Although Carrie Underwood emphasized her dedication to country music as soon as she won American Idol, she’s certainly not the only one who found success in Nashville after the show. Here are 10 finalists who met an enthusiastic audience among country fans.
Crystal Bowersox, Season 9
On her first Grand Ole Opry visit in February, she was watching from the wings — until Vince Gill invited her onstage to sing. Clutching her acoustic guitar, she stood in the famed circle and sang “Mine All Mine,” a song written for her husband. The impromptu performance earned a standing ovation. In addition, her striking “Farmer’s Daughter” video landed in rotation on CMT.
Kelly Clarkson, Season 1
Just a few weeks ago, Clarkson scored her first No. 1 country hit with “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” a potent duet on Jason Aldean’s platinum album, My Kinda Party. In addition, “Because of You” (a confessional track from her multiplatinum pop album Breakaway) became a surprise country hit as an emotional duet with one of her musical heroes, Reba McEntire.
Bucky Covington, Season 5
This cheerful North Carolina native reached No. 6 on Billboard’s country songs chart with his debut single, “A Different World.” He followed that with satisfying singles like “It’s Good to Be Us” and “I’ll Walk” but suffered a serious blow when his Disney-owned record label shuttered. This spring, he’s targeting small cities on his Hometown tour, named for his latest single. He’s currently at work on new music.
Diana DeGarmo, Season 3
If you caught the touring production of 9 to 5: The Musical, you couldn’t miss DeGarmo charming the audience as bubbly secretary Doralee Rhodes. Of course, that film role — and the infectious title song — was created by Dolly Parton. You could say DeGarmo is learning from the best. The upbeat Georgia native also appeared in CMT’s Gone Country with John Rich.
Danny Gokey, Season 8
A former truck driver with a recently-deceased wife, this Milwaukee singer stood apart on Idol with his soulful voice and stylish eyeglasses. “My Best Days Are Ahead of Me” and “I Will Not Say Goodbye” cracked the country Top 40, and he’s now working on a new project. After introducing himself to Sugarland’s fans on tour, he’ll be opening select shows for Taylor Swift this summer.
Josh Gracin, Season 2
The first American Idol contestant to land a No. 1 country hit, the former Marine topped the chart with his second single, “Nothin’ to Lose,” in 2004. His other Top 10 hits include “I Want to Live,” “Stay With Me (Brass Bed)” and “We Weren’t Crazy.” He’s working with indie label Average Joe’s Entertainment to relaunch his career after an extended chart absence.
Casey James, Season 9
A guitar-slinger from Fort Worth, Texas, James may incorporate his blues influence into his country debut, due later this year on Sony Music/19 Recordings. Curious fans will get a sneak peek as he tours with Sugarland or during a free show in Las Vegas prior to the ACM Awards .
Kellie Pickler, Season 5
A sparkling personality and a powerful voice helped this pretty North Carolina native land a record deal in Nashville. She kick-started her career with “Red High Heels” and landed her first Top 10 with “The Best Day,” a song she wrote with her pal, Taylor Swift. An avid Dolly Parton fan, Pickler has suggested that her upcoming album will have a traditional country influence.
Chris Sligh, Season 6
As he makes progress in the contemporary Christian market, this singer-songwriter landed a No. 1 hit by co-writing Rascal Flatts’ “Here Comes Goodbye.” Although eliminated early, Sligh realized his goal of joining the American Idols Live tour. He lives in Nashville with his growing family and blogs on his website about the ups and downs of the music business.
Carrie Underwood, Season 4
She sure ain’t in Checotah anymore. This all-American girl from Oklahoma has emerged as one of the most recognizable country artists on the charts today, ultimately earning an invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry in 2008. And nearly every time she accepts an award (virtually a full-time job itself), she graciously thanks American Idol and its viewers for giving her a chance.