"American Idol" pays artists to let contestants sing their songs on the show, but it seems maybe the artists should be paying "Idol." As recent charts show, artists whose songs are performed on the singing competition see dramatic sales increases following the broadcast.
Two weeks ago, after Bo Bice sang Gavin DeGraw's "I Don't Want to Be," DeGraw's Chariot Stripped soared from #146 to #92 on Billboard's albums chart with a 61 percent sales boost (see "Springsteen's Latest Leaves Mariah, Rob Thomas In The Dust"). Meanwhile, online sales of the track itself, through Web sites like iTunes, rose a massive 94 percent.
Bice proved a powerful sales force again last week after singing Los Lonely Boys' "Heaven." The following week, Los Lonely Boys' self-titled debut, which includes the track, surged from #121 to #81 on a 77 percent sales increase.
And it's not just Bo. Rascal Flatts' Feels Like Today climbed from #27 to #22 with a 43 percent sales bump after Carrie Underwood sang "Bless the Broken Road," while Brian McKnight's Gemini jumped from #191 to #147 with a 46 percent sales boost following Scott Savol's rendition of "Everytime You Go Away" (see "Nine Inch Nails' With Teeth Devours Chart Competition").
Also last week, single sales jumped for Backstreet Boys' "Incomplete" and the "American Idol" season four finalists' rendition of Diana Ross' "When You Tell Me That You Love Me" after Anthony Fedorov and Vonzell Solomon sang those songs, respectively. (The Backstreet Boys and "Idol" albums have yet to be released.)
Certainly these figures are no coincidence.
"We've been scratching our heads, and there doesn't seem to be anything else that would cause those particular albums [to rise]," Billboard Director of Charts Geoff Mayfield said Wednesday. "It's not like there were big promotions or pricing changes. Our belief is the 'Idol' performances drew interest."
Though "Idol" is nearing the end of its fourth season, the show's influence on sales of recently released albums is a new phenomenon, as this is the first season the show has featured themes that allow contestants to sing contemporary music. Mayfield, however, has been tracking the show's impact on the catalog charts since "Idol" began four years ago.
"We noticed early on that the Bee Gees and Lionel Richie and other vintage artists who had been featured on the show, either as judges or when their music was performed, saw some pretty significant spikes," Mayfield said. "So it would make sense that would happen for current music."
Sales for so-called vintage artists have also been impacted this season. After Constantine Maroulis sang Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," a highlight of the season (see " 'American Idol' Recap: Constantine Now Rocker Of Choice, Nadia Like 'Wallpaper' "), the song suddenly appeared high on the downloads chart, Mayfield said.
In those cases, it's assumed that younger music fans are being turned on to veteran artists through "Idol." But shouldn't those same viewers already be familiar with DeGraw, Los Lonely Boys and the Backstreet Boys — artists who currently have top 40 radio singles?
"With the nature of radio being what it is, sometimes the consumer doesn't have a chance to put a name with a song until they see it performed on television," Mayfield explained. "Even if it's not the original artist [singing it], if the singer says, 'I'm doing a song by Gavin DeGraw,' the viewer says, 'Oh, I like that song, I'm going to get that album.' It's connecting dots."
Interestingly, Maroulis said it was more challenging to get newer songs cleared than older ones, despite the "Idol" producers' willingness to pay up to $6,000 for the rights.
"They don't necessarily want some kid on TV playing their song and maybe messing it up, so I'm sympathetic to that," said Maroulis, who was eliminated after singing Nickelback's "How You Remind Me," a song he selected after the artist behind his first choice refused to clear it (Maroulis wouldn't name names).
With the recent sales figures, however, clearing new songs should become easier. "Clearing songs, in general, gets easier each year as the show's popularity grows," Co-Executive Producer Ken Warwick said.
Maybe even someday — like with "The Apprentice," where companies pay big bucks to have their products be part of the competition — artists and their record labels will start writing checks instead of cashing them.