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'Idol' season by season

Each of the five seasons of "American Idol" has developed its own distinct personality. Here's a synopsis:

Season 1: Started on June 11, 2002, as a summer fill-in on Fox. Contestants had to be between 16 to 24 years old; this age limit was raised for Season 4. The show skyrocketed in popularity; by the time of the finale between Justin Guarini and Kelly Clarkson on Sept. 4, the audience was estimated at 50 million viewers. After the show concluded, producer Simon Fuller had Clarkson and Guarini star in the musical film, "From Justin to Kelly." It was a flop. Clarkson released a successful single, "A Moment Like This," followed by two albums, "Thankful" and "Breakaway," and won two Grammy awards in 2006.

Winner: Kelly Clarkson


Season 2: It ran from Jan. 19 to May 20, 2003. Drama included the expulsion of favorite Frenchie Davis from the show when topless photos of her were discovered on a Web site, and the disqualification of Corey Clark when a police record he hadn't mentioned came to light. The finale between Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken was the closest ever, with a margin of just 130,0000 votes giving Studdard the victory, although the millions of votes reportedly overwhelmed the phone system. Aiken has emerged as the bigger star of the two, winning two Billboard awards, but both he and Studdard have released three successful albums.

Winner: Ruben Studdard


Season 3: The show opened on Jan. 19, 2004. Early auditions introduced William Hung to a delighted audience. Amherst's John Stevens charmed the audience with his youth and classic crooning style, and became the fifth runner-up. He outlasted Jennifer Hudson, who is currently appearing in the movie "Dreamgirls." During the May 26 finale, Fantasia Barrino won over Diana DeGarmo. Barrino has published an autobiography and recorded an album, "Free Yourself." DeGarmo has recorded "Blue Skies," and popular third-place finisher Jasmine Trias, along with George Huff and Stevens, have also released albums.

Winner: Fantasia Barrino


Season 4: The show premiered on Jan 18, 2005, with the age limit raised to 28 and two singers who specialized in rock music, Constantine Maroulis and Bo Bice. Highlights included the withdrawal of Mario Vazquez due to "personal issues." The finale on May 25 was won by country-music diva Carrie Underwood. Since her win, with such tunes as "Some Hearts," "Don't Forget to Remember Me" and "Jesus Take the Wheel," Underwood has become a multi-platinum recording artist and was named country music's Female Vocalist of the Year. She has won eight Billboard Music Awards and two Academy of Country Music Awards.
Winner: Carrie Underwood


Season 5: This season ran from Jan. 17 to May 24, 2006. Early auditions featured the young cowboy Garet Layne Johnson, Becky O'Donohue, who played basketball for Niagara University from 1998 to 2002, and drama kings Derrell and Terrell Brittenum. Derrell quit, incorrectly thinking his brother had been cut. They were allowed back in but ousted after being arrested for forgery. Paris Bennett's big voice astonished, and Chris Daughtry was predicted to win, but the final two were Katharine McPhee and Taylor Hicks. The star power of the show grew weekly, with celebs in the audience and ever-better guest performers, including Prince. Hicks won. He, McPhee, Daughtry and Kellie Pickler have released albums.

Winner: Taylor Hicks

-- Anne Neville

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