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10 Forgotten American Idol Winners

10 Forgotten American Idol Winners

American Idol is a singing competition show that premiered in 2002 and became a greater success than anyone could’ve anticipated. The magic the original three judges—Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson—brought was a highlight of earlier seasons. With Simon’s scathing remarks, Paula’s gentleness (unless she’s bickering with Simon), and Randy’s iconic catchphrases (“It’s a no from me, dog.”), millions of Americans loved tuning in.

What also set American Idol apart from other competition shows was that many of the contestants went on to have thriving careers. Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Jennifer Hudson (who finished seventh) are just a few of the participants who remain relevant today. Despite the many success stories, there are quite a few winners whose careers have quieted in the years since getting crowned the American Idol.

Check out these 10 winners who you probably forgot all about.

10 Lee DeWyze

Season 9 Winner (2010)

Lee DeWyze holding a guitar and singing into a mic stand on American Idol 9

Lee DeWyze is an Illinois native who participated in the ninth season of American Idol. The show only aired a brief clip of his audition in which he sang Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers. This was not a representation of the time he’d spend on the program. The public took to him despite his more reserved nature and he never found himself in the bottom two during his American Idol tenure.

A Quiet Post-Show Career

Upon his win, DeWyze released an album with RCA Records titled Live It Up that achieved middling success. His subsequent albums garnered less buzz. DeWyze switched labels a few times, but his love for music continued throughout, as he released five albums post-Idol. In 2022, he held a virtual concert for fans and otherwise seems to enjoy a relatively calm life.

9 Trent Harmon

Season 15 Winner (2016)

Trent Harmon and Ryan Seacrest on stage during American Idol 15

Trent Harmon won season 15, which was advertised as the conclusion to the series before it resumed two years later. Southern contestants have historically had a good run on the show and Mississippi native Harmon was no exception. However, instead of wowing the judges with a lilting country voice, he shocked them with his smooth R&B vocals. His debut song Falling was co-written by one of that season’s judges, Keith Urban.

Unsure What Lies Ahead

Harmon first released a self-titled EP in 2016 and then a full-length album in 2018. Record label issues caused many bumps in the road. He eventually left his label in 2019. In 2023, he released a live version of a song titled Heartbeat. Harmon isn’t too active online, though he did share personal photos of his newborn daughter on his Instagram in early 2024.

8 Taylor Hicks

Season 5 Winner (2006)

Taylor Hicks outspreading his arms while Katharine McPhee laughs on American Idol

Hardcore Idol fans may remember Taylor Hicks, the fun Alabamian who discussed the premature graying of his hair since adolescence. Hicks’ performances were filled with lots of energy and soul, making him a standout in the pool of talented contestants. Katharine McPhee sailed to the finale alongside him, and it was a true toss-up for who’d win. Ultimately, Hicks came out on top and he debuted his self-titled album in late 2006.

Wearing Lots of Different Hats

Hick’s first song skyrocketed to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and his album at number two. Hicks has branched out into many different areas. In 2007, a memoir was released about his life story. Hicks is also one of several Idol alumni to take on the world of Broadway. He even made a return to television on a short-lived dating. In a huge departure, he also ventured into the restaurant business and currently owns a restaurant in Birmingham called SAW’s Juke Joint.

7 Candice Glover

Season 12 Winner (2013)

Candice Glover singing on American Idol 12

Candice Glover was an early fan favorite in season 12. She painted a story of resilience, as the South Carolina native had to audition three times before making it to the live shows. Though judges at the time Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj’s bickering garnered much attention, no one could ignore the talent Glover had.

Home for Glover

Unlike other winners who release an album within the year, Glover’s album was ready for preorder the same night the finale aired. Her releases found moderate success on the R&B and Hip-Hop charts. In 2017, Glover was cast in a Broadway production titled Home for the Holidays which performed in Manhattan. Her last musical release was in 2018 and many fans are eagerly waiting for new tunes.

Related: The Best Seasons of The Circle, Ranked

6 David Cook

Season 7 Winner (2008)

David Cook smiling and holding a mic on American Idol 7

Chris Daughtry is one of the most successful contestants on the show and it inspired David Cook to give it a shot as well. Cook charmed everyone with his soulful rendition of Livin’ on a Prayer. His post-show introduction to the world did better than many would expect. He had over ten songs charting in the top 100 and within a year his album would sell over one million copies.

A Steady Career

It’d be hard for anyone to follow up with such a glorious breakout. Though none of his following musical releases achieved the same level of notoriety, the numbers weren’t anything to be ashamed of. Amidst label changes and going independent, he has steadily dropped new music for listeners to appreciate. His latest single, “TABOS (This’ll All Be Over Soon),” came out in 2022.

5 Kris Allen

Season 8 Winner (2009)

Adam Lambert, Kris Allen, and Ryan Seacrest on American Idol 8

When most people think back to season eight, they likely remember Adam Lambert. It makes sense, given his bold look and the fact that he made it to the finale. However, it wasn’t Lambert who won and instead, it was twenty-three-year-old Kris Allen from Arkansas. Allen impressed audiences with his musical abilities both with his voice and touch with various instruments.

A Career Beyond Music

Allen toured with a slew of popular artists, from Maroon 5 to Keith Urban. Over the years, he’s done his own solo tours and released EPs and singles for special events. Allen is dedicated to using the platform he was given to aid in various charity work, even working with the United Nations. As recently as 2021, he joined forces with fellow Idol winner David Cook to tour around Europe.

4 Caleb Johnson

Season 13 Winner (2014)

Caleb Johnson on American Idol 13

Season thirteen marked the true end of the golden days of American Idol, with Randy Jackson as the last of the original judges leaving. Caleb Johnson auditioned several times before everything clicked into place for him. It’s hard to remember a time when he didn’t exude grit and confidence onstage, but clearly the rejections sharpened his skills. He escaped the bottom two during his time on the show and eventually was crowned the ultimate title.

From Center to Side Stage

Johnson released his first rock album Testify shortly after his win. After poor sales, he departed from his label and released his next work independently. He’s also ditched solo endeavors for the time being by joining the backing band of the artist Meat Loaf.

Related: Every American Idol Judge Who Left, And Their Reasons, Explained

3 Nick Fradiani

Season 14 Winner (2015)

Ryan Seacrest raising Nick Fradiani's hand in the air on American Idol 14

The northeast of the U.S. has been extremely underrepresented in the crop of winners, so Nick Fradiani’s season fourteen win was a breath of fresh air. The Connecticut native used to be a member of a band that had a brief stint on America’s Got Talent. He opted to go solo while competing on Idol, choosing a Peter Gabriel song to get him to Hollywood.

A Tale of Poor Sales

Fradiani’s debut album upon his win unfortunately had low sales. The nearly guaranteed success of winners for at least their first album after the show had long come and gone. However, he didn’t let this hold him back from musical pursuits. He started doing musicals in 2019 and has ventured over to Broadway.

2 Maddie Poppe

Season 16 Winner (2018)

Maddie Pope holding a guitar during her audition for American Idol 16

Maddie Poppe appeared on season 16, after a brief hiatus and rebranding over to ABC from Fox. Her entire season had a new flavor, from the network it was airing on to the judges who gave their weekly feedback. Most consider these later seasons of Idol to be similar to other competition shows—amazing talent who disappear after the show.

Unsure What’s Next

After her win, Poppe released an album with Hollywood Records. She even went on the following season of Idol to promote it but the show went to commercial before she could name it. Ouch. Later, she toured with Ingrid Michaelson and made an appearance on The Masked Singer tour in 2022. According to Heavy, she was dropped by her label and there’s no word on if and when fans will soon hear new music.

1 Ruben Studdard

Season 2 Winner (2003)

Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard on American Idol 2

Now that the concept of American Idol had been tested, season two was able to settle into its place. Perfect time for Ruben Studdard, a guy from an army family who grew up in Alabama, to seize the moment. During his audition, it sounded like he was belting out his own song rather than doing a cover. By the time the finale came around, he was facing off against Clay Aiken, and Studdard narrowly won out.

A Formidable Duo

Studdard has built a solid back catalogue of work, mainly in the R&B and gospel spaces. His debut led to a Grammy nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. Studdard didn’t shy away from the camera after the show. In 2013, he participated in The Biggest Loser and had small television and film roles. And if fans thought there’d be tension between him and Aiken, think again. The two created a Broadway production together in 2018 and toured together in 2023.

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