Why Is 'Idol' still the No. 1 show on TV? Simply put, it 'delivers'

Norman Byrd's picture

Other shows might be fun to watch and they might promise the next superstar, but like it says in the promos, "American Idol" delivers.

There might be a few changes in television land this next time around when it comes to show rankings, what with NBC's "The Voice" doing very well in its third season, but at present "American Idol" still holds the top spot for TV shows (non-sports related). With a slew of format changes and three new judges, "Idol" has been revamped once again for its twelfth incarnation. But the singing competition reality show has done something and continues to do something worth bragging about, something that no other competition or talent show has even come close to matching. And brag they do. Up front and in the promos...

Put simply, "Idol delivers." They can say it any way they want to because it is a simple statement of fact. No other talent show -- "The Voice," "Duets," "America Got Talent," "Nashvillle Star," "The Next," "X Factor" USA -- has been able to produce a consistent line of winners like "American Idol." Most have yet to see any of their winners or finalists do all that well (with the exceptions of Jackie Evancho from "America's Got Talent" and Miranda Lambert, Chris Young, and Buddy Jewel from "Nashville Star"). That doesn't mean that they won't eventually or that those that did well or appeared on those shows won't some day ascend to extremely successful careers (for example: Cassadee Pope from "The Voice" just might be the breakout artist for that franchise), but thus far, for all the singing and voting, American singing competition shows haven't produced much for the amount of air-time they've taken up.

Except "American Idol."

And "Idol" did so straight out of the gate. Season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson hit the ground running with a No. 1 pop smash, "A Moment Like This," which broke the long-standing Beatles record for biggest jump in the Billboard Hot 100 to No. 1 (from 97 to 1), a record that had stood for 38 years. Clarkson, who still holds that record, hasn't looked back, either, except perhaps to make an appearance on the show that jump-started her career. And she keeps producing. Her last studio album, Stronger, became her third (of five) to sell more than a million copies. She's had nine Top 10 hits, three that went on to No. 1. And she's topped the Hot Country Songs chart once as well with her massive hit duet with Jason Aldean, "Don't You Wanna Stay?" Two of her albums have topped the Billboard 200. And to top it off, her recently released greatest hits package just topped the 200,000 sales mark.

Clarkson began a string of winners on "American Idol" that would see their first albums sell over a million copies that would last until Season 5, when Taylor Hicks' first post-"Idol" album would stall out at a little over 700,000 in sales. But Hicks would only be joined by Season 8's Kris Allen and Season 9's Lee DeWyze in that regard. Everybody else that has won "Idol" has watched their first "Idol" album sell at least a million copies, save for Season 12 winner Phillip Phillips, but he's just been at it since mid-November -- and already has 600,000 in sales (certified gold by the RIAA on Jan. 9). Season 4 winner Carrie Underwood holds the title for first album sales, her Some Hearts collection having sold nearly 7.3 million copies to date.

Speaking of Underwood, she was the first "Idol" finalist to score four platinum albums. All of her studio albums have sold at least one million copies. Three of those albums were No. 1 on the Billboard 200 (all four were No. 1 on the Country Albums chart). She's also topped the Hot Country Songs chart eleven times solo and once in a duet with Brad Paisley. The Oklahoma singer currently has sold more albums (in the US) than any other alumnus, the total nearly topping 14 million units.

The last "Idol" winner to top a million in album sales was Season 10 winner Scotty McCreery, his Clear As Day offering topping 1.15 million to date. He also released a hit holiday recording in late 2012, the first such album from an "Idol" winner (not to mention an "Idol" country singer finalist).

But the "Idol" success story doesn't just end with its ability to launch successful music careers for its winners. It has known considerable success via its runners-up and other finalists as well.

Clay Aiken, Season 2's runner-up, has not only managed to outsell his friend and the winner of the season, Ruben Studdard, he has gone on to become somewhat of a reality show celebrity, also appearing on "Celebrity Apprentice" (where he also finished as runner-up). Aiken also has the top-selling holiday album of all the "Idol" alums to date, his Merry Christmas with Love selling over 1.4 million copies (the top-selling holiday album of 2004).

The most successful non-winner and non-runner-up has been Season 5's Chris Daughtry. Giving his band his last name, the eponymous post-"Idol" debut album went to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and has sold over 4.8 million copies to date. Daughtry has placed four songs at No. 1 on the Adult Top 40 chart and stands third in overall album sales among "Idol" alumni (only Underwood and Clarkson have sold more).

And then there's the success of Jennifer Hudson. Eliminated in seventh place during Season 3, Hudson went on to star in the movie "Dreamgirls," for which she would win an Academy Award. She has recorded two successful albums and will appear on the NBC show "Smash" in its second season alongside Season 5 runner-up Katharine McPhee.

As far as acting goes, Tamyra Gray, who finished fourth in Season 1, went on to have a role on the show "Boston Public" and would co-write the Season 3 coronation song, "I Believe," sung by Fantasia Barrino (also a No. 1 Hot 100 hit). Season 4's Constantine Maroulis, who finished in sixth place, went on to star in the Broadway production of "Rock of Ages" and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical.

"American Idol" has placed finalists on the charts of nearly every genre of music, from dance to country to R&B to pop and rock. And alumni from the show continue to dot the charts. Taking a look at "Idol Chatter" tracking, there are four "Idol" winners currently charting: Phillip Phillips ("Home"), Kelly Clarkson ("Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" and "Catch My Breath" and "Don't Rush"), Carrie Underwood ("Two Black Cadillacs"), and Fantasia Barrino ("Lose To Win"). Others successfully charting going into the Season 12 premiere week are Season 7's Jason Castro, Season 9's Casey James, and Season 11's Colton Dixon. Phillips, Underwood, and Clarkson all placed albums on the Billboard 200 as well (Clarkson had two).

The names and their successes go on and on... Kellie Pickler, Bo Bice, Adam Lambert, David Archuleta, Mandisa...

And there's more to come. Jason Castro just released his third album, Only A Mountain. Colton Dixon will drop The Messenger on Jan. 29. And Crystal Bowersox, the Season 9 runner-up, announced her sophomore set will appear in March, as will Fantasia's fourth offering, The Side Effects of You.

It's why the show was No. 1 for seven consecutive seasons. It is why millions watch. The show actually produces successful artists. Period.

It comes down to this: "Everyone dreams," as the promo so mater-of-factly states it. "Idol delivers."

And "American Idol" will start working on delivering a twelfth season of successful talent starting at 8 p.m. (EST) on Wednesday, Jan. 16, on Fox Television.

(photo credit: American Idol, Fremantle North America, Fox Television)

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