"Real Life" - Music Review

Artist:  R.J. Helton
Label:  B-Rite Music

R.J. Helton is proof that Americans love a wild card. As a contestant on “American Idol,” Helton clinched the wild card vote to become a Top 5 finalist in the inaugural season. Seen by millions on the small screen, Helton also hit stages nationwide on the “American Idol Tour” and rocked stereos via the show’s “greatest moments” compilation disc. In the wake of such mammoth media exposure, the Atlanta-based singer fielded many label offers, but as a tribute to his spiritual integrity, he aligned with B-Rite for his full-length debut, "Real Life."

Helton, whose birth certificate reads Richard Jason, tackles his rookie release with staggering confidence. Holding nothing back, his vocal performances radiate an all-out energy and sense of purpose. While the album falls under a pop umbrella, Helton dives head first into an array of influences – from hip-hop and neo-soul to urban dance and R&B balladry. "Real Life" flexes an attitude without seeming cocky and boasts an artistic edge that doesn’t drown out the clear spiritual overtones. Few artists can make a prayer anthem sound as hip as Helton does with “Why Don’t We Pray.”

To showcase his vocal wizardry, "Real Life" features several slow songs such as “Missing You,” “Even If,” “Delicate Child” and “All We Need to Know” (which he co-wrote with Natalie Grant). The mellower music concedes more room for Helton’s vocals to stretch and flourish, and, for voice aficionados, such moments seem magical. Still, the singer is most compelling on upbeat numbers like the quirky, beat-driven “Crazy” and the dance floor-kindling “Freedom.”

Although it’s another “Idol” runner-up, Clay Aiken, who currently holds all the sales records among the show’s alumni, this runner-up’s release will leave even Simon Cowell speechless.

© 2004 CCM Magazine.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.  Click here to subscribe.