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American Idol’s 10 most successful singers who didn’t win their season

American Idol's best runner-ups
American Idol’s best runner-ups. Pic credit: ABC

Noah Thompson won American Idol this season, and now he has a chance to become a successful music star.

However, even as the winner, the odds are against him as the country music industry is not easy to break into. With that said, there are plenty of examples of American Idol competitors who have broken through.

This includes several singers who didn’t win the prizes and still became even bigger stars than those who won the competition.

10. Season 2 – Clay Aiken

Things got a lot more competitive in Season 2. While Ruben Studdard was the winner that season, he was not the most successful singer to come from the show.

That would be Clay Aiken, who finished the season in second place. Over his career, Aiken has released six albums, with his debut album going double platinum, his second reaching platinum status, and his third going gold.

Clay has also written his own biography, competed on Celebrity Apprentice, and recently moved into politics in North Carolina.

9. Season 3 – Jennifer Hudson

The third season winner, Fantasia Barrino, went on to have a nice career, both in music and acting. However, it is hard to match up to the woman who finished in seventh place that season.

Jennifer Hudson was in seventh place and has been more successful than anyone who finished above her in American Idol Season 3.

Hudson has won an Academy Award for her acting, two Grammy Awards for her singing, a Daytime Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Screen Actor’s Guild Award. She was also nominated for a Tony Award, making her a rare performer to receive nominations for the Emmy, Grammy, Oscars, and Tony Awards.

She has released four albums, won her Oscar for the movie Dreamgirls, played Aretha Franklin in the 2021 movie Respect, and was in the Broadway musical The Color Purple.

8. Season 5 – Chris Daughtry

Taylor Hicks won American Idol Season 5 and several of the people who finished behind him had much bigger careers.

Katherine McPhee, Elliott Yamin, Kellie Pickler, and Bucky Covington were all in the race. However, the most successful of them all was rocker Chris Daughtry.

Rock stars do not do well on American Idol, but after Chris Daughtry finished in fourth place, he went on to have an incredible career in music.

Daughtry – the band – hit number one on the Billboard charts with their debut album. Daughtry now has six albums out, the first going six-times platinum, the second finishing at platinum status, and the third and fourth going gold.

7. Season 5 – Kellie Pickler

While Daughtry was the most successful singer from Season 5, there is no discounting what Kellie Pickler accomplished in her career.

After finishing in sixth place on American Idol, Kellie released her debut album Small Town Girl, which sold over 900,000 copies and had three top 20 singles.

Kellie has four albums, all hitting the top 20 of the Billboard 200. Her first two albums hit number one on the country charts, with her third reaching second and fourth reaching fourth place.

On top of her musical career, Kellie Pickler also had her own talk show from 2017 to 2019.

6. Season 8 – Adam Lambert

While it seemed a little shocking when Kris Allen beat Adam Lambert, it really did make sense. American audiences have almost always voted for country singers over rock singers in television singing competitions.

While Allen has had a decent career, with six albums out, he never saw one go platinum and hasn’t released a new album in six years. However, his runner-up has enjoyed an amazing career.

Adam Lambert left American Idol as the runner-up and joined Queen as the band’s new lead singer. It might seem crazy to replace Freddie Mercury, especially over decades after his death, but Lambert did so.

Lambert has been with Queen since 2011 and has gone on several world tours with them while also releasing an album with the legendary rockers. He also has four solo albums, with the first three hitting the third, first, and the third spot on the Billboard charts, respectively.

5. Season 9 – Todrick Hall

While he was not a huge-selling musical artist, Todrick Hall was a lot better than his 14th place finish on American Idol Season 9 might have hinted at.

Hall has released several albums, with two of the nine reaching second place on the U.S. Heatseekers Charts. However, it is what he did outside of music that made him so impressive.

He built a giant following on YouTube as a role model for LGBTQ+ people of color and ended up becoming a resident choreographer on RuPaul’s Drag Race. He then moved on to Broadway where he appeared in two massive productions – Kinky Boots and Chicago.

4. Season 9 – Tori Kelly

Also in Season 9, Tori Kelly never made it past Hollywood Week, eliminated before the live shows began and before anyone could vote for her.

However, she didn’t let that stop her and released her self-titled EP in 2012. She then signed with Scooter Braun and released her second EP and then her major-label release, Forward.

Despite never making it to the voting rounds, Tori has now won two Grammy Awards and voiced the character Meena in the Sing movie franchise.

3. Season 10 – Haley Reinhart

In Season 10 of American Idol, Scotty McCreery won the title and enjoyed a great career after this victory. His win came over runner-up Lauren Alaina and third-place finisher Haley Reinhart.

While both Lauren and Haley had a level of success, it was Haley that has seen the most success after her American Idol tenure. Haley has released four albums, her first hitting 17th on the Billboard charts, her second placing 22nd on the U.S. Indie charts, and her third hitting 67th on the U.S. Album Sales chart.

She also achieved worldwide fame when she performed Radiohead’s Creep with the band Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, a song that was on the Billboard Jazz Digital Songs chart for 58 consecutive weeks.

Haley also made her acting debut in the Netflix original movie We Can Be Heroes in 2020.

2. Season 10 – Jimmie Allen

There is no way to talk about missed opportunities on American Idol than to mention Jimmie Allen in Season 10. Jimmie Allen never even made it to television when it mattered and was off the show by Hollywood Week.

What resulted was a man who went on to work in the country music industry, helped in the door by Season 10 winner Scotty McCreery, and then blew the walls down.

He has released two albums with a third on the way, three number-one singles, and just became only the second Black artist to win the CMA New Artist of the Year.

1. Season 16 – Gabby Barrett

In Season 16, Maddie Poppe won American Idol, the first female winner on the show since Season 12.

While Poppe has enjoyed some success after her win, Gabby Barrett also saw her star rise after finishing in third place for the season.

Gabby saw her first number-one single I Hope was one of the most successful for an American Idol alum, going six-times platinum. She released her debut album, Goldmine, in 2020, and it reached fourth on the Country Charts.

Her second single was also successful, reaching first on the country charts and going double-platinum.

American Idol will return in 2023 to ABC.

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