Where Are They Now? Life after ‘American Idol’

by Jennifer Lafferty

Where Are They Now? Life after ‘American Idol’

Who hasn’t occasionally wondered what has become of memorable but lesser-known American Idol contestants? Although their careers can’t really compare with the success of the show’s most popular discoveries—like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, some hopefuls—like David Archuleta, Katharine McPhee, and Diana DeGarmo—have done better than you might realize. Find out where these American Idol alumni are today.


Justin Guarini



After losing in the first season of American Idol to Kelly Clarkson in 2002, Justin Guarini struggled, but has recently been on Broadway in such plays as Romeo and Juliet, and he appeared as Li’l Sweet in Diet Dr. Pepper commercials last year.


Fantasia Barrino



Another Broadway performer to emerge from the show is season 3 winner Fantasia Barrino, who starred as Celie in The Color Purple in 2007. Despite personal turmoil, Barrino has had three hit albums and married her second husband last year.


David Archuleta



Season 7 runner-up David Archuleta took a two-year career break in 2012 to serve as a missionary in Chile for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The successful recording artist released his sixth album in 2013.


Kellie Pickler



Season 6 contender Kellie Pickler has enjoyed success, recording several hit country albums. Although Pickler only came in sixth on American Idol, she won rival competition Dancing with the Stars with partner Derek Hough in 2013.


Bo Bice



Runner-up Bo Bice has done pretty well for himself since almost winning season 4. Bice had a gold record with The Real Thing and has toured as lead singer with the classic rock band Blood, Sweat & Tears.


Diana DeGarmo



Sometimes American Idol launches more than music careers. In 2013, season 3 runner-up Diana DeGarmo married season 5 finalist Ace Young. How adorable is that? The two met in 2010, co-starring in the Broadway revival of Hair.


Phillip Phillips



Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips showed promise right out of the gate when his coronation song, Home, became the best-selling song by an American Idol contestant. Phillips’ debut album went gold, and he has toured with bands like Matchbox Twenty.


Jason Castro



After his initial success, dreadlocked season 7 finalist Jason Castro disappeared for a while. His quest to be closer to God led him to focus on Christian music, and he’s become one of the genre’s most popular artists.


Sanjaya Malakar



Sparking lots of controversy and comic relief, season 6 finalist Sanjaya Malakar was much more popular with viewers than with the judges. After little post-Idol success, he became a bartender but quit in 2014 to focus on music.


Jordin Sparks



What do you do after winning American Idol at the age of 17? Season 6 champ Jordin Sparks became a platinum-selling artist and expanded into acting with films like Left Behind and a stint on Broadway.


Clay Aiken



After losing to Ruben Studdard in 2003, Clay Aiken was victorious in the charts, with his first four albums debuting on Billboard’s Top 5. In 2010 he lost another hard-fought competition, his Congressional bid in North Carolina.


Chris Daughtry



Season 5 finalist Chris Daughtry made the most of his exposure on the show, selling over 7 million albums and more than 15 million song downloads. If that’s not enough, he recently helped design a variant Batman comic book cover.


Katharine McPhee



Season 6 runner-up Katharine McPhee is now known as much for her acting as her singing; television is a natural fit for the charismatic and likable McPhee. She is currently co-starring as Paige Dineen on TV’s Scorpion.


Paul McDonald



Since finishing eighth in season 10 of American Idol, social media sensation Paul McDonald has gotten a lot of attention for his marriage and successful musical partnership with Twilight actress Nikki Reed. Unfortunately, they divorced in 2015.


Adam Lambert



Flamboyant season 8 runner-up Adam Lambert has had success as a recording artist and has performed with Queen, whose song “We Are the Champions” Lambert sang on the finale. He also returned to Idol as a mentor and coach.