In season eight of American Idol, winner Kris Allen was overshadowed by runner up Adam Lambert, to the point that there were questions about the ethics of Allen’s win (there were reports that AT&T, who at the time were the only network that American Idol would accept text message votes from, had supplied free text messaging services to several Allen-favoring American Idol parties in the States). But the rumors didn’t stop Allen from winning, and losing certainly didn’t slow Adam Lambert’s career down. So let’s look at some other runners up who’ve gone on to successful careers.
Blake Lewis – $1.2 million
Blake Lewis was the first runner-up on the sixth season of American Idol, who wowed audiences and judges alike with his beatboxing skills. Immediately after the end of the idol season, he appeared on the ‘American Idols Live! Tour’, and was signed with ARISTA Records. His post-Idol album, A.D.D. (Audio Day Dream), debuted at number ten on the billboard 200, and sold nearly 100,000 copies in the first week. He followed it up with Heartbreak on Vinyl in 2009, from Tommy Boy Records, selling 4,000 in the first week, and reaching number seven on the charts for U.S. Dance/Electronic Albums. His latest album, Portrait of a Chameleon, has had its release date pushed back until April 2014, and will be released under his own recording label, Audio Day Dream Records. In the meantime, he’s also dabbled in voice acting, including the English dub of Durarara!!.
Bo Bice – $1.5 million
Bo Bice almost won season four of American Idol, but his competition was Carrie Underwood, the show’s most lucrative success story. Post-Idol he was signed to RCA records, and his first single, his version of ‘Inside Your Heaven’ was certified gold in July 2005. He was awarded the Jim Croce 20th Annual Music Award by the Croce family, for his performance of ‘Time in a Bottle’ on American Idol. He also performed with Carlos Santana and Willie Nelson. His solo debut, The Real Thing, came out in 2005, and was within the top ten openings for American Idol finalists. His touring schedule in 2005-6 was hectic, and needed to be paused several times due to health complications, from a broken foot to coughing up blood. After Hurricane Katrina he took part in several fundraising efforts to help with relief.
In 2007, he partnered with Strategic Artist Management to found his own music label, SugarMoney/StratArt, which released his album See The Light. In the same year he also appeared on American Chopper. His third album, 3, was released in 2010.
Diana DeGarmo – $1.5 million
Diana DeGarmo came in second to Fantasia in season three, and has segued it into a steady career. She was signed to RCA records after the season ended, and her single, “Dreams”, reached number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. She recorded her debut album in between stops on the American Idol summer tour. The album, Blue Skies, sold 47,000 copies in its first week, and debuted at number 52. Despite having little advertising, the album sold 168,000 copies in its first year. However, her successes lies not in album sales, but in musical theater. She had her stage debut as Maria in the American Musical Theater of San Jose’s production of West Side Story. She’s since appeared in Hairspray, Brooklyn: The Musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and The Toxic Avenger: The Musical. She’s also had a recurring role on The Young and the Restless in 2011, as wannabe singer Angelina Veneziano. Currently, she and her husband, fellow Idol alumni Ace Young host Planet 360 an entertainment show on TVGN.
David Archuleta – $5 million
One of the youngest contestants on season seven of American Idol, David Archuleta lost by 66% to David Cook. He placed second on Forbes’ list of 2008’s breakout stars, and also won a Teen Choice Award for “Most Fanatic Fans”, so it’s no surprise his career wasn’t slowed by the Idol loss. His first record, David Archuleta came out in 2008, and reached number two on the US Billboard 200. He’s dabbled in acting, appearing on iCarly, Hannah Montana, Tosh.0 and most recently the lead role on the Philippine TV series Nandito Ako (Here I am). He’s released four albums after his debut, including a 2009 Christmas album and two in 2012. His latest album was No Matter How Far, which mostly contains songs previously released in Asia. Currently, he’s completing a two year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, which started in March 2012. He’s stated that songs of his will be released while he’s gone, and that he plans to return to music after his term is up.
Katharine McPhee – $5 million
Katharine McPhee may have gotten her start on American Idol, finishing as runner up in season five, but she’s moved on from reality shows since then. Her first album, released in 2007 debuted at number two on the billboard 200, with its first single ‘Over It’ getting certified gold. However, she was released from her contract with RCA records, so her second album was postponed. In this time she made her acting debut, in the 2008 comedy The House Bunny. Her second album, Unbroken was released in 2010, and opened at number 27 on the billboard 200. She followed Unbroken up with a Christmas album, Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You, and sold 1000 copies in the first week, a strong showing for a holiday album. Her acting’s been at the forefront of her career lately, after she starred in the musical series Smash. She also has an upcoming pilot show, Scorpion, and will appear on the the webseries It Could Be Worse with fellow Smash star, Megan Hilty.
Clay Aiken – $5 million
In the second season of American Idol, Clay Aiken, despite having a large and intense fan base, lost out to Ruben Studdard. But he was signed by RCA anyways, and released four albums with them, with his first, Measure of a Man, premiering at number one on the billboard 200 for 2003, and achieving double platinum status. He followed it up with a Christmas album, which tied with Celine Dion‘s These Are Special Times (1998) for best holiday album debut. His next three albums saw a decline in sales, but the third still debuted in the top 5. He’s had some television pots as well, including guest-hosting an episode of Live With Regis and Kelly, and acting as a guest judge on America’s Next Top Model, as well as an episode of the Office. In 2012, he dipped back into reality television, as a contestant in the fifth season of The Celebrity Apprentice, where he performed well, but ended up losing out to Arsenio Hall, becoming the runner-up once again. But he’s had better luck in musical theater: he’s played in Spamalot on Broadway, as well as in several off-Broadway productions. However, the latest chapter in Aiken’s life has opened onto a different sort of performance: politics. In February he announced his intention and candidacy to run for congress in North Carolina, against republican Renee Ellmers.
Adam Lambert – $5 million
The eighth season runner up, Adam Lambert was considered by many a shoe-in for the win, leading to surprise (and some consternation) when he didn’t. If it bothered him, though, it didn’t show, and he was quickly signed to 19 Entertainment for his first studio album, For Your Entertainment. The album debuted at number three on the charts, and sold 198,000 copies in its first week. The follow up album, Trespassing, debuted at number one on the charts, making it the first album by an openly gay artist to debut so well (other gay artists have had albums debuted at number one, but before they’d come out). He describes his sound as pop-rock with electronic productions, and it’s a sound that’s resonated with listeners: his albums have sold well and his first solo concert, at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in California, sold out. During 2010 he had his first concert tour, the Glam Nation tour, which performed 113 shows, most of them to sold out houses. He returned to American Idol in 2010 as a mentor for an Elvis-themed week. In 2011, he took on the role of lead singer for Queen at the MTV Europe Music Awards, where his work impressed Queen guitarist Roger Taylor so much that he was taken on for some more live shows with them in 2012. He’s also taken up television, appearing on hit shows like Pretty Little Liars and Glee. Currently, he’s working on a third album and preparing for a tour with Queen.
Kellie Pickler – $6 milllion
Finishing in sixth place in season five of American Idol doesn’t sound like a great place to kick off a music career, but Kellie Pickler‘s not your average runner-up. In 2006 she signed with 19 Recordings/BNA records, and began work on her first album while on the American Idols Live! Tour 2006. Her first album, Small Town Girl, hit the top of the Billboard Country Albums list, as well as number nine on the Billboard 200. From there, she established herself solidly as a country star, touring with Brad Paisley in 2007, and with her 2008 album, Kellie Pickler, debuting at the height of the country charts as well. Her next three albums did well on the country charts, and she returned to television in 2013, appearing on season sixteen of Dancing with the Stars, where she and her partner, Derek Hough, won.
Chris Daughtry – $8.5 million
The fifth season of American Idol gave rise to some big names. Chris Daughtry came in fourth, and impressed people with his rock vocals, including the rock band Fuel, which offered him the lead singer position after Brett Scallions quit. Daughtry was flattered, but declined in order to start his own band. The band he started was Daughtry, and it released its first single, ‘It’s Not Over’ in November, 2006. The album itself reached number one on the Billboard charts, and in 2007, American Idol started playing Daughtry’s ‘Home’ every time a contestant was voted off. His later albums have done well, with his latest, Baptized, reaching number three on the rock album charts, and number six on the general charts.
Jennifer Hudson – $18 million
Jennifer Hudson tops this list, as both the most successful American Idol runner up, and the most feted. While she came in seventh place on American Idol‘s third season, she’s had a career that anyone would be envious of. While American Idol gave the Hudson her first brush with fame, her celebrity status was cemented by her film debut in 2006. She took the role of Effie White in the film version of the musical Dreamgirls, where she stunned audience with her powerful vocals and skillful acting, particularly with her performance of ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’. Her performance in the role lead to her winning both a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for best supporting actress. Her debut album, Jennifer Hudson, released in 2008, won a Grammy and was certified gold by the RIAA after selling over 800,000 copies in the US alone. The second single of the album was postponed due to the tragic murders of several of her family members, leading to Hudson’s understandable withdrawal from the public eye for several months. She’s currently working on her third album, which is scheduled for release early this year, and promises a soulful, seventies inspired, dance sound.