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American Idol returns to FOX tonight, January 7th, and will feature the Nashville auditions right off the bat. Is there a future country music superstar standing in line, ready to score a golden ticket, win over the judges in Hollywood, and capture the voting public’s hearts during Season 14 (XIV) of the hit show? We shall soon find out.

Country music and American Idol have come together rather seamlessly since the first season of the show, where a little girl from small-town, Texas (you might know her as pop sensation and Grammy winner Kelly Clarkson) took home the trophy; however, it wasn’t until Season 4 that Idol bred its first bonafide country music star. Ever since a blonde bombshell from Checotah, Oklahoma stood in the confetti celebration, country and Idol have gone hand-in-hand.

Here are some of the top-notch country acts that have emerged from the award-winning show and have earned their spots in history as Country Idols.

1. Carrie Underwood

One of the most recognizable names from the show Simon Fuller dreamed up and turned into an empire, Carrie Underwood is the champion from Season 4. With a full decade of a country music career under her belt, Carrie has experienced unprecedented success, topping the charts with each of her six albums, including her double-disc greatest hits collection. She also soared to Number 1 with fourteen of her singles (including compilations with Brad Paisley and Miranda Lambert), breaking into the Top 10 with several other individual releases. Additionally, Carrie has been the recipient of six Grammy Awards, sixteen Billboard Music Awards, eleven Academy of Country Music Awards, eight American Music Awards, five Country Music Association Awards, and many others. Whew. It’s pretty safe to say Carrie capitalized on her Idol win and truly built the career of a champion right out the gate. ***Trivia: Our friend, Jamelle Fraley from Two Story Road, was Carrie’s background vocalist for seven years.***

2. Bucky Covington

Bucky Covington placed eighth in Season 5 of Idol, soon thereafter signing on with Lyric Street Records and releasing his debut album, produced by Mark Miller of Sawyer Brown. His debut self-titled album climbed the charts to Number 1, selling over four hundred thousand copies. Bucky also saw two singles rise to the Top 10 during the early years of his career. His musical career is currently on somewhat of a hiatus, as his fiancé recently gave birth to the couple’s first daughter. However, we expect big things from Bucky in the near future.

3. Kellie Pickler

Kellie Pickler was also a top contender during Season 5 of Idol, placing sixth in the competition. Immediately after the show ended, Kellie was signed to 19 Recordings and BNA Records. It came as no surprise that her debut project Small Town Girl experienced resounding success, considering the high caliber of the offering, which yielded singles such as “Red High Heels,” “I Wonder,” and “Things That Never Cross a Man’s Mind.” Small Town Girl was certified gold by the RIAA, while her singles charted at fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen, respectively. Kellie went on to record another successful album, this time self-titled, garnering smash hit singles “Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful,” “Best Days of Your Life” (co-written by Taylor Swift and Kellie’s first Top 10), and “Didn’t You Know How Much I Loved You.” Kellie later parted ways with her record label and signed on with Black River Entertainment. She also strapped on her dancing shoes for a bit, trying her hand at a reality stint on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. The decision proved to be fruitful, as Kellie and her partner Derek Hough took home the coveted mirror ball trophy. You can take a girl out of a reality competition show, but you can’t take the reality competition show out of the girl!

4. Danny Gokey

Danny Gokey won America’s hearts with his gut-wretching story of love and loss. He also won America’s votes with his beautiful voice and performance quality. Danny placed third on Season 8 of Idol, later signing to 19 Recordings and RCA Nashville. Danny jumpstarted his musical career with a country album, My Best Days, peaking at Number 3 and treating the world to such singles as “My Best Days Are Ahead of Me” and “I Will Not Say Goodbye.” Danny later shifted his career more toward Christian music, where he remains today, recently hitting the top of the US Christian chart with “Hope in Front of Me.” ***Trivia: Our friend, Brandon Fraley from Two Story Road, was Danny’s musical director on tour.***

5. Casey James

Another Idol bronze medalist, Casey James, took home the third place prize on Season 9 of Fox’s hit show. Casey signed to Columbia Nashville/19 Recordings, but later parted ways with Columbia, signing with Sony Records Nashville in time for his album launch. Casey released his self-titled debut album which provided us with three sensational singles, “Let’s Don’t Call it a Night,” “Crying on a Suitcase,” and “The Good Life.” The album peaked at Number 2, and his singles charted in the twenties, selling over four hundred thousand copies, total. He currently has a new single that is climbing the charts, entitled “Fall Apart,” which fans anticipate will be the lead off his next, unannounced album.

6. Lauren Alaina

Lauren Alaina was the frontrunner of Season 10 of Idol, expected to win the whole thing from her very first audition. Besides being an endearingly bubbly teenager, her pipes were unparalleled and left fans in disbelief that the voice they heard was coming from a high school student. Shockingly, Lauren finished the competition in second place (runner-up to our seventh Idol spotlight artist), but came out a winner in the country music industry. Upon the conclusion of her season of Idol, Lauren was signed to Interscope Records, Mercury Nashville and 19 Recordings, releasing her debut album Wildflower and Top 40 singles “Like My Mother Does,” “Georgia Peaches,” and “Eighteen Inches.” She also released “Barefoot and Buckwild” as an independent single, which, likewise, entered the Top 40. Lauren has somewhat quieted down a bit as of late, but after spending time with this extroverted songstress during CMA Fest, it is doubtful she will stay out of the limelight for long. At least we hope not!

7. Scotty McCreery

Season 10’s champion, Scotty McCreery, won America over with his deep, booming voice that was quite surprising coming out of the body of a sweet-natured, southern teenager from North Carolina. However, his down-home country sound and covers of hit songs by Josh Turner, Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, and more solidified his place as America’s favorite. Scotty emerged from Idol with “I Love You This Big,” charting at Number 32 and selling just shy of 175,000 copies in its first week. A star was born. Scotty signed with Mercury Nashville and released his debut album Clear as Day, flying right to the top of the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart with 197,000 copies sold in its debut week. The album later went on to become certified platinum by the RIAA, joining only a select few other Idols whose debuts have reached such heights. Scotty’s next non-holiday album was See You Tonight, the title track of which was Scotty’s first Top 10 Billboard Hot Country Songs hit. Scotty just wrapped his second headlining tour, on which Danielle Bradbery joined him as his opening act. He is currently promoting his sophomore single off his latest album, “Feelin’ It.”

Bonus

Keith Urban, Idol Judge

Grammy Award-winning, top-selling country artist, Keith Urban, is entering his third season as an American Idol judge, sitting next to Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick, Jr. (and Randy Jackson in Season 12).

Special Bonus

Emily BrookeCountry Music #CMchat One to Watch in 2014

Emily (@emilybrookstar) makes her Idol debut Wednesday, January 7th, at the Nashville auditions. Make sure to watch for Emily on the season premiere and let us know if you catch a glimpse of this future superstar. We have a feeling she will be going far! “Dance Hall” was directed and filmed by Sara Kauss (http://www.sarakaussmusicians.com).

Author: Jen

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