By Michael Slezak
September 07, 2006 at 06:42 PM EDT

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m not exactly Kathy Bates to Clay Aiken’s James Caan, and that I had some reservations about the American Idol runner-up’s choice of the oft-covered “Without You” as the first single off his long-awaited  new disc, A Thousand Different Ways. Yet even with lowered expectations in tow, I’m still finding myself disappointed by Clay’s adequate yet utterlypredictable interpretation of Badfinger’s ballad, which is now streaming for free at his official website (click here).

Sure, the dude can sing — and in an era where Paris Hilton is a top 20 act, actual vocal ability is, well, hot — but Clay’s “Without You” sorely lacks the anguish of Harry Nilsson’s Grammy-winning rendition, nor does it have the sheer melodrama of Mariah Carey’s. Worst of all, though, Clay doesn’t take any chances with the song’s phrasing or melody or arrangement (the way Kelly Clarkson did when she tackled “Without You” during the first, Dunkelman-assisted season of Idol); as a result, Clay fails to (in the words of Paula Abdul) make the song his own. I wish Clay had tried stripping it down and slowing it down — to turn it into a heartbreaking dirge. Or perhaps attempted to infuse it with an ambient, loungey vibe. As it stands, though, his “Without You” inspires neither love nor loathing, just a shrug of this blogger’s shoulders. What do you think of Clay’s new single? Let ‘er rip in the comments section below.