To help answer many persistent curiosities throughout every season of American Idol, here is a collection of Frequently Asked Questions.
ARE AMERICAN IDOL CONTESTANTS PAID FOR BEING IN THE COMPETITION?
Once a contestant reaches the Top 10 and in some seasons the Top 12, they start to receive a paycheck for appearing and performing on the weekly shows. At that point, they are also required to join the AFTRA union (The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists). The most recently reported hourly rate I could reliably source is $1,571.00 per two-hour episode and a bit less for a one-hour show. The Top 10 contestants (plus the wildcard pick this season) who go on to perform on the American Idol Summer Tour will also receive a fee of $1,000.00 per show.
ARE THE FINALIST’S FAMILIES COMPENSATED FOR BEING IN THE AUDIENCE?
Even though American Idol loves to utilize the finalists’ friends and family sitting in the audience, either by airing reactions or actually bringing them up on stage, they do not compensate them for their expenses. The cost to the families can be quite high considering they must pay for travel and accommodations out of their own pockets. The audition process can also be a financial drain, considering some hopefuls must travel long distances to get to the audition city. If they make it through the first round they must travel back again to audition for the next round. These rounds of auditioning can be separated by several weeks. Many believe it’s well worth the expense for the chance to become an overnight success.
DO THE CONTESTANT’S CHOOSE THEIR OWN WARDROBE AND WHO PAYS FOR IT?
The contestants are given a clothing allowance. The last verified amount I could find is $450.00 per week but it must be increased occasionally to keep up with inflation. A stylist, employed by Idol, accompanies contestants on shopping trips to help choose outfits for the coming week and advise them on what “look” will work best based on the their individual style as well as the style of their upcoming performance. Idol also provides them with a hair stylist and makeup artist.
WHERE DO AMERICAN IDOL CONTESTANTS LIVE?
Accommodations for Idol contestants have varied throughout the seasons. In earlier years the contestants were put up in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills because the surroundings made for a great setting for the often aired clips of the contestants at “home”. More recently, the contestants have lived in various apartments, usually with a roommate. Although American Idol hasn’t shown clips of their home life lately, the apartments are reportedly quite nice.
DO CONTESTANTS REALLY GET TO CHOOSE THEIR OWN SONGS?
Contestants are free to choose any song they want as long as it is on the list provided by production. They are also given CDs of the songs on the list to help them make the best decision and become familiar with the song. The number of songs to choose from varies with the theme, but it’s usually about 50. The reason for this is simply copyright issues. The songs as performed by the contestants are released as singles and made available for downloading. American Idol has to secure certain permissions for this to happen. Limiting the choices also prevents a contestant from choosing a song that is too obscure making it difficult for the producers to make the arrangements for reproduction.
WHAT DO THE CONTESTANTS DO DURING THE WEEK BETWEEN SHOWS?
The time between the weekly shows is taken up with the responsibilities that come with competing on American Idol. The finalists fill the time with shopping for clothes for the next performance, choosing their song and then rehearsing it right up to the day of the performance, when they have a dress rehearsal before air time. They work with professional musicians and the show’s vocal coach. They also have to devote a significant amount of time to filming the Ford commercials, any interviews shown on the weekly episodes and any other special promos. This season they are also working on writing their own songs for their debut albums.
WHY DO THE RECAP CLIPS OF THE NIGHT’S PERFORMANCES SOMETIMES LOOK DIFFERENT THAN THE ACTUAL PERFORMANCE?
This can happen because the footage is collected during the dress rehearsals that take place earlier on performance day. The production team has enough on their plates managing the broadcast of a live show without the additional task of rushing to put together recap packages of the night’s performances. It’s just a more efficient way of doing things.
NOTE: All stated figures are from the most recent information reported over the last several seasons of American Idol and should be considered approximate.