Kelly Clarkson

Who Is the Most Successful American Idol?

Phillip Phillips is the new Idol! But does that victory ensure career success?
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American Idol 2012

Last night, after a record 132 million votes were cast between 21-year-old Georgian Phillip Phillips and 16-year-old Californian Jessica Sanchez, American Idol crowned Phil Phil the winner of season 11. 

But what exactly does it mean to win American Idol? Aside from netting an album deal and benefitting from the Idol promotional machine, how does winning the most-watched show in America actually affect a long-term musical career?

We went through all the Idols—from Season 1 vocal powerhouse Kelly Clarkson to country megastar Carrie Underwood to last season's country champ Scotty McCreery—and took at look at how they've fared over the years in terms of U.S. album sales (not including EPs and compilations), Top 40 singles, GRAMMY wins and chart positions for each of their albums. [All figures come from Billboard]. 

So here's our breakdown of 10 years of American Idol winners by the numbers! If you want to cut to the chase and find out which artists reign supreme and which singers are still struggling to break the one million sales mark, scroll to the bottom of the page for our full analysis. 

Kevin Winter

Season 1 Winner: Kelly Clarkson

Peak Album Chart Position 
Thankful No. 1 
Breakaway No. 3 
My December No. 2 
All I Ever Wanted No. 1
Stronger No. 2 

Top 40 Singles
"Before Your Love/A Moment Like This" No. 1
"Miss Independent" No. 9
"Breakaway" No. 6
"Since U Been Gone" No. 2
"Behind These Hazel Eyes" No. 6
"Because of You" No. 7
"Walk Away" No. 12
"Never Again" No. 8
"My Life Would Suck Without You" No. 1
"I Do Not Hook Up" No. 20
"Already Gone" No. 13
"Mr. Know It All" No. 10
"Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" No. 1

U.S. Album Sales: 11,534,000 units

GRAMMY Wins: 2

Ruben Studdard - "Flying Without Wings"

Season 2 Winner: Ruben Studdard

Peak Album Chart Position
Soulful No. 1
I Need An Angel No. 20
The Return No. 8
Love Is No. 36
Letters from Birmingham No. 73

Top 40 Singles
"Flying Without Wings" No. 2
"Sorry 2004" No. 9

U.S. Album Sales: 2,579,000 units

GRAMMY Wins: 0

Fantasia Barrino - "I Believe" (Live at the 2005 NAACP Awards)

Season 3 Winner: Fantasia Barrino

Peak Album Chart Position
Free Yourself No. 8 
Fantasia No. 19
Back to Me No. 2

Top 40 Singles
"I Believe" No. 1
"Truth Is" No. 21
"When I See U" No. 32

U.S. Album Sales: 2,842,000 units

GRAMMY Wins: 1

Ray Mickshaw

Season 4 Winner: Carrie Underwood

Peak Album Chart Position
Some Hearts No. 1
Carnival Ride No. 1
Play On No. 1
Blown Away No. 1

Top 40 Singles
"Inside Your Heaven" No. 1
"Jesus, Take the Wheel" No. 20
"Before He Cheats" No. 8
"Wasted" No. 37
"So Small" No. 17
"All-American Girl" No. 27
"Last Name" No. 19
"Just a Dream" No. 29
"I Told You So" No. 9
"Cowboy Casanova" No. 11
"Undo It" No. 23
"Good Girl" No. 18

U.S. Album Sales: 13,011,000 units 

GRAMMY Wins: 5

Taylor Hicks - "You're So Beautiful" (Live on American Idol)

Season 5 Winner: Taylor Hicks

Peak Album Chart Position
Taylor Hicks No. 2
The Distance No. 58

Top 40 Singles
"Do I Make You Proud" No. 1

U.S. Album Sales: 757,000 units

GRAMMY Wins: 0

Lester Cohen

Season 6 Winner: Jordin Sparks

Peak Album Chart Position
Jordin Sparks No. 10
Battlefield No. 7

Top 40 Singles
"This Is My Now" No. 15
"Tattoo" No. 8
"No Air" No. 3
"One Step At a Time" No. 17
"Battlefield" No. 10

U.S. Album Sales: 1,222,000 units

GRAMMY Wins: 0

David Cook - "Lights On"

Season 7 Winner: David Cook

Peak Album Chart Position
David Cook No. 3 
This Loud Morning No. 7

Top 40 Singles
"The Time of My Life" No. 3 
"Light On" No. 17

U.S. Album Sales: 1,443,000 units

GRAMMY Wins: 0

Kevin Winter/American Idol 2009

Season 8 Winner: Kris Allen

Peak Album Chart Position
Kris Allen 11
Thank You Camellia 24 [still on charts]

Top 40 Singles
"No Boundaries" No. 11
"Live Like We're Dying" No. 18

U.S. Album Sales: 347,000 units (including first-week sales for second album)

GRAMMY Wins: 0

Lee DeWyze - "Hallelujah" (Live on American Idol)

Season 9 Winner: Lee DeWyze

Peak Album Chart Position
Live It Up No. 19

Top 40 Singles
"Beautiful Day" No. 24

U.S. Album Sales: 149,000 units

GRAMMY Wins: 0

Scotty McCreery - "I Love You This Big"

Season 10 Winner: Scotty McCreery

Peak Album Chart Position
Clear As Day No. 1

Top 40 Singles
"I Love You This Big" No. 11

U.S. Album Sales: 1,053,000 units

GRAMMY Wins: 0

For those of you keeping score, that makes Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson the most successful Idol winners by far: Underwood has sold more than 13 million albums and Clarkson well over 11 million. The next closest Idol winner, Season 3's Fantasio Barrino, comes in next with just under 3 million albums sold in the U.S.

In terms of Billboard Top 40 Pop Charts, however, the first Idol still reigns supreme: Clarkson has had 13 hits in the Top 40, three of which went to No. 1, compared to Underwood, who scored 12 Top 40 hits and just one No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100. 

To keep things in perspective, however, Underwood has a whopping ten No. 1 hits on the Country Charts to her name. Not to mention that her five GRAMMY wins schools Clarkson's two, and every one of Underwood's four albums has gone to No. 1 on the Billboard Albums Charts.

While Kelly and Carrie continue to battle for the rank of most successful Idol, what about the rest? Well, clearly the success of grey-haired soul singer Taylor Hicks is turning out to be an anomaly—although his first album debuted respectably at the No. 2 spot on the charts, his next one peaked at No. 58. Ouch.

Furthermore, Hicks, Kris Allen and Lee DeWyze are the three winners whose total albums sales still haven't surpassed one million units (and with Allen's second album selling only 16,000 copies in its first week, it doesn't look like that's going to change for him). Even Scotty McCreery—who just won a year ago—already passed that mark with his debut, something the two Idol winners preceding him couldn't do. 

So to answer the question postulated in the headline: Carrie Underwood. 

And to answer the question posed in the subhead: No.

But who is your FAVORITE American Idol? And which finalists are actually better than the first-place finishers? Tell us below. 

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