January 16, 2006 12:00 PM

The Real Thing
REVIEWED BY CHUCK ARNOLD

POP-ROCK

Full disclosure: I rooted for Bo Bice to win American Idol. After Mario Vazquez dropped out and Nadia Turner was booted off prematurely, the southern rocker with the folksy charm and the Breck Girl hair was my hands-down fave over the big-voiced but bland Carrie Underwood. So does Bice vindicate me—and himself—with this, his debut? Well, yes and no. While Bice gets our vote for the best CD by an Idol runner-up, topping lackluster efforts by Justin Guarini, Clay Aiken and Diana DeGarmo, he fails to truly set himself apart from the pop-rock pack. Positioning him in VH1-friendly territory somewhere between Rob Thomas and Jon Bon Jovi (who cowrote the disc’s “Nothing Without You” with Bon Jovi bandmate Richie Sambora), The Real Thing doesn’t always show the real Bo. Songs like the title-track single gloss over his gritty edges, sucking out much of the Birmingham, Ala., native’s down-home flavor. Despite contributions from an array of hitmakers, the assembly-line production sometimes leaves the album with the hooks but not the heart. Still, Bice shows flashes of his potential on tracks like the blues-rocker “You’re Everything” and the gospel-tinged ballad “Valley of Angels” (one of two tunes cowritten by the singer). On these songs, at least, we get to hear the Bo we know.

DOWNLOAD THIS: “You’re Everything”

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