Mariah Carey's $18 Million 'Idol' Deal: How Does it Measure Up to Stars' TV Paydays?

Who's getting the best deal? SPIN breaks down the reported salaries of singing show judges per episode and per day

Mariah Carey / Photo by Getty Images
Mariah Carey / Photo by Getty Images
Devon Maloney WRITTEN BY
Devon Maloney

In an age where a band can sell a meager 44,000 copies of its new record and still land at No. 1 on the charts, what's a poor celebrity artist to do? Oh, that's right, sign a multimillion-dollar contract as a judge on a singing competition show, of course! It's what Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez tried out for a bit and what Britney and Demi did a few months ago. As of yesterday, Mariah Carey has followed suit. TMZ reports that Mariah's deal is a milestone at $18 million, making her the best-paid judge (not including Simon Cowell) ever to grace a singing show panel. But Idol seasons usually run about 40 episodes, while shows like The X Factor only require about 26, the latter with considerably less filming time (and barely any live recording). Just how does that break down? And is it actually a sustainable gig? (Reports are circulating that at least Idol will begin a policy of a fresh judges panel every season.) SPIN did a little math to get some answers.

Note: All the salaries below are those reported by the media; some are via "sources" so they may not be 100 percent exact. Those not included in the breakdown — namely Steven Tyler (American Idol), Adam Levine (The Voice), Cee Lo Green (The Voice), and Blake Shelton (The Voice) — haven't posted salary deals; the Voice guys, according to THR, all made about $75,000 per episode, while ERMAHGERD Tyler's is reportedly "many millions, but far less than" J.Lo's gigantic deal. And don't even get us started with Epic Records chair-turned-X Factor judge L.A. Reid's salary (it's been unreported, but it's a fairly safe bet that that's in the multimillions, too).

For his part, X Factor and former American Idol show-runner Cowell reportedly made a cool $75 mil from the former, while raking in a ridiculous $33 million each season for his last five on Idol, seasons 5-9 (reports also circulated that that number was upped to $45 million for the last one). Given that he packs a considerably harder punch in contract negotiations, we've left him out of the breakdown (we will point out that he's making about $2.9 million per episode for X Factor, however).

Behold, the wealth of people who sit there telling people, on-camera, their voices suck, in order of increasing squalor:

Mariah Carey, American Idol
Salary (Season 12): $18 million
Episodes (Based on Season 11): 40
Season Duration: 4 months, 5 days
Per-Episode Haul: $450,000
Per-Day Haul: $144,000
Chance to Renew: Probably, unless she asks for more money, and/or her alleged bad attitude get her in hot water with Simon Cowell
Likelihood of Renewal: Depends on how this new record performs

Britney Spears, The X Factor
Salary (Season 2): $15 million
Episodes (Based on Season 1): 26
Season Duration: 1 month, 3 weeks, 6 days
Per-Episode Haul: $576,923.08
Per-Day Haul: $258,620.69
Chance to Renew: It's Britney Spears. Being kinda mean. So, probably.
Likelihood of Renewal: Too soon to tell, though her fiancé/manager/conservator Jason Trawick will likely factor heavily into that decision

Jennifer Lopez, American Idol
Salary (Seasons 10 & 11): $12 million and $15 million, respectively
Episodes: 39 and 40, respectively
Season Duration: 4 months, 6 days and 4 months, 1 week, respectively
Per-Episode Haul: $307,692.31 and $375,000, respectively
Per-Day Haul: $95,238.09 and $118,110.24, respectively
Chance to Renew: Sources say she would have stayed for $17 million, FOX rejected the offer, so she bowed out to focus on her music and children.
Likelihood of Renewal: None whatsoever (FOX president Kevin Reilly said yesterday that she's 100 percent out

Christina Aguilera, The Voice
Salary (Seasons 1 & 2): $10 million
Episodes: 21
Season Duration: 3 months, 3 days and 2 months, 3 days, respectively
Per-Episode Haul: $476,190.48, by the math (though reports put it at more like $225,000)
Per-Day Haul: $107,526.88
Chance to Renew:
Likelihood of Renewal: High, considering she has a forthcoming album to promote

Paula Abdul, American Idol and The X Factor
Salary (Season 8 & Season 1): $3.5 million and $1 million, respectively
Episodes: 40 and 26, respectively
Season Duration: 4 months, 1 week and 3 months, 1 day, respectively
Per-Episode Haul: $87,500 and $38,461.54, respectively
Per-Day Haul: $27,559.05 and $10,989.01, respectively
Chance to Renew: Asked for a raise to $5 million on Idol in 2009, was denied; dropped off the X Factor Season 2 bill in January (so, no).

Nicole Scherzinger, The X Factor
Salary (Season 1): Unknown, though Cheryl Cole, the Brit singer she replaced early in the season, was under contract for $1.5 million — we'll estimate her own deal, which originally was for a hosting position, at that rate
Episodes: 26
Season Duration: 3 months, 1 day
Per-Episode Haul: $57,692.31
Per-Day Haul: $16,483.52
Chance to Renew: Judging by reports, probably not (understandable, given she wasn't the showrunners' first choice to begin with)
Likelihood of Renewal: N/A — she announced last month that she'll take her judging skills to the U.K., whose original version of X Factor will pay her roughly $1.2 million for her services on their upcoming fourth season.

Demi Lovato, The X Factor
Salary (Season 2): $1 million (she's been touring during some of the auditions)
Episodes (Based on Season 1): 26
Season Duration (Based on Season 1): 3 months, 1 day
Per-Episode Haul: $38,461.54
Per-Day Haul: $10,989.01
Chance to Renew: Considering what a deal she is for FOX, we're betting definitely (that is, unless she starts asking for a salary comparable to fellow judge Britney).
Likelihood of Renewal: Dubious, considering she turns 20 this summer and is likely using the show as a platform to up her grown-up celebrity profile. Then again, having just put out her third album Unbroken last year, she'll probably have another one to promote in 2013 (her last two records were two years apart), which could mean she's either too busy for the show or will use it as a platform à la J.Lo and Xtina.



Mariah might be making more in the long run, it's Britney who's actually getting the best working contract, per episode and per day, by nearly double! Conclusion: never trust just the numbers.

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