American Idol is back and better than ever.
This season premiered on February 27th, 2022, and features some of the most talented young men and women across the country. And, as many are aware, this season’s auditions also featured the vocal talents of Grace Franklin — granddaughter of the legendary Aretha Franklin.
But despite her best efforts, Franklin didn’t advance to the next round. Still, the aspiring superstar told TMZ that she’s not that disappointed. “I’m a good artist, I know that, but I do know I need to work on some things,” she said, adding that it was the words of judge Lionel Richie — who told her to not stumble early on in her career — that she took the most to heart.
American Idol has produced some of the world’s biggest music — and television, and Broadway — superstars during its legendary run.
The talent competition has even produced an Oscar winner!
While we’ll have to wait a little while longer to see Grace Franklin make a big name for herself outside of her legendary grandmother, these 10 contestants still continue to shine long after their time in the AI spotlight has dimmed. If it’s true that you’re only as good as your last hit, then these ten former contestants are the best of the best.
When Jennifer Hudson took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2007 — for her role in Dreamgirls — she became the first American Idol cast member to receive such an honor.
But J-Hud was far from a one-trick pony. She subsequently appeared in films like The Secret Life of Bees and Sex and the City, and became a spokesperson for companies like Weight Watchers and Mastercard. In 2021, Respect — the Aretha Franklin biopic with J-Hud in the title role — was released, and garnered the former AI alumnus a whole new round of awards season buzz.
In 2004, Fantasia Barrino won the third season of American Idol, which resulted in her debut album getting certified platinum by the RIAA and earning three Grammy Award nominations. Her hit songs include “When I See U,” “Baby Mama” and “Truth Is.”
Since then, she’s gone on to perform on Broadway and release several albums. She was also inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2014.
She is making her major film debut with The Color Purple‘s musical film adaptation, which is currently in production.
Sparks had a great amount of success in her post-Idol career with songs like “Tattoo” and “No Air.” She’s also been on Broadway, first debuting as Nina in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights. Her feature film debut was in 2012’s Sparkle opposite Whitney Houston. She’s a known philanthropist who donates her time and money to her favorite causes — including Save the Music and Little Kids Rock — when she’s not spending time with her husband and son.
Known as the winner of the second season of American Idol — where he infamously competed against Clay Aiken, who won first runner-up — Studdard’s career has gone through some peaks and valleys. While he’s had some hit songs — including “Sorry” and “Change Me” — he also appeared in the fifteenth season of The Biggest Loser.
Today, he’s known for teaching masterclasses in performing arts at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
LaToya London was a fourth-place finalist on the third season of American Idol — the same season that Fantasia took home the top honor. And while she was initially known for her R&B hits, London is better known as a punk artist today thanks to her success with the group Urban Punk.
Frenchie Davis appeared in the second season of American Idol, but was disqualified from the show after her topless photos — which she took back when she was 19 years old — emerged. Still, Davis didn’t let that setback get her down. She went on to appear on The Voice in 2011, and has since received countless awards for her activism in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Though Rayvon Owen continues to release music independently, he’s mostly settled into a quiet life with his husband, Shane Bitney Crone, who proposed to him onstage at a Demi Lovato concert. Owen and Crone are also activists in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Tamyra Gray’s initial aspirations were to be a singer — and her passion for singing was evident when she was on American Idol. Today, however, she’s best known for her work as an actress, where she’s appeared on such shows as Boston Public and All of Us. She’s also appeared on Broadway. When she’s not acting, she’s spending time with her husband — former Color Me Badd singer Sam Watters — and her children and step-children.
Amber Holcomb went on tour with American Idol Live! back in 2013, but these days, she’s releasing music independently while raising her young children, whom she frequently shares on her Instagram page.
The winner of the twelfth season of American Idol splits her time between the studio and Broadway. But, she says, she wants to eventually be a counselor to young girls to prevent them from going through what she went through when she was younger.