Never listen to the haters, even if they're the superpowered A&R executive Simon Cowell and a panel of celebrity judges. Reality shows like American Idol, The X Factor, and Star Search seemed like the final word on fame when we were younger, but it's shocking to see how many talent competition losers have surpassed their series' reigning champs in the industry. Let this be a lesson to all of us that Cardi B's advice to "get up 10" is pure pop wisdom — it's all about the hustle.
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2019's Album of the Year Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves is the harbinger of a new psychedelic country genre, but before the "High Horse" singer was conquering festivals from Coachella to Global Citizen, she was finishing in seventh place on Nashville Star's fifth season. In an interview with Yahoo! Music, Kacey looked back on her time as a talent competition loser with mixed feelings. Saying that she was still figuring out who she was personally and musically, Kacey credited Nashville Star with helping her develop a thick skin, adding that "music wasn't made to be judged by three people."
The X Factor UK might have outlived its most famous contestants, but just because One Direction is gone (on an "indefinite hiatus") doesn't mean they've been forgotten. 1D placed third on The X Factor's seventh season after each of its members were individually cut from the "Boys" category and Frankensteined together as a "Groups" contestant, losing to Matt Cardle. If your next question is, "who is Matt Cardle?", we're right there with you. One Direction was the first band in US Billboard 200 history to have their first four albums debut at the top of the chart, whereas Matt never even reached number one in their home country.
Bea Miller is an underrated gen Z queen, but you've probably seen her singles "It's Not U It's Me," "Young Blood," and "I Wanna Know" pop up on your Spotify radio. Before embarking on her own headlining tours (with stops at Lollapalooza and Voodoo Music Fest), Bea opened for Demi Lovato, Fifth Harmony, and Selena Gomez's arena tours, had her song "Brand New Eyes" featured in the trailer for Wonder, and was named the Teen Choice Awards "Choice Next Big Thing" all before her nineteenth birthday. When she was just thirteen, this musical wunderkind came in ninth place on season two of The X Factor USA.
Aaliyah's music is virtually non-existant on streaming services because of her uncle, Barry Hankerson, but there's still footage of a ten-year-old Aaliyah getting her start on Star Search only twelve years before her tragic death. Complex quotes Aaliyah as fondly recalling her "incredible" Star Search experience despite her loss because she idolized the show. By age 15, Aaliyah would release her prolific debut Age Ain't Nothing but a Number, launching a career that achieved more in seven years than most artists will in their entire lifetime.
Destiny's Child was still known as "the hip-hop rappin' Girls Tyme," immortalized in Beyoncé anthem "Flawless," when they lost Star Search in the early 1990s. Back then, Girls Tyme had six members instead of their iconic Destiny's Child quartet, but Kelly Rowland and Beyoncé stuck it out through their first big rejection to become founding members of a group that was nominated for over ten Grammys, winning two, after its rebrand. Kelly still remembers that initial loss vividly, remarking to Insider that the girls "cried so hard" after the Star Search curtain fell, but that their heartbreak only strengthened the group's resolve to make it.
When Todrick Hall competed on American Idol, the out-and-proud Kinky Boots star was still publicly in the closet. Todrick competed on American Idol's ninth season, and the YouTube star told People he felt that producers encouraged him to keep his sexuality a secret in order to appeal to middle Americans. His semi-final elimination from the show inspired Todrick to start his YouTube channel and embrace his true self. His honesty paid off with over three million subscribers, a close friendship with Taylor Swift, and a dream gig as a judge for Ru-Paul's Drag Race: All Stars.
Adam Lambert went from singing "Bohemian Rhapsody" during his American Idol audition to touring the world with Queen, but the season eight contestant lost to Kris Allen in a weirdly controversial finale that saw even The New York Times step in to explain whether AT&T accidentally rigged the vote. Adam has achieved success as a talent competition loser outside of his work with Queen, receiving a Grammy nomination for his solo single "Whataya Want from Me" and releasing a number one sophomore album, Trespassing.
Speaking of controversial American Idol votes, fans were shocked when Taylor Hicks made it to the final at all. We never imagined he could actually win, but at 29, he became the oldest Idol winner at the time, which is wild in and of itself because we distinctly remember Taylor being at least forty during the competition. Runner-up Katharine McPhee ended up doing just fine, starring on Smash, The House Bunny and Scorpion before landing on Broadway where she has always belonged as the lead in Sara Barailles's Waitress.
Ask anyone who tuned into season five of American Idol, and they'll all tell you the same thing: Chris Daughtry should have made it to the final three. How he managed to be eliminated from the top four is an enduring reality show mystery, but Chris told Hollywood Life he still had "the best time, with the best people" when he competed during the legendary series' highest-rated season. In 2015, the Daughtry frontman was the third most successful Idol alum according to Forbes, behind winners Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.
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Kellie Pickler has passed from the Dancing with the Stars portion of her career to Hallmark movies and a HSN daytime talk show called Pickler & Ben, but there was a minute in the late-'00s where Kellie was poised to be American Idol's next great country success story, opening for Taylor Swift's Fearless tour and recording a duet with the country legend. Inspire More has a play-by-play of her audition for Idol when she was 19, where she even recieved a coveted "Yes" from Simon Cowell, but Kellie was ultimately eliminated in the top six.
Star Search has been largely forgotten by today's youth, as a 2003 reboot of the 1983 series crashed and burned in competition with American Idol, but the OG of television talent competitions rejected some of the world's biggest stars. Ironically, most of the winners went on to lead normal lives, while talent competition losers like Alanis Morissette persevered to become musical legends. Alanis lost Star Search in 1990 as "Alanis Nadine" at just 14-years-old, but by 19, she would go on to release the Album of the Year Grammy-winning album Jagged Little Pill and go down in post-grunge history, with no help from Star Search.
The X Factor USA pulled a "One Direction" when they brought Fifth Harmony's talent competition losers together to form a female pop supergroup. Competing alongside Bea Miller, Fifth Harmony's six-year career lasted twice as long as the show that created them, and since their "indefinite hiatus" began, members Camila Cabello and Normani are proving they've had what it takes to go solo from the beginning. Fifth Harmony placed third on their season of The X Factor, but as Billboard notes, they signed to judge Simon Cowell's Syco label only a month after their elimination.
The Backstreet Boys weren't forced together by a reality singing competition, but they somehow still ended up in front of the Star Search judges in 1993. This part of their history has largely been erased from their Wikipedia page official story, although deep dives like Boy Bands and the Performance of Pop Masculinity still remember their brief reality TV stint three years before releasing their self-titled debut album. The Backstreet Boys basically performed anywhere they could during their early years, from SeaWorld Orlando to American high schools, so their Star Search stint was a '90s inevitability.
Buzzfeed talked to William Pilipchuk, the lead singer of Skeleton Crew, who will go down in history as the guy that beat Beyoncé in a singing competition, and William is just as surprised as the rest of us are at how everything went down. In that 2013 interview, William shared that during their season of Star Search, both Justin Timberlake and Dave Chappelle found themselves on the chopping block. Star Search couldn't even realize a star comedian when they saw one, adding an entirely new layer of incompetence to whoever was sitting at their judges' table.
Tori Kelly never even made it to the American Idol live shows, but Hollywood Life learned it was actually Tori's decision to leave Idol's ninth season. Apparently, live show contestants have to sign a contract with Simon Cowell, who Tori didn't feel was a supporter of her music or her voice, so she removed herself from contention to avoid being stuck in a contract with the Idol management company. Tori was found by star-making manager Scooter Braun in 2013, who has a proven track record of excellence regardless of whether you're Team Scooter or Team Taylor in that Big Machine Records debacle. Clearly, Tori made the right decision.
Country music stars have a better reality show track record than mainstream pop artists, and the number of Nashville Star contestants that are popular to this day is living proof. Miranda Lambert has become one of the voices of her generation in the country genre, but when she appeared on Nashville Star in her late teens, Miranda came in third during the show's first season. Country Living remembers that Miranda still walked away from Nashville Star with the record deal that launched her career, showing that whether you're a winner or a talent competition loser, it's all about playing the game.
We wouldn't be surprised if Jennifer Hudson became an EGOT sooner rather than later, with her appearance as Effie White in Dreamgirls earning an Academy Award and a Golden Globe, her self-titled debut album receiving the Grammy Award for Best R&B Album, and her 2015 Broadway debut in The Color Purple alongside Cynthia Erivo beginning an illustrious musical theatre career. This multihyphenate was called the third greatest Idol contestant in history by the Los Angeles Times, but she bizarrely only made it to her season's top seven.
Usher is a living R&B legend, but if he had of listened to the judges at Star Search, the world might never have been blessed with classics like "Yeah," "Confessions Part II," and "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love." Usher's appearance on Star Search as Usher Raymond IV caught the eye of an A&R representative for LaFace Records, who introduced the 13-year-old star to L.A. Reid, but just because all is well that ends well doesn't mean this isn't another example of Star Search having no idea how to actually search for stars.
If Justin Timberlake's Man of The Woods era came as a shock, you clearly never saw his 1992 quest for reality show greatness on Star Search. Arriving in a cowboy hat and a belt buckle the size of Texas, JT (who was then Justin Randall) warbled a country hit by Alan Jackson, "Love's Got A Hold On You," before being cut by the judges. Justin's career flourished after leaving Star Search, but the kiddie crooner who beat him that evening, Anna Nardona, went on to live a quiet, normal childhood out of the spotlight. Taste of Country found an interview with Anna where she explained that being knocked out of Star Search later in the competition was enough to squelch her dreams of stardom.
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Justin might have cried a river after his Star Search elimination, but his future ex-girlfriend Britney Spears also became a proud talent competition loser in 1992. The Huffington Post learned that the princess of pop lost to a future Broadway performer, but we'd be shocked if there wasn't a The Mickey Mouse Club scout keeping their eye on the competition — Britney, JT, and Star Search winner Christina Aguilera all appeared on The Mickey Mouse Club in 1993.