'Saturday Night Live" has made some daring choices in musical guests over the years, but rarely--if ever--has it showcased someone before the act has released a record in the United States.
So Natalie Imbruglia's appearance on March 7 may be a first.
RCA Records won't release Imbruglia's debut album in this country until March 10, but that didn't stop "Saturday Night Live" producers from getting caught up in the excitement over the Australian singer's hit "Torn."
The soaring lament about a disintegrated relationship, a massive hit in England and Europe, has made an immediate impact in the States too. Though it won't be released as a single (in order to maximize sales of the album, "Left of the Middle"), "Torn" is flying up the radio airplay charts in several formats, and the accompanying video is turning up regularly on MTV and VH1.
"We weren't trying to make a statement," Marci Klein, a co-producer of "SNL," says of the unusually early booking. "We just really love the album and the song. . . .
"And, of course, we like her look. She's got a presence that I think will be good for live television. You want somebody who's going to come across to people sitting at home, and I think that she will."
The photogenic Imbruglia, 23, was a star for two years on an Australian soap opera, "Neighbours," before returning to music a few years ago. (She'd been offered a record deal 10 years ago, but turned it down.)
Though she co-wrote most of the songs on her debut album, "Torn" was originally recorded by the L.A. rock band Ednaswap.
Imbruglia's much altered, poppier version (produced by Nigel Godrich, who produced Radiohead's acclaimed "OK Computer" album) made her an overnight star in Britain, where the single has sold more than 800,000 copies and powered sales of "Left of the Middle" above the 500,000 mark.
And now America. Her European success and the initial response from U.S. radio prompted RCA to push up the U.S. release date for the album from March 24.
"We've only been playing it a couple of weeks and it's already one of our most requested songs," says Chris Ebbott, music director at L.A. radio station KYSR-FM (98.7). "We think it's going to be a huge, huge hit as we play it more."
RCA couldn't be happier.
"I didn't expect this," says Jack Rovner, executive vice president and general manager of the label. "You listen to the album and it certainly sounds like a hit--and internationally it's done extremely well--but nobody could have predicted this. It's fantastic."