‘AI’ champs usher in the holiday season with radio-ready releases
American Idols Scotty McCreery and Phillip Phillips usher in the Yuletide season with the No. 4 bows of “Christmas with Scotty McCreery” and “The World from the Side of the Moon,” Phillips’ first studio album, on Billboard 200. Both discs are notable not only for their singers’ genre-boosting appeal, but also for their track listings’ unbridled optimism and radio-ready gloss.
The Season 10 champ is busy juggling college (he goes to North Carolina State University) and a red-hot career as a country singer. His 11-track holiday set is instantly appealing because his easygoing baritone captures the warmth and feisty lilt of “Let It Snow,” “Jingle Bells,” and the fiddle-and-piano-fueled “Holly Jolly Christmas.”
McCreery goes beyond the surface in “Mary Did You Know?” as he waxes philosophical about the Blessed Virgin Mary’s ultimate sacrifice: “Did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?/ Did you know that when you kissed your little baby, you kissed the face of God?”
Positive vibe characterizes the original tunes in his repertoire: The heart-warming “Christmas in Heaven” reveals how the death of a loved one has made him see things in a different light, while “Christmas Comin’ Round Again” encourages people to forget about their differences—and to “let go and let love.”
The album ends on a high note when McCreery puts a bluesy rock spin on the carol, “Santa Claus Is Back In Town”—in which the 19-year-old crooner channels a belting and growling Elvis Presley!
In the deluxe edition of Phillip Phillips’ solo studio debut, “The World from the Side of the Moon,” you only need to listen to his reworked covers of Chris Isaak’s Lynchian 1989 ballad, “Wicked Game,” and Michael Jackson’s campy pop classic, “Thriller,” to realize that there’s more to Season 11’s big winner than his appealing gravelly voice and boy-next-door countenance.
His enthusiastic renditions recall the alternative-rock smolder of Dave Matthews—but, when Phillips launches into his anthemic arena dazzlers, like the folksy “Gone, Gone, Gone,” the rousing “Can’t Go Wrong,” and his “coronation” song on “American Idol,” “Home,” you know that the 22-year-old singer-songwriter is his own man!
Yes, he can’t hold a candle to the musical chops and show-stopping sizzle of Jessica Sanchez, his runnerup, but his versatility (the idiosyncratic “Man on the Moon,” the irresistible “Get Up Get Down,” and the hit-bound “Where We Came From”) and the diversity of his musical influences (listen to the folksy tweaks of “A Fool’s Dance” and the jazzy coda of “Drive Me”) make him perpetually interesting and allow his sound to continually evolve.