Thursday, January 26, 2006

Have we seen the next American Idol?

Tuesday night gave us both the best and the worst of American Idol. First the worst--that full-of-herself Rhonetta Johnson.Actually, though, my problem was less with Rhonetta than with the way the producers of the show elevated her--with their little montage before her appearance--to the classic heights of crazy auditioners in the past like William Hung and that Keith guy in season two who sang "Like A Virgin." Look, William Hung, although his 15 minutes have gone on way too long, was funny because he was so naive--the thing that elevated him to classic status was his line "that's all without professional training" line after he finished. Keith was just so disturbingly bizarre, he was memorable. There was nothing particularly memorable about Rhonetta's audition except it just wasn't very good. Then she got mad and started yelling afterwards, but who cares? She wasn't really that funny (half of it was bleeped out), and since the show had run something like eight teases for her appearance over the first 90 minutes of the show, I think we had actually seen her entire curse-filled jag in bits and pieces before they formally showed it on the program. On the bright side, she didn't seem mentally ill like, for instance, that nutty Mary Roach last year--just angry and full of herself.

The best of American Idol--the reason fans watch it--is someone like Kelly Pickler. Maybe I'm a sap, but after listening to her talk about how her mother left when she was 2, and her father's been in jail her whole life, how can you not be moved when she comes out, sings well, and breaks down when she realizes she's going to Hollywood? Or when she said she had to write her dad to tell him the good news? Some people say snottily that they don't watch "reality TV" or "American Idol" because--well, they never actually have any good reasons, they just think they're better than you and I. They're the ones missing out on great human drama like that.

Does Kelly Pickler have a shot to go far in the competition? Hard to say at this point, but I thought her speaking voice sounded somewhat like Kelly Clarkson's, she had somewhat of a facial resemblance to the first American Idol, and then she came out and sang "Since You've Been Gone" by Kelly Clarkson. So I don't know what that means (although I'm not saying she's as good as the best American Idol ever, just that she had some similarities.)

Of course, the next American Idol could very well be Paris Bennett. While she seemed a little too overwhelmed that the judges liked her (considering her grandmother or aunt or however she was related is, according to Randy Jackson, one of the greatest singers ever, it's not exactly a miracle that she has some talent), I like it when people cry when they get sent to Hollywood and she was really good.

As for Wednesday, what exactly was going on with Simon and the other judges in San Francisco? They both seemed crazy at times--Simon didn't seem to really like anyone, but Randy was acting like everyone that came in the door was Aretha Franklin. Even stranger, though, was what set Simon off--Paula saying that Simon had once said he needed to close his eyes to listen to Clay Aiken? Why exactly was this even an issue? What did that have to do with the woman auditioning with all the hair,who, let's be hones, was somewhat odd looking. I thought she might have been good enough to go to Hollywood, but it's not like she was good enough to win, so I'm not going to worry much more about it--or try to dissect what exactly was going on.

The only other important matter of discussion was the girl whose mom was a vocal coach, Katharine McPhee. She had a good voice and was cute, but was she really worthy of praise as the greatest voice they had heard this year or this decade or whatever they said (and didn't they say that about Paris Bennett one night before)? She sang the Billie Holliday song "God Bless the Child," which I'm not particularly familiar with. But last year during the semifinals, Mikalah Gordon sang "God Bless the Child" and the judges raved over her (me, I thought it was kind of boring). As we all know, about a month later, Mikalah Gordon had trouble singing a Taylor Dayne song and was deservedly sent home. I guess what I'm saying is, maybe "God Bless the Child" isn't quite the tough song to sing that the judges think it is (and I apologize if I've offended Billie Holliday or her fans--that's not my intention and I know she's considered one of the great singers of all time. I'm just pointing something out.)

Finally, with the "all the bad singers doing bad versions of 'Fame'" montage on Tuesday night, I think it's obvious that the producers actually were asking bad auditioners to sing "Fame"--since most of the people they showed singing were actually people we had seen singing completely different songs earlier in the evening. As I said last week to the American Idol producers, we have enough bad singing, without you creating bad singing. As I said, we got the best and worst of American Idol Tuesday night.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Idol is back!

A few quick thoughts on American Idol last night:

A good solid beginning to the show, although I could have done without the patting on the back about how great AI is at the beginning of the show (we know, that's why we're watching). I also was kind of disappointed that in that opening few minutes, they felt the need to show us the clips of so many of the good singers we'll be seeing over the next few weeks. I guess that's a response to the very legitimate complaints of past years that they focus too much on the freaks and bad singers--but I like a little surprise, not knowing if the next person is going to be great or awful. Then again, it's been 12 hours since I watched the show, and I can't remember what any of those singers looked like except the few we've seen on the TV commercials, so this is probably a dumb complaint. And I did appreciate that there didn't seem to be as many mentally disturbed auditioners this year (or at least they didn't show them to us) as in past years.

Anyway, funniest guy last night was certainly the sherrif singing "I Shot the Sherrif" over and over. None of the good singers last night really were that memorable, except for the various sets of twins and sisters--all of whom were pretty good.

Did Simon seem a little different last night? He was even shorter than usual with some people--I guess he got rid of the guy dressed as the Statue of Liberty because he felt that when he started singing "New York, New York," he was just a gimmick/novelty act, but still, let him at least finish a LINE of the song. Simon also seemed a little less interested in insults and weird remarks--he didn't tell anyone they should be singing on a boat or a Brazilian nightclub or anything like that. Of course, he did tell that kid he looked like a wasp, and that other guy he sounded like an "auntie," so he hasn't completely gotten rid of the odd remarks.

And finally, did something about that "Lady Marmalade" bit at the end of the show seem not right to you? I thought when they showed these montages that it was a compilation of all the people who butchered that song in the audition. But not only do I highly doubt that many people would have sung "Lady Marmalade" (yeah, it gained renewed popularity with the cover by Pink, Aguilera, etc, but that was still a few years ago now), but a few of the people singing it we had seen audition with different songs earlier? Wasn't that the girl with the tan butchering "Lady Marmalade" near the end of the montage? Or was that another really tan, odd-looking girl? Not that I'm going to be staying up tonight worrying about it, but if they actually asked those auditioning to sing "Lady Marmalade" in addition to their prepared song, then of course they're going to butcher the words. Come on, Idol producers, we have enough bad singers. Do you have to create even more?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Marissa Cooper graduates?

Tonight's "The O.C.," at least according to some press materials released a few weeks ago, was billed as a "tribute" to the "Donna Martin Graduates" episode of "Beverly Hills 90210" (and comes just a few weeks after Summer briefly wore a "Donna Martin Graduates" t-shirt on "The O.C."). I guess that "The Sports Guy" ('s popular writer Bill Simmons) has done the most to immortalize that particular episode of "90210." I'm not sure why he loved it so much, but I'll tell you why I remember it so well. I thought it was going to be a really thoughtful episode of "90210"--remember, this was back when they were in high school and they still did occasional issue-oriented shows mixed in with episodes where they met Color Me Badd--but it just turned into silliness.

Anyway, West Beverly High decreed that anyone caught drinking at the prom would be expelled, or not graudate with their class, or something. And of course, Donna had some alcohol that night and got caught, so they threw her out of school. I thought then the show would become an interesting examination of the whole high-school culture of drinking, how everyone does it, and how singling out one person won't do any good. Instead, Brandon led a protest with the whole school yelling "Donna Martin graduates" and Brandon giving a speech to the PTA or school administration or whatever it is saying that if they had expelled anyone else, it wouldn't have been a big deal, but they did this to Donna Martin, and everyone loves Donna because she's such a sweet, nice person. It was ridiculous--but it was memorable. Amazingly enough about five or six years later, I was stuck in a hotel room in Frankfurt, Germany, having missed my connecting flight from Croatia, and what's on TV? That episode of "90210," dubbed in German!

I run through all this history just to say that I didn't think tonight's show was much of a tribute to that episode, considering that if you hadn't heard it was meant to be a homage, you probably wouldn't have known. Sure, there were a couple signs people were holding at one point which read "Marissa Cooper Graduates," but that was about it. The "Free Marissa" flyers and t-shirts, designed in the spirit of the "Free Mumia" t-shirts, looked a lot cooler. And there was no march on the school or anything, just a school board meeting.

But putting aside that flaw, tonight "The O.C." was generally pretty good. It also encapsulated both the good and bad parts of the show as it comes to the midpoint of season three. The good: Julie Cooper doing anything (and even though Michael Nouri doesn't look like he could do much of a "Flashdance these days--he really put on some weight since his first appearance on this show in year one as Summer's dad--I'm liking that coupling), the core group of Seth, Summer, Ryan and Marissa hanging out together most of the show or at least in twos or threes; and Taylor Townsend. She's always funny, and her character is completely different than anyone else on the show.

The bad: Let's just say that the show was cruising along well for the first 25 minutes, until Johnny wrecked his bedroom and you could hear tires screeching to a halt. Why are Josh Schwartz and company subjecting us to this boring, dumb character and boring actor? As for his friend the Seth doppelganger--I thought we got rid of him a few episodes ago when Summer told him to give up on her, she was already dating a dork. And it doesn't look like we're going to be getting rid of Johnny anytime soon. The previews for next week show Marissa's kid sister trying to hook up with him. Hey, I'm all for Caitlin returning and being a bad girl, but does she have to do it with that surfer dude? I mean, that guy is so dumb he was going to hold up a convenience store to get money for knee surgery last month. Did he realize that the gun he bought probably cost more than they money he'd make from the first robbery?Did he realize he was going to have to hold up like 10 stores to make enough money for surgery?

Anyway, the other bad thing about the show is just how unrealistic and nonsensical some of the school scenes are. So Taylor has no friends, and yet everyone listens to her if she tells them not to sign a petition for Marissa? Huh? I think Seth said something like she's not loved but feared? What is this, a real life Machiavelli's "The Prince"? And who were those girls she was sitting with before school early in the episode. They seemed to sort of be friends.

But more importantly, the writers ask us to believe that Marissa was popular enough to be social chair, and Summer so influential in the school that she was able to usurp Taylor as social chair when Marissa was tossed out of school, and yet they never actually hang out with anyone other than each other, and Seth is still called a dork and picked on by all the athletes even though his girlfriend is one of the hottest, most popular girls at Harbor. Doesn't really make much sense. The charm of this show in season one was the whole idea of Seth, the dork who everyone hated at Harbor, teaming up with Ryan, the misunderstood tough guy, to fight all the rich a-hole teenagers in "The O.C." We don't get much of that anymore--in fact, we've barely seen them at school (until recently), and other than an occasional epithet yelled at Seth, they sort of exist in a separate world. And yet somehow, they made it into the center of the senior picture! The paradox makes my head hurt.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Less than a week until American Idol starts!

Just wanted to say that....

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

One more reason to go for satellite radio

Radio pretty much sucks in the Washington area. We've got a bunch of R&B/hip-hop stations--some are on my presets on my car radio--but I'm not enough of a fan of that type of music to listen to any of those stations extensively. We have an improving classic rock station in 94.7--they've become a lot better since they started mixing in more 80s and 90s classic songs--but I think that more than the music, I just enjoy turning on the station and going "Hey, it's Weasel" or "Hey, it's Cerphe" when I hear the former WHFS and DC101 deejays. Then we have the post-Howard Stern WJFK, now going by the moniker "Free FM." Yeah, sure it's free, but no one would ever pay for the programming on that station. OK, Don and Mike are still fine, but the Junkies? I used to listen to them occasionally when they were a sports show on JFK a few years ago, but I turned them on one morning last week and after a half-hour found myself frantically searching for a hammer with which I could destroy my radio. The rest of the station? Bill O'Reilly is annoying but can be entertaining on TV; he's just annoying on the radio. And JFK's new evening show is Jay Severin, who hosts a conservative political talk show. Hey, just what we need on radio, another conservative talk show!

Then we have all-sports radio WTEM, or more accurately all-Redskins radio, which is great this week, but kind of boring in May when they're talking about Redskins minicamp and, you know, there's a baseball team in Washington playing. WMAL had an often interesting and thoughful local talk show in the evening rush with Chris Core, who has been in that time slot in some form since the late 1970s, but for some reason, they've now moved him to 9 a.m.-noon to make way for another national conservative talk show--apparently Rush and Sean Hannity just aren't enough.

Ok, back to music. WHFS turned into a Spanish station last year, but despite its ad campaign, it hadn't been "legendary" for years. There's 99.5, which is an OK Top 40 station, but like any Top 40 station plays the same songs every 45 minutes or something.And then we have DC101 and Mix107.3, two stations with popular morning shows but only mediocre music formats. I have no idea why Jack Diamond is popular--do people really like listening to a dumb guy in the morning to make them feel better about themselves? I will say, though, that after listening to Elliot on DC101 a couple times last week, he's not that bad. I especially liked that he seemed to be obsessed with Channel 4 sportscaster Lindsay Czarniak, because I kind of am too. As for their playlists, Mix recently expanded their playlist, which means they have a slightly longer list of songs that they repeat constantly, while DC101, by default, is now "the only station that really rocks," as they used to call themselves, but plays way too much of that that junk they call pop-punk--Nickelback, Linkin Park, Good Charlotte, etc. Or maybe that's just generic, unexciting rock, and not really pop-punk. Whatever it is, I'm too old for that.

So with all those bad stations, two of my favorite stations were Z104 and WTOP 1500 AM, and last week the owner of those two stations, Bonneville, got rid of one and may have permanently damaged the other. I liked Z104 because it played good newer rock and pop music--The Killers and Keane, for example--while also playing some classic 80s and 90s stuff--old REM, U2, maybe an old 10,000 Maniacs song. And they didn't play much of that pop-punk stuff I referred to earlier. It was the perfect station for people in their mid-30s who still want to hear good new stuff but like a taste of the music they grew up with, but apparently that's not a real big audience (maybe it's only me) because the ratings were really low. And radio is a business, so I understand why Z104 is now defunct. But the announcement of Washington Post Radio, and it taking over the 1500 AM place on the dial while WTOP moves to 103.5 FM puzzles me.

First, with the Web chats they do (which I very much enjoy), the interviews on MSNBC and now the interviews and other programming they're goig to do on Washington Post Radio, when exactly do Post reporters have time to write their stories? Is every columnist going to turn into TV star Tony Kornheiser, who writes short "columns" that appear to take him about four minutes to write and are barely coherent?

More importantly, even if the AM radio band is dying, WTOP is one of the highest rated stations in the city and, according to the Post last week, brought in the most revenue of any station in the area in 2004. It's been at 1500 AM for decades. Why would you move it to another place on the dial, just for a little better reception? People are creatures of habit. Are they going to take the time to find the new station?

Most of concern to me, though, is the news, according to the Post, that programs like the Mark Plotkin Politics Show and the "Ask the Mayor/Governor/County Executive" shows will likely move to Washington Post Radio. WTOP has improved immensely over the past decade, and one of the big reasons is programs like these. As a news station, it has to constantly update the headlines, and recycles many of its stories every half-hour to hour. But programs like the ones mentioned above, as well as the interviews the station regularly conducts with Post reporters and people like Chris Matthews and other local media notables about the news, etc. keep the listener on the station for a longer period of time--and mean you might stick with the station after you've heard the "traffic and weather together" for the fifth time so you can hear Steven Hunter talk about this week's movies. Why would you want to move this to another station? (And if you're going to run it on both, why would anyone listen to WP Radio?)

All these changes just made me feel even more pleased to purchase Sirius satellite radio last week. I'll give a report in a future post.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

About that Nip/Tuck prediction...

Yeah, it was wrong. Silly me, I thought that the Nip/Tuck writers wouldn't pick the most obvious suspect to be the Carver. But they did, with Quentin, and then to give it that kinky, over-the-top, Nip/Tuck touch, they made the police detective investigating the case his accomplice and apparently incestuous sister. So in order to remove the obviousness, they added a twist that made absolutely no sense any way you think about it. It was so ridiculous, it's not even worth writing about. And the last half-hour of that episode was so nauseating--with Matt being told to cut off the member of his friend the transsexual by a Nazi (if you don't watch the show, you don't want to know, trust me)--that I really don't want to talk about it anymore. I just felt I needed to follow up and admit my prediction was off-base.