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'American Idol' Top Earners
When it comes to earnings, winning the show isn't
Five years ago Jordin Sparks was just another teenager with dreams
of becoming a singer. Then, in the summer of 2006, she auditioned for "American Idol," and she
became the contest's youngest winner at the age of 17.
She's gone on to record two full-length albums, develop her own clothing line
and star in Broadway's "In the Heights." Her single "No Air," a duet with Chris Brown, has sold 4 million digital copies to
date, making it the best-selling single ever by any "Idol" contestant. Sparks
earned an estimated $3 million dollars last year.
"'American Idol' kick-started me in my career," she says. "It gave me an
amazing fan base money can't buy."
As Sparks knows, the exposure offered by "Idol" is hard to beat -- and
perhaps nobody understands that better than Carrie Underwood, who leads our list of
the "American Idol" top earners with $20 million over the past year.
The country star cashed in on a tour that included over 80 dates in 12 months
and banked as much as the rest of the top five on our list combined.
Adam Lambert and Chris Daughtry share the second spot on our list,
each raking in $6 million. Lambert, the runner-up on the seventh season,
performed 116 shows around the world in 12 months. Daughtry played 53 dates in
support of his album "Leave This Town." The top 10 moneymaking "Idol" alumni
combined to earn $50 million over the past year alone.
These numbers are based on estimated pretax income earned from May 2010 to
May 2011, before subtracting agent and manager fees. The totals were compiled
with the help of data from Pollstar, the RIAA and others, as well as interviews
with industry insiders including managers, concert promoters, publicists, agents
and, in some cases, the musicians themselves.
When it comes to earnings, winning isn't everything. Of the top three
moneymakers on our list, Underwood is the sole contest winner; only five of the
top 10 earners are actual "Idol" champs. One of the show's most successful
alumni is Jennifer Hudson, who finished
seventh in Season 3 but banked $2 million on the strength of new album "I
Remember Me" and a gig as a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers.
Though many former "Idol" stars are cashing in on their fame, their fortunes
are just a small part of the program's economy. "American Idol" has been the top
show in America for eight years in a row, and the winners' vote totals often
rival those of presidential candidates. Some industry observers have estimated
that "Idol" generates $1 billion in total revenue per year.
"It's a moneymaking machine," says Adam Kluger, president of brand
partnership company the Kluger Agency. "It's like having the Super Bowl every
Indeed, rates for 30-second commercial spots for "Idol" have been known to
run as high as $1 million, and the show's executives have struck eight-figure
advertising deals with the likes of Coca-Cola, Ford, Apple and AT&T. In
recent years, though, popularity has showed signs of fading. The 2006 finale's
36 million viewer total has yet to be eclipsed. This year's 20 million total
represented a 7 percent dip from 2010.
Perhaps as a result, prize totals have been lower of late. Season 10 champ
Scotty McCreery received a $250,000 record deal, less than Season 7 runner-up David Archuleta, who was awarded with a $360,000
check. "Idol" gets a big piece of recent alumni's album sales and the nationwide
concert tour that the top contestants embark upon every year after the finale.
"The people that win 'American Idol' are put into 360-degree deals that are
much different than a typical deal," says Kluger. "They're not getting the same
situation an artist like Beyonce would. ... Once you're hot,
though, the dynamic changes."
The real top-earning "Idol" name? Ryan Seacrest, who rode his hosting
gig, endorsements and deals with ClearChannel and Comcast to a $61 million
payday this year. That's more than the earnings of the top 10 combined.