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What It Actually Means To Win A Recording Contract On American Idol

"American Idol" has a simple premise: find the best unknown singers in America and give them a recording contract. With an intensive audition process that spans several cities across the country and sees thousands of would-be stars try out for a golden ticket to Hollywood and the ensuing singing competition, "American Idol" has made for compelling television for nearly two decades. The series burst onto the scene in 2002 and immediately made a star out of Season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson, as well as re-popularizing original judges Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, and Randy Jackson, and host Ryan Seacrest. By 2007, the series was averaging over 30 million viewers per episode; a CBS television executive told The New York Times that Fox's hit singing competition was "the ultimate schoolyard bully," for how difficult the show's popularity made it for other networks to compete during the "American Idol" timeslot.

"American Idol" has helped launch successful careers for several artists; Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, and Jordin Sparks all won in its first six seasons. Notable runners-up who went on to successful careers include Clay Aiken, Adam Lambert, and Chris Daughtry, who placed fourth in the fifth season of "American Idol." Much has been made during the series' run about winning the competition, but what do "American Idol" winners actually receive for winning? Here's a breakdown of what the recording contract for "American Idol" winners actually involves.

The contracts American Idol winners receive are not as lucrative as they once were

According to Newsweek, the winner of "American Idol" receives a record deal from Disney-owned Hollywood Records; runner-up artists also sometimes get signed to the label. The outlet reported that artists receive $125,000 upon signing a contract and another $125,000 when they finalize a debut album within four months, along with a $300,000 advance budget to record. The winner also earns $1,000 per week during the recording process and receives $1,000 for each master recording of a song they deliver to Hollywood Records. While these numbers don't amount to chump change for recent winners like Chayce Beckham, Just Sam, and Laine Hardy, it's no secret that "American Idol" isn't as lucrative as it used to be.

Through the series' first nine seasons, its winners typically earned over $1 million in their first year after receiving a contract. "Idol" was also attractive to any contestant who made it to the final 12 singers, who often were able to record singles during their run on the show and participated in a live tour afterward (via The New York Times). Even when "American Idol" was at its height — and making its star winners most popular — the series and its creator, Simon Fuller, received some criticism for the deals contestants could sign. NBC News pointed out in 2011 that "American Idol" performers face strict fines for leaking details about their contracts to media and noted that Season 1 winner Clarkson made a point of completely distancing herself from the show just two years after winning.