SANTA MONICA, California — Simon Cowell once said that what makes “American Idol” so great is that it’s unpredictable.
If that’s the case, then this has been the greatest year yet. Certainly few predicted the early departures of power singers Jennifer Hudson and LaToya London, or the sixth-place finish of crooner John Stevens.
Even weeks after Fantasia Barrino was crowned, the surprises keep coming, as sales of her first single were unexpectedly far below debut numbers from Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard or Kelly Clarkson (see “Fantasia’s Single Sales Pale In Comparison To Clay, Ruben And Kelly’s” ).
The question now is whether the show will spawn the same shocker it did a year ago when the second place contestant’s single outsold the winner.
Predicting the success of songs is never easy, so MTV News put together a panel of experts to weigh in on which single would be a bigger hit.
We invited producers the Underdogs (whose résumé includes both Clarkson and Studdard as well as Justin Timberlake, the Backstreet Boys and Omarion), Billboard Director of Charts Geoff Mayfield and professional soprano Erin Wood to listen to both “I Believe” and “Dreams” and share their thoughts.
FANTASIA BARRINO- “I Believe”
Harvey Mason Jr. of the Underdogs: Speaking from the production side of things and as a songwriter, it’s a very well-written song. The lyrics are really strong. The first thing that hits me about it is it’s a huge record, not something you normally see on the radio. It’s got the strings, the choir, the big production with the live instrumentation. I think it’s going to be something different than what’s on the air.
Wood: Her voice is very unique and raw, which makes it a sexy voice. It’s gonna be one of those songs where when you hear it on the radio, you know it’s her. Top to bottom, her voice is really even. She sings her heart out in this song, and I think it sounds great.
Mason: She sells it. You believe what she’s talking about. And the timing is kinda cool for her, being that she won and also the time in the country and what’s going on.
Mayfield: This is the “declaration of my victory” song, they always have that. And it’s a souvenir from the show, the coronation. It’s pre-sold in my opinion.
Mason: It’s something a lot of viewers can get behind, stylewise. You don’t want to do a hardcore R&B song or a straight rock song, because it’s so selective. We did “Flying Without Wings” for Ruben and it wasn’t necessarily the direction he was going with his record, but it was a nice way to introduce him to radio.
Wood: There has been some comparisons between her and Macy Gray, but her range speaks to me more. She’s not afraid to go really high.
Mason: They’re smart to use the choir, ’cause it’s a sing-along. You hear the song and want to sing along with it.
DIANA DEGARMO – “Dreams”
Mason: Well, from a production standpoint, Diana’s is really similar to Fantasia’s — same kind of style, same live elements, same string section, same choir, same money note coming out of the bridge, the format was similar. I like what she does. Nice chord changes, good lyrics.
Wood: When I hear this, I think country singer. It reminds me more of the big crossover records from Faith Hill or Shania Twain. The strength in Diana’s voice is in her top. The beginning of the song is mostly low and soft. I think she brings it out in the end, but it isn’t speaking to me as much because her voice is not as unique. It reminds me of Celine Dion or Disney soundtracks a little bit. Her voice is recorded very well, but it’s not grabbing me.
Mayfield: Given what’s popular on radio today, top 40 or hip-hop, both artists are a challenge. It really flows against the grain of what you hear. Diana might be an even bigger challenge. “I Believe” sells itself more. At this point after the second season, you knew there was a huge following for Clay Aiken. It didn’t matter that he didn’t win, it almost made him more popular. It gave him that underdog appeal. And I’m not getting that this time.
Wood: She’s not oversinging this. On the show, she did push a little hard. Because the strongest part of her voice is at the top, there were some moments, but with this, I would say the lower part is undersung and the top part is pretty representative of what her voice is about, especially in the chorus.
Mayfield: There’s an interesting tightrope you have to walk with her. Because she is so young, you could look at the recent success of Hilary Duff and movies or songs targeted toward a younger market and maybe capitalize on that, but you don’t want to walk so far on that path that you alienate the older folks who watched “American Idol” and rooted for her.
Mason: She’s like the girl next door. She’s confident but not a diva. And her look is different than anyone.
Mayfield: I’m going to guess Fantasia.
Wood: I’m on Fantasia’s side. We love to watch her, we love to listen to her, and people are going to want that souvenir.
Mason: I think Fantasia will probably outsell her.