Last night, the fifteenth season and first episode of American Idol drew a 10.685 million viewers in the 8PM hour and 11.016 million total viewers in the 9PM hour, according to Nielsen fast national data, slightly lower than last year’s premiere, which only occupied the 8PM hour and posted 11.20 million viewers total. This is the final season of FOX’s flagship reality competition.
Over the last 15 years, we’ve watched thousands of hopefuls audition to grace the stage of American Idol, with only a select few making the cuts. American Idol provides the vessel for people who sing in their church choir or their bathroom to be in front of a live audience and millions of viewers, with the ultimate prize of a recording contract. We’ve watched front runners such as Kelly Clarkson, Jordin Sparks and Ruben Studdard tremendously rise to stardom after being selected. American Idol Alumni have made a name for themselves through music, acting or business ventures.
In the spirit of Idol’s very last season, we take a trip down memory lane and highlight the 10 most successful contestants to appear on the American Idol stage. Scroll along to see who made the #1 spot!
Words: Rachel George
Runner up on season five, Katharine McPhee went onto become a leading star. Her self titled debut album reached #2 on the Billboard 200 charts in 2007, selling over 116,000 copies its first week. She made a household name for herself within the acting industry, appearing in films such as The House Bunny and Shark Night 3D. McPhee held lead roles on CBS’s Scorpion and NBC’s musical series Smash, which acclaimed to be her most prominent role. She has also appeared in several television shows including CSI: NY and an episode of the Biggest Loser 2010.
Net Worth: $6 Million
2015 Highest Gross: $1 Million
Clay Aiken was deemed for greatness after the Idol stage in 2003. Releasing five albums, he has sold six million albums and sold out 11 nationwide tours, some with past winners. His first solo album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 Charts, selling 613,000 copies in it first week. A year later, his memoir Learning To Sing: Hearing The Music in Your Life became a New York Times Best Seller. Aiken’s Broadway debut in Monty Python’s Spamalot was huge success. He is a strong advocate for LGBT rights and serves as a UNICEF Ambassador for education and child protection. He appeared on Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice in 2012 with Aubrey O’Day and Arsenio Hall. Taking his strides into office, Aiken unsuccessfully ran for Congress in his hometown of North Carolina in 2014.
Net Worth: $7 Million
Highest Gross: $1.5 Million
The “Small Town Girl” amazed America with her bold, intensified voice at center stage. Kelly Pickler proved that talent and fortitude are a potent combination. She captured the hearts of the country audience with her heartfelt songs of life and art. After Idol, she signed with BNA Records, releasing hits such as “Red High Heels,” “I Wonder,” which won her Performance of the Year, and Breakthrough Video of the Year. Pickler released, 100 Proof, a collection of songs that resonated with the artist’s life in 2012. Singing is not her only talent; she won the 16th season of Dancing With the Stars alongside Derek Hough. Last summer, she released her new single, “Feeling Tonight,” under Black River Entertainment. She also has a show on CMT, I Love Kellie Pickler, a docu-comedy starring her and her husband, songwriter-producer Kyle Jacobs.
Net Worth: $1.5 Million
2015 Highest Gross: $2.5 Million
After placing seventh on the third season of American Idol, Jennifer Hudson came back guns blazing with vivacious voice. Releasing her self-titled debut album in 2009, it sold over one million copies, with it’s hit single “Spotlight.” Aside from the American Idol stage, Hudson has performed at the Grammy Awards, Super Bowl XLIII and the White House. Hudson amazed America again with her screen debut alongside Beyoncé in the blockbuster movie Dreamgirls, which earned her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, Screen Actors Guild and a Golden Globe. She has also appeared in films such as Sex and the City, Winnie Mandela, and The Secret Life of Bees.
Net Worth: $20 million dollars
2015 Highest Gross: $2 million
Known as the first winner of American Idol, Kelly Clarkson became a groundbreaking artist in the mainstream industry. She has released pop albums with hits like “Since U Been Gone,” “December,” “Miss Independent” and “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).” Clarkson tried her hand at acting in the 2003 film, From Justin to Kelly, alongside runner up, Justin Guarini. Selling 45 millions albums worldwide, she has also won three Grammy awards and two Academy of Country Music Awards. Her single, “My Life Would Suck Without You,” broke the Billboard record for the largest leap to the #1 position in chart history (#97 to #1), in its first week of release. Kelly Clarkson reigns as the only American Idol contestant to have reached a number one in the UK.
Net Worth: $29 million
2015 Highest Gross: 2.5 million
The youngest to ever win American Idol, then 17-year-old, Jordin Sparks, emerged onto the music scene with her singles “Tattoo.” Her single “No Air” featuring Chris Brown, is the third-highest-selling single by any American Idol contestant, selling over three million digital copies in the US. Aside from music, Sparks released several perfumes and emerged into the world of acting. She performed on Broadway in the Tony-winning show In The Heights as Nina Rosario, and starred in the classic 2012 remake of Sparkle with the late, great Whitney Houston, Derek Luke and Tika Sumpter. In August of last year, she released her third album Right Here Right Now. Sparks continues to promote her album, while dating rapper Sage the Gemini.
Net Worth: $10 million
2015 Highest Gross: $3 million
This single mom from High Point, North Carolina won America’s heart with her vibrant voice as the third season winner. Her first single “I Believe” hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Her other hit singles include “Truth Is,” “When I See You,” and “Bittersweet,” which won her a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. In 2005, she was featured on an innovative track with Lyfe Jennings, “Hypothetically. Barrino has performed in several Broadway musicals and plays such as After Midnight and The Color Purple, which she earned 2007 Theatre World Award for her role as Celie. She returned to the American Idol stage in 2013 singing “Lose to Win.” Critics described her performance as “dynamic, passionate and powerful.”
Net Worth: $3 million dollars
2015 Highest Gross: $4 million
American Idol gave birth to successful rock star, Chris Daughtry. After placing fourth to Taylor Hicks, he started the band Daughtry and released their self-titled debut album in 2006 under RCA Records. It became the fastest selling rock album in SoundScan history, earning #1 on the charts and a Grammy nomination for the single “Its Not Over” for Best Rock Song. Daughtry is the third highest selling American Idol Alum. He has worked with several other artists including Slash, Chad Kroeger and Carlos Santana.
Net worth: $8.5 million dollars
Highest Gross: $6 million
Singer and Activist Adam Lambert left his footprint musically on American Idol and socially in the world. He became a prominent member of the LBGT community after coming out as gay in 2009. In the same year, he also released his debut album For Your Entertainment, which was nominated for a Grammy Award. Lambert is the first American Idol contestant to headline a worldwide tour, Glam Nation, following his Idol season. He has won awards for Outstanding Music Artist in 2010 and GLAAD Media Award in 2013. His hit singles included, “Whataya Want from Me” and “If I Had You,” which both were popular internationally as well.
Net worth: $12 million dollars
2015 Highest Gross: $10 million
Born in 1983, the Oklahoma native amazed America on season 4 of American Idol with her bold, country voice taking home the prize. Selling over 65 millions albums worldwide, the singer/songwriter has set and broken several records in her career, winning 7 Grammy awards, 11 American Music Awards and being the only country artist with the most no. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Her top records include “Before He Cheats,” “Cowboy Casanova,” “Blown Away,” “Something in the Water,” and “Somethin’ Bad.” Underwood was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2008, making her the youngest to date. As the highest selling American Idol alum, Carrie Underwood’s net worth sits at a whapping $75 million. She also replaces Faith Hill, being selected as the performing artist for the Sunday Night Football theme for the 2014-15 seasons.
Net Worth: $75 Million
2015 Highest Gross: $20 Million