Move over, MTV. No, not for VH-1, but for The Oprah Winfrey Show. A one-shot appearance on Oprah may mean more to a musician's career than heavy rotation on both video channels combined. It did for R&B songbird Oleta Adams (read our review), whose album Circle of One was something of a snoozer till Adams went on Oprah March 5. Faster than you can say ''Go on, girl!'' a cool 300,000 LPs were sold, and Circle shot to No. 20 on Billboard's Top Pop Albums chart. Coincidence? An isolated case? Not at all. Romantic soul crooner Luther Vandross and pop-gospel favorites the Winans have both had sales boosted by performances on Winfrey's show, not to mention New-Ager Yanni, who appeared on the show accompanying his lover, Linda Evans of Dynasty fame. Within a week, his album Reflections of Passion went gold.
Why does Oprah have such sales clout? Her syndicated show reaches 15 million viewers daily, more than all three network morning shows put together. And she rarely presents musical guests, so those that do appear seem special. Most of all, though, her viewers identify with her so strongly that they investigate anything featured on the show, from books to movies to albums. ''They judge for themselves,'' says Oprah executive producer Debra Di Maio, ''but if Oprah likes the artist, that absolutely has a lot of power.'' The bottom line: Oprah devotees predominantly female, middle-class, and as cutting-edge as Tupperware may not know what's bopping on MTV, but that doesn't mean they don't buy records.