For 20 seasons, American Idol has helped jumpstart the careers of aspiring singers by giving unknowns all over the country the opportunity to audition and appear on the show. The popular competition series started on FOX and has since moved to ABC with current judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie guiding the hopeful contestants week after week. For recent American Idol winners like Maddie Poppe, Laine Hardy, Just Sam and Chayce Beckham, it's only the beginning of what's to come since the show allowed them to build up a fan base that's anxiously following the next steps in their careers. And that goes for other finalists in their seasons as well. The show is so popular that it didn't even let the pandemic stop it in 2020, which is definitely saying something.
There have been so many talented winners as well as contestants featured on the series over the years, but here are the top 15 alums who we think have become the most successful following their American Idol fame.
Country singer Kellie Pickler actually came in sixth place on American Idol's fifth season but she's gone on to have one heck of a career. She's released four studio albums, toured with the likes of Rascall Flatts and Brad Paisley, and even pursued a separate acting career appearing in multiple Hallmark films. Some of her best-known songs include her debut single "Red High Heels" and "Don't You Know You're Beautiful."
Coming in as Taylor Hicks' runner up in season five just launched McPhee's steady music career and potentially more successful acting career. She's appeared in numerous films over the years like The House Bunny, starred in the Broadway and West End productions of Waitress, and starred in the TV shows Smash and Scorpion.
Phillips was declared the winner of American Idol's eleventh season and went down in history as having the most successful coronation song of all time with "Home." He's released three albums so far and has gone on numerous tours with everyone from John Mayer to Gavin DeGraw. He even appeared in an episode of Hawaii Five-0.
David Cook triumphed over teenage singer David Archuleta as season seven's winner. He's released four albums, three EPs, and even starred in Kinky Boots on Broadway. He's headlined a whopping 10 tours and even hit the road with Gavin DeGraw and fellow American Idol alum Kris Allen.
Scotty McCreery won a season stacked with talented country singers. Lauren Alaina and
Haley Reinhart came in second and third place in the tenth season where a sixteen-year-old McCreery was declared the winner. He has since gone on to become a major name in Nashville with a debut album that debuted at number one on the charts. He's a CMT and ACM Award winner who regularly releases popular country music hits.
Second season winner Ruben Studdard has had an eclectic but exciting career since his big win. He's released seven albums over the years including Soulful, which went platinum, and his award-winning gospel album I Need an Angel. He's a Grammy nominee and even made his Broadway debut opposite fellow Idol alum Clay Aiken.
Season 3 winner Fantasia Barrino is best known by her stage name, Fantasia. Her debut album following her big win went platinum and earned the R&B singer multiple Grammy nominations. She won the 2007 Theatre World Award for her role as Celie in The Color Purple on Broadway and has been confirmed to reprise the role in the upcoming 2023 film adaptation.
As we know, Carrie Underwood won season 4, but Maroulis was still one of the standout finalists, coming in sixth place overall. Though he's had a solo career as well as a few years singing with the rock band Pray for the Soul of Betty, it's really his acting career that takes Maroulis to the next level. He has appeared in numerous Broadway productions including The Wedding Singer and Rock of Ages, the latter earning him a Tony nomination.
Season two runner-up Clay Aiken may have lost to Ruben, but he went on to become one of the highest-selling American Idol alums of all time. The North Carolina native's debut album went multi-platinum, he had a Broadway run in Spamalot, and he's in the process of running for Congress in North Carolina's 6th congressional district.
Jordin Sparks won the sixth season of the series at the age of 17, the youngest winner the show had seen at the time. With hit songs like '"Tattoo" and "No Air," she's become a Grammy nominee and American Music Awards winner. Like other alums, she decided to pursue acting and has appeared in the Broadway productions of In the Heights and Waitress as well as various films and TV shows.
Season eight runner-up Adam Lambert lost to Kris Allen, but his career was just getting started. His theatrical pop performances gained him a steady fan following that led to albums topping the charts as well as Grammy nominations. He's toured with Queen multiple times, appeared on the TV series Glee, and sold millions of albums.
Chris Daughtry came in fourth place in season five but has gone to really make his mark on rock music. In terms of record sales, he comes in just after Clarkson and Underwood in terms of his debut album following his season, and he's gone on to release six successful studio albums with his band Daughtry.
Underwood went on to become far and away not only the most successful contestant from her season but one of the highest-selling country stars of all time. She triumphed over fellow season 4 finalist Bo Bice as her season's winner and now has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, is a member of the Grand Ole Opry, and has countless accolades, including Grammy, ACM and Billboard wins across her nine studio albums. She even has a Las Vegas residency!
Somehow J. Hud came in seventh place in the third season but went on to have a really incredible career. She won an Oscar, Golde Globe and SAG Award for her performance in Dream Girls, and she's a Grammy and Daytime Emmy winner. Not to mention, you know you have an iconic voice when Hollywood casts you as Aretha Franklin in Respect, another performance that was highly praised.
Kelly Clarkson is the one who started it all. She won the very first season, which led to her contractual obligation to appear in From Justin to Kelly with runner-up Justin Guarini. But her debut single "A Moment Like This" was the most successful song of 2002 and geared up a career full of accolades at nearly every major music awards show. She hosts her own Emmy winning talk show, is a coach on The Voice, and the Texas native even inspired a line of home decor at Wayfair.
READ MORE: Flashback: Scotty McCreery's 'American Idol' Win Still Brings Tears to Our Eyes
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