The producers of “American Idol,” having seen albums from the show’s winners suffer sorry slides on the charts, have struck a deal they hope will change that tune.
In a bid to boost record sales for the Fox show’s next champion after a run of failures, this season’s winner will automatically be signed by Big Machine Records, the label of reigning pop music queen Taylor Swift. And Scott Borchetta, the label’s president, said he’ll be throwing all his resources and personal expertise behind making the album a huge seller.
“We are very serious about this and working hard to create a new superstar,” said Borchetta, who has appeared on screen in recent weeks as mentor to the finalists.
No show in TV history has spawned more record sales than “American Idol,” and past champions Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood have each racked up three No. 1 albums. But in recent years, sales of their successors’ albums have been slipping, along with the show’s ratings.
Now in its 14th season, the aging talent show has been averaging 10 million weekly viewers this year, according to Nielsen Media Research. That’s a sharp decline from the 30 million a week the show drew at its peak 10 years ago, but still a significant audience.
“There is a whole generation out there that has grown up with ‘American Idol,’” said Borchetta, 52. “Fourteen seasons in, the show has 15-year-old contestants that don’t know a path to stardom other than ‘Idol.’”
But the show is nevertheless creating fewer stars.
Not since Scotty McCreery won in 2011 has an artist from the show leveraged their sudden TV fame into a chart-topping album. After a No. 4 bow on the Billboard charts by Phillip Phillips in 2012, winner Candice Glover peaked at No. 14 the next year and last year’s champ, Caleb Johnson, hit a series low by only reaching No. 24 with his album.
The slump has prompted the change in strategy and Fremantle Media, which produces the show at CBS Television City studios in L.A.’s Fairfax District, hopes the prospects will look brighter after the decision to bring in Borchetta, who discovered Swift when she was just 15 and helped turn the now 24-year-old singer into a dominant force in modern music.
Borchetta’s involvement in the show goes much deeper than previous “Idol” mentors. He coaches contestants on every aspect of performance and has brought in a team from his label to further assist with their artistic development, fashion choices and media training.
“There’s only one reason I’m doing this: ‘American Idol’ has proven again and again that it can launch superstars and our whole label is invested in continuing that tradition,” he said.
“Every week I am working with the contestants on song selection, performance, look and an entire artist identity, treating all of them like they are new artists of the Big Machine Label Group. Our team is on the ground in L.A. and the idea is to make sure the next Idol is as prepared as possible and set up for success. I don’t need a great singer, I need a great artist and that’s what I’m trying to bring to the show.”
When Simon Cowell was on the show, from 2002 to 2010, albums from winners were released by Sony Music Entertainment, with which Cowell has had a close working relationship.
With his departure, that deal was restructured, and subsequent albums have been released by Universal Music Group. Both labels released albums in partnership with show creator and Executive Producer Simon Fuller’s 19 Entertainment. This year’s winner will have an album released on Big Machine in association with both UMG and 19, with all three taking a slice of the profits. Exactly who gets what share has not been disclosed.
The addition of Nashville, Tenn.’s Big Machine brings the firepower of the largest independent record label, based on sales and radio airplay.
In addition to Swift, whose latest album, “1989,” sold 1.3 million copies in its first week of release, according to Nielsen SoundScan, Borchetta has developed and signed more than 30 acts including Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts and Reba McEntire. His group of record labels provides the music for hit ABC show “Nashville.”
Borchetta was a bass player then worked in promotion and management of country artists before forming his own label in 2005, with Swift, whom he had spotted performing her own songs at Nashville’s Bluebird Café, becoming his first client. Her self-titled debut album, released in 2006, hit No. 5 on the Billboard charts, making her an instant star. Swift’s total sales since then have reached 24 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Through his work with various artists, Borchetta has helped send more than 155 songs to No. 1 during his career, and “Idol” bosses are confident that number 156 will be whoever is crowned the new American Idol next month.
“We are thrilled to partner with Scott and Universal Music Group to continue ‘Idol’s’ tradition of creating more stars and selling more music than any TV show in history,” said Jason Morey, 19’s head of music.
In a statement, Fuller said, “Scott Borchetta is enjoying unparalleled success right now. Not only did he mastermind the incredible career of Taylor Swift but also countless other incredible artists. We are extremely proud to have this shining light of the music industry on the ‘American Idol’ team to mentor our talent and oversee the recording and release of the winner’s album.”