When contestants belt their hearts out on American Idol, it's become almost as fun to anticipate not only what kind of album they're going to make once the show is over but how the public will like them when they're not singing someone else's songs as it is to watch the show.
Katharine McPhee is really the first American Idol contestant that truly looks like an American Idol. Carrie Underwood is quite beautiful, but Katharine is a bombshell. So I'm sure RCA felt they had a potential goldmine in signing this girl to their label — someone who could so easily fit into today's pop market.
Katharine's self-titled debut surely does fit into today's pop market, as does her look, but I think the sound of her CD is going to come as quite a shock to most people who voted for her on American Idol, and even those who didn't. The album boasts a multitude of pop tracks: some uptempo dance songs like the fun and funky soundtrack-bound "Love Story;" some midtempo, like the infectious "Not Ur Girl" and catchy premiere single "Over It;" and some beautiful ballads like the soulful "Better Off Alone" and "Each Other."
It's interesting reading a lot of reviews of the album, most reviewers barely even mention the tracks on the record. It's usually an overall criticism of the direction she went, her personality, or just some mess that doesn't really make any sense that they cut and pasted from comments someone made on a gossip blog.
That's not to say the album is perfect, but judging from some of the early reviews you'd think McPhee delivered a dud and for a debut album, this is anything but. Hell, I would have preferred to have her sing an album full of jazz standards and Barbra Streisand type ballads too, but the reality is that if she had done that, she would've flopped – faded faster than Taylor Hicks' hair – and that would've been the end of the McPheever. Katharine knows what she's doing, and at least if she was going to make a pop, R&B, and dance record, it's good that she made a very enjoyable one.
And maybe after she's gained some clout with the success of this album, she can pull a Christina Aguilera and do something still pop but much more experimental on the next one. With all of that said, there are many tracks on this album that you'll have on repeat, and some which might make you chuckle.
"Do What You Do," though a fun track, is something that Fergie should've recorded and then rejected from her album because it wasn't good enough. And the fact that Katharine McPhee, the "Somewhere Over The Rainbow Girl" is singing it, makes it that much more laughable. The JoJo-ish "Over It" is a catchy song, but it's also quite generic and bland. "Open Toes" is an okay dance track that's got a lot of attitude, and Katharine claims the gays will love it. But I've heard an amazing extended remix of it that really just should've been the track on the album, and I have a feeling the gays will love it more.
"Better Off Alone" is one of the most gorgeous pop ballads I've heard in years. McPhee knows how to seduce you with her lower register that could both lull a baby to sleep and make any red-blooded man (or woman for that matter) in love with her in a matter of seconds. RCA will have done her a major injustice if this song is never a single. "Neglected" showcases impressive Mariah Carey-esque vocals I didn't even know McPhee posessed, and I've seen every single episode of American Idol since season one.
There are a few vocal misfires however. Like on American Idol, Katharine uses her higher register entirely too liberally, and it's painful. She only uses it on a few tracks, but she needs to learn that her voice can't go there — at least not yet. It sounds high-pitched and shrill, and for someone who is very often above or below the pitch in live performances, that's the last thing she wants to risk sounding like.
It's also notable, that a lot of the album is very reminiscent of popular R&B from previous decades. Songs like "Each Other", "Everywhere I Go", and "Neglected" all sound like songs from the '90s by artists like Monica and SWV that I wish were still being made today. I never thought it would come along in the package of a tall white girl with a beautiful smile and boobs great enough to turn me straight. Then there's the undeniably hypnotic '80s-sounding Nate Hills produced track "Dangerous" that's just that — dangerous. I listened to it once before the album came out, and the rest of the night was spent repeating the song and dancing around in my basement with my cheap disco ball pretending I was in a club.
What's funny is that this girl from American Idol who many probably won't take seriously for years to come, showed up and outsang most of the pop and R&B divas of today with halfway decent material. Her voice has the soul of Kelly Clarkson, with a tone that could potentially rival the great Whitney Houston's (another track from the album, "I Lost You", was originally recorded for Whitney's upcoming comeback album) with enough work, yet the emotion and phrasing of greats like Eva Cassidy and Barbra Streisand. She's got lightyears to go as a live performer, and it'll be interesting to see if she steps up the plate and really takes creative control on her next album with both a new direction and doing more of the writing herself.
It's all up to Katharine. But thus far, she's shown enough potential to be one of the most promising young vocal talents since the debut of Christina Aguilera in 1999.Powered by Sidelines