'American Idol' Spawns Rash Of New Releases

The new season of American Idol starts in January, but this month brings a flurry of Idolatry at record stores. Host Guy Raz gets some help from Idolator.com's Maura Johnston in sorting through the options — from Carrie Underwood to Kris Allen to Adam Lambert, with a little Susan Boyle thrown in for good measure.

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GUY RAZ, host:

So Maura, are you going to pick up one of those Weezer Snuggies?

Ms. MAURA JOHNSTON (Editor, Idolator.com): I think I might. You know, it's getting colder. I might need some extra warmth.

RAZ: With Weezer emblazoned on the front.

Ms. JOHNSTON: Yes.

RAZ: That's Maura Johnston. She's the editor of the music Web site, Idolator.com.

Hi, Maura.

Ms. JOHNSTON: Hi.

RAZ: So, while we are on the theme of as seen on TV, you've got some new music related to a particular show.

Ms. JOHNSTON: Yes.

(Soundbite of "American Idol" Theme Song)

RAZ: And that show, of course, is "American Idol." It's the biggest show on TV, and November is shaping up to be the "American Idol" month. Why?

Ms. JOHNSTON: Well, this Tuesday, this past Tuesday, the new record by one of the former winners of "American Idol," Carrie Underwood, came out. In addition to that, a bunch of the contestants from this past season, the eighth season of the show, have new records coming out: Kris Allen, who won; Adam Lambert, who came in second.

RAZ: And is any of it actually good?

Ms. JOHNSTON: You know, there's always really great pop moments on each "American Idol" record. I mean, they're all sort of put together by a team of very seasoned professionals who know how to write hits. And the first one that we're going to talk about is actually the Carrie Underwood record, which she, you know, she's the sort of country leading American Idol.

And she had actually a huge hit a couple of years ago with a song called "Before He Cheats," which was this revenge fantasy.

(Soundbite of song, "Before He Cheats")

Ms. CARRIE UNDERWOOD (Singer): (Singing) I took a Louisville slugger to both headlights, slashed a hole in all four tires. And maybe next time he'll think before he cheats�

RAZ: And now, she's back with an album called "Play On."

(Soundbite of song, "Cowboy Casanova")

Ms. UNDERWOOD: (Singing) He's like a curse, he's like a drug. You'll get addicted to his love. You wanna get out but he's holding you down 'cause you can't live without one more touch. He's a good time cowboy Casanova, leaning up against the record machine.

Ms. JOHNSTON: This is called "Cowboy Casanova," and it's definitely operating at a very similar vein as "Before He Cheats," you know, with her being a sort of, like, down and dirty country girl who goes to the bar. But here, she's sort of casting herself in a wiser woman light, which I think is kind of interesting given the pedigree of "Before He Cheats." And, you know, it was such a huge song for her. It was on the pop charts for about a year and a half. It set records for just longevity of how long it hung around.

And so now, that's behind her and she's sort of, you know, casting herself as this person. She's been inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.

RAZ: Oh, wow.

Ms. JOHNSTON: And so, she's, you know, she has now the sort of cred beyond "American Idol."

RAZ: Okay. Let's talk about two other "American Idol" contestants. This is from last season: Kris Allen and Adam Lambert - the winner and the runner-up from last season. There's a bit of a battle going on between these guys again.

Ms. JOHNSTON: Yeah, there is. The fans of these two artists will probably be locked in a battle forever on the Internet. So, Kris Allen is sort of a clean-cut guy from the South who�

RAZ: And he's the guy who won.

Ms. JOHNSTON: He won.

(Soundbite of song, "Live Like We're Dying")

Mr. KRIS ALLEN (Singer): (Singing) Only got 86, 400 seconds in a day to turn it all around or to throw it all away. Got a tell 'em that we love 'em while we got the chance to say, gotta live like we're dying.

RAZ: So, this song we're hearing is called "Live Like We're Dying." It's off Kris Allen's self-titled record. It comes out in a couple of weeks. What do we make of it?

Ms. JOHNSTON: You know, it's funny 'cause this is actually a cover. It's sort of like, you know, the normal "American Idol" standard operating procedure. It's a cover of a band called The Script. They're an Irish band who actually opened for Paul McCartney over the summer. And, you know, I think it's very much in the Kris Allen vein. It's sort of, like, jangly and poppy.

I don't know if it has a place on the radio. It doesn't sound like a lot of stuff that's on the radio right now. It's sort of more of a throwback to the '90s when, you know, pop was a little more squeaky clean than it is right now.

RAZ: All right. And the polar opposite, Adam Lambert, who was really sort of a fan viewer favorite, even though he was the runner-up on "American Idol" last season. He has been all over the place.

Ms. JOHNSTON: He has. He's on the cover of Details next month, I think. And, you know, he was on "Oprah" and he's sort of�I mean, he has a personality. He has a completely outsized personality. He, you know, he wants to be a huge pop star. I mean, he's working with Lady Gaga, who has a ton of hits right now and who's written a bunch for other artists. And I think this first single is very much the polar opposite of the first Kris single in that, you know, it definitely establishes him as someone who's going for the high gloss.

So, it's sort of if you walked into a coffee house and went to an open mic night, Kris Allen would probably be that person.

RAZ: He is the guy that you would see.

Ms. JOHNSTON: Right.

RAZ: And Adam Lambert is not the guy who would be at the coffee house on open mic night?

Ms. JOHNSTON: No, no, no. The stage of the coffee shop is way too small for Adam Lambert.

(Soundbite of song, "For Your Entertainment")

Mr. ADAM LAMBERT (Singer): (Singing) Oh, do you know what you got to do? Can you handle what I'm about to do? 'Cause it's about to get rough for you. I'm here for your entertainment.

RAZ: All right. This is just like glam master.

Ms. JOHNSTON: Yeah.

RAZ: He is just a glamorous dude.

Ms. JOHNSTON: I mean, it has that, you know, it has that sort of rock and roll part two beat that's been very popular on the radio of recent years. And it's just him sort of, you know, telling people that all he wants to do is entertain. You know, he released the cover of his album and it's this picture of him looking very, very glammed up. He's on, like, a starry background and wearing lots of eyeliner. And he's just, like, this is glam; glam is back. You know, and it's nice to see someone want to be a pop star.

RAZ: But Maura, I understand that both Kris Allen and Adam Lambert might have some competition from across the pond.

Ms. JOHNSTON: Yes, actually from another person whose fame was shepherded by Simon Cowell.

(Soundbite of song, "Wild Horses")

Ms. SUSAN BOYLE (Singer): (Singing) Wild horses couldn't drag me away�

Ms. JOHNSTON: Susan Boyle?

RAZ: Yes, Susan Boyle. I remember�

Ms. JOHNSTON: You may remember her from the Internet.

RAZ: Yes, I remember her from YouTube. Yes, from "Britain's Got Talent."

Ms. JOHNSTON: "Britain's Got Talent."

RAZ: Yeah.

Ms. JOHNSTON: And, you know, I think that right now, we're in a place where a lot of record-buying is happening by the sort of people who will want to hear versions of "Wild Horses," which we just played.

RAZ: In other words, you're talking about people who are not downloading music to their iPods.

Ms. JOHNSTON: Right, right.

RAZ: So, folks who are still buying CDs.

Ms. JOHNSTON: Folks who are still buying CDs, which is, you know, it's an older SKUing demographic. It's more sort of standard SKUing, like Barbara Streisand's records sold really well, Michael Buble, who does a bunch of, you know, standards and covers of old songs. And I think that she will sort of get a lot of that holiday traffic, especially because it comes out the week of thanksgiving, this record.

So, I think a lot of people, when they see her smiling face on the cover, they'll be reminded, oh, yeah, you know, my grandmother would love this as a stocking stuffer.

RAZ: Well, Maura Johnston, you're my American idol.

Ms. JOHNSTON: Aw, thanks. You're mine.

RAZ: That's Maura Johnston. She's the editor of Idolator.com, and she joined us from NPR in New York.

Mr. SIMON COWELL (Judge, "American Idol"): I hated everything. I mean, it was just awful, awful.

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