American Idol Season 1 Recap: Group 3 Turns into a Trainwreck

American Idol 2002 - Ryan Seacrest Brian Dunkleman Nikki McKibbin

American Idol season 1 rewind recap continues with Group 3 and Wildcards, afterwich the Top 10 were revealed. These were the last shows before American Idol went live in a bigger studio in front of an audience.

The three groups advanced nine finalists based on viewer votes. Five “wildcards” performed for the judges who chose one to round out the Top 10. 

In this last group, the late Nikki McKibbin performed for a chance to compete in the finals. Rest in Peace, lady.  

During the group rounds, singers performed with piano accompaniment in front of the judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell. Fellow contestants along with hosts Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman watched from the “Red Room.”

The episode goes off the rails pretty quickly. Simon seems mad. Maybe irritated that singers he doesn’t like are advancing, some of which he calls “losers.” It’s pretty brutal. The bad old days of singing show, ya’ll.

And for those who don’t watch America’s Got Talent? Hell no. In 2022, Simon isn’t a cruel judge. Not even a little bit. 

Group 3 crazy begins at the top of the show. Ryan explains that it came to light that a Top 30 contestant, Delano Cagnolatti, LIED about his age. For the first 3 seasons, hopefuls had to be between the ages of 16-24. However, days before he was set to perform, producers found out that he lied about his age. 

An edited clip shows Delano dodging questions about his age until he finally admits that he’s actually…29. (after season 3, the upper cutoff rose to 28). “I’m 23 for this competition,” Delano says at one point. Alrighty, then. (In 2006, Delano was arrested in a check writing scam).

Taking Delano’s place is first alternate, Ejay Day!

RJ Helton – I’ll Be There by the Jackson 5 – RJ has a nice, but unremarkable voice.  His tone is pleasing, but he doesn’t have much power behind it. Randy complimented the sound and tone of his voice. Paula called his performance “solid.” Both are correct, but it’s faint praise. Simon, however, called his vocal “average.” Simon complained that “last time two losers were voted through” due to the “sympathy vote.” 

Uhm. AJ Gill, Justin Guarini and Kelly Clarkson advanced last time. He must be talking about AJ and Jim Verraros (Deaf parents!) from Group 1. Anway, Simon was fed up, y’all. Randy read him the riot act for calling singers “losers” to their faces and then threatened to beat him up. Yikes. 

Kristin Holt – Fallin by Alicia Keys – She overdoes it with the growls and the adlibs, but her tone is thick and deep. She has potential, but needs more work. Paula felt the singer was “disengaged” and preferred her previous performances. She seemed nervous. Randy didn’t think she was anywhere near close to what they are looking for. Simon said, “If I was judging a beauty competition you would win. But we’re judging a singing competition. It wasn’t good enough.” Ouch. She wasn’t that bad. Not one encouraging word for Kristin. 

Mark Scott – My Girl by the Temptations – Mark sings in a light, quavery, falsetto. He moves into his chest voice, but ends his phrases in a whisper. His phrasing and weird whispery falsetto kill his performance. He mentions beforehand that the judges fought over him. Apparently, Paula wanted him in. But this time, she didn’t care for the song choice. “Wasn’t good tonight, dude,” said Randy. “It wasn’t good enough,” said Simon. Clearly irritated, he scolded Ryan and Brian for siding with the contestants. “What do you know about judging a talent competition? Nothing.” Brian countered, “I don’t know anything about judging talent, I just don’t like watching really good kids cry.”

Nikki McKibbin – Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler – She’s the first contestant to take the stage with confidence and real charisma. She’s a little shouty at times, but her rock n roll vibe is a welcome change from the over-abundance of R&B. Randy praised her consistency. He noted that she ran out of gas vocally at the end. She did have a tendency to shout off pitch. Paula liked the song choice, but noted that she screamed at times. Simon also thought that she “shouted the song a bit” but called her “one of the strongest contestants in the competition” because of her originality. 

After her performance, Brian and Ryan bring up a backstage disagreement between contestants. Nikki and another contestant were yelling on the plane, which irritated Kristin. The atmosphere becomes even more awkward than it was before.

Chris Badano – I Swear by John Michael Montgomery – There isn’t one note in tune. This is terrible–about on par with a joke audition. The producers must have been setting some singers up as fodder for Simon. Paula thought he did a great job, but was nervous. Randy wanted to know what happened to his energy. “You were the life of the party,” adding “I saw none of that in this performance…I thought it was really really bad.” Simon noted that he’s a good looking boy, but his singing was average.”

Melanie Sanders – And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going from Dreamgirls – Melanie is VERY TALL! She does a decent job singing a tough song. It’s not an original rendition, but it shows off her big range. “You’re really good tonight!” said Randy. “Beautiful,” Paula described it. Simon called it cabaret. He has a point, she didn’t bring anything new to the stage. 

Ejay Day – I’ll Be by Edwin McCain – Ejay has a decent tone. But man, he gets over his skis pretty fast here. He goes for runs and high notes that are way beyond his capability. He doesn’t even complete the first verse before he’s caterwauling all over the place. Dial it back, dude. But the judges loved it. Simon said, “Nobody has sung better than that today.” Paula said, “You’ve blown everyone away.” Randy is impressed with his range. “You were incredible.” 

Tanesha Ross – Until You Come Back to Me by Aretha Franklin – Another contestant who doesn’t sing a note in tune. If she could sing on key, she’d be pretty good. She’s tone deaf, unfortunately. Another joke contestant. “You put a little to much in there riffing around,” said Paula. Randy said, “You just never found the note.” That’s one way of putting it. “You didn’t shine like a star,” said Simon. “There are just better people. Bye!” She left the stage very upset. 

Khaleef Chiles – My Cherie Amour by Stevie Wonder – He’s got pitch AND timing issues. Don’t come for Stevie unless y’all are up to it. He also isn’t sure of the words. Randy thought it was just “OK.” Paula thought he made the song his own. Simon doesn’t think he did his best, but appreciates his competitive spirit, and that he’s only thinking about himself. “I hope you win the whole thing,” Simon said. Khaleef admitted at this point, he was intimidated to sing in front of the judges. 

Christina Christian – At Last by Etta James – She begins with pitch problems, but eventually she finds her footing and delivers a strong and bluesey performance. Her fast vibrato is a little annoying, however. Paula thought she has “star presence.” Randy agreed with Paula. Simon called her “fantastic…I think you are a star. I loved it.”

Full American Idol season 1 episode 7

American Idol Season 1 Group 3 RESULTS!

Ryan and Brian address the drama from the night before. A clip recaps Simon calling singers “losers” and Randy calling him out and challenging him to a fight. At first, Simon refused to take back calling singers “losers” but then admits maybe he shouldn’t have used the word, but insisted that Randy got “overemotional.” 

Simon whined that two people with lesser talent got through due to viewer “sympathy.” Paula goes on to make a good point–that Simon is “perpetuating that sympathy vote” by treating the singers cruelly. “That is a ridiculous thing to say!” Simon shot back. But she’s right, and Simon probably knew it. In fact, in later seasons, Simon learned to hold back the harshest criticism when he really wanted to get rid of someone. He also eventually realized that when a fandom was big enough, he no longer had control over the fate of a contestant (See: Taylor Hicks Season 5).

Simon reiterated that he’s “not going to lie to these people” in regards to hurting Kristin Holt’s feelings. (Kristin went on to host a bunch of stuff, including for American Idol season 2). The show spends the entire first segment on all the drama.

After the break, Idol goes straight to announcing the Group 3 winners.  The highest vote getter is…Christina Christian! Simon said, “The American audience got this one exactly right.”

During the break, an awkward Ford Focus commercial features the contestants sharing how they’d love to run Simon over. 

And in second place is…Nikki McKibbin. Simon called her original, “She’s not a wannabe.” Paula liked that she marches to the beat of her own drum. Before announcing the last finalist, Ryan invited all the winners on stage, including Tamyra Gray, Jim Verraros, Ryan Starr, AJ Gil, Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini.

Ryan asked the judges to predict the third place winner. Simon refused. Paula and Randy predict Ejay. And in 3rd place is…Ejay Day! From alternate, to Top 10!

Ryan prodded Simon to reveal the two singers he felt were losers. “Well…maybe losers was the wrong term…” he said, before unsurprisingly name checking AJ Gil and Jim Verraros. “I think there were better people,” Simon said. Then he challenged them to “prove me wrong.”

American Idol Season 1 Wildcard

The following week, the 2002 MLB All-Star Game preempted American Idol on Tuesday. On Wednesday, it was a one hour wildcard show. Five eliminated Top 30 contestants sang for the judges, after they chose a singer to round out the Top 10. 

While Paula and Randy gushed over the picks, Simon declared, “They’re not my favorites.” Indeed, Simon dissed RJ Helton the previous week, which prompted him to call previous group winners “losers.” 

Kelli Glover – How Am I Supposed to Live Without You by Michael Bolton – It’s a better song choice, than warmed over Whitney. She’s stopped swallowing her words so much. But there’s still something karaoke about her. Paula liked the song choice. Randy agreed “You didn’t try to oversing it.” Simon said, “I think you did terrific tonight…you showed originality.” 

Christopher Aaron – On Bended Knee by Boyz II Men – He’s having pitch issues. There are too many singers competing on this first season who really belong in a boy band. Christopher would be perfect as part of a group. But a solo artist, not so much. Randy thought he tried to do too much. Paula agreed that he didn’t connect at first. Simon called his performance “mechanical.” 

Alexis Lopez – Saving All My Love for You by Whitney Houston – SO. MUCH. WHITNEY. She sings it pretty well. Alexis is only 17, has a decent, mature voice, but stylistically, she wasn’t ready yet. Simon is “very disappointed” that she sounded karaoke again. Paula disagreed. But Randy agreed with Simon. “I didn’t quite get it.” She realized that she missed one of the runs. 

RJ Helton – Lately by Stevie Wonder – It’s a better song choice than last time. But he’s still having pitch problems when he goes full voice. Randy called it “brilliant.” Paula said, “You blew us away.” Simon said, “I didn’t think you should be here. But I think you did fantastic.” Did Simon get a bunch of blowback in the press? Bringing RJ back seemed engineered to redeem him. 

Angela Peel – As We Lay by Kelly Price – Angela looked visibly pissed off when AJ Gill’s name was called instead of hers in Group 2. Simon believed her piercings scared America off. She oversings a little, but she’s got a great voice and probably deserved to advance in the first place. Paula didn’t like the song choice. Randy pointed out her pitch problems (he’s correct). But she’s clearly one of Simon’s favorites. He once again brings up the singers that shouldn’t have advanced coughajgilcough

The judges begin deliberating for the camera. They agree Chris didn’t bring it. Simon and Randy didn’t care for Alexis. Paula disagreed. Simon thought RJ rose to the occasion. The result should be based on every performance so far, Simon insisted. And, he thinks two people should be eliminated “strait away…it’s obvious who they are.” 

Before announcing the wildcard winner, the 9 finalists enter the stage. Each of the contestants step up front for a critique. Chris and Alexis are obviously out. After, Simon made the big announcement. It’s unanimous. The judges chose RJ Helton as the Wildcard contestant

Next time, The Top 10 performs live on the big stage.

The next phase of the competition will be live, on a big stage in front of an audience, featuring “full orchestral arrangements.” The finale took place at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood.

The American Idol season 1 Top 10

Tamyra Gray
Jim Verraros
Ryan Starr
AJ Gil
Kelly Clarkson
Justin Guarini
Nikki McKibbin
Ejay Day
Christina Christian
R.J. Helton


About mj santilli 34550 Articles
Founder and editor of, home of the awesomest fan community on the net. I love cheesy singing shows of all kinds, whether reality or scripted. I adore American Idol, but also love The Voice, Glee, X Factor and more!