Michael Chiesa and Phillip Phillips: Comparing TUF Winners to American Idols
On the surface, the link between American Idol and The Ultimate Fighter seems to be nonexistent. The UFC's trademark reality TV show and America's most popular singing competition aren't often thought of as kindred spirits.
However, when you think about the two shows, there are certainly some similarities.
Both shows attempt to find largely undiscovered up-and-comers and offer them a shot at making it to the big-time through competition (all while not-so-subtly making money off of the ensuing drama). These two shows may not have much overlap between their audiences (I may be the only one who will admit to watching both), but they have been entertaining us for the better part of a decade.
Another thing they have in common is that it's hard to tell just how far the winners will go. There are TUF alumni that have gone on to hold championships and there are a few that never quite lived up to the billing of winning the show. Similarly AI has produced some highly successful recording artists and a few artists that never quite made it and ended up with a minor role in a Broadway adaptation of Grease.
Whether you are a fan of both shows or not, there are a few winners from each whose careers are very similar.
Forrest Griffin/Kelly Clarkson
For any reality show to be successful, it needs to start with a bang. Generating a credible star in the first season was crucial for the success of American Idol and The Ultimate Fighter.
In Forrest Griffin and Kelly Clarkson, both shows did just that.
Griffin was made for TV, his personality and wit are always entertaining and his brawler fighting style was just what TUF needed to take off as a show to watch for years to come. Griffin's season-finale showdown with TUF 1 runner-up Stephan Bonnar was a landmark in the history of the UFC and ushered in the Spike TV era.
For AI, Clarkson was a powerhouse vocalist with true star ability and immediately became the face of the show.
Both Clarkson and Griffin experienced success shortly after the show. Griffin continued to climb the ladder after winning the first season and eventually claimed the light heavyweight championship. Clarkson went on to sell over 23 million albums worldwide and remains one of the biggest stars the show has ever generated.
Griffin and Clarkson may both be on the downswing now—Griffin is no longer one of the top dogs at light heavyweight and Clarkson is involved with a new singing competition called Duets—but their legacies will always be connected with the shows they helped build.
Roy Nelson/Ruben Studdard
It's plain to see why the comparison of Roy Nelson and Ruben Studdard is easy to make—both reality show winners were known not only for their talents, but also their, um—heft.
Nelson came into The Ultimate Fighter 10 as one of the most experienced guys in the house and upset highly-popular Kimbo Slice on his way to winning the show. Despite clashing with Dana White during the season, Nelson has become a fan favorite for his iron chin, self-deprecating sense of humor and his rotundness.
Studdard won the second season of American Idol by the slightest of margins over runner-up Clay Aiken. Audiences took to the big man in this instance too, as he earned the nickname "Velvet Teddy Bear."
Studdard has been moderately successful for an Idol, after seeing his first album go platinum every subsequent album has had a smaller buy-rate. Nelson has also seen moderate success as he has become the best gatekeeper in the division, but has failed to impress against the upper-echelon talent in the division.
Rashad Evans/Carrie Underwood
While Forrest Griffin and Kelly Clarkson may have been the pioneers of these two shows, they were eventually surpassed by both Rashad Evans and Carrie Underwood.
Evans was the winner of the second season of TUF, competing as a heavyweight. After winning the show, Evans went on the best post-TUF tear we have ever seen—going 7-0-1, a run which was capped off by taking the light heavyweight championship belt from none other than Griffin himself.
Underwood won season four of Idol and immediately experienced success as the first "country" winner of the show. She is by far the most decorated winner in the show's history, having won five Grammys and has experienced longevity as she remains one of the most recognizable women in country music today.
Evans and Underwood are definitely the most successful winners of these two shows at this point and they will be hard to top.
Travis Lutter/Taylor Hicks
The idea of finding an up-and-comer with potential was lost on both Travis Lutter and Taylor Hicks.
Lutter competed on "The Comeback" season of The Ultimate Fighter in which the cast was comprised of fighters who had prior UFC experience. The show was used to give the contestants a second chance in the organization and the winners of the show were given immediate title shots.
Lutter, who won the middleweight portion of the show, was granted a title shot at reigning middleweight champion Anderson Silva. The fight was later changed to a non-title match after Lutter failed to make the 185-pound limit.
Lutter was subsequently submitted by Silva in the second round. After the loss to Silva, Lutter was given a fight with Rich Franklin—another loss and was then cut from the roster.
Lutter only fought two more times before retiring.
Hicks was also an underachiever as a winner of the show. To date, Hicks is the lowest selling artist to win the show and has only come out with two albums since 2007.
Hicks was last seen playing the small role of "Teen Angel" in a Broadway adaptation of Grease.
Hicks and Lutter will always be known as winners of their respective shows who weren't able to cash in on the fame and opportunity that comes with being a reality TV star.
Nate Diaz/Scotty McCreery
Nate Diaz and Scotty McCreery may not have a whole lot in common when it comes to image—Diaz, the enigma from Stockton and McCreery the humble kid from North Carolina seem like an odd pairing.
However, their careers are similar.
Diaz is one of the youngest fighters to win The Ultimate Fighter and his potential was limitless after defeating Manvel Gamburyan in the finale at the age of 22. It's taken time, but Diaz has finally arrived as a legitimate threat in the lightweight division and is poised to fight the winner of the eventual Benson Henderson vs. Frankie Edgar rematch.
McCreery is the youngest contestant to win Idol, and given his youth and the success of fellow country singer Carrie Underwood after winning the show, McCreery has a high ceiling in his potential to be a star. It may take a while—as it did with Diaz, but McCreery could be one of the most successful Idols of all time.
Michael Chiesa/Phillip Phillips
A little unconventional and understated. That's how you could describe the most recent winners of both The Ultimate Fighter and American Idol.
Michael Chiesa emerged as the winner of the first ever live season of TUF and he did so against all odds. Chiesa found himself the underdog of most of his fights, yet found a way to win with his grinding ground game against the likes of Justin Lawrence, James Vick and Al Iaquinta.
While it wasn't that great of an upset that Phillips won the show—the young guy who gets the tween girl vote has won the show the last few seasons—he did it by beating some flashy contestants. Of the final three, Phillips was the least flashy, but he still found a way to get the job done.
Chiesa may not have the magnetism of Phillips with the ladies, but they both could have promising careers—or flop. With the erratic past of both Ultimate Fighters and American Idols it's hard to tell what they will do outside of the realm of the TV competition. Time will tell where they rank among their peers.