Going on American Idol is a bit of a gamble. You could remain in obscurity forever – or you could receive riches and fame beyond your wildest dreams. These 20 contestants all were boosted forwards by the show, and they now have net worths in the millions. Here are their stories and how they managed to do it. Indeed, sometimes, it was actually without the help of Simon Cowell.
20. Josh Gracin
Josh Gracin was in the Marine Corps when he auditioned for American Idol in 2003. He ended up coming in fourth, but because of his military obligations he couldn’t go on tour with the other finalists. Instead he went on a year-long tour to promote the Marines, and at the end of it he was honorably discharged.
Despite having some ups and downs in his personal life – Gracin divorced his wife of 13 years in 2014 but has since married again – the singer is doing pretty well career-wise. He’s making new music, a fusion of R&B, soul and country. And although his divorce saw him hand over a 50 percent stake in his music recorded during the marriage, he still has a net worth of $2 million.
19. Taylor Hicks
Taylor Hicks was the winner of season five of American Idol. He’d performed as a musician ever since his teens, and even released two independent albums, but American Idol made him mainstream. He even got Simon Cowell to admit he was wrong about something: the famously controversial judge said Hicks would never make it to the end of the contest.
After winning, Hicks released a debut single called “Do I Make You Proud,” which reached number one and was certified gold by the RIAA. Since then he’s had a residency in Las Vegas and played the Teen Angel in Grease. He also has a gang of incredibly dedicated fans, the Soul Patrol.
When Mandisa appeared on the fifth season American Idol, Simon Cowell singled her out because of her weight. He made mocking comments like, “Do we have a bigger stage this year?” Meanwhile, even though Mandisa told him she forgave him, she still made it clear that he’d hurt her. And in the end, she came in ninth.
But Mandisa absolutely got the last laugh. Indeed, her first full-length album, notably titled True Beauty, debuted at number one on the Top Christian Albums chart, making Mandisa the first new female artist to even achieve this. And recently, the Grammy winner has spoken out about the depression she’s suffered throughout her life, and how she overcame it.
Fantasia was very successful on American Idol itself when she appeared during its third season. The judges adored her, and Simon Cowell even said that she was the best contestant the show had ever had, even counting the international versions. When the finale came around, she defeated her closest rival by 1.3 million votes, and became the youngest ever winner at that point.
Meanwhile, Fantasia’s career is still going strong, even many years after her win. She’s achieved 12 Grammy nominations and secured one. The singer has also had roles in Oprah Winfrey’s production of The Color Purple, a reality show called Fantasia For Real, and a spot in the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. And next up is her sixth studio album, which she revealed in March 2019 is complete.
16. Adam Lambert
Adam Lambert has always been a natural performer, ever since he was a child. Indeed, he did theatre, jazz band, choir, and more. He got roles in local productions of musicals such as Grease and The Music Man, which led him to the first national touring production of Wicked. That all stood him in good stead when he decided to audition for American Idol, and he ended up coming second, after Kris Allen.
Interestingly, Lambert went on to be bigger than Allen in the end. His first album debuted at number three, and more success then followed. He was nominated for a Grammy award in 2010 for “Whataya Want From Me” and the singer embarked on a TV career too, getting a role on Glee. But perhaps most impressively of all, since 2011 he’s been the lead vocalist for none other than Queen.
15. Ruben Studdard
Ruben Studdard grew up singing gospel songs, and he decided to pursue a career in music when he got older. He majored in voice studies and sang in Birmingham jazz band Just a Few Cats. But his big break came with American Idol, and he beat out Clay Aiken to become the winner of the second season.
But there was no animosity between Studdard and Aiken. Indeed, they ended up touring together in 2010 and did a Broadway pageant eight years later. The former has also popped up on American Idol a lot, and has acted on shows like 8 Simple Rules and All of Us. Oh, and he has a reported net worth of $3 million.
14. Katharine McPhee
Katharine McPhee’s father is a TV producer and her sister and mother are vocal coaches. So she had a good grounding in the music industry before she decided to appear on American Idol’s fifth season. Simon Cowell admired her talent, but she didn’t actually win in the end – she came in second, behind Taylor Hicks.
McPhee is still a singer, but she’s an actress now as well, and it’s helped make her name. She’s played lead roles in the TV shows Scorpion and Smash, and the movies You May Not Kiss the Bride and The House Bunny. She made her Broadway debut in 2018, playing Jenna in Waitress. Meanwhile, she’s apparently worth an impressive $6 million.
13. Phillip Phillips
Before American Idol, Phillips auditioned for America’s Got Talent, but it was Idol that catapulted him to success. Despite joining the contest during season 11 with health problems that almost caused him to quit, he won acclaim from the judges. And he ended up winning the show with a record 132 million votes cast for him.
Meanwhile, Phillips’ coronation song was called “Home” and it was a massive hit. In fact, it had the biggest digital sales for a winner in the history of American Idol. Phillips went on to create other hits too, including “Gone, Gone, Gone” and in 2013 he got a AMA “Best New Artist” nomination. Indeed, he and Carrie Underwood are the only Idol winners who’ve achieved this.
12. Kris Allen
Kris Allen was the winner of American Idol’s eighth season. The final battle between him and Adam Lambert was a hotly contested one. Indeed, almost 100 million votes, a worldwide record for any TV singing talent show, were cast in the end. And Allen, a former shoe salesman who considered American Idol his last chance at a music career, was crowned the winner.
Allen still tours with the American Idol group, and still releases new music. He also put his newfound wealth – which is in the millions – to good use. He’s lent his support to multiple charities, including the Music Empowers Foundation and TOMS Shoes, which gives footwear to children who don’t have any.
11. Jennifer Hudson
Jennifer Hudson is the very definition of a success story. When she competed in the third season of American Idol she was ejected early, shocking audiences. And yet she went on to be absolutely massive. Just two years later in 2006 she made her first film appearance in Dreamgirls, which she won an Oscar for.
And Hudson’s fame never died down. Indeed, Hudson appeared in plenty more films after that and continued to release new music. She’s now a coach on another talent show franchise, The Voice. And in 2020 she’s set to appear in a biopic of Aretha Franklin, having been hand-picked by the legendary singer herself.
10. Scotty McCreery
Scotty McCreery was working at Lowes Foods when he first appeared on season ten of American Idol. But by the end of it, he didn’t have to go back there anymore. He was so young when he auditioned that his mother had to come along as his chaperone, but he still won the contest. Indeed, he remains the youngest male winner in the show’s history.
McCreery is still doing very well with his career. In 2016 he appeared on American Idol for the final show and performed a medley with other famous contestants. And in 2017 his song “Five More Minutes” became the first ever tune without a record label to chart on the Country Aircheck/Mediabase Top 50.
9. David Cook
Amazingly, David Cook never actually intended to be on American Idol at all. He decided to go with his brother to the seventh season auditions in order to support him, but he ended up being the one who got noticed in the end. He rose through the competition, playing his own guitar, and eventually won the season with 56 percent of the votes going to him.
Upon winning the competition, Cook immediately broke several records on the Billboard chart. He achieved the impressive feat of having 11 songs in the Hot 100 at one point, beating his closest competitor Miley Cyrus, who had six. And seeing as how American Idol launched his career, he’s been back on the show several times.
8. David Archuleta
David Archuleta had already had success as a child performer before he went on American Idol. By the age of 12, he’d already won the children’s Utah Talent Competition and the Junior Vocal Champion portion of Star Search 2. But coming in second on American Idol’s seventh season brought him to a whole new audience.
Archuleta’s self-titled debut album was certified gold, no small feat for a singer who was at the time still a teenager. Meanwhile, as the star got older, he released more music and also tried his hand at acting. He played himself on kid-friendly shows like Hannah Montana and iCarly, but in 2012 he got the lead role in the Filipino TV show Nandito Ako.
7. Elliott Yamin
Elliott Yamin came in third on American Idol’s fifth season. But he was up against some very impressive competition – indeed, the other finalists that year were Katharine McPhee and Taylor Hicks. But Yamin had clear talent despite not winning the whole season, and even guest coach Stevie Wonder was impressed by him.
Thanks in no small part to his hit song “Wait for You,” Yamin is now worth a reported $6 million. He’s used that and his fame to do lots of work for diabetes awareness, as he himself is diabetic. And when he toured in 2007, he announced that proceeds from certain sales of his merchandise would go to the insulin-providing Life for a Child Program.
6. Kelly Clarkson
Kelly Clarkson was working as a cocktail waitress when she auditioned for American Idol, and then her whole life changed forever. She won the first season with 58 percent of the votes, and was instantly signed to a record label. And that was just the beginning for the star.
Lots of time has passed since the first American Idol, but Clarkson is still as famous as ever. Indeed, she’s a coach on The Voice, has three Grammy Awards, and in September 2019 she’ll have her own daytime program, The Kelly Clarkson Show. Plus, her net worth is $28 million, and she’s a noted philanthropist.
5. Chris Daughtry
Simon Cowell didn’t like Chris Daughtry’s audition for American Idol’s fifth season, but luckily he was passed through anyway. He didn’t win in the end, however. He got down to the final four before being eliminated and his shock at this was broadcast all over the media. But despite that, he went on to make it big.
Daughtry is the third best-selling American Idol contestant ever, behind Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. His band, named Daughtry after himself, still has the quickest-selling rock album in the history of Soundscan. Oh, and he also has four Grammy nominations under his belt and an estimated net worth of $8.5 million.
4. Clay Aiken
Clay Aiken auditioned for American Idol at the insistence of a friend, and it turned out to change the course of his whole life. And his singing abilities blew everyone away, and eventually he finished in second place, losing to Ruben Studdard. Yet he became one of the most popular former contestants.
Meanwhile, Aiken continued to do work for the American Idol franchise as his music career grew bigger and bigger. That’s unsurprising considering he’s one of the top-earners to come out of the show, with a reported net wealth of $7 million. And some of that money has gone to autism charities, as Aiken’s pre-music job was a special education teacher.
3. Kellie Pickler
Kellie Pickler didn’t win season five of American Idol, she actually ended up, believe it or not, in fifth place. But she was much praised by Simon Cowell when she was there. He even at one point said he liked her more than Carrie Underwood. And at the same time Us Weekly ran a headline suggesting that she was the next Jessica Simpson.
Pickler didn’t quite achieve the same levels of fame as an Underwood or a Simpson, but she still did incredibly well. Indeed, she branched out from singing and became more of a TV star. She has the co-host position on CMT’s Picklers & Ben, and she has a mirror ball trophy from Dancing With the Stars.
2. Jordin Sparks
When Jordin Sparks won the sixth season of Idol in 2007, she became the youngest winner ever at 17 years old. Since then, she’s achieved more and more success in her music career. And she’s returned to the show which made her famous six times in total to perform new songs.
Sparks is in a position now to do almost anything she wants. Indeed, she has both a clothing and a fragrance line, and has embarked on an acting career as well. She’s been in The Suite Life on Deck, CSI, Left Behind: The Movie and more. Thanks to all this, she currently commands a fortune of around $10 million.
1. Carrie Underwood
Although she’s up against stiff competition, Carrie Underwood remains the most successful person to ever come out of American Idol. She auditioned for season four in 2004, and Simon Cowell predicted that she would not only win but outsell all the other winners. And he ended up being completely right about that.
Underwood now has 13 Grammy nominations and seven wins. Plus, she’s popped up as an actress in TV shows like How I Met Your Mother. Her net worth is a truly impressive $70 million, and she’s doing good things with it as well. She set up a foundation in her hometown, the Checotah Animal, Town, and School Foundation. Plus she supports charities like Save the Children and Habitat for Humanity.