58 Former "Idol" Contestants Look Back On The Show's Legacy

    "It is such an honor to be a part of a show that not only changed my life, but changed the lives of millions of people across the country." —Season 2's Kimberley Locke

    Since 2002, American Idol has discovered unknown talented singers and offered them the chance to achieve superstar status. But that all ends on April 7, when the show’s 15th and final winner will be crowned.

    Along the way, hundreds of performers have been featured, and while not everyone has reached the heights of Kelly Clarkson or Jennifer Hudson, many have left indelible marks on the hearts and ears of the viewers who did “Dial Idol” for them.

    In anticipation of the finale, BuzzFeed News asked past contestants — some in person, some over the phone, and some via email — to reflect upon how the show has changed their lives. Below are their slightly edited responses.

    Justin Guarini, Season 1

    "American Idol is the fire that took a raw and hungry kid and helped shape him into a solid veteran of the business. Thanks to Idol, I have never wanted for opportunities, and have been blessed to entertain people all over the world. Fifteen years, and it still feels like yesterday when I stepped out onto that stage for the first time and began the exciting journey of following my dreams."

    Trenyce, Season 2

    "It was the validation for all of my awkward years! I spent hours in my room singing in my hairbrush; playing my Yamaha; forming girl groups in my neighborhood; instead of playing with Barbies, lining them up to be my audience while others played outside. It was a great stepping-stone for learning this business, curbing my sensitivity, and forming thicker skin. It allowed me to vocally challenge my palette, become a workaholic and reliable professionally. I appreciate every critique even more now. Huge thanks to the judges, guest judges, producers, vocal coaches, makeup artists, stylists, cameramen, bodyguards, and assistants. Because of all of you, I see the bigger picture!"

    Josh Gracin, Season 2

    "I always knew I wanted to be an artist and American Idol made it possible for me to make it a reality. I owe everything to the fans that not only voted me to a fourth-place finish, but helped me realize my dream of being a country artist. American Idol and all those who made the show possible will forever have my appreciation and thanks."

    Kimberley Locke, Season 2

    "American Idol represents so many things in my life. Everything that I had been practicing up until the age of 24, I had to put it into action. The show was instrumental to my growth as a singer and as a woman. It is such an honor to be a part of a show that not only changed my life but changed the lives of millions of people across the country, who were sitting in their living rooms watching. I am proud to have been a part of the inspirational phenomenon called American Idol."

    Ruben Studdard, Season 2

    "American Idol has meant opportunity and it has meant a family; some of the people I'm closest to in my life to this day are because of my relationship with American Idol."

    Jon Peter Lewis, Season 3

    "Over the years, I’ve done my fair share of poking fun at American Idol, but the show deserves a sincere love note. So, let's pretend this is me holding a boom box outside the American Idol window, playing Peter Gabriel songs.

    "Idol has gone to greater lengths than most to make the world accessible for undiscovered talent. And they found me. My time spent on the show became a defining moment in my life. I hated all the song-and-dance numbers they made me do, but I’ve been able to make music, travel the world, and fulfill so many childhood dreams. That’s a pretty fair trade. And I’d do it again. I mean, I went on The Voice, after all. So, thanks for the fond memories. With love, from me to you."

    John Stevens, Season 3

    "It was a wonderful springboard for me and so many others like me who would have never had the opportunity to pursue a career as a performer. I went into my first audition with no expectations of getting any further. The first audition snowballed into the second round, then the third, and then became like a runaway train where all of a sudden, I was in the top 10. American Idol introduced me to artists and gave me a look into the music and television industry. If I could go back and do things differently, I would. There are always things you want to change about the past, but I am very proud of the time I spent on the show, on the tour, and all of the great opportunities that came from that time."

    LaToya London, Season 3

    "American Idol was the platform in which I became known worldwide. They chose me out of 70,000 people to showcase my artistry and I'm so thankful for that. This farewell season is a bit sad for me because American Idol has been a TV staple in so many homes around America and abroad. It's the show that pioneered the fan-based voting system, allowing fans to pick who they wanted to see and hear on the radio. American Idol inspired this generation of performers to be bold and go after their musical dreams."

    Jasmine Trias, Season 3

    "I have amazing memories from my time on American Idol. The show completely changed my life. It gave me and so many other artists a platform to be discovered in a way that didn't exist before. If it wasn’t for American Idol coming to Hawaii, I most likely wouldn't have been able to pursue my passion for music and realize my dream of becoming a singer. To have had such huge exposure and to have been able to launch my career on the biggest television stage in the world is still unbelievable. It’s something I’m grateful for every day.

    "I couldn't be more proud to be an American Idol top 3 finalist, and I feel honored to be part of its history. I truly appreciate everything that has happened in my career since the show, and it's all thanks to the opportunity I was given and the support I received. Others will continue to try, but, in my opinion, there will never be another television show quite like it."

    Mikalah Gordon, Season 4

    "American Idol will always be one of the greatest things I've ever done. It changed my life. I remember being 14 years old and watching Kelly Clarkson singing 'A Moment Like This' as she was [crowned] the winner. I found so much inspiration and hope watching that season. When I turned 16, I patiently waited in line in hopes of having my dreams come true. Being 16 is tough. You are still trying to find yourself, believe in yourself. But someone was definitely watching over me.

    "Making it to the top 12 was one of my greatest accomplishments. The friends that I made are lifelong. Being a part of history is humbling, but what I will always keep in my heart is the same feeling I had at 16. I can do anything I put my mind to. Thank you, American Idol. Thank you for taking a chance on a young, naive, big-mouthed little girl from Vegas. Thank you for believing in me and for making me feel so special. From the showrunners, to the producers, to the judges, you changed my life. We are a forever family. American Idol, you mean the world to me. Cheers to an amazing 15 years!"

    Constantine Maroulis, Season 4

    "I believe it's about the still-great platform and the journey of the contestants that captured the imagination of fans. But the real work starts when you leave the show."

    Anthony Fedorov, Season 4

    "I still remember walking into my audition room like it was yesterday. I was 19 years old; clueless, inexperienced, naive. Never in a million years did I imagine that this show would change my life the way it did.

    "When I made it on Idol, it was like being in a tornado. Everything was moving so fast for me; every second of every day was planned and scheduled. I’d get up early in the morning — usually a 6 or 7 a.m. call time meant a 4 or 5 a.m. wake-up call, for example, and pulling in a 16-hour day — rehearse, then off to the studio to record. Then photo shoots, commercials, interviews. That was my life, seven days a week for a year! I was just trying to hang on for dear life.

    "American Idol got me in the door. It gave me so many opportunities that otherwise I probably would not have gotten. The best part of being on the show for me was the Idol tour. When you’re on the show, you’re singing to a live studio audience and that little red dot in the camera, not realizing that there are millions and millions of people on the other side of that lens. You’re in a bubble basically.

    "My most profound realization of the Idol experience was that tour when I hit the stage for the first time in front of about 20,000 people. When I finished my set, I got offstage, went into the tent to put my mic pack away, and collapsed on my knees and started crying. I was so overwhelmed with emotion like, Wow, that just happened, and if this all ended tomorrow, I'm so grateful I got to be a part of this experience. It was a moment of sheer gratitude."

    Vonzell Solomon, Season 4

    "American Idol has changed my life tremendously. I went from delivering the mail to traveling the world, doing what I love to do. I am forever grateful!"

    Bo Bice, Season 4

    "My American Idol experience was life-changing, to say the least. From the beginning 'til the finale I made new friends, gained knowledge on my craft, and also started to see that the dreams of my past were the foundation of my future ... and Idol could be the catalyst of it all.

    "I've never had a moment of regret — only good memories, wonderful friendships, and a feeling of accomplishment. American Idol also encouraged me to give back to the next generation of performers coming up the ranks, by developing my own performance curriculum and starting my own performance school to teach the stars of the future to make their dreams come true.

    "So, if Bo Bice could sum up what he'd like to say to American Idol, Simon Fuller, the producers, stage crew, Rickey Minor, and the band, vocal coaches, choreographers, camera crew, Nigel Lythgoe, and Ken Warwick, catering, every last person involved, I would simply say, 'Thank you for my career, and I love you all.'

    "It was a great run, American Idol family. I'm proud to be a small part of the life-changing experience."

    Ayla Brown, Season 5

    "To most Idol alums, American Idol was a platform, a wonderful platform that catapulted us into instant stardom. There aren't many shows that guarantee 35 million viewers every night, and back on Season 5, that's how many people were tuning in. My story is very different than most Idol contestants because I had two dreams that I was trying to live at the same time. As a high school senior, I had a basketball scholarship to my dream school, Boston College, and I was standing on the American Idol stage, singing with a band for the first time in my life.

    "When I got eliminated at 'lucky 13th' place, I thought my dream of singing was over. Little did I know, even though I didn't come even close to winning the show, I have had more 'success' than most American Idol finalists. Being on Idol has opened up opportunities to travel the world, sing at big-time arenas and esteemed national stages, release albums, start my own record company, secure sponsors, meet incredible leaders, and pay my bills. I look into the mirror every day and feel grateful for the opportunities I've been given over the past 10 years since competing on the show.

    "The only thing I wish I could change were my outfit choices back in 2006. Gaucho pants, anyone?"

    Bucky Covington, Season 5

    "Being from a small town in North Carolina, to be able to sing for a living almost seems like a virtually impossible dream to have. You almost have to be Tim McGraw's cousin or know somebody in the business. And I think American Idol really has been, all these years, a great avenue to put an image together: a name with a face with a sound. And you can go to Los Angeles, Nashville, New York, or wherever it may be and get a foot in the door. It has always been that, and I hate really seeing that go away.

    "The best thing about Idol was not being on the show; the worst thing about Idol is being on the show — it's very stressful; you come out of one life and go into a whole different kind of life. Coming off Idol is probably the best part about Idol for the fact that you are able to go into places and they know who you are. When you're sitting down at a lunch table with a president of a record company, asking him for a record deal, usually that is a very, very, very tough, stressful process. But when you can't get through the lunch without people coming over, wanting pictures and autographs, that guy would be a complete idiot to not sign you."

    Kellie Pickler, Season 5

    "American Idol means the world to me. It changed my world. It enabled my dreams to become a reality and paved the way for me to go to Nashville and do what I love. It changed my life. I'm so blessed to have been a part of the show."

    Paris Bennett, Season 5

    "What Idol meant to me was family! I believe I met my closest friends there. I learned so much from each and every one of my peers and I'm still learning from some now! I thank Idol for the opportunity to share my gift and for allowing me to perfect my craft in front of millions! I'm forever appreciative."

    Chris Daughtry, Season 5

    "It has a very different meaning now than when I watched it in the beginning. To me, now, it's singlehandedly the biggest opportunity I ever had to showcase my voice to as many people as possible that I would not have had where I was, and I would not have been able to facilitate that sort of showcase on my own — especially in a day and age where you don't have record execs knocking down the doors at clubs to check out talent. I was in a town that didn't really have a buzz anyway in the original music scene. To me, it's the reason I'm able to do what I do on a level that I never anticipated."

    Taylor Hicks, Season 5

    "I think when you win American Idol, it changes your life forever. I can't think of one winner where it hasn't changed their life in some form or capacity. I've been able to travel the world doing shows. In the six-month time period, I went from performing in small venues in the Southeast to performing in Southeast Asia. That's just the scope when you win this show, and luckily, the timeframe in which I won allowed me to be coming up on a decade in show business, and I'm very proud of that. I think the platform that's allowed me to be able to do that is, no question, American Idol."

    Jared Cotter, Season 6

    "American Idol for me meant a beginning. It really put me on track to be successful in the music industry, from being an Emmy-nominated TV host to selling over 16 million records as a Grammy-nominated songwriter and now managing and writing for my artist on Universal Republic, Kiana Lede, with my business partner Jeremy Skaller. I'm so thankful to American Idol, because after the rigorous schedule, pressure, and exposure, I really feel like I can do anything."

    Haley Scarnato, Season 6

    "It's hard to put into words what American Idol means to me. There was so much that I experienced being on the show, on tour and even years after. I can say it changed my life and I'm so grateful to everyone on and off the show that made it that much more special for me. My Season 6 Idol contestants will forever be my family, and I love each and every one of you. I am truly blessed for all the opportunities I had and continue to have."

    Chris Richardson, Season 6

    "Being on American Idol was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I will never forget. It was a blessing being on such an iconic television show.

    "From the experience I gained, to the relationships I made along the way, American Idol will always be a part of me. I wish all the cast and alumni success and happiness in life, and thank everyone at American Idol for allowing me to be a part of the journey."

    Melinda Doolittle, Season 6

    "Idol not only changed my life, it changed our culture. It involved the viewer in the process, and because of that, I have people all over the world who have a personal connection to me and my music.

    "The doors that have been opened have blown my mind. I’m indebted to them for changing my career, but also for providing a new avenue into this music business that hadn’t been done before. This show is often imitated, but will never be duplicated. It remains one of a kind in its ability to launch careers and form a unique attachment between its viewers and contestants."

    Blake Lewis, Season 6

    "American Idol was one of the best experiences I've ever had. It flipped my world upside down and forever changed my life. It opened new doors and gave me the opportunity to be myself in front of millions of people around the world. To this day, people still approach me and ask, 'What was that experience like?' or, 'Was Simon really that mean?' I love it!

    "It will be a bittersweet day when the final curtain is drawn and the show transitions from modern-day phenomenon to pop culture legend. I am forever grateful. "

    Jordin Sparks, Season 6

    "It's so hard to summarize 15 years. American Idol was a part of me growing up. The first season was 2001, so I was 11 years old, and I watched Kelly win. I watched Ruben win. And then on my season, I got to sing with him! It is such a huge part of my life; it's a part of who I am, what I do. It's pretty much the OG. We had Star Search, but American Idol was the first time people were voting at home. There's a different kind of intimacy and relationship with your fans when you're in their living room every week and they're voting for you and they're investing in you.

    "I'm sad it's the farewell season, but at the same time, it spawned all these other shows that give everyday people the chance to live out their dreams, to take that chance and that risk. For 15 years, people have been taking those chances, and whether they made it to Hollywood Week or the top 24 or whether they won or not, they've been able to take that and turn it into something amazing for themselves. I get to sing for my job. I can't ask for anything else, and American Idol gave that to me."

    David Hernandez, Season 7

    "It means everything. It was my first big platform into the music industry and the acting world. It gave me such a great experience with crowds and with perfecting my abilities. It was like boot camp for singers. It was definitely challenging at such a young age, but it was like sink or swim, and I'm glad that it went so well. Top 12 was really cool to be a part of.

    "I've been able to do music for the last eight years because of Idol. I've been very blessed. It's been really cool. I can totally testify to being able to work for the last eight years on nothing but music because of the show."

    Kristy Lee Cook, Season 7

    "American Idol meant so much to me. It basically changed my whole life. It was probably the craziest thing I've ever done, but the most worthwhile thing I've ever done.

    "It was a powerful platform to help my career get to the next level. I had worked so hard since I was 13 years old trying to get to where I wanted to be in the music industry, and for whatever reason, it just wasn't working. I kept trying and trying to make it, and then, when Chris Young, whom I worked with at Cowboys Arlington, went on Nashville Star, I looked at that and thought, Hmmm, maybe I'll do American Idol. Plus, I had nothing to lose, and it could only help, right? So I did it!

    "I also had been home on voice rest for about a year, so when American Idol came around for auditions and it was about time for me to start singing again, that was the best way to get back in the industry. Needless to say, I loved the show and the chance it gave for artists to be heard who didn't know how to get into the business. I'm grateful for the opportunity it gave me and I will miss the show on TV!"

    Carly Smithson, Season 7

    "American Idol was kind of like my college years. I never went to college, so this was like the journey that I went on where I met new people and left home. I learned so much, I met so many people, and it really navigated my life in a completely different direction than I feel maybe it would have gone otherwise. Your whole life changes; like, changes forever. You will forever do music, you will forever be working. It gives you something always to fall back on. You will always be 'from American Idol.' It's such a massive, massive brand globally.

    "I got off a flight from America to Ireland just after I had been eliminated from Idol. And about a decade before that, Britney Spears had flown into Dublin Airport. There were crowds of paparazzi and photographers everywhere, and out walks Britney Spears. The paparazzi went crazy, and she was whisked away into a car. My mom was like, 'One day, that'll happen for you.' I was like, 'Yeah, right.' Cut to almost a decade later, 2008, and I walk out of the airport and there was just paparazzi everywhere. They're taking pictures and I keep looking behind me, like, who's here? But it was for me. American Idol changes your whole life overnight."

    Brooke White, Season 7

    "The three most defining moments in my adulthood are getting married, having a baby, and being on American Idol. Nothing in my life was the same after I did American Idol. Everything changed: my trajectory, my plans, my existence, everything was changed. It's extremely special to me. It made me stretch and it was extremely hard, but it was by far one of the most important and meaningful things I've ever done with my life.

    "Before American Idol, I was definitely striving to do music and it was something that I wasn't sure I was even worthy of, that I was even good enough to do. And I definitely never thought I was good enough to do American Idol. I just thought it would swallow me whole. The fact that I got as far as I did just helps me realize you have to push yourself all the time. American Idol taught me you have to try, and I think in that way, it affects me every day in the sense that you can't just do the status quo thing because you're afraid or think you're not good enough; you have to put yourself out there and try. Living that way has definitely changed my life, because I've had so many more opportunities. I've stretched myself beyond my comfort zone and been greatly rewarded for that."

    Jason Castro, Season 7

    "For the first time in years, I have been watching this season with my daughter, who is four and a half. She's always known her dad is the guy from American Idol — everybody approaches me that way — but it's really neat to be watching it now with her. It's been crazy to think about all the time that's gone by. When I was on there, I was not married, had no kids, and really, as I look around at my family now and the life that I have, it really is all because of American Idol. It's overwhelming to think about. Like, what would I be doing if not for the show? What an incredible opportunity I had to be able to make a great living doing what I love and be able to support my growing family by playing music. I can't imagine life without either of them, so I really feel lucky and thankful all the time."

    David Cook, Season 7

    "I think anybody that picks up a guitar and starts playing shows around Kansas City to nobody dreams about how cool it would be to have a career playing music for a living. And I chased that for 10 years before Idol. Idol represented that opportunity, that platform, that cracked-open door I might be able to get through. What it's meant for me more than anything is I get to do what I love to do for a living, which isn't bad."

    Danny Gokey, Season 8

    "American Idol translates to so many people as funny, entertaining, emotional, and great singers, but for me, it was so much more. It was hope. It was a second chance at life when I desperately needed it. It gave me a platform that I wouldn't have otherwise had to share my love of music.

    "I'm living out my musical dream of releasing albums and touring because they took a chance on this unknown Midwest boy. The show might be gone, but the legacy still lives on through all of the former idols, like me, who keep making music. I'll be forever grateful to them."

    Adam Lambert, Season 8

    "Idol put me on the map. I was in a place in my career where I had been performing around L.A., New York, and various other countries and cities. I was looking for something to shift, but I couldn't figure out how to do it. And then, when I saw there was an audition coming up, having watched the show since the beginning, I was like, you know what? I'm 27. I might as well go for it, because I will kick myself later if I don't try out, since I've been a fan this long. I didn't expect it to actually take me as far as it did at all. I thought, Oh god, there's no way I'm going to make the top 13. There's no way I'm going to. And every time I got voted in, I was shocked, and more and more, I started to really enjoy it.

    "I remember them telling me after my second audition that in order to progress, you couldn't have any professional contracts of any kind signed, and I was in a musical here in L.A. called Wicked. That was my salary. That's how I lived. And they said, 'You can't do that anymore.' What a risk that was to have to say goodbye to my job, a job that was hard to get, by the way, and take a chance. I'm so glad I took it. Because if I hadn't, if I'd done the safe thing, where would I be? Probably still in the chorus."

    Kris Allen, Season 8

    "At different times of my life, Idol has meant different things. Right after the show, it meant all this craziness and everyone in your face. For me, it was like, I don't know how to take all of this. And then as you kind of get used to it and the show is still going on, you start to really appreciate what it's done for you.

    "American Idol has meant my life. It's changed everything. It's brought me to my best friends. I got to go out on the road with Keith Urban! That's insane. The people you meet, the people you get to work with, it's insane. What happened for me — which is the only story I can tell — was exactly what I think the show was meant for. It takes a person who has some talent and the want to and makes it happen for them. It's a beautiful thing."

    Didi Benami, Season 9

    "American Idol means family.

    "You meet a whole new group of people who change your life one intricate piece at a time, people who all share the same dream and are all incredibly talented and have their own thing going on. You're aware it’s a competition and you could stay or go. Every week, you are all in the same boat, and are immediately initiated into this lifelong family. It’s like a fraternity of people from my season and even alumni that I consider family. No matter what season we were from, we share an unbreakable bond. We all dream together.

    "It was amazing, exhilarating, and insane. Nothing like it in the universe. The whole process was shocking and everything about it was so incredible. Personally, I cried a lot. I was overwhelmed with gratitude that I made it to the next stage each time. Hopes get crushed and dreams are made, right alongside you and in front of you.

    "You connect, you make friends, and then, poof, the bubble disappears, for a little while anyway. It’s all very strange. I can’t really explain the disconnect very well, because it’s somewhat traumatizing for me. It went so fast and I have to go back to this part of my brain that was so connected to judgment rather than what I knew I was there for.

    "I just feel really lucky. I met a lot of forever friends through the process. I just am so grateful. There is a family once you become an American Idol, and it really makes you want to see everyone succeed.

    "What a crazy ride."

    Katie Stevens, Season 9

    “I am so thankful to have had an opportunity like American Idol. I was only 16 from a small town in Connecticut, and really never thought that my dreams could become a reality for me. Idol created incredible opportunities for me and opened so many doors. I am lucky to be a part of the American Idol family.”

    Tim Urban, Season 9

    "I realized from the first audition that American Idol wasn't really purely a singing contest. I watched singers who were much better than me get cut before they even made it to the television judges. It didn't take long for me to understand that I had been cast in a TV show. The premise is a singing contest, but the reality is that it is a very controlled and orchestrated show. I was cast as the teen heartthrob for my season.

    "Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not in any way mad about how my time on American Idol went. It was a great experience that taught me so much and opened a ton of doors for me in the entertainment world. It also introduced me to a ton of people who have become the best fans I could have ever asked for.

    "I just also want people to understand that the show is not about finding the best singer. I wouldn't have made it to No. 7 if raw vocal talent was the deciding factor. It's about having the right characters with the right stories to grab people's hearts. The producers of American Idol are masters at this, and to be honest, watching them at work crafting the show has had more of a lasting impact on me than almost any other aspect.

    "When you are on the show, you are told that the whole music business is waiting for you as soon as the final episode is aired. They tell you that you are all going to have amazing careers. But the reality is that once you are off the show, they don't really care that much what happens to you. You get a plane ticket home and an email inviting you back for the finale every year. The truth of the music business hits, and you are faced with the fact that the people in the business don't really know who you are as an artist because all they've heard is you singing other people's music and they think you are owned by American Idol for the next couple of years. That 'amazing career' rarely happens. Yes, there have been success stories for sure, but you can count the true success stories on one, maybe two hands.

    "That doesn't in any way mean that American Idol isn't a great opportunity. It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It's just not the experience that you think it's going to be when you are standing in line waiting to audition.

    "It was nothing like I expected, more than I could have dreamed of, and it is the reason I can no longer watch the show."

    Crystal Bowersox, Season 9

    "I didn't know before doing it what it would mean to me. My life is now is separated between pre-Idol and post-Idol — it's been that hugely definitive in my life. I wouldn't have anything I have now if it weren't for my experience on American Idol. I'm pretty proud of the fact I got Simon Cowell's last comment as a judge — and it was a good one! I'm so blessed to still be doing what I love for a living, and I'm touring and I'm making music, and I don't feel like any of that would have been possible with the level of comfort that I have now had it not been for Idol. I do feel like I would have continued on and pursued music, but it would have been a much longer and harder road — not that it wasn't beforehand. But it's given me everything, everything I have now — stability for my son, a career doing what I love, and I get to share the gift that God gave me with more people than I ever think I would have before."

    Thia Megia, Season 10

    "I've been singing and performing since I was 4, but it wasn't until the first season of American Idol when my 6-year-old self realized just how much I wanted to share my voice with the world — and be on that stage. Ten years later, I seized the opportunity to do just that. Performing alongside Beyoncé and Stevie Wonder, meeting many of my biggest idols, and touring the world doing what I loved most was like a dream I never wanted to end. With passion, effort, determination, and genuine love towards what you do, you can make it as far as you allow yourself, and with American Idol, I was able to turn those wild dreams into a reality."

    Naima Adedapo, Season 10

    "When I auditioned for Season 10 of American Idol, I had already auditioned twice — once when I was 16 (Season 1) and again when I was 25, and pregnant no less (Season 9). The third time, I wasn't even going to do it. I had been rejected twice and thought, Why should I? But I had nothing to lose and wanted desperately to provide a better life for my family. Of course, there was also that burning desire to share my artistry and music with the world, and there is no better platform for that than American Idol. So I auditioned, which undoubtedly changed the trajectory of my entire life.

    "I remember the moment in Hollywood Week when Ken Warwick said to a room of hundreds of hopefuls, 'If you make it to tour, by this time next year you will be able to buy a house,' which put a fire in my soul like no other. My goal was to get on that tour. I didn't care what happened after that, I just wanted a foundation for my children to be able to come back to. That part hasn't happened yet, but so many more things to be thankful for did.

    "Things like performing for 20 million people on television every week; having Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez, and Randy Jackson go to bat for me amongst so many talented people; performing alongside Beyoncé, Stevie Wonder, and TLC; meeting Muhammed Ali, Reba McEntire, Halle Berry, Carrie Underwood, India Arie, and countless more people that I admire; touring in the U.S., Philippines, Canada, and Australia; meeting Cindy Owen and Jim Kacmarcik, who encouraged my artistry and created a space for me to truly learn who I am as an artist; releasing my very first EP and music video, "Beautifully Made"; moving to Nashville and signing a publishing deal to write songs on the legendary Music Row for Given Music Publishing. The list goes on and on! It has even gotten me out of a speeding ticket or two.

    "In all seriousness, American Idol was a platform that opened door after door of endless possibilities for so many people and created a space for America to connect through stories, people, dreams, and an innate love for music that is embedded in our souls. The impression the show has made on my life is incomparable. It was the game changer for me and my daughters, and I am tremendously grateful to have been a part of the Idol family. So thank you, American Idol. You will be terribly missed."

    Pia Toscano, Season 10

    "American Idol was my American dream. When the show first emerged, suddenly I felt more at ease, as now there was finally a way for my voice to be heard nationally. I was only 13 years old when the show started, and I remember being so enamored with Kelly Clarkson that I had to highlight my hair just like her. I couldn't wait until the day I turned 16 years old so I could audition. It took me five times before I would actually succeed.

    "American Idol is a platform like no other, automatically granting you a fanbase and household name overnight. It has given me and many others a world of opportunity and a light at the end of the tunnel for those feeling a little helpless in this industry. Without American Idol, many of us wouldn't have been privileged with the opportunities that show presented us with, and I am forever grateful. Thank you, Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick, for seeing my potential, and thank you to the incredible fans — my SweetP's who voted each week to keep me around. You changed my life."

    Paul McDonald, Season 10

    "It was the summer of 2010 and I was touring heavily with my then-band the Grand Magnolias. Out of the great big sky, and into my grasp, came this unexpected, life-altering whirlwind called American Idol.

    "I showed up about six hours late to the audition. Strangely, because of my late arrival, the wait time was minimal. Most of the people had come and gone. I tried to pull out my guitar, but was quickly told guitars weren’t allowed. Then they asked if I could sing something they knew. After a quick chat, I weirdly dropped into 'Tutti Frutti' by Little Richard, fairly positive they would send me home immediately.

    "I honestly figured I wouldn't last too long on the show given my lack of vocal training. Life had slightly different plans, I guess.

    "I was totally out of my element on the show. I felt like a fish out of water about 90% of the time. But that's the beautiful thing about art. Stepping outside your comfort zone is a surefire way to incite growth. I view Idol as a beautiful season in my life, full of growth and challenges, both personally and creatively. I got to meet and work with some of the most talented people in the world. I also learned how to work hard. Learning from artists of the highest caliber gave me a whole new perspective on work ethic.

    "American Idol is one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had, or will ever have. I was a part of something truly special. Not too many folks can say they've rocked a choreographed boy band dance in a white suit, singing Tom Jones hits with Tom Jones himself in front of millions of people. Nor can they say that they've sat in with Stevie Wonder and sung 'Happy Birthday' to Steven Tyler.

    "These once-in-a-lifetime moments were a daily occurrence throughout Idol. It felt like a dream. I found myself having to stop periodically just to sit back and really soak it all in. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been certain it was actually real. It was wild, it was bizarre, it was surreal, and I wouldn’t change a second of it for anything in the world. I'm infinitely appreciative of everyone that gave me the opportunity and so humbled that they endured, and even celebrated, my eccentricities and my untraditional approach over the course of the show. It was a great privilege to play even a small role in something so indelible, something so much bigger than me. They say that Idol can change your life, and they’re absolutely right. It can open a whole new, beautiful, uncharted world — if only you let it."

    Jacob Lusk, Season 10

    "As a child, I was taught my dreams could come true. American Idol proved that they do. Idol taught me that with perseverance, laser focus, and a lot of hard work, I can accomplish anything. Be yourself, and keep believing. It will happen!"

    James Durbin, Season 10

    "Idol means many things to many people. It gave me a career doing what I love, friends for life, and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to perform for millions of people. It gave us all the chance to show the world what we're made of and who we are. I've met celebrities that bash it in public, but admit to watching and voting at home. That's fucking awesome! Idol is the original, and I'm proud to be a part of the extensive family. It's dysfunctional, talented, diverse, entertaining, and I'm sorry to say it's over. Rest in glory, American Idol. Thanks for everything."

    Haley Reinhart, Season 10

    "To me, American Idol stands for opportunity. How we decide to handle this roller coaster kind of life is up to each individual. And although we receive a golden ticket, it is the furthest thing from a free ride. Behind the scenes, everyone called it 'star boot camp.' I needed it; we all needed it.

    "I take what I've learned and apply it in my everyday living: as a performer, a songwriter, and a businesswoman. The challenge is to take the success and platform we've gained while maintaining our own artistic vision and value.

    "In so many ways, this show became my teacher, my coach, and my family. This beautiful experience has blessed me with lifetime friendships and the confidence to look at my career with endless possibilities.

    "I'm so proud to be a part of something so monumental. It's made my dreams a reality and I'm able to live out my passion, always. I'm putting out my second album next month. I am as determined as ever. You have to have thick skin and a lot of moxie in this business. I can thank my roots and American Idol for that."

    Lauren Alaina, Season 10

    "When I think of American Idol, I think of a big family of talented musicians and artists who were given the chance of a lifetime. I think of dedicated fans who will stand by your side forever. I think of an incomparable platform and opportunity.

    "I am so thankful for the journey American Idol gave me, and I hope it will live on forever through all the former contestants' careers."

    Scotty McCreery, Season 10

    "It changed my life. It really did, when it boils down to it. I went from your local grocery store bagger to American Idol and living my dream. Making country music has always been my dream, and Idol gave me a chance to capture my dreams."

    Colton Dixon, Season 11

    "American Idol is the opportunity of a lifetime, the platform of all platforms. I am beyond grateful to have been a part of it."

    Jessica Sanchez, Season 11

    "American Idol was like boot camp training for the music industry. It was one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences of my life.

    "I'm thankful because it really prepared me for the road ahead. Idol showed me what I was capable of as an artist in such a tough business."

    Angie Miller, Season 12

    "American Idol will always hold a special place in my heart. As a little girl, I always dreamed about being on the show, and now it is a huge honor to say I am one out of 15 second runner-ups in American Idol history. Being on the show taught me a lot. I learned firsthand both the good and the bad sides of the music industry, and it prepared me to know how to run a business with integrity. I also learned a lot about myself as a person and as an artist. I'm grateful and blessed to have been a part of it."

    Kree Harrison, Season 12

    “My experience on American Idol was nothing short of amazing. I made lifelong friends and some of the best fans in the world. It's a bit surreal it's all coming to an end, but I’m very thankful to have been a part of something special.”

    Candice Glover, Season 12

    "American Idol will always hold a special place in my heart. It is where my voice and music were first introduced and showcased around the world. It is where I had the honor to perform alongside many great talents, and it is where I grew musically both as an artist and as a performer.

    "As American Idol comes to a close, I want to say thank you. I am honored to have been crowned the Season 12 American Idol winner and equally as honored to be the fifth woman to ever win this coveted title. I am humbled to have been a part of such an amazing experience where my dreams became a reality, and where they continue to come true today!"

    Majesty Rose, Season 13

    "What an experience that was. I'm not quite certain as to why God chose to put me in such a huge, influential spotlight, but I cannot stress how grateful I am for the success American Idol has led me into. It was grueling in the best of ways. I like to explain it as the kind of hard work and perseverance that you can feel shaping your character and strengthening your soul.

    "American Idol represents how obedience in my destiny will indeed reap a harvest. My harvest may look different than others, simply because perhaps my idea of success looks different than the ones I competed against.

    "The faces of the ones I’ve affected, the voices of the ones singing below me, the newfound confidence in myself…that is my harvest."

    Alex Preston, Season 13

    "I remember watching American Idol as a young kid, wondering if I could do it. It sounds cliche, but I really wondered. I would sing 'Bohemian Rhapsody' in the shower, but that was kind of the extent of it until that point.

    "I really did not think that I could make it in this industry until American Idol. I know this is a horrible mindset to have, but I couldn't help it. When they asked me, 'Are you the next American Idol?' they wanted to hear, 'YES!' I truly didn't know. I didn't even know if I was good yet. I knew I loved it, though.

    "American Idol gave me confidence. It opened my eyes to what it takes to make it in the music industry, but it showed me I had what it took. It made me think differently about pursuing music as a profession. American Idol showed me that the music industry was so deep. It really is an industry, it is a business. In order to truly benefit from a show like this, I knew that I needed to accept this fact and find ways to truly benefit from such an unbelievable opportunity without losing who I was. I knew that I needed to discover what creates longevity in artistry, and how I could network to be the artist I wanted to be after the wave of Idol ended. It was the best thing to ever happen to my career.

    "My expectations were always low, which caused everyone to say I had no star quality. I didn't want to be a star, I just wanted people to listen to my music. I figured that if I just kept doing what I do, the way I do it, I would succeed (whatever that word even means).

    "American Idol showed me a world I had no idea existed and allowed me to adapt. It threw every aspect of the entertainment industry at me at once, and I consumed it and figured out how to make it work for me. I'm not the best-looking guy, I'm not the best singer, I can't throw a smile on at any time like so many others involved, but that's OK. I am a guy who likes to sit in a coffee shop and write, not to instantly commercialize but to express. American Idol gives chances to people like me to prove ourselves.

    "The fact that people listen to my music still blows my mind. I am so blessed, and it is all because of American Idol. I was just there to sing, that's it. From an artist who busted his ass and finally got recognized, I am sad to see it go."

    Caleb Johnson, Season 13

    "American Idol made my rock 'n' roll dreams become realities! I am forever grateful for the platform Idol has given me to allow my voice to be heard. I am humbled and honored to have been a part of such a landmark show that connected millions of people two nights a week with the universal language of music. Idol has given me so many amazing memories and moments that I’ll cherish forever — moments that will always have a special place in my heart along with all the wonderful and incredible people I have met along the way whom I now consider family.

    "My life has changed for the better and I wouldn't be where I'm at today if it wasn't for American Idol. Much love to the amazing fans, and the badass team who made Idol a reality and for taking a kid from Asheville, North Carolina, and giving him the world as a stage!"

    Clark Beckham, Season 14

    "American Idol is a lot of things for me. At a young age, it brought my family together to watch the show every night it was on. Growing up, American Idol gave me the ability to hear true talent and get that butterfly feeling of hearing a new special voice almost every week. It also showed me that these kinds of things could happen and do happen to 'ordinary' people and that maybe one day I could be one of those people.

    "Many years later, I decided to take a step in the direction of the dream that had been planted over 10 years prior. As I navigated my way through my own American Idol journey, the show cultivated and multiplied every bit of inspiration it had given me as a kid growing up. Working with the vocal coaches (Michael Orland and Dorian Holley), the contestant coordinators (Kate Tucci and Grady Chambless), Rickey Minor and the band, and everyone else involved made me strive to be better every day and showed me how real professionals work and conquer any struggle put in front of them.

    "Now that the season has ended and Idol is finishing its farewell season, I’m using what I learned on the show every day as I write, sing, play, practice, record, and perform. From a little boy watching Katharine McPhee’s audition 900 times, to standing on the finale stage with my own two feet, to now doing music as my sole profession, I thank God for opening doors and I thank American Idol for being such a great door to walk through."

    Nick Fradiani, Season 14

    "American Idol changed pop culture in a major way, and also changed the lives of many people, including myself. I'll forever be in debt to American
    for everything it has done for me, and the incredible family I've gained
    through the show. I worked my whole life to try and make music my career, and
    American Idol made that dream a reality."