"American Idol" made for good drama and good TV. What it didn't make for is good music stars.
Precious few alums of the show have had long, successful music careers. They couldn't find the right material, couldn't deliver live or couldn't muster the ambition and dedication it takes to make it in the music biz.
After witnessing too many "Idol" singers in concert, I offer a list of the best live performers to emerge from the show, which wraps up with a two-night finale at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.
1. Ruben Studdard (on "Idol" in 2003). Sorry, Clay Aiken, America did not get it wrong. Studdard is a robust tenor with the power to make heaven and Earth move. In concert, he did a knockout medley of Luther Vandross nuggets, peaking with the deliciously dramatic "Superstar," killing you softly with his song.
2. Jennifer Hudson (2004). Nobody does Aretha Franklin better than J. Hud. On a goosebump-inducing "I Never Loved a Man," she out-Aretha-ized Aretha Franklin. This powerhouse vocalist has probably the biggest, deepest and most elastic R&B pipes to come along since Jennifer Holliday. She started soft and under control, but she whipped herself into such a frenzy, pleading and imploring "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" (from "Dreamgirls") that she was practically in tears. Then she delivered the final line like it was down-low guttural blues, and let out a "whew." Whew and wow!
3. Kelly Clarkson (2002). After years of trying to live up to someone else's expectations (not just Clive Davis') for America's first "American Idol," she finally chose to listen to her own voice. Filling an arena with that voice and personality, she turned Prince's "Purple Rain" into some kind of soul opera and later mashed up "Uptown Funk" with her own "Walk Away" into a let-your-hair-down-and-strut-barefoot-down-the-runway funk. Those covers underscored why America fell in love with Clarkson on "Idol" and continues to worship her. She has a glorious voice and a natural sense of emotionalism.
4. Adam Lambert (2009). He proved to be a true star — a musical-theater mega-talent playing the role of glamorous rock star. His voice was you-should-be-starring-in-"Phantom of the Opera" fabulous. His outfits were David Bowie "Spiders From Mars" marvelous. His stage manner was sexy, smooth and you've-been-onstage-so-much confident. But this irresistible star was more stagy theatrical than spontaneous rock 'n' roll. Still, he was highly entertaining, a splendid balance between emotional vocalizing and merry fun.
5. Chris Daughtry (2006). The muscular star marched around the arena stage, leaned into the mic stand like a ferocious rocker and strutted down a runway to unleash a roof-rattling wail. No one will mistake Daughtry and his purposeful prowling for, say, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler. But Simon Cowell would be surprised and proud how the once wooden Daughtry has developed the moves and command of a true rock star.