American Idol

Holiday compilations that think outside the box set

There are three ways to make a Christmas album. There's the "casino token" approach, where a performer cashes in on celebrity by making a conventional, predictable holiday record that fans buy out of loyalty. There's the "contest trophy" approach, where a performer loads up each song with as much vocal extravagance, industrial rhythm, and melodramatic earnestness as possible, as if competing on American Idol. Then there's the "artistic license" approach. Figuring that a Christmas album won't face the usual pressures to generate singles and reviews, a few performers seize the chance to loosen up and show another side of their...