I will admit I’m an American Idol fan. I sit there and watch the judges give their opinions on performance after performance. I sit there and cry with the people who are kicked off the show. Ok, maybe I don’t cry, but you get the picture. However, I never watched one show from the first season. I knew about Kelly Clarkson,  of course, but didn’t see much of her since I wasn’t watching the show. She performed during the second season, though and popped her head in a couple times. When her album came out yesterday, I supported my American Idol curiosity and learned about her.

As a Simon Cowell fan, I agree with most of what he says.  Most.

He was really selling this album a couple weeks ago, calling some of the material “incredible”.   I know he’s simply helping sell his show’s brand, but since I usually agree with him, I thought the album might not be half bad. But I’m too smart to know that what I was going to hear was formula driven pop designed to do nothing less than sell a ton of records. And while Clarkson does have a very solid voice, she’s going to listen to whatever her producers and Clive Davis say.

Thankful Not Fantastic, But Not Awful Either

To use two of Simon’s adjectives,  Thankful is neither “dreadful”, nor is it “fantastic”, but somewhere in the middle.

First single, Miss Independent is a mixed bag. I like the energy on the song, but it can’t be edgy and overproduced at the same time.  There are too many things going on at one time. Rumor has Christina Aguilera writing this song for her own album, but it didn’t make the cut, but Christina receives a writing credit on Kelly’s version of Thankful.

Babyface worked on the album too although none of his huge ballad ballad are here.  The CD liner notes say Face helped the Underdogs produce You Thought Wrong and title track Thankful. You Thought Wrong features Idol alum Tamyra Gray and is all wrong for the album.  Busy production and heavy music cloak their voices.  Anyone with a pulse could’ve performed on the song, and you wouldn’t really know the difference. I think they were going for was a rockish The Boy Is Mine and missed. Thankful is a nice song that probably should’ve ended the album. Clarkson sounds like a less showy Mariah Carey on the song. Like Simon would say, “It was nice, but I was expecting breathtaking.”

What’s Up Lonely is a breath of fresh air with lyrics like, “What’s up lonely, seems you’re my only, friend who wants to share my pain.” Lonely isn’t a masterful track, but a nice simply produced nice song with sold vocals.  Low is Clarkson’s light rock attempt that works. Unlike many female artists int his genre, Clarkson isn’t playing an instrument, but the song is still smart.  Just Missed The Train is a nice ballad. Her voice sounds almost completely different singing in her “upper register” as Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul would say. Train is probably my second favorite song on Thankful, and her best vocal performance.

My favorite Thankful track on the album is Anytime which has dramatics and features Clarkson’s strong voice. The tone is Celine, but I can live with that since the vocals are good. I love the hook as she picks up the intensity in her voice.

A Moment Like This and Before Your Love are redone with new mixes on the album, but I never liked either song too much and the new mixes didn’t really strike a chord with me either.

Even though I’d give Thankful the old thumb in the middle, I think Clarkson has the talent to be really good. I wanted to hear more R&B stuff from her, but unfortunately that’s not what the producers wanted from her. I think she has a distinct enough voice to stand out, but obviously, she needs to start working with people who use her correctly. I’d love to hear Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis do a few tracks with her.

–G. Gonzales