‘American Idol’ alum goes prog

by Michael Popke

American Idol, for better or worse, has given us contemporary pop stars (Kelly Clarkson), modern country cuties (Carrie Underwood) and hard-rockin’ dudes (Chris Daughtry). And this week, Carly Smithson – who finished sixth on Season 7 of the insanely popular singing competition – appeared as the lead singer on the debut album by dark rock band We Are the Fallen, featuring former members of Evanescence.

But could Leslie Hunt, a finalist from Season 6, be American Idol’s first true prog star? The Laser’s Edge label, home to such genre heavy hitters as Eloy, Magenta and Riverside, recently signed Chicago’s District 97 – a band that mixes crunchy, adventurous music with Hunt’s catchy vocal melodies. According to a press release, the quartet “honed a no-holds barred style of Liquid Tension Experiment-inspired instrumental rock before deciding to add the right vocalist. They found their vocalist in Hunt. …. With a look, sound and stage presence comparable to a young Ann Wilson from Heart, Hunt’s dynamic performances pushed the band into a new direction.”

That new direction sounds pretty darn proggy, and good. The video for “I Can’t Take You With Me” is full of odd time signatures and unexpected vocal turns, and “Termites” (featured on the band’s MySpace page) suggests a heavier direction. Hunt looks significantly different than she did in 2007, her long red locks now shorter and darker, but her voice seems built for this type of majestic, off-kilter music. (Chicago Symphony Orchestra cellist Katinka Kleijn also adds intrigue to the songs.)

District 97’s debut album, Hybrid Child, is expected to be released this fall.

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