Skip to comments.American Idolís Biggest Money Winners (Tracking the past idol contestants who made the most money)
Posted on 05/20/2010 9:13:25 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
While millions of fans focus on Crystal Bowersox’s high notes, Lee DeWyze’s guitar playing, and Simon Cowell’s last gasps of snark, MoneyWatch is, well, watching the money. By that measure, it hardly matters who wins next Wednesday — if they manage life after Idol correctly, the two finalists stand to earn millions of dollars each. Previous Idol winners such as Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood have gone on to become mega-selling, globe-touring, award-winning stars, while even contestants that haven’t won, such as Chris Daughtry and Jennifer Hudson, have gone on to become top-earning performers.
“You can rest on having been on American Idol for years,” says Joel Peresman, CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation. Exactly how much cash do Crystal and Lee stand to rake in? Based on the experience of past Idols, seven figures is likely, and it’s quite possible they’ll rake in tens of millions of dollars. Not bad for a couple of crooners no one had ever heard of four months ago.
Post-competition, Idol contestants can make gobs of money from everything from album sales and downloads to concert tours, product endorsements, movies and TV shows, Broadway plays, and personal appearances. To be sure, while being a winner on Idol does guarantee a few things — a recording contract with production company19 Entertainment, for one, massive publicity for another — it doesn’t guarantee a successful long-term career. “Votes don’t always equal sales,” points out Dave Bakula, senior vice president of analytics at album sales tracker Nielsen SoundScan.
Will this year’s winner end up more like Kelly Clarkson, the first season’s winner, or that year’s runner-up Justin Guarini, who’s more likely to appear at local festivals and parades these days than sold-out mega-arenas? MoneyWatch takes a closer look at some of Idol’s most successful past contestants to get some clues.
A decade after American Idol premiered, its first winner is still considered one of its best. Since her first album came out in 2003, Clarkson has sold 11 million albums and 16 million track downloads in the U.S, according to Nielsen SoundScan. And she’s probably earned at least another $20 million from tour grosses and endorsement deals from ProActiv, VitaminWater, and NASCAR among other sponsors. .
When farm girl Carrie Underwood first auditioned for Season 4, judge Simon Cowell said, “I’m surprised we haven’t found a good country singer yet.” But he was looking at one. Underwood went on to not only win AI, but become a future multiple country awards winner, multiple Grammy winner, and inductee into the Grand Ole Opry. Her three albums have produced several number one singles and sold 11 million albums in the U.S. and 15 million downloads. Forbes estimated that she was the highest-earning AI alum in 2009.
Aiken surprised everyone. First, he lost season 2 to Ruben Studdard. Second, he outsold the winner by 100,000 copies with the release of his debut single, God Bless the USA. His debut album, Measure Of a Man, went on to sell 3 million copies and his second album, Merry Christmas with Love, did almost as well. He subsequently starred in Spamalot on Broadway. After disappointing sales of his 2008 record On My Way Here, Aiken split with his label, RCA. Nevertheless, Forbes estimated he earned $2.2 million in 2009. He is currently on tour with none other than Ruben Studdard.
Despite not getting any further than seventh place in AI’s third season, Hudson is the only AI finalist who has gone on to a credible acting career — in fact, she won an Oscar, for Best Supporting Actress in her role in 2006’s Dreamgirls. She reportedly beat out AI winner Fantasia for the part. Her eponymous debut album won a Grammy and has sold 800,000 copies, and she’s scored lucrative endorsement deals with Gap and Avon. She also starred in the hit films Sex and the City and The Secret Life of Bees. She’s currently filming Winnie, a film about Nelson Mandela’s wife, in South Africa, and a second album is expected later this year.
Judge Simon Cowell thought he had “no charisma” and didn’t vote to send him to the next round after his first audition in Season 5. But Daughtry got the best revenge: His eponymous rock band far outsold winner Taylor Hicks’ album — 5 million to 700,000. After his fourth place finish, Daughtry signed with AI producer Simon Fuller’s Entertainment 19. His two albums have sold 6 million copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan.
“Glambert” may have lost out last season to the more sedate Kris Allen, but he’s the one who snagged the cover of Rolling Stone (in which he confirmed he was gay), and still generates most of the buzz. His album, For Your Entertainment, debuted at number 3 on the Billboard 100, and has since sold over 600,000 copies and an astounding 2.6 million downloads, easily banking him $1 million. His single, “Whataya Want From Me” was co-written by Pink and hit number one. He is currently on the Glam Nation Tour.
Season 7’s winner, David Cook, has come a long way since his first album, the self-produced Analog Heart, sold a few thousand copies. After winning AI, his next album sold 1.3 million copies. He broke a Billboard 100 record (previously set by Miley Cyrus) by having eleven songs simultaneously appear on the charts.
Season 3’s winner went on to have a smash debut, Free Yourself, which sold more than 1.8 million copies, with her first single debuting at number one on the Billboard 100. Fantasia was cast as the lead by Oprah Winfrey in the Broadway adaptation of The Color Purple, and is set to star in the upcoming film musical. She also has her own VH1 reality series, Fantasia For Real. Her next album is scheduled for sometime this year.
No matter who comes in second, Crystal and Lee can take solace in the fact that even the least successful of the Idol contestants can still make bank. Ten years after finishing as a runner-up to Kelly Clarkson in the show’s first season, curly-haired Justin Guarini is still doing live events and parades that likely earn him thousands of dollars a pop. Glamorous it ain’t, but until someone pays you a thousand bucks to march down Main Street, it’s nothing to smirk at.
On American Idol, no one really loses.
I have album credits on 3 major labels (vocals & piano), and a major studio movie soundtrack (piano). I have worked with and for the biggest heads of A&R and Executive V.P.'s from RCA Records, Metal Blade Records, EMI, Sony BMG and Warner Music Group.
Siobhan Magnus was the only "Idol" contestant in 5 years to give me goosebumps, and she did it 3 times. That she isn't in at least the final 2 (if not the hands-down winner!) is a tragic condemnation of the imbeciles who vote for the eventual slop that passes as an "American Idol."
Siobhan will go on to have a phenomenal carreer in music, theater and movies. Simon Cowell's typical Brit loathing for all things Irish cost his pathetic show 5-10 points in Nielsen ratings (during Sweeps Week!) after Siobhan got dumped (largely due to Simon's repeatedly bashing her outstanding performances).
Time wounds all heels. Cowell's the kind who likes to find out the hard way.
Saw Daughtry last month in concert. Great show!!
You are far more seasoned than me in the music biz. I also believe she has great potential, but still somewhat raw. I actually had said early on that she could be a dark horse in this if she makes progress. I personally didn’t feel like she did make the progress needed to win this during the season, but I share your view that she has a bright future.
FYI..ping the list?
Siobhan, really? first of all, you seem to be missing the whole point of AI. It is not just a reality show, but the shows’ producers are trying to find a singing artist who will make them money in the long run. It’s a commercial enterprise, and nothing wrong with that. So of course you want the artist who gets the most votes. the most votes more likely than not translates to more album sales, what’s wrong with that?
I agree that Siobhan might have had vocal range, but she seems awfully strange to me, and lacks personality and charisma. Remember, we are trying to find a commercially successful artist.
You can put any young opera singer against any AI contestant, and I guarantee you the opera singer will blow them all out of the water in vocals. But, will the opera singer be commercial? Unlikely.
Michael lynche has good vocals, but he has a style and voice more like Michael Bolton and Luther Vandross. All good vocals yes, but when was the last time you bought a Bolton or Vandross album? Nuff said.
For AI, you gotta have the whole package of vocal ability, charisma, and sounding “current”. Crystal is great, but Lee Dewyze is the whole package, this guy puts feeling into his singing, and he takes the case in humility. The guy is just so appreciative of any success he gets, a true success story. His versions of The Boxer and Hallelejah gave me chills. He is the true AI.
‘Idol’ has really gotten strange this season. While the producers clearly play favorites, they seem a lot more obvious about it this year (they basically handed Lee his “big moment” this week - with a song Simon Cowell now owns the rights to, oddly enough).
Siobhan has great potential, but she’s still rough around the edges and clearly wasn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Crystal is talented too, but she’s a little more familiar/relatable to the average person. Lee fits so snugly into the Daughtry/Cook mold that the producers don’t even have to think about how to promote him. The voters may have put these two in the finals, but it’s no accident that it ended up being the same two who could provide maximum return for minimal effort, marketing-wise. And by that token, I don’t think it will be an accident if Crystal is just “off” enough to end up in second place next week.
Her vocal range goes from a Roger Daltry scream to a Leontyne Price double-high-C operata in a heartbeat, and you think she's a "rough" talent? Wow. How very discerning of you. That's some demanding ear you've got, there.
< snicker >
Uh, no. American Idol premiered in May, 2002, exactly eight years ago. Where the writer is getting a decade/10 years, I have no clue.
Hudson has some salary from, IIRC, 3 movies.
She’s young and inconsistent. She’s got a great set of pipes, just needs a a little vocal coaching. Plus at times, depending on dress and make-up for the day, she’s better looking than the others.
She sang Paint It Back on the Letterman Show the week after she was cut. She absolutely nailed ir and you could see appreciation in the faces of the Shaffer band members.
Riiiiight. Like Pavarotti...
Yeah I agree. The problem is Siobhan doesn’t understand how to use her voice yet. She really has a horrible low register only because she doesn’t know when or how to use it properly.
I didn't watch every show this year but I liked Siobhan when I saw her. I liked the song she sang on Shania Twain Night. She hit notes on that song that Shania would or could never hit.
I know you’re a Daughtry fan and Season 5 rivalry is over and Daughtry clearly won the commercial battle over Taylor Hicks.
But for those who think Taylor is not a success, get a load of this....
Taylor Hicks Is Laughing All The Way to the Bank
Now that ‘American Idol’ is once again down to the top two, we’ll be seeing a lot of those ‘Idol’ lists. Most successful ‘Idols,’ most album sales, fan favorites. There’s only so many times we can read about Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, no?
Well ‘Idol’ success comes in lots of shapes and sizes. You have the Carrie and Kelly set. They’ve each sold over 10 million albums and reached superstar status.
There’s the Chris Daughtry business model, which involves consistently churning out good albums that sell well to a certain group of fans. It’s more modest than Kelly and Carrie’s model, but it has still made Daughtry a household name and a millionaire many times over. Then there’s the Taylor Hicks business model.
Hicks is often unfairly derided for the path he has taken after ‘Idol.’ Last year, the New York Times kicked off a story about ‘Idol’ success using Hicks as a cautionary tale. “It is doubtful that any of the remaining 24 contestants on ‘American Idol’ hope that they will be playing the Teen Angel in a touring production of ‘Grease’ in Milwaukee three years from now. But that’s what Taylor Hicks, the 2006 ‘American Idol’ winner, is doing. And it shows that winning the most popular talent competition in the country is no guarantee of superstardom,” the Times wrote.
And it’s true that winning ‘Idol’ is no guarantee of superstardom, but I think any of the ‘Idol’ constestants would be pleased as punch to be pulling in, according to insiders, the $3.5 million that Hicks has brought in during the past 18 months for his tour, album and merchandise sales and appearance fees.
Hicks’ business model is different from those of other ‘Idol’ contenders. He has been on the road since he won ‘Idol’ in 2006. His things are still packed away in boxes in his parent’s basement.
Hitting the road means building a fan base, and from those 18 months of touring, Hicks has made personal contact with nearly 1.1 million fans in 48 cities across the country. That number becomes 2 million if you factor in personal appearances.
After each performance of ‘Grease,’ Hicks performs a song off his album, ‘The Distance,’ for the audience. They can buy his music and his merchandise in the lobby. And since that album is under his own label, he sees more than 50% returns on each sale, at least 30% higher than an artist signed with a label. Since the start of the tour, more than 100,000 copies of ‘The Distance’ and a second album off Hicks’ label, ‘Early Works,’ have moved — half of those hand delivered from Taylor.
You can’t buy better publicity than that. And he still gets paid in the five figure range for appearances. Not too shabby.
“Four years after winning ‘Idol,’ I still have fans who are interested in my endeavors,” Hicks told me the other day as he was preparing to do his final show on the ‘Grease’ tour. “I don’t think that success should be measured by how many records you sell, but by how many lives you can touch.”
And the lives Hicks has touched will translate into a lucrative fan base for his next project. Hicks is now mulling television and movie projects that he plans to pursue once he gets off the road, gets a place of his own and settles into a nearly normal life.
“The success that Broadway has given me has allowed me to be able to parlay that into music, some television and film, but I think you have to pick the right role and it has to be the kind of role that will bring along my fans, the ‘Idol’ fans and the ‘Grease’ fans,” Hicks said.
One of the most valuable assets for any celebrity is the intangible strength of their brand. It is paramount to make sure that this brand is properly managed along the way to maximize value and brand equity. For an artist who wins ‘Idol,’ the value of their brand is determined by the customer. The brand value creation process begins at the moment that the celebrity makes contact with the consumer.
“I think winning ‘Idol’ allows you the opportunity to become a household name and after that you have to have a hard work ethic. The branding process begins when you start the show, and a win gives you an opportunity to take that in any direction you want. There are ups and downs and peaks and valleys obviously, but if you work hard it will pay off,” Hicks said.
So sometimes an ‘Idol’ win isn’t a golden ticket, but it’s a good place to start. The hard work comes in translating the win into marketplace dollars. Hicks’ strategy of fan building may look like a slow burn now, but he’s laughing all the way to the bank.
I’m glad, I liked Taylor Hicks too. Seems to be a nice guy. :)
“He is currently on the Glam Nation Tour.”
I know he’s not for everyone, but I saw Adam on Monday night in Columbus with Alison Arahita (sp?), and Orianthi.....absolutely AMAZING sold out show! I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to see him perform in a ‘smaller’ venue while we still have the chance to do so. The audience was mostly 30-60 yr. old women, many with their husbands ;), a few tweenies, and a few gays, but not many. People were lined up all day to get in and then dropping like flies and having to be carried out throughout the show. Seems the label provided him with just about anything he could want....the vocals, dancers, and costuming were great. He is quite an entertainer and seemed sincerely appreciative of the audience’s praise. Many, many videos of tour posted on YouTube.
Is Adam Lambert the male version of Lady Gaga ?
So they say, but I don’t think so. Though Adam can be flamboyant at times, I ‘get’ Adam, I don’t ‘get’ Gaga. Maybe I’m just too old to appreciate her. And, while Adam’s performances (makeup and costuming) may be over the top, his music is, IMO, more mainstream and easier for me to relate to. He does perform a song written by her...it’s called ‘Fever’...and I like his version better.
Adam Lambert - Fever (MTV UK Session)
I reckon this show has one more season left and it will be gone by 2012.
I was reading an old American Idol thread and came across this.....It is still on. I say it has another 5 or more years in it. It will end when Ryan Seacrest leaves though.
The show has not been the same without Simon Cowell. Love him or hate him, he brought color and wit to the show and people tune in not only to watch the performances, but also to hear his quips and what the insult du jour would be.
The show peaked in Season 5 ( Taylor Hick’s season ) and it has been slowly downhill from there.
Be that as it may... many other TV shows would KILL for their ratings even now.