American Idol has crowned 12 winners since it debuted in 2002, but not all of them have been successful. Ironically, many ousted contestants have gone on to outperform their season's champs. Forbes released its annual list of the top-earning alums in 2013—and the results may surprise fans.
Forbes calculated the artists' earnings estimates by compling data from Pollstar Pro, the RIAA and Nielsen SoundScan, as well as interviewing industry veterans, musicians' handlers and some of the artists. The financial figures reflect the stars' pretax earnings from June 2012 through June 2013.
Season 4 winner Carrie Underwood takes the top spot. The country singer, 31, was paid approximately $31 million, thanks to her North American concert tour and an Olay endorsement deal. The magazine estimates that the "Blown Away" singer has earned $83 million over the past five years.
Kelly Clarkson was the first person to win the Fox talent competition, but she earned $24 million less than Underwood did. The "People Like Us" singer took home $7 million during the same time period, due in large part to her highly profitable concert tour. Clarkson, who is pregnant with her first child, also released Greatest Hits – Chapter One in 2012 and the Christmas album Wrapped in Red in 2013.
Third place is a tie between Season 11 winner Philip Phillips and Season 8 runner-up Adam Lambert.
Phillips' coronation anthem, "Home," has sold more than 4 million copies—the best of any song in American Idol's history—and his debut album reached platinum status. The singer, 23, also performed 90 shows during Forbes' scoring period. Lambert, who lost to Kris Allen, released his sophomore album in May 2012 and booked a recurring guest starring role on Glee the following year. He also headlined the We Are Glamily world tour from February to March 2013. The singers earned $5 million each.
Other list-makers include Season 5 fourth place finisher Daughtry (No. 5, $4 million), Season 10 winner Scotty McCreery (No. 6, $3 million), Season 5 winner Taylor Hicks (No. 7, $2.5 million), Season 3 winner Fantasia Barrino and Season 5 sixth place finisher Kellie Pickler (No. 8, $1.5 million), Season 5 runner-up Katharine McPhee and Season 3 seventh place finisher Jennifer Hudson (No. 10, $1 million).