a touring artist and appears happy in Nashville. The season 4 runner up had one pop hit after the show ended but his genuine sound is more for a roadhouse than top 40 radio.

24- Bucky Covington (19) – He had a few country hits a few years back but label issues had stalled out his ability to release new music. He’s now on a new label.

25- Crystal Bowersox (new) -I really like Crystal so that’s the primary reason I placed her here over some worthy candidates in the “bubbling under” category below. As runner up, she outsold the winner from season 9 and had a major guest role on “Body of Proof” on ABC recently as well as a nice endorsement gig for One Touch diabetes products with B.B. King. Hopefully, we’ll see and hear more from her in 2012.

Bubbling under: Matthew Rogers (host of Lifetime’s “Coming Home”), Kimberly Caldwell (had a ong-time TV Guide hosting job and finally released an album last year), Kimberley Locke (one big hit early on, did “Celebrity Fit Club”), Tamyra Gray (acting gigs), Chris Sligh (some success in songwriting and the Christian charts), Carly Smithson (in Vegas doing Cirque du Soleil after helming the band “We are the Fallen”), Kevin Covais (acting, had a regular role on ABC Family’s “State of Georgia” last year), Kristy Lee Cook (show on the Vs.), Pia Toscano (hyped to high heaven after being eliminated early season 10), Josh Gracin (had several country hits early in his career but has since faded)