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It’s been 19 years since American Idol premiered and launched judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson into superstardom. While the show isn’t the ratings behemoth it used to be, the American Idol judges salaries (both past and present) prove that the singing competition was never afraid to pay lots of $$$ for top-tier talent. (Our jaws dropped when we learned how much Katy Perry makes.)
American Idol became a surprise summer success in 2002 after Kelly Clarkson won over the hearts of America. The show went on for 14 more seasons until it was cancelled by FOX in 2016. But American Idol wasn’t over. The show was rebooted by ABC in 2018 with judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie. Host Ryan Seacrest also returned to emcee the show that made him a household name. It’s been more than a decade since American Idolhas produced a winner at the caliber of Clarkson, Carrie Underwood or Adam Lambert, but that hasn’t stopped viewers from tuning in.
Though not as popular as it once was, American Idol still brings in millions of viewers each week to pay for its judges’ massive paychecks. Curious how much American Idol judges have made over the years? Read on for details about their unbelievable salaries.
Ryan Seacrest (Season 1 – Present)
Salary: $12 million – $15 million
Though he’s not a judge, Seacrest is the only member of the original American Idol crew to still be on the show. However, Seacrest’s salary hasn’t remained the same. The Cheat Sheet reports that Seacrest made $5 million per season in the middle seasons of Idol. That number tripled in Idol‘s last three seasons on FOX, where the host made $15 million a season, which resulted in $45 million in three years, according to The Hollywood Reporter. However, when Seacrest returned to Idol on ABC, the host took a pay cut. The Hollywood Reporter claims that he was offered $5 million a season at first for the Idol reboot. After negotiations, he and Idol landed on $10 million. After that, his salary increased to $12 million a season, according to The Wall Street Journal, was still less than what he made on Idol‘s final seasons on FOX. That said, Page Six reports that Seacrest’s actual salary is close to the $15 million a season mark, which would be what he was paid in his final seasons when Idol was on FOX.
Simon Cowell (Season 1 – 9)
Salary: $36 million
Cowell became a household name in the 2000s as Idol’s snarky-but-honest judge. CNN reported in 2010 that Cowell was paid around $36 million a season to judge the show, which makes sense given that he was one of the co-creators of the show along with Simon Fuller. The Hollywood Reporter claimed in 2009 that Cowell was in talks to sign a deal that would’ve paid him $45 million a season for seasons 9, 10 and 11 of Idol. It’s unclear if the deal ever went through, but given that Cowell left the show after season 9, he likely did not agree to the terms. As for why he quit, Cowell left Idol after season 9 to be a judge and an executive producer on the British and American version of The X Factor. X Factor U.S. ended after three seasons, while the U.K. version is still currently on.
Paula Abdul (Season 1 – 8)
Salary: $5 – 8 million
Abdul, a Grammy-winning singer and dancer, was the best known name of the OG American Idol crew when she show premiered in 2002. But that doesn’t mean that she had the highest pay. MSNBC reported in 2008 that Abdul made between $5 to $8 million a season as Idol‘s “nice” judge. She left after season 8. Reports claimed at the time that Abdul quit after she learned that Cowell made $36 million a season as a judge. When she reportedly asked Idol‘s producers for a raise, she was turned down, which led to her decision to leave. In a 2017 interview with Entertainment Tonight, the “Straight Up” singer reacted to Katy Perry’s reported $25 million salary. “Let’s just put it on the record, I was not getting paid $25 million,” she said.
Randy Jackson (Season 1 – 12)
Salary: $5 – $6.5 million
Jackson was the show’s last OG judge to leave. The musician and producer quit Idol after season 12 in 2013. Billboard reported at the time that Jackson made between $5 and $6.5 million a season, which was in the same range as Abdul but about $30 million less than the paychecks that Cowell received.
Kara DioGuardi (Season 8 – 9)
DioGuardi, a Grammy-winning songwriting, was only a judge on two season of Idol, but she made a splash as the show’s first new judge since its premiere. It’s unclear how much she made, but given DioGuardi’s lack of name recognition and Idol’s other salaries at the time, we estimate that she received the lower end of Idol‘s paychecks, which is likely $3 million and less.
Ellen DeGeneres (Season 9)
Salary: $5 – 7 million
DeGeneres was an Idol judge for one season, and as she’s said in many interviews after her time on Idol, she hated it. “As a fan of the shows, it doesn’t matter that I sing or I know anything about pitch…I’m like everybody else at home, so I thought I’m gonna represent those people at home that have opinions,” she told Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show in 2015. “But then I just thought, like Howard says, I can’t break this person’s heart. Let somebody else do that.” According to Entertainment Weekly, the comedian made between $5 to $7 million for the gig, which is a fraction of what she makes as the host of her own talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show. (Forbes reports that the comic makes $77 million a year as the daytime show’s host.)
Jennifer Lopez (Season 10 – 11, 13 – 15)
Salary: $17.5 million
J-Lo joined American Idol in season 10 after Cowell and Abdul left. She left after season 11 and rejoined in season 13 before Idol‘s series finale on FOX in 2016. According to The Daily Mail, the “Let’s Get Loud” singer received $12 million for her first season. For her second season, she received a $3 million raise, which resulted in a $15 million salary. When she returned in 2013, The Daily Mail reports that the Hustlers star was offered a massive $17.5 million paycheck per season, which would’ve made her one of Idol‘s highest paid judges.
Steven Tyler (Season 10 – 11)
Salary: $10 million
Like J-Lo, Tyler quit Idol after his second season in 2012. However, unlike J-Lo, he didn’t return. As for his paychecks, Forbes reported in 2012 that Tyler made $10 million a season to judge on Idol. The New York Post reported at the time that Tyler left Idol after he was denied a pay raise after he learned that Lopez was in talks to receive $20 million a season following contract negotiations. (The “On the Floor” singer ended up with $17.5 million a season, according to The Daily Mail.) “Steven is halfway through a two-year deal, and his management has asked for more money,” a source told the newspaper at the time. “They argue he was just as sensational and as popular on the panel as Jennifer. But, on the other side, show bosses argue he’s tied into a deal and has to stick to it. However, it’s hoped they can come to a compromise to keep Steven happy, because the producers love him.”
Mariah Carey (Season 12)
Salary: $18 million
Carey’s time on Idol was short and much of it involved her feud with fellow judge, Nicki Minaj, who joined and left at the same time. Given her status as one of the most successful singers in music history, Reuters reported at the time that Carey cut a deal for $18 million to judge on the season, which is half a million more than her frenemy J-Lo.
Nicki Minaj (Season 12)
Salary: $12 million
With songs like “Anaconda” and “Super Bass,” Minaj was at the height of her game when she was an Idol judge on season 12 in 2013. Though she didn’t make as much as Carey, Minaj still received a hefty paycheck of $12 million a season, according to Forbes. However, her time on Idol was cut short. The rapper left the show (with Carey) after one season.
Keith Urban (Season 12 – 15)
Salary: $8 million
Urban was the aftermath of Minaj and Carey’s feud on Idol season 13. Though the women left, the country singer was the only one who stayed and went on to judge with J-Lo and Harry Connick Jr. Reuters reports that Urban was paid $8 million to judge on his first season of Idol. However, some reports claim that he made as little as $3.5 million. Because we’re optimists, we hope Urban made closer to the $8 million range.
Harry Connick Jr. (Season 13 – 15)
Salary: $3.5 million
Connick Jr. was one of Idol’s final judges. The Wall Street Journal reports that the star made $3.5 million for each of his three seasons on Idol, which was a fraction of what his workers J-Lo and Ryan Seacrest made with their $15 – $17.5 million paychecks.
Katy Perry (Season 16 – Present)
Salary: $25 million
Perry was the talk of the town when Page Six reported that she receives $25 million a season from ABC to judge on American Idol. Perry is one of Idol‘s three new judges since the show was rebooted by ABC in 2018. According to Page Six, the deal created drama among executives at ABC who wanted to spend no more than $50 million on talent.
“[CEO/President] Ben Sherwood blew the budget on Katy without thinking how that would impact other areas of the show budget. He gambled on her because of her appeal to a younger audience and huge social-media following. But Katy is effectively taking money from the other judges, who then had to be paid way less,” the source said.
Luke Bryan (Season 16 – Present)
Salary: $7 million
So how much do Perry’s other judges make? Well, Page Six reports that ABC originally offered Bryant $2.5 million to judge on American Idol to stay within budget after Perry cut a deal for $25 million. Offended, the country singer asked for more and reached a salary of $7 million a season, according to Page Six.
Lionel Richie (Season 16 – Present)
Salary: $7 million
Page Six also claims that Richie was first offered $2.5 million to judge on American Idol but rebuffed and cut a deal for $7 million, the same salary as Bryant. Given Idol’s apparent $50 million budget on talent, each of the judges’ salaries fits into that limit. Perry is paid $25 million, Seacrest receives around $15 million, while both Bryant and Richie are both paid $7 million, leaving a million dollars to spare.