"Chart Beat" columnist Fred Bronson discusses charts with readers. This week: Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard.

THE DEBATE CONTINUES

Hi Fred,

Two weeks ago, singles from Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 1 & No. 2, respectively, with sales of 393,000 units and 286,000 units (which is approximately a 25% difference between the two). I commented that I was surprised at the fairly large sales percentage gap because of the narrow gap (less than 1%) in the show's voting results. Clay's fans and Ruben's fans are very much alike in their "pride," their support and their love of their "AI" favorite (which was evident during the show's broadcast by the equal volume level of screams and number of hand-held signs for both contestants). The sales figures just did not make sense to me.

This past week, Clay and Ruben occupied identical chart positions on the Hot 100 as they did the previous week. But, what about sales? Did the gap narrow to be in line with the show's voting results? It did not. Billboard.com reports that Clay's single has moved 538,000 units. Ruben's single has moved 399,000 units. Interestingly, the sales gap has remained approximately 25%. Needless to say, the sales figures continue to baffle me!

I would think that if the first week's sales figures (and now the second week's figures as well) were a fluke, some sort of sales correction over a longer period of time would occur to correlate with the show's voting results. Do you think that by the time both singles have spent their chart life, we will see final sales results correlate with the show's voting results? While Ruben's single targets the R&B audience and Clay's single targets the Adult Contemporary audience, is there a verified sales history that indicates a similar gap in sales between the two formats as a whole? Could it be that R&B audiences purchase less music than audiences of other formats?

This fall will see the release of albums by both artists. I have to wonder if there will be an equivalent gap in sales between the two.

On a final note, I congratulate both Ruben and Clay -- they have much to be proud of -- their accomplishments on the Hot 100 may very well go unchallenged for many years (or at least until the finale of next season's "American Idol").

Scott Norum
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Dear Scott,

I think the problem is that you have an expectation that the sales of the debut singles by Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken will somehow correlate with the vote on "American Idol." I think that's a false premise, which is why you're having difficulty proving it.

If the same exact pool of people who voted for Ruben and Clay was the same pool of people buying their singles, maybe you could draw some conclusion. But there's no way that's possible. First, if it was, Ruben and Clay would have sold millions and millions of singles between them. Also, we don't know how many people bought their singles who didn't vote. We don't know how many people voted on the show but did not purchase singles. We don't know who bought both singles, but only voted for one contestant.

We don't know who bought singles without ever seeing "American Idol" (this would include people buying singles as gifts for children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, etc., as well as radio listeners who might have purchased the singles after hearing the songs on the radio for the first time).

If you're trying to use sales figures to prove that there was something wrong with the voting results on "American Idol," I don't think you have a case. Ruben won the vote and Clay has sold more singles. That's not unusual, by the way. As someone who has covered the Eurovision Song Contest for the last nine years, I can tell you that the winning song -- the one with the most votes -- is not always the biggest-selling single. To cite just two examples, in 1958, "Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu" by Domenico Modugno came in third, but the song we know as "Volare" is one of the biggest-selling singles to ever come out of this competition. In 1996, U.K. entrant Gina G placed eighth with "Ooh Aah...Just a Little Bit," but it was the best-selling Eurovision song in years.



AIKEN FOR AIRPLAY

Hi Fred,

I thought maybe you could shed light on the reason I cannot hear Clay Aiken on the radio. What's a guy gotta do to get played? I guess selling almost a half-million singles in two weeks just isn't good enough.

I believe the radio stations think they are to good to play the music from "American Idol," which should have nothing to do with it. People are obviously voting with their dollars. Everyone could have just downloaded the music but I purposely bought this single just to show support for his career. He has an uplifting voice and would be a great addition to any station's line up.

What are your thoughts?

Pat Colacchio

Dear Pat,

You are one of many readers to ask this question this week. I think there are a lot of reasons Clay Aiken's "This Is the Night" is not getting more airplay. At mainstream top 40 radio, programmers are finding it difficult to play this song next to 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes and Evanescence. Also, "American Idol" was massively popular with the TV viewing audience, but it may not have enough "hip" factor for radio.

Another problem is that when an artist has a cadre of deeply devoted fans who request airplay in great numbers, there is a tendency to dismiss them. Think how hardcore "Star Trek" fans were treated in that show's early days and you'll get an idea of what some radio programmers think of Clay's fans.

There is good news for those who think Clay should receive more airplay. The number of spins for "This Is the Night" has been increasing. Two influential stations are playing the song between 20 and 40 times a week: Z100 in New York and KIIS-FM in Los Angeles. That could lead other mainstream top 40 stations to increase (or begin) airplay. At Adult Contemporary radio, "This Is the Night" almost doubled its airplay this week, rising 27-20. At WMGC in Detroit, "This Is the Night" was the most-played song. AC radio tends to be ultra-conservative, with programmers waiting for songs to be hits at top 40 before adding them, so as "Night" grows at mainstream top 40, other AC stations may increase spins.

Clay may have better airplay luck with his next single if it is more top 40 radio-friendly. Keep in mind that Kelly Clarkson's "A Moment Like This" did not receive airplay commensurate with its sales, but the follow-up, "Miss Independent," is a radio favorite. On the Mainstream Top 40 chart published in Billboard's sister publication, Airplay Monitor, this second song from Clarkson is No. 1.



NEW TWO YOU

Hi Fred,

You said that this is the first time that the top two spots on the Hot 100 were held by new entries as "American Idol" winner Ruben Studdard bowed at No. 2 with "Flying Without Wings" and runner-up Clay Aiken entered in pole position with "This Is the Night." But this also marks the first time that an artist's debut song enters at either No. 1 or No. 2. One footnote I would like to add is that on Nov. 14, 1998, Lauryn Hill entered at the top with "Doo Wop (That Thing)," which was her first charted song. She did have three album cuts that had previously charted on the airplay chart that would have also appeared on the Hot 100, but it was before Billboard had allowed airplay-only songs to appear there.

Regards,

Larry Cohen
Trumbull, Conn.

Dear Larry,

Thanks for the trivia. I did mention in the print edition of Chart Beat that Clay Aiken is the first debut artist to enter the Hot 100 at No. 1. It's true that Lauryn Hill's "Doo Wop (That Thing)" was her first solo song to chart, but she had appeared on the Hot 100 earlier as a member of the Fugees. Aiken had never appeared on the chart until "This Is the Night" opened at No. 1 the week of June 28.

As for Ruben's debut at No. 2, anyone who looked at the answers to the trivia question posted here two weeks ago knows that six singles have debuted in the runner-up spot, and the first five were by artists who had already appeared on the Hot 100. To recap, those six titles that debuted at No. 2 are:

"Always Be My Baby," Mariah Carey (April 6, 1996)
"Tha Crossroads," Bone-Thugs-n-Harmony (May 11, 1996)
"Hypnotize," The Notorious B.I.G. (April 26, 1997)
"4 Seasons of Loneliness," Boyz II Men (Sept. 27, 1997)
"My All," Mariah Carey (May 9, 1998)
"Flying Without Wings," Ruben Studdard (June 28, 2003)

I do have to thank Clay and Ruben for giving me so much to write about these last three weeks, and for being the No. 1 topic on the minds of Chart Beat chatters. Almost every E-mail I have received for the last three weeks has been about these two "American Idol" finalists. That includes the following request:



MORE, MORE, MORE

Fred,

If you transcribed 11,000 words [of your interview with Clay Aiken] could you possibly run the rest of the interview? We're DYING for anything Clay ever says. There would be so very many appreciative readers. Thanks!

Alexis Pero
Milwaukee

Dear Alexis,

I received the same request from another reader, Donna Feliciano. I didn't mean to mislead you -- the transcript does run 11,000 words, but people don't speak the same way they write. So when I put together a Q&A, I edit out things like someone saying the same thing twice in a sentence or paragraph. People also tend to say things like "You know..." a lot, and those are edited out as well. So while the online interview ran about 4,700 words, it's not like there are 6,300 other words waiting to be revealed to the world.

However, I'm glad to publish a little more of the interview here. This column is called Chart Beat Chat, and I think Clay would be the first one to say he loves to Chat. That's not a slam -- it's very easy to interview someone who is so forthcoming.


DID YOU HAVE A RECORD PLAYER IN YOUR ROOM?

Yes, and it was one of those little plastic Fisher-Price ones, but it worked just like a real one.

SO YOU COULD PLAY YOUR 12 ALBUMS FROM THE RECORD CLUB?

I don't know if my mom let me keep them all. I think some of them at seven years old were a little too inappropriate.

DID YOU BUY ANY SINGLES?

I remember getting the Crystal Gayle album and then Marie Osmond sang a duet with Dan Seals, "Meet Me in Montana." I remember that song.

WERE YOU IN A MUSICAL IN YOUR SENIOR YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL?

In 12th grade, we did "Guys and Dolls" and I got cut. Didn't get a part at all. Didn't even get in the chorus. My music teacher was not the nicest lady.

SHE DIDN'T LIKE YOU?

She wasn't very nice. Wake County schools have an annual showcase of arts and they had 300 acts audition and I had asked her for years if I could do it. And she said, "Well, your senior year you can audition as a soloist." She changed her mind my senior year and I decided to do it anyway. I got someone else to sponsor me and I made it and her choir did not, so I'd say she was bitter. But I did a solo. It was the biggest audience I'd ever sung in front of at the time. I think it was like 2,000 people in this Memorial Auditorium downtown and I sang "This Is the Moment" from "Jekyll and Hyde."

YOU MENTIONED SEVERAL TIMES THAT YOU COULD HAVE BEEN CUT FROM THE SHOW. DID YOU HAVE THE SAME FEELING WHEN YOU GOT LOS ANGELES?

[In California] they had three rooms of 16 to [be chosen for] the top 32, and I've found out since that one room was people who were definitely going to make it. Frenchy, Ruben, Kim Caldwell and Josh Gracin were in that room. And then there was another room of people. I was in that room with Kim Locke, Trenyce, Charlie [Grigsby] and Rickey [Smith]. These are people they figured they'd give a shot. So there again, I was on the line. And they probably waffled back and forth for letting me come back for the wild card. It could have happened either way.

I THINK YOU DISPLAYED CONFIDENCE THROUGH THE ENTIRE SERIES.

I don't know. People try to analyze a lot of stuff. I'm sure at some point in this interview, you're going to say, "What artist do you feel like you identify with?" People ask those types of questions and my answer is, "You know, I just go out there and sing the song." I don't have a motivation. I don't have somebody that I want to sound like. I learn the song and I sing it. It's a lot simpler than what some reporters would like to make it. And so why do I come across with such confidence? I don't know. I'm comfortable up there once I learn the song. I might not have looked so confident during "Vincent." I think I handled it pretty well considering that I just sat there for 15 minutes. And last Tuesday on "Oprah," it was horrible. The performance was really bad. That last note was like a train wreck. But really, it's adrenaline. I get nervous backstage and then you hear "Clay Aiken" and then you walk out and you've got to do it. You have no other choice. I don't have the option to be nervous.

SIMON HATED YOUR PERFORMANCE OF "GREASE," BUT THAT WAS ONE TIME I THOUGHT HE WAS WAY OFF THE MARK.

I think it was one of my best vocal performances.

ON THE BEE GEES SHOW, YOU AND JOSH BOTH SANG "TO LOVE SOMEBODY." WHAT DID YOUR GUT SAY ABOUT THAT?

If my gut says sing "To Love Somebody," I'm singing "To Love Somebody." Josh is going to sing it too, but I'm not going to second-guess myself and try to flip-flop on what I want, so I'm going to sing it.

HOW DID THE PRODUCTION STAFF DEAL WITH YOU AND JOSH PICKING THE SAME SONG?

They weren't too thrilled about it. They tried to get one of us to switch. And actually, the only rule that week was you had to do one slow song and one fast song. Josh had picked two slow songs and so he had to pick another fast song. So they tried to convince him to change "To Love Somebody" to a fast song. But he was adamant. He wanted to sing "To Love Somebody." That's all that was going to be said and finally [Co-executive producer] Nigel [Lythgoe] just said, "O.K., if you two want to do it, if you want to go up against each other, then go for it." I don't think I ever changed my song after I picked it. The hardest week for me to get up there with [vocal coach Debra] Byrd and try to figure out what song I was singing was the second week, the movie week, because I was really worried I was going to come off as "Broadway." I didn't want to be a Disney performer for the rest of my life. Nigel wanted me to sing "Moon River," so I had a tough time trying to pick a song but I picked "Somewhere Out There." I was happy with it.

YOU CHOSE THE SONG "VINCENT" BY REACHING INTO A FISHBOWL AND PULLING OUT A SLIP OF PAPER WITH A SONG TITLE WRITTEN ON IT. DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE OTHER SONGS WERE IN THE FISHBOWL THAT YOU DIDN'T PICK?

I'm sure "Moon River" was in it. I mean, the executive producers put [the songs] in there. Nigel had what he liked to hear from all of us. Ruben had some R&B stuff Nigel liked to hear. He loved diva songs from Kim Locke, and with me, he called me a crooner from the very beginning of the show. "Vincent" was his favorite song. Then the last night, they were all chosen for us. Obviously our single, we had to sing. Paul Simon had agreed to let me sing "Bridge Over Troubled Water," which is apparently extremely rare. He never lets anybody sing it, so of course we were going to do that and do something fun with it. Nigel picked "A House Is Not a Home" for Ruben, because he liked that song. And then he said, "Let's do a Beatles thing," and he picked our Beatles song for us. And that was fine. I was happy with that song.