With the recent news that 2006 (Season 5) winner Taylor Hicks and runner-up Katharine McPhee both lost their record deals with SonyBMG (while the 3rd and 5th place guys, Elliot Yamin and Chris Daughtry, rack up the hits), I think the producers of the show have or should look into ‘pushing’ more country or, rather, country/pop singers through to the final voting rounds. Look at the genre’s track record with the show. While not much is remembered of the first two season’s contestants, Josh Gracintook his 4th place finish to Nashville and recieved a record deal from Lyric Street Records. He charted 3 Top 5 singles from his eponymous debut with “Nothin’ To Lose” hitting the top spot. He has charted three singles from an unreleased sophomore record but only reached the Top 20 (“Favorite State Of Mind”). Sixth place contestent Carmen Rasmussen initially self-released an EP before signing with indie Lofton Creek Records in 2006. She released her debut album “Nothing Like Summer” in the summer of 2007. Fellow Contestants from season two to have some connections to country are Kimberly Caldwell and Vanessa Olivarez. Caldwell has looked for a deal while Olivarez is a co-writer of the song “Sugarland” by the popular duo of the same name.
Season 3 didn’t produce anybody who has gone on to even sniff at a country career but Season 4 turned out to be a big one for both country music and American Idol. Three of the Top 12 finalists had country leanings and while the troubled Jessica Sierra (currently mandated to two years of rehab in lieu of jail time for drug/alcohol issues) has found herself being directed towards pop and rock, 12th place finisher Lindsey Cardinale has benefited from a couple years of seasoning and was recently signed to a record deal by Aria Records Nashville. Lindsey also dueted on newcomer (and Iraq war veteran) Stephen Cochran‘s debut album from the same record. “Let It Rain” might be the best song on Cochran’s eponymous record. While the success of Cardinale is nice, the success of Season 4 winner Carrie Underwood is noteworthy. Living up to the title that she won, Carrie has overcome her lack of experience to become one of country’s best voices and most commercial artists. She even crossed-over to find pop success with a song that wasn’t remixed for pop airwaves. Her runner-up, Bo Bice, released a Gold selling debut album for RCA Records but the “nickelback-lite” which RCA favored wasn’t that successful and Bo found himself following season 5’s Elliott Yamin’s self-released path. As such, Bice’s sophomore record, “See The Light” is a southern rock opus that could do well on country’s airwaves if he was given a chance to.
Season 5 featured a couple of artists who’ve gone on to get major label deals in Nashville. Not only have Kellie Pickler and Bucky Covingtongarnered label deals but both artists have found success at radio. Pickler even has a Gold record. While Covington’s self-titled record may lean more towards Bo Bice than it does Hank Williams, the current country/rock flavor favored by radio allows him to have success. Pickler rode a wave of “aw-shucks, ain’t she adorable” production pieces on American Idol to the 5 of the show. Covington managed to crack country’s Top 10 charts with his debut single “A Different World.”
the 6th season of American Idol was considered ho-hum by many but one bright spot may have been the Navy’s Phil Stacey. Following in Gracin and Covington’s footsteps, Stacey was signed to Lyric Street Records in late 2007 and released his debut single in a week ago. “If You Didn’t Love Me” is a country/pop song co-written by label mate Gary LeVox (of Rascal Flatts). While Stacey has yet to prove that he’ll continue to American Idol’s streak of placing finalists within the Top 40 of the country charts, he certainly is further proof that American Idol would be smart to ‘focus’ more on the country/country-pop artists who show up on the show in season 7. And while it’s true a ‘traditional country’ guy or girl has never managed to made it to the Final portions of the show, the fact that country continues to be the most popular radio format for music (talk radio is #1), bodes well for American Idol’s continued support of country. After all, the show has produced more successful country artists than they have any other genre.