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Despite initially failing to make an impression on reality TV, these celebrities still made it big. Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the "Top 10 Famous Singers Rejected by American Idol."
For this list, we’re focusing on musicians that were initially rejected, at least once, by American Idol.
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#10: Haley Reinhart
After failing to make it through to Hollywood in Season 9, this Illinois native gave it another shot in Season 10. On take two, thanks to her husky vocals, originality, and retro appeal, Haley Reinhart nearly made it to the American Idol finals. Since then, she’s maintained an impressive music career by finding a niche in the adult contemporary genre, most notably because of her YouTube cover songs and consistent touring. Haley has also crossed over into television, voicing the character Bill Murphy on Netflix’s F is for Family.
#9: Kane Brown
In Season 10, this country singer watched a childhood friend reach the American Idol finals. Soon after, Kane Brown auditioned, but failed to make the show. He then gained some buzz for his YouTube covers, which led to a record deal and a successful EP. But Kane truly reached the big time when he signed with Sony Records. His 2016 EP “Chapter 1” produced two notable singles, and his 2016 debut studio album reached #1 on the country charts. Kane was initially inspired by his friend and American Idol contestant, Lauren Alaina, and he ultimately recorded a duet with her entitled “What Ifs.”
#8: Maren Morris
As a teenager, this country singer auditioned for American Idol, but didn’t even make it to the judges round. From 2005 to 2011, Maren Morris actually released three albums but none of them managed to make it onto the country charts. After writing songs for established musicians like Tim McGraw and Kelly Clarkson, she self-released a massively successful EP in 2015, with “My Church” being the standout single. Maren’s 2016 studio debut reached #1 on the US Country charts, and she became a country star after winning the 2016 CMA New Artist of the Year.
#7: Alex & Sierra
One year before winning the American version of The X Factor, this duo auditioned separately for American Idol during Season 12. While Alex Kinsey made it through to Hollywood week, Sierra Keaton never managed to reach the judges round. After their X Factor success, Alex & Sierra released their debut “It’s About Us,” which cracked the Top 10 on the US Charts, and followed it up with the “As Seen on TV” EP. While Alex and Sierra ultimately separated, both as a couple and musical act, they continue to be relevant names in music and pop culture.
#6: Mary Lambert
At only 16 years old, this musician tried out for American Idol and it did not go well. But over the following years, Mary Lambert established herself in Seattle’s spoken poetry scene, and she even self-released an EP called “Letters Don’t Talk.” Mary’s artistry brought her to the attention of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and they famously collaborated on the Grammy-nominated “Same Love,” now an LGBTQ+ anthem. Mary’s self-reflective and inspirational lyrics have earned her a loyal fan base, including Michelle Chamuel, a fellow musician and her long-time partner.
#5: Jordin Sparks
While many American Idol contestants are just developing their talent as teenagers, this singer became American Idol’s youngest winner at age 17. But Jordin Spark’s Season 6 journey actually began with a rejected audition in Los Angeles. She later received a second chance in Seattle… and the rest is history. Her 2007 debut sold over 1 million copies, and singles like “This Is My Now,” “Tattoo,” and “New Air” further established her as a respected figure in the industry. Jordin’s American Idol journey began with a “no,” but America ultimately said “yes.”
#4: Naya Rivera
From 1991 to 2002, this future star developed her skills on television, but when Naya Rivera later auditioned for American Idol, she failed to impress the judges. Still, her versatility earned her a role on the hit TV series Glee as the feisty Santana Lopez. In 2013, Naya released the single “Sorry” featuring Big Sean, and she’s also crossed over into movies. But it’s Naya’s Glee role that made her a pop culture sensation and showed the world that she’s a versatile performer with massive commercial appeal.
#3: Colbie Caillat
Did you know that the American Idol producers rejected this Malibu native not once, but twice? Colbie Caillat even auditioned with her own song “Bubbly,” which later reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Colbie sold 5 million copies of her debut album Coco, and she followed that up with 2009’s Breakthrough, which topped the US Charts. Colbie has appeared on the NBC series The Playboy Club, and she also won a Grammy Award for her collaboration with Jason Mraz, all the while continuing to release new music and tour for her international fanbase. Clearly American Idol overlooked a whole lot of potential.
#2: Hillary Scott
Before forming her own band, Lady Antebellum, this Nashville native was twice rejected by American Idol. Hillary Scott has since gone on to win numerous Grammy Awards, and she’s recognized as one of country music’s most brilliant songwriters. Lady Antebellum’s first four studio albums all reached #1 on the US Country charts, which fully established Hillary within pop culture. Given her musical versatility, she's often collaborated with fellow artists, and Hillary also appeared as a judge on The Voice, marking a full circle transition from American Idol reject to musical mentor.
#1: Amber Riley
Like her Glee castmate Naya Rivera, this Los Angeles native was once rejected by American Idol. Amber Riley unsuccessfully auditioned for Season 2 at age 17, but just a few years later, she was cast as Mercedes Jones on the hit series. Amber has been nominated for several Grammy Awards, and she actually WON Season 17 of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.” In 2015, she played Addaperle on The Wiz Live! and followed that up with a guest appearance on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. She was honored with the Laurence Olivier Award for her stage role as Effie White in Dreamgirls. All that to say… she’s clearly left her mark on the world of pop culture.