Keith Caulfield answers readers' questions about Billboard Music Awards, Idina Menzel, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston.

BEST NEW ARTIST?

Keith,

I'm sure this will be one of thousands of e-mails you receive on the subject of selecting Ashlee Simpson as best new artist (at the 2004 Billboard Music Awards) but I must put my two cents in.

I am a lover of many types of music (ABBA to Zappa and everything in between) and even enjoyed some of Ashlee's stuff. I am really disappointed, however, that she would have even been considered as best new artist. Have you actually heard her sing? I mean, really heard her sing? I think she could be really good someday after she takes a couple of years' worth of voice lessons. She's got better taste in the song selection department than her dopey sister and even has a better sound but best new artist? Not even close.

Sorry, but I'm really disgusted with your choice. I wonder why such a decision was made.

Peter West

Hello Peter,

The Billboard Music Awards are based upon performance on Billboard's weekly sales and radio airplay charts. Specifically, the new artist category is derived from compiling the most successful new acts on both The Billboard 200 albums chart and the Hot 100 singles chart.

Billboard does not select a winner or finalists for any category, as both are ultimately based upon performance on the charts for which Nielsen SoundScan provides sales data, while radio airplay information is supplied by Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems. Also, it's important to note that BMA categories are not titled "best" or in any way denote any sort of value judgment, as all of the awards are based on factual data.

To be eligible for a new artist award, an act must have not charted an album previous to Oct. 1, 2003 -- with a one-time exception allowed for an appearance only on the magazine's Top Heatseekers chart.

Simpson debuted at No. 1 on The Billboard 200 with her Geffen debut, "Autobiography." The set spent three weeks atop the chart, and has spent 20 weeks on the list thus far. She also had two charting singles on The Billboard Hot 100 during the eligibility year (December 2003 through November 2004): "Pieces of Me" and "Shadow." The former peaked at No. 5 and spent 21 weeks on the chart (six of which were in the top 10).

When all of the points were added up, Simpson came out on top and was awarded the female new artist of the year trophy.



SOMETHING 'WICKED' THIS WAY COMES

Dear Keith,

Before reaching her biggest career height in "Wicked," Idina Menzel recorded one major label album, "Still I Can't Be Still," which was released in late 1998 and is currently out of print. Is there any information you can give on how many copies its sold and if it possibly made any of Billboard's charts? It's such an excellent album and it's a shame it will probably never be re-released.

Thanks always,

David

Hi David,

Although Idina Menzel has released two albums, she has yet to reach a Billboard Chart. "Still I Can't Be Still" has sold about 7,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, after its 1998 release by Hollywood Records. In February, she released an album titled "Here" on the Zel Recordings label that has sold 2,000 units.

Menzel won a Tony Award earlier this year for leading actress in a musical for her performance in "Wicked." She was previously nominated for featured actress in a musical for her role in "Rent," and has been tapped to star in a forthcoming film version of the hit Broadway show.



TOTALING MARIAH

Hi Keith,

I thoroughly enjoy reading your column every week and you certainly impress me with a lot of the questions you are able to answer.

I have always wondered what are the sales totals for all of Mariah Carey's albums? I have heard so many different things, but I would like you to set the record straight. Also, could you contrast that with the former diva, Whitney Houston. Yes, "former!"

Thanks so much,

John

Hi John,

Oh, you're just trying to get Whitney fans upset with you, right? I think it's still safe to say that Houston is still a diva, as is Carey.

According to Nielsen SoundScan, Mariah Carey has sold 43 million albums in the United States. Because the company began tracking sales information in 1991, that means some of the sales of her breakthrough self-titled debut are not included in the overall number as "Mariah Carey" was released in the summer of 1990.

Houston's SoundScan-era releases, along with the sales of both the soundtracks to "The Preacher's Wife" and "The Bodyguard," total 17.4 million in U.S. sales.

If you also consider 1985's "Whitney Houston" and 1987's "Whitney" -- certified by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for 22 million units shipped in the United States -- her total would be around 39.4 million.