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Aiken's Debut Measures Up

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - The measure of Clay Aiken's debut album "Measure of a Man" is considerable: At 613,000 copies, this is the second-largest opening week for an act's first album in Nielsen SoundScan history.

With one of the biggest sales weeks we've seen this year, it goes without saying that the "American Idol" finalist starts at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

Aiken's bow is the third-largest opener of 2003, behind 50 Cent's "Get Rich or Die Tryin' " (872,000 copies) and Linkin Park's "Meteora" (810,000).

Overall, "Measure" is the year's fifth-largest sales week. Aside from the two above-mentioned tallies, 50 Cent's "Get Rich" moved 822,000 in its second week, and Norah Jones' "Come Away With Me" notched 621,000 after her Grammy Awards sweep.

Since 1991, when the Billboard 200 began using SoundScan data, Snoop Dogg has been the only first-time artist to reach a larger first week. He opened at 803,000 copies in 1993 when "Doggy Style" arrived -- back in the day when he went by the moniker Snoop Doggy Dogg. Aiken bumps from second place another man who has changed names, Puff Daddy (now P. Diddy). "No Way Out" by Puff Daddy & the Family, his first album as a recording artist, began with 561,000 in 1997.

As is the case with almost every album under the sun, the New York metro area is Aiken's largest sales market. But in this case, the market that is typically the second-largest contributor, Los Angeles, takes a back seat to Aiken's hometown, as the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., cluster gobbles up 37,000 copies. The NYC market sold 38,000 copies, while the L.A. area ranked third in Aiken's posse, with 28,500.

As the numerous e-mails that I and other Billboard staffers have received these past few months prove, Aiken's eager and devoted following offers a sharp reminder that the word "fan" comes from the word "fanatic." To wit, I heard an eyewitness account of devotees buying eight or 10 copies at once during a Virgin Megastore midnight sale in Burbank, Calif., and RCA Music Group received many reports of multiple purchases, sometimes as gifts, but often to ensure that both mother and daughter would have their own copies.

Beyond Aiken's popularity, his first-week splash offers the latest testimony -- no doubt to the chagrin of music critics -- that the "American Idol" franchise, which returns to Fox in January, is a force to be reckoned with.

STAYING POWER

Sometimes stubbornness can be a virtue. A case in point is the recent OutKast album, which has proved to be a stubborn kind of seller, the kind that could hang in the Billboard 200's top 10 through the holiday season.

After starting with 510,000, "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" had a 54% decline, a typical second-week drop after a huge start. For example, Ludacris, last week's chart champ, sees a 55% slide (No. 2, 194,000), and Clay Aiken might fall by as much as 60% in his sophomore week.

OutKast's drop in week three slowed to 20%, and the erosion from prior-week sales is only 10% this issue (No. 4, 168,000). The album has sold 1.1 million copies in a mere four weeks.

Meanwhile, does it surprise you that the longest-staying album in the top 10 belongs to teen star Hilary Duff? She has logged eight weeks on the Billboard 200 (No. 9), all but one of them in the top 10.

No other album in the current top 10 has registered more than four chart weeks.

GROWN-UPS

New chart king Clay Aiken draws a big chunk of the 30-plus crowd, but his fast start is not the only adult-leaning album that stands out this week.

Barbra Streisand starts at No. 5 with 162,000, the biggest week for any of her albums since "Higher Ground" peaked at 465,000 copies in 1997. The first week for "The Movie Album" is 11% more than the 1999 start of "A Love Like Ours."

Four other Streisand sets, including two compilations, have bowed since then. Of those, the biggest week belonged to the 2001 holiday outing "Christmas Memories," which moved 136,000 in its fattest week.

Also key for the graying consumer: Simon & Garfunkel, whose latest anthology coincides with a reunion tour (No. 27); a CD/DVD combo from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin & Sammy Davis Jr. (No. 38 and No. 1 on Top Music Videos); and Will Downing (No. 92 and No. 2 on Top Contemporary Jazz).

Downing's 14,000-unit start comes within a few hundred of matching his biggest Nielsen SoundScan week, set by "Sensual Journey," which peaked at No. 90.

Michael McDonald's "Motown" rallies its sixth consecutive growth week since the album became the soundtrack of a TV ad for MCI, a spot that ran frequently during the baseball playoffs (45-39, up 17%).

And Andrea Bocelli's "Sacred Arias," reintroduced as a special edition with an 18-track DVD as its centerpiece, captures No. 1 on Top Classical Albums and No. 18 on Top Music Video. The original CD-only version, released in 1999, led the classical list for 39 weeks. He will be doing an eight-city U.S. tour to support this release.

STANDARD PROCEDURE

Another adult fave, Rod Stewart, is on track to be next week's Hot Shot Debut. "As Time Goes By ... The Great American Songbook Volume II," his sequel to the standards album he released last year, is on track to start with 150,000-160,000 copies, according to retailers' first-day numbers.

The kick seen this week by Stewart's first standards set hints at the new album's potential, as it rises 139-95 with a 41.5% gain over prior-week sales.

According to Nielsen SoundScan, his "It Had to Be You ... The Great American Songbook" has sold 1.8 million copies to date, including 115,000 in its first week, his biggest SoundScan frame yet.

Stewart made a release-week visit to "The Oprah Winfrey Show" Oct. 22.

Another recent Winfrey guest, the woman who gained notoriety for wondering on her MTV reality series if a certain brand of tuna is chicken, wins Pacesetter honors (127-74, up 73%). Jessica Simpson was on "Larry King Live" during the tracking week.

Reuters/Billboard

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