In one of the tightest races ever on the Billboard 200, R&B singer Chrisette Michele comes in at No. 1, separated by only 1,000 copies from the runner up, the "Hannah Montana" soundtrack, which sells only 1,000 more units than Ciara, who comes in at No. 3.
"Epiphany" is Michele's first Billboard 200 chart topper. At 83,000 copies, it far outpaces the debut of her last album in 2007, which sold 27,000 units it its opening week. (And as a matter of comparison as to how severely album sales have dropped off since then, that 2007 tally landed her at No. 29. Now, that figure would usually be enough to slip an title into the bottom of the top 10.)
Undoubtedly boosted by Mother's Day, the "Hannah Montana" soundtrack sells 82,000 units. That is good enough to keep the title at No.2. More significantly, it drops only a few thousand units in sales from the week previous, making this soundtrack the gift that just keeps on giving. It has remained in the top 5 slots since its chart debut seven weeks ago and will probably top the million mark within two or three weeks.
While Ciara's appearance on "Saturday Night Live" no doubt helped the R&B singer/dancer, she still falls short of the No. 1 debut for her last album, 2006's "Evolution," which has opening week sales of 338,000. "Fantasy Ride" logged 81,000 units in its opening frame.
Michele's No. 1 is certainly a wonderful accomplishment, but it comes with an asterisk. It is the lowest sales amount for an album to debut at No. 1 since Nielsen SoundScan bowed in 1991, according to Billboard. Only two other albums in the intervening 18 years have debuted with less than 100,000 in sales: Johnny Cash's "American V: A Hundred Highways," which sold 88,000 in its opening week in 2006; and "#1's," a Notorious B.I.G. greatest hits set, which sold 99,000 in 2005. Don't feel back, Chrisette. The way album sales are falling, we're sure some other title will earn that dubious distinction before long.
The only other debut in the Top 10 is Ben Harper and Relentless7's "White Lies for Dark Times."
In other chart news, last week's No. 1, Bob Dylan's "Together Through Life" falls to No. 5; Lady Gaga's "The Fame" and Taylor Swift's "Fearless" continue to sell well six months after their releases: "The Fame" is No. 6 and "Fearless" is No. 7.
Looking ahead to next week, Green Day is a lock to come in at No. 1, even based on only three days of sales. "21st Century Breakdown," which drops Friday instead of the usual Tuesday in-store date, will easily shift enough units before Nielsen SoundScan closes the week's count on Sunday to top the Billboard 200. The only question is what the first week tally will be.