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American Idol

All 22 'American Idol' winners, ranked. How does your favorite fare?

You can say this for 鈥淎merican Idol鈥:聽More than 20 years in, it鈥檚 still worth arguing about.

Should Kris Allen have prevailed over Adam Lambert? Queen would like a word.

Carrie Underwood over Bo Bice? We loved the hair, Bo, but sorry, Carrie was the rightful empress.

Lee DeWyze instead of Crystal Bowersox? Our blood pressure spikes just recalling that travesty.

And there are no words for the injustice that was ousting Jennifer Hudson in seventh place during the show's third season. But the "Idol" spotlight still allowed for the discovery of Hudson's talent and eventual mega-stardom.聽聽

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Though the 鈥淚dol鈥 hitmaking machine now creaks rather than churns out superstars,聽the platform is still unparalleled when compared to its singing competition peers.

We鈥檝e ranked the 22 鈥淎merican Idol鈥 winners based primarily on sheer talent, but with an obvious nod toward their success after the show (new winner Abi Carter excepted from that criteria).聽

Please, continue arguing.

22. Lee DeWyze (2010)聽

Lee DeWyze was crowned Season 9 "Idol" champ in May 2010.

Despite his affable personality and gruff聽coffeehouse croon, DeWyze lacked the undeniable spark and grit of Crystal Bowersox, the Janis Joplin incarnate who outrageously only placed second that season.聽鈥 Patrick Ryan

21. Chayce Beckham (2021)

Chayce Beckham started out his "Idol" reign with No. 1 hit on the Billboard country digital chart.

Beckham impressed on the show with his passionate rendition of The Beatles鈥 鈥淏lackbird,鈥 but his gravelly voice often conjured memories of Creed. And no, that鈥檚 not a good thing. But Beckham鈥檚 career plans reside in country 鈥 his coronation song,聽鈥23,鈥 hit No. 1 on the Billboard country digital chart.聽鈥 Melissa Ruggieri聽

20. Laine Hardy (2019)

Laine Hardy was named the winner of ABC's second season of "Idol."

The Louisiana native, who was arrested and charged with secretly recording an ex-girlfriend, rose through the 鈥淚dol鈥 ranks with his Elvis Presley-style croon and stage persona. But outside the throwback shtick,聽the husky-voiced Hardy has struggled to stand out from other past winners who have charted similar country/bluegrass terrain.聽鈭 Ryan

19. Noah Thompson (2022)

Noah Thompson, an unassuming singer from Kentucky, was crowned the "Idol" winner in 2022.

Between his casual style and bashful demeanor 鈥撎共曰, of course, the reality that "Idol" voters tend to favor young white men who can be presented as harmless heartthrobs 鈥 Thompson was the natural choice as victor this season. The judges praised "I'm on Fire" during the finale, a toothless rendition that nonetheless achieved its goal: squealing girls in the audience. 鈭 Ruggieri

18. Taylor Hicks (2006)

Taylor Hicks was the Season 5 "Idol" winner.

Given the top three talent pool of Season 5聽鈥 which also included聽Katharine McPhee听补苍诲 鈥 it's still a bit stunning that the overwrought Alabamian prevailed. But the "Soul Patrol" proved a mighty engine and Hicks successfully parlayed his win into a platinum-selling self-titled debut album in 2006, a Broadway stint and tour (playing the Teen Angel in "Grease") and a modest residency in Las Vegas. 鈥 Ruggieri

17. Kris Allen (2009)

Kris Allen beat out Adam Lambert to win Season 8 of "Idol."

Some were shocked when the innocuous Allen triumphed over the bold flamboyance of Adam Lambert during Season 8 of 鈥淚dol鈥澛犫 not that it hindered Lambert鈥檚 future. But more than Allen鈥檚 couple of hits (鈥淣o Boundaries,鈥 鈥淟ive Like We鈥檙e Dying鈥), his win ushered in the era of nondescript male singer-songwriters armed with guitars and crooked grins. 鈥 Ruggieri

16. Trent Harmon (2016)

On Season 15, the show's last on Fox, Trent Harmon was the winner.

Harmon鈥檚 boyish face and soft-spoken demeanor masked a deceptively brawny set of pipes, which were put to best use on an enchanting cover of Sia鈥檚 鈥淐handelier.鈥 Harmon signed to Big Machine Records (Taylor Swift's former label) post-"Idol," finding minor success on the country charts with singles "Falling" and "There's a Girl."聽鈥 Ryan

15. Just Sam (2020)

Just Sam, crowned in quarantine, became the winner of "Idol" during its third ABC Season on May 17, 2020.

A former subway busker, New York-bred Samantha Diaz stormed the (virtual) 鈥淚dol鈥 stage聽with her unfiltered persona and pure singing talent. Her 聽of Kelly Clarkson鈥檚 鈥淪tronger (What Doesn鈥檛 Kill You)," as well as聽a stunning duet with 91影视 Daigle on 鈥淵ou Say鈥 solidified her deserved victory. The realities of the record business derailed her post-show album release, but she鈥檚 recently independently released the songs 聽鈥淎fricando鈥 and 鈥淐hange.鈥澛鈥 Ruggieri

14. Caleb Johnson (2014)

Caleb Johnson brought a fiery, heavy metal sound to the competition.

Johnson was the typically staid competition鈥檚 closest answer to Whitesnake and AC/DC, with squalling vocals and head-banging dynamism that have made him a hit with the legacy rock crowd in the years since his victory, touring with Meat Loaf's Neverland Express and Trans-Siberian Orchestra.聽鈥 Ryan

13. Iam Tongi (2023)

Iam Tongi beat two country crooners to take the "Idol" crown.

The Hawaiian-born 18-year-old captured hearts starting with his tear-inducing audition with James Blunt鈥檚 鈥淢onsters,鈥 which Tongi dedicated to his late father. His combination of a mellifluous voice and gentle, upbeat demeanor proved irresistible, but there is also no denying Tongi鈥檚 soul. His single, the acoustic ballad 鈥淚鈥檒l Be Seeing You,鈥 served as a touching, honest debut. 鈥 Ruggieri

12. Phillip Phillips (2012)

Phillip Phillips was picked as the 11th "American Idol"  winner in May 2012.

A soft-spoken guitar strummer who in his聽pre-鈥淚dol鈥 life worked at his family鈥檚 pawn shop in Leesburg, Georgia, Phillips earned a significant bona fide: His coronation song, the Dave Matthews Band-esque 鈥淗ome,鈥 is the bestselling single in the show鈥檚 history, with more than 5 million sold. A spate of other hits (鈥淩aging Fire,鈥 鈥淕one, Gone, Gone鈥) preserved his momentum, and last month Phillips for his 10th anniversary to play his new release, 鈥淟ove Like That.鈥澛鈥 Ruggieri

11. Maddie Poppe (2018)

Maddie's distinct, honeyed voice and natural storytelling abilities are tailor-made for the Colbie Caillat coffeehouse set.

In a competition that favors blue-eyed crooners and power belters, Poppe was a refreshingly sophisticated pick: a raspy-voiced folk artist who could make you smile singing Disney鈥檚 鈥淭he Jungle Book鈥 just as easily as she could rip your heart out with a Beach Boys cover. She鈥檚 one of the few recent 鈥淚dol鈥 victors who you could legitimately call a 鈥渟ingular talent.鈥澛鈥 Ryan

10. Abi Carter (2024)

Though she captured the attention of judges and viewers with her soulful take on Billie Eilish's award-gobbling "Barbie" ballad, "What Was I Made For?," Carter's true strength is her potent pipes. She likely clinched her victory with her top eight performance of Evanescence's searing "Bring Me to Life" and demonstrated her rock chops again by romping through "Triumph" with British alt-rock singer Bishop Briggs on the season finale. 鈥 Ruggieri

9. Nick Fradiani (2015)

It felt like the buff singer was the next breakout star after his victory song, the catchy singalong 鈥淏eautiful Life,鈥 dented the charts. But his 2016 debut album, 鈥淗urricane,鈥 fared poorly and an independently released EP in 2017, 鈥淲here We Left Off,鈥 also failed to produce liftoff. But Fradiani has found his niche in theater, first on the national tour of "A Bronx Tale (2019-2020) and currently on Broadway, where is he starring as Neil Diamond in "A Beautiful Noise," a role he'll continue on the national tour this fall. 聽鈥 Ruggieri

8. Scotty McCreery (2011)

Scotty McCreery: He was the youngest person to win Idol when he was only 17 years old and followed up his season 10 victory with three studio albums. After getting dropped by his record label, he successfully released the single 'Five More Minutes' in 2017.

The resident male country star to graduate from the 鈥淚dol鈥 laboratory 鈥 like Season 6 winner Jordin聽Sparks, at only 17 鈥撀爐he North Carolina native with a molasses-hued voice that belies his unassuming demeanor remains a prominent chart presence a decade after his Season 10 win. 鈥淔ive More Minutes,鈥 鈥淭his Is It鈥 and 鈥淚n Between鈥 are among his recent country chart-toppers, while 鈥淪ame Truck,鈥 his fifth studio album released last year, spawned the George Strait tribute tune, 鈥淒amn Strait.鈥 鈥 Ruggieri

7. Candice Glover (2013)

"Idol" crowned聽Candice Glover the winner in Season 12.

Whether she was covering Ben E. King, Aretha Franklin, or The Cure (on tearful standout 鈥淟ovesong鈥), the Beaufort, South Carolina, native brought unmatched vulnerability and powerhouse vocals to every single performance. Her recording career post-鈥淚dol,鈥 too, is filled with stirring ballads that have been sadly ignored by radio.聽鈥 Ryan

6. David Cook (2008)

"Light On," David Cook's first single after winning the seventh season of 'American Idol,' made it into the top 20 on Billboard's singles chart.

With his pleasantly raspy voice and a knack for melody and unearthing lesser-known versions of hits to cover on the show (e.g., Whitesnake's "Day Tripper," Chris Cornell's "Billie Jean"),聽the Season 7 winner 鈥 over angelic David Archuleta聽鈥撀爏kyrocketed to success. His victory song, the inspirational pop-rock anthem 鈥淭he Time of My Life,鈥 and its follow-up, 鈥淟ight On,鈥 each sold more than a million copies and showcased his musical worldview (Collective Soul, Foo Fighters and the Goo Goo Dolls counted among his inspirations). In 2021, Cook鈥檚 music delved into his struggle with anxiety on the independently released EP, 鈥淭he Looking Glass.鈥 鈥 Ruggieri

5. Ruben Studdard (2003)

Clay Aiken, left, and Ruben Studdard, right, during the finale of 'American Idol' in 2003.

Studdard鈥檚 smooth, velvety vocals were the perfect complement to runner-up Clay Aiken鈥檚 earnest pop theatrics, with standout performances of Stevie Wonder and Dionne Warwick classics, and a respectable career as a gospel/R&B hitmaker in years to follow.聽鈥 Ryan

4. Jordin Sparks (2007)

Jordin Sparks remains the youngest winner of "American Idol"

The show鈥檚 youngest winner at 17 (by two months compared to McCreery),聽the sweet-smiling Sparks found immediate success a few months after her victory with a pair of Billboard top 10 hits:聽鈥淭attoo鈥 and 鈥淣o Air,鈥 her duet with a pre-scandal Chris Brown. Broadway (鈥淚n the Heights鈥) and film (鈥淪parkle鈥) expanded Sparks鈥 reach, but in recent years she鈥檚 concentrated more on motherhood with a few career moves 鈥 the 2020 holiday album 鈥淐ider & Hennessey,鈥 her 2021 participation in 鈥淭he Masked Dancer鈥 鈥 sprinkled in. 鈥 Ruggieri

3. Fantasia Barrino (2004)

Fantasia Barrino performs on "American Idol" in 2004.

Barrino鈥檚 sultry, soulful rendition of George Gershwin鈥檚 鈥淪ummertime鈥 might be the all-time greatest performance to ever hit the 鈥淚dol鈥 stage. The R&B artist鈥檚聽elastic vocals and deep well of emotion will continue to serve her well, as she reprises her role as Celie from the Broadway musical 鈥淭he Color Purple鈥 for next year鈥檚 star-studded movie adaptation.聽鈥 Ryan

2. Carrie Underwood (2005)

Carrie Underwood performs on "American Idol" on March 22. 2005.

It feels like 100 lifetimes ago that a pouffy-haired Underwood blasted us off our couches with her rendition of Heart鈥檚 鈥淎lone鈥 during her Season 4聽run to the top. And remember her small-town country-girl proclamation that she鈥檇 never been on an airplane prior to her 鈥淚dol鈥 audition? Six massive headlining tours, an aerial-filled Las Vegas residency, a lot of leg bronzer and 65 million-plus album sales later (she鈥檚 the top-selling聽artist in the 鈥淚dol鈥 franchise), Underwood has earned a few frequent flier rewards.聽鈥 Ruggieri

1. Kelly Clarkson (2002)

Kelly Clarkson (right) went on to star in the 2003 musical "From Justin to Kelly" with runner-up Justin Guarini (left).

There鈥檚 a reason Clarkson goes viral every other week with her adventurous and breathtaking 鈥淜ellyoke鈥 covers on the daytime talk show 鈥淭he Kelly Clarkson Show.鈥 The Texas native is so effortlessly charming and in control of her instrument, with an outsized personality and even larger voice that bring all the ferocity and drama you want from a top 40 hit (of which she has nearly two dozen). Frankly, our lives would suck without Clarkson, who is the brightest star 鈥淚dol鈥 has and will likely ever produce. 鈥 Ryan

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