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Ask Billboard: Is ‘Idol’ Ruining Rock?

Thanks to "American Idol," "Real, raw musical talent is slowly dying," writes a Billboard reader. Share your opinions in our weekly mailbag.


Hi Gary,

What is going on with the charts of today? There are not enough alternative or rock songs charting high on the Billboard Hot 100. Instead we are seeing more and more music from television, such as songs from “StarStruck” and “Glee.”

Where has all the real talent gone? I can tell you that there are so many good artists out there, such as Billy Talent, Metric, Them Crooked Vultures, Flyleaf, Chevelle, Cavo, Crash Kings and Vampire Weekend.

Since the launch of “American Idol,” we have seen more manufactured artists. Let’s go back to the ’80s; there was lots of good music then.

Real, raw musical talent is slowly dying unless someone does something about it soon.



Anil Hussein
London, England

Hi Anil,

For all the success of the “American Idol” franchise since its launch in 2002, opinions like yours are not uncommon. And, I think you make some valid points.

First, though, let’s clarify why the Billboard Hot 100 often sports rhythm over alternative rock in its upper reaches. The chart reflects the most-heard and most-purchased (with a smaller percentage of most-streamed) songs in the U.S. America’s tastes simply tend to lean more pop/rhythm than rock. It’s rare that Plain White T’s or Coldplay tops the Hot 100. When Owl City‘s “Fireflies” hit No. 1 in November, the song became just the 11th Hot 100 leader of the 2000s – of 127 total (9%) – to climb to No. 1 and spend time on the Alternative Songs list.

That doesn’t look to be attributable to “Idol.” Of the 141 No. 1s on the Hot 100 in the ’90s, a comparable seven (by Sinead O’Connor, EMF, Right*Said*Fred, Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories, Seal, Barenaked Ladies and Santana) drew ink on Alternative Songs. (Four more reached No. 1 on Radio Songs/Hot 100 Airplay, but were not eligible for the Hot 100 at the time, since they were not commercially available).

The rock acts you mention have all enjoyed success on our radio genre charts – Alternative Songs, Mainstream Rock, Triple A – but almost none have crossed over to pop radio (even though Vampire Weekend recently topped the Billboard 200 album chart). And, none has scored mass-appeal hits on the Digital Songs chart. Thus, they’ve been unable to impact the Hot 100 with as much success as pop acts.

It’s clear you favor rock over pop in your tastes, so you might be a bit predisposed to wishing that rock acts weren’t being forced to compete with manufactured, to use your word, acts. I can appreciate that; ever since “Idol” began creating fast-rising singing stars, critics have pointed out the longer roads that rock bands have taken to achieve success. And, it can be easier to want to give credit to a group of musicians that plays instruments and writes its own songs over a vocalist that interprets the compositions of others.

I don’t think that battle is new, however. Over the last half-century, you could argue that similar arguments have existed: fans of the Beatles and fans of Barbra Streisand might have debated the same in the ’60s.

Overall, I’d hope that there’s room for any artist that the public deems worthy of attention. “Idol” has spawned superstars in many genres: Kelly Clarkson (pop), Carrie Underwood (country), Daughtry (pop, rock), Jennifer Hudson (R&B). Ultimately, the quality of a song and artist, as judged by radio listeners and music consumers, will decide who occupies the charts.

As for rock cred, you might enjoy this season of “Idol” more than those in the past. Even though she was voted out last night, Michelle Delamor on Wednesday evoked Beyonce’s recent riveting Grammy Awards reinvention of Alanis Morissette‘s “You Oughta Know” with her moody cover of Creed’s “With Arms Wide Open.” And, it’s clear why Crystal Bowersox has become a favorite. When she played harmonica on her cover of Morissette’s “Hand in My Pocket” two weeks ago, it became evident that her musical talents run deeper than singing. When artists showcase such an array of skills (and eventually go on to write their own hits), one of the judges’ highest compliments – “artistry” – is justified.

As for your twinges of ’80s nostalgia, we must have similar iPods. Pop radio featured great variety for most of that decade. In 1988, beyond pop, Hot 100 No. 1s represented rock (Def Leppard, Guns N’ Roses), R&B (Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston), dance (Rick Astley, George Michael) and adult contemporary (Gloria Estefan, Phil Collins).

Since then, so many different – and, more importantly, less congruous – styles have emerged, most notably harder alternative/grunge and rap, and pop radio was, thus, less able to blend such conflicting sounds into one cohesive station, hence the birth of more niche genres (adult pop, rhythmic, adult R&B, triple A). Of course, hits still emerge from rock (Kings of Leon), R&B (Alicia Keys), dance (Lady Gaga) and adult contemporary (Michael Buble), so variety in pop still exists.

Overall, I’d encourage you to make like new judge Ellen and focus on the many positives that “Idol” has to offer.


Hi Gary,

It looks as though Lady Antebellum‘s recent No. 1 Country Songs smash “Need You Now” could be making some historic news.

This week, the song returns to its highest Hot 100 ranking, No. 3, and jumps 10-4 on Adult Pop Songs and bullets at No. 6 on Adult Contemporary.

Have there been many country hits that have made the top five on the Hot 100, Adult Pop Songs and Adult Contemporary?

“Need You Now” would be at least the third to manage such an achievement, as Taylor Swift did so with “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me.”


John Maverick
Burt County, Nebraska

Hi John,

“Need You Now” is certainly winning over pop and adult audiences after leading Country Songs for five weeks in November. In its first five weeks of release, the album of the same name has sold 1,159,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan.

As Billboard 200 chart manager Keith Caulfield wrote in the March 6 issue of Billboard, “Lady Antebellum’s ‘Need You Now’ becomes 2009’s first million-selling album in only its fourth week of release. It’s the first title to sell a million so early in a year since the Game’s ‘Documentary’ hit a million in the fifth week of 2005.”

As for the radio success of the “Need You Now” single, if it rises at least one more spot on Adult Contemporary, which looks likely as early as next week based on building chart data, the song will become just the third title to reach the top five on each of the Hot 100, Adult Pop Songs (which launched in March 1996) and Adult Contemporary. You’re correct: Taylor Swift owns the previous two.

Here is a look at the peak positions of Swift’s country crossovers to garner such multi-format support:

“Love Story”
No. 4, Hot 100
No. 3, Adult Pop Songs
No. 1 (six weeks), Adult Contemporary

“You Belong With Me”
No. 2, Hot 100
No. 2 Adult Pop Songs
No. 1 (14 weeks), Adult ContemporarySUMMER CATCH?

Hi Gary,

I enjoyed your Chart Beat article Tuesday about Kristine W. One question: doesn’t Donna Summer have at least 15 No. 1s on Dance/Club Play Songs? Joel Whitburn’s book “Hot Dance/Disco 1974-2003” notes that she earned 12 No. 1s during that period. I believe Summer notched three more leaders from her 2008 album “Crayons,” which would make 15.


Neil F.
Stamford, Connecticut

Hi Neil,

Glad you enjoyed the Q&A with Kristine W. From overcoming serious health issues to helming her own label, the determination she’s constantly shown in her career illuminates why she’s become one of dance music’s most successful acts.

As for one of her favorite artists, Donna Summer has totaled 13 No. 1s on Dance/Club Play Songs.

You are correct that Joel Whitburn’s book through 2003 lists 12 No. 1s, and that she added three more in 2008-09. However, Whitburn’s research includes chart data from the publication Record World, not Billboard, from March 29, 1975 through August 21, 1976, after which Billboard introduced the magazine’s “first national chart, called National Disco Action Top 30.” (Billboard dance charts from inception on Oct. 26, 1974, through March 22, 1975, comprised a rotation of city-specific hits).

Summer’s first two No. 1s in Whitburn’s book – “Love to Love You Baby” (1975) and “Try Me, I Know We Can Make It” (1976) – are based on Record World archives, not Billboard, so her Billboard No. 1 count on what is now known as Dance/Club Play Songs stands at 13.


Hi Gary,

In continuing with your excellent sports-meets-music coverage of the Olympics, there’s a significant Canadian connection on this week’s R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.

As one of your readers recently noted, the two most previous R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart-toppers featured Canadian artists: Toronto-born Melanie Fiona, with her solid nine-week run of “It Kills Me,” preceded by “I Invented Sex” by Trey Songz featuring fellow Torontonian Drake. This week, a direct Canadian descendant commands the chart: Robin Thicke with “Sex Therapy.” Okay, Robin was born in the U.S.A., but his dad, actor Alan, is Canadian.

(When I saw that Thicke’s “Sex Therapy” jumped into the top slot of R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, I immediately thought about sex. Well, “sex” in songs, with that tune being the third “sex”-y No. 1 in succession. “It Kills Me” was bookended by two “sex” songs. First, there were two guys explaining how they invented it, then the glorious Fiona goes through a major dilemma about man matters, and then Robin offers his counsel. It all goes together so well).


Pablo Nelson
Berkeley, California

Hi Pablo,

You’ve clearly illustrated that, on our charts, Team Canada is continuing to race to No. 1 finishes.

Regarding the Olympics, music impacted the highly-entertaining 2010 Winter Games even on their last day. On Sunday (Feb. 28), Sidney Crosby dramatically won the gold for the Canadian hockey team with his overtime goal over the U.S. Rick Nash was a teammate. That night, Toronto’s Neil Young performed at the closing ceremonies. Thus, the Olympics wrapped with … Crosby’s skills, Nash and Young.

(If only they gave out medals for bad puns …)