Conspiracy Alert: Does American Idol Own Its Runners-up?
It's not really news when American Idol winners sign with RCA-affiliated 19 Entertainment — it only makes sense that Idol-creator Simon Fuller would want a piece of the stars his show creates. Interestingly, no AI finalist has made it to runner-up status and not signed with RCA Records or one of its subsidiaries. Coincidence? We think not. But is this a part of their super-secretive contract dealings, or would the contestants just be fools not to strike while their stars burn white hot? Perhaps the chance at $300,000 the contract promises upon delivery of a first album is too good to pass up.
Justin Guarini waited until October 2002 to sign with RCA — and look where that got him. In the following years, the runners-up began locking in their deals by June. This strategy has met with mixed success — earning millions of album sales for Clay Aiken and Adam Lambert while barely making a blip for Diana DeGarmo and Katherine McPhee. Depending upon the success of these Idol stars' first releases, RCA isn't shy about giving them the axe.
For some, parting company with a major label is a recipe for a refreshing change. Blake Lewis, perhaps one of Idol's most out-of-character finalists, told Crushable.com that switching from Arista to Tommy Boy Records was freeing, saying, "I got the record done, created it and then turned it in. With Clive Davis, there was too much meddling where he’d say things like 'I don't like this chorus' and we'd have to make changes. It's not like that now. I have my job and they have theirs." While this type of interference is not surprising from a major record label, what makes it noteworthy is that a singer-songwriter like Crystal Bowersox wouldn't find this tale cautionary.
Call it the Bowersox paradox, but Idol fans seemed drawn to the folky, folksy Ohio-native (though not enough to actually crown her the winner), and signing to a major label seems like a recipe for killing everything that made the coffee shop crooner unique. But if Idol owns its finalists' music for months or years after the show airs, would it be worthwhile to wait out the contract’s expiration to keep integrity intact? Apparently Crystal didn't take much time to consider these issues: She signed with Jive Records within 24 hours of being declared runner-up.
There have been points when her snap decision has caused her some stress. In September, Bowersox tweeted her frustration with the record executives: "We love exactly what you do. Now do it differently. We can't have an Indy type artist on a major label. Why the bleep not?" (We assume she meant indie as in independent and not as in Hoosier.) Another public kerfuffle stemmed from Crystal's insistance that "Farmer's Daughter," not "Hold On," be released as the single for debut album. The label finally relented to her wishes, which is probably a credit to the strength of Bowersox's star potential.
So if Bowersox was so quick on the record-deal making, why is it that other contestants have taken a month or so to sign on? And if one of the final two was intent on controlling their "sound," would it be possible for him or her to pull a Mario Vasquez and wriggle out of their contract?