''American Idol'' winner Fantasia Barrino's recording career got off to a strong start this week when her debut single, ''I Believe,'' entered the Billboard singles chart at No. 1. The CD single, backed with her rendition of Aretha Franklin's ''Chain of Fools,'' sold 142,000 copies last week, according to SoundScan. That's a stunning margin of 138,000 over the previous chart-topper, ''Solitaire''/''The Way,'' from fellow ''Idol'' alum Clay Aiken.
Still, Aiken's record for the biggest first-week sales from an ''Idol'' star stands. His ''Bridge Over Troubled Water''/''This Is the Night'' sold 393,000 copies during its first week in stores last summer. That same week, last year's ''Idol'' winner Ruben Studdard also had a smash debut, selling 286,000 copies of ''Superstar''/''Flying Without Wings'' and charting at No. 2. Fantasia also failed to top inaugural ''Idol'' winner Kelly Clarkson, whose ''Before Your Love''/''A Moment Like This'' sold 236,000 copies out of the box.
Next week, Fantasia will face a rematch with her ''Idol'' runner-up Diana DeGarmo, whose own debut single was released on Tuesday. Her song ''Dreams'' is backed by her own rendition of ''I Believe.'' Whatever happens, the big winner will be first-season ''Idol'' finalist Tamyra Gray, who wrote the song performed by both singers, and who now stands to collect some fat royalty checks.