American Idol served as a launching pad for these 12 contestants who went on to become world-renowned musicians.
The winner of American Idol Season 4 in 2005, Carrie Underwood is now an eight-time Grammy Award-winning musician and revered as one of the greatest female country artists of all-time. In addition to having sold more than 85 million records worldwide, the successful artist has ventured into writing, fashion and fitness. She's the founder of the fitness and lifestyle brand CALIA by Carrie Underwood, the face of the fitness app Fit52, a New York Times best-selling author and is getting ready for her upcoming Las Vegas residency in June.
Kelly Clarkson received the title of American Idol’s first-ever winner in 2002. Since then, she has released nine studio albums, headlined eight concert tours, won multiple Grammys and even received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2022, after announcing the end of her reign as a judge on The Voice, the accomplished singer decided to focus on hosting The Kelly Clarkson Show as well as releasing new music.
Although he may have been the runner-up on American Idol Season 8, Adam Lambert burst onto the scene as a musician. After releasing five of his own studio albums and earning a Grammy nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Lambert collaborated with the popular rock band Queen and accompanied the group on tour from 2014 to 2023. He used his influence to give back by founding the Feel Something Foundation, a nonprofit that serves and supports the LGBTQ+ community, and recently released new album High Drama featuring covers of songs by Sia, Duran Duran, Billie Eilish, Lana Del Rey and others.
As a Season 7 finalist of American Idol, Jennifer Hudson has undeniably secured her winnings elsewhere. Rather, the singer made history as the first American Idol contestant to reach EGOT status. In 2022, Hudson won her first Tony Award, atop her Emmy, Oscar and two Grammys, achieving the “grand slam” of show business. After releasing three studio albums, acting in projects such as Respect and Dreamgirls, and even working behind the camera as an executive producer, the star recently secured her own talk show, The Jennifer Hudson Show, which made its debut this past fall.
After completing Season 5 of American Idol as a runner-up, Katharine McPhee went on to release five studio albums. However, the former contestant is better known for her acting as Karen Cartwright in the popular NBC show Smashed. In 2018, McPhee impressively made her Broadway debut as Jenna Hunterson—the starring role in the musical, Waitress. Moving away from entertainment, the accomplished singer and actress' most recent project was the release of her very own jewelry line called KMF Jewelry in 2022.
The youngest winner in American Idol history came out of Season 6. In 2007, Jordin Sparks defeated all 23 of her fellow contestants at just 17 years old. In addition to releasing four studio albums and earning a Grammy nomination for one, the R&B singer has gone on tour with names such as Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys and Alicia Keys. Sparks has also tried her hand at acting in both television and Broadway, making her most recent appearance on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars in 2022.
A fourth-place finalist of American Idol Season 5 in 2006, Chris Daughtry has since risen to fame. He serves as the lead vocalist of his very own rock band Daughtry, and together, the group has released a total of six studio albums. The first album became the fastest-selling debut rock album in Nielsen SoundScan history and featured one of the group's most popular songs, “It’s Not Over,” which earned a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Song. In 2013, Daughtry founded his own record label and, while still performing today, he also works behind-the-scenes to aid young artists like his former self. The musician has also tried his hand at acting and appeared on shows such as Criminal Minds and NCIS: Los Angeles. His most recent televised appearance was actually on a fellow American Idol alum’s program, The Kelly Clarkson Show, in 2022.
The third-place finalist of American Idol Season 5 is the famed Jewish-Israeli singer Elliot Yamin. The vocalist has produced nine studio albums since 2006 and has proudly landed himself on multiple top charts within the United States. Today, Yamin writes and records music out of his L.A. home—and his musical hits such as “Fight For Love” and “Wait For You” can still be heard live as part of his feature in the 2023 Special EFX Allstars Tour, currently traveling across the United States.
Clay Aiken is American Idol Season 2 runner-up who, despite falling short of a win, did not fall short of success. Since 2003, the singer has released six studio albums, embarked on 11 tours, made several television cameos on popular shows such as The Office and Scrubs, acted on Broadway and even wrote a best-selling memoir. In 2013, Aiken ventured into politics as a gay rights activist, and ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in North Carolina’s 22nd congressional district. He also ran for the Democratic nomination for North Carolina’s 4th congressional district in 2022. Aside from politics, the musician is still singing today and is currently on tour with fellow American Idol contestant and good friend, Ruben Studdard.
The sixth place finalist of American Idol Season 5 has had plenty of success in her music career despite not pulling off the first-place win. Pickler’s debut album was certified gold by the RIAA and her second album produced four hit singles. Her latest release, The Woman I Am, proudly peaked at number one on Billboard's Independent Album chart. Moreover, in 2013, the singer won the 16th season of the televised dancing competition Dancing with the Stars. From 2017-2019, Pickler partnered with comedian Ben Aaron to co-host their own talk show, Pickler & Ben. Today, the former contestant is the host of SiriusXM’s country music station, The Highway.
After winning the 10th season of American Idol in 2011, Scotty McCreery has established a fulfilling career as a musician. His debut studio album was certified platinum and he didn’t stop there. The country singer went on to produce four more studio albums and his most recent release, which included the hit single “You Time,” triumphantly topped the U.S. Country Airplay chart. As a recipient of a Country Music Award, a CMT Music Award, two American Country Awards and three BMI Country Awards, it is safe to say McCreery has done great things since his American Idol victory and even has 36 upcoming concert dates across the nation as part of his 2023 tour.
Since winning the second season of American Idol in 2003, Ruben Studdard has become well-known for his R&B music and soulful voice. The artist has released seven albums, one certified gold and one platinum-selling among them, and earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. Studdard is still producing music and is on tour in the U.S. for the rest of 2023 and 2024 alongside former contestant, Clay Aiken. Most impressively, however, the singer has recently been appointed as a professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga where he will teach a masters class for performing arts majors.
Photography by: Photo by Jason Sean Weiss/BFA.com