Fred discusses Clay Aiken, Miki Howard and more.

A THOUSAND = 99: One question I'm asked all the time is if I think the contestants on "American Idol" have staying power. In the past, I've had to say that time will tell... but time keeps passing and, three years after he was named runner-up to Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken debuts at No. 2 on The Billboard 200 with his third CD, "A Thousand Different Ways" (RCA). All three of Aiken's albums have entered the chart in the top five. "Measure of a Man" debuted at No. 1 the week of Nov. 1, 2003. The holiday-themed "Merry Christmas With Love" bowed at No. 4 the week of Dec. 4, 2004. And now "A Thousand Different Ways" has opened at No. 2.

A lot of Aiken's fans purchase his product online, so they have helped fuel a No. 1 debut on the Top Internet Albums tally. Counting all domestic charts compiled by the Billboard Information Group, this is the 99th No. 1 for the "American Idol" franchise. That means the next Idol to top a Billboard chart will help the TV series collect its 100th No. 1.

With Carrie Underwood rising to No. 11 on the Hot Country Songs chart with "Before He Cheats" (Arista) and new albums coming this year from Studdard as well as Taylor Hicks, Katharine McPhee, Josh Gracin, Kellie Pickler and Chris Daughtry, that 100th No. 1 could be by anybody -- including Aiken, should "A Thousand Different Ways" reach No. 1 on another chart, or if the single "Without You" reaches pole position.


'TALK' OF THE TOWN: At No. 62 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, Chicago-born, L.A.-raised Miki Howard delivers "Pillow Talk: Miki Howard Sings the R&B Classics" (Shanachie).

Howard's last album to chart was "Three Wishes," which peaked at No. 60 in April 2001.

"Pillow Talk" stretches Howard's album chart span to 19 years, 10 months and two weeks, counting back to the Dec. 20, 1986 debut of "Come Share My Love."


'CLASSICS' DOUBLED: Two solo male artists, both born in the early 1940s, return after an absence to The Billboard 200 with similarly-titled albums that feature cover tunes.

New at No. 37 is "Bring It on Home... The Soul Classics" (Burgundy) by Aaron Neville. The New Orleans vocalist was last on this chart in February 2003 with "Believe." "Soul Classics" is his highest-charting set since "Aaron Neville's Soulful Christmas" peaked at No. 36 in December 1993.

Julio Iglesias opens at No. 43 with "Romantic Classics" (Columbia). It's Iglesias' first appearance on this chart since "Tango" danced to No. 81 in March 1997. "Romantic Classics" is Iglesias' highest-charting album since "Crazy" crested at No. 30 in June 1994.


THE JOY OF 'SEXY': Justin Timberlake's "SexyBack" (Jive) racks up week No. 5 at the apex of The Billboard Hot 100. That ties the song as the second longest-running chart-topper of 2006.

Two other singles had five-week reigns: "Check On It" by Beyonce featuring Slim Thug and "Bad Day" by Daniel Powter. The champ for the calendar year is Nelly Furtado and Timbaland's "Promiscuous," which ruled the Hot 100 for six weeks.