Ask Billboard

Keith Caulfield answers reader questions about "American Idol," Broadway soundtracks and more.


Hi Keith,

My hubby and I are huge "American Idol" fans. Can you tell us what "American Idol" singer (not necessarily winner) has the highest record sales as of May 5?



Hi Angie,

How about we do album sales through May 15? Right now, the biggest selling "Idol" is Kelly Clarkson. With her two studio albums -- "Thankful" and "Breakaway," both on RCA -- she's sold 4.3 million albums in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Season two runner-up Clay Aiken comes in second with 3.7 million copies of one studio album and one Christmas album. In third is season two winner Ruben Studdard at 2.2 million for one studio album and one gospel set. Last year's winner, Fantasia, is fourth with 1.4 million copies sold of her solo debut.

None of the other albums released by "Idol" contestants (or wannabes) have yet sold more than 500,000 units. They include Justin Guarini, Tamyra Gray, RJ Helton, Jim Verraros, Kimberley Locke, William Hung and Josh Gracin.

However, Gracin is the biggest-selling of the latter group. His self-titled Hollywood country album has sold 412,000 to date.


Hi Keith,

The recent debut of "Spamalot" in the upper half of The Billboard 200 has made me wonder about other recent cast recordings. How many copies have the recordings of "Wicked" and "Hairspray" sold? I assume they'd be the most popular Broadway albums of the last few years.


Mark Blankenship
New Haven, Conn.

Hi Mark,

It's no surprise that the biggest selling cast album according to Nielsen SoundScan -- which remember, has only been tracking sales data since 1991 -- is "The Phantom of the Opera-Highlights." Though the album was released in 1990, since 1991, the album has sold 4.8 million copies in the United States.

Here are the top 15 best-selling cast recordings of the Nielsen SoundScan era (1991-present):

"The Phantom of the Opera-Highlights" (Original London Cast): 4.8 million
"The Phantom of the Opera" (Original London Cast): 2.5 million
"Les Miserables" (Original Broadway Cast): 1.5 million
"Rent" (Original Broadway Cast): 1.1 million
"Mamma Mia!" (Original London Cast): 1.0 million
"Miss Saigon" (Original London Cast): 719,000
"Les Miserables" (Original London Cast): 589,000
"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" (Canadian Cast, with Donny Osmond): 559,000
"The Lion King on Broadway" (Original Broadway Cast): 548,000
"Jesus Christ Superstar" (Original Broadway Cast): 449,000
"West Side Story" (Original Broadway Cast): 426,000
"Chicago" (1996 Broadway Cast Recording): 424,000
"Guys & Dolls" (New Broadway Cast Recording): 367,000
"Wicked" (Original Broadway Cast): 363,000
"Evita" (Original Broadway Cast): 360,000

"Hairspray" is a bit further down the list, and has moved 262,000 units since its 2002 release. But, for a cast album, it is a very handsome number.



I wanted to know if an artist could be No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 with the most airplay of all songs, but with sales that aren't as good. I'm asking this because of Mariah Carey's latest single "We Belong Together."

The single is doing well with airplay, better than Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" [which is No. 1 on the Hot 100]. But Stefani is doing better sales-wise.

I want to know if airplay and sales are split 50/50 when tabulating the Hot 100, or are sales more important than airplay. And, do you think "We Belong Together" could get to No. 1?


Hi Joel,

One can certainly be No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 with the majority of their chart points coming from sales or radio airplay. Or vice-versa.

For example, when Fantasia's "I Believe" went to No. 1 last year, the "American Idol" winner's single was propelled to the top of the chart almost entirely by sales of the single. Radio had hardly played the tune when it reached No. 1.

This week's No. 1, Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl," is a solid hit with both sales (digitally) and radio airplay. The single is No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Digital Songs chart and No. 4 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart.

Mariah Carey certainly has a very good shot at being No. 1 on the Hot 100 in the next few weeks. "We Belong Together" is her biggest airplay hit since "One Sweet Day" in 1995, and her digital sales are rising each week.

For what it's worth, Carey has often reached No. 1 on the Hot 100 in the past with a single that was powered by sales, but lacked radio airplay. For example, her last No. 1, 2000's "Thank God I Found You," peaked at No. 15 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart, but was a No. 1 sales hit. Similarly, her 1998 No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hit "My All" peaked at No. 15 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart, but No. 1 on the sales chart.


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