American Idol experienced its first ratings dip last season, and I like to think that I contributed to the cause. Though this week’s American Music Awards certainly validated the talent competition’s market relevance, the show ceased being interesting to me around the time that Frenchie Davis was expelled and Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard duked it out for the second season’s crown. Perhaps realizing that simply putting his name on an Idol disc isn’t necessarily going to bolster his résumé anymore (he hasn’t broken a successful franchise artist without the help of the show since 2001), Clive Davis isn’t listed as a producer on last season winner Jordin Sparks’s debut. The thing is, Jordin Sparks is one he should have been more than happy to be associated with.
Miss Sparks is the youngest Idol winner to date, and for the most part, she doesn’t try to play older. Most of the album is a savvy mix of the latest pop and R&B trends, like the slick, cool, and modern “Freeze” and lead single “Tattoo” and “One Step at a Time,” both of which are paint-by-numbers retreads of production duo Stargate’s work on Beyoncé‘s “Irreplaceable” and Ne-Yo’s “Because of You,” respectively (note to record labels: If your artist delivers another one of these copycats, reject it. Immediately. And then refuse to hire Stargate again). But the fact is that these songs, including a full-fledged ‘80s-pop power ballad duet with Chris Brown deceptively titled “No Air,” truly soar.
The album’s middle stretch lapses into adult contemporary sludge, next to which the Bloodshy & Avant-helmed dance tunes sound jarring; as great as “Young and in Love” is, those vocal effects are only necessary when the singer is Britney Spears. Things turn back around with the lovely electro-pop lullaby “See My Side” (co-penned by Swedish singer Robyn) and a cover of Nashville singer-songwriter Christa Black’s “God Loves Ugly”; Sparks’s voice doesn’t possess the same character or personality as Black’s (in a just world, she would be the MySpace find of the year—sorry, Colbie), but Sparks’s version is surprisingly un-treacly. Things should have ended there, but the singer’s winning anthem, “This Is My Now,” is tacked on as an obligatory bonus track. Still, Jordin Sparks is one of the strongest Idol debuts yet. I’m almost tempted to start watching the show again. Almost.