Through 11 seasons of American Idol, many of the show’s winners have gone on to huge success in the entertainment world—from the biggest names like Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson, to newer stars like Scotty McCreery and Phillip Phillips.
Although not all winners have blown up like some Grammy-winning Idol alumni (we're looking at you, Ruben Studdard and Taylor Hicks), many of the biggest stars from the show actually never won—and most didn’t even come in second place! Here are our picks for the biggest stars to come off the singing competition without ever actually earning the title of American Idol.
This stellar vocalist has the distinction of being the only person to ever come off of the reality show and go on to snag an Academy Award. After being knocked out of the competition way too early in the third season, Hudson proved she didn’t need that Idol trophy when she won the Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in Dreamgirls (her film résumé since the win includes Sex and the City 2 opposite Sarah Jessica Parker). Hudson has continued to show off her pipes in the music world with successful albums and has recently melded the two worlds when she joined the cast of NBC's musical drama Smash this season. After blowing away the crowd at this year’s Oscars with her performance of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," Hudson is clearly the biggest star who never even came close to winning Idol.
Chris is by far the most successful guy to ever come out of Idol—winners included! His debut album hit No.1 on the Billboard charts and has been certified quadruple platinum. With his three albums combined, Daughtry has sold more than 6 million albums—those are some big numbers! When he first appeared on the reality show in its fifth season, he was the first rock singer to really own the stage. To this day, his elimination remains the most shocking moment in Idol history, when he was knocked out of the competition in fourth place, leaving Elliott Yamin, Katharine McPhee, and Taylor Hicks to fight for the prize. Chris created his band Daughtry immediately after the show and went on to huge global success with albums Daughtry, Leave This Town and Break This Spell.
This vocal powerhouse may not have been able to take down the Soul Patrol and its fearless leader Hicks, but an even grander path was being built for McPhee in the way of future television stardom. After putting out three albums, the singer turned an eye toward acting and ended up snagging small roles in movies like The House Bunny. It wasn't long before she became a star in her own right, snagging the lead role on Smash, where she has become well-known to non-Idol audiences for both her singing and acting talents.
This Southern lady was first introduced to the world in Season 5 as a small-town girl who didn’t even know what calamari was. After finishing in sixth place, the blonde bombshell soon took the country world by storm and has since developed a successful Nashville career with hits like "Red High Heels" and "Best Days of Your Life." With the announcement that she will be joining the next season of Dancing with the Stars, Pickler will be taking on a whole new challenge. Will her dancing skills live up to her vocal prowess?
The glam rocker came in second place to Kris Allen in Idol’s eighth season, but that trophy wasn’t needed for Lambert to blaze his trail in the music world. After a successful release of his first album, For Your Entertainment, Adam’s second album, Trespassing, shot straight to the top of the Billboard charts last year. With a gig hosting VH1’s Divas Live late last year and a huge international following, we bet that Lambert is poised to keep blowing up the music scene. With his incredible pipes and devoted fan following, how could he not?!
As the action continues in Season 12, we find out on Thursday who will make it to this year's Top 20. Will the next big star take it all—or go onto super-stardom without an Idol title? Have your tissues ready—we'll inevitably be saying goodbye to some fan favorites. But you never know who will become the next JHud or Daughtry!
Rana Meyer is the Associate Entertainment Editor for iVillage. Find her on Google+.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.