When "American Idol" first launched in 2002, the fairytale idea was that the show would instantly transform an unsigned unknown into the biggest pop star in the country. And for a while, that seemed to be the case--the first winner, Kelly Clarkson, sold millions of albums and singles right out of the box, as did her immediate successors, Ruben Studdard and Fantasia Barrino. But, as Fantasia herself could tell you, life is not a fairytale. So as "Idol" churned out champs season after season, these singers started to experience the same struggles, setbacks, and sales slumps faced by any other musical act. Not even Kelly was immune.
And now, with "Idol's" NINTH champ, Lee DeWyze, selling approximately 40,000 copies of his album Live It Up in its disappointing first week and premiering at only number 19 on the Billboard chart (this makes him the "Idol"-winner with the worst first-week debut album sales yet), it's clear that an "AI" victory is no guarantee of platinum-plated success. Sure, "Idol" is a massive career springboard. A winner like Lee emerges from the show with a major-label deal, a crack team of press and radio hustlers at his disposal, and access to some of the best producers, songwriters, and stylists in the biz. But at the end of the day, he still has to work to prove himself and shift units. Success will no longer automatically happen overnight for anyone who wins this show, or probably any reality show for that matter. Ruben, who split ways with 19/BMG a long time ago, would tell Lee now: Don't expect to be a "superstar" just because you're an Idol.
With this being said, I've decided to look back at the track records for all of "Idol's" previous eight winners, where-are-they-now style, taking in both the good and bad, their career highs and lows. How did they fare once the confetti was swept away on their respective "Idol" finale nights? Let's take a look...
KELLY CLARKSON (SEASON 1)
--She's sold more than 10 million albums in the U.S.
--Her coronation song, "A Moment Like This," went to number one for two weeks.
--She's the only "Idol" winner to score a number-one hit in Britain.
--Her first album, Thankful, debuted at number one and went on to sell 2.75 million copies.
--Her second album, Breakaway, sold more than 6 million copies and spent two years on the Billboard Top 200.
--She's won two Grammys, 12 Billboard Awards, and four American Music Awards, among many other accolades.
--She broke the Beatles' record for biggest leap on Hot 100 with "A Moment Like This," then broke her own record years later with her comeback single, "My Life Would Suck Without You."
--Eight of her singles have sold more than 1 million copies apiece.
--She was forced to do that silly movie musical From Justin To Kelly with runner-up Justin Guarini, which was a major box-office flop.
--She publicly battled with BMG honcho Clive Davis over creative control of her third album, My December, then suffered a vengeful smear campaign by her own label.
--My December only sold 800,000 copies (a disappointment compared to Breakaway's huge success).
--She canceled her tour and fired her management after the My December debacle.
--Her third album, All I Ever Wanted, has not gone platinum in the U.S. yet (it's nearing the 900K mark), despite it yielding three hit singles.
RUBEN STUDDARD (SEASON 2)
--He sold 400,000 copies of his first album, Soulful, in its debut week.
--Soulful has sold nearly 1.8 million copies to date.
--He sold almost 500,000 copies of I Need An Angel (extremely impressive numbers for a gospel album).
--He is fifth-biggest-selling "Idol"-winner ever, with about 2.4 million albums sold.
--His third album (and second secular album), The Return, sold poorly (238,000); he was subsequently dropped by J Records.
--His independently released fourth album, Love Is, only sold 50,000 copies.
--His greatest-hits album has only sold a measly 3,500 units.
--He's recently resorted to playing small venues with fellow Season 2 finalist Clay Aiken, on this year's perhaps inappropriately titled "Timeless" tour.
FANTASIA (SEASON 3)
--Her coronation song, "I Believe," went to number one and was the top single of 2004, going double-platinum; it won three Billboard Awards that year.
--Her first album, Free Yourself, earned four Grammy nominations and sold 1.8 million copies.
--Her Lifetime Network biopic, Life Is Not a Fairy Tale: The Fantasia Barrino Story, became Lifetime's second-most-viewed program of all time.
--Her 2007 single "When I See U" made history by spending an entire year on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
--She received raves for her Broadway performance in The Color Purple.
--Her show "Fantasia For Real" is a reality TV hit; it was the highest-rated VH1 show of 2010.
--Her third album Back To Me is a strong comeback, debuting at number two this year, making it her highest-charting album yet; it has sold more than 300,000 units so far.
--Her second album, Fantasia, was a sales disappointment; despite good reviews, it barely went gold and stalled at number 19 on the album chart.
--She was sued by dad for $10 million (he claimed she defamed him in her autobiography).
--Her home nearly went into foreclosure due to financial troubles.
--Throat surgery almost put an end to her career.
--Her many missed Color Purple performances burned bridges and earned her a bad reputation in the industry.
--Her first single from Back To Me, "Even Angels," failed to chart, despite a hyped "Oprah" performance.
--Lately she's received more attention for her personal problems (a drug overdose, an illicit affair) than for her talent and music.
CARRIE UNDERWOOD (SEASON 4)
--Forbes ranks her as the number-one earner among all "Idol" alums.
--She won a Grammy for Best New Artist, and has won five Grammys total.
--She's won more than 100 trophies at the AMAs, Billboard Awards, Grammys, ACMs, CMAs, People's Choice Awards, and CMT Awards.
--All three of her albums have gone multiplatinum.
--She was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, a huge honor for a country singer.
--She was recently recruited to sing the theme song for the new Chronicles Of Narnia movie.
--And the list goes on and on...
--Um, there's not much bad to say here; Carrie is always, consistently, the most successful and untouchable Idol. I suppose the one negative is each of her albums has sold approximately one half as much as its predecessor (Some Hearts sold 7 million, Carnival Ride sold a little over 3 million, and Play On's total tally to date is about 1.8 million). But hey, 1.8 million copies still ain't too shabby.
TAYLOR HICKS (SEASON 5)
--He won during the highest-rated season of "Idol" (and was never once in the bottom three).
--He was named one of People's most eligible bachelors.
--His self-titled post-"Idol" album sold 298,000 copies in first week, debuting at number two, and sold 809,000 total...more than most people realize or give him credit for.
--Until 2009, he was still on the Forbes top 10 list of top-earning Idols, raking in $300,000 a year from his touring and theater work.
--He is the only Idol to be parodied by Weird Al Yankovic, a high honor indeed!
--To date, he is the only "Idol"-winner to be dropped by BMG after one album.
--He was the only "Idol"-winner who was not managed by 19 Entertainment.
--He was the only winner who didn't get to make a music video while with BMG.
--His independently released follow-up album The Distance has only sold 51,000 copies so far.
--He fell off Forbes' top 10 Idol earners list in 2010.
JORDIN SPARKS (SEASON 6)
--Her first album sold more than 2 million copies worldwide.
--Her single "No Air" (with Chris Brown) has had the most paid downloads by any "Idol" contestant, selling about 4 million.
--Four of her singles have sold more than 1 million copies each.
--She is still one of top 10 "Idol" earners, according to Forbes.
--She's the first and only "American Idol" contestant to have all four first singles crack the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100.
--She's toured with big names like Britney Spears, the Jonas Brothers, and Jesse McCartney.
--She's won at the NAACP, BET, Teen Choice, AMAs, and People's Choice Awards.
--Her single "This Is My Now" was the first "Idol" coronation song not to make the top 10 chart. It peaked at number 15.
--Her second album, Battlefield, still has not gone gold, selling less than 200,000 copies to date.
DAVID COOK (SEASON 7)
--He won by a sizable margin over supposed frontrunner David Archuleta, scooping up 56 percent of the vote on finale night.
--His single "The Time Of My Life" is the best-selling coronation song in "Idol" history, with 1.3 million copies sold.
--His post-"Idol" album sold 1.3 million, including 280,000 copies in its first week, and debuted at number three.
--The first single from his album, "Light On," went platinum.
--He is the first "Idol" winner to have a large hand in his songwriting on his debut.
--He changed the game for "Idol," opening doors for other rockers and singer-songwriters.
--He was snubbed for a Best New Artist Grammy nomination, despite industry experts predicting he'd be in the running.
--He's taking way too long to record his next album; in an age of short attention spans and declining "Idol" interest, will people still care by the time he follows up David Cook next year? Let's hope so.
KRIS ALLEN (SEASON 8)
--His debut single, "Live Like We're Dying," has sold almost 1.6 million downloads, a very impressive feat indeed.
--He's on the Forbes list of top 10 Idol earners, mainly due to his many songwriting credits and widely aired Ford commercial. (Readers may be surprised to learn Kris had out-earned his supposed rival Adam Lambert as of May 2010, when the Forbes list was released.)
--He was first winner to have a debut album not premiere in the top 10 (it debuted at number 11).
--Before Lee DeWyze's Live It Up came out, Kris Allen held the record for the lowest-selling "Idol"-winner debut; it sold 80,000 in first week, and a year later it has sold 320,000, not going gold yet.