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Since the show’s inception, American Idol has provided a public platform for musical hopefuls.

The first winner of the singing competition was Kelly Clarkson who took home the title of American Idol at the ripe age of 20. She wasn’t the youngest winner, though. How old was the youngest American Idol winner? The answer may surprise you.

Conceived by Simon Fuller, the first American Idol show debuted on the Fox network on June 11, 2002. Competition was fierce right from the beginning and saw tens of thousands would-be pop stars audition in Miami, Dallas, New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, and Atlanta.

Of those who auditioned to be on the show, a mere 121 were selected to move on to the Hollywood portion of American Idol.

Age requirements

For the first three seasons, contestants were required to be between 16 and 24 years old. In the fourth season of the popular singing competition show, the upper age limit was stretched to 28.

Before filming of the tenth season began, the lower age limit was reduced to 15. Today, American Idol contestants must be between the ages of 15 and 28, according to Life&Style magazine.

The oldest ‘American Idol’ winner

The oldest AI winner so far did have gray hair, but he wasn’t as old as many people perceived. Birmingham native Taylor Hicks, who always carried a tiny statue of Ray Charles in his pocket during competition, started going gray when he was just 14 years old.

The 6’1″ soul singer took home the 2006 American Idol title when he was 29 years old making him the oldest person to ever win the competition.

After his AI win, Hicks recorded two albums, did a residency in Las Vegas, and enjoyed a stint in the musical Grease on Broadway.

Today, the 42-year-old performs occasionally at his restaurant, Saw’s Juke Joint, in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.

The youngest ‘American Idol’ winner of all time

Season 6 of American Idol gathered contestants from cities as diverse as San Antonio, Minneapolis, and Memphis. It was at the Seattle auditions, however, that the show’s youngest winner first impressed judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson.

Jordin Brianna Sparks made her worldly debut in Phoenix, Arizona on December 22, 1989. By the time she auditioned for American Idol, she was a showbiz veteran who’d released her first album at age 13.

It was a Fox-sponsored singing competition in her home state that paved -and paid for- her way to American Idol auditions at Key Arena in Seattle, says TV Guide. Along with Sparks, semifinalists for Season 6 included Blake Lewis, Melinda Doolittle, LaKisha Ann Jones, Chris Richardson, Phil Stacey, Sanjaya Malakar, Haley Scarnato, and Chris Sligh.

Sparks wowed judges and TV viewers alike with a vocal maturity that belied her young age. For her Seattle audition, Sparks selected the Celine Dion song, “Because You Loved Me.” During the Season 6 American Idol competition, Sparks treated everyone’s ears to numbers such as “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” by Gloria Estefan, “She Works Hard for the Money” by Donna Summer, and Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

On May 23, 2007, 17-year-old Jordin Sparks became the youngest person to ever win American Idol. To date, the record stands.

Since winning the competition, Sparks has gone on to super success as a singer who’s shared stages with Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, and other musical stars who inspired the young songstress.

American Idol aired on the Fox network for 15 years. After a two-year hiatus, the show reappeared on ABC in March, 2018. Catch American Idol on ABC Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. EST