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16 ‘American Idol’ Hits Penned By Winners

Everyone from Kelly Clarkson to Carrie Underwood continue to make music that is both nostalgic and memorable

Rolling Stone India May 03, 2019

Kelly Clarkson at the 2019 Billboard Music Awards. Photo: Kevin Winter / Staff

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American Idol  has a legacy of catapulting the best of America’s singing talent to the fore. The winning idols deliver across multiple genres – from country to rock to pop and more. Here’s some of the best songs that past American Idols have produced since winning the singing reality show:

1. Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”


The electro-pop track “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” leaves no doubt about why Kelly Clarkson emerged as the winner of the very first cycle of American Idol  in 2002. This ultimate post-breakup power anthem is one to both croon and dance to, particularly due to the pulsating synth punctuated by the sound of the electric guitar. The three-time Grammy award winner is currently a coach on The Voice and is gearing up to launch The Kelly Clarkson Show, a daytime talk show, in September later this year.

2. Ruben Studdard’s “Sorry 2004”

Since winning the second season of American Idol  in 2003, Ruben Studdard has branched into reality television, film and Broadway musicals, after delivering a string of memorable if not commercially successful hits. “Sorry 2004” was one of Studdard’s earlier singles which still draws the ears of listeners with its relaxed but steady drum beat, soulful vocals and mellow flow of the piano. The slow but powerful track will remind you of a love lost and found again.

3. Fantasia Barrino’s “Bittersweet”

Fantasia Barrino’s vocals are a strong reminder of her prowess in the genres of soul and R&B. In “Bittersweet,” as she reminisces about past lovers, it’s evident that she is the star running the show. The song features the peculiar sound of what sounds like the banjo which intermittently and effectively compliments the piano. The singer-songwriter, who won the third season of American Idol,  is currently gearing up for her first independent album release.

4. Carrie Underwood’s “Ghosts On The Stereo”

This ballad by country and pop music star Carrie Underwood is one for the books. “Ghosts On The Stereo” is about how Underwood doesn’t feel alone when she turns the volume up on country icons Hank Williams, Merle Haggard and George Jones. The season four winner has seven Grammy awards to her name and has been called “the female vocalist of her generation of any genre” by Rolling Stone.

5. Taylor Hicks’ “Six Strings and Diamond Rings”

Alabama native Taylor Hicks won the fifth season of American Idol in his late twenties and has gathered a loyal following called the Soul Patrol since. His 2017 single “Six Strings and Diamond Rings” is a classic country song on the hardships of life on the road as a musician, featuring Hicks’ soulful and bold voice, the rhythm guitar and interludes by the piano.
He recently debuted in the Broadway play “Shenandoah” and has been hosting food documentary series State Plate  since 2016.

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6. Jordin Sparks’ “Battlefield”

Jordin Sparks won the sixth season of American Idol  in 2007 and went down in history as the youngest victor to date. In the pop-R&B track “Battlefield,” Sparks questions why love always feels like a war, readying her armor. She has been starring in the KIN network web series Heart of Batter with Jordin Sparks  since 2018.

7. David Cook’s “Come Back To Me”

David Cook arrived at the American Idol  season seven auditions to support his brother but left as the winner at the end of the cycle. “Come Back To Me” was the second single to be released from his eponymous debut album in 2008. This emotional song about letting a lover go will resonate with all the rock lovers out there.

8. Kris Allen’s “Waves”

Kris Allen had released an album called Brand New Shoes  two years before he won the eighth season of American Idol,  owing to a realization of wanting to make music while still in college. “Waves” is a folk song from his fifth studio album Letting You In.  It conveys the rawness of a turbulent love that strengthens and challenges one.

9. Lee DeWyze’s “Blackbird Song”

Lee DeWyze composed “Blackbird Song” for the hit apocalyptic television show The Walking Dead.  DeWyze was inspired to write the folk-rock tune after watching the show with his wife who had just had surgery to have her appendix removed. The American Idol  season nine winner pairs the rhythm and plucking of the guitar with the melancholy of the harmonica to amplify his haunting vocals.

10. Scotty McCreery’s “Five More Minutes”

This American Idol  season ten winner has a voice which can quintessentially be described as rich, soothing and classic country. Scotty McCreery’s 2017 country single “Five More Minutes” is an attempt to turn back the clock in order to meet a loved one. The song climbed the Billboard Country Airplay and Mediabase charts, making McCreery the only country artist to achieve the feat without the backing of a record label.

11. Phillip Phillips’ “Dance With Me”

Phillip Phillips’ “Dance With Me” is a moving love ballad composed by the singer-songwriter with friend Tim Bruns for his wedding and features on his third studio album Collateral.  It’s a beautiful song that celebrates the love that Phillips shares with his wife Hannah Blackwell. Fun bit of trivia – Phillips auditioned for America’s Got Talent  before making it onto the eleventh season of American Idol  and winning it in 2012.

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12. Candice Glover’s “Break Me”

Candice Glover auditioned for season nine and eleven of American Idol  before finally making it through to the twelfth season of the show and winning it in 2013. Her powerful vocals are a testimony to her proven persistence. “Break Me” is pop single that is an open challenge. Glover wrote the song out of heartbreak and wanted to use the experience as a rear-view reminder of how far people can come from their darkest of days.

13. Caleb Johnson’s “Fighting Gravity”

Like his predecessor Candice Glover, Caleb Johnson too auditioned twice for American Idol  (seasons ten and eleven) before making it to the top 13 and winning season thirteen of the singing reality show. “Fighting Gravity” is a rock song from his debut album Testify. The song is a heartbreaking ode to the strength of those who suffer from terminal diseases. Johnson was inspired to write the song after a visit to a children’s hospital.

14. Nick Fradiani’s “All On You”

“All On You” is a song from season fourteen winner Nick Fradiani’s debut studio album Hurricane. The breakup song features a memorable acoustic guitar riff and is the pop song to listen to when you need to recover from heartbreak.

15. Trent Harmon’s “You Got ‘Em All”

“You Got ‘Em All” is the titular track from season fifteen winner Trent Harmon’s debut country studio album. Harmon reminisces about a past love, thinking about the best of times that ended with what was left of the relationship. The sound of the piano melds well with Harmon’s calming yet evoking vocals.

16. Maddie Poppe’s “First-Aid Kit”

Maddie Poppe has the kind of textured voice that will effortlessly hold any listener’s attention. The multi-instrumentalist won the sixteenth season of American Idol  in 2016 after having auditioned for The Voice  in the past. Her 2019 single “First-Aid Kit,” from her upcoming album, charts the recovery one undergoes after suffering from a broken heart and the healing they experience when they begin to love again.

American Idol airs every weekend, in India, on Zee Cafe at 9 pm.

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