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'American Idol" 2017 year in review: ABC reboot, Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson


Posted Tuesday, December 26, 2017 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

This is the first year since I began covering "American Idol" in 2002 where not a single new episode aired. But I continued to do a weekly column focused mostly on alums such as Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.

When the show "retired" in 2016 on Fox, I figured the folks who owned the show would wait at least two years if not more before trying to resurrect the show. By the time the show had ended, it had long lost its buzz and ability to create stars.

But instead of letting it rest and allow people to even miss the show a little bit, FremantleMedia and Core Media Group's 19 Entertainment almost immediately began peddling the show again to other networks (and Fox again.)

The companies clearly need the money. Fox passed, opting instead to go for another music reality competition show which debuts next month called "The Four." NBC pondered a bit but decided to just stick with "The Voice." ABC, which has seen ratings fall off in recent years, was the willing buyer.

ABC in May announced it was bringing the show back in 2018. It will return in March. Up front, it named Katy Perry as a judge. She's a big pop name but the supposed salary leaked out: $25 million, a whopping figure. ABC was also chasing Ryan Seacrest to return as host but Perry's salary caused issues with Seacrest. Eventually, the network was able to finalize a deal with Seacrest, who credits "Idol" with his career.

But it took many months for them to sign deals with two more judges, again saddled by the Perry deal. With just days before auditions were to begin, ABC finally nabbed Lionel Richie and Georgia's Luke Bryan. There's no doubt the network spent more money than it wanted for talent.

I spoke with many many "Idol" folks over the months and it was virtually unanimous that the producers brought the show back too soon.

But it's still coming. It will be a far shorter season than in past years with a start date in March. I'll be covering it, for better or worse. I also spent a couple of hours at Piedmont Park in August when the bus tour came to Atlanta.

How dedicated am I to this show? I interviewed eight former "Idol" winners this year, all of whom performed in Atlanta this year: season 3's Fantasia , season 5's Taylor Hicks , season 7's David Cook , season 8's Kris Allen , season 9's Lee DeWyze , season 11's Phillip Phillips and season 12's Candice Glover and season 14's Nick Fradiani I also talked with other still active artists  Casey James Mandisa Colton Dixon , Crystal Bowersox,  Lauren Alaina and married couple Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo. (The City Winery in Atlanta, by the way, has booked multiple "Idol" singers over the past 18 months.)

Kelly Clarkson returns:  She released her latest album "Meaning of Life" and couldn't be happier about it. She told Billboard, that this is "literally the record I’ve been wanting to make since I was a kid.” The album, she said, has a “fresh take on '90s R&B urban pop” and is “by far my favorite album I’ve ever been a part of, definitely.” The silky fun first single on her album "Love So Soft" didn't sound like anything she had released before or anything on pop radio today. It did okay, making the top 10 on the Hot AC chart. She will be doing a major tour in 2018 but as a warm up, headlined the Coca-Cola Roxy's Star 94.1 Christmas concert earlier this month. She will also be a judge on the next round of "The Voice." Why not "Idol"? Her husband is Blake Shelton's manager and she has already done a lot of guest mentoring on the show before.

Carrie Underwood kept busy as usual: Two years removed from her last album release, she made a surprise appearance at Atlanta's Passion conference in January. She hosted the CMA Awards for the 10th time. She recorded a "Sunday Night Football" theme. Her single with Keith Urban "The Fighter" peaked at No. 2 on the country charts. She injured her wrist falling down some stairs. There are rumors she might have a second child coming along in 2018.

Seacrest joins Kelly Ripa: He took over for Michael Strahan on Ripa's daily 9 a.m. talk show and ratings have been solid, easily beating Megyn Kelly's "Today" show. He will also resume his hosting role on "Idol" next year. The show will air on Sunday nights in Hollywood, allowing him to do that and fly overnight back to New York in time for his talk show. "I've always loved the show," he told the Hollywood Reporter. "And if I could do it forever, I would do it forever."

Big year for "America's Got Talent": Simon Cowell, once the "mean" judge  on "Idol," is now a downright softie on his show "AGT." But who cares? In his second year at the judges' table, he has seen "AGT" reach its best ratings year ever. He is naturally thrilled. His former judge mate Paula Abdul toured with New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men, her first tour in 20-plus years. And Randy Jackson taped a Geico commercial playing off his use of the word "Dawg."

Lauren Alaina gets a radio hit: Season 10 runner up's song "Road Less Traveled" was her first top 10 hit and her first No. 1 single. It's been a long road for her that includes bulimia, parental divorce and vocal cord surgery in recent years. "I've had to work really really hard," she said to me in February. "My parents raised me that nothing is handed to me. I have definitely had to work for it. In a way, the payoff is so much better." Her song also became a film on CMT that aired in October.

Jennifer Hudson jumps to 'The Voice': She judged both "The Voice U.K." and the U.S. version this year. She was acted in an Adam Sandler film "Sandy Wexler" on Netflix. She surprised an Atlanta singer Alex Guthrie in a very popular American Family Insurance ad. And she's having an ugly custody fight with her former fiance David Otunga.

Bo Bice calls "reverse racism": The season four runner up who now lives in Covington, posted on social media in early January that he felt he was mistreated at a Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport Popeyes by black employees. He said one of them made fun of his name, calling him "Bo Bo" at one point and another condescendingly used the term "that white boy." "Using terminology like boy to a grown man?" he said in an interview with me Tuesday. "That is offensive. And it is intended to belittle." An employee was suspended. Bice was mocked by people who thought he over reacted, including Samantha Bee on TBS.

Strange story: Season 15 runner-up La'Porsha Renae said on "The Real" she opted to sleep with women after being molested by a man. Then she found spiritually and "chose" to go back to being straight. Or something like that.

Danny Gokey's Christian rise: Gokey, the season 8 top 3 finisher, has become a genuine star in the Christian world. He garnered his second No. 1 Christian AC single "Rise," with another top 10 hit "Comeback" following it.

Fantasia & Kris Allen go on Christmas tours: Fantasia is a touring demon. She performed in Atlanta earlier this year with Johnny Gill and Charlie Wilson. She returned in December for two Christmas dates, one at Cobb Energy and the other at City Winery. Allen also popped in to sing Christmas ditties on at City Winery three weeks later.

Jordin Sparks married, pregnant: It was a busy year for the season 6 winner personally: she not only eloped with a guy Dana Isaiah but is also due for her first child in the spring of 2018.

Katharine McPhee goes jazz: Ditching her pop ambitions, McPhee released an album of jazz classics. She also continues to star in season four of CBS's "Scorpion." And she co-starred in the Lifetime film “The Lost Wife of Robert Durst." She also may or may not be dating producer David Foster.

Four "Idols" help charity at Buckhead Theatre: Four former “American Idol” contestants Saturday judged an Atlanta charity concert featuring children who either have fought childhood cancer or honored family members who had died from it. Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research raised more than $135,000 with judges Clark Beckham (season 14 runner up), Haley Reinhart (third place, season 10), Casey Abrams (sixth place, Season 10) and Anthony Fedorov (fourth place, season four).

New lead singer: James Durbin, season 10 finalist, became lead singer of Quiet Riot this year. Bice continues to helm Blood, Sweat & Tears and Adam Lambert toured worldwide this year with Queen.


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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.