But even Clarkson has fared better than Ruben Studdard, Fantasia and Taylor Hicks. This is not to say they're complete flops, but they're hardly the next Luther, Dianna Ross or Elvis either. In fact, some of the Idol losers have fared much better: Jennifer Hudson and Chris Daltry for example.
Why is this? It's because at it's heart of hearts, American Idol isn't a talent competition designed to discover America's newest singing sensation. It's a reality show, designed to show the heartbreak and the thrills of the chase for stardom, and let viewers participate by "owning" a piece of the action and helping write the script. Did you really think Sanjaya was one of the top 10 talented singers in all of the USA?
While scouring those stadiums full of hopefuls, AI producers are not looking for great singers as much as they are looking for great storylines: the fast food worker/single mom who quit her job just for the audition, the high-school dropout reaching for their dream, the bar-band singer's last shot to give music a try before giving up and getting a "real job."
As for the bad auditions, producers claim they're not "set-ups," but instead are simply bad singers who overestimate their own talent. I don't doubt some of that is true. I also don't doubt there are some slick ones who can fool even the producers and get their own moment of fame in the hall of shame. It's certainly shameful how the innocent ones are exploited, and it'll be interesting to see if they're treated a little kinder this year. Each of the past few years got a little meaner and the public backlash grew. On the other hand, it's been proven that viewers love watching train wrecks, so get ready for some real Cayce Jones action.
It's just another one of the storylines...