In 2002, 23 million viewers tuned in to watch Kelly Clarkson win the first season of American Idol, which translated to her debut post-show album, Thankful, selling 2.8 million albums to date, more than 2 million of which were sold in the first two years after its release. In 2011, 11.1 million viewers tuned in to watch Javier Colon win The Voice, which translated to his first album, Come Through for You, selling 46,000 copies to date, almost exactly two years later. So is Idol really just a better platform for musicians, or do these stats simply reveal the issue of a changing music industry?
No one can say for sure, but Idol‘s least successful winner, 2010′s Lee DeWyze, sold 146,000 albums, more than tripling Colon’s sales. Even Idol punch line William Hung sold 200,000 albums. And considering The Voice‘s season 2 winner, Jermaine Paul, hasn’t even released a debut album, maybe there is something missing from The Voice formula. Why can’t singers successfully transition from selling cover songs to selling albums of original music?
Most people would look at the show’s ratings. Up to this point, The Voice hasn’t beaten American Idol‘s finale ratings. However, steadily on the rise, season 3′s Voice finale brought in 14.1 million viewers, only 200,000 fewer than Idol‘s season 12 finale, which was its lowest to date. So if The Voice continues to gain traction as Idol loses it, perhaps its winners will have more draw. And with Idol completely revamping its judging panel, maybe now is the time for The Voice to steal the musical show.
Ratings aside, what is it that makes one contestant more commercially appealing? Javier Colon dominated season 1 of The Voice, and yet he couldn’t make the transition. Does it come down to the how and when of the album release? Is it about the quality of the original music? Or perhaps people like watching the journey on the show more than they enjoy keeping up with artists — unless said artist is able to push his or her way into the mainstream, like a Kelly Clarkson or a Carrie Underwood.
There’s no telling exactly what formula combines to make a successful show-to-album transition, but Voice fans shouldn’t lose hope just yet. The introduction of using iTunes to vote in season 3 encouraged viewers to experience the music of the contestants in a way it hadn’t before. This resulted in season 3 winner Cassadee Pope selling 340,000 downloads of “Over You,” her biggest hit while in the competition. And since debuting her first post-show single, “Wasting All These Tears,” June 4 on The Voice, she has already sold 125,000 downloads.
So maybe Pope’s first album, which comes out this fall, will be the answer to The Voice breaking the commercial barriers. Or maybe The Voice is still in search of its superstar.
Sources: Nielsen, Nielsen SoundScan
Follow Samantha on Twitter: @samhighfill.