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The Music Industry’s Stake In Reality Talent Showsby Sting7 -- 05/28/2003
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Back when American Idol first started, there were plenty of detractors. Plenty. And, even as the phenomenon grew, there were still detractors. Justin Timberlake doesn't think there is any "real talent" on Idol. John Mayer says "no real artist" would do a show like Idol.
Much to everyone's surprise, Kelly Clarkson's album Thankful, exceeded all expectations. The notion of a reality show producing a legitimate star was not so silly. BMG's RCA Records signed on for the right to have a "first look" at signing the American Idol finalists to recording contracts.
The other labels are starting to catch on. "Signing any new artist is always a risk, and there are never any guarantees," says Ted Wagner, VP of national country promotion for Columbia Nashville. "But if these TV shows are one more way to our artists, it's a chance worth taking."
American Juniors (an American Idol spinoff for 6- to 13-year-olds that will lead to the formation of a five-person singing group) will debut soon, while Fame has premiered, and revealed the winner will have some form of a record deal with Johnny Wright's Wire Records. No partnership agreement has been announced for American Juniors. (In fact, there is next to no information on American Juniors at all - even its length is under question as it appears on both the summer and fall schedules for Fox.)
So, why the attitude change? BMG took on the American Idol recordings, including Kelly Clarkson's debut album, Thankful, which topped the Billboard 200 album charts, and her first single, "A Moment Like This/Before Your Love," which hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100. The finale show revealed that Thankful has gone platinum (sold 1,000,000 copies since its April 15 release), according to Nielsen SoundScan.
There's reason to be excited by upcoming recordings from show winners. Ruben Studdard, who is signed to J Records, will have his first single, "Flying Without Wings," released in June. Nashville Star's winner, Buddy Jewell, has already released his first single, "Help Pour Out the Rain (Lacey's Song)" and it debuted at 44 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks. Billboard says he is "the highest-debuting new solo artist on the chart since the Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems era began in 1990." Jewell's first album, produced by Clint Black, is expected to drop July 1. American Idol runner-ups Justin Guarini and Clay Aiken are also on track to have albums released. Guarini's album comes out in June. Aiken will have a single next month, and an album in December. (You can, of course, order any or all of these in the right column of this website.)
Clive Davis doesn't see any difference in where talent comes from. "My approach is to put blinders on when I make records with artists like Kelly Clarkson, Justin Guarini, and Tamyra Gray," Davis says. "By that, I mean it's a mistake to treat their albums like souvenir albums for the show."
Of course, you don't have to be Top 2 to get a deal. Tamyra Gray's (fourth place, season one) first album will be released on J Records, part of the RCA Music Group. RJ Helton (fifth place season one) has signed with Gospocentric/B-Rite Music, which is distributed by BMG. His debut album is due this fall. But, things don't always go as planned. Star Search's first adult-singer winner, Jake Simpson, released an album April 1. It has sold only 10,000 copies to date.
"American Idol and Nashville Star have done better jobs at marketing these artists than some of the other talent shows," observes Mike Fuller, music buyer for Amarillo, Texas-based retail chain Hastings Books, Music & Video. He sees the potential for Buddy Jewell to put up Clarkson-like numbers with his album. Personally, I think Jewell's album is a guaranteed number one. The buzz is tremendous. The Ruben and Clay show is getting rave reviews - while there are still those who want to take shots at reality TV, they never seem to deny the talent of American's favorite new duo. Suddenly, that scoffing is kind of hollow.
Sting7 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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