Earlier this year, I assumed contestants on "The Voice" had a distinct sales advantage over the hopefuls on rival show "American Idol." I assumed that by counting iTunes downloads as actual votes--something "Idol" and similar shows do not do--"The Voice" would be better at predicting which contestants would fare well in the actual pop marketplace. What a fantastic business plan, I thought! So I assumed that Season 1 "Voice" winner Javier Colon, who landed several hits in the iTunes top five during his memorable run on the series, would be a surefire seller once his album came out.
I assumed wrong.
Javier Colon's post-"Voice" album, Come Through For You, certainly did not come through for him on the Billboard charts this week. The album, which dropped last Monday in time for the holiday shopping rush, debuted at a disappointing--or make that shocking--number 134 on the chart this week, with a little less than 10,000 copies sold.
To put this in perspective, please note that Landau Eugene Murphy Jr., the most recent "America's Got Talent" winner, debuted at number 34 (a full 100 rungs higher up the chart!) with his album That's Life, which came out the same day as Javier's release. But really, it's "Idol" that's still outperforming "The Voice" all over the album chart. This week, Daughtry debuted at number eight, James Durbin debuted at number 36, and Season 10 champ Scotty McCreery reentered the top 10, moving from number 13 to number nine and reaching gold status. Lauren Alaina is also at number 74 this week, and original Idol Kelly Clarkson is at number 25.
Obviously, there are reasons other than a lack of promotion for Javier's sluggish sales. (Landau's album received possibly even less promotion than Javier's, and still did respectably.) It must be taken into account that Javier's chosen musical style simply is not that hip or relevant, the sort of dated lite-radio fare that generates little buzz or radio play these days. But seriously--the guy really did get precious little promotion, and I suspect many diehard "Voice" fans weren't even aware that Come Through For You was out. Javier deserved better. Maybe the "Voice" powers-that-be should have spent more time promoting the show's contestants, not the judges.
And that brings me to a crucial difference between "Idol" and "The Voice": Despite all the hoopla and hype surrounding "Idol" panelists Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, the real stars of "Idol" this year were still the CONTESTANTS. This has actually always been true of "Idol," even when Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul dominated the proceedings. By mostly keeping the focus on the singers, "Idol" often created stars that America fell in love with for the long-term. This year on "The Voice," however, it was all about the superstar judges, who frequently performed with (read: upstaged) the contestants. This of course made for great television--and it seems pretty obvious now that "Voice" execs care more about TV ratings than record sales--but as a result, the only real Billboard hit that came out of the show was judge Christina Aguilera's collaboration with her "Voice" co-star Adam Levine, on Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger."
While I understand NBC and Mark Burnett Productions' need to create good television (a goal probably sometimes at odds with Universal Republic's goal of selling records), a strategy like this can only backfire in the long run, as at the heart of all TV talent shows is the fairytale concept that these contests can make aspiring singers' dreams come true--that they can create pop stars. "Idol's" once-solid reputation for star-making would have taken a serious blow if Scotty McCreery's album had failed to sell (following previous winner Lee DeWyze's all-time-low sales), but thanks to Jimmy Iovine, "Idol" sales rebounded. Now it seems "The Voice" will face a similar challenge as it gears up for its second season, which kicks off in about two months. If "The Voice's" Season 2 winner also debuts as low as number 134, it will be a major problem.
(Note: We'll see how Season 1 runner-up Dia Frampton fares when her decidedly hipper album, Red--which features contributions from Kid Cudi and members of Foster The People and Florence + The Machine--comes out next week. But I am a little worried for her.)
The saddest part of this story, however, is not any credibility downgrade "The Voice" may have suffered this week. I just feel bad for Javier. "The Voice" was supposed to be this struggling veteran singer's much-deserved second chance, after a failed deal with Capitol Records--but considering that his 2003 Capitol album, Javier, sold 133,760 copies according to SoundScan, and his second Capitol release, Left Of Center, sold 27,913...well, it almost seems like Javier was better off without this show.