15 American Idol losers who found their own stardom

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Clay Aiken (Season 2)

When Clay Aiken walked into the auditions for season two of American Idol, he looked far from an idol. But when he opened his mouth, the judges were in for a big surprise.

It was 2003 when 24-year-old Aiken met Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell at the Atlanta auditions. His nerdy appearance didn’t give the judges much confidence, but when he started singing, they were blown away. He performed “Always and Forever” by Heatwave and his big, soulful voice coming from such a nerdy, skinny white boy really shocked them. They quickly sent him through to Hollywood.

Aiken originally got cut in the Top 32, but then returned for the show’s “Wild Card” round. He performed Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and made it to the Top 12 as the viewer’s choice. Executive producer revealed that he led the fan voting from that week up until the finale, when he came in second to Ruben Studdard by only 130,000 votes.

Post-Idol, Aiken released his debut album Measure of a Man in October 2003, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200, and become the highest-selling debut for a solo artist in 10 years. Since then, he has released five studio albums, two compilations albums, and has won four Billboard Awards and an American Music Award. Like many other Idol alums, he made his Broadway debut in 2008 in the musical comedy Spamalot, and he competed in the fifth season of The Celebrity Apprentice, where he also came in second.

In a shocking turn of events, Aiken ran for Congress in 2014 and won the Democratic primary, but lost in the general election. In a not-so shocking turn of events, he came out as gay in 2008.