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Singers rejected by American Idol judges but found fame and success anyway

From rejection to stardom – during its long 20 series, there have been times when rejected contestants ended up becoming Idols themselves outside of the American series.

Imagine turning down some of today’s biggest and most well-known names for a spot in a singing competition. That’s exactly what American Idol did. Not once, but several times... Awkward!

Curious to learn more? Find out who the 8 contestants that American Idol rejected but still made it.

  • MORE: American Idol singers who were booted off but came back to prove the judges wrong

8. Colbie Caillat

Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images

The American singer auditioned twice for Idol but was rejected both times. According to Life and Style Magazine, for her second try, she even performed her hit-song and Platinum-certified debut single, Bubbly, but was also rejected.

Despite being rejected by the series, she revealed to not hold any grudge against the singing competition. In 2018, she returned to the show in the sixteenth series as a mentor.

She has won two out of the five Grammys that she has been nominated for. She has collaborated with well-known singers like Jason Mraz and Taylor Swift, where she was featured on her Fearless album.

7. Bebe Rexha

Photo by Ryan Emberley/amfAR/Getty Images for amfAR

Bebe Rexha waited 10 hours to audition but never made it through. Now, she’s a popular female artist. Touché.

Announcing that she would return to the Idol stages in 2018 alongside Colbie, she wrote about her experience on Twitter. She said: “10 years ago my mother and I waited 10 hours in line to audition for American Idol. I didn’t make it through. This year I’m mentoring!”

Despite not making it as an American Idol, Bebe Rexha has made it big in the Hollywood industry. In 2019, she was nominated for two Grammys. Two years later, she accompanied The Jonas Brothers during their tour as a performing artist.

Her hit songs include In The Name Of Love, Baby I’m Jealous, and Say My Name.

6. Tori Kelly

Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Tori Kelly was only 16 when she auditioned for series 9 of American Idol and did make it past her audition. However, the star didn’t make it to the top 24 contestants despite her great voice.

Simon Cowell called her voice “downright annoying”, despite getting her three ‘yes’ responses from Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi, and guest judge Victoria Beckham. Speaking to Metro, Tori said that the Briton hasn’t still apologised to her.

Nonetheless, Tori carried on writing songs and regularly posting on her YouTube channel, which is where her fame started. Years later, she signed with Capitol Records.

The talented singer was nominated for “Best New Artist” at The Grammys back in 2016. Perhaps Simon is now regretting his words.

  • MORE: American Idol shocking moments – Katy storming off and Simon Cowell soaked

5. Chrissy Metz

Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

Chrissy Metz stood up in line for eight hours and suffered third-degree sunburns on the day she auditioned in front of the American Idol producers. However, she was rejected after she sang Dreamgirl’s Heavy. She never passed the producer round to feature in the TV auditions.

After Idol, she pursued a career in acting. Chrissy gained recognition after her roles in Sierra Burgess Is A Loser and Breakthrough. She is currently playing the character of Kate Pearson in the television hit series, This Is Us. Her role has earned her two Golden Globe nominations and also several others at the Primetime Emmy Awards.

4. Maren Morris

Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

Not only did she get rejected by American Idol, but also for The Voice. In an interview with Rolling Stone, the singer revealed to have been grateful and “happier for it now” for not making it past the Idol auditions.

The singer rose to fame due to a successful debut of her self-titled EP. Throughout her singing career, the country singer, who also blends some pop, R&B, and hip-hop into her songs, scored multiple achievements.

The star collaborated with popular artists like Niall Horan and also Zedd, whose song The Middle got stuck in our heads the whole of 2018.

Morris is now a Grammy-award winner with five Academy of Country Music Awards and also an American Music award.

MORE: Katy Perry’s flirty moments with American Idol singers including that kiss

3. Amber Riley

Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Black Music Honors 

Speaking to Wendy Williams, Amber shared that she never made it to the American Idol’s audition room because she was rejected by the producers themselves.

However, that did not stop her from cashing her dreams of becoming a singer. She got cast on the iconic musical series, Glee, and the rest is history.

She earned three Grammy nominations for Glee and performed on Broadway. In 2005, she won the 17th season of Dancing With The Stars. Who’s the real winner now?

2. Naya Rivera

Actress Naya Rivera attends the “Glee” panel on day 4 of Comic-Con International at San Diego Convention Center on July 25, 2010 in San Diego, California.

Naya’s father insisted she should try auditioning for the Idol contest. However, driving up all the way to San Francisco didn’t take her as far as she thought she would get.

However, her rejection led her to audition for Glee. Wittily, she auditioned in American Idol with Bee Gee’s Emotion. Similarly to Glee, where she sang the same song.

The actress was signed with Columbia Records to produce her own solo studio album. Three years later, the record label and the actress parted ways after an unsuccessful start of her music career.

Despite the news, she continued acting until the actress sadly passed away on July 8, 2020.

1. Jordin Sparks (bonus!)

Photo by Paul Archuleta/Getty Images

Despite becoming the winner of American Idol, she was rejected from the singing competition once before.

According to CheatSheet, she won a local competition called Arizona Idol, which gave her the chance to re-audition for the Idol series. She then became the winner of the sixth series and also the youngest winner in the Idol‘s history at the age of 17.

Jordin is now a Grammy-nominated singer with over six studio albums. Her most popular song is No Air, which featured Chris Brown.

In March of 2022, she returned to the stages of American Idol after 16 years as a Hollywood Week mentor.

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Ashley is a journalism graduate from Kingston University, currently writing for HITC, Reality Titbit and The Focus. She loves to travel and learn new languages and cultures. She also has an interest in celebrity news and the entertainment world. When she’s not writing, she’s on social media, watching K-dramas or shopping.