TV’s Most Successful Music Competition Stars

American Idol (Fox 2002-16; ABC 2018-present) launched careers for some of today’s most popular performers, and the original syndicated version of Star Search (1983-95)— which had teen and junior categories—showcased the nascent talents of some of entertainment’s brightest stars. But other competition series have made a mark, too. Here’s a list of a few famous singers who got their big breaks by competing on TV.


  1. Beyoncé – In 1993, long before she was dubbed Queen Bey, a pre-teen Beyoncé (along with future Destiny’s Child member Kelly Rowland) competed on Star Search as part of a girls’ group called Girls Tyme. Believe it or not, they lost, but before long people would be “Crazy in Love” with Destiny’s Child—and Beyoncé.
  2. Kelly Clarkson – Becoming the inaugural winner of American Idol in 2002 was just the start to Clarkson’s celebrity, which really ignited after her contract with the show was over. While she keeps making hit records, Clarkson has authored kids’ books and will host The Kelly Clarkson Show. She even serves as a coach on The Voice (NBC).
  3. Jennifer Hudson – It’s hard to imagine now, but Hudson placed 7th on American Idol in 2004. Her first album went gold, and in 2006 she won an Oscar for her acting debut in Dreamgirls (in which she co-starred with Beyoncé). In addition to recording, she’s performed on Broadway, given chill-inducing live performances on and off TV, and also coached on The Voice.
  4. Miranda Lambert – This country queen leapt to fame as a 19-year old competitor on Nashville Star (USA, 2003-07; NBC 2008) where she placed third in 2003. Two years later her career was on fire with her platinum-selling debut album, “Kerosene,” and it’s still burning strong.
  5. Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears – Before these three co-stared on The All-New Mickey Mouse Club (1993-1995) they all competed, individually, on Star Search—Aguilera in 1990, Timberlake and Spears in 1992. All became mega stars while still in their teens. Aguilera has also served as a coach on The Voice.
  6. Carrie Underwood – After winning the fourth season of American Idol in 2005, her first release became the first-ever country single to debut at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Underwood was also among the first big names to sign on to NBC’s live musicals, starring as Maria in The Sound of Music Live in 2013.
  7. Kellie Pickler – Pickler didn’t win American Idol in season five, but she won viewer’s hearts. Her first album, released later the same year, went gold. The bubbly country-pop icon keeps adding to her resumé, and has spent much of the past two years as co-host of the syndicated talk show Pickler & Ben.
  8. Adam Lambert – He placed second to Kris Allen, but Lambert’s season on American Idol changed his life after he caught the eye, and ears, of the surviving members of the legendary band, Queen. When not working on solo projects, he’s now their lead vocalist, playing to packed houses around the world since 2014.
  9. Usher – Almost immediately after appearing on Star Search in 1993, the 13-year old was signed to a record deal. The smooth-voiced singer-songwriter has amassed countless awards in both pop and R&B categories. He has also coached on The Voice.
  10. Nicole Scherzinger – In season one of the short-lived music competition show, Popstars (The WB 2001), Scherzinger was among the five singers selected to form Eden’s Crush. She later joined The Pussycat Dolls. In 2009 she signed on as a judge on NBC’s acapella competition show, The Sing-Off (where Pentatonix shot to fame). This year she was a panelist on The Masked Singer (Fox).
  11. Alanis Morissette – As a teenager, Morissette competed on Star Search in 1990. Five years later her third album, “Jagged Little Pill,” catapulted her to fame with her breakout hit “You Oughta Know.” She played God in the 1999 film Dogma and has acted on series like Sex and the City.
  12. Jordin Sparks – In 2007 Sparks became the youngest winner of American Idol. She released her debut album the same year and it sold over 2 million copies. In 2010 she began pursuing acting, appearing on Broadway in In the Heights, and in 2012 she appeared opposite Whitney Houston in the film, Sparkle.
  13. Kasey Musgraves – In 2007, the year after the singer-songwriter graduated from high school, Musgraves competed on Nashville Star. She didn’t make the cut, but everything turned out just fine. Her albums “Same Trailer Different Park,” and “Golden Hour” earned Musgraves multiple Grammy Awards.
  14. Katharine McPhee – In 2006, American Idol fans caught “McPheever” watching her progress to the season finale. She didn’t win. Guest stints on TV shows led more acting gigs. She starred in NBC’s musical drama, Smash (2012-13) and CBS’s drama Scorpion (2014-18).
  15. LeAnn Rimes — In 1990, at just 8 years old, Rimes became a one-time champion on Star Search. By the time she was 14, the little girl with the big voice became the youngest person to win a Grammy for her song “Blue.” Several hits later, Rimes hosted season 3 Nashville Star and added acting to her repertoire, recently starring in the Hallmark movie, It’s Christmas, Eve.


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