Top 13 Georgians on ‘American Idol’ over 15 years

Ryan Seacrest in 2002 and Ryan Seacrest in 2015. CREDIT: Fox

Ryan Seacrest in 2002 and Ryan Seacrest in 2015. CREDIT: Fox

By RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com, originally filed Monday, April 4, 2016

Another day, another “Idol” list. We are down to 77 hours until it’s all over, as Daughtry might sing. As a Georgia writer, I am giving the locals some love today. Georgia, while not as robust in its contributions to the show as North Carolina and Alabama, has certainly given “Idol” viewers plenty of joy over the years.

So here is my ranking of the Georgia representatives who left an impression, mostly good, occasionally bad. Each of these folks lived in Georgia at some point.

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1- Ryan Seacrest. Obviously, Ryan can’t sing but he can sure host. The Dunwoody High School grad has been the backbone of the show from its very beginning and he will be there at the end Thursday as well. He has used the show to create his own production company and brought the Kardashians to the world (Sorry!). He now has a syndicated morning show and hosts both Casey Kasem’s AT 40 and Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve special. This man is mega successful. He is clearly the Georgian who took greatest advantage of “Idol.”

Here is Seacrest’s effort to sing from season 13 – with an assist from Richard Marx:

2- Phillip Phillips. Georgia’s only winner, Phillips was both humble and confident at the same time, with a mesmerizingly growly voice. He was also suffering from terrible kidney stones during season 11 but muscled through. He is the last “Idol” winner to make any real impact courtesy of that ubiquitous song “Home.” And though he has been trying to get out of 19 Entertainment’s managerial grip, the show will feature him on Thursday along with the other 14 winners. His top score was 80 on WhatNotToSing, a tie with his Usher‘s “U Got it Bad” and Damien Rice’s “Volcano.” Here’s his Usher:

3- Diana DeGarmo. She put Snellville on the map with the slogan “Where everybody is somebody.” This charming teen with the super pipes came in second season 3 behind Fantasia. She has since been able to work steadily in national theater productions from “Hair” to “9 to 5” and even had a role in “The Young and the Restless.” She is also part of the only “Idol” finalist couple to marry after meeting sexy season 4 contestant Ace Young. WhatNotToSing gave her version of “Don’t Cry Out Loud” her highest marks with an 84 out of 100. (What a great final note!)

4- Bo Bice. A season 4 runner up, Bo could have won any other year but was up against Carrie Underwood. His gutsy top 3 acapella version of “In a Dream” is still considered one of the best performances in the history of the show (and WhatNotToSing gave it a stellar 94 out of 100.) He now lives in Cumming and is raising four kids with his wife. He also helms Blood, Sweat & Tears, a band that was impressed with his version of “Spinning Wheel” from the show.

5- Lauren Alaina. She came in second season 10 behind Scotty McCreery, the only year “Idol” had two country singers at the top. She had a pretty, pure voice that has only become stronger since she had vocal polyp surgery last year. She has had a few minor hits and is still finding her way in Nashville but she is still very much in the mix. She brought charm to her duet with MacKenzie Bourg a few weeks back.  Her highest-rated song on WhatNotToSing during her “Idol” time was “Flat on the Floor,” which hit 86 out of 100.

6- Tamyra Gray. The judges early on thought this soulful singer could win the first season. Indeed, her elimination in fourth place was the first “shocker” on the show. Somehow, Nikki McKibbin outlasted her. Sadly, she was unable to parlay “Idol” fame into a sustainable music career that I know of. But she’ll be at the “Idol” finale, for sure. WhatNotToSing picked her version of “A House is Not a Home” as her best performance, with a 92 out of a 100.

7- Michael Johns. He’s Australian by birth and spent most of his adult life in Los Angeles. But he learned much of his musical craft in the bars of Buckhead more than a dozen years ago. For two-plus years, he would play for hours on end at places like the Tin Roof Cantina and CJ’s Landing. He learned hundreds of songs and even after “Idol” would come back to Atlanta once a year to jam at Tin Roof Cantina. Sadly, he died in 2014, the only “Idol” finalist who has passed to date. He finished eighth season seven but should have gone further. His elimination led to the “judge’s save” the next season. WhatNotToSing gave him an 83 out of 100 for his version of “It’s All Wrong, But It’s Alright.”

8- Paris Bennett. I still recall she had one of the best auditions in “Idol” history from season five, singing both Dixie Chicks and Billie Holiday with equal skills. She is the grand-daughter of the famous Ann Nesby. She possessed a squeaky talking voice but an incredible singing voice. She ultimately finished fifth but unlike most of the top 10 that year, she was unable to leverage the most popular “Idol” season in history into a long-term music career.

9- Gen. Larry Platt. This way-too-old dude was famous for one single audition and a song that we will never forget: “Pants on the Ground” from season 9. As I noted in an earlier list, I truly wonder what happened to him.

He even got an “official music video” out of it:

10- RJ Helton. He was such a sweet, handsome-looking kid. And he made it to the top 5 season one despite feeling mostly awkward on stage. I recall him even falling off the stage once, requiring hospitalization. He could occasionally belt out of a passable R&B cover. WhatNotToSing judged this Stevie Wonder’s “Lately” cover the best of the lot: a 65 out of 100. Of his other six, none got better than a 43.

http://whatnottosing.com/contestants.asp?id=21#.VwLIdXrSknI

11. Vanessa Olivarez. She was eliminated first season 2 but didn’t deserve it. I thought she was packed with personality and should have at least made the top 10. Voters got this one wrong. She was axed after singing “You Keep Me Hanging On” during the first live show. Her semifinal performance of “Out Here on My Own” was far better:

12. EJay Day. I have a soft spot for him because he was officially the very first finalist to be eliminated from the very first season of  “Idol.” I’m not sure that’s something to take any pride in but after seeing him during the live tour, I concluded he wasn’t that bad and certainly better than some folks ahead of him, like AJ Gill.

He has some tonal issues here in his “I’ll Be” but he is in key more or less:

Janay Castine

13. Janay Castine. I am only including this Lawrenceville resident here because her performance in the semifinals of season 4 in 2005 was so memorably bad that I remember it 11 years later. It was so bad, nobody saved it to post on YouTube, which debuted as a service a few weeks later. But Photobucket had it. Watch it below if you dare. I recall her looking so awkward and bug-eyed, I felt genuinely sorry for her. (In 2006, TVFanatic placed it at No. 3 for worst ever to date. And WhatNotToSing gave it a 10 out of 100.)


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