Fred Bronson discusses Britney Spears, his conncection to "American Idol," the Oscars and Clay Aiken with readers.

A LOSE-LOSE SITUATION

Dear Fred,

Why was Britney Spears' last single totally ignored in the States? I am not a big fan of hers, but I bought her last album because I think the song "Me Against the Music" is so damn cool. It actually sounds better than most of the songs that make up top-10. Why didn't it pick up loads of airplay and why doesn't anybody in radio want to play her song?

Isn't it really a case of people against the music?

Jonhan Salim
Jakarta, Indonesia

Dear Jonhan,

I think it's more a case of Britney and Madonna against the music, and the music lost. Which just goes to say we're in a very subjective area. Personally, I didn't care for this song, although I'm not by any means anti-Britney or -Madonna. I just think this was a misfire, something every artist has. And I'm aware a lot of people wouldn't agree with me about this song, but that's what makes the world go 'round.

I also frequently disagree with what radio plays, so it's rare for me to say that I understand what program directors and music directors didn't like about this song.



THE 'IDOL' CONNECTION

Fred,

I'm fairly new to "Chart Beat Chat." What was (is) your connection to "American Idol"? Your position? You mentioned suggesting songs.

I don't mean to be too blunt but why would they be taking your suggestions? Because of your Billboard position? Or are you part of the "American Idol" organization? Were you suggesting songs for many contestants or just certain ones? And if only certain contestants, why them?

Thanks,

Jane Robinson

Dear Jane,

I do write and produce television shows, but I don't work for "American Idol" or the production companies involved.

My connection to the series began last March, when the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences had an event called "American Idol Live." Members of the Academy were invited, and 1,300 people showed up to take part in a Q&A session with the producers, judges, contestants (the top-12 at that time) and the series' host. The TV Academy theater in North Hollywood, Calif., only holds 500 people, so 800 members had to watch the event on a big screen in a tent.

I was one of the lucky 500 members to be inside the theater. Just before I went in, I met Nigel Lythgoe, co-executive producer of "American Idol." I pitched an idea for the show that would have involved Billboard staffers picking songs for the contestants to sing. Nigel explained that the show couldn't do that, as the contestants must select their own songs.

During the event I went over other ideas in my mind and came up with an alternative suggestion. I ran it by "American Idol" music supervisor Susan Slamer, who was sitting next to me in the theater. She liked the idea, and when the event ended, I found Nigel again and pitched the idea of the contestants singing Billboard's No. 1 hits as one of the weekly themes.

Nigel said he'd let me know. Two weeks later, I found out the theme was scheduled for the April 8 show. That's when I suggested that the show send the contestants over to the Billboard office in Los Angeles, where our director of charts, Geoff Mayfield, and I would explain how the charts work and how one of them would probably have a No. 1 single. Nigel liked the idea, and on April 4, the contestants still on the show came over to our office for the session. A camera crew caught the whole thing on video, and our hour-long "class" in Billboard 101 was seen as a 40-second segment on the show.

After that, I attended a few of the live broadcasts. The week before Diane Warren was a guest judge, Clay Aiken asked me which song I thought he should sing between two of Diane's compositions. I told him which one I preferred, but I also remembered what Nigel said about contestants choosing their own songs and emphasized he should make his own choice. I didn't have to say that -- Clay was always confident of what he wanted to sing, and he didn't go with my suggestion. In retrospect, you can imagine how I would have felt if he went with my choice and was voted off the show that week! Not that I think he was ever in danger of being voted off before making the top two.

That was the extent of my suggestions, although I did think Clay should have sung the Righteous Brothers' "Just Once in My Life" if the opportunity came up. Still, I didn't make any unsolicited suggestions after that, and no one else asked my opinion on any other song.

Once the series ended, I felt free to make suggestions about songs for Clay's album. None were accepted. I've also made suggestions for Kimberely Locke and Trenyce for their respective albums. I have some ideas for Kimberly Caldwell's album I'm passing along to her producer. I'll let you know if any of those are accepted.



AND THE OSCAR GOES TO...

Hello Fred,

It is that time of year again when we begin to wonder who is the frontrunner for Oscar consideration for best original song from a movie.

Last year I asked you if Eminem stood any chance of a nomination and you said he was a dark horse for a nomination. You also believed, as I did, that the academy was not ready to award him just yet. Much to Barbra Streisand's (and most of the viewing audience's) surprise, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences did just that and he can now be addressed as Academy Award winner Eminem.

In a relatively quiet year for soundtracks and their singles, who are your picks to be nominated? You were dead solid perfect with your picks last year. As always, thanks for your time and your endless insight.

Bill Foster
dumbeaglesfan@charter.net

Dear Bill,

As a member of the Writers Guild of America, I'm invited to screenings of films for Academy Award consideration, so I've spent the last few weeks seeing as many of the contenders as I can. Still, there are many films I have not seen yet.

For example, I haven't seen "Mona Lisa Smile," although I've heard the album and it's my favorite soundtrack of 2003. Most of the songs are remakes [Seal's "Mona Lisa," Chris Isaak's "Besame Mucho" and Kelly Rowland's "I'm Beginning to See the Light"], but there is one song being pushed for an Academy Award: "The Heart of Every Girl" by Elton John.

Until I hear more of the eligible songs, I'm not ready to make my predictions yet. But you're right about Eminem -- I really didn't think the Academy membership was ready to hand him a statuette, but I couldn't have been more wrong.



NEW KID IN TOWN

Dear Fred,

So many folks are wondering why Clay Aiken was not among the finalists for "New artist of the year" [for the 2003 Billboard Music Awards]. I believe the answer is that you must have [charted] at least six months out of the year or longer to qualify. Can you please give us the correct criteria? I am sure that you can clear this matter up.

Also, I enjoy reading "Chart Beat."

Sincerely,

A senior citizen from Raleigh, N.C.,
Bob Ferrone

Dear Bob,

The Billboard Music Awards are based on the annual recaps of Billboard's charts. The finalists in each category are the artists or records that are in the top-3, top-4 or top-5 of each annual recap. Clay was eligible for new artist, but didn't finish among the top few names.

There is a logical explanation for this. The nominations are for the chart year, which runs from the first week in December to the last week in November. With "Measure of a Man" coming out in mid-October, the album did not have the amount of time to sell the same number as No. 1 albums that were released earlier in the year. While Clay's album sold very, very well, it hasn't had the time to sell 5 million or 6 million copies, as some albums that came out earlier in the year did.

Our charts are based on sales [such as The Billboard 200 album chart] or airplay [such as the Adult Contemporary list] or sales and airplay [such as The Billboard Hot 100], so those raw sales figures matter a lot.

Clay had one single under his belt, and an album that had been in stores about six weeks by the end of the chart year. He was competing against other artists who may have had three, four or five singles during the year, and an album or albums that sold many more copies because they had a longer sales period.

To find out where Clay placed on the list of best new artists in the pop category, be sure to look for Billboard's year-end charts, which will be posted Dec. 18 on Billboard.com and will be published in the Dec. 27 issue of Billboard.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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