Kelly Clarkson

To those who feel American Idol represents the worst aspects of the pop-music assembly line, Kelly Clarkson is just another Mariah Carey clone. But the Burleson girl's rags-to-riches story tugs at the part of us that finds something endearing about high school show choir, about an earnest soloist burning with professional aspirations.

Nevertheless, it's initially disappointing to hear that Breakaway, Clarkson's second album, conforms to the rock-oriented pop sound favored by countless starlets. But that disappointment diminishes as the album reveals Clarkson's versatility: "Addicted" features piano splotches reminiscent of Tori Amos' electronica phase, and "Since You've Been Gone" is an irresistible stomper that even Avril Lavigne might cower behind. Perhaps the most impressive song on Breakaway, however, is one that Clarkson co-wrote, "Because of You." A sentimental, big-finish finale, its lyrics ("Because of you, I never strayed too far from the sidewalk/Because of you, I learned to play on the safe side, so I don't get hurt") reveal an emotional vulnerability rarely heard in pop songs.