Being a famous judge is generally a pretty sweet gig. Many of us acid-tongued cynics would revel in the chance to sit down, crush peoples dreams and earn millions for doing so. This is the reality of TV's most famous judges.
Before celebrities started sitting on the judging panels, high-ranking but relatively anonymous industry professionals were the original judges in the early days of televised talent shows. As this form of reality TV became popular, the judges became celebrities in their own right. The idea of judges achieving a celebrity status really began with the major talent shows like American Idol, The Voice and The X Factor. But there's also the sort of traditional judge who features in the context of courtroom shows. Court shows, which often consist of the typical "plaintiff" and "defendant" framework, are a hugely popular phenomenon in the United States having achieved widespread viewership and becoming a cornerstone of daytime television.
Due to the influx of reality TV and televised competitions famous judges have become some of the most preponderant television land celebs. We've whittled this large pool of large earners down to the nine judges pulling in some of the very biggest bucks for their no-holds-barred, harsh-but-fair styles that entertain audiences worldwide. These nine famous judges are not only the most influential for their style, but also due to the longevity of their on-screen careers. Many celebrity judges are celebs in their own right first, and have but cameoed in the judges seat for a fleeting season - take Nicki Minaj's and Ellen DeGeneres' stints as talent show hosts as an example. For the purposes of consistency, we haven't factored in celebs who merely briefly featured as judges, but rather those celebs who made their name and the bulk of their fortune in the judge's seat.
9 Judge Joe Brown - $25 million
Judge Joe Brown was the star of Judge Joe Brown, a court show that was produced by CBS between 1998-2013. Brown is a rags to riches story, and has mentioned his difficult upbringing in interviews. Born in an impoverished area of Washington, D.C., Brown claims that many of his contemporaries became tangled up in drugs from an early age. Having escaped this fate, Brown later became the first black prosecutor in Memphis. His fiery personality was then picked up on a nighttime radio talk show by some executives, and he was offered his own court show, which ended last year. Brown made his millions because of his strong, memorable personality and the energy he brought with him into the courtroom.
8 Paula Abdul - $30 million
Before being a famous judge, Paula Abdul made her mark with her dance and choreography skills. Her talents were recognised immediately - Abdul even had the opportunity of working with the Jackson 5 in the early days. After a short-lived music career, Abdul was cast as one of three judges on a new talent show - called American Idol - in 2002. As we all know, the show was an instant success and it threw Abdul back into the spotlight. She quickly became a household name, and served as a judge on the show for nine seasons. Abdul was known for her positive attitude, which diluted the ruthlessness of some of the other judges on the panel.
7 Randy Jackson $40 million
6 Sharon Osbourne - $40 million
5 Gary Barlow - $61 million
4 Tyra Banks - $90 million
3 Judge Judy - $110 million
No list of rich and famous TV judges is complete without Judge Judy. Judge Judy, or Judith Sheindlin, hails from Brooklyn, New York. Sheindlin studied law at American University in Washington, and her no-nonsense attitude began to get her noticed from an early age. In 1982, she was made a judge. Even before Judge Judy aired, Sheindlin's reputation preceded her; she was profiled in leading publications such as the LA Times. The TV show Judge Judy launched to massive success in 1996. The court show became incredibly popular, and often overtook Oprah as the leader of the daytime TV schedule. In 1999, Judge Judy was raking in a staggering 7 million viewers every single week. Judge Judy is still on air, and the show has made its host a multi-millionaire, as well as a household name.
2 Louis Walsh - $150 million
1 Simon Cowell - $425 million
Simon Cowell is the man who made judging on television as lucrative as it is today. Cowell's business prowess and knowledge of the industry mean that he is now a millionaire hundred of times over. Cowell started his successful career in the music industry at BMG Records. After signing numerous popular acts, Cowell became a judge for a new televised talent show called Pop Idol. Cowell cemented his place as an unstoppable TV judge in the UK's X-Factor (where he formed, and then signed, boyband sensation One Direction) and on American Idol alongside Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul. He saw the potential in this TV show model and invested in a franchise, become a producer on America's Got Talent. Whichever show he is involved in, Cowell's famously critical and often harsh attitude has never waned in popularity.