Who’s A Big Pop Star? Yes, You Are! David Archuleta’s Post-“Idol” Chart Debut

During the two weeks I was vacationing, Billboard reported changes atop all three of its flagship charts–including the blessed end of Katy Perry’s No. 1 reign on the Hot 100, which was displaced by a Rihanna song I like a lot. Even more amazingly, a song that may be the most left-field hit of the decade–“Paper Planes” by M.I.A.–soared into the Top Five.

Now that I’m back, the M.I.A. song is down a bit, and the biggest news on the charts is the post-American Idol debut by tween-and-grandma fave David Archuleta.

It’s a cruel business, this chart-column writing.

Nonetheless, the good news, for those of us who rooted against the stage-managed moppet during Idol‘s last season, is that Archie’s losing out on the Hot 100’s top slot–by a whisker–to Rihanna. Meanwhile, there’s change on top of two other charts, including the deadly static Modern Rock list. Let’s catch up, shall we?

Archuleta’s “Crush” was the top-selling digital song of the week, with 166,000 downloads tallied. That handily outsold Rihanna’s “Disturbia,” and probably should have given him the Hot 100’s penthouse in a lazy late-summer chart week.

But limited radio exposure held Archie back. While pure Top 40 stations gave “Crush” a respectable nearly 1,000 spins last week, that total wasn’t enough to put Archuleta on the all-genre Hot 100 Airplay list, where he’s completely absent. Just for comparison, “Disturbia” (now in its second week at No. 1 on the Hot 100) ranks 16th on the Airplay list; at the same pool of pure Top 40 stations, it received almost six times as many spins as “Crush” did last week.

Still, we have to give Archie props, because he pulls off a number of feats in Idol-contestant chart history. The most obvious is outcharting this year’s winner, David Cook, whose highest-ranked hit to date (in his early-June week of Hot 100 dominance) was the No. 3 debut by “The Time of My Life.” As Billboard chart guru Fred Bronson points out, that makes Archuleta–at least for now–one of only two runners-up in Idol history to outperform the winner from the same season. The first was Season 2’s Clay Aiken, who went to No. 1 in 2003 with “This Is the Night” the same week that year’s winner, Ruben Studdard, debuted at No. 2 with “Flying Without Wings.”

What’s less obvious is how unusual it is for an Idol finalist to debut this high with a song not performed on the show. With this No. 2 debut, Archie has just set a record in that rarefied category. I’m so used to contestants making a splash in the weeks just after the show’s finale with the songs they performed on that show that at first, I didn’t register that such a high debut now–months after Cook’s coronation–is quite rare.

It’s even more impressive when you look at the other three non-finale songs by Idol finalists that debuted in the Top 10. All did so thanks to extenuating circumstances: Aiken’s “Solitaire,” which debuted at No. 4 in 2004 but was known from his repertoire on the show; Carrie Underwood’s “I’ll Stand by You,” which debuted at No. 6 in 2007 after she performed it on Idol Gives Back; and Kelly Clarkson’s “Never Again,” which debuted at No. 8 last year on anticipation surrounding her much-debated, Clive Davis-hated third album. By contrast, Archie’s “Crush” debuted big despite limited exposure to the public on TV or radio, simply because scads of people were hot to buy anything the kid put out at the official start of his recording career.

Of course, many more people are awaiting the launch of Cook’s recorded output, and it’s entirely possible that his first post-Idol single will do Archie one better and debut at No. 1. For the first five seasons of the show, a No. 1 Hot 100 hit was a birthright: every winner those five years had one (except Studdard, who was replaced at No. 1 by runner-up Aiken). But the adjustment of Idol‘s business model from physical product to digital releases has broken the pattern, and Cook’s plan to pursue rock radio airplay more avidly than Top 40 could result in an irregular chart performance.

Still, this isn’t over: there’s the battle later this fall between Cook and Archuleta over their respective albums’ debut sales weeks to watch. Also, we’ll have to see if “Crush” turns into a lasting hit, with full radio support, for Archie. Somewhat surprisingly, Cook has done well in this department–“The Time of My Life,” his sappy finale song, smelled like a flash in the pan, but months later it’s become a No. 3 Adult Contemporary hit and is still riding the Hot 100’s upper reaches. (It’s back to up No. 28 on that chart this week.)

One last Idol note, on the show winner who’s suffered most at the vagaries of the charts. Quietly and with little fanfare, Jordin Sparks–the only Idol winner to not enjoy a Top Three hit with her finale song (“This Is My Now” peaked at a pitiful No. 15 in 2007)–has become a regular Hot 100 presence. Her current hit, “One Step at a Time,” moves up four notches to No. 21 this week. If she can nudge it into the Top 10 in a few weeks, she’ll be the only Idol winner to score three Top 10s from her debut album (following up “Tattoo” and the megasmash “No Air”). I’m not a fan of Sparks’ tepid material, but I mention her here only because, unlike all of her Idol peers, she’s arguably been earning her hits the old-fashioned way: patiently working them at radio, without any TV- or fan-fueled digital sales bursts, one hit at a time.

Here’s a rundown of the rest of this week’s charts:

• When the year-end charts come out in December, one single I expect to place higher than I originally expected is Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida.” Its early chart activity seemed like a classic all-sales, no-airplay, quick-burnout pattern, with the song debuting ahead of Coldplay’s album in late May thanks to saturation play of Apple’s TV commercial showcasing the song. After it peaked at No. 1 in mid-June, I expected “Viva” to tumble down the chart quickly, as Coldplay fans switched to buying their album and radio gave it the same solid-but-not-blockbuster airplay seen by previous Chris Martin ditties like “Speed of Sound.”

But ever since “Viva” made the Top Five about a dozen weeks ago, it’s never fallen below No. 7. In fact, the song has been knocking between Nos. 5, 6 and 7 for the last nine weeks. As it was in the beginning, iTunes has been a consistent provider of chart points; “Viva” has never left the Top 10 of Billboard‘s Digital Songs list in all that time. But airplay has seriously caught up: the song now ranks 11th among all radio songs–impressive for a song that’s getting no support from R&B/hip-hop stations. It’s turning into one of the longest-lasting Top 10 hits of the summer.

Now, it’s pulled off one more feat: topping the Modern Rock chart. In its 11th chart week, “Viva” knocks Foo Fighters’ “Let It Die” from the top of that list.

• Also moving up the Modern Rock list, well below the Top 10, is M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” up six notches to No. 22. As Al Shipley pointed out, it debuted there last week, a rare solo-female hit in a mostly male format.

But forget that: the shocker I’m still getting over is its performance on the big chart. One week after “Planes” soared to No. 5 on the Hot 100 (it’s down one notch this week), the question is, how far can M.I.A. go? Now that Pineapple Express, the movie with the trailer that made it a hit, is cooling at the box office, the song will likely have trouble penetrating much deeper into the Top Five. But it could knock around the Top 10 a while longer–not only is it still selling well (No. 4 at iTunes at this writing), it debuts on the Hot 100 Airplay list at a more-than-solid No. 66. With radio support, M.I.A. will likely be gunning us down and taking our money well into the fall.

• Keyshia Cole’s “Heaven Sent” commanded R&B/Hip-Hop Songs for most of the summer with a nine-week run at No. 1, but there’s been notable turnover recently. While I was away, Lil Wayne’s “A Milli” took the crown in its 16th week. And this week, he’s evicted by Rihanna, with her first-ever R&B chart-topper–but it’s not the song she’s leading with on the Hot 100. Instead, her chart-topping ballad from last spring, “Take a Bow,” finally takes the crown on R&B/Hip-Hop. So this week, we have the unusual but not altogether rare occurrence of one artist crowning the Hot 100 and R&B lists with different songs. Perhaps unsurprisingly given its pure-pop sound, “Disturbia” doesn’t appear to be doing what “Bow” did and blooming belatedly at black radio; it’s nowhere to be found on the entire 100-position R&B/Hip-Hop chart.

• Country has seen a bunch of turnover recently, too. Two weeks ago Sugarland evicted Alan Jackson from No. 1 with their fluffy pop-crossover hit “All I Want to Do”; last week, they were tossed out by the unstoppable Taylor Swift, who scores her second country No. 1 (and fifth Top 10 overall) with “Should’ve Said No.” And speaking of pretty young things scoring with two different hits at pop and elsewhere, this week, while Swift holds at No. 1 on the Country list, she scores her first-ever Top 10 hit on the Hot 100, debuting all the way up at No 10 with “Change,” the advance single to her forthcoming second album.

I was asked yesterday how “Change” could be ranked 10th on the big pop chart and only 57th at Country, her native format, and the answer is simple: one chart uses sales, the other doesn’t. “Change” debuts on Billboard‘s digital sales chart with a stellar 131,000 downloads, the week’s third-best seller. That’s enough to put her on the Hot 100, even without much airplay. Hot Country Songs, on the other hand, is an all-airplay list, and to country radio, “Change” is a fledgling hit. Doubtless, when “Should’ve” starts to fade, “Change” will rise fast–Swift is the hottest new act at the format, and the new album will likely have a massive debut later this fall.

• I’d just like to point out that, two months after its ignominious defeat at the hands of Tyga’s irritating and now-disappeared “Coconut Juice,” my pick for Idolator’s 2008 Summer Jam, Estelle’s “American Boy” featuring Kanye West, is still on the rise, up one notch this week to a nail-biting No. 11. Far as I’m concerned, summer has at least two more weeks to go unofficially (Labor Day is Sept. 1), or about five weeks officially (autumn begins Sept. 22). That’s plenty of time for it to cross into the winner’s circle.

Great, now I’ve gloated and probably jinxed 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. Rihanna, “Disturbia” (LW No. 1, 9 weeks) 2. David Archuleta, “Crush” (CHART DEBUT) 3. Chris Brown, “Forever” (LW No. 2, 17 weeks) 4. Katy Perry, “I Kissed a Girl” (LW No. 3, 15 weeks) 5. Coldplay, “Viva la Vida” (LW No. 6, 15 weeks) 6. M.I.A., “Paper Planes” (LW No. 5, 5 weeks) 7. Kardinal Offishall feat. Akon, “Dangerous” (LW No. 7, 15 weeks) 8. Rihanna, “Take a Bow” (LW No. 4, 19 weeks) 9. Ne-Yo, “Closer” (LW No. 10, 18 weeks) 10. Taylor Swift, “Change” (CHART DEBUT)

Hot Digital Songs 1. David Archuleta, “Crush” (CHART DEBUT) 2. Rihanna, “Disturbia” (LW No. 1) 3. Taylor Swift, “Change” (CHART DEBUT) 4. M.I.A., “Paper Planes” (LW No. 2) 5. Chris Brown, “Forever” (CHART DEBUT) 6. Estelle feat. Kanye West, “American Boy” (LW No. 7) 7. Coldplay, “Viva la Vida” (LW No. 8) 8. Katy Perry, “I Kissed a Girl” (LW No. 5) 9. Chris Brown, “Forever” (LW No. 9) 10. Jonas Brothers, “Burnin’ Up” (LW No. 4)

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs 1. Rihanna, “Take a Bow” (LW No. 3, 17 weeks) 2. Keyshia Cole, “Heaven Sent” (LW No. 2, 21 weeks) 3. Lil Wayne, “A Milli” (LW No. 1, 17 weeks) 4. Jazmine Sullivan, “Need U Bad” (LW No. 5, 16 weeks) 5. Young Jeezy feat. Kanye West, “Put On” (LW No. 4, 15 weeks) 6. Robin Thicke, “Magic” (LW No. 10, 13 weeks) 7. David Banner feat. Chris Brown, “Get Like Me” (LW No. 8, 25 weeks) 8. Chris Brown, “Take You Down” (LW No. 5, 21 weeks) 9. Yung Berg feat. Casha, “The Business” (LW No. 12, 13 weeks) 10. Rick Ross feat. Nelly and Avery Storm, “The Business” (LW No. 9, 14 weeks)

Hot Country Songs 1. Taylor Swift, “Should’ve Said No” (LW No. 1, 14 weeks) 2. Keith Urban, “You Look Good in My Shirt” (LW No. 2, 13 weeks) 3. Keith Anderson, “I Still Miss You” (LW No. 4, 29 weeks) 4. Jimmy Wayne, “Do You Believe Me Now” (LW No. 8, 21 weeks) 5. Brad Paisley, “Waitin’ on a Woman” (LW No. 7, 10 weeks) 6. Brooks & Dunn, “Put a Girl in It” (LW No. 5, 17 weeks) 7. Sugarland, “All I Want to Do” (LW No. 3, 13 weeks) 8. Alan Jackson, “Good Time” (LW No. 6, 19 weeks) 9. George Strait, “Troubadour” (LW No. 9, 12 weeks) 10. Darius Rucker, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” (LW No. 12, 18 weeks)

Hot Modern Rock Tracks 1. Coldplay, “Viva la Vida” (LW No. 2, 11 weeks) 2. Foo Fighters, “Let It Die” (LW No. 1, 20 weeks) 3. Staind, “Believe” (LW No. 4, 8 weeks) 4. Weezer, “Pork & Beans” (LW No. 3, 18 weeks) 5. Disturbed, “Inside the Fire” (LW No. 5, 21 weeks) 6. Carolina Liar, “I’m Not Over” (LW No. 6, 16 weeks) 7. Saving Abel, ” Addicted” (LW No. 7, 22 weeks) 8. Ludo, “Love Me Dead” (LW No. 10, 22 weeks) 9. The Offspring, “Hammerhead” (LW No. 8, 15 weeks) 10. Linkin Park, “Given Up” (LW No. 9, 24 weeks)

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