Singin’ Loud and Sellin’ Nothing

You know that thing where hopeful artists go on reality shows and sing and we vote for them and when enough of us vote for them they win and become big stars? People like Kelly Clarkson and Fantasia and Carrie Underwood? Some of them even lost and became big stars like Adam Lambert, Fifth Harmony and Melanie Martinez. So how’s that thing working out lately? Well, not so well, actually. Actually, it’s not working out at all.

Thanks to My Crack Research Staff (in this case, me) here’s the real reality of reality singing show recording contracts as represented by the first week sales of recent winners. As you can see, in Idol’s case, “winning” became increasingly worth less; and in the case of The Voice aka The Game Show with Singing, that contract was literally worthless with many winners never recording anything with that recording contract.[1]

Idol Winner The Voice Winner
2011 Scotty McCreery 197,000 2011 Javier Colon 10,000
2012 Phillip Phillips 169,000  


2012 Jermaine Paul 0
2012 Cassadee Pope 43,000
2013 Candice Glover 19,000  


2013 Danielle Bradbery 41,000
2013 Tessanne Chin 7,000
2014 Caleb Johnson 11,000  


2014 Josh Kaufman 0
2014 Craig Wayne Boyd 0
2015 Nick Fradiani 5,000  


2015 Sawyer Fredericks 0
2015 Jordan Smith 54,000
2016 Trent Harmon not yet released 2016 Alisan Porter not yet released

Conclusion: Since the latter half of 2013, six of the last seven winners of two TV shows each drawing over 10 million viewers per week have generated negligible sales. So much for the benefit of all of that TV exposure not to mention that for three consecutive winners, The Voice didn’t even bother to make a record.[2]

By comparison, here are the first week sales results from Idol’s glory days as well as the desultory years of 2008 and 2009.

2002 Kelly Clarkson 297,000
2003 Ruben Studdard 417,000
2004 Fantasia Barino 240,000
2005 Carrie Underwood 315,000
2006 Taylor Hicks 298,000
2007 Jordin Sparks 119,000
2008 David Cook 280,000
2009 Kris Allen 80,000[3]
2010 Lee Dewyze 39,000

I could write a book on the myriad reasons for the precipitous decline in sales across the reality singing show platform. The short version is that Idol for its part recognized that the music business has changed so dramatically that its formula for creating stars simply doesn’t work any longer. So they decided to end the show with vague hints that it might return with a rebooted version more attuned to the ways of the current music business, and by the business I mean the industry.

The Voice has been far more interested in whatever cut they’ve negotiated of the massive weekly iTunes revenue their show generates – none of which goes to the contestants. It remains to be seen if the modest success of Jordan Smith represents a change in attitude for the show or is an anomaly. I believe it’s an anomaly but we’ll know the answer when we see what the results are when/if Alisan Porter releases her album.

In addition, both shows have had an increasingly HUGE disconnect between the older demographic of the viewers and the younger demographic of music fans that create pop stars. The success of young artists like Fifth Harmony (from the defunct The X-Factor) and Melanie Martinez (6th place on The Voice in 2012) is instructive.

What we can say is this – American Idol and The Voice were created for the hopes and dreams of talented unknown singers and for the entertainment of a nationwide viewing audience. But over the last three years (and counting?) only the audience has managed to get what they signed up for.

Editor’s note: This blog’s title Singin’ Loud and Sellin’ Nothing is a play on the James Brown song Talkin’ Loud and Sayin Nothing.


[1] Or in Sawyer Fredericks’ case, all that got recorded was a 4-song EP. Hence, his zero for album sales.

[2] Which is WHY THE CONTESTANTS WERE THERE! And I’m shocked that this didn’t outrage more people.

[3] However, runner-up Adam Lambert’s debut album sold 198,000 in its first week. And it’s worth reminding you for the 1,842,025th time that he’s an international superstar now. And that in 2015 he earned more money than ANY other ex-reality singing show artist. 🙂

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

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