The biggest liability of becoming the “American Idol” is evident on winner Kelly Clarkson’s debut album, Thankful. These young singers are just that: singers. Primped, posed and positioned with a bevy of top-line producers and songwriters, Clarkson has been stripped of the process of experimentation and discovery that a true developing artist must endure. Either Clarkson is being thrust into the spotlight with little-to-no input or she literally has nothing to say. Sure, there’s a handful of durable soul numbers reminiscent of Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love” (most notable are “The Trouble with Love Is,” “What’s Up Lonely” and the title track), but Clarkson is too often fitted with adult-skewed power ballads like the overwrought “Low” and the Diane Warren-penned “Some Kind of Miracle” (can’t you just tell by the title?). The singer gets an injection of relevance with a cover of Danielle Brisebois’s “Just Missed the Train,” a heart-wrenching alt-rock ballad originally from Brisebois’s 1994 album Arrive All Over You, but this glossed-up rendition is just another painful reminder that Clarkson’s label is way too aware of the “American Idol” audience: the lyric “Do you remember drinking all that wine” has been dutifully changed to “Do you remember wasting all that time.” The album’s first single, “Miss Independent,” gives Clarkson the youthful edge she desperately needs to balance out the Adult Contemporary goo of songs like “Anytime” and “A Moment Like This.” An outtake from Christina Aguilera’s Stripped, “Miss Independent” is no “Dirrty,” but it proves that if anyone can out-sing Aguilera, it’s Clarkson. Yes, the girl’s got immeasurable talent, but the last note of Thankful’s final track, a new mix of “Before Your Love,” speaks volumes: this is the sound of strained excess.
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