January 08, 2007 12:00 PM

FANTASIA’S FANTASIA VS TAYLOR HICKS‘S TAYLOR HICKS

CLASH OF THE ‘IDOLS’

REVIEWED BY CHUCK ARNOLD

R&B

While the sixth season of American Idol is about to kick off Jan. 16, the show’s alumni—from champs to also-rans—have been busy doing battle in the CD racks. In the last few months, Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard, Kellie Pickler and Chris Daughtry have all released new discs. Now going head-to-head are third-season winner Fantasia Barrino and season-five victor Taylor Hicks with albums that take different approaches to soul music, with varying levels of success.

Fantasia, the follow-up to Barrino’s platinum 2004 debut Free Yourself, finds the raspy-voiced belter striking a nice balance between classic and contemporary sounds. The disc’s first single, the ghetto anthem “Hood Boy,” takes a great sample of the Supremes’ “The Happening,” a guest rap by OutKast’s Big Boi and an Aretha-esque vocal by Fantasia and turns it into a hip-hop version of Motown. Elsewhere, she enlists Missy Elliott to produce the sassy slow jam “Two Weeks Notice,” while sampling Al Green on the booty-shaking “Baby Makin’ Hips.”

Hicks throws no such curves on his self-titled debut, going the more traditional R&B route, but he’s more Michael Bolton than Otis Redding. Although it may work for him to sing a song like Marvin Gaye’s “Wherever I Lay My Hat” on Idol, here it just makes you want to dig out the original. And you can’t help but wonder how much better “The Right Place” would have sounded sung by the man who was originally supposed to record it before his death: Ray Charles.

Fantasia:

Taylor Hicks:

DOWNLOAD THIS: Fantasia: “Hood Boy”; Hicks: “The Right Place”

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