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American Idol: 10 singers the hit reality show rejected who became stars anyway

American Idol rejects who became famous
Maren Morris, Kane Brown, and Hilary Scott became famous after American Idol. Pic credit: ©ImageCollect.com/Carrie-nelson, Admedia, Admedia

American Idol has created some massive superstars, with names like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Chris Daughtry sitting at the top.

Not everyone left the show as winners, as Daughtry and Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson have proved.

However, there are other times in the show’s history that they slipped and missed out on an amazingly talented individual.

There are singers who either didn’t make it through the auditions or, in some cases, made it through but didn’t get to Hollywood that went on to become major stars.

A few of these singers became even bigger stars than the contestants who won American Idol during their seasons.

Hillary Scott

Fans know Hillary Scott from her work with Lady A (formerly Lady Antebellum). They might not know that she tried out for American Idol twice and was rejected both times.

Hillary said that she never even got to see the judges and performed only for the production assistants and interns, and they didn’t pass her through to the judges.

Hillary didn’t let that discourage her. In 2006, she formed the country music group Lady Antebellum with Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood, and they ended up as massive stars.

They have won countless awards, including seven Grammy Awards, and have sold over 10 million albums in the United States. Three of their albums hit number one on the Billboard 200.

Colbie Caillat

Colbie Caillat auditioned for American Idol twice – and was rejected both times.

The good news for Colbie is that she felt it was better the show turned her down.

“You know, the craziest thing is that I auditioned for American Idol twice. I actually came in with my song Bubbly. But, I wasn’t ready at all. I had such stage fright, and I realized I had a lot of work to do with myself,” Colbie said.

That song that Colbie auditioned with ended up as Colbie’s first single. It hit number five on the U.S. charts and number one on the U.S. adult charts. It also went platinum.

Despite her two rejections on American Idol, Colbie has now sold over 11 million albums worldwide and was even invited to perform on American Idol later, where she performed Bubbly.

Mary Lambert

Mary Lambert auditioned for American Idol when she was 16 and said she never made it past the first round.

That would have made her audition around 2005.

Like others, Mary never let this stop her from achieving her dreams. In 2012, she co-wrote and sang on a song by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ called Same Love, which went three-times platinum.

By 2014, she had a song hit number one on the U.S. dance charts with Secrets. Her 2012 EP Letters Don’t Talk and 2013 EP Welcome to the Age of My Body both charted on the U.S. Heatseekers charts.

Amber Riley

Amber Riley really rubbed in the fact that American Idol rejected her.

Amber auditioned in Season 2 when she was 17, but the producers rejected her from appearing before the judges. Five years later, she won the role of Mercedes Jones on Glee.

Both American Idol and Glee were Fox TV shows at the time.

Amber joked that she still got a job on Fox, and instead of singing unpaid on American Idol, she was able to get a paying job as an actor on a TV show.

“I feel that it was completely necessary,” Amber said. “There’s a moment in your life that comes where you’re going to have to figure out if this is what you really want to do. I always say that it was the, ‘no’ I needed to know that this is what I’m going to go after for the rest of my life.”

Tori Kelly

Tori Kelly auditioned on American Idol and got a harsh comment from Simon Cowell. In the audition, he called her voice “almost annoying.”

She sang Gravity by John Mayer and made it to the Hollywood rounds in Season 9. Possibly due to Simon not liking her, she didn’t make it past Hollywood to fan voting rounds.

That didn’t stop her. She went on to post her singing on YouTube and ended up with over a million subscribers to her channel.

The best was yet to come. She picked up a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist four years later. Kids know her voice well, as she is the singing elephant Meena in the Sing franchise.

Mickey Guyton

Mickey Guyton auditioned for American Idol in Season 8 of the show at 22. She impressed judges in the auditions, but they soon fell out of love, and she was gone before the live shows.

Despite only briefly appearing on American Idol, she didn’t give up on her dreams.

In 2014, she released her debut EP, Unbreakable, and it reached 14th on the Heatseekers charts. Her next two EPs also charted, and in 2021, she released her debut full-length album, Remember Her Name, which hit the country music charts.

She has picked up four Grammy nominations in the last two years alone.

Colton Swon

Before he was one-half of the Swon Brothers, Colton Swon auditioned for American Idol.

His audition was in the show’s seventh season, and while he made it past that tour, he didn’t make it past the top 48. That wasn’t Colton’s last trip to a reality competition series.

Colton and his brother Zach auditioned on The Voice Season 4. They got three chair turns, chose Blake Shelton as their coach, and finished in third place, proving The Voice saw talent where American Idol missed out.

Their self-titled third album reached 28th on the Billboard 200 and sixth on the U.S. Country charts.

Kane Brown

Kane Brown was friends with Lauren Alaina in school when he saw her success after finishing as runner-up on American Idol in its 10th season.

Kane wasn’t as lucky. He auditioned for American Idol and The X Factor. He never made it on American Idol, and he quit The X Factor when they wanted him to be in a boy band.

However, Kane wasn’t going to give up. He started posting covers of songs he sang on social media and made homemade videos on Facebook. His cover of George Strait’s Check Yes or No had over seven million views.

Kane has released two albums, both hitting number one on the country charts and Experiment hitting number one on the Billboard Hot 200. His first album was double-platinum, and his second was certified platinum.

Maren Morris

Maren Morris did her best to try to get noticed through reality television competition series. She auditioned for American Idol, America’s Got Talent, The Voice, and Nashville Star.

She was rejected in the audition round of all four shows.

Maren Morris ended up releasing her EP in 2015, and it picked up 2.5 million streams in a month. She also had three songs on the Viral 50 chart.

Her 2016 album Hero and 2019 album Girl hit number one on the country charts, and Humble Quest hit number two as well. She didn’t make it on American Idol, but she now has 14 Grammy Awards nominations and won once for her song My Church.

Bebe Rexha

Bebe Rexha made a big appearance on American Idol Season 20 when she showed up to work as a mentor for the singers.

When she showed up, she talked to fellow mentor Jimmie Allen about the fact that they both auditioned for American Idol in the past. Jimmie made it to Hollywood and then went home. Bebe didn’t make it past the audition round.

She didn’t even get to perform for the judges.

Bebe’s debut album hit 13th on the Billboard charts and went platinum. Her second also charted, only reaching 140th. She was also nominated for two Grammy Awards in 2019, including Best New Artist.

American Idol is on hiatus. The reality singing competition series will return in 2023 to ABC.

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