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When ‘Idol’-atry is Costly, Do It Yourself….Hardcore

When ‘Idol’-atry is Costly, Do It Yourself….Hardcore

With “American Idol” still a TV hit despite Simon Cowell departing from it to produce and judge a forthcoming US version of an “Idol”-like copycat show he created and made a hit in his native Britain—“The X Factor”—and with “Idol”, despite its penchant for musical unoriginality, still managing to get more viewers than most sporting events, save for football, being a contestant on that show doesn’t come without a cost. asked “What will it cost you to make a lunge for that golden ticket? And what can you receive in return?”  They let Richard Rushfield, writer of the book American Idol: The Untold Story, figure it all out for them.

While the article didn’t arrive at an exact dollar figure, Richard does say that anyone who auditions has to go through at least three rounds of such, each of which they have to go to at their own expense, before they find out whether they make the next round in Hollywood.

Once the 12 finalists are determined, they get their own room and board, which Richard describes as “nothing fancy, but it’s not squalor.”  As for the contestants’ families, who are often seen in the stands during the live “Idol” telecasts, Richard says that they pay their own way, which “causes the most trouble for Idols and their families.”

The contestants are given spending money per week on clothes, along with a wardrobe consultant, but even $450 a week isn’t enough when shopping at an expensive store, so they have to go out-of-pocket.  And if a contestant has a job or is attending school, that can be a big sacrifice.

With endorsements, Richard estimates that an “Idol” finalist can earn “something like $1 million”, plus the $1000-$1500 each contestant gets in union-scale performance fees for each episode of “Idol” they appear on. The biggest payday, at least for the Top 10, is the “Idol” summer tour, which, Richard also estimates, can earn each of them $150,000 for a few months’ worth of touring.

And that’s on top of being signed to a major label, which can happen to the winners and some of the runners-up, and not make much money from album sales.

But rather than take into account the successes of “Idol” winners like Kelly Clarkson [2002] and Carrie Underwood [2005], or runners-up like Jennifer Hudson [2004], Chris Daughtry or Kellie Pickler [both 2006], as well as others who have appeared on “Idol” over the decade, but have gone on to everything from Broadway musicals to other reality TV shows, the struggling musician would have to take into account how instant fame on a live TV show can be fleeting, and that being on “Idol” doesn’t always guarantee stardom, never mind that you might lose a lot of your musical independence.

The common thread amongst “Idol”, “X Factor” and NBC’s hot new singing show “The Voice” is one of people singing other people’s songs. While a forthcoming show on Bravo, entitled “Platinum Hit”, is a songwriting-based competition show, it does have some measure of originality.

One of the contestants on “Platinum Hit”, Jackie Tohn, who was a 2009 semifinalist on “Idol”,  says that “majorly, the 2010 music industry is a pretty big do-it-yourself situation happening, so I’m just DIY-ing it, hardcore.” She may not have been a big winner on “Idol”, but Jackie makes some interesting points about independence and how doing it yourself—hardcore, as she put it—matters.  The Internet and computer software have made it that practical.

Play Youtube VideoGet to Know Jackie Tohn–video biography for Bravo’s Platinum Hit

And if Jackie doesn’t win “Platinum Hit”, that may be good because I don’t think she’ll need that prize of a record deal to keep doing it herself…hardcore. So, struggling artists, if you’ve written a lot of songs, and have a good fanbase, save yourself the trouble of auditioning for some singing competition TV show. Your creative mind will thank you for it.

Do you think Jackie’s right about being “hardcore DIY”?

About the Author

Steve Byrd Steve has worked in everything from restaurants to radio sports production, and gives a perspective that's slightly above that of the average person about how the Internet has been an entertainment game-changer. You can regularly find Steve chiming in on a variety of online music-radio shows, as he often sits in the chat room as “information guru” during webcasts.

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