Coming in second on "American Idol" may still be a path to superstardom, but it no longer offers guaranteed paychecks worthy of the next pop idol or rock star.
Wednesday night's runner-up, 16-year-old Jessica Sanchez, doesn't have a definite shot at producing an album and could be paid as little as $30,000 in advances for recording singles, according to the "Idol" contract she and other Season 11 contestants signed earlier this year.
The agreement appears to be the first time in "Idol's" history that producers are not offering the show's runner-up an album deal that in previous years came with a guaranteed advance of at least $175,000, an Associated Press review of the Fox show's contracts reveals.
The analysis covers eight of "Idol's" 11 seasons during which contracts filed for contestants under the age of 18 were available. The contracts were reviewed by judges in accordance with a California law that requires at least 15 percent of a minor entertainer's earnings be set aside for their benefit once they reach adulthood.
The reduced royalty advance covers the period immediately following the show. In addition to recording new music, the series' winners and finalists are obligated to perform in a concert tour and lend their likeness to a Walt Disney World Resort attraction in Florida.
If Sanchez is given an album deal following the show, she will receive the same $175,000 bonus that Lauren Alaina was paid after placing second in the show's 10th season. But 19 Recordings Inc., which has the option to handle the albums and recordings of Idol contestants for several years after they appear on the show, has replaced a guaranteed album deal for the runner-up with a staggered "Development Period" that requires less music and pays out less in advances.
Sanchez could be paid as little as $30,000 if she is asked to perform four single songs, or $60,000 if she records an "EP" of between four and 10 songs.
Representatives for 19 Recordings and "American Idol" producer FremantleMedia declined comment. They also have not disclosed which recording deal would be offered to Sanchez.
"It makes sense. You can't continue to offer the same sorts of rewards and incentives when the program was averaging 25 million to 30 million [viewers], and [now] the finale is barely breaking 20 million," said Northwestern University assistant professor Max Dawson, who teaches a course on reality television. Wednesday's finale was the lowest-rated final show for "Idol" in its history.