2003’s American Idol Season 2 was, hands down, my favorite season of Idol.

I was obsessed–and with one contestant in particular: Kimberly Caldwell. Ever since her audition, I pegged her as my artist to beat. Sure, she didn’t have the best chops of the bunch, but there was something about her smoker’s rasp vocals and relentless spunk that kept me eagerly, alarmingly hooked.

During this phase, I collected any and all of the magazines in which she was featured. I wrote to her and placed her signed responses and head shots in frames around my desk. I won a signed calendar. When American Idol cologne was released with Caldwell as its spokeswoman, I immediately ran out and bought a bottle for myself merely because of her semi-involvement with the product.

The night that she was voted off (in favor of Carmen “The Yodeler” Rasmusen…what the actual fuck, American public?), ending her run at seventh place in the competition, I sobbed. Heavily.

It was one of the more ridiculous eras, to say the very least. (Not that I’ve changed much…please see continuing Britney/Grace Jones/Kylie Minogue obsessive behavior patterns.)

It’s been six years since Caldwell’s exit from Idol, and I have continued to wait and hear something…anything from the singer. Aside from a handful of leaked demos four or five years ago, and one or two singles released in the past three years, there was really nothing.

kimwithoutregret

Now, at long last, she’s moving forward with a proper studio release: Without Regret, Caldwell’s first album, is set to be released on Vanguard Records in April 2010.

To prepare for the release, Caldwell put on a private industry showcase yesterday night in Los Angeles, where she debuted several new tracks off the album. From what I can tell, she’s only gotten better in time.

Still marked by a dark, raspy delivery that I’ve always adored, Caldwell’s voice has become more controlled than ever before, evidenced in songs like “Mess of You” (see above) and “Going, Going, Gone.” It’s been a long wait, but judging by these sneak previews, it may well have been worth it after all.

As the memories flood back to 2003, the inner fan has emerged once more…and I couldn’t be prouder.