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'American Idol' winner Ruben Studdard delays debut album 'Soulful' until Dec. 9

By Wade Paulsen, 10/24/2003 

We now know that Clay Aiken, runner-up in Fox's American Idol 2, has achieved the greatest success of any Idol contestant so far. But we'll have to wait a little longer to see whether Ruben Studdard, who edged him in the finals of Idol 2, can match that success.

The release of Ruben's debut J Records CD, entitled Soulful, has once again been delayed. The CD, which will feature guest appearances by Fat Joe and gospel star Fred Hammond along with production work by R. Kelly and Missy Elliot, is now scheduled to hit the streets on December 9, which is generally considered the last viable release date for Christmas shopping.

This is now the fourth release date change for Soulful. Originally, Soulful was scheduled for September. Then, perhaps in a bid to re-create a competition similar to the final Idol vote, both it and Clay Aiken's Measure of a Man were scheduled to be released together on August 19 -- meaning that one of the CDs had to be branded as the "loser." This dreadful idea was soon scrapped, and the release dates were moved back to September and set a week apart. Then, as both Ruben and Clay enjoyed continuing success with their debut singles, both albums were delayed for additional work, with Soulful drawing the later slot -- November 11, Veterans' Day -- for its release. And now December 9.

So why the new delay? Possibly because the CD might still need more studio work, which was the reason given before for Clay's CD getting the preferred release slot of October 14. However, we tend to doubt it; instead, we look at the schedule of other upcoming releases.

Also scheduled for release on November 11 is Josh Groban's CD Closer. Groban, not to be confused with U.S. Marine Idol contestant Josh Gracin, is a young classically-trained adult-contemporary singer who has performed on the Grammy Awards and Ally McBeal, and Closer currently ranks in the Top 10, although it's almost a month away from release -- making it almost a lock to open at #1. (By contrast, Soulful is not in the Top 100.)

The next week, November 18, marks the release of the Beatles' final "original" CD, Let It Be ... Naked (the far superior version of the Let It Be/Get Back album produced by George Martin and mixed by Glyn Johns, before the tracks were remixed and then rearranged by an intrusive Phil Spector), as well as a huge launch for another BMG artist, pop tart Britney Spears' new CD In The Zone. We can't help but wonder to which zone Ms. Spears, whose sexually-tinged lyrics and antics have generated much negative attention over the years, is referring.

November 25 would seem to be a perfect launch day for Soulful, since the American Idol Christmas special will air that day. December 2 might be an even better date, if "bounce" from the special will carry over to Ruben. However, J Records' most important artist, Alicia Keys, has been given December 2 for the release date of her second CD, The Diary of Alicia Keys. We suspect that J chairman Clive Davis needs to leave the November 25 slot open for J to build toward the Alicia Keys release, which leaves Ruben with December 9.

Ultimately, these timing choices tell us a lot about the sales expectations for Soulful. By pushing the record until after the Alicia Keys release -- and two weeks after the Idol Christmas special -- BMG is counting on the fact that Ruben can help "sell himself," as Clay already has done. We shall see.

At least Ruben doesn't have to worry about being at the bottom end among former Idol contestants' first-week sales. Idol 1 runner-up Justin Guarini holds that mark with his first-week sales of 54,000 units for his debut -- less than a tenth of Clay's chart-topping first-week sales of 613,000. We suspect that the pre-sales of Ruben's CD are already higher than Justin's entire first-week sales.


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