American Idol has returned for its 17th season! And already, there has been a lot of talk this season about auditions being the “best ever.” From teases claiming the “greatest audition ever” to two comparisons to Kelly Clarkson, Myra Tran and Madison Vandenburg, it raises the question of who the best contestants of all time are.
Well we’re taking a look at just that! We considered their runs on the show, as well as success after the show in our ranking. So let’s get into it!
25. Allison Iraheta
Allison Iraheta has been discreetly making her way through the music industry since her fourth place finish on season eight. She is now the lead singer of Halo Circus and has been part of Rickey Minor’s house band. This has lead her to performances on Idol, Dancing With the Stars, and The Four. And she is now one of the backup singers on Kelly Clarkson’s Meaning of Life Tour!
24. Haley Reinhart
Fans were shocked when Haley Reinhart finished in second on season 10. But she signed a record deal with Interscope Records shortly after. Her first album was released to critical acclaim! She late became the first Idol alum to sing at Lollapalooza. Since then, she has performed multiple covers with Postmodern Jukebox and headlined a US tour in 2017.
23. Danny Gokey
While Danny finished in third place on the eighth season of Idol, his real rise to stardom didn’t come until years later. He signed with RCA Nashville at first before he moved musical direction to Christian music in 2011. His second full-length album released in 2014. That and his following Christian singles have led to a GMA Dove Award and a Grammy nomination.
22. Candice Glover
Candice won season 12 of American Idol. In her debut album’s first week, it it 33 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop charts and #93 on the Hot 100. She’s also performed on Broadway but has yet to release a second album yet.
Another Idol contestant who has made her name in Christian music is Mandisa. She was on the fifth season of the show but only made it to ninth place. Mandisa is one of only a few Idol alumni to win a Grammy Award, for her album Overcomer. She has also been nominated for numerous GMA Dove Awards.
20. Elliott Yamin
If you don’t remember anything about Elliott Yamin on Idol, you definitely still remember his song “Wait For You.” And that’s saying a lot! The hit single reached #13 on the US charts. To remind you, he finished third on the fifth season of the show. Elliott has since released four studio albums and two Christmas collections.
19. Ruben Studdard
Ruben Studdard made a big statement when he won the second season. After, he received a Grammy nomination for his recording of “Superstar.” Since then, he has released seven albums, including his platinum-selling debut album. He also appeared as a contestant on The Biggest Loser! Ruben made his Broadway debut with fellow Idol finalist Clay Aiken in 2018.
18. Constantine Maroulis
Constantine lit up the stage with his crazy antics and recognizable hair on Idol. But he finished in sixth place on the fourth season. Since then, he received a Tony nomination for his role in Rock of Ages on Broadway and also starred in Jekyll and Hyde. While his solo album releases have not done particularly well, he has found success in theater and acting.
17. David Cook
David Cook rose to fame after winning season seven. He shattered several Billboard chart records directly following the show. He had 11 songs debut on the Hot 100 that week, beating the previous record of 6 by Miley Cyrus. His first post-Idol debut album has been certified Platinum. David has since released two more albums, appeared as Charlie Price in Kinky Boots, and toured solo and with Gavin DrGraw.
16. Lauren Alaina
Lauren Alaina was the runner-up on the 10th season of American Idol. Her second album, Road Less Traveled, was released in 2017 and hit number one on the Country Airplay chart. She has been nominated and won multiple awards, including Teen Choice Awards, CMA Awards, and ACM Awards. Lauren will also be performing at the Stagecoach Festival this year!
15. Kris Allen
Kris won the eighth season of Idol. His winning song and cover of “Heartless” both charted in the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. His debut album peaked at number 11 and the album’s lead single, “Live Like We’re Dying” peaked at #18. He has now released five studio albums! Kris also joined the American Idol Live! Tour last summer.
14. Clay Aiken
Clay’s run on American Idol led to quite the career after! He’s released six albums and toured 11 times. Clay has also appeared on Broadway, Saturday Night Live, and The Celebrity Apprentice. Most recently, he ran for Congress in North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district. He won the Democratic primary but lost the general election.
13. Kellie Pickler
Kellie Pickler was a country singer on season five. She finished in sixth place but was signed to 19 Records and BNA Records after the show. Kellie has since co-written songs with Taylor Swift! She also won Dancing With the Stars with Derek Hough and co-hosts a nationally syndicated talk show called Pickler & Ben with comedian Ben Aaron.
12. Maddie Poppe
The most recent winner of American Idol is already making a name for herself! She has released three more singles since her big win and continues to appear on many television programs. Plus, the public announcement of her relationship with runner-up Caleb Lee Hutchinson didn’t hurt the media push either. And she just appeared on the show again as her goth counterpart, Lady MaPo.
11. David Archuleta
David Archuleta had a huge hit with “Crush” after he finished second to fellow David, David Cook. His first album debuted at number two on the Billboard charts. Then, he left for his mission for the LDS Church and took a two year hiatus from 2012-2014. David released his seventh studio album last year, a holiday album called Winter in the Air.
10. Fantasia Barrino
Fantasia rose to fame after winning season three. Her first single, “I Believe,” debuted at number one. She has since released a Platinum album and a Gold album, received six Grammy nominations and one win, and has appeared in multiple Broadway shows. Fantasia has even been nicknamed “Baby Patti LaBelle” by her idol Patti LaBelle.
9. Katharine McPhee
Katharine McPhee was the runner-up on the fifth season of Idol. But since then, she has established careers in both acting and singing. Katharine has released five albums and starred in The House Bunny, Smash, and Scoprion. She also has appeared on Broadway in the musical Waitress. She currently plays the lead role of Jenna Hunterson.
8. Scotty McCreery
Scotty is one of a number of male country artists who broke into the mainstream after his appearance on American Idol. He won the 10th season of the show, beating Lauren Alaina, who was on this list earlier. Scotty has released four albums since then and toured with Brad Paisley, The Band Perry, Rascal Flatts, RaeLynn, Danielle Bradbery, and more. He’s also won a number of country music awards!
7. Jordin Sparks
Jordin released hit after hit single following her appearance on American Idol. She won season 6 at age 17, making her the youngest winner at the time. And when her self-titled debut album released in 2007, “Tattoo” and “No Air” became top-ten singles. “No Air,” her collaboration with Chris Brown is the third highest-selling single by any Idol contestant.
6. Phillip Phillips
This may be news to you but Phillip’s winning song, “Home,” is the all-time best selling song from American Idol! So there’s a pat on the back for that. He has since released three albums with hits including “Gone, Gone, Gone” and “Raging Fire.” He’s also toured with the Goo Goo Dolls, John Mayer, and Matchbox Twenty.
5. Chris Daughtry
Rocker Chris Daughtry made quite an impression despite finishing in fourth place on season 5 of Idol. He was given a record deal by RCA Records after his appearance on the show. Chris is now the third most successful American Idol contestant in terms of record sales, behind only Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. His rock band Daughtry was even nominated for a Grammy!
4. Jennifer Hudson
Jennifer Hudson is always talked about as one of the most robbed, underrated contestants in Idol‘s history. Somehow, she only finished in seventh place on season 3. But she has proven herself time and time again since! She made her film debut in 2006 then won an Oscar and Golden Globe for her role. Since then, she’s made her Broadway debut and contributed as a coach on the UK and US versions of The Voice.
3. Adam Lambert
Almost undeniably the most successful male in the show’s history in terms of having a long-lasting career, Adam Lambert didn’t have to win to make his presence known. He rose to fame quickly after his second place finish, collaborating with Queen as lead vocalist since 2011. Adam has appeared on multiple shows, done his own tours, and released multiple solo albums as well. It’s safe to say he’s not too upset about not winning Idol. He is doing just fine for himself!
2. Carrie Underwood
In any conversation about successful talent show artists, Carrie is part of the talk. She is definitely one of the best artists to come out of any show, not just Idol. Carrie has been an icon in country music since winning the third season. Since then, she has won seven Grammy Awards, ten Billboard Music Awards, fourteen Academy of Country Music Awards, thirteen American Music Awards, nine Country Music Association Awards, and in total 171 awards from 309 nominations. Those are some NUMBERS! And she is deserving of every single one of those.
1. Kelly Clarkson
Of course, Kelly Clarkson has to top this list. She has had so much success since winning the first season of American Idol, most recently including a coaching spot on The Voice and her own talk show! Add to that over 25 million album sales and 45 million singles sold worldwide, over 100 number one hits, three Grammys…the list goes on! Kelly proved to be a superstar from the second she took the Idol stage. And there’s been no looking back for her since!