George Orwell may have predicted a state dominated by constant scrutiny, but what ‘1984’ didn’t predict was that one day we’d voluntarily throw ourselves at the camera, 24/7, for the world to watch. The ritualistic attachment to ‘reality’ television is a special relationship we’ve likely all experienced. Of course, many of us have the decency to firmly relegate our weakness for this genre to the ‘guilty’ category of pleasures. But – whether we’re watching a favourite judge deflate some misguided sap’s ego or basking in the warm glow of schadenfreude when someone’s cake flops during the Great British Bake-off – while we’re watching life unfold on the box, those reality stars are living it… And living it up.
Networks and studios are making big money on the reality TV generation, so they work hard to keep their ‘stars’ happy. According to earnings reports from several major television studios, reality competition-type shows are one of the most profitable niches in prime time. Some of these shows create stars, while some bring in ready-made stars to attract an audience. Naturally, the broadcasting industry is open to investing huge sums to gain the audiences’ attention.
Whether scripted or unscripted – and that’s always a grey area at best – reality television shows have the undeniable pull across wide demographics. One favourite area of reality TV is the infamous docudrama; an often cynical medium covering everything from following people or celebrities in their unique environments, to wry observation of professions and subcultures. ‘Real Housewives’ is a popular example of this peculiar phenomenon. If legal scandal is your thing, there’s a reality program for that too – Divorce Court and Cops are two delightfully cringe-worthy examples.
The all-singing, all-dancing, all-dating, all-sporting (…you get the idea) elder sibling of reality TV, though, is the competition show. Obviously, we’re not hard pressed to find examples on our screens today. Some of the most popular of these are American Idol, The Voice, Dancing With the Stars and the ‘Got Talent’ series -we have the latter to thank for Susan Boyle!
Be it well-loved star or controversial host, the men and women at the helm of these shows are making scary money. Hold on to your hat and park your incredulity at the door as we look at the top 10 highest paid reality TV stars.
10. Keith Urban: $5 million
Keith Lionel Urban, the New Zealand-born country singer, is a popular judge on the hit reality show American Idol. His cute (or irritating, your call) habit of calling the ladies “baby” may have something to do with his popularity. Of course, his marriage to Nicole Kidman gets him kudos too. After last season, when American Idol’s ratings slumped to their lowest ever, Keith Urban is the only returning judge for next season, with Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey being replaced by Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr.
9. Cee Lo Green: $6 million
Cee Lo Green is reported to have earned a stunning $6 million during his reign as a judge on season 3 of The Voice. The controversial F*** You singer took a break while season 4 of the show was on air to pursue his own music career, but he’s back for the fifth season. Bets are that he’ll get a raise for the next season, but it will still be less than his co-star and returning judge Christina Aguilera.
8. The Kardashians: $10 million
The Kardashians make silly money through their reality show, eponymously-named ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’. The family signed a $30 million deal in 2012 with E! Entertainment and now an 8th season is underway. The money they earn on the show is split amongst the Kardashians and the Jenners. Nevertheless, the gorgeous star and new mom Kim Kardashian is still one of the highly paid TV celeb at almost $18 million a year – evidently the show is just one part of her fortune, as Ms. Kardashian has her finger in several endorsement pies.
7. Adam Levine: $10-12 million
Adam Levine, the lead singer of pop rock band Maroon 5, serves as a coach on the televised singing competition show The Voice. According to a report from the Hollywood Reporter, he earns a cool $10-12 million per cycle on The Voice. Thanks to his popularity with the audience, it’s predicted NBC will give him a raise on the next season of the show. Levine also invests his money in other business ventures, bringing his annual earnings to more than $35 million. And if that’s not reason enough to envy (or desire!) Mr. Levine, he’s recently been named Sexiest Man Alive… Some guys get all the luck.
6. Christina Aguilera: $12.5 million
Christina Aguilera took a break from the fourth season of The Voice to launch her album Lotus. She returned as a judge on the fifth season of the The Voice, the premier airing on 23rd September this year. It’s reported that she inked a $12.5 million deal to resume her duty as a judge on the show, meaning she claimed a higher salary than any of her fellow judges and mentors.
5. Ryan Seacrest: $15 million
Judges are apparently dispensable on the hit reality show American Idol, but host Ryan Seacrest has maintained his foothold on the once super-hit Fox reality show. According to Hollywood Reporter, Seacrest earns a cool $15 million to shout, babysit the contestants and spar with the judges. Hollywood Reporter also claims that Seacrest’s salary tripled from $5million in the year 2009 to $15 million a year. Although the program has witnessed declining viewing figures of late, Seacrest still remains loyal to his duties as host – and with that paycheque, who could blame him?
4. Howard Stern: $15 million
Howard Stern, the notorious American radio host, was a judge for America’s Got Talent during its seventh and eight seasons. Stern’s stint as a judge on the family friendly show – a departure from his X-rated endeavours – has proven lucrative. The show judges singers, dancers, comedians and other entertainers and it’s one of the most watched television shows in the U.S. on Tuesday nights. Stern’s attractive $15 million annual fee for the show has apparently lured him back for season 9.
3. Jennifer Lopez: $17.5 million
Jennifer Lopez has returned to the judging for the 13th season of American Idol, after having a season off. She’ll be taking up her judge’s seat next to Harry Connick Jr. and Keith Urban. American Idol had its lowest ratings last season and it looks like FOX is eager to revive its popularity by bringing in the favourite judges. According to reports, it was J.Lo herself who approached the network to get her old gig back. The mother of five-year-old twins Max and Emme, and wants to settle down with them in Los Angeles where American Idol is filmed. With $17.5 million for the season, both J.Lo and the twins will be able to enjoy the Beverly Hills lifestyle.
2. Judge Judy: $47 million
The formidable Judge Judy Sheindlin allegedly claims a yearly fee of $47 million for her show, where she mediates petty crises between friends, family and foes. Her domineering no-nonsense attitude has made her self-titled program a long-standing hit with fans the world over; Judge Judy well and truly earns her handsome pay cheque, bringing in a reported $200 million yearly in ad revenue for CBS.
1. Simon Cowell: $95 million
Simon Cowell, arguably the godfather of reality TV, started off as a judge on ‘Pop Idol’ in the UK back in 2001. The only Brit on our list, he’s famed for his uncompromising – some would say rude – approach to contestants and known for his nasty streak. At the latest count, Simon Cowell rakes in an eye-watering $95 million a year. He sits on the judging panel for hit reality TV show The X Factor and is one of the drivers behind the success of American Idol, for which he judged for several seasons. Cowell’s massive income is not just down to sitting pretty in the judge’s seat though. He’s a producer on America’s Got Talent and several other major franchises. He’s also responsible for bringing One Direction into the world; the group were born on the UK’s X-Factor in 2011 when Cowell was judging, and he went on to sign and manage them. Both the X-Factor and Idol franchises have seen a slump lately, though, so it remains to be seen if Cowell can hold on to his place at the top of the list. With a baby on the way, he might want to take some time off from his hectic schedule and enjoy his fortune…