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The 15 Best American Idol Contestants Of All Time

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    Photo: Bob Barker/Newspix/REX USA.

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    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. 

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    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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    1 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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.