Fred and his readers discuss American Idols, Rihanna's "Umbrella," Nielsen Soundscan and more!


FANTASIA FAN

Hi Mr. Bronson,

Just wanted to thank you for your kind and supportive words regarding Fantasia Barrino and her career. I've been a big fan of Fantasia ever since her "American Idol" days and have followed her career closely. She sometimes gets a bad rap because so far she has only been successful in the urban market and not pop. So I really enjoyed your column and its factual content.

She is doing really great in the "The Color Purple" on Broadway. I saw it just recently and she brought my husband to tears (although he swears it was just something in his eye and he wasn't really crying - LOL). Anyway, thanks for your kind words and I enjoy your weekly columns.

Loyal reader,

Renee Russell

Dear Renee,

I saw "The Color Purple" before Fantasia joined the cast and loved the show. I'd like to go back and see it again while Fantasia is there. I was very impressed with her performance of a song from the show on the Tony Awards a few weeks ago.

As a Fantasia fan, you'll be glad to know she earns her first No. 1 hit on our Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart this week. To find out more about the single "When I See U," check out my latest Chart Beat column.

Your e-mail was the first in a series of letters about "American Idol." Keep reading.



PLAYED IT: 'FORWARD'

Dear Fred,

I was wondering if semi-finalists are included in the season-by-season comparison of "American Idol" alumni who have charted in Billboard. I ask because season five semi-finalist Ayla Brown's album "Forward" has made Billboard's Top Heatseekers (Northeast) chart for three weeks and I never see her referenced in the comparisons. If she was included, I believe season five would have a one-person advantage over season three. Also, Ayla's single "Forward" looks like it will crack Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart in the next few weeks.

Thank you.

Mike Devine
Boston, Mass.

Dear Mike,

I have a copy of Ayla Brown's album, and have really been enjoying it. It also won a favorable review in Billboard recently.

You mentioned the Top Heatseekers (Northeast) chart. This is a regional chart, compiled by Billboard but not published in the magazine or online. There are a number of local charts compiled by Billboard, but I have never reported on those charts or consider them when compiling chart statistics.

I would be glad to include any semi-finalist who charts in Billboard when I make reference to "Idol" singers, but they will have to appear on one of our national, domestic charts. You'll notice I usually use those words "national" and "domestic" when I keep track of the number of No. 1 hits the franchise has earned to date, as in "counting all national, domestic charts compiled by the Billboard Information Group."

The next "Idol" competitor to chart in Billboard will be the 31st, so if Ayla's single does show up on the Adult Contemporary chart soon, she just might be the 31st charted "Idol."

We're not done with questions about "American Idol." Our next e-mail is the third in a row concerning a female contestant from the show.



MORE FROM 'IDOL' CENTRAL

Hi Fred!

I am an avid follower of Billboard and I look forward to reading your column each week.

Along with millions of other people, I have become an "American Idol" addict. Just by reading your column each week, it is quite apparent that the show has become a huge fixture in the American landscape. I always love reading your "Idol"-related responses and hearing about all the success that the Idols are enjoying. The series has brought us many big name artists such as Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. But one season in particular seems to be churning out the biggest crop of stars: season five.

Six top 10 albums (by Taylor Hicks, Katharine McPhee, Elliott Yamin, Chris Daughtry, Kellie Pickler and Bucky Covington), two top 30 hits (Elliott and Katharine), two top 10 hits (both by Daughtry) and countless other achievements have come from "Idol" contestants from season five.

It seems that this particular season had the greatest variety in singers and they all seem to be doing well in their respected genres. Now with Chris and his band Daughtry selling so well and Katharine breaking into the movie industry, it seems that season five has by far been the most successful season overall to date. Out of all these "Idols," do you think any of them have a chance at bringing home a Grammy for Best New Artist like Carrie Underwood did this past year?

I love all of the Idols from season five but one in particular caught my attention. In fact, I wrote into you earlier in the year in regards to her album. Yes, I am speaking of Katharine McPhee. Her debut single, "Over It," cracked the top 30 on the Hot 100 and went on to sell over 400,000 digital copies. Her latest single, "Love Story," is starting to make waves and I was wondering how you think she is doing? Do you think her album sales will be able to pick up? My personal favorite track on her debut CD is "Not Ur Girl." In my opinion, that song has the greatest hit potential. If you were her label, what song would you pick to follow up "Love Story"?

Thanks in advance.

Dan Aupperle
New Jersey

Dear Dan,

Knowing Grammy voters as I do (and I am a voting member of NARAS), I believe the band Daughtry has the best chance for a Grammy nomination, especially in the rock categories. It's possible some other season five finalists could receive nominations, too.

You and I have the same favorite song from Katharine McPhee's album, so my choice for the third single would definitely be "Not Ur Girl." A hit single would certainly improve album sales, but that would be true for any artist.

Your e-mail is not the final missive about "American Idol." We go now to San Diego, where Chart Beat reader Vince Ripol is standing by.



THE RUNNERS-UP

Hey Fred,

Your mention [in Chart Beat] of Fantasia's "When I See U" besting her previous No. 2 R&B peak with "Truth Is" reminded me of how many "American Idol" finalists have reached the runner-up position. In addition to all their chart-toppers, many songs by former contestants have landed at No. 2 on the pop, country and R&B charts, including Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone," Carrie Underwood's "Don't Forget to Remember Me," Bo Bice's "Inside Your Heaven," Fantasia's "Truth Is" and the two Ruben Studdard hits you noted, one of which was held to No. 2 by Clay Aiken's "This Is the Night".

Fantasia's dominance on the R&B chart leaves only a few charts for "Idol" contestants to conquer. It's only a matter of time before one of them is No. 1 (or No. 2) on the jazz charts.

Vince Ripol
San Diego, Calif.

Dear Vince,

I think we already have an "Idol" candidate for the jazz charts. It depends on what kind of album Melinda Doolittle is going to record. I have not heard any word of her being signed or what kind of an album she would make - it could be pop, R&B, gospel or jazz, so we'll just have to wait and see. But your point is well taken!

And that will do it for "American Idol"-related questions this week. Let's see what else is on readers' minds.



'UMBRELLA' STILL REIGNS

Dear Fred,

"Umbrella" by Rihanna featuring Jay-Z is shaping up to be an enormous hit on both sides of the Atlantic, with five weeks so far at the top of the Hot 100 and six weeks at No. 1 on the U.K. singles chart. In recent years, it has been rare for songs to capture the crown in both countries for multiple weeks, with big hits such as Beyonce's "Irreplaceable" and Mika's "Grace Kelly" failing to excite audiences here and in Britain equally.

"Umbrella" is the first single to be No. 1 in both countries for at least four weeks each since Cher's "Believe," which was No. 1 in the United Kingdom for seven weeks in 1998 and for four weeks in the United States the following year, and the first to top both charts simultaneously for at least five weeks since Elton John's two-sided hit, "Candle in the Wind 1997" / "Something About the Way You Look Tonight," which was No. 1 in the United Kingdom for five weeks and in the United States for 14 weeks beginning in the fall of 1997.

It will be interesting to see how many more weeks Rihanna can keep up her charts domination!

Michael Ming
Penn Valley, PA
thousands@hotmail.com

Dear Michael,

Thanks for the Rihanna trivia. "Umbrella" is the longest-running No. 1 of 2007 on the Hot 100, which merits an item in this week's Chart Beat column.



TECHNOLOGY FROM THE DAWN OF TIME

Hi Fred,

Whenever anyone requests sales figures from you or from Keith Caulfield, you both always refer to Nielsen SoundScan, which has been tracking [sales of singles] and albums from 1991 onward. So who tracked data pre-1991, and why did [that function] switch to SoundScan? And why is there no way of combining the data to get accurate sales figures for a whole pre-1991 album or single to date?

Congrats on a continually great must-read column.

John Marrs
London
john.marrs@sunday.co.uk

Dear John,

Before I answer your question, I should point out that as a rule, I don't discuss sales figures in Chart Beat. That is per Billboard policy. You'll see chart positions mentioned in Chart Beat, and sales figures discussed in columns written by members of our chart department, including Keith Caulfield's excellent "Ask Billboard" weekly feature.

I have to mention this, because I constantly receive e-mails with questions about sales figures, and I can't answer those letters. However, I can respond to your question. Those halcyon days before 1991 only seem like the dawn of time. Until Nielsen SoundScan came up with the technology to track record sales by scanning bar codes, there was no specific method to keep track of record sales. That is why you can't combine data - there is no data to combine.

In the "old" days, the Billboard chart department had a number of staffers who would call retail outlets to inquire how records were selling. But stores wouldn't necessarily be able to give an accurate count of how many copies each album sold. Instead, retail personnel might rank those albums, as in, "our best-selling album this week was 'Abbey Road,' and our second best-selling album was..."

Record companies generally knew how many copies their own albums sold, because they tracked that information for their own business dealings. And the RIAA kept track of how many copies were shipped to stores for certification purposes, but those weren't sales figures, just the number of copies a record company or distributor would sell to retail outlets.

There's nothing we can do to change history and have more accurate sales figures prior to the existence of Nielsen SoundScan, so we just have to live with the data from pre-1991, such as it is.