It’s been two decades since the first batch of American Idol hopefuls took the stage. And they’ve all gone on to enjoy lives in and out of the music industry. Here’s a look at what the season 1 top three singers are doing today.
In all, the iconic TV competition has introduced a number of stars to the world. But the very first American Idol champion, Kelly Clarkson, is one of the most successful to date.
Since being crowned in 2002, Clarkson has gone on to create nine studio albums that have accumulatively sold over 25 million times. The Breakaway artist hasn’t just stuck to the recording studio though. She has also starred in multiple TV series and feature films over the years, including the American Idol special, From Justin to Kelly.
More recently, Clarkson has divided her time between two hugely successful projects. Starting in 2012, she became a staple coach on The Voice. And she has also taken to producing and hosting her own talk series aptly called The Kelly Clarkson Show.
But interestingly, when the singer signed up for the competition, she never thought it would lead to stardom.
“We all thought it was kind of a joke,” she told Hart to Heart. ” I mean, we didn’t think it was gonna come of anything. We were the first season of American Idol, so we were there for that paycheck that SAG-AFTRA [Screen Actors Guild] gives you, to pay for some bills. Nobody knew that anything would actually come to fruition.”
Justin Guarini Became a Broadway Sensation After Coming in Second on ‘American Idol’
Season 1 runner-up Justin Guarini didn’t jump to quite the same level of fame as his competitor did. But he was still able to make a name in music theater.
Upon leaving the stage, he starred alongside Clarkson in From Kelly to Justin before scoring a record deal with 19 Management. But after dropping a self-titled album in 2003, he drifted away from the radio waves.
Guarini did find some success on Broadway, however. And he became a best-selling author after penning Audition Secrets, which includes advice for aspiring singers and actors. And he thanks American Idol for helping him find his path.
“My favorite memory from my time on Idol has to be my very first performance that I did live on television because we didn’t really know if [the show] was going to be anything. But it felt so beautiful, so wonderful, and it was just the beginning of 20 years of an amazing [journey],” he shared with ET.
The second runner up Nikki McKibbin struggled to make it in the industry and eventually gave up on singing entirely. Initially, she signed with RCA Records. But after having a public dispute with the label, she had to move to Astral Records in order to drop her debut album titled Unleashed in 2007.
After two lackluster records, McKibbin moved on to star in reality shows such as Fear Factor and Battle of the Network Reality Stars. She also battled a drug and alcohol addiction that led her to appear on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.
Sadly, the singer suffered a brain aneurysm and passed away in 2020. But before she did, she was able to return to the American Idol stage one last time as she accompanied her 15-year-old son’s audition in 2014.