The American Idol Career Path: Reality Bites

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2007-01-2212

Though several other finance bloggers have already weighed in on the greatest show to hit the American airwaves (according to Nielsen ratings), my biased self will be insisting on adding my .02. Please hear me out on this, my guilty pleasure.

If you’ve taken a hit on your site traffic, it’s probably due to the emergence of American Idol’s sixth season. Not that I would mind the dip — I’m a major American Idol FREAK and now that it has premiered last week, it will take away the Tuesdays and Wednesdays of my weeks all the way till late May, and I am rather concerned how I’m going to keep up with my usual posting schedule. Nevertheless, let’s see what I can muster.

The American Idol Dream

Moving on to what I wanted to write about: the show has started with the requisite gnarly audition process, where I thrill myself over watching train wrecks of various shapes and sizes parade through my television screen. We’re also first introduced to potential stars in the making; Idol hopefuls who want to change their lives with a unique talent or voice they steadfastly believe that they, alone, possess. We are shown incredibly packed football stadiums, crowds of young people and lines braving some terrible weather. There are 100,000 people trying out. 10,000 in Minneapolis, 15,000 in Memphis, more in Seattle, and so on and so forth. This audition process covers the nation until we begin the winnowing process.

So what’s that again? 100,000 people are narrowed down to the “Top 24”, from which are plucked the final 10 contenders who may or may NOT have their lives changed.

What kind of money would you make as an American Idol winner?
Just like any other musical artist, sources of income would be from tour receipts, CD sales and possibly television guest appearances. If someone was lucky enough to star in a successful movie like Jennifer Hudson of American Idol 3 and now Dreamgirls fame, then maybe they’ll take in extra.

From some statistics bandied around as far as tour receipts and income from CDs and such: the most successful idols such as Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken and Carrie Underwood are certainly multi-millionaires. I heard that Clay Aiken pocketed $2.5 million for his 7,800 square foot home in the San Fernando Valley which he sold when he moved back to live in his home state of North Carolina. The 2006 tours by Kelly and Clay have grossed $11.7 million and $7.1 million respectively as per PollStar.

Though dissenting analysis exist, it does not take into account the money these winners make after their contracts with the American Idol entities expire. The show launches a star, but it’s up to the “idols” to navigate their careers afterward. Even with the significant exposure they receive, there are no guarantees of success. Some can navigate their fame to find greater riches, while others, without the big daddy backing of Simon Cowell and company, simply fade to obscurity.

Despite all the mind-boggling numbers behind the American Idol franchise, the 40 million odd viewers who have catapulted this show to primetime heaven, the collective millions being raked in by the producers, host, and judges, only a small handful of nobodies who join the contest will reach some kind of celebrity level status by the end. And most finalists, dare I say, move back to oblivion after just a few short years, if not months. Which leads us to this lesson on becoming a star: one blatant fact about the entertainment business that you can bet on is that fame and even fortune are fickle and fleeting. If you are lucky enough to meet with such an opportunity, you better know how to milk it for what it’s worth for chances are, you won’t be in fat city for very long.

Now even with the hit or miss nature of such a celebrity career and its lack of longevity, young people today who are heavily immersed in pop culture will continue to be mesmerized by the possibilities. Who cares if the music industry will probably chew them up and spit them out at some point. They’re ready for the big time! And in droves they try out, shrugging off these points:

American Idol: Tough Facts And Money Lessons

  1. You won’t win: even though the chances aren’t technically as bad as that of the lottery — they’re 1 in 100,000 (or arguably 4 in 100,000 since the top 4 contestants normally become household names), you still need to have a fantastic singing talent to qualify. The chances of you having such a gift is nil, so the odds would still suck.
  2. When you get further along in the competition, the more you will be heavily humiliated and your ego crushed; the more you’ll realize this line of work isn’t for you. You’ll need nerves of steel to make it far.
  3. If you win a spot in the top 24, you may find some new doors opening, such as performing for small mall tours or special shows in amusement parks. Just milk it for what it’s worth.
  4. If you actually win the coveted title, you’ll have instant riches but the sudden rise into celebrityhood can be too much: even old-timers have a problem with it.
  5. A launch pad affording initial exposure can only take you so far: fame is fleeting, make the most of it.

Given these reality checks, is it still worth losing your day job? Many of those auditioning were canned from their current jobs for trying out at the show (which would require you to take time off from your regular job). I echo the sentiments of others who have written on this subject: why do people quit or get fired in pursuit of the American Idol dream? But then I thought again….perhaps their current jobs as gas station attendants, or food servers or grocery clerks or library assistants aren’t really rocking their world too much. Perhaps they’ve found themselves at a dead end and they are using the Idol dream as literally, an escape from reality. So after the show sends them out the door, you’d think they would reassess their situation and do the following:

  1. Seek a higher education.
  2. Get another job and work hard at it.
  3. Stop chasing pipe dreams.

But no… instead, I’m amazed at the number of auditioners who insist on “coming back” next year to try again. They live by the saying: if at first you don’t succeed, keep on trying. Self-confidence, determination and dedication are great, but it’s not very likely that such beliefs without a firm
grip on reality will yield success,
at least for any long term. There is such a thing as misplaced self-confidence.

Knowing all this, if you’re under 30 (the show has age restrictions), have a unique singing talent (but of couse!), a hot personality (definitely!) and a blazing ambition, I wonder if you’d still be interested in becoming the NEXT American Idol. If you are, then good luck.

Copyright © 2007 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Silicon Valley Blogger January 26, 2007 at 8:49 pm

Let’s see, are you telling me that there aren’t any American Idol viewers among financial blog readers? What? No overlap in the audience at all? Ok, am I the only rare animal here where these two worlds intersect….

Mike March 9, 2007 at 9:12 pm

No matter what they say I love American Idol so much! Check out my site:

Silicon Valley Blogger March 9, 2007 at 9:28 pm

Me too. I am one of the walking members of the AI fandom. I was so excited when this post got picked up by the clack boards and 😉 LOL.

All this, despite Sabrina and Sundance getting kicked out way too early.

Shelby April 9, 2007 at 7:55 pm

I think this site is the most dismal site I have ever seen. It puts me in a sucky mood. But it doesn’t quite put my dreams down.

Mia May 21, 2007 at 9:05 am

Let’s just say, winning this contest isn’t everything. And this contest is just stepping stone to greater opportunities. The IDOL peeps are not gonna do it all. The ousted contenders must do their own work after each season.

Anyways, I think Blake Lewis is gonna win this year.

sandy November 24, 2009 at 4:09 pm

wow!!! your post amazes me, comparing winning American Idol to winning the lottery. I think it is a lot easier to achieve something via skill which is what is required in American Idol, than it is by luck, which is the lottery. Believe me becoming a successful singer is not as big of a pipe dream as you think, that kind of thinking is why 97% of the population live in mediocrity. Just my 2 cents

Silicon Valley Blogger November 24, 2009 at 4:16 pm

Is it too late for me to say that David Cook is simply the best, most awesome American Idol singer to ever be discovered? Just my .02. 🙂 Mega-fan here.

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