"Idol" dilemma -- ratings up, sales down

Sat Jan 12, 2008 3:05am EST
 
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By Ann Donahue

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - "American Idol" is poised to set ratings records when Fox's talent show returns to the airwaves with a four-hour season premiere on Tuesday and Wednesday.

In 2006, an average of 30 million Americans watched the Wednesday night results show -- and it's expected that those numbers could increase substantially this year thanks to the dearth of alternative viewing options as a result of the Writers Guild of America strike.

But while more and more people are giggling over the off-key auditions and Simon Cowell's barely contained rage at Paula Abdul, album sales have not kept pace with the increasing number of viewers. Certain contestants have been standouts -- most recently, Chris Daughtry with 3.6 million in sales for his eponymous band's debut album last year, according to Nielsen SoundScan -- but the overall trend is erratic.

Although the huge "Idol" ratings can only help at the outset, an artist's result on the show isn't necessarily any indication of his or her long-term recording career, says RCA Music Group executive VP/GM Tom Corson, whose label recently dropped 2006 winner Taylor Hicks, 2003 champ Ruben Studdard and 2006 runner-up Katharine McPhee.

"There's TV, and then there's recorded music," Corson says. "The contestants vary annually -- some are more powerful in terms of record sales than others -- and it depends what genre and what kind of artist they are. Like any entertainment property, it's an emotional and subjective purpose. You can't really predict."

SPUTTERING SPARKS

The most recent winner, Jordin Sparks, has sold 371,000 copies of her self-titled debut album since last November, which some have cited as below par. But Corson urges patience. "Jordin's on her first single," he says of "Tattoo," a top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. "There's a lot of water to go under the bridge." Hicks, by contrast, sold 699,000 copies of his 2006 debut.

As "Idol" executive producer Nigel Lythgoe stresses, the TV show is the TV show, album sales are album sales, and if the twain never meet, so be it.   Continued...

 
<p>"American Idol" judges Simon Cowell (L), Paula Abdul (C) and Randy Jackson wave to the crowd during the show's finale at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, May 24, 2006. "American Idol" is poised to set ratings records when Fox's talent show returns to the airwaves with a four-hour season premiere on Tuesday and Wednesday. REUTERS/Chris Pizzello</p>