Celebrity | Music | Reality

The 15 Most Memorable 'American Idol' Stars - Where Are They Now?


While it's not the national obsession that it used to be, we still love American Idol.

It's such a great premise: take average folks off the street and let them sing on camera for a chance to become a star.

Every season had produced at least one talented musician who goes on to find success.

But what happens to the rest of our favorite competitors?

It turns out their lives after the cameras stopped rolling have been pretty interesting.

Sanjaya Malakar

Sanjaya Malakar
Sanjaya, then and now.Fox / Sanjaya Malakar - Twitter

The breakout star of season six - even though he didn't win - is still making a living off his time on American Idol.

Malakar made light of his appearance on TV shows like The Soup and I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, but is still waiting for his big break in the music industry.

Even more heartbreaking, Malakar has traded his famous, flowing locks for a goatee.

Phillip Phillips

Phillip Phillips

The season 11 winner impressed America by competing while dealing with painful kidney stones.

His victory track, "Home," is the best-selling record ever from an Idol winner.

But his relationship with the show wasn't exactly rosy.

Phillips sued Idol's production company, 19 Entertainment, complaining they were "oppressive" and "manipulated" his career.

He wasn't able to release new music until the suit was resolved, but finally dropped a new album in 2018.

Justin Guarini

Justin Guarini
Guarini today.Jyle Dupuis - Wikimedia

American Idol's original second banana, Guarini starred in the movie From Justin to Kelly alongside the season one winner, Kelly Clarkson.

He married his childhood sweetheart in 2009, and has been keeping busy appearing in Broadway shows like American Idiot and Romeo and Juliet.

He even played the Dr. Pepper mascot Lil Sweet.

Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson
Hudson, then and now.Fox / David Torcivia

Since appearing on season three, Hudson has won 2 Grammys, and an Oscar for her role in Dreamgirls.

Not bad for someone who left Idol in seventh place.

Her impressive musical career earned Hudson a judging spot on The Voice, but her life isn't perfect.

She recently wrapped up a messy custody battle with her ex-husband, pro wrestler David Otunga.

David Archuleta

David Archuleta

Archuleta was just 16 years old when he became the season seven runner-up.

He's been very busy since then, releasing six albums and appearing on shows like iCarly and Hannah Montana.

The talented singer even took a two-year hiatus from music to do missionary work in Chile.

Clay Aiken

Clay Aiken.
Aiken during his audition and in 2016.Fox / Gage Skidmore - Flickr

Even though he lost to Ruben Studdard in season two, Aiken's album Measure of a Man still debuted at number one.

Aiken has released five more albums since then, and also appeared on TV shows including Celebrity Apprentice, Phineas and Ferb, The Office, and Law and Order: SVU.

He's even tried his hand at politics, running for a congressional seat in North Carolina in 2014 as a Democrat.

Sadly for Aiken, he lost to the incumbent Republican.

Aiken also confirmed longtime rumors that he was gay in 2008, after announcing the birth of his son.

Taylor Hicks

Taylor Hicks

With three albums and a Las Vegas residency, Hicks has certainly made the most of his career after Idol.

Recently, he's traded his microphone for a TV camera, starring in the INSP Channel's State Plate.

The show features Hicks traveling across the country sampling local foods.

Ace Young

Young married a fellow 'American Idol' contestant.Ace Young - Twitter / People

After making it to the top seven in season five, Young starred in musical shows including Hair and the Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.

In a twist of fate, Young met and fell in love with Diana DeGarmo, an Idol runner-up from season three.

William Hung

Hung during his audition and at his wedding.Fox / William Hung

His performance of Ricky Martin's "She Bangs" made Hung the laughingstock of season three's auditions.

But Hung has actually used his his Idol appearance to his advantage.

He signed a record deal and released three albums before retiring from music in 2011.

Today, he works for L.A. County's Department of Public Health, and is married to one of his coworkers.

"It helps a lot because it's much easier for me to make friends and make professional connections," Hung says about his Idol infamy.

"It's great."

Ruben Studdard

Ruben Studdard

The season two winner capitalized on his success with a Grammy-nominated album, Soulful, and a number of hit follow-ups.

But in recent years Studdard's career has stalled.

Studdard's 2012 divorce from his wife, Surata Zuri McCants, was one of the costliest celebrity splits of all time.

The next year, Studdard competed on The Biggest Loser, where he lost 119 pounds before being sent home.

And his 2014 album, Unconditional Love, reportedly sold just 6,000 copies.

Kellie Pickler

Kellie Pickler

Pickler only managed to reach sixth place during season five, but her career has soared ever since.

She released the hit country albums Small Town Girl and Kellie Pickler before winning season 16 of Dancing With the Stars alongside her partner Derek Hough.

These days, you can see Pickler on her syndicated morning talk show Pickler & Ben.

Katharine McPhee

Katharine McPhee
Gage Skidmore - Wikimedia

As the runner-up of season five, McPhee built a group of dedicated fans who have supported her music career ever since.

After releasing five albums, McPhee seems more interested in acting lately.

You may have seen her in movies like The House Bunny and Shark Night 3D.

She also starred in the short-lived TV show Smash, and is one of the leads on Scorpion.

Constantine Maroulis

Constantine Maroulis

The hard rocking season 14 finalist has starred in musicals since he left Idol, but is best known for getting in trouble with the law.

Maroulis was arrested in 2015 for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, and was arrested again just a week later for violating her protection order.

The charges were eventually dropped at the alleged victim's request.

Fantasia Barrino

Fantasia Barrino

After winning season three, Barrino bared her soul in her memoir Life is Not a Fairy Tale, where she revealed her illiteracy.

The book was adapted into a Lifetime movie, but Barrino says she faced plenty of backlash and hurtful jokes because of her confession.

Since then, Barrino has battled depression, a throat tumor, and nearly died following an overdose on aspirin and sleep aids in 2010.

But she's still going strong, and released her latest album, Christmas After Midnight, last year.

Jordin Sparks

Jordin Sparks

Sparks became Idol's youngest winner ever when she beat out the other season six finalist in 2007.

After releasing a pair of hit albums - Jordin Sparks and Battlefied - Sparks turned her attention to Broadway, where she starred in In the Heights.

Sparks is still releasing new music, while appearing on reality shows like Sugar and Sparks.

She also had a famously messy breakup with singer Jason Derulo.

Now that we've refreshed our memories, let's take a look at the five most successful American Idol contestants ever.

5. Chris Daughtry

Chris Daughtry
U.S. Department of Defense

After leaving season five of Idol in fifth place, Daughtry became the front man for his band, also named Daughtry.

Their debut album became the fastest-selling rock album ever, and Daughtry has been topping the charts ever since.

His career in the rock band and as a solo artist have made Daughtry worth an estimated $8 million.

4. Adam Lambert

Adam Lambert
Manfred Werner - Wikimedia

While he was the runner-up on season eight of American Idol, Lambert has sold more than three million albums worldwide since leaving the show.

Along with his successful solo career, Lambert has replaced Freddie Mercury as the lead singer for the classic rock band Queen since 2011.

His hit albums, including The Original High, have made Lambert worth an estimated $12 million.

3. Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson

Not only has Hudson won a Grammy, she also earned an Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA and SAG Award.

Hudson has done just about everything: she's a world-famous singer, has appeared in movies like Dreamgirls and Sex and the City, performed at Super Bowl XLIII, and has had roles on hit TV shows like Empire.

That impressive resume has made her worth an estimated $20 million.

2. Kelly Clarkson

Kelly Clarkson

It's hard to surpass Idol's original winner, who has racked up an estimate $28 million with her eight albums released to date.

While Clarkson has devoted herself to music (and parenting), this year she also joined The Voice, where she has managed to stand out among her fellow judges Adam Levine and Blake Shelton.

1. Carrie Underwood

Carrie Underwood

Underwood walked away from Idol's fourth season as the winner, and hasn't looked back since.

All five of her albums have reached the number one or two spot on the Billboard 200 list, and Underwood has racked up seven Grammy awards.

She made headlines recently after suffering a nasty fall that has permanently changed her face.

But having an estimate $70 million to her name must cheer her up.

Which of these Idol stars is your all-time favorite?

[H/T:  People, Business Insider]

I write about all sorts of things for Shared, especially weird facts, celebrity news, and viral stories.