What these American Idol losers look like today

If there's anything American Idol has taught us, it's that sometimes losers are the biggest winners. From Jennifer Hudson to Chris Daughtry, Idol's losers have made it all the way to the Grammys, the Oscars, and the Tonys. Even William Hung, who managed to transform himself into a living meme after being scorched by Simon Cowell in Season 3, managed to sell over 200,000 debut albums.

The truth is that winning American Idol almost seems worse for your career than losing it. Winner Ruben Studdard hasn't had a Hot 100 hit since 2006, but Chris Daughtry, who didn't even make the podium with a 4th place finish, penned the fastest-selling rock record in Soundscan history. Similarly, Katharine McPhee boasts an estimated net worth four times that of her Idol rival Taylor Hicks.

For every Kelly Clarkson, who continues to own the Billboard Top 40 over a decade after her Idol triumph, there's a Justin Guarini, who still managed to craft a fruitful career after an ill-advised movie deal. They may not be the most the most headline-worthy stars (unless you're Jennifer Hudson), but these American Idol losers have undoubtedly rich careers. Here's a look at what of some of Idols biggest losers have been up to since their defeat aired on TVs across America.

From Justin to Kelly to selling soda

Justin Guarini has come a long way since losing to Kelly Clarkson during Season 1 of American Idol history. Somehow, his acting career managed to survive the infamous 2003 flop that was From Justin To Kelly. The film, which holds a 10% score on Rotten Tomatoes, was so notoriously terrible that even Guarini trashed it after Twitter trolls criticized him for speaking out about Donald Trump.

"The next idiot that tells me to 'stick to acting' should be forced to watch From Justin to Kelly until they agree I should 'stick to politics,'" he tweeted (via TooFab).

From Justin to Kelly was apparently just a small misstep for the singer-turned-actor, who found a home on Broadway with roles in major productions like In Transit, American Idiot and Wicked. Today, he's more known for starring as Lil' Sweet in those Dr. Pepper ads – where he joined the ranks of Flo from Progressive and the Geico gecko — than he is for his debut album, which peaked at No. 20 on the Billboard charts. 

Throughout his success, the star has managed to remain shockingly down to Earth (blame it on crafting a career out of your most public L). According to People, Guarini married Reina Capodici, his junior high sweetheart, in 2009, and the pair started an adorable blended family that included her child from a previous marriage.

Clay Aiken is forever in second place

Clay Aiken has a career-long history of coming in second — from American Idol to American politics. For a time in the early aughts, the American Idol runner-up, who lost to Ruben Studdard in Season 2, was inescapable. The bright spot in Aiken's career, however, came in 2003 when his album Measure of a Man debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts and eventually went double platinum, according to Rolling Stone. It became the "highest solo artist debut" since Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle. Not too shabby for a loser, right?

Since then, Aiken has released a total of six albums (excluding his greatest hits compilations), debuted on Broadway in Spamalot, publicly came out as gay, and starred on Celebrity Apprentice alongside future president Donald Trump. Celebrity Apprentice saw another reality TV loss for Aiken, and he placed in second to Arsenio Hall. In 2014, Aiken added failed politician to his list of Ls alongside Apprentice and American Idol. According to Time, the star ran as a Democratic nominee for North Carolina's Second Congressional District and came in — you guessed it — second to Republican North Carolina Rep. Renee Ellmers.

"I've lost three things now on a large public scale! You have to find a win within every loss," Aiken told Time, adding, "There are ways to find wins even within our losses. I hope those are evident." 

Losing on 'Idol' to winning an Oscar? We'll take that trade.

Jennifer Hudson didn't come in second during Season 3 of American Idol. In fact, she didn't even come in third for fourth. According to Rolling Stone, the star landed in seventh place, but still managed to catapult her loss into an Oscar-winning movie career. While most American Idol losers try to capitalize on their newfound fame with a debut album, Hudson waited. Instead, she launched a film career and snagged an Oscar for her role in 2007's Dreamgirls. A year later, she took home a Grammy for her highly-anticipated, self-titled debut.

In an Interview with Glamour, the star revealed that it wasn't an Oscar, a Grammy, or her eventual Broadway stardom that helped keep her grounded after her personal life was marred with tragedy. Hudson tragically lost her mother, brother and nephew after they were murdered by her sister's estranged husband in 2008, but the birth of her son a year later helped her endure.

"I went from being an aunt, having a mom, and being a child to not having a mom, becoming a mom, and raising my own child," she told Glamour. "I tell [my son] David all the time, 'You saved my life.' "

In 2018, Hudson's reality TV career came full-circle when she became a coach on Season 15 of The Voice alongside Idol winner Kelly Clarkson.

Chris Daughtry took his loss four-times platinum

Daughtry surprised the masses in Season 5 of American Idol when he got so far in the competition with guitar-rock rather than vocal pop. However, after only securing a fourth-place finish with his attempt to rebrand as a solo artist, Daughtry went on to form an eponymous band that released what Rolling Stone called the fastest-selling rock album in the history of SoundScan. For those unfamiliar, SoundScan is the industry standard for tracking music sales in the US and Canada. Daughtry's 2005 self-titled debut has since gone four-times platinum, landing him a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Song.

Despite the fact that American Idol kick-started Daughtry's career, you won't catch him back on series anytime soon. The star feels like the show isn't what it used to be — much like the arena rock of yesteryear that Daughtry emulates.

"It's still a platform for aspiring artists to get themselves in front of as many people as possible, but the thing is, there are now so many of these singing shows," he told M (via The Newpaper). "Plus, the music industry has changed a lot with the massive appeal of YouTube, Spotify and Pandora."

Something that hasn't changed in the Industry are shady business practices. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the singer was sued by his three former bandmates after they claimed he "defrauded them out of royalties," which he denied.

Adam Lambert failed into becoming next Freddie Mercury

According to Rolling Stone, Adam Lambert decided to try out for American Idol after a mushroom-fueled trip to Burning Man, where he reportedly drove around in a flamethrower-armed bus like an extra in Mad Max. In other words, Burning Man inadvertently led Queen to their new singer, like some sort of bizarre rock 'n' roll destiny we'd expect from a Tenacious D film rather than real life. Nevertheless, Lambert's path to one of the most iconic rock bands of all time wouldn't have been possible without losing Idol.

Lambert came in second during Season 8 of the reality series, but Rolling Stone reports that the star's Tears for Fears cover was Simon Cowell's only standing ovation (which means a lot coming from someone who made a career out of dissing music industry hopefuls). He came out as gay two weeks after the finale and generated headlines for a steamy, same-sex kiss in his American Music Awards performance later that year. According to NME, it was Lambert's Idol rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody" that caught the eye of Queen's surviving members and led him to fill in for the famed Freddie Mercury.

Since then, Lambert has made history. According to The Guardian, the star became "the first openly gay artist to reach No. 1 on the Billboard album chart" with 2012's Trespassing.

'Idol' led Katharine McPhee to love

Katharine McPhee lost to Taylor Hicks during American Idol's fifth season. Shocking as it was, the reality show didn't seem to be the star's big break. Her self-titled debut peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, but none of her subsequent releases saw the same success. Instead, she turned to acting where a 2007 cameo in Ugly Betty and supporting role in 2008's The House Bunny led to a lasting career. Eventually, the actress landed recurring roles in shows like the cult-hit SMASH and Scorpion before making her Broadway debut with Waitress in 2018.

Though Idol wasn't McPhee's big break, it did lead her to love. According to People, the star is currently engaged to musician David Foster, who mentored her during the series and produced her first single.

"She didn't catch my eye on the first day [of Idol] because I was so busy trying to do my job," Foster told People. "But, the reality is that in the last 12 years, I've always had a connection with her."

Foster, who's 34 years McPhee's senior, wasn't joking. Their connection even extends to that time the producer played piano at McPhee's first wedding. Talk about awkward in retrospect.

David Archuleta found his calling... and his manhood

At just 17-years-old, Mormon singer David Archuleta rose through the ranks of American Idol's seventh season where he capped out at runner-up. Despite his loss, Archuleta managed to find great success (excusing that time he famously edited out the "no religion" part of John Lennon's "Imagine," according to Rolling Stone).

Archuleta went on to sell two million copies of his debut single, but risked his career by walking away from the business for two years to do mission work in an "undisclosed country" for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He later praised those two years as a formative experience that helped him grow into the man he is today. He also appears to be the only person in showbiz who benefited from learning how to be a little more self-centered.

"When I was on American Idol, I was still in high school … Now I'm an adult. I have found my voice and I say what I'm thinking," he told Billboard. "Taking that two-year break to be a missionary helped me gain independence. I was submissive before. Now I put more importance on myself."

According to Billboard, the star plans to release his eighth — yes, eighth — album in 2018. Winter in the Air will be Archuleta's second Christmas album.

'Idol' cupid strikes again!

Katharine McPhee isn't the only one to find love on American Idol. Season 3 runner-up Diana DeGarmo also ended up finding her beau from the reality TV singing competition — sort of. The Idol loser tied the knot with Season 5 finalist Ace Young in 2013, but they didn't appear on the series together. It was Broadway that actually brought the couple together and Idol that helped them seal the deal.

According to Billboard, DeGarmo and Young started dating in 2010 while starring in Hair. Two years later, young enlisted Ryan Seacrest to help with his proposal, which happened during American Idol's Season 11 finale. DeGarmo said yes, and the couple wed alongside their friends, family and some Idol alums.

That's not the only connection DeGarmo has to her American Idol past. In 2018, Broadway World announced that she would star alongside Season 4 Idol contestant Constantine Maroulis in North Shore Music Theatre's production of Jekyll & Hyde. Since her appearance on Idol, DeGarmo has also landed recurring roles in The Young and the Reckless and Sing It! Strangely enough, she's even credited as the singing voice of Cosmo in The Fairly OddParents in Fairy Idol.

Constantine Maroulis holds an 'Idol' alumni record

Constantine Maroulis cheated his way to the top of American Idol during Season 4 at least if you consider cutting the audition line cheating. The star admitted to skipping ahead with his girlfriend when they went to the open audition in Washington D.C. Other than that, he played by the rules, but ultimately fell in sixth place.

Maroulis may have been one of the most experienced hopefuls on Season 4, but he found the experience overwhelming despite his training and having toured with Rent.

"I was waking up sick every morning kind of almost having to throw up to feel a little better," he told Broadway Wiz of Hollywood Week. "I was overwhelmed by all of it. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Even though I had far more experience than anyone there, nobody could truly prepare you for that."

Since then, Maroulis has settled into his success (even after the gutting loss). He pulled in a Tony-nomination for his role in Rock of Ages and became the only Idol contestant to receive such an accolade, according to Entertainment Weekly. He plans to release a new album in 2018.

Lauren Alaina took the slow and steady approach to fame

Lauren Alaina used her Season 10 loss to gain mass country fame. While on the series, Rolling Stone claims she was marketed as Idol's "country follow-up to Kelly Clarkson," which clearly ignored the fact that Carrie Underwood and Kellie Pickler already existed. For that reason alone, it shouldn't be surprising that the then 16-year-old star peaked at runner-up despite her massive talents.

Since Season 10, Alaina has found success in her own right. Her debut Wildflower reached No. 2 on the Billboard country charts and sold over 300,000 copies. She performed at the Grand Ole Opry in 2011 and scored the title of New Artist of the Year at 2012's American Country Awards where her American Idol rival Scotty McCreery presented her with her prize. Awkward! Even with all of her successes, Alaina's career is still rising, as of this writing. She ended up scoring her first No. 1 single in 2017 with "Road Less Traveled" and was honored at the Music Row Awards for co-writing the hit.

"You guys, we did it. We have the number one song in the country. And I'm a mess, clearly. I'm sorry I'm ugly crying," she told her Facebook followers (via Nash Country Daily). "I wanted to say thank you to everyone and say I hope it's the first of many."

​Crystal Bowersox finally lost those dreadlocks

Crystal Bowersox made a name for herself as the dreadlock-clad single mom in Season 9 of American Idol. Though she ultimately came in second, the Ohio native developed a cult-like fanbase that's kept her pushing forward.

Out of every Idol runner-up, Bowersox seems to have strayed furthest from the spotlight. Like some fellow Idol alums, the star tried her hand at Broadway in 2013 and landed the starring role of Patsy Cline in Always…Patsy Cline. Unfortunately, Broadway World reported that the production was delayed and Bowersox later revealed to The Blade that playwright Ted Swindley had "pulled out of the project." The same year the former Idol landed what was supposed to be her big Broadway break, she reportedly split from her husband. She came out as bisexual in an interview with Good Day LA (via The Boot) a year later.

Bowersox released two albums since her Idol debut, and continues playing shows. As of 2014, she moved to Toledo so her son could be closer to his grandparents. Of the relocation, she told The Blade, "I'm a touring musician and I'm on the road anyway. It doesn't matter where I live." While there, she's helped raise awareness for social issues like organic farming and LGBTQ rights. And yes, to answer everyone's most pressing-question, she's lost the dreads.