Since debuting in 2002 with original judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson, American Idol has crowned talented singers from its robust 17 season-long run. From platinum artists like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood to Fantasia Barrino, many of the winners have gone on to release hit albums and chart-topping singles. But several fan favorites, and some of the most successful artists post-Idol, like Adam Lambert, Daughtry, and Jennifer Hudson, came in second, fourth and even seventh place in the competition. Today, those who have taken the top spots and those who were voted off before getting their big break have become worldwide superstars, passionate philanthropists, and political hopefuls. Here’s what the most popular contestants are doing after debuting on the Idol stage.
Gospel singer Ruben Studdard has appeared on television shows like 8 Simple Rules, Life on a Stick, and The Biggest Loser since winning the second season of Idol. He’s also founded The Ruben Studdard Foundation for the Advancement of Children in the Music Arts which supports music education programs.
Breakout sensation Katharine McPhee has gone on to star in hit television shows like Smash and Scorpion, as well as the Broadway production of Waitress, since coming in second place on the fifth season. In June 2019, the 35 year-old married record producer, composer, and songwriter David Foster. The couple are now expecting their first child together.
After winning the fifth season, Hicks went on to perform on Broadway and also became the first Idol champ to headline a Las Vegas residency. Since 2016, he’s been hosting the television series State Plate, a farm-to-table show that airs on Amazon Prime.
Since winning Idol at age 17, Scott McCreery has released four studio albums and has appeared on Celebrity Family Feud where he won $25,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In June 2018, he married his longtime girlfriend Gabi Dugal.
Phillip Phillips won American Idol in 2012 and went on to release three albums, with his single “Home” selling more than five million copies in the U.S. He’s gone on to play a diamond smuggler on Hawaii Five-O and the now married father is also involved in a variety of charitable organizations.
Winning season three of American Idol was just the tip of the iceberg for Fantasia Barrino who went on to win a Grammy for her single “Bittersweet.” She’s performed on Broadway, in television shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and Celebrities Undercover, and she’s toured with the likes of Kanye West, Jamie Foxx, and Andrea Bocelli.
Since coming in second place on the seventh season of American Idol at age 16, David Archuleta has released eight studio albums and has won numerous Teen Choice Awards. He’s involved with multiple philanthropic organizations and has partnered with ChildFund International, Invisible Children, and Rising Star Outreach.
Lee DeWyze won the ninth season and has since released six albums in addition to teaming up with several charity organizations like Gateway for Cancer Research and The Heart Foundation.
After getting crowned champion of the 13th season of American Idol, Caleb Johnson joined the progressive metal group Trans-Siberian Orchestra for their 2018 winter tour. He also holds the record for quickest debut album release following a win for his album Testify.
Bo Bice took home the runner-up title on season 4 after being one of the oldest contestants to audition for the show at age 29. He has since released three albums, performed with Willie Nelson at Bonnaroo Music Festival, and has four children with his wife Caroline Fisher.
Known for the controversy surrounding his finalist placement on season 6, Sanjaya Malakar quickly became one of the most influential Idol contestants. He’s been acknowledged by award shows like TV.com’s Fashion Awards and Teen Choice Awards, he’s hosted Idol Stars: Where Are They Now? on the TV Guide channel, and he’s written an autobiography.
Even though she finished in sixth place, Kellie Pickler’s music career has still managed to soar. She went on to win Dancing with the Stars with her partner Derek Hough and in 2016, she was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.
Aside from releasing six albums after winning the eighth season of American Idol, Kris Allen remains a devoted humanitarian and proponent of music education. As part of his missionary work, he’s traveled to Rwanda, Haiti, Thailand, and Kenya. He’s now married to his high school sweetheart and is a father of three.
Since taking home the winning title in 2008, David Cook has released three albums. He also starred in the 2018-2019 production of Kinky Boots on Broadway and he repeatedly returns to the Idol stage to perform.
Despite coming in fourth place on the fifth season of American Idol, Chris Daughtry formed the band Daughtry, a group that’s released five studio albums. The father of four made his acting debut in CSI: New York and has collaborated with artists like Timbaland and Lifehouse. He also tried his hand at the outrageous Fox show, Masked Singer.
Jordin Sparks was the youngest winner on American Idol when she took home the title on season 6. The platinum singer has gone on to receive a Grammy nomination, she’s won a BET Award, an American Music Award, and a People’s Choice Award, and she’s toured with Alicia Keys and Jesse McCartney. She’s also starred in films like Sparkle and participated in Miss America 2018 as a judge.
After finishing as the runner-up on the eighth season of American Idol, Adam Lambert collaborated with Queen as the lead vocalist and has toured worldwide with the band since 2014. Most recently, his voice can be heard in Playmobil: The Movie and he made a cameo in Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down” music video.
Even though Jennifer Hudson placed seventh on the third season of American Idol, she’s one of the franchise’s most famous alums. She made her film debut in Dreamgirls and received an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a BAFTA Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award for her role. She’s appeared on Broadway as well as a coach on The Voice, and she can be seen in the 2019 feature film Cats.
Placing second on the first season of American Idol, Justin Guarini has gone on to release two studio albums in addition to accumulating an extensive resume of theater roles including Broadway shows like Wicked and In Transit.
After taking home the runner-up title on the third season, Diana DeGarmo released her debut album before settling into a musical theater career. She’s starred on Broadway as well as The Young and the Restless and she’s married to fellow Idol contestant Ace Young from season five.
Landing the second place position on American Idol’s sixth season, Blake Lewis went on to release three studio albums and continues to support cancer research following the diagnosis of his best friend and his friend’s girlfriend who both have lymphoma.
On season 10 of American Idol, Lauren Alaina was voted runner-up. Since, the country singer has released two studio albums and is currently working on her third. She’s toured with the likes of Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton and competed on the 28th season of Dancing with the Stars, where she placed fourth with her partner Gleb Savchenko.
After auditioning three times, Candice Glover finally appeared on and won the 12th season of American Idol. Since then, she’s sung on Broadway in the show Home for the Holidays, Live on Broadway and she’s working on independently releasing an upcoming second studio album.
Now 23 years old, Jena Irene was the first female Wild Card contestant to make it to the finale where she earned the runner-up title. Since 2014, she’s put out two albums with the label Original 1265 Records.
Before winning the 16th season, Maddie Poppe set her sights on The Voice, for which she auditioned in 2016. She released her first studio album following her win and her single “Made You Miss” reached number 21 on the adult pop songs chart.
Laine Hardy first auditioned for season 16 of Idol but didn’t make it beyond the top 50. Shortly thereafter, he auditioned for season 17 and won the competition. He’s now headlining a tour across the United States.
Crystal Bowersox secured the runner-up title on the ninth season of Idol and went on to release three albums. She’s used her fame to bring awareness to Type 1 Diabetes by joining Beyond Type 1’s Leadership Council in 2018 and she’s also an outspoken LGBTQ advocate.
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