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15 Most Successful 'American Idol' Losers

You don't need to win to succeed. From Chris Daughtry to Adam Lambert to Jennifer Hudson, here are the folks who went on to reach real mega-fame after reality TV

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Crystal Bowersox

Season 9, Runner-Up

Why She's Successful: Although she lost out to Lee DeWyze in the Idol finale, Crystal Bowersox established herself as a stronger songwriter with Farmer’s Daughter, her 2010 debut album. The Ohio native hasn’t released an album in three years, but Bowersox deserves the fierce following that she’s accrued over the past half-decade.—Jason Lipshutz

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Kimberley Locke

Season 2, Third Place

Why She's Successful: American Idol had a big year in 2002 when Locke placed in third behind Clay Aiken and winner Reuben Studdard. Her debut album was released in 2004, and after releasing three projects with Curb Records, she signed to judge Randy Jackson’s label on a “singles-only” agreement derived from her belief that people don’t buy albums. Not only is she a singer, but she has multiple TV show appearances under her belt too—most notably her role in the highest-ratedr season of Celebrity Fit Club. We love her because of her sweet, effortless voice and a range that goes from a deep vibrato to a singalong soprano. Most recently, she covered Adele’s “Hello,” and it made us fall for her all over again.—Emilee Lindner

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Lauren Alaina

Season 10, Runner-Up

Why She's Successful: Scotty McCreery was always destined to win Season 10 of Idol, but Lauren Alaina has arguably forged the more successful post-TV career as a country-pop voice. Her Wildflower album showed promise upon its 2011 release, and recent single “Next Boyfriend” provided a nice reminder of Alaina’s powerful range.—Jason Lipshutz

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Bucky Covington

Season 5, Eighth Place

Why He's Successful: Bucky is ultra country, and his music represents the part of America that has fun drinking at bonfires and causing trouble on the weekends in a pickup truck. But Bucky isn’t all reckless—he has close ties to family and tradition, matching up his values to those who like to remember the good ol’ days. Not to mention that his voice encapsulates that back-home twang and can soar miles over other country crooners.

Bucky released his first album in 2007 after signing to Lyric Street Records, but after they closed, he struggled to find another label. In 2012, he dropped his sophomore album on E1. Most recently, he put out a self-released EP, Happy Man, last summer.—Emilee Lindner

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Katharine McPhee

Season 5, Runner-Up

Why She's Successful: Katharine McPhee, who was the runner-up to Taylor Hicks in 2006, has kept herself in the media spotlight with four albums (including last year’s Hysteria). She also transitioned into acting, snagging roles in 2008’s The House Bunny, 2012’s Smash on NBC and CBS drama series Scorpion that got picked up for a third season last month.—Bianca Gracie

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Season 5, Ninth Place

Why She's Successful: Mandisa might not be as recognizable a name on this list as some of the others, and she's laughing her way to the bank. She won a GRAMMY for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album in 2013 for her album Overcomer (and that was after being nominated three times beforehand.) To date, she's sold over 900,000 albums.—Maria Sherman

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Elliott Yamin

Season 5, Third Place

Why He's Successful: The numbers speak for themselves: as of three years ago Yamin has sold 694,000 albums and 1.6 million tracks. He's landed 389,000 radio plays and, on YouTube, an impressive 16.7 million streams. Beyond that, the soulful singer's debut album charted at No. 3, proving that you don't have to win American Idol to win at the music game.—Maria Sherman

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Bo Bice

Season 4, Runner-Up

Why He's Successful: The hair is just the beginning: Bo Bice was electric during his American Idol run, swaggering through classic rock touchstones during season 4 of the show. There’s no shame in losing out to Carrie Underwood, and while Bice’s latest full-lengths haven’t made a dent in the U.S., 2005’s The Real Thing scored a Top 10 debut.—Jason Lipshutz

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Josh Gracin

Season 2, Fourth Place

Why He's Successful: Josh Gracin gave us the type of country we need for the modern days—mixing steel guitar, fiddle and a Southern accent with a rapid-fire delivery. His uptempo tunes come at us with an intense drive, while his ballads harness the same type of genuine passion. After Idol, he completed his service in the military, put out two records with Lyric Street and then another with Average Joe’s Entertainment, giving him nine singles to perform on the Billboard charts. In 2014, he went back on tour after a suicide scare and is currently recording his new album, Worth This Love.—Emilee Lindner

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David Archuleta

Season 7, Runner-Up

Why He's Successful: Who could forget the battle of the Davids? Eventually it was David Cook who took home the coveted AI title, but Archuleta has gone on to find real fame elsewhere. His single "Crush" hit No. 2 on the Hot 100. The Other Side of Down debuted at No. 13 on the Billboard 200. He's famously open about his religious beliefs, too, acting as a real role model for the Mormon community.—Maria Sherman

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Adam Lambert

Season 8, Runner-Up

Why He's Successful: Even though he should’ve won IdolAdam Lambert didn’t need the crown to jumpstart his now-massive singing career. The artist’s 2009 For Your Entertainment debut went Gold in the U.S., and since then, he’s released two follow-up albums. Lambert has also sung alongside Queen since 2011 and became an advocate for the LGBT community.—Bianca Gracie

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Jennifer Hudson

Season 3, Seventh Place

Why She's Successful: Though she didn't crack the top three or even five, Jennifer Hudson ended up, less than two years later, masterfully starring alongside Beyoncé in Dreamgirls. She subsequently won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (for her first movie!) and dropped three quality albums, with the most recent being 2014's JHUD.—Zach Dionne

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Kellie Pickler

Season 5, Sixth Place

Why She's Successful: This country sweetheart may have come in sixth place during her AI season, but she still managed to make a big name for herself. Pickler has four albums under her belt, became a TV personality with CMT reality show I Love Kellie Pickler and even took the Dancing With the Stars crown in 2013.—Bianca Gracie

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Clay Aiken

Season 2, Runner-Up

Why He's Successful: Idol's sophomore season, much more so than its first, basically had two winners. While Ruben Studdard took the victory, the then-24-year-old Clay Aiken wasted no time releasing Measure of a Man and jump-starting a thriving career. In 2008 he hit Broadway for Monty Python's Spamalot; that same year he came out in People magazine, going on to become an activist for LGBTQ rights and a candidate for North Carolina's state congress in 2014. While he hasn't dropped an album in four years, his post-Idol life has already been incredibly admirable.—Zach Dionne

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Chris Daughtry

Season 5, Fourth Place

Why He's Successful: Less than six months after getting edged out by Taylor Hicks, Katharine McPhee and Elliott Yamin, Daughtry and his eponymous band dropped their 2006 self-titled. The disc would've debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 if not for Jay Z's (reviled) unretirement album, Kingdom Come, although it did rise to the top spot in its ninth week. 

Three more albums down the road, Daughtry's sturdy enough to have dropped a greatest hits "so far" record this past February. The guy's not just a musician, either—he acted on CSI: New York in 2008 and March '16's Fox adaptation of The Passion, where he played Judas Iscariot.—Zach Dionne


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Apr 2: Basket-Bros

Currently on his 'The Man of the Woods' tourJustin Timberlake brought out a special guest for his Cleveland show. LeBron James surprised concertgoers by showing up alongside Timberlake and taking a shot on stage. On Friday, the singer was also seen cheering on LeBron during the Pelicans and Cavaliers game. James gave a shout out on Instagram, "My brother @justintimberlake showed up and showed out last night at the Q! One of the greatest to ever do it in my lifetime and still going strong."