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HOME > American Idol > American Idol 2

Clay Aiken's "Measure of a Man" album generates enormous sales but mixed reviews


By Wade Paulsen, 10/20/2003 

The first CD from American Idol 2 runner-up Clay Aiken, entitled Measure of a Man, opened on October 14 with huge sales despite mixed reviews from critics. According to WRAL.com in Raleigh-Durham, NC, an RCA executive estimated that sales during the first two days of the CD's release had totaled 230,000 -- already equivalent to the total sales of the #1 CD on the Nielsen SoundScan Album Sales chart during the prior week.

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The sales, which another industry indsider described as "unreal," make it almost certain that Clay's CD, like American Idol 1 winner Kelly Clarkson's first post-Idol CD, Thankful, will debut at #1 on the album charts. In addition, the fact that Clay's hit single "Bridge Over Troubled Water" doesn't appear on the album has increased sales of the single, which hopped back into Amazon.com's Top 25 -- and it may even regain the top spot in the Nielsen SoundScan U.S. Singles Sales chart. For the week ended October 12, the single, in its 19th week on the chart, rose from fifth place to fourth.

Sales of Measure of a Man appear to be unaffected by the mixed reviews that the CD has received in the popular media. Critics have ranged from strongly positive (Billboard) to mixed (Washington Post, which calls the CD a "likable album even without being a particularly good one", and Knight-Ridder), to negative (Associated Press, which refers to the song selections as "insipid"), to scathingly negative (the New York Daily News).

Opinion (and differences thereof) are, of course, the stock-in-trade of the critic, so the (surprisingly anonymous) Daily News critic who claims that Clay's album "spews … pablum" and is "a refuge for the deeply out-of-it" is just expressing a legitimate opinion. However, when a critic journeys from opinion into fact, and then gets the facts very wrong, such comments are fair game and may reveal a deep-seated bias. Such is the case with the Daily News review, which makes this factual comparison of Clay Aiken to a figure from the past:

"Ultimately, [Clay's] album harks back to the '50s, when the cultural threat of stars like Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis created the need for a reactionary figure. Aiken has simply become this generation's answer to Pat Boone."

Is Clay Aiken another Pat Boone? Pat Boone became famous for remaking overtly sexual songs from black artists, such as Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" and "Long Tall Sally," using his clean-cut image to "de-sexualize" the songs for white suburban consumption. In retrospect, Pat Boone's contribution to music was a bowdlerization of the sexuality inherent in "race music" (as it was originally called) of the time – and the reason most of Pat Boone's recordings have disappeared into the mists of time is because later generations didn't need the sanitizing effect of Pat Boone to make the original versions acceptable.

By contrast, Clay's CD explicitly rejects the sexuality in modern music and performs not a toned-down, "safe" version of someone else's vision, but his own vision – as discussed in this article and most clearly seen in the title song, "Measure of a Man," which uses Biblical imagery in its lyrics – something that would have been anathema to Pat Boone's fans during his heyday.

In fact, about the only thing that Pat Boone in the 1950s and Clay Aiken today have in common is that they're both white males from the South. Perhaps that's enough for a New York writer, who may be blinded by the New York vision of the world, to consider them identical. We note that the same parochial New York view is reflected in the criticism directed at Fox's choice of Clay to sing the national anthem for Game 1 of the World Series. (The singer of the country's biggest hit single of 2003 and current #1 CD is "B-list'?)

Apparently New York writers really believe that a phenomenon not centered in New York can't be happening. We can't wait to read their reactions to this week's Nielsen SoundScan U.S. Album Sales chart.












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