Chart Watch

Week Ending March 15, 2009: The Idol With The Most

Chart Watch

Kelly Clarkson's All I Ever Wanted enters The Billboard 200 at #1 with first-week sales of 255,000. It's her second #1 album, following her 2003 debut, Thankful. Clarkson is the first American Idol alumnus to notch two #1 albums. Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard, Daughtry and Carrie Underwood have each had one. Six weeks ago, Clarkson became the first Idol alum to amass two #1 singles on the Hot 100. She topped the chart in 2002 with "A Moment Like This" and returned to the top spot with the fizzy "My Life Would Suck Without You." Aiken, Fantasia, Underwood and Taylor Hicks have each topped the Hot 100 once. If Clarkson were a candidate for office, you'd say that she has broad voter appeal. She has the support of pop radio and the record-buying public. Even music critics, who are often dismissive of mainstream pop artists, tend to be in Kelly's corner.

Clarkson has sold 9,836,000 albums, as of this week, more than any other contestant in Idol history. She ranks #187 on Nielsen/SoundScan's running list of the best-selling artists in its history (which dates to 1991). Underwood is second among Idol contestants. She has sold 9,408,000 albums and ranks #198 on the list.  I'll have a Chart Watch Extra on Friday, listing, in order, every American Idol contestant with career sales of 500,000 or more albums. I've given you the top two, but there's so much more. Is Clay ahead of Daughtry? Is Fantasia ahead of Ruben? And where's Bo Bice in all of this? (These questions keep me up at night.) Check back on Friday and find out. 

All I Ever Wanted is Clarkson's fourth album in a row to debut in the top three with first-week sales north of 250,000 copies. No other Idol contestant has put more than two albums in the top three. Need more proof of Clarkson's dominance? She is the only artist in entertainment history who has prevailed in showdowns with both Justin Guarini (in the initial American Idol final) and Paul McCartney (in the Grammy race for Best Pop Vocal Album of 2005). (OK, I went a little over-the-top on that one.)

Clarkson's debut album Thankful bowed at #1 and featured "A Moment Like This" and the top 10 hit "Miss Independent." Her follow-up, Breakaway, debuted at #3, and became a blockbuster. It spawned four top 10 hits and won two Grammys. The album has sold 6,056,000 copies, more than twice as many as Thankful. Clarkson's third album, My December, was overshadowed by controversy. Clarkson's record company chief, industry legend Clive Davis, made no secret of his displeasure with the album's direction. Despite the controversy, the album got off to a promising start. It debuted at #2 with first-week sales of 291,000. But sales quickly fell off. My December has sold 789,000 copies, a little more than one-eighth of the total for Breakaway. It's no accident that on "My Life Would Suck Without You," Clarkson has returned to the spunky pop/rock sound of "Since U Been Gone," the biggest hit from Breakaway. So was her My December departure self-indulgent or somehow wrong-headed? No. As an artist, Clarkson should always follow her heart. Record company executives, managers and agents can and should offer advice, but at the end of the day, it's the artist's name on the album, and it's the artist's career.

As you can deduce from the facts presented in my opening paragraph, "My Life Would Suck Without You" was the sixth #1 single on the Hot 100 by an Idol alumnus. Paula Abdul had six #1 hits between 1989 and 1991, when she vied with Madonna and Janet Jackson as the hottest female singer in the business. That means that Abdul has had as many #1 singles all by herself as every Idol contestant who has ever competed on the show, combined. Think of that the next time someone (Simon Cowell, perhaps) suggests she's an airhead.

U2's No Line On The Horizon slips to #3, falling behind not only Clarkson but also the debuting The-Dream. U2's sales after two weeks: 617,000. The band's last studio album, 2004's How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, had sold 1,131,000 copies after two weeks. But that was a completely different market. Let's try a more recent example: After two weeks, Coldplay's Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends had sold 971,000 copies. The crucial difference: The first single from Coldplay's album, "Viva La Vida," was a smash, while the first single from U2's album, "Get On Your Boots," was a dud. (And no other hit singles have yet come along to fill the void.)

Pop Quiz: What's the only group with three songs at or above the 2 million mark in paid downloads? Answer below.

The Fastest 2 Million-Selling Download Ever: Flo Rida's "Right Round" tops the 2 million mark in paid downloads in just its fifth week of release. (The smash sold 278,000 downloads this week, to bring its total to 2,027,000). This is by far the fastest that any song has reached the 2 million mark in paid downloads. The old record was held jointly by three songs which topped the 2 million mark in their 12th week: "Low" by Flo Rida featuring T-PainBeyonce's "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" and "Live Your Life" by T.I. featuring Rihanna.

Taylor Swift's 2006 debut album Taylor Swift tops the 4 million mark this week, a real achievement in an era of diminished album sales. It's the first album to top the 4 million mark since Josh Groban's Noel, which has sold 4,621,000 copies since its release in October 2007. Since that's such a special case, let's say Taylor Swift is the first non-holiday album to top the 4 million mark since Daughtry's Daughtry, which has sold 4,401,000 copies since its release in November 2006. And why stop there? It's the first country album to top the 4 million mark since Rascal Flatts' Me And My Gang, which has sold 4,745,000 copies since its release in April 2006. There's more good news for Swift this week. Her current smash "Love Story," which has already distinguished itself as the country song with the most paid downloads in history, tops the 3 million mark in paid downloads.

And now, the answer to my pop quiz. The only group with three songs at or above the 2 million mark in paid downloads is the All-American Rejects. The group has hit that mark with "Move Along," "Dirty Little Secret" and now "Gives You Hell." Two other groups, Nickelback and The Fray, have each topped the 2 million mark in paid downloads with two hits. Nickelback has made the mark with "Rockstar" and "Photograph." The Fray has made it with "How To Save A Life" and "Over My Head (Cable Car)."

Here's the low-down on this week's top 10 albums.

1. Kelly Clarkson, All I Ever Wanted, 255,000. This new entry registered the second-biggest sales week of 2009, behind last week's U2 debut (484,000), but ahead of Bruce Springsteen's 224,000 bow five weeks ago with Working On A Dream. Nearly 70,000 copies were sold digitally, making it the week's #1 Digital Album. Eight songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "My Life Would Suck Without You," which rebounds to #6.

2. The-Dream, Love vs. Money, 151,000. This new entry is The-Dream's first top 10 album. His previous album, Lovehate, debuted (and peaked) at #30 in December 2007, with first-week sales of 59,000. The-Dream (real name: Terius Nash) co-wrote such smash hits as "Umbrella" and "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)." Three songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Rockin' That Thang," which jumps to #27.

3. U2, No Line On The Horizon, 132,000. The album slips to #3 in its second week. Sales declined nearly 73% compared to last week, a huge drop-off. Even so, the album is #2 for the year to date, just behind Taylor Swift's Fearless. No songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs.

4. J. Holiday, Round 2, 55,000. This new entry is J. Holiday's second album in a row to debut in the top five. Back Of My Lac' opened at #5 in October 2007. (J. Holiday is not the first artist use the title Round 2 for its sophomore album. The Stylistics did just that in 1972.) "It's Yours" advances to #177 on Hot Digital Songs.

5. Taylor Swift, Fearless, 52,000. The former #1 album slips from #2 to #5, the lowest it has appeared in its 18 weeks on the chart. Fearless is the first album to spend its first 18 weeks in the top five since Mariah Carey's comeback smash The Emancipation Of Mimi spent its first 22 weeks there in 2005. Four songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Love Story," which holds at #15.


6. Lady GaGa, The Fame, 47,000. The album slips from #4 to #6. This is its fourth week in the top 10. Four songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Poker Face," which holds at #2 for the third straight week.

7. Nickelback, Dark Horse, 36,000. The album slips from #5 to #7. This is its 16th week in the top 10. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Gotta Be Somebody," which falls to #50.

8. Beyonce, I Am...Sasha Fierce, 28,000. The former #1 album holds at #8 for the second week. This is its 16th week in the top 10. Four songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)," which dips to #25.

9. Jamie Foxx, Intuition, 27,000. The album slips from #6 to #9. This is its 12th week in the top 10. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Blame It" (featuring T-Pain), which dips to #14.

10. Chris Cornell, Scream, 26,000. This new entry is the veteran rocker's first solo album to reach the top 10. Euphoria Morning hit #18 in 1999. Carry On hit #17 in 2007. In addition, Cornell has had six top 10 albums with various groups. He had one in 1992 with Temple Of The Dog, two in the '90s with Soundgarden, and three in this decade with Audioslave. No songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs.


Four albums drop out of the top 10 this week. Neko Case's Middle Cyclone dives from #3 to #17. The Fray's The Fray falls from #7 to #11. The Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack falls from #9 to #23. T.I.'s Paper Trail dips from #10 to #13. (Slumdog ranked #6 at the box-office this past weekend, grossing another $5 million.)

New Found Glory's Not Without A Fight debuts at #12. This new entry is the Florida-based group's fourth top 20 album in a row. The group made the top five with 2002's Sticks And Stones and 2004's Catalyst, but slipped to #19 with 2006's Coming Home...The Punk Goes Pop, Vol. 2 collection bows at #15...Yeah Yeah Yeahs' It's Blitz!, an iTunes exclusive, bows at #32. The group climbed as high as #11 with its last album, 2006's Show Your Bones

Song Scorecard: Eminem's 2002 smash "Lose Yourself" topped the 2 million mark in paid downloads this week. It's the second oldest song to hit that sales level, surpassed only by Journey's 1981 smash "Don't Stop Believin.'" In both cases, all of these digital sales came long after the songs were hits. This is Eminem's first 2 million digital seller as a lead artist. (He was featured on Akon's 2006 smash "Smack That," which has also topped the 2 million mark.) Two other oldies topped the 2 million mark in paid downloads this week: Lifehouse's 2005 hit "You And Me" and Rascal Flatts' 2006 country crossover hit "Life Is A Highway." Two of these three hits were featured in movies. Eminem introduced "Lose Yourself" in 8 Mile. "Life Is A Highway" was featured in the animated Cars.

Michael Jackson Week on American Idol last week boosted the performer's catalog. The 2005 album The Essential Michael Jackson shot to #1 on the Catalog Albums chart. The album sold 11,000 copies (mostly in digital form) and would have ranked #45 on the big chart if older, catalog albums were eligible to compete there. Six Jackson oldies returned to Hot Digital Songs. Five are from Thriller, including the title song (which has sold 1,159,000 downloads), "Billie Jean" (864,000) and "Beat It" (668,000).

Heads Up: Randy Travis has two new albums that will likely enter next week's chart: I Told You So: The Ultimate Hits Of Randy Travis and Three Wooden Crosses: The Inspirational Hits. Travis, who was the guest mentor on American Idol on Tuesday (and was set to perform on the show Wednesday night), was the hottest country artist of the mid-'80s. Also due: Gorilla Zoe's Don't Feed Da Animals, Static-X's Cult Of Static, Twiztid's W.I.C.K.E.D., Willie Nelson's Naked Willie and White Lies' To Lose My Life


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