‘American Idol’ Season 1 Premieres on This Day in 2002

by Taylor Cunningham

On June 11, 2002, American Idol made its TV debut and brought its very first champion—Kelly Clarkson—into the music industry.

During its freshman year, singer Paula Abdul, music exec Simon Cowell, and music producer Randy Jackson joined as judges alongside hosts Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman at Hollywood’s Kodak Theater.

When American Idol showcased its first batch of hopefuls, the rules of the game were similar. But they weren’t exactly as they are 20 years later.

All contestants were required to be teens or young adults at the time, which is not true today. But they did go through the same type of auditions as they do now. The three judges would all collaborate and choose which singers had the most talent and then hand those people a ticket to Hollywood. Once there, they narrowed down the list to ten stars, and then those singers would perform live on TV and stand for critiques afterward. Of course, Cowell was known for being particularly brutal.

After each show, fans would call in and vote for their favorites. The singers with the fewest calls would have to head home.

Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini Lead the First Season of ‘American Idol’

That year showed the now-infamous Kelly Clarkson take the stage and ultimately get the American Idol crown on September 4th, 2002. When she appeared in the first episode, we learned that she was a 20-year-old cocktail waitress from Texas who had the voice of a mega star.

To win, she beat out 23-year-old runner-up Justin Guarini, who went on to take a co-lead role in the American Idol film From Justin to Kelly. Guarini then moved away from the radio world and into music production and Broadway, where he has enjoyed a successful career.

Clarkson, on the other hand, won a recording contract with Hollywood Records and has since released eight records. In total, she has sold 25 million of those albums to her adoring fans. And in the process, Clarkson has also won three Emmys.

Today, she’s the host of one of the top-rated talk shows on network television, The Kelly Clarkson Show. Because it’s so successful, NBC handed her Ellen Degeneres’ timeslot when her series concluded this year.

Since its premiere, American Idol has seen one two-year cancellation in 2016 and 19 more seasons. The series has also seen a slew of talented singers who have gone on to be industry greats.

Some of the most notable Idol contestants include Taylor Hicks, Jenniffer Hudson, Chris Daughtry, and Carrie Underwood. But Underwood and Hudson rank with Clarkson as the most successful.

In 2007, Hudson earned an Oscar for her singing role in Dreamgirls, and she also has two Grammy wins sprinkled in. And Underwood has 182 award show wins under her belt, including 8 Grammys and 17 ACMs.