Time and time again, we’ve talked about how much the winners of the popular talent show, American Idol are worth, but what rarely seems to be discussed is how much the judges are worth. How much of their profit came from sitting behind that famous blue table and selecting future stars?
10: Paula Abdul: $30 Million
During the 80s, Paula Abdul was one of the most sought-after music video choreographers in the business. She also proved herself as a pop-star to reckon with, with six number one singles. However, her star seemed like it was beginning to fade during the nineties, and it seemed like she was headed towards obscurity when she decided to take a job as one of the original American Idol judges.
With American Idol, she found renewed fame and fortune. While filming the show, she also worked as a reporter for Entertainment Tonight, and had a single season reality show called Hey Paula. In 2007, her jewelry line, Paula Abdul Jewelry, debuted on QVC, and had fifteen stock sellouts.
After eight seasons, Abdul left American Idol in 2009. Reportedly, she’d been earning $4 million a season, and was seeking a significant raise to return. Cowell was making more than $30 million a season, and host Ryan Seacrest had had a salary bump up to $10 million a season. Feeling as though she was being treated, and paid differently then the men, she left the show (Although, Fox has denied her claims)
Since leaving Idol, she’s rejoined Simon Cowell as a judge on the first season of the American X-Factor, and judging, producing, mentoring and coaching on the CBS show Live to Dance. In 2010 she co-founded auditionbooth.com, a website designed to connect aspiring talents to connect with industry producers and managers. She’s also appeared as a guest judge on several other competition shows.
9: Harry Connick Jr.: $35 Million
Harry Connick Jr. started his career in music, and is ranked among the 60 best-selling male artists in the US, with sixteen million in record sales. He also holds the record for ‘most number one US jazz albums’ (ten of them, for the record). His reputation started growing in 1989, when he provided a soundtrack for the seminal rom-com When Harry Met Sally. Aside from music, he’s also an actor, debuting in the period drama Memphis Belle. Acting-wise, he’s best known for his 2002-2006 role as Dr. Leo Markus on Will & Grace.
Connick was first involved with American Idol as a mentor in season twelve. He’s stepped up to the judge’s table for this current, 2014 season, alongside Keith Urban and returning judge Jennifer Lopez. His projected salary for this season, the thirteenth one, is around the range of five million dollars, similar to fellow judge Keith Urban.
8: Keith Urban: $35 Million
The New Zealand born Keith Urban was a bona fide country superstar by the 2000s, with his song “Somebody Like You” being named the biggest country hit of 2000-2010. His second album, Golden Road also earned him his first Grammy Award. Of the thirty-one singles he’s released, sixteen have reached number one on the US Country Music Charts. He’s also proved himself to be an extremely capable musician, playing not only guitar, but also piano, banjo, sitar, mandolin and drums.
Before appearing on American Idol, he was a vocal coach for the first season of the Australian version of The Voice. Urban declined to take part in another season of The Voice in favor of a spot as a judge in season 12 of American Idol, where he was paid $5 million a season. He was joined by Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj, neither of whom stayed for a second season.
7: Randy Jackson: $40 Million
Randy Jackson’s been a prominent career musician since the 80s, mainly working as a bassist. He’s played for Taxxi, he played a session musician for Journey and provided music for the film Jumpin’ Jack Flash, among others. He’s also produced and performed in his own album, 2008’s Randy Jackson’s Music Club, Vol. 1, and was a producer of America’s Best Dance Crew from 2008 until it’s cancellation in 2010. He also hosts a top forty radio countdown, Randy Jackson’s Hit List.
He was a judge on American Idol for the first twelve seasons, from 2002 to 2013. By his final season, Randy Jackson was reportedly earning between $5 and $10 million per season. While he is no longer a judge, the latest season has seen him take on a mentoring role.
6: Nicki Minaj: $45 Million
Nicki Minaj exploded onto the music scene in 2010 with Pink Friday, which reached number one on the US Billboard 200, and was certified platinum by the RIAA. She’s gained recognition for both her lyrics and her carefully crafted appearance, which often includes both, brightly colored wigs and outlandish costumes. Over the course of her meteoric rise, she’s earned two MTV music awards, four American Music Awards, five Billboard Music Awards and seven BET Awards. Additionally, she will make her acting debut in the upcoming film The Other Woman.
This quick rise to prominence attracted the attention of the American Idol judges’ panel, and she joined the show for its twelfth season, in 2013. Over the course of the season, she reportedly earned a $12 million salary. However, during the show itself, she and fellow judge, Mariah Carey often clashed, including one argument that got so bad that auditions had to be closed early that day to allow the two space. After her first season with the show, Minaj left in order to focus on her music.
5: Steven Tyler: $130 Million
As the frontman of Aerosmith, Steven Tyler’s enjoyed the fame and fortune that comes with leading one of the most famous rock bands in history. His first flush of fame came in the 70s, and kept going from there. In 2001, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2013. He also designs motorcycles for Dirico Motorcycles.
He appeared alongside Jennifer Lopez as an American Idol judge in 2011, for season ten. He would later tell Howard Stern that he joined because he, and the rest of Aerosmith, had had a falling out after he fell offstage during a concert. He was paid $20 million per year for his work as a judge, and stayed for two years, leaving before season twelve started. He would later admit that, while he enjoyed being on American Idol, he didn’t have the necessary mean streak for judging.
4: Ellen DeGeneres: $190 Million
She’s had two sitcoms and a talkshow, won thirteen Emmys, fourteen People’s Choice awards, and has hosted the Oscars, Grammys and Primetime Emmys, making her one of the most feted celebrities to sit at the Judge’s table.
DeGeneres replaced Paula Abdul as an American Idol judge in 2009, for the show’s ninth season. The deal was made remarkably quickly, being sealed in only a few weeks, and she was reportedly payed $5-7 million for her talents.
She was excited to join the show, and it was anticipated that she would act as an audience surrogate. Reportedly her first season’s salary also included a contract for five years behind the judge’s table. However, this contract was either a rumor or was dissolved at the end of her first season, when she left the show, claiming that the show didn’t feel like a good fit for her. She states that while she enjoyed discovering and supporting new talent, she wasn’t comfortable with the harshness of the criticism.
3: Jennifer Lopez: $250 Million
She might still be Jenny from the Block, but you’d never guess it from her bank statements. Her career started as a dancer on In Living Color in 1991, and by 2001, she was the first artist to have a number one album (J. Lo) and film in the same week (The Wedding Planner). She’s sold over seventy million records, and has established herself solidly as an audience-drawing actress.
In 2010, Lopez was being reportedly courted by both the X-Factor and American Idol for a seat at the judges’ table, but it was American Idol who won out, announcing her joining in September 2010.
At this point, her music career was in a momentary lull, and her last movie, the Back-up Plan had received lukewarm reviews, so many saw her and American Idol (which had seen a drop in viewer numbers) as a match made in comeback heaven. Her first season with American Idol, season 11, earned her $12 million, with seasons twelve and thirteen seeing that salary upped to $20 million.
2: Simon Cowell: $425 Million
Simon Cowell’s best known for his turn on American Idol, but British audiences may recognize him from The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, where he also gleefully played the villain, as the blunt, viciously critical one on the judges’ panel. However, he’s also the owner of Syco, a music and television publishing house.
As a music producer, he and his record company, S Records, put together Il Divo, one of the handsomest opera pop group ever to exist. In 2010, the same year he left American Idol, his record group signed another music group, One Direction, who have since become nigh-omnipresence on the pop music scene.
He was a judge on American Idol for the first nine seasons, and in the 2008-9 period, Cowell was the top earner on US TV, making an estimated $75 million for that season of American Idol. Earlier years had seen him earning $8 million (2004), and $33 Million (for a five year contract in 2006). He owns the rights to the X-Factor format, and in 2011, Fox acquired the rights to air an American X-Factor show, which Cowell was heavily involved in the production of.
1: Mariah Carey: $500 Million
Mariah Carey’s stint as a judge on American Idol was probably a nice breather from her hectic music career. She’s won five Grammys, eleven American Music Awards, seventeen World Music awards and thirty-one Billboard Music awards over the course of thirteen albums (with an upcoming fourteenth). Her wealth comes mainly from the fame and success she’s gained from this impressive career.
However, she joined the judging panel of season twelve of American Idol. As one of the biggest (or at least, most established within the recording industry) musician yet to judge, she received eighteen million dollars for her turn as a judge on the competition show. However, despite a longstanding friendship with fellow judge Randy Jackson, she didn’t enjoy the experience, and clashed frequently with fellow judge Nicki Minaj. In a post-idol interview, Carey compared the experience to working in hell, with Satan. She did not return to judge a second season.