Various Artists

Oprah's Popstar Challenge

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Oprah's Pop Star Challenge presents 14 songs from the eight finalists in Oprah's response to American Idol, including four tracks from the competition's winner, Lashell Griffin. Pop Star Challenge was another savvy idea from a woman whose career has been virtually nothing but savvy moves; Oprah realized that not all of America's undiscovered singing talent is in its late teens or early twenties, and that a pop idol competition with more mature talent would certainly strike a chord with her audience. Based on Oprah's Pop Star Challenge, the results of the contest are both more and less impressive than American Idol's. Aside from the fact that knowing who the winner of the Pop Star Challenge is already is a little anticlimactic (American Idol's compilations are usually released in the middle of the competition when the winning slot is more or less up for grabs), the eight finalists presented here -- who range in age from 27 to 36 -- are more developed as vocalists, yet somehow these performances are less exciting than American Idol's. This is partly due to the lengthy, over-produced versions of contemporary pop standards that the finalists sing, which tend to compete for the spotlight: on Joe Herzog's "Your Song," the intrusive, overly busy arrangement steals his big moment away from him. Most of the other finalists fare better, but the overly mannered sound on Oprah's Pop Star Challenge still tends to rob the performances of excitement. Griffin, in particular, has a big but sweet voice that overcomes its surroundings, as demonstrated by her powerful but not too-showy renditions of "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" and "The Greatest Love of All." Her single "Free" and her version of "One Moment in Time" prove that she would work well as either an urban-pop singer or in a gospel vein. Other highlights include LaNesha Baca's "I Believe in You and Me," which showcases her light but still soulful-sounding pipes; Jackie Perkins' "Nobody's Supposed to Be Here," which reveals that she has one of the most traditionally "pop" voices in the competition; and Lorenzo Owens' "All in Love Is Fair," which suggests he could have a bright future as a quiet storm balladeer. And even though "Stand," an ensemble performance, is nearly as cheesy as anything on the American Idol shows or compilations, it does reaffirm that, voice for voice, Oprah's Pop Star Challenge does have just as much, if not more talent than its younger, prime-time inspiration.

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