A new season of “American Idol” kicks off tonight. We’re excited. But before we go forward, let’s take a look back at the 11 seasons the show has given this so far, and because this is the internet, let’s go ahead and rank them. You ready? Here goes:
11. Season 9 (2010)
The worst winner (Lee DeWyze, ugh) and the worst judging panel (Ellen DeGeneres, ugh) added up to the worst year “Idol” ever saw. Simon Cowell’s last year proved he stayed on board one year too long.
10. Season 10 (2011)
“Idol” threw the rule book out the window, hedging its bets on the chemistry between Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler — and paid for it. Dull season, dull winner (Scotty McCreery), highlighted only by the emergence of Jimmy Iovine as the show’s unofficial new judge.
9. Season 7 (2008)
Bland rocker dude David Cook won the season, beating out David Archuleta (whose early version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” still ranks as one of the show’s top moments of all-time), kicking off a string of middle-of-the-road white guy winners that continues to this day.
8. Season 6 (2007)
Coming off the high of Season 5, “Idol” struggled to recapture the magic of the previous season, and oddball beatboxer Blake Lewis rode the competition all the way to the finals. It marked the end of “Idol” as mega-blockbuster — it was the first year ratings dipped from the year previous, and ratings have slid since — and winner Jordin Sparks’ career never truly took off.
7. Season 11 (2012)
Steven Tyler and J. Lo were on their way out, Heejun Han seemed to be making fun of the whole enterprise and Jessica Sanchez peaked too early, but all was right when Phillip Phillips sang “Home,” the best “Idol”-winning theme to date, on the season finale. Sometimes a hit song just makes everything better.
6. Season 1 (2002)
It was new and no one quite knew what to think about it, but if there weren’t a Kelly Clarkson there probably wouldn’t still be an “American Idol.” Can you imagine if Justin Guarini had won? Nigel Lythgoe’s private plane is probably happy he didn’t.
5. Season 3 (2004)
“Idol” settled into its groove in Season 3 with the loopy chemistry between the judges clicking into place, a cast that included a goofball (Jon Peter Lewis) a future Oscar winner (Jennifer Hudson) and one of the most memorable performances ever, when Fantasia Barrino sat down on stage and belted out “Summertime.”
4. Season 4 (2005)
It was Carrie Underwood all the way — Bo Bice never stood a chance — as “Idol” sweetened the pot with its first-ever country winner and gave birth to a bonafide superstar. Underwood is still “Idol’s” best-selling alum to-date. (Also, bonus points to Season 4 for giving us Constantine.)
3. Season 8 (2009)
Two words: Adam Lambert. Lambert was the best contestant the show has ever seen, and whether he was hitting homers (his version of “Mad World,” his stunning “Tracks of My Tears”) or bombing badly (remember his psycho sexual take on Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire?”) you couldn’t take your eyes off the guy. Still, he somehow lost to Kris Allen in the finals, the biggest injustice in the show’s history.
2. Season 2 (2003)
With Kelly Clarkson’s career taking off like a skyrocket, “Idol” came back on the air for a winter cycle (where it would then make it’s home) and gave us our best finals showdown yet, with Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken duking it out for the title. Season 2 also marked the first and only year “Idol” brought its auditions to Detroit, and Randy Jackson quipped famously (in these parts, at least) about the lack of Detroit talent: “Looks like the ‘Mo’ done left the ‘town.’”
1. Season 5 (2006)
Where everything came together. Excitement was at an all-time high, the cast was full of colorful, fun personalities (Kellie Pickler! Katharine McPhee!), and we were given the most shocking elimination in the show’s history, when Chris Daughtry was voted out in fourth place. Winner Taylor Hicks would go on to become a joke, but the fact that his season was the best is evidence that it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.