Best TV talent show auditions of all time: from Susan Boyle to Kodi Lee

The process of finding the next big singer is not for the faint-hearted, as Harry Styles discovered

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The full version of Harry Style’s audition on The X Factor is available for viewing online.

A video showing never-seen-before footage of how One Direction were formed during the course of the 2010 season has been released on YouTube.

Judging by the audition tape, it wasn't smooth sailing for Styles.

Where the broadcast version had him and judges grinning after a successful take of Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely, the full version revealed this was a second attempt for the soon to be pop star.

Styles's initial audition entry had him singing on top of an instrumental version of Hey, Soul Sister by Train.

Unconvinced with the approach, judge and music mogul Simon Cowell demanded another track sung acapella.

“I don’t know whether it’s the track that’s throwing you, but can I hear something just you, without any music?" he queried before Styles launched into a more confident version of the Wonder classic.

Such moments maybe in the distant memory of Styles, with a stratospheric career that included a recent landmark performance at the Coachella festival.

However, the footage proves some of the biggest stars began inauspiciously and the nerve-wracking audition process is not for everyone.

That being said, a number of artists went on to seize the moment and left an impression that continues to resonate today.

From Kelly Clarkson and Adam Lambert to Susan Boyle and Kodi Lee, here are nine talent show musical contestants delivering some of the greatest ever television auditions.

1. Kelly Clarkson, 'American Idol' (2002)

"I want to win 'American Idol' because I like to perform," said Clarkson, then only 20, in her initial audition video as part of American Idol's inaugural edition.

After being rejected by a number of US record labels, the talent show was viewed as a last roll of a dice for a potential career in show business.

That grit and desperation to succeed was all over her first performance of Madonna's 1989 hit Express Yourself.

Clarkson's eventual victory was not only a modern pop cultural milestone, but resulted in a glowing career including releasing nine albums, hosting her own TV talk show (The Kelly Clarkson Show) and influencing a new generation of female pop stars including Demi Lovato, Jordin Sparks and Ava Max.

2. Carrie Underwood, 'American Idol' (2005)

The American was a country music star in the making with her cover of Bonnie Raitt's I Can't Make You Love Me for her audition on American Idol.

In typically understated fashion, Cowell declared her startling acapella performance as merely “very good”.

It was the beginning of a journey leading Underwood to winning the competition, world tours and becoming the country singer to have won the most industry awards in history.

Her trophy mantle includes eight Grammy Awards, 12 Billboard Music Awards, 16 Academy of Country Music Awards and 17 American Music Awards.

3. Susan Boyle, 'Britain's Got Talent' (2009)

Susan Boyle's audition on Britain's Got Talent is the reason TV shows of this format were launched.

Quiet and eccentric, she shuffled onto stage and blew the roof off with an epic cover of musical standard I Dreamed a Dream.

Boyle became an instant star; she, unsurprisingly, went onto win the series.

In the years since, she has released seven albums, sold out theatres across the UK and the US, in addition to performing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony.

4. Adam Lambert, 'American Idol' (2009)

It takes a certain amount of confidence to belt out Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody as part of your American Idol audition, but US singer Adam Lambert cut a cool figure at only 19.

While coming second place, Lambert won the prize of a lifetime after being chosen to tour with some of the surviving members of Queen (under the name Queen + Adam Lambert) and releasing two live albums under the project.

5. James Arthur, 'The X Factor' (2012)

Looking like he strolled into the studio after a spot of street busking, the husky voiced Brit, who spent part of his childhood in Bahrain, made an immediate impact with a rendition of Young by English singer Tulisa.

With Take That singer and judge Gary Barlow praising the performance, Arthur went from strength to strength and eventually won the competition.

Arthur went onto release four albums including last year's pandemic-inspired It's All Make Sense in the End.

6. Harrison Craig, 'The Voice Australia' (2013)

When you know, you know.

It only took soul music star Seal about 20 seconds to press the buzzer in his successful bid to mentor The Voice Australia winner Harrison Craig.

What made the audition more impressive was star mentors Ricky Martin and Joel Madden also offered their services to the Aussie singer, before Harrison eventually settled on Seal.

It was a wise choice with Seal guiding Craig to glory and realising the dream of being a full-time recording and performing artist.

7. J-Sol, 'The X Factor' (2018)

You don't have to win or make the final rounds of a big talent show to make a global impression.

This is what happened when British-Nigerian singer J-Sol auditioned with original song, Bullet in My Heart, which left judges Ayda Field and Louis Tomlinson in tears.

While leaving in the earlier stages of the competition, J-Sol remains an active performer in the UK.

8. Mennel Ibtissem, 'The Voice France' (2018)

French-Arab singer Mennel Ibtissem caused headlines both in France and the region after her spellbinding blind audition of Leonard's Cohen spiritual ode Hallelujah, which included English and Arabic lyrics.

An early favourite to win the competition, Ibtissem controversially withdrew from the show after an uproar surrounding old social media posts in which she declared her support for Palestine and where she criticised the French government.

9. Kodi Lee, 'America's Got Talent' (2019)

One of the all-time great America's Got Talent auditions.

Blind, autistic and a prodigious musical savant, the Korean-American sat behind a piano and delivered a riveting and devastatingly beautiful take of Leon Russell's A Song for You.

Lee's audition amassed over 50 million views within weeks, proving the ageing show still has a lot of life yet.

Lee stormed through to win the series and is presently headlining the America's Got Talent Live residency show at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas.

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Updated: August 02, 2022, 12:19 PM