Idols and the Point of Diminishing Returns

I’m pulling this out of   headlines and posting it here, because it’s full of all kinds of neat facts and figures, and makes for an interesting starting point for discussion

Ken Barnes of   USA Today’s Idol Chatter blog wonders if we’ve reached the Idol saturation point:

I was struck by the lack of buzz surrounding anyone in the Season 7 crop outside of the top 2. And when you think about it, there isn’t a whole lot going on with the Season 6’ers either. Season 5’s Chris/Kellie/Taylor/Elliott/Katharine/Bucky cadre (to list them in order of album sales) may be looked upon as the Golden Age group of Idols.

On the surface, Season 5 does seem to be the apex of Idol success, but really, if you look a little closer, it’s becomes more of an anomaly.

Season 4 only graduated one buzz-worthy Idol–the winner, Carrie Underwood. Bo Bice couldn’t chart a single from his debut*, and was eventually dropped from his label.   Constantine Maroulis was not picked up by a label and eventually released an album independently.   It had tepid sales, and now he’s doing theater.

Season 3 produced quite a few Idol albums, but only Fantasia and–gulp–William Hung had any major buzz from that group.   Jennifer Hudson is currently enjoying success on the record charts, but that has more to do with her status as an Oscar-winning actress than her stint on Idol. Season 2 produced Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard–with that year’s runner-up outpacing the winner in the buzz department–and Kimberley Locke and Josh Gracin to a lesser degree. Only one Idol from Season One graduated to a successful recording career–Kelly Clarkson.

Since Season 5 took place in 2006, there’s been a general downturn in the record industry across the board, which would account for some of the decreased record sales.   And interestingly, while Season 5 had more Idol chart successes over all, the winner from that Season, Taylor Hicks, did not outsell Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks and is likely not to outsell Season 7 winner David Cook.   Season 7 runner-up David Archuleta is  on track to outsell both Katharine McPhee (Season 5) and Blake Lewis (Season 6).

It’s not an original notion, but interesting nonetheless. Ken brings up the idea of an “Idol Jinx”–that Idols can’t seem to match their initial sales success with subsequent album releases.   The numbers are telling:

Kelly’s the great exception here, because after a very strong debut (2.71 million to date), she broke through with the monster Breakaway (6.02 million). (The jinx then struck her on her third album, now at 776, 000, a good number but a big relative drop.)   Otherwise, we have such case studies as:

> Ruben (1.8 million first time out, 450, 000-plus for the second, gospel album, 238, 000 for the follow-up secular release)

> Clay (2.78 million for the first one, 528, 000 for Thousand Different Ways, 153, 000 for On My Way Here)

> Fantasia (1.8 million for the first one, 517, 000 for #2)

> Carrie (6.56 million for the first, 2.37 million so far for the second — admittedly, 2.37 million is a figure most artists would kill for, but even in a time of sharply diminished sales, selling 36% of the total of your first album is something to be concerned about)

> Bo (670, 000-plus on the first, 61, 000 for the second)

> Taylor (700, 000-plus on the first, 4, 000 for the second — and before you write in, yes, it’s an unfair comparison, since the second is old material that many fans already have and has been restricted to one retail outlet, but still, does anyone expect his official second album, out early next year, to come close to 700, 000?)

Again, some of these figures may be attributable to the decling fortunes of the recording industry in general. But the numbers do bring up some interesting points for discussion:   Is it possible for an Idol to sustain a truly lasting career past the initial success that comes fresh off the show?   Do fans who snap up those initial Idol records eventually fall by the wayside?   Will the most successful Idols be contestants like Jennifer Hudson who find success later on down the line, rather than in the immediate aftermath of the show?

What do you guys think?

One more interesting tidbit.   There are currently 7 Idols (Ace Young, Taylor Hicks, LaToya London, Ruben Studdard, Anwar Robinson, Constantine Maroulis, and Clay Aiken) who are either about to begin, or are in the middle of runs with theater productions.   Theater seems to be where many Idols have landed and found success…

*Correction: “The Real Thing” did chart, For instance: 20 weeks on the Hot Adult Top 40 Chart, where it peaked It peaked at #11. 16 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 where it peaked at 56, 20 weeks on the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart where it peaked at #17, and 22 weeks on the Pop 100 where it peaked at #33. Album sales stalled anyway, and Bo was subsequently dropped from his label.

About mj santilli 34702 Articles
Founder and editor of, home of the awesomest fan community on the net. I love cheesy singing shows of all kinds, whether reality or scripted. I adore American Idol, but also love The Voice, Glee, X Factor and more!