The winner of “American Idol” gets a record contract, professional talent representation and the first crack at stardom out of that season’s competitors. That’s worked out spectacularly for talents like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Jordin Sparks, and less so for recent winners like Caleb Johnson and Candice Glover.
But just as winning doesn’t guarantee success, losing doesn’t doom careers to the dustbin of television history. In fact, many of the most famous “Idol” contestants came in second or lower by the time America’s votes were tallied. Here are just a few of the big names who don’t seem to have suffered for not winning the competition.
Clay Aiken (Season 2, Runner-Up): He may have the most varied post-“Idol” resume of anyone, having authored a best-selling book, been appointed a UNICEF ambassador and even losing a Congressional race in his home state of North Carolina.
Jennifer Hudson (Season 3, Seventh Place): The Oscar and Grammy winner finished seventh. No, really. Seventh. For shame, America.
William Hung (Season 3, Try-Outs): Laugh all you want, but this man was the house band for the hit court TV show “Mock Trial with J. Reinhold” (on “Arrested Development”). That’s star power.
Katharine McPhee (Season 5, Runner-Up): While she’s stayed active in music, releasing her latest album last fall, McPhee may now be better known as an actress, with starring roles in NBC’s “Smash” and, currently, CBS’s “Scorpion.” Losing to Taylor Hicks worked out fine.
Chris Daughtry (Season 5, Fourth Place): The hard rock singer/songwriter won’t be confused with Lemmy Kilmister any time soon, but for the oft-vanilla “Idol,” he provided a small sense of edge. Not even losing to Taylor Hicks could change that.
Kellie Pickler (Season 5, Sixth Place): She started as a joke, the ditzy blonde comic relief. Then her debut album went gold, she started winning country music awards and she even released a single with a then-superstar (instead of current megastar) Taylor Swift. Seriously, how did Taylor Hicks win this season?
Adam Lambert (Season 8, Runner-Up): There are few more powerful endorsements than being picked by surviving Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor to fill in for Freddie Mercury.
The final season of “American Idol” premieres Jan. 6 at 8 p.m. on Fox/5.