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BARRINO, DEGARMO
Kevork Djansezian  /  AP file
Fantasia Barrino (left) and Diana DeGarmo made it to the finals of the third season of "American Idol," but Barrino beat out DeGarmo for the title.
By
msnbc.com
updated 1/20/2006 10:52:31 AM ET 2006-01-20T15:52:31
COMMENTARY

The third season of “American Idol” started with a bang. Literally.

“She bangs, she bangs,” sang college student William Hung during the auditions, attempting to cover Ricky Martin but failing miserably. But that performance, which included Hung's stiff dancing, instantly made him a household name and an example of what the show had become. While the first season’s applicants may have been shocked by Simon Cowell’s harsh comments, by the third season, people unquestionably realized that while auditioning would only result in success for the most talented singers, the worst singers would probably appear on television.

Others may have been angry at the criticism they received, but although Simon told him, “You can’t sing, you can’t dance,” William Hung showed a positive/delusional attitude (“I already gave my best and I have no regrets at all,” he said) that turned his performance into a career of sorts. He was quickly signed to a record label and released an album of cover songs, and has since released two more, including a Christmas album. Earlier this year, he was in a film, “Where is Mama’s Boy?”, and a documentary focused on his quick rise to international fame. He’s now doing commercials and talking about a second film, even though his third album didn’t do well at all.

As horrifying as it may have been for the “Idol” producers to have a talentless performer become an icon for the series, William Hung was great for ratings. And eventually, the third season would find its voice in a single mother from North Carolina who has received accolades from musical luminaries such as Patti LaBelle, Donna Summer, and Elton John.

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Since the show, Fantasia Barrino has dropped her last name, going just by "Fantasia." She released her first album last fall; it went platinum and was just nominated for four Grammys, an “Idol” record. Before that, her first single, “I Believe,” hit number one, and also was the number one-selling Billboard single of the year in addition to being Billboard’s number one-selling R&B/hip-hop single. Before being asked by Kanye West to tour with him this fall, Fanatasia wrote a memoir, revealing, among other things, that she’s functionally illiterate and had to memorize songs while on the show. Fantasia reportedly will be returning to the recording studio in 2006.

Compared to Fanatasia and finalists from previous seasons, season three's other finalists haven’t had breakout careers, although most have been actively recording and performing. Runner-up Diana DeGarmo, who was just 16 during the show, saw her first single debut at number two and eventually hit number one. Her album, however, was released a year ago and has sold fewer than 200,000 copies.

Many of the contestants have branched out into specific genres. George Huff released his first album this fall, an R&B/blues record on a Christian label; John Stevens released a jazz album last summer; LaToya London released an R&B album this fall; and Jasmine Trias has released self-titled albums in both the Philippines and the US. Jon Peter Lewis has not released an album, but he has released singles on his Web site, and Camile Velasco has signed with Motown Records, and her album is expected in early 2006.

But Jennifer Hudson may have the most to brag about, as she just beat out Fantasia for the lead role in the film adaptation of “Dreamgirls.” Still, it’s a testament to both women and to the franchise that two talented “Idol 3” finalists were competing for the lead in a musical.

Next up: In season four , when the "Idol" age limit was raised to 28, the level of talent would step up even more.

Andy Dehnart is a writer and teacher who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news.

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