In the past, the reigning "Idol" champion released his/her album in November or December, roughly six months after that year's "Idol" finale. But Candice's album on 19 Recordings/Interscope, Music Speaks, will be out July 16, only two months after her win. In another unprecedented move, the album became available for iTunes pre-order within minutes of Ryan Seacrest announcing the Season 12 finale result, with Candice's coronation single "I Am Beautiful" being given away for free with pre-orders.
This is, for the most part, a good thing. In a fickle age of general singing-show fatigue and pop-culture oversaturation, it may be too much to expect the average viewer to still be excited about any talent show winner's album more than half a year after the finale confetti has been swept away. Would relatively low-selling past reality champs like "Idol's" Lee DeWyze or "The Voice's" Javier Colon — or "The Voice's" Jermaine Paul and "The X Factor's" Melanie Amaro, whose albums never even came out — have had more of a shot if there'd been only a 60-day gap between their respective finale dates and album street dates? Probably. These days, it's best to strike while the iTunes iron is hot.
But Candice still has hurdles ahead. Even a rushed release date is no guarantee of anything, and the rush could in fact create new problems for the South Carolina soul singer. Here are five things that I think Candice — and Interscope's Jimmy Iovine, of course — need to do to ensure her success:
1. Choose Material Very Wisely
Good songs are everything. It could be easily argued that last year's successful "Idol" winner, Phillip Phillips, could have become just another "Idol" footnote if he hadn't recorded the excellent coronation song "Home" (which went on to sell 4 million copies and become the most successful "Idol" single ever) and its fantastic follow-up, "Gone, Gone, Gone." Unfortunately, Candice's coronation song, "I Am Beautiful," isn't nearly as catchy as "Home," which makes the selection of tracks for Music Speaks (i.e., potential future singles) even more crucial.
This could get tricky. The six months that past "Idol" winners had to put together a full album — while simultaneously hitting the promotional treadmill and rehearsing for the Idols Live summer tour, yet — was hardly a luxurious amount of time. The result was sometimes an assembled-by-committee album, full of leftover tracks by songwriters-for-hire, that felt generic, sterile, and, frankly, rushed. How on earth is Candice going to crank out an organic-sounding, personality-filled album in a third less time than those other Idols had — especially when she apparently hasn't even recorded anything yet, other than "I Am Beautiful"?
Hopefully Iovine has some really strong tunes in the hopper for Candice. But just as importantly, let's hope Candice has plenty of input regarding the tunes she records, so she has an emotional connection to her material. With a voice like hers, she can obviously sing anything, but that doesn't mean the powers-that-be should just stick her in a studio with a stack of random lyric sheets and order her to sing a bunch of songs that she had no hand in choosing.
2. Continue Taking Artistic Risks
Candice was at her best on "Idol" when she made viewers expect the unexpected — jazzing up and radically reworking songs by the Cure, Drake, and Paula Abdul, or gender-flipping some Bruno Mars. She was one of the few contestants this "Idol" season who brought any element of surprise to the show. That element of surprise needs to be on her album as well. Maybe a couple of collaborations with rappers would be cool, too — just to keep things "current," like the "Idol" judges were always harping on. Is Candice's crushboy Drake available?
3. Work That Summer Tour
Candice's album comes out just 17 days after this summer's 40-date Idols Live Tour kicks off. This puts her in an advantageous position that no previous "Idol" winner has had: She can potentially promote her full album on a nationwide arena tour, playing her new, original songs for thousands of fans every night — and have her album available for sale to those fans each night at the merch booth, right next to the T-shirts and tote bags. This is genius marketing. So hopefully the "Idol" honchos will let Candice do a mini-Music Speaks set, not just the usual set of cover songs. Knowing how much Candice slays live, I imagine there'd be a lot of impulse album purchases after every concert, and fans' YouTube clips from each show would generate great word-of-mouth.
4. Don't Change Too Much
Some female contestants, once they get signed, undergo drastic post-"Idol" makeovers that seem more fit for a contestant on "The Swan." They start off their "Idol" journeys coming across as normal girls-next-door, but then they resurface on their freakishly Photoshopped album covers rocking Rapunzel hair extensions, looking like they haven't ingested solid food in weeks, and simply not looking like the girls America fell in love with. It's off-putting, to say the least. Candice needs to stay true to herself, not just musically and artistically, but image-wise. Part of her appeal is based on her everywoman relatability. No one expects or wants her to be made over into a Rihanna or Beyoncé clone — and as her coronation song attests, she is beautiful just the way she is.
5. Get Some Distance From the "Idol" Stigma
Sadly, the morning after Candice's victory, there were more headlines about the "Idol" Season 12 finale's abysmal ratings (a shocking 44 percent drop from last year) than there actually were about Candice herself. She is now associated with the least successful and most troubled "Idol" season of all time, so the potential for her to become a punchline worryingly exists. How to escape that fate? Well, that goes back to point number one: She needs to choose and record material that won't just appeal to her core fanbase, but to the millions of people who didn't watch "Idol" this year and will discover her via other means, particularly radio play.
Good luck to this talented woman, as her post-"Idol" journey — and the real work — begins!
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