Sunday, July 25, 2004

More stars are giving albums a spin

By Karen Thomas
USA Today

Pop-star fame is growing a new requirement: a record deal.

Record labels are eager to work with hot celebs, says Craig Marks, editor of Blender magazine. "Most of them have exposure with TV or movies, and it's easier for them to get a foot in the door."

It doesn't seem to matter whether genuine musical talent factors in. The simple curiosity-factor behind celebrity albums, he says, "appeals to the state of the industry right now."

Upcoming albums

• Lindsay Lohan has a contract with Casablanca Records, thanks to Tommy Mottola, Mariah Carey's former mentor, boss and husband. Lohan will do some songwriting with a release planned by the end of the year. Mottola also is credited with launching Jennifer Lopez's singing career.

• Paris Hilton is recording an album of original songs and covers, including Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes." She plans to release it on her own Heiress Label (no date yet). It'll be a mix of Blondie and Madonna, and rap duets.

• Jai Rodriguez of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is recording an album of rock and urban-soul. Though not signed to a label yet, he hopes to have an album out next year.

• Minnie Driver's contemporary folk album Everything I've Got In My Pocket is due Oct. 5 on Rounder Records. She penned all but a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Hungry Heart."

When it comes to credibility, today's crop of celebrity artists is a "mixed bag," says Marks. Lohan has a proven track record with power pop, thanks to a soundtrack from her February film Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. Driver had a record deal before she got hot as an actor.

The key to celebrity culture is to find "as many ways as you can to get in front of as many people as possible," says music consultant Tom Vickers. Stars attach themselves to movies, TV, DVDs and video games. "Music is just another avenue of exposure."

And that just may drive sales. "If just 10 percent of The Simple Life audience buys Hilton's album, that's a good thing for an industry that's struggling," says Vickers.

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