The Top-Earning American Idols
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 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.”
In Pictures: The Top-Earning American Idols
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 top-earning Idols 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 in Idol’s seventh season, performed 116 shows around the world in 12 months; Daughtry played 53 dates in support of album Leave This Town. The top ten money-making Idol alums 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, 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 ten earners are actual Idol champs. One of the show’s most successful alums is Jennifer Hudson, who finished seventh in Season Three but banked $2 million on the strength of new album I Remember Me and a gig as a spokesperson for Weight Watchers.
Though many former Idols 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 winners’ vote totals often rival those of presidential candidates. Some industry observers have estimated that the Idol generates $1 billion in total revenue per year.
“It’s a money-making machine,” says Adam Kluger, president of brand partnership company the Kluger Agency. “It’s like having the Super Bowl every week.”
Additional reporting by Maxwell Coffey.