Winner of the ninth season of American Idol, the season that will forever be remembered as Simon Cowell’s last, Lee DeWyze somehow eked out a victory against neo-hippie soulster Crystal Bowersox, charming with a smarmy shyness that never quite seemed to jibe with a guy who kicked around bars in the suburbs for the better part of a decade. Other Idol winners were journeymen in disguise -- think cornball Taylor Hicks or well-coifed rocker David Cook -- but DeWyze’s major-label debut, Live It Up, sounds like the work of a local band that was given a chance to run wild in a professional studio. 19 Recordings team their winner with an army of professionals led by Toby Gad and John Shanks but they don’t dictate the direction of the album; they shape DeWyze’s singsong strum-alongs and MOR pop into something resembling a triple-A chart hit, letting similarities to Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz, and John Mayer stand strong. DeWyze can wrangle a pleasant melody, particularly when he’s favoring sunswept SoCal folk-pop, but he can’t resist sabotaging his slight charms with a studied hamminess, adopting a gravelly growl whenever he wants to appear soulful and leaning so hard in his phrasing that he stumbles instead of shuffles. Ironically, these affectations are best heard on the least-produced moments on Live It Up; sure, they’re more apparent when the arrangements are simple, but the shellacked attempts at glassy modern pop dampen whatever personality DeWyze may have. When things are light and simple on Live It Up, DeWyze seems like himself: a threadbare talent who floated in on the vapors of Idol’s empty tank.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine