Idol Worship: Battle Of The Book Deals

"Move over, David Cook! Since Season Six of American Idol, pop culture has been lacking a certain something…and his name is Sanjaya Malakar!"

So reads the opening line to a press release announcing American Idol also-ran Sanjaya Malakar's memoir, Dancing To The Music In My Head, which officially came out last week. A tad ostentatious? Maybe not in the eyes of the so-called Fanjayas, but what about the rest of the Idol-loving community? Do we care enough about a guy eliminated two years ago in the bottom half of the Top 12 to buy his book? Is out-there hair reason enough for a memoir?

Granted, we haven't read the thing (yet), but it got us wondering: how much are publishers shelling out for these Idol memoirs? After all, Sanjaya's not the first Idol cast-off to try the author route. Season 5's Mandisa put out a book last year that was part-life story, part-self-help guide, and at least one runner-up, Clay Aiken, has found massive success with his publishing debut, 2005's Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life, which was a New York Times best-seller.

Simon Cowell's 2004 autobiography, I Don't Mean To Be Rude, But... was another hit.  Randy Jackson's What's Up Dawg?: How to Become a Superstar In the Music Business? Not so much. Some winners have fared well, like Fantasia, who not only told her rags-to-riches story in print, but starred in her own Lifetime movie adaptation of Life Is Not A Fairy Tale, while others have floundered, like Taylor Hicks, who, a year after his season 5 win, released Heart Full Of Soul. Even Idol bandleader Rickey Minor has a book out, There's No Traffic on the Extra Mile, though it's too early to judge its performance. Same with Randy Jackson's second effort, the health-focused Body with Soul.

Of course, in the publishing world, it's all relative to one key number: the author's advance. And much like the stock market over the last six years, Idol alumni have seen some tremendously inflated highs. Hicks, for example, landed a book deal worth almost $800,000, and Aiken pocketed around $700,000 for his, according to a source (Aiken stands to make significantly more for a post-coming out follow-up).

Simon Cowell was paid upwards of $2 million for his autobiography, estimates one industry insider, who puts Fantasia's pay at closer to $500,000. But while Cowell's and Aiken's books performed exceptionally well, Hicks' was an unequivocal bomb. "If you sell a book for $100,000, and it sells 50,000 copies, that's a huge hit," explains one agent who specializes in celebrity book deals. "If you pay close to $1 million and it sells 100,000, you've got problems. It's all about creative financing." Sanjaya, by his own admission, received around $100,000, which makes him a relatively low-risk author, but can he move 50,000 copies to recoup that advance and earn some income? This agent thinks not: "It will not work. His 15 minutes are up."

Which brings us to our original question: why Sanjaya? And at 19 years old, does his life experience thus far even warrant a memoir? We asked last season's runner-up David Archuleta, who just celebrated his 18th birthday, whether he'd consider putting out a book. "I've been approached about doing one," he said, "but I just feel, like, you need to have enough to talk about. What is there to say about my life? Hopefully it's just beginning and I'll be around for a few more years to have stories to tell."

We couldn't have said it better, Archie. But what say you, Idol Worshippers? Would you shell out 20 bucks for the story of Sanjaya? Are there other Idols more deserving of a permanent spot in the Library of Congress?

-- Shirley Halperin

January 27, 2009 in American Idol, Books | Permalink | Comments (54) | TrackBack

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