Considering that the Simple Simon judges on American Idol are so fond of saying "You made it your own," it's startling how anonymous the debut CD feels from season-one winner Kelly Clarkson.
Thankful's first single, the R&B-styled stomper "Miss Independent," sounds like the fat removed from Christina Aguilera's meatier "Fighter" - which could well be the case, since Aguilera co-wrote both tunes. In vocal tone and musical flavor, "The Trouble With Love Is" is a Mariah Carey castoff. The bombastic banality "You Thought Wrong" wastes the talents of Clarkson and her guest partner, Idol finalist Tamyra Gray.
Who is Texan Kelly Clarkson? From the market-conscious sound of Thankful, all that is clear is that she is just another pop singer with a versatile voice in a long line of many who subsist on generic and formulaic material beneath their abilities.
That Thankful disappoints isn't surprising. Consider American Idol's concept. The show rewards young hopefuls for singing overexposed pop songs that were hits when their parents were their age or younger. By stifling originality - the very thing that helps make an idol an idol - the show ensures that anything remotely interesting or fresh must be masked on the finished product so as to compete on risk-free American pop radio.
So, the girl-next-door image of former cocktail waitress Kelly, which was part of her charm, is given a sexier makeover that makes her stand out even less in a crowded field of pretty pop tarts. A slew of loaded-resume record producers and songwriters has been enlisted. Clive Davis executive produces - a sure sign of style over substance.
Clarkson, who likely would have struggled against season-two front-runners Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard and Kimberley Locke, has some co-songwriting credits on Thankful, but her contribution to this personality-free CD is impossible to discern.
Thankful (RCA) *
Excellent **** ; Good ***; Fair ** ; Poor *