Diana DeGarmo

Blue Skies

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Diana DeGarmo finished second on the 2004 American Idol largely due to her plucky, irrepressible spirit. She was the local girl next door who always has the desire to put on a show, and viewers responded as much to that attitude as they did to her voice. It also didn't hurt that at the age of 16, she was one of the youngest contestants on the show, and it's very likely that many members of her fan base identified with her -- when they watched Diana they could see themselves up there on-stage. All that might have led to success on a TV show, but it doesn't make for a good record, as her debut, Blue Skies, illustrates. Released six months after the close of the show's third season (and only two weeks after 2004's winner, Fantasia Barrino, released her first album), the record is halfway between Kelly Clarkson's streamlined, mature take on Ashlee Simpson's rock-tinged anthemic pop (as evidenced on her fine second album, Breakaway) and Clay Aiken's deliberately safe, milquetoast adult contemporary. Musically, it's the right direction for DeGarmo, who, let's be honest, is not even as hip as Justin Guarini, but there are two problems with the record. The first is the songs. Many of these are written by Kara DioGuardi and John Shanks, in some variation, and they have the same characteristics as their contributions to Lindsay Lohan's lousy debut album, Speak -- they're hooky, but hardly melodic. Add to that lyrical themes that are supposed to evoke DeGarmo's rise to fame -- whether it's the girl dreaming of bigger things on "Cardboard Castles," or the teen anthem "Then I Woke Up," where she claims "I'm a little Lynyrd Skynyrd/And a little 50 Cent" -- but come across as hackneyed and embarrassing. But the biggest problem is that DeGarmo simply is too young and not ready to carry a record on her own. Her "let's put on a show" enthusiasm is grating on record -- in large part because it's hard to believe that anybody could work up enthusiasm for this generic material -- but the fatal flaw is her singing. There are times that her voice sounds good and strong, but too often she goes off-key and can't hit the notes in her lower register. Unfortunately, there isn't a song where there isn't a moment where her voice falters, and while her fans may root for her, it's enough to make any non AmIdol fan wonder why she got this far. And that's too bad -- as the show and the best moments here prove, she's a likeable singer and has the raw talent to one day make a good record, but Blue Skies isn' t it. If she had a few more years of experience under her belt, she could have had developed the chops to deliver undistinguished material distinctively, but she's too young to do that now, as this sadly proves. With any luck, she'll weather this debut and be given another chance to record several years down the line.

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