One of the increasingly fascinating sidelights of the " American Idol" phenomenon is seeing what each season's top finishers do after their debut albums have come and gone.
Some have quickly faded from memory ( Justin Guarini, Diana DeGarmo), several have gone to Broadway and movies ( Clay Aiken, Fantasia Barrino, Jennifer Hudson), some have struggled to assert post-"Idol" artistry ( Kelly Clarkson) and at least one has risen to greater heights than she achieved immediately after winning her "Idol" crown ( Carrie Underwood).
Pickler stretches out her sophomore effort (in stores today), co-writing half of the album's 10 songs and, she says in the accompanying press materials, injecting more input into the song selection and arrangements than she had on 2006's "Small Town Girl."
There are individual moments of accomplishment, but the album is like a Whitman Sampler, with a sweet tidbit for listeners in pretty much any stage of a romantic relationship, leading to a fairly scattered emotional palette.
The prevailing attitude is "Don't get mad, get even" with guys who bail out or girls who steal guys -- though she stops a bit short of the flat-out lust for revenge in Underwood's "Before He Cheats" or Miranda Lambert's "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend."
The standout is "Best Days of Your Life," which she wrote with 18-year-old Taylor Swift, who sings harmonies too, taunting an ex about how he'll regret leaving soon enough. "I'm Your Woman" is pure Shania, and "One Last Time" is a farewell that yearns to be Kris Kristofferson's "For the Good Times" when it grows up.
The biggest puzzler is "Don't You Know You're Beautiful," another of those too-common pop culture messages of empowerment aimed at women: "You're wishing you had designer jeans / Like the ones you see in magazines. . . . But your worth ain't on the outside / It comes from within."
Nice words, but they're sandwiched in between a handful of glamour-model photos of Pickler in a series of body-hugging designer outfits. Is anybody out there paying attention?
Music Review: Kellie Pickler - 'Kellie Pickler'
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