CHART BEAT CHAT

Fred and his readers discuss "American Idol," the Pussycat Dolls and more!

MARIO ON THE MOVE

Fred,

Love your column. I really enjoyed reading your piece about the Latin charts this week.

Last week, the single "Gallery" by Mario Vazquez reached No. 40 on The Billboard Hot 100. Doesn't that make Mario the first "American Idol" contestant, other than winners and runners-up, to have a top 40 hit?

Thanks,

Gabriel Duque
Miami Beach, Fla.


Dear Gabriel,

Since you wrote your e-mail, "Gallery" has taken another upward move, from 40-38. After a slow start, the single is shaping up to be a bona fide hit.

But Mario Vazquez is not the first "American Idol" contestant who was not a finalist or a runner-up to reach the top 40 of the Hot 100. True, most of the "Idol" kids who have charted in the top 40 finished in the top two on the series, including Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken, Fantasia, Diana DeGarmo, Carrie Underwood, Bo Bice, Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee.

But don't forget about season two's fourth-place finisher. Josh Gracin has turned into a country star, with a No. 1 hit on the Hot Country Songs chart to his credit. That chart-topper, "Nothin' to Lose," peaked at No. 39 on the Hot 100 dated March 19, 2005.

Vazquez does have claim to one first -- he is the first "American Idol" drop-out to have a hit on the Hot 100.



MY BIG FAT GREEK HIT

Hi Fred,

You can now add one more Eurovision Song Contest entry to the list of songs that have charted in the United States. I am referring to Helena Paparizou's song "My Number One," the winning entry for Greece in 2005. The song is already No. 11 on the Hot Dance Club Play chart and should be in the top 10 by the time the new chart is published.

Helena is already a mega-star in Greece and Sweden where her singles easily find their way into the top three. Most recently, her new single "Heroes" entered the Swedish chart at No. 1, while her previous single "Mambo" was a top three hit.

Helena becomes the third Greek diva in as many years to appear on the Hot Dance Club Play chart. In 2004, Despoina Vandi reached No. 39 with her international hit, "Gia." In 2005, Anna Vissi reached the top of the chart for a week with her smash hit "Call Me." And now in 2006, Helena Paparizou is climbing up the same chart with "My Number One."

I suspect (and this is just a wild guess) that Helena's "My Number One" is the first ESC entry to appear on any Billboard chart since 1996 when Gina G charted with the U.K. entry "Ooh Aah... Just a Little Bit."

Best regards,

Andreas Komodromos
Buenos Aires
Argentina


Dear Andreas,

Thanks for writing from Argentina about a song from Greece! As you predicted, "My Number One" has moved into the top 10 of the Hot Dance Club Play tally, with an 11-9 move. And, as you suspected, this is the first Eurovision Song Contest entry to appear on a Billboard chart since the song Gina G sang at the 1996 competition in Oslo, Norway. "Ooh Aah... Just a Little Bit" peaked at No. 12 on the Hot 100 in 1997. It was a hit in America on its own merits, as any connection to Eurovision was virtually unknown here.

Maybe Helena Paparizou's success will open the door for other Eurovision songs to cross the pond. I thought Sertab's winning entry for Turkey in 2003, "Everyway That I Can," was a perfect candidate for an American hit. Maybe it's not too late?



WHAT'S NEW, PUSSYCATS?

Greetings, Fred!

I have a question regarding the crediting of artists on the imminent year-end Billboard charts.

The liner notes to the Pussycat Dolls' album state: "All lead and background vocals by Nicole Scherzinger." If one investigates all of the composition credits and musician credits it becomes apparent that the five other "members" (Carmit Bachar, Melody Thornton, Ashley Roberts, Jessica Sutta, Kimberly Wyatt) contributed nothing to the recording of the album. Zilch.

Of course, these five ladies certainly have contributed to the phenomenon of the act, but the last time I checked the Billboard album and singles charts were designed expressly to document the performance of recordings (and by extension, their authors), not the success of videos and other ancillary visuals. Think of it this way -- if you set aside the Pussycat Dolls' videos and album cover, there is no such thing as Carmit, Melody, Ashley, Jessica and Kimberly in the world of the actual records. They simply don't exist. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but Billboard methodology has nothing do with videos and album covers.

Consequently, shouldn't the Pussycat Dolls singles and albums be classified as the work of a solo act (Nicole Scherzinger) relative to Billboard guidelines/policies? I have enjoyed the Pussycat Dolls' singles as much as the next person this past year, but it would pain me to see them positioned at the top of the list in various year end charts as a group when, by any objective standard, they are not a group at all. Don't get me wrong -- the chart achievements of the Pussycat Dolls' recordings should certainly be recognized; but wouldn't they more properly be acknowledged in the solo female categories, since Nicole Scherzinger is indeed the only actual recording artist?

I know this has been a lengthy letter, but it is an issue I feel strongly about, and I thought it would be of interest to you and my fellow Chart Beat addicts. I know that you often emphasize that the Billboard charts are designed to operate as impartial and objective tools. I completely agree. That is why I would hate to see cultural hoopla and record company packaging distort the magazine's ability to classify correctly the Pussycat Dolls' chart achievements in the 2006 year-end issue. Please reassure me that chart justice will prevail!

All best,

Christopher Brisson
[email protected]

P.S. Who knows -- maybe A&M will actually let Carmit, Melody, Ashley, Jessica and Kimberly sing on the sophomore album since it appears Nicole will be flying the coop sooner rather than later?


Dear Christopher,

When the now-defunct UPN network added a new series to its line-up called "Enterprise," our sister publication the Hollywood Reporter listed the series as "Enterprise" when the weekly Nielsen ratings were published. The editors of the Hollywood Reporter didn't have a discussion that went something like this: "This is really a 'Star Trek' series and that's what UPN should have called it, so we're going to list it as 'Star Trek: Enterprise' when we run the Nielsen ratings." After the series was on the air for two years, the third season found the title changed to the more appropriate "Star Trek: Enterprise," and that's when the Hollywood Reporter started listing it as such.

It's not Billboard's job to decide what a record label should call a group. And even if Nicole Scherzinger does provide all of the lead and backing vocals on the album, it's not Billboard's duty to decide that the entity known as the group the Pussycat Dolls is a solo act. The Pussycat Dolls do exist in the world as a group and so it is proper that they be considered a group for chart purposes.

By the way, if we applied your standard to all of the other groups that have charted in Billboard, you might be surprised how many of them would have to be reclassified as solo acts.

I don't think I've ever said that the Billboard charts are impartial tools, by the way, although they are certainly objective as opposed to subjective. I have said many times that the charts are meant to be tools for the music industry, which is another reason it makes sense to call the Pussycat Dolls the Pussycat Dolls and consider them a group. We're here to provide information to radio and retailers to help the folks who work in those industries do their jobs. We're not here to confuse them.

Having said all of that, Christopher, I admire the passion you expressed in your argument, even if I disagree with you. Thanks for being interested enough in the charts to take the time to write the long e-mail that you sent (which I did have to edit for posting in Chart Beat Chat).



THE STATE OF ADULT CONTEMPORARY

With Billboard's recent acquisition of Radio & Records, chart watchers can now readily access the numbers behind the charts. As a long-time follower of the Adult Contemporary chart, I am disturbed by how many recurrent tunes receive enough airplay weekly that they would consistently rank among the week's current top 30 if eligible. There is something terribly wrong with a format that still plays songs from 1983 ("Every Breath You Take") and 1991 ("Something to Talk About") more often than songs released within the past year.

AC was once a format where the charts were interesting. Songs did not linger for years and an artist was able to release a follow-up that would not be eclipsed by the airplay of its predecessor. For example, Celine Dion's "I'm Alive" could not muster past No. 6 since AC would not let go of "A New Day Has Come," which reigned for 21 weeks. The format once had core artists that could still succeed at AC even if their singles were floundering at top 40. Olivia Newton-John's singles in 1976 and 1977 all failed to reach the pop top 10 but still regularly topped the AC chart.

Today, there are few artists that are core to the format. Josh Groban is the only one I can think of. Sure, some veteran AC acts like Lionel Richie and Hall & Oates still garner an occasional top 10 AC hit that is scarcely played at any other format. But most of the songs on the AC chart today have been cherry-picked from other formats like top 40 (Kelly Clarkson, Daniel Powter), country (Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban) or Adult Top 40 (Rob Thomas, Maroon5). How can the format evolve if it ignores its core and, worse, clings to the same playlist literally year after year?

AC programmers are also neglecting the format's heritage. How often do you hear songs like "Boogie Oogie Oogie" or "Hot Stuff" on today's AC stations? These songs did not even chart AC! Vintage AC -- and top 40 -- artists like the Carpenters and Kenny Rogers are ignored by AC today. Yet, AC will play other similar vintage artists like Barry White or KC that barely impacted the AC chart. And what about more recent artists like Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey? If you listen to today's AC radio, you would think that Houston recorded only one album ("The Bodyguard") and that Carey was a one-hit wonder ("Hero").

New York's WLTW best exemplifies the state of today's AC radio. When WLTW debuted in the mid-1980s, I recall hearing Lionel Richie's "Say You, Say Me" with its bridge edited out since it rocked too hard for its "lite" format. Today, WLTW is still "lite," but plays songs such as Prince's "Kiss" and Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" that AC completely ignored, but top 40 radio embraced. WLTW, like many other AC stations, also boasts a "Saturday Night Dance Party." When did AC become the bastion for disco? Has AC essentially become a newer version of oldies radio?

In your opinion, what has happened to AC? I am certainly not questioning the accuracy of the AC chart. What I am questioning is whether AC radio is even worth charting anymore. Thanks for reading and I look forward to (hopefully!) reading your thoughts about this!

Dan White
New York, N.Y.


Dear Dan,

To answer your last question first, since Adult Contemporary is a popular radio format, it is worth charting. That goes back to my statement above that the Billboard charts are meant to be a tool for those who work in the music business, and having an AC chart is important for those who work in radio as well as the folks who work at record companies.

Every radio format has undergone changes over the years. Top 40 radio in the '60s didn't sound anything like top 40 radio today. You could say the same for country and R&B, because music evolves and nothing stays the same.

I have often said that what we consider to be AC music changes every few months. Remember, this is the format that was once known as middle-of-the-road and the core artists were vocalists like Jerry Vale, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. But that doesn't mean you expect to hear Vic Damone singing "On the Street Where You Live" when you tune into an AC station in 2006.

Since the definition of AC music is constantly changing, it's no surprise that when AC plays oldies, they may not play songs that charted AC 30, 20 or even 10 years ago.

Some of AC's most-played artists weren't considered AC when they first charted. Who would have thought that Elton John, Rod Stewart, Bon Jovi and Phil Collins would one day be considered AC artists? Which makes you wonder, who will AC radio be playing in 2019?