March 14, 2008 / 11:50 PM / in 9 years

"Idol" fans sing a loud "Hallelujah"

3 Min Read

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - A cover of a song written by a composer who's now 73 and performed by a singer who died more than 10 years ago may not sound like the ingredients of a top-selling download. But when the straw that stirs is "American Idol," throw out the recipes.

Contestant Jason Castro delivered "Hallelujah" on the top-rated Fox juggernaut -- not a version reminiscent of the original take by its author, new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Leonard Cohen, but one that paid homage to second-generation musician Jeff Buckley, who drowned in 1997.

Castro's performance obviously struck a chord with viewers, as Buckley's version tops Hot Digital Songs with 178,000 downloads sold, the largest song spike yet from an "American Idol" performance.

"Idol" has created ripples on the Top Pop Catalog Albums chart since the show's early days and on Hot Digital Songs since that list was launched, but this is by far the biggest impact that an oldie download has derived from the talent contest.

The week after a themed episode of the show in 2007, five Bon Jovi songs charted, including the band's then-new "(You Want To) Make a Memory," which drew 51,000 during the week. Of the four Bon Jovi oldies to make that week's chart, the biggest performer was "Wanted Dead or Alive," which scored 39,000 downloads to rank at No. 20. Until Castro's performance of "Hallelujah," that had been the biggest digital week for an "Idol"-juiced oldie.

Combined sales of all five charting Bon Jovi songs that particular week fell more than 4,000 downloads shy of what Buckley's "Hallelujah" achieves by itself this week. All this for a song that never appeared on any Billboard chart when Buckley was alive. The song, previously used on TV drama "The OC," placed one week in May 2004, at No. 42 on Hot Digital Tracks.

The album that hosted the track, "Grace," also gets a lift this week, bowing on the Top Pop Catalog list at No. 10, selling almost 7,000 copies, more than 13 times its prior-week sales. All but 38 percent of the album's sales come from digital downloads.

Despite press speculation earlier this year that this might be the season Fox's hit franchise starts to fade, the show has bounced back from an opening-week ratings dip. It remains the only current show to draw the kinds of numbers that hit TV shows drew in the '70s, back when many viewers had only three to five channels to choose from.

Still, the music industry can't expect this sort of sales reaction in every subsequent week. Castro obviously touched viewers, as he did "Idol" judge Simon Cowell.

Less clear is the matter of how many downloads Castro's own version of "Hallelujah" sold. Contestant downloads sold via Apple's iTunes Music Store do not appear on Nielsen SoundScan, a stipulation imposed by the show's producers.


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