American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson after winning the contest at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, Ca., Sept. 4, 2002. (photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Kelly Clarkson's 'American Idol' Win Changed TV History

Kelly Clarkson's life absolutely changed the moment she decided to audition for American Idol. She was the first winner back when the series premiered in 2002 and has become an inspiration for other aspiring singers on competition shows in general. During her audition, Clarkson was very eager to go on the live show, telling the cameras, "I want to be on American Idol because I'd like to perform." It's safe to say her dreams came true and she's now one of the biggest pop stars on the planet.

Taking a look back at her audition, 20-year-old Clarkson tried out for the singing competition in Hollywood wearing a denim outfit that she indeed made herself. Apparently, Clarkson had decided that if singing didn't work out, she would become a fashion designer, which doesn't feel like a stretch since she currently designs a line of furniture for Wayfair. For her audition, she sang Aretha Franklin's "Respect," impressing all three judges — Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson.

After her audition, the Texas native was eventually named one of the 30 finalists. Throughout the show, she went on to perform several hits, including "Stuff Like That" by Betty Hutton and "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman" by Franklin, nailing every note. While performing Franklin's classic, she wowed the audience by using the whistle tones that we have seen throughout her career.

A Historic Win


She made history on September 4, 2002, becoming the first-ever American Idol winner. It was down to Clarkson and runner-up Justin Guarini, but Clarkson eventually took the title.  In her post-victory performance, which was her debut single, "A Moment Like This," she had the audience and the judges in tears while she was sobbing and apologizing for how emotional she was.

As expected, the song went on the top Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks after it was released and was the first-ever song by an Idol contestant to go No. 1 on the Hot 100. Her debut album, Thankful, also hit No.1 and was actually nominated for a Grammy.

During her time with RCA, the superstar released seven studio albums, three of which went No. 1 on the Billboard 200 charts, and has since released several hits such as "Miss Independent," "My Life Would Suck Without You," "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You,)" "Since You've Been Gone," and "Piece by Piece."

A Pop Sensation

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Flash forward to 2023, the singer has sold over 25 million albums and 45 million singles worldwide, has 11 top 10 singles in the United States, 9 top 10 singles in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, and has 3 Grammy awards. She's served as a coach on The Voice since its 14th season (though took last season off) and even has her very own successful daytime talk show, The Kelly Clarkson Show, making her one of the hardest-working singers in history.

In 2020, the singer reflected on her time on the show, tweeting, "18 years ago today was the finale of the first season of American Idol and it changed my life! I'm still hustlin 18 years later because I know I am blessed to have the opportunities and I still love my purpose! Find your purpose! Seek out what keeps that fire in you burning."

Following Clarkson's win, several American Idol winners and contestants have earned success in their music careers, including Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, Gabby Barret, David Cook and Ruben Studdard.

American Idol is still going strong, now in its 21st season, featuring judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and host Ryan Seacrest. The singing competition was so successful that it inspired several other talent shows today, including The X Factor, The Voice, The Masked Singer and America's Got Talent.

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