American Idol has been ruling the small screen since its inception in 2002. Now in its 21st season, millions of committed viewers still eagerly return to their living rooms to watch the next big star emerge every single week. While not everyone who competes is destined to become über rich, some have launched dizzyingly successful careers after their debuts. Here are the richest American Idol contestants and how they came to be multi-millionaires.
Videos by Rare
Elliott Yamin is one of the few incredibly successful (and wealthy) American Idol contestants who never actually won. The 44-year-old singer-songwriter placed third on the show’s fifth season in 2006. Less than a year later, he released the hit single “Wait for You,” which debuted at 67 on Billboard’s Hot 100. By October 2008, the song was certified platinum for digital downloads. Following his appearance on American Idol, Yamin went on tour and made appearances on talk shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and Live with Regis and Kelly. He has since released 9 studio albums and has an estimated net worth of $6 million.
Jordin Sparks was well on her way to fame before she appeared on American Idol. The now 33-year-old singer and actress started touring with her grandmother from the age of 9 to participate in nationwide talent competitions. Sparks sang numerous national anthems for various professional sports games and even appeared alongside Alice Cooper in his 2004 Christmas show. She finally won season 6 of American Idol in 2007 at the age of 17, making her the youngest champion in the show’s history at the time. She’s since launched an incredibly successful career in both music and acting and has released 4 studio albums and appeared on dozens of TV shows, in both fiction and reality genres. Jordin Sparks’ estimated net worth today is $8 million.
Chris Daughtry started taking music seriously at the age of 16. Prior to appearing on American Idol’s 5th season in 2006, he’d been in two bands: Cadence and Absent Element. Daughtry did the lead vocals and played guitar in both bands. While he only placed fourth on American Idol, it was enough to send his career skyrocketing. He’s since released 6 solo albums, with his self-titled debut, Daughtry, reaching number 1 on Billboard’s chart. He has also appeared on a variety of talk and TV shows including CSI: NY, The Masked Singer, The Tonight Show, The Today Show, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Daughtry voiced the role of Counselor Olaf in the 2016 movie Trollz. His estimated net worth today is $8 million.
Katharine McPhee is now known as an actress, but her success really began with American Idol. The singer-songwriter was the runner-up in the show’s fifth season in 2006. While she lost to Taylor Hicks, her career has brought her substantially more financial prosperity to-date. McPhee has since released 5 studio albums and become a household name and face both on the large and small screens. She’s appeared on shows like The Voice, The Masked Singer, and in films like The House Bunny, Shark Night 3D, and Tiger Rising. She also launched her own jewelry line, KMF Jewelry, in 2022. Today her estimated net worth is $14 million.
Jennifer Hudson placed fourth in American Idol’s third season in 2004. She’s since been considered one of the show’s all-time best performers. Following her American Idol debut, Hudson was recruited as a performer on a variety of projects including Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell III album and the film adaptation of Dreamgirls. Dreamgirls also starred Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, and Eddie Murphy, essentially placing Hudson’s talent on par with them all. She also won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the 2006 film.
Hudson has since become the youngest person and second black woman to ever win the coveted EGOT. Not only has she released two Grammy-Award-winning albums, but she’s starred in a long list of A-list films and TV shows. She now hosts her own talk show, The Jennifer Hudson Show. Despite donating a substantial portion of her earnings to charity, Jennifer Hudson’s net worth is estimated to be $30 million today.
Adam Lambert was the runner-up on American Idol’s season 8 in 2009. That same year marked his debut album, For Your Entertainment, which immediately made it to the #3 spot on Billboard’s 200 list. One of the album’s singles, “Whataya Want from Me” garnered Lambert a Grammy nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. His next album made him the first openly gay music performer to chart at #1 on Billboard’s 200 list. Lambert has released 5 studio albums to date and sold 3 million albums and 5 million singles. Additionally, he has been singing with the iconic rock band Queen since 2011. His estimated net worth is $35 million today.
Kelly Clarkson was the first-ever winner of American Idol. After her smashing success on season 1 in 2002, she was signed onto a record deal with RCA. While many consider her a country singer, her music has evolved from pop, to pop rock and then rock over the years. No matter what genre, she’s always topping the charts. Clarkson has received hundreds of nominations and 81 awards in film and TV over the years. She’s received 5 Daytime Emmys, 3 Grammys, and 2 Academy of Country Music Awards. Clarkson currently hosts her own show, The Kelly Clarkson Show, and is also a regular coach on The Voice. She reportedly earns over half a million dollars for each episode of The Voice. Her current net worth is estimated to be $50 million.
Carrie Underwood became an instant country sensation after winning American Idol’s fourth season in 2005. She’s since released 9 hit studio albums, headlined 7 world tours and co-headlined 4 more in addition to a 2-year Las Vegas residency. Her superstardom has granted her cameo-status, meaning that anywhere she shows her face, she’s known. Thus, Underwood has appeared on SNL, Sesame Street, How I Met Your Mother, and even Cobra Kai.
Carrie Underwood has received 322 prestigious nominations for her work in music, TV, and film. She’s won a whopping 188 of them. The singer-songwriter has won 8 Grammys and 6 Guinness World Records, the latter including for Best-selling album by an Idol winner and Most country #1s for a female artist in the United States. She has teamed up with campaigns for brands like Target, Nintendo, Vitamin Water, Hershey’s, and Olay. Underwood has her own OPI nail polish line as well as a Dick’s Sporting Goods athletic apparel line, CALIA by Carrie Underwood. Her estimated net worth today is a jaw-dropping $140 million.