Week Ending Jan. 29, 2012. Albums: The Idol “Loser” Who Won

Paul Grein
Chart Watch (NEW)

Hundreds of contestants have walked across the American Idol stage, but only five have amassed three or more top 10 albums on The Billboard 200. Of these five, Kellie Pickler holds a unique distinction. She finished further back in the pack (sixth place in Season 5) than any other Idol contestant who has scored three or more top 10 albums. (Pickler lands her third top 10 album this week as her third album, 100 Proof, debuts at #7.)

Kelly Clarkson, the Season 1 winner, and Clay Aiken, who finished second in Season 2, have each notched five top 10 albums. Two other artists have amassed three top 10 albums: Carrie Underwood, the Season 4 winner; and Chris Daughtry, who finished fourth in Season 5.

You may have noticed that both Pickler and Daughtry competed in Season 5. Each of the top three contestants from that season, Taylor Hicks, Katharine McPhee and Elliott Yamin, notched just one top 10 album (though McPhee be on the brink of success in another medium: She is featured on the upcoming NBC series Smash.)

Tallying up an artist's number of top 10 albums is an admittedly rough index to popularity, but it suggests that the hottest finale in Season 5 would have been between Daughtry and Pickler.

Why has Pickler endured when most Idol contestants who finished so far back in the pack have fallen away? For one thing, she's country. Country audiences are traditionally more loyal to their favorites than pop audiences. Also, people like her. Talent and personality are the keys to success in the music business (and in life, I guess).

Pickler isn't the only performer who finished sixth on Idol to have substantial post-show success.  Constantine Maroulis, who finished sixth in Season 4, starred in the Broadway hit Rock Of Ages. He received a Tony nomination in 2009 for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical. He has lined up his next Broadway role in a revival of the musical Jekyll & Hyde.

Here are the other performers who finished sixth in each season of Idol: Christina Christian, Carmine Rasmusen, John Stevens (isn't he on the Supreme Court?), Phil Stacey, Carly Smithson, Anoop Desai, Siobhan Magnus and Casey Abrams. (While Yahoo!'s resident Idol expert Lyndsey Parker no doubt remembers what they sang in each round, most of us can only vaguely recall most of them.

100 Proof is Pickler's highest-charting album. Small Town Girl and Kellie Pickler both reached #9.

Adele's 21 logs its 18th week at #1. That's the longest run at #1 for a regular studio album (I'm excluding soundtracks) since Garth Brooks' third album Ropin' The Wind lassoed 18 weeks on top in 1991-1992. 21 sold 116K copies this week. This is the 34th time that its weekly sales have topped 100K.

Tim McGraw's Emotional Traffic debuts at #2. This is McGraw's 14th top 10 album, which is one of the three highest totals ever for a country artist. George Strait has had 17 top 10 albums. Garth Brooks has also had 14. Strait and Brooks have been at it longer, however. Brooks landed his first top 10 album, No Fences, in May 1991 (the week that Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales for Billboard, which gave country albums their full due for the first time.) Strait landed his first top 10 album, the Pure Country soundtrack, in November 1992. McGraw didn't land his first, Not A Moment Too Soon, until April 1994.

In addition, McGraw's album debuts at #1 on Top Country Albums. It's McGraw's 13th #1 on that chart. All but one of his studio albums has topped that chart. His only studio album to fall short was Tim McGraw And The Dancehall Doctors, which debuted and peaked at #2 in December 2002. What album was hot enough to block its path? Shania Twain's Up!

2012 Grammy Nominees debuts at #4. It's the 11th album in this long-running series to make the top 10. In the 56-year history of The Billboard 200, only three series have accounted for more 10 albums: Now (45 volumes), Kidz Bop Kids (14 volumes) and Glee (13 volumes).

Ingrid Michaelson's Human Again debuts at #5. It's her best showing, topping her 2009 album, Everybody, which debuted and peaked at #18. The new album sold 33K digital copies (out of 40K total.) This puts it at #1 on Top Digital Albums. It's the first time that Adele's album hasn't topped that chart in five weeks.

Seal's second album of R&B classics, Soul 2, bows at #8. The first, Soul, reached #13 in 2008. (Rod Stewart has yet to release a sequel to his similar 2009 album, Soulbook.)

Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You) jumps from #3 to #1 on Hot Digital Songs. "International Love" by Pitbull featuring Chris Brown jumps from #17 to #10. How will they fare on the Hot 100? You'll find out later today when we post Chart Watch: Songs.

Here's the low-down on this week's top 10 albums.

1. Adele, 21, 116,000. The album logs its 18th week at #1. This is its 49th week in the top 10. Four songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Set Fire To The Rain," which holds at #2.

2. Tim McGraw, Emotional Traffic, 68,000. This new entry is McGraw's 14th top 10 album. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs. "Better Than I Used To Be" vaults from #176 to #68. "Felt Good On My Lips" re-enters at #193.

3. Lamb Of God, Resolution, 52,000. This new entry is the third top 10 album for the heavy metal band. Sacrament hit #8 in 2006. Wrath hit #2 in 2009.

4. Various Artists, 2012 Grammy Nominees, 52,000. This new entry is the 11th entry in this long-running series to make the top 10.

5. Ingrid Michaelson, Human Again, 40,000. This new entry is Michaelson's first top 10 album. She first cracked the chart in 2007 with Girls and Boys. "Fire" enters Hot Digital Songs at #76.

6. Kidz Bop Kids, Kidz Bop 21, 33,000. The album drops from #2 to #6 in its second week.

7. Kellie Pickler, 100 Proof, 27,000. This new entry is Pickler's third consecutive top 10 album. "Tough" enters Hot Digital Songs at #144.

8. Seal, Soul II, 27,000. This new entry is Seal's second top 10 album. It follows Seal IV, which hit #3 in 2003.

9. Drake, Take Care, 26,000. The former #1 album drops from #4 to #9 in its 11th week.  It has been in the top 10 the entire time. Four songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Take Care" (featuring Rihanna), which jumps from #32 to #26.

10. Kari Jobe's Where I Find You, 25,000. This new entry is Jobe's first top 10 album. The female Contemporary Christian artist reached #63 with her self-titled debut album.

Seven albums drop out of the top 10 this week. The Black Keys' El Camino drops from #3 to #12, Rihanna's Talk That Talk drops from #5 to #16, Young Jeezy's TM:103 Hustlerz Ambition drops from #6 to #17, James Fortune & FIYA's Identity dives from #7 to #29, Toby Keith's Clancy's Tavern dives from #8 to #32, Coldplay's Mylo Xyloto drops from #9 to #24, and Nickelback's Here And Now drops from #10 to #22.

Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International enters The Billboard 200 at #11. The four-disk set includes contributions by everyone from folk legend Pete Seeger, 92, to pop star Miley Cyrus, 19. It's one of the most expansive collections ever to reach the top 20. Others include Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band's Live/1975-85 (five disks), which hit #1 in 1986, and Vince Gill's These Days (four disks), which hit #17 in 2006. This isn't the first time that a massive collection of Dylan songs has scaled the charts. In January 1986, Dylan's own five-disk set, Biograph, reached the top 40.

A two-disk version of Chimes Of Freedom, which is available at Starbucks, debuts at #39. If sales for the two versions had been combined, the album would have debuted at #7 this week.

The song "Chimes Of Freedom" first appeared on Dylan's 1964 album, Another Side Of Bob Dylan.

Several previous chart albums have raised funds for the human rights organization Amnesty International. The Secret Policeman's Ball reached #106 in 1981. A sequel, The Secret Policeman's Other Ball, hit #29 in 1982. Rock For Amnesty hit #121 in 1987.

Celtic Woman's Believe bows at #13. It's the group's third album to crack the top 15…Lacuna Coil's Dark Adrenaline debuts at #15. The metal band first charted in 2004...Adele's 2008 debut album 19 drops from #15 to #19. It's #1 on Top Catalog Albums for the 33rd week.

The Joyful Noise soundtrack drops from #12 to #33 in its third week. It's #1 on Top Soundtracks for the third week…Wow Gospel 2012 bows at #41. The series launched in 1998 (the same year the Now series launched). The highest-charting installment is Wow Gospel 2006, which reached #20.

Zac Brown Band's The Foundation this week becomes the fourth album in country music history to sell 500K or more digital copies. It follows Taylor Swift's Fearless (794K digital copies) and Speak Now (694K) and Lady Antebellum's Need You Now (518K). Counting all genres, The Foundation is the 23rd album to sell 500K or more digital copies. Five acts have reached that plateau with two albums: Swift, Adele, Lady Gaga, Coldplay and Kanye West.

The Grey was #1 at the box-office over the weekend. The soundtrack, featuring a score by Marc Streitenfeld, will be released on Feb. 14.

Adele's Live At The Royal Albert Hall is #1 on Top Music Videos for the ninth straight week. The DVD sold 17K copies, bringing its total to 528K.

Coming Attractions: Lana Del Rey's Born To Die is expected to enter the chart at #2 next week (just behind you-know-who).  Leonard Cohen's Old Ideas is also expected to debut in the top 10, which would be a first for the veteran singer/songwriter. Also due: Fred Hammond's God, Love & Romance and the Fresh Beat Band TV soundtrack.

Shameless Grammy Plug I: The Grammys' decision to cut or consolidate 31 categories this year has triggered growing controversy. Critics have charged that the Grammys were insensitive to the needs of artists who populate the less prominent categories, to whom a nomination or award can make a meaningful difference in their careers (in getting publicity and better concert bookings). The Rev. Jesse Jackson has called for a meeting with Neil Portnow, the President and CEO of the Recording Academy. The two have agreed to meet before the Grammys are presented on Feb. 12. Did the Grammys cut or gut? I look at this issue in an And The Winner is blog that went up Monday. If you missed it, here's a link.

Shameless Grammy Plug II: Nicki Minaj has seemed to be the front-runner to win the Grammy for Best New Artist since her debut album, Pink Friday, entered The Billboard 200 at #2 in November 2010. But will Minaj win the award? It may come down to whether the voters' attraction to female solo artists in the New Artist category (females have won in 13 of the last 20 years) outweighs their inclination not to vote for rap artists in this and other "Big Four" categories. I look at the Grammys' complicated relationship to rap in an And The Winner Is blog that went up late last week. If you missed it, here's a link.

Shameless Grammy Plug III: Adele is vying to become only the sixth artist to win "Grammy's Triple Crown" (Album, Record and Song of the Year) in one night. At just 23, she'd be the youngest artist ever to do this. Also, she'd be only the second female solo artist to do it, following Carole King in 1972, and only the second British artist to do it, following Eric Clapton in 1993. I compiled a list of everyone who has won Album, Record and Song of the Year in one night. I also prepared two lists of artists who came close, but don't quite qualify. If you missed it, here's a link.