American Idol takes a lot of flack for being past its prime — and given the weak chart performance of its reigning champ, Candice Glover, those criticisms make sense — but make no mistake, the show can still produce stars.
Take Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips: The gravelly-voiced folk-pop singer’s debut album The World from the Side of the Moon was just certified platinum by the RIAA for shipments of one million units. The disc, which was released in November 2012, wasn’t a blockbuster out of the gate. It sold 169,000 in its first week, driven primarily by the success of Phillips’ Olympic anthem “Home,” which sold over 4.6 million copies as a single.
But World has continued selling steadily thanks to the slow-burn success of his platinum follow-up single “Gone Gone Gone,” which has climbed to No. 24 on the Hot 100 and topped the Adult Contemporary chart. And it doesn’t hurt that Phillips nabbed the opening slot on John Mayer’s Born and Raised tour, which he joined in July and will continue with until mid-December.
Though The Voice‘s ratings may be climbing higher than Idol‘s, the rival program has yet to produce a viable recording star. Season 3 winner Cassadee Pope seemed poised for pop success, but she was inexplicably pushed to the country market, which hasn’t embraced her very enthusiastically. Her debut single “Wasting All These Tears” has only reached No. 27 at country radio, leading to sales of about 300,000 copies.
Meanwhile, The Voice‘s newest winner, Danielle Bradbery, isn’t connecting on country radio, either. Her debut track, “The Heart of Dixie,” which finds the 16-year-old awkwardly telling the story of a woman running from her alcoholic husband, is floundering at the No. 40 mark on country radio. (Both songs are doing better than Glover’s “I Am Beautiful,” which debuted at No. 93 on the Hot 100.)
The U.S. version of The X-Factor certainly hasn’t scored with either of its winners. Tate Stevens’ debut album was a non-event in Nashville, and inaugural winner Melanie Amaro’s album still hasn’t been released. (Yikes.) On the bright side, Simon Cowell’s competition has found some minor success with pop trio Emblem3, whose genuinely fun album Nothing To Lose sold 46,000 copies in its first week and opened at No. 7 on the Hot 100.
And then, of course, there’s the a capella group Pentatonix, which won Season 3 of NBC’s recently revived The Sing-Off. The fivesome has found success on the charts (and thus have a second EP is on the way), but for the most part, they’ve eschewed the traditional path through the music industry. Pentatonix has instead wisely spun their exposure into a viral empire that has won them endorsement deals and helped sell out tour dates across the country — and even overseas. Their latest video, a cover of Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us,” has scored about 4 million views in two weeks.