THEN AND NOW: 15 of the most memorable ‘American Idol’ contestants and auditionees
- “American Idol” has been airing for 20 years across two networks, and it’s created some major stars.
- Winners and runners-up have gone on to successful careers, but so have other memorable contestants.
- Stars like Chris Daughtry, Jennifer Hudson, and Kellie Pickler didn’t make it to the “Idol” finale.
Season-two finalist Trenyce found success in music and on the stage.
Trenyce, (née Lashundra Trenyce Cobbins) was a finalist on the second season of “American Idol.” She made it all the way to the Top 5 before she was eliminated.
Throughout her time on the show, the singer wowed judges with performances of Houston’s “I Have Nothing” and Celine Dion’s “The Power of Love.”
After her time on “Idol,” Trenyce broke into musical theater and appeared alongside season-two winner Ruben Studdard in the US National Tour of “Ain’t Misbehavin.'” She also played Diana Ross in a National Tour of “Motown: The Musical.”
Trenyce had minor roles in movies like “Kick-Ass 2” (2013) and even headlined a show in Las Vegas.
Today, she’s still busy acting and singing, and she’s set to appear in the upcoming Weird Al Yankovic biopic starring Daniel Radcliffe.
“She Bangs” singer William Hung is now a motivational speaker.
In 2004, Hung auditioned for season three of “American Idol” with Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs,” a song that’s now synonymous with his name.
At the time, Hung was a 20-year-old engineering student at the University of California, Berkeley. Even though he didn’t make it on the show, he experienced overnight fame after this audition aired.
“It’s like all of a sudden, a bunch of my classmates asked me, ‘Oh my God. I saw you last night! Can I take a picture? Can I have your autograph?'” Hung told Insider. “And that’s how I knew that my life could never be normal again.”
In the months that followed, he did interviews with Ellen DeGeneres and Jay Leno and was even offered a record deal.
Hung has returned to the “Idol” stage multiple times over the years, including in May to sing “She Bangs” for the show’s 20th-anniversary reunion.
Today, Hung works as a motivational speaker, encouraging people to try new things without fear of judgment.
“I realized that my ambition is to just bring happiness to other people every day, no matter how I go about it,” Hung told Insider. “It could be entertainment, it could be speaking, it could be gaming, but I know that’s my core.”
Season-three finalist Jasmine Trias is a platinum-selling artist.
Trias was the first Asian-American contestant to make it to the Top 3 on “Idol.” The Hawaiian singer won over voters by performing songs like Natalie Cole’s “Inseparable.”
After “American Idol,” Trias released her self-titled album in 2005, which went certified gold in the Philippines.
Trias has returned to “Idol” twice to perform on the season-four and season-15 finales.
She also starred in the holiday musical “This Is Christmas” in Las Vegas, and she’s still performing today.
Most recently, Trias headlined the Asian & Pacific Islander Stage at San Francisco Pride in June.
“EGOT” winner Jennifer Hudson went on to massive success after placing seventh on season three.
Hudson is arguably one of the most famous alums in “Idol” history. She earned praise throughout season three but ultimately finished in seventh place.
Soon after her “Idol” exit, Hudson made her film debut as Effie White in “Dreamgirls” (2006), which earned her an Academy Award for best supporting actress.
In 2008, Hudson released her self-titled studio album, which went certified gold in the US and the UK and earned her a Grammy for best R&B album. She followed that album up with “I Remember Me” in 2011 and “JHUD” in 2014.
Hudson has also coached on “The Voice” in the US and the UK, starred in “The Color Purple” on Broadway, and appeared in over a dozen films — most recently portraying Aretha Franklin in “Respect” (2021).
In June, Hudson became the youngest woman to earn an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony (EGOT) when “A Strange Loop,” which she coproduced, won the Tony for best musical.
Season-four contestant Constantine Maroulis went on to become a big name on Broadway.
Maroulis placed sixth on season four of “American Idol” and garnered praise throughout his run — especially for his performance of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
After “Idol,” he took to Broadway in “The Wedding Singer,” “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” and “Rock of Ages,” which earned him a Tony nomination.
When the rock musical was adapted into a 2012 film starring Tom Cruise, Maroulis made a cameo.
Also in 2012, Maroulis received a Drama League Award nomination for his titular role in “Jekyll & Hyde” on Broadway.
In 2020, he released his third studio album “Until I’m Wanted,” and he’s currently touring with the rock group Foreigners Journey.
Season five’s Kellie Pickler is now a singer, radio host, and Hallmark heroine.
Country singer Pickler may have finished in sixth place on season five, but she released her first studio album, “Small Town Girl,” less than a year after being eliminated.
After the album went certified gold, Pickler cowrote the hit song “Best Days of Your Life” with Taylor Swift and released three more albums.
Then in 2013, Pickler and Derek Hough won the 16th season of “Dancing With the Stars.”
After years of touring with artists like Rascal Flatts, Sugarland, and Brad Paisley, Pickler started hosting the syndicated daytime talk show “Pickler and Ben” with comedian Ben Aaron. It ran for two years.
Recently, Pickler added acting to her resume. She’s starred in three Hallmark movies: “Christmas at Graceland” (2018), “Wedding at Graceland” (2019), and “The Mistletoe Secret” (2019).
In February, she also became a host on the SiriusXM station The Highway.
Chris Daughtry placed fourth on season five, but he went on to make it big.
After finishing in fourth place on season five of “Idol,” the singer went on to have huge success with his band, Daughtry.
Daughtry’s debut self-titled album reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in its ninth week.
Throughout his music career, he’s worked with Carlos Santana, Lifehouse, Timbaland, and “Idol” alum Kris Allen.
In 2019, he also performed on season two of Fox’s “The Masked Singer” as the Rottweiler and placed second.
Daughtry has recorded six studio albums. The band’s most recent, “Dearly Beloved,” was released in 2021, and they are currently touring.
Melinda Doolittle was a backup singer before “Idol” launched her to fame.
Powerhouse vocalist Doolittle was a professional backup singer for years before she auditioned for season six of “American Idol.”
Her confidence grew as she made it through round after round, eventually placing third behind Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis.
In 2009, she released her debut album “Coming Back to You,” and she followed it up with “You’re the Reason” in 2013. In between albums, she published the book “Beyond Me: Finding Your Way to Life’s Next Level.”
Doolittle also cohosted TV Line’s “American Idol” recap show “Idology” and “Reality Check” for years.
Today, she lives in Nashville and is still performing. The singer told Insider that she’s stayed close with other “Idol” alums in the city.
“I literally go to church with Danny Gokey, Clark Beckham, Mandisa,” she said.
Season six’s Sanjaya Malakar is now a pastry chef.
Malakar was just 17 years old when he auditioned for season six of “American Idol” with his sister and cousin.
Throughout his time on the show, he contended with criticism from Simon Cowell. But Malakar received overwhelming support from his devoted fanbase of “Fanjayas” and made it all the way to seventh place.
For years after competing on the show, Malakar said it was hard to get a job because everyone told him working outside of the music industry means “people won’t value you as much as an artist.”
After returning to “Idol” for the season-15 finale, Malakar turned down another chance to take the stage for the 20th-anniversary reunion earlier this year because he told Insider he always felt like “the butt of the joke.”
Today, Malakar spends his days working as a pastry chef, but he said he’s considered returning to TV if the timing is right.
“Back in the day I’ve talked about doing ‘Dancing With the Stars,'” Malakar told Insider. “Or I’ve had friends tell me to do ‘The Masked Singer’ or something like that.”
Anoop Desai from season eight has made it big in music and Hollywood.
On season eight of “American Idol,” Desai made history as the second Indian-American to advance to the finals after Malakar.
Desai went on to place sixth, wowing judges with performances, like his rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”
He now sings under the name Totem and has performed at major festivals like Lollapalooza.
When he’s not working on music, Desai has appeared on Netflix’s “Russian Doll,” Showtime’s “Billions,” and CBS’ “Evil.” Most recently, he joined the season-four cast of FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows.”
Scott MacIntyre, who competed on season eight, still has a large following today.
Season-eight finalist MacIntyre was the first contestant on “American Idol” with a visual impairment.
He made it all the way to the Top 8, but fans may also remember him from his viral audition clip where host Ryan Secrest held his hand up to try to give him a high five (which he couldn’t see).
The pair recreated the incident on a later episode that season, and MacIntyre told MTV in 2009, “I’m the last person that would ever be offended by that, and I thought it was so funny, because it’s happened to me my whole life.”
After his time on “Idol,” MacIntyre released “Heartstrings” in 2010 and “Lighthouse” in 2014. In between albums, he published his autobiography “By Faith, Not By Sight.”
In 2015, he received a second kidney transplant and documented the journey in the special “I Am Hope: Scott MacIntyre’s Inspirational Transplant Journey.”
In 2019, the Christian artist started Scott MacIntyre Ministries with his wife, Christina. The nonprofit organization seeks to “bring hope to children and adults around the world through music and the arts” and inspired the TV special “Christina and Scott MacIntyre: Enduring Hope.”
MacIntyre and his wife currently host a podcast called “Enduring Hope With Christina and Scott MacIntyre.”
“General” Larry Platt was an activist long before his “American Idol” audition went viral.
In 2010, Platt auditioned for season nine with his iconic original song “Pants on the Ground.”
After his performance, Cowell pointed out that the then 62-year-old was over the “Idol” age limit of 28. But Platt returned for the season-nine finale to perform his song alongside Hung.
Although Platt is widely known for his memorable audition, he’s been a prominent civil-rights activist for decades and continues to participate in marches and rallies across Atlanta today.
“I’m just the kind of person who won’t give up, no matter how old I get,” Platt told Atlanta’s 11Alive TV station in 2020.
Todrick Hall was eliminated on season nine, but now his hit singles have millions of streams.
Before he competed on “American Idol,” Hall had already performed in the Broadway production of “The Color Purple” starring season-three “Idol” winner Fantasia Barrino.
Hall set himself apart from the competition right out of the gate on season nine by performing an original song for the judges at his audition.
He made it through to the Top 16, and when he was eliminated, Cowell said that Hall “wouldn’t amount to anything beyond a Broadway actor.”
After “Idol,” Hall did return to Broadway as Lola in “Kinky Boots” and Ogie in “Waitress,” and he played Billy Flynn in a West End production of “Chicago.”
But he’s also gained fame from his guest-judge appearances on Logo TV-VH1’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and his role in Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down” music video.
Hall is still performing today, and his hit singles, like “Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels,” “I Like Boys,” and “Attention,” have garnered millions of streams on Spotify and Apple Music.
Season nine’s Katie Stevens has taken her talents to TV.
Before she tried out for season nine of “American Idol,” Stevens grew up doing singing competitions and beauty pageants — even performing at Carnegie Hall at the age of 13.
Although she was only 16 when she auditioned for “Idol,” Stevens had an impressive run, with performances of The Beatles’ “Let It Be” and Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.”
She ultimately finished in eighth place.
Shifting away from music, Stevens has taken on a variety of acting roles in her 12 years since “Idol,” including Karma Ashcroft on MTV’s “Faking It” and Jane Sloan on Freeform’s “The Bold Type.”
Season-14 finalist Jax recently made a big impact with her song “Victoria’s Secret.”
Jax (née Jackie Miskanic) finished in third on season 14 of “Idol” in 2015.
The singer released the song “La La Land” about her time on the show. But shortly after, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and took a step back from her music career.
Since then, Jax has found internet fame through YouTube and TikTok, collaborating with celebrities like Lindsey Stirling and Carrie Underwood.
Her latest song, “Victoria’s Secret,” made Billboard’s Hot 100 after her flash-mob-style music video went viral in July.
The song, which is about body-image standards perpetuated in the media, made a big impact. After initially trying to get her to take the song down, Victoria’s Secret CEO Amy Hauk thanked Jax on Instagram for “addressing important issues in her lyrics.”