Judging by record sales, it's beginning to look like American Idol 2 was the best edition of the hit Fox series at date, as so far even the debut albums from the show's third-and-fourth-place finishers have done as well as that of the runner-up from the first edition.

In its first week on the charts, the self-titled debut CD from Idol 2 fourth-place finisher Josh Gracin, who is still a lance corporal on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps, ranked #11 in the Nielsen SoundScan U.S. Album Sales charts (also known as the Billboard 200) for the week ended June 20.

Josh's opening sales of 57,048 are approximately equal to the first-week sales of the person who finished just ahead of him on Idol 2, Kimberley Locke (56,727), as well as the runner-up from Idol 1, Justin Guarini (about 57,000). Josh's sales came in a slower sales week, which accounts for his near-miss of a Top 10 debut; by contrast, Kimberley only debuted at #16 and Justin at #20.

Both Josh and Kimberley buried Tamyra Gray, the fourth-place finisher from Idol 1, who sold only 39,000 copies in her debut -- about equal to Idol 3 reject William Hung and only about two-thirds of Josh's and Kimberley's total, despite heavy promotion of Tamyra's The Dreamer CD on Idol 3.

Although Josh will remain on active duty in the Marine Corps until September 2004, he signed with Lyric Street Records, a country-focused imprint of Disney's Hollywood Records that also features the band Rascal Flatts, who recorded "I'm Movin' On," a song Josh performed on Idol, after being voted off Idol. In fact, Josh's choice of songs to perform was directly related to his signing. Rascal Flatts was impressed with Josh's performance of "I'm Movin' On," which they saw on their tour bus. The band's bass player, Jay DeMarcus, put Josh in touch with their producer, Marty Williams, who then arranged Josh's auditions with several country labels, including Lyric Street, and then produced Josh's CD.

Since Josh's unit ended up on stateside duty, he was able to record the Josh Gracin CD, which has already produced the Top 15 country hit "I Want to Live," well before mustering out. However, just as with last year's Idol finalists tour, Detroit native Josh will be unable to tour until his enlistment is completed.

We sleep better at night knowing that the Marines recognize how important it is to keep Josh out there on the front lines of pop radio, singing for his country....