Adam Lambert moving to hug the winner of American Idol Season 8

Who Beat Adam Lambert on American Idol? Answered

Arguably one of the biggest breakout stars from the American Idol bullpen, Adam Lambert achieved post-idol success both with his own music and ongoing collaboration with the remaining active members of the iconic rock band Queen. However, surprisingly, the globetrotting musician was not the winner of his American Idol season. Here’s who beat Lambert for the Idol crown back in 2009.

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Adam Lambert Did Not Win American Idol Season 8

Adam Lambert, Kris Allen, and Ryan Seacrest on the stage of American Idol

Though Lambert’s star power saw its origins on the Idol stage and America’s weekly votes carried him effortlessly to the finale, the vocalist actually ended Season 8 as the runner-up. Jacksonville, Arkansas singer Kris Allen was crowned the winner of American Idol Season 8 to the surprise of many viewers and even Allen himself. Performances such as Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine”, Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love”, and Kanye West’s “Heartless” ranked among Allen’s most memorable moments of the season.  

Allen’s underdog Idol victory was instantly compared to past series’ upsets, such as Taylor Hicks’ win over Katharine McPhee in Season 5 and David Cook beating out David Archuleta in Season 7. During the 2018 election season, McPhee even poked fun at this running American Idol motif, by posting a picture from Season 5’s finale as a tongue-in-cheek means to encourage voters. As with many Idol winners before him, Allen garnered massive support throughout his run from voters in his home state, which inadvertently threw Season 8’s results under some additional scrutiny.

American Idol Fans Developed Conspiracies in the Wake of Season 8’s Outcome

After Allen’s unexpected win in 2009, American Idol fans sought out answers and cast suspicion on the voting numbers coming out of Arkansas. An unsubstantiated claim that nearly 38 million votes for Allen came from Arkansas (a state with a roughly 2.9 million population at the time) led to a conspiracy that phone service provider AT&T contributed to a skewed American Idol finale. Both AT&T and Fox categorically denied these accusations, with the American Idol network firmly standing behind the credibility of the voting results.   

Though Lambert was undoubtedly the fan-favorite to win Season 8 of American Idol, this conspiratorial degree of animosity only existed among a faction of the show’s audience. Many celebrated Allen’s victory, including Lambert himself as the two developed a congenial relationship throughout the course of the competition. Coincidentally, Idol’s finale may have unwittingly served as an audition for Lambert’s latter gig as he and Allen performed “We Are the Champions” alongside the remaining members of Queen during Season 8’s finale.

After American Idol, Allen went on to record several studio albums and had a breakout hit with “Live Like We’re Dying”. Other contestants from Allen and Lambert’s season went on to fruitful music careers, but a few of Season 8’s competitors may now be better recognized for their TV roles, such as Anoop Desai, who played the Djinn on What We Do in the Shadows, and semifinalist Jackie Tohn, who played Melanie “MelRose” Rosen on Netflix’s GLOW.


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Tara McCauley
Nerd at large, Tara McCauley's happiest playing or writing about tabletop role playing games. Tara joined The Escapist in October 2023 as a freelance contributor. She covers such TV shows as Fargo and games/fandoms like Dungeons & Dragons. In addition to The Escapist, Tara has gushed about her favorite pop culture topics at CBR, MXDWN, and Monstrous Femme. When she's not writing or rolling dice, Tara can be found catching up on her favorite sitcoms, curled up with a horror comic, or waxing poetic about the WNBA.