The Most Shocking Eliminations In American Idol History

"American Idol" has been bringing hopeful singing sensations to our television screens for nearly two decades (via IMDb). In that time, we've seen a wild amount of talent, energy, and magnetism. Across genres and styles, singers have proven that they have so much more than just star power. It's a gift and a determination to see it through.


Generally, it feels like you can tell who the frontrunner is when it gets down to the top 4. Still, there have been quite a few surprises and, some would argue, upsets in "Idol" history. 

The most shocking eliminations have been those that have left not only viewers but also the judges themselves floored. It happened quite a few times in early seasons. The less it happened in later seasons, the more shocking those decisions were. This look back will remind us that not all "Idol" winners end up on top and not all those who end up on top necessarily won during their time on "Idol."

Jennifer Hudson didn't make it to her season's finale

Jennifer Hudson's "American Idol" journey was not as promising as the career that followed. Her killer vocals won many people over during her time on Season 3 of "Idol." In fact, she was one of three Black women showcasing some serious promise, the other two being LaToya London and Fantasia Barrino. "The Three Divas" shocked many by ending up in the bottom three during one round. Of the three women, Hudson was the first sent home.


Elton John, the week's guest judge, slammed how the result show played out. "The three people I was really impressed with, and they just happened to be Black, young female singers, and they all seem to be landing in the bottom three," he said (per Entertainment Tonight). "They have great voices. The fact that they're constantly in the bottom three — and I don't want to set myself up here — but I find it incredibly racist."

Hudson's career didn't suffer for the loss. She still signed a deal with Arista Records. Two years later, she would steal the show and earn a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Effie White in "Dreamgirls" (per IMDb). She's also released countless amazing songs, winning two Grammys in the process. 


Chris Daughtry didn't win his season either

Chris Daughtry was the favorite to win Season 5 of "American Idol" from the early days of the competition. It was for that reason that fans were so shocked to see him go after the top 4. Daughtry found himself in the bottom 2 with Katharine McPhee, who would end up coming in second that season. When it was announced that he was going home, fans, judges, and competitors alike were totally shocked (via YouTube). 


After the show, angry voters took to the internet and called in with complaints. They claimed that when calling in to vote for Daughtry, they were being redirected to vote for McPhee in some cases (via Today). Fans may have been bummed to see Daughtry go, but his career didn't end that night. He went on to sell millions of records after his time on the show and even appeared on "The Masked Singer" as the Rottweiler in 2019 (per Yahoo!).

Michael Johns was an early fan favorite whose fans were a little too confident

Michael Johns captured hearts early on in Season 7 of "American Idol." When he made it to the top 8, fans were already certain he had the competition on lock. As a result, Johns was one of several contestants in "Idol" history to suffer an early send-home. He went home straight out of the top 8 in a shocker following his first time in the bottom 3. It seemed his fans were so sure he had it, they didn't bother to vote.


"That was a knife twister for sure," he later told Access Hollywood. "It was definitely a shock for me. First time in the bottom three. I definitely didn't see it coming ... hey, it was good television I guess."

Sadly, six years after Johns appeared on "Idol," he died at the age of 35 from an enlarged heart (per Billboard).

Constantine Maroulis didn't make it through Season 4

Constantine Maroulis competed in Season 4 of "American Idol," better known as the season Carrie Underwood took home the title. Maroulis was one of two contestants who had benefited from the show upping its age limit to 28. He was immediately recognized as one of the fan favorites for his charismatic rocker persona.


The judges were perhaps the most shocked at the decision to vote Maroulis out of the top 6. Judge Paula Abdul was seen crying alongside Maroulis' mother in the audience. 

It wasn't the end for Maroulis, however. Not only did he continue to have a successful career in music, but he also became the first "American Idol" contestant to be nominated for a Tony in 2009, when he was honored for his role in "Rock Of Ages" (per Broadway World).

None of the judges agreed with Tamyra Gray's surprising elimination

In Season 1 of "American Idol," the elimination of frontrunner Tamyra Gray was met with a wave of boos and screams from the audience after Ryan Seacrest announced the surprising results. When it came time for the judges to address Gray for the last time, each stated their dissatisfaction with the night's outcome. Randy Jackson told Gray that he was "very disappointed for the first time," going on to call Gray a "superstar," while Paula Abdul reaffirmed her shock at Gray's removal. Even Simon Cowell, known for being incredibly blunt with the contestants, stated that he firmly believed the public voted wrong, calling the singer "world class."


Since her elimination, Gray has proved that her talent is nothing to scoff at. She's gone on to release a debut album and has made numerous television and film appearances. In a 2005 interview with Black Film, Gray discussed her journey. In regards to her elimination on "Idol," the entertainer said she wasn't "upset" by the results. "If I had won, I wouldn't have been able to do any of this [acting]." Over the course of her acting career (via IMDb), Gray played Aisha Clemens in seven episodes of "Boston Public" and had roles in shows like "Half & Half," "Tru Calling," and "What I Like About You." She was also in the films "The Gospel" and "Rachel Getting Married." Most recently, Gray was in "All Rise" and "The Rookie."


Tori Kelly got cut from the Top 24

Nowadays, singer, songwriter, and actor Tori Kelly boasts an impressive entertainment resume which includes two Grammy wins and appearing on the reality series "The Masked Singer" as the Seahorse. However, back in 2010, Kelly appeared on Season 9 of "American Idol" as a contestant, singing John Mayer's "Gravity" in a captivating performance that sent her off to the next round of voting, impressing all the judges except Simon Cowell. However, despite her obvious talent, Kelly was shockingly eliminated during Hollywood week, being cut when the Top 24 was turned into the Top 12.


Since then, Kelly has proved that her voice is far from the "almost annoying" label that was given to her by Cowell after her audition. Kelly has made numerous notable accomplishments in the industry. Her 2015 debut album, "Unbreakable Smile," reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200. As stated above, Kelly also won two Grammys, one for "Hiding Place," which earned her Best Gospel Album, and one for her single "Never Alone," which received the award for Best Gospel Performance/Song. In a 2018 Glamour article, Kelly stated this about her career: "I'm so glad I didn't compromise who I am, how I dress, or my beliefs, because now I get to stand onstage and I literally get to be myself."

Corey Clark was disqualified

He might not have been eliminated from "American Idol" in the traditional sense, but Corey Clark's leave from the show still took fans by surprise. After making it to the final nine, Clark was dismissed after Fox learned that Clark had failed to share information about a prior arrest and misdemeanor charges of battery and resisting arrest. According to MTV News, Fox said, "The producers and network feel that Corey's behavior warrants his disqualification." In addition, the site stated that at the time, Clark had become well known for nearly "blowing" his semifinalist audition, choosing to party instead of rehearsing for the show.


Shockingly, Clark's story became even more bizarre after the singer made allegations claiming to have had a romance with one of the judges. In a 2005 article, MTV News reported that Clark claimed he had a three-month affair with Paula Abdul, stating that the relationship started after an elimination round on "Idol." He also insinuated that Abdul gave him tips to impress fellow judge Jackson. For her part, Abdul denied the claims. Later in 2013, The Hollywood Reporter stated that Clark was attempting to sue Fox, E! Entertainment, and law firms Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and Morrison & Foerster for defamation regarding comments made on Clark's disqualification and the alleged fling. Additional lawsuits against MTV News and Viacom were reported as ongoing. The Hollywood Reporter stated that Clark had lost his lawsuits against MTV News and Viacom the following year.


Malaya Watson's eliminations greatly upset fans and Idol alumni

In Season 13 of "American Idol," Malaya Watson's elimination caused upset among fans and "Idol" alumni. As reported by Parade, Watson was voted out after receiving the lowest number of votes for her performance of Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire," which received fairly positive reception from the judges. Unfortunately for Watson, the "Judges Save" had already been used previously on fellow contestant Sam Woolf. In an exit interview, Watson told The Hollywood Reporter that she would miss both the contestants and performing on the "Idol" stage, calling the experience "awesome."


Fans weren't the only ones disappointed to see Watson eliminated. Judge Jennifer Lopez praised Watson's talents, saying, "As far as God given talent, as far as voices go, she's probably the best here." Lopez also factored in Watson's age in relation to her work as an artist. "You need time to learn control, you need time to learn your voice. She's just learning herself." Finishing with the statement, "I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot from her in the future." Perhaps even more upset by the news than the judges was former contestant Jessica Sanchez. The "Idol" alumni voiced her displeasure on Twitter, stating, "Mad about it. @MalayaTinaB should have been safe. #idoldisagree."

Melinda Doolittle didn't make it to the finale

In Season 6 of "Idol," both fans and the judges were shocked when Ryan Seacrest announced that Melinda Doolittle would not be moving on to the finale. The audience responded with shouts, and the camera caught the look of shock on the face of fellow contestant and future season winner Jordin Sparks. Ryan Seacrest went on to call Doolittle "one of our best singers ever," telling the performer that her future was bright and filled with plenty of "good things." Afterward, all the judges went on to praise Doolittle. Randy Jackson called her the "most consistent," Paula Abdul predicted that Doolittle's future career would be "huge," and Simon Cowell called her "one heck of a singer."


A Today article addressing the elimination even referred to her as the "best contestant," citing the judges' steady praise of Doolittle's performances and their shock of her elimination as proof that the singer should have made it to the finale. As predicted, Doolittle has made notable achievements since leaving "Idol." She went on to release her debut album, "Coming Back to You," in 2009, and a follow-up album in 2013. She has performed at notable venues, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The White House, and Carnegie Hall. The artist has even ventured into acting and is credited as Cassie Cassava in "VeggieTales: Twas the Night Before Easter."

Colton Dixon was shockingly eliminated in Season 11

In a surprising Season 11 elimination, Colton Dixon ended up with the lowest amount of votes. Due to the "Judges Save" being used the prior week to save Jessica Sanchez, he had no chance of redemption and was ultimately sent packing. The results surprised many viewers, considering Dixon had been considered a frontrunner, and before that week, had never been in the bottom three. Still, Dixon responded to the announcement gracefully, claiming that he "needed to apologize" for the previous night, saying that he "wasn't himself." An article by affirmed the shocking news, stating that Dixon had been considered a fan favorite for his "alternative takes on popular hits."


In a follow-up interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Dixon stated that he'd expected to be in the bottom that week, knowing that he'd "strayed too far from who I was," acknowledging that he'd "turned off" his fans by choosing a Lady Gaga song. He further explained this opinion, stating that even though he had nothing against Lady Gaga or the music choice, "it wasn't quite me" before stressing the importance of choosing the right song for an "Idol" performance. He finished by saying he would redo the experience over again if given a chance, calling his journey on the series "amazing."

James Durbin surprised fans when he was eliminated

Despite being a consistent performer and a fan favorite, James Durbin was voted off Season 10 of "Idol" in a shocking elimination that saw the artist finish in fourth place. After receiving a round of applause, Ryan Seacrest stated that the show was "blessed" to have Durbin and, after his final performance, called him "the reason why we do this show." The camera also showed Jennifer Lopez crying as she gave the rocker a standing ovation. Said Durbin, "I did so much stuff that's never been done on this show before. ... In my eyes, in my mind and what I believe is that I did what I came here to do, and that was to give metal a chance."


Since his surprise exit from "Idol," the artist has continued to follow his passion. Durbin went on to release his debut album, "Memories of a Beautiful Disaster" in 2011, and the heavy metal lover has performed with notable musical creatives including Stevie Wonder, Don Was, Sheryl Crow, and Tom Jones, in addition to plenty of other well-known artists. In a recent interview with Lookout Santa Cruz, Durbin spoke about settling down in his hometown after living in Nashville from 2017 to 2019 during his time with the band Quiet Riot. The performer continues to craft new music, with his latest album, "The Beast Awakens," expected to release in February.

Siobhan Magnus' elimination shocked viewers

In Season 9, "American Idol" viewers were shocked when fan-favorite Siobhan Magnus was eliminated. While receiving a standing ovation from the audience, Ryan Seacrest said Magnus had "an independent spirit, laser focus, incredible work ethic." After her final performance, Randy Jackson said to Magnus, "I think that you got an amazing career in front of you." Later, an MTV News article reflected on Magnus' departure, saying that the results came as a huge surprise, considering "Idol" critics had expected fellow contestant Michael Lynche to be the one to go home.


Later, during an interview on KRKZ's "Steve and Janet" show with other "Idol" finalists, Magnus voiced some previously unmentioned issues she'd had during her time on the show. First, Magnus stated that her opinion of Simon Cowell differed from the other seasons' contestants, because she was on Cowell's last season on the series. "It was so obvious to us that mentally he was already moved on to the next show," she said. Magnus went on to call his behavior "offensive" and criticized his criticisms of her, saying they were mostly based on her appearance and not her singing.