'So You Think You Can Dance' Vs. 'American Idol' Alums: Which Show Brings More Success?
As far as the future is concerned, it's definitely not in your best interest to choose American Idol over So You Think You Can Dance if you happen to be both a freakishly talented singer and dancer with a burning desire to be criticized on television — but that's mostly because American Idol has announced that its next season will be its last, so statistically your chances of grabbing some future Idol limelight are slim with only one season left. But the caliber of recording artists that American Idol has produced cannot be denied: Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson have all gone on to become decorated superstars, with a handful of others like Adam Lambert and Phillip Phillips carving out niches for themselves in the current music industry, as well.
But, when you look at the sheer number of people who have been through American Idol, and even won it without so much as producing a successful single, the opportunities that come from being an Idol alum prove a little less alluring. When you look at the afterlife of a show like So You Think You Can Dance, on the other hand, the opportunities to get a foot in the door of the dance industry and then run (dance?) with it seem much more prolific. Excluding Channing Tatum, dancers may not command the star status that a popular musician can, but they can end up on tours, in music videos, choreographing, opening up studios, moving on to other dancing shows, winning Emmys, etc. So, who's better off — the handful of superstars from Idol or the plethora of working dancers from SYTYCD? Let's do the math...
I don't mean to imply that SYTYCD hasn't produced some big wigs too, because it has: Stephen "tWitch" Boss has been in multiple movies, made a place for himself as a guest DJ on Ellen for a while, and is the newest, uh, entertainment, in the highly anticipated Magic Mike XXL. His wife, Allison Holker, who was also a SYTYCD contestant, was later brought on a pro on Dancing With the Stars. And then there's Dmitry Chaplin and Travis Wall who both returned to SYTYCD as professional choreographers and got a whole bunch of Emmy nominations for their work.
But... all of those success stories combined couldn't even equal the pop culture status of Kelly Clarkson's Breakaway album, alone. ("Since U Been Gone" being belted by Kristen Cavallari and friends in a limo on Laguna Beach is a scene that defined a generation.) When you add on top of that Jennifer Hudson's Oscar, Carrie Underwood's seven Grammy wins, and Phillip Phillip's near constant presence in movie trailers, there's really no comparison.
Point: American Idol alums
See above. There's money to be made in choreography or say, touring with Lady Gaga like Mark Kanemura did, but there's just a hell of a lot more money in actually being the star of that tour. The dividends of the few Idol alums who really make it — with Clarkson and Underwood making anywhere from 2.5 to 20 million annually from 2011 to 2014, years after their Idol wins, as reported by Forbes — far outweigh the steady of work of the many SYTYCD alums out there working as dancers, even the ones on Broadway like Evan Kasprzak, Jess LeProto and Thayne Jaspersen in Newsies, or Natalie Fotopoulos in the Wicked tour.
Point: American Idol alums
But, all that fame and fortune comes only if you were one of the lucky few American Idols to harness the platform that the show provided and propel into the rough world of album sales. The dance industry in general offers a few more varied opportunities to "make it," hence why there are so many SYTYCD alums who go on to find successful careers in their chosen field, whether it be in choreography, teaching, touring, or just plain old performing. The highs might be higher for American Idol alums who click with the music-buying public, but the lows of having the music industry chew you up and spit you out are also lower. (The most recent winner, Caleb Johnson's debut album sold just 11,000 copies.)
Most SYTYCD alums probably wouldn't tell you that dance is any easier to succeed in than music, but they might tell you that it has a few more avenues through which to do so... especially with SYTYCD as a stepping stone to other dance shows and future SYTYCD choreography, touring, and all-star opportunities.
Point: SYTYCD alums
In the end, it's probably better to be an American Idol alum, that is, if you're one of the select few American Idol alums who ends up, y'know, becoming a music idol. But, for an artist who enters into the SYTYCD process, they probably know they're not going to be reaching Carrie Underwood levels of notoriety or $20 million in tour revenue... but they might just end up playing an exotic dancer alongside Channing Tatum one day, and that's pretty good too.