Erika Jo

Erika Jo

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Erika Jo is the first female winner of USA Network's Nashville Star competition, taking home the crown for the competition that ended April 26, 2005. She's also the youngest winner of the competition, but unlike American Idol, where teenagers like Jasmine Trias and Mikalah Gordon struggled to sound adult yet wound up as little girls, country has a tradition of precocious teens sounding wise beyond their years. Erika Jo isn't as gritty as Tanya Tucker was at the age of 13, but she's not dissimilar to how LeAnn Rimes channeled the sound, if not the soul, of Patsy Cline at 13, except Erika's sound is largely based on the bright, friendly feel of Reba McEntire, and how she leans toward crossover pop without ever abandoning county. Erika Jo and her producers pattern her quickly recorded, rush-released eponymous debut album (it hit the streets a little over a month after the show ended) after that sound, usually to quite an appealing end. Despite the quick turnaround on the album, Erika Jo doesn't sound hurried or incomplete. It's a glistening, professional Music City production, grounded by a set of sturdy, if generic, songs and crafted with precise, tasteful studio musicians. If it doesn't deliver anything unexpected, it nevertheless works very well within the confines of contemporary country in 2005, not just because it's well made, but because Erika Jo is a good, surprisingly soulful singer and an energetic presence who gives this otherwise conventional music real personality. There aren't as many standout tracks along the lines of the sassy, winning first single, "I Break Things," as there should be, but Erika Jo's infectious spirit and full-throated vocals keep her debut interesting, suggesting that this is a good start to what may be quite an engaging career.

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