As a contestant on Season 10 of American Idol, Pia Toscano was prematurely ousted after a series of technically flawless vocal performances.
Her advocates were flabbergasted by the upset, while her detractors were unsurprised. In her brief time on the show, Pia had always been even-keeled and likable, with the kind of jaw-droppingly perfect vocals that made a star out of Leona Lewis. All of this is great, but none of it makes for particularly compelling television.
With the release of her first single, “This Time,” Pia doesn’t stray from her formula: It’s a highly listenable midtempo ballad about overcoming the odds and “getting back to the real me,” with modern production that takes its cues from the country-inflected R&B of Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable.” Penned by hitmaker du jour Ester Dean, who has demonstrated her songwriting prowess on smashes like Rihanna’s “S&M” and Katy Perry’s “Firework,” the lyrics have a certain bland potency — “This Time” may not Ester’s finest work, but it’s certainly a worthy feather in her cap.
There’s something about the song that feels oddly, and appealingly, nostalgic; “This Time” is a big belter of a track, one that demands an artist like Pia to lay down some diva-caliber vocals; there’s no David Guetta-aping house production or phoned-in rent-a-rapper on the bridge; and, in an era of obstinate insistence on artist “authenticity,” it’s refreshing that we’ve yet to see anything about Pia Toscano’s tortured relationship history or songwriting process or any nonsense of the kind. It’s straightforward, and uncomplicated, even if it is a little boring. And I can’t stop playing it.
After all, there’s a very good reason that Pia developed such an unusually strong following on Idol: Homegirl can sang. And that’s exactly what she does on “This Time,” a strong, if undifferentiated, debut from an artist who has more than enough talent to forge a real career.