Parlaying the Brand
Starring in a reality television show won’t guarantee the big bucks necessarily; but by building their brands, expanding their empires and hustling any and every sales opportunity possible (Kim Kardashian actually opened a bathroom for money once), a select few have become multi-millionaires. Nene Leakes, one of the most successful “Real Housewives” franchise earners, Jessica Simpson and Kim Kardashian have proven that reality television can be a powerful and potentially lucrative platform — especially for women.
How do you parlay a reality show appearance into a seven-figure career? Here’s a breakdown of how some top-earning reality stars make their money.
Kim Kardashian: Estimated $40 million
Though 33-year-old Kim Kardashian is set to make $28 million this year alone, according to Forbes, she had a reported net worth of more than $40 million in 2013 — and that was before the successful June 2014 launch of Kim’s iOS be-famous-like-me app, “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood,” for which she stands to make around $85 million (more than she made in all of her ventures combined for 2013) with a projected $200 million dollars in revenue by the end of the year. (Yes, you read that right.) Not only does Bloomberg News rank the game as the second most downloaded free game in Apple’s U.S. App Store, but as of this writing, it was the second most downloaded free game internationally. Not surprisingly, there’s much speculation that her net worth will soon top Kanye West’s estimated $100 million, if it doesn’t already.
The bulk of Kim’s fortune comes from sources other than her reality show, “Keeping Up With The Kardashians”—though it’s clear that the series (as well as some help from her sex tape with low-end rapper, Ray J, in 2007) helped propel her to stardom. Even when she’s not the star now, Kim is making money: She earns a salary from “Kourtney and Khloe Take The Hamptons” and “Kim and Kourtney Take Miami” because of the “perceived importance of her involvement by E! executives,” says Forbes’ Clare O’Connor.
From 2013 to 2014 she made more cash from public appearances (parties, shop openings or events) than she did from television. Kim’s cut includes wholesale earnings of the Sears line, the Kardashian Kollection, which made $600 million in 2013. Other income sources include the Kardashian Beauty cosmetics line, Kardashian-branded tanning products, the boutique-line DASH, as well as sponsored Instagram and Twitter posts. Back in 2009 she banked $10,000 per tweet from advertising company Ad.ly and, in 2012, $10,000 per tweet from Shoedazzle. Other social media clients that year included Carl’s Jr and Reebok Easytone. Kim even earned income by revealing toilet paper in Charmin-themed bathrooms in New York City in 2010.
Jessica Simpson: $20 million
Jessica Simpson is a reality star’s dream come true. Step 1: Lackluster career given new life with a reality show. Step 2: Confuse chicken with tuna. Step 3: Create a billion-dollar brand. Though Simpson has hit some unfairly low moments in the press—including being a target for her weight—it hasn’t affected her fashion line one bit. In fact, the Jessica Simpson Collection, which is made up of 30 product categories, generated over $1 billion in retail sales last year, according to Forbes. While the billion-dollar collection, which includes clothes, shoes and bags, is marketed under her name, reports have her banking $30 million in royalty fees. Forbes puts her at about the $20 million mark in net worth, though some blogs estimate her net worth is as high as $150 million.
Here’s how it happened: while 10 of her songs hit the Billboard charts, it was during her reality show “Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica,”, which revolved around her first marriage to 98 Degrees singer, Nick Lachey, that people fell in love with her bubbly personality on a much larger scale. Business opportunities rolled in once Jessica sold her license to her clothing brand to a fashion brand developer in 2005 for $15 million. A few other money-making highlights included appearing in the film “The Dukes of Hazzard,” which hit number one at the box office in its opening weekend. She was also the spokesperson for Pizza Hut, Proactiv Solution and Ice Breakers gum. And prior to cementing her $4 million dollar weight-loss deal with Weight Watchers in 2012, Simpson sold photographs of her daughter, Maxwell Drew Johnson, to People magazine for $800,000.
Ramona Singer: $18 million
One of the highest earning housewives in Bravo’s series, Ramona Singer has a reported net worth of $18 million. According to reports, Ramona, who made $500,000 for season seven of “The Real Housewives of New York,” made most of her fortune through her multiple businesses. She’s the founder of RMS Fashions, the creator of a skin care line Tru Renewal and has her name on the Ramona Singer Jewelry line for the Home Shopping Network.
The business Ramona is probably most famous for, however, is her pinot grigio called simply, Ramona Pinot Grigio, which she is constantly plugging on “The Real Housewives of New York.”
Teresa Giudice: $11 million
She’s the only reality star on our list who is in the red, as well as the only one who has been indicted with 39 counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud, bankruptcy fraud and making false statements on loan applications. Pulling in $700,000 for season six of the “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” Teresa is the second-highest paid star in Bravo’s franchise, according to Radar.
Teresa also earns unspecified income from her New York Times best-selling books: “Skinny Italian,” “Fabulicious!,” “Fabulicious! Fast & Fit” and “Fabulicious! On the Grill.” She has almost no limits to what she will put her name on. Some of her products include flowered hair bows, baseball caps and T-shirts with oft-cited expressions like "Happy Wife, Happy Life.” Teresa also has a jewelry line named after each of her daughters. She has a sparkling wine called “Fabellini,” a hair product line called “Milania Collection” (also named after one of her daughters) and a food line appropriately titled “Skinny Italian.” She appeared on “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2012, raising $70,000 for the charity, NephCure.
In 2009, Teresa and her husband Joe Giudice filed for bankruptcy, claiming to be more than $11 million in debt even though they reported they only make $79,000 a year. At that time, Teresa listed herself as “unemployed” though she was making $3,333 a month from “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” reports E! Online, and listed $10,000 a month in assistance from family members. In fact, it was the Giudice’s bankruptcy claim that led the government to stack a criminal fraud case against them.
“When you file for bankruptcy, everything is public," New Jersey tax attorney Todd Unger told E! Online. Their messy financial records may not have been exposed otherwise.
NeNe Leakes: $5-10 million
As she’s said in her own words, “Real Housewives of Atlanta’s” NeNe Leakes is “rich, bitch.” Her reported net worth sits somewhere between $5-10 million, but expect her bank account to grow. NeNe’s salary was the highest of all Bravo housewives at $1 million last season ($750,000 for season six and $250,000 for the reunion), says OK! Magazine. For the new season, however, Internet gossip estimated that her salary was being cut to about half that figure. In July 2014, NeNe put those rumors to rest on Twitter, saying that she quit the show over a salary dispute.
Nevertheless, NeNe is the queen of side projects. This year alone she’s produced three big efforts. She made about $225,000 from appearing on “Dancing with the Stars,” based on The Hollywood Reporter’s 2010 pay-as-you-go formula of the show. Then there was the 10-day stint as “The Mistress of Sensuality” in a Las Vegas-based show, “Zumanity,” by Cirque Du Soleil. On July 24th she launched the clothing line Nene Leakes Collection on HSN.com.
NeNe previously held a recurring role on “Glee” as Coach Roz Washington, where she reportedly made SAG scale pay of $7,260 per episode plus airfare and accommodations. She appeared on “Celebrity Apprentice,” where she reportedly made $16,000 and famously fought with LaToya Jackson and Star Jones. She also starred in Ryan Murphy’s “The New Normal” as well as “I Dream of NeNe,” her Bravo spin-off which followed her second wedding to ex-husband Gregg.
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: $4 million
Snooki made an excellent living on her hit MTV series the “Jersey Shore,” raking in $150,000 per episode for the last 13 episodes, according to OK! Magazine. Do the math: she was paid $1.95 million for sitting on the beach at the Jersey Shore, tanning, “smooshing” and fighting with her roommates. That’s quite a pay raise from season one when she made $2,200 per episode. She’s earning even more in the “Laverne and Shirley”— like comedy, MTV’s “Snooki & JWOWW,” currently in its fourth season, which follows both she and her BFF Jenni “JWOWW” Farley, at $175,000 per episode.
Snooki’s other money-making projects include Team Snooki Boxing, a promotional company, where she and her father represent Irish boxing brother trio Patrick, Eddie and Paul Hyland. She’s also selling a plush toy called “Snooki's Crocodilly,” a replica of her childhood stuffed animal like the one she slept with on the “Jersey Shore.” In 2011, the academic world (and anyone one else with a brain) gasped when it was reported that Snooki pulled in $32,000 from a speaking engagement at Rutgers University — her takeaway, “Study hard, but party harder.” Consider that Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison was only paid a reported $2,000 to speak at the same university.
Photos of Snooki and her baby Lorenzo earned her about $2 million for a People cover, according to Wetpaint. In April 2014, Snooki broke the news that she’s pregnant with her second baby, which is certain to bring her more cash opportunities.
Tori Spelling: $1.5 million
Her husband Dean McDermott might be an admitted alcoholic, but Tori Spelling’s addiction is spending. “My real estate compulsion had put us in serious debt,” she explains in her most recent tell-all, “Spelling It Like It Is.” “I’d worked so hard and earned so much, but I had nothing to show for it.”
Though she’s reported to have a net worth of $1.5 million, Tori’s finances are all over the map. We know she received an $800,000 inheritance after her father, TV mogul Aaron Spelling, died in 2006. Plus, Tori’s many other side projects include a jewelry line for HSN, a number of books that play on her last name (“sTORI Telling” is one) plus a string of reality shows like “Home Sweet Hollywood,” which documented her marriage. This past year, she is said to have made $100,000 for “True Tori,” the reality show that was supposed to document her relationship with her husband following his widely-publicized cheating scandal.
For now, Tori’s income includes creating and starring in “The Mystery Girls,” an ABC Family series with her old 90210 buddy Jennie Garth, plus a new makeover show “Cabin Fever” (it’s airing on an HGTV network) with Dean and the family. As she writes on her website, they filmed the show last summer before the cheating debacle.
Kate Gosselin: $200,000
Mother of eight Kate Gosselin dismissed a rumored net worth of $5 million a few years ago and newer reports put her net worth closer to $200,000. Though her house in Wernersville, Pa., is reportedly worth $1.3 million and “Kate Plus 8” returned for a one-hour catch up episode of Kate and her children in June of this year, Gosselin told People that being a single mom with eight kids and no reliable income is scary. No doubt. “You know, I need to work as soon as possible — as in yesterday,” Kate said in 2011.
But Kate wasn’t always struggling. She was paid $250,000 per episode of “Kate Plus 8.” Kate also published four books, two of which debuted at number five on the New York Times best sellers list. She was also reported to have made $500,000 from her appearances on “Dancing with the Stars.” A 2012 tell-all book about Kate claims that during the height of her TLC show, “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” she made over $1.1 million in the fourth season and $700,0000 in the fifth season. (Comparatively, in the first season, she made only $18,000.) During that time, Kate and her ex-husband Jon earned between $25,000 and $40,000 for speaking engagements, which includes cash collections from church plates and charging fans for autographs and photos.