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Rodney HoRodney Ho

‘American Idol’ bits: Carrie Underwood vs. Kelly Clarkson, do top 24 spoilers spoil the experience?

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Kelly Carrie

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Ryan Seacrest recently said Carrie Underwood is the biggest star ever generated by “American Idol.” This begs a question among our loyalists: is she a bigger star than Kelly Clarkson as of 2016?

Both have reasonable arguments. Let’s quickly compare their accomplishments.

“Idol” creds: Kelly was the first “American Idol” winner with an immediate breakout hit “A Moment Like This.” She helped propel the show into its second season with ratings, buzz and legitimacy. Carrie came along during season four when the show was still on the rise, when artists outside of pure pop and R&B were starting to make in impact. The final two that year was a ’70s rock (Bo Bice) and country (Carrie). Both had sweet back stories. Texan Kelly’s apartment had burned down. Carrie, the Oklahoma farm girl, had never flown on a plane before “Idol.”

Edge: Barely Kelly (being first matters!)

Personas:  Kelly is cute, charming and real, which you can see going back to her audition when she spontaneously subs out for Randy Jackson as a judge. And her weight fluctuations are like those of any women, not Hollywood stick-figure people. To this day, she appears amazingly unaffected by her fame. She strikes me as a person you could just hang out with in a bar and have a good time. Carrie comes across as sweet, innocent and likable almost to the point of vanilla. Yet she has no qualms making fun of her uber-clean vibe. And there’s a reason why vanilla is the most popular ice cream flavor.

Edge: Kelly

Artist independence: Neither artist has been truly groundbreaking or edgy. Carrie over the years has stuck very much to the country pop formula, one she taps so well, she generates hit after hit. She co-writes with a variety of Nashville songwriters and seems very easygoing. I don’t feel like she has a need to prove herself. She just finds songs that work for her. Kelly comes across with a more “Miss Independent” vibe. She speaks her mind. In 2006, she clashed with powerful producer/mogul Clive Davis and it didn’t kill her career – even if he was right that “My December” would generate no real hits. Kelly has largely stuck to pop with an occasional rock edge.

Edge: Kelly

Vocals: Oh boy. This is a close one. Both have angelic voices. I have heard both live multiple times and they are equally capable of making you say wow with a single note. They are rarely out of tune and both bring depth and emotion to whatever they’re singing.  You know there is no “sweetening” or Milli Vanilli moments going on in either case. So this comes down to taste and preference. I would probably pick Kelly if I had a gun to my head but it seems patently unfair to pick one over another in this category. So I wimp out and call this one:

Edge: A wash

Songwriting: Both writes some of their own music. One of Kelly’s best songs “Because of You” came from her own life experience. She has also had co-writing credits for memorable songs like “Behind These Hazel Eyes” and “Already Gone.” Carrie has writing credits (along with others) on about half her hits, including “Temporary Home,” “Something in the Water” and “So Small.”

Edge: Kelly

Album sales: Over 13 years, Kelly has released seven studio albums, all landing top 3 on the album charts. Her sales to date are in excess of 13 million in the United States. Carrie has come out with five studio albums, all top 2 on the Billboard Top 200 and No. 1 on the country chart. Her sales to date are more than 15 million.

Edge: Carrie

Singles: Kelly has released 34 singles, 16 of which when top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Her biggest hit “Since U Been Gone” is considered a pop classic. Carrie has released 29 singles,15 which made the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100. Her biggest hit “Before He Cheats” was a massive crossover hit. Every major single she came out for in the country world landed in the top 2 on the country airplay charts, from “Jesus, Take the Wheel” in 2005 to “Smoke Break” a decade later.

Edge: Carrie (by a hair)

Awards: Kelly has won 62 awards (including three Grammys) and been nominated 90 times. Carrie has won an astounding 142 awards (including seven Grammys) and been nominated 189 times. That does reflect there are a lot of country award shows but it’s still impressive.

Edge: Carrie

Touring:  Kelly over the years has been regularly touring theaters, selling out the Fox Theatre, Cobb Energy Centre, Chastain and most recently Aaron’s Lakewood Amphitheatre in Atlanta. Her shows a usually pretty simple affairs focused on her voice. She can’t dance and doesn’t try. Carrie has generally done bigger venues, including multiple local trips to Gwinnett Center, now called Infinite Energy. She returns Feb. 1. Her shows are much flashier affairs and Carrie moves far better than Kelly.

Edge: Carrie

Cover tunes: Kelly can cover any song and make it sound good, from “Home” to “Go Rest High On the Mountain” to “Purple Rain.” On her last tour, she did at least one different cover at almost every stop, based on requests. Not to say Carrie can’t do covers. That’s what helped her win ‘Idol”! She definitely has a preference for rock, from Coldplay (“Fix You”) to Bryan Adams (“Summer of 69”) to Guns ‘n Roses (“Sweet Child O’ Mine”).

Edge: Kelly

The National Anthem. How could I decide who sings it better? They both have this very difficult song down live! And both performed it before the biggest audience out there: the Super Bowl. Listening to the versions below, I would pick Kelly. But that seems a bit unfair because I think the sound mix for Carrie on the YouTube recording was vastly inferior.

Edge: Kelly by a smidge

Christmas specials: Carrie got her holiday special on 2009, which featured Kristen Chenowith, Christina Applegate, David Cook, Carson Kressley, Brad Paisley, Dolly Parton, her dog Ace, her mom and her sister. The opening bit is the funniest, where she takes steps to”ensure” her “Idol” win in 2005. Oddly, there are just a couple of actual Christmas songs near the end but Carrie doing “O Holy Night” is a true highlight.

Four years later, Kelly had a successful 2013 NBC Christmas special where she also plays against type by being a version of herself that is self-serving and aggrandizing as she tries (and fails) to land some famous folks (Jay Leno, Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams, Danica Patrick) on her special. But her music is the star more than the comedy bits. She plays cuts from her Christmas album, which includes a couple of great original tunes, notably “Underneath the Tree.”  The “Silent Night” trio with Trisha Yearwood and Reba McEntire is a revelation as well.

Edge: Kelly is more in the holiday spirit but Carrie’s bits were funnier.

Acting: Kelly has not done much acting after her disastrous “From Justin to Kelly” film. She played herself in Robin Williams’ “The Crazy Ones” in 2013 and was very funny. She has also judged a short-lived ABC show “Duets” and mentored on “The Voice.” On the large part, she has stuck to music. Carrie has been far bolder in her career choices. She played a supporting role in the 2011 film “Soul Surfer” and has made appearances on a sitcom (“How I Met Your Mother”) and a drama (“Blue Bloods.”) Most gutsy: she chose to lead the live 2013 NBC version of “Sound of Music,” taking on Julie Andrews‘ iconic role. She has also hosted the CMAs with Brad Paisley for several years running, revealing her ability to roll with the punches on a live show even when she’s not singing.

Edge: Carrie

Controversy. Neither has been hit by any scandal of any consequence. Both are very judicious on social media and don’t flaunt themselves Kardashian style. Just look at TMZ’s history of stories about Kelly. It’s really not much of anything. And on TMZ, Carrie appears to have only gotten modest heat on was her “Sound of Music” performance.

Edge: Neither

Assessment

Both Kelly and Carrie are A-listers, recognizable by even folks who have never watched a second of “American Idol.” They both have careers that will be sustainable well into their sunset years. Both have squeaky clean reputations.

Kelly has the advantage of having been around three more years in the industry and being the first “American Idol” winner. She has broader appeal in the pop world vs. the country world.

Carrie has had only one genuine crossover hit into pop: “Because He Cheats.” But Carrie has done more acting and been more prominent on TV and film.

Both stay out of tabloid trouble. Both are married with their first kids.

Winner

This is a close one. Very close indeed. Carrie over the years has had to play catch up to Kelly. I think in the past couple of years, solidified by her lead on “Sound of Music,” she has inched past Kelly in prominence and success. I have to give this one to Seacrest’s pick: Carrie wins by a nose!

***

AMERICAN IDOL: Little Rock Auditions: AMERICAN IDOL will begin its 15th – and farewell – season with a special two-night, four-hour premiere event Wednesday, Jan. 6 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) and Thursday, Jan. 7 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. AMERICAN IDOL continues on Wednesdays (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) and Thursdays (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT). Pictured: Contestant Trent Harmon auditions in front of the judges at AMERICAN IDOL. © 2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Michael Becker / FOX.

Did Trent Harmon make the top 24? You could easily find out with a single click! CREDIT: Fox

For the past few years, I’ve used MJ’s Big Blog to access the top 24 before the auditions have even aired.

Personally, I like knowing who they are while the auditions are going on so I can see immediately if they made it that far or not. It doesn’t reduce my enjoyment of the show. It enhances it. I’m sure that’s not the case with everyone. I will sometimes link to the top 24 but don’t reveal them in my blog. I may also note how many people that episode made it onto the top 24, just not who specifically. I don’t recall anyone ever complaining about this approach.

I’m just curious. How many of you actually check the top 24 before the top 24 is announced?

 

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