“American Idol” and the Ultimate Low
Seven years ago, I received five promotional copies of a compact disc that became a music industry legend. Now, with “American Idol” returning to Fox for its seventh season, millions of people are hearing about Carly Hennessy, the would-be pop star who became infamous for the spectacular failure of that debut CD.
I remember unpacking all those copies of Hennessy’s Ultimate High, and the ridiculous level of promotional overkill ultimately worked. I cracked open the jewel box, listened to it and liked it enough to give the Irish singer a positive review, primarily on the strength of its production and songwriting work by Gregg Alexander.
Alexander had abdicated his role as a pop star when he folded New Radicals, which scored a hit in 1998 with “You Get What You Give.” I’ve never been able to decide if Alexander was a great and distinctive songwriter or a lucky guy with a few melodic tricks in the bag — the 2003 song he wrote for Santana and Michelle Branch, “The Game of Love,” could be identified as one of his spawn in its first 10 seconds.
Alexander, along with former “Archie Bunker’s Place” child star and fellow New Radical Danielle Brisebois, crafted Hennessy’s Ultimate High from top to bottom. It sounded like a New Radicals disc, albeit with an 18-year-old Irish girl singing lead.
And it was good, but while MCA Records could give Ultimate High away to a few gullible music reviewers, the company only got a few actual, flesh-and-bone music buyers to pony up. According to the Wall Street Journal, the company spent $2.2 million making and marketing Ultimate High, which means it cost MCA $5,820 to move each of the 378 copies it sold in its first three months.
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