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Even second place on 'AI' means millions

Kelly Clarkson, the show's first winner, has probably earned about $40 million. Many who didn't win the top prize are doing very well.

By Karen Datko May 20, 2010 12:24PM

Just how much of a boost is the iconic TV show "American Idol" to the financial success of formerly unknown performers? It's big, according to a report by CBS MoneyWatch.


"You can rest on having been on 'American Idol' for years," Joel Peresman, CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, told MoneyWatch.

Of course, lasting fame and fortune are not guaranteed. For some, the trappings of winning -- a recording contract and instant celebrity -- didn't produce huge earnings -- but that's OK, too. "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," MoneyWatch says.


Here's our abbreviated rundown of earnings compiled by CBS MoneyWatch for a post called "American Idol's biggest winners":

  • Kelly Clarkson. She's earned more than $20 million from album sales and downloads, and probably another $20 million from tours and promotion deals.
  • Carrie Underwood. The Season 4 winner has huge star power, earning an estimated $14 million -- and that was just in 2009. Even people who have never watched the show know her name.
  • Clay Aiken. He has enjoyed $6 million in album sales despite a second-place finish in Season 2.
  • Jennifer Hudson. A seventh-place finisher in Season 3 -- what were they thinking? -- the Oscar winner from "Dreamgirls" is now a household name and earned at least $5 million in 2008.
  • Chris Daughtry. Daughtry has had a successful recording career and earned an estimated $2 million last year. Not bad for a fourth-place finish in Season 5.
  • Adam Lambert. After coming in second last year, he has earned at least $1 million in album sales and downloads. Plus he's on tour.
  • David Cook. The Season 7 winner earned an estimated $2 million last year. "He broke a Billboard 100 record (previously set by Miley Cyrus) by having 11 songs simultaneously appear on the charts," MoneyWatch says.
  • Fantasia. Oprah Winfrey cast her as the lead in the Broadway version of "The Color Purple" and she'll also star in the film. Estimated earnings for this Season 3 winner from album sales, a reality show, etc.: $5 million.

Do you think these performers are deserving of such riches? Do you have a favorite "American Idol" contestant you think was underappreciated or who flopped?


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