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10 Defining ‘American Idol’ Season 1 Moments

It started with a 19-year-old named Kelly Clarkson who, in 2002, moved home to Burleson, Texas after watching her Los Angeles apartment burn down. She’d skipped college in favor of jump-starting her singing career, which she financed by waiting tables at cocktail clubs and working promotions for Red Bull, but when promising record deals fell through — and since she had no place to call home — she temporarily called it quits. Still, her retreat, disappointing as it may have seemed, proved to be her course’s most crucial step.

Upon returning to Burleson, a friend of Clarkson’s who could speak to her talent signed her up to audition for a new, nameless singing project that FOX had picked up and modeled after a British competition series called U.K. Pop Idol. With nothing to lose, and in a shirt that she’d constructed out of a torn pair of jeans, Clarkson sang for record executive Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and producer Randy Jackson without any understanding of where the audition could lead.

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Just a few months later, she had a Billboard No. 1 song, a million-dollar record deal and the title of the first American Idol winner.

Idol, which has crowned 13 additional winners, spawned nearly 400 Billboard chart-toppers and led to more than a dozen Grammy awards in the years since, succeeded in its early seasons for a strangely novel concept: rewarding talent over sure-thing marketability. Clarkson won even though she was louder than most, Carrie Underwood won even though she was quieter than most and Ruben Studdard won even though his shirts could function as parachutes that could lead ejected fighter pilots to safety.

Tonight (January 4), the show will air its final season‘s premiere, and though Idol has hardly produced a superstar in its waning days, it will likely be remembered as prime time TV’s final tent-pole event.

Check out the gallery above for 10 ways Idol‘s first season was unforgettable, and — even if it’s just for nostalgia’s sake — tune in at 8 PM ET on FOX.

Check out a collection of ‘Idol’ Season 1 moments you never saw:

Next: 'Idol' Officially Ending In 2016

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