Bayou City

The All-Over-the-Map Legacy of American Idol

American Idol is akin to that relationship that overstayed its welcome. At first, it was something new and magical. Good times were had. Memories were made. But as time wore on, so too did the relationship. You grew tired of one another. Those little quirks transitioned into faults. Every day kinda felt the same. And soon after the show mercifully ended, long after its expiration date had passed, you moved on with your life and pretty much forgot about it. In short, looking back, American Idol didn’t leave the lasting imprint on pop music some envisioned when it burst onto the scene as a cultural phenomenon in 2002.

Of course, had it made a bigger impact on the pop-culture landscape, American Idol still would have missed its intended target. That’s because traditional pop music — in-her-prime Kelly Clarkson notwithstanding — didn’t really benefit much from what Idol produced. Rather, the show left a bigger legacy in the realms of rock, country, R&B, television, even cinema.

This all bears mentioning because Idol's Season 7 winner, David Cook, plays Warehouse Live on Thursday. Cook, like many of his Idol contemporaries, is less a pop musician than a rock one. Yes, he is pop-rock inasmuch as he produces catchy, chorus-filled tunes made for radio, but how is that really any different from what Foo Fighters and Green Day have done for the past two decades? (Answer: those bands do it much better.) With Cook poised to bring his Idol nostalgia act to Houston, here are some other non-traditional pop types whose careers live on long after the show from which their careers were spawned.

Unquestionably the most successful male contestant in Idol history, Daughtry – who was toiling away in local rock bands before auditioning for the show – didn’t even win Season 4! In fact, he finished fourth behind such luminaries as Taylor Hicks (Soul Patrol, RIP), Katharine McPhee and Elliott Yamin. Less than a year after his Idol elimination, Daughtry’s eponymous band had the No. 1 album in America, on the strength of rock radio hit “It’s Not Over." The band has since released three more albums, all of which debuted in the Billboard Top 10, and opened for the likes of Goo Goo Dolls in the process of selling more than 7 million albums worldwide.

Another Idol castoff who experienced far more success off the show than on it (you’re sensing a trend here), Hudson is possibly the only person on the planet who can lay claim to one amazing feat – she upstaged Beyoncé. Hudson, who had never acted professionally prior to joining the cast of 2006’s Dreamgirls, was brought in as part of an ensemble cast (including heavyweights Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx) to essentially support Houston’s own Beyoncé in her quest for full-fledged movie stardom. Instead, Hudson stole the show as the troubled-but-talented Effie White, and went on to win pretty much every acting award under the sun – including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. As for Beyoncé, she found solace in being arguably the biggest pop star on the planet.

When original Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor decided to get the band back together minus late front man Freddie Mercury, they recruited Lambert, the runner-up from Idol's Season 8, to form Queen + Adam Lambert. Anytime one of rock’s classic acts thinks you’re capable of filling the shoes of one of the genre’s most legendary front men, yeah, you’re pretty badass. In fact, the band is currently on a worldwide tour that runs through this month. As a solo act, Lambert has recorded a trio of albums that have combined to sell more than 1 million copies worldwide, all of them making it to at least No. 3 on the Billboard 200.

Pickler’s story is a heartwarming one. The sixth-place finisher from Idol Season 5, Pickler grew up poor in rural North Carolina. Her mother took off on her as a child and her father was in and out of jail, leaving Picker’s grandparents to raise her. Her fortunes began to turn at age 19, however, when she auditioned for Idol. Her country roots shone through, which resulted in her coming off as ditzy and a tad bumpkin-like on the show, and little was expected commercially from her upon her elimination. Well, country fans are a loyal, music-buying lot, and they propelled Pickler’s rags-to-riches story even further with the release of her debut album – 2006’s Small Town Girl – which debuted atop the Country Albums chart and went Gold (three subsequent albums have all debuted inside the Top 5). She even got a happy ending of sorts on the reality-TV competition front, when she and partner Derek Hough won the 16th season of Dancing With the Stars.


To be fair, Underwood has totally crossed over into a full-fledged pop superstar, but she didn’t start out that way. Sure, she’s the musical face of NBC’s Football Night in America, has sold nearly 20 million albums worldwide and has been the face of such major brands as Skechers, Target, Olay and Nintendo. But make no mistake, she is still the same small-town girl from Checotah, Oklahoma, who cut her professional teeth as a full-fledged country singer; for Christ’s sake, her breakthrough single was titled “Jesus Take the Wheel"! Since landing her first No. 1 country single in 2005, Underwood has charted nearly a dozen more over the past decade, and to top it off, she just picked up her first nomination for Entertainer of the Year at the Country Music Awards (an awards show she traditionally hosts, BTW).

David Cook will perform at Warehouse Live with special guest Joseph Rauma Thursday, September 8 at Warehouse Live (Studio), 813 St. Emanuel. Doors open at 7 p.m.
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Clint Hale enjoys music and writing, so that kinda works out. He likes small dogs and the Dallas Cowboys, as you can probably tell. Clint has been writing for the Houston Press since April 2016.
Contact: Clint Hale