- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Apr
Imagine the remarkable Cinderella story of Kristy Starling. Though the 22-year-old from Oklahoma City grew up singing around the house, in church, and in school musicals, she's painfully shy about singing solos in public. Kristy gradually overcame her stage fright in high school, performing in small vocal ensembles and eventually singing solos. By the time she was attending college at Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas, she was completely comfortable with singing in public. Marrying her college sweetheart her senior year, Kristy was planning a career in church music — her husband a career in youth ministry.
Things took a detour in 2002 when her mother-in-law heard about a national singing competition on NBC's morning show — an "American Idol" styled contest sponsored by Warner Brothers called "Today's Superstar." Encouraged by her friends and family, Kristy mailed in her videotape audition with 4,100 other hopefuls but never expected to be one of the six finalists. Instead, Kristy found herself flying to New York twice a week in between her schoolwork, lasting through five elimination rounds, and finishing second place. The young vocalist became salt and light in her own way, openly sharing her career plans and faith in interviews. The grand-prize winner was given an opportunity to record a demo with legendary producer David Foster (Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Plus One), who was impressed enough with Kristy's talents to record a demo with her as well. Shortly after that, a stunned Kristy Starling was offered a recording contract through Warner's Christian Music Division, which she graciously accepted.
So it came to pass that Kristy recorded her self-titled debut with David Foster and a number of other well-known producers, including recording artist Richard Marx, Pete Kipley (Mercy Me), and Dan Mukala — all in a very fast-paced 26 days while finishing her degree via correspondence classes. That quick recording time frame speaks volumes of what to expect here. This is glossy adult contemporary pop designed to showcase and compliment Kristy's beautiful vocal abilities. It is not intended to demonstrate any depth in songwriting or musical creativity. If you watch "American Idol" and think you'd like Kelly Clarkson's album based only on her voice, you're going to like Kristy Starling's album.
Take for example the opening track and first single, "Water." It's a typical Christian pop/rock song (a la Point of Grace or FFH) about the nourishing qualities of God's Word — "I don't know what I'd do/I couldn't go one day without You/You are like water to me/I can't move, I can't breathe/Your love is everything that I need." A common Christian pop music cliché like this is excusable once, but not twice. The album closes with a cover of Leanne Rimes' simple ballad "I Need You," in which Kristy sings, "I need You like water, like breath, like rain/I need You like mercy from Heaven's gates." This isn't so much an example of insipid songwriting as it is bad song selection, with no consideration as to whether or not the songs are repeating each other — as long as Kristy sings them well.
The pop mediocrity continues with "As Long as We're Here," a lazy AC ballad that could be interpreted as earthly or heavenly love, with Kristy belting, "As long as we're here, alive on this earth/I'm gonna love You for all that it's worth/And one of these days, we're gonna take off and fly." Fans of Avalon will enjoy the simplistic Christian pop sound of "All For You," a servant's song of praise to the Lord — "And it's all for You, everything I do/I just look to the skies and know why I'm alive/You're my morning star, You're my guiding light/When the world gets me down, You'll be right by my side."
Still, some songs stand out more strongly than others. "Broken" is a gorgeous piano ballad of confession and humility, beginning dark and simply, developing into a full orchestral pop ballad — this is, in fact, the one track produced and arranged by David Foster, and was written by soulful new Rocketown signee George Rowe. Kristy is solo accompanied by an intricate acoustic guitar on the beautifully rendered ballad "You Love Me Like That." There's a fine pop/gospel shuffle sound underlying a rendition of Faith Hill's "There Will Come a Day," and a more pop (i.e. less orchestrated) cover of Josh Groban's "To Where You Are," produced in good faith by Richard Marx. "Something More (I Will Praise You)" is a sweeping pop ballad in the tradition of Joy Williams and Natalie Grant, and the routine pop of "Must Have Been Angels" is saved by an excellent piano solo.
Your enjoyment of Kristy Starling's album depends on your expectations. This is a very well produced pop album, as you'd expect from David Foster and company, and Kristy does indeed have a great voice, perfect for Christian pop, and capable of selling a song as well as Kelly Clarkson or Josh Groban. That said, it's not a particularly unique voice to Christian pop — imagine if Nichole Nordeman had the vocal chops of Natalie Grant or Joy Williams, and you have a good idea what she sounds like. Beyond vocals and production, there's not a whit of depth or originality. There's no doubt that some of these songs will register with the Christian adult contemporary audience, but Kristy Starling will need to invest more of herself in future albums if she wants to stand apart as a breakthrough artist. Perhaps next time, Kristy will record an album that's as unique and inspiring as her own fairy tale story, but as thrown together by producers and record label executives, this debut could be anyone's pop project.