Note to this year's "American Idol" top 24 contestants: Winning is great, but even if you don't make it to May, you could bank some serious cash by just making it to the top five. That's according to a New York Times story published on Wednesday (February 24) that dissects the closely held "Idol" contract. The document proves that taking the top prize on the show is plenty lucrative, but even top 10 finishers can earn a very decent wage.
According to the story, last year's winner, Kris Allen, has earned at least $650,000 from his "Idol" contract, despite releasing a debut album that has struggled on the charts and sold the lowest total (265,000 so far) for an "Idol" champ to date. That's the minimum a winner could earn. Unnamed sources close to the show told the paper that between performance fees, merchandising royalties from the "Idol" tour and other opportunities, top finishers have never failed to earn less than $1 million in the year after winning on the show.
In addition to a generous $350,000 advance for his first album (not including recording costs), half of which he got after the show ended and the rest when he finished his self-titled debut, Allen was paid $100,000 to help promote "The American Idol Experience" attraction at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and another $100,000 for spending a day filming dialogue for the attraction and taping vocals for the Walt Disney World Christmas Parade TV show. He also reportedly earned another $100,000 advance on royalties from a three-year merchandising contract, which allows 19 Entertainment to use his image to promote the show and related products.
Runner-up Adam Lambert also made out well, earning $300,000 in advance royalties for his debut, For Your Entertainment, $75,000 through his merchandising contract and another $50,000 for the Disney World "Idol Experience" deal.
Many of this year's contestants, including front-runners Andrew Garcia and Crystal Bowersox, have talked about their belief that winning "Idol" could change the lives of their family. One of last year's top 10 finishers, Megan Joy, recently told MTV News that those dreams can totally come true.
"I encourage any family to audition for 'Idol,' " she said. "It can change your lives." Joy called the financial boon "huge and life-changing," saying it allowed her to quit her stay-at-home computer job and travel to Los Angeles four days a week to work on her upcoming debut album. That freedom came from making the top 10, where she said contestants are paid a decent amount per episode (around $1,000), as well as the money she made on the "Idol" tour.
The Times — which based its story on a copy of last year's contract that was filed in state court in Los Angeles under laws requiring court approval for entertainment industry deals with minors — reported that finalists who make it to the top five this year will earn close to $100,000 from the show, and at least three times that amount if they get signed to a record deal by the show's producers. And, as Joy told MTV, the top 10 finishers stand to make several thousand dollars for the show in addition to the summer tour money.
While a decent recording contract for a new artist today could include a $100,000-$150,000 advance, an anonymous agent told the paper that the "Idol" deals sound very lucrative, though they likely tie the singers to the show's producers for up to seven years, which is almost twice as long as a typical first contract.
A spokesperson for Fox told MTV News the network had no comment on the Times report. In a statement to the Times, production company 19 Entertainment said, "Our business is built through strong, respectful relationships with our talent, so it is important that they are fairly represented in contractual agreements with 19 Entertainment. With 'American Idol,' we have deliberately structured these agreements to ensure that artists can cross the threshold of success, and that they have all the support necessary to achieve their dreams."
Of course, 19 Entertainment also makes money, and it has the option to sign a management contract with any contestant it wants to, which requires the singer to pay 15 percent of their earnings as a manager's fee, not including money from recording and merchandising contracts. That contract lasts for three years, but 19 can reportedly keep collecting that percentage of some of the earnings for up to 10 years.
In addition to the money Allen and Lambert made on their deals, the other three top finishers each earned $50,000 from the Disney deal. The top 12 finalists all had the opportunity to earn $200,000 each for their first album and $50,000 in merchandising money if 19 Entertainment signed a management contract with them.
The top 12 finishers also each get a one-time $1,000 payment and $1,000 advance on royalties for the iTunes recordings they make of each week's performances, as well as $1,011 for each one-hour show and $1,540 for each two-hour episode, which adds up to almost $10,000 just in performance fees over a season for a top five finisher.
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