Having purchased American Idol Season 5: The Encores, I have to say the quality of this season's batch is certainly formidable, and for the quality of three tracks on this album, the soundtrack is definitely worth purchasing. My review comes from the perspective of a 30-year-old with A/C leanings.
Paris Bennett. Midnight Train to Georgia. Paris vamps and sings her way through this Gladys Knight chestnut with all the sass, pomp, and circumstance belying her 17 years. She certainly does a noteworthy job, blasting Season 3's Jasmine Trias out of the water and coming up with a performance that is memorable, albeit a bit too strong for the emotions required of the song.
Elliott Yamin. Moody's Mood for Love. Spectacular, albeit watered down, retake on the first track that got Mr. Yamin noticed in the first place. His rehash of the James Moody-penned original is superb and near-flawless, with perfect runs and a rich, soulful voice that may well send Elliott on a long and storied career. Breathtaking.
Melissa McGhee. What About Love? McGhee was voted off much too early, and the album opener shows what I knew from the start: McGhee's voice has what it takes to produce songs of topnotch quality. McGhee growls her way to a winning performance with her cover of the original smash by Heart, and delivers a vocal that is impressive and should do Ann Wilson proud. Superb.
Very Good Tracks
Taylor Hicks. Taking It to the Streets. While Season Five winner Hicks has an instantly recognizable voice and a clear idea of where he wants to go, song selection is what makes a winner (listen up, Fantasia), and this Michael McDonald chestnut is uplifted only by Hicks' stellar vocal delivery. Hicks is also encumbered by McDonald's star-making memorable delivery, and comparisons will be expected.
Katherine McPhee. Think. Kat's voice is sterling, and her looks are enviable. Her vocal, meanwhile, is hearty and spirited, despite the fact that McPhee is no Aretha Franklin. Nor is she Fantasia, who delivered a blow-the-roof-off a capella version of this in the prelims in Season Three. Kat has been labelled a diva balladeer, and I think she would do well to package herself as such.
Worth a spin (or three)
Bucky Covington. Superstition. I enjoyed his version of this on the show (did not like the hair, but moving on…). Covington delivers a spirited version of the Stevie Wonder original, and succeeds in making it a track truly his own. While his country leanings certainly do not shine on this track, given its funk-rock treatment, he does make a statement about how far the underdog can come if given the right material. Smokin'.
Chris Daughtry. Wanted Dead or Alive. I was not a Daughtry fan, but there's no denying that Chris has an instantly recognizable voice and a ne'er-say-die confidence that carried him far into the competition. Daughtry does this Bon Jovi original proud, giving it a raspiness and air that lends a new dimension to the song. Kudos.
Ace Young. Father Figure. Never was a Young fan, but he does deliver a decent take on this George Michael hit. Young's breathy, almost nasal delivery channels Michael down to the core, and comparisons between Michael and Young are expected. They have much in common. ;)
The world won't end if you skip these tracks
Mandisa. I'm Every Woman. I was the biggest Mandisa Hundley fan, even after she was eliminated, but her version of this Chaka Khan hit on this compilation is weak and lacking in energy, the kind of energy that she brought to the stage. The arrangement was all wrong, with a listless bassline and vocals that were overwhelmed by the volume of both the instruments and backup vocalists. I blame the producer for this mess.
Kellie Pickler. Walking After Midnight. Sass and spunk may be Pickler's stronger points, but it certainly doesn't show on her cover of the Patsy Cline classic. Her otherwise pure vocals are drowned in a cacophony of pseudo-rock beats and half-hearted growls. She may have a career in musical comedy, though, so don't cry for Ms. Pickler; she's good to go a long way.
Kevin Covais. When I Fall in Love. I'm sorry, but young, precocious Covais brings nothing new to this Nat King Cole gem. Emotion-wise and vocal-wise, Kevin can't pull it off. He does have a pure voice, one that, with time, may just become an amazing voice to remember, but based on his rendition right now, I can't see that happening.
Lisa Tucker. Signed Sealed Delivered (I'm Yours). This is one of my favorite Stevie Wonder songs of all time, and Tucker issues a singing-by-numbers, nasal and dragging version that grates on the nerves of anyone who's ever heard quality covers of this track (including those by Wonder, Brian McKnight and British boy band Blue, which channels Wonder and Angie Stone for an excellent revival). This track isn't even forgettable; you'll remember it for how bad it is compared to the other tracks. She may be young, and a career may be in front of her, but I won't jump onto that bandwagon.