American Idol's Most Memorable Contestants: Where Are They Now?
CARRIE UNDERWOOD, SEASON 4
Since taking home the top prize on season 4 of American Idol in 2005, the Oklahoma native has continued to rise up the music ranks, earning Grammys and critical praise for her storytelling and vocal talents. In a 2015 interview with Parade, a decade after making her TV debut, the country crooner reflected on her time on the music competition show.
"Idol was probably the most horrifying thing, because I had never been away from my hometown like that before," Underwood, who is married to pro hockey player Mike Fisher and is mom to son Isaiah, told the outlet. As for what she thought right after winning Idol, Underwood shared with Parade that she tried to keep her thinking practical.
"I always kept in my head, 'If nothing else ever comes of this, I got to do the coolest thing ever and I won American Idol. I was like, 'Okay, I will just have fun with this and save up as much money as I can and finish school and get a real job.' Because I am always a practical thinker and would never allow myself to think it would turn out okay all the time."
ADAM LAMBERT, SEASON 8
He may not have come out on top at the season 8 finale of Idol — he lost to Kris Allen — but Lambert found success in the years following. He has released three albums, is a Grammy-nominated artist and currently serves as the lead singer of Queen. Not too shabby, eh?
"Getting right down to the final three, I knew that at this point I had so many opportunities that were going to open up for me," Lambert shared with Entertainment Weekly of what he was feeling when he learned he didn't win Idol, in a 2016 interview. "And at the same time I’ve watched the show and I’ve seen that people can win or not win and that can be it for them — the show can be sort of their high point forever. "
ACE YOUNG, SEASON 5
Young made it to the top seven before being eliminated the year Taylor Hicks won. Since then, the Colorado native has written and starred in Broadway's Hair, where he and American Idol alum Diana DeGarmo (season 3 runner-up) met and fell in love. They tied the knot in 2013.
"I’m more excited about what ABC does with the show we already love,” Young revealed to AJC.com of the Idol reboot. “They feel they can do it better. I’m curious to see what they bring to the table.”
TAYLOR HICKS, SEASON 5
Following his Idol win, Hicks released three albums and was featured on a Grammy-winning album, Jimmy Fallon's comedy album Blow Your Pants Off. Hicks also became the first-ever Idol winner to score a longterm Las Vegas residency, from June 2012 to January 2013.
And singing isn't his only talent. In 2017, it was announced Hicks would serve as the host of a new show, INSP Channel's State Plate, which sees the singer traveling around the country to explore different types of foods.
WILLIAM HUNG, SEASON 3
Few Idol auditions are as memorable as Hung's rendition of Ricky Martin's "She Bangs." While Hung, who got married to Jian Teng in 2014, didn't make it to Hollywood, he struck a chord with viewers. Hung signed a record deal, released a few albums and ultimately retired from singing in 2011, swapping a career in music for a job at the L.A. County Department of Public Health. Unsurprisingly, Hung still gets recognized.
"Everybody knows me," he told PEOPLE in 2015. “When I go try to watch a baseball game or just go shopping or do general everyday things, people recognize who I am. They ask me, ‘May I have your picture? Aren’t you the ‘She Bangs’ guy?’ It helps a lot because it’s much easier for me to make friends and make professional connections. It’s great."
SCOTTY MCCREERY, SEASON 10
A then-17-year-old Scotty McCreery took home Idol's top prize in 2011, winning over the judges and viewers with his penchant for impressively belting out country songs. Following his win, McCreery released his debut studio album, Clear as Day, which became certified platinum. He has since released three more albums, with his most recent being 2018's Seasons Change. And while yes, he does credit his success to winning the music competition, McCreery hopes to continue making a name for himself.
“It was a big mountain to climb," McCreery, who scored his first no. 1 hit song with "Five More Minutes" in March, told The News & Observer. "But this gives more validity to what I’ve been doing. Credibility as an artist has been the goal the last few years – to move away from the TV guy who was on American Idol to be a country artist with songs and stories."
As for his personal life? He popped the question to longtime girlfriend Gabi Dugal in September 2017. They plan to tie the knot sometime this year.
SANJAYA MALAKAR, SEASON 6
Known for his envy-inducing hair and for being a fixture on E!'s now-defunct The Soup, the Idol finalist was an obvious standout from the rest of his competition not just for his voice, but for his heartthrob status.
Since the show's end, Malakar has starred in another reality TV show — I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! — and continues to make music, notably lending his voice to the album Good Merlin by The Chaz Lipp Groove Tripp. And in case you were wondering about what the Idol alum currently looks like, a quick scan of his Instagram shows Malakar traded in his fan-favorite locks for a bushy beard.
RUBEN STUDDARD, SEASON 2
After beating out runner-up Clay Aiken in the sophomore season of American Idol, Studdard continued to captivate audiences with his soulful voice, receiving a Grammy nomination for best male R&B vocal performance for "Superstar" in 2003 and releasing a total of six studio albums since being crowned winner.
He has also appeared on The Biggest Loser, where he lost 119 lbs, in 2013, and received an honorary Master of Arts degree from Alabama A&M two years later.
PHILLIP PHILLIPS, SEASON 11
Phillip Phillips was crowned the winner of season 11. He holds an additional accolade: His song, “Home,” is the best-selling coronation song from the show. (The track was even featured in multiple women’s gymnastics TV spots during the 2012 Olympics in London.)
In early 2015, the star filed a lawsuit against Idol‘s production company 19 Entertainment, claiming they “manipulated” him into accepting jobs and were being “oppressive” about his career. Then more than a year later, 19 Entertainment hit back with a complaint alleging Phillips was holding on to as much as $1 million of their money.
“It was really tough,” Phillips — who wasn’t allowed to release new music until he reached a settlement with 19 Entertainment in June 2017 — told PEOPLE exclusively. “I thought, ‘Man, is this ever going to end? Will I ever be able to release new music?’ [I was] a little depressed about it and also anxious trying to figure out what I can do to push things forward.” In January 2018, he released his third studio album, Collateral.
LAUREN ALAINA, SEASON 10
Alaina made it to the 10 season finale before ultimately being defeated by Scotty McCreery. She's gone on to have a successful country music career with two studio albums under her belt. The singer took home new artist of the year at the 2012 American Country Awards. Five years later, she nabbed breakthrough video of the year for "Road Less Traveled" at the CMT Music Awards and breakthrough artist writer of the year at the Music Row awards.
KELLY CLARKSON, SEASON 1
The OG American Idol champ, Kelly was just 20 years old when she won the inaugural season of the show. After fulfilling Idol-related commitments (we’re looking at you, From Justin to Kelly), Clarkson went on to have a massively successful solo career. She has 14 Grammy nominations and three wins, among many other honors. She’s even an author, having published a children’s book, River Rose and the Magical Lullaby, in 2016.
And speaking of River Rose, Clarkson married Brandon Blackstock in 2013. The couple have two children together, daughter River Rose and son Remington Alexander. In March 2018, she returned to her reality show roots as a coach on The Voice. “I choose to do this because I think it’s fun, and it’s a rad thing to be a part of,” Clarkson said in a clip shared exclusively with PEOPLE. “I really want to find someone that I can pay it forward to. I would love to say, ‘Man, I turned my chair for them and I was able to find a fabulous singer who can go on tour with me and have a huge career after this.’”
KELLIE PICKLER, SEASON 5
Kellie Pickler finished in sixth place during season 5 of American Idol. She since solidified her presence in the world of country music, thanks to singles such as "Best Days of Your Life.” Of course, Pickler went on to win another reality competition: season 16 of Dancing with the Stars, alongside pro Derek Hough. You can catch Pickler’s equally melodic non-singing voice on her daytime talk show, Pickler & Ben, which first aired in September 2017.
With American Idol returning to TV, Pickler said she would love to go back to the show. “It forever changed my life, and I will always be grateful to have been a part of the show,” she told PEOPLE in September.
KATHARINE MCPHEE, SEASON 5
The American Idol runner-up juggled singing and acting after Taylor Hicks was crowned the season 5 winner. McPhee went on to release five albums, with the most recent one being 2017's I Fall in Love Too Easily. She also has appeared in the TV series Smash and the Anna Faris-fronted film The House Bunny, among other onscreen projects.
McPhee has most recently been spotted getting cozy with music producer David Foster. She is slated to star as lead Jenna in Broadway's Waitress in April 2018.
JUSTIN GUARINI, SEASON 1
Guarini was Idol's first-ever runner-up. He starred alongside winner Kelly Clarkson in the infamously bad movie From Justin to Kelly shortly after their season. He married his childhood sweetheart, Reina Capodici, in 2009. The couple is parents to sons William, 6, and Asher, 5. Guarini made his Broadway debut in 2010's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. He's also had roles in American Idiot, Wicked and Romeo and Juliet. You might have also seen him as Dr. Pepper character "Lil Sweet" in recent commercials.
JORDIN SPARKS, SEASON 6
In 2007, Sparks, who was 17 at the time, was crowned the Idol winner — the youngest in the singing competition show's history. Not only has Sparks found fame with her singing career, but she also has dabbled in acting, landing a role in Broadway's In the Heights, and starred opposite Whitney Houston in 2012's Sparkle.
In terms of her personal life, Sparks revealed to PEOPLE in 2017 that she had married Dana Isaiah and was expecting the couple's first child. “We’re beyond excited to be having a little boy. We cannot wait to meet him and love him so much already!” the couple told PEOPLE exclusively in a statement.
JENNIFER HUDSON, SEASON 3
American Idol's first and only contestant to win an Oscar (for Best Supporting Actress in 2006's Dreamgirls) and Grammy (for best R&B album, Jennifer Hudson, in 2009), Hudson has come a long way since placing in seventh place on the singing competition show. She has released four studio albums, with her most recent being 2014's JHUD. In 2010, she became a spokesperson for Weight Watchers, which she credits for her 80-lb. weight loss.
FANTASIA BARRINO, SEASON 3
The season 3 winner, Fantasia Barrino went on to land a cool 12 Grammy nominations (including one win!). Following her victory, she published a memoir (dictated to a writer), Life Is Not a Fairy Tale, in which she revealed that she was illiterate. “[After] putting out my Lifetime movie and my book [Life Is Not a Fairy Tale], [people] picked certain things in the book, [saying], ‘She’s illiterate, she’s dumb,’ ” Barrino later recalled to Gayle King. “[And] I had to sit and hear comedians crack their jokes, and certain people say what they had to say.”
She also took her acting talents to TV, movies and Broadway, where she starred as Celie in The Color Purple. In August 2010, she was hospitalized and treated for a “medication overdose.” While speaking with King, Barrino opened up about dealing with depression, noting that she struggled during her American Idol stint, which was followed by a home foreclosure, a throat tumor she developed in 2008 while on Broadway, and business troubles, including mismanaged money.
DAVID ARCHULETA, SEASON 7
The baby-faced singer was only 16 years old when he auditioned for the seventh season of Idol, eventually coming in second place behind David Cook. Since then, he's released six studio albums, including 2017's Postcards in the Sky. He also has a number of acting gigs under his belt, from guest spots on iCarly and Hannah Montana to starring in the Filipino show Nandito Ako. Archuleta took a break from his music career to become a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Chile for two years beginning in 2012.
CONSTANTINE MAROULIS, SEASON 4
The rocker made it to sixth place on season 4 of Idol. He released his debut solo album, Constantine, in 2007. Maroulis has enjoyed a successful post-reality show Broadway career, and even scored a Tony nomination for his leading role in Rock of Ages. In 2015, the singer was arrested for allegedly assaulting girlfriend Angel Reed. A week later, he was arrested again for violating an order of protection by sending her emails. The charges were eventually dropped. Reed and Maroulis welcomed daughter Malena James in 2010.
CLAY AIKEN, SEASON 2
Clay Aiken lost to Ruben Studdard in Idol's dramatic season 2 finale. Despite the loss, his first studio album, Measure of a Man, debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard 200. He's since released six other studio albums. In 2012, he returned to competitive reality TV for The Celebrity Apprentice, and was named runner-up once again. Phineas and Ferb, The Office, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Drop Dead Diva have all welcomed Aiken as a guest star. Aiken won the Democratic primary when he ran to represent North Carolina's 2nd congressional district in 2014, but lost to the Republican incumbent in the general election.
CHRIS DAUGHTRY, SEASON 5
Despite getting eliminated after making it to the final four on American Idol in 2006, the rocker has proven to have a successful career, forming his band Daughtry shortly after leaving the show. His band picked up a Grammy nomination for best rock song for their single, "It's Not Over," in 2008.
"It was the best thing that ever happened, as far as my career is concerned," Daughtry told PEOPLE of his days on the singing competition show. "Otherwise, people wouldn't have a clue who I was."