"American Idol" is back.

With the arrival of the show's latest winner, Scotty McCreery, at the top of the Billboard 200 this week, he breaks a woeful streak of subpar performances from the series' recent winners.

"Clear As Day," McCreery's first studio set, arrives with 197,000 sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan. He's the first country act to debut at No. 1 with his first studio album, and at 18 years old, the youngest man to open at the top of the chart with his debut release.

Previously, the youngest male to bow at No. 1 with his premiere album was Omarion, who was 20 when "O" started at No. 1 in 2005.

Surprisingly, McCreery, who turned 18 on Oct. 9, is also the first "Idol" winner since 2003 to hit No. 1 with his first studio set.

Ruben Studdard was the last "Idol" champ to start his career with a No. 1 album, when his "Soulful" entered the Dec. 27, 2003, tally with 417,000 sold. Kelly Clarkson, the first "Idol" champ, also bowed at No. 1, with "Thankful" on May 3, 2003 (297,000). Further, "Clear As Day" owns the biggest debut sales week of any "Idol" winner's first album since 2008, when David Cook's self-titled set started with 280,000 at No. 3.

McCreery easily beats the arrivals of the last two "Idol" winners, pop-rock-dudes-with-guitars Lee DeWyze and Kris Allen. Allen's self-titled 2009 debut launched with 80,000 (No. 11), and in 2010, De­Wyze's "Live It Up" bowed on the list at No. 19 with 39,000.

In fact, after just one week, McCreery's "Clear As Day" has sold more than Live It Up has moved in its nearly 11 months of release (146,000). If McCreery can keep up the pace, he could trump Allen's debut, which has moved 329,000.

Southern Country

This year marked the first time the top two finishers on "American Idol" were both country acts. Next week, runner-up Lauren Alaina will likely arrive in the top 10 with her debut, "Wildflower."

Previous to 2011, the only "Idol" winner to go on to have a country career was 2005 victor Carrie Underwood, who has also become the biggest-selling "Idol" contestant. She has shifted 12.4 million albums in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The second-biggest "Idol" winner is Kelly Clarkson, with 10.7 million sold.

In the June 11 issue, we noted how McCreery's introductory single, "I Love You This Big," got off to a fast start with 171,000 downloads -- the best debut sales week for an "Idol" winner's first single since David Cook's "The Time of My Life" started with 236,000 in 2008. Obviously, McCreery's single sales were a sign of greater things to come.

The fact that McCreery hails from the South (North Carolina) isn't lost on us, either. Of the 10 "Idol" winners, seven are from the region -- including Oklahoman Underwood. Only Jordin Sparks (Arizona), Cook (born in Texas, raised in Missouri) and Lee DeWyze (Illinois) hail from outside the South.

In a perfect scenario, McCreery could turn into the male version of Underwood, but it's too early to tell where his career will take him. While former "Idol" judge Simon Cowell was right about Underwood when he said -- while she was still a contestant -- she would "sell more records than any other previous 'Idol' winner," did anyone ever think Underwood would be this big? Since winning "Idol," she's notched 11 No. 1s on Hot Country Songs and three on Top Country Albums. Underwood -- like Clarkson -- is the standard-bearer for the kind of superstar that "Idol" has always sought.

With Fox's "X Factor" due to crown its first winner in December, McCreery's No. 1 arrival couldn't have come at a better time.

Early Arrival

Scotty McCreery's "Clear As Day" is the first "American Idol" winner's album to hit retail earlier than November since Kelly Clarkson's debut bowed in April 2003. That's the odd one out though, as the first season of "Idol" ran from June through September 2002, unlike every subsequent season, which has aired from January to May. Since the second season, each winner's album, until McCreery's, bowed in either late November or mid-December, profiting from the holiday shopping season.

McCreery's speedy delivery isn't that surprising. When the new Simon Cowell-less "Idol" premiered, with Interscope Geffen A&M and Universal as the new home for "Idol" winners and their albums, the powers that be promised a faster turnaround between a winner's coronation and his or her first release.

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