'American Idol' Limits Contestants To $400 For Their Onstage Costumes

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According to the show's former costume designer, the wardrobe budget is so low that contestants often open their wallets so they can dress more like a star.

Would you believe that American Idol contestants  are only allotted  $400 for their costume on each episode of  the global hit show?  That adds up to $800 a week for two costumes: $400 for the performance show,  $400 for the results episode.

According to the show's Emmy-winning former costume designer Soyon An, pulling together an outfit for only $400 that will impress millions of viewers is daunting. Even if you only shop at Forever 21, H&M and Top Shop, $400 does not go very far.

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That’s why contestants often pay for their wardrobe out of their own pockets if the cost goes over the show’s budget. 

“The contestants know they will be in front of 300 million people, and they're creating an image, their brand,” explains An, who worked with Idol alums such as Carrie Underwood, Adam Lambert, Kris Allen, Kelly Clarkson, Jordin Sparks, and Pia Toscana. “So if the costume goes over $400, the contestants have to decide whether or not to buy it themselves if they really want to wear it."

"Also, the $400 is not like roll-over minutes,” adds An. “If you only spend $200 one week, you couldn’t roll over the other $200 for the following week. It's use it or lose it."
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The good news is that both winners and losers get to keep their wardrobes; from shoes, accessories, to dresses, skirts, tops, pants and jackets. Everything goes home with them. ”The brands love it when the contestants continue to wear the stuff at personal appearances when the show is over,” An tells The Hollywood Reporter.

How did the low budget affected her job? “I had to reach out to new up and coming brands at trade shows such as Coterie in New York and Magic in Vegas. "That’s where I find out about new designers. I’d just tell them “This is my budget. This is what I have to dress this contestant. Sometimes, a retailer like J. Crew was able to offer a 20-30 percent discount, which was so helpful. “

“The budget was -- and is -- very, very tight . But we also didn’t want to be perceived as really high end and designery. You have to be strategic. Most viewers are smart and sophisticated and they know when you’re pushing product in their face.”