American Idol's unsung stars: 7 famous contestants who didn’t win American Idol

These talents may not have been crowned the Idol champ in their respective seasons, but they've still become stars in the industry.

Shlomi Pinto/GettyImages, Justin Casterline/GettyImages
Shlomi Pinto/GettyImages, Justin Casterline/GettyImages /
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American Idol is known to have produced some of the biggest stars in the music industry, including Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. These two lovely gals won their respective seasons, and other American Idol winners have also seen success. Though, just because you don't win that doesn't mean you can't continue on to make a name for yourself.

Many of the contestants who are runner-ups in their seasons, or even place farther back, have gone on to have successful music careers. And we love to cheer them all on! Below we shared seven famous contestants who didn't win American Idol, and keep on scrolling further to see what they're up to now!

  • Clay Aiken - second place in season 2
  • Jennifer Hudson - seventh place in season 3
  • Katharine McPhee - second place in season 5
  • Chris Daughtry - fourth place in season 5
  • David Archuleta - second place in season 7
  • Adam Lambert - second place in season 8
  • Haley Reinhart - third place in season 10
Clay Aiken
Ruben Studdard & Clay Aiken In Concert - Atlanta, GA / Paras Griffin/GettyImages

Clay Aiken

American Idol season 2 (2003) - Second place

If there's one American Idol contestant who's stayed busy following their loss, it's definitely Clay Aiken! Though he didn't win on the competition series, losing to Ruben Studdard, the singer was still able to go on and make music. His very first album is "Measure of a Man," which became multi-platinum. In total, he's created six studio albums and went on tour for them as well. He also ventured into Broadway, playing Sir Robin in Spamalot in 2008 and 2009.

Plus, there were no hard feelings between the season 2 runner-up and winner. He and Studdard headlined Ruben & Clay's First Annual Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Christmas Show on Broadway as well. Plus, in 2014 and 2022 respectively, he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat, but lost both times. He is the fourth highest-selling American Idol contestant. Aiken is from Raleigh, North Carolina. Follow him on Instagram.

Jennifer Hudson
73rd NBA All-Star Game / Kevin Mazur/GettyImages

Jennifer Hudson

American Idol season 3 (2004) - Seventh place

Perhaps the contestant who didn't win but found fame the most from this list is Jennifer Hudson! This lovely lady came in seventh place on American Idol season 3, but that didn't stop her from following her dreams. From Chicago, Illinois, she serenaded us on the show but the win ultimately went to Fantasia Barrino that season. However she's continued to impress us all these years later! She is the youngest woman and second Black woman to win in the four main entertainment awards: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony (EGOT).

While music is how we were first introduced to Hudson, it wasn't until 2008 that she put out her first album. She has a total of three, including JHUD which became certified Gold in 2014. Before her collection of tunes, she starred as Effie White in Dreamgirls. Her acting credits also include Louise in Sex and the City, Rosaleen Daise in The Secret Life of Bees, and Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray Live!. In season 6-8 of The Voice U.K., she served as a coach and then did the same in The Voice U.S. for seasons 13 and 15. Today, the talent has her own talk show, The Jennifer Hudson Show. Give her a follow on Instagram!

Katharine McPhee
66th GRAMMY Awards Pre-GRAMMY Gala & GRAMMY Salute To Industry Icons Honoring Jon Platt - Arrivals / Amy Sussman/GettyImages

Katharine McPhee

American Idol season 5 (2006) - Second place

Katharine McPhee competed on American Idol season 5, and ultimately came in as the runner-up to Taylor Hicks. However after her time on the competition series, she released her first record in 2007 titled "Katharine McPhee." It reached the No. 2 spot on the Billboard 200 upon its release, and the single "Over It," from the record is still popular to this day. The star created a total of six albums, including the latest one in 2023 titled "Christmas Songs." She sang "Carol of the Bells" on it with her husband David Foster who is a music executive and film composer. McPhee has also built an acting career with her roles in The House Bunny, Shark Night 3D, Tiger Rising, Smash, and Scorpion. The star from Los Angeles, California also portrayed Jenna Hunterson in Waitress on Broadway. Stay up to date with McPhee by following her on Instagram.

Chris Daughtry
Download Festival 2022 - Day 2 / Joseph Okpako/GettyImages

Chris Daughtry

American Idol season 5 (2006) - Fourth place

American Idol season 5 saw another contestant who didn't win, but is still talented. And that would be Chris Daughtry from McLeansville, North Carolina! The singer and musician's very first album sold more than a million copies within the first five weeks of being released, which is the fastest to happen for a rock album. He's considered to be the third most successful American Idol contestant following Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, who both won their seasons. He has a total of six studio albums, and is currently the lead vocalist and guitarist in his band Daughtry which he formed after Idol. Find him on Instagram at @chrisdaughtry.

David Archuleta
2024 MusiCares Person of the Year Honoring Jon Bon Jovi - Red Carpet / Lester Cohen/GettyImages

David Archuleta

American Idol season 7 (2008) - Second place

Miami, Florida native David Archuleta came in second place behind David Cook on American Idol season 7. Both of them were talented and popular, it was a tough competition that season! But still, Archuleta has found success following his time on the show. In 2008 his song "Crush" came out, which is the first single from his first album. His self-titled record reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200 at the time. Most recently, he released the songs Up," "I'm Yours," and "Afraid to Love" in 2023, and came in second place on The Masked Singer season 9. He's released a total of eight studio albums. Find him on Instagram.

Adam Lambert
Queen And Adam Lambert Perform At Chase Center / Miikka Skaffari/GettyImages

Adam Lambert

American Idol season 8 (2009) runner up on season 8

One of my personal favorite contestants was, and still is, Adam Lambert! The very talented singer from Indianapolis, Indiana competed on American Idol season 8 and came in second place to Kris Allen. Lambert has a total of five studio albums, and his sold over 5 million singles worldwide since his time on the series came to an end. The album "For Your Entertainment" reached the No. 3 spot in the Billboard 200. Since 2011, he's been the lead vocalist for iconic rock band Queen, and he is currently still touring with them. How cool is that!? Be sure to follow Lambert on Instagram!

Haley Reinhart
24th Family Film Awards - Show / Kevin Winter/GettyImages

Haley Reinhart

American Idol season 10 (2011) - Third place

Scotty McCreery may have won American Idol season 10, but honestly that season was very tough. Remember Pia Toscano? Another fan-favorite was Haley Reinhart, who came in third place. From Wheeling, Illinois, this gal is probably best known now for her cover of "Can't Help Falling in Love" by Elvis Presley. It's just so beautiful and stunning, and so many couples choose to get married to the tune today.

Her first album came out in 2012, and she became the first American Idol contestant to perform at Lollapalooza in Chicago. Reinhart has also toured with Postmodern Jukebox and released a total of four albums. And fun fact! In 2023 the singer released a new single, "Thunderclouds," and season 8 winner Kris ALlen is featured on it! Reinhart also currently voices Billy Murphy in the Netflix animated series F Is for Family. Go ahead and give the star a follow on Instagram!

American Idol 2024, judged by Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie, airs new episodes Sunday nights on ABC. Stream season 22 episodes on Hulu the next day.

Next. A full list of American Idol winners: Where are they now?. A full list of American Idol winners: Where are they now?. dark