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Pop singer, basketball star has promising debut

Erin McGinn | Wednesday, January 24, 2007

All it takes now is simply an appearance on “American Idol” to become a recording pop artist. Ayla Brown, who released her debut album “Forward” last year, is proof of that. Although she made the top-24 field of finalists, she was eliminated in week three of the finals. Even though she lasted a relatively short time on the hit television show, her brief stint sufficed to gain enough of a fan base to warrant recording an album.

Typically albums can take a long time to record, but Brown and her team at Double Deal Records managed to record, mix and produce her debut CD all in less than two weeks. She only had a limited time to record her album because she is also a freshman at Boston College, which she attends on a full basketball scholarship. She only had a small window of opportunity between the end of her “Idol” contract and her official enrollment at BC, where she is obligated to follow NCAA regulations concerning the recording and promotion of music.

“Forward” has a very contemporary pop feel to it. From the upbeat first single “Know You Better” to the inspirational ballad “Ten Cent Wings,” Brown displays a decent vocal talent which is as good as most recording pop artists today – where it doesn’t take the most amazing voice in the world to make a hit song.

Much like “Know You Better,” which is gaining in radio play, her covers of “I Quit” and “Sugah” are driven by up beats and catchy lyrics. Her version of “Sugah” is much more developed than the one recorded by fellow “Idol” alums Justin Guarini and Kelly Clarkson for their cinematic travesty, “From Justin to Kelly” (2002). Likewise, Brown’s arrangement for “I Quit” is much more upbeat and faster than Hepburn’s original release.

Most of Brown’s album is written by such well-known songwriters as Diane Warren (“I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing”) and Tommy Sims (“Change the World”), but she did manage to co-write two of her songs – the love ballad “Falling Into You,” as well as one dedicated to her family and friends entitled “Thanks To You.” Both songs, while not terribly deep, are heartfelt and catchy.

Two of the better songs on the album have a more theatrical feel to them: “Miles Away (Too Fast For You)” and “Ten Cent Wings.” Both demonstrate a great deal of vocal maturity from an artist who has really had limited exposure to singing. While they aren’t quite radio-friendly – and are unlikely to ever be released as singles – they are easily the most thought-evoking and enjoyable songs out of the collection.

The most unique track on “Forward” is the “Jock Jams”-esque “Breaking Away.” The up-tempo, easy-to-workout-to song features the sound of a dribbling basketball as part of the beat and is well-suited as a tune coming from a basketball player.

The biggest downside to the album – and for Brown in general – is that there isn’t enough to make her stand out from the rest of the pop world. While it’s a great pop album, it doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself from the rest of the homogenous pop albums. Likewise, Brown isn’t quite unique enough to stand out on her own, and she didn’t make it far enough on “Idol” to have that built-in level of success.

While Kelly Clarkson’s first album wasn’t terrific, she had the support of her “Idol” win to continuously put her name in the public eye until she truly was good enough to stand on her own. Brown’s next release will surely be better, but the question remains as to whether this album will garner enough success to warrant another.