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Past 'American Idol' Winners: Where Are They Now?

January 14th, 2008 12:09pm EST
Fantasia BarrinoEvery Tuesday and Wednesday, avid American Idol fans are glued to their TV sets, watching in anticipation and with hope that the contestants they fell in love with are not sent home.

Every season of the singing competition brings heartache and joy, laughter and tears. And each year this popular show produces America's newest singing talent. Several have reached stardom faster than they can say "I'm the next American Idol," while others have strayed away from the spotlight.

Aside from Kelly Clarkson's and Carrie Underwood's rise to fame, what happened to those other winners we grew to know and love? What have they done following their "Idol" win?

Ruben StuddardRuben Studdard
During his star-studded "American Idol" days, Ruben Studdard won over fans and Paula Abdul with wonderful covers by Leon Russell, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie and Neil Sedaka. His soft appearance and gentle voice earned him the "Velvet Teddy Bear" nickname. According to Wikipedia, after winning the reality show competition the Alabama Governor declared March 11 "Ruben Studdard Day."

In 2003, Ruben released his debut album entitled Soulful, which contained his hit single "Fly Without Wings." His second single, "Sorry 2004," received much airplay as well and settled in the Billboard charts at number nine. A year later, Ruben recorded his second album, a gospel record entitled I Need An Angel. The album ranked number one on the 2005 Billboard Year-End Gospel Album Chart, launching Ruben as the fifth most successful "American Idol" artist.

Ruben dabbled a little bit in the acting industry with cameos on shows such as 8 Simple Rules, All of Us, Eve and Life on a Stick.

In 2006, Ruben traveled back to his urban roots for work on his third most recent album, The Return. According to MTV.com, the album contained new R&B sounds and collaborations with artists such as Scott Storch and Ne-Yo. Unfortunately, lack of record sales left Ruben without support from his record label, J Records. Studdard was released from his contract in December, 2007.

Fantasia Barrino
In May 2004, Fantasia Barrino beat spunky runner-up Diana DeGarmo during the third installment of "American Idol." Since that spectacular day, Fantasia released several hit albums as well as premiered in a Lifetime Original Movie starring herself in a story detailing her rough childhood.

In November of 2004, Fantasia released her debut album, Free Yourself. According to her official website, the 22-year-old artist earned several accolades over the years, including Grammys, American Music Awards, Soul Train Awards, R&B & Hip Hop Awards, BET Awards and many more! The new artist even made history by becoming the first musician to chart two of the top three songs on the Adult R&B list.

In 2006, Fantasia's endearing memoir was adapted into a Lifetime movie. According to her website, the movie was seen by approximately 19 million viewers, making it the second most-watched movie in the Lifetime Network's history. That same year, Fantasia toured with singer Kanye West performing hit singles from her second album, Fantasia.

Notable performances include singing a tribute for Stevie Wonder at the United Negro College Fund 2005, as well performances for Elton John and Aretha Franklin. Fantasia has made one of her biggest marks on Broadway, playing the lead role of Celie in "The Color Purple."

Taylor HicksTaylor Hicks
The fifth season of "American Idol" produced "Soul Patrol" winner Taylor Hicks after he defeated talented singer Katharine McPhee. Since his win, Hicks' post-Idol days have contained their ups and downs. His first single, "Do I Make You Proud" off his debut album, climbed to number one on the Billboard Hot 100. That same year, Hicks released a touching memoir based on his life titled "Heart Full of Soul: An Inspirational Memoir About Finding Your Voice and Finding Your Way."

As of January 2008, it was confirmed by Entertainment Weekly that Hicks was no longer on the Arista Records roster. He has appeared on several hit talk shows such as "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," "The Early Show," "Larry King Live," "The View," "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and many more!

Each "American Idol" winner became successful in his or her own unique way. Though some of them are not plastered on People magazine like Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood often are, they reached pinnacles in their career using other avenues. Whether it be a Lifetime movie, recording a gospel album or writing a heartfelt memoir, you'll find these past winners haven't forgotten the spark that originally led them to the top. With "American Idol's" newest season on the brink, we have yet to see who is next in line for that coveted title.

Don't miss out on the season premiere, Tuesday, January 15.

Story by Kathryn Sparks
Starpulse contributing writer


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