Credit: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images Photo: Jennifer Hudson at Rainforest Fund Party.jpg

Being the ratings juggernaut it is, American Idol is a major launching pad for many of its alums. The show provides exposure, fame, and hopefully a long career. But just how much do some of the previous American Idol contestants make when it comes to salary? Which former American Idol contestant made the most money last year? Come on -- you know you’ve wondered! 

Forbes recently released its list of top earners from 2012, and this is how it breaks down. In summary -- read ‘em and weep:

Kelly Clarkson — $8 million
Carrie Underwood — $5 million
Chris Daughtry — $5 million
Scotty McCreery — $4 million
Jennifer Hudson — $3 million
Jordin Sparks — $2 million
Adam Lambert — $1.5 million
Katharine McPhee — $1.1 million
Kellie Pickler — $1.1 million
David Archuleta — $1 million
David Cook — $1 million (okay, is it just us, or is this kind of cute that the Davids are still neck and neck?)

As Forbes notes, when the show first started in 2002, Season 10 winner Scotty McCreery was only eight years old. At number four at $4 million, he’d sure to have admit that ten years has made quite a difference in his life. Of course, as a recent winner, a portion of his earnings still go back to the show, which he did tell Forbes was fairly “depressing.” But he went on to say, “I’m not in any way complaining … I’m doing a lot better than I was a few summers ago, living off the coin jar in my truck.”

Something else that makes you go “hmmm...,” as pointed out by Forbes, is that Kelly’s earnings of $8 million are about what Nicki Minaj supposedly takes home as a judge on American Idol 2013, and twice that of Keith Urban. Still, when you consider how short Americans’ memories are, it’s more than impressive that the inaugural winner of the show has not only stayed relevant, but remains on top. If we ask who is the richest American Idol winner or alumni, we'd have to guess it is probably a good bet it is either Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood.

Forbes names Jordin Sparks as one to watch, especially now that she doesn’t have to give her kickbacks to the show. With movie roles, opening for New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys, and a Reebok endorsement deal, her star is on the rise.

The win for Phillip Phillips was too recent for him to be included on the list, but he’s undoubtedly another one to watch. With 279,000 downloads of his hit coronation song, “Home,” in its opening week, P-Squared will surely land on the list in years to come. Not bad for a former pawn shop worker.

Did any of these earnings surprise you? If so, which ones?

Source: Forbes