The winners of American Idol have gone from obscurity to true American idols. In the process, the Fox reality singing competition has changed the entire music industry and offered unknown singers a new avenue to publicity, record deals and--for the luck few--superstar status.
So who are the American Idols, and where have they been since they won? About.com looks back on the past eleven seasons of American Idol.
11. Season 11: Phillip Phillips
Phillip Phillips (born September 20, 1990) beat 16-year-old Jessica Sanchez to win American Idol Season Eleven. Phillips, who hailed from Leesburg, Georgia, started playing music when he was fourteen. A multitalented musician, Phillips sings, writes songs and plays the bass, piano and drums.
Phillips' song "Home" broke into the top 10 on the Billboard 100 charts with a little help from the Olympics and NBC, which used his song as the track for women’s gymnastics segments in their Olympics coverage.
Country crooner Scott McCreery (born: October 9, 1993) was a 16-year-old from Garner, North Carolina when he won Idol Season 10. His coronation song, "I Love You This Big," debuted on the country charts at number 32, making it the highest-charting debut single in country history. His first album, Clear as Day, became the first country album to debut at #1 on the Billboard chart. After selling over a million copies, the album was certified platinum in the United States.
Leon James Lee Dewyze (born April 2, 1986) had already released two independent albums (2007's So I'm Told and 2010's Slumberland) before he won American Idol Season Nine and was honored as the favorite "Male Reality/Variety Star" of 2010's Teen Choice Awards.
Dewyze's post-Idol album, Live It Up was released on November 16, 2010, but failed to do well and, less than a year later, he was dropped from RCA Records. His original record company, WuLi, released another album, What Once Was of Dewyze's pre-Idol recordings in 2012. Lee Dewyze married model/actress Jonna Walsh on July 21, 2012.
Kris Allen (born June 21, 1985) won Idol Season Eight. He's from Conway, Arkansas and taught himself to play guitar at 13. In 2007, he self-produced the album Brand New Shoe.
Allen's Idol coronation song, "No Boundaries" and his version of "Heartless" both broke into the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100. His post-Idol, self-titled album was released on November 17, 2009, debuting at number eleven on the U.S. Billboard 200 and spawning the single, "Live Like We're Dying," which sold over 1.7 million copies. Allen's second album, Thank You Camellia, dropped May 22, 2012.
Allen married his high school sweetheart, Katy O'Connell, on September 26, 2008. After Idol, he has been a vocal supporter of music education, and supports organizations like Music Empowers Foundation and Little Kids Rock. He has also contributed to TOMS Shoes and helped raise over $250,000 for survivors of the Haiti earthquake.
Before David Roland Cook (born December 20, 1982) won American Idol Season Seven he had already spent 7 years with the band Axium and released his own solo album, Analog Heart (in 2006).
His first post-Idol, major-label debut David Cook was released November 18, 2008 and sold over a million copies, gaining it a platinum certification. A follow-up album, This Loud Morning was released June 28, 2011. On May 10, 2012, Cook told the Hollywood Reporter that he no longer has a recording contract.
Cook has won several awards including 2009's Nashville Music Award for Song of the Year (for "Time of My Life") and The New Music Awards' 2008 Top 40 Male Artist of the Year.
Before Jordin Brianna Sparks (born December 22, 1989) won American Idol's sixth season, she recorded a 5-song, CD For Now (when she was only thirteen!). Her 2007, self-titled, debut album sold more than 2 million copies and was certified platinum. It featured two singles that made it into the top-ten on the US Billboard Hot 100—"Tattoo" and "No Air" (which has the distinction of being the third highest-selling single by any American Idol contestant). Her follow-up, 2009's Battlefield debuted at number seven on the US Billboard 200 and contained the single "S.O.S. (Let the Music Play)", which went all the way to number one on the US Hot Dance Club Play chart.
Jordin Sparks starred as one of the mentors on the reality show Majors & Minors and also appeared on the shows The Suite Life On Deck and Big Time Rush. She has performed on Broadway and stars (opposite the late Whitney Houston) in the 2012 film, Sparkle.
In addition to the music and film industries, Sparks staked a claim in fashion, developing a clothing line, Sparks, with Wet Seal. In October 2010, she launched her own fragrances. A dedicated philanthropist, Sparks has contributed to many causes including Malaria No More, Do Something, Save The Music Foundation (for which she's an official ambassador), "We Are the World 25 for Haiti" and the Miami Children’s Hospital Foundation. Sparks has won numerous awards, including an American Music Award, a People's Choice Award and two Teen Choice Awards.
When Taylor Reuben Hicks (born October 6, 1976), the salt-and-pepper-haired soul man, won American Idol 5 at 29-years-old, he became the oldest contestant to win. Hicks had already been a professional musician for nearly a decade before Idol, having released two independent albums: 1997's In Your Time and 2005's Under the Radar, but--like other contestants with self-produced albums--he was allowed to compete because he'd never signed a record contract.
Hicks' self-titled, major-label album was released December 12, 2006, launching the single, "Do I Make You Proud," which debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and was later certified gold after selling 500,000 copies. His autobiography, Heart Full of Soul: An Inspirational Memoir About Finding Your Voice and Finding Your Way was released in 2007.
The following year Hicks starred as Teen Angel in the Broadway production of Grease. After being dropped from his label, Hicks released his 2nd CD, The Distance, on his own label, Modern Whomp Records in 2009. The first single, "What's Right Is Right," reached number twenty-four on Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks.
In May 2011, Taylor Hicks opened ORE Drink and Dine restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama. The restaurant was voted “Best New Restaurant” by Birmingham Magazine readers. Hicks was a contestant on the first season of The Choice dating show.
Carrie Underwood (born March 10, 1983) has been one of the most successful Idols of all time (in fact, as of 2011, she's the all-time top earner of American Idol winners).
Since winning Season Four, Underwood has won numerous awards including Grammies, Billboard Music Awards and American Music Awards--she's a two-time ACM Entertainer of the Year (2009/10) and holds a number of records, including having the fastest selling debut country album in history and being the female Country Artist with the most number one hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, since 1991.
Underwood was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2008 and the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 2009. Billboard named her Country Music's reigning Queen in 2012. Her album Some Hearts was named the Best Country Album of the 2000 Decade by Billboard and was certified septuple platinum for selling 7 million copies. Underwood is the only woman to appear on the Top 10 of Billboard's Best Country Artists of the 2000s.
Underwood recently broke into acting, making her film debut on Soul Surfer and appearing on TV shows like How I Met Your Mother.
After winning the third season of Idol, Fantasia Monique Barrino (born June 30, 1984) made history as the first artist to have their very first single debut at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. That single, "I Believe" was the best selling U.S. single of 2004, won Barrino three Billboard Music Awards and has since been certified double platinum. Her debut album Free Yourself sold over 2 million copies world-wide.
Her second album, 2006's Fantasia, was certified gold and spawned the single, "When I See You," which became Barrino's first single to top the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart and held the number one spot for eight consecutive weeks. Her third album, 2010's Back to Me spawned Barrino's first Grammy award-winning (for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance) song, "Bittersweet."
Barrino has appeared on numerous television shows like American Dreams, All of Us, The Tonight Show, The Simpsons and RuPaul's Drag Race. She also starred in the Broadway musical of The Color Purple and won several awards for her performance before having to leave the show when she developed a tumor on her vocal chords. After successful surgery, she reprised her role in a national tour.
The singer also played herself in a Lifetime movie based on her New York Times best-selling memoir, Life Is Not a Fairy and starred in the reality show, Fantasia for Real. Barrino has roles in the upcoming films Mahalia! and You Brought The Sunshine: The Clark Sister's Story.
Christopher Theodore Ruben Studdard (born September 12, 1978) won the second season of American Idol. Sales for his debut album Soulful topped one million before it had even been released and was certified Platinum. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 album chart. The single "Sorry 2004" reached number two on the Billboard R&B singles chart.
Since then, Studdard has released five albums: 2004's I Need an Angel, 2006's The Return, Love Is from 2009, Playlist: The Very Best of Ruben Studdard of 2010, and 2012's Letters from Birmingham was released in March 2012. He won the 2004 Image Award for Outstanding New Artist.
Ruben Studdard is also an actor who has appeared on TV shows like 8 Simple Rules, Life on a Stick, All of Us, Eve and One on One. In addition, he has toured with the comedy-drama Heaven I Need a Hug and a national revival of Ain't Misbehavin'.
Dedicated to promoting the role of arts education in the lives of children, the Idol winner developed The Ruben Studdard Foundation for the Advancement of Children in the Music Arts. He married Surata Zuri McCants June 28, 2008. The couple divorced in 2011.
Kelly Brianne Clarkson (born April 24, 1982) was the first winner of American Idol and one of the most successful Idols. Her album Thankful debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 and her single, "A Moment Like This" was certified double platinum for selling 2 million copies. Her second album Breakaway became the fourth album in history to stay in the Billboard 200 top 20 for a full year, and was certified six times platinum. Clarkson's third album, 2007's My December was certified platinum, and her fourth, 2009's All I Ever Wanted debuted at number one on the Billboard 200.
She was ranked the second best pop artist of the 2000s by Billboard (behind Pink). Her fifth studio album, Stronger spawned the singles "When Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" (which reached number one on the Billboard's Dance/Club Play Songs chart, making Clarkson the first artist to top the Hot 100, Country, Adult Contemporary, Adult Pop and Dance/Club charts) and "Don't You Wanna Stay" (which won the Academy of Country Music awards for both Vocal Event of the Year and Single of the Year).
Clarkson starred (with Idol runner-up Justin Guarinio in From Justin to Kelly and has appeared on television shows like American Dreams, Reba, MADtv and Saturday Night Live. She has also been a mentor on the Dutch version of X Factor, The Voice and ABC's Duets.
A spokeswoman for Proactiv, Vitaminwater and NASCAR Clarkson was also a VH1 Save the Music Foundation ambassador for the year 2009.