The Reality TV Singing Competition Show American Idol has become a cult classic in the history of American Television since its inception in 2002. The seventeen seasons of American Idol have produced several big stars in the music industry from its’ winners including Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Fantasia Barrino, David Cook, and Jordin Sparks. The show has also produced some shocking eliminations of several contestants who would go on to enjoy the same successes the winners listed above have enjoyed.
These eliminations have resulted in outcries from fans and left the judges speechless on some occasions. The shocking ousters of some fan-favorites in earlier seasons of American Idol lead to the creation of The Judges’ Save in Season 8 (explained more in detail below).
With that being said, these are the 17 Most Shocking Eliminations Ever on American Idol:
17. Tori Kelly (Season 9):
Tori Kelly’s elimination (see the clip below) is the only one on this list that didn’t happen on the Live Shows (semi-Finals or finals) stages of American Idol. On Season 9 of the hit show, Kelly was cut in the Green Mile episode (The final round of Hollywood Week where those make it to the end of that week find out who makes it the semi-finals, the start of the live shows).
Despite the rejection, Kelly didn’t give up on her dreams as she ended up winning two Grammys (out of three nominations) in 2019. She is perhaps the most successful contestant from American Idol Season 9, even more than Katie Stevens, the most successful contestant from those who made the Top 12 that year. Stevens has managed to have a great acting career with lead roles on the TV Shows Faking It and The Bold Type.
16. Siobhan Magnus (Season 9):
On Season 9 of American Idol, Siobhan Magnus was a fan-favorite for vocal range and dramatic performances, which led Judge Kara DioGuardi to compare her to Adam Lambert, the runner-up of the previous season. Her elimination during the Top 6 Week came as surprise to fans and even the judges. It was later reported that a phone number listed on a Facebook page was not the number to vote for Magnus, but the number to vote for eventual fifth-place finisher Aaron Kelly. After an unsuccessful petition to allow Magnus to rejoin the competition, her fans vowed not to watch the rest of the season. Coincidentally, the Top 5 Performances and Result Show episodes the following week (where Kelly was voted off) resulted in American Idol receiving its lowest ratings since Season 1 in 2002.
15. Laci Kaye Booth (Season 17):
On the most recent season of American Idol, Laci Kaye Booth (on the right) and Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon (on the left) were the ones to be booted off during the Top 6 Week. However, the judges controversially used their only save of the season on Booth, resulting in the latter to be eliminated in sixth place. She became the second-ever female recipient of The Judges’ Save, after Season 11 Runner-up Jessica Sanchez. However, Booth didn’t follow Sanchez’s path in making the finale as she was voted off (this time for good) the following week, finishing Season 17 in fourth-fifth place with Wade Cota.
14. Corey Clark (Season 2):
The ouster of Corey Clark on Season 2 of American Idol makes this list because he technically wasn’t even eliminated! Instead, Clark was disqualified for not telling the producers while signing show contracts about his arrest for assaulting his younger sister. In addition, his rumored affair with Judge Paul Abdul (which she later denied) was rumored to be another reason why he was kicked off. His disqualification left him finishing ninth overall on American Idol that year. As a result of his sudden dismissal, no one was actually eliminated that week.
13. Malaya Watson (Season 13):
The ouster of Malaya Watson, the eighth-place finisher on American Idol Season 13, caused a huge outrage from fans and even American Idol Alumni and reviewers. Many viewed Watson as a front-runner who had the potential to win that year. When she was eliminated, many felt that “The Judges’ Save” (which can only be used once before the Top 5 Week and has to be unanimous) should have been used to save her. However, the reason why the judges didn’t use “The Judge’s Save” on her was due to the fact they used it the previous week on fellow contestant Sam Woolf (who ended up finishing fifth overall). As Watson was singing her farewell song post-elimination, Judge Jennifer Lopez was in tears, who later stated that she wished she could do something about Watson’s ouster. Meanwhile, Jessica Sanchez, the runner-up and also the recipient of “The Judges’ Save” on Season 11 (see #11) expressed her anger and frustration over Watson’s elimination on Twitter.
12. Danny Gokey (Season 8):
Throughout Season 8 of American Idol, everyone, including the judges, was expecting the finale to be a showdown between fan-favorites Danny Gokey and Adam Lambert. The fans and judges almost got their dream finale match-up until Gokey was surprisingly the one sent home a week before the finale. The result left the judges speechless as Gokey was not only a fan-favorite for his talent but also his emotional backstory of his wife passing away a month prior to his initial audition.
Reflecting back on that season, had both Gokey and Lambert made the finale, the result of who would win and who would be the runner-up could have gone either way. However, with Gokey eliminated and finishing third overall, many fans now expected that the winner of American Idol Season 8 crown would be won by Lambert. However, in the finale the following week, Kris Allen, the other contestant in the Top 3 with Gokey and Lambert, was surprisingly announced as the winner, a result that left everyone (including Allen-himself) even more speechless.
11. Jessica Sanchez (Season 11):
Like Season 2 Contestant Corey Clark (See #14) and Season 17 Contestant Laci Kaye Booth, Jessica Sanchez also makes this despite not being eliminated technically. Unlike Clark, Sanchez (and Booth) wasn’t disqualified from American Idol. During the Top 7 Results Show on American Idol Season 11, Sanchez landed in the Bottom 3 with fellow contestants Joshua Ledet and Elise Testone. Ledet was the first to be sent to safety, but everyone was stunned when Host Ryan Seacrest announced that person in danger of leaving (The Judges’ Save had yet to be used at that point) was Sanchez! In the clip below, Sanchez is performing her “Last-Chance” song and shortly after she began performing, the judges rushed the stage and cut her performance off to announce that they were going to use “The Judges’ Save” on her.
This meant no one was going home that week and also Sanchez made American Idol history as the first female recipient of “The Judges’ Save” since its inception on Season 8. Sanchez went on to finish second overall on American Idol Season 11 and as of today, she is the only “Judges’ Save” recipient to make the finale.
10. Colton Dixon (Season 11):
Although the judges used their only “Judges’ Save” on Jessica Sanchez on Season 11, nobody was prepared for another shocking elimination the following week! On the Top 7 Results Show #2, fans were stunned to learn that Colton Dixon, another frontrunner to win American Idol that year, was the one eliminated. Prior to his elimination, Dixon had never been in the Bottom 3 before. Traditionally when “The Judges’ Save” is used, it means that two contestants get booted off the following week. In a shocking twist, Hollie Cavanagh (who had the second-lowest number of votes that week and eventually finished fourth overall) wasn’t also given the boot along with Dixon.
9. Michael Johns (Season 7):
The fan-favorite (from the contestant in the Bottom 3 in the photo below, on the left) from Season 7 was eliminated in the Top 8 Week and his ouster left everyone speechless. Johns’s elimination is another classic case of American Idol fans not sending enough votes for their favorite contestant, convinced that they will still get votes from millions of others around the country.
8. Angie Miller (Season 12):
Angie Miller was the one to beat on American Idol Season 12but was ultimately ousted one week before the finale. Her elimination not only left her in tears but also Candice Glover (the eventual winner) and Kree Harrison (the eventual runner-up), the two finale-bound contestants as well.
7. James Durbin (Season 10):
Season 10 of American Idol was the first season without original judge Simon Cowell and many believed that rocker James Durbin would win the competition that year. However, he was eliminated in the Top 4 Results Shows and performed his farewell song in tears. His ouster also left Judge Jennifer Lopez in tears. No disrespect to the eventual American Idol Season 10 winner Scotty McCreery, I still believe James Durbin should have won or at least made the final two with Lauren Alaina (the eventual runner-up) that year.
6. Pia Toscano (Season 10):
Although she was eliminated before her fellow Season 10 competitor James Durbin (see above) was, Pia Toscano’s elimination ranks higher compared to Durbin’s because she was eliminated ninth overall! The result caused outrage and shock from fans to the judges and the eight surviving contestants.
The judges couldn’t use the Judges’ Save on her as it had already been used two weeks prior on what was then Season 10’s most shocking elimination Casey Abrams (who ended up finishing sixth overall). Toscano’s elimination even had celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher and Tom Hanks shaking their heads as well.
5. Tamyra Gray (Season 1):
We all know Kelly Clarkson won the first season of American Idol. However, before Clarkson was declared the first-ever American Idol, the person who fans thought was going to win Season 1 of the hit show was Tamyra Gray, who finished fourth overall. Her elimination on the Top 4 Results Show was the first of many shocking eliminations on American Idol to come on future seasons. Despite finishing fourth, Gray has gone on to have a successful career as an actress and singer-songwriter. She even helped co-write the coronation song for Fantasia Barrino, the winner of American Idol Season 3.
4. Constantine Maroulis (Season 9):
We all know Carrie Underwood was going to win Season 4 of American Idol, but Constantine Maroulis’s elimination on the Top 6 Results Show left the judges, live studio audience, viewers, and the five surviving contestants in utter shock. Judge Paula Abdul was lost for words and in tears. My mom was even in the studio audience the night Constantine was booted off.
Season 4 of American Idol was the first season where the show’s age limit was increased to 28 years old and Maroulis, along with eventual runner-up Bo Bice were two contestants who benefited from the age limit increase. In addition, many thought Maroulis would make the Top 2 with Underwood or the Top 3.
All the Constantine fans out there, don’t worry as Maroulis as managed to have a successful singing and acting career. He became the first American Idol contestant to ever receive a Tony Nomination in 2009.
3. Melinda Doolittle (Season 6):
No disrespect to Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks, but, Melinda Doolittle’s ouster a week before the finale stunned fans everywhere, even the judges. Sparks was revealed as the first finalist and when Doolittle was told to step forward by Ryan Seacrest, everyone thought that meant she was going to be announced as the second finalist. However, fans started jeering when Seacrest announced that she would not be competing in the finale. Blake Lewis, the third person in the Top 3 with Sparks and Doolittle and the eventual runner-up of Season 6, looked shocked that he had made the final two. After the season ended, Judge Simon Cowell stated that he believed the American Idol Season 6 title should have gone to Melinda!
2. Jennifer Hudson (Season 3):
The future Grammy winner and Oscar winner’s elimination is also one of the most shocking moments in the history of American Idol because of who the other two people in the Bottom 3 with her that week were.
Sir Elton John, who served as a mentor a few weeks prior to Hudson’s ouster, stated that of the contestants left (during the week he was a mentor), the best singers were Jennifer Hudson, La Toya London, and Fantasia Barrino. On American Idol Season 3, the three female African American singers were famously dubbed as “The Three Divas”. However, during the Top 7 Week, to everyone’s surprise, The Three Divas shockingly landed in the Bottom 3. London was the first one sent to safety, followed by Barrino, which resulted in Hudson being the one voted off. Shortly after Hudson’s ouster, Elton John called the result of The Three Divas being in the bottom 3 “Incredibly racist” in an interview. Despite the controversy with The Three Divas landing in the Bottom 3, Barrino went on to win American Idol that year while London finished fourth overall.
1. Chris Daughtry (Season 5):
All of the American Idol fans reading this article probably knew which elimination was going to be ranked as #1. That’s right. Chris Daughtry’s elimination in Season 5 is the most shocking and upsetting in all of American Idol!
Fans of the show were shocked when Daughtry, the favorite to win that season, was shockingly eliminated in fourth place. The result stunned everyone from viewers at home and live studio audience to Daughtry himself to the three surviving contestants to even the judges! From 4:31-4:35 in the video below, the reaction of fellow contestant Katherine McPhee (who eventually finished as the runner-up of Season 5 and was in the bottom 2 with Daughtry that week) represents how everyone felt when Host Ryan Seacrest delivered the result.
After his elimination, some voters claimed that their phone call votes for Daughtry were misrouted to eventual McPhee’s lines as they heard her recorded message of thanking fans for voting for her. Some other cases with the voting issues also included some of the intended votes for Daughtry going to the eventual third-place finisher Elliot Yamin. However, Chris Daughtry not winning Season 5 was probably the best thing to happen to him as he is one of the show’s most successful alumni and people who know who Taylor Hicks (the eventual winner) is only due to his victory on American Idol.