Season 1 of 'American Idol'
Everett Collection

In 2002, a 20-year-old waitress stepped into an audition room and sang before a panel of judges. It was the inaugural season of American Idol: The Search for a Superstar, the talent competition series that would become lasting appointment viewing, go on to inspire shows like America’s Got Talent and The Voice, and make celebrities out of contestants including Kelly Clarkson—the contender from Texas who was crowned the winner later that first year. Originally a spin-off of the 2001 British series Pop Idol, American Idol, which wrapped its 20th season in May, made it seem possible that anyone with the right amount of talent could end up on television—and maybe even get a record deal. For eight consecutive years, the series was the most watched prime-time program in the U.S. as it catapulted the careers of musicians like Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, Jordin Sparks, and Chris Daughtry. Viewers flocked to the show not only to vote for their favorite contestants, but also to watch the banter between the celebrity judges. The original trio, present for the show’s first eight seasons, included producer and musician Randy Jackson, choreographer and singer Paula Abdul, and producer and executive Simon Cowell (who would go on to discover and sign a flurry of successful bands through other reality television programming, like One Direction on The X Factor). After a two-year hiatus, from 2016 to 2018, the series moved from Fox to ABC, where judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan now continue the legacy. But it was the first season of American Idol that cemented the series’ burgeoning grip on viewers and the music industry alike; “A Moment Like This,” the single Clarkson performed on the season finale, skyrocketed to the top of the U.S. Hot 100 chart, breaking the 38-year-old record for the biggest leap on the chart that was previously held by the Beatles. —Annabel Gutterman

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