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What's up with the first 15 "American Idol" winners?

Posted Monday, May 21, 2018 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

There have been 15 "American Idol" winners to date and after tonight, 16.

A couple have become household names - Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. Others have carved out successful music careers such as Fantasia and Scotty McCreery. Many have disappeared into the pop culture ether. (Candice Glover anyone?)

Here is a quick summary of how each has been doing in terms of their professional careers.

Season one: Kelly Clarkson. She is the original and the best. She not only has a voice brought by angels but she also has an incredibly warm, likable personality who is happy in her own skin. Relatable? In spades! She has a knack for covering other people's songs with an exuberance that's hard to match. She has pumped out hits galore and is now a judge on "Idol" rival "The Voice." And people embraced her as host of the Billboard Music Awards last night.

Season two: Ruben Studdard. The "Velvet Teddy Bear" surprised Clay Aiken fans with a  squeaker of a win in 2003. He had some early success with music ("Sorry 2004" was a hit) but he faded over time and was unable to leverage his career into becoming the next Luther Vandross. (He is still trying: his latest album is literally "Ruben Studdard Sings Luther Vandross.") He tours and did a few dates in Florida earlier this month.

Season three: Fantasia. A lot of people may not be paying attention but she does extremely well on the concert circuit. With several R&B hits under her belt, she has built a loyal fan base that relishes her dynamic stage presence and sassy personality to this day. She has co-headlined with Anthony Hamilton and did a lovely Christmas tour last year. She has also done some impressive runs on Broadway and theater in general.

Season four: Carrie Underwood. Middle America loves, loves, loves Carrie Underwood. Even though she is assiduously non controversial, she somehow lands on the covers of InTouch magazine every other week. Every single she has ever released has gone top 2 on the country charts and her latest "Cry Pretty" is well on its way. She is "Idol" royalty and had her own theme week earlier this month for a reason.

Season five: Taylor Hicks. This old-school prematurely gray-haired rocker was insanely likable during the most popular season of "Idol" but never had much in the way of genuine commercial prospects. Still, he's a workhorse who will grind out a music career because that's who he is. He and his harmonica did a residency in Vegas, played "Teen Angel" on the road for "Grease" and tours continuously. He also hosts INSP's "State Plate," a food show.

Season six: Jordin Sparks. This R&B/pop singer had some early success with "No Air," "One Step at a Time" and "Battlefield" and later did some acting, including "Sparkle" with Whitney Houston. But over the past five years, she hasn't had much luck generating hits. She dated Jason DeRulo for three years. She has since married and had a baby son in May.

Season seven: David Cook. Like other winners from this era, this rocker had some early success with singles "The Time of My Life," "Light On" and "Come Back To Me." His star gradually faded but he continues to plug away with new music and recently starred in "Kinky Boots" on Broadway.

Season eight: Kris Allen. The singer songwriter had a big hit with "Live Like We're Dying" but sales faded with each subsequent release. He was in Atlanta at Eddie's Attic in Decatur last year, a respected but modest venue. He is hosting the current "American Idol" tour with the top seven.

Season nine: Lee DeWyze. He was unable to parlay his "Idol" victory into any big success as a musician, but he now hustles primarily as a songwriter and is touring on his latest album "Paranoia." One of his songs ended up in a key scene on "The Walking Dead."

Season ten: Scotty McCreery. The then teen country singer has built himself slowly and steadily in Nashville, building his credibility as an artist little by little. As he has matured, his work paid off. After several mid-level hits, he recently garnered his first No. 1 hit "Five More Minutes" on the country chart.

Season 11: Phillip Phillips. The Georgia singer-songwriter had the last huge hit from an "Idol" winner "Home." He had a couple of more songs that landed high on the charts and toured heavily in recent years, opening for acts like the Goo Goo Dolls, then co-headlining with Matt Nathanson and O.A.R. He has now embarked on a solo tour this summer.

Season 12: Candice Glover. The R&B singer has been unable to find tangible place in the music business after her first album in 2014. She performed last year at City Winery in Atlanta and has two dates in Savannah later this week.

Season 13: Caleb Johnson. His Twitter feed has a pinned Tweet promoting a single from April, 2016. Earlier this month, he did a gig with Haley Reinhart and Paul McDonald in Punta Cana at a "Legends & Idols' show in the Dominican Republic. Otherwise, his social media feed tells me his career is not exactly on fire.

Season 14: Nick Fradiani. Scott Borchetta, the man behind Taylor Swift, tried his darndest to make this pop rocker a star but none of Nick's singles hit pay dirt. He has an EP out and has three dates on his website including Joe's Pub in New York in July.

Season 15: Trent Harmon. He took his time working on his album, which is just came out on May 18. Although he always struck me more as pop and R&B, Big Machine Records is still pushing him hard down the country lane. We'll see if that works.


"American Idol," season 16 finale, 9 p.m., ABC (locally on Channel 2 WSB-TV)

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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.