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I 've watched American Idol exactly once, for about five or six minutes, at a party where the ostensible focus was watching the first season finale. I’ve heard a bunch of albums made by the show’s various winners and runners-up and they’ve all seemed like the product of a molded “entertainer” meeting this or that demographic. Fantasia won the competition back in 2004 and released her first album on J later that year. I must’ve listened to it at some point, but it made no impact.
That’s why I was so shocked by her eponymous follow-up, released in December. It’s not a flawless album by any means—when you hire a big team of songwriters and producers, including Missy Elliott and Swizz Beatz, inconsistency is practically a given—but it’s surprisingly good for someone who’s essentially musical modeling clay. Fantasia possesses a powerful, flexible set of pipes, and while she can lay it on as thick as anyone, what's refreshing here is that she doesn't. The album features a bunch of tough, hip-hop inflected jams, but even on the treacly ballads (the worst of which is aslice of Diane Warren schlock produced by Babyface) she manages to avoid melismatic overkill. Fantasia performs on Saturday, January 6, opening for actor Jamie Foxx—who's still trying to convince the world he’s a serious singer—at Allstate Arena.