American Idol’s Kelly Clarkson has answered the first question of the rest of her life: can she sell records? The answer so far is a resounding “yes,” made all the more impressive by the overwhelming banality of her single: utterly generic pop/R&B balladeering. Perhaps the very blandness of the recording has been to her advantage, allowing those viewers who adopted her on the show – who literally made her by voting for her – to buy her, the singer not the song. Regardless, the records are selling:
- Kelly “Ka-ching” Clarkson.
Ms. Clarkson, the 20-year-old Texas waitress turned singer, captured America’s fancy on “American Idol,” the summer’s hottest television series, with her Mariah Carey-like vocals.
This part of the bio always troubles me: is she really a “waitress turned singer,” or was she a singer all along and waitressing to make ends meet like untold millions before her? Or are we automatically defined by what we do for money?
- Now, she is winning radio listeners and raking in huge record sales.
Her double-sided CD, featuring “A Moment Like This” and “Before Your Love,” has sold 450,000 copies and is the No. 1 selling single, according to Soundscan, which tracks such sales.
Some stores jumped the gun and sold copies of the single before its Sept. 17 release date because the demand was so high, people in the music industry said. At a time when CD sales are in a slump, it is unusual for a first-time artist to sell so many records, especially singles — at $4.98 apiece, they said.
“She has managed to capture the cultural zeitgeist for the MTV generation in that she embodies the new American dream,” said Amy Barnett, editor of Honey, a women’s lifestyle magazine.
From New York to Cleveland to Los Angeles radio, listeners are calling stations and asking D.J.’s to play the single, which was written for the television series.
“The requests have not stopped coming in since the first day we played it,” Allan Fee, the program director of WQAL-FM in Cleveland, said last week.
Ms. Clarkson’s single outpaces airplay requests for new releases by Ms. Carey and Whitney Houston, some program directors say.
“America’s fascination with `American Idol’ has played itself out on radio,” said Tom Poleman, program director for WHTZ-FM (Z-100) in New York and senior vice president of programming for Clear Channel Communications. Nationwide, Clear Channel owns 1,200 stations. “She’s an incredible phenomenon. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen any artist with single sales this high and this consistent.”
Ms. Clarkson follows a long line of famous artists who translated success on television and radio talent shows into success. Frank Sinatra, part of the Hoboken Four, got his start on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour, said Ron Simon, a curator at the Museum of Radio and Records. Gladys Knight, as a 7-year-old, got her start on Ted Mack’s “The Original Amateur Hour.”
“For the most part, we have always had some original amateur hour,” Mr. Simon said. “It has always been a viable format for Americans. It’s just a matter of adapting it for the times. `American Idol’ just brought the reality TV element to it.”
America was transfixed on the three-month run of “American Idol,” a cross between “Star Search” and “Survivor.” Last month’s two-hour finale on the Fox Network attracted nearly 23 million viewers, who voted for their favorite artists. Ms. Clarkson and another contestant, Justin Guarini, vied for the title. Ms. Clarkson walked away with a recording contract from RCA Records, a unit of BMG, the music division of Bertelsmann. An album featuring the show’s 10 finalists leads the charts as the No. 4 selling album at 146,000 copies, according to Soundscan.
Ms. Clarkson’s own album is not scheduled for release until early next year, said Richard Sanders, executive vice president and general manager of RCA Records.
To keep Ms. Clarkson fresh in the ears of listeners, RCA will put out a new single before the album’s release next year and she is on tour, Mr. Sanders said.
But Ms. Clarkson shows no signs of fading. Her music video pops up frequently on MTV and is one of the most downloaded on AOL, people in the music industry say. It is also one of the most requested videos on TRL, a popular show on MTV.
Ms. Clarkson is managed by a company called 19 Management, which is owned by Simon Fuller, the man who created the show in England. Mr. Sanders said that Ms. Clarkson, RCA and her label, 19 Recordings, the production unit of 19 Management, would receive proceeds from the sale of her albums and singles. Mr. Sanders said that Fox, which is owned by the News Corporation, would not receive proceeds from album sales. But Fox will share in the money generated by the fame of individual performers. Ms. Clarkson is working on a Fox movie with Mr. Guarini.
The new season of “American Idol” begins in January.
Kelly’s recording success is the net result of a lengthy marketing process, the TV show, which was a product itself. With the novelty factor gone, can AI2 again interest America in marketing process?
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