A pop music fan doesn't buy the annual American Idol album of performances by finalists because they believe they are buying the best pop music on the market. Instead, it is a souvenir of the current season. As a souvenir, this album works well. Season 5 was a fun season with real talent and some true surprises along the way. If you want a product to help remember those moments, this album is a fitting one.
The Chance to Hear a Full Song
As you listen to the 12 performances that make up American Idol Season 5 Encores one of your first conclusions is likely to be that hearing these performers sing a full-length song recorded in the studio is a significantly different experience from a 90-second version performed live. For some performers this provides the opportunity to stretch their interpretive abilities throughout the entire context of the song. For others it may result in boredom by the time the song finally winds down. Either way 90-second competitive song excerpts are not the same as full-length 3 to 4 minute creations.
Among the standout performances on the album, it is no surprise that Taylor Hicks' vocals on "Taking It to the Street" are eminently listenable. Devoid of any of the stage movements that turned some fans off, his voice is an outstanding instrument. Ace Young's version of "Father Figure" is still the sexiest performance of the season. He masterfully delivers the "warm and naked" lyrics and this is the type of song his trademark falsetto was made for. Paris Bennett sounds as if she has been singing "Midnight Train to Georgia" since age 5 just waiting to stun an audience with her vocal nuances and soulful interpretation, and Elliott Yamin's vocal acrobatics on "Moody's Mood for Love" will confirm that his position in the final 3 of the competition was, indeed, well deserved.
Weaker Than Live
There are some performances that don't come off particularly well on record. Unfortunately, Mandisa's performance of "I'm Every Woman," which brought the house down live, is weakened by a mix that too frequently buries her vocals and restricts her ability to shine. This album was apparently put together before the competition made it to country music week, so, instead of the performance that would highlight Bucky Covington's talents, we hear a relatively weak version of Stevie Wonder's classic "Superstition." Lisa Tucker's Stevie Wonder song, "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," suffers from a performance that is best described with one of Simon Cowell's favorite words - "karaoke," and Katharine McPhee's performance of Aretha Franklin's "Think" is a case where the song overwhelms the singer - something that would plague her later in the season.
A Good Season of 'American Idol'
This was a good season of American Idol. The 12 finalists were well matched in their talents. Nail-biting surprises were delivered during the season including an unexpected early exit by Chris Daughtry. Unfortunately, due to the production schedule of this souvenir album, the best performances by all of the contestants are not included. However, the album is fun and gives an adequate indication of the talents of all involved. If you wish to have a document for remembering all of these 12 talented individuals, this album is for you.