America, is Lee DeWyze really your next singing idol?
With news that DeWyze had a disappointing album launch, which came on the heels of American Idol runner-up Crystal Bowersox's low-interest post-Idol debut, it makes you wonder if America is really choosing well.
DeWyze has the dubious distinction of selling a paltry 39,000 units in the first week release of Live It Up. That marks the steady sales slide of American Idol winners. His predecessor Kris Allen sold 80,000 and the year before that; David Cook sold 280,000.
Compare those numbers to 2003 runner-up Clay Aiken's debut album, which sold 613,000.
Bowersox outsold DeWyze, selling around 50,000 copies of "Farmer's Daughter" on its first day, but even their combined sales made them the lowest selling winner and runner-up in American Idol history.
This comes as no surprise to music critics.
"American Idol has given more music mediocrity than stars, and the proof of that is what happens once those performers try to make it in the real music business," says Oakland Tribune music critic Jim Harrington. "Whether they get millions of votes or not, they can't even sell out a county fair arena. Of all the winners and runners-up, only Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry and Carrie Underwood have stayed relevant."
As a star-maker, American Idol has failed miserably. As a TV show, it has decimated the competition and boosted Fox's ratings for the past decade. Coming into a new season without popular judge Simon Cowell, who has become the face of American Idol, and with two new judges -- Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler -- that dominance is being called into question as the new season starts next month.
"The truth about American Idol is that it has always been a platform to watch performing artists, not a platform to launch the next great singing star," says Boston Globe's pop music critic, Sarah Rodman. "That was built into the premise of the show, and I'm sure they are disappointed that not all had Carrie Underwood's level of success.
Rodman says while show contestants have found a level of success as TV personalities, Broadway stars and other entertainment avenues, the main reason many haven't hit singing star status is because they never had hit songs.
"The bottom line is always the song. If they could just get the right song, they would hit a homerun every time," Rodman says. "There's a million places to find great singers, the problem is connecting those singers to the right songs."
So how did past winners do? Here's a quick roundup:
Season One: Kelly Clarkson
Clarkson had the talent, a knack for picking the right songs and she had a great backstory. What this Texas waitress didn't have was a way into the music industry, which American Idol provided.
Rodman: "She was exactly what American Idol promised. She could sing her butt off and has done very well in the music industry. But her obit will still lead with 'First winner of American Idol.' "
Season Two: Ruben Studdard
Studdard may have won American Idol, but he was quickly eclipsed in record sales and popularity by first runner-up Clay Aiken. Studdard never captured a large audience, while Aiken was able to barter his time on the show with a few good albums and a musical theater career.
Rodman: "I think Ruben Studdard would have gone farther with the right song. He never got that. His contemporary stuff didn't work and he was not in step with the R and B."
Season Three: Fantasia Barrino
Once again, it was a runner-up, and not even the first runner-up, who took the spotlight from winner Barrino. Jennifer Hudson was voted out too early for some viewers, but she never looked back. She came in seventh place in 2004, but she won an Academy Award for the musical Dreamgirls in 2006 and grabbed three 2009 Grammy nominations and one win for best R and B album.
Despite some initial success both in record sales and on the stage, 2010 proved a bad year for Barrino with a delayed album, poor sales and a suicide attempt on Aug. 9.
Rodman: "I'm not sure she was everyone's cup of tea. She sang from the heart and the gut, and found a good home for what she did, but she was never going to have mass appeal. "
Season Four: Carrie Underwood
Carrie Underwood may be the first American Idol winner whose career overshadows the fact she won American Idol. Underwood has become a multi-platinum recording artist and multiple Grammy, Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association winner. She's the first female artist to win back-to-back ACM Entertainer of the Year and was recently inducted into Grand Ole Opry. Her ability to find the perfect songs to match her talent has been key to her success.
Harrington: "Country music tends to keep artists around longer than pop. Being a country artist pays huge dividends because country cares about careers, where pop cares about what is hot this very second."
Season Five: Taylor Hicks
The vote that shocked both the judges and most of the viewers was when early favorite Chris Daughtry was voted out and silver-haired rocker Hicks ended up being the most unlikely American Idol ever.
Hicks was dropped form his record label in January 2008 for being, at that time, the lowest selling American Idol winner. He has since been known mainly for doing touring company performances of Grease.
Daughtry, who finished fourth, became the biggest American Idol album seller after Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.
Harrington: "Daughtry has been one of the most relevant performers to come out of American Idol because of his original music."
Season Six: Jordin Sparks
In a year where someone like Sanjaya could continue in the running for so long, it was clear that voters were not taking American Idol seriously as a launching pad for the next big star.
Sparks had initial commercial success and has branched out in other endeavors such as her own clothing line. She's the youngest winner of American Idol, so it's hard to know how her career will play out.
Season Seven: David Cook
Cook had a powerful story to tell, with his terminally ill brother struggling during most of Cook's time on American Idol. After his win, Cook had some good sales, but has faded into the background.
Season Eight: Kris Allen
This was the year soft-spoken Allen went up against flamboyant Adam Lambert. While Lambert has gone on to a fairly successful musical theater career, Allen has faded faster than any previous winner outside of Ruben Studdard.
Rodman: "Both Kris and Adam were talented singers, but Kris only hit with covers of other songs. The bottom line is that the songs just weren't there for him. Adam was such a polarizing figure, and he was the kind of singer that you want to see in a theatrical setting, but not on your radio. But I think what hurt them both was an expectation that enthusiasm for the show would somehow translate into long-term record sales."
Season Nine: Lee DeWyze
DeWyze never quite sparked the enthusiasm that other Idols had, at least during the run of the show. His dismal record sales only prove that American Idol is on the downhill slide of a magnificent run.
Rodman: "He's a talented singer and songwriter, but you also need the promotion, and that's not an easy thing. You have to convince hundreds of radio stations to play and use your song."
And as the music industry has learned over the years, as an Idol maker, American Idol makes a better TV show than a springboard for a long singing career.