9 Big Stars, From Mary Lambert to Bebe Rexha, Rejected on ‘American Idol’

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For every American Idol winner whose career fizzled out after the show, there’s an Idol reject who went on to hit it big.

From Glee actors to pop stars, the bold-faced names in the gallery below were all shown the door during Idol’s rigorous audition process. Simon Cowell even said one future Grammy winner had an “almost annoying” singing voice! (There really is no accounting for taste, is there?)

The long-running reality competition has returned for its fourth season on ABC and its 19th season overall. But while you wait for things to heat up, scroll down to see the show’s famous cast-offs. And make sure you keep an ear out for future stars during the audition episodes!

American Idol, Season 19 Premiere, Sunday, February 14, 8/7c, ABC

Colbie Caillat

The title of her hit song notwithstanding, Caillat must not have been feeling “Bubbly” when she didn’t make the cut on Idol. But when she appeared on the show in 2018, she told a contestant that she had stage fright during her audition and probably wasn’t ready for the spotlight.

Mary Lambert

This singer — best known for her song “She Keeps Me Warm” and her featured performance on the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis hit “Same Love” — said in a 2014 interview that she auditioned for Idol when she was 16 and didn’t make it past the first round.

Tori Kelly

Kelly’s Idol audition is still on YouTube, so you can still see judge Simon Cowell call her voice “almost annoying.” She eventually got the cut during Hollywood Week, but Cowell should be eating his words. Kelly’s debut album, 2015’s Unbreakable Smile, spent 39 weeks on the Billboard 200 and peaked at No. 2 on the chart; and her second album, Hiding Place, won two Grammy Awards.

Chrissy Metz

Fans have heard Metz’s singing voice in the NBC drama This Is Us and the film Breakthrough, but the actress also once auditioned for Idol, as she revealed in her 2018 memoir, This Is Me: Loving the Person You Are Today. She also opened up about the experience in a 2020 SiriusXM interview, saying that she stood in line for eight hours and got third-degree sunburns before trying out with the song “Heavy” from the Broadway musical Dreamgirls.

Maren Morris

Not only did this “The Middle” singer try out for Idol, but she also auditioned for America’s Got Talent, The Voice, and Star Search during her days as an unknown. But Morris got the last laugh: She won a Grammy Award for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017, and as she told Seth Meyers recently, she gets a check in the mail whenever people audition with her songs on Idol.

Bebe Rexha

The Grammy-nominated “Meant to Be” singer got to pester American Idol host Ryan Seacrest and former judge Randy Jackson about her failed Idol tryout on a 2017 episode of Live With Kelly and Ryan. But Jackson isn’t to blame: She didn’t make it far enough in the audition process to perform for him.

Amber Riley

Whoever turned Riley down for American Idol must have kicked themselves when she showed off her powerhouse voice on Glee. The actress later said in a radio interview that she’s glad she got passed over: After all, she got a paid job on Fox with Glee instead of an unpaid run on Idol.

Naya Rivera

Riley’s late Glee costar also took a shot at Idol fame, revealing to the cohosts of The Talk in 2013 that she auditioned — at her father’s urging — with the Bee Gees’ song “Emotion.” She didn’t make it past the first round, but she auditioned with the same song for Glee, and the rest, of course, is history.

Hillary Scott

The lead singer of country group Lady A (formerly known as Lady Antebellum) revealed that she had previously auditioned for the show — twice — when she and her bandmates hit the Idol stage in 2010.