Lionel Richie: The Billboard Cover Story

Lionel Richie's 'Tuskegee' Becomes Year's Second-Biggest Album

Richie's TV stint kicks off March 16 with the singer launching HSN's live concert series, "HSN Live." The hour-long broadcast starts at 8 p.m. EST and will feature duet partner Kenny Rogers. Bracketing the concert: a 60-minute live, behind-the-scenes preshow at 7 p.m. on Facebook and a post-concert Facebook segment featuring a final chat with Richie before he sings "Hello."

HSN purchasers -- able to place website preorders for "Tuskegee" beginning in mid-February -- will receive an exclusive second CD featuring five songs. The disc includes a never-heard-before track from a live concert at Wembley Arena in London. Rod Stewart, Tony Bennett, Randy Travis and Natalie Cole have also performed live and promoted new albums on HSN. The network's top music seller thus far is Stewart, with 25,000 albums sold in less than an hour.

"And that's the point," HSN executive VP of TV/executive creative director Andy Sheldon says. "Labels are seeing we're a great launching pad for new releases." According to Sheldon, the network reaches 96 million homes, counts more than 300,000 Facebook followers, appeals primarily to females 35-55 with an average income of $65,000 and boasts a customer base of 5 million within the past 12 months.

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On the commercial TV front, Richie will tape CBS' "ACM Presents: Lionel Richie and Friends -- In Concert" on April 2 (the day after the Academy of Country Music Awards) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Airing April 13, the concert will feature performances by several "Tuskegee" collaborators as well as other acts covering more Richie hits, including the Band Perry ("Penny Lover") and Lady Antebellum ("Truly").

Those tentpole events will be complemented by a series of additional TV appearances, from "Weekend Today" (March 24-25), "Today," "Late Show With David Letterman" and "Piers Morgan Tonight" (all three on March 27) to "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" (April 4) and "The Talk" (April 5). And on street date, Richie will wrap a four-episode stint as a mentor on "The Voice."

During a promotional swing through Europe that began in late February, Richie touched down with radio PDs and members of the press during a special dinner. Subsequent interviews with various U.K. publications and radio appearances were followed by the March 3 taping of a prime-time TV special for ITV. It's slated to run April 1. In addition to recent appearances on "The X Factor" in Denmark and France's "Champs-Elysées," Richie will appear on Canada's "Star Academie" on March 18.

The "Tuskegee" campaign officially kicked off last year with Richie's surprise appearance at the annual Country Radio Seminar. Accompanying him for a performance of "Stuck on You" was Darius Rucker. That was followed by a medley of three "Tuskegee" tracks by Richie and the songs' duet partners at the CMA Awards in November. After hosting an album listening party at his home in January, Richie returned to Nashville in February for CRS 2012.

"It was important to start the narrative early, to fully tell the story of what this project is all about," Universal Music Group Nashville VP of marketing Tom Lord says. Rounding out the push: targeted national TV and radio advertising on such cable outlets as Lifetime and Oxygen and syndicated programs like Premiere Radio Network's "Delilah." Richie encountered a new audience on March 14 when he made his South by Southwest debut as headliner of Billboard's annual showcase at Austin's ACL Live (, March 7). Joining Richie on the bill: indie act Polica, party band Wallpaper, retro-soul rock group Vintage Trouble and R&B hitmaker the-Dream, who worked with Richie on Just Go.

A deluxe version of "Tuskegee" will also be available for purchase. It's packaged with a bonus DVD featuring behind-the-scenes studio footage of Richie's duet partners along with their personal reflections about his influence. To tie in with iTunes' countdown to release campaign, Mercury Nashville has been offering a new album track each week. The promotion began Feb. 28 with Nelson's "Easy," followed by Billy Currington ("Just for You," March 6), Rucker (March 13) and Nettles (March 20).

Richardson acknowledges that touring with a duets album is "always going to be difficult," owing to the guest artists' own recording, promotion and touring commitments. But he says the intent is for Richie-last on the road in 2006-to tour the United States, although a time period hasn't been confirmed.

"Schedules permitting, there's definitely the opportunity for artists to make a guest appearance," Richardson says. "Much in the same vein as Taylor Swift, who welcomed special guests during her tour -- that's the goal here." In terms of an overseas concert run, Richardson says he and Richie are looking at September through the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Richie -- who will be inducted into the Apollo Theater's Apollo Legends Hall of Fame with the late Etta James on June 4 -- has already lined up a duets offshoot. The singer will join Sugarland's Nettles, Kelly Clarkson and Robin Thicke on "Duets," a new talent series on ABC slated to premiere this summer. Each will choose two singers as their duet partners. The duos will then perform each week in front of a live studio audience. The amateur half of the winning duet will receive a recording contact with Hollywood Records.

"If I had to add a subtitle to 'Tuskegee,' it would be, 'You will now hear all the songs I was told would ruin my career,'" Richie says with a laugh. "But it shows you just how far these songs have come. Once a song is embraced, people don't care who the hell did it. They love the song."

Additional reporting by Chuck Dauphin in Nashville.