Since its debut in 2002, American Idol has given the world a plethora of homegrown superstars. From Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood to Jennifer Hudson and Katharine McPhee, the show that democratized stardom has launched the careers of some of the biggest names in music, movies and television.
However, for every Idol success story, there are just as many famous names who appeared on the show without getting “A Moment Like This.”
From Tori Kelly to Todrick Hall, check out the list below of stars who made it big after being eliminated early.
Tori Kelly first auditioned for American Idol as a 16-year-old back in 2010. While guest judge Victoria Beckham immediately recognized Kelly’s star quality in her cover of John Mayer’s “Gravity,” Simon Cowell characterized the teenager’s voice as “almost annoying” and bitingly labeled her “a human orange.” Thankfully, the snarky Brit was outvoted by the rest of the panel and though Kelly was eliminated in the green mile round, her pair of Grammy Awards are likely sweet solace from the memory of Simon’s famous cruelty.
Alex & Sierra
Less than a year before harmonizing their way to victory on The X Factor in 2013, both members of indie pop duo Alex & Sierra took separate shots at Idol stardom. While Sierra Deaton never made it past the initial audition for producers during Season 12, her boyfriend Alex Kinsey made it all the way to Hollywood Week before being eliminated ahead of the live semifinals. After winning the final season of The X Factor’s U.S. iteration, the couple released one full-length studio album and an EP of covers before dissolving both their romantic relationship and musical partnership in 2017.
The star of Freeform’s hit series The Bold Type, Katie Stevens originally appeared as a hopeful teen pop star on Season 9 of American Idol. At just 17 years old, Stevens stumbled her way through often-contradictory advice from the show’s judging panel, with Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell, Kara DioGuardi and Ellen DeGeneres often criticizing her song choices and sending her in wildly different directions. While she’s since pivoted into the world of television, the actress made it all the way to eighth place before being booted in a double elimination with fellow contestant Andrew Garcia.
The younger half of The Swon Brothers originally auditioned for Season 7 of American Idol back in 2008. After being cut on the final day of Hollywood Week, Colton teamed up with his older brother to form their eponymous duo and went on to place third on Season 4 of The Voice as part of Team Blake. The country star also married fellow Voice alum Caroline Glaser in 2018 after meeting on the show.
Back in 2008, drag queen Adore Delano was better known as Danny Noriega, a sassy 17-year-old teenager competing on American Idol’s seventh season. His performance of “Tainted Love” knocked him out of the competition just shy of the Top 12, but Noriega would go on to become a fan favorite as his drag queen alter ego on Season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. (He came in second place and returned for the second season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars.)
Mickey Guyton may have emerged in the mid-2010s as a rising star in country music, but few people may realize she auditioned for Season 8 of American Idol. The singer, who released her new comeback single “Sister” over the summer, was cut right before making the Top 24. Unfortunately, Guyton’s entire Idol experience was all but erased in the editing bay, with the country star’s elimination being her one brief appearance during the season.
Long before becoming a viral YouTube sensation, Todrick Hall made it all the way to the semifinals during Season 9 of Idol after auditioning with a cleverly inventive original song. While his performance of Queen’s “Somebody To Love” didn’t quite get him into the finals, it’s safe to say Todrick’s career — as a regular face on RuPaul’s Drag Race and in bestie Taylor Swift’s videos — is doing just fine.
The future Hunger Games star took part in Idol’s early days, performing a memorable striptease for a swooning (and clingy) Paula Abdul during his audition in Season 3. While the actor only made it to Hollywood Week, he went on to portray Gloss in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and have major roles in Smallville, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film franchise and currently stars as Hawk in DC Universe’s Titans.