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OCT
9
11 MOS

No Label, No Problem as 'Idol' Alums Turn to Kickstarter (and Fans) to Fund Their Music

Season nine favorite Siobhan Magnus, Carrie Underwood's runner-up Bo Bice, season eight's Scott MacIntyre and more graduates of the Fox show are offering incentives for financial pledges.

American Idol Alum Kickstarter Split - H 2013
Getty Images

As the music industry becomes increasingly crowded with artists clamoring for ever more elusive record deals, several American Idol alums are turning to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter as a way to raise money for their projects while simultaneously connecting with fans.

Earlier this year, season nine finalist Siobhan Magnus successfully raised over $23,000 to support her ‘90s tribute band, Doubtful Guest, and other alums are following suit. Idol season four runner-up Bo Bice, season eight finalist Scott MacIntyre and season 10 finalist Erika Van Pelt have all recently launched campaigns to fund and market their respective releases.

Why cull the power of thousands after having been watched by millions on the Fox show? Van Pelt says there is a common perception that because someone competed on Idol, or any singing competition for that matter, “automatically means we are successful,” but that isn’t always the case. “A lot of us are still on the grind,” she adds.

To wit: Van Pelt just this week begins a gig as commentator on a Rhode Island NBC affiliate offering weekly insights into the competition on such shows as The Voice and X Factor. Her campaign to raise $20,000 for her debut album, My Independence (out Oct. 8), was successful, clocking in at $20,471.

MacIntyre, a recent transplant from Scottsdale, Ariz. to Bice's home turf of Nashville, has also been working on songs for a new album and as of this writing, had already reached his $25,000 goal.

PHOTOS: 'American Idol' Judges Past and Present: The Good, the Bad and the Boring

“The number of songs that end up on the album depend on how much funding we raise through Kickstarter, so every dollar truly makes a difference,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “When the Kickstarter campaign finishes on Oct. 14, I will know a lot more about what studios, producers, engineers and musicians I can work with based on the funding that has been pledged.”

But like the Fox show itself, not every singer is a winner. Bice, who was signed to RCA Records after finishing second behind Carrie Underwood, was unsuccessful in his bid for $35,000 to fund an album that incudes an art and photography book. Called The Colors of Sound and combining three of his passions into one undertaking Bice was hoping for a release in April 2014, but his campaign stalled at $9,327 and 92 backers.

Speaking to THR while the campaign was still active, Bice noted that several friends had successful Kickstarter campaigns -- among them like Bryan White, Momma's Blue Dress and Mothers Finest. “I figured it was a creative new way for the fans to support the artist directly," said Bice. "That's the ultimate goal, to give the fans what they want from the artist’s project. No middleman!”

In Van Pelt's case, the Kickstarter effort wasn't so much about paying for recording or even manufacturing of an album but rather, being able to afford some of the enormous expenses that typically a label would cover. “The funny thing is the album is finished and I already have $50,000 into the project," she tells THR. "I actually got my first small shipment of hard copy CDs. The problem now is that I am not attached to a label, and being independent [means that] getting radio play is very difficult and any sort of distribution and marketing is going to cost a significant amount of money that I just don’t have.”

As it typical in the Kickstarter model, contributors get to take part in the project in an active way, ranging from receiving acknowledgement in an album’s liner notes to interacting with the artist on a very personal level, like breaking bread with them at a private dinner.

STORY: 'American Idol' Winners, Alums Share Randy Jackson Memories

Fans who contribute $100 or more to MacIntyre's campaign, for example, will receive a personal phone call from MacIntyre. At the $400 level, limited to one person, MacIntyre will throw in the pink pants he wore during Motown week on Idol. The six people who contribute $2,000 or more will have an original song written and recorded for them. MacIntyre already has one backer who has contributed $10,000, which means he will be giving that person a private concert.

Van Pelt’s incentives range from a private lunch hosted by the 27-year old rocker ($500) or, for $1,000, a fan will get a karaoke party with the professional DJ. There are also incentives for a living room concert or a full-blown house jam with her band.

Says Van Pelt: “I’m one of those types of people who hate asking for anything. It’s an Irish pride kind of thing and when my producer approached me about doing Kickstarter I said no. But he started to explain it to me that people get rewards so it’s not a charity. ... I can’t just stand there and ask people for money without giving something significant back.”

“Kickstarter and other similar crowd-funding platforms could be the way of the future when it comes to music,” MacIntyre believes. “Artists are able to connect more intimately than ever before with their fans through social media, and I see Kickstarter as a logical extension of that concept. It allows fans to be a part of the album creation process from the ground up. My fans, friends and family were the reasons I made it so far on American Idol, and I’m hoping they will be the reasons that this new album is my best album yet.”

There are challenges with Kickstarter, however. One being visibility. "The thing with Kickstarter is, if you don’t plaster it absolutely everywhere, unless you are going on the Kickstarter website and looking for it, it doesn’t necessarily show up as a Google search," says Van Pelt. "You sort of have to go out of your way to look for it,” she said.

STORY: Kickstarter Defends Spike Lee's Campaign: 'This Isn't Charity'

Another is the stigma of having been watched by tens of millions but seemingly pleading for dozens to put their money where their fandom is. As many Idol finalists -- and even some winners -- learn, fame is fleeting. Oftentimes, alums of TV shows find themselves trying to strike an iron that has long ago cooled. 

With that in mind, it's important for any artist to make realistic economic goals and reasonable requests of their funders. When Colin Hanks, son of Tom Hanks, turned to Kickstarter to raise $50,000 for the documentary All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records, he explained to potential investors that he was "dedicated to making this film as cost effective as we can." Their contributions, he promised, would go towards "the nuts and bolts of filmmaking."

The average Idol funding goal of $20,000 is far less than the $200,000-plus that major labels coughed up to sign runners-up in the show's early days, and even for a DIY project, barely covers the cost of production, mixing and mastering. Another case for making your future release an EP, some would argue. 

The risk of delays and hiccups are to be expected. As Kickstarter explains on its website: "Some projects take longer than anticipated, but creators who are transparent about issues and delays usually find their backers to be understanding" 

A bonus for the 140-plus Idol finalists out there in the world: if anyone can appreciate the need for tangible support, it's a fellow show alum. "I donated to Bo's project," says Van Pelt. "He's working very hard and I haven’t heard the new material but I’m sure it’s great. I always loved him." 

Idol on Kickstarter: A sampling of recent campaigns by alums of the Fox series

Siobhan Magnus
Season 9 Top 10  
Goal: $20,000
Pledged: $23,610
Status: Funded

Erika Van Pelt
Season 10 Top 10
Goal: $20,000
Pledged: $20,471
Status: Funded

Scott MacIntyre
Season 8 Top 10
Goal: $25,000
Pledged: $27,500
Status: Ongoing

Bo Bice
Season 4 Runner-up
Goal: $35,000
Pledged: $9,327 
Status: Not Funded

Megan Joy,
Season 8 Top 10
Goal: $15,000
Pledged: $18,915
Status: Funded

Jacqueline Rose 
Season 11 Hollywood Week
Goal: $3,000
Pledged: $3,493
Status: Funded

Deanna Brown
Season 8 Hollywood Week
Goal: $6,500
Pledged: $6,526
Status: Funded

Mathanee Treco
Season 3, 5, 9, 11, 12 Auditioner
Goal: $10,000
Pledged: $11,350
Status: Funded

Chip Days
Season 2 Wildcard
Goal: $50,000
Pledged $0
Status: Not Funded

Amadeo DiRocco
Season 9 Hollywood Week
Goal: $5,000
Pledged: $195
Status: Not Funded

Kristi Krause 
Season 11 Hollywood Week
Goal: $25,000
Pledged: $1,150
Status: Not Funded

Twitter: @FredBronson, @MicheleAmabile