American Idol is gearing up for its last dance. Well, “last” dance, anyway.

Image provided by FOX

FOX has announced that American Idol will end after its 15th season, set to launch in January 2016. For ratings watchers, this isn’t shocking news. The singing competition once dominated primetime TV with an average of 30 million total viewers and untouchable demographic numbers. Those ratings, in decline for a few years now, all but imploded this spring.

So FOX is basically giving American Idol a victory lap. The current judging panel (Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick, Jr.) and host Ryan Seacrest (the only cast member to appear in every season) will be back for a valedictory edition. Idol will flog its successes while sailing off into the sunset. For now.

And yes, “for now” is the operative word. We live in a pop culture environment where nothing seems to truly end for good. Revivals, reboots and re-imaginings are par for the course. A once-beloved brand with built-in awareness is a temptation network programmers can’t resist. American Idol clearly needs a good, long break. But it is only a question of “when” Idol returns. Not “if.” If FOX and the show’s producers are wise, they’ll give it several years before mounting a revival. At least a decade would be wiser, but who knows if the network can demonstrate that kind of self-restraint?

In the meantime, American Idol will run a 15th season bragging about its accomplishments. And whether you’re a devoted Idol fan or regard it as the musical anti-Christ, there is no denying the show’s track record of success in launching careers. Take a look at what are arguably American Idol’s three most successful alumni.

Kelly Clarkson (winner, season 1, 2002): Worldwide album sales north of 25 million, 16 Top 40 hits.

Carrie Underwood (winner, season 4, 2005): Worldwide album sales north of 16 million, 20 Country top 10 hits.

Chris Daughtry (4th place, season 5, 2006): Worldwide album sales north of 10 million, 8 Top 40 hits.

Other American Idol alums who can claim a platinum album (million shipped or sold in the U.S.): Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia, Jordin Sparks, David Cook, Scotty McCreery, Taylor Hicks, and Phillip Phillips. Several more have scored a gold album (500,000 shipped or sold in the U.S.): Jennifer Hudson, Josh Gracin, Elliot Yamin, Bo Bice, Kellie Pickler, David Archuleta and Adam Lambert. Numerous alums have had hit singles. Some have carved out nice careers at particular radio formats. Many have snagged Grammy nominations (with Clarkson, Underwood, Hudson and Fantasia scoring actual wins).

American Idol alumni have done well beyond the music charts, as well. Hudson is an Oscar winning actress with a genuine movie career. Season 5 runner-up Katharine McPhee has scored a stream of successful acting roles. As has Season 6 winner Sparks. Season 4 finalist Constantine Maroulis scored a Tony nomination. You pretty much can find an Idol alum working somewhere on Broadway on any given night.

American Idol was never a “golden ticket to fame.” It gave aspiring performers a temporary platform and a foot in the door. The ones who worked hard and had the right story to offer at the right time managed to fight their way to success in a harsh industry.

Even alumni who never became stars or big media personalities enjoyed career boosts from being on Idol. Many have built thriving live performance careers. Some have become regional attractions or done well in venues like Las Vegas. Others have worked steadily in regional or traveling theater productions. Several have found success as songwriters. It’s the less glamorous end of the industry, but if all you ever wanted to do was make music for a living, it’s not a bad life.

The time seems about right for American Idol to bow out. It leaves an impressive legacy. And, not unlike a certain Terminator, will be back.

Originally published at on May 11, 2015.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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