Forbes has released its annual ranking of the top-earning "American Idol" alums for the past year, and it comes as no surprise that Carrie Underwood, who recently surpassed Kelly Clarkson as the most successful Idol of all time, tops the list. (Incredibly, her $20 million tally comprises 40 percent of the ENTIRE LIST, since the others on the list made $29.8 million combined!) But there are plenty of surprises on the new Forbes list--when it comes to who's on it, and, just as interestingly, who's not.
$URPRI$E: ADAM'S BIG DEBUT - Adam Lambert makes his first showing on the list...and he's all the way up in the second spot, tied with fellow robbed rocker and road warrior Chris Daughtry, with an impressive $6 million total. He actually beat out the superstar likes of Jennifer Hudson (who holds steady at number six, with $2 million) and even Kelly Clarkson (who drops from number two to number five after a relatively low-key year in which she earned $2.5 million). Adam wasn't even on last year's list, which was a surprise in itself since his Season 8 castmate, Kris Allen, was. (Kris is a "near miss" on the list this year, according to Forbes, but now that he's lucratively starting to write songs for other people, like "Glee" star Matthew Morrison, he may make a reappearance next year.) While Adam's first album, For Your Entertainment, sold 821,000 copies domestically and was certified gold or platinum in six other countries, his success is also largely attributed to his gigging: His 116-date Glam Nation Tour was a rare success in 2010's troubled concert industry, and it also spawned a vast array of merchandise (like Glambert disco-ball keychains!), a live EP, and a concert DVD. If Adam if he can keep up this pace after his sophomore album comes out, he should rank high again in 2012.
$URPRI$E: FANTASIA'S BIG COMEBACK - Fantasia Barrino is well known for her money troubles (she almost lost her home in 2009, and once told People that she was so in debt, she couldn't afford a pizza), and last year she wasn't on the Forbes list at all. But this year she's all the way up at number three, with a tally of $4 million. This is thanks to her reality show "Fantasia For Real," which was VH1's biggest hit of 2010, and her comeback album Back To Me, which was her highest-charting album to date (it debuted at number two on the Billboard 200) and has so far sold almost 500,000 copies. After a year of many setbacks--she was caught up in an extramarital affair scandal, then tried to take her own life--this high Forbes ranking is very good news for Fantasia.
$URPRI$E: LEE'S NO-SHOW - Lee DeWyze, the most recent winner with available data applicable to this list, didn't make the cut at all. (He's another "near miss," as his runner-up from Season 9, Crystal Bowersox, which means he definitely earned less than $1 million.) Perhaps this isn't that huge a surprise, considering that his post-"Idol" album, Live It Up, is the least successful winners' album ever, disappointingly debuting at number 19 and selling only about 143,000 copies to date. But as mentioned earlier, Lee's predecessor, Kris Allen, did make the list before. However, Kris starred in a Ford commercial that ran on Fox throughout last year's "Idol" season and featured a song, "Alright With Me," that Kris co-wrote. Lee didn't get such a residual-generating opportunity.
$URPRI$E: KAT JOINS THE PACK - Katharine McPhee's career never quite took off after her Season 5 "Idol" run, and her most recent album, Unbroken, only sold about 46,000 copies. But this year she squeaks onto the Forbes list, tying for ninth place with the Season 7 Davids (Cook and Archuleta) after earning a cool million. This is due to her upcoming, much-buzzed-about NBC series, "Smash," and a new label deal with Columbia Records in conjunction with that show. If "Smash" is, well, a smash this fall, expect Kat to move up this list. Perhaps 2012 will really be her big year.
$URPRI$E: WOMEN CASH IN - Of the dozen Idols on the combined Forbes list, seven of them are women. This is an interesting development, considering that no female contestant has won "American Idol" since Season 6's Jordin Sparks. (Jordin surprisingly places fourth on this year's list, with $3 million, and tells Forbes, "'American Idol' kick-started me in my career. It gave me an amazing fan base money can't buy.") Additionally, only five of the top earners on the list are singers who actually won "Idol." So apparently the way "Idol" fans vote with their pocketbooks differs from how they vote with their cell phones while the show is actually on the air.
So, will this year's newest confirmed "Idol" signings--Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina, and Pia Toscano--make the Forbes list next year? That remains to be seen, since Scotty's $250,000 record deal is actually less lucrative than previous winners' deals. We'll just have to wait until next year to find out which Idols rake in the big bucks.
FULL FORBES LIST
1. Carrie Underwood: $20 million
2. Daughtry: $6 million (tie), Adam Lambert: $6 million (tie)
3. Fantasia Barrino: $4 million
4. Jordin Sparks: $3 million
5. Kelly Clarkson: $2.5 million
6. Jennifer Hudson: $2 million
7. Kellie Pickler: $1.8 million
8. Clay Aiken: $1.5 million
9. Katharine McPhee: $1 million (tie), David Archuleta: $1 million (tie), David Cook: $1 million (tie)
Near misses: Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze, Crystal Bowersox, Ruben Studdard
Forbes reporting by Zack O'Malley Greenburg. Check out Zack's recent book, Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went from Street Corner to Corner Office