Once upon a time, “American Idol” was the must-watch TV show of a generation. Tens of millions of viewers tuned in every week, getting to know the singers and casting votes for who should stay to perform another week. The original run of the series ended in 2016 on Fox, but ABC revived it in 2017, and the latest season saw some of the lowest ratings ever for the series.
If you were a fan of the show in its heyday, you no doubt still remember some of your favorite — and least favorite — contestants. Take a look these classic “American Idol” singers and what they’ve been up to since their time on the show ended.
When the first season came to a close in 2002, Kelly Clarkson became the first person to ever win the “American Idol” crown. Viewers of the new show liked the Texas native enough for her to take 58 percent of the votes in the finale.
Since winning “Idol,” Clarkson has been extremely successful in the music business, having three No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 (to go with 11 in the Top 10) and winning three Grammy Awards. She now works as a judge on NBC’s “The Voice” and raises her two kids with husband Brandon Blackstock.
Arguably the gold standard of “American Idol” alums, Carrie Underwood has become a country music icon since she won the fourth season of the show in 2005.
Since then, she’s racked up an incredible 14 No. 1 hits on Billboard’s country singles chart and has won seven Grammy awards. In November 2018, she’ll co-host the Country Music Association Awards for the 11th consecutive year. Offstage, the Oklahoma native is married to former NHL player Mike Fisher, with whom she shares a son.
The powerhouse rock singer was a favorite during the eighth season of “American Idol” in 2009, where he finished in second place. During his run on the show, he wowed fans with his voice, personality and striking looks.
Shortly after his season ended, he came out in Rolling Stone and has worked as an advocate for LGBTQ rights. He didn’t have much chart success individually but, since 2011, he’s been the lead singer for Queen, with whom he’ll share a Las Vegas residency in September 2018.
When you think of “American Idol” success stories, Jennifer Hudson has to be one of the first people to come to mind — but she only finished in seventh place during the show’s third season in 2004. After being voted off the show, the Chicago native kept her dream of stardom alive, landing a role in the 2006 movie musical “Dreamgirls,” for which she won an Oscar.
Since then, she’s continued to record music, winning two Grammys to go with six nominations, and has continued to act, performing on Broadway in “The Color Purple” from 2015 to 2016. Like Clarkson, she’s also a judge on NBC’s “The Voice.”
The bald-headed rocker finished fourth on “Idol’s” memorable fifth season in 2006.
After launching to fame on the show, his own band, Daughtry, went on to score six Top 10 singles on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart to go along with a pair of No. 1 albums. Daughtry released its fifth album, “Cage to Rattle,” in July 2018. Away from music, the self-proclaimed comic book nerd and amateur artist got to draw a Batman cover for DC Comics in 2016.
A fan favorite thanks to her bubbly attitude and Southern charm, Kellie Pickler finished sixth during 2006’s fifth season of “American Idol.”
Since her run on the series ended, she’s had five singles in the top 20 of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. In 2013, she won ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” showing she could move as well as she could sing. Since 2017, she’s been co-host of the nationally syndicated daytime talk show “Pickler & Ben,” which is owned by Simplemost’s parent company, E.W. Scripps.
“American Idol” voters proved the show is a democracy by keeping Sanjaya Malakar around to a seventh-place finish during 2007’s sixth season of the show. His singing skills were infamous, with the judges ripping him every chance they got, but his creative hairstyles kept him a fan favorite.
After “Idol,” the Seattle-area native hasn’t done much in show business. In 2012, he was reportedly living in New York and working as a bartender. In May 2018, he showed up on the finale of ABC’s new “American Idol” reboot, to the delight of his “Fanjayas.”
The original “American Idol” runner-up, Justin Guarini lost out to Kelly Clarkson in 2002’s first season. In 2003, the curly-haired crooner used his fame from the show to score a top-20 solo album and, alongside Clarkson, a co-starring role in the movie “From Justin to Kelly.”
Since then, he’s worked on Broadway and has had a regular gig as Lil’ Sweet, the pint-sized mascot of Diet Dr Pepper.
With his silky voice and bright smile, Ruben Studdard won the crown of season two of “American Idol” in 2003. After that, he nabbed a Grammy nomination and a pair of No. 2 singles on Billboard’s Hot R&B chart. Since then, Studdard has done some acting and has released seven albums, including a record of Luther Vandross covers in 2018.
One of the most successful “losers” in “American Idol” history, Clay Aiken finished second to Studdard in season two. The big-voiced singer has since released six albums, five of which charted in the Billboard Top 10. He’s also worked on Broadway, having a successful run in the musical “Spamalot.” In 2014, Aiken surprised many by running for Congress in North Carolina. Just like in “Idol,” he ended up finishing second.