3 Pop Stars Who Were Turned Down by ‘American Idol’

In 2004, Jennifer Hudson made it to seventh place on American Idol, before being eliminated. Despite the Idol “loss,” she went on to become one of only 19 artists who have attained Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony EGOT status. Season eight runner-up Adam Lambert released his hit debut For Your Entertainment in 2009 and Grammy-nominated single “Whataya Want from Me” and has had a successful run fronted Queen with Brian May and Roger Taylor on tour. Chris Daughtry and Kellie Pickler, who came in fourth and sixth, respectively, during season five, have had successful careers in rock and country, along with many others who were never crowned American Idol winners.

For the most part, Idol has been on the mark as a launching pad for contestants and winners who have gone on to do greater things. However, the show missed out on some artists who never made it to the televised auditions or the top 24 yet still went on to become megastars.

Country artists Luke Combs, Lady A‘s Hillary Scott, Kane Brown, Maren Morris, Mickey Guyton, and more were also rejected and never made it on the show. Amber Riley never got to sing for the judges, while her Glee co-star, late actress and singer Naya Rivera, managed to audition with the Bee Gees‘ 1978 hit “Emotion” but didn’t make it past the first round. She later used the same song to audition for Glee. This Is Us star Chrissy Metz also never made the show and was one step from auditioning for the judges before she was cut.

Here’s a look at three pop stars who didn’t make it far in the competition before being eliminated, or never even had a chance to audition for the judges.

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[RELATED: 4 Country Stars Who Were Turned Down by ‘American Idol’]

1. Bebe Rexha

Bebe Rexha waited with her mom for nearly half a day during the preliminary audition but didn’t make it through. A decade after first trying to get on the show, Rexha released her debut album Expectations, and was invited on American Idol as a mentor.

“Ten years ago my mother and I waited for hours in line to audition for ‘American Idol,'” wrote Rexha on X in 2018. (Rexha has also said it was closer to 12 hours in another interview.) “I didn’t make it through. This year I’m mentoring.”

Rexha returned as a mentor on American Idol in 2022. A year later, Rexha’s single “One in a Million,” which she co-wrote with DJ and producer David Guetta and several other writers, was nominated for a Grammy for Best Pop Dance Recording.

[RELATED: 4 Songs You Didn’t Know Bebe Rexha Wrote for Other Artists]

2. Colbie Caillat

Even though she never made it through on American Idol, even after trying out twice, Grammy-winning artist Colbie Caillat later admitted that he was happy they turned her away since she “wasn’t ready,” at the time.

After taking on vocal, piano, and guitar lessons, Caillat decided to audition for American Idol. During her first try, she didn’t even make it out of the preliminaries. She returned a second time and made it in front of the judges, performing her original song “Bubbly” and was turned away a second time.

“I was shy,” revealed Caillat about her second audition and rejection from Idol. “I was nervous. I didn’t look the greatest. I wasn’t ready for it yet. I was glad, when I auditioned, that they said ‘no.’”

[RELATED: 3 Songs You Didn’t Know Colbie Caillat Wrote For Other Artists]

“Bubbly” was later released on Caillat’s 2007 debut Coco and went to No. 1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary, Adult Top 40, and Alternative Songs charts and peaked at No. 5 on the Hot 100. In 2010, Caillat won two Grammys for Album of the Year for her feature on Taylor Swift‘s second album Fearless (“Breathe”) and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for “Lucky” with Jason Mraz.

In 2018, Caillat appeared on American Idol and performed “Bubbly” with season 16 winner Maddie Poppe, who coincidentally also faced rejection and was turned down on The Voice before trying for Idol.

Caillat released her seventh album, and first in country, Along the Way in 2023 and has sold more than six million albums and more than 10 million singles worldwide throughout her career—so far.

3. Tori Kelly

Even though Tori Kelly made it further on Idol than Rexha and Caillat, she never went higher than the top 24 during season nine in 2010. When she was 16, Kelly auditioned for Idol by singing John Mayer‘s “Gravity” and made it with the votes of three judges except for then-judge Simon Cowell, who called her voice “almost annoying.” Kelly still made it far in the competition before getting booted off then went on to win two Grammy awards following her short run on Idol.

Her 2015 debut, Unbreakable Smile, co-produced by Max Martin, debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, and earned her two Top 40 hits—”Nobody Love” and “Should’ve Been Us.” In 2020, Kelly won two Grammys for Best Gospel Album for her 2019 album Hiding Places and Best Gospel Performance/Song for “Never Alone,” featuring Kirk Franklin.

During Season 22 of American Idol in 2024, Kelly returned as a guest mentor for the April 7 episode filmed in Kapolei, Hawaii.

[RELATED: Tori Kelly Flirts with Power on ‘Tori’]

“When I got the call from ‘American Idol’ to be a mentor, I was so excited because I just remember being 16 years old auditioning for this very show,” said Kelly in 2024. “So it was a very full circle moment for me to realize, ‘Oh, you have something to give now.'”

Reflecting on Cowell’s criticism of her years ago, Kelly had no hard feelings and even thanked him. “He’s probably [forgotten] about that by now,” said Kelly in a 2020 interview. There’s no hard feelings at all—totally was a part of the story.” She added, “I gotta thank him for the drive it gave me.”

Photo: Leon Bennett/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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