By Stephen M. Silverman
April 23, 2003 01:00 PM

Last year’s “American Idol” winner Kelly Clarkson is living up to her title: She’s being idolized.

By CD buyers, at least. The Texas native’s debut album of R&B, gospel and pop, “Thankful,” is expected to debut Wednesday at No. 1 (or very close) on the Billboard 200 album chart, with about 300,000 copies sold through Sunday.

Richard Sanders, the general manager for Clarkson’s label, RCA, attributed her strong first-week sales to the power of TV, says the Hollywood Reporter.

Although RCA missed the originally scheduled Christmas release of the album because Clarkson was so busy touring in concert with fellow “Idol” contestants and shooting an “Idol” movie, the label, FOX and 19 Management (Clarkson’s management company and the show’s co-producers) joined forces to promote Clarkson during “Idol”‘s second season.

“The importance and the future of the franchise is contingent on Kelly being a star,” Sanders said. “If she sold only 100,000 copies, it would have been over. Now everyone has to take notice. It’s the No. 1-selling album in America.”

Not that everyone is thankful for “Thankful.” In Wednesday’s New York Daily News, music reviewer Jim Farber writes: “‘Dreadful’ is more like it … Imagine the dullest cuts on a Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera record sung by someone at a theme park outside Dubuque, Iowa.”