The 15 Best American Idol Contestants Of All Time

Photo: Bob Barker/Newspix/REX USA.
It's the end of an era. You may not have watched, let alone voted, for contestants on American Idol over the last 13 years, but there's no denying the mark the reality competition show — which, it was just announced, will be ending with Season 15 this fall — has made on both the television and music industries. Along with turning out its own superstars, American Idol  has paved the way for hits like America's Next Top Model , Project Runway, Dancing With The Stars, Top Chef, and The Voice. 

Over the past 14 seasons, the show has invited people around the world to connect over their love of music. It heightened our awareness of unknown talent, revealing that stars in the making are everywhere. It made us laugh, cry, love to hate Simon Cowell and hate to love the Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj feuds. And, it made dreams come true. Sure, that might be sappy, but when you think about it, the series ignited the careers of some of today's biggest artists. Of course, it also further delayed the dreams of many, whether due to the popular vote or the  judges' whims — like when R&B powerhouse Jennifer Hudson got voted off the show in Season 3 (we're looking at you Simon). Hudson clearly didn't let her fate on the show determine her career, but other contestants who might've been robbed weren't able to bounce back as easily. Either way, the exposure and experience are seemingly invaluable, and not just for the singers. Host Ryan Seacrest, who's been with the show since it began, has shared sentimental thoughts about Idol and how it impacted his career. 

 The contestants have been diverse on all accounts. Men, women, Black, white, blonde, bald, country and rock, just to name a few. Some voices have given us chills, while others gave us a really bad case of secondhand embarrassment. No matter what, the entertainment has never dwindled. It's nearly impossible to say who was the best of all time, so we've gathered a fitting number (15) of the greatest American Idol contestants. And, for an extra dose of nostalgia we've included their audition videos. They're just too good to pass up. Plus, they show just how far some of them have come. 
1 of 15
Kelly Clarkson, "Express Yourself" (Season 1)
Season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson stole our hearts at auditions. Between "A Moment Like This," From Justin To Kelly and her songs now as a mother who's all about self-love, it's clear we'll always be on Team Kelly.
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2 of 15
Ruben Studdard, "Ribbon In The Sky" (Season 2)
The beloved Teddy Bear's voice could soothe any soul. He and Clay Aiken went head to head for the Season 2 title winner, but there's no doubt Studdard deserved it.
3 of 15
Jennifer Hudson, "Share Your Love With Me" (Season 3)
She's easily one of the biggest American Idol success stories, even though her fame came long after she was voted off the show. Idol was merely a stepping stone for Hudson to go on and tackle even bigger goals.
4 of 15
Fantasia Barrino, "Proud Mary" (Season 3)
This game changer and JHud BFF blew us away every week. She defined star quality from the beginning. Following her time on Idol, Barrino was nominated for 11 Grammys and won one for "Bittersweet" in 2010.
5 of 15
Bo Bice, "In A Dream" (Season 4)
Bice kicked it off for the many country stars who would begin their careers on Idol. His name, laid-back style and compelling voice make it hard not to love him.
6 of 15
Carrie Underwood, "I Can't Make You Love Me" (Season 4)
Perhaps the most successful American Idol winner of all time, Carrie Underwood's musical journey is inspiring. From a small farm to the Super Bowl, she's displayed how dreams really can come true.
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7 of 15
Elliott Yamin, "A Song For You" (Season 5)
Season 5 was a tough one — filled with unbelievable amounts of talent. Elliott Yamin lead the R&B/soul pack, especially for the fellas. Along with his rasp, the heart that came through in every note he sang was consistently chilling.
8 of 15
Chris Daughtry, "The Letter" (Season 5)
Representing all the rockers, Daughtry went on to win Season 5 of Idol and then develop a wildly successful career. He just released his sixth album, Witnesses, in February.
9 of 15
Katharine McPhee "God Bless The Child" (Season 5)
You might recognize her name, but if not, just type in "Over It" in your search engine. The hit single from the Season 5 contestant peaked on several charts, and ultimately became the got-to-break-up tune.
10 of 15
Jordin Sparks, "Because You Love Me" (Season 6)
Sparks was the youngest person to ever win Idol, at age 17. She grew so much on the show, and went on to produce top-selling albums and singles with artists like Chris Brown and Jason Derulo. It's extremely difficult not to love her.
11 of 15
Melinda Doolittle, "For Once In My Life" (Season 6)
And, while we love Jordin Sparks, our heart always ached for Melinda Doolittle, who was definitely one of the best Season 6 contestants. Some background singers just belong in the spotlight, and Doolittle was one of them.
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12 of 15
Adam Lambert ,"Bohemian Rhapsody"/"Rock With You" (Season 8)
Lambert nailed not just one, but two songs in his Idol audition. He then went on to have a successful music career that's still up and running today, and even serve as a judge on the show. He knew better than anyone how to spot a star.
13 of 15
Phillip Phillips, "Superstition" (Season 11)
His audition may sound a bit different from his music today, but there's no doubt that Phillips is talented. The fact that he tackled this Stevie Wonder classic is indication alone.
14 of 15
Candice Glover "Syrup & Honey" (Season 12)
Like Jennifer Hudson, Candice Glover is the epitome of a success story, though her path has been a lot different. After being voted off in Season 11 and told to work on her voice, Glover came back and won Season 12, and rightfully so.
15 of 15
Nick Fradiani, "In Your Eyes" (Season 15)
This isn't a prediction of who will win Season 15, but it's safe to say that Fradiani, with or without the title, will be unforgettable.
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