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The cost of being on 'American Idol'

How much does an 'Idol' earn?
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How much does an Idol earn?

How much does an "Idol" finalist earn?

"Their payday for a year of very hard work comes to something like $1 million," says Rushfield. "The top four all do Disney World commercials; that's one of the biggest paydays. They also get money for albums and shooting the Ford commercials."

Then there's the show itself. In 2010, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or AFTRA, paid each top 24 contestant a performance fee: $1,571 plus meals for two-hour “Idol” shows, $1,303 for one-hour shows and $910 for half-hour results shows. It's likely changed since then.

However, to get paid these amounts, contestants must join AFTRA. While they used to have to fork over $1,600 to join, with the new SAG-AFTRA merger, new contestants will need to pay $3,000 to join the union.

The biggest payday for most of the top 12 is the summer tour. "They get around $150,000 for four or five months of touring," says Rushfield.

The higher the finish, the larger the paycheck -- with notable exceptions. According to Forbes, season four winner Carrie Underwood led the pack, earning $13 million from June 2009 to May 2010. She was followed by season one winner Kelly Clarkson with $11.7 million. But "Idol" runners-up Chris Daughtry (third at $10.2 million), Kellie Pickler (fourth, $7.6 million) and Jennifer Hudson (sixth, $3.5 million) routinely out-earn winners David Cook, Taylor Hicks, Kris Allen and Ruben Studdard.




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