American Idols

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American Idols

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

It-s Wednesday, January 19 and it-s day two of the Fox season premiere of < ahref="">American Idol. Built on the heels of the UK TV show Pop Idol, American Idol attempts to present a national talent search for the best novice singer here.

It-s not a new concept. Talent contests have been making the airwaves since the 40-s, when everyone gathered around the radio to listen to the local talent show in their living rooms. Not a lot has changed. What distinguishes this show is that the national audience can vote for their winner. Audience participation is the ultimate in reality television. That-s why American Idol was given the People-s Choice award for &quotBest; Reality Show."

If you-ve been following the past 3 seasons, you-ve watched Kelly Clarkson, Rueben Stoddard and Fantasia take top honors. Soon after winning their title, they each released a new album, and initial sales have been excellent. But the sales don-t hold. On the follow up records for Kelly, Rueben and even Idol runner up Clay Aiken, sales have shown sizeable decline, up to 50%.

When I considered that 40 million people watched each of these singers win their crowns, and hundreds of millions of votes were tallied each season by the national audience, I would have expected a stronger fan base. Each performer received the best marketing available with repeated exposures, a massive press campaign and strong emotional connections with the viewership.

No, the star making machine needs far more than a good voice, and a massive visibility campaign. To truly transcend in the record world, an artist must have the ability to deliver a compelling, vocal performance that undeniably takes the audience somewhere they hadn-t been, and then be able to do that repeatedly, with all different kinds of music. They also need to build beyond the corporate spin doctoring, with their own personality, style and attitude. In other words, they need to find their place in music and own it, body and soul. That-s when you-ll truly see sales move over the top.

Nowadays, it-s amazing how well the list of million sellers is growing. Usher is the unstoppable with over 8 million albums soundscanned to date.

Kenny Chesney, Norah Jones, Linkin Park, Beyonce, and Eminem all clock in just under 5 million, but at the same time, new releases from Duran Duran, Joss Stone, Marilyn Manson and Evanesence surprisingly haven-t broken a quarter million in sales yet. That-s a bit disappointing, since all of those artists sold platinum or multiplatinum in the past.

These records are on major labels, and a sizeable dip in sales will create problems. Major labels depend on projected sales, in fact their entire business model is built on it. If you expected one artist to sell 2 million, and it only has delivered 1.2 million, you have to recover the sales of 800,000 units somewhere. Hopefully, another artist will surprise you with an out of the box home run to make up the difference.

If not, you-ll have to make financial accommodations somewhere. The ones who usually lose in the end are new and developing artists, who need the most amount of money to keep popping up in the public eye, until a critical mass interest takes hold.

So get ready to pick your next set of pop star hopefuls. And maybe this time, we-ll all be blown away for more than just a song.
This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.