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Country Music: The Land of Fallen Idols
Carrie Underwood is a household name, but before she won the fourth season of American Idol, she was a normal teenager in Chekotah, Oklahoma. She was the first country singer to win the competition, and she was the only country singer to do so until season 10 winner Scotty McCreery. But the large gap between wins for country singers was not for lack of trying. Country singers have been prevalent in the competition as far back as season 2, and they will continue to have a large presence as long as the show runs, whether or not they stand under the fountain of confetti in the finale.
Luckily, success after Idol does not rest solely in the hands of the winner, as Chris Daughtry and Jennifer Hudson can attest. Country contestants who have been eliminated after reaching the top ten may not have reached the renown of Carrie Underwood, but they have found some success on country airwaves. Of course, the definition of musical success may be wildly debated. Here, it simply means that a former idol contestant has released music that I have heard on country radio and liked well enough to remember and recommend. This means you won’t find idols Phil Stacey, who had a pseudo-hit song that I had forgotten, and Kristy Lee Cook, who I have never liked, on this list. It also means that anyone I have forgotten is disqualified automatically for not being memorable enough, but feel free to let me know in the comments if I have forgotten one of your favorites.
(Season 2, 4th place)
Before Carrie graced the Idol stage and embraced her country roots from the first audition, military man Josh Gracin kept those roots suppressed until country week came along and changed the game. He originally stole my heart with his audition on O’Town’s “Nothing At All” with not a country twang in sight. When the twang appeared during country week, the judges quickly told him to stick with this new image. While Josh has since disappeared from the radio, I still recommend his CDs. The best song for a newbie to tune to would be “Brass Bed,” a beautiful plea for a lover’s night to continue on off of his freshman album. Also see his take on the Tim McGraw classic “Telluride.”
(Season 5, 8th place)
Was Bucky a serious contender on the show? Not really. He is notable for having a twin brother who was trotted out at different times. He also stuck to the country genre throughout the competition, providing a few passable performances, like Tim McGraw’s “Real Good Man.” Of course, he might have had more success on the show if he did not have competition for the country vote (see the contender below). But this did not hamper him after elimination. The rousing “It’s Good to Be Us” quickly made its way into my iTunes rotation. You might also recognize him from the throwback “A Different World,” where he sings of times that he is too young to remember himself. However, I would recommend the emotional “I’ll Walk,” which takes the country storytelling tradition to heart in its ever-changing chorus.
Discover the Music
(Season 5, 6th place)
The ditzy blond milked her personality rather than her singing ability to that 6th place finish, but her presence in the country world has been more for her talent (and who she knows). Her best songs are fun and flirty with a little bit of bite, like “Red High Heels.” My favorite song of hers is “Best Days of Your Life,” which benefits from background vocals from Kellie’s good friend Taylor Swift. I have not heard much from Kellie lately, but she is still producing music, and I expect she may strike another hit eventually.
(Season 8, 3rd place)
A man whose beautifully tragic story about the loss of his young wife was exploited on the show, Danny Gokey almost made it to the season 8 finale. Despite the pull of the heartstrings, I never cared for his performance (and his rendition of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” will forever live in my head with the scream that will never die). That said, his foray into country music has greatly enhanced his appeal. His single “Second Hand Heart” is a rousing, hopeful song that is sung with the passion of someone who truly believes what he is singing.
Discover the Music
(Season 9, 3rd place)
Mr. James is responsible for the song that prompted this post. “Cryin’ On a Suitcase” is one of those songs that I turn up to obscene volumes whenever I hear its first strains on my radio. A simple story of a broken relationship that includes a catchy chorus that describes how the singer’s beloved gets step by step farther away. It should be sad, but the song is not haunting, so I find it hard to shake.
Discover the Music
(Season 10, 2nd place)
Season 10 was unique in that a country aficionado was guaranteed to win when the finale came down to country crooners Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery. Lauren may have lost the big prize, but her first single got as much airplay as the victor’s. Her freshman album is entirely listenable, but if I have to pick, I would single out “Eighteen Inches,” a beautiful song about a young couple madly in love, written by Queen Carrie herself.