American Idol: the show where even the losers can turn out to be huge. Only since the advent of reality television have we had such a focus on contest losers, but when you see the level of talent here – Chris Daughtry, Catherine McPhee, Bo Bice, Clay Aiken, Elliot Yamin – you start to understand why.
We know that the Idols get some form of payment during the show. We also know that the top 10 get to go on tour, which may not be as lucrative as other gigs later, but which will bring most of them more cash than they were making at their former jobs: waitress, backup singer, mechanic, even high school student. But what else do the American Idols – winners and losers – receive?
American Idol Benefits
1. Serious publicity. Even the infamous William Hung capitalized on this; he used his terrible karaoke to make over a million dollars and release an album, proving that the world isn’t always fair. But even American Idols who rank near the bottom – even some who didn’t make the top 10 – gain that little bit of face time that can really make a difference in a career. At the very least, they get local notoriety that can launch a regional band career.
2. Serious training. Many, if not most, of the American Idols have had little or no real music training. The care and feeding they get from judges, personal handlers, producers, and music industry pros – both the big names like Barry Manilow and the smaller names like the guy who’s played bass guitar for a hundred major stars – can transform them. Their lives at American Idol transform into a master’s class of how to make it in the music business today, if they approach it wisely.
3. Recording Contracts. The winner and runner-up of American Idol are both bound to sign recording contracts upon completion of the season, with the winner’s contract worth at least $1 million, and lower-ranking winners are bound to lesser extents to do the same; Simon Fuller’s management company 19 Management at the very least has the right of first refusal, which gives them nearly full control over contestants’ professional careers. This is seen as both a blessing and a curse. The contracts are apparently more restrictive than the Idols want them to be, and in certain cases (like Nikki McKibbin, who wanted to sing rock but got funneled into country) have worked more to prevent recordings from being made than to create new stars. Still, there have been a number of huge hits coming from the sixty or so young talents that make up the first five seasons of Idol, and it seems that every year has increasingly stellar talent.
All that said, the details of the contracts and the show are a closely-guarded secret, and according to an article in Salon.com, are protected by a $5 million penalty clause if any show participants reveal any of the show and contract secrets.
4. The top twelve contestants record one single each for a compliation album, and they receive royalties from that performance. In addition, other compilation albums may be recorded; one year a Christmas album was released. The top contestant also releases the year’s coronation song as a single, and this has historically done very well.
5. Management by 19 Management. If they work well together from the beginning, the style of management developed by Simon Fuller, producer of American Idol, can prove to be very lucrative for Idol contestants. Instead of looking strictly at performances, 19 Management focuses on branding each performer. This means those who develop their own very clear style, like Chris Daughtry’s, over the course of the show become very saleable indeed.
Then again, there have been many behind-the-scenes criticisms of 19 Management’s very aggressive contracts. It may turn out, in the end, that just the exposure from the show is the most lucrative single item our young American Idols win.