After ‘Idol,’ a ‘Glee’-ful Upset on the Charts

What makes American Idol such a pop-hit-generating juggernaut? The show-closing singles its winners are forced to sing are uniformly awful, so there must be something about Idol itself that ensures hits. Is it the fact that it’s a cannily crafted competition that gives pop fans a rooting interest in budding acts with compelling backstories? It’s been said that Idol is the closest thing we Americans have to Eurovision, the annual nation-vs.-nation song smackdown, which has been generating pop hits reliably since the middle of the last century. Or is it the simple fact that Idol is on TV, period? I’m starting to think that’s it, looking at this week’s Billboard Hot 100. In a week that should’ve been a chart triumph for the two finalists competing in what was perhaps the show’s most compelling finale ever, the week’s highest debut comes not from winner Kris Allen or runner-up Adam Lambert, but from a bunch of no-name teenagers who sang on Fox TV in the hour after those guys finished competing two Tuesdays ago. Among this week’s record-setting seven songs debuting within the Top 40, the top debut goes to the cast of Fox’s Glee. Their remake of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” crashes onto the Hot 100 at No. 4 after shifting more than 177,000 downloads at iTunes. (Apple’s song store appears to have an exclusive for the show’s music; it’s unavailable at Amazon MP3.) The song relies virtually entirely on those sales points; it’s the week’s second-best-selling digital single, after the Black Eyed Peas’ current Hot 100 topper “Boom Boom Pow.” If the cheery, cheesy Journey cover had scored any measurable radio airplay at all, it might’ve debuted even higher. “Believing” is, as Billboard‘s own Chart Beat team notes, one of six songs materializing on the chart this week that are former Top 10 hits for other artists. Besides “Believing,” the Glee gang also pops up all the way down at No. 98 with an incongruously perky cover of Amy Winehouse’s No. 9 2007 hit “Rehab.” The other four remakes are by the two Idol finalists. Kris Allen appears with his covers of “Heartless,” a No. 2 hit for Kanye West earlier this year; “Apologize,” No. 2 for Timbaland and OneRepublic in 2007; and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” No. 3 for Bill Withers in 1971. And Adam Lambert pops up with his reinvention of “One,” No. 10 for U2 in 1992. Besides these covers, Allen and Lambert also make the Hot 100 with remakes of “Mad World,” “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “Falling Slowly,” as well as one version by each of them of the godawful, show-closing Kara DioGuardi ballad “No Boundaries.” (In addition, third- and fourth-place finalists Danny Gokey and Allison Iraheta “bubble under” the 100-position list with, respectively, their covers of “You Are So Beautiful” and “Slow Ride,” the latter a duet with Lambert.) None of these Idol songs makes the Hot 100’s Top 10; Allen’s “No Boundaries” is the best performer, just missing the winners’ circle at No. 11. Most of the tunes were performed on the show weeks or even months ago, but as per Fox/19 Entertainment’s agreement with Apple, iTunes sales data was not revealed until the competition ended. One year ago, this sudden end-of-season flip of the iTunes switch caused an explosion of Hot 100 hits all at once by winner David Cook. So what happened to Kris Allen? How did the Glee club’s cover of Journey’s standard — whose original recording is already the top-selling catalog song of all time at iTunes at 2.38 million copies — outgun pageant-winner Allen and his Simon Cowell‒pimped cohorts? There’s going to be a temptation among headline-writers in the days to come not just to report the Glee chart victory (which will be short-lived) but also to declare Allen a failure compared with Cook last year. To be sure, some of the obvious theories have basis in fact. Cook was deeply beloved by his core fans, who appear to have been more rabid than Allen’s thus far. And the Glee hit isn’t strange to anyone who’s been paying attention to the High School Musical phenomenon since 2006. But to really understand what happened here, you have to go a layer deeper. Just as Cook’s record-setting 11 debuts were largely the result of unique chart phenomena last year — the first year of Idol‘s iTunes partnership — the strange results on this year’s post-Idol chart can mostly be explained by a similar set of odd circumstances. For starters, Allen has a unique chart competitor this year: himself. If you want to buy some of Kris’ oeuvre at iTunes, you have numerous choices besides the various singles, including a couple of song bundles that Billboard tracks someplace other than the Hot 100. Hardcore Kris Allen fans can pay $17 for an “iTunes Pass” encompassing numerous singles, videos and his forthcoming debut album. For less money and faster gratification, there’s also Allen’s $10 digital song bundle, Season 8 Favorite Performances, which debuts at No. 50 on the Billboard 200 this week. As recently as 18 months ago, Billboard wouldn’t have considered this kind of iTunes-exclusive, all-digital collection eligible to appear on its flagship album chart, but now chart rules mandate that it be tracked there. (By the way, those of you still nursing wounds over Lambert’s loss to Allen might be heartened to learn that Adam’s fans are apparently album-buying types, while Kris’ are singles lovers. Lambert’s own Season 8 Favorite Performances collection debuts on the Billboard 200 at No. 33, selling 60% better than Allen’s bundle did. Meanwhile, on the Hot 100, none of Adam’s singles placed higher than “Mad World” at No. 19, lower than two of Kris’ hits. The evidence clearly shows Lambert’s fans think he’s worth spending more on all at once. Or maybe his fans are just older than Allen’s teenyboopers, with more disposable income. Watch this space this fall, when their two debut albums duel, to see if we have another Clay Aiken/Ruben Studdard runner-up-outsells-the-victor situation.) Back to Allen’s iTunes bundle. It moved 10,000 units and includes all of the singles mentioned above except the show-closing DioGuardi ballad. Imagine that, if the digital album hadn’t been available, most of these 10,000 bundle-buyers would have purchased thousands of 99-cent songs instead, and you can picture several of Allen’s singles charting better on the Hot 100. For example, I daresay Allen’s cover of Kanye’s “Heartless” might have outsold “No Boundaries” if the bundle wasn’t offered; “Heartless” only fell 9,000 copies short of the latter’s sales last week. (And let’s all agree that such an outcome would have been justice, artistically. Oh, well.) For the record, Cook and the other 2008 finalists did not have their performances similarly anthologized by iTunes and tracked by Billboard last spring. Compare this plethora of album-length and single-length choices for the Idols with the options offered to fans of Glee: two singles, “Believing” and “Rehab.” That’s it. True, “Believing,” the best-selling Glee song, outsold “No Boundaries,” the best-selling Allen single, by 43,000 copies, a difference of 32%; you can’t easily explain away that difference. But lovers of Allen or Lambert have so many more purchase choices; I know I wouldn’t buy the drecky “No Boundaries,” but I would (and did) buy Allen’s “Heartless.”Idol fans simply spread their purchases across far more product than Glee fans did. Think of it this way: Allen’s singles alone — leaving off Lambert’s and all the other contestants’ songs — shifted 479,000 downloads last week, while the two Glee songs shifted a combined 203,000, less than half the Allen total. Throw in the other Idols’ sales and the Glee sales are truly dwarfed. It makes sense, given that Glee, for all its buzz going into its full-season Fox debut next fall, was watched by about 10 million people versus the Idol finale’s 23.8 million. But that’s not how history will be recorded on the Hot 100, where the Glee cast trumps the Idol. Allen also goes down in the record books as one of the lower-charting Idol winners with his No. 11‒peaking finale song, second only to 2007’s Jordin Sparks and her No. 15‒peaking “This Is My Now.” It also has to be said that as impressive as Allen’s nearly half-million cumulative downloads are, one year ago this week, preceding victor David Cook shifted 942,000 songs, nearly twice as many as Allen did this past week. By the way, Cook had a pretty good week too, debuting on the Hot 100 at No. 24 with “Permanent,” a song he dedicated to his deceased brother on last week’s Idol finale. How exactly did this just-okay, moderately radio-friendly ballad chart so high? Simple. Cook performed it on TV.Here’s a rundown of the rest of this week’s charts: • In the middle of last week’s TV-pop tidal wave, Linkin Park managed to post the week’s third-best digital sales total. “New Divide,” a song from the soundtrack to the forthcoming Transformers sequel, sells 152,000 copies and pulls off a chart rarity: It debuts on the Hot 100 and Modern Rock Tracks in the exact same Top 10 position. “Divide” materializes on both lists at No. 6. As Billboard‘s own Chart Beat team notes, only three songs in history have simultaneously debuted in the winners’ circle on these two lists. All occurred this decade: besides “Divide,” the other two were Linkin’s other tie-in with Transformers, “What I’ve Done,” and Coldplay’s “Speed of Sound.” (Only that last one did what “Divide” did and debuted in the same slot on both lists; “Speed” materialized at No. 8 on the two charts in the summer of 2005.) What’s remarkable about a Hot 100/Modern Rock double-up like this is that it’s entirely a coincidence, because there’s very little overlap in the data behind these two charts. The Hot 100 combines sales and airplay, and Linkin Park’s debut there is almost entirely the result of its blockbuster first week at iTunes. The Modern Rock list, meanwhile, is all-airplay, focused on one (ever-narrowing) radio format; predictably, “Divide” scored massive out-of-the-box airplay at its home format, prompting the big debut. While the Hot 100’s all-genre radio panel does take modern rock airplay into account, it represents a sliver of the points that brought Linkin Park onto the big chart. One last note: as Linkin Park hits go, this one’s actually a much bigger deal for the band on the Hot 100. Even if it goes no higher, the No. 6 peak for “Divide” instantly makes it their second-biggest pop hit ever, surpassing the aforementioned “What I’ve Done,” which debuted and peaked at No. 7, and second only to the 2001‒02 No. 2 smash “In the End.” • While we were on hiatus last week, reggaeton kingpin Pitbull scored his first Top 10 pop hit after years of smashes on the Latin charts. “I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)” (a positively infectious ditty I prefer to think of as the “Uno, Dos, Tres, Cuatro” song), hurtled seven notches to No. 4 last week and probably would’ve held there this week if it hadn’t been for the Glee cast. As it is, he slips one notch to No. 5. Prior to this hit, he’d never gone any higher than his Lil Jon-backed 2004 jeep-thumper “Culo,” which peaked at No. 32. Now that memories of both Glee and Idol are fading, iTunes shows “Want Me” rising back up the sales tally, which will probably send the song to a new peak next week. Also selling well is Sean Kingston’s sparkly dance thumper “Fire Burning,” which is up to No. 12 so far on the big chart and will crash into the Top 10, or perhaps even the Top Five, next week. Finally, some summer jams are breaking through (and giving the Peas some competition). • Brad Paisley extends his streak of No. 1 Country hits, as “Then” assumes the top slot and becomes his 10th consecutive bell-ringer (excluding Christmas tracks and album cuts). Amazingly, as Chart Beat notes, that 10-single streak isn’t even close to the record, which is held by Alabama with 24 (!!) consecutive chart-toppers from 1980‒87. This same week, Alan Jackson scores his 50th career Top 10 Country hit, with “Sissy’s Song.” And that’s not a record, either; George Strait has 54. I wish these guys well, but I must say it’s remarkable evidence of the stodginess and conservatism of the country radio format that a handful of acts exert such absurd chart dominance year after year. No pop act would ever string together a streak like that. Even Madonna, at the peak of her 1980s fame, had her string of pop Top 10 hits halted at 17, from “Borderline” in 1984 to “Cherish” in 1989. (“Oh Father,” later that year, killed it.)Top 10s Last week’s position and total weeks charted in parentheses (Digital Songs chart includes total downloads/percentage change in parentheses):Hot 100 1. The Black Eyed Peas, “Boom Boom Pow” (LW No. 1, 11 weeks) 2. Lady GaGa, “Poker Face” (LW No. 2, 23 weeks) 3. Jamie Foxx feat. T-Pain, “Blame It” (LW No. 3, 19 weeks) 4. Glee Cast, “Don’t Stop Believin’” (CHART DEBUT) 5. Pitbull, “I Know You Want Me” (LW No. 4, 13 weeks) 6. Linkin Park, “New Divide” (CHART DEBUT) 7. Kid Cudi, “Day ‘N’ Nite” (LW No. 5, 19 weeks) 8. Beyoncé, “Halo” (LW No. 6, 18 weeks) 9. Jeremih, “Birthday Sex” (LW No. 9, 7 weeks) 10. Katy Perry, “Waking Up in Vegas” (LW No. 13, 10 weeks)Hot Digital Songs 1. The Black Eyed Peas, “Boom Boom Pow” (LW No. 1, 234,000 downloads) 2. Glee Cast, “Don’t Stop Believin’” (CHART DEBUT, 177,000 downloads) 3. Linkin Park, “New Divide” (CHART DEBUT, 152,000 downloads) 4. Kris Allen, “No Boundaries” (CHART DEBUT, 134,000 downloads) 5. Kris Allen, “Heartless” (CHART DEBUT, 125,000 downloads) 6. Katy Perry, “Waking Up in Vegas” (LW No. 5, 116,000 downloads) 7. Adam Lambert, “Mad World” (CHART DEBUT, 115,000 downloads) 8. Sean Kingston, “Fire Burning” (LW No. 10, 111,000 downloads) 9. Lady GaGa, “Poker Face” (LW No. 3, 104,000 downloads) 10. David Cook, “Permanent” (CHART DEBUT, 103,000 downloads)Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs 1. Jeremih, “Birthday Sex” (LW No. 1, 12 weeks) 2. Keri Hilson feat. Kanye West and Ne-Yo, “Knock You Down” (LW No. 3, 10 weeks) 3. Jamie Foxx feat. T-Pain, “Blame It” (LW No. 2, 24 weeks) 4. Pleasure P, “Boyfriend #2” (LW No. 4, 17 weeks) 5. Young Money, “Every Girl” (LW No. 7, 7 weeks) 6. Drake, “Best I Ever Had” (LW No. 12, 6 weeks) 7. Kid Cudi, “Day ‘N’ Nite” (LW No. 6, 14 weeks) 8. Soulja Boy, “Turn My Swag On,” (LW No. 5, 19 weeks) 9. Jennifer Hudson, “If This Isn’t Love” (LW No. 8, 28 weeks) 10. Musiq Soulchild, “sobeautiful” (LW No. 13, 25 weeks)Hot Country Songs 1. Brad Paisley, “Then” (LW No. 2, 10 weeks) 2. Sugarland, “It Happens” (LW No. 1, 15 weeks) 3. Keith Urban, “Kiss a Girl” (LW No. 3, 11 weeks) 4. Kenny Chesney, “Out Last Night” (LW No. 4, 9 weeks) 5. Dierks Bentley, “Sideways” (LW No. 7, 13 weeks) 6. Montgomery Gentry, “One in Every Crowd” (LW No. 5, 18 weeks) 7. Zac Brown Band, “Whatever It Is” (LW No. 8, 20 weeks) 8. Jason Aldean, “She’s Country” (LW No. 6, 27 weeks) 9. Lady Antebellum, “I Run to You” (LW No. 10, 19 weeks) 10. Alan Jackson, “Sissy’s Song” (LW No. 12, 15 weeks)Hot Modern Rock Tracks 1. Green Day, “Know Your Enemy” (LW No. 1, 6 weeks) 2. Kings of Leon, “Use Somebody” (LW No. 2, 19 weeks) 3. 311, “Hey You” (LW No. 3, 7 weeks) 4. Silversun Pickups, “Panic Switch” (LW No. 4, 11 weeks) 5. Cage the Elephant, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” (LW No. 5, 10 weeks) 6. Linkin Park, “New Divide” (CHART DEBUT) 7. Anberlin, “Feel Good Drag” (LW No. 6, 34 weeks) 8. Seether, “Careless Whisper” (LW No. 8, 13 weeks) 9. Rise Against, “Audience of One” (LW No. 7, 21 weeks) 10. Incubus, “Black Heart Inertia” (LW No. 9, 8 weeks)

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