Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Of Idol champs and runners-up
Opinions regarding the American Idol finale results have never been as polarized as they are this season. On the one hand, many are frustrated by how an obviously polished performer with all the vocal tricks up his sleeve could be trumped by an unassuming, guitar-toting neophyte. On the other hand, others are declaring that the overly theatrical glam-rock finalist could never sell as many records as the more radio-friendly, all-American boy whose every note drips with pure heart and soul.
Me? I've already absorbed that Kris Allen is America's new Idol, and Adam Lambert, his runner-up. It's time to move on and watch how these guys fare in the real world, away from reality TV. They do have big shoes to fill, after the relatively successful reign of the two Davids, Cook and Archuleta, considered among the Idol alums who earned the most profit in 2008 (with Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, and Jennifer Hudson above them).
Fresh from their performance at the Mall of Asia (MOA) concert grounds last week, last year's winners have so far sold 1.8 million albums combined since they debuted their CDs in November 2008 (based on album sales, Cook is the 7th best selling alumnus in Idol history, and Archuleta, the 14th even if their CDs have enjoyed the shortest time on the shelves)--a pretty good showing versus Season 6's Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis, who since 2007 have sold just 1.3 million, and better still than Season 5's Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee with 1.1 million albums in close to 3 years.
After the Cook-Archuleta finals, it was evident where the challenges lay for these two. Cook had cultivated a clearly defined musical sense, but needed to develop a tighter, more personable connection with his growing set of fans. Archuleta, teeming with charm, needed however to establish a sound that would make him current and hip. But months of touring and collaborating with top-rate producers have placed them at the top of their game, and their concert in Manila proved this.
Because Cook's vibe is rich and dark, it was easy for him to get lost in his own performance at the MOA, with songs like LOST and DECLARATION from his album, and Fleetwood Mac's LITTLE LIES. Yet, he had enough presence of mind to draw his audience in, working out the crowd with his spiels and interacting with everyone by occasionally stepping off the stage and toward the spectators. And though he admitted belting out songs which most in audience had never heard, he rocked it, proving to be a most seasoned performer in so little time.
Archuleta, meanwhile, rallied the audience with his unique teen pop rock style. Too shy perhaps to engage the crowd and rushing between songs, he nonetheless enthralled with his velvety voice, flawless riffs and eloquent keyboards. Easy to the ear crowd faves were CRUSH and ANGELS from his CD, Vanessa Carlton's A THOUSAND MILES, and a soon-to-be-released dance track, ZERO GRAVITY.
What about our newest idols? It might take a long while before they come anywhere near Season 4's Carrie Underwood and Bo Bice, who together have sold 10.4 million CDs to date (9.6M of which is Underwood's alone). But the momentum is with Allen and Lambert. After a sharp drop in Idol popularity since the time of Hicks and McPhee, record sales of and voting for Idol contestants have steadily increased in recent years (100 million voters this season finale, 38M reportedly from Allen's home state of Arkansas).
Lambert may have to tone down his act while preserving the essence of his musical style, playing less on technique and building popular emotional rapport. Allen will have to push the envelope on his guitar act and reinvent the genre in the same way (and perhaps even more forward looking) as Jason Mraz has. Even more than the entire Season 8, this will be exciting to watch.
And the remaining idols of the season? It's noteworthy that although Hicks's and McPhee's CDs haven't quite sold as well as expected, Season 5's alums have collectively been the most successful in Idol history with 7 of them in the top 20 in terms of record sales to date. Chris Daughtry is #4, Kelly Pickler #8, Taylor Hicks #11, Elliot Yamin #15, Bucky Covington #16, Katherine McPhee #18, and Mandisa #20. Can this year's contestants top that? Now that the season is over, we can all wait and see.
Here's the top 20 list of successful Idol alumni based on record sales to date: