American Idol has seen a lot of talented faces come through its doors over the years. And, now that the long-running singing competition series is returning for its fourth year on ABC, it’s easy to get caught up in the nostalgia of past seasons. Some of the biggest stars, including Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson, got their start on Idol. And, while those vocal powerhouses have gone on to become household names, it’s their audition tape that serves as a reminder of why fans fell in love with them in the first place.
Take a look back at eight of the most memorable auditions on American Idol.
Underwood was just a shy, fresh-faced college student when she auditioned for Season four of American Idol. The Checotah, Oklahoma native who was planning on becoming a news reporter at the time, dazzled judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, and Paula Abdul with a heartfelt rendition of “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” by Bonnie Raitt. But perhaps Underwood’s ability to cluck like a chicken served as the most unforgettable moment of her audition.
Underwood took the crowning win during her season and went on to become a global country music sensation. Throughout her career so far, she has released seven studio albums, scored seven GRAMMY Awards, launched her own CALIA by Carrie Underwood fitness apparel brand and released a best-selling book. She is married to former professional hockey player Mike Fisher and has two sons, Jacob and Isaiah.
Pickler made a big impression on American Idol with her southern charm, mega voice, and bubbly personality. The Albemarle, North Carolina-born singer who was raised by her loving grandparents, auditioned for the show post-high school. After performing a few seconds of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You Been Gone,” Pickler gave the panel a taste of Martina McBride’s “A Broken Wing,” earning praise from Abdul for her conviction.
Pickler only made it into the Top 6 of Idol during its fifth season. But that didn’t stop her from becoming a household name. In 2006, she released her debut album Small Town Girl and later starred in her reality TV show, I Love Kellie Pickler, before co-hosting daytime talk show Pickler & Ben, alongside Ben Aaron.
Viewers didn’t need five more minutes of McCreery to know whether or not they loved his voice. All they needed was to hear him sing Josh Turner’s 2005 smash “Your Man.” The North Carolina-born star did just that and dropped jaws, showing off his deep, baritone vocals.
“You make me smile!” Jennifer Lopez commented after McCreery’s performance.
McCreery ended up conquering his season on the show, beating out fellow contestant Lauren Alaina. He followed up his win with songs like “I Love You This Big,” “The Trouble With Girls,” “See You Tonight,” and “Five More Minutes.” He also became a published author with his book, Go Big or Go Home: The Journey Toward the Dream.
At just 15- years-old, Alaina became the youngest person to compete for the top prize on season 10 of American Idol. The talented singer, and Georgia-born sweetheart, decided to put her vocals to the test at the request of her cousin Holly, who encouraged her to try out for the show. Holly’s instincts proved right because Alaina wowed the judging panel with Tim McGraw’s “Like We Never Loved At All,” featuring Faith Hill.
Alaina ended up becoming the runner-up on the show, only losing out to strong talent McCreery. Despite not taking the crown, Alaina still managed to steal America’s hearts and walked away with a record deal. Her debut album, Wildflower, debuted at No. 5 on the US Billboard 200 chart, and she followed up with hits, “Road Less Traveled,” and “What Ifs,” a duet with fellow country star and former classmate Kane Brown.
Laine Hardy auditioned for American Idol not once but twice. His first tryout in 2018 saw him tackling “Hurricane” by Band of Heathens. And while the song did earn him a place in Hollywood, his cover didn’t take him to the top. However, unlike many other participants, Hardy was lucky enough to get a second shot! A year later, he returned to the show offering background music and moral support for his friend, who was trying out her luck as a contestant. After judges urged Hardy to sing them a few lines, he received a golden ticket, and the rest is history!
Hardy came off the show a winner and went on to launch his first headlining tour, and released numerous singles including, “Ground I Grew Up On” and “Let There Be Country.”
Laci Kaye Booth
Booth appeared on American Idol in 2019, introducing herself to viewers as a soulful country singer right away. Armed with an acoustic guitar, Booth, who shares her love of music with her singer/songwriter father, Jody Booth, nailed a cover of the late Merle Haggard’s 1968 hit, “Mama Tried.” The classic country song scored the Texas native a golden ticket to Hollywood and earned her a reputation as a standout with the judges, Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie, and Katy Perry.
“I think you’re the first voice we’ve heard that is a diamond in the rough,” Perry told Booth after her audition. “I don’t know if you believe that about yourself, but you’ve got something different sounding than everyone else.”
Booth didn’t go on to win her season, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t had success. Since appearing on the show, she signed a record deal with 19 Recordings/ Big Machine Label Group and recently began laying down the groundwork for her debut album.
Gabby Barrett’s success has skyrocketed since coming off American Idol. But, the blonde bombshell had a bit of a rocky start during her tryout on the show. Barrett made it known that she was a huge fan of Underwood and tried to score her golden ticket with not one but two of Underwood’s hit songs.
“Do you have anything that’s not Carrie,” Perry asked.
Luckily, Barrett, who placed third on the program during its 16th season, showed judges what she was made of with a powerful rendition of the Gospel hymn, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.”
Barrett went on to conquer the country music charts, topping the Billboard Country Airplay chart with the infectious crossover smash “I Hope,” from her debut album, Goldmine. She followed that up with her newest single, “The Good Ones.”
All the way back to the very first episode of American Idol, fans were introduced to Clarkson. The Texas-born native’s loud and outgoing personality stood out right away, and so did her voice. She didn’t hold back performing a top-notch acapella version of Madonna’s “Express Yourself.”
Moments after her performance, Clarkson jokingly offered to swap places with Jackson, taking a seat behind the judging table. The hilarious interaction she had with the cast charmed them even more, working in Clarkson’s favor to send her off to Hollywood.
Since winning the show’s inaugural season, Clarkson’s career has taken off big time. She has won multiple GRAMMY awards, released eight studio albums, sold over 25 million albums, and currently hosts her talk show, The Kelly Clarkson Show.
American Idol Season four will begin Sunday (Feb. 14), 2021, at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC.