Fred Bronson discusses "American Idol," charity singles, No. 1 country songs on Billboard's Hot 100, Kelly Clarkson, Madonna, and chart coincidences with readers.

AMERICAN (IDOL) LIFE

Hi Fred,

After reading your column for the past few years, it was really cool to see you on camera on "American Idol." Is there anything you can share with us that happened off camera? The clip was so short. What else did the "Idols" ask? The question about the longest song at No. 1 was too easy.

So you predict that the recording of "What the World Needs Now Is Love" / "Proud To Be an American" will go to No. 1? I guess we will see. Which song will be the A-side?

Phil Fogel
Montreal

Dear Phil,

It was too short, wasn't it? I thought the segment was interesting enough to run for the full hour, but I suppose they had to leave some time for the contestants to perform.

Truth is, I expected it would be a very short piece on air, even though the contestants spent a little over an hour at the Billboard office on April 4. Geoff Mayfield and I explained how the Hot 100 works and how a song is able to go to No. 1 with a combination of sales and airplay. There were a lot of questions aside from the two that you saw on the show (Joshua Gracin asking what song has been No. 1 the longest and Clay Aiken asking what the chances were their charity single would go to No. 1). Rickey Smith asked which well-known artists did not reach the top of the chart. Kimberley Locke was specifically interested in how many No. 1 hits Aretha Franklin had (Answer: two. "Respect" and "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)").

Clay also asked which songwriter had the most No. 1 songs (Paul McCartney, with 32), and he wanted to know which recording artist had the most hits at once (I told him about the Beatles owning the top five -- coincidentally, exactly 39 years ago that day, on April 4, 1964. I also told them about the Japanese group the B'z having 11 of the top 12 singles in Japan that week, which they all found very impressive).

Then each contestant told me which No. 1 hit they had chosen to perform. At first, they wanted me to tell them the exact date each song had gone to No. 1. My response: "Do I look like 'Rain Man'?" I thought it would be more interesting to tell them some trivia about their choices, and they accepted my offer.

For a big finish, I gave each of the contestants a Billboard "goodie bag," filled with Billboard clothing, issues of the magazine, and copies of "The Billboard Book of Number One Hits" and "Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits." I autographed each book with a personal message about their performances over the last few weeks. Kimberley Locke opened her goodie bag, pulled out my books, and said, "Wow! Something we can really use!" (They get a LOT of free goodies all the time). The "bag" itself was a very nice carry-on tote bag with the Billboard logo.

Then it was time to say goodbye to all of them. I know they do a lot of "field trips," and at first they may have wondered why they were waking up early in the morning to come to somebody's office. But during the session, they were very enthusiastic and engaged, and it sure seemed like they appreciated learning about Billboard. As our director of charts Geoff Mayfield told them, we've had a lot of artists visit the office, but this was the first time artists had come to find out exactly how a song goes to No. 1.

By the way, to clear up what the charity single is, it's no longer "What the World Needs Now Is Love," as originally scheduled. That song will not appear on the single at all, but will be part of an "American Idols" album. As reported by Billboard.com, the charity song is a new version of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." You can hear it on "The Billboard Radio Countdown" at billboardradio.com starting on Monday (April 14).


Idol FinalistsIDOLS IN THE OFFICE: Back row, from left: Rickey Smith, Melinda Newman, Ruben Studdard, Fred Bronson, Geoff Mayfield. Front row, from left: Joshua Gracin, Kimberley Locke, Carmen Rasmusen, Clay Aiken.

MORE IDOL CHATTER

Hey Fred,

I caught you on "American Idol 2" "Chart Beat chatting" with the eight finalists in the Billboard offices in California. Great job! Did you say the Idols' charity single of "God Bless the U.S.A." should top the charts when it is released? They sounded terrific when singing it a few weeks ago.

Besides "We Are the World," have there been any other charity singles that have cracked the top-40 or top-10?

Marc LeGoff
Washington, D.C.
mlegoff@aol.com

Dear Marc,

If even one per cent of the people who watch "American Idol" buy "God Bless the U.S.A.," it will sell enough copies to reach No. 1 on the Hot 100. The folks at RCA tell me radio is chomping at the bit to play the song, so if it has a lot of airplay as well, it really should be a certainty to reach the top. We'll see what happens in two weeks.

Sadly, all eight contestants weren't able to come to the office. Kimberly Caldwell and Trenyce were ill and had to stay home. We put together goodie bags for the absent cast members, and when I was at the live show on April 8, I told them both how sorry I was that they weren't able to come by the office. They said they were sorry to have missed it as well.

Aside from "We Are the World," there were two other charity singles that went to No. 1 on the Hot 100: "That's What Friends Are For" by Dionne & Friends in 1986, and Elton John's "Candle in the Wind 1997," which spent 14 weeks at No. 1, beginning in October 1997. "Voices That Care" peaked at No. 11 in 1991 and "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid peaked at No. 13 in 1984. One charity single that missed the top-40 was "Hands Across America." That song went to No. 65 in 1986.



'AMAZED' BY JOSH

Fred,

How great to see you on "American Idol" this past week! It must have been fun for the Billboard office to see a theme based on the magazine. Did any of the choices that the contestants made surprise you?

I had a question about Josh Gracin's choice ("Amazed" by Lonestar). A friend of mine and I got in a discussion before he sang and were trying to think of country songs that had crossed over to hit No. 1 on the Hot 100. Is it true that "Amazed" is the only song to do so in the last 20 years?

Jeff Thomas
jeffwpi@hotmail.com

Dear Jeff,

When Josh told me his song choice in our office, the trivia I gave him was that "Amazed" was the first country song to go to No. 1 on the Hot 100 since "Islands in the Stream" by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton in 1983, so it was 18 years between country No. 1s on the pop chart.

I wasn't surprised at any of the choices. I thought "Amazed" was the perfect song for Josh, as he proved on the show. There were a number of songs that Ruben could have sung, but "Kiss and Say Goodbye" was also a perfect choice. I was hoping Kimberly Caldwell would sing "Bette Davis Eyes," and I would have picked a pop song for Carmen, like "It's My Party" or "I Will Follow Him." True, they were hits before she was born, but so was her choice, Blondie's "Call Me."

A lot of people at Billboard did enjoy having our publication in the "American Idol" spotlight (and did you notice the home page of Billboard.com blown up to poster size in the conference room?).



WHEN IN SWEDEN

Hi Fred!

As soon as I saw the theme for "American Idol," I wondered -- will we get to see our favorite chart guru? It was so cool to see you on TV, but they didn't give you enough time! Maybe a show on MTV or VH1 each week would be in order!

Regarding Scandanavian record stores, I found some big ones in Oslo and Copenhagen, but nothing in Stockholm. Any suggestions?

Thanks,

Eric Schulz
Racine, Wis.

Dear Eric,

I'll have my people be in touch with MTV's people and let you know!

When I'm in Stockholm, I shop at Skivhugget (on the Web at www.skivhugget.se) and Megastore (not the Virgin Megastore, although I also enjoy shopping at their various stores in Europe). You can find a lot of record stores that appeal to collectors by entering "record stores Stockholm" in a search engine.

OK, enough about me on "American Idol." Here's an E-mail from someone who actually asked about someone else who appeared on the series this week.



KELLY, KELLY, KELLY

What's shakin' Fred?

My E-mail this time is all about "American Idol" winner Kelly Clarkson. Have you heard her debut album? Do you think it has hit potential, or has her window of opportunity closed? I am really looking forward to getting it. Not to brag, but she was my favorite from the start of the show's first season.

My main inquiry is this: who determines which charts an album can appear on? I have a feeling that Kelly's disc will appear on The Billboard 200 and country chart (think Shania, Faith). But I read that Kelly says it there is an R&B flavor to some songs too.

Could it appear on that chart as well? So who determines how many different albums charts an album can appear on?

Thanks.

Jeffrey Goodall
Sinala@webtv.net

Dear Jeffrey,

I heard several tracks from Kelly's new album on Monday night, which turned out to be a good thing, because I met her when I was at the "American Idol" office the next day. I told her I had heard a few tracks from the album, played to me over the phone. She laughed and said, "That's how I heard them for the first time, too!"

I liked what I heard -- and think the new single "Miss Independent" has a lot of potential. You can hear it on "The Billboard Radio Countdown" that will be posted at billboardradio.com on April 21.

It's usually obvious which charts an album should appear on, but if there are decisions to be made, the various chart managers make them. Having heard the album, I can't see it charting on our country tally. The R&B chart is a possibility, but that would depend on how the album sells as locations that concentrate on selling R&B product.



THIS IS YOUR 'LIFE'

Fred,

I would just like to ask your opinion on why Madonna's "American Life" isn't taking off as well as expected. Is it because radio is boycotting the song, same as with the Dixie Chicks? I am a true-blue Madonna fan, and I am disheartened to see how the song is faring, even while I am eagerly anticipating the release of her album. Hope you can shed some light on the matter.

Thanks.

Joey Toledo
Quezon City, Philippines

Dear Joey,

The airplay picture on "American Life" isn't pretty. I really don't think it's because of a boycott -- after all, no one saw the video that Madonna made for the song. I think it's simply because it is not one of the greatest songs Madonna has ever recorded, and even some Madonna fans have admitted so, but privately.

The release of a commercial single this week should help boost "American Life" up the chart. A maxi-CD single featuring a number of remixes hits stores on April 29.



SO PUT ANOTHER DIME IN THE JUKEBOX, BABY

Dear Fred,

Each week as I look at the various charts I try to find song titles in successive positions that are related or amusing in some fashion. Billboard's Hot 100 dated April 12 has "Like a Stone" by Audioslave at No. 48 followed by "Concrete Angel" by Martina McBride at No. 49. What makes this pairing even more interesting is that those two songs have been cemented back-to-back at those positions for two straight weeks.

I love rock!

Michael James Miller
Middleton, Wis.

Dear Michael,

Not to shamelessly plug "Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits" again, but the list of the top 5,000 songs of the rock era has an amazing number of song pairings that make me laugh out loud. My favorite is the adjacency of Terri Gibbs' "Somebody's Knockin'" and Pat Boone's "At My Front Door." But I also love the pairings of Jerry Lee Lewis' "Breathless" at No. 3812 and Rex Smith's "You Take My Breath Away" at No. 3813, and Rare Earth's "Get Ready" at No. 1907 and Tevin Campbell's "I'm Ready" at No. 1906. There are quite a few more, but I'll let you discover them for yourself.