‘American Idol’ Runners Up List: Where Are They Now?

Here's what they've been up to

american idol runners up
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Now that we’re all caught up on our favorite American Idol winners, we’re turning our attention to the talented singers who came in second place. Quite a few went on to launch hugely successful careers (oh hey, Adam Lambert), while others ventured into new territories, like acting and politics. But if there’s anything we’ve learned from this talented group, it’s that runners up can also make it big. Most recently, 19-year-old Iam Tongi was crowned the winner of season 21 (with Megan Danielle as the runner-up).

It has already been confirmed that Katy PerryLuke Bryan and Lionel Richie are back as judges for season 22. The installment kicks off on February 18, 2024, and is hosted by—you guessed it—Ryan SeacrestTori Kelly is also joining the season as a guest mentor and performer.

Following Tongi's victory, Perry told E! News, "It's been emotional, like a good therapy session. Just to see these kids, young people—younger than me—just grow and get what they came for. Even if they didn't win, they got what they came for. There's something that was sparked in them that can never be put back or be not believed in."

As we patiently wait to see who the next winner (and next runner up) will be, we’re revisiting the full American Idol runners up list to see where they are now. Is Justin Guarini still pursuing music? What has Crystal Bowersox been up to these days? Keep reading to find out.

Season 1: Justin Guarini

Yes, we’re totally guilty of shipping Kelly Clarkson and Guarini as a couple after they filmed From Justin to Kelly. But aside from making a musical rom-com, he released two studio albums, partnered with Dr. Pepper (you might remember him as “Lil’ Sweet”) and even appeared on Broadway, making his debut in the musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

Since then, the actor and singer has starred in at least a dozen more plays, including Rent, Chicago, Wicked and his latest work, Once Upon a One More Time. Additionally, he released a best-selling book called Audition Secrets and did voice work for a few animated titles.

While speaking with Yahoo Entertainment about his career journey, he said, “I just feel lucky that after 20 years I'm still able to be a part of wonderful projects like SuperKitties and play really fun characters like Cat Burglar. I’ve kept my eyes open, and I'm willing to just have fun and see what happens…As long as you stay in the game—which is one of the hardest things to do—you're kind to people, and you do good work, it'll always come back around.”

Season 2: Clay Aiken

This vocal powerhouse went from winning hearts on the American Idol stage to winning votes as a determined Southern politician. He released six studio albums and sold more than five million copies, making him the fourth highest earning Idol contestant. He also acted on Broadway and appeared in a number of TV shows, from Scrubs to The Office.

But by 2013, the gay rights activist shifted his focus to politics and ran for Congress in North Carolina. Though he won the Democratic primary, he lost to Republican incumbent Renee Ellmers—but he’s definitely not giving up. In January 2023, he announced he’s running for the Democratic nomination in North Carolina's fourth congressional district.

Season 3: Diana Degarmo

Like DeGarmo's website bio reads, she has "conquered it all and then some." After Idol, the singer and actress released two albums and two EPs, including her 2019 release, Gemini. She also dabbled in musical theater, making her Broadway debut in Hairspray as Penny Pingleton in 2006, then moving on to shows like Brooklyn: The Musical and The Toxic Avenger.

In 2011, DeGarmo landed a recurring role as Angelina Veneziano on The Young and the Restless. Since then, she has taken on a few TV and film roles, including All About Christmas Eve and After the Sun Fell. (Fun fact: DeGarmo is currently married to Ace Young, an American Idol finalist from season five.)

Season 4: Bo Bice

Although Bice came in second after Carrie Underwood in 2005, he went on to release three albums, including The Real Thing, which was certified gold, and started his own record label called Sugar Money Records.

Meanwhile, the musician tied the knot with his longtime girlfriend, Caroline Fisher, in 2005 and the two share four children: three boys and one girl. Oh, and did we mention that he's good friends with Ruben Studdard, who won season two? Bice told The Atlanta Journal Constitution, "We've toured together. My kids love him."

Season 5: Katharine Mcphee Foster

The songstress had us all singing "Over It" after the release of her debut album, which was certified gold in 2008. McPhee then released four more studio albums, including I Fall in Love Too Easily. In 2022, McPhee and her husband, David Foster, released a holiday EP called Christmas Songs.

While appearing on Live with Kelly & Mark in 2023, she opened up about her husband's success on TikTok and said, "People use TikTok to sing and showcase to the world, and he is such an amazing person to be presented to, I think these young singers get excited to be presented to someone like David, who discovers talent and has throughout the years."

Among McPhee's notable on-screen roles are Karen in Smash and Paige in Scorpion, but she has also acted on Broadway, making her debut as Jenna in Waitress in 2018. In addition to music and acting, she also has her own jewelry line, called KMF Jewelry.

Season 6: Blake Lewis

Since the finale aired, Lewis has released four studio albums and one self-titled EP. His debut album, A.D.D. (Audio Day Dream), peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard charts and his second, Heartbreak on Vinyl, peaked at No. 7 on the U.S. Dance chart. In February 2020, he released his most recent album, Wanderlust Unknown.

Lewis has also ventured into voice acting, notably on the anime series Durarara!! and a guest appearance on Generator Rex. Plus, he’s been supporting cancer research at Seattle Children's Hospital by donating 50 percent of the proceeds from his merch sales.

Season 7: David Archuleta

Archuleta's debut album, which included singles like "Crush" and "A Little Too Not Over You," was a big hit in the U.S., peaking at number two on the Billboard 100 chart. He followed up with a holiday-themed album and then released six more, including his latest, Therapy Sessions.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, he released "Just Breathe" as a tribute to frontline workers and donated some of his earnings to Direct Relief. In 2021, the artist published a children’s book called My Little Prayer, and in 2023, he competed in the ninth season of The Masked Singer, finishing in second place.

Season 8: Adam Lambert

Lambert skyrocketed to fame after blowing fans away with his stage presence and vocal range. The singer made history as the first (and only) runner-up to snag a Grammy nomination after he released his debut album, For Your Entertainment. At the time, his hit single, “Whataya Want from Me,” was in the running for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

Since then, Lambert has taken the music industry by storm, releasing three more albums and doing multiple tours with the legendary Queen while acting and advocating for the LGBT community. While speaking with The Guardian in February 2023, he revealed that his greatest achievement was "getting to challenge the status quo" by being himself, living "openly and honestly and boldly on a public level." He added, "It hasn’t always been easy, and it came with its fair set of challenges and sacrifices, and I am proud of that."

Season 9: Crystal Bowersox

Bowersox, aka the first female runner-up in three years, has released four studio albums since she competed on the series. Her debut title, Farmer's Daughter, reached number two on the U.S. Rock chart while her follow-up album, All That for This, peaked at number 21.

In January 2022, the 38-year-old singer released her latest album, HitchHiker, and went on tour. When asked about her favorite part of touring in 2018, she told The B-Side, "It’s getting to meet fans after the show. I love hearing their stories and how they interpret my songs, how it plays into their lives and what it means to them. I think that’s really my favorite part; that’s really the whole reason I do this."

Season 10: Lauren Alaina

After American Idol, the 29-year-old singer released her debut album, Wildflower, then followed up with Road Less Traveled and her most recent release, Sitting Pretty on Top of the World. She also toured with country greats like Luke Bryan, Carrie Underwood and Martina McBride, and in February 2022, her success earned her an official spot in the Grand Ole Opry—a country music showcase that dates back to 1925.

As it turns out, Idol isn't the only competition series that Alaina appeared on. She also joined Dancing with the Stars in 2019, coming in fourth place. In 2022, she was a contestant on Beyond the Edge, but sadly, she left the series due to an injury.

Alaina dropped her latest single, "Thicc as Thieves," in September 2023, and she's currently touring in the U.S. and Europe.

Season 11: Jessica Sanchez

Phillip Phillips may have beat out Sanchez in season 11, but it hasn’t stopped the singer from rising to success. After Idol, she released her album, Me, You & the Music (including a hit single with Ne-Yo), then appeared in the FOX series Glee as Frida Romero in 2013. In that same year, the songstress performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" for former U.S. President Barack Obama and his family at the White House Easter Egg Roll.

Fast forward to 2024, and Sanchez has not only released a hit single for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, but she also recorded a song for Miss Universe Philippines, called “Over the Universe.” You can check out her covers, from Ariana Grande to The Weeknd, on her YouTube channel.

Season 12: Kree Harrison

Harrison released her debut single, "All Cried Out," which peaked at number 34 on Billboard’s U.S. Country chart, and joined the American Idols LIVE! Tour shortly after she competed on Idol. While speaking with Hollywood about the judges' feedback on her live performances, she said, "I took it all as constructive criticism because you have to grow. You can't just be on cruise control, so I appreciated that they were not like, 'That was good,' rather than, 'This is really how we feel and this is what you should do next week.'"

Fast-forward to the present day, and she’s got two studio albums under her belt, including This Old Thing, which peaked at number 28 on the U.S. Country chart, and Chosen Family Tree, released in 2020. According to her website, Harrison has also worked with Kacey Musgraves and Eli Young Band.

Season 13: Jena Irene Asciutto

Following the American Idols LIVE! Tour in 2014, Asciutto released her debut EP, Innocence, which reached number 18 on the U.S. Heat chart. She also did quite a few live shows, including a residency in Detroit back in 2016. In the following year, she released her debut album, Cold Fame, which includes the single "Unbreakable."

In November 2023, the singer made an exciting announcement on Instagram about joining the line-up of performers at Defected Croatia in 2024. She wrote, "This is my first live booking in a whileeeeeeeeee. Beyond grateful and SO STOKED to start this live journey again alongside artists I’ve looked up to since this manifestation began long ago."

Season 14: Clark Beckham

The singer and songwriter has released three EPs and three albums since Idol, but he's also been very active on his YouTube channel, which includes videos that range from live Q&As and piano tutorials to The Idol Breakdown, where he discusses each episode of the series. In a 2023 interview with MHS Studios, he opened up about his time on the show and said, "The experience in general was wonderful...The producers treated me and the contestants around me, from my observation, with a lot of respect and treated us very well, I was very lucky to have that opportunity and attribute a lot of my success today to American Idol."

According to IMDB, the singer has also dabbled in acting. In 2014, he played Nathan in the short film 5 Stages, and in 2018, he played Donnie in 2300 Newtons. Most recently, he collaborated with Tommee Profitt for his production of The Birth of a King.

Season 15: La'porsha Renae

Mere hours after she finished American Idol, Renae (who also goes by A.S.E.) announced that she signed with Big Machine and Motown Records. Her debut single, "Battles," reached number 22 on the U.S. R&B Digital charts. And later that year, a remix of the track was used as the official song for the U.S. Women's Gymnastics Team for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

In 2017, Renae released her debut album Already All Ready, and in March 2022, she dropped a collection of four albums called The Odessy of Love.

Season 16: Caleb Lee Hutchinson

Before you ask—yes, Hutchinson and season 16 winner Maddie Poppe are still together. And they've been working together on new music. But aside from their exciting collaboration, the musician has been busy doing live shows. After working on a self-titled EP in 2019, he released a couple of standalone singles and a second EP, titled Slot Machine Syndrome.

He dropped his latest album, Southern Galactic, in 2023, which, according to his website, "explores new territory while maintaining his reverence for the honesty and storytelling that seeded his love for country music." He also currently hosts The Green Couch Podcast, where he interviews guests from all walks of life.

Season 17: Alejandro Aranda

After Aranda (or shall we say Scarypoolparty) released his debut album, Exit Form, which peaked at number six on the U.S. Heatseekers chart, he did a seven-day U.S. tour that completely sold out within 15 minutes. Since then, he has done at least a dozen more sold-out shows, and most recently, he teamed up with X Ambassadors and Taylor Janzen for the Beautiful Liar tour.

In addition to Exit Form, Aranda also dropped The Act of Forgiveness and Los Angeles—and he's still making more music. In December 2023, he released his newest single, "Sorrow," and wrote on Instagram, "This song means a lot to me and I hope you enjoy it. When you hear it and listen to it, would love to know what it made you feel. Overall thank you for taking time out of your day if you listen to the song. Can’t wait to show you what else I’ve been making."

Season 18: Arthur Gunn

Although the singer made headlines for abruptly dropping out of the show's finale, he’s building a pretty successful post-Idol career. He has since released three albums, including Jalai Mai, and his YouTube channel boasts nearly half a million subscribers. In 2022, he released the single, “Tell Me, How Do You Sleep at Night?,” and in 2023, he released "Ojhel."

In response to his departure from the show, he wrote on Instagram, "It was last minute decision, but I couldn't help but say no cause of some personal morals and values due to unpleasant environmental experiences. It's not necessary to state it, it is what it is, so I felt like I had to move on."

Season 19: Willie Spence

Following Idol, the soulful singer released an EP called The Voice and did several live shows, including a concert at the Atlanta Symphony Hall. In 2022, he also teased an upcoming song called “Myself” on Instagram, as well as a promo for an upcoming live show in London. Sadly, Spence passed away in a car crash in October 2022.

Former contestant Chayce Beckham shared an emotional tribute to the late singer on Instagram and wrote, "It’s hard to find the words to say here, other than I loved Willie very much. He was a good sweet soul, and a warm beam of light in a cold and dark world that needed him so much."

Season 20: Huntergirl

HunterGirl (aka Hunter Wolkonowski) was a star the second she hit the audition room. After her rendition of "Riot" by Rascal Flatts, she received a standing ovation from all three judges. Luke Bryan also predicted she'd be a top ten contender and stated HunterGirl was his favorite female country voice ever in the five years he's been on the show.

While she didn't win, the 25-year-old singer is still making music and doing live shows. After releasing her first EP, One Day, she went on to tour with artists like Bryan, Parmalee, Josh Turner and Luke Combs in 2023, according to her official website. She has also opened for Justin Moore, Tracy Lawrence, Chase Matthews and Lainey Wilson.

She said, “It’s funny, I always wanted people to request one of my songs whenever I was playing a cover show. And it’s wild going to a show where I am playing all of my music, and people showing up for it.”

Season 21: Megan Danielle

Believe it or not, Danielle was discovered by a producer on Instagram, who encouraged her to audition for Idol. The singer was initially hesitant, but with the encouragement of her friends and family, she agreed and wound up finishing the competition in second place.

After the show, she released her first single, “Dream Girl,” in May 2023, and she's been touring around the U.S. ever since. According to her official bio, she is working on new music with "some of the industry’s best writers."

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Associate Editor, News and Entertainment

Nakeisha has been interviewing celebrities and covering all things entertainment for over 8 years, but she has also written on a wide range of topics, like career...