All 18 'American Idol' winners, ranked from least to most successful

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Gabbi Shaw
·14 min read
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kelly clarkson carrie underwood
Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood are easily the most successful winners in "American Idol" history. Rich Fury/Getty Images
  • "American Idol" premiered on June 11, 2002 and crowned its first winner that September.

  • Almost every year since, there has been a new "American Idol" winner to listen to.

  • But how many are really successful? We've ranked them all, from Just Sam to Kelly Clarkson.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Related: Taylor Swift is the world's highest-paid celebrity.

Thousands of people have tried out for "American Idol" over the last 19 years, with the potential of becoming America's next biggest popstar. But how many of the 18 winners have actually become the next American idol?

We've ranked every winner of "American Idol" based on their amount of success - how many albums or songs they've sold, chart placement, cultural impact, award nominations and wins, and how famous they are in relation to other contestants on their season (we're looking at you, Kris Allen and Adam Lambert).

Keep scrolling to see how we think the "American Idol" winners stack up against each other.

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Just Sam during her audition in 2020. Eric Liebowitz/ABC/Getty Images

Caleb Johnson was crowned the winner of season 13 in 2014 and has only released one solo album since.

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Caleb Johnson performs onstage during Fox's "American Idol" XIII Finale on May 21, 2014. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Johnson, 29, is one of the only "rock" winners of "American Idol," and he was beloved during his time on the show. But since winning in 2014 he's only released one album as a solo artist: "Testify" in 2014. It peaked at No. 24 on the Billboard 200. He's failed to chart any songs on the Hot 100.

He released in album in 2019 with a new band, Caleb Johnson & the Ramblin' Saints, which seems to be more what he's into stylistically, but — like everything else — the tour and promo were cut short due to the pandemic.

In 2018, Maddie Poppe was crowned the season 16 champion.

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Maddie Poppe performing on season 16 of "American Idol" in 2018. Mitch Haaseth/Walt Disney Television/Getty Images

Poppe, 23, has failed to make much of an impact on mainstream music, with songs charting on the adult contemporary/adult airplay charts, but not particularly high. She does have a People's Choice Award under her belt, though, for Competition Contestant of 2018.

Unfortunately for her, she also loses points due to the success of Gabby Barrett, who came in third place during season 16. Barrett has become a country music success with her hit single "I Hope," which was nominated for Single of the Year at the 2020 CMA Awards and reached No. 3 on the Hot 100.

Trent Harmon won what was, at the time, the last season of "American Idol" - season 15 in 2016.

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Trent Harmon performs onstage during "American Idol" season 15 on April 6, 2016. FOX Image Collectio/Getty Images

Harmon, 30, released his debut album in 2018, "You Got 'Em All," which peaked at No. 34 on the Top Country Albums chart. He also had a 2017 single, "There's a Girl," reach 27 on the Hot Country Songs chart, and his album reached No. 2 on the Heatseekers Albums chart. It didn't reach the Billboard 200.

Overall, a perfectly respectable late-season "AI" contestant. However, Harmon loses points for beating La'Porsha Renae, who clearly deserved the win.

Laine Hardy won season 17, the second of the "rebooted" series, in 2019.

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Laine Hardy is crowned the winner of "American Idol" season 17 in May 2019. Eric McCandless/Getty Images

It's been just under two years since Hardy was on "AI," but the 20-year-old isn't wasting time. He peaked at 12 on a Billboard rising chart and released three singles in 2020 alone. Hardy also has a song, "Hurricane," which has garnered over 6 million streams on Spotify, and he had a song reach No. 19 on the Country Song Digital Sales chart.

Nick Fradiani won the 14th season of "American Idol" in 2015, after attempts on "America's Got Talent" and a Battle of the Bands contest.

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Winner Nick Fradiani performs onstage during "American Idol" XIV Grand Finale on May 13, 2015. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Fradiani, 35, already had a bit of fame before competing, as he was part of pop-rock band Beach Avenue. They competed on "America's Got Talent" in 2014, but didn't make it far, so Fradiani decided to try his luck as a solo act on "American Idol" — and won.

He released his sole album in August 2016, "Hurricane" which peaked at No. 121 on the Billboard 200. He also only had one song reach the Hot 100: his coronation song, "Beautiful Life," which peaked at 93.

He's since returned to Beach Avenue.

On the other hand, his runner-up, Clark Beckham, was signed by Quincy Jones Management, though they parted ways in 2020.

In 2010, the ninth season champion was Lee DeWyze.

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"American Idol" winner musician/singer Lee DeWyze poses in press room during the finale on May 26, 2010. Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Both DeWyze, 34, and the runner-up, Crystal Bowersox, have essentially disappeared from pop culture in the decade since appearing on the show, especially when compared to the success of some of its other winners.

He had four songs chart on the Hot 100 from his first post-"Idol" album, "Live It Up," ranging from 88 to 24. Along with that album, his 2013 album "Frames" also made it to the Billboard 200, charting at Nos. 19 and 116, respectively. He released his sixth and seventh albums in 2016 and 2018. DeWyze definitely had his moment and, while he continues to make music, he has faded into pop music obscurity.

Kris Allen's season eight win in 2009 can best be summed up by his face upon winning.

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"American Idol" winner Kris Allen with finalist Adam Lambert during the "American Idol" finale on May 20, 2009. Kevin Winter/American Idol 2009/Getty Images for FOX

Allen's win remains as confusing in 2021 as it was in 2009, when he inexplicably lost to Adam Lambert, one of the most talented musicians to ever grace the "Idol" stage — he's currently touring with Queen, for crying out loud. Lambert also acts, has topped charts, sold millions of records, and was nominated for a Grammy in 2011.

Another contestant from the season, Mickey Guyton, has had a break-out moment recently, and is up for her first Grammy this year. She's the first Black female solo artist to earn a Grammy nomination in a country category.

Allen has fallen short comparatively. The 35-year-old had seven songs make it to the Hot 100, but never broke the top 10 which, at the time, was unheard of for "American Idol" contestants. His highest-charting album is 2009's "Kris Allen," which peaked at No. 11, and he hasn't had an album chart since 2014.

Candice Glover was crowned the season 12 "American Idol" in 2013.

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"American Idol" season 12 winner Candice Glover poses in the press room at the finale on May 16, 2013. Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage/Getty Images

Unfortunately, season 13 of "American Idol" will always be best known as the season with Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj's iconic beef, overshadowing the highly talented Glover.

Since the show, she's only released one album, "Music Speaks" in 2014, which peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard 200. It peaked at No. 4 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, though. Her coronation song, "I Am Beautiful," reached No. 93 on the Hot 100.

Glover, 31, remains the most famous person from her season, however, bumping her past a few of her other competitors.

Taylor Hicks took home the season five crown in 2006.

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"American Idol" season five winner Taylor Hicks from Birmingham, Alabama. Jason Merritt/FilmMagic/Getty Images

When Hicks won "American Idol," he was briefly one of the most famous people in the US. His season was the most successful in two ways: It has the highest ratings to date, and all of the top 10 contestants secured record deals, nine with major labels.

In his career, Hicks had his coronation single, "Do I Make You Proud," debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100 — an impressive feat, and a 2006 album that peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. He also became the first "Idol" winner to secure a long-term Vegas residency before it was cool, and starred in "Grease" on Broadway as the Teen Angel.

However, the 44-year-old hasn't charted since 2009, and has easily been overshadowed by other contestants from his season — most notably, by Chris Daughtry and Katharine McPhee. But even other contestants like Mandisa, Kellie Pickler, Kevin Covais, and Elliott Yamin all achieved chart success.

David Cook won the battle of the Davids during season seven in 2008.

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Finalist David Cook is announced as the winner of season seven on stage at the "American Idol" finale on May 21, 2008. M. Caulfield/WireImage/Getty Images

Cook bested David Archuleta to become the seventh "American Idol" champ. The 38-year-old has released four albums post-"Idol," which peaked at Nos. 3, 7, 35, and 173. His self-titled 2008 album also reached No. 2 on the Top Rock Albums chart.

Although his coronation song, "The Time of My Life," didn't top the charts, he's overall had more hits than say, Taylor Hicks, with 15 songs overall charting in the Hot 100. His last song to hit any chart was 10 years ago.

Besides singing, Cook was on Broadway for two 2018 stints in "Kinky Boots."

In 2003, Ruben Studdard became the second-ever "American Idol."

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Ruben Studdard, winner of "American Idol" in 2003. Ray Mickshaw/WireImage/Getty Images

Following Kelly Clarkson would've been a tough act for anyone, but Studdard held his own! His 2003 debut album, "Soulful," reached the top of the Billboard 200, and his next five albums all reached the top 200, as well. He also has two top 10 songs ("Flying Without Wings" and "Sorry 2004"), and he has been nominated for multiple major awards including American Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards, Teen Choice Awards, and a 2004 Grammy nom.

The 42-year-old has also found success in gospel and R&B, though he hasn't had a major hit in over a decade.

In the past decade, Studdard appeared on "The Biggest Loser" and made a 2018 Broadway debut with his runner-up Clay Aiken.

It's Aiken, in fact, that takes points away from Studdard. He's easily more famous than Studdard is to this day, but their enduring friendship is very sweet.

Phillip Phillips' coronation song after winning season 11 in 2012 was the best-selling in "American Idol" history.

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Phillip Phillips performs onstage during Fox's "American Idol" XIII Finale on May 21, 2014. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

"Home" is "Idol's" best-selling coronation song, bumping Phillips way up this list. Phillips, 30, also opened for John Mayer on tour, is the only famous person from his season, and was nominated for various American Music Awards, Teen Choice Awards, and Billboard Music Awards.

Both "Home" and "Gone Gone Gone" also have over 100 million streams on Spotify, and he has four songs that have reached the Hot 100.

His first two albums, "The World From the Side of the Moon," and "Behind the Light" peaked at Nos. 4 and 7 respectively, though his 2018 album "Collateral" only reached 141. We'll see if Phillips can make a successful comeback.

But season 10 "Idol" Scotty McCreery just edges Phillips out.

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Scotty McCreery is announced the "American Idol" for 2011 performs onstage during the finale results show on May 25, 2011. Kevin Winter/American Idol 2011/Getty Images

McCreery, 27, has enjoyed success in the last decade since his win in 2011: three No. 1 country albums (and one No. 2), a certified platinum debut album (that also hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200), the only country music artist to chart a song without a record label, multiple country award noms, including the American Country Music Awards, the CMTs, Teen Choice Awards, Billboard Music Awards and BMI Country Awards, and multiple hit singles.

Specifically, "Five More Minutes," "See You Tonight," and "This Is It" all reached the top 10 of the country charts.

McCreery's season does have famous alumni (Lauren Alaina and Haley Reinhart), but neither have clearly surpassed McCreery, so he's earned his top-five place.

Jordin Sparks, season six winner in 2007, is one of the most successful "American Idol" winners of all time.

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"American Idol" season six winner Jordin Sparks, 17, from Glendale, Arizona. Lester Cohen/WireImage/Getty Images

Sparks, who was just 17 when she won, has grown into one of the most famous and beloved "Idol" contestants. Over the course of her career, she's sold over 1 million albums and 10.2 million singles in the US alone. Specifically, "No Air" is the highest-selling single of any "Idol" contestant, and it peaked at No. 3 on the Hot 100.

The 31-year-old has had two top 10 albums, a Grammy nomination along with multiple other noms and wins, and eight Hot 100 singles overall. She also has starred in two Broadway musicals ("In the Heights" and "Waitress"), and even co-wrote Ariana Grande's breakthrough single "The Way."

While she hasn't had a smash single in a few years, she began making a comeback with an appearance on "The Masked Dancer" in 2021.

In 2004, Fantasia Barrino became the third-ever "American Idol," so it's fitting that we ranked her at No. 3.

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Winner Fantasia Barrino performs on stage at the "American Idol" season three finale on May 26, 2004. Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

The singer, who goes by Fantasia professionally, has had quite a career. Her first single debuted at No. 1, and her debut album was certified platinum. Her next seven albums all made it to the Billboard 200, and she's also seen much success on the R&B/Hip-Hop charts, with a No. 2 in 2019 on the Adult R&B chart.

Fantasia, 36, was also inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame, starred in "The Color Purple" and "After Midnight" on Broadway, was ranked No. 32 on VH1's list of the 100 Greatest Women in Music, performed at the legend Aretha Franklin's funeral, and even starred in her own Lifetime movie about herself.

Fantasia even has a Grammy win from 12 nominations.

The only thing working against Fantasia? That future Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson was on her season — and Hudson is easily one of the most famous "Idol" contestants of all time.

Season four winner Carrie Underwood has transcended "American Idol" altogether to become one of the most successful country music artists of all time.

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Singer Carrie Underwood performs after being named the next "American Idol" during the finale on May 25, 2005. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

What is there to say about Underwood, 37, that hasn't already been said? She is the female artist with the most No. 1s on the Billboard Country Airplay chat, has seven Grammy wins (including Best New Artist), 11 Billboard Music Awards, 15 American Music Awards, a Guinness world record, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and more. She was ranked the top female country artist of the 2000s and the 2010s by Billboard, has sold over 4.3 million concert tickets, and was named one of Time's most influential people in 2014.

In total, she's sold 64 million records worldwide. She has 27 No. 1 songs. It's staggering.

No one from her 2005 season came close to her amount of success, including Bo Bice or Constantine Maroulis. In fact, there's only one "Idol" who could best her ...

Who else could be the most successful "American Idol," but season one champ Kelly Clarkson? She created an entire empire off her 2002 win.

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"American Idol" winner Kelly Clarkson sings after winning on September 4, 2002. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

While Underwood might have chart success in country music, Clarkson has crossover appeal. She's had three No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200, is the first artist to top the pop, adult contemporary, adult pop, country, and dance charts, and has had 11 top 10 singles on the Hot 100 (with three No. 1s). She's also recorded a modern classic Christmas album, judges on "The Voice," has been nominated for 15 Grammys (winning three), and she had one of the best-selling songs of 2002 with her coronation single "A Moment Like This."

Clarkson, 38, has also secured a career outside of music. Her talk show, "The Kelly Clarkson Show," is delightful, and earned her a Daytime Emmy. Only an Oscar and a Tony to go, Kelly!

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