10 most successful American Idol contestants who didn’t win the show

American Idol's best non-winning singers
Jimmie Allen, Jennifer Hudson, and Chris Daughtry all lost on American Idol but had great careers. Pic credit: ©ImageCollect/Admedia/Landmark-Media/Admedia

The entire allure of American Idol is allowing fans to help find and choose the next huge musical star.

Dozens of hopefuls arrive every year and try out for the show, and only a few make it to Hollywood.

After this, the judges and fans whittle down the contenders until there are only two left for the final week.

At that moment, the American Idol winner is named.

However, that winner is not always the singer who leaves the show and enjoys the biggest career.

For every Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, there are winners who go on to have small careers, but never really hit it big.

On the other hand, several people didn’t win on the show but went on to become major superstars. Many of these ended up eliminated very early in the competition, proving that the talent does not always rise to the top on American Idol.

Here are 10 American Idol losers who went on to become major winners after leaving the reality singing competition.

1. Constantine Maroulis

Constantine Maroulis competed in Season 4 of American Idol.

In that season, Carrie Underwood won it all and went on to become the biggest star to ever compete on American Idol. No one in that season or any other could top her success.

However, Constantine Maroulis finished in sixth place. Since American Idol, he went on to have bigger success than four of the five people who placed above him.

Constantine picked up a Tony Award nomination for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for Rock of Ages. He received a Drama League Award nomination for Jekyll and Hyde on Broadway, where he also had a lead role.

2. Todrick Hall

Todrick Hall appeared in American Idol Season 9.

In that season, Lee DeWyze beat out Crystal Bowersox in the finals.

DeWyze has released eight albums, with four hitting the charts. Bowersox has four releases, with two of them charting.

Todrick ended up being eliminated in the round of the top 24, and he ended up becoming social media famous and took his talents online after American Idol.

This led to MTV airing a docu-series called Todrick about making his videos and then he moved on to work as the choreographer for RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Todrick ended up hitting Broadway, where he starred in Kinky Boots and Chicago.

Reality TV fans also saw him return in The Masked Singer last season.

3. Tori Kelly

Tori Kelly competed in the ninth season of American Idol, much like Todrick Hall.

Tori Kelly failed to reach the top 24 on American Idol and has outdone both of them. After taking her music to YouTube, and hitting one million subscribers, she hit it big.

Kelly picked up a nomination for Best New Artist at the Grammys and then picked up awards at the BET Awards, Billboard Music Awards, and then won two Grammy Awards for the songs Hiding Place and Never Alone in 2019.

Movie fans will automatically recognize her voice as Meena the elephant in the animated movie Sing and its sequel.

4. Katharine McPhee

Katharine McPhee competed in the fifth season of American Idol. This was a huge season, with some big names in the music industry getting their start there.

Several of those names ended up becoming more successful than the winner that year, Taylor Hicks.

McPhee went on to watch her self-titled debut album hit second on the Billboard 200 and her second album kept it up, hitting 27th on the Billboard charts.

McPhee also went on to act in movies like The House Bunny and Shark Night 3D, as well as picking up lead roles on TV shows, Smash and Scorpion.

She also appeared in The Masked Singer last season with her husband David Foster.

5. Jimmie Allen

Jimmie Allen might be one of the most underappreciated American Idol contestants out there.

When Allen moved to Nashville, he lived in poverty out of his car while trying to make it big. He ended up auditioning for American Idol in Season 10 but was cut before the live voting rounds began.

However, he made friends with Scotty McCreery, who went on to win that season, and that was a good thing. Scotty helped Jimmie get his foot in the door.

Jimmie’s first album, Mercury Lane, hit 11th on the U.S. country charts. He also had three number-one singles in Best Shot, Make Me Want To, and Freedom Was a Highway.

Jimmie Allen was the first Black solo performer to win New Male Artist of the Year at the ACM Awards and he went on to win the New Artist of the Year at the CMA Awards.

Jimmie Allen also competed on Dancing with the Stars last season.

6. Kellie Pickler

Kellie Pickler was another Season 5 American Idol contestant.

While Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee made it to the finals, Pickler had a better career than either of them.

Pickler ended up finishing in sixth place that season, behind some pretty big names including Elliott Yamin and Chris Daughtry.

While she never reached Daughtry’s level of success, Pickler became a successful music artist and television host.

Her debut album was certified gold with three Top 20 singles. Her second album had four singles that reached the Top 30.

Pickler then took her talents to television where she co-hosted the daytime talk show, Pickler & Ben, with Ben Aaron. She also competed in Dancing with the Stars and won it with Derek Hough.

7. Clay Aiken

Clay Aiken competed in the second season of American Idol and finished in second place behind Ruden Studdard.

Studdard had a successful career, with several hit songs, TV roles, and a stint on Broadway.

However, Clay Aiken became a hugely successful recording artist. He has released seven albums, his first going multi-platinum. He also has headlined 11 tours and has sold over five million albums worldwide.

Only three American Idol alums have sold more albums than Clay Aiken.

Aiken is now moving into politics.

8. Adam Lambert

While Clay Aiken has sold more albums than Adam Lambert, no one can deny the success that the big-voiced singer enjoyed since his elimination on the eighth season of American Idol.

That was the season that Kris Allen beat Adam Lambert in the finals. Allen went on to have a great country career, but Lambert watched his dream come true.

Adam Lambert joined iconic rock legends, Queen, replacing Freddie Mercury as their lead singer, and touring with the band.

He even released a live album with Queen, which debuted at number one in the U.K.

He also has four albums, three of them hitting the third, top, and third spot on the charts, respectively.

9. Chris Daughtry

Out of all the successful musical talent on American Idol Season 5, the one with the greatest success was Chris Daughtry.

Daughtry was a rock star on American Idol, and that genre rarely does well with the voting public. However, he finished fourth that year, and then went on to have an amazing musical career.

He released his self-titled debut album and it was the fastest-selling in history, with one million copies sold in five weeks. It also hit number one on the Billboard charts in its ninth week of release.

When it comes to record sales, only Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood have sold more albums than Daughtry.

10. Jennifer Hudson

The most successful American Idol contestant to not win the show was Jennifer Hudson, who appeared in Season 3, losing to Fantasia.

What Hudson did is remarkable.

She won an Academy Award for her role in Dreamgirls. She was two Grammy Awards for her music. She won a Daytime Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award.

Hudson even picked up her second Oscar nomination this year for her role in Respect, where she played Aretha Franklin.

American Idol airs on Sunday nights at 8/7c on ABC.

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