With a Little Push, A Rookie Idol Shows Her Range

By Kevin O'Donnell
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, November 20, 2007

No one should expect much from an "American Idol" winner's first album. For fans of the show, the debut functions mostly as a throwaway souvenir. For the label, it's a test to determine if their star can bring in the bucks. Jordin Sparks may prove to be the exception to the rule, as her self-titled debut album is a fairly consistent disc of polished pop.

Of course, Sparks doesn't deserve all the credit. Her album employs a respectable roster of today's hottest hitmakers, including Robbie Nevil ("High School Musical"), the Underdogs (Mary J. Blige) and Stargate (Beyonc¿). These studio masters have been presented with the ultimate fantasy: take a wide-eyed newbie like Sparks and sculpt her as they please. So it's no surprise that these 13 cuts show a lot of range. "Now You Tell Me" is a breezy light-rocker that rips off Coldplay's "Clocks." And on the lovesick electro-ballad "No Air," Sparks trades tasteful, intertwined vocal runs with R&B singer Chris Brown.

Unfortunately, there are more misses than hits. The Swedish duo Bloodshy and Avant -- who crafted such Britney Spears smashes as "Toxic" and the new "Piece of Me" -- don't quite succeed in turning a young girl like Sparks into an ingenue. ("Shy Boy," however, does have its kicks.)

Still, Sparks is eager to please, which should be expected. On "American Idol," she performed stylistically divergent tunes by Bon Jovi, Martina McBride and No Doubt, all the while cultivating a voice that has proven to be remarkably lithe. Isn't that all we want from an Idol anyway?

DOWNLOAD THESE:"No Air," "Shy Boy"

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