• The Hollywood Reporter on LinkedIn
  • Follow THR on Pinterest

Carrie Underwood Surpasses Kelly Clarkson as Idol's Biggest Earner

As of May 16, Underwood’s album sales topped 12,296,000 and she’s moved more than 18,482,000 digital tracks since winning season 4.

1. Carrie Underwood
AP Photo/Dan Steinberg

Simon Cowell predicted it during season 4 and in 2011 it came true — Carrie Underwood is now officially American Idol’s top earner, surpassing season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson.

In the new issue of the Hollywood Reporter, which features a 21-page package celebrating Idol’s tenth anniversary, THR breaks down the show’s most successful graduates. Last year, Clarkson reigned supreme on Billboard’s Top 24 Idols tally, with 10,600,000 albums and 15,900,000 digital tracks sold since 2002. As of May 16, Underwood’s album sales topped 12,296,000 and she’s moved more than 18,482,000 digital tracks since winning season 4. (Sales data provided by Nielsen SoundScan.)

Underwood has also spent a healthy chunk of the last two years on the road, most recently with the 115-plus-date Play On tour, and while Clarkson’s international presence is stronger than Underwood’s, who plays mostly to U.S. and Canadian audiences, she’s devoted much of 2010 and 2011 to working on her as yet unreleased fifth album -- or spending rather than earning. To compare, Clarkson’s tour revenues since her win hover around $32,000,000, according to Billboard BoxScore, while Underwood has pulled in twice that amount since 2006, or north of $66,000,000. 

Further cementing Underwood’s place at the top of the Idol heap is her recent foray into film. Underwood was cast for a supporting role in April’s Soul Surfer, which grossed $39.5 million at the box office, and has also scored guest spots on popular sitcoms like CBS’ How I Met Your Mother

As for the rest of the top 10, the Idols’ ranking has barely shifted since last year, though some graduates boast lucrative new endorsement deals (Jennifer Hudson as spokesperson for Weight Watchers) and hit shows (Fantasia’s No. 1 rated VH1 series Fantasia For Real). 

1.    Carrie Underwood

Season 4 winner

Album sales: 12,296,000

Digital track sales: 18,482,000
2.    Kelly Clarkson

Season 1 winner

Album sales: 10,674,000

Digital track sales: 17,254,000

The singer who started it all, Clarkson’s 18 singles, many of them hits, set the Idol bar high. 

3.    Chris Daughtry

Season 5, 4th place

Album sales: 6,104,000

Digital track sales: 11,127,000

He turned out to be a winner at rock radio with a string of chart-topping singles. 

4.    Clay Aiken

Season 2, runner up

Album sales: 4,990,000

Digital track sales: 581,000

His debut was a hit, and while Aiken has kept a low profile of late, public outings like his recent co-headlining trek with Ruben Studdard proved successful. 

5.    Fantasia

Season 3 winner

Album sales: 2,809,000

Digital track sales: 1,325,000

After a 2008 stint on Broadway in The Color Purple, she launched a reality show, Fantasia For Real, which became VH1’s No. 1 rated series. 
6.    Ruben Studdard

Season 2 winner

Album sales: 2,556,000

Digital track sales: 445,000

Four albums, a Grammy nomination and a co-headlining tour with Aiken has kept Studdard on the radar. 

7.    Jordin Sparks

Season 6 winner

Album sales: 1,275,000

Digital track sales: 9,547,000

Her massive presence on pop radio translates to 9 tracks sold for every album. 
8.    Jennifer Hudson

Season 3, 7th place 

Album sales: 1,160,000 

Digital track sales: 1,964,000

After winning an Oscar and Grammy, she lost over 80 pounds and became the spokewoman for Weight Watchers in 2010.
9.    David Cook

Season 7 winner

Album sales: 1,324,000

Digital track sales: 4,196,000

Soon to follow his platinum-selling debut with June 28’s This Loud Morning, Cook also tours regularly and scored a deal with Skechers. 
10.    Kellie Pickler

Season 5, 6th place

Album sales: 1,322,000 

Digital track sales: 3,319,000

Pickler made big waves on the country scene with her 2006 debut album, Small Town Girl. Tours with Brad Paisley (2007) and Taylor Swift (2009) followed.