'American Idol' Contestants Get Paid, but There's a Catch

'American Idol' has made some contestants millionaires. Most contestants don't start to see financial rewards until they make it to the top 12.

Melissa Willets - Author

Feb. 19 2024, Updated 10:51 a.m. ET

Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan
Source: ABC

Taking part in American Idol can be very lucrative for the eventual winners. Just take the first ever top contestant from the series, Kelly Clarkson. Today, the talk show host is worth a staggering $40 million.

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And the judges also earn big bucks to participate in the popular singing reality show, with Katy Perry rumored to pull in a jaw-dropping $25 million per season.

But what about contestants — do they get paid to be on the show before potentially making it big like Carrie Underwood? Here's the truth.

Carrie Underwood smiling up close with wavy hair
Source: Getty Images
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So, do 'American Idol' contestants get paid?

A 2016 report from Fox Business reveals that the answer is "yes," American Idol contestants do get paid — however, there's a major caveat.

Contestants need to make it to a certain point in the competition to receive compensation for their time and likeness. How far do contestants have to advance to get an Idol paycheck?

The Fox Business report, based on Richard Rushfield's book titled, American Idol: The Untold Story, reveals that the top 24 contestants are paid a performance fee by The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). They also pay AFTRA $1,600 to become members, incidentally.

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Kelly Clarkson performing on 'American Idol' in 2002
Source: Getty Images

So, how much do 'American Idol' contestants make?

American Idol contestants reportedly make $1,303 for one-hour shows and $1,571 for two-hour shows, plus the cost of meals during the shows.

And yes, the American Idol contestants even make money during the half-hour results shows — $910 per half-hour results episode to be exact.

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'American Idol' contestants get other perks when they make it to the top 12.

What about their outfits? Do they have to buy an entirely new wardrobe like contestants on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette?

Richard revealed that American Idol contestants get a $450 stipend and time with a fashion consultant once they make the top 12.

Once American Idol contestants make it to the top 12, their room and board is covered. However, the contestants aren't always living it up at Four Seasons-esque lodgings.

Richard notes in his findings, "There have been years where they want to show it on the air so they put them up in mansions in the Hollywood Hills. Other years, they've put them up in this apartment complex that's not seen on the air. It's nothing fancy, but it's not squalor."

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Jennifer Hudson performing
Source: Getty Images

The other thing that American Idol contestants don't get paid for? Fare for their family's travel expenses. If a family wants to fly out to see their loved one compete on the American Idol stage, they have to pay for everything themselves.

Successful 'American Idol' contestants can make millions.

However, if American Idol contestants are talented enough to make it to the top 10 or 12, they also have the payday from the American Idol summer tour to look forward to, which is typically about $150,000 for less than half a year of work.

Oh, and harkening back to Kelly and Carrie — if you make it to the top few contestants, you'll be a millionaire. So, there's that to hope for!

You can catch new episodes of American Idol every Sunday at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.

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