No one could have truly predicted the massive hit American Idol would become when it first premiered in 2002. In its early years on the air, millions of viewers flocked to their TV screens each week just to see what rookie musical talent would blow them away, and what comedically shady comments judges like Simon Cowell would make.
Even when Simon left and the reality show switched networks, it has still managed to captivate a huge audience that loves watching new musicians on the verge of breaking into the business. Not to mention, fans love hearing the feedback from newer judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan.
As the show now enters its 21st season, take a look at the past winners of American Idol.
Here's a list of all the American Idol winners...
Season 20 (2022) — Noah Thompson [Runner-up: HunterGirl]
Noah Thompson was crowned the winner of American Idol season 20 in May 2022 and he’s currently working on his first album. His single “One Day Tonight” reached No. 48 on the US Country charts.
In an interesting note, he never actually intended on auditioning for the show. He showed up at the audition at the prompting of his friend.
Season 19 (2021) — Chayce Beckham [Runner-up: Willie Spence]
Chayce Beckham auditioned for season 19 in Los Angeles, California with Kolton Moore & The Clever Few's song, What Brings Life Also Kills.
He beat out finalists Willie Spence and Grace Kinstler in the finale with performances of The Beatles' Blackbird, Chris Stapleton's Fire Away and the Ed Sheeran song Afterglow.
His winning song, 23 was an original tune that Chayce wrote a year before the competition. It peaked at no. 1 in the iTunes country charts by the time he took the win.
Season 18 (2020) — Just Sam [Runner-up: Arthur Gunn]
Samantha Diaz, aka Just Sa, competed in a very different version of American Idol, as season 18 was hugely disrupted by the COVID-19 global pandemic which saw contestants taking part in the show from the comfort of their own homes.
In the finale, Just Sam performed Kelly Clarkson's Stronger and Rise Up by Andra Day, the latter of which was her winner's single. She performed her winning song live from home.
Season 17 (2019) — Laine Hardy [Runner-up: Alejandro Aranda]
Laine Hardy was no stranger to American Idol as he had previously made it to Hawaii in season 16, but he was convinced to audition again in 2019 when he came along to support a friend who'd entered the competition. His winning song was Flame.
He was crowned the winner of season 17 on a 19, 2019, beating both Madison VanDenburg and Alejandro Aranda.
Season 16 (2018) — Maddie Poppe [Runner-up: Caleb Lee Hutchinson]
Maddie Poppe claimed victory on American Idol when the show moved over to ABC. In her audition, she impressed the judges with her rendition of Kermit the Frog's Rainbow Connection, and even got the chance to duet the song with the legendary puppet himself on the Grand Finale!
Prior to her appearance on American Idol, she'd also auditioned for The Voice and released her first album independently. Her winning song was titled Going Going Gone.
Season 15 (2016) — Trent Harmon [Runner-up: La'Porsha Renae]
Trent Harmon (aged 25 on the show) claimed victory on American Idol's Farewell Season, which also saw plenty of other former contestants (and winners!) making appearances throughout the finals.
Like Maddie Poppe, country singer Trent had also auditioned for The Voice but his audition never made it to air. Following his rejection, Trent auditioned for American Idol in Little Rock, Arkansas in August 2015 and became the show's final winner before ABC picked the talent show up in 2018. His winning song was Falling.
Season 14 (2015) — Nick Fradiani [Runner-up: Clark Beckham]
Nick Fradiani had already garnered some attention prior to his American Idol win as the frontman of pop-rock band Beach Avenue in Connecticut and after his appearance on the ninth season of America's Got Talent (where he was cut during Judgment Week).
The year after, he entered American Idol as a soloist, auditioning with In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel, and his winning song was Beautiful Life.
Season 13 (2014) — Caleb Johnson [Runner-up: Jena Irene]
The third time truly was a charm for Caleb Johnson! When he was 23 years old, Caleb entered American Idol for the third time after trying out for the tenth and eleventh seasons of the show.
The rock singer auditioned with an original track he'd written titled Into the Void. He was the second contestant to become an American Idol winner on his third attempt, and his winning single was As Long As You Love Me.
Season 12 (2013) — Candice Glover [Runner-up: Kree Harrison]
Aged 23 during the show, Candice Glover auditioned in Charlotte, North Carolina with Duffy's song, Syrup & Honey. Like Caleb, she had previously tried out for the show having appeared in both season 9 and season 11, but 2013 finally proved to be her lucky year.
Her winner's single was I Am Beautiful, and Candice went on to release her debut album Music Speaks one year after becoming one of the American Idol winners.
Season 11 (2012) — Phillip Phillips [Runner-up: Jessica Sanchez]
Phillip Phillips impressed everyone from the get-go when he sang Stevie Wonder's Superstition and the Michael Jackson classic Thriller during his audition in North Charleston in South Carolina. On May 23, 2012, the singer became the winner of American Idol season 11 after a record-breaking 132 million votes were cast.
His winning single, Home became a massive success for Phillips, and has been certified quadruple platinum.
'American Idol' winners from seasons 10-1...
Season 10 (2011) — Scotty McCreery [Runner-up: Lauren Alaina]
At 17 years and ten months old, Scotty McCreery became the youngest male American Idol winner when he came top of the votes in season 10 on May 25, 2011.
The North Carolina-born country singer auditioned for the tenth season of the show in Milwaukee where he sang Your Man by Josh Turner and Put Some Drive In Your Country by Travis Tritt. His winning single was I Love You This Big.
Season 9 (2010) — Lee DeWyze [Runner-up: Crystal Bowersox]
Lee DeWyze was the ninth American Idol winner. Before the show, he had a solo career and formed the Lee DeWyze band, and had released two independent albums. He auditioned in Chicago, Illinois with his rendition of Bill Withers' soulful classic, Ain't No Sunshine. Beautiful Day was his winning song.
Since his big win, Lee DeWyze has continued to produce music, releasing five more albums; his latest, Ghost Stories, came out in August 2021.
Season 8 (2009) — Kris Allen [Runner-up: Adam Lambert]
Arkansas' own Kris Allen walked away as the winner of American Idol season 8. Aged just 23 on the show, he impressed in Louisville, Kentucky when he auditioned with A Song For You by Leon Russell. He went on defeat Adam Lambert (who has since released multiple albums and toured with Queen).
Kris Allen's winning song, No Boundaries, was co-written by Cathy Dennis, Mitch Allan, and Kara DioGuardi, the latter of whom had just joined the judging panel for the season. Adam Lambert also released his own version of the song.
Season 7 (2008) — David Cook [Runner-up: David Archuleta]
Rock singer-songwriter David Cook became American Idol's seventh winner back in 2008. Like many other winners, he'd released multiple albums (both with his band and one as a soloist) before the show, and has since gone to release plenty more music; his self-titled album was certified platinum. He also starred in a run of Kinky Boots on Broadway in 2018.
Initially, David went along to American Idol to support his younger brother (who didn't make it through to the Hollywood stage) before being convinced to audition himself. David sang Bon Jovi's Livin' On a Prayer at his audition, and the rest was history. His winning single was The Time of My Life.
Season 6 (2007) — Jordin Sparks [Runner-up: Blake Lewis]
At just 17 years old, Jordin Sparks became the youngest winner of American Idol to date on May 23, 2007.
Before auditioning, she'd won multiple talent shows including Coca-Cola's Rising Star and America's Most Talented Kids. She earned a gold ticket for the Hollywood Round after her audition in Seattle, Washington, where she sang "Because You Loved Me" by Celine Dion.
Her winners single was "This Is My Now", which both she and Blake Lewis performed during the Grand Finale.
Season 5 (2006) — Taylor Hicks [Runner-up: Katharine McPhee]
Before starting his American Idol journey, Taylor Hicks had already been performing in the US for a decade, before he auditioned in Las Vegas with Sam Cooke's A Change is Gonna Come.
During his audition, Simon Cowell said he didn't think Taylor Hicks would make it through the competition... but he was forced to eat his words later in the show when he claimed victory over Katharine McPhee! Taylor's winner's single was titled Do I Make You Proud.
Season 4 (2005) — Carrie Underwood [Runner-up: Bo Bice]
Seven-time Grammy-winning country and pop singer-songwriter Carrie Underwood got her big break on American Idol.
After auditioning with I Can't Make You Love Me in St. Louis, Missouri, Carrie became one of the favorites to win the whole show.
Since becoming one of the American Idol winners, Carrie has become a huge success across the board, with more than 170 awards to her name. Alongside her stellar music career, she's broken into acting with appearances in shows such as How I Met Your Mother, Nashville, and the movie Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. In 2020, she also released her first book, Find Your Path.
Season 3 (2004) - Fantasia Barrino [Runner-up: Diana DeGarmo]
R&B singer Fantasia Barrino impressed the judges when she auditioned in Atlanta, Georgia with her renditions of Fugees' Killing Me Softly and Tina Turner's Rolling on the River, where Simon Cowell said he thought Fantasia was "one of the best we've ever had".
Fantasia's winning song was I Believe, and since her big win, she's netted plenty of awards (including three Grammys) and appeared on Broadway in The Color Purple and After Midnight.
Season 2 (2003) - Ruben Studdard [Runner-up: Clay Aiken]
R&B and soul singer Ruben Studdard became the very first male American Idol winner on May 21, 2003. He made a very good impression from his first audition in Nashville, Tennessee with Stevie Wonder's Ribbon in the Sky.
His winning song was a cover of Westlife's "Flying without Wings." Over the years he's regularly collaborated with runner-up Clay Aiken on multiple tours and concerts, and he appeared as a contestant on The Biggest Loser season 15.
Season 1 (2002) - Kelly Clarkson [Runner-up: Justin Guarini]
Popstar Kelly Clarkson won hearts from the get-go with her impressive performance of Madonna's Express Yourself in an audition in Dallas, Texas.
Her winning single, A Moment Like This broke a 38-year-old record held by The Beatles for a song's biggest leap to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 (jumping from its debut at 60 to number 1 in its third week on the charts). Since then, she has gone on to win numerous awards, including three Grammy wins.
Alongside her impressive musical career, Kelly has released two children's books and moved into TV. She's been a coach on The Voice since 2018, where she's been the winning coach four separate times, and she's hosted her daytime talk show The Kelly Clarkson Show since September 9, 2019.
Get the What to Watch Newsletter
The latest updates, reviews and unmissable series to watch and more!
Martin is a Staff Writer with WhatToWatch.com, where he produces a variety of articles focused on the latest and greatest films and TV shows.
Some of his favorite shows are What We Do In The Shadows, Bridgerton, Gangs of London, The Witcher, Doctor Who, and Ghosts. When he’s not watching TV or at the movies, Martin’s probably still in front of a screen playing the latest video games, reading, or watching the NFL.