American Idol has become one of the biggest television phenomena of all time, but nobody could have predicted that when the show first debuted on Fox on June 11, 2002.

The show looked very different back then from the more streamlined version that fans are familiar with today. It had two hosts: a then-unknown Ryan Seacrest and another unknown named Brian Dunkleman, and only one of the judges — pop singer Paula Abdul — was a recognizable face. The other two judges were a steely Englishman named Simon Cowell and a session musician and producer named Randy Jackson, and it was that crew who debuted on television all across the nation that night, introducing the show's premise to make a superstar out of an unknown singer.

Ironically, the Season 1 winner of American Idol didn't make that much of a standout impression when she first auditioned. Texas native Kelly Clarkson had already moved to Los Angeles, failed at making a living singing there and moved back to Texas, where she was waitressing to make ends meet, when she auditioned for American Idol in Dallas, singing "At Last," as well as Madonna's "Express Yourself." Her audition was as memorable for an entertaining exchange with Randy Jackson as it was for her vocal performance:

Despite that, Clarkson would go on to become a clear standout from Season 1, and she ended up winning the first season of American Idol on Sept. 4, 2022, at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. She received 58% of the vote over runner-up Justin Guarini, and immediately following the show, she signed a recording contract with RCA Records, 19 Recordings and S Records, releasing her double-A-side debut single, "Before Your Love" and "A Moment Like This," on Sept. 17, 2002.

Though later Idol winners would often struggle in the real-life marketplace, Clarkson's journey to stardom was exactly what American Idol had promised. Her debut single quickly rose to No. 1, and went on to become the best-selling single of 2022, launching her onto a fast track to superstardom that has seen her become one of the most successful singers of her generation, as well as a household name whose success also encompasses a run as a coach on The Voice and her own daily talk show.

See the Most Memorable American Idol Auditions

Did You Know These Stars Were Rejected by American Idol?