15 American Idol losers who found their own stardom

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Tamyra Gray (Season 1)

It’s been a long time since the first season of American Idol, nearly two decades now, but who could ever forget Tamyra Gray?

Gray first auditioned for the show’s debut season in 2002 in Atlanta, Georgia. The 22-year-old excitedly jumped right into her audition and the judges knew she had something special. They loved her look and her vocals, with Simon even calling her the best they had seen that day, and that she had the “Z-factor” because she went past having the X-factor.

The judges and America loved Gray, but she unfortunately became one of the first-ever Idol upsets. When it came down to her and contestant Nikki McKibbin in the Top 4, despite never finding herself in the bottom before, Gray was eliminated. The crowd erupted with boos, the judges were all shocked, and even her fellow contestants gave her a standing ovation.

Everyone knew Gray was meant to be a star, so following American Idol, she was signed to creator Simon Fuller’s record label 19 Records, and released her solo album The Dreamer in May 2004. She performed with Idol winner Kelly Clarkson on her debut album Thankful, and later went on to pen the debut single for season 3’s winner Fantasia Barrino, which was also performed by runner-up Diana DeGarmo on the season’s finale.

Like many who came before her, Gray sought out a career onscreen and on stage. She landed a recurring role on Boston Public in 2003, and appeared on other shows like What I Like About You and Ghost Whisperer. She then performed in the limited Broadway engagement of Bombay Dreams in 2004, and joined the cast of famed musical Rent as Mimi in 2007. More recently, in 2016, she performed in the national tour of If/Then, the Broadway show originally starring Idina Menzel, and took over the role of Papa Ge in the 2018 Broadway revival of Once on This Island.