'American Idol': Kelly Clarkson to Just Sam, where are Season 1 to 18 winners and what are they doing now?
With Season 19 fast approaching, here is a look at all winners over the past 18 years and how their lives have changed post the win
'American Idol' began airing in the year 2002 and the show carries a reputation of having one of the most talented singers over the years. Airing on FOX network where it completed 15 years, the show went on a break in 2016 and returned two years later on ABC to continue its mission to look for and then crown some of the most talented singers in the country.
Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson were the judges of the first season and they regrouped on 'The Kelly Clarkson Show' in 2019.
“I actually, genuinely do not believe we would be sitting here today if you hadn’t entered the show that year,” Cowell said according to a US Magazine report. “The whole premise of the show was, we had to find a star who was gonna sell records. We found some great people that whole year, but when you delivered that moment on that first live show, and you sang that winning song at the end," he added.
'American Idol' became the go-to show for a lot of budding singers who have since then went on to make a new for themselves in the music industry. Apart from producing winners including Kelly Clarkson, Jordin Sparks, Carrie Underwood and Phillip Phillips, the show also saw participation from other famous singers like Jennifer Hudson, Chris Daughtry, Adam Lambert, David Archuleta, Catharine McPhee and Melinda Doolittle, among others, who were eliminated before the finale episodes.
The show was revamped in 2017 and a whole new set of judges were cast to switch things up. Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and country star Luke Bryan are the present-day judges who keep things as entertaining as ever and will be returning once again for Season 19. Last year, the show crowned Just Sam as the winner of the show making him the first-ever at-home winner. Before the new season sets in and another singer is minted as the winner, here's a look at those who have cut all competition to foray into the finals and left 'Idol' with the winning title and a recording contract.
Season 1: Kelly Clarkson
After winning the show, Kelly Clarkson went on to sign a deal with RCA Records and released her debut album 'Thankful' in 2003. She went on to release eight studio albums and has won three Grammy Awards, including for Best Pop Vocal Album in 2006 and 2013. Clarkson also penned two books for children during her career. She has also served as a mentor on a couple of seasons of 'The Voice' including the recent one that concluded in the latter half of 2020.
Clarkson was married to Brandon Blackstock and the marriage ended in June 2020 due to "irreconcilable differences." According to court documents, the 38-year-old singer asked the court that her last name be legally restored to Clarkson after taking Blackstock's last name post marriage. She also requested that the court terminate the ability to award spousal support to Blackstock. She also asked the court to enforce their premarital agreement and that both parties cover their own attorney's fees.
Season 2: Ruben Studdard
After winning the show, Ruben, who was dubbed as "velvet teddy bear" during Season 2, released his first album 'Soulful' which debuted at Number 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, and a Grammy nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance was also bestowed upon him. Ruben also released a gospel album in 2004 and two years later revisited the R&B genre in 2006 with the album 'The Return'. His latest album was 'Ruben Sings Luther' in 2018 as a tribute to the late Luther Vandross.
'American Idol' is not Ruben's solo reality TV gig. He made a splash once again on TV when he competed for Season 15 of 'The Biggest Loser' making him the first-ever celebrity to ever feature on the series. On the relationship front, he married Zuri McCants in 2008 only to divorce in 2012.
Season 3: Fantasia Barrino
After winning Season 3 of 'Idol', Fantasia released 'Free Yourself' in 2004 and the album was nominated for a Grammy the following year. She once again received a nod from the prestigious awards when she earned 12 Grammy nominations out of which she ended up winning one for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in 2011. She has a total of seven studio albums and the latest titled 'Sketchbook' was released in 2019.
Fantasia opened up about her personal life in a memoir titled 'Fantasia: Life is Not a Fairytale' that was later turned into a Lifetime movie in 2006. In 2010, she became the star of her own reality series on VH1. Titled 'Fantasia for Real' the series lasted two seasons. Later that year she suffered an aspirin overdose and she later admitted that it was a suicide attempt. Fantasia married Kendall Taylor in 2015. She also has two kids a son Dallas and daughter Zion from previous relationships.
Season 4: Carrie Underwood
After winning Season 4 of the show, she released her debut album titled 'Some Hearts' that included hit singles like 'Jesus Take the Wheel' and 'Before He Cheats'. She has recorded six studio albums in her career which helped her take home seven Grammy Awards and also a record for being the only 'Idol' winner to have ever won these many of them. Underwood is also a Guinness World Record Holder for most country No 1 song for a female artist in the USA.
Underwood also tried her hand at acting and made her debut as Maria von Trapp in 'The Sound of Music: Live in 2013' on NBC. The 'Drinking Alone' singer suffered a major accident in November 2017 when she fell on the steps outside her Nashville home which resulted in a broken wrist and 40 stitches on her face. She is married to Mike Fisher since 2010 with whom she also shares a son who they've named Isaiah.
Season 5: Taylor Hicks
Taylor Hicks released a self-titled album after winning Season 5 of 'Idol' but was dropped by his label after it registered poor sales. He then formed his own label called Modern Whomp and released three studio albums as well as his latest single titled 'Six Strings and Diamond Rings' in 2017. He's not as high-profile as most of the winners of the reality show that put him on the map. but he was on the Broadway production of 'Grease' in 2008 where he was cast for playing Teen Angel, according to Broadway.com.
Hicks also had a residency at Bally's in Vegas and then at Paris, according to Best of Vegas. The party city of Nevada is also where he first auditioned for the show, according to Idol Fandom. He also published a book titled 'Heart Full of Soul' in 2007, according to a List report. Currently, he is settled in Birmingham, Alabama, and can be found at Saw's Juke Joint, a BBQ restaurant that he owns and he's not put being a musician on the backburner despite turning into an entrepreneur.
Season 6: Jordin Sparks
Sparks won Season 6 in 2017 when she was just 17 years old, in the year 2007. She also went on to perform at the inauguration of the Commander-in-Chief Joe Biden's Inaugural Ball hosted by Barack Obama who was just minted as the President then. She performed at this event just two years after winning 'Idol'. After releasing a self-titled album after winning the show, she went on to release three more and earned a Grammy nomination for one of them. She also starred in the Broadway musical 'In the Heights' and returned to reality TV with 'Sugar and Sparks' for Food Network. The episode chronicled her journey to open a bakery but was not picked up for a full season.
After a whirlwind romance with Jason Derulo which began and ended in the earlier years of the last decade, Sparks married Dana Isaiah in 2017 and welcomed their son the following year. Sparks was recently eliminated from 'The Masked Dancer' on the February 3 episode and was revealed to be the celebrity under the Exotic Bird mask.
Season 7: David Cook
Cook was titled as the winner of 'Idol' in 2008 and the very same year he released a self-titled album. He began releasing music independently after breaking professional ties with his label in 2012. In an interview with Pop Sugar in 2019, while opening up about his early years as a musician, Cook said "I was a terrible bartender who played acoustic gigs for rent before Idol." He added, "I was known as the guy who could play 20 seconds of almost any song. I didn't know a lot of entire songs but I could fake my way through a chorus."
In 2018, Cook made his Broadway debut in a production of 'Kinky Boots' and later on also released a single titled 'Death of Me'. He has been married to Rachael Stump since 2015.
Season 8: Kris Allen
Allen was the one who stood in the way of Adam Lambert and the trophy and was chosen as the one who took home the winning title. Allen has released five studio albums to date. Apart from being known as the winner of the show, he is known to have been involved in a lot of charity work during his career. He also formed his own band called 'The Dames' in 2017.
He's married to Katy O'Connell since 2018. The two had met in high school and have been together ever since. They are parents to two sons, Marlo and Oliver, and have a daughter named Rose.
Season 9: Lee DeWyze
DeWyze was signed on to RCA Records after winning Season 9 of 'Idol' and he released his first album 'Live It Up' with them. In his career to date, DeWyze has released six studio albums and a number of his songs have made it to the track of a number of TV shows including 'The Walking Dead', 'Shameless', 'Nashville', 'Elementary' and 'Suits'.
DeWyze is married to model and actress Jonah Walsh. The two met on the sets of his first music video and have been together since then.
Season 10: Scotty McCreery
McCreery became the first male contestant on 'Idol' to win the trophy at the young age of 17. His debut album 'Clear as Day' that released after his win went platinum. He has released three studio albums in his career to date and has toured with various other musicians including Brad Paisley, The Band Perry, and Rascal Flatts.
Mc Creery married his longtime girlfriend Gabi Dugal in 2018.
Season 11: Phillip Phillips
Phillip Phillips's win was shadowed by a legal battle over his contract with American Idol’s production company 19 Entertainment in 2015, due to which he was prevented from releasing any new music. The lawsuit was settled in 2017 and he finally got to do what he wanted to with his career and released the album titled 'Collateral' in 2018 and later on started a country-wide tour to promote the album. Phillips signed up with Interscope Records for the album and was happy that he was moving ahead in his career.
“I’m just so glad I can move forward in making music and just tour the world again and get to do what I love. It was tough because you’re stuck in this little middle ground that you’re not really going anywhere. You just write music that (you wonder), is it ever going to see the light of day?” he told Post and Courier.com about the settlement.
Season 12: Candice Glover
After six long years of just male contestants winning the show, Candice Glover broke the monotony after being titled as the winner in 2013, the first female winner since Jordin Sparks. Her performance, a rendition of 'Lovesong' that she performed during her season, floored audiences across the country. Glover put in a lot of work to end up as the winner, including auditioning for the show two times before she finally got picked to appear on the season. Unlike other 'Idol' winners who had their debut albums out shortly after winning the season, Glover's album was delayed for many months, not once but twice.
Her fame had started to fade in the months following her win and when her album 'Music Speaks' finally came out in February 2014, it didn't do as well as Glover or her label would have liked it. Glover was quick to point out to NBC News in 2017 that a miscommunication between the label and iTunes led to "everybody that pre-ordered [her] album the night of [her] win, got a blank album to their phones." She also added that "people missed out [on] the opportunity to get [her] actual album when it did come out the following year," according to a Nicki Swift report.
Currently, Candice is not signed with any label but she continued to release music that she wrote through her SoundCloud. Like most 'Idol' winners Glover too made a splash on Broadway and appeared in the Christmas musical 'Home for the Holidays' that was staged at the August Wilson Theater, according to NBC News. Before appearing on the show, she was also cast in 'Northpole' alongside Tiffani Thiessen and Lori Loughlin in the Hallmark film.
Season 13: Caleb Johnson
Similar to Phillip Phillips', Caleb Johnson too wasn't quite happy with how his debut album post 'Testify' that released after his win. He admitted that the album was not a reflection of the vision that he had for his album and the record label was the one controlling the artistry of how it turned out, according to The List citing a report by Greensboro News & Record. Caleb has toured the country with Kiss, Blackstone Cherry, Cheap Trick, Joan Jett, and Sammy Hagar. He was also a part of American Idols Live! Tour in 2014 that covered 40 cities in a span of three months.
After 'American Idol' was canceled, Caleb admitted that he perceived this positively as this meant that the label would no longer control him and his artistry. "The show got canceled on FOX like two years after I won, so all the contracts were null and void," Johnson told Blue Ridge Public Radio.
"The management company shut down, they went bankrupt, and I went like 'Hallelujah,' and that was it. I was a new man," he added. He created his own record label shortly after and released an album titled 'Born from Southern Ground', a balance between blues, gospel, and rock music, according to Greensboro News & Record. Cut to 2020, Johnson is back in the studio where he is cooking new music. I'm lucky enough to have the capital to do creatively whatever I want, so I'm gonna continue to do this, continue to make records independently until I decide to just retire, which hopefully will be until I die," he told the outlet.
Season 14: Nick Fradiani
Fradiani won the show in 2015 and released his debut album called 'Hurricane' and a six-song EP, 'Where We Left Off', in October 2017. Two years after the release of his album, he parted ways with his label Big Machine Records. The Guildford native landed a starring role in 'A Bronx Tale', a musical adaptation of the hit Broadway play that was scheduled to cover 34 cities including Detroit, Orlando, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Durham, West Palm Beach, Omaha, Costa Mesa, Sacramento and Austin, among others, according to Patch.com.
Fradiani never thought of Broadway as a career path however, he took it up because of his father, Nick Fridiani Sr. who is also a well-known musician in the Greater New Haven area. "My dad was always a huge fan of the movie (of A Bronx Tale)," he told the outlet. "I think he took me to see it at least 10 times over the years," Fradiani added.
Season 15: Trent Harmon
Trent Harmon was the winner of the farewell season of the original 'Idol' that ended in 2015 on FOX. He released his debut single 'Falling' after winning the show. His debut album came three years later and was titled 'You Got 'Em All' and a year later, he parted ways with his record label Big Machine Records.
He married his long time girlfriend Kathleen Couch in September 2019 at the Davidson County Courthouse in Nashville.
Season 16: Maddie Poppe
Maddie Poppe and her boyfriend Caleb Lee Hutchison were the two finalists vying for the finale trophy on the first season of the revamped version of 'American Idol' and she was eventually titled the winner. She's appeared on a number of tours countrywide with the Top 8 contestants and has got the chance to work with songwriters Jonah Carlsson (Ariana Grande's 'Dangerous Woman') and Drew Pearson (Kesha's 'Woman') since then, according to a USA Today report.
Her first studio album titled 'Whirlwind' came out in 2019 and she admitted that a lot of songs were inspired by her relationship with Caleb. "'Take It Out on You', 'Not Losing You', and there are a couple of references to him in 'Postcards from Me'. You know, I had a short amount of time –about two months – to write about my feelings. I tried to write about other things, but the only things that were on my mind were my relationship and also just my lifestyle this past year, how it’s been really crazy and hectic. I think the best songs come when your emotions are high and you can really feel it," she told the outlet in an interaction post the release. Maddie has joined Ingrid Michaelson for the Dramatic Tour across the USA since 2019.
Season 17: Laine Hardy
Laine Hardy released his debut single 'Flame' after winning 'Idol' in 2019. The song was downloaded 18,000 times in the US and landed spot #8 on the US Digital Songs chart, according to a Distractify report. The Lousiana native was supposed to start a tour across his hometown in April 2020 but it couldn't kick-off because of Covid-19 but he has continued to create music.
Season 18: Just Sam
Just Sam is the reigning winner of 'Idol'. She signed an exclusive record deal with Hollywood Records/Industrial Media's 19 Recordings in May 2020. The 21-year-old became the first LGBTQ person to win 'Idol'. In an interview with the New York Post last year around the same time she signed her record deal, she said she didn't want to put labels on her orientation.
“I am a child of God, so that’s always gonna be first. That’s actually the only label that I ever want to have,” Sam told the outlet. “But I like what I like, and that’s just that, you know? And it’s not men. Like, at all," she added.