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Before I forget -- that new Toyota commercial is hilarious. Chris Berman and James Lipton bobbing their heads to What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger). Classic.
Anyway, I'm writing this quick note to tell you something that's been bugging me for the past couple years. It's not quite the love letter that my buddy, Heather, wrote. It's more of a request. Do you still take those?
You've been pretty successful doing what you do -- I mean, apart from the whole My December drama -- and I think that's great. You're a fantastic ambassador for Texas and are, without question, one of the biggest singers in the pop game right now.
Nevertheless, I feel like you're starting to coast, like all of your albums are bleeding into one another. You and your songwriters can knock out a wronged-woman anthem with the best of 'em, but it's really starting to feel like "been there, done that," y'know?
Rather than spend the rest of your career cranking out chart-topping singles about guys who don't know what a catch they have, why not try something new? Here's my really radical suggestion: Screw the Top 40, go to Nashville (where you already hang out a bunch, anyway) and record a country album.
Simple as that.
What got me fixated on this idea was your terrific performance with Jason Aldean -- Don't You Wanna Stay is alive, emotional and raw in a way that none of your latest album, Stronger, really is. Stay is a scorching piece of work, so I'm suggesting that you might want to explore Music City a little more. It's not as though you'd have to storm the gates or anything -- your manager is Reba McEntire's husband, for crying out loud.
Kelly, you've dabbled in country music here and there prior to the Aldean collaboration -- you're covering Carrie Underwood tunes in concert these days; there's your CMT Crossroads episode with Reba; your heart-stopping cover of Patty Griffin's Up to the Mountain (MLK Song) a few seasons ago during Idol Gives Back -- but I feel like now is the time to roll the dice and see what happens.
Sure, a country album could be a train wreck, but, really, it couldn't be any worse than anything by Sugarland, amirite?
My gut tells me that won't be the case. Your biggest asset is your humanity, your ability to be relatable even when you're doing huge stuff like singing the national anthem before Super Bowls. That humble, approachable quality is a highly prized commodity in the country-music community.
I have no reason to think you'd go the glossy Lady Antebellum route, but rather, a down-and-dirty Americana path -- hey, why not get into the studio with someone like T Bone Burnett? Your fellow Texan might have some interesting ideas about how to use your expressive soprano, particularly as it's getting huskier and more nuanced as you age. (Are you really going to be 30 in April? Time flies.)
At any rate, I know the folks at the record label probably don't have much interest in seeing one of their top earners work without a net, but I think a country album would provide a chance for a real a jolt of artistic experimentation. Just a thought.
DFW.com music critic