With American Idol in its final season, it’s time to evaluate just how successful the show was. Sure, it had ratings, but did it really help create and discover new music superstars?
For all the build-up that goes into every season of American Idol, do you really know what’s happened to the winners? I sure didn’t. I watched the show for several years and while I was always blown away by the talent, it would seem that after their season ended, you would then just hear their name in passing once in a while.
When you consider the length of time in between albums, it is only a natural byproduct of the music business that some celebrities are talked about more frequently than others. Also, you'll find out in this article that there have been some significant falling outs with some of the record labels with which Idol sets these stars up. You’ll also learn with whom some of these superstars have been able to tour, because, trust me, that’s an incredibly awesome perk of the job.
As you’ll find, a lot of these winners are doing just fine! You think Taylor Hicks is just the grey-haired forgettable winner from season 5? You might not think that way when you find out that the dude has probably been partying it up in Vegas for years now! There is also a former winner who battled depression and had a suicide attempt, but has fortunately been able to turn their life around.
You don’t know what Ruben Studdard has been up to since winning the show? Maybe you would if you watched other reality TV shows. You don’t know what Carrie Underwood has been up to? Well, for that that one, I don’t believe you. Carrie has been absolutely everywhere and has had a tremendous career.
Think some of these other stars, like Kris Allen, have just fallen off the face of the earth? You couldn’t be more wrong. As you’ll learn below, several of the winners are hoping to have albums come out in 2016. Several have also had singles released very recently, giving you a sneak peak at the talent American Idol has helped to develop.
15 Trent Harmon
What has Trent Harmon been up to since winning American Idol? If I’m going to guess, he’s probably done a few fist pumps, maybe even given off the odd high five. Trent won the most recent season of American Idol on April 7th, 2016. That’s right, he won the competition under a month ago and he still doesn’t have his first album out. What a slacker, right? Harmon won the show in part due to his new single, "Falling", which was written by Keith Urban with Dallas Davidson and Brett James.
Harmon will be represented by Big Machine Records, but, as you are going to read below, time and time again, these recording contracts may not last the longest. His debut album will take on a country/indie-soul style and is expected to be available sometime in 2016.
14 Nick Fradiani
Nick Fradiani was no stranger to reality shows prior to appearing on American Idol. His band, Beach Avenue, had previously appeared on America’s Got Talent but failed to have a lasting impact on the show. That can’t be said about Nick on Idol, as he stormed through the competition on his way to winning the 14th season.
The debut song from Fradiani, "Beautiful Life", was made the official anthem for the Fifa 2015 Women’s World Cup.
Trying to build off of this positive momentum, Fradiani released his single from his newest album “Get You Home” with a music video to follow in the near future. The song is described by Nick as being “the most up-tempo, funkiest song on the whole album."
The album clearly kept him busy, as he stated that he co-wrote every song and they finished recording it in early February.
13 Caleb Johnson
Sometimes the people that win American Idol still had weeks when they seemed off their game. That can’t be said for Caleb Johnson when he won the 13th season and, in the process, became the only Idol contestant to never land into the bottom three contestants of any week. I’m sure that didn’t make him any less stressed going into each elimination, though!
Johnson recorded his first album in three weeks, and it was released on August 12th, 2014. While this was a quick turnaround time (the quickest of any Idol winner in fact!), the album failed to make a mark, only selling 28,000 copies.
As you’ll find with many people on this list, Johnson also stepped away from his record label in 2015 and wanted to work on a second album independently. If you’re curious about what his new album will sound like, Johnson released his first single, “Holding On”, on February 9th, 2016. While the entire album does not have a set release date, it is expected to release sometime in 2016.
12 Candice Glover
When it comes to needing an example of perseverance, just take a look at Candice Glover. She auditioned for the show three times before finally making it to the live shows. Clearly, she took their previous feedback seriously because she’s a tremendous vocalist, and that proved when she won the 12th season of the show. Her first album only sold 65,000 but peaked at number 3 on the US R&B Charts.
She was working on her second album, which she claims will be written completely by her, but in January 2016 she announced that she had parted ways from her label company, 19 Recordings. She now hopes to work with Chris Brown, Drake and/or Jazmine Sullivan on her second album.
Glover also worked with Chadd Black for a previous single and hopes to be working on a mix tape with Black, which we can expect to see sometime in 2016.
11 Phillip Phillips
There is no way that you are going to forget a name that is as outside the box as Phillip Phillips. When you get past the name, you can hear an outstanding musician, who was well deserving of winning the 11th season of American Idol. Phillip’s debut song, “Home”, was the best selling debut song for any Idol winner.
Post winning, Phillips released the album The World from the Side of the Moon and proceeded to go on tour opening for Matchbox Twenty. In 2014, Phillips released his second album, Behind the Light. Fans were hoping for a third album in the near future but instead, in 2015, Phillips filed a lawsuit against his record company claiming that the producers were oppressive and manipulative. He clearly had the support of his wife, Hannah Blackwell, who he married on October 24th, 2015.
10 Scotty McCreery
As you are going to read below, Carrie Underwood did incredibly well for herself when she exploded in country music. Perhaps, that’s why people have such high hopes for Scotty McCreery, who won the 10th season of American Idol. Since winning Idol, McCreery has put out three albums including a Christmas themed one. He also spent part of 2012 opening for Brad Paisley, so you can imagine that would have been an outstanding experience.
His last album was released in 2013 and included the single “Feelin’ It”, which reached the Top 10 on Billboard Country Airplay. McCreery was supposed to have a third album release but, in February 2016, it was announced that he was stepping away from his record label. There was no comment on his next plans but, given that he is only 22 years old, you can imagine there are still some big things in store for Scotty.
9 Lee DeWyze
Prior to being on American Idol, Lee DeWyze had released two albums with his band, Lee DeWyze Band. That may have helped build his following. When he won American Idol, he ended up releasing a third album he recorded previously to winning Idol.
One of the cooler moments for Lee, must have been when one of his songs, “Blackbird Song”, was used in the show The Walking Dead.
Lee has also released two more albums since winning Idol, making that six total (3 pre-Idol, 3 post-Idol). His most recent, Oil & Water, came out in February 2016. His personal life also isn’t going too poorly, as he married his girlfriend, Jonna Walsh, who is a model and actress, in 2012.
8 Kris Allen
Kris Allen was not the most exciting Idol winner. His win was mostly remembered by the fact that he somehow beat out Adam Lambert. Because of this, when his debut album post-Idol was the lowest sales total out of any previous Idol winners, people weren’t exactly shocked. Allen has put out 4 albums in total since winning the competition, with the most recent having come out in March 2016. As a result, Allen will be able to be seen on tour in 2016.
Allen has used his platform as an American Idol to give back to the world as well. This includes traveling to Haiti with the United Nations Foundation to try to help raise awareness and strengthen their disaster relief efforts after they were hit with the earthquake.
He also auditioned and was nearly cast in the 2012 film Rock of Ages. Despite being a talented singer, he was not confident enough as an actor to land the role.
7 David Cook
David Cook brought a cool rock edge to Idol during the seventh season. Cook found immediate success following the win and has put out three albums. His most recent album came out in September 2015. Cook also recently got married in 2015 to his longtime girlfriend, Rachael Stump. They currently do not have any children. Cook is also currently out on the Digital Vein Tour, which is promoting his latest album.
6 Jordin Sparks
People had high hopes when Jordin Sparks won the sixth season of American Idol in 2007. At only 17 years old, Sparks was the youngest winner of American Idol and found immediate success with her debut album.
Her second album came out by 2009 and she became the only American Idol contestant to have her first five singles all reach at least somewhere in the top twenty on the charts. Outside of the music studio, Sparks spent time performing on Broadway as well as some smaller acting performances.
Her most recent album, Right Here, Right Now, came out in 2015 and while it received positive words from critics, it failed to have as significant an impact on the charts as her previous albums.
Sparks has also helped start the I’m M.A.D Are You? campaign that helps cultivate community advocacy and push for volunteerism among teens. As you may have imagined, the M.A.D stands for Make A Difference - not expressing anger! She has been successful at raising over $500,000 since the start of the campaign.
5 Taylor Hicks
Taylor Hicks won the 5th season of American Idol. He sang his way into America’s heart with the help of his iconic silver-fox hair. Since winning the competition, Taylor released three albums with the latest coming out in 2009. In 2008, Hicks also signed onto participating in Grease, playing the role of the Teen Angel on the national tour. In 2013, Hicks returned to television and appeared in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, playing the character of a singing judge, alongside Clay Aiken and Ashanti .
Hicks also has the unique distinction of being the first American Idol winner to earn a spot in Vegas to perform. He signed a year long contract in 2013 to perform at Napoleon’s in Las Vegas. Prior to this, he performed at The Indigo at Bally’s. There might not be a new album, but it's hard to imagine he has a great time with singing in Vegas and everything.
4 Carrie Underwood
Kelly Clarkson may have had herself a heck of a career after winning American Idol, but I don’t know if she compares to Carrie Underwood. Carrie has recorded 5 albums since winning American Idol. These albums have brought Carrie many awards, including 7 Grammy Awards, 17 Billboard Music Awards and 9 American Music Awards. With her last album, Storyteller, she became the only country artist to have their first five studio albums all hit number one or two on the Billboard 200. Underwood has taken a step back from music to focus on her family with hockey player Mike Fisher. The two welcomed their first child, Isaiah, in February 2015.
She was also a guest on an episode of the Talking Dead back in February, so at least you know she has great taste in television!
3 Fantasia Barrino
Fantasia won the third season of American Idol in 2014. As a musician, she has managed to release 4 albums, including her debut. Things took a turn for the worse for her in 2010, when she attempted to overdose on aspirin and an unknown sleeping aid. This was, perhaps, motivated by her year-long relationship with Antwuan Cook who was allegedly still married to his wife at the time of their relationship. Fantasia's third studio album, peaked on the R&B Chart in the Top 10, and also won a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for her single, "Bittersweet".
She has also spent time on Broadway, portraying the character of Celie in The Color Purple.
Fantasia has one child, Dallas Barrino, and got married in 2015 to Kendall Taylor, who works in the entertainment industry.
2 Ruben Studdard
Ruben made a big splash with the audience as he combated against Clay Aiken to win the second season of American Idol. Since appearing on the show, Ruben released 5 studio albums, but the most successful of his career was his debut Soulful, which came out shortly after his win. In 2013, Ruben participated on the NBC show The Biggest Loser. He weighed 462 pounds when he appeared on the show and managed to lose 119 pounds on the show. There was a sixth studio album, Unconditional Love, that came out in 2014. This album featured primarily covers and was not widely available.
1 Kelly Clarkson
A lot of things were different when American Idol first hit the air back in 2002. Yet for as long as the series has run, to Clarkson’s credit, she’s managed to stay relevant and that is more than a lot of people on this list. She reinvented her image with her second album, which was done without the guidance of the American Idol management. Fortunately, her revamp worked well and her second album earned her two Grammy Awards. Her most recent album came out in February 2015 and had several hits, such as "War Paint", "Heartbeat Song" and "Piece By Piece".
She also has a children’s book, River Rose and the Magical Lullaby, that is going to be available in October 2016. Talk about branching out! She currently has two children of her own with her husband Brandon Blackstock, and two stepchildren.