How much money judges on reality TV shows really make

Whether your interest is piqued by quirky culinary challenges, negotiations for million-dollar deals, or seeing a possible star in the making, watching reality TV competitions is a great way to indulge your passions while you unwind. It's also a great way to make a ton of money if you happen to be a celebrity who's willing to act as a judge on one of the more popular shows.

While some contestants might take home several thousand dollars as a prize if they manage to win — and most people would surely be happy to bank 10, 20, or 100 thousand dollars — their hard-earned cash can't compare to the staggering amounts that the judges are seeing. By providing their expertise and selective skills, industry icons like Katy Perry, Christina Aguilera, and Adam Levine (just to name a few) are bringing in a fortune each and every season. But even among the famous judges, some are making a lot more than others. 

Frankly, you might be surprised by how much some are taking in, and shocked by how little others make in comparison. Either way, you'll definitely want to read on to check out how much money judges on reality shows really make.

Simon Cowell brought in big bucks with his even bigger opinions

Simon Cowell told The Guardian in 2011, "When someone asks, 'Does success make you into a monster?' I always say, 'No, it enables you to be a monster.'" That kind of response shouldn't surprise anyone who watched the entertainment industry player as a judge on American Idol from the first season in 2002 until 2010. But his willingness to give musicians an honest (if cringe-worthy) critique without sparing their feelings not only earned him a notorious reputation, it also helped him earn $33 million per season at his peak, according to Celebrity Net Worth, although The Hollywood Reporter (via MTV News) puts it as high as $45 million.

And thanks to his business savviness, Cowell extended his earning power with his label, Syco, which brings in money via the artists they sign from American Idol, while his production company, Syco TV, is behind similar competition-based shows like The X Factor, Britain's Got Talent, and America's Got Talent

According to Celebrity Net Worth, Cowell's various endeavors earned him $45 million between June 2017 and June 2018 and another $41 million between June 2018 and June 2019, which has added to his estimated net worth of $600 million. It certainly seems like being snarky has paid off for this particularly famous (or, rather, infamous) reality TV judge.

Randy Jackson made millions while discovering "great talent"

While being mean brought in the green for Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson kept his opinions relatively chill and ended up with a cool fortune. With an overall worth of $50 million, Jackson reportedly took home $10 million for one season of American Idol. As a respected musician and producer who knows what it takes to make it in the business, he ended up as the show's longest-serving judge, starting when it premiered back in 2002 and sticking with them until his departure in 2014.

When asked by Entertainment Weekly for his thoughts regarding the various judges that have served the show over the years, he admitted, "I'm of course biased, but I think me, Paula [Abdul], and Simon [Cowell] was still the best ever — best ever of any judges ever on any kind of show like this. 'Cause we discovered some great talent that has gone on to do some great things." One of those great talents was the first winner of American Idol, Kelly Clarkson, who also makes an appearance on this list for her own lucrative work as a reality TV judge.

Paula Abdul didn't get what she wanted

After a successful career as a pop singer whose hits once topped the charts, Paula Abdul was the third of the original American Idol industry experts. However, it turns out that she was making a fraction of what Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson were earning while sitting at the judges' table. According to Money.com, the "Straight Up" songstress was only being paid $1 million to $3.5 million per season on American Idol during her run from 2002 until 2009.

After establishing herself as a mainstay on the popular show, Abdul apparently decided that she deserved a salary boost and reportedly asked for $5 million, but when she didn't get it, she quit. However, according to The New York Times, she was indeed offered $5 million, but felt it wasn't enough considering the show's host Ryan Seacrest was given $10 million a year in salary plus another $15 million over three years for rights to his image and various deals.

While Abdul's American Idol days may have fizzled out, her time as a reality TV judge wasn't over. She moved on to a role with The X Factor, and according to Celebrity Net Worth, made $2.5 million for her season working alongside her former Idol pal Simon Cowell.

Katy Perry is "worth every penny" on American Idol

Katy Perry has earned her fair share of industry accolades — even multiple world records — and has millions of fans that help boost her star-power (she has 85 million followers on Instagram and 108 million on Twitter). She was also deemed the highest-paid female artist in 2018, but not because of new music. Instead, that was when she joined the revival of American Idol and began earning a $25 million paycheck, according to Celebrity Net Worth, who also explained that "ABC CEO Ben Sherwood considered her to be worth every penny, as he was reportedly interested in Perry's ability to interest younger viewers in the show."

They note that "when Perry only agreed to come on board for no less than $25 million annually, ABC signed off on the deal, even if it meant that other figures on the show got a cut in pay." Those "other figures" apparently included fellow Idol judges Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan, as well as host, Ryan Seacrest, although when he threatened to say no to the reduced amount, he kept his $15 million pay intact.

Worth an estimated $330 million, when Perry was asked about the $25 million payday by Cubby and Carolina Bermudez In the Morning, she answered (via TMZ), saying, "I'm really proud that as a woman I got paid." She sure did!

Lionel Richie is indeed a rich-ie man, partly due to American Idol

Industry veteran Lionel Richie doesn't make nearly as much for his work on American Idol as Katy Perry does, although the $15 million paycheck he reportedly earns each season is still pretty darn good. And since he's estimated to be worth $200 million, he'll probably be fine with his (*cough*) modest fortune.

After serving as a judge for two seasons on the Idol revival, he talked to reporters (via People) about what it would take for him to return for season three, saying, "What would it take? The same thing we did this year. We got the three greatest personalities ever on this show. When I started with this group I was a bit worried. I kept telling America to pray for me, but now that I know everybody and their characters, I would not do another show without them!"

Luke Bryan has a "clear vision" of his role as he earns millions

Rounding out the American Idol revival's trio of expert judges, country singer Luke Bryan also makes $15 million per season for American Idol. And although his overall net worth can't quite match Katy Perry or Lionel Richie's (Celebrity Net Worth estimates that he has $140 million), he apparently earned $50 million between June 2017 and June 2018 before taking in $43 million between June 2018 and June 2019.

In May 2019, following his second season with the show, he told reporters (via People), "You know, we've had an amazing two years. It feels like this year we came in and had a clearer vision and developed our identity and our role." He continued, "We want to keep that going. We're proud of what people at home are watching. I mean, I know Lionel and Katy are getting it when we walk down the street when somebody comes up and says, 'We love the way you're treating these kids on American Idol.' It truly feels really great!"

Padma Lakshmi is cooking up a fortune on Top Chef

Sitting on a $40 million fortune these days thanks to her fine taste in food, Padma Lakshmi earns $50,000 per episode of Top Chef, according to Celebrity Net Worth. First joining the show in 2006 during the second season, she's been a host and judge ever since and even stepped up to also act as an executive producer. 

Along with earning her legions of loyal fans — who regularly flood her food-filled Instagram posts with comments like "Yummmmmy" and "Can you save some for me?"  — Lakshmi's work on Top Chef has earned plenty of industry honors, including nominations for Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program in 2007, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019, as well as a nod for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program in 2009, and along with others on the show, she won a Primetime Emmy Award in 2010 for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program.

In May 2019, Lakshmi talked to Market Watch about the best financial advice she's received, saying, "Do not live beyond your means. You have to really be disciplined, and separate what society tells you from what will be the best path for you to follow." Considering her level of success, she obviously knows what she's talking about.

Howie Mandel has spent a decade earning a hefty paycheck on America's Got Talent

Sticking with a gig can certainly pay off. According to Celebrity Net Worth, Howie Mandel makes $70,000 per episode of America's Got Talent with a net worth estimated to be $40 million thanks in part to AGT where he's been for a decade. He talked to the Today show about his 10th anniversary, saying, "Just when you think you've seen everything, you realize you ain't seen nothing yet."

Mandel also opened up when asked by NHL.com if his previous role on Deal or No Deal was the easiest job he's had. "The easiest thing I did was AGT," he admitted. "Deal or no Deal was hard in the sense I had no control over what the people were doing. To see a real human standing five feet from me and saying 'no deal' to $200,000 when they had told me just before that they had no health insurance, they've never owned a home, they have three children, and they don't have a car, it was really hard for me not to say to them: 'Are you an idiot? Take the money and get out of here so you can change your life.'"

"I feel privileged for AGT because this whole judging thing doesn't really feel like a job," he continued. "I try to be positive as much as I can, that's the hardest part. Deal or no Deal and AGT sure didn't compare."

Howard Stern's "image was born" while he bolstered his bank account

"While still known mostly as a foul-mouthed radio host with a dirty mind, Howard Stern's image was reborn as an encouraging and even lovable judge on the reality show America's Got Talent," according to Money.com. That reborn image not only had fans seeing Stern in a new light, but it also reportedly brought him $15 million per year for his role as a judge on AGT from 2012 until 2015.

However, that salary was just a drop in the (what one must assume is a jewel-covered) bucket of the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and former shock-jock's overall annual salary, estimated to be around $90 million, which adds to his grand fortune which is thought to be around $650 million. And despite the fact that, as Money notes, Stern once said "decades ago that he couldn't wait to make enough money so he could quit the business," he now "gives no sign that he's ready to retire."

Adam Levine's salary was on the rise

During Adam Levine's time on The Voice from 2011 to 2019, the Maroon 5 frontman's salary continued to rise. According to Celebrity Net Worth, his first season on the show earned him $6 million, which went up to $10 million by 2015, $12 million in 2016, and since 2017, it's been $13 million.

The big-budget boosts to Levine's paychecks also helped increase his overall wealth, which was first listed on Celebrity Net Worth at $5 million in September 2010, before it bumped up to $10 million in 2012, $25 million in 2014, $70 million in 2017, and $95 million in 2018, while in September 2019 he apparently had $120 million to his name.

In May 2019, he wrote a lengthy Instagram post about his decision to leave The Voice, writing, "About 8 years ago, [executive producer] Mark Burnett convinced us to sign up for this show where you sit in a big red chair with your back turned away from the singers on the stage. … We had no idea what we were doing or where it was going. After the first day of shooting, I sat there, stunned. I said to myself 'there's some magic here. Something is definitely happening.' It went on to be a life-shaping experience that will be close to my heart forever."

Blake Shelton's been making a (relatively) modest amount since season 1 of The Voice

Blake Shelton may have been a judge and coach on The Voice since the first season of the show back in 2011, but he still only makes $4 million per season. Thankfully, the television personality who's also a country singer is doing fine with an estimated net worth of $60 million and plenty of #1 singles including "The Baby," "Some Beach," "Home," "She Wouldn't Be Gone," "All About Tonight," "Who Are You When I'm Not Looking," and "Every Time I Hear That Song," among many others.

He opened up to Parade about his work on the popular (and potentially life-changing) show in 2011, saying, "Ironically, being a coach on The Voice and spending time with [the contestants] … I learned a lot about myself. It reminded me how lucky I am that this happened for me, and it kind of lit the spark inside me again for my love of music. I probably learned way more from them than they ever learned from me."

Christina Aguilera isn't motivated by the money — but still makes A LOT

As famous as the range of reality TV personalities can claim to be, Christina Aguilera arguably has more star power than the other judges on The Voice. That's probably why she earns $15 million per year for her work, according to Celebrity Net Worth. Starting on the show back in 2011 and continuing to pop up until 2016, her team only came out on top once, during her final season, which means that you can decide for yourself if her appearance was worth the investment.

Whether or not you're "Team Christina," these days the star herself isn't motivated by winning or even money, as she explained to Haute Living in 2014, saying, "Being a working mother is not easy, but I think it helps you choose what's important in your life. If I think about starting a new project — whether it be music, a movie or a fragrance — I always stop and think: Is this something I feel really passionate about? That way, if I'm not at home at least it's for something I really love, and my son can look up to that."

Kelly Clarkson's journey from contestant to judge included a big payday

Talk about a full-circle career path! Back in 2002, Kelly Clarkson was a struggling performer who was trying to impress the judges before becoming the first winner of American Idol and nowadays, she's a judge herself, earning $560,000 per episode (or around $14 million per season) on The Voice. "In total, between 2012, 2017, 2018 and 2019, Kelly has earned $53 million working on The Voice alone, before taxes," according to Celebrity Net Worth. "Combined with her music earnings, Kelly has earned just around $100 million during her entire career to date."

Before her career-making Idol audition, Clarkson told The Rewind with Guy Raz that she "had nothing to [her] name," and explained, "I worked at a comedy club, I was a cocktail waitress at a comedy club. I've worked at a Papa John's. I've worked at a Subway." Basically, she "did anything that paid." Despite the struggle, she admitted, "I've just always known it'll work out as long as you're working your *ss off."

The Shark Tank stars are swimming in money

Shark Tank not only dangles possible funding in front of hopeful entrepreneurs, but it also hands out hefty salaries to the experts — or "sharks" — who judge whether or not an idea has the likelihood for success. According to Variety, in 2016, the stars of the show were making an estimated $50,000 per episode each. 

With that kind of payday and the fact that they're continually signing calculated contracts, it shouldn't be a surprising fact that, individually, the sharks are worth pretty impressive amounts. For example, Barbara Corcoran is thought to have around $80 million to her name, Lori Greiner has earned around $100 million, Daymond John is living comfortably with approximately $300 million, and Kevin O'Leary is worth an estimated $400 million. Robert Herjavec's estimated fortune is about $200 million and includes a "33,650 sq ft, 7 bedroom, 13 bathroom palatial estate" that he reportedly put up for sale in 2016 for $18.8 million.

However, Mark Cuban tops them all with around $4 billion, which may be because, according to Business Insider, his advice for eager entrepreneurs is to "follow the green, not the dream."