Adam Lambert's "Whataya Want From Me" this week becomes the 27th song by an American Idol contestant to sell 1 million or more digital copies. The striking pop-rock ballad got a big boost from Lambert's appearances on the show two weeks ago as mentor and performer. Kris Allen, who beat Lambert in the Season 8 finale, also has a digital million-seller. The spry "Live Like We're Dying," which was released nine weeks before Lambert's song, has sold 1,350,000 copies.
Of the 27 million-sellers by Idol contestants, eight are by Season 1 champ Kelly Clarkson. That's twice as many as her closest rivals. Carrie Underwood, the Season 4 winner; Jordin Sparks, the Season 6 champ; and the band fronted by Chris Daughtry, who finished fourth in Season 5, have each landed four million-selling downloads. David Cook, the Season 7 champ, has had two.
Clarkson has also had the most consecutive million-sellers of any Idol contestant. She had six million-sellers in a row from "Breakaway" through "Never Again." But Clarkson doesn't have the best-selling song by an Idol contestant-or even the second best-seller. The top two are Jordin Sparks' "No Air" (a melodramatic duet with Chris Brown) and Carrie Underwood's revenge fantasy "Before He Cheats."
Daughtry's rock ballad "It's Not Over," which has sold 2,103,000 copies, holds two records. It's the best-selling digital hit by a male contestant in Idol history. And it's the best-selling hit by any singer who didn't win the competition.
David Archuleta, the Season 7 runner-up, was just 17 in November 2008 when "Crush" topped the million mark in paid downloads. That made him the youngest Idol contestant to top 1 million. (Jordin Sparks had already turned 18 by the time "Tattoo" became her first million-seller in January 2008.) But Sparks is the youngest contestant to top the 2 million mark. She first achieved that milestone in June 2008 with "No Air."
Kara DioGuardi, who joined the judges panel on Idol in 2009, co-wrote and co-produced Kelly Clarkson's 2006 million-seller, "Walk Away." DioGuardi also co-wrote "No Boundaries," the widely panned 2009 "coronation song" which Allen and Lambert both recorded.
Several top songwriters and/or producers have worked on million-sellers by two or more Idol contestants. These include Max Martin, Ryan Tedder, Stargate, Brian Howes and Dave Hodges. (Details below.)
Here are the 27 songs by American Idol contestants to sell 1 million or more digital copies. The tally is the sales total through this week.
1. Jordin Sparks & Chris Brown, "No Air," 3,127,000. This was the second single from Sparks' eponymous debut album. It's the only billed collaboration featuring an Idol contestant to top the 1 million mark. Hot 100 peak: #3.
2. Carrie Underwood, "Before He Cheats," 2,986,000. This was the third single from Underwood's debut album, Some Hearts. It brought Underwood her second consecutive Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. Hot 100 peak: #8.
3. Kelly Clarkson, "My Life Would Suck Without You," 2,311,000. Max Martin and Dr. Luke co-wrote and co-produced this piece of ear candy, which was the first single from Clarkson's fourth album, All I Ever Wanted. The two men had previously created her hits "Since U Been Gone" and "Behind These Hazel Eyes." Hot 100 peak: #1.
4. Kelly Clarkson, "Since U Been Gone," 2,235,000. This turbo-charged smash was the second single from Clarkson's sophomore album, Breakaway. It brought Clarkson a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and helped clinch her victory for Best Pop Vocal Album (over Paul McCartney, no less). Hot 100 peak: #2.
5. Daughtry, "It's Not Over," 2,103,000. This was the first single from the band's eponymous debut album. Daughtry is the only Idol contestant to top the 1 million mark as part of a band. Hot 100 peak: #4.
6. Jordin Sparks, "Tattoo," 2,070,000. Stargate produced and co-wrote this mid-tempo ballad, which was the first single from Sparks' debut album. (Stargate also did the honors on Elliott Yamin's "Wait For You.") Hot 100 peak: #8.
7. Daughtry, "Home," 1,966,000. This was the second single from the band's debut album. Daughtry wrote the tender ballad, which was later used as the farewell theme on Idol. "Home" is the only million-seller by an Idol contestant that was written solely by the contestant. Hot 100 peak: #5.
8. David Archuleta, "Crush," 1,918,000. Dave Hodges, who co-wrote Clarkson's "Because Of You," also co-wrote this smash. This was the first single from Archuleta's eponymous debut album. Hot 100 peak: #2.
9. Carrie Underwood, "Jesus, Take The Wheel," 1,672,000. This dramatic ballad was the first single from Some Hearts (not counting Underwood's coronation song, "Inside Your Heaven"). It brought Underwood her first Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. It also helped her win for Best New Artist. Hot 100 peak: #20.
10. Kelly Clarkson, "Because Of You," 1,465,000. Clarkson co-wrote this song with Dave Hodges and Ben Moody, former members of Evanescence. The two men produced the single, which was the fourth hit from Breakaway. Clarkson teamed with Reba McEntire to record a new version for Reba Duets in 2007. Hot 100 peak: #7.
11. Jordin Sparks, "Battlefield," 1,444,000. Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic co-wrote and co-produced this hit, which was the first single (and title track) from Sparks' sophomore album. It was her fourth single in a row to sell 1 million digital copies. Hot 100 peak: #10.
12. Kelly Clarkson, "Breakaway," 1,413,000. Avril Lavigne co-wrote this song, but didn't include it on her debut album. Grammy-winning producer John Shanks oversaw Clarkson's version, which became the first single from her sophomore album. It was also featured in the movie The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. Hot 100 peak: #6.
13. Jordin Sparks, "One Step At A Time," 1,377,000. Robbie Nevil, who had a top five hit in 1987 with "C'est La Vie," co-wrote and co-produced this song, which was the third single from Sparks' debut album. Hot 100 peak: #17.
14. Kris Allen, "Live Like We're Dying," 1,350,000. This was the first single from Allen's eponymous debut album. The song was originally recorded by the Irish band The Script. Two members of the band co-wrote the song. Hot 100 peak: #18.
15. Kelly Clarkson, "Already Gone," 1,344,000. Ryan Tedder came up with the basic track for this song, which Clarkson fleshed out. But when Clarkson later heard Beyonce's "Halo," another Tedder project, she complained that the underlying track was too similar. This was the third single from All I Ever Wanted. Hot 100 peak: #13.
16. David Cook, "The Time Of My Life," 1,328,000. This was Cook's coronation song. It was heard at the 2008 Summer Olympics and was later featured on Cook's eponymous debut album. Hot 100 peak: #3.
17. Carrie Underwood, "Cowboy Casanova," 1,311,000. Underwood co-wrote this song with Brett James, who co-wrote "Jesus, Take The Wheel," and hip-hop producer Mike Elizondo. This was the first single from Underwood's third album, Play On. Hot 100 peak: #11.
18. Kelly Clarkson, "Behind These Hazel Eyes," 1,310,000. Clarkson co-wrote this song with Max Martin and Dr. Luke. This was the third single from Breakaway. Hot 100 peak: #6.
19. Daughtry, "Over You," 1,273,000. Chris Daughtry co-wrote this song with Brian Howes, who went on to co-write "Light On" for David Cook. This was the third consecutive million-seller from the band's debut album. Hot 100 peak: #18.
20. Carrie Underwood, "All-American Girl," 1,191,000. This was the second single from Underwood's sophomore album, Carnival Ride. The video shows various life paths available to women, from mom, nurse and ballerina to police officer, soldier and President of the United States. Hot 100 peak: #27.
21. Daughtry, "No Surprise," 1,128,000. Chris Daughtry co-wrote this song with Chad Kroeger from Nickelback and two other writers. It was the first single from Daughtry's sophomore album, Leave This Town. Hot 100 peak: #15.
22. Elliott Yamin, "Wait For You," 1,113,000. Stargate, which produced and co-wrote Jordin Sparks' "Tattoo," also created this ballad hit. This was the first single from Yamin's eponymous debut album. Yamin finished third in Season 5. Hot 100 peak: #13.
23. Kelly Clarkson, "Never Again," 1,106,000. This song, with its echoes of Alanis Morissette and Pat Benatar, was the first single from Clarkson's third album, My December. It was her sixth consecutive single to become a digital million-seller. Hot 100 peak: #8.
24. Kelly Clarkson, "Walk Away," 1,094,000. Clarkson co-wrote this song with Kara DioGuardi and two other writers. This was the fifth (and final) single from Breakaway. All five of these hits were digital million-sellers. Hot 100 peak: #12.
25. David Cook, "Light On," 1,074,000. This was the first single from Cook's debut album (not counting his coronation song). Chris Cornell, who gained fame as the front man for Soundgarden and Audioslave, co-wrote the song with Brian Howes. Grammy-winning producer Rob Cavallo supervised the track. Hot 100 peak: #17.
26. Adam Lambert, "Whataya Want From Me," 1,061,000. Pink recorded this song for her Funhouse album, but it didn't make the final cut. Max Martin and Shellback, who co-wrote the song with Pink, produced Lambert's version, which the second single from his debut album, For Your Entertainment. Hot 100 peak: #10.
27. Kellie Pickler, "Best Days Of Your Life," 1,011,000. Pickler and Taylor Swift co-wrote this song, which was the second single from Pickler's eponymous sophomore album. Swift also sings background vocals and appears in the video. Pickler finished sixth in Season 5. This was a top 10 country hit. Hot 100 peak: #46.
The Fine Print: Contestants from the first few seasons of the show were at a disadvantage in making this list because there were no million-sellers in the digital world until October 2005. Songs released before then (such as Clarkson's first hits from Breakaway) have subsequently topped the 1 million mark, but it's harder for them because they peaked on the charts before digital sales really took off.
Physical singles were still available in the early years of Idol, so I checked gold and platinum certifications by the Recording Industry Assn. of America. Clay Aiken's 2003 hit "This Is The Night" was certified platinum (signifying shipments of 1 million physical copies).
Five other physical singles by Idol contestants were certified gold (signifying shipments of 500,000 copies). These were Clarkson's 2002 hit "A Moment Like This," Aiken's 2003 hit "Invisible," Ruben Studdard's 2003 hit "Flying Without Wings," and dueling 2005 recordings of "Inside Your Heaven" by Underwood and Bo Bice.
Aiken was the Season 2 runner-up. Studdard was that season's winner. Bice was the Season 4 runner-up.
Thanks for your comments, which led me to add Daughtry's "No Surprise" to the list. But none of the other songs you cited are million-sellers according to the Nielsen/SoundScan data (for digital sales) or the RIAA certifications (for physical singles). Underwood's "So Small" has sold 868,000 digital copies. Clarkson's "Miss Independent" has sold 759,000.