Sure, a winner gets crowned at the end of each season of "American Idol," but just because you take home the trophy doesn't mean that you're guaranteed a successful career. With the pop culture phenomenon in its farewell season, revisit every winner and see which runner-ups have actually gone on to become more famous! 

Season 1: Kelly Clarkson (Winner)
1. Season 1: Kelly Clarkson (Winner)

“American Idol” really got it right the first season. Clarkson has gone on to become one of the most successful singers of any season, selling over 25 million albums and winning 3 Grammys. American Idol, indeed. 

Season 2: Ruben Studdard (Winner), Clay Aiken (Real Winner)
2. Season 2: Ruben Studdard (Winner), Clay Aiken (Real Winner)

Studdard has had a good deal of success post-"Idol" — he appeared on “The Biggest Loser," had a part in the film “Lifted" and sold 2.5 million albums. However, his sales have decreased and he hasn’t managed to stay as relevant as his runner up, Clay Aiken. Aiken has sold less albums than Studdard but has made millions with music sales and Broadway and reality TV stints, even (unsuccessfully) running for Congress in 2014. While Aiken isn't a huge name, he's probably more remembered than Studdard these days. 

Season 3: Fantasia (Winner), Jennifer Hudson (Real Winner)
3. Season 3: Fantasia (Winner), Jennifer Hudson (Real Winner)

You can’t laugh at Fantasia’s success — after selling millions of solo albums, she successfully transitioned to a Broadway career and had her own reality series. However, season 3 also brought us Jennifer Hudson (who somehow finished in 7th place). A Grammy AND Academy Award winner, Hudson has become one of the biggest A-listers in the industry, making her the unofficial winner of season 3.

Season 4: Carrie Underwood (Winner)
4. Season 4: Carrie Underwood (Winner)

Carrie Underwood won season 4 of “American Idol,” but she just might be the winner of the entire franchise. She has achieved an unmatched longevity in the music industry, selling over 14 million albums and earning 7 Grammys. She's been named to the TIME 100 and is considered one of the most successful and influential musical artists working today. 

Season 5: Taylor Hicks (Winner), Daughtry & Katharine McPhee (Real Winners)
5. Season 5: Taylor Hicks (Winner), Daughtry & Katharine McPhee (Real Winners)

Taylor Hicks somehow won season 5, but there's no question that his career following the show pales in comparison to both runner-ups Chris Daughtry and Katharine McPhee. Daughtry has sold over 8 millions albums, while McPhee successfully transitioned into an acting career with hit shows like “Smash” and “Scorpion.”

Season 6: Jordin Sparks (Winner)
6. Season 6: Jordin Sparks (Winner)

Jordin Sparks was no doubt season 6’s standout. Her first post “American Idol” album went platinum and gave us such his as “Tattoo” and “No Air,” which she sang with Chris Brown. With 3 studio albums under her belt, Sparks can also say she’s acted alongside the late Whitney Houston, performed on Broadway and started her own fragrance line. 

Season 7: David Cook (Winner)
7. Season 7: David Cook (Winner)

Season 7 was pretty forgettable, but it's safe to say that winner David Cook is also the real winner, as he managed to go platinum after “American Idol” with his debut album. Runner up David Archuleta got close to double platinum with his single “Crush,” but the record as a whole only sold 765,000 copies. 

Season 8: Kris Allen (Winner), Adam Lamber (Real Winner)
8. Season 8: Kris Allen (Winner), Adam Lamber (Real Winner)

“Live Like We’re Dying” was winner Kris Allen’s standout achievement — he sold 1.5 million copies of the single alone. However, his competitor Adam Lambert has managed to outperform Allen post “Idol.” His album “For Your Entertainment” went platinum and he had a role on the hit show "Glee." He also became the first openly gay musician to reach the top of the Billboard 200 and even went on tour with Queen.

Season 9: Lee DeWyze (Winner)
9. Season 9: Lee DeWyze (Winner)

Season 9 was clearly the weakest of any “Idol” season — the top two singers were pretty unmarketable and while we love Ellen DeGeneres, she probably wasn't qualified to be a judge on “American Idol." DeWyze was the winner of the season but he sold less copies of his album than any winner before him (and nobody else this season did much better). Sooooo we'll just forget this season happened and say Ellen's the winner because she's awesome! 

Season 10: Scotty McCreery (Winner)
10. Season 10: Scotty McCreery (Winner)

Scotty McCreery put life back into the reputation of Idol” winners and fully lived up to the title with his successful debut album. Runner-up Lauren Alaina was great but no match for McCreery's continued success. The country singer came out with hits like “The Trouble With Girls” and sold more than a million copies of the album as whole. 

Season 11: Phillip Phillips (Winner)
11. Season 11: Phillip Phillips (Winner)

Phillip Phillips takes home both the titles of official and unofficial winner of “American Idol” Season 11. His song “Home” was not only the best "Idol" coronation tune of all time, but it was also a major commercial hit.  Phillips’ album ended up selling 500,000 copies in just seven weeks. He's since released a successful second album, too. 

Season 12: Candice Glover (Winner)
12. Season 12: Candice Glover (Winner)

Season 12 is where "Idol" really started going off the rails. Winner Candice Glover was great, but unfortunately her album only sold 12,000 copies in the first week (which is a low to rival Lee DeWyze's record). The other contestants didn’t do much better, and let's be honest, the real reason people were watching the show was to observe the wacky interactions of judges Nicki Minaj, Keith Urban and Mariah Carey. We'll award this season to the infamous Nicki-Mariah feuds. 

Season 13: Caleb Johnson (Winner)
13. Season 13: Caleb Johnson (Winner)

In Season 13, Caleb Johnson took over the medal for lowest selling “Idol” champ EVER, with only 11,000 albums sold in the first week. Sadly, there weren’t any other standout contestants this season, either. In fact, the true winners of season 13 were the viewers who finally jumped ship and started watching "The Voice." 

Season 14: Nick Fradiani (Winner), Randy Jackson (Real Winner)
14. Season 14: Nick Fradiani (Winner), Randy Jackson (Real Winner)

Fradiani and runner up Jax have had a few notable achievements. Fradiani’s “Beautiful Life” became the theme song for the Women’s World Cup. Jax found herself a great fanbase through “Idol” and her single “La La Land” shows pop potential for the singer (who's only 19 years old). However, the real winner is probably Randy Jackson, who finally quit his judging gig on “Idol” in Season 14. 


Cookie Settings