What American Idol has given country music.

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Fox just announced the end of American Idol after next season, so now's a good time to look back at what the popular singing contest TV show has given country music.

But before we go there, it's necessary to note that many have a love/hate relationship with the program. Yes, the show has helped introduce younger people to older songs. And yes, it has created some legitimate music stars. However, it has also given us a picture of artists that are singers only, not songwriters. Therefore, it would be nearly impossible for a program like American Idol to give the world the next Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen. Neither of these men have the prettiest faces in show business, nor the smoothest voices. And while they've both been known to choose interesting songs to cover, each is most famous for the song's he's written.

Secondly, there's the whole matter of musicianship. Too many performers could stand up and sing a song quite well, yet could not play a musical instrument if their life depended upon it. Songs are more than spot-on vocals. They're all about words, thanks to guys like Dylan and Springsteen, but they're also about inventive musicianship.

One reason why so many American Idol winners have ended up being music business losers is because they were voted for my a young demographic that pays more attention to outer beauty than to true talent. One wonders how this practice may have infected musical artists success in general. Even after the show has ended is long run, will fans still be looking for musical idols, rather than musical pioneers?

In addition to the country stars this program has created, let's not forget Keith Urban's role as one of its three judges. It went a long way in legitimizing country music by having a country star critique singers. No, not all country artists are country bumpkins. Urban is a smart and insightful artist, and one that gave some of the best artistic criticisms to contestants over the years.


So, how has American Idol best gifted country music?

1. Carrie Underwood

The obvious first choice, when it comes to ranking those from the American Idol farm team that have made it to the big leagues, is Carrie Underwood. From co-hosting award shows to starring in a live TV musical, Underwood is a true superstar. If AI even produced a few other Underwood-like megastars, perhaps it would stay on for many years longer.

2. Kelly Clarkson

Granted, Clarkson is more than a little bit pop, when pressed to describe her musical style. However, anyone that has a duet hit with Reba -- the true class of country female royalty -- it gives her instant credibility.

3. Scotty McCreery

That low-voiced singer with the boyish good looks received the blessing of an equally low-voiced singer, Josh Turner. And much like the sort of blessing Reba bestowed upon Kelly Clarkson, this was about all the world needed to see to accept McCreery as the real deal.

4. Kellie Pickler

Unlike Underwood and Clarkson, Pickler has released some honest-to-goodness great traditional country recordings over the years. And when you add in her Dancing With The Stars victory, she's not just a country star, but also a huge reality show winner.

5. Bucky Covington

Covington has had three top ten country singles since placing eighth on the program's fifth season.

6. Danny Gokey

It should come as no great surprise that Danny Gokey -- the former church worship leader -- has had success on both the country and Christian music charts. He's hedging his bets, so to speak, which is a smart move during these turbulent musical times.
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