We still watch American Idol closely and enjoy the revived version featuring judges Katy Perry, Lionel Ritchie and Luke Bryan, which just wrapped up its second season after crowning the 17th Idol, one Laine Hardy.
The program faded on Fox after gaining a reputation for selecting fairly generic “white guys with guitars,” and I’m afraid Hardy fits that stereotype, but last year’s winner, Maddie Poppe, broke that mold and so did almost everyone in this year’s Top 10 except for Hardy.
Most remarkable is the runnerup, Alejandro Aranda, who it turns out was a bit of a Southern California star already performing under the unlikely name Scary Pool Party. He defied the show’s traditional cover-song routine by performing more than a handful of his original works. Like Chris Daughtry and Adam Lambert before him, Aranda is probably fortunate not to have won because he thus escapes with the ability to pursue a more independent career.
Poppe’s debut album has finally dropped, and I’m mainly here today to discuss that project, Whirlwind, which is one fine piece of work.
Maddie Poppe is an intelligent free spirit who charmed us a year ago with her renditions of “Homeward Bound” and (of all things) “The Rainbow Connection.” Her smoky voice and canny song choices made her stand out – dramatically, in my eyes – from the rest of the group.
Her first album is full of melodic hook-laden pop tunes that pop out of the speakers one by one in cheerful succession, the music bursting with energy and whimsy in equal measure. It’s hard to select highlights because they’re all so bright (in many senses of the word) and so catchy, but let’s try.
“Made You Miss” is, of course, the one she selected – or the one whoever picks the singles selected – and it does have an infectious edge that seems to be made for Top 40 airplay: “Made you miss me, now you wanna kiss me …” I would dismiss it as one of the the weaker entries in this mix, but I have to admit I can’t get the refrain out of my mind.
“First-Aid Kit” has a Lovin’ Spoonful kind of sweetness and light, and “Postcard From Me” is an autobiographical treasure about writing to her younger self to describe the, well, whirlwind her life became after she dived into the world of reality TV, where she fell for fellow finalist Caleb Lee Hutchinson (”He dresses like a cowboy, he might not be your type, but he’s nothing like those other guys.”)
“Nothing Good Comes Out of California” could be a hit in any of the other 49 states with its cheerful (there’s that word again) put-down of the glitz and phony glamor of the Golden State –
Nothing Good Comes Out of California –
They’ll convert your heart and we’ll have to reform ya.
Can’t trust a place where the sun shines all the time,
With plastic smiles they sip their wine,
Oh girl, you can’t say we didn’t try to warn ya
That nothing good comes out of California.
About that word: Because there is a cheerful bent to the music here, but not in a vapid bubblegum-music sense. Poppe conveys a vibe that she had a good time creating (she shares writing credits on six of the 10 tunes) and delivering this album. This is a serious artist with serious things to say, but there is a joy in these songs, the joy of making music that can be enjoyed and received without the tormented artist cliche of heavy angst.
It’s a whirlwind of sound to be experienced with a full heart, arguably the most listenable debut album that any American Idol champion has ever released. If it was available for my beloved turntable, it might just be perfect.