Whither the Diva? A Critical Review of Idol Record Sales

While deliberating on the dramatic discarding of the dazzling Diva Major (or pondering the perplexing parting of the pretty Pia – take your pick), I maintained an intense curiosity about Idol record sales. So to answer my questions, I put my crack research staff  – meaning me on a very lazy Saturday morning – to work by analyzing the work of Wikipedia on this very subject. You can go to the page yourself here if you want to draw your own conclusions or see how your favorite Idolists have done in the marketplace. But there are four things that I found very interesting, things which Evil Eye Jimmy I. will have to be very mindful of as Interscope Records seeks to do better than Sony as the prior marketer and distributor of Idol music.

First, some background. The data is compiled by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and spans Seasons 1-9 of Idol, i.e. all but this season. All told, 55 Idol alumni have sold 53.5 million albums in the U.S. Non-U.S data is not included but only Kelly Clarkson, Daughtry and Adam Lambert have had a significant international presence. OK, enough geeky stuff, let’s see what it all means.

Being on Idol is a big deal but NOT necessarily a big record deal. Of the 250 people who survived Hollywood Week to get to the voting rounds, only 53 survived yet another cut – those who get to release an album. And of those 53 (plus the horrifically funny William Hung and sleep-in-the-car-kid Josiah Leming), only 16 had a “hit” record, i.e. a gold record for 500,000 sold. So getting to sing in front of tens of millions each week isn’t a fast-track to success.

People buy who they vote for. Winners sold 32 million and runner-ups sold 9 million. That means 3/4 of the 53 million albums sold by Idolists were sold by people who made the last show! You want a hit record? Get to the Idol Finale.

People don’t buy who they don’t vote for. This is a painful corollary of the above. Only one out of every four albums by Idolists was sold by those finishing 3rd or worse. And half of those belong to Daughtry (5 million) and Jennifer Hudson (1 million). Basically, not finishing first or second makes life in the business very, very difficult. Don’t make the Finale – don’t expect to sell much is the reality of Idol history.

As it relates to Diva Major’s ouster, only three 9th place Idolists prior to her have sold records and just one successfully: Mandisa, (Season 5) 400,000; Jim Verraros (Season 1) 4,300; Cory Clark (of Season 2 and the rumored affair with Paula) 2,600.

Here today, gone tomorrow. We all know that artists come and artists go in the very fickle music business. The performers and styles of music we were so excited about one day become less interesting to us when somebody or something else comes along. Idolists aren’t any different but perhaps the challenge of sustaining a career is made more difficult by the fact that each year, Idol rolls out a new menu for us to feast on. Look at the sales of consecutive releases for the following (rounded and not including holiday albums):

  • Clay: 5,000,000; 2,000,00; 500,000; 200,000; 60,000
  • Ruben: 1,800,000; 500,000; 200,000; 50,000
  • Jordin Sparks: 1,000,000; 200,000
  • David Archuleta: 800,000; 200,000
  • Josh Gracin: 700,000; 80,000
  • Taylor: 700,000; 50,000
  • Bo Bice: 600,000; 60,000; 10,000

To be sure, the decline in the record industry has affected Idolists like everybody else. However, some of these falls from grace are quite stunning. Which is why I will be following David Cook’s second album release in late June very closely and wondering how well Adam will do when he releases his second album (later this year?). Will they be able to maintain their popularity?

More to today’s point: what does the data suggest for this year’s Idolists? Will any of them make it big? In a changing and difficult music industry for both sales and touring, will Simon Fuller’s renewed interest in management and a new record label under the watchful Evil Eye of Jimmy I. create pots of gold under the Idolists’ rainbows? Even as we vote for this year’s winners, these questions and other run-on sentences are what will be on my mind after the winner’s song has been sung.

Explore posts in the same categories: Mindless Rant or Intelligent Commentary

8 Comments on “Whither the Diva? A Critical Review of Idol Record Sales”

  1. Sherri Says:

    Wow, your data was very interesting (and telling)…it doesn’t bode well for those contestants who don’t make the finale, does it? I’ll be curious to see what becomes of Pia and whether the ‘surprising sacking of the sumptuous singer’ will prevent her from doing well in the industry. lol (couldn’t resist)

    Like you, I have my fingers crossed for David Cook because he’s a talented guy and deserves success, IMO. I think Adam Lambert might do better because his charisma and/or polarizing effect seems to keep him in the limelight consistently (along with his incredible voice).

  2. YOUR MOM Says:

    Both informative and quite illuminating.
    I supposed they have to acquaint themselves with smaller venues, state fairs, university bookings, etc. If they do and are even somewhat successful at it, most will, I think for the most part, make at least a more comfortable living than before they went on AI. Hope so.

    • Ray Linder Says:

      I, likewise, was fascinated by what I saw. Even a bit shocked. Indeed, I am aware of some Idolists who have been able to make a more comfortable living post-Idol. I’m not about to do a “where are they now?” blog or even fact-check the following but here’s a few I have heard of off the top of my head:
      (The Horrifying) Kristy Lee Cook has a show on the country music network; My Girl Alexis is a DJ in Memphis: Bucky Covington has been on a number of tours with big country stars; Elliot Yamin has toured recently in Japan; Syesha has done a national tour as the lead in Dreamgirls; I saw Brooke White’s name listed as a performer when I was at the Texas State Fair (as a guest on a business trip – what a culture shock!); Ace Young co-wrote a song with Daughtry that won a Grammy; Kimberly Caldwell has done a bunch of TV; we’ve seen Jason twice at a small but well-known local club; Allison Iraheta toured with Adam. I guess I could on but you get the drift. Some, I know have not done so well. Some, like those above, are probably quite grateful for what they have even if it wasn’t the brass ring they were grabbing for. I do recall an interview with Elliot, though, when he said people don’t understand how much tougher it gets the more time passes after Idol.

  3. YOUR MOM Says:

    Add Kimberly Locke to your impressive list. She appeared at one of our local spiedie/hot air balloon annual fests here in upstate New York. The open air concert is a HUGE attraction: upwards of 50,000, many come from afar.

  4. […] 19 Entertainment? Probably and if that’s so, that’s good news for Haley. As I’ve written, not making the Finale historically has made life very difficult for all Idolists not named Chris […]

  5. […] or resources to build anything meaningful. I wrote about the less-than-stellar fate of ex-Idolists here. The announcements of the other deals is really the thing I’m waiting to learn. To me, […]

  6. […] I wrote about post-Idol sales back in 2011. The conclusions (updated through May 2015) that are still relevant from that (wonderful and insightful) piece are: […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: