Justin's Back — And Better — With a New Album

Foxes On Idol E-zine, 28th December, 2006

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The original American Idol runner-up, Justin Guarini, has released a new album. Kenny’s listened to it and is here to bring us a review. You might be surprised by what he has to say.

During the debut season for American Idol in 2002, Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini quickly became two of the most famous people on television. Shortly after the show ended, Kelly released her debut CD, Thankful, and began her road to stardom. She's since catapulted herself into one of the biggest stars in the music industry with several monster hits and two multi-platinum records.

Justin, on the other hand, fell into obscurity after his self-tiled debut record flopped. In fact, sales and reviews were so bad that RCA Records dropped the puffy, curly-haired singer from the label just six months after the disk's release date. Justin Guarini sold fewer than 150,000 copies — more than 350,000 short of even reaching gold.

Top that off with his sub par co-star acting in the teen musical From Justin To Kelly — possibly one of the worst movies ever made, at least according to box office figures and movie critics — and it seemed as though Justin's long-term career would be going down the drain as well. Many people believed his short-lived fame was gone forever. For two years, Justin hid in California and made few — if any — national appearances. Most music fans thought they'd never see him or hear him sing again, myself included.

But now Justin has returned to the music scene and is surprisingly better than ever. Justin spent six months of the past couple years in the studio recording his sophomore album — a record he wanted to make without so-called expert record executives forcing him to sing a certain style. After listening to his new project several times, I'm convinced Justin has truly found his niche.

It's like Justin has become a new person. He finally trimmed his bushy hair and he's ventured into smooth jazz music. The new self-produced, independent CD, Stranger Things Have Happened, marks a drastic change from the Justin we all knew from American Idol and his subsequent failures after the show ended. The Latin-styled pop tunes are now gone in favor of relaxing, classical poetry with music.

And Stranger Things has apparently caught on with his few but loyal fans. Without much promotion for the disk released in early December, Justin in a letter to his fans said he and his staff at Justice Entertainment have had trouble keeping up with the orders. He also revealed plans to heavily promote the new record.

When music lovers finally get a chance to hear the new Justin, they'll be surprised by just how far he really has come. I only ordered the CD from Justin's Web site, www.JustinGuarini.com, because I'm a sucker for collecting every record made by former Idol contestants. On his first CD, I could only bear to listen to “Get Here” and his “Timeless” duet with Kelly, so I didn't expect much from Stranger Things.

Though it did take a few spins to grasp the songs with deep-thinking images painted in the lyrics and a slower pace, it has become one of my favorite CDs at the moment. Unlike many pop songs with empty words, these jazz tunes are true poetry. Whether the record will produce hits is questionable since jazz radio markets are small, but this is the perfect CD to spin in your car or home stereo after a stressful day at work or school. Hearing the piano, flute, saxophone, drums, and bass from Los Angeles musicians with Justin's peaceful crooning is like a musical massage. I play it most when I'm driving home from my place of employment.

Justin has added a new twist on some of Jazz music's most loved classics and standard. On the record, fans will find the smooth jazz version of “My Funny Valentine,” the classic musical tune Constantine Maroulis recorded on the American Idol Season 4: The Showstoppers CD. Of all the songs, “My Funny Valentine” will likely be the most recognizable for mainstream music fans.

Some of the other, slower songs include “I'll Take Romance,” a song about a young man exploring love for the first time, and “I Didn't Know What Time It Was,” another tender tune of a man so engulfed in love that he doesn't know what time it is or when he even met his lover. “Just Squeeze,” which starts slow and picks up speed at the chorus, encourages his lover to “squeeze me, but don't tease me.”

Justin and musicians Greg Gordon Smith, Katisse Buckingham, Ian Martin, and Jamey Tate pick up the tempo on “Night and Day,” “Stranger Things Have Happened to Me,” and “All of You,” three more tunes about passionate love. The groovy “I Love You” produces some of the best lyrics in the 10-song set: “Once more she sees daffodils/It's spring time again and birds are on the wings again/start to sing again old melodies/I love you, the golden dawn agrees and it all belongs to you and me.”

My favorite song, “Young and Foolish,” portrays the story of an aging man wishing he could be a young and experimental once more with his lover. He understands that “Soon enough, the carefree days, the sunlit days go by/Soon enough, the blue bird has to fly/I wish that we were young and foolish again.” Justin truly shines on this song with his flawless vocals. If any tune has a chance to become a major hit, this one would likely be it.

Then there's “Sing,” which sounds a lot like Justin's life. It's a simple song that encourages everyone to “sing out loud, sing out strong,” despite what others may say. Justin's wide range shines here in the tune that could also be a theme song for American Idol.

The only downfalls of this record are the monotonous theme and short length of most of the songs. A few songs only run about two minutes and seem like a verse or two could have been added to strengthen them.

Still, I recommend this CD to all. Many people have preconceived opinions of Justin — as I did — but I encourage you to give him one more try. You won't be disappointed. Even as I write, I find it hard to believe. But it's definitely true.

You can sample some of Stranger Things at www.JustinGuarini.com. Since the disk has not yet been released to major retail outlets, it can only be ordered through his Web site.

Also, a couple songs from the record have been spinning on Idol Waves, an online radio station dedicated to former American Idol contestants who have CDs or CD singles on the market, or have appeared on a soundtrack or special compilation CD separate from the show. You can stream Idol Waves by logging onto www.live365.com/stations/kenndawg316 and clicking on the big yellow play button.

So will Justin emerge as the born-again Idol contestant and become a star once again? Who knows? Maybe so. I'm sure stranger things have happened.

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