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August 22, 2014

'American Idol' Winner Auditions: High Notes & Humble Beginnings (VIDEO)

by AOL TV Staff, posted Jan 19th 2010 11:10AM

Having waited tables or shoveled cow poo before becoming pop stars, famous people often don't care to rehash history. But when 'American Idol' is the vehicle that launched that superstar career, it's difficult to obscure the past with the sparkle of a Grammy and the gleam of platinum records, especially when the show's audition clips are some of the most fun viral videos out there.

Former 'AI' contestants like chart toppers Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and David Cook and Broadway babes Fantasia Barrino and Taylor Hicks once had to audition, too. Their tryouts are time capsules of raw talent that make you wonder how these artists ever wallowed in the same pool of hopefuls as William Hung, "Bikini Girl" and some of this season's worst auditions. Plus, watching Simon Cowell discredit Jordin Sparks during her audition because of her "weird smile" and "cutesy" delivery -- and knowing that he would eat his words when she won season 6 -- is priceless.

Take a look at the audition videos of all the 'American Idol's and see if you can spot the birth of a winner in each one.
Having waited tables or shoveled cow poo before becoming pop stars, famous people often don't care to rehash history. But when 'American Idol' is the vehicle that launched that superstar career, it's difficult to obscure the past with the sparkle of a Grammy and the gleam of platinum records, especially when the show's audition clips are some of the most fun viral videos out there.

Former 'AI' contestants like chart toppers Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and David Cook and Broadway babes Fantasia Barrino and Taylor Hicks once had to audition, too. Their tryouts are time capsules of raw talent that make you wonder how these artists ever wallowed in the same pool of hopefuls as William Hung, "Bikini Girl" and some of this season's worst auditions. Plus, watching Simon Cowell discredit Jordin Sparks during her audition because of her "weird smile" and "cutesy" delivery -- and knowing that he would eat his words when she won season 6 -- is priceless.

Take a look at the audition videos of all the 'American Idol's and see if you can spot the birth of a winner in each one.

Kelly Clarkson, Season 1 Winner (2002)
Back in 2002, Kelly Clarkson's biggest competition was BFF and fellow 'AI' contestant Justin Guarini. Nowadays, her peers are Mariah Carey and Gwen Stefani, whom she was up against when she won two Grammy Awards in 2006, including one for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for the smash 'Since U Been Gone.' At her 'AI' audition, it was the Etta James classic 'At Last' and Madonna's 'Express Yourself' that garnered Clarkson unanimous approval from Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and even Simon.

"I was so happy because the British man didn't make me cry," Kelly confessed after walking away with a golden ticket. Fortunately, neither her homemade jeans-dress nor her "Cool beans!" catchphrase ever caught on.



Ruben Studdard, Season 2 Winner (2003)
"Welcome to Hollywood, dawg!" are the words every 'AI' hopeful dreams of hearing, and it's the invitation that kick-started Ruben Studdard's music career after the 24-year-old auditioned with a fantastic cover of 'Ribbon in the Sky' that would make Stevie Wonder proud. "Thank the Lord. Oh my God," he rejoiced after getting his first yes from Randy. The next two yeses from Simon and Paula prompted the Birmingham-born "Velvet Teddy Bear" to bust out a huge smile, giggle and thank his mom for her support. It was a great moment that immediately established his embraceable persona. Studdard eventually crooned his way to statewide support that led the Governor of Alabama to declare March 11, 2003, "Ruben Studdard Day."



Fantasia Barrino, Season 3 Winner (2004)
After Fantasia Barrino slaughtered all competition with 'Killing Me Softly,' Simon praised her "distinct" vocal prowess before warning that having such a unique voice can be a blessing or a curse. Paula suggested that Fantasia switch up her pitch and requested a second song, which allowed the 19-year-old singer to kick up the energy a few notches with a scorching on-the-spot cover of 'Proud Mary.' The song got two thumbs up from Paula and led Simon to credit Fantasia as "one of the best [singers] we've ever had." "I definitely say this competition would be far less interesting without her," adds Randy, who couldn't have made a more solid prediction.



Carrie Underwood, Season 4 Winner (2005)
Carrie Underwood quite literally rolled in off the farm and was tending to cows and chores before her smooth-as-diamonds take on Bonnie Raitt's sentimental classic 'I Can't Make You Love Me' transformed her from a country bumpkin to a country-pop superstar. Simon advised her to "stay good at what you're doing," and Randy suggested that Carrie work on her stage presence. It was advice that helped Carrie's 2005 release 'Some Hearts' go platinum seven times and become the best-selling solo female debut in country music history.



Taylor Hicks, Season 5 Winner (2006)
"I want my voice heard, because I feel like I got one," announced 29-year-old Taylor Hicks at his season 5 audition, where he made Paula swoon with an intoxicating rendition of Sam Cook's 'Change is Gonna Come' before pumping up the energy and seemingly becoming possessed with the spirit of Ray Charles during an electric cover of 'Swanee River Rock.' Despite Simon's initial reservations, Hicks went on to win the top honor that season, which led to an apology from Cowell, who initially claimed that Hicks "should be singing [backup], not in the spotlight." The silver-haired leader of the "Soul Patrol" has since taken the spotlight as one of the stars of the touring Broadway musical 'Grease' and hyping this month's release of his live DVD, 'Taylor Hicks: Whomp at the Warfield.'



Jordin Sparks, Season 6 Winner (2007)
"It was a little bit too sugary for my tastes" was sourpuss Simon's response to 16-year-old singing dynamo Jordin Sparks' marvelous and mature take on Celine Dion's 'Because You Love Me,' which was coincidentally one of Simon's favorite tunes. Although she could easily get by on her charismatic personality and mile-wide smile, Sparks decided to tackle a challenging pop gem and came out shining, hitting all the right notes and prompting Randy to exclaim, "You are a natural ... everything was perfect." Paula agreed, predicting, "I think you're gonna do really, really well." It looked like Paula was onto something. A year later, Jordin won her first American Music Award, followed by a 2009 Grammy nomination.



David Cook, Season 7 Winner (2008)
After preparing for his audition by reviewing 'AI' clips of former contestant Chris Daughtry to learn how to gain a "competitive edge," 24-year-old Tulsa bartender David Cook rolled into his audition sporting a patterned gray sweater, fauxhawk and soul patch, looking like a nerdy barista ready to take everyone's coffee order. When he opened his mouth to sing, however, everything changed. The shy, soft-spoken singer belted out "Living on a Prayer" with a vocal delivery that melded the gravelly coolness of Metallica frontman James Hetfield with the radio-ready slickness of Jon Bon Jovi. After some advice from Randy to work on his stage presence, Cook strutted away with a golden ticket to a record-setting career that included debuting 11 songs on the 'Billboard' Hot 100 in one week.



Kris Allen, Season 8 Winner (2009)
Initially, chances for success didn't seem to be in Kris Allen's favor. After his audition performing Leon Russell's '70s classic 'A Song for You,' Randy and Kara DioGuardi offered backhanded compliments while Simon outright blasted Allen's lack of showmanship. "I think part of the problem, Kris, is you," said Cowell, "because you don't have a huge amount of personality. And your modesty is actually putting me off a little bit." Abdul saved the day – and Allen's butt – by acknowledging that "it takes a lot of guts" to tackle and revitalize a classic song. Paula's praise prompted the four judges to unanimously send Allen through to Hollywood and eventual pop-star success with his 2009 self-titled album and hit single "Live Like We're Dying."

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