Chrisette Michele notches her first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 as her sophomore set "Epiphany" (Def Jam) debuts atop the list with 83,000. She edges out the seventh week of the "Hannah Montana: the Movie" soundtrack (No. 2 with 82,000) and the arrival of Ciara's third album "Fantasy Ride" (LaFace) at No. 3 with just under 81,000.
But, despite locking down the top spot, Michele's opening of 83,000 is the lowest sum for a No. 1-debuting album in Nielsen SoundScan's 18-year history. Previously, the low-water mark was held by Johnny Cash's "American V: A Hundred Highways" (American) in the summer of 2006, when it started with 88,000. Only one other album has debuted at No. 1 with less than 100,000: the Notorious B.I.G.'s "#1's" (Bad Boy) in November of 2005 with 99,000.
This was Michele's best sales week. Her previous best came when her "I Am" debut started with 27,000 in July of 2007. The set debuted and peaked at No. 29.
Ciara's "Fantasy Ride" is her third top three debut in as many tries. Her freshman 2004 album "Goodies" entered the list at No. 3 with 125,000 while 2006's "The Evolution" blasted onto the tally at No. 1 with 338,000. Despite the fair amount of heat generated by "Fantasy Ride's" first single -- "Love Sex Magic" (featuring Justin Timberlake) -- the album clocks Ciara's lowest first-week sum yet.
Elsewhere in the top 10 this week, Rascal Flatts' "Unstoppable" (Lyric Street) moves up one notch to No. 4 with 58,000 (up 10%); last week's No. 1, Bob Dylan's "Together Through Life" (Columbia), falls four slots to No. 5 with 51,000 (down 59%); Lady GaGa's "The Fame" (Streamline/KonLive/Cherrytree/Interscope) moves up one position to No. 6 with 41,000 (up 4%); Taylor Swift's "Fearless" (Big Machine) slides up two slots to No. 7 with just under 41,000 (up 42%); Rick Ross' "Deeper Than Rap" (Maybach/Slip-N-Slide/Def Jam) falls from No. 4 to No. 8 with 35,000 (down 32%); Ben Harper and Relentless7's (Virgin/Capitol) "White Lies for Dark Times" debuts at No. 9 with 34,000 and the "Twilight" soundtrack (Summit/Chop Shop/Atlantic) slips from No. 6 to No. 10 with 32,000 (down 8%).
Many albums on the Billboard 200 saw gains this week in the wake of the Mother's Day holiday on May 10. That's likely owed to discount pricing and non-sale-priced purchases of sets that have female appeal. Thus, an album like Taylor Swift's "Fearless" can generate a 42% increase in sales. Only 14 titles in the top 50 this week see a decline in sales.
Overall album sales in this past chart week (ending May 10) totaled 6.51 million units, up 5.4% compared to the sum last week (6.17 million)  and down 19.8% compared to the same sales week of 2008 (8.12 million). Year to date album sales stand at 130.5 million, down 12.9% compared to the same total at this point last year (149.9 million).