CHART BEAT CHAT

"Chart Beat" columnist Fred Bronson discusses charts with readers. This week: "American Idol" Ruben Studdard & runner-up Clay Aiken and Natalie Imbruglia.

VETERAN'S DAY

Fred,

With all the attention on Clay [Aiken] and Ruben [Studdard] this week, I noticed an interesting feature on this week's album chart worth noting. Four of this week's top-5 albums are by artists near or over 40: 52-year-old Luther Vandross at No. 1, the late 30's to 40-year-old Metallica at No. 2, 48-year-old Annie Lennox at No. 4, and 51-year-old George Strait at No. 5. And each is in a completely different musical genre as well.

And they aren't even the oldest artists in the top-10; that distinction goes to Steely Dan at No. 9, featuring 55-year-old Donald Fagen and 53-year-old Walter Becker.

Amid all the Justins and Kellys, it's nice to see some veterans get their due.

Michael Hughes
Los Angeles

Dear Michael,

Good point. In an industry that's as ageist as any other entertainment business, it's nice to see that veteran acts can still sell records. You didn't mention the group that has an album debuting at No. 16. See "Chart Beat Bonus" to find out which group whose first album debuted on our chart just over 40 years ago has its highest-charting album in 27 years.



THE IMPOSIBLE HAPPENED

Dear Fred,

On the Hot 100, following the No. 4 debut of American Idols' "God Bless the U.S.A." not so many weeks ago, this week No. 2 "American Idol" Clay Aiken's "This Is the Night" and No. 1 "American Idol" Ruben Studdard's "Flying Without Wings" debut at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. Never before have singles debuted at the top two positions on the same weekly Hot 100.

In your opinion, what are the odds we will see more such high debuting singles, such as we did in the mid to late 1990s, before the Dec. 5, 1998 rules changes?

David Dana-Bashian
Garden Grove, Calif.

Dear David,

When I broke the news to Clay that he was No. 1 on the Hot 100, he exclaimed, "You said that was impossible!" He was referring to the session we had at Billboard back on April 4 when Geoff Mayfield and I explained to six of the "American Idol" contestants how the Hot 100 is compiled and what it takes to reach No. 1. I reminded Clay, "No, I said it was almost impossible."

And it is. Between September 1995 and December 1998, there were 11 debuts at No. 1. That's because during that specific period of time, chart rules made No. 1 debuts easier than ever. Prior to September 1995, a commercially available single could debut on the Hot 100 the same week it was released to stores. That meant a single could debut based only on airplay, as long as sales were going to kick in the following week. Unlike sales, airplay usually builds gradually, so it was difficult for a song to debut at No. 1.

Beginning in September 1995, singles couldn't debut on the Hot 100 until they were in stores for a full week of sales. That's why Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone" was the first single to enter the chart in pole position. Under previous chart rules, it would have debuted lower on the survey based on airplay, then leapt to No. 1 in its second chart week.

Once the rules were changed again in December 1998 to allow airplay-only tracks onto the chart, it became almost impossible to debut at No. 1. The conditions had to be just right -- massive sales in the first week, with little or no airplay prior to going on sale. That's what happened with "This Is the Night." If Ruben Studdard's "Flying Without Wings" had been released a week earlier, it would have had a week at No. 1 based on its impressive sales figure.

I don't think the historic debuts of "This Is the Night" and "Flying Without Wings" indicate we're in for a spate of high debuts -- until we know the winners of the third season of "American Idol."



VOTES VS. SALES

Hi Fred,

I am certain you will be swamped with E-mails during the coming week regarding "American Idol" finalists Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken, so I thought I'd add my two cents.

I just read on Billboard.com that Clay Aiken's single sold 393,000 copies and Ruben Studdard's single sold 286,000 copies. The difference is much larger than I expected! I find it interesting that runner-up Aiken outsold Studdard by 107,000 units, considering the 130,000 vote difference in [the show's] results. Does this surprise you?

All along during season two of "American Idol" I got the feeling that the judges -- and maybe the show itself -- wanted Ruben to claim the "AI" title regardless of performances. Voting for Aiken during the last three weeks of the show was difficult at best -- as I could not get through to cast my vote.

I assume it was as difficult for those voting for Studdard. I have heard others remark they could not get through on the voting lines. I wonder, if everyone who attempted to vote actually got through to do so, would the results be the same?

I read that Studdard is receiving more airplay than Aiken -- however it is the sales figures, in my opinion, that are the only unbiased indication of the public favorite. No one -- not the judges, the producers, the radio programmers or even the (flawed) voting system -- but the buyers themselves, can influence their own decisions to purchase Ruben's or Clay's single. The sales figures support who I think the "AI" winner is.

Thanks for reading.

Regards,

Scott Norum
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Dear Scott,

If everyone who watched some part of the finale of "American Idol" purchased the debut singles released by Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard, they each would have sold 39 million singles. Instead, only about 1% of that figure bought Clay's "This Is the Night." A very impressive sales figure, but a mere fraction of viewers. So I don't think we can equate votes with record sales.

Some time back, I wrote and co-produced an ABC-TV special based on my book, "The Billboard Book of Number One Hits." The two-hour special was called "America Picks the Number One Songs," and it had a live element where viewers were asked to vote by telephone for their favorite No. 1 songs from 1955-1965, 1965-1975 and 1975-1985. I watched as the computers registered the votes during the live part of the show. Millions and millions of telephone votes came in each minute of the voting period -- we could see the tallies updated every few seconds. But we also knew that millions of other viewers could not get through. I'm sure the technology is even better now, but the fact that millions of people didn't have their vote register is not unusual, nor does it favor one candidate over the other.

Having worked in television production for over 30 years, I also know that the broadcast standards departments of the networks are very serious when they oversee any show that has an element of competition. They simply do not allow voting to be rigged or fixed.

The judges on "American Idol" were free to express their opinions, and that was a decision made by the producers. But that's different than the producers deciding what the outcome should be.

It was a very close vote between two very talented people. Ruben won the "American Idol" title and Clay won the sales battle. I think both gentlemen are very happy with the results.

And if you want to read what Clay and Ruben have to say about their lives, their experiences on "American Idol" and their recording plans, see my interviews with both of them posted this week on Billboard.com. And if you want to hear Clay, listen to "The Billboard radio Countdown" for the week ending June 28. He's a special guest on this edition, which will be posted at billboardradio.com on Monday, June 23.



TORN UP OVER NATALIE

Dear Mr. Bronson,

My question pertains to what many of us Natalie Imbruglia fans would like to know: how well she did in the U.S. The new album is a truly remarkable sophomore effort. Could you please publish how many weeks it spent on The Billboard 200 and how many copies it sold through Nielsen SoundScan -- 160k seems to be the answer.

Thank you for your time.

Dustin Sparks

Dear Dustin,

I liked the "White Lilies Island" album, but there was never a hit single in the U.S., so without the power of a song like "Torn," the album couldn't work its way into the upper regions of The Billboard 200. The CD debuted and peaked at No. 35 the week of March 23, 2002, and spent seven weeks on the chart.

"Chart Beat" only deals with chart positions, and not sales figures, so I can't tell you how many copies the album has sold. Readers who have questions about sales figures should direct them to Keith Caulfield for his "Ask Billboard" column. You can e-mail him at: askbb@billboard.com.