Saturday, December 23, 2006


There are folks out there who think that American Idol celebrates and perpetuates the worst aspects of modern pop music. And while some of the music that has come from former winners and contestants hasn’t done much to disprove that notion, it’s unfair to dismiss AI altogether (even if the judges…especially Simon Cowell…seem more concerned with commerce rather than art when it comes to music-making.)

Not that Idol would allow itself to be dismissed...not with this year’s chartbusting success of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood (as well as the credible sales racked up by Chris Daughtry, Taylor Hicks, Clay Aiken, and Kellie Pickler) and the much-lauded performance of Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls. It is, for better or worse, a star-making juggernaut.

Third-season winner Fantasia’s first CD wasn’t perfect but it was promising enough to make me really anticipate her follow-up (Kelly Clarkson’s first disc had the same promise and she stepped up and offered up a real winner on his sophomore effort.)

Fantasia’s eponymous second CD kicks off with an infectious banger, “Hood Boy”, featuring a rap by Big Boi…built over a sample of The Supremes’ “The Happening”, it hits the ground running and never stops.

Fantasia is feeling more than a bit frisky (check out the cheeky “Baby Makin’ Hips”)…most of these songs are about making out and hooking up unabashedly…and she is in grand voice throughout.

There are, as is par for the course these days, an array of producers working here but, despite that, the record manages to sound coherent because Fantasia’s soulful, self-assured voice is always in control.

Missy Elliott co-wrote and produced three cuts: the throbbing “I’m Not That Type” (which would fit comfortably on one of Elliott’s own albums), the defiant old school kiss-off “Two Week Notice”, and the inspirational closer “Bump What Ya Friends Say”. Babyface produces (and plays all the instruments) on the self-affirming ballad “I Feel Beautiful”.

(One curmudgeonly aside…”When I See U”, “I Nominate U”, “Only One U”, “Surround U”…look I don’t care what Prince said, the letter “U” and the word “You” are NOT interchangeable homonyms.)

Fantasia is not perfect (“I Nominate U” is awkward and a bit silly) but it is mighty fine and it reaffirms that Ms. Barrino is a pop artist who is true to herself and we’re all the richer for that.

Chris Daughtry also followed his muse as best as he could when he was on American Idol (in the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit that I was pulling for him to win…but it’s probably better that he didn’t) and his debut CD, Daughtry (the name of his band, who don’t perform on this CD despite the fact that they are on the back cover), follows continues that path.

Daughtry wrote or co-wrote most of the songs on this disc and they are, true to the way he presented himself on the show, melodic rock and roll (most going from a gruff whisper to a soulful scream.) There is a definite Nickelback vibe here but Daughtry’s earnest vocals still carry the day (he could probably dial it down a bit more often but that’s a minor quibble.)

The musicians on the disc are solid (Slash steps in to play lead guitar on the snarling “What I Want”) and the production (by Howard Benson, who has worked with P.O.D., Motorhead, Less Than Jake, the All-American Rejects, and others.)

Daughtry is not perfect but it is engaging and it’s promising enough to really make me look forward to its follow-up.

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