As ABC's reboot of American Idol limps towards its finale, it's hard to remember a time when the reality competition series dominated the national conversation and became the embodiment of "watercooler television." Idol 2.0's ratings, while not downright dismal, are a fraction of what they used to be during the show's heyday on Fox. It's pretty much a foregone conclusion that the reincarnation will be one and done.
So as we prepare to (probably) send Idol off into the sunset again, let's take a look back at the winners of the show's original incarnation and see who's had the best career after their reality runs. Hint: The trajectory of success among the winners in the later seasons should have been enough reason to anticipate that a reboot wouldn't be the cultural obsession its predecessor once was.
Here are the 15 previous Idol winners, ranked. Where will the reboot's winner fall?
15. Caleb Johnson (Season 13)
It's no secret that the original Idol declined in its later seasons — if not in the quality of contestants, then certainly in music consumers' interest in their products. Johnson's debut album in 2014 peaked at No. 24 on the U.S. charts, but only sold 28,000 copies and none of his singles have charted. He also self-released an EP last year, Born from Southern Ground.
14. Nick Fradiani (Season 14)
Fradiani's 2015 single "Beautiful Life" didn't do very well on the charts, peaking at No. 93, but it did sell 50,000 copies. In 2017, he parted ways with his record label and 19 Entertainment, and released an EP titled Where We Left Off in October.
13. Trent Harmon (Season 15)
As Idol's most recent winner, Trent Harmon's sole claim to success so far is that his 2016 singles "Falling" and "There's a Girl" both got to No. 27 on the U.S. Country charts. However, his debut album is scheduled to be released in May, propelled by the title track "You Got 'Em All," which was released as the lead single back in February.
12. Candice Glover (Season 12)
Glover's debut album, Music Speaks, reached No. 14 on the U.S. charts in 2014. She's currently prepping a follow-up and released an early single from it called "My Mistake" last year.
11. Lee DeWyze (Season 9)
DeWyze has released a few moderately successful singles, but none of them have cracked the Top 20. His latest album, Paranoia, was released in February of this year and briefly hit No. 1 on iTunes' Alternative Music chart.
10. Kris Allen (Season 8)
While none of Allen's singles have made it into the Top 10, "Live Like We're Dying" is certified platinum and has sold 1.8 million copies. In 2017, he announced that he had formed a new band called The Dames and also released an acoustic EP called Letting You In.
9. Taylor Hicks (Season 5)
Hicks' self-titled 2006 album went to No. 2 and is certified platinum, while his single "Do I Make You Proud" hit No. 1. Since 2012, he's had a Las Vegas residency — the first Idol champ to land one — which he currently performs at the Paris hotel on the Vegas Strip. He also hosts the food show State Plate on the entertainment TV network INSP. Hicks premiered his first new music in eight years in September 2017.
8. David Cook (Season 7)
Cook's best performing single, "The Time of My Life," soared to No. 3 on the Billboard charts. His self-titled 2008 record also peaked at No. 3 and has sold 1.5 million copies. Cook's latest effort, the EP Chromance, was released in February 2018. He's currently starring in a limited run as Charlie Price in the Broadway musical Kinky Boots.
7. Ruben Studdard (Season 2)
Studdard's runner-up, Clay Aiken, has arguably maintained a higher level of fame than the Season 2 winner, but Studdard's successes are nothing to sniff at. He was nominated for a Grammy in 2004, and his album from the previous year, Soulful, went to No. 1 in the States and is certified platinum, with 1.8 million copies sold. Studdard has also appeared on the weight-loss reality show The Biggest Loser. In 2018, he released a tribute album to Luther Vandross and is currently touring in support of it.
6. Phillip Phillips (Season 11)
With 5.4 million copies song, Phillip's ubiquitous single "Home" is the all-time best-selling song from American Idol. Propelled in large part by "Home" and his single "Gone, Gone, Gone," Phillips has been nominated for numerous awards, including Billboard Music Awards and World Music Awards. His third album, Collateral, was released in January of this year, the same month he guest-starred on an episode of Hawaii Five-0.
5. Scotty McCreery (Season 10)
To date, McCreery has two American Country Awards, one CMA Award and one CMT Music Awards under his belt. All four albums he's released have cracked the Top 10, with 2011's Clear as Day topping the charts. His most recent effort, Seasons Change, was released in March.
4. Fantasia Barrino (Season 3)
Despite plenty of offstage roadblocks, including a highly-publicized suicide attempt in 2010, Fantasia Barrino (who now goes by Fantasia Taylor, her married name) has done very well for herself. Along the way, she's earned a Grammy Award, a Billboard Music Award, and three NAACP Image Awards, as well as a No. 1 single (2004's "I Believe"). She's also found success on a different type of stage, playing Celie in The Color Purple on Broadway, for which she won a Theatre World Award. In 2013, Fantasia returned to Broadway in After Midnight. Her most recent release is 2017's Christmas After Midnight.
3. Jordin Sparks (Season 6)
American Idol's youngest winner, Sparks was just 17 when she took home the crown in Season 6. While her musical accolades are numerous themselves — including a Grammy nomination, a People's Choice Award, an American Music Award, a BET Award, and an NAACP Image Award — Sparks has also branched out into other professional endeavors. She's acted on television, in films and on Broadway stages (In the Heights), and also runs a perfume company. In early 2018, Sparks judged the Miss America pageant, and she and her husband are expecting a baby boy this spring.
2. Carrie Underwood (Season 4)
Underwood, according to Forbes, is the most successful American Idol winner to date, having sold more than 65 million records worldwide. She's also the top country artist of all time on the Recording Industry Association of America's digital singles ranking. Underwood has been honored at the Grand Ole Opry and on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and has racked up seven Grammy Awards, 10 Billboard Music Awards, 12 American Music Awards, eight CMA Awards, and 12 Academy of Country Music Awards. All five of her albums have gone to No. 1 in the U.S., though she's only had one No. 1 single (2005's "Inside Your Heaven"). While it's a toss-up as to who is the top American Idol winner, in our humble opinion that honor goes to...
1. Kelly Clarkson (Season 1)
Idol peaked early with Kelly Clarkson's victory in Season 1. Sure, she's sold fewer records than Carrie Underwood, but simply because of her appeal to audiences across various genres, Clarkson just edges out the Season 4 winner, who mainly has a country fan base, in our (highly scientific) ranking of Idol winners. In terms of units moved, Clarkson has sold 25 million albums and 45 million singles worldwide. As far as awards go, she's got three Grammys, three MTV Video Music Awards, four American Music Awards and two CMA Awards, to name a few. She's had three No. 1 albums in the U.S. and a number of chart-topping singles, including "My Life Would Suck Without You," "Stronger," and her Idol winner song, "A Moment Like This." However, what makes it most clear that Clarkson has left her Idol days behind her is her current gig as a coach on NBC's The Voice.