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15 ‘American Idol’ Alumni Songs That Don’t Suck

A rundown of the best tracks from the show’s past contestants

kelly clarkson

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After crying, clawing, crooning and sometimes caterwauling their way into the top 12, American Idol contestants face their toughest challenge – severing ties with the reality-show behemoth and becoming successful musicians in the real world. Few have succeeded, many have failed, all have at least tried (for better or, mostly, for worse). But there have been some musical diamonds in the rough. With the 13th season of American Idol kicking off this week, here are 15 songs by Idol alums that remind us the music launched by the show doesn't always suck. Sometimes these songs are quite good.

By Katy Kroll

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Kelly Clarkson, ‘My Life Would Suck Without You’

While her life might suck without a dysfunctional relationship in it, Clarkson's 2009 tune does not, in fact, suck. The very first American Idol winner has had so many great pop songs, it was hard to pick just one. But this tune helped reinvigorate her career, becoming her first non-Idol-associated Number One hit.

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Kimberley Locke, ‘8th World Wonder’

This catchy pop song was the 2004 debut single from the Season Two third-place finisher. Locke sings about how after just seven days she thinks she's met "the one," a.k.a. the "8th World Wonder." Egypt's Great Pyramid and the Greek god Zeus have got nothing on this guy. One thing's for sure, though: The song holds up.

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Clay Aiken, ‘Invisible’

After coming in second behind Season Two winner Ruben Studdard — reportedly by a mere 134,000 votes out of 24 million cast — Aiken proved to be a pop-culture phenomenon. This 2003 track, the first single from his debut album Measure of a Man, is a toe-tapping ditty about unrequited love that was originally recorded and released overseas by Irish boy band D-Side.

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Jennifer Hudson, ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’

Although she wasn't the first person to take on this fiery torch song, Hudson has certainly owned it – and built quite a career off it. After surprisingly placing seventh in Season Three, she re-emerged two years later as Effie White and performed this number in the 2006 film adaptation of Dreamgirls, which won her an Oscar, among many other accolades. J.Hud: Giving Idol castoffs hope since 2004.

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Fantasia, ‘Bittersweet’

Six years after Idol, the baby-voiced Season Three winner earned a Grammy for this 2010 track. The soulful R&B ballad, in which she reminisces about a failed relationship with a past love, is the perfect vehicle for Fantasia's distinct vocals, even showing a new level of maturity. Aside from some jarring narration in the middle, there's definitely more pleasure than pain here.

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Carrie Underwood, ‘Jesus, Take the Wheel’

Who can forget the Season Four winner's first post-Idol single, which gave a whole new meaning to "throw your hands up in the air"? Even if you're not a God-fearing country music fan, it's hard to resist Underwood's 2005 faith-based ballad about a woman who turns to Jesus when her car skids off the road with her baby in the backseat, ultimately turning her life around. It won two Grammys and numerous other awards.

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Daughtry, ‘It’s Not Over’

Similar to Jennifer Hudson, Chris Daughtry became a force to be reckoned with after surprisingly being booted off Idol with a fourth-place finish in Season Five. With his band Daughtry, he scored two Number One albums and numerous hit singles, including this rockin' 2006 debut, which was co-written by fellow Season Five alum Ace Young. Jealous much, Taylor Hicks?

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Elliott Yamin, ‘Wait for You’

One year after placing third on Season Five, the unassuming Idol alum seemingly came out of nowhere in 2007 with this boy band-esque R&B slow jam. Yamin upgraded his awkward Average Joe looks for a scruffier, albeit more mainstream appeal.

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Jordin Sparks, ‘Battlefield’

Love is still a battlefield, according to Season Six winner Sparks, whose catchy Ryan Tedder-helmed single stormed the post-Idol airwaves in 2009. Originally penned for Christina Aguilera (and at one point eerily proposed as a pre-assault duet between Chris Brown and Rihanna), the mid-tempo track about a volatile relationship reaches an angsty, upbeat crescendo in yet another victory for an Idol alum.

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David Cook, ‘Light On’

With Bo Bice, Constantine Maroulis and Chris Daughtry paving the way before him, Season Seven's Cook became the first and (so far) only bona fide rocker to win Idol. And the role wasn't taken lightly: this 2008 single was co-written by Chris Cornell and produced by Rob Cavallo, who's best known for his work with Green Day. Lighters up, folks.

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Adam Lambert, ‘If I Had You’

The Season Eight runner-up – aptly nicknamed Glambert – deserves props for avoiding the mid-tempo trappings most Idol alums fall victim to. This dazzling 2010 dance-pop track was co-written and co-produced by mega-hitmakers Max Martin and Shellback, and the video features cameos by Ke$ha and Season Eight's Allison Iraheta. Lambert has since become the first openly gay artist to have an album debut at Number One (2012's Trespassing) and has also served as the occasional frontman for Queen.

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Kris Allen, ‘Live Like We’re Dying’

Despite being largely overshadowed by runner-up Adam Lambert, Allen was indeed the winner of Season Eight (in case you forgot). He co-opted this inspirational mid-tempo pop-rock song for his 2009 self-titled debut from Irish band the Script, who originally wrote and recorded it but never officially released it in the States. The Script members Danny O'Donoghue, Mark Sheehan and Glen Power even played on the track. 

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Crystal Bowersox, ‘Farmer’s Daughter’

Season Nine runner-up Bowersox is probably the best female singer-songwriter to grace the American Idol stage to date, yet she lost to White-Guy-With-Guitar Lee DeWyze. In a rare feat for any major-label artist, let alone an Idol contestant, she has sole songwriting credit on this 2010 song, her debut single. The simple melody and her powerful vocals offset the stomach-churning subject matter about abuse she suffered as a child. 

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James Durbin, ‘Higher Than Heaven’

Fourth-place Season 10 singer Durbin does metal proud on this track from his 2011 debut album, Memories of a Beautiful Disaster. He stacked the devil-horns in his favor, surrounding himself with fellow rockers – from producer Howard Benson to co-writers James Michael (who's worked with Mötley Crüe and is the lead singer for Sixx:A.M.) and long-time Aerosmith collaborator Marti Frederiksen.

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Phillip Phillips, ‘Gone, Gone, Gone’

While most people still associate the Season 11 winner with his coronation song "Home," which currently holds the record as the best-selling single ever by an American Idol alum, this 2013 folk-rock anthem stands out because it was his first Idol-free single – and it's just as good. The spirited song features pounding drums, a memorable chorus and Phillips' signature raspy vocals.

In This Article: American Idol

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