‘American Idol’: The Most Successful Contestants From the Show

Since American Idol premiered in 2003, countless talented (and not-so-talented) contestants have graced our TV screens. Only a handful have gone on to win the title. But many have gone on to find some success after the show. It’s easy to measure how successful AI’s most popular talent has been based solely on the wealth they’ve accumulated.

But other factors also play a big role in their success. Some former contestants have absolutely killed it post-Idol when you consider things like prestigious career moments, staying power, and how well they’ve done relative to where they finished in the competition.

Here are the most successful American Idol contestants ever. Be sure to read the list all the way through, because you might be surprised who we’ve chosen for No. 1!

15. Justin Guarini

Justin Guarini singing into a microphone.

Justin Guarini | Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Lincoln Center

  • Net worth: $700,000
  • Albums sold: 124,000
  • Grammy awards: 0 nominations

You have to hand it to the very first American Idol runner-up. For a long time, he and his career mostly boiled down to bad From Justin to Kelly punch lines.

It’s true that he never quite matched Kelly Clarkson’s level of success. But he persevered through it all and managed to carve out a big career for himself.

Guarini has starred on Broadway, released two albums, and snagged a hosting gig on the TV Guide Channel. He also starred as the Prince-like Lil’ Sweet in a series of Diet Dr. Pepper ads.

Next: This Season 5 crooner made Idol history in Vegas.

14. Taylor Hicks

Taylor Hicks singing into a microphone on stage.

Taylor Hicks | Mike Windle/Getty Images for The Hollywood Christmas Parade

  • Net worth: $2 million
  • Albums sold: 757,000
  • Grammy awards: 0 nominations

Some people wondered if Season 5 winner Taylor Hicks would be able to forge a long-lasting career. After all, his musical style was a hit with the “Soul Patrol,” but it wasn’t exactly mainstream.

In the years since he won, Hicks has managed to prove the naysayers wrong. Two of his albums made it onto the Billboard Top 200 chart. And in 2012, he became the first Idol contestant to score a residency in Las Vegas. All told, his hard work has added up to a net worth around $2 million.

Next: This Idol winner’s victory single is still stuck in our heads.

13. Phillip Phillips

Phillip Phillips smiling on the red carpet.

Phillip Phillips | Theo Wargo/Getty Images

  • Net worth: $3.5 million
  • Albums sold: 1.1 million
  • Grammy awards: 0 nominations

One of the pitfalls — er, perks — of making it to the finals in American Idol is getting to record an original victory ballad. Some have been horrible (“No Boundaries”), while some aren’t entirely bad (don’t lie — you teared up at “A Moment Like This”).

The best, by far, was Phillip Phillip’s Season 11 anthem, “Home.” And that’s evidenced by the fact that it’s still the best-selling American Idol single of all time. That fact alone should earn him a place on this list. Phillips faded into obscurity after his first album, but that was because he sued to get out of his Idol contract, and was barred from making music until they settled in 2017.

Next: This Season 10 star has made waves on the country charts.

12. Scotty McCreery

Scotty McCreery performs during the WME Party at the IEBA 2015 Conference.

Scotty McCreery | Jason Davis/Getty Images for IEBA

  • Net worth: $4 million
  • Albums sold: 1.87 million
  • Grammy awards: 0 nominations

At just 17 years old, Scotty McCreery handily won the tenth season of American Idol with his sweet, old-fashioned country music appeal. His first album went platinum and he’s had five songs on the Billboard Top 100.

And he’s enjoyed continued success since then, despite some bumps along the way. McCreery lost his first record deal in 2016. But in 2017, he made music industry history with his single “Five More Minutes.” To date, it’s the only song to chart on the Country Aircheck/Mediabase Top 50 without the support of a record label.

As an added bonus, McCreery scored a new record deal. His current net worth is approximately $4 million.

Next: This Season 7 fave has grown up and branched out.

11. David Archuleta

David Archuleta performs during the annual PBS "A Capitol Fourth" concert at the US Capitol.

David Archuleta | Kris Connor/Getty Images

  • Net worth: $5 million
  • Albums sold: 1.09 million
  • Grammy awards: 0

David Archuleta didn’t win Season 7 of American Idol, but he did win over millions of fans. He translated that enthusiasm into a solid fan base that has followed him for years.

Archuleta’s first album went gold in the United States. Since then, he’s kind of fallen off the radar stateside — but he still has considerable star power around the world. In 2012, he starred on the Filipino TV series Nandito Ako. And he released a gold album exclusively in the Philippines that same year.

Currently, Archuleta’s net worth is approximately $5 million.

Next: This Season 6 star went on to win another reality competition.

10. Kellie Pickler

Singer Kellie Pickler performs onstage at the 4th ACM Party for a Cause Festival.

Kellie Pickler | Mark Davis/Getty Images for ACM

  • Net worth: $5 million
  • Albums sold: 1.52 million
  • Grammy awards: 0 nominations

Few people who watched Season 6 of American Idol expected country singer Kellie Pickler to win. But she did endear herself to fans with her hilarious back-and-forth rapport with Simon Cowell.

Pickler ended up placing sixth in the competition that year. She still snagged a record deal, and her first album went gold. Lately, she’s set her sights on boosting her reality TV profile. In 2015, she got her own series, I Love Kellie Pickler, which aired on CMT for three seasons.

But her biggest reality show win so far came in 2013, when she and partner Derek Hough won the Mirrorball trophy on Dancing with the Stars.

Next: This Season 3 star is a movie star in more ways than one.

9. Fantasia

Fantasia Barrino perfomring on stage with her band.

Fantasia | Theo Wargo/Getty Images for VH1

  • Net worth: $3 million
  • Albums sold: 3.19 million
  • Grammy awards: 12 nominations, 1 win

From the moment she first showed up on Season 3 of American Idol, fans knew Fantasia was a star. She won the competition at just 19 years old — and in the years since, she has never stopped pursuing her dream.

Thus far, Fantasia has had a platinum-selling record, and has been nominated for 12 Grammys, and won one. She’s also proven that she’s a multi-talented woman. Fantasia released an autobiography, and played herself in the Lifetime Television movie adaptation, Fantasia Barrino: Life is Not a Fairytale. She’s appeared on Broadway, and had her own VH1 reality TV series, Fantasia For Real.

Currently, her net worth is approximately $3 million.

Next: This runner-up has made a name for herself in Hollywood.

8. Katharine McPhee

Actress Katharine McPhee attends the SAG-AFTRA Foundations Patron of the Artists Awards.

Katharine McPhee | Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images

  • Net worth: $7 million
  • Albums sold: 449,000
  • Grammy awards: 0 nominations

Like many of her fellow American Idol runners-up, Katharine McPhee has made the best of her second-place finish. After the competition’s fifth season, she dove headfirst into her career.

She’s struggled a bit to gain widespread success in the music industry alone. But McPhee’s star has risen in another area: acting. She starred in the TV series Smash and is currently starring in the CBS series Scorpion.

McPhee has also appeared on Broadway and had big screen success, appearing in films like The House Bunny. She also earned an endorsement with Neutrogena. McPhee’s current net worth is approximately $7 million.

Next: This singer was the first to prove that finishing second on Idol didn’t have to be all bad.

7. Clay Aiken

Clay Aiken singing into a microphone.

Clay Aiken | Jeffrey A. Camarati/Getty Images

  • Net worth: $7 million
  • Albums sold: 4.96 million
  • Grammy awards: 0 nominations

When Clay Aiken finished second to Ruben Studdard in American Idol’s second season, he set the standard for runner-up success. His debut album was multi-platinum, and that success helped make him the among the highest-selling artists in Idol history.

Aiken has largely put his post-Idol fame to good use. He’s been named a UNICEF ambassador, and helped found the National Inclusion Project. In 2014, he ran for a congressional seat in North Carolina, but lost. At least he already had some experience coming in second.

His net worth is approximately $7 million.

Next: This Season 6 star killed it on the Billboard charts.

6. Jordin Sparks

Recording artist Jordin Sparks performs onstage during FOX's "American Idol" Finale.

Jordin Sparks | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

  • Net worth: $10 million
  • Albums sold: 3.6 million
  • Grammy awards: 1 nomination

When Jordin Sparks won Season 6 of American Idol, she made history as the competition’s youngest winner. And that was just the beginning of her success. Her debut album went platinum, and spawned two hugely successful singles — “Tattoo” and “No Air.” The latter has since become the third best-selling song in Idol alum history.

Sparks also found success with her second album — and made Idol history again, becoming the only alum to have her first five singles reach the Billboard Top 20.

Her current net worth is approximately $10 million.

Next: This rocker’s shocking exit from Idol helped launch his career.

5. Chris Daughtry

Recording artist Chris Daughtry performs onstage during FOX's 'American Idol' Finale

Chris Daughtry | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

  • Net worth: $10 million
  • Albums sold: 9.11 million
  • Grammy awards: 4 nominations

Chris Daughtry’s fourth-place finish in Season 5 was absolutely jaw-dropping. But his shocking elimination ultimately may have helped him, because he was free to form his own band.

Daughtry is easily one of the most successful post-Idol ventures for contestants. Their albums, which include hit songs like “It’s Not Over” and “No Surprise,” have sold more than 9 million copies worldwide. As the band’s frontman, Daughtry has become the third-highest selling Idol alum, and one of the few contestants to score a Grammy nomination.

His current net worth is $10 million.

Next: This Season 8 star is walking in the shadow of his own idol.

4. Adam Lambert

Adam Lambert holding the microphone as her performs on stage.

Adam Lambert | Noam Galai/Getty Images

  • Net worth: $16 million
  • Albums sold: 1.16 million
  • Grammy awards: 1 nomination

When Adam Lambert exploded onto the American Idol scene, fans were captivated, because there had never been a contestant quite like him. Though he eventually finished second to Season 8’s winner Kris Allen, he’s proven — maybe more than any other — that being a runner-up doesn’t have to hold you back.

Lambert scored a Grammy nod for his hit single “Whataya Want From Me.” Moreover, he’s currently sold more than 3 million albums and 5 million singles worldwide. He appeared on Fox’s live telecast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And since 2011, he’s been the frontman of his idol Freddie Mercury’s band, Queen.

Lambert’s net worth is approximately $16 million.

Next: This iconic alum helped define what Idol even meant.

3. Kelly Clarkson

Kelly Clarkson gestures with her hands while talking into a microphone.

Kelly Clarkson | Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM

  • Net worth: $28 million
  • Albums sold: Over 25 million
  • Grammy awards: 14 nominations, 3 wins

In so many ways, Kelly Clarkson blazed a trail for all the Idol contestants that followed her. She proved that it was possible to launch a successful music career from the series.

So far, she’s released eight studio albums. Her second album, Breakaway, went platinum six times. She’s won three Grammys and had three No. 1 singles and eleven Top 10 hits. And she’s helped mentor a new generation of talent as a judge on The Voice.

Clarkson has sold 14 million albums, and her net worth is $28 million.

Next: In terms of album sales, this Idol winner is the most successful alum.

2. Carrie Underwood

Carrie Underwood performs onstage during the 53rd Academy of Country Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 15, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Carrie Underwood | Ethan Miller/Getty Images

  • Net worth: $85 million
  • Albums sold: 64 million
  • Grammy awards: 14 nominations, 7 wins

During the Season 4 competition, Simon Cowell predicted that Carrie Underwood would go on to sell more albums than any other Idol winner. It turns out he was right.

Underwood’s country music success is truly astounding. She’s sold 64 million albums, and has had 14 No. 1 hits on the country charts. She’s won seven Grammys and a slew of other musical accolades.

With a net worth of $85 million, in terms of success in the music industry, Underwood has all her fellow contestants beat by a country mile.

Next: Our pick for the most successful Idol contestant may be a bit unorthodox — you can be the judge.

1. Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson attending a premiere.

Jennifer Hudson | Mike Windle/Getty Images

  • Net worth: $20 million
  • Albums sold: 1.53 million
  • Grammy awards: 6 nominations, 2 wins … and 1 Oscar!

Jennifer Hudson didn’t win her season of American Idol. But given the fact that she placed seventh in her season, and still went on to forge a tremendously successful acting career, it’s easy to make a case that she’s Idol’s biggest overall success story.

Hudson won an Oscar for her supporting role in the film Dreamgirls, which is even more impressive when you consider it was her first professional acting job. Since then, she’s appeared in several films, including Mandela and Sing. She earned a gig as a judge on The Voice.

And her music career has also flourished. Hudson has sold more than a million albums and won two Grammy awards. To date, her net worth is approximately $20 million. Not bad for a woman who didn’t even crack the Idol top five.

Read More: ‘American Idol: These Are the Richest Stars Who Appeared on the Show’

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