A surprise pop hit of 2006 isn't from chart toppers such as the Black Eyed Peas or Kelly Clarkson -- it's a crowd of young kids singing high-pitched renditions of the Black Eyed Peas and Kelly Clarkson.
It's a record you probably haven't heard unless you're a regular viewer of Nickelodeon. Yet the album, "Kidz Bop 10," reached No. 3 on last week's Billboard 200.
The astonishingly popular Kidz Bop series follows a simple formula: Take radio-friendly hits of the month, sanitize them of bad words and questionable lyrics, then have a bunch of kids sing along, throwing in intermittent "yeahs!" and "wooohs!" for good measure.
"Kidz Bop 10" features music by Daniel Powter, Rihanna and James Blunt, but none of the artists are heard on the record (they do receive publishing royalties). It is the biggest-selling Kidz Bop album yet, with 116,000 sold the last week.
The series, created in 2001 by record executives Cliff Chenfeld and Craig Balsam, was inspired by a demographic seldom tapped by record companies: the 4- to 12-year-old market. Or as Kidz Bop label Razor & Tie describes it, "kids who have outgrown Elmo but are not quite ready for Eminem."
For Razor & Tie, the New York City label whose previous claim to fame was the "Monster Ballads" and "Monsters of Rock" compilations, Kidz Bop has been a financial windfall. The series has sold 8 million records and follows recent successful albums aimed at children, including the Disney Channel's "High School Musical" soundtrack and "Sing-a-Longs and Lullabies for the Film Curious George" by folk pop-guitarist Jack Johnson.
"Because they're good songs, the kids are responding to it because the rest of the country is responding to it," said Sandi Hemmerlein, senior director of marketing for Razor & Tie. "And for kids to hear other kids singing, they find that really appealing."
If the singing on Kidz Bop sounds amateurish and childlike, it's not without reason. Razor & Tie strives to make the albums an "inclusionary experience."
"It's this idea that every kid can participate," Hemmerlein said.
"It's not like watching 'American Idol' or 'Star Search,' where you see little kids so talented, it seems they're from another planet."
With Top 40 radio perpetually generating material for Kidz Bop fodder, the label has already planned the next two installments to be released in February and next August. A Kidz Bop nationwide tour is being organized for fall 2007. The plan is to allow children to audition at every touring city, with those making the cut singing along to every "yeah!" and "woooh!" onstage.