Radio Hits One: Reality TV Propels Aging Stars Back Into The Top 40
When I heard that Jennifer Lopez was leveraging her new position as an American Idol judge to launch her new single, premiering the video for "On The Floor" on one episode and performing the song on another, I rolled my eyes at what I thought was her hubris. It'd been less than two years since Lopez's long-flagging music career had seemed to finally come to a screeching halt; her single "Louboutins" flopped, and Sony opted to drop Lopez rather than release her seventh album. Using Idol as a platform to relaunch herself into pop stardom seemed doomed and desperate.
Or so I thought.
A few months later, "On The Floor" has peaked at No. 3 on the Hot 100 and stands as the sixth-biggest digital single of 2011 so far, nearing three million sold. That makes it either Lopez's biggest hit in eight years or the biggest hit of her career, depending on how you measure these things. With help from Lady Gaga producer RedOne and Top 40 radio's favorite rapper of the moment, Pitbull, J.Lo is suddenly back on the pop landscape. The other new addition to the Idol judges' table this year, Steven Tyler, has experienced only modest success with his recent debut solo single, "(It) Feels So Good," although at the very least it's the Aerosmith frontman's first Top 40 hit in about a decade. (And "Good"'s chart showing is better than the No. 62 peak of "Dance Like There's No Tomorrow," Paula Abdul's 2008 collaboration with still-standing Idol judge Randy Jackson.)
It's notable that American Idol's newly established ability to revitalize the careers of its celebrity judges comes at a time when the show's starmaking capacity is at an all-time low. Season 10 champion Scotty McCreery's "I Love You This Big" peaked at No. 11 on the Hot 100, making him the third consecutive Idol winner whose debut single missed the top 10, after years of Idol 'coronation singles' shooting to No. 1 or close to it. McCreery hasn't yet released an album, but it seems likely he'll also be the third Idol winner in a row to fail to go gold (although 2009's runner-up, Adam Lambert, managed both a top 10 single and a gold album). Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood may remain comfortably established in the pop music firmament, but Idol's days of launching major stars seem to be slowly receding into the past.
The Voice, the new singing competition that proved to be something of a breakout hit for NBC, is in a similarly strange position, with its celeb participants outshining the unknown hopefuls. Of course, The Voice made a point from the very beginning of picking pop stars whose careers are a little more current than Paula Abdul's to judge and advise its contestants: one of its four celebrity mentors, Cee Lo Green, is still riding high on the monster success of "Fuck You"/"Forget You." And even though both Christina Aguilera and Maroon 5's Adam Levine were coming off of 2010 albums that sold poorly and yielded no major hits, they remain pretty big contemporary stars.