9 Biggest Success Stories From ‘American Idol’

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Once upon a time, American Idol was the biggest thing on television, churning out music superstars left and right. The original Fox series ended with Season 15 in 2016, but it wasn’t long before it came back to the small screens. The singing competition made its return in 2018 on ABC with OG host Ryan Seacrest and has been running ever since.

Now, American Idol Season 21 premieres Sunday, February 19 at 8/7c on ABC (its sixth season on the network), and judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan will be on the hunt for the next Idol success story. The search begins in New Orleans, Las Vegas, and Nashville in the first episode, with audition episodes set to continue for several more Sundays.

As evidenced by the hit-makers the show has produced, American Idol has a longer history of finding stars than its fellow singing competitions like The Voice (even if some of those stars ended up as coaches on the NBC reality series). Here, we look back at the nine singers who represent American Idol‘s biggest success stories (in no particular order) ahead of the show’s return.

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American Idol, Sundays, 8/7c, ABC

Carrie Underwood - American Idol

1. Carrie Underwood

A genuine powerhouse in country music, Carrie Underwood is arguably the most successful Idol alum. She’s sold more albums than any other show competitor and has been pumping out chart-toppers like “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and “Before He Cheats” since her debut. She also has eight Grammy wins to boot, the most out of any other alum, and is tied with Kelly Clarkson (below) for most Idol alum Grammy nominations with 16.

In 2014, she released her first greatest hits album, which itself has spawned two more hits, “Something in the Water” and “Little Toy Guns.” As of early 2023, she’s out on tour to celebrate her 2022 album, Denim & Rhinestones.

Kelly Clarkson After American Idol

2. Kelly Clarkson

The O.G. Idol champion has been releasing albums steadily for nearly two decades. As the competition’s reigning pop queen (with three Grammys and 16 nominations to prove it), Kelly Clarkson has given us such ubiquitous singles as “Breakaway,” “Since U Been Gone,” and “My Life Would Suck Without You.”

In February 2015, she dropped her seventh studio album, Piece by Piece, featuring the single “Heartbeat Song,” and she released the Meaning of Life album (her first with Atlantic Records after years with RCA) in 2017, followed by the holiday album When Christmas Comes Around… in 2021.

Now, she can add Emmy-winner to her list of accolades. The crooner shows off her powerhouse vocals in her hit syndicated daytime talk show The Kelly Clarkson Show, for which she has earned five Daytime Emmy Awards including Outstanding Entertainment Talk Show Host.

Clarkson plans to release another studio album in 2023.


3. Jennifer Hudson

No other Idol contestant has come close to Jennifer Hudson‘s achievements in the realm of acting. In 2007, she scored an Oscar for her turn in Dreamgirls and then followed that up with various film and TV roles, including a stint on Empire.

But she’s continued to pursue music: Her three studio albums have spawned such R&B hits as “Spotlight” and “No One Gonna Love You,” and in 2012, she memorably paid tribute to the late Whitney Houston at the Grammys telecast with a performance of “I Will Always Love You.” And in 2021, she combined her singing and acting skills once more for another tribute to a music legend by playing Aretha Franklin in RESPECT. Hudson was hand-picked by Franklin to play her whenever her biopic was made prior to her death in 2018.

Thanks to A Strange Loop‘s Tony Award win for Best Musical in 2022, Hudson (who was a producer on the Broadway musical) is now on the short list of E.G.O.T. winners. And she has followed in Clarkson’s footsteps as the host of the new syndicated talk show The Jennifer Hudson Show, which popped into The Ellen DeGeneres Show‘s former time slot in 2022.

Scotty McCreery performs during the WME Party at the IEBA 2015 Conference
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4. Scotty McCreery

The Season 10 winner made a name for himself on the country charts with hits like “I Love You This Big” and “See You Tonight.” In 2011, Scotty McCreery made history when his first album bowed at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, making him the first country act to ever debut atop the chart with a freshman album.

McCreery launched his “Damn Strait” tour in February 2023, named after his fifth No. 1 hit. He delighted fans at a February 2 concert when he brought his 3-month-old son, Avery, on stage. McCreery and his wife, Gabi Dugal, welcomed the baby boy in October 2022.

Katharine McPhee
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5. Katharine McPhee

The fifth season’s runner-up had a short-lived music career without a breakout hit single to her name. But Katharine McPhee has reinvented herself as an actress, starring in NBC’s Broadway drama Smash before moving on to CBS’ hacker procedural Scorpion, which ended in 2018 with Season 4.

McPhee married famed music hit-maker David Foster in 2019. They share a 2-year-old son named Rennie.

Jordin Sparks 'Right Here Right Now' Concert At Fashion Show Las Vegas
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6. Jordin Sparks

Following her time on Idol, Jordin Sparks had a high-profile romance — and then break-up — with radio star Jason Derulo.

Before that, she had major hits with “Tattoo” and the Chris Brown-featuring “No Air.” She’s also dabbled in acting, with a role opposite Whitney Houston in 2012’s Sparkle and a gig in 2014‘s Left Behind.

Now married with a baby, Sparks competed in Dancing With the Stars Season 31.

Fantasia Barrino
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7. Fantasia Barrino

The Season 3 winner has released a handful of albums in the R&B and gospel genres and won her singular Grammy in 2017 for Best Traditional R&B Performance (she has 12 nominations).

Fantasia‘s also known for her work on Broadway in 2007’s The Color Purple and 2013’s After Midnight. And, of course, who could forget the time she starred as herself in the 2006 Lifetime movie, The Fantasia Barrino Story: Life is Not a Fairy Tale.

Next, the singer will star as Celie in The Color Purple movie musical adaptation.

Daughtry Perform At Pompano Beach Amphitheater
Larry Marano/Getty Images

8. Chris Daughtry

As the frontman of his band Daughtry, Chris Daughtry launched numerous hits from his rock band’s 2006 self-titled album (which debuted at No. 1), including the radio smashes “It’s Not Over” and “Home.” The band’s put out six studio albums total, the most recent being 2021’s Dearly Beloved.

Late Night with Seth Meyers - Season 3
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9. Adam Lambert

The glam-rocker has led a stealthily successful career, thanks in part to a very dedicated fan base. 2012’s Trespassing debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart; his third album, The Original High (featuring the whistle-y dance single “Ghost Town”), hits shelves in June 2015.

In a boon of a vocal endorsement, Adam Lambert stepped into Freddie Mercury‘s shoes as Queen’s lead singer (under the name Queen + Adam Lambert) in 2011, taking part in several worldwide tours from 2011-2022. The band performed at Queen Elizabeth II‘s Platinum Jubilee concert on June 4, 2022.