Adele: 19

Like fellow crooners Amy Winehouse and Kate Nash, Adele Adkins polished her skills at the Brit School in south London – as good a finishing academy as American Idol. Her debut, which topped the British charts earlier this year, lacks the bad-girl brio of those grads, but it shows off a vocal instrument that smokes the competition. Check out "Cold Shoulder," a lover's blues, produced by Winehouse's secret weapon, Mark Ronson: Over swirling strings and a snare pattern borrowed from James Brown's "Funky Drummer," Adele reads her man the riot act with a mix of Memphis-soulmama swoops and cockney-street-punk stops. "Melt My Heart to Stone" and "Tired," co-written with veteran U.K. hit-maker Eg White, are retro-modern R&B exercises with similar charm. On more sparsely arranged numbers, though – including a measured cover of Dylan's unlikely pop standard "Make You Feel My Love" – her marvelous technique can become cloying, and the boilerplate verses on her originals don't help. Here's hoping the girl's storytelling will one day be as interesting as her phrasing.