Kelly Clarkson won the first American Idol
title, but, more important, she has released the only decent songs to emerge from that overhyped karaoke contest. "The Trouble With Love Is" and "Miss Independent," the first two tracks on her debut disc, were ideal vocal vehicles indistinguishable on the radio from pop stars like Christina Aguilera (who co-wrote "Miss Independent"), despite Clarkson's role as the V-chip version of Xtina on MTV, exhibiting soul and sass without the sex. On Breakaway
, Clarkson is a sanitized version of Avril Lavigne, playing adult-contemporary drivel without the punk pretensions. Lavigne's packaged rebellion lacks authenticity, but at least her skate-rat fashions and bird-flipping attitude bring a little life to moribund material. Without the sideshow, the songs stink, and Clarkson's strong voice and sweet smile can't redeem this bland, polished-pop cipher.