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Winners and losers swap roles on American Idol

By Emily Morgan

January 15, 2008 at 10:05am

With the writers strike, many TV addicts are left with only reality television to entertain them. To help fill the void, reality show heavy-hitter, American Idol, returns tonight and tomorrow for its seventh season premiere on Fox.

But American Idol may be one reality competition that isn’t actually about winning or losing. Lately, winners have been losing recording contracts and losers are topping charts, winning Grammys and Oscars, and debuting on Broadway.

Ruben Studdard and Taylor Hicks, who won seasons two and five, respectively, might argue that winning the competition doesn’t make you into a pop star. Both Hicks and Studdard recently have had their contracts with J Records terminated.

Katharine McPhee, also of season five, also lost her recording contract, although, to be fair, she was an American Idol runner-up, and not a winner.

While some Idol champs have essentially failed in the music industry, many Idol losers have won big. Jennifer Hudson, who was the sixth runner-up in season three, moved on to win an Oscar in Dreamgirls and join the cast of Sex and the City: The Movie.

Chris Daughtry, who took fourth place in season five, has sold 3.6 million copies of his first album, with his band Daughtry. Diana DeGarmo, a season-three loser, earned a lead role in Hairspray on Broadway.

The most surprising rising star from American Idol would have to be William Hung. A season-three reject who didn’t make it past the first audition round, Hung had a cult following and launched into the mainstream music scene after his terrible rendition of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs.” He released a top-forty album titled “Inspiration” and later, a holiday album “Hung for the Holidays.”

However, some American Idol winners have found the success that is promised in the competition. Season-one winner Kelly Clarkson has earned two Grammy awards. Season-four winner and two-time Grammy winner Carrie Underwood is nominated for another pair of Grammys in 2008. Fantasia Barrino starred as Celie in The Color Purple on Broadway.

No matter the success of its contestants, the show itself is a financial juggernaut. And that should only increase this year because of the writers strike.

The Los Angeles Times reports that American Idol ad revenue this season could increase 20 percent over the $810 million earned last year. Thirty-second spots initially sold for up to $750,000, but will reach $1 million or more for the show’s finale. The Times said similar spots for top-rated shows like CBS’s Survivor and ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy sell for $250,000 to $400,000.

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