15 Of The Most Successful Singers From American Idol

Written by Dan Farrant

The singing competition American Idol has been a hit on television for nearly two decades. During that time, it has launched the careers of many household names in the music world.

From artists like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood to Clay Aiken and Scott McCreery, its alumni are some of the biggest names in the music industry today.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at 15 of the most successful singers from American Idol, some of whom might surprise you! Let’s get started!

1. Kelly Clarkson

It is only fitting to begin this list with Kelly Clarkson, winner of American Idol season one in 2002. Along with other famous and influential pop singers, Clarkson is a prominent TV personality, actress, singer, songwriter, and talented author.

After her win on the first season of the show, Clarkson’s music career began, and she earned a record deal with RCA. The deal allowed her to release one of her hits and best-selling singles, “A Moment Like This.”

Since then, she topped the Billboard 100 charts with tracks “Since U Been Gone” and “Because of You” from her 2004 studio album, Breakaway, which garnered her 2 Grammy Awards and sold over 12 million copies globally.

Today, this Idol star has led her talk show, The Kelly Clarkson Show, since 2019 and is continuously winning in her craft.

2. Carrie Underwood

Famous for her intensely brutal ballads and romantic revenge music is Carrie Underwood, a sensational American country and pop musician born in 1983. After winning the fourth season of American Idol, Underwood won the hearts of many fans.

The songstress began singing as a child, often performing at her local church. However, soon after auditioning and winning American Idol season 4 in 2005, she tasted stardom after her career kicked off.

She released her debut album, Some Hearts, later that year, which accorded her numerous accolades, including Grammy, CMA, and ACM awards. To date, one of her most successful tracks is “Jesus Take the Wheel” and “Before He Cheats,” garnering her more recognition and success.

3. Chris Daughtry

Any soft and hard rock fan should be aware of Chris Daughtry’s existence. This sensational rock musician first made headlines after joining the fifth season of American Idol, finishing in fourth place.

Although he never got to win the competition, the singer went on to become the lead vocalist for his rock band Daughtry after signing with RCA records. The band and its fans enjoyed some of their most iconic songs, such as “Waiting for Superman” from their fourth studio album.

In 2007, Daughtry received four Grammy award nominations and won the 2007 American Music Awards for Favorite Breakthrough Artist and Favorite Album, among others.   

Touring and releasing music garnered many records, allowing Daughtry to become the third most successful American Idol after Underwood and Clarkson.

4. Jennifer Hudson

Born in 1981, Jennifer Hudson may have emerged the seventh place on the third season of American Idol, but that did not deter her from bouncing back with an incredible career lineup.

Her divine voice gave the world “If This Isn’t Love” and award-winning studio albums that garnered her a Gold certification and made her a Grammy winner.

Hudson is an EGOT recipient and has acted in several iconic films such as Winnie MandelaDreamgirls, Empire, Sing, and Cats, among others. Hudson was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2013 and was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2020.

5. Adam Lambert

Next up, Adam Lambert stood out on season 8 of American Idol with his impeccable rock fashion and theatrical performance style, becoming a world sensation.

Fresh off the Idol in second place, the singer and songwriter released his “Whataya Want from Me,” which gained him a Grammy nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

Lambert continued giving his fans dynamic vocal performances and sold over 5 million singles and 3 million albums. In 2010, he became People magazine’s Most Beautiful People.

Other than music, Lambert is an advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community and supports projects set on suicide prevention, homelessness, and mental health issues that disadvantage the communities.

6. Katharine McPhee

American singer, songwriter, and actress Katharine McPhee came in second place on the fifth season of American Idol. She then broke into the limelight and is widely known for her single “Over It,” which was certified Gold in 2008.

In 2010, her single “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” from her holiday-themed Christmas album, topped the Billboard charts at #16.

Music aside, McPhee is also a fantastic actress known for her iconic leading roles in the Scorpion series from 2018 to 2019 and Country Comfort in 2021, among others.

7. Fantasia Barrino

Fantasia Monique-Barrino Taylor, simply known as Fantasia, went mainstream in 2004 after winning season 3 of American Idol. She later released her debut single, “I Believe,” which became #1 on the Billboard 100, and “When I See You,” in 2008, garnered her three Grammy nominations.

By 2010, Fantasia’s third studio album, Back to Me, featuring “Bittersweet,” gained her R&B success and won her a Grammy Award for Best Female R&B vocal.

Fantasia has sold over 2.8 million albums in the US alone. She has also managed to star in a few Broadway shows, including The Color Purple and After Midnight.

8. Clay Aiken

On the encouragement of a friend, Clay Aiken joined American Idol season two. He came in second with the song “This Is the Night,” which debuted at the #1 spot on Billboard‘s Hot 100.

After Idol, Aiken released his debut album, Measure of a Man. It was critically acclaimed, reaching the top of the charts and becoming certified double Platinum. He also made eleven tours in his musical career and sold over five million albums globally.

Other than music, Aiken has done everything from starring in Broadway shows such as Spamalot to becoming a runner-up on The Celebrity Apprentice season five in 2012. He is also known for his political affiliations and activism.

9. David Cook

Born in 1982, David Cook became a worldwide sensation after winning American Idol season seven in 2008 with “The Time of My Life,” after which he released as his debut single. It sold over 1.4 million copies globally and was certified Platinum.

Eleven of the songs Cook performed in Idol debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, breaking the record previously held by Miley Cyrus. He also held the record for most songs on the same chart by one artist.

To date, Cook has headlined tours and released three successful studio albums, proving his talent is impressive.

10. David Archuleta

Tenth on our list, though not necessarily in this rank, we have David Archuleta. This talented American pop singer began singing at the age of 10, and by the age of 16, he had advanced to American Idol, where he lost to David Cook in season eight.

Archuleta released “Crush” soon after the Idol competitions, which became #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. His other amazing songs include “A Little Too Not Over You,” which has 25 million views on YouTube.

Archuleta is a Christian advocate who has attended missionaries and is a philanthropist working with different charity organizations to increase education, food, and relief awareness.

11. Jordin Sparks

American R&B and pop singer and actress Jordin Sparks rose to prominence and fame after winning American Idol season six with the song “This Is My Now.”

Sparks won the season when she was only 17, making her the youngest winner in Idol history. This young age, coupled with unquestionable skill, gave her the chance to make a music career out of her win.

Her eponymous first album was certified Platinum and sold over two million copies globally. Some of her top singles to date include “No Air,” on which she collaborated with Chris Brown, and “Tattoo.”

Sparks also ventured into acting, appearing in Broadway shows such as In the Heights in 2010 and the film Sparkle in 2012.

12. Scott McCreery

Talented singer Scott McCreery entered the country music scene in 2011 after winning the tenth season of American Idol with the song “I Love You This Big.”

Soon after Idol, he signed with Mercury Nashville and released his debut studio album, Clear as Day. It topped the charts and became certified Platinum.

He has since released four more studio albums, with two of them hitting the top of the US Country chart. In 2017, one of his singles, “Five More Minutes,” reached #1 on the Billboard Country Airplay and #4 on Hot Country Songs.

13. Phillip Phillips

From Albany, Georgia, pop-rock singer-songwriter Phillip Philips found fame after winning the 11th season of American Idol in 2012. He sang “Home” at the coronation, which he later released as his debut single.

Though “Home” only ranked #10 on the Billboard Hot 100, it became a sensational best-seller in the history of American Idol, having over 250 thousand digital downloads in just a week.

After Idol, Phillips went on to release three studio albums, the first two having great success in the top ten on the Billboard 200. Aside from “Home,” his songs “Gone, Gone, Gone” and “Raging Fire” have been popular.

14. Ruben Studdard

Nicknamed Velvet Teddy Bear for his velvety voice and approachable appearance, Ruben Studdard shot to fame after winning American Idol season two.

The song he sang during the third round of the contest, “Superstar,” gained him a Grammy nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. His finale song, a cover for Westlife’s “Flying Without Wings,” ranked #1 on Billboard Hot 100.

Since his win, Studdard has recorded and released seven studio albums, with Soulful, his debut album, topping Billboard 200 and becoming classified as Platinum by the RIAA.

Additionally, Studdard is a recording gospel artist whose “I Need an Angel” has captured the hearts of many and won him two Billboard Music Awards for Top Gospel Artist and Top Gospel Album.

15. Ace Young

Finally, we have Ace Young. This young American artist did not win in American Idol but ranked seventh place in season five. Nevertheless, the exposure helped boost his music career.

After Idol, Young released only one album. Self-titled, it had just moderate success with the single “Addicted” ranking #77 in US pop charts.

At this point, it would appear that his music career had fizzled out. However, Young found success in his songwriting skills. He earned a Grammy nomination for writing Chris Daughtry’s song, “It’s Not Over.”

Young is also familiar with the acting industry, as he has appeared in several Broadway shows, Grease in 2008 and Hair in 2010.

Summing Up Our List Of Successful American Idol Singers

Since 2002, American Idol has been key to helping aspiring singers hit it big in their careers. Some, like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, have had massive success, while others, like Ace Young, were able to find their niche in songwriting.

Nevertheless, each artist who has participated in the show has in one way or another, made a mark on the music industry. And with American Idol being on its 21st season, we’ll undoubtedly continue to see many more talented singers emerge from the show.

With so many singers coming out of Idol, we might have missed a few. Let us know who, and we’ll add them!

Photo of author

Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.