May 1, 2003

Kelly Clarkson: American Pop Idolatry

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Okay, I’ll confess a dirty little secret: last summer I used to watch American Idol. Hey, it’s not like there’s anything decent on television anymore anyway. And even though the pompous and idiotic Simon Cowell only got on my nerves while Paula Abdul can’t sing and shouldn’t have the right to judge anyone, I voted for the neon-haired Nikki McKibbon. But Nikki only came in third, and fellow Texas native Kelly Clarkson won a million dollar recording contract followed by overnight fame with teenyboppers across the nation. Now, some eight months after her victory, Clarkson’s debut LP, Thankful, has become the number one selling album in the country.

A former cocktail waitress from the suburbs of Dallas, the now 21 year-old Clarkson had traveled to Los Angeles after graduating high school in an attempt to cut a record deal; she didn’t, she gave up and went home after her apartment burned down. Thankful, though, shows that Clarkson is definitely a talented vocalist with the ability to cover a wide range of styles, who probably should have been given a deal long before someone like Britney Spears made her first music video.

Produced by the famed Clive Davis, Thankful is an attempt to show that the American Idol winner can perform anything from rock to R&B. The album’s first single, “Miss Independent,” sounds like something Christina Aguilera would sing when she’s trying to convince us that she’s really a bad girl. So it isn’t really surprising that the Half-Naked Diva co-wrote the song for Clarkson. The singer demonstrates that she’s just as skilled at belting out choruses as Aguilera, but without throwing in a few pointless cries just to show off her range. “Miss Independent” shows a slightly edgier rock-and-roll side of Clarkson that fans of Idol never really got to see during her televised auditions.

Fellow top-ten contestant Tamyra Gray teams up with Clarkson in the album’s other upbeat track “You Thought Wrong,” which is kind of reminiscent of that once overplayed Brandy and Monica song “The Boy Is Mine,” since the two women in the song have apparently become involved with the same man. The chorus features both Idols crying out “You thought we didn’t know/ you thought we were in the dark/ but boy your cover’s blown/ cause we both know now.” Uh, I’m sure he’s real scared. Despite the track’s trite lyrics, both Clarkson and Gray (who is now a featured guest star on the Fox series Boston Public) reveal the emotions their voices can exhibit.

“Miss Independent” and “You Thought Wrong” are the highlights of Thankful; most of the album consists of piano-laden ballads about love and betrayal (very original themes in music, really). “Some Kind of Miracle” features Clarkson gushing about a new guy in her life, and even though she displays a penchant for throaty screams, the song is overall boring and forgettable. “Anytime” also suffers from the same qualities. While Clarkson never seems to have a bad vocal moment, these songs just don’t enable her to show what she’s capable of producing.

The album’s title track is nothing special, either. The lyrics (“I’m thankful so thankful/ for the love that you keep bringing in my life, in my life/ thankful, so thankful”) are annoyingly repetitive –yes, we get it, Kelly