- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Kelly Clarkson
All I Ever Wanted
RCA Records

If “American Idol” has lasting influence on popular music, it will be in the systematization of the canon of pop songs from the last half century or so. Typically, contestants showcase their chops with classics from Motown, soul, arena rock, classic rock and country, with the occasional nod to torch songs from the 1950s and before. Singers basically live or die by their success in channeling the intonation and energy of the original performer.

“American Idol” judges value raw power and commitment to selling a song as well as vocal talent. Winning performances tend to be intense and powerful, with contestants swinging for the fences on every song. This domineering, melismatic style wasn’t invented by “American Idol” but is a fixture of the system that dominated music before the ascendancy of the singer-songwriter in the 1960s. It tends to produce voices that are dexterous, loud, capable of credibly assaying songs across a range of genres — and also voices that are hard to place in time: neither conspicuously contemporary nor conspicuously retro.

That brings us to Kelly Clarkson. “All I Ever Wanted,” the fourth album by the winner of the debut season of “Idol,” features collaborations with producers Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, Dr. Luke and Max Martin and others. Miss Clarkson has left behind the faux-goth stylings of “My December” and released an album that touches on a range of genres but belongs to none. Her nimble but powerful voice dominates on driving tracks such as Katy Perry’s “I Do Not Hook Up” and the tearful recital number “If No One Will Listen.” Her voice seems created anew every time — either through her own efforts or those of producers at the dial.

Because of the hodgepodge of styles, it’s not an album a listener would gravitate to organically. But “American Idol” contestants come with presold audiences. I can’t imagine any fans already won over by Miss Clarkson’s down-to-earth persona and sunny disposition finding much to dislike about “All I Ever Wanted” except possibly the punkish track “Whyyawannabringmedown,” which borrows liberally from the glam-rock classic “Ballroom Blitz.”



To be fair to Miss Clarkson, the single “My Life Would Suck Without You,” which peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100, is no more or less bland than any of the hundreds of catchy, winning, forgettable songs that rule the airwaves for a week or two at a time.

Still, it’s not cynical to ask if Kelly Clarkson would have transformed herself into a pop icon if there were no such thing as “American Idol.” It seems implausible that Miss Clarkson, with her belt-it-out-of-the-park singing style and winning personality, would have spent a lifetime as a wedding singer or a small-town music teacher if she hadn’t found success on reality television. She’s simply too gifted. However, it is possible she would have taken a musical path that didn’t involve transforming herself into a vessel for the kind of featureless pop heard on “All I Ever Wanted.”

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