‘American Idol’: Where even the losers were winners

For a while, there was no greater prize on TV than the title of the next “American Idol.” With the series ending next year, that title doesn’t carry with it quite the heft and import it once did, but for a time in the early part of the 21st century, Fox’s reality singing competition was so popular, it didn’t even matter if you didn’t win -- just being on the show afforded a level of fame and success most can only dream of.

FULL COVERAGE: Saying farewell to ‘American Idol’

Although seemingly everyone remembers the first “Idol” winner, Kelly Clarkson, many might not realize that Clay Aiken, though famous, didn’t actually win. Nor did top singer Adam Lambert.

As we collectively prepare to bid adieu to Ryan Seacrest and the “Idoldome,” here are four talents that never quite reached the mountaintop but have made out like musical royalty anyway.


Clay Aiken

Clay Aiken performs onstage during the 2015 Hollywood Christmas Parade on Nov. 29.

(Mike Windle / Getty Images for The Hollywood Christmas Parade)

Clay Aiken (2003 “Idol” alum): Aiken came in second place to Ruben Studdard in the show’s second season. His first post-"Idol” album, “Measure of a Man” went double platinum. He’s since released five other full-length albums. Aiken also starred on Broadway in a production of “Monty Python’s Spamalot.” In 2014, he was the Democratic candidate for North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District but lost. 

Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson went on to a successful career despite not winning on “American Idol.”

(Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times)

Jennifer Hudson (2004 “Idol” alum): The affectionately nicknamed J-Hud finished in seventh place in the show’s third season. But she went on to star in the film “Dreamgirls,” for which she won an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a SAG Award and an NAACP Image Award. Her debut self-titled album was released in 2008, becoming a gold-seller and earning her a Grammy.


Chris Daughtry

Chris Daughtry at the world premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” on Dec. 14, 2015.

(Jordan Strauss / Invision / AP)

Chris Daughtry (2006 “Idol” alum): The lead singer of his self-titled band, Daughtry was a fourth-place finisher in “Idol’s” fifth season, but that was enough for the North Carolina native to land a record deal and release his first album, “Daughtry” in 2006. In 2007, the debut album was nominated for four Grammys, including best rock album. The album went quadruple platinum. To date, the band has put out four albums, the most recent in 2013.

Adam Lambert

Adam Lambert performs onstage during the 2015 “CMT Artists of the Year” at Schermerhorn Symphony Center on Dec. 2, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.

(Rick Diamond / Getty Images for CMT)

Adam Lambert (2009 “Idol” alum): The theatrical Lambert was runner-up to Kris Allen in the show’s eighth season, but his flair for stage presence paid off after the show ended. His first album, released in 2009, went gold. He’s released three albums total, and in 2012 he announced he was embarking on a world tour with the surviving members of Queen, replacing singer Freddie Mercury. That successful tour spawned another one with Queen, which is going across Europe.

Follow me on Twitter: @patrickkevinday


‘American Idol’: The slow fade of an instant hit

Our first review of ‘American Idol’: This show could use a gong for everyone


From the Archives: Some ‘American Idol’ thoughts from Simon Cowell in 2002

Get our daily Entertainment newsletter