"Chart Beat" columnist Fred Bronson discusses charts with readers. This week: The singles market, chart performance of "American Idol" winner Ruben Studdard and runner-up Clay Aiken, and the Eurovisio

SINGLES MARKET

Hello Fred,

I am writing to you from Australia. I am an avid fan of yours and read your column every week to keep abreast of the changing American music scene.

Over the last few months it seems that music artists on the Hot 100 are being credited with more gold singles -- "Picture" by Kid Rock et al and "God Bless the U.S.A." by the American Idol Finalists.

Are we starting to see a change in the availability and distribution of music singles in the U.S.? In my opinion, in Australia, artists who do very well in our top-40 singles chart are remembered more by their singles chart performance than the success of their album. I do not think that this is necessarily fair since an album is a body of work and a single is a limb of that body. In saying that, I am both a singles and albums buyer because there are some singles that simply have the "wow factor."

Could you please provide me your thoughts with regards to the above?

Kind regards,

Robert Nave
Brisbane, Queensland

Dear Robert,

There are some singles that sell well, but the overall singles picture is still gloomy. Too few songs are released as singles, and many retail outlets have little or no room to display singles. Despite that, this coming week will be one of the biggest sales weeks for singles in memory, as both "This Is the Night" by Clay Aiken and "Flying Without Wings" / "Superstar" by Ruben Studdard are expected to sell between 200,000 and 300,000 copies each [see Chart Beat Bonus].

Both of these singles have the "wow factor" you mention, thanks to the phenomenal success of the "American Idol" TV series. The fact that 500,000 singles can be sold in one week says something about the public's willingness to purchase singles, and the viability of the format. As stated before in this column, I think that as more songs are available by paid download, this will become a new and stronger "singles" market.



RANKING THE IDOLS

Dear Fred,

I am really curious about something. Is it possible for the latest "American Idol" winner, Ruben Studdard, and the runner-up, Clay Aiken, to be listed on Billboard early? Ruben and Clay's singles came out earlier this week.

What puzzles me is that the entertainment shows keep announcing that Clay is No. 1 and Ruben is No. 3 according to Amazon's advance orders list. When did Amazon become an authority on music (such as Billboard has)? How can Amazon be compared to Billboard?

Joan P. Garcia
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Dear Joan,

The debut singles by Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken have indeed made premature debuts on one Billboard chart, Hot 100 Singles Sales. To find out why, and what is likely to happen to both titles next week when they debut on the Hot 100, please read the latest "Chart Beat Bonus".

Amazon.com ranks books, CDs, and DVDs by how many copies they have sold on their Web site. That's fair enough, and they certainly have the right to do that. It's important to remember that those rankings are for one Web site, and there are other sites and many retailers around the U.S. whose sales are tracked by Nielsen SoundScan, and all of that data is used along with airplay data from Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems to compile the Hot 100.



HISTORY IN THE MAKING

Fred,

Based on news media reports of single sales, it looks like a very strong possibility that next week's singles charts will be historic. Both "American Idol" season two finalists have single releases that, even without airplay, should debut at No. 1 and No. 2 on the Hot 100.

The only remaining question is what will be No. 1. And I'm not talking about Clay vs. Ruben. I'm talking Clay vs. Clay.

The early word is that, while both singles will sell at least 50 times the average No. 1 single these days, Clay is outselling Ruben by about 25%. I'd expect that to close somewhat once radio airplay points (which favor Ruben) are added in. However, both sides of Clay Aiken's single are getting at least a little airplay.

As I understand the chart rules, only the track with the most airplay will get the singles sales added. It's possible therefore that a few prime-time big-market spins for "This Is the Night" or "Bridge Over Troubled Water" will determine whether that song enters at No. 1 or does not chart at all!

Can we get a preview? How tight will the race between the two sides be? Or will Ruben's multi-format "Flying Without Wings" be sufficient to overcome his sales handicap?

Thanks,

Pat Kelly

Dear Pat,

You're not the only one who wants to know who will be No. 1 next week. As I write this, I had breakfast with Clay this morning, and the first thing he said was, "How am I doing?" He wasn't referring to his table manners.

It's too early to say whether Clay Aiken or Ruben Studdard will be No. 1 on next week's Hot 100. It's true that Aiken's "This Is the Night" is expected to sell more copies than Studdard's "Flying Without Wings," but as you mention, airplay will be a factor. So we'll just have to wait for this cliffhanger drama to play out.

As for your two-sided question, I think it's already been answered above, but to clarify: on the Hot 100, all sales points will be linked to "This Is the Night." It's possible that "Bridge Over Troubled Water" could chart on airplay alone, but unlikely given the current number of spins that side is receiving. On the Hot 100, all sales points will be linked to "Flying Without Wings," which is receiving more cumulative airplay. "Superstar" could chart separately if it receives enough airplay.

On the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart, all sales points will be linked to "Superstar," which is the song getting the most cumulative airplay at R&B radio. If "Flying Without Wings" receives enough airplay at R&B radio, it could chart as well.

On the Adult Contemporary chart, which is only based on airplay, "Flying Without Wings" debuts at No. 30.



EUROSTARS

Hi Fred,

I just wanted to point out something I noticed in this year's Eurovision Song Contest. Eurovision is a song competition, but recently it seems like it is less about the song and more about who can put on a good show.

Last year Latvia won with "I Wanna," which was a so-so song in my opinion. I think the reason this song won was because the singer started off dressed as a man and slowly had men rip her clothes off into a mini skirt and finally pull the skirt down to an evening gown.

This year the winning song "Everyway That I Can" [by Sertab from Turkey] was pretty good, but I felt other songs were better. In this performance, the singer wore a dress with long extensions that back-up singers pulled all over the stage. I think we can both honestly say that Eurovision is no longer about which song is best. Songs this year from Germany, Spain, and Iceland were definitely better in my opinion.

I am just curious to see if you feel the same way.

Robert Alonso

P.S. What was your favorite song?

Dear Robert,

There's no question that performance counts. The Eurovision Song Contest was conceived as a television program, produced by the various television companies that belong to the European Broadcasting Union. So while it's a song contest, it's also a television program, and performances like the two male members of Bucks Fizz removing the outer dresses of the female members to reveal mini-skirts on "Making Your Mind Up" (the winning song for the U.K. in 1981) are going to sway voters. But those visual elements are an important part of the show.

Believe me, you don't want 26 static performances of singers stepping up to the microphone. That may be a better song contest, but it's a deadly television show, and if that's what Eurovision was, it wouldn't have lasted on TV for 48 years.

Before I arrived in Riga, my two favorite songs were "Dime" by Beth from Spain and "Everyway That I Can" by Sertab from Turkey. During the week of rehearsals, "Everyway That I Can" surged ahead for me, in part because of the impressive performance of Sertab and her backing singers. Despite having Turkey as my personal favorite, I was predicting a win for Norway's simple, engaging ballad by Jostein Hasselgard, "I'm Not Afraid to Move On." Norway did lead the early voting, but ultimately finished in fourth place. In the nine years that I have attended Eurovision, this is only the second time that my personal favorite song has won (the other time was 2000, when Denmark's Olsen Brothers took top honors with "Fly on the Wings of Love").

I agree with your choices of Iceland and Germany for this year. Iceland's "Open Your Heart" by Birgitta and Germany's "Let's Get Happy" by Lou were also in my personal top-5.