American Idol returns to the air this week on ABC, where Seasons 16-19 have aired following its 2015 cancellation at Fox. However, the show was built on its long legacy at Fox, even with all its changes. American Idol has been putting singers through the emotional ringer since 2002, with the promise of turning them into music sensations. In many cases, the show has delivered on the promise, turning out well-known American music icons like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.
However, the show's decline in popularity made it harder for the winners to take on the ubiquitous role in pop culture after the series ended. Many of the winners of the acclaimed competition series found work as performers, if not on the level of stardom they were hoping for. Others left the music industry altogether, or couldn't hold on.
For better or worse, the show proved that a singing competition on reality TV can't force the American public to accept a musician as a superstar. American Idol gave a boost to many talented people who needed it, but it also clued the public in on how fickle the business is, and how grueling it can be to make a living that way.
It's also worth noting that many of the show's biggest success stories didn't come from the winners. Clay Aiken, for example, was the runner-up in Season 2, but he went on to record five albums with RCA, and two more with Decca Records. He has sold over million albums overall, making him the fourth-highest-selling American Idol contestant in the show's history.
Chris Daughtry, too, made a career out of a losing run on the show. He came in fourth place in the fifth season, yet he remains a huge name in rock music. He's sold the third most records out of an American Idol contestant, behind only Underwood and Clarkson.
American Idol combines the nation's obsessions with music, fame, fortune, and the fickleness of all three to create a masterful reality show. As the nineteenth season begins, here's a look at where the first 15 winners are today.
Since being voted the winner of American Idol's first season, Kelly Clarkson has sold 25 million albums and 36 million singles worldwide. She's won three Grammy Awards and received 14 nominations. Clarkson married Brandon Blackstock in 2012, but they are currently in the midst of a heated divorce. From their marriage, they have a daughter named River and a son named Remington. These days, she works for one of American Idol's biggest competitors, The Voice, as a coach. She also hosts a hit talk show, The Kelly Clarkson Show.prevnext
Ruben Studdard has recorded six studio albums following his monumental win in American Idol's second season in 2003. He even won a Grammy for his song "Superstar" in 2004. Studdard married Surata Zuri McCants in 2008, though they later split in 2012.
Studdard's most recent album, Ruben Sings Luther, was released in 2014 through SEG Music. He also appeared on the 15th season of NBC's The Biggest Loser. He lost a total of 119 pounds, despite being eliminated in the eighth week.prevnext
Fantasia Barrino has recorded seven studio albums, won a Grammy, and received 12 nominations since winning Season 3 of American Idol. She also did a stint on Broadway, first as Celie in The Color Purple, and then in the musical After Midnight.
In 2006, Barrino played herself in a Lifetime Television film based on her biography, Life Is Not a Fairy Tale. It went on to become Lifetime's second most-viewed program of all time. She is currently expecting her first child with husband Kendall Taylor.prevnext
Carrie Underwood has transcended the fame of the show, becoming a country music sensation in her own right. She holds seven Grammy Awards and has sold over 64 million records, per Billboard.
One of Underwood's most recent triumphs was recording "The Champion," the anthemic new song played on major NFL broadcasts starting this year. She also released a Christmas album, My Gift, that had an accompanying HBO Max special. She has been married to hockey player Mike Fisher since 2010 and the couple has two children.prevnext
Season 5's Taylor Hicks sold just over 700,000 copies of his debut album immediately following his appearance on the show. He recorded a second album as well, though he never reached the heights of success that Clarkson, Underwood and other winners managed.
Hicks did star in a Broadway production of Grease in 2008, and he did a residency in Las Vegas in 2012. Hicks worked for Fox as a correspondent during the network's final American Idol season.prevnext
Currently, Jordin Sparks is the only winner of American Idol to have her first five singles reach the top twenty on the Billboard Hot 100. Sparks also starred in a Broadway production of In the Heights, and in the movie Sparkle. She welcomed her first child in 2018.prevnext
David Cook's first self-titled album following American Idol was a big success. It sold over a million copies and two of the songs hit the top 20. However, his two subsequent albums didn't sell very well. However, he's still going strong, releasing new music. He even appeared in the 2018 Broadway production of Kinky Boots.prevnext
Kris Allen has released six albums since winning American Idol in 2009, and he's not done yet. The singer has also been busy with his young family. After marrying his high school sweetheart the year before he became a reality TV sensation, he had a son in 2013. The couple has three children together.prevnext
Just one year after the release of his first studio album, RCA Records dropped Lee DeWyze. He was later signed by an indie label and had a song featured on an episode of The Walking Dead. However, he has never managed to hold on to his stardom.prevnext
Scotty McCreery delighted viewers with his baritone voice coming from such a fresh-faced young man. His first album went platinum, and he merged seamlessly into the country music world. Since winning Season 10 of American Idol, McCreery has toured with big country music stars like Brad Paisley, The Band Perry and Rascal Flatts.prevnext
Phillip Phillips' song "Home" was used in Olympic coverage after his American Idol win. He has managed respectable album sales since his appearance on the show in 2012, and he married his longtime girlfriend in 2015. They now have one child together.prevnext
Candice Glover had a career hiccup immediately after her American Idol win, as her debut album was delayed for a year after going up for pre-order. When it finally came out in February of 2014, it didn't have the same impact. However, Glover recently appeared in Home for the Holidays on Broadway.prevnext
Unfortunately, Caleb Johnson received the lowest first-week album sales out of any American Idol winner to date. It's not just Johnson, however, as Season 13 had some of the series' lowest rating of all time.prevnext
Nick Fradiani was the first American Idol winner to come from the nation's northeast. He released a successful album, Hurricane, in 2016 following his victory, and another EP late in 2017. Fradiani's fans are still waiting with bated breath to see if he can turn his victory on TV into something substantial, as a select few other winners have.prevnext
The last winner of Fox's iteration of American Idol was Trent Harmon. Harmon still had a bit of a delay in releasing his debut album, but it finally arrived in 2018.prev