Ten months after finishing in second place on Season 11 of American Idol, 17-year-old diva-in-training Jessica Sanchez has released her first single, “Tonight,” a club thumper featuring Ne-Yo, who penned the track.
The song is far better than Jessica’s non-starter pop singles “Change Nothing,” which she performed at last year’s finale, and “Fairytale,” which she debuted at a showcase last year. And it’s light years ahead of the generic dance tracks released by The Voice‘s Jermaine Paul and The X-Factor‘s Melanie Amaro. “Tonight” actually sounds like it could fit right in on pop radio or blaring out of the speakers in a club.
Here’s the thing, though. I’m just not buying it — and that’s because I still remember the Jessica Sanchez I got to know on Idol. (How could I not? It hasn’t even been a year.) That girl was timid, chaste and typically performed vanilla Star Search-approved anthems like “The Prayer” and “I Will Always Love You” without an evident connection to the lyrics.
She had a bellowing instrument and could hold her own with the likes of Jennifer Holliday, but when she’d sing sassier tunes like “Proud Mary,” she’d stomp her feet and snarl and seem as if she was play-acting like all the diva greats she grew up watching on YouTube. To be clear, Jessica was (and is) an incredible vocalist, but what I’m saying is that she lacked her own artistic perspective. She was immature.
Granted, maybe she’s changed a lot in a year. Maybe sparkly bare midriffs, high tops, and techno productions like “Tonight” have always been her prerogative, but I can’t shake the feeling that she’s still playing a part — especially when it stands in such stark contrast to her previously TV-established identity. “We ain’t even on earth tonight,” she sings. “We on a planet where the dudes got money and they not afraid to spend it.”
Does that really sound like something that Jessica Sanchez, the quietly polite up-and-comer we saw on Idol, would ever say? To be fair, Rihanna plays a part when she performs. So do Katy Perry and Ke$ha. But they all arrived on the pop culture landscape as fully realized personae — we didn’t watch them transition into their sexified selves. When you do watch that transition, though, it’s hard to read the resulting work as authentic.
Check out the video for “Tonight” below:
What do you think Music Mixers? Is this the real Jessica, or does it feel like acting to you, too? Sound off in the comments below, and vote in the poll, too.
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