10 stars who were rejected from ‘American Idol’ but found success anyway

Bebe Rexha, Amber Riley, and Naya Rivera went on to have successful careers after getting rejected from

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Bebe Rexha, Amber Riley, and Naya Rivera went on to have successful careers after getting rejected from “American Idol.”
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Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images Jesse Grant/Getty Images Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

  • Sometimes, “American Idol” contestants who don’t make it all the way to the end become very successful in Hollywood.
  • Colbie Caillat auditioned twice for the talent competition, but was rejected both times. And Bebe Rexha waited 10 hours for an audition, but never made it through. They both returned to the show as mentors on “American Idol’s” season 16 in 2018.
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Rejection doesn’t have to be the end of the road.

Several of ABC’s “American Idol” contestants have gone on to have incredibly successful careers in the entertainment industry – even after they were rejected by the long-running singing competition. Stars like Colbie Caillat, Bebe Rexha, Tori Kelly, Maren Morris, and Naya Rivera have spoken out about finding their own way to follow their dreams after unsuccessfully trying out for the TV show.

Here are 10 people who found success after being rejected from the singing competition (and before America got to vote).


Colbie Caillat auditioned for the show two different times.

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Colbie Caillat at the 7th Annual Sean Penn & Friends HAITI RISING Gala benefiting in January 2018.
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The singer, known for her hit song “Bubbly,” actually auditioned with it back in the day. Though she didn’t make it on the show either time, the California native managed to catch people’s attention on MySpace.

She’s been nominated for five Grammys and won twice: once for her collaboration with Jason Mraz and another for being a featured artist on Taylor Swift’s “Fearless.” She has released six albums.

On a 2018 episode of the reality competition, Caillat said she “wasn’t ready at all. I had such stage fright, and I realized I had a lot of work to do with myself.”


Bebe Rexha waited in line for 10 hours to audition when she was 18.

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Bebe Rexha at the 53rd Academy of Country Music Awards in April 2018.
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Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images

The singer-songwriter, known for her collaborations including “Me, Myself, and I” with G-Eazy and “Back to You” with Louis Tomlinson, waited in line with her mom, but she didn’t even get a shot at auditioning.

“Ten years ago my mother and I waited 10 hours on line to audition for ‘American Idol,'” Rexha wrote in a tweet in March. “I didn’t make it through. This year I’m mentoring!”

Her first studio album came out in June 2018, and she was nominated for two Grammys in 2019, including best new artist.


Tori Kelly was 16 when she auditioned for “American Idol.” She made it through, but didn’t make the top 24.

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Tori Kelly at the 59th GRAMMY Awards in February 2017.
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Christopher Polk/Getty Images

After auditioning, Kelly went back home, started writing songs, and shared more of her videos on YouTube. Kelly ended up signing with Capitol Records and has released two studio albums so far.

She earned a Grammy nomination for best new artist in 2016 and lent her voice to the animated movie “Sing.”


Chrissy Metz auditioned with “Heavy Heavy” from “Dreamgirls.”

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Chrissy Metz at the 24th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in January 2018.
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Metz, now known for her role on “This Is Us,” revealed her audition in her book “This Is Me: Loving the Person You Are Today.” She told “Entertainment Tonight” that the experience made her realize that people weren’t respecting her musical abilities.

“You know, I get it, they’re trying to make stories and they’re trying to invest the audience into these characters and I understand the whole scope of everything…And I was like, ‘Oh, I can sort of see that and I don’t want to be that girl,'” she said. “I didn’t want to make ridiculous TV. I wanted to, you know, be respected as a singer.”

Read more: 10 surprising things you probably didn’t know about ‘This Is Us’


Maren Morris started writing music when both “The Voice” and “American Idol” rejected her.

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Maren Morris at the 53rd Academy of Country Music Awards in April 2018.
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Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images

Morris is a Grammy-nominated artist with a hit debut album under her belt. The singer has also had crossover success thanks to collaborations with Niall Horan and Zedd.

She told Rolling Stone that she’s glad she never made it on the shows.

“I think about all of the freaking talent shows I’ve tried out for in my life and I’m so glad I didn’t make any of them,” she said. “It’s full circle, because I was rejected from ‘The Voice.’ I was rejected from ‘American Idol’ – and I’m happier for it now.”


Amber Riley never made it past the producers.

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Amber Riley at the premiere of “Black Panther” in January 2018.
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Jesse Grant/Getty Images

“I auditioned for ‘American Idol’ at 17, [and] they told me, ‘No,'” the actress told Wendy Williams.

Riley eventually ended up on Fox, the then-home of “American Idol,” when she was cast on “Glee.” Since then, she went on to win the 17th season of “Dancing With the Stars” and earn three Grammy nominations for “Glee.”

Read more: 34 of the best ‘Glee’ performances of all time


Her “Glee” co-star Naya Rivera also tried for a spot.

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Naya Rivera at the 2018 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour in January 2018.
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Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

She told “The Talk” that she drove up to San Francisco to audition but didn’t even make it on the show. But the song that she auditioned with – “Emotion” by the Bee Gees – landed her the role on “Glee.”


Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott tried to get on “American Idol” twice.

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Hillary Scott at the 53rd Academy of Country Music Awards in April 2018.
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Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images

She was another contestant who didn’t even make it past the producers. As a member of Lady Antebellum, Scott has released six albums and won seven Grammys.


Alan Ritchson only made it to the Hollywood round of “American Idol’s” season three.

He’s remembered for giving a striptease that made then-judge Paula Abdul and viewers swoon. Ritchson went on to play Aquaman on The CW’s “Smallville,” and had a small role in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.”

The North Dakota native has also appeared on an episode of Netflix’s “Black Mirror” in 2016, and on NBC’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” in 2019.


BONUS: Jordin Sparks went on to win “American Idol,” but she was actually denied once before.

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Jordin Sparks at the 2018 Miss America Competition Red Carpet in September 2017.
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Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

When Sparks first auditioned for the show in Los Angeles, she didn’t even make it past the first round. She ended up winning “Arizona Idol,” a local competition in Phoenix, Arizona, after going back home, and they sent her to Seattle to audition for the show again. That time, she made it through and eventually won the season.