Home Entertainment How Much ‘American Idol’ Judges Make & Who’s the Highest Paid Ever

How Much ‘American Idol’ Judges Make & Who’s the Highest Paid Ever


American Idol

Idol has been on TV for 20 years now. It was when judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson became stars. However, American Idol judges’ salaries from both past and present show that the show was willing to pay big money for top-notch talent. Our jaws fell to the ground when we found out how much Katy Perry makes.

It was a surprise hit for American Idol in the summer of 2002 when Kelly Clarkson won people’s hearts across the country. In 2016, FOX canceled the show. It ran for 14 more seasons until it was done in 2016. Idol wasn’t over. Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie were the new judges on the show when ABC remade it in 2018. Ryan Seacrest, the show host that made him famous, also came back to host the show. It has been over a decade since American Idol has had a winner like Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, or Adam Lambert, but that hasn’t stopped people from watching.

American Idol (season 20) The 20th season of the reality show singing competition American Idol premiered on February 27, 2022, on the ABC television network. It is the 5th season to air on ABC since the series’ revival. Ryan Seacrest returned as host, and Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie returned as judges. Bobby Bones did not return as an in-house mentor.

American Idol isn’t as popular as it used to be, but it still draws in many viewers each week to pay for the huge salaries of its judges. American Idol judges have made a lot of money over the years. Read on for more information about how much money these people make.

Ryan Seacrest (Season 1 – Present)

Ryan Seacrest

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. According to The Hollywood Reporter, 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. 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)

Simon Cowell

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 and 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 versions 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)

Paula Abdul

Salary: $5 – 8 million

Abdul, a Grammy-winning singer, and dancer, was the best known name of the OG American Idol crew when the 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)

Randy Jackson

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)

Kara DioGuardi

Salary: TBD

DioGuardi, Grammy-winning songwriting, was only a judge on two seasons 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)

Ellen DeGeneres

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)

Jennifer Lopez

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. She received a $3 million raise for her second season, which resulted in a $15 million salary. When she returned in 2013, The Daily Mail reports that the Hustlers star Jennifer 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)

Steven Tyler

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)

Mariah Carey

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)

Nicki Minaj

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. According to Forbes, though she didn’t make as much as Carey, Minaj still received a hefty paycheck of $12 million a season. However, her time on Idol was cut short. The rapper left the show (with Carey) after one season.

Keith Urban (Season 12 – 15)

Keith Urban

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)

Harry Connick Jr. 

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)

Katy Perry

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 has been one of Idol’s three new judges since ABC rebooted the show 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)

Luke Bryan

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)

Lionel Richie

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.


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