It’s Simon Cowell’s world — we just live in it. In the coming months, the music market will be inundated with new albums by protégés of the cranky British judge (who recently celebrated his 50th birthday with a star-studded bash estimated to cost more than $1 million). Just look at the fall schedule, packed with enough Idols to fill the Kodak Theatre: There’s last season’s Kris Allen (Nov. 17), Adam Lambert (Nov. 24), and Allison Iraheta (Dec. 1) — all being handled by the Idol-affiliated 19 Entertainment/Recordings — plus discs from previous seasons’ contestants Blake Lewis (Oct. 6), David Archuleta (Oct. 13), and country superstar Carrie Underwood (Nov. 3). (Famous Cowell pupils Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry, and Jordin Sparks are also still working singles from albums released earlier this year.) ”It just shows how freakin’ huge Idol is,” Iraheta tells EW. ”From being on the show, you get to just push through that door. It’s pretty damn amazing.” Plus, two of Cowell’s discoveries from his side of the pond are dropping albums Stateside: The X Factor‘s Leona Lewis (Nov. 17) and Susan Boyle, the international YouTube sensation from Britain’s Got Talent (Nov. 24).
Of course, the overwhelming number of releases in such a short time frame presents quite a marketing quandary: How do record companies package each artist so no one gets lost in the mix? A rep for 19 Entertainment/Recordings — which was founded by Idol creator Simon Fuller, and which releases albums through Jive Records and RCA for select top finishers each season — insists they’re not concerned. ”The musical sensibilities of Kris, Adam, and Allison speak for themselves,” he says. ”We believe all three have the opportunity to launch extremely successful careers.”
Luckily for 19, Idol fatigue hasn’t set in yet. Even though Lambert hasn’t released a single, his record surged ahead of those from the Beatles and Madonna on Amazon’s best-seller list when it became available for preorder on Sept. 26. Other reality-show troubadours are also faring well in presales on Amazon’s chart: Boyle’s I Dreamed a Dream has cracked the top 10, with Underwood’s Play On at No. 38 — and climbing.
Unfortunately, some of Cowell’s finds are already lagging behind in the early numbers game. Allen’s new single, ”Live Like You’re Dying,” has logged just 363 radio spins nationally as of Oct. 4. (It’s early, however, and response to the song has been ”phenomenal” at New York radio station Z100, according to program director Sharon Dastur.) And both Jason Castro and Katharine McPhee — whose late-summer singles, ”Let’s Just Fall in Love Again” and ”Had It All,” respectively, have failed to gain significant radio play — have pushed back their albums until early 2010.
”It’s always a process trying to lift a record off the ground,” says Blake Lewis, who was dropped from Arista after his 2007 debut album failed to meet expectations. ”Especially coming off a television show where we’re viewed as characters, not necessarily musicians. Thirty million people might watch [Idol], but 30 million people aren’t going to go buy our records.”
Meanwhile, last season’s champ, Allen — who finds himself in the unenviable position of facing off against No. 2 Lambert again — is trying to downplay any talk of competition. ”I don’t think about anyone else,” he tells EW. ”Adam’s gonna sell as many albums as he’s gonna sell. Allison’s gonna sell as many as she sells. And Carrie’s gonna sell, like, 14 million. I have been stressed. But in the past couple weeks, things have been going really good. I’m really excited about what we’ve got.”
So, we imagine, is Cowell.
— with additional reporting by Michael Slezak