Buy Adam's hair! 'American Idol' merch sales may predict this year's winner

The season finale won't take place until next Wednesday night, but American Idol already has a clear winner: the cottage industries that have sprung up around the contestants.

A glitch in Apple's iTunes software in April temporarily dropped the cloak that usually veils the sales results of the American Idol songs, revealing just how well each contestant was selling. Adam Lambert was atop the list of most-purchased songs, claiming six of the top 10 spots; Kris Allen, with three, came in second. Actual figures aren't released, but considering songs fetch 99 cents each, and some 25 million viewers watch the the show each week, revenue is likely very high.

Idol worshippers have also jammed eBay with memorabilia in the run-up to the grand finales next Tuesday and Wednesday. Perez Hilton reports that fans of Adam Lambert emblazoned the rock singer's face on some 700 items for sale. He's idolized on 11 times as many items for sale as his top-2 rival; pretty-boy folkie Kris Allen has about 60 items to his name.

Both contestants appear on the expected key chains, posters, mousepads, buttons, and magnets, but no Allen items approach the bid levels of Lambertana. Bids for a Ken doll restyled as Adam, with 11 hours to go, were at $260. Other sellers, spotting a profit opportunity, were jumping on the bandwagon. One desperate seller put up his Donny Osmond doll for auction with the wishful come-on: "Paint on some black eyeliner and nail polish and put him in a goth outfit and you have an American Idol Adam Lambert doll!"

Danny Gokey, who was eliminated on Wednesday, was represented by about 70 pieces on eBay. Perhaps more tellingly, only one Gokey song appeared in the leaked-iTunes top 10, just behind second-placer Kris Allen -- perfectly predicting the sequence of his ouster.

The most macabre item of Idol iconography, though, has to be a lock of Lambert's hair, which the seller says was culled from the entertainer's hairdresser and has been incorporated into a piece of homemade jewelry. Bidding on the rock relic started at $10, but with bidding set to end this wekeend, it had passed $200. (Click here to see the auction, but be warned that the page plays Lambert's Freddie Mercury-style multi-octave crooning.) On last Thursday night's show, a kid from Adam's old children's theatre asked him the name of his hairdresser -- and Adam just smiled. Maybe it's the same person as his accountant.

Still, painted Ken dolls and hair scraps are nothing. No entity is cleaning up like Fox. The show rakes in an estimated $1 billion a year -- more than "the total economy of 17 countries," gushes Newsday. None of the eBay merch, it should be pointed out, will go into Fox's pocket at this point. Once the winner is announced, though, the official cashing-in will begin, starting with the annual concert tour and moving on to the winner's studio album. Simon Cowell is probably salivating so much he has to chew on cotton balls when the cameras are off.

Could these side sales be a sign of who's going to win? Very possibly. After all, markets make for a microcosm of democracy. At the least, they're a measure of the fervency of each contestant's fan base. And in a game like Idol, in which the audience votes for the winner, that fervency is everything.

Update: As of Sunday, Adam now has more than 800 items for sale, and Allen has over 100 (although some of those also mention Lambert). Adam's hair sold for $710.

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