My picks of the 25 most successful ‘American Idol’ contestants of all time, 2016 edition

By RODNEY HO/, originally filed Monday, March 21, 2016

Three times before, I've ranked the most successful "American Idol" contestants of all time. The last time I did so was in 2012. (Check out my rankings then.)

This will probably be my final time I do this since the show is almost over - but maybe not. The alums will always be out there. And sadly, very few alums over the past four years have made much of an impact at all. This latest top 25 isn't markedly different from what I posted in 2012.

I am going to give greater weight to recent accomplishments but will also consider their overall body of work, or the work we see in public. This is purely subjective based on what I've seen and heard, with some objective measures thrown in such as record sales, TV appearances and Broadway. I'm sure there are plenty of "Idols" not listed who have done just fine in their lives and are very happy but this is really about entertainment success.

Compiling the top 15 was relatively easy. Deciding 16-25 was tough because I had at least 15 people who could arguably fit in those slots. I left quite a few in the "bubbling under" category. I did decide to give my Georgia peeps more love than others might (e.g. Justin Guarini, Bo Bice, Lauren Alaina, Phillip Phillips, Diana DeGarmo)

My 2010 edition of the top 25.

My 2012 edition of the top 25

1- Carrie Underwood (1 - ranking in 2012) This is almost a no brainer at this point. The season 4 winner has sold the most albums of any alum, garnered the most No. 1 hits (more than 20 alone on the country chart) and has established herself as a pop culture name everyone recognizes and respects. She has also done some acting, including the film "Soul Surfer" and the NBC live version of "The Sound of Music." She has hosted the CMA Awards with Brad Paisley for eight years. She is happily married and has a child. She has kept her head above water, remains humble and proves "American Idol" could generate true stars.

2- Kelly Clarkson (2) Kelly will always be our original "Idol," beloved and adored forever. Though she was thrown in a stupid film but stuck to her lane through the years: music, music and more music. And that means more than 15 bonafide hits and millions of albums sold. It's no surprise that the only true viral moment this season was her breaking down while singing "Piece By Piece."

3- Adam Lambert (5) The theatrical powerhouse didn't win season eight but he leveraged the show's popularity and his runner up status into international stardom. And soon, Queen named him their lead singer. He now splits time between the two and last year generated revenue than any "Idol," according to Forbes. I just saw him in concert and the man clearly has earned his place in pop music.

4- Jennifer Hudson (3) The season 3 seventh place recipient won an Oscar. That in and of itself earns her a spot here. She has also nabbed several other major acting roles in films such as "The Secret Life of Bees," "Winnie Mandela" and "Chi-Raq." Her musical record has been spottier but she has garnered a few hits in the R&B world. She acts like a star, looks like a star and is a star, period.

5- Chris Daughtry (4) The season 5 fourth place finisher easily has had the best track record from "Idol" in the pop-rock world, garnering more than a half dozen bonafide hits over the years. He tours steadily and has a well established fan base. He also played Judas in Fox's live "The Passion" this past Sunday with impressive intensity.

6- Kellie Pickler (6) The season 5 sixth place finisher is one of the sweetest, most likable personalities in the history on the show and was fortunate to be there during the show's peak popularity season five. She was by no means the best singer but she brought heart and gumption to the stage. She learned the business quickly, nabbed a few hits, made friends with Taylor Swift and toured heavily. She won "Dancing with the Stars," married happily and now has her own CMT reality show.

7- Katharine McPhee (8) While the season 5 runner up's efforts to be a pop star have foundered (example: "Lick My Lips"), she has no problem singing standards with Seth MacFarlane and will be on "Idol" this week reprising "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." And she is a series regular on CBS hit show "Scorpion" after starring on NBC's "Smash." Bravo to Kat!

8- Phillip Phillips (new) - The season 11 winner is trying to get out of his 19 Entertainment management contract, which might preclude him from showing up on "Idol" this season. That would be a shame. He is the last bonafide success from the show from season 11 and Georgia's most successful "Idol" alum. While he came across as a Dave Matthews wannabe early on, he brought a distinctive Southern edge and never wavered from what he was. He also lucked out with "Home," which propelled him out of the gate. He is now co-headlining a tour with Matt Nathanson.

9- Clay Aiken (7) - The season two runner up became the first "Idol" to have its own fan base name (Claymates). His dorkiness combined with that incredible voice gave everyone in America the idea that "Idol" can turn nobodies into somebody. He proved it. He built a huge following, made millions and toured for years. But he seemed to make questionable musical decisions, relying too heavily on covers and failed to build a viable base of original songs. His star faded. He did end up coming in second on "Celebrity Apprentice" in 2012 and ran for office in 2014 for a North Carolina House seat and lost. Where does his career go from here? I have no idea!

10 - Fantasia (11) - The season 3 winner was one of those contestants people on this blog loved and hated (mostly hated.) I always found her enticing, even when she was a vocal mess. Every time she sang, she carried the depth of emotion few singers could ever reach. Her low point: a VH1 reality show where it appeared her family was mooching off of her. But she is the only "Idol" to get her own TV movie. And she has not only generated a fair number of R&B hits but has succeeded on Broadway as well. She is now considered one of today's R&B stalwarts. When you need someone to fete Pattie LaBelle and bring her to tears, Fantasia recently did just that.

11- Scotty McCreery (10) - He was amazingly fully formed for a teen-ager when he came on "Idol" six years ago with that incredibly deep voice. His season 10 win was well deserved. While he hasn't become an A lister in Nashville, he has carved out a steady career. I also respect him for even finding time to attend college in between concerts and recording records.

12- Constantine Maroulis (13) - Has anyone ever been better capable of making love to a camera? Nobody! The season 5 fourth place finisher is all about the rock cheese and he thrived helming 'Rock of Ages' on Broadway. He was nominated for a Tony for that role and later played the title role on "Jeckyll & Hyde."

13- Taylor Hicks (16) - The season 5 winner is still the butt of jokes. ("Last Week Tonight on John Oliver" referenced him just this past Sunday.) But he can laugh at himself. (See his appearance singing "Friday" with Stephen Colbert). He tours regularly and landed a two-year residence in Vegas, the only "Idol" I know of who earned that. He played the teen angel on the national tour of "Grease." We saw him again joyously playing the harmonica during auditions this season. And he will be at the "Idol" finale for sure.

14- Ruben Studdard (12) - The Velvet Teddy Bear was just as lovable as ever during the alumni duets last month. He sold millions of records out of the gate, then watched his career stall out over money and management issues. He popped up on "The Biggest Loser" a couple of years ago but otherwise, it doesn't seem like he has been able to build that Luther Vandross-style career he deserves. Still, the fact he won season two makes him a household name even in 2016.

15- Jordin Sparks (15) - Our season 6 winner had some major pop hits right after she won "Idol" season six and starred in Whitney Houston's last film "Sparkle." She dated Jason DeRulo for a bit. Her recent efforts to get back on the pop charts didn't stick but she recently nabbed a role on an ABC time-traveling pilot.

16- David Cook (14) - The season 7 winner came when "Idol" first began embracing instruments and was one of the first to really take covers to the next level. He had a fairly successful opening round post-"Idol" in the pop-rock world, then lost momentum. He is now independent. I last saw him a few weeks ago at Terminal West before 250 people. He is no longer a major draw and it's a shame.

17- Mandisa (18) - The season 5 finalist found her home in the Christian pop world, landing several major hits including the No. 1 songs "Stronger" and "Overcomer."

18- Diana DeGarmo (9) - Now 28, the season 3 runner up and former Snellville resident did a lot of theater work after "Idol" and met Ace Young. They are now married, the only "Idol" coupling we know of that got that far. She also had a regular role on "The Young and the Restless."

19- Kris Allen (19) - The season 8 winner is still touring, even after a car crash messed up his wrist. He will be at Eddie's Attic on April 2 here in Decatur. I am set to talk to him Friday.

20- Bo Bice (23) - The Georgia resident and season 4 runner up splits time as a solo artist and lead singer of Blood, Sweat and Tears. I do mean to call him up and catch up. It's been awhile!

21- Justin Guarini (20) - He has done his fair share of theater work after coming in second season two. He recently starred in an indie film with Tom Sizemore "Subway Son."

22- Lee DeWyze (new) - I mocked him incessantly season 9 after he beat Crystal Bowersox (who still tours herself and comes by Eddie's Attic regularly). But he has carved out a steady career, releasing a recent new album and having a song featured on "The Walking Dead."

23- Lauren Alaina (21) - The Georgia gal and season 10 runner up is still in the country game with an EP release. She recently had polyp surgery and her voice is as strong as ever.

24- David Archuleta (17) - A dedicated Mormon, he spent time overseas in a mission in Chile from 2012 to 2014. Since coming back, he's been touring steadily. Hopefully, "Idol" will bring him back for the series finale.

25- Nick Fradiani (new) As you can see by the list below, I could have included a lot of other folks for this final slot but I'm going to give this season 14 winner the credit. Scott Borchetta is still trying to hone him into a star. Unfortunately, I am not sure his newest single featured on "Idol' "Get You Home" will help get him there.

Others who could have made the top 25: Colton Dixon, Elliott Yamin, Melinda Doolittle, Danny Gokey, Crystal Bowersox, Caleb Johnson Katie Stevens, Bucky Covington, Josh Gracin, Matthew Rogers, Kimberly Caldwell, Chris Sligh, Carly Smithson, Brooke White

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.