Fred and his readers discuss American Idols, Elton John and more.

'IDOL' CHATTER

Happy Holidays Mr. Bronson,

Now that Taylor Hicks' debut album has had a second week of sales tabulated, we can see that it will not rank among the TV franchise's biggest hits. Some people may blame Hicks' failure to set the charts ablaze to the novelty quality of the musical output of the "American Idol" TV show.

Further proof of this novelty theory can be found in Fantasia's and Ruben Studdard's sophomore efforts, both of which are faltering badly on the Billboard album charts, not to mention Clay Aiken's sophomore opus which debuted with high numbers only to sink to the bottom of the charts in record time. However, this rationale would not explain the spectacular success of Carrie Underwood and Daughtry. The former "Idol" queen had the biggest selling album of 2006 according to Billboard, and Chris Daughtry has a bona fide hit on his hands with his debut album.

So what gives? What do you think is the reason for such a wide spectrum of success among the Idols? Carrie's album is the only country record by an Idol winner and it proved both a masterpiece and a commercial watershed, but other Idol alumni have tried their hand at country with mixed results, like Josh Gracin and Kelly Pickler. Likewise, Daughtry's debut album is a straight rocker, but Bo Bice didn't fare well with his rock debut. So the musical genre chosen by an "Idol" is not to be blamed or credited for their success, or lack thereof.

Do you think that Katharine McPhee will fare better with her debut than Taylor Hicks? And what do you think are the chances of any "Idol" matching the success of first-season champ Kelly Clarkson? Kelly had to do some major reinventing of herself before achieving superstar status. Do you think Carrie Underwood will be the next Kelly Clarkson?

Thank you for a wonderful column,

Cesar Morataya
Washington, D.C.


Dear Cesar,

You weren't the only Chart Beat reader to send an "American Idol" related e-mail this week. Go ahead and read the next letter and then I'll reply to both at once.



MORE 'IDOL' CHATTER

Hi Fred,

I love reading your column! I am 17 and I am entering college in the fall of 2007 and I hope to one day write for Billboard. I have a passion for music and I am a self-proclaimed chart addict.

Like many, I am [also] addicted to the phenomenon known as "American Idol." I enjoy following the contestants and seeing them succeed. We are in a time in music where many talented artists rely solely on clever gimmicks and studio magic to make a hit song. I don't know about you, but I think it's time that we get back to quality music. The part about "American Idol" that truly enthralls me is the fact that the show thrusts talented artists into the limelight and onto our radios (the lucky ones at least). But I've noticed that radio only embraces certain contestants. Kelly Clarkson and more recently Carrie Underwood have broken out of the "Idol" stigma but some other contestants aren't as lucky. Marketability may be the biggest factor in whether the Idols can break into the mainstream.

Which leads me to my point: This past season I found myself rooting for Katharine McPhee. Katharine may be the most marketable and most versatile "Idol" contestant yet. With her self-titled debut album finally approaching (Jan. 30), how do you see her doing? With the right promotion and the right material, do you think she has a chance? Could she be the next Kelly Clarkson or Christina Aguilera or will she get lost in the mix?

Dan Aupperle
New Jersey


Dear Cesar and Dan,

You both asked about the success of the various "Idol" finalists and they have had different degrees of success on the charts. Cesar, I think it's too early to count out the latest albums from Taylor Hicks, Fantasia and Ruben Studdard. No single has been released from the Hicks CD yet, and Fantasia and Studdard are only on their first singles. A stream of hits from either artist could fuel sales. There are several potential hit songs on Hicks' album, so he could conceivably have a hit and boost album sales. TV appearances also are a factor in increased sales.

There's no question that radio has accepted Kelly Clarkson as a bona fide star. Country airplay has been no problem for Carrie Underwood (and by the way, I think Josh Gracon's album did just fine, as did Kellie Pickler's). Now, rock radio is accepting Chris Daughtry's self-titled band. The single "It's Not Over" debuts at No. 40 on Modern Rock Tracks this week, making Daughtry the first "Idol" to chart on this survey.

Dan, you asked about Katharine McPhee. I haven't heard the album yet, but I did talk to Kat about all of the songs on her debut release, and also had a conversation with her A&R person, Stephen Ferrera. They've gone in a very pop direction, and one friend who has heard the album told me he thinks it is terrific.



'THE SUN' AND 'THE WIND'

Hi Fred.

I have a question about Elton John. He seems to have a unique distinction among artists. As far as I can see, he's the only artist in history to take both a live and studio version of a song into the top 10 -- twice! He did it with "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" (the live version as a duet with George Michael) and "Candle in the Wind." One could argue that the second "Candle in the Wind" was a different song, but I think it's splitting hairs when you rewrite your own song!

I don't think I can think of another artist who has accomplished this. Is anyone else even close?

John Murray
Fredericton, NB.
Canada_jmbm@rogers.com


Dear John,

It's very rare for an artist to take two different versions of the same song into the top 10 of the Hot 100 (or even on the Hot 100). Neil Sedaka did it with the original uptempo "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" and the remade ballad version. But both were studio albums.
I'll open this up to Chart Beat readers and we'll see if anyone can add to the list using your criteria.



HAPPY NEW YEAR

Dear Readers,

Thank you for reading Chart Beat Chat. Please have a safe and Happy New Year and I'll be back next week with the first column of 2007.

Fred Bronson

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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