Never underestimate the influence of Oprah Winfrey.
Two weeks ago, Grammy-nominated baritone Josh Groban appeared on Winfrey's afternoon talk show and performed a few numbers from his latest, the holiday-themed Noël — an album Oprah endorsed as "the one Christmas CD every family should have." And it seems every member of her audience listened, since one week later, sales of Groban's disc swelled by 81 percent (to close at 405,000 and change), finally landing the title atop Billboard's weekly albums sales chart.
Now, for a second straight week, Groban's Noël tops the chart again, only this time with much stronger sales: 538,800 to be exact. That's a sales increase of 33 percent from the previous week, meaning Oprah's seal of approval goes a long way. We'll have to wait until next year's presidential election to see just how far Oprah's sway reaches (Winfrey is supporting Senator Barack Obama's candidacy).
Aside from Groban's gains, album sales remained relatively strong for a second week, with the holiday shopping season now in full swing. Yet, just two new releases were able to crack the top 200, according to the latest SoundScan totals — and only one managed to make it into the top 50. Rapper Pitbull's latest, The Boatlift, enters the chart at #50 with sales reported at 22,200 (see "Lil Jon, Trick Daddy Among Boatload Of Guests On Pitbull's Boatlift"). Right behind him at #51 is the week's other newcomer, Mudvayne's fan-assisted compilation, By the People, for the People, which sold 21,700-plus during its first week in stores (see "Mudvayne Tide The People Over With Compilation Disc Before Dropping Fourth LP").
As for the rest of the top 10, right behind Groban on next week's chart, up three positions, is the Eagles' Long Road Out of Eden, with 312,900 copies snatched up; overall sales of the record are up 70 percent. Following at #3 is Alicia Keys' As I Am, selling another 257,400 copies, and at #4, with 126,600 sold, it's the 26th installment in the Now That's What I Call Music! compilation series.
Garth Brooks' Ultimate Hits fell one chart position to #5 with 112,500 scans, while the soundtrack to the Disney Channel's "High School Musical 2" finishes at #6 with sales of 97,700. Coming in at #7 is the soundtrack to "Hannah Montana 2: Meet Miley Cyrus," which sold 96,200 copies, and Celine Dion's Taking Chances trails at #8, having sold 92,600 units. Carrie Underwood's Carnival Ride checks in at #9 with 89,300 in sales, and rounding out the top 10, selling 77,300 copies, is Mannheim Steamroller's Christmas Song.
Meanwhile, the self-titled debut from "American Idol" Jordin Sparks, which opened at a disappointing #10 last week, slipped to #18.
Several albums on the chart experienced strong gains last week, including Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds, which was re-released as a two-disc deluxe edition. Sales of that disc were up 120 percent, to finish with 38,200 scans. Meanwhile, M.I.A.'s Kala must have been on several Christmas lists, as the disc's sales shot up 102 percent; the album sold 6,000 copies and sits in the #168 slot. Sales of Patti LaBelle's Miss Patti's Christmas rose 108 percent, landing the disc at #175 with 5,700 sold, and lastly, finishing at #189, it's KT Tunstall's Sounds of the Season, which benefited from a 126 percent sales surge.