100 & Single: The Erratic Chart Fortunes Of TV-Crowned Idols, From Kelly To Scotty

scotty_clearasday.jpg
Scotty McCreery—winner of the 10th edition of American Idol, and owner of the new No. 1 title on Billboard's album chart, Clear as Day—sets a handful of chart records this week that certainly sound impressive.

As Billboard reports, McCreery is the first country act to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with a debut studio album. At 18 years old, McCreery is also the youngest man to open at the top of the chart with a debut release; he beat former B2K singer Omarion, who, at age 20, made his solo debut atop the chart in 2005.

Of course, neither of these records would have been possible without the imprimatur of Idol, however talented McCreery might be. It's not like he's burning up the airwaves or iTunes—his highest-charting single to date, "I Love You This Big," hasn't gone any higher on the Billboard Hot 100 than No. 11, or No. 15 on Hot Country Songs. McCreery's No. 1 debut is all about the magical promotional juggernaut that is network television, particularly its top-rated show.

But even in the Idol context, McCreery's out-of-the-box chart performance looks mighty. Clear as Day is the first debut album by an Idol finalist to top the Billboard 200 since 2005, when that year's fourth-place finalist, Chris Daughtry, rose to the top of the chart with Daughtry.

Even more remarkable, it's the first No. 1 debut album by an Idol winner since late 2003. That's when second-season victor Ruben Studdard topped the list with Soulful. Other than Studdard, season-one winner Kelly Clarkson (her debut Thankful rang the bell in early 2003) and now McCreery, all of the Idol winners have debuted and peaked somewhere below No. 1. (A couple of winners, including Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, have come back since 2003 with chart-topping albums, but those were second albums or later, which didn't benefit directly from an immediate Idol push.)

After an eight-year shutout by Idol winners from the Billboard 200's penthouse, who should get credit for McCreery's success? Should it be new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, who helped give the show's ratings an improbable boost in its first post-Simon Cowell season? Is it the winsome McCreery, the show's first non-rock winner in four seasons? Was it the millions of Idol voters, who finally picked a winner whose album they'd actually want to buy?

Nah. I'd give the win to Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Universal's biggest label group. The guy knows how to do something really basic: pick a good release date.

That skill—paying attention to the music industry's release schedule and choosing a week where the competitive bar wasn't too high—turned out to be critical, because it probably made the difference between yet another Idol also-ran release and McCreery's bell-ringing success. If the album had dropped just a week earlier—or, say, next month sometime, during the holiday-buying sweepstakes—it likely wouldn't be a chart-topper.

One number I haven't mentioned yet in the rundown of McCreery's achievements is the sales total that put him on top this week: 197,000. That's a very respectable sum for a Billboard 200 chart-topper. But it's not remarkable. Last week's No. 1, up-and-coming MC J. Cole's Cole World: The Sideline Story, rang the bell with 217,000 in sales; McCreery would have fallen short of that total. The week before, McCreery would have edged out chart-topper Tony Bennett's Duets II (179,000 in sales), but only by about 10%—and the octogenarian didn't have the biggest show on television boosting him.

Speaking of that show, looking just at Idol finalists, McCreery's debut sales week is fine, maybe even stellar compared with recent history. But it's not at all exceptional historically. Even after the Season 10 Idol "comeback," his sales total—No. 1 debut or not—is still toward the low end of the pack.


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KATHY STEVENS
KATHY STEVENS

WHEN SCOTTY WAS ON IDOL YES I WATCHED THE SHOW, BUT LOVINE, JENNIFER RANDY, NOR STEPHEN MADE ME LIKE HIM.  HIS UNIQUE VOICE, HIS MANNERS STAGE PRESENCE AND THE TRADITIONAL COUNTRY MUSIC HE SANG MADE ME LOVE HIM AS AN ARTIST. PEOPLE WANT WHAT IS GOOD, CLEAN AND DECENT NOT THE WRONG IN LIFE NOR THEIR MUSIC. MILLIONS LOVED HIM NOT JUST A FEW, HE HAS SOMETHING SPECIAL.  ALL EXCUSES OR ANSWERS FOR WHY PEOPLE LIKE HIM ARE WRITTEN IN THE BIBLE NOT IN THE WORLDS VIEW POINT.  OUR GOD, IS IN HIS LIFE AND HE WILL USE HIM IN A BIG WAY. ACCEPT SCOTTY HE IS A BREATH OF FRESH AIR. I USE TO LOVE COUNTRY MUSIC THEN IT WENT AWAY FROM, WHAT WAS RIGHT AND GOOD, I QUIT LISTENING TO IT FOR YRS. THEN SCOTTY TOOK ALOT OF PEOPLE BACK TO COUNTRY, TRADITIONAL COUNTRY, TO WHAT IS GOOD,CLEAN AND HE IS ONLY A YOUNG PERSON.  THANKS SCOTTY,FOR SHOW ING MILLIONS HOW GOOD YOUR MUSIC IS AND JUST HOW GREAT A PERSON YOU ARE. THIS IS THE REASON PEOPLE OF ALL AGES LOVE HIM.  HE DESERVES IT ALL.

Leena
Leena

Still speaking of David Cook, please also remember his debut album (after American Idol victory) sold platinum in about 3 months. If I remember correctly, it was declared platinum in January 2009. He got his platinum record for it in April at the Americal Idol tv-broadcast. He had received platinum from his coronation song Time of My Life already in January. And he received platinum also from Light On and a gold record from Come Back to Me - all singles on the debut album.

Chris Molanphy
Chris Molanphy

Great point. And it only reinforces my argument that—even if overall album sales are down since 2008 (though nowhere near as much as some are implying here)—it is still possible in this era to do strong numbers as an Idol winner.

Martin3939 or harleylee
Martin3939 or harleylee

I never had so much trouble trying to post anything in my life. I suppose it was the link. I give up trying to post it with or without the link. I hope Mr. Molanphy that you read it. Sorry.

maura
maura

I'll fish it out of the spam queue! It automatically traps any comment with a link.

harleylee
harleylee

I'll try to remember what I wanted to say. First I looked not at the headline about Scotty being #1, but at the total sales. I have never understood why chart placement would be more important than the actual sales but I guess it makes for a nice headline. Better than I thought they would be but not overly impressive. I would rather be 2nd with near 300,000 as some were. Surely that means more money in your pocket. Yes, they got a #1 for Scotty with much manipulation.You mentioned the show "broke" after season 5. If it did it was Idol itself that broke it. When they decided not to support the winner that was chosen but instead threw their support elsewhere it seemed it was not important to watch, vote, and pick a winner. Read in many a place that it was better not to win. How does that make anyone want to support someone?I took a bit of offense at calling Hicks "cruise-ship shtick"  I don't think you know his music to well.  First, as you said,  Taylor sales were very respectable and he got those sales without the benefit of a well timed single being sent to radio, was given little support at radio and never had a video made for his debut album. The only idol not to get a video. I guess Hicks was not exactly a "toe the idol line" type of guy. His music is sure not cruise ship. It is a mixtue of southern rock, soul, blues, country and jazz. He has a great band and is a great musician. You did not mention that Taylor also had 2 pre idol albums called  "In Your Time" and "Under the Radar"  that sold heavily during the show , and I don't think were counted anywhere except maybe the music store that sold them. They are among my favorite albums. Many do not know that he also had "shadow shows" during the AI summer tour. His band would book a show in the city they were in and often an unpaid  "surprise guest" would show up after the idol tour show.  Idol really really did not like that but could not do anything about it. Taylor regained his independence early from Idol and I doubt hes looking back. He may be smaller but he is doing really well in live performance and he is in control of his career. He is always busy with many projects. Its always been quality over quantiry with Taylor. A good way to judge the popularity of a season is to look at the summer tour attendence. Season 5 broke all records, they added shows and sold out in some cities twice, and judging from the crowds, Taylor was very much in demand, carrying much of the show. AI could have built on Taylors popularity but instead fearing another independent type I guess, they downgraded him and I don't think that did the show any good. Sales have certainly went dobeen doing this is a good article.wnhill ever since. Its just seemed flat ever since Season 5. If you are interested in understanding a little more about Hicks and his music and what hes doing this is a good articlehttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/...

I believe that Scotty is the youngest country artist to debut at #1? I believe that was what was said. I think if you sing country you benefit from a little more life experience. At Scottys age, Taylor Hicks was just starting 10 years of performing and paying his dues in the bars and clubs of the southeast. That experience really shows in his performing and his music.

harleylee
harleylee

Guess it got lost, posting is entirely different now than when I was here before. darn.

harleylee
harleylee

Did my comment get lost? I will try again if it did but would like to know.

Denise
Denise

Idol is fighting for relevance hence, the October release. It is a wonder it is doing as well as it is as fast as it was put out. Idol seems to be releasing more singles from Idols too instead of relying on full Albums. It's all about money and squeezing every thing out of their artists while the iron is hot. I'm glad you listed the sales figures of the Idols it puts things in perspective.Looks like the real drop started with Sparks but given her age she gets a pass. She has more time to develop.

theloneranger
theloneranger

Thank you for this article, my comment is this...McCreery never would have made the #1 spot if he had to go up against the likes of Susan Boyle and Michael Jackson's "this is it"  and so many more that came out the same time Kris Allen debuted his Album...McCreery had the advantage of beating the new releases by other hot acts "Foster the People" etc, if McCreery's CD had been released the same timeframe they did previous Idols, he would NOT be in the headlines... ,

ryna
ryna

People take Scotty for granted. If Lauren had won instead, would she be able to pull those figures and debuted as the #1 album? Her sales will have to bow down to Adele, who's still going strong with around 100k every week. Just saying TPTP's plans wouldn't have gone as smoothly.  

And I would like to note that Scotty only had a 50-55% drop in sales for his second week. That's quite impressive too, considering Idol isn't like it used to be.

martin3939
martin3939

It took this fan about 30 seconds to look past the PR headlines at the final sales numbers. More than I thought they would be but not to impressive. I have never understood why the placement on the chart is made to seem more important than the actual sales number. I will try to be respectful and I wish I could add to the Scotty discussion but I don't really know all that much about him except that it seems clear they have given him every chance to look as good as possible. About your remark that the show "broke" after Hicks,  I really think that AI broke their own show when they were so unsupportive of their winner that year and chose to throw most of their support elsewhere. Why should a fan support and vote on a show that isn't going to support their choice?  And as the numbers show it really wasn't because of a lack of sales for Taylor Hicks.  He had respectable numbers and he did it without a single released in a timely manner and without a video to support his album. The only idol that did not get one. Seems Taylor just wasn't a "toe the idol line" kind of guy. lol I took some offense at you referring to Taylors "cruise-ship shtick". It shows you really don't know much about Taylors music, which is really a mixture of southern rock, soul, blues, country and jazz.  It was also apparant that you don't know much about him when you did not mention him as another who also had pre idol independent albums that sold heavily during his run on the show.They were called "In Your Time" and "Under The Radar" . I don't think they were even counted anywhere except perhaps at the music store that sold them.  Taylor also did what we called "shadow shows" with his own band during the idol tour. His band would go to the cities where the tour was at and book a show and a special unpaid guest would often show. I don't think idol was to happy about that. Also a good way to judge the popularity of a season is to look at the summer tour numbers. Season 5 was by far the biggest and judging from the crowds , Taylor was a big favorite, carrying a good deal of the show. I see that Scotty is the youngest country singer to debut No 1? I think that was it. Hicks at that age was just beginning his 10 years of paying his dues in the bars and clubs of the southeast and that experience shows in his music. Taylor gained his independence from idol early and I don't think hes looking back. Hes doing well as a live performer and has put out some very good music and is always busy with many projects. If you would like to learn a little more about him this is a good article you could read http://www.huffingtonpost.com/...and you might try checking out some of his most recent youtube vids. Some of Taylors fans have become excellent videographers. :-)

Reyota
Reyota

I think you are missing a very important point here: if Scotty's label released his album near Black Friday, sales would most likely have been a lot more. People buy more during that period. Plus, the music industry isnt what it was back when Carrie debuted. Carrie said herself she think she could not have been that successful had she started her career now.

Chris Molanphy
Chris Molanphy

Please see my response to Nancekm above. In short: yes, holiday traffic would have given McCreery a boost, but there's no historical evidence, among Idol finalists or acts in general, that holiday traffic alone boosts an album's sales by, say, 50%. McCreery doesn't go from 200K in sales to 300K in sales just by moving from October to November.

Reyota
Reyota

But as I said, album sales arent as high as they used to (illegal download, the economy ect.). Except for this year when overall album sales actually increase by 3% from last year, sales declined around 14% each year for like the last 4-5 years. So if you sum all those percentage up in addition to the boost during black friday had he debuted around that time, you could arrive at a figure around 300 plus for Scotty. But then we never know because those never happen. My point is your analysis isnt fair considering things have changed a lot. And actually if you check, his number is actually high enough to make #1 for most of the week this year so far.

Chris Molanphy
Chris Molanphy

Have things changed a lot since 2008, when David Cook rolled more than 40% more in his first week than Scotty McCreery did? Album sales are down across the industry since 2008, yes, but they're not down 40%. (They're down about that much since 2000, not in the last three years.) Cook—who is hardly the best-selling Idol, but did quite well all things considered—proved that in the lower-album-sales era, it's still possible to do more than a quarter-million out of the gate and go well past platinum cumulatively.

I think you're either making arguments here that are addressed in my piece, or you're looking for a scenario under which Scotty "could have" done 300K which I, and many other commenters above, consider fundamentally implausible. You're looking for a parallel universe where McCreery's opening week is 50% higher. If we adjust for general album-sales declines in the last couple of years and for the holiday season, at most, he's up about 25%, and I'm being fairly generous there.

Nancekm
Nancekm

While I don't think Mr Mcreery is setting the world on fire here, I do think it should be noted that most of the other Idols released their CDs near or after Black Friday. CD sales are inflated during the Christmas buying season. He certainly would gave sold over 200k if they had stuck to the old album release schedule.

That said, this show absolutely needs to get back to producing hitmakers. We will see if this kid can cut it.

Chris Molanphy
Chris Molanphy

You're not only making a fair point here but offering an interesting thought exercise: How big a factor is Black Friday traffic on an Idol album (or any album, really)?

I will totally concede your point that a McCreery album dropped the week of Thanksgiving would have sold an additional five-finger sum (anywhere from 10K to even 40K or 50K more). Foot traffic alone will remind more people that Clear as Day exists. But I'm pretty confident it wouldn't have been a six-figure jump—I can't see Clear as Day going from just under 200K to, like, 300K.

Idol doesn't seem to inspire a whole lot of casual purchasing by itself; fans gets emotionally invested in this or that finalist, and when the album drops they show up/click. What makes casual listeners want to buy an Idol album is the same thing that makes them want to buy any album after the first week: hit song(s). In the absence of that, you can't guesstimate that a McCreery album jumps into David Cook territory on holiday traffic alone.

Also, I think ML (he posted his comment while I was typing this) is dead on—holiday shopping cuts both ways: more traffic (positive) but more competition (negative). On balance, it's a positive, but to reiterate what I said above, the upward results are going to be significant, not staggering.

All that said, thank you for bringing up a valid counterargument.

Nancekm
Nancekm

I agree it wouldn't necessarily a big jump and I also agree he wouldn't likely be number one. But I do think Idol albums get some casual buyer traffic because less emotionally invested fans of the contestants are more likely to impulse buy during that time especially if they see it while out shopping. Also, I think these CDs make popular stocking stuffer Christmas presents. I think it is a safe bet he'd be over 200K if released Black Friday, even if it's not by much.

I do agree with your overall thesis that the number 1 achievement is lagely a function of when it was released as opposed to indication of some huge Carrie Underwood type phenom arriving on the scene.

I think it's great that you responded BTW. This was a great article and I enjoyed reading it.

ML
ML

Not necessarily. While sales as a whole are generally higher because people are buying gifts and taking advantage of sales, artists that drop during that time also have to contend with much greater competition for dwindling retail display space and consumer dollars. It's hard to say which will win out.

Lori
Lori

Chris, thanks for the unbiased and very logical analysis. Today 360 deals are crucial with the decreasing record sales. RCA said we'll be seeing more of that with their restructuring. Therefore, I wonder how much NET sales of concert tickets would change the perception of "success" for some of the aforementioned artists. I don't know if that data is even available to consumers, but it might make for an interesting variable.

Meg
Meg

It's a fair article except for the usual put-down of Taylor Hicks.  A little research will show that while he hasn't topped any charts, he is in a very good place in his music career.  Why not take a little time and find out for yourself.  Then you can fairly talk about sales statistics without the need to make him seem like the winner who ruined Idol.  Thank you.

Mell
Mell

Indeed correct! Taylor is a fine musician and puts out some real quality music.

Herptiles
Herptiles

I think it would be good to acknowledge the fact that Lee DeWyze was the unfortunate last Idol to sign with Sony AFTER they had already "lost" (don't know if that's exactly the correct word) the contract to UMG. Seems they were done with Idol before Lee had a chance. I personally love Live It Up and still listen to his pre-Idol albums So I'm Told and Slumberland . I don't care what his sales are....his voice grabbed me the minute I heard it. Thanks so much for your very thorough and well-written realistic article...I really enjoyed reading it :)

Lou74
Lou74

Scotty is off to a very solid start. He broke the record for first week sales for a debut album by a country male artist and he's the youngest male artist to ever top the BB 200. Neither of his first two singles has exploded (his debut single peaked at #15 on country chart, the 2nd one is currently around #40 on same chart), but he seems to have connected with the country music buying public. Runner-up Lauren Alaina's album came out this past week, and she is being predicted to sell around 65,000 -- so Scotty seems to have a much bigger fanbase than she does, even though she's also a country music artist, and her album has been getting the stronger critical notices.

Julia8
Julia8

Allen's album may not have sold particularly well, but you left out the part that the lead single off of it, Live Like We're Dying, has sold more than 1.6 million downloads. Not exactly "stinking it up"

Cadence Powell
Cadence Powell

The problem is that with the American Idol launching pad, and a single that was getting a lot more airplay than most debut songs from those who came from American Idol, Kris should have been selling more albums.  Based on what he sold in 2009 compared to his numbers for 2010, he didn't make any impact beyond his American Idol fans.  That's not good, and it puts him in a very bad position for when he releases his next album.

Dee
Dee

Kris is actually in a very good position for album #2. He continues to gain fans each and every day, and if you've never seen his live show then you wouldn't get it. He and his band are amazing!! And the boy has some moves. :)

Chris Molanphy
Chris Molanphy

I actually really liked "Live Like We're Dying"! (Allen did a better job with it than the Script, IMHO.) And it was a medium-size radio hit, too.

But, trust me—the yardstick the industry uses to measure the success of any Idol winner (because of the kinds of deals they sign, which are not singles-focused) is album sales, and his have been anemic. He only looks good in comparison to the even more anemic-selling DeWyze. About the best that could be said for Allen at this point is that, unlike DeWyze, Allen survived the recent purge of artists at Sony Music while DeWyze got dropped.

Lexie
Lexie

One thing you neglect to mention...Scotty's is a country album.  He sold more in his debut week than any other country act debut all year, except Lady Antebellum.  And he is the second highest debut other that Cole...so, yes, while album sales have improved this year compared to last year, that 3% increase is not nearly enough to offset the close to 14% drop every previous year...

Chris Molanphy
Chris Molanphy

Fair point. I would say, though, that McCreery's country fanbase should be additive to his total over other Idols. Look at Underwood—her massive sales since 2005 are the result of her combining her Idol fanbase with an even more loyal, and larger, country fanbase. On that score, again, Scotty's debut looks totally solid but not all that impressive.

Still: thanks for filling in a gap in my piece. I had enough to plow through as it was!

Good Vibes
Good Vibes

Yeah, thanks for pointing that out. Taylor Hicks debut was respectable, barely missing #1, and coming in the third highest debut week for an idol winner. So I wish the critics would get off his damn case already and stop singling him out in a negative way. His misfortune was that he was the first winner to miss that arbitrary million album mark, because his record company did absolutely nothing to promote him beyond his idol fanbase. If Hicks had been compared to other recent classic rock/southern/blues debuts, his overall sales would seem pretty impressive too.

Lexie
Lexie

You're welcome.  I'm impressed--a response and a respectful one at that!!!  Best wishes!

Lexie
Lexie

I very much agree.  Have a great day!

Chris Molanphy
Chris Molanphy

I try to be responsive to fair-minded, respectful comments like yours. We need to encourage such feedback on the interwebs! Too much haterade out there!

Marx
Marx

Brad Paisley is the biggest male country act at the moment, in my opinion. But still Scotty topped him with his debut sales this year. I think that speaks volumes already.

Plus Scotty's new to the arena, he's still building his own large and loyal fanbase. He's getting there though.

ryna
ryna

 @facebook-677275924 I doubt it. While I won't deny Brad's talent, he's not exactly a youngin anymore to pull enough fans from Idol watchers.

facebook-677275924
facebook-677275924

What would Brad Paisley have sold after 18 weeks of promotion on the #1 TV show in the world? He would have wiped the floor with Scotty, and I like Scotty but let's get real. Idol is a 4 month long promotional opportunity.

Bobby Fontaine
Bobby Fontaine

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