When Kelly Clarkson sold 255,000 copies of All I Ever Wanted in the week that ended Sunday night, she lengthened her lead as the American Idol alumnus who has sold the most albums. This brings her career total to 9,836,000 albums. Still, it's probably just a matter of time until Carrie Underwood overtakes her. Underwood, the Season 4 champ, has already sold 9,408,000 albums. These two women are the only Idol alums who rank among the top 200 album sellers of the Nielsen/SoundScan era (which began in 1991). Clarkson is #187 on the list. Underwood ranks #198. In all, eight Idol contestants have sold 1 million or more albums so far in their careers. Fifteen have sold 500,000 or more.
The best-selling individual album by an Idol alum is Underwood's Some Hearts, which has sold 6,720,000 copies since its release in November 2005. It edges out Clarkson's Breakaway, which has sold 6,056,000 copies. (Oddly, neither album made #1 on The Billboard 200. Some Hearts peaked at #2. Breakaway reached #3). The rest of the top five in terms of total sales: Daughtry's Daughtry (4,401,000), Clay Aiken's Measure Of A Man (2,783,000) and Clarkson's Thankful (2,719,000).
The song with the most paid downloads by an Idol alum is "No Air," Jordin Sparks' melodramatic duet with Chris Brown, which has sold 2,874,000 digital copies. It edges out Underwood's revenge saga "Before He Cheats" (2,673,000). The rest of the top five: Clarkson's turbo-charged "Since U Been Gone" (2,063,000), Daughtry's rock ballad "It's Not Over" (1,978,000) and Sparks' gently rhythmic "Tattoo" (1,927,000).
Three Idol contestants have become Grammy winners. Underwood has amassed four Grammys, Clarkson has picked up two and Jennifer Hudson has won one. Hudson has also won an Oscar.
Four of the 15 Idol contestants who have sold the most albums competed in Season 5. They are Taylor Hicks, that season's winner; Elliot Yamin, who came in third; Chris Daughtry, who finished fourth; and Kellie Pickler, who placed sixth. Though Hicks won the competition, all three of these other finalists have outsold him. (Hicks isn't the only Idol winner who has been humbled on the charts by a singer he beat on the show. Ruben Studdard, the Season 2 winner, has been outsold by runner-up Clay Aiken.)
Here's a complete list of the 15 Idol contestants who have sold 500,000 or more albums. Each artist's name is followed by their total album sales tally, through this week.
1. Kelly Clarkson, 9,836,000. The Season 1 winner this week becomes the first Idol contestant to land two #1 albums. All I Ever Wanted was preceded by her 2003 debut, Thankful. Both albums contained #1 singles, "My Life Would Suck Without You" and "A Moment Like This," respectively. But Clarkson's best-seller is her sophomore album, Breakaway. The 2004 album spawned four top 10 hits, including "Since U Been Gone" and "Because Of You." It's the only album by an Idol contestant to feature four top 10 hits. The album also brought Clarkson two Grammys, including Best Pop Vocal Album.
2. Carrie Underwood, 9,408,000. The Season 4 winner is the only Idol contestant who has won (or even been nominated for) a Grammy as Best New Artist. Underwood has won a total of four Grammys, more than any other Idol contestant. She has also sold more albums than any other country singer in Idol history. Underwood's debut album, Some Hearts, spawned three top 20 hits: "Inside Your Heaven" (which hit #1), "Jesus, Take The Wheel" and "Before He Cheats." While Some Hearts stalled at #2, her sophomore album, Carnival Ride, opened at #1 with first-week sales of 527,000.
3. Clay Aiken, 4,896,000. The Season 2 runner-up has sold more albums than any other male singer in Idol history. Aiken has also sold more albums than any other singer who didn't win the competition. His debut album, Measure Of A Man, opened at #1 with first-week sales of 613,000. That's still the record for the biggest weekly sales tally of any Idol contestant's album. The album included two top 10 hits: the #1 "This Is The Night" and a cover of the Carpenters' hit "Solitaire." Aiken also had a million-seller with Merry Christmas With Love, the best-selling holiday album by an Idol contestant.
4. Daughtry, 4,413,000. Chris Daughtry, who finished fourth in Season 5, has sold more albums than any other rock artist in Idol history. He has also sold more than any other Idol performer who didn't make the final round, and more than any other Idol performer who went on to form a group. The band's debut album, Daughtry, is the only album by an Idol contestant to climb to #1 (as opposed to debut at #1). It first hit the top spot in its ninth week. The album spawned four top 20 hits, "It's Not Over," "Home," "Over You" and "What About Tonight." Daughtry's tally includes an EP that sold 9,000 copies.
5. Ruben Studdard, 2,487,000. The Season 2 winner has sold more albums than any other African American contestant in Idol history. He's also the only artist on this list who was born outside the U.S. He was born in Frankfurt, Germany, while his father was stationed there in the U.S. Army. Studdard's debut album, Soulful, bowed at #1 with first-week sales of 417,000 copies. It featured two top 10 hits, "Flying Without Wings" and "Sorry 2004." Studdard's sophomore album, the gospel-oriented I Need An Angel, hit #20. His third release, the R&B-focused The Return, hit #8.
6. Fantasia, 2,309,000. The Season 3 winner, Fantasia Barrino, shed her last name and became a star. She hit #8 with her debut album, Free Yourself. The album featured four Hot 100 hits, including the #1 "I Believe." Her follow-up album, Fantasia, reached #19. Like Clay Aiken (who played Sir Robin in Monty Python's Spamalot), Fantasia has made her mark on Broadway. She played Celie in The Color Purple in 2007.
7. Jordin Sparks, 1,053,000. The Season 6 winner reached #10 with her debut album, Jordin Sparks. It featured four top 20 hits, "This Is My Now," "Tattoo," "One Step At A Time" and "No Air," a duet with Chris Brown. This tally also includes an EP which has sold 49,000 copies.
8. David Cook, 1,029,000. The Season 7 winner reached #3 with his sophomore album, David Cook. It spawned a #3 hit, "The Time Of My Life," as well as a top 20 follow-up, "Light On." This tally also includes Cook's pre-Idol debut album, Analog Heart, which has sold 2,000 copies.
9. Kellie Pickler, 990,000. Pickler, who finished sixth in Season 5, reached #9 with both her debut album, Small Town Girl, and her follow-up, Kellie Pickler. Pickler is from North Carolina, a state that produced three other top-selling Idol contestants-Clay Aiken, Daughtry and Fantasia.
10. Josh Gracin, 780,000. Gracin, who finished fourth in Season 2, reached #11 with his debut album, Josh Gracin. The album spawned three chart hits, including "Nothin' To Lose," which made the top 40. Gracin's tally also includes his follow-up album, We Weren't Crazy.
11. Bo Bice, 735,000. The Season 4 runner-up reached #4 with his debut album, The Real Thing. It included the #2 hit, "Inside Your Heaven." Bice's tally also includes his follow-up album, See The Light. Bice is from Alabama, a state that has produced two Idol winners, Taylor Hicks and Ruben Studdard (though he was born in Germany, he grew up in Birmingham, Ala.).
12. Taylor Hicks, 719,000. The Season 5 winner reached #2 with his debut album, Taylor Hicks. It featured his #1 hit, "Do I Make You Proud," and a remake of the Doobie Brothers' "Takin' It To The Streets," which was a hit a few months before Hicks was born in 1976. Hicks' tally also includes The Distance, his new album, and Early Works, a collection of pre-Idol recordings.
13. Jennifer Hudson, 669,000. Hudson finished seventh in Season 3. No other Idol contestant who was voted off so early has sold 500,000 albums. Her debut album, Jennifer Hudson, reached #2 and won a Grammy for Best R&B Album. It featured her top 30 hit "Spotlight." Hudson also won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for Dreamgirls.
14. David Archuleta, 665,000. The Season 7 runner-up reached #2 with his debut album, David Archuleta. It featured the #2 hit "Crush," which has sold 1,642,000 downloads.
15. Elliott Yamin, 630,000. Yamin, who finished third in Season 5, reached #3 with his debut album, Elliot Yamin. It featured his top 15 hit, "Wait For You." Yamin's tally also includes two holiday titles, Sounds Of The Season and My Kind Of Holiday.
Four singers who made it to the final round on Idol have sold less than 500,000 albums to date and thus didn't make the list. Justin Guarini, the runner-up on Season 1, has sold 146,000 albums; Diana DeGarmo, the runner-up on Season 3, has sold 168,000; Katharine McPhee, the runner-up on Season 5, has sold 376,000; and Blake Lewis, the runner-up on Season 6, has sold 353,000.