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We Ranked The Top 20 Runner-Ups in Talent Show History

Catherine DiMeglio

Catherine DiMeglio

Adam Lambert and Willie SpenceStefanieKeenan/GettyImages, ABC/Eric McCandless

In every talent show, there are winners and losers. But even some second-place finishers are really, really good. The best acts don’t always win! From American Idol to The Voice to Got Talent shows around the world, here is our list of the top 20 best runner-ups in talent show history. Some of them have gone on to be even more successful than the winners of their season.


20. Jackie Evancho

The standout opera singer competed on season five of America’s Got Talent and lost to fellow singer Michael Grimm. After the show, Jackie went on to break records as she became the youngest solo artist ever to go platinum in the U.S. Last year, she also competed on season three of The Masked Singer in the hopes to reinvent her image as an adult.

19. Emily Ann Roberts

Emily Ann Roberts was featured on season 9 of The Voice and lost to Jordan Smith. That season, her jaw-dropping performance of Cam’s “Burning House” earned her a standing ovation from all four coaches. Today, Emily Ann continues to release her own music and keeps up an active vlog on her YouTube channel.

18. Jack Carroll

Comedian Jack Carroll was featured on series seven of Britain’s Got Talent and finished behind shadow-puppet group, Attraction. The performer shared that he was born with Cerebral Palsy and talks about his life experiences in his act. His career has taken off since being featured on BGT. He’s even appeared on-screen and starred in the award winning British comedy, Eaten By Lions.


17. Jacquie Lee

Then 16-year-old singer Jacquie Lee appeared on season five of The Voice and became part of Team Christina. She Lost to Tessanne Chin in the final round of the competition. Since appearing on the show, Lee has grown into her image as an adult and continues to make music. Her latest song “Contour” is currently available to stream on Spotify.

16. Sharaya J

Sharaya J was featured on season two of The Four. The rapper and choreographer came in second behind James Graham in an epic battle of the season. Known for her singles “BANJI” and “Smash Up the Place,” she released her debut mixtape, Dope Product in 2017. The artist is currently signed to Missy Elliott’s label, The Goldmind Inc.

15. Drew Lynch

Drew Lynch was a standout comedian on the 10th season of America’s Got Talent. Known for basing his act around his stutter, he finished behind ventriloquist Paul Zerdin that year. Today, he still pursues a career in comedy. On August 30, he released his first ever comedy special, Confused. The hour-long feature can be viewed on YouTube.


14. Matt McAndrew

Matt McAndrew appeared on season seven of The Voice and competed on Team Adam. His performance of Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years” turned three chairs. Though he was a standout performer that season, he ultimately came in second behind Craig Wayne Boyd. Today, the artist continues to work on music. His latest single “Gloves” with Saint Punk premiered earlier this Summer.

13. Clay Aiken

On season two of American Idol, Clay Aiken came up short behind winner, Ruben Studdard. However, he is one of the most memorable American Idol contestants of all time. Since appearing on Idol, Clay has embarked on a successful career in entertainment. Overall, he has releases six studio albums, made many television appearances, and even ran for the United States House of Representatives in North Carolina.

12. Zurcaroh

This acrobatic group appeared on America’s Got Talent on season 13. They came in second place behind now renowned magician Shin Lim. Zurcaroh was the first act in Got Talent history to receive a Golden Buzzer on both AGT and an international version of the franchise. Today, the group is verified on Instagram and continues to perform their act live on stage.

11. Alejandro Aranda

Alejandro Aranda competed on season 17 of American Idol coming in second place behind Laine Hardy. Known by his stage name, Scarypoolparty, he performed three original songs in the finale: “Millennial Love,” “Tonight,” and “Out Loud.” Today, the singer has a verified Instagram account with 618,000 followers. His latest single, “The Act of Forgiveness” is available now across all platforms.

10. The Clairvoyants

This mentalist duo competed on season 11 of America’s Got Talent finishing behind Grace VanderWaal. Their shocking act was impressive enough to appear on the AGT stage once more for The Champions. Today, the magic act keeps up regular appearances at their Las Vegas Residency.

9. Carly Rose Sonenclar

The then 17-year-old singer was featured on season two of The X Factor USA, finishing behind Tate Stevens. She competed in the teens category mentored by Britney Spears. The artist became an instant fan favorite after auditioning with “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone. The video of her performance received 30 million views on Youtube, skyrocketing her success. Today, Carly Rose Sonenclar is active on social media and makes a variety of covers on TikTok.

8. Olly Murs

Olly Murs competed on series six of The X Factor UK. He made it all the way to the finals as part of the Over 25s category before finishing behind Joe McElderry. Despite not winning the show, he was signed to RCA records and released his debut single “Please Don’t Let Me Go.” Olly has also taken on the role as a presenter for The X Factor in the 2012 series. Today, the artist actively performs his music at live events, and takes part in a number of soccer charity events.

7. Katharine McPhee

Katharine McPhee was a contestant on season 5 of American Idol, taking the runner-up spot behind Taylor Hicks. Since her time on Idol, she released a self-titled album produced by RCA records. Since then, Katharine has gone on to release four more studio albums and has even ventured into acting. Most recently, the singer took on a lead Broadway role as Jenna, in the musical Waitress.

6. Susan Boyle

Susan Boyle was featured on series three of Britain’s Got Talent. She was 47-years-old at the time of her audition and is often remembered as of the biggest surprises in talent show history. Her audition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserable left the whole room in complete shock. Since then, Susan has received an abundance of success. Her debut album reached number one, spending 39 weeks in the top 100. Ten years later, Susan returned to the Got Talent stage for The Champions where she once again ranked as a finalist.

5. Lauren Alaina

Lauren Alaina competed on season 10 of American Idol placing behind Scotty McCreery. Her audition in Nashville was considered the best of the day by Randy Jackson and set up her expectation of success in the competition. Recently, the country singer released her new album Sitting Pretty On Top Of The World. Along with new music, Alaina is set to star in a Hallmark romantic comedy this Fall. Around this time, the singer will also be releasing her book Getting Good at Being You: Learning to Love Who God Made You.

4. Willie Spence

Willie Spence competed on season 19 of American Idol placing behind Chayce Beckham. Many fans thought he was robbed this season. The R&B singer dominated the season with his powerhouse vocals and continues to spread his message through music today. Willie also advocates for a healthy lifestyle and posts many inspirational videos of his workout routines.

3. David Archuleta

The then 16-year-old contestant was a contestant on season seven of American Idol, placing behind David Cook. His performance of John Lennon’s “Imagine” was his most special moment on the show, and often what he is remembered for during his time on Idol. In 2008, David released the smash hit “Crush” from his self-titled debut album. Recently, he made headlines after announcing he is part of the LGBTQ+ community. Since then, the American Idol star has attempted to take back the limelight on Tiktok and with new music.

2. Angelica Hale

This adorable singer was featured on season 12 of America’s Got Talent and finished in the competition behind Darci Lynne. She auditioned with Andra Day’s “Rise Up” and received the Golden Buzzer in the Judge Cuts Round. Hale returned to the AGT stage for The Champions and once again received a Golden Buzzer, sending her directly to the finals. The now 14-year old is working with Disney to voice a new character. Angelica is set to appear on the animated special Celebrate Chuggington.

1. Adam Lambert

Adam Lambert was a contestant on season eight of American Idol, finishing behind Kris Allen. He auditioned with “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen and now has come full circle as the band’s front-runner. In 2009, Adam faced major backlash after his on stage scandal at the AMAs. Today, the singer embraces and advocates for his role within the LGBTQ+ community while balancing his successful career in music. He joins Meghan Trainor and Ester Dean this fall judging the competition series Clash of the Cover Bands on E!, so clearly placing second on Idol didn’t hold him back.

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About the Author

Catherine DiMeglio
Catherine Di Meglio is a content writer and YouTube host at talent recap. With a love of all things entertainment, she earned her Master’s degree in media management from Wagner College in 2021. Catherine is a New York City girl who has many passions including beauty and fashion, photography, traveling, and making memories with loved ones.

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