The summer of 2002 rolled along as a brand new hit reality show captured the nation’s attention. American Idol featured auditions, a round in Pasadena, followed by 30 semi-finalists who competed over the course of three weeks. Finally, a Top 10 emerged, and it was time for the show to go live.
While judges, Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell no longer controlled who stayed in the competition, they did try hard to steer voters in the right direction. Simon seemed particularly invested in the “right” person winning it all.
Kicking off the special 90 minute episode, hosts Brian Dunkleman and Ryan Seacrest showed off the fancy new set inside the CBS studios. Brian boasted that the contestants would be backed by “full orchestral arrangements.” But no live music. Canned music ruled the day until Ricky Minor and his band arrived on season 4.
Also for the first time, a live studio audience watched the Top 10 sing their hearts out. Fans in the front rows waved American flags. It’s worth noting that the country was still reeling from the September 11 attacks that had occured only 10 months before. American Idol gave the US a feel good hit that served as a respite from national trauma.
Oft repeated at the top of the show about the phone voting: “Remember, this isn’t Survivor! You’re not voting people out. You’re voting to keep your favorites in.” The format was so new at the time, that viewers COULD become confused about what their vote means. It’s hard to imagine that, now, 20 years later.
The Top 10 will become a Top 8
This week only, explained Ryan, the two with the lowest votes will be leaving the competition the following night during the live Results show. Then “we lose one performer each week…until we are down to two finalists who will battle it out live at the Kodak theater in Hollywood to become the American Idol.”
Also worth mentioning: Ryan and Brian CONSTANTLY hyped the American Idol website idolonfox.com on MSN. Yes. FOX didn’t have a stand alone site, and neither did American Idol. The show didn’t even bother to secure AmericanIdol.com at that time. The website hosted a forum, blogs, recaps and tons more. These days, talent show websites offer very little outside of a voting portal, photos and videos.
Ryan explained how each week would feature a theme. And the Top 10 theme is…American Idol’s favorite genre, Motown! Also, the contestants were each given a Mastercard loaded with $2,000 to shop for clothes. Before the kids sang, the kids went on a shopping spree!
Ryan Starr – If You Really Love Me by Stevie Wonder – Ryan loves to surf! And she works at the mall. The low parts of the melody are too low for Ryan. Motown is obviously not her thing. She’s a better singer than I expected her to be. But not every singer is meant to sing R&B. Randy said she looks and sings like a star. Paula noted that she fell behind in the arrangement, but was full of star quality. “You look unbelievable, and you sound unbelievable. You’re going to do great in this competition,” saod Simon. Early on, he really REALLY favored singers who “looked” like pop stars.
R.J. Helton – I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) by the Four Tops – R.J’s parents adopted him at 3 years of age. He also appears to be an only child. He’s cute, but his voice is boy band bland. His There is no variation in his dynamics at all. What a boring rendition. “Very good,” said Randy. “You are quite the natural on that stage,” said Paula. Simon called it average. (And…he’s correct!). “You didn’t have any presence up there,” Simon said.
Nikki McKibbin – “Ben” by Michael Jackson – They call her Nikki “the wild child,” said Brian, while introducing her 4 year old son Tristen (who would, years later, audition for Idol on his own). And, out of all the Motown songs in the universe, Nikki settled on “Ben” a song about a rat. Yes, look it up. She seems nervous and uncomfortable. She picked the song because her mom loved it. Always a bad idea to choose a song for a parent rather than yourself. She hits a few impressive power notes at the end. Randy loved her look, but hated the song choice. Paula agreed. She kept waiting for Nikki to “break out.” Simon liked nothing about it. “You look like you’ve been through a daytime TV makeover,” adding, “That was not you.”
Ryan calls Brian “Dunk.” That is all.
Ejay Day – “My Girl” by The Temptations – EJay used to sing at a Six Flags amusement park. His fast vibrato is annoying, as is his tendency to sing too many runs. He’s got pitch problems all over the place here. However, Randy called him the best singer so far. “Pretty damn flawless,” said Paula. Simon started off dissing his video package, calling it “the worst.” Ryan interjected, “Now he’s insulting the editors!” Simon retorted, “Ryan, shut up!” Simon dropped the boom, “I think you have a great voice. American Idol? No.” The crowd booed. “It’s up to the viewing public,” Ejay responded.
Tamyra Gray – “Touch Me in the Morning” by Diana Ross – This song choice is old fashioned sounding, but it suits her voice. Tamyra is not only a skilled vocalist, but she presents herself with confidence. There is not a note out of place. Can’t really say that for anyone else who performed previously. “I think you could be exactly what the American Idol is all about,” said Randy. “Flawless, touchdown,” said Paula. Simon declared that the female vocalists on the US show totally blow away the UK girls. “And you are the reason why,” said Simon. “If we judge this on voice alone, you will win this competition.”
Justin Guarini – “For Once in My Life” by Stevie Wonder – Justin moves around the stage, and it doesn’t look cheesy. There are better singers on the show, but his star power and likability make up for it. Vocally, he makes the most of what he has. “Great performance,” said Randy. “You have that American Idol thing going on, dude.” Paula needs a medic. “Timberlake,” Simon said referring to the emerging former ‘Nsync member, “Watch out!”
Jim Verraros – “Easy” by the Commodores – Jim’s parents are deaf, and can’t enjoy his singing. But, he’s hoping to be more than a story in this competition. He’s obviously VERY VERY nervous. And his cover of a song from the future Idol judge, Lionel Richie, it’s very bad. He barely sings a note in tune. “God dude, that was not really good at all. That was terrible,” said Randy. Paula called him an Olympian, but “maybe tonight was not your golden moment.” Simon addes, “I think you’re a nice guy. That performance was absolutely nowhere near enough.” Simon was basically proven right when he complained that Jim’s backstory carried him past other more worthy Top 30 contestants.
Kelly Clarkson – “You’re All I Need to Get By” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – TIME FOR A PALATE CLEANSER. She stumbled over the words in the first line. There are a lot of WORDS in the verses, but on the chorus, she lets loose and it’s spectacular. Like Justin and Tamyra, Kelly performs with an abundance of confidence. “Sound brilliant man,” said Randy. “You sang your heart out.” Paula, nailed Kelly’s appeal “We feel like we know you. You’re dorky, you’re adorable. I just love your personality, your spirit.” Kelly put her fingers in her ears ahead of Simon’s critique. But she needn’t worry. “I think you have just raised the game, haven’t you,” then, in a terrible Texas accent he said,” Y’all did a great job.” Kelly looked shocked. Also, Kelly sang like that with laryngitis.
AJ Gil – “My Cherie Amour” by Stevie Wonder – The performance is pitch impaired and even worse, BORING. Like R.J. Hilton, there is no dynamics and his phrasing is non-existent. Randy calls it “nice,” which is meant to be faint praise. “I’ve seen better from you.” Paula noticed his timing issues. “I’m not sure this was the best performance from you.” Simon called him nice, but the performance wasn’t good enough. If you won “it would be a disaster” he said.
Christina Christian – “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – Christina’s tone is smooth and easy. She’s a little pitchy this time on the high notes, but she makes good singing look simple. This song probably isn’t the best choice for her. She really shines on bluesier fare. “Brilliant, love the outfit, you sounded great,” said Randy. Paula complimented her poise. “What a beautiful job.” Simon said “I admit it. I’ve got a crush.” Hoo boy. “I really hope you do well in this competition.” Christina admitted that she battled with nerves, and had to pray her way out of it.
American Idol Season 1 Top 10 Performances
American Idol Season 1 Top 10 RESULTS
At the top of the show, Ryan and DUNK inform the audience that Idol received more than 8 million votes. The highest number of votes EVER. Remember, that Idol would not introduce AT&T message voting until season 2. The day before was the “third busiest day in the history of AT&T’s domestic long-distance network.”
The hosts then explained that R.J. Helton accidently fell off the stage the night before at the end of the show, while the contestants were congratulating each other. OOPS. But not to worry, R.J. fully recovered. And not only that, Simon Cowell is absent, a cardboard cut-out is in his place, which Paula manipulates like a ventriloquist doll. Homophobic joking ensues. Ah, the good old days. Simon, Brian said, had to fly back to the UK for “business.”
Next, a video package introduced the 26 room mansion where the finalists are staying. Idol went on and off with the mansion bit over the years. But in reality, producers kept the contestants so busy, they barely spent any time there.
Time to eliminate the first contestant
The contestants wait in the Red Room as Ryan announces the first eliminated contestant, EJay Day. He joined the hosts on stage to watch his goodbye package. The “goodbye montage” started in season 1, and ended pretty much when American Idol canceled the results show. After a clip of the contestants washing a Ford Focus (carmercial!) it was time to eliminate a second contestant.
This time, the hosts revealed the next two contestants with the lowest number of votes by going contestant by contestant, recapping their critiques and declaring them safe or in danger. America voted, and Kelly Clarkson is SAFE! Jim Verraros is next, and is unfortunately in the bottom two. R.J Helton is next and despite mixed reviews, is SAFE. Christina Christian is also SAFE. Justin Guarini is, of course, SAFE. Nikki McKibbin got negative critiques for the rat song, and ended up in the bottom 3. AJ Gil, Tamyra Gray and Ryan Starr are SAFE.
The bottom two, Jim Verraros and Nikki McKibbin take center stage. And the second contestant leaving the competition….Jim Verraros. Nikki is SAFE. After Jim’s goodbye package, the show signs off.
Ejay Day and Jim Verraros are eliminated
The correct contestants left the competition, although AJ Gil could have taken EJay’s place. Performing next to last likely helped him voting-wise.
Next time: The Top 8 sing music from the 1960s!