An Idol State

Charlotte has a history of breeding American Idol stars

Attention, all American Idol fans: Put the tea leaves and tarot cards away. With the eighth-annual installment of Idol underway, North Carolinians, especially those from the Charlotte area, have the best shot of securing a spot in the coveted Top 12 of finalists. Only 27 million TV viewers, many a Tuesday- and Wednesday-night elimination, and a few pithy Simon Cowell comments stand in the way of yet another singing success story for Carolina. A bold statement, but here's why: while the Tar Heel State has only one Idol "winner" (Fantasia Barrino, of the third season) the show's success has been carried by crooning Carolinians and most notably Charlotte-area singers since  the show's inception.

Take, for instance, the most successful male and the most successful runner-up in Idol history, Clay Aiken. The Raleigh native and UNCC grad has been quite busy since season two with five albums, Broadway roles, a New York Times bestseller, and Billboard and American Music Award accolades. Phew. Then there's Chris Daughtry. In just three short years since his Idol debut, the McLeansville rocker has released a multiplatinum debut album, toured with Bon Jovi, and also earned some AMA hardware.

Albemarle's own Kellie Pickler may have placed sixth on season five, but she was also nominated for last year's Best New Artist at the CMA Awards, is riding high on her self-titled sophomore album, opened for Brad Paisley this summer, and has secured BFF status with country cuties Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift.

The aforementioned Fantasia (originally from High Point; now lives in Charlotte) is a GRAMMY nominee, starred in The Color Purple for both Broadway and Oprah's movie adaptation, and also published a New York Times bestseller. (See a pattern here?) Even Rockingham's Bucky Covington has a budding career in country with chart-topping hits.

Does America have a not-so-secret crush on Charlotteans? "Maybe it's the whole idea of Southern hospitality," says Maura Johnston, editor of, a blog about pop culture. "It's appealing on camera, especially to people who vote in." Johnston also notes that there have been more auditions in Southern cities than other regions. (This year's local hopefuls trekked to Kentucky for an audition.) "I also think over the past few years there has been a pretty strong cultural conflation of ‘American' and ‘Southern,' " says Johnston.

So take the Fantasias, Clays, and Daughtrys away from Idol past and a shortlist of successes remains: Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jordin Sparks, Ruben Studdard, and Jennifer Hudson. The odds are in your favor, Charlotte. Welcome to Hollywood.

Categories: Buzz > QC Culture, Feature, The Buzz