The 20 Most Successful ‘American Idol’ Contestants, from Carrie Underwood to Jennifer Hudson

Ever since its debut in 2002, America's biggest singing competition, American Idol, has been introducing talented artists to the world. And guys, we’re not just talking about the winners. From chart-topping sensations like Adam Lambert (who came in second place) to award-winning multihyphenates like Jennifer Hudson (who came in seventh place), quite a few finalists have also taken the music industry by storm. But here’s what we want to know: Who are the most successful American Idol contestants? And what are they up to now?

As you’d expect, some of these vocalists have ventured into writing and acting while others went on to become successful entrepreneurs. Curious to know who they are? Keep reading for details on 20 of American Idol’s most successful contestants.

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1. Carrie Underwood

  • How she finished: Season 4 Winner
  • Net worth: $140 million

Our favorite country sensation has come a long way since she first auditioned in 2004. After Underwood was crowned the winner in season four, she went on to release nine successful studio albums, earning her eight Grammy Awards, 12 Billboard Music Awards and 17 American Music Awards. Additionally, the songstress made history as the highest-certified female country artist of all time, and to date, she has sold 70 million records worldwide. But that’s not all.

Aside from music, Underwood has also ventured into writing and fashion. She released her first book and New York Times best-seller, Find Your Path, in 2020. And in 2015, she founded her fitness clothing line, called CALIA by Carrie. It’s clear to see how she reached that $140 million net worth.

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2. Kelly Clarkson

  • How she finished: Season 1 Winner
  • Net worth: $45 million

The American Idol alum has been making headlines with The Kelly Clarkson Show, which has been going strong for four seasons. But even before she launched her Emmy-winning talk show, Clarkson rolled out a number of catchy hits like "Since U Been Gone," "My Life Would Suck Without You" and "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)." The singer released 10 studio albums ​​and sold over 25 million copies worldwide. Plus, she became the first artist to ever top each of Billboard's pop, adult contemporary, adult pop, country and dance charts.

Now, the powerhouse vocalist and TV host is a successful children's book writer, having published River Rose and the Magical Lullaby and River Rose and the Magical Christmas. Clarkson also boasts five Daytime Emmy Awards, four American Music Awards, three MTV Video Music Awards and two Academy of Country Music Awards.

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3. Adam Lambert

  • How he finished: Season 8 Runner-Up
  • Net worth: $35 million

The Grammy-nominated singer knew how to command the stage ever since he competed on Idol. After coming in second place in season eight, Lambert dropped five albums, with his first earning a Grammy nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. The "Whataya Want from Me" singer went on to collaborate with the rock band Queen, joining them for several tours from 2014 to 2023.

Now, in addition to pursuing music, he's using his influence to give back. In 2020, Lambert founded the Feel Something Foundation, a non-profit that partners with several organizations to support the LGBTQ+ community.

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4. Jennifer Hudson

  • How she finished: Season 3 Finalist, 7th Place
  • Net worth: $30 million

Although she wasn’t crowned the champion of American Idol, she did one better and accomplished the rare feat of winning all four of the major American entertainment awards. In case you missed it, Hudson made history as the youngest woman (and first American Idol alum) to reach EGOT status after scoring her first Tony Award for A Strange Loop. In addition to releasing three studio albums, J.Hud flexed her acting muscles in projects like The Secret Life of Bees, Respect and Dreamgirls, which earned her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Hudson has also done work behind the scenes as an executive producer. And not surprisingly, the singer pulled an Oprah Winfrey and landed her own syndicated talk show in 2022, called The Jennifer Hudson Show.

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5. Katharine McPhee

  • How she finished: Season 5 Runner-Up
  • Net worth: $14 million

The 39-year-old singer released five albums after competing on Idol, but she has also established an impressive acting career. The star is best known for playing Karen Cartwright in NBC's Smash, but she also appeared in projects like Community, Scorpion, You May Not Kiss the Bride and The Tiger Rising. Most recently, she played Bailey in Country Comfort and appeared on The Masked Singer.

McPhee also made her Broadway debut in 2018, when she starred as Jenna Hunterson in the musical Waitress.

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6. Jordin Sparks

  • How she finished: Season 6 Winner
  • Net worth: $8 million

She's the youngest winner in Idol history and her Grammy-nominated debut album sold over three million copies worldwide. The R&B singer released three more albums, a mixtape and four EPs, and she toured with artists like Britney Spears, Alicia Keys, the Jonas Brothers and the Backstreet Boys.

After releasing her second album, Sparks segued into acting, appearing in titles like Sparkle, God Bless the Broken Road and A Christmas Treasure. She also starred as Nina in the Broadway show In the Heights in 2010, and in 2019, she played Jenna in Waitress.

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7. Chris Daughtry

  • How he finished: Season 5 Finalist, 4th Place
  • Net worth: $8 million

The North Carolina native skyrocketed to fame after competing on American Idol and forming his rock band, Daughtry. He currently serves as the band’s lead vocalist, and believe it or not, their first album became the fastest-selling debut rock album in Nielsen SoundScan history, according to Reuters. It also featured one of their most popular hit singles, "It's Not Over," which earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Song.

Since then, the group released five more albums and they worked with musicians like Slash, Sevendust, Chad Kroege, Vince Gill and Carlos Santana. Daughtry also made a few TV appearances in shows like CSI: NY and Fox's The Passion: Live.

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8. Elliott Yamin

  • How he finished: Season 5 Finalist, 3rd Place
  • Net worth: $6 million

The Jewish-Israeli singer released a total of nine albums after coming in third place on the singing competition. You might recall hearing his biggest hits, "Fight for Love" and “Wait For You,” which landed on multiple charts in the U.S. And since then, Yamin has been keeping busy with tours and live shows, including the Special EFX Allstars Concert Series.

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9. Scotty McCreery

  • How he finished: Season 10 Winner
  • Net worth: $4 million

The tenth American Idol champion has been going strong ever since he won in 2011. After releasing his debut album, Clear as Day, which was certified platinum, the country singer dropped four more albums. His most recent release, Same Truck, included the single "You Time," which topped the U.S. Country Airplay chart. So far, he has won an Academy of Country Music Award, a CMT Music Award, two American Country Awards and three BMI Country Awards.

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10. Clay Aiken

  • How he finished: Season 2 Runner-Up
  • Net worth: $4 million

The multihyphenate Idol alum released six albums, went on 11 tours, wrote a best-selling memoir, acted on Broadway and made several TV cameos, from Scrubs to The Office.

But in 2013, Aiken ventured into politics. The gay rights activist ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in North Carolina's 2nd congressional district, but lost to Republican incumbent Renee Ellmers. And in 2022, he ran for the Democratic nomination in North Carolina's 4th congressional district, but lost in the primary to Valerie Foushee. Fortunately, Aiken’s singing career is going strong, and he’s currently touring with his close pal and fellow contestant, Ruben Studdard.

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11. Kellie Pickler

  • How she finished: Season 5 Finalist, 6th Place
  • Net worth: $4 million

Pickler may have finished in sixth place, but you couldn't tell from her impressive career. The singer's debut album, Small Town Girl, was certified gold by the RIAA, her second album spawned four hit singles and her latest release, The Woman I Am, peaked at number one on Billboard's Independent Albums chart.

In 2013, Pickler and her partner, Derek Hough, won the sixteenth season of Dancing with the Stars, and from 2017 to 2019, Pickler joined comedian Ben Aaron to co-host their syndicated talk show, Pickler & Ben. Now, Pickler is the host of SiriusXM's country music station, The Highway.

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12. Kris Allen

  • How he finished: Season 8 Winner
  • Net worth: $3.5 million

After beating out Adam Lambert, Kris Allen went on to release six albums and opened for artists like Maroon 5, Keith Urban, Lifehouse and Barenaked Ladies. In 2017, the singer also announced that he formed a band called The Dames, and they've released quite a few songs, including "The Death of Mr. Jones" and "Alright Now."

Allen also devoted plenty of time to doing missionary work around the globe, traveling to places like Thailand, Mozambique and South Africa.

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13. Ruben Studdard

  • How he finished: Season 2 Winner
  • Net worth: $3 million

The 44-year-old singer captured hearts with his amazing vocals in 2003, and he has since released seven albums, including the certified gold I Need an Angel and his platinum-selling debut, Soulful. Studdard’s recording of "Superstar" also earned him a Grammy Award nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.

Like many other contestants, the singer tried his hand at acting and appeared in shows like One on One, 8 Simple Rules and All of Us. And in 2018, he expanded to Broadway, making his debut in Ruben & Clay’s Christmas Show with fellow Idol contestant Clay Aiken.

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14. Mandisa

  • How she finished: Season 5 Finalist, 9th Place
  • Net worth: $3 million

After participating in Idol, Mandisa became a contemporary Christian artist and earned four Grammy Award nominations, winning an award in 2014 for Overcomer in the Best Contemporary Christian Music Album category. Other successful singles include "Only the World," "God Speaking" and "Waiting for Tomorrow."

The singer has a total of six albums under her belt and released her book, Out of the Dark: My Journey Through the Shadows to Find God's Joy, in 2022.

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15. David Cook

  • How he finished: Season 7 Winner
  • Net worth: $2 million

Did you know that Cook originally had no intention of auditioning for Idol? The singer only tried out to support his brother, not knowing that he’d eventually be named the next winner.

After his victory, Cook’s debut single, "The Time of My Life," peaked at number two on the Billboard Canadian Hot 100 and sold over 1.4 million copies. His self-titled debut album also included two top 20 singles and was certified platinum by the RIAA.

The artist has released a total of four studio albums, and most recently, he dropped The Looking Glass in 2021. Cook also flexed his acting muscles by playing Charlie Price in the Broadway production of Kinky Boots in 2018.

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16. Josh Gracin

  • How he finished: Season 2 Finalist, 4th Place
  • Net worth: $2 million

After landing in fourth place, the former marine kicked things off by releasing his self-titled debut album, which was certified gold in 2005. After this, he released two more albums, called We Weren't Crazy and Redemption, and in 2017 he dropped an EP.

After a brief hiatus, the singer announced in 2022 that he's working on new music. And earlier this year, he released his latest single, "You're on Fire."

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17. Phillip Phillips

  • How he finished: Season 11 Winner
  • Net worth: $1.5 million

You’ll definitely recognize his most popular singles, including “Gone, Gone, Gone” and “Home,” which made American Idol history as the best-selling song by any alum. After releasing his first studio album, The World from the Side of the Moon, in 2012, Phillips dropped three more albums, including Drift Back, which he released in 2023.

Throughout his career, he has toured with musicians like John Mayer, Gavin DeGraw and the Goo Goo Dolls. Consider us impressed.

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18. David Archuleta

  • How he finished: Season 7 Runner-Up
  • Net worth: $1.5 million

You might remember Archuleta's chart-topping hits, like "Crush," "A Little Too Not Over You" and "Something 'Bout Love." But the 32-year-old artist has already rolled out eight albums, including his latest, Therapy Sessions.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Archuleta released "Just Breathe" as a tribute to frontline workers, and in 2021, he published a children’s book called My Little Prayer. In the following year, the artist landed the starring role in his first ever musical production, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, at the Tuacahn Center for the Arts in Utah.

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19. Diana DeGarmo

  • How she finished: Season 3 Runner-Up
  • Net worth: $1.5 million

Following her time on American Idol, DeGarmo released two albums and two EPs, including her 2019 album, Gemini. But she also dabbled in musical theater, making her first big stage debut as Maria in a production of West Side Story in 2005. By the following year, she made her Broadway debut in Hairspray as Penny Pingleton. Other stage productions she has worked on include Brooklyn: The Musical, The Toxic Avenger, Jekyll & Hyde and Into the Woods.

Additionally, DeGarmo has ventured into TV and film, working on projects like The Young and the Restless, All About Christmas Eve and After the Sun Fell.

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20. Fantasia Barrino-Taylor

  • How she finished: Season 3 Winner
  • Net worth: $1 million

At just 20 years old, the talented singer won season three of American Idol. Since then, she’s released six studio albums and garnered 12 (yes, 12) Grammy nominations, winning Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "Bittersweet."

Barrino-Taylor also started a career in acting in 2007, when she landed the lead role of Celie in the Broadway musical, The Color Purple. She’s reprising the same role in the movie musical, which co-stars Ciara and Taraji P. Henson.

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Nakeisha Campbell

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...
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