Chart Watch: A New Low For 'American Idol'

Paul Grein
·Writer

I think we all owe Candice Glover an apology. A lot was made in February when Glover’s Music Speaks sold a tepid 19K copies in its first week. That was the slimmest first-week sales tally ever for the debut album by an American Idol winner. Glover relinquishes that dubious record this week to this year’s Idol champ, Caleb Johnson, whose Testify sold just 11K copies in its first week.

Testify enters The Billboard 200 at #24, which is also the lowest chart entry position ever for an Idol champ’s first album. (The old record here was Lee DeWyze's Live It Up, which debuted and peaked at #19.)

At this point, it seems obvious that the fault lies not with any individual contestant, but with the aging Idol franchise itself. Idol may have a little more life left in it as a TV show, but it seems to have simply run its course an important album-selling force.

It was nice while it lasted.

The first post-Idol albums by the first five winners each sold 240K or more copies in their first weeks. The first to fall short of that level was Jordin Sparks' Jordin Sparks, which sold 119K in its first week in November 2007. Season 7 winner David Cook got the franchise back on track when David Cook sold 280K in its first week in November 2008.

The first winner to fall short of 100K was Season 8 champ Kris Allen, whose Kris Allen sold 80K in its first week in November 2009. He had to live with that embarrassment for exactly one year, until Season 9 winner Lee DeWyze's Live It Up sold about half as many copies (39K) in its first week in November 2010.

Season 10 champ Scotty McCreery reversed the downward trend (and not a moment too soon!) when Clear As Day sold 197K copies in its first week in October 2011. Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips did nearly as well when The World From The Side Of The Moon sold 169K in its first week in November 2012.

But now we’re back in the cellar. Everything runs its course eventually. Glee isn’t the force it once was, either. But the fact that so few people are interested in buying the first album by an Idol winner is amazing. The ratings of the TV show are also down, but not to this degree. Nielsen reported that 10.53 million people watched the Idol finale in May. That’s about one-fourth of the 38.06 million that watched the Season 2 finale in May 2003 (the top-rated Idol finale ever).

A contributing factor, of course, is that albums sales are down overall. This isn’t just an Idol problem. But industry-wide sales declines can’t explain a drop-off this steep.

You may be surprised to learn which Idol winner’s debut album sold the most copies in its first week. Kelly Clarkson? Carrie Underwood? Nope. It’s Season 2 winner Ruben Studdard, whose Soulful sold 417K copies in its first week. That tally, as good as it was, fell short of the first-week sales by Season 2 runner-up Clay Aiken, whose Measure Of A Man had sold 613K copies just eight weeks earlier.

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