20 of the Most Shocking Eliminations in 'American Idol' History

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Although powerhouse talents like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood rightfully won American Idol and became some of Hollywood's biggest stars, there have been countless other contestants who seemed like surefire bets to win the competition, only to shockingly be sent home prematurely.

Even so, some of these singers — Chris Daughtry, Jennifer Hudson and Katharine McPhee, to name a few — have become household names for their impressive voices, while others are still pursuing music in hopes of getting their big break. (We're rooting for all of them!)

We rounded up 20 of the most surprising American Idol eliminations, from early exits that we're still not over to unexpected second-place finishes.

Chris Daughtry (2006)

Chris's fourth-place finish in the competition stunned America, as many believed he was a lock to win.

Chris initially told host Ryan Seacrest that he was surprised by his elimination, although he later told Yahoo that he suspected judges Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell were "hiding something" earlier that day. MTV speculated that his fans got overconfident and didn't vote because they assumed he would be safe, while Today reported that some people alleged they were directed to vote for Katharine McPhee instead when attempting to vote for Chris.

In 2007, his band's debut became the bestselling album of the year. All's well that ends well!

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Jennifer Hudson (2004)

Jennifer's season 3 elimination is the most shocking in the show's entire history. There, we said it. Although she delivered powerful performances of beloved ballads, Jennifer placed seventh.

Following her premature departure, Elton John spoke out in defense of not only her, but several other Black contestants, saying, "The fact that they're constantly in the bottom three – and I don't want to set myself up here – but I find it incredibly racist."

Despite her early elimination, Jennifer became one of the show's most successful alums and is one of only 19 performers to achieve EGOT status. On the 20th anniversary of her elimination, Jennifer reflected on Twitter, saying, "But God turned it around for my good! From Idol to EGOT baby!!! 20 years later, and now back on TV with my own show."

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Haley Reinhart (2011)

Although Haley had weathered criticism from the judges throughout her season, the fan — and celeb — favorite was shocked by her third-place elimination.

Several outlets have dubbed her rendition of Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets" as one of the best American Idol performances of all time, and in an Idol first, Led Zeppelin personally offered one of their songs to Haley to perform. She told Today that she believed her elimination was "a good thing" because it meant she was able to "start [her] career as a solo artist even sooner."

In the years since her American Idol elimination, she has continued to release new music, in addition to pursuing acting.

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Danny Gokey (2009)

For most of season 8, Danny dominated the competition, winning over America with his penchant for funky glasses and the heartbreaking revelation that his wife passed away from a heart defect just weeks before his Idol audition.

After his surprising third-place elimination, he told Reuters that he knew he was "confident it was it for [him]" once Kris Allen, who would go on to win the season, advanced to the finale. He also said he understood why Simon Cowell made an on-screen plea urging viewers to vote for Adam Lambert, because Simon believed Adam would "make the most money."

Danny released a country album in 2010, before pivoting to contemporary Christian offerings.

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Katharine McPhee (2006)

Once Katharine made it all the way to the top two in season 5, many viewers expected her to take the crown. Instead, in a major finale surprise, Taylor Hicks was announced the winner. (For the record, we don't think any winner should be robbed of their moment!)

Despite the backlash, Katharine told Entertainment Weekly, "I don't think I was really desperate to win American Idol. I was just grateful to be in the top two, to be honest."

She is now considered one of the show's most successful runners-up. For her post-Idol career, Katharine turned to acting and theater instead of a traditional recording career — with lead roles in TV shows like Smash and Scorpion — and an acclaimed turn in the Broadway musical Waitress.

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Adam Lambert (2009)

In 2022, NPR named Adam the second-best American Idol contestant of all time, despite the fact that he was beaten out in season 8's finale.

Although Adam had not publicly come out as gay during his season, he told Variety that homophobia was "probably" the reason why he lost American Idol. Others, including judge Paula Abdul, believed that fans of Danny Gokey, who had been eliminated the week before, cast their votes for Kris Allen instead of Adam.

In the years since American Idol, Adam has released several solo albums and became the lead vocalist for Queen + Adam Lambert in 2011.

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Melinda Doolittle (2007)

When Melinda was surprisingly voted out ahead of the season 6 finale, she had never ever been in the bottom two.

Her ousting was so unexpected that Simon Cowell revealed that he believed she should have won on Good Morning America. "She tried the hardest, was consistently the best, and had the best voice." Her elimination was later dubbed "the biggest upset in Idol history" by Slate. "I really feel like, personally, that I've won as far as where I ended up in this competition," she told MTV.

Following her exit, she released a soul album in 2009.

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Pia Toscano (2011)

Idol fans were stunned when Pia came in ninth place during the show's tenth season.

After Pia's Motown Week elimination, all three judges expressed their disbelief, with Jennifer Lopez holding back tears. "I have no idea what just happened here," she said. "I'm shocked. I'm angry. I don't even know what to say." In a personal essay published in Billboard in 2022, Pia said she received support from Jennifer following her Idol exit. "[She] told me that she had so many doors slammed in her face and that this would only lead to more opening," Pia wrote.

After working as a background vocalist for Jennifer, Pia released her debut solo album in 2022.

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Constantine Maroulis (2005)

The audience was shocked when Constantine, known for his rocker persona, was booted from the competition early in season 4, landing him in sixth place.

On an episode of the Behind The Velvet Rope podcast in 2021, he said he believed his elimination was rigged by production to detract fans from a scandal involving judge Paula Abdul. He went on to add that his elimination was ultimately better for his career than making "a crappy record with Clive Davis that no one cared about," and said he was glad he didn't have to go head to head with winner Carrie Underwood, because there "was no beating her."

Constantine later took his singing chops to Broadway, where he was nominated for a Tony for his performance in Rock of Ages.

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Tamyra Gray (2002)

Not even Idol's inaugural season was free from a controversial exit. When the competition narrowed, many believed that Tamyra would advance to the finale, only to be shocked by her fourth-place finish.

Despite the backlash, Tamyra told CBS News that she had "a strong feeling" she would be voted off, sharing that she felt her voice had been worn out by a slew of appearances and studio sessions. She notably had not received any criticism from Simon Cowell, who called her "a star" in an earlier episode.

Following her elimination, she was offered a recording contract from an Idol producer. She released one album in 2004 before pivoting to acting.

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David Archuleta (2008)

In a battle of the Davids, David Archuleta went up against David Cook in Idol's seventh season finale.

Archuleta, who was 16 years old at the time, had become a fan favorite among Idol's younger viewers and quickly cemented himself as a frontrunner. After his finale performance, Cook told Us Weekly that he believed the win was Archuleta's. "I have to concede it: The kid came out [on] all three songs and nailed it," he said.

In the years since Idol, Archuleta has released several albums and placed second on The Masked Singer in 2019.

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Colton Dixon (2012)

Fans, fellow contestants, the judges and Colton himself were surprised when the singer was sent home in seventh place.

"I was shocked that I went home because I had never been on the bottom," Colton told Today. "But that's the way it happens sometimes. You've got to roll with it." He also said he believed his performance of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" hurt him because he had a hard time relating to the song's message.

After his season 11 exit, Colton continued to pursue music and has released several faith-based albums.

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Gabby Barrett (2018)

There has been no shortage of country stars who got their start on American Idol, and many believed that Gabby, who competed on season 16, was the next country singer to win. After dazzling the judges all season with her takes on classics by artists like Prince, Maren Morris and Idol's own Carrie Underwood, she ultimately placed third in the competition.

"Finishing in the top three was everything I could have asked for. Unfortunately, I didn't win it," she told WTAE in her native Pittsburgh. "I'm sorry, Pittsburgh. I couldn't bring home the title to you guys, but I promise I've got big stuff coming."

In 2020, her debut album, Goldmine, broke the record for the largest streaming week ever for a debut album by a female country singer.

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Chris Sligh (2007)

Even though some of the judges weren't sure how long Chris was going to last in the competition (After all, Simon quipped "I think it's bye-bye, Curly," earlier in the night), America was shocked when he was voted out of the competition ahead of Sanjaya Malakar.

Sligh is still involved in music: He's released several Christian albums, and in 2009, he scored his first No. 1 hit with "Here Comes Goodbye," a track he wrote for Rascal Flatts.

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Mandisa (2006)

Mandisa's unforeseen elimination came just weeks after Simon Cowell had proclaimed her season 5's best singer.

Despite a ninth-place finish, the singer went on to release six albums, taking home a Grammy in 2014 for her gospel album, Overcomer. Sadly, she passed away in April 2024, and fellow Idol contestants paid tribute to her on the current season of the show.

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Michael Johns (2008)

When Michael was eliminated in eighth place during season 7, fans instantly compared his surprise exit to Chris Daughtry's.

"I would be lying if I said I wasn't shocked," he told People. "I hadn't been in the bottom three and I thought definitely the last two or three weeks had been my strongest." He later quipped to MTV that while his song choices might have contributed to his elimination, he defended his picks. "What I chose throughout the entire competition was a representation of the kind of artist I'm going to be after [the show]."

Michael released one album before his death in 2014.

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Casey Abrams (2011)

From the start of the competition, Casey had won over the judges, who used their save to keep him in the running. Five weeks later, he once again received the lowest number of votes and ultimately finished the show in sixth place.

Ahead of Casey's elimination, Ryan Seacrest announced that "a lot of fans [were] going to be disappointed with tonight’s result." Casey told The Hollywood Reporter that he had a feeling he was about to be eliminated. "Maybe I was a little weary," he said. "Maybe my voice was a little scratchy."

Since the show, Casey returned to his jazz and blues roots and has released several albums.

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Angie Miller (2013)

The Hollywood Reporter called Angie's third-place finish "an upset that few saw coming." After she won over audiences with her original songs and story about overcoming severe hearing loss, she was declared the season 12 frontrunner.

She told THR that her elimination was both "bitter and sweet," adding that she felt blindsided by it. "I definitely thought that with the whole hometown visit and how huge social media has been … I did feel kind of confident that I was going to make it."

Following her elimination, Angie released an EP in 2014, before releasing new music under the stage name Zealyn.

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Jessica Sanchez (2012)

After what The Hollywood Reporter calls the "most dramatic judges save in Idol history," Jessica became the show's frontrunner and made it all the way to the season 11 finale, where she lost to Phillip Phillips.

Her win would have ended the streak of male winners — at that point, the last woman to win the competition was Jordin Sparks back in 2005. "The only reason I really wanted to win was to break that guy reign," she told Rolling Stone.

Jessica continues to release new music and even appeared on several episodes of Glee.

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Siobhan Magnus (2010)

In season 9, Siobhan charmed viewers with her quirky style and fearlessness when squaring off with the judges.

Following her sixth-place elimination during Shania Twain week, Slate wrote that it was "shocking" and "unpredictable," especially because they believed she had one of the strongest performances of the night. "Siobhan did not want to put her voice in a box. She was a 'funny little thing.' She was quirky...adjectives are not enough to sell millions of albums these days."

After her 2010 elimination, Siobhan released several albums and has also contributed her vocals to video game soundtracks.

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