[From USA Today]

In race of returning pop divas, Shania is leader of the pack
By Edna Gundersen, USA TODAY

Fall's stampede of returning pop divas left nobody trampled.

Highly anticipated releases by Shania Twain, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Jennifer Lopez and Christina Aguilera showed impressive marketplace clout, though only one looms as an undisputed smash.

Twain's month-old Up!, a double album offering pop and country versions of 19 tunes, is No. 1 for the fourth week and has sold 2.2 million copies. Its predecessor, 1997's Come On Over, reached sales of more than 14 million, the best-selling album since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking in 1991.

"She had a big fan base to work with," says Geoff Mayfield, Billboard's director of charts. "She's still getting a fair amount of play from country radio while being able to court a pretty large audience at pop stations. It could hold court for the rest of the year."

Twain's reign in no way diminishes the accomplishments of her peers, Mayfield says.

"I'm not sure what expectations were, but each of them did better than they've done before," he says of the early tallies. "And that's saying something considering the climate we're in." Record sales overall are in a yearlong slump.

Image baggage complicated the comebacks of Carey, whose Glitter film and soundtrack bombed last year, and Houston, who has been plagued by erratic behavior and rumors of drug use. Both took advantage of high-profile TV interviews to ease their re-entries.

"Mariah had only one other album (1999's Rainbow) that did better in the first week than Charmbracelet, which certainly had a better start than Glitter," Mayfield says. "Whitney's new album, only her third besides a soundtrack since SoundScan began counting, had the best opening yet. Christina had a pretty big start, and J. Lo had the biggest week of her still-young career."

The diva scoreboard:

Shania Twain, Up! (released Nov. 19)

Opening week: No. 1 with 874,000 copies

This week: No. 1 with 373,000

Total: 2.2 million in four weeks

Single: I'm Gonna Getcha Good! peaked at No. 34 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart in November.

Mariah Carey, Charmbracelet (Dec. 3)

Opening week: No. 3 with 241,000 copies

This week: No. 14 with 173,000

Total: 415,000 in two weeks

Single: Through the Rain never entered the Hot 100.

Whitney Houston, Just Whitney (Dec. 10)

This week (opening week): No. 9 with 205,000

Singles: Whatchoolukinat didn't crack the Hot 100. One of Those Days is No. 81 after six weeks on the chart.

Jennifer Lopez, This is Me ... Then (Nov. 26)

Opening week: No 6. with 314,000 copies

This week: No. 8 with 220,000

Total: 705,000 in three weeks

Single: Jenny From the Block is No. 3 on the Hot 100 after nine weeks.

Christina Aguilera, Stripped (Oct. 29)

Opening week: No. 2 with 330,000 copies

This week: No. 16 with 168,000

Total: 1.2 million in seven weeks

Singles: Dirrty peaked in October at No. 48 on the Hot 100; Beautiful is No. 10 after five weeks.

Though all five enjoyed fast retail starts, some could drop out of the race sooner than others. Twain's track record suggests the surest bet for a lengthy chart ride.

"She's got country and pop: two ingredients for a long shelf life," Mayfield says. "Shania has the best shot."

But an early entry could pose a real challenge to the existing rankings. Newcomer Norah Jones' jazz-flavored debut, Come Away with Me, is No. 15 and has sold 2.2 million copies since its release in February.

"She's proof that sometimes you get more longevity if you build your way into the top 10 rather than start there," Mayfield says. "It's not one of those records that fits into any tidy radio category. There are still radio stations discovering this woman. She's had a chance to grow at a natural pace."



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