Talent show like AGT, BGT, X Factor, American Idol and DWTS results can often be funny. They promise stardom to the winner, but oftentimes another contestant walks away with the most fame and glory, sometimes so much so that people remember them as the winner instead, the old “Mandela Effect” of sorts…
Finalists Commonly Mistaken as Champions
Susan Boyle – Britain’s Got Talent Series 3
Susan’s audition of the BGT panel misjudging her abilities based on her frumpy appearance, then immediately being shellshocked when her beautiful voice belted out “I Dreamed a Dream” is a classic viral reality TV moment. But come the end of the series, Susan finished in second place to dance group Diversity.
Diversity has gone on to have quite a strong career in their own right and are one of the more successful BGT winning acts, but unlike Susan, they are virtually unknown outside of Britain and if you ask anyone outside of the country, they’ll probably tell you Susan was the winner of her season on BGT.
Jackie Evancho – America’s Got Talent Season 5
Like Susan, Jackie is one of the biggest music star to come out of Got Talent, but she didn’t win either. The young opera singer finished AGT Season 5 as runner-up to soul singer and guitarist Michael Grimm.
Since her time on the show, Jackie has recorded several albums, performed at Presidential Inaugurations, tried her hand at acting and modelling, and competed on America’s Got Talent: The Champions. Michael has also recorded a couple of albums, but his star has definitely faded in comparison to Jackie’s.
John O’Hurley – Dancing With the Stars Season 1
The first season of DWTS only had six contestants, with the last two teams standing being John with his partner Charlotte Jørgensen and Kelly Monaco with her partner Alec Mazo. Despite consistently lower scores throughout the competition, Kelly ultimately pulled out the win over John.
Since John was a much better dancer than Kelly, many people falsely believe he was the one to taste victory. But this widespread false belief does technically have a nugget of truth to it; ABC scheduled a rematch between the two a few months after the season finale, and John was the winner of that dance-off.
Shawn Johnson – Dancing With the Stars Season 15: All-Stars
Shawn is the only person on this list who is technically a talent show winner: she and her partner Mark Ballas won Season 8 of DWTS. For Season 15, her partner was Derek Hough and the pair consistently delivered amazing and surprising dances every week, with some of them later winning Derek an Emmy!
But as for the season itself, as popular as Shawn and Derek were, they had both won in the past (Derek three times prior, and three more times after, to be precise) while neither Melissa Rycroft nor her partner Tony Dovolani had gotten a Mirrorball Trophy (they actually placed third to Shawn and Mark back in Season 8). The sentimental desire of the audience to see them finally taste victory was just too strong for even the amazing Shawn and Derek to handle, so in the end, they finished in second place.
Stephen Laurel “tWitch” Boss – So You Think You Can Dance Season 4
tWitch is one of the most famous people to come out of SYTYCD. He’s been a contestant, all-star and even a judge on the show. He’s very well-respected in the hip-hop world and isn’t too shabby in other styles either. And outside the dance world he’s Ellen DeGeneres’s DJ!
But a SYTYCD champion he is not. tWitch lost out to fellow hip-hopper Joshua Allen in Season 4, but he’s still the much more recognizable face – and more versatile dancer – of the two. (And he never had a stint in prison.)
David Archuleta – American Idol Season 7
You’ve probably heard of the David vs. Goliath story, but the American Idol Season 7 finals was a David vs. David story. In the end, David Cook was the last David standing, but David Archuleta has done so well for himself by appealing to a young, tween and teenaged crowd that it’s easy to forget he didn’t actual get the title of “American Idol”.
Adam Lambert – American Idol Season 8
American Idol’s very next season produced a runner-up whose star outshone the champion. Adam was widely expected to win Season 8 and many people quickly forgot he didn’t, but winner Kris Allen was more appealing to the show’s main demographic. That didn’t slow Adam down, though, and he’s had plenty of opportunities in music, television, and theater since his season.
One Direction – The X Factor UK Series 7
In 2010, Simon Cowell put Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, and Liam Payne together, and as One Direction went on to become the most popular western boy band of the decade.
Surely a group who became so huge so quickly would be the obvious winners, but nope! They weren’t exactly big at the time, being newly-formed and all, and finished in third place behind soloists Matt Cardle and Rebecca Ferguson. (Note that Cher Llyod, who also competed in that season’s finals and finished fourth, also went on to have a much more successful career than either of the top two!)
Fifth Harmony – The X Factor US Season 2
Less than two years later, X Factor history would repeat itself across the pond. Simon created a girl group made up of Lauren Jauregui, Ally Brooke, Camilla Cabello, Normani Kordei, and Dinah Jane. They settled on the name Fifth Harmony and went on to place third in the competition behind Tate Stevens and Carly Rose Soneclar, but of course they quickly surpassed them in the “real world” of the music industry.
Zhavia – The Four Season 1
Yes, that’s right. The biggest success story to come from The Four didn’t actually win like many people believe. She finished behind winner Evvie McKinney and runner-up Candice Boyd, but quickly became the biggest star to come out of the show. Since the finale, Zhavia has gone on tour, collaborated with artists like French Montana, and contributed songs to the Deadpool 2 and live action Aladdin soundtracks.