14 Seasons of the American Idol Finale

01
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Season 1 - Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini - 2002

Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini
Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini. Photo by SGranitz / WireImage

There was comparatively little fanfare when the first season of American Idol kicked off as a summer replacement show in 2002. However, by the end of the show's 13 weeks it had captured the public's imagination. The final pair in the competition were Texan Kelly Clarkson who had tried to kick off a musical career and a "frizzy haired kid" with some minor Broadway experience Justin Guarini. Despite the pair being rushed into a failed movie titled From Justin to Kelly, Kelly Clarkson has gone on to be the most commercially successful of all American Idol winners and one of today's top pop stars. 

02
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Season 2 - Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken - 2003

Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken
Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken. Photo by Chris Polk / FilmMagic

For season two, the runaway hit American Idol was moved to the winter and spring season of TV where it has stayed. The co-host format was dropped and Ryan Seacrest became sole host. The finale came down to soulful "velvet teddy bear" Ruben Studdard and "geeky" North Carolina college student with a huge voice Clay Aiken. Only 130,000 votes out of 24 million cast separated the pair. Both went on to future success. Ruben Studdard's success has been primarily in the gospel music market while Clay Aiken endeared himself to millions of fans as an adult contemporary artist and on Broadway in Spamalot

03
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Season 3 - Fantasia Barrino and Diana DeGarmo - 2004

Fantasia Barrino and Diana DeGarmo
Fantasia Barrino and Diana DeGarmo. Photo by Frank Micelotta / Getty Images

Fantasia Barrino came into the season three finale results show with accolades from judge Simon Cowell as unquestionably the best American Idol contestant over the first three seasons. Her performance of George Gershwin's "Summertime" is still widely celebrated as the best single performance ever on American Idol. At age 16 Diana DeGarmo was a seasoned stage veteran who had also been a finalist on NBC's America's Most Talented Kid. More votes were cast in the season three finale than the show's first two finales combined. 

04
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Season 4 - Carrie Underwood and Bo Bice - 2005

Carrie Underwood and Bo Bice
Carrie Underwood and Bo Bice. Photo by Kevin Winter / Getty Images

The finale of season four was a classic nail-biter. Carrie Underwood entered the finale never having ended up a week in the final three of voting. She was a college student who had a failed brush with major label recording. Underwood's preferred genre of singing is country music, but she ably demonstrated her versatility throughout season four. Bo Bice was the first rocker to make it to the finale. He was a veteran performer before entering American Idol with experience performing in multiple bands. Following the competition Carrie Underwood quickly became one of country music's top performers. Bo Bice has continued his career with a degree of success as a journeyman rocker.

05
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Season 5 - Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee - 2006

Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee
Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee. Photo by Vince Bucci / Getty Images

Season five is frequently remembered as one of the most consistently entertaining seasons of American Idol. The ranks of the contestants seemed filled with personality and talent from naive country girl Kellie Pickler to the rocker on the edge of stardom, Chris Daughtry. The final pair included seasoned southern soul performer Taylor Hicks and aspiring singer and actress Katharine McPhee. Neither Hicks or McPhee has met with the same recording success as a number of other contestants eliminated earlier from season five. 

06
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Season 6 - Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis - 2007

Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis
Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis. Photo by Lester Cohen / WireImage

After American Idol's season six survived all of the controversy surrounding the questionable talent of contestant Sanjaya Malakar, the finale came down to Jordin Sparks, the first teenager in the finale since Diana DeGarmo, and American Idol's first beatboxer, singer-songwriter Blake Lewis. Jordin Sparks' post-American Idol success has included multiple top 10 pop singles. Blake Lewis continues to record music with a range of electronica and hip hop inspired artists and producers. 

07
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Season 7 - David Cook and David Archuleta - 2008

David Cook and David Archuleta
David Cook and David Archuleta. Photo by GNA / Redferns

Season seven was the first time since season two that two males were in the finale. It was also the first time that both contestants in the finale had the same first name. David Cook had regional success as a rock musician under his belt as well as past experience performing in musical productions in school that served him well when versatility counted on American Idol. David Archuleta appeared as an impressively talented teenager who won the junior division of TV's Star Search 2 at the age of 12. Both scored successfully on the pop charts with their first releases after American Idol's season seven. 

08
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Season 8 - Kris Allen and Adam Lambert - 2009

Kris Allen and Adam Lambert
Kris Allen and Adam Lambert. Photo by George Napolitano / FilmMagic

Season 8's final pair are considered by many to be among the best final pairs in American Idol's history. Adam Lambert was favored by many to win the competition almost from the beginning of the season. However, Kris Allen slowly built his confidence and following as the show progressed resulting in a surprise victory on finale results night.

09
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Season 9 - Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox - 2010

Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox
Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox. Photo by Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Many complaints were lodged during season 9 about the overall quality of American Idol contestants. However, few disputed that Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox deserved to be the pair to square off in the finale. There seemed a near consensus in the press that Crystal Bowersox dominated the final performances, but in the end Lee DeWyze emerged victorious. For the first time the lead single from an American Idol winner is a cover version. Lee DeWyze released his interpretation of U2's "Beautiful Day" as his first single. 

10
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Season 10 - Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina - 2011

Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina
Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina. Photo by Kevin Mazur / WireImage

Before season 10 began, many predicted the demise of American Idol. However, with the addition of new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, the show came back with ratings on the rise. The big surprise of the season was that, for the very first time, American Idol had two country singers squaring off in the finale. It was also the first time a pair as young as these contestants were the final two. Lauren Alaina is 16 and Scotty McCreery is 17. At the end of the finale results show, Scotty McCreery was named 2010's American Idol

11
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Season 11 - Phillip Phillips and Jessica Sanchez - 2012

Phillip Phillips and Jessica Sanchez
Phillip Phillips and Jessica Sanchez. Photo by C. Flanigan / WireImage

All three American Idol judges returned for 11th season of the show.  The finale ended up being a battle between Georgia native Phillip Phillips and 16 year old Jessica Sanchez.  Performance of the song "Home" sealed the title for Phillip Phillips.  The song later became the bestselling coronation song from the show ever, and Phillip Phillips' debut album was certified platinum. 

12
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Season 12 - Candice Glover and Kree Harrison - 2013

Candice Glover and Kree Harrison
Candice Glover and Kree Harrison. Photo by Chelsea Lauren / WireImage

American Idol experienced a strong shakeup before season 12 began. Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler exited as judges and were replaced by the trio of Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, and Keith Urban.  Feuding between Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj seemed to overshadow much of the season.  For the first time since season 3 the finale was a battle between two female contestants ultimately won by Candice Glover.  

13
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Season 13 - Caleb Johnson and Jena Irene - 2014

Caleb Johnson and Jena Irene
Caleb Johnson and Jena Irene. Photo by Kevin Winter / Getty Images

For season 13 of American Idol only Keith Urban returned as a judge from the preceding season. Jennifer Lopez returned to the judges panel after participating in seasons 10 and 11. Harry Connick, Jr., who previously appeared as a mentor, was a first time judge.  For the first time, a wild card contestant, Jena Irene, made it to the finale.

14
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Season 14 - Nick Fradiani and Clark Beckham - 2015

Nick Fradiani and Clark Beckham
Nick Fradiani and Clark Beckham. Photo by Michael Tran / WireImage

Season 14 of American Idol had all three judges returning from the previous season. For the first time since season 8 it was an all male finale. However, Randy Jackson left the show entirely making room for Big Machine label's Scott Borchetta as mentor. The day after an announcement that American Idol would come to an end with the 15th season, Nick Fradiani of the band Beach Avenue defeated Nashville based musician Clark Beckham.