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Ask Billboard: Analyzing ‘American Idol’

From "American Idol" to "Glee" to more Billboard-charted TV themes, readers discuss the blurred lines between music and television.

Ask Billboard is updated every Friday. As always, submit your questions about Billboard charts, sales and airplay, as well as general music musings, to Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S.


Hi Gary,

I love this section of Billboard because it always answers those really tricky/intricate questions. I hope you can answer mine.

As we know, it was announced that Jennifer Lopez has been appointed as a judge for the 10th season of “American Idol.” Yet, I was baffled at internet forums that have revealed a mixed reception to her appointment.

As a singer/songwriter, Lopez is a veteran, having released music in various genres. She’s a formidable business woman and media darling. Her crossover appeal between English and Latin audiences surely makes her a perfect choice.

Could you please provide her album sales to-date? And, what impact do you think her “American Idol” exposure will have on her next album?

Yours truly,

Sheffield, United Kingdom

Hi AJ,

Here is a recap of Jennifer Lopez’s top-selling albums in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan:

3,790,000, “J.Lo,” 2001
2,808,000, “On the 6,” 1999
2,593,000, “This Is Me…Then,” 2002
1,496,000, “J to the L-O! The Remixes,” 2002
740,000, “Rebirth,” 2005
207,000, “Como Ama Una Mujer,” 2007
166,000, “Brave,” 2007

Lopez’s career U.S. album sales total 11.8 million.

Representatives at Island Def Jam do not have a definitive release date or title for J-Lo’s next album, which is rumored to be entitled “Love.”

Lopez’s prominent placement on our TV sets can only help her sell more albums. It’s worth noting, however, that Randy Jackson released “Randy Jackson’s Music Club: Volume One” in 2008. The set spent two weeks on the Billboard 200, peaking at No. 50, and has sold 35,000 copies. First single “Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow,” featuring Jackson’s longtime panelist to his left Paula Abdul, reached No. 62 on the Billboard Hot 100. Thus, even with two-thirds of the then-“American Idol” judges bench, the song did not ascend into the Hot 100’s upper half.

Of course, neither artist in 2008 was amidst a run of chart success – and film stardom – that Lopez has enjoyed for more than a decade. A new album by Lopez, especially while she’s starring in her new TV role, seems likely to mirror her recent impressive chart history. (Any singles success would likely depend on their strength and potential acceptance at radio).


Hi Gary,

Now that the fall TV season has started, the “Glee” cast is back to hitting the charts. The group’s version of “Empire State of Mind” has joined other “Glee” hits such as “Bust a Move,” “Ice Ice Baby,” “U Can’t Touch This” and “Good Vibrations” as rap remakes that the club has returned to the Hot 100.

Given how almost all rap lyrics are at least co-written by the performers who record them, I’m wondering, aside from “Glee” covers, have there been other remakes of rap songs on the Hot 100?


Michael Ming
Penn Valley, Pennsylvania

Hi Michael,

The first such artist that comes to mind has an asterisk attached, since he remade two rap songs under different titles, and, more importantly, humorously. “Weird Al” Yankovic enjoyed his sole Hot 100 top 10 with a ribbing of Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’,” a Hot 100 No. 1 in 2006. The parodist’s “White & Nerdy” reached No. 9 later that year.

In 1996, Yankovic had turned Coolio’s 1994 Hot 100 leader “Gangsta’s Paradise” into the No. 53-peaking “Amish Paradise.” (“At 4:30 in the morning I’m milkin’ cows / Jebediah feeds the chickens and Jacob plows … fool,” Yankovic rapped menacingly).

Additionally, Biz Markie’s 1990 Hot 100 top 10 “Just a Friend” returned to the chart in 2002 courtesy of Mario, with the cover’s No. 4 peak besting that of the original (No. 9).

Common to rap covers by the “Glee” cast, Yankovic and Mario is that all put a somewhat kitschy stamp on the originals.

Ultimately, rap is such a personal form of expression that recording covers is perhaps illogical. Rap lyrics are often specific to each performer, and many even include self-references by name; why, for instance, would an artist other than Eminem record a version of “The Real Slim Shady”?

I asked Mariel Concepcion, author of’s informative new R&B/hip-hop column, The Juice, for her take on the topic. She echoes that rap focuses on offering original viewpoints:

“The talent in rapping is one’s ability to write compelling lyrics. For singers, it’s their ability to belt a note, but for rappers, it’s writing.”

With credibility in rap so directly a result of lyrical content, the dearth of rap covers that have reached the Hot 100 is to be expected.


Hello Gary,

I really enjoy Chart Beat. I hope all is well!

Your mentioning of Jan Hammer’s “Miami Vice Theme” reaching No. 1 on the Hot 100 in 1985 ( Chart Beat, Sept. 21), reminded me that Nov. 9, 2010, will mark the 25th anniversary of the song reaching the summit. What is also significant about this feat is that it is the last time an instrumental ruled the top of the Hot 100.

Hopefully a somewhat lost art form gets rediscovered in the near future.


John Zurzolo
Park Ridge, Illinois

Hi Gary,

I just read the Chart Beat article on TV themes that have reached the Hot 100 (and the subsequent reader letters), and I loved it! It brought back so many memories! So many songs were mentioned, but so many more weren’t.

Here are a few more such songs (peaks are for the Hot 100 unless otherwise noted):

“(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock,” Bill Haley and His Comets (No. 1 on pre-Hot 100 sales, airplay and jukebox popularity charts, 1955)

The original theme song – and, of course, the recording credited for originating the Rock Era – to “Happy Days,” before the composition “Happy Days” became a No. 5 hit for Pratt & McClain in 1976.

“The Music From Peter Gunn,” Henry Mancini and his Orchestra (No. 1 Billboard 200, 1959)

You had already listed hit versions of this show’s theme song by Ray Anthony and the Art of Noise, but it’s worth mentioning that the original version by Henry Mancini is on this No. 1 album, which won the first-ever Grammy Award for album of the year.

“Route 66 Theme,” Nelson Riddle and His Orchestra (No. 30, 1962)

Many people think that Bobby Troup’s composition “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” was the show’s theme, but the show’s instrumental theme was actually written and recorded by Nelson Riddle, who was hired by CBS when the network didn’t want to pay Bobby Troup royalties for his song.

“A Swingin’ Safari,” Billy Vaughn and His Orchestra (No. 13, 1962)

The original theme song to “Match Game”

“Yakety Sax,” Boots Randolph (No. 35, 1963)

Later used as the theme to “The Benny Hill Show”

“(Theme from) the Monkees,” the Monkees

Although never released as a single in North America, this was a No. 8 hit in Australia in 1967. It reappeared as the B-side to the group’s No. 20 Hot 100 comeback single “That Was Then, This Is Now” in 1986.

“TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia),” MFSB featuring the Three Degrees (No. 1, two weeks, 1974)

The “Soul Train” theme

“Nadia’s Theme,” Barry DeVorzon and Perry Botkin, Jr. (No. 8, 1976)

The theme to “The Young and the Restless”

“Love Boat Theme,” Jack Jones (No. 37, Adult Contemporary, 1980)

“All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight,” Hank Williams, Jr. (No. 10, Country Songs, 1984)

The theme to “Monday Night Football”

“My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style,” the Dream Warriors (No. 24, Alternative Songs, 1991)

This Canadian hip-hop duo sampled Quincy Jones’ “Soul Bossa Nova”, used as the theme song for the Canadian game show “Definition,” to which the duo paid homage in the title of their song.

On a related note, many songs originally used in television commercials then became hits, including:

“Book of Love,” the Monotones (No. 5, Top 100, 1958) / Pepsodent

“The Jolly Green Giant,” the Kingsmen (No. 4, 1965) / Green Giant

“No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In),” the T-Bones (No. 3, 1966) / Alka-Seltzer

“Music to Watch Girls By,” the Bob Crewe Generation (No. 15, 1967) / Diet Pepsi

“We’ve Only Just Begun,” the Carpenters (No. 2, 1970) / Crocker Bank of California

“I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony),” the New Seekers (No. 7, 1972) / Coca-Cola

“The Homecoming,” Hagood Hardy (No. 41, 1975) / Salada Tea

“Jeans On,” David Dundas (No. 17, 1977) / Brutus Jeans

Thanks for reminding us never to underestimate the power of television.

Blair Buchta
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada