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Winning "American Idol" Doesn't Guarantee Superstar Sales

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A not-so embarrassing confession: I've never owned an album from an American Idol finalist.

I've never enjoyed -- or recognized, for that matter -- a single from any contestant on Fox's reality show. While I've caught the tryout sessions for a season or two, I've never actively or passively watched the competition portion of American Idol. And I've barely retained the names of any contestant featured on the wildly successful program.

To some, those admissions may sound as annoying and elitist as acquaintances who smugly brag about not owning a television, but I think we can all agree, there are many individuals like myself who've never bought into the teen-targeted, fame screamfest freight train that is American Idol.

And now, we have the numbers to back it up.

USA Today reported that Idol's sure-fire path to commercial success isn't necessarily a guarantee. According to the numbers by Nielsen SoundScan, last season's top two finalists -- Lee "Who?" DeWyze and Crystal "I'm Not Familiar With This Person" Bowersox -- have each sold roughly 100,000 albums since their respective November and December releases.

While 100,000 albums may sound like a massive triumph to a garage band from Boise, compared to past winners, it falls far short of success. 2004 winner Fantasia Barrino sold about 350,000 copies of her album Back to Me, and Carrie Underwood, winner in 2005, unloaded approximately 750,000 copies of her album Play On.

Although I couldn't name you a single person who bought one of those albums, it nevertheless shows a significant drop in interest for the Idol lot.

Richard Rushfield, author of the upcoming book American Idol: The Untold Story, spoke with USA Today about the drop-off. "They've had a lot of acts that have sold respectably, and they have a few -- Adam Lambert and maybe David Cook -- that still have long-term potential. But they have not had a multimillion seller since Chris Daughtry in Season 5, and that's a long time."

Rushfield added that "the clock is ticking for Idol to do what it promises. What made this show different from a Survivor or The Bachelor was that the prize was something so massive, the highest coin of the realm: actual, bona fide superstardom. If it becomes, 'You'll get a record deal that may or may not be worth something,' it's an entirely different narrative."

And there's no truer narrative than "There is far, far better music for you to discover outside a Fox reality show."
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