Will Oprah Save The Music Business?

noah | September 8, 2009 11:00 am

I’ve long wondered if an “Oprah’s Music Club”—an analogue to her beloved-by-publishers Book Club, in which the talk-show host gives a tome her blessing, causing it to actually be stocked in stores in anticipation of sales going sky-high—would be a boon for the music business, particularly in this time of faltering sales and eternally delayed projects. Well, the new season of her signature show bows next week, and its first few episodes will certainly be a test of whether or not she can make her audience feel like buying music once again.

The music-tastic run actually starts today, with a kickoff party being taped in downtown Chicago that features the Black Eyed Peas, Jennifer Hudson, James Taylor, and Rascal Flatts. (And Criss Angel, too, but I don’t think he has any albums up his sleeve yet.) All four acts have had albums come out in the past year; the Peas’ The E.N.D. is hanging tough in the top 10 after 12 weeks (man, it seems like so much longer!), and Rascal Flatts’ Unstoppable, which was released in April, is in the low 50s. Taylor’s and Hudson’s albums have both dropped off the Billboard 200, and it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see the Oprah bump help ease them back onto that chart.

But the real tests will come next week. First up is a two-day chat between Oprah and Whitney Houston, whose I Look To You is rumored by the industry rag Hits to have moved between 290,000 and 310,000 in the six days after its Aug. 31 release. And apparently this interview won’t be a bunch of Entertainment Tonight-ready puffery; Oprah’s site claims that Winfrey asks the tough questions, like “When did the drugs start?”, “What finally made you decide, ‘I’m out of this marriage’?” and “Were you afraid that you had lost the voice?” While it’s doubtful that the interviews will cause sales to be buoyed back to their first-week levels is doubtful, but if Look can stay above the six-figure mark for its third chart week, it’ll likely result in lots of music publicists calling up Harpo Productions in the coming weeks.

Perhaps an even bigger test for Oprah’s musical mettle will come on Friday, when Mariah Carey, whose forthcoming album Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel has been beset by delays and unfortunate TV appearances, stops by the show. She’s sharing space with Regis Philbin, Kelly Ripa, and announcement of Oprah’s most recent Book Club selection, and—perhaps crucially—the appearance predates Memoirs‘ release by a full 11 days. Will the Oprah-viewing populace remember that the record’s out? Or will the release date actually be bumped up in order to take full effect of the Oprah Blessing? Honestly, I wouldn’t blame Island Def Jam for doing so, because if there’s one thing that’s true about the current era, it’s that peoples’ memories are short.

Oprah Interviews Whitney Houston [Oprah.com]Fans line up for Oprah taping [ABC]