The Most Memorable ‘American Idol’ Contestants: Where Are They Now?

Byvu lita

Jan 8, 2024


1. Kelly Clarkson, Season 1


The OG American Idol champ, Clarkson was just 20 years old when she won the inaugural season of the show. After fulfilling Idol-related commitments (we’re looking at you, From Justin to Kelly), Clarkson launched an incredibly successful solo career. She has multiple Grammy nominations and three wins, three No. 1 hits (per Billboard), and has sold millions of albums worldwide.

Clarkson has served as a coach on The Voice since 2018 (except for season 22 at the end of 2022), telling PEOPLE at the time why returning to her reality show roots was important.

“I choose to do this because I think it’s fun, and it’s a rad thing to be a part of,” the mom of two said. “I really want to find someone that I can pay it forward to. I would love to say, ‘Man, I turned my chair for them and I was able to find a fabulous singer who can go on tour with me and have a huge career after this.’ “

The music superstar expanded her TV reach and began hosting The Kelly Clarkson Show in 2019, which earned her a Daytime Emmy Award for outstanding entertainment talk show host in June 2020. In 2022, Clarkson’s titular talk show took over The Ellen DeGeneres Show‘s time slot on NBC following the program’s series finale.

2. Justin Guarini, Season 1


Guarini was Idol‘s first-ever runner-up. He starred alongside Clarkson in the infamous film From Justin to Kelly shortly after their season wrapped.

Taking his talents to Broadway, Guarini made his stage debut in 2010’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. He’s also had roles in American IdiotRomeo and Juliet, Wicked, In Transit and Once Upon a More Time. Since 2015, he’s starred in Dr. Pepper commercials as the comical character “Lil’ Sweet.”

3. Ruben Studdard, Season 2


After beating out runner-up Clay Aiken in the sophomore season of Idol, Studdard continued to captivate audiences with his soulful voice, receiving a Grammy nomination for best male R&B vocal performance for “Superstar” in 2003. He’s released seven studio albums to date, including the platinum Soulful in 2003.

He has also appeared on The Biggest Loser, where he lost 119 lbs., in 2013, and received an honorary Master of Arts degree from Alabama A&M two years later.

In December 2018, he reunited with Aiken on Broadway for the holiday-themed Ruben & Clay’s First Annual Christmas Carol Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show.

Studdard returned to the classroom in March 2022, teaching two master classes for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Department of Performing Arts, the university announced. At the end of the year, he and Aiken revealed they would be touring together in 2023 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their time on Idol.

4. Clay Aiken, Season 2


Though Aiken lost to Studdard, his first studio album, Measure of a Man, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and went double platinum. Aiken has since released five other studio albums, including the platinum Merry Christmas with Love.

A dedicated advocate for children with special needs, Aiken (who was a special education teacher before finding fame on Idol) founded The National Inclusion Project in 2003. A portion of the proceeds from Ruben & Clay’s First Annual Christmas Carol Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show benefitted the nonprofit.

The artist also brought the heat to Broadway in 2008, starring in Monty Python’s Spamalot. In 2012, he returned to competitive reality TV for The Celebrity Apprentice, and was named runner-up. Phineas and Ferb, The Office, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Drop Dead Diva have all welcomed Aiken as a guest star.

In 2014, Aiken won the Democratic primary when he ran to represent North Carolina’s second congressional district, but lost to the Republican incumbent in the general election. He ran for office again in 2022, but was overshadowed by other Democratic nominees. Aiken is set to tour with friend and former AI opponent Studdard in 2023.

5. Josh Gracin, Season 2

american idol where are they now

Gracin came in fourth place on the second season of Idol, and completed his service with the U.S. Marine Corps after the show wrapped. After he was honorably discharged from the military, the country singer signed a record deal and his single “Nothin’ to Lose” topped the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart in 2004.

Gracin has continued to tour, and is a proud father of five.

6. Fantasia Barrino, Season 3


The season 3 winner, Barrino went on to land a cool 12 Grammy nominations (including one win!). Following her victory, she published a memoir (dictated to a writer), Life Is Not a Fairy Tale, in which she revealed that she was illiterate. “[After] putting out my Lifetime movie and my book [Life Is Not a Fairy Tale], [people] picked certain things in the book, [saying], ‘She’s illiterate, she’s dumb,’ ” Barrino later recalled to Gayle King. “[And] I had to sit and hear comedians crack their jokes, and certain people say what they had to say.”

She also took her acting talents to TV, movies and Broadway, where she starred as Celie in The Color Purple and will be reprising her role in the Oprah-produced film adaptation of the musical. In August 2010, she was hospitalized and treated for a “medication overdose.” While speaking with King, Barrino opened up about dealing with depression, noting that she struggled during her American Idol stint, which was followed by a home foreclosure, a throat tumor she developed in 2008 while on Broadway, and business troubles, including mismanaged money.

In 2021, she and husband Kendall Taylor welcomed their first child together, a daughter named Keziah. Barrino is also mom to Dallas Xavier and Zion Quari, and Taylor is dad to son Treyshaun.

7. Jennifer Hudson, Season 3


American Idol‘s first and only contestant to win an Oscar (for Best Supporting Actress in 2006’s Dreamgirlsand Grammy (for best R&B album, Jennifer Hudson, in 2009; she also has one from 2017 for best musical album for The Color Purpleand Emmy (as executive producer for the 2020 animated film, Baby Yagaand Tony (as producer on 2022’s A Strange Loop), Hudson has come a long way since placing seventh on the singing competition show. She has released three studio albums, with her most recent being 2014’s JHUD. In 2010, she became a spokesperson for Weight Watchers, which she credits for her 80-lb. weight loss.

The mom of one stunned audiences with her portrayal of Aretha Franklin in 2021’s Respectand kicked off her daytime talk show, The Jennifer Hudson Show, in 2022.

8. William Hung, Season 3


Few Idol auditions are as memorable as Hung’s rendition of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs.” While Hung, who got married to his second wife Jian Teng in 2014 (they have since divorced), didn’t make it to Hollywood, he struck a chord with viewers. Hung signed a record deal, released a few albums and ultimately retired from singing in 2011, swapping a career in music for a job at the L.A. County Department of Public Health. Unsurprisingly, Hung still gets recognized.

“Everybody knows me,” he told PEOPLE in 2015. “When I go try to watch a baseball game or just go shopping or do general everyday things, people recognize who I am. They ask me, ‘May I have your picture? Aren’t you the ‘She Bangs’ guy?’ It helps a lot because it’s much easier for me to make friends and make professional connections. It’s great.”

9. Carrie Underwood, Season 4


Since taking home the top prize on season 4 of American Idol in 2005, the Oklahoma-born singer has continued to rise up the music ranks, earning Grammys, CMA Awards and critical praise for her storytelling and vocal talents. In a 2015 interview with Parade, a decade after making her TV debut, the country crooner reflected on her time on the music competition show.

Idol was probably the most horrifying thing, because I had never been away from my hometown like that before,” Underwood, who is married to pro hockey player Mike Fisher and is mom to two boys, told the outlet. As for what she thought right after winning Idol, Underwood shared with Parade that she tried to keep her thinking practical.

“I always kept in my head, ‘If nothing else ever comes of this, I got to do the coolest thing ever and I won American Idol. I was like, ‘Okay, I will just have fun with this and save up as much money as I can and finish school and get a real job.’ Because I am always a practical thinker and would never allow myself to think it would turn out okay all the time.”

You can catch the superstar on the latest portion of her Las Vegas residency.

10. Constantine Maroulis, Season 4


The rocker made it to sixth place on season 4 of Idol. He released his debut solo album, Constantine, in 2007. Maroulis has enjoyed a successful post-reality show Broadway career, and even scored a Tony nomination for his leading role in Rock of Ages. In 2015, the singer was arrested for allegedly assaulting girlfriend Angel Reed. A week later, he was arrested again for violating an order of protection by sending her emails. The charges were eventually dropped. Reed and Maroulis welcomed daughter Malena James in 2010.

In 2021, Maroulis revealed he had been sober for a while. You can catch him regularly performing shows all over the country.

11. Katharine McPhee, Season 5


The American Idol runner-up juggled singing and acting after Taylor Hicks was crowned the season 5 winner. McPhee went on to release five albums, with the most recent one being 2017’s I Fall in Love Too Easily. She appeared in the Anna Faris-fronted film The House Bunny and starred on the TV series Smash, among other onscreen projects. McPhee made her Broadway debut in 2018, playing Jenna Hunterson in the stage musical adaptation of Waitress.

In 2019, she married music producer David Foster; together they have one son, Rennie. The couple also appeared on The Masked Singer as Banana Split in 2021.

12. Chris Daughtry, Season 5


Despite getting eliminated after making it to the final four on American Idol in 2006, the rocker has proven to have a successful career, forming his band Daughtry shortly after leaving the show. His band picked up four Grammy nominations, including best rock song for their single “It’s Not Over,” in 2008.

“It was the best thing that ever happened, as far as my career is concerned,” Daughtry told PEOPLE of his days on the singing competition show. “Otherwise, people wouldn’t have a clue who I was.”

In 2022, he opened up to AI alum Kelly Clarkson about the deaths of his mother and stepdaughter, Hannah.

13. Ace Young, Season 5


Young made it to the top seven before being eliminated the year Taylor Hicks won. Since then, the Colorado-born performer has written and starred in Broadway’s Hair, where he and American Idol alum Diana DeGarmo (season 3 runner-up) met and fell in love. They tied the knot in 2013.

“I’m more excited about what ABC does with the show we already love,” Young revealed to of the Idol reboot in 2018. “They feel they can do it better. I’m curious to see what they bring to the table.”

14. Taylor Hicks, Season 5


Following his Idol win, Hicks released three studio albums and was featured on Jimmy Fallon’s Grammy-winning comedy album Blow Your Pants Off. Hicks also became the first-ever Idol winner to score a longterm Las Vegas residency, from June 2012 to January 2013.

Singing isn’t Hicks’ only talent. In 2017, it was announced he would serve as the host of INSP Channel’s State Plate, which sees the singer traveling around the country to explore different types of foods.

15. Kellie Pickler, Season 5


Pickler finished in sixth place during season 5 of American Idol. She since solidified her presence in the world of country music, thanks to singles such as “Best Days of Your Life.” Of course, Pickler went on to win another reality competition: season 16 of Dancing with the Stars, alongside pro Derek Hough. She also hosted the daytime talk show, Pickler & Ben, which aired from September 2017 through May 2019.

With American Idol continuing its reign, Pickler said she would love to go back to the show. “It forever changed my life, and I will always be grateful to have been a part of the show,” she told PEOPLE.

16. Jordin Sparks, Season 6


In 2007, Sparks, who was 17 at the time, was crowned the Idol winner — the youngest in the singing competition show’s history. Not only has Sparks found fame with her singing career, but she also has dabbled in acting, landing roles in Broadway’s In the Heights and Waitress, and starring opposite Whitney Houston in 2012’s Sparkle. The “Tattoo” singer eventually proved herself to be a triple threat when she competed on Dancing with the Stars in 2022.

In terms of her personal life, Sparks revealed to PEOPLE in 2017 that she had married Dana Isaiah and was expecting the couple’s first child. Son DJ joined the family in 2018.

17. Sanjaya Malakar, Season 6


Known for his envy-inducing hair and for being a fixture on E!’s now-defunct The Soup, the Idol finalist was an obvious standout from the rest of his competition not just for his voice, but for his heartthrob status.

Since the show’s end, Malakar has starred in another reality TV show — I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! — and continues to make music, notably lending his voice to the album Good Merlin by The Chaz Lipp Groove Tripp. And in case you were wondering about what the Idol alumnus looks like, a quick scan of his Instagram shows Malakar traded in his fan-favorite locks for a bushy beard. In August 2022, he came out publicly as bisexual.

18. David Cook, Season 7

american idol where are they now

Cook won the seventh season of the singing competition in 2008, hitting a high with the moody single “The Time of My Life” which was certified platinum. He has since released three albums, two EPs and headlined multiple tours. In 2018, Cook made his way to Broadway, starring in Kinky Boots.

Two years later, he opened up to PEOPLE about the “therapeutic process” of releasing his song “Reds Turn Blue” to navigate anxiety.

“A couple years after Idol, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and have spent the last almost decade really going through the process of navigating that and picking up new tools and processes along the way to deal with it,” Cook said at the time. “This song became a therapeutic process for me, as a way to personify my anxiety and make it something other than me.”

19. David Archuleta, Season 7


The baby-faced singer was only 16 years old when he auditioned for the seventh season of Idol, eventually coming in second place behind Cook. Since then, he’s released eight studio albums, including 2020’s Therapy Sessions. He also has a number of acting gigs under his belt, from guest spots on iCarly and Hannah Montana to starring in the Filipino show Nandito Ako.

Archuleta took a break from his music career to become a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Chile for two years beginning in 2012. He opened up about coming out in an emotional Good Morning America interview in 2021, and talked to PEOPLE about stepping away from religion after embracing his queer identity.

20. Kris Allen, Season 8

american idol where are they now

Allen won season 8 of the hit show in 2009, and his single “Live Like We’re Dying” from his self-titled album reached No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. He has since released four other studio albums, and continued to tour, when not chasing his three young kids.

21. Adam Lambert, Season 8


He may not have come out on top at the season 8 finale of Idol — he lost to Allen — but Lambert found success in the years following. He released his fifth studio album in February 2023, is a Grammy-nominated artist and currently serves as the lead singer of Queen, landing a gig to sing in honor of the actual Queen of England in 2022. Not too shabby, eh?

“Getting right down to the final three, I knew that at this point I had so many opportunities that were going to open up for me,” Lambert shared with Entertainment Weekly of what he was feeling when he learned he didn’t win Idol, in a 2016 interview. “And at the same time I’ve watched the show and I’ve seen that people can win or not win and that can be it for them — the show can be sort of their high point forever. “

22. Lee DeWyze, Season 9

Lee Dewyze

DeWyze won season 9 in 2010, and has released five albums in the years since. His song “Victims of the Night” was featured in 2023’s Teen Wolf: The Movie on Paramount+, and he’s still performing live around the country.

23. Scotty McCreery, Season 10


A then-17-year-old Scotty McCreery took home Idol‘s top prize in 2011, winning over the judges and viewers with his penchant for impressively belting out country songs. Following his win, McCreery released his debut studio album, Clear as Day, which became certified platinum. He has since released four more albums, with his most recent being 2021’s Same Truck. And while yes, he does credit his success to winning the music competition, McCreery hopes to continue making a name for himself.

“It was a big mountain to climb,” McCreery, who scored his first No. 1 hit song with “Five More Minutes” in March 2017, told The News & Observer. “But this gives more validity to what I’ve been doing. Credibility as an artist has been the goal the last few years — to move away from the TV guy who was on American Idol to be a country artist with songs and stories.”

As for his personal life? He popped the question to longtime girlfriend Gabi Dugal in September 2017; they wed the following year. The couple welcomed their first son, Merrick Avery, in 2022.

24. Lauren Alaina, Season 10


Alaina made it to the season 10 finale before ultimately being defeated by Scotty McCreery. She’s gone on to have a successful country music career with three studio albums under her belt. The singer took home new artist of the year at the 2012 American Country Awards. Five years later, she nabbed breakthrough video of the year for “Road Less Traveled” at the CMT Music Awards and breakthrough artist writer of the year at the Music Row awards.

In 2022, the country singer was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry by Trisha Yearwood, competed on CBS’ Beyond the Edge and got engaged to boyfriend Cam Arnold.

25. Phillip Phillips, Season 11


Phillips was crowned the winner of season 11. He holds an additional accolade: His song, “Home,” is the best-selling coronation song from the show. (The track was even featured in multiple women’s gymnastics TV spots during the 2012 Olympics in London.)

In early 2015, the star filed a lawsuit against Idol‘s production company 19 Entertainment, claiming they “manipulated” him into accepting jobs and were being “oppressive” about his career. Then more than a year later, 19 Entertainment hit back with a complaint alleging Phillips was holding on to as much as $1 million of their money.

“It was really tough,” Phillips — who wasn’t allowed to release new music until he reached a settlement with 19 Entertainment in June 2017 — told PEOPLE exclusively. “I thought, ‘Man, is this ever going to end? Will I ever be able to release new music?’ [I was] a little depressed about it and also anxious trying to figure out what I can do to push things forward.” However, the former contestant returned to the AI stage in 2022, performing his single “Love Like That” during the season finale.

He wed his longtime girlfriend Hannah Blackwell in 2015 and they had their first child in 2019.

26. Candice Glover, Season 12

american idol where are they now

The soulful singer dazzled judges Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey on the twelfth season of Idol, and went on to win the competition in 2013. She dropped her debut album Music Speaks the following year, and has since released music on SoundCloud. According to Glover’s Instagram page, she is still performing and has her bachelor of fine arts degree in film and television.

27. Caleb Johnson, Season 13

american idol where are they now

Johnson won the thirteenth season of Idol in 2014 when he was just 23, and dropped the debut solo album Testify soon after. Then, he went on to tour with KISS, Black Stone Cherry and Trans Siberian Orchestra, according to his website.

Expanding his brand, the rocker founded the band Caleb Johnson & The Ramblin’ Saints, with whom he released records in 2019 and 2021.

According to his site, Johnson’s sole mission today “is to spread the gospel of rock-n-roll!”

28. Nick Fradiani, Season 14

american idol where are they now

After winning the fourteenth season of the singing competition in 2015, Fradiani dropped the album Hurricane the next year year, followed by 2017’s EP Where We Left Off and 2022’s album Past My Past.

From 2019 through 2020, he starred in the North American tour of the Broadway musical A Bronx Tale. Fradiani went on to make his Broadway debut in 2022, playing Neil Diamond in A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical.

29. Trent Harmon, Season 15

american idol where are they now

The country singer took the top prize on Idol in 2016, and released a self-titled album later that year. Harmon dropped his first full-length album, You’ve Got ‘Em All, in 2018, and opened on tour for Rascal Flatts.

30. Maddie Poppe, Season 16

american idol where are they now

The pop-folk singer was crowned the winner in 2018, beating runner-up Caleb Lee Hutchinson, who started dating Pope during their time on the show. After her victory, she dropped her debut studio album Whirlwind the following year and opened for Ingrid Michaelson on tour.

Talking to PEOPLE about the exciting experience in 2019, Poppe said, “Getting the opportunity to sing ‘You and I’ with Ingrid Michaelson every night has been so cool. One of my very favorite moments of the night is looking out into the audience and seeing literally every mouth reciting the words to that song.

“I can’t imagine what it must feel like watching a room full of people belt lyrics you wrote at the top of their lungs, and in that moment just knowing how many people you’ve impacted in that room.”

Pope’s romance with Hutchinson is still going strong, as he appeared in her music video for her 2022 single, “One That Got Away.”

31. Gabby Barrett, Season 16

american idol where are they now

Though she came in third behind Poppe during season 16, Barrett shot to stardom through the show and has since launched a successful country career.

Her debut single, “I Hope,” topped the Billboard Hot Country chart for a record-breaking 27 weeks, and she was the most-nominated female country artist at the 2021 American Music Awards. Her song “The Good Ones” was released in 2020 and also went platinum.

In 2021, she opened for Thomas Rhett on tour, and was honored with the Rising Star Award at the 2022 Billboard Women in Music Awards. The following year, Barrett co-hosted the 57th Academy of Country Music Awards alongside Jimmie Allen and Dolly Parton.

Barrett is married to her fellow Idol contestant Cade Foehner, with whom she has daughter Baylah May and son Augustine Boone.

32. Laine Hardy, Season 17

american idol where are they now

The Louisiana-born singer won Idol in 2019, and dropped his debut album Here’s to Anyone in 2021. He has since made his debut at the Grand Ole Opry, where he was joined onstage by fellow Idol alumna Alaina and mentor Bobby Bones.

“It just feels like a dream to have been given that opportunity,” Hardy told PEOPLE of the milestone moment. “I know a lot of my influences growing up have stood on that wooden circle at the Opry, and to be able to stand in the same place, that’s pretty cool. It was a dream of mine that I got to make true.”

In April of 2022, Hardy was arrested in Louisiana and booked in a local prison amid allegations that he placed a recording device in his ex-girlfriend’s dorm room.

33. Just Sam, Season 18

american idol where are they now

The sweet singer (whose birth name is Samantha Diaz) was historically crowned the Idol champ remotely in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and has since dropped the singles “Rise Up,” “Africando,” “Change,” “Safe N Sound,” “Pain Is Power” and “Question.”

Diaz, who made a living singing in subway trains prior to Idol, told reporters after her win that the victory felt like a “whirlwind.”

“First things first, I’m going home to my grandma and I’m going to hug her. That’s the first thing I am going to do. I hope to be able to put out music. I am going to try to do what American Idol was trying to do in the beginning and that is bring family and friends together during this time when we need each other most. We shouldn’t be alone,” she said at the time.

“After this, I hope to be able to inspire more people and reach more people all across the country and across the world,” Diaz continued. “That is my plan and my hope.”

In 2022, she had fans concerned when she announced she was in the hospital and needed “help” — not providing any further details — but she has been active on her Instagram since.

34. Chayce Beckham, Season 19

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After taking the top prize for season 19 of Idol, Beckham said he planned to move to Nashville and focus on making new music. The singer went on to release his debut EP in April 2022.

35. Noah Thompson, Season 20


In May 2022, Idol crowned its 20th champ, a construction worker and father from Louisa, Ky.

“He just came in as the underdog … the unassuming guy that he didn’t see it coming, America didn’t see it coming,” judge Luke Bryan said after the finale. “And I think, you know, we’ve seen it in 20 years where those type people, really — American pulls for them, responds to them. And it always tells me that at the end of the day, being a good, humble, kind person wins.”

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