Every Winner In ‘American Idol’ History
After a two-year hiatus, American Idol is ready to crown a new winner as part of a two-night finale broadcast beginning Sunday, May 20 at 8:00/7:00 p.m. central on ABC.
In preparation for the season finale, let’s take a trip down memory lane and look back at every previous winner in American Idol‘s original 15 year run and what they’ve been up to since they won.
1. Kelly Clarkson
As American Idol‘s first winner, Kelly Clarkson certainly embodies the rags-to-riches fairytale. Unable to find a record studio that shared her vision, Clarkson worked odd jobs in Burleson, Texas, before taking a chance and auditioning for the show.
She won the season with her finale performance of “A Moment Like This,” which became her debut single and quickly rose to Billboard Hot 100’s #1.
Powerhouse artists such as Babyface and Diane Warren worked on her 2003 debut album Thankful; since then, she has had multiple #1 hits, guested on The Voice, earned a spot on the “100 Greatest Women in Music” tally, and successfully established herself across several genres, including soul, pop and country.
2. Ruben Studdard
Nicknamed the “Velvet Teddy Bear,” Ruben Studdard won admirers with his soulful rendition of The Carpenters’ “Superstar.”
That silky voice continued to make gospel and R&B hits (including 2014’s well-praised Unconditional album), and helped secure Studdard’s star turn in the 30th anniversary revival of the Ain’t Misbehavin’ musical.
Additionally, he has toured with former Idol rival Clay Aiken, had cameos in a few TV shows and the movie Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, and was the first celebrity to appear on The Biggest Loser (during which he lost an impressive 119 pounds!)
3. Fantasia Barrino
Now known as Fantasia Taylor following her 2015 marriage, Fantasia went from being a teen mom at the age of 16 to audience adoration and record contracts three years later when she won American Idol.
She’s won Billboard, Grammy, and ASCAP awards, holds a place in North Carolina’s Music Hall of Fame, and earned glowing reviews for her Broadway stints in The Color Purple and After Midnight.
4. Carrie Underwood
Like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood had been working miscellaneous jobs and shelving her singing dreams when she appeared on American Idol.
Her cover of Heart’s “Alone” immediately made judges and viewers take notice, a bit ironically actually, because she has since established herself as one of the most successful country artists of all time.
Underwood’s Some Hearts debut album won three of the seven Grammys she possesses, which sit next to other career accolades including eight Country Music Awards, 10 Billboard Music Awards and 12 American Music Awards. She has also ventured into occasional acting, starring as Maria Von Trappe in 2013’s The Sound of Music Live!
5. Taylor Hicks
Unlike other show winners who were still struggling to break into the music business, Taylor Hicks already had a small foot in it. But two independent albums and shows at Alabama bars and clubs still weren’t getting him where he wanted to be, thus his audition.
Post-Idol, he’s released three albums, been “Teen Angel” in 2008’s Grease Broadway run, had residencies in Las Vegas and hosted INSP Channel’s State Plate food series.
6. Jordin Sparks
Jordin Sparks has the additional Idol distinction of being the youngest winner throughout the series, claiming the title at the age of 17. Not bad for actually failing her first attempt at securing a coveted “golden ticket” for the show!
She nabbed the winning votes for “This Is My Now,” showing off a fantastic vocal range that has since paid tribute to legends Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross, and at Barack Obama’s Inaugural Ball.
Along with three studio albums and three EPs, Sparks also has a perfume line and the “I’m M.A.D Are You?” young adult advocacy program to her credit.
7. David Cook
David Cook had some musical credits to his name before American Idol, including a solo album, an EP with Midwest Kings and a few albums with Axium. He auditioned for the show after his brother failed to get in, and took home the title with more than 10 million votes.
Shortly after his victory, Cook’s songs amassed almost 950,000 digital downloads. His fifth album is due out this year, as well as a gig on Broadway for the production of Kinky Boots.
8. Kris Allen
On his way to pursuing a business degree, Kris Allen got sidetracked into auditioning for the show, and the rest is history.
As with David Cook, he also was originally at try-outs to support a brother who didn’t make it in.
Covers of “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Falling Slowly“ and an acoustic “She Works Hard for the Money“ made him the show star, which has resulted in six albums to date.
9. Lee DeWyze
Lee DeWyze went from being an indie frontman of his eponymously-named band to winning the Teen Choice Award for “Male Reality/Variety Star.”
Following Idol, he has released six albums and had his “Blackbird Song” featured in an episode of both Suits and The Walking Dead.
10. Scotty McCreery
Despite some rough spots during Scott McCreery’s Idol time, he not only walked away as winner, but as the second youngest.
His song “I Love You This Big“ quickly achieved gold certification, and his first album, Clear as Day, made country debut history for being #1 on Billboard’s 200.
An active participant of the City of Hope Celebrity Softball Games, his fourth album Seasons Change was released in March 2018.
11. Phillip Phillips
Phillip Phillips has certainly made a name for himself that extends beyond the unforgettable moniker.
Praise from Dave Matthews and Stevie Nicks made his win even more noteworthy, while three albums continue to attract fans.
He has opened for Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox Twenty, and co-headlined with O.A.R. and Matt Nathanson.
12. Candice Glover
Exemplifying the motto “Never say never,” Candice Glover’s win came after two previous eliminations from Seasons 9 and 11.
Her voice shined through astounding covers varying from The Cure’s “Lovesong” to Adele’s “Chasing Pavements,” and she has crooned her way to audience delight in two albums.
A vocal proponent for body positivity, Glover also performed in 2017’s Home for the Holidays, Live on Broadway.
13. Caleb Johnson
Caleb Johnson also persevered for an Idol title, losing in the 10th and 11th seasons before claiming the spotlight in season 13.
He has a pre-Idol record with the ’80s metal/’70s Southern rock-influenced band Elijah Hooker, and a post-win solo album, Testify.
14. Nick Fradiani
With a 2011 “Battle of the Bands” win for his group Beach Avenue, which also made it past the audition round on America’s Got Talent in 2014, Nick Fradiani was building attention, but his Idol win supercharged his success.
His versions of Train’s “Drops of Jupiter” and David Gray’s “Babylon” propelled him to a win, and he released the album Hurricane in August 2016.
15. Trent Harmon
Almost one year after losing the chance to grab a spot on The Voice, Trent Harmon got his ticket for American Idol and won the series’ “Farewell” season.
Harmon is another performer who bounces between genres, smoothly going from Sia’s “Chandelier” to Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” to Justin Timberlake’s “Drink You Away.” His self-titled EP came out at the end of 2016.