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'American Idol' drops Sony, signs with Universal Music Group for distribution deal

August 3, 2010 | 11:46 am

With world attention still fixated on who the new judges will be on Fox's "American Idol," producers for the show sent shock waves through the music industry by signing a distribution deal with Universal Music Group, ending the show's long relationship with Sony Music.

Under the agreement, UMG's Interscope Geffen A&M Records will distribute, promote and market albums from "Idol" finalists and winners starting next year when the show's 10th season launches. Sony's deal expired after the ninth season ended in May. If UMG's deal is similar to the one Sony had, then the company will have right of first refusal for the final 12 contestants on "American Idol."

In a statement to Company Town, "American Idol" creator Simon Fuller explained the move by lavishing praise on UMG co-CEO Lucian Grainge and Interscope Geffen A&M Chairman Jimmy Iovine.

"With 'Idol' celebrating our 10th season I wanted to inject some new power and weight behind our brand," Fuller said. "We have been quietly delivering hits relentlessly for nine seasons and Lucian Grainge and Jimmy Iovine's ambition, commitment and determination to push the boundaries and go even further with 'Idol' was very compelling."

Although album sales from past "Idol" winners and finalists have come to dominate the pop charts in the last decade -- with fourth-season winner Carrie Underwood selling 11.5 million albums and Kelly Clarkson, who won the show's first season, moving 10.6 million units according to Billboard magazine -- the announcement arrives at a transitional time for the show.

This year, "Idol's" ratings declined with judge Simon Cowell's announcement that 2010 would mark his last season with the show before leaving to launch his own talent hunt series, "The X Factor." Seven dates on the "American Idols Live!" concert tour -- a reliable money earner in previous years -- were scrapped last month because of lackluster ticket sales. As well, album sales from Season 9 finalists Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox have been sluggish compared with Season 8’s winner Kris Allen and runner-up Adam Lambert, compelling some industry observers to wonder if "Idol's" long run as a cultural juggernaut has reached its limit.

As for the show itself, Fox, FremantleMedia and 19 Entertainment continue to inch closer to sealing a deal with Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler to be judges on the show this fall. Already gone are lead judge Cowell and Ellen DeGeneres, who gave her notice last week. Kara DioGuardi is also expected to be off the show. Original judge Randy Jackson is likely to remain.

-- Chris Lee
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