12 Iconic American Idol Auditions That Still Send Shivers Down Our Spines
American Idol has had more ups and downs than Simon Cowell has fitted t-shirts. From its days as the defining piece of pop culture in the mid 2000s to its decline as the age of reality TV passed to its revival on a new network, Idol's signature component remains the same. We're talking about the auditions: that sometimes incredible, sometimes painful cross-country tour where amateur singers have only a few moments to prove that they deserve a chance in the spotlight.
While Idol has never shied away from showing the hilariously awkward (and downright awful) auditions, it's also given us previews of some of the biggest and best voices in music. Before the show returns this Spring with its latest set of hopefuls, we're taking a look back at some of the most brilliant and memorable auditions from season past. Keep reading to see if your favorite made the cut!
Kelly Clarkson (Season 1)
She's the one that started it all. With a powerful performance of Madonna's "Express Yourself," Clarkson made some serious noise at the very start of the strange little TV experiment called American Idol. Almost 17 years later, she's become one of the biggest stars in the music industry, and proof that Idol, at its best, could really launch mega-careers.
Fantasia Barrino (Season 3)
It takes serious guts to even audition for Idol — and even more so to do it with a pair of already iconic songs. But that's just what Fantasia did, singing the heck out of "Killing Me Softly" and "Proud Mary" to kick off a journey that ultimately ended with her being crowned the season three champion.
Carrie Underwood (Season 4)
Ask longtime Underwood fans when they knew she was the real deal, and most of them will point to this moment. In her very first audition, singing "I Can't Make You Love Me," we got our first glimpse of Underwood's genuine personality and the pure, heartfelt voice that would take her from Idol champion to full-fledged music superstar.
Katharine McPhee (Season 5)
When McPhee walked into the room, completely unassuming, no one could have expected that she would go on to become one of Idol's most successful stars. Singing "God Bless The Child," McPhee showed off her incredible vocals and just enough of an indie-bluesy vibe to set her apart. She may not have won her season, but this audition was just the start of a steady career that's spanned television and Broadway as well as the music industry.
David Cook (Season 7)
Inspired by watching rocker Chris Daughtry on season five, Cook brought his own rock sensibilities to his audition. His unique take on Bon Jovi's "Livin' On A Prayer" turned out to be the first of many memorable performances en route to winning the whole season.
Todrick Hall (Season 9)
Scotty McCreery (Season 10)
No one expected a silky country baritone to come out of McCreery's mouth, but that's exactly what happened when the eventual season 10 winner first went in front of the judges. His down-to-earth charm extended all the way to his audition outfit: he famously wore flip-flops to the auditions!
Burnell Taylor (Season 12)
"Broadway" was often used as a criticism on Idol; almost a shorthand for singers who were too performative or not quite pop-oriented. In Taylor's case, though, Broadway was what set him apart: the Katrina survivor belted out The Color Purple's anthem "I'm Here" with some Tony Award-worthy vocals and got himself sent through to Hollywood.
Phillip Phillips (Season 11)
The season 11 champ kicked off his Idol journey with a memorable mash-up of two iconic songs: "Superstition" and "Thriller." He'd go on to record an iconic song of his own: "Home," the future theme song for the 2016 Olympic gymnastics team. Who knew: maybe auditioning in flip-flops is lucky?