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Andrew is a staff writer at the “The Hudsucker”. He is a 30 year old lawyer living in Ottawa. Besides legal jargon, his brain capacity is taken up by reality show trivia, video game walk-throughs and room escape strategies. Andrew is also happily in a long-term, long-distance relationship. Follow him on Twitter as @sublymonal.

Top 5 for 5: Andrew Ranks the Best ‘American Idol’ Seasons

Social Media and Content Editor Andrew Rogers’ love of American Idol has been evident throughout his writing during his 5 years with The Hudsucker. So for his Top 5 for 5, it makes perfect sense that he would write about his favorite groups of Idol finalists.

With American Idol set to be revived on ABC with a 16th season, I thought I would take a look back at the first fifteen seasons and give my take on what makes a good crop of contestants for the show. Is talent or personality more important? Does diversity of styles matter if everyone is super talented? Does there need to be one “star” amongst them (like Carrie or Kelly) or several viable winners? All of these questions should cross the minds of the producers and judges as they get ready to audition contestants for the next season at the end of August and beginning of September because the answers could determine whether the revival rating sink or float to the top again…

5. Season 4

Carrie Underwood triumphed on American Idol’s fourth season. [Credit: FOX]

The fifth spot on this list was probably the hardest to fill because it meant denying ten other seasons a spot on this list, but I felt like choosing Season 4 was a way to pay homage to the three seasons that came before it. Leading up to Season 4, Idol had rapidly been picking up steam (and ratings) every year. Season 1 finished on a high note by crowning the humble but ferociously talented Kelly Clarkson, Season 2’s finale had us holding our breath to the very last moment with Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken, and Season 3 saw three of the shows most talented divas – Fantasia, Jennifer Hudson, and LaToya London – face off with the inspirational single mom, Fantasia, claiming victory.

In Season 4, a new facet of Idol‘s legacy took shape as R&B, southern rock, and country music went head-to-head in the form of the show’s final three contestants that year: Vonzell Solomon, Bo Bice, and Carrie Underwood respectively. The show also featured decent mid-pack contestants like pop singer Anthony Federov, rocker-turned-broadway-star Constantine Maroulis, or R&B rock chick Nadia Turner. Perhaps the producers learned from Season 3 that casting three talented contestants that sing the same style in the same season leads to disastrous results like vote splitting and early eliminations.

We all know that it was Carrie’s girl-next-door personality and mainstream country music appeal that won the day, but her runaway victory didn’t detract from the fact that Idol really found it’s groove in it’s fourth season. One of the things that made Idol special that year was that different contestants with very different styles would come out week after week and lay it all on the line for the title. Back then, there was nowhere else to watch that kind of musical battle royale on television and I think, if Season 16 is going to be successful, they need to find a diverse crop of contestants who can do what they do best in order to win it all.

4. Season 8

Even underdog Kris Allen was shocked when he won over Adam Lambert in American Idol’s Season 8 finale. [Credit: FOX]

Season 8 also found some majorly talented individuals from Adam Lambert – who now fronts the rock band Queen, but has also appeared on FOX’s Glee, and their version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show – to winner Kris Allen, Christian soul singer Danny Gokey, and rock prodigy Allison Iraheta. The foursome were fairly consistent all season long and made for a fierce fight to the finish with a surprise ending as underdog Kris Allen stole the title from bigger personalities like Adam and Danny. The remaining crop of contestants weren’t too shabby either, from pianist Matt Giraud to R&B singer Anoop Desai. The season was definitely one for talent, personality, and a diversity of styles. It’s also when the show’s ratings peaked at just over 30 million viewers per episode, a definite testament to how strong the cast was.

Some hardcore fans of the show detract from the season, saying it was too heavily controlled by the producers with the implementation of the (mostly unsuccessful) “Idol Save” and the heavy bias in favor of some contestants over others, but overall I felt like the contestants really got to show who they were from week to week in different styles that ranged from disco to Michael Jackson tunes. I think, if any advice were to come from Season 8’s success it would be to balance big personalities with a diversity of talent and to expand the song lists so contestants can make choices that will lead to the best possible performance every week.

3. Season 5

Even Katharine McPhee was shocked when Chris Daughtry was eliminated over her during Season 5’s Top 4 elimination. [Credit: FOX]

In Season 5, it came down to rocker Chris Daughtry, pop-singer-turned-actress Katharine McPhee, R&B singer Elliott Yamin, and soul singer Taylor Hicks. Once again, the show benefited from a mix of big talent and big personality. With other names like country singer Kellie Pickler and Christian singer Mandisa making it big from this season, it’s no wonder it ranks third on my list. The show built on the success of Season 4 and cast talented contestants that wouldn’t step on each other’s toes voting-wise and would make it deep enough in the competition to keep fans guessing on which one of them would walk away with the title.

Perhaps the only downside of such a talented cast is that the voters can be very unforgiving. One off night for a contestant could spell the end for them, as it did for Chris Daughtry at the Top 4, but it did nothing to detract from his success. That also partially what keeps the show interesting and keeps fans watching and passionate about their favorite contestants. Season 16 could benefit from letting fans get attached to their favorite contestants again by spending more time on their introduction packages and less time on other things (like hearing the judges ramble on instead of give concise constructive feedback).

2. Season 7

It was David Cook versus David Archuleta for Season 7’s nail-biting finale [Credit: FOX]

Most would argue that Season 7 – the one where it came down to David versus David – is truly when the show peaked. Rockers David Cook, Carly Smithson and the late Michael Johns each brought their own spin to the genre, while acoustic singers Jason Castro and Brooke White did their thing, and young prodigy David Archuleta wowed fans week upon week. Underdog Syesha Mercado even managed to earn her 3rd place finish with stellar performances every night.

So how can Season 16 capture the magic of this season again? Hard to say. Part of it might just been a lucky draw with so much talent on one season, but it definitely speaks volumes that talent and personality win the day for viewers. As I’ve said before, spending time getting to know the contestants (something NBC’s The Voice does so little of) definitely contributes to the success of the show and the contestants themselves after the season. Fans always want to know more about their favorite contestant and giving the contestants a chance to tell themselves is never a bad thing. If there was one drawback about Season 7, and the reason it ranks second rather than first on the list, it would be that vote splitting and lukewarm feedback for stellar performances led to the early elimination of some bigger talents over others.

1. Season 11

In Season 11, Phillip Phillips took home the title under a shower of confetti [Credit: FOX]

To say that the season that yielded Phillip Phillips is the best Idol season ever may be a controversial opinion, but that’s okay. I want you to disagree and evaluate for yourself what makes a good season. For me, Season 11 had it all. The Top 10 featured eight or nine serious contenders for the title and all of them had their own unique style and personality that we got to know over the course of the season, from Christian rocker Colton Dixon to R&B songstress Jessica Sanchez and soulful standing-ovation machine Joshua Ledet.

Like with Season 5, the über talented cast meant the voters were about as unforgiving as it gets this season, forcing the judges to save front-runner Jessica Sanchez at the Top 7 only to have another front-runner, Colton Dixon, get the boot the next week. Like Daughtry though, Dixon went on the find success of his own with several records released under Sparrow Records since the show. The season even had a satisfying ending, with Phillip Phillips coming out on top and becoming, arguably, Idol’s last big success story with his 2012 Olympics single “Home” and subsequent albums “The World from the Side of the Moon” and “Behind the Light.” The cast’s high level of talent and diverse styles meant that their competing fan-bases kept the voting nail-bitingly close every week and forced the contestants to perform at their highest level. If Season 16 learns anything from this season it’s that they should never compromise on talent.

Do you agree with my ranking? If not, which Idol season is your favorite and why? What can Season 16 learn from that season? Let me know in the comments below!

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