Since its debut in 2002, “American Idol—based on Simon Cowell‘s British stalwart “Pop Idol”—has become a pop culture phenomenon. For 13 seasons, we’ve watched countless aspiring singers audition for a panel of celebrity judges in the hopes they’d be chosen to compete on what’s certainly the country’s most powerful platform: Prime time television.
Throughout the first few seasons, we saw mostly pop and R&B singers on the reality show, but over time—as the show gained momentum—various genres started appearing both in the audition room and in the Top 12. It wasn’t until Season 4, though, when a shy country singer named Carrie Underwood took home the title, that ‘Idol’ truly became a means for all types of singers to get their voices heard. And, judging by the mix of winners, America responded.
However, winning “American Idol isn’t a clear indicator of a singer’s success as an independent recording artist. Why? Because when you’re on a show like ‘Idol’ you’re singing other people’s music, and there’s a panel of judges swaying the audience week after week.
Take a look the growly white-male-with-a-guitar contingency that seem to be perpetual victors on the show, guys like Lee DeWyze, Kris Allen, David Cook—each were formidable competitors week after week, often performing unexpected versions of popular songs, or were cute to look at, so you had women voting week after week. However, when it came time for these winners to release an album of originals, nobody cared about them as artists—just as weekly cover acts we like watching once a week from our living rooms.
Of course, ‘Idol’ has spawned some bonafide superstars, like Underwood—one of the best-selling artists in history—and pop divas Kelly Clarkson and Jordin Sparks. While women haven’t won the show as frequently as men (not surprising, given it’s women doing most of the voting), those who did win managed to eke out stronger, more lucrative careers than male ‘Idol’ winners.
To prove it, we’re put together a list of every single ‘American Idol’ winner, and took a look at how successful they’ve been since landing the crown. Click through and let us know which winner was your favorite!