"I went in and did my thing, and ... when she started singing with me, our voices blended so well. It was just one of those things you can't predict."
The song's original success at country radio was easier to predict. Since Aldean's arrival in 2005 with the No. 10-peaking "Hicktown," the Macon, Ga., native has become one of the format's safest bets, sending 12 of his 13 entries on Hot Country Songs into the top 10. "Stay" became his fifth No. 1 (while follow-up "Dirt Road Anthem" this week becomes his sixth leader).
Jason Aldean: The Billboard Cover Story
Aldean's four studio albums - his self-titled debut, "Relentless" (2007), "Wide Open" (2009) and "My Kinda Party" (2011) - meanwhile have combined to sell 5.2 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
And, while Clarkson has made pop and adult radio her home formats since her arrival after winning the first season of "American Idol" in 2002, her exposure on the series, as well as her turn on Reba McEntire's cover of her 2006 pop hit "Because of You" (No. 2 on Hot Country Songs in 2007) have helped make her easily recognizable to country listeners.
Clarkson, with career album sales of 10.7 million, has scored eight top 10s, including two No. 1s - "Behind These Hazel Eyes" (2005) and "Already Gone" (2009) - on Adult Top 40 and five top 10s, including the 21-week No. 1 "Breakaway" (2005), on AC. (She Tweeted today <http://twitter.com/#!/kelly_clarkson> that the first single from her forthcoming fifth album will be released in September).
Still, Aldean had never before ventured beyond country airwaves. How, then, has "Don't You Wanna Stay" become a top 10 title on AC and Adult Top 40?
For one, country and adult stations share listeners, says Bob Neumann, WSJT (Play 98.7)/Tampa, Fla., program director, "so our station's audience may have already been familiar with the song" based on its original life at country radio. With 97 plays, WSJT spun the song the most of all adult top 40 reporters in the July 11-17 tracking week, according to Nielsen BDS.
"Country ballads that aren't 'too country' still work well for the format, in my opinion," Neumann says. "In the end, a hit is a hit no matter where it comes from."
Mike Mullaney, assistant PD/music director at adult top 40 WBMX (Mix 104.1)/Boston, which played "Stay" 89 times last week, says that the song's own merits have largely propelled its crossover.
"Sure, it's a great country song. But, at its core, it's just a great song. It has a lot of the same qualities of Lady Antebellum's 'Need You Now': great lyrics and melody, while each of these singers has amazing emotional resonance in their voices," says Mullaney. "Aldean has a country delivery, but our audience likes country hits. Having Kelly on the track was a big help in initially getting our attention but, ultimately, the song is just a hit."
Kurt Johnson, PD of AC KVIL (103.7 Lite FM), where "Stay" was the most-rotated song (23 plays) last week, adds, "It's Dallas; we play more country crossover than most ACs. And, consider that Kelly's not only a pop star, but she also grew up 10 miles from our tower [in Burleson]. All that makes 'Stay' a big hit in Big D."
While Nashville-based independent label Broken Bow promoted "Stay" to country radio, distributor RED, with whom Broken Bow has partnered on various projects since 2003, has helmed the song's rise at adult radio. (The song is also bubbling under Mainstream Top 40, with KHOP/Modesto, Calif. (89 plays last week), WERO/Greenville-New Bern, N.C. (69) and WRVW/Nashville (46) among the pop stations early on the song).
"This is a proud moment for RED distribution," says Myra Dehais, the company's senior director of promotion and artist development. "In crossing a country song over to the adult and pop formats, we can face resistance, since (some) stations have only a slot or two for country music, in order to maintain sonic balance.
"But, we are lucky to have a fantastic team working this song, along with Jon Loba from Broken Bow. The combined talents of Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson on 'Don't You Wanna Stay' have proven a perfect formula for a hit record."