Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Oh, no, country next week!

I'm not sure what upset me more tonight--the fact that Katharine McPhee was in the bottom two tonight, or that Ryan told us next Tuesday was country night. I guess the latter, since Katharine survived but the hour of country is still out there looming, waiting to disturb us all next Tuesday. Hopefully, I'll be pleasantly surprised, but country never seems to go all that well on this show. And while I'm not blanket opposed to country--I do own a Dixie Chicks album and have a Garth Brooks tape somewhere--it's just not my cup of tea. (To paraphrase the comedian Andy Kindler, it's not my cup of tea, but it doesn't make me hate tea.)

As for tonight's show, Lisa and Ace belonged on stage tonight, but Katharine's appearance was disappointing. Sure, she wasn't at her best last night, but there were certainly others that were worse, and, um, come on people, she's really hot. At least she tried a challenging song but didn't succeed fully--other people last night chose non-challenging songs and didn't really succeed.

Fortunately the right person went home, and now Lisa can go off to Broadway or something. Paris cried, and I imagine she's upset because, at 17, she still has to go to school even though she's on the show, and her two schoolmates, Kevin and Lisa, are now gone. But I'm sure she'll survive.

One other note: I did think that it was interesting to see Shakira and Wyclef Jean (who, by the way, is Howard Dean's favorite musical artist, which may or may not be a selling point) perform on tonight's show--even though they hadn't helped the singers on Tuesday night or had any other affiliation with the show. It seems that the music industry is now realizing that American Idol can help them sell records--there is no other show that's going to deliver 30 million people consistently every week. And it actually provides some added entertainment to the results show, which lasts a half-hour but, realistically, could actually be a two-minute segment between other shows, considering the amount of information provided compared to the amount of time-killing. So it's a win-win situation for everybody--even if Simon might have called that Shakira-Wyclef Jean performance "a big mess."

Mason, Channel 9 and the best tournament ever?

Who is running WUSA Channel 9 in Washington, and what were they thinking Sunday afternoon? Ever since George Mason's remarkable, thrilling upset of Connecticut ended and the Villanova-Florida game began on Sunday, CBS had been promoting that the halftime would feature highlights, thecutting of the nets, interviews with George Mason players, etc., and I was eagerly anticipating it. But after the five minutes of commercials that usually lead off the extra-special, excruciatingly long 20 minute halftimes during the tournament, Channel 9 all of a sudden switched to Brett Haber sitting in the news studio. He showed Connecticut's missed shot and maybe one other highlight, and then switched to Stacy Cohan standing not far from a parking lot on what looked like a deserted area of George Mason's campus. She showed a brief piece of videotape of students celebrating at the student center as the game ended--a clip that had the video quality of an al Qaeda hostage video--and then said something like, "Hey, look how they're partying in Fairfax," which was the cue for about four students to run from off-camera and start screaming and jumping around in celebration. Not only was this kind of an insult to George Mason students (yes, I know it's a commuter school and that apparently spring break was last week, but wasn't there a central location where people were hanging out and partying--it had only been an hour since the game ended), but it was useless for the home viewer since she didn't even talk to any GMU students. They just yelled and mugged for the camera. After about a minute more of Cohan trying to talk about pretty much nothing and being drowned out by the kids yelling in back of her, she threw it back to Bret Haber in the studio, who then said that he'd be back for the 11:00 news. Channel 9 then returned to the CBS coverage, where Greg Gumbel was just finishing up the highlights.

Now if I'm a George Mason fan, I'm furious. I just became a George Mason fan two weeks ago when they made the tournament, and I was furious. I can remember in 1992, after the Christian Laettner shot to beat Kentucky, partying but at some point someone saying, "Hey, it's 11:00, let's go watch the highlights again on SportsCenter for a few minutes." But no, WUSA pre-empted the highlights for their amatuerish dog-and-pony show. (Yeah, I know there's ESPNews now that shows highlights every half-hour or less, but that might ruin that part of the argument, so forget about that.) Not only did we miss the highlights, it appeared we may have missed CBS's Seth Davis explaining he seemed to give Mason no chance--yes, I know he and Clark Kellogg seem to only get 20 seconds or so to make their predictions, and I can't blame Seth for picking UConn (it was a pretty sensible choice) but I don't think the name George Mason or Patriots or Larranaga or Jai Lewis or Lamar Butler even came out of his mouth in the pregame and halftime when asked how he saw the game breaking down. It was all about UConn and whatever they had to do--I can't remember what it was, but I think it had something to do with rebouding. At least Kellogg said that Mason needed to get out to an early lead and shoot well--neither of which they actually did in the first half, but at least he gave them a chance.(Did anyone in another city see if Seth addressed this?)

To be fair to Channel 9, they did get back in time to see Greg and the gang interview the team--where Seth Davis again didn't exactly distinguish himself by saying to GMU coach Jim Larranaga, "I'm too excited to think of a question. Coach, why don't you come up a question for Jai Lewis?" (Little known fact: When Bob Woodward met with Deep Throat in that garage, he'd often have the driver of the first car that pulled up during the meeting ask some questions.) But the fact that Channel 9 seemed to luck out and not miss the interview doesn't excuse missing the first portion of the GMU-UConn wrapup--especially when they could have gone to the local coverage during the second half of the halftime, which featured an interview with LSU coach John Brady which I didn't see but can't believe anyone would have been that upset about missing. Channel 9 has been on a long, slow downward spiral ever since the tragic death of sportscaster Glenn Brenner--a spiral so bad that all of their best people ended up on Channel 7. Sunday's shenanigans indicate that they still haven't turned it around.

One other thing about the tournament--I do want to give Seth Davis credit for one thing: In the "interviews" he's been doing during the tournament for, he was consistently correct in calming down the anonymous and lacking in any historical perspective interviewer and telling him that the tournament is always pretty great. The first weekend of the tournament may not the best ever, but typical of what we get most years, noted Davis. And then he was asked last Friday night if this year had the "best Sweet Sixteen" ever and he said that we often get a really exciting Sweet Sixteen, and that last year's Elite Eight was unbelievable with three overtime games. Having said all that, after the Mason victory, I've heard people (although not Seth) now talking about how this has been the best tournament ever. I think one can make that case, but I still think many people have short memories. Sure, there have been some buzzer beaters this year, some great upsets, and the best Cinderella story ever. But does anyone remember, to pick just one, the 1990 tournament? That had a parade of buzzer beaters even better than this year--including UConn's length of the court pass and shoot with one second left in the Sweet Sixteen and then Christian Laettner's buzzer beater in overtime to eliminate UConn just two days later. That tournament had amazing upsets, including three of the top seeds not making the Final Four. And that tournament had another great Cinderella story--a Loyola Marymount team that also upset the defending national champs like Mason did (but that year, Michigan had just about everybody back from their championship team) and made it to the Elite Eight--and their best player died a week before the tournament. That was a pretty amazing tournament. Of course, that 1990 tourney did have a disappointing Final Four, culminating in Duke getting blown out by UNLV by 30 in the championship game, so let's hope a precedent hasn't been set. But let's not be so eager to create instant history and "best ever" proclamations before we at least take a few minutes to recall the past.

What's wrong with last century's songs?

As good as last week’s American Idol was (although the guy recapping for Entertainment Weekly’s Website may have gotten a little carried away when he called it the best episode of Idol ever), tonight’s show was really a letdown. Other than the obvious explanations (poor singing and bad song choices), there were two reasons in particular for the off-night. First, tonight was the first hour-long show of the final round, after two two-hour extravaganzas. And fitting in ten singers in one hour after having two hours to showcase 11 just last week always creates problems. The producers jettison some of the commercials (that’s good), get rid of most of the banter between the judges and Seacrest (no real problem with that), give the judges less time for their comments (my opinion on that varies depending on the judge), get rid of the post-sing talks with the singers (if that means not having to hear Kellie Pickler ask “What’s a ballsy?” like she did last Wendesday night, that’s a positive development) and, most importantly, cut down the amount of time the singers get to sing. I didn’t time it (OK, I did, but since I didn’t time it last week it didn’t matter), but it sure seemed like the singers had a shorter–maybe 15 or 20 seconds less–amount of time available for their performances. A few times, I said to myself, “That’s it?” when it was over. And it seemed to me that some of the singers never really could build up the momentum they needed with the song being so short.

But what had the single biggest impact on the poor performances tonight was the sounds-better-than-it-really-is theme, “Songs of the 21st Century.” Yes, there are six years of songs to choose from, as one of the judges said tonight, but have the years 2000-2006 really been banner years for pop music, the kind of music that this show celebrates and emphasizes? Many of the top artists of the 21st century have been in the rap and hip-hop genre–Outkast, Kanye West, Eminem–and no one is going to perform one of their songs on American Idol. There’s been some popular R&B in recent years, like Usher, but not everyone can pull that off (Elliott maybe, Chris wouldn’t try, and I hope Ace wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near an Usher song.). There’s been a lot of the Creed, Nickelback, Linkin Park kind of stuff in recent years, which Chris seems to have cornered the market on but isn’t for everyone But not as many songs as one might think that would be suitable for American Idol and that are, even more importantly, good songs that showcase one’s voice

Furthermore, most of these songs haven’t even stood the test of time–how many of the ten songs performed tonight will we still hear in 20 years? I’m not confident that we’ll hear any of them, but maybe the Train song sung by Ace, and perhaps the Gavin DeGraw song done by Elliott because “One Tree Hill” reruns might still be in syndication. And people might still hear that Kelly Clarkson song Lisa because they’ll still be buying her last album to hear “Since You’ve Been Gone,” which probably will stand the test of time.

Randy said tonight was a good theme because it showcases the kind of album the singers would make. Does it really? I’d hope they’d try to be a little original, not try to just copy the singers out there...but you know what, I think I’ve convinced you all how much I hate this theme and I’ll get on with rating the singers.

Lisa Tucker (“Because of You”)–Even if this song is still being played on the radio and thus her performance would likely pale in comparison, I think this was a good song choice, finally, for Lisa. It was a song where she could show off some vocal ability, and yet it was a song that a young person would sing (since it’s a recent song recorded by a singer in her 20s). Unfortunately, Lisa just didn’t sing it well. She started off horribly, seemed to–as Randy would say–“work it out” some in the middle, and then ended badly. Simon was kind of correct–there were a couple parts that one could actually describe as somewhat painful. The good news was that tonight seemed to be the most natural performance Lisa has done so far–the hand movements and the facial expressions didn’t seem forced at all. Unfortunately, it may not matter–after being in the bottom three for two weeks in a row, the fact that she drew the first singing slot tonight does not bode well for her survival.

Kellie Pickler (“Suds in the Bucket”)–The judges didn’t really like this, but I didn’t think it was that bad. While I’m not a big fan of country music and didn’t love the song, I thought it fit Kellie’s voice well--although it did get kind of boring quickly. I found it interesting that Randy complained that the theme was songs of the 21st century and Kellie’s song sounded like something older. Gee, Randy, you didn’t seem to have any problem at all when Chris took a song from the 50s last week and turned it into a song from the 21st century. Please make up your mind. By the way, does anyone know who those two women were they showed a couple times after Kellie’s performance?

Ace Young (“Drops of Jupiter”)–I laughed out loud when Ace started doing the “Eh, eh, eh” stuff at the end of the first two lines of the song, and it didn’t improve from there. I thought this was pretty bad. Plus, as I was saying in the opening, the short time Ace had to perform this song–which kind of builds throughout–meant that once he started to get somewhere in the song, it was over. That didn’t really matter, though, since, as I said, it wasn’t very good. But forget about the singing–tonight, all that mattered about Ace was Paula’s drooling over his scar. Wow, both Simon and Randy felt the need to rein her in. “You’ll have to tell me sometime about how you got that scar...”–I asked a few weeks ago, but does Paula have any self-awareness? Oh, and when Ace showed off the scar, I just thought he was doing that weird opening of the leather jacket while singing move that Constantine did a few times last year. By the way, I’ve heard comparisons of Ace and Constantine and they’re not meant to be flattering. Say what you will about Constantine’s cheeseball antics on stage, he was a better singer and a lot more interesting than Ace–at least Constantine seemed to have a much wider knowledge of music than Ace does. I got a kick out of Paula saying tonight that Ace always picks “really great songs.” I guess she needed to say something that wouldn’t be interpreted as sexual, but she’s crazy–did Paula not remember that Michael Jackson falsetto monstrosity from a few weeks back?

Taylor Hicks (“Trouble”)–I was hoping Taylor would do the song “Trouble” that Pink recorded a few years back, but I was not so lucky. I’d never heard this song before, something I’m sure I share with the vast majority of America, but I still kind of liked it. It was nice just to see Taylor sit back and sing for once, instead of all the twitching and running around and crazy dancing. But I did agree with Simon–that whole t-shirt and leather jacket combo was a bit ridiculous. In his suits, he looked a lot more classy. (Even Seacrest seems to be wearing suits every week.) By the way, what happened to Taylor’s “woos” and weird hugging himself thing he’s often do? Did someone get to him and tell him to tone that down? Did it tire him out and he decide to drop it? Whatever the case, it was a good decision.

Mandisa (“Wanna Praise You”)–Yeah, Mandisa sang one of those “hip,” Kirk Franklin-style gospel songs, but it was still gospel and I don’t tune in for that on American Idol. Her voice was impressive, but I’ve been sort of critical of Mandisa for being a little too much, a little too over the top. Singing a gospel song did nothing to change that opinion. Simon did call her performance “a bit indulgent,” by which I assume he means singing a song to please yourself and not to entertain other people. I guess you could say that tonight.. Oh, and Mandisa, I don’t know much about clothes, but jeans are not a good look for you.
Chris Daughtery (“What If”)–Boy, this theme must have been tough for Chris, huh? But first, we had the short interview where Chris cleared up the controversy that had been raging since last Tuesday–he admitted that yes, he hadn’t totally rearranged and altered “Walk the Line” into some contemporary rock song all by himself, he’d just copied the arrangement that the group Live used a few years ago. A lot of people thought Chris was hiding something by not mentioning this last week–I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he did mention it but the Idol producers just edited it out of the tapes of the Barry Manilow meeting, especially because Chris was so quick to say he used the Red Hot Chili Peppers version of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” the week before. Other people were saying that the judges should have known that Chris was doing Live’s version, and thus should never have praised him for being original. I think that’s a little ridiculous–it’s not like Live’s cover off “Walk the Line” was a huge hit, and are the judges supposed to know every single song recorded by every single band? But now, Chris has copped to it, it’s out in the open and we can move on .... to a performance I didn’t paticularly care for. While Chris might have done an OK job singing his song, it was a terrible song, and I couldn’t wait for it to end. And finally we heard Simon say what somone should have said last week: Hey Chris, you’re getting kind of boring and stale. Now why Chris was “uncompromising” last week and all of a sudden a week later needs to “start showing a different side to you” is something really only Simon can answer–I’ve been saying he needed to show a “different side” for at least three weeks, and I’m hardly the only one–but it’s just good that Simon is on the bandwagon. Of course, watching Chris’ reaction to Simon’s comments, I didn’t get the impression he was thinking about changing course anytime soon–I sensed a “well, that may be what you think, but I think the audience likes my style” vibe. We’ll see.

Katharine McPhee (“The Voice Within”)–The judges seemed to really like Katharine tonight, but I can’t say I totally caught the McPheever tonight. Once Katharine got to the song’s chorus, I thought she was really good, but I wasn’t sure about the first part of the song–it seemed a little rough. What was sort of interesting was seeing Katharine do a “new” song–I don’t think she had done one song that was less than 30 years old yet in the competition (not that there’s anything wrong with that, I just thought it was kind of interesting.)

Bucky Covington (“Real Good Man”)–Other than Bucky’s sliding across the stage during the middle of the song, I remember virtually nothing about this performance except that it was boring and not all that good.. Paula said Bucky should watch his diction, which is in some way kind of silly–there are tons of rock singers that no one can understand. Bucky should be more worried about the fact that he doesn’t have much range as a singer and isn’t all that exciting.

Paris Bennett (“Work It Out”)–Liked the dance moves, liked the sound of the voice, liked the charisma, but don’t really like the song–it’s boring and repetitive and doesn’t really show off much vocal ability.

Elliott Yamin (“I Don’t Want to Be”)–Simon and the other judges, even once tonight, have used the phrase, “You’re better than that song.” Isn’t Elliott better than this song? I thought his vocals sounded good, but this didn’t seem like the right vehicle for them. But it was nice to see Elliott singing a song that wasn’t as difficult as some of the other songs he’s sung in recent weeks, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Who’s going home? I think the final three looks like Bucky and Lisa for sure, and maybe Ace, and because she went first tonight and was long gone from voters’ minds by the time 9 p.m. rolled around, I think it will be Lisa who will leave us. Fingerhut out!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Our long national nightmare is over

I am perfectly happy to be wrong in my prediction of who was going to go home tonight--I said Bucky only because I thought Kevin Covais had enough support to get him through a couple more rounds. (And might I add, I still did get all of the bottom three correct, but it wasn't really that challenging.) And after that disturbing and horrendous commercial with Kevin's head on a musclebound sand body, I think they had stretched that "Kevin is a stud" joke well past its breaking point. And it was good to see Kevin gracious in defeat and acknowledging his fellow singers, so it was a generally satisfying 30 minutes tonight. We even got a little Paula weirdness to top it off--her speech about the non-winners on the show having a history of going on to "greatness" was so absurd I'm not even sure it needs rebuttal. Really Paula, yes, Jennifer Hudson somehow got a part in the movie of "Dreamgirls" and we'll see how that goes. "Greatness" is just a little premature. But the only other person you mentioned was Clay, who more or less was treated as a co-winner in the second version of Idol. Kevin Covais was in 11th place. And none of the runner-ups besides Clay have even had people buy their records, let alone achieve anything in the general vicinity of "greatness." Actually, why am I wasting my time ranting about Paula? Fingerhut out.

The last two hour Idol for a while, and it's good

Overall, a pretty impressive night on American Idol tonight. Just about everyone seemed to bring their “A game” tonight, and the competition is still wide open–yeah, I know there seems to be some kind of Chris Daughtry bandwagon starting up, but I’m not part of that. By my count, there are at least a good half-dozen people who could still win this thing (and even a couple more who could win and may not be deserving.) Of course, I say that and two of those six will probably get eliminated the next two weeks, so who knows?

Tonight’s guest is Barry Manilow, and I liked how he gave good advice to the singers–to tweak the song enough to make it your own–and helped them do it. It’s obvious he’s a fan of the show. I also never knew that his fans were called “Fanilows” (and was that clip of fans going crazy scary or what?), and I think I actually know a Fanilow. Even stranger, the Fanilow I know is male and married–so he may have his own very small Fanilow club. And I felt really bad for poor Bobby Bennett, a Fanilow so big he actually sang a Barry Manilow song on the show a few weeks ago. He must have been crying his eyes out at home–but he was still in the final 11, viewers would have probably been crying their eyes out, so it all worked out.

My quick Barry Manilow memory is of listening many times at the age of 8 or 9 to his Even Now record, which contained the classics “Can’t Smile Without You” and of course, “Copacabana.” This was despite the fact that I was originally upset with my mom for buying that record and not an album with my then-favorite Manilow song, “It’s A Miracle.” I was a weird kid.

Tonight’s theme was 50's night, which was good because it supplied a vast array of songs for the singers to choose from, and no one had any excuse for picking a song that wasn’t right for them. Even with all those song choices, Chris Daughtry still somehow managed to selected a 2006-era modern rock song. But I’ll get to that later.

By the way, at the top of the show Ryan alluded to Simon’s prediction of a top three last week as a guest on the Howard Stern show. Simon said he thought Chris, Taylor and, to Howard and Robin’s surprise and chagrin, Kellie Pickler would be the top three, claiming that “middle America” are big fans of Kellie. He also spoke sort of highly of Katharine McPhee and promised Howard that Mandisa wouldn’t win (this after Howard said he thought Mandisa was a good singer but too “old-fashioned” and “gospelly” for American Idol). So take all that for what it’s worth.

Mandisa (“I Don’t Hurt Anymore”)–I hesitate to quote anything Paula says approvingly, but when she said that Mandisa “took me back to the 50s,” I kind of knew what she meant. Mandisa did do a good job of capturing the feel of the era in her song and performance, and she sang the song very well. My biggest problem/fear with Mandisa is that she can oversing a song, and other than maybe the last couple of notes, she didn’t do that tonight–she just gave a powerful performance. But there was a big question raised by tonight’s Mandisa appearance–is there some kind of effort to sex up Mandisa? There’s no doubt that Mandisa looked as good as she ever had on Idol tonight–but first Ryan says “she looks hot tonight,” then Simon says she gave a strip-club type performance, and then Ryan talks again about how good she looks. What’s going on? Oh, and the nickname “Man-diva”? Not good. It just makes me think of a man.

Bucky Covington (“Oh Boy”)–So Paula said that when Bucky started singing this song, she nudged Randy and said “Perfect song.” It took you that long to figure that out, Paula? When Bucky said at the beginning of the videotape, “I’m singing ‘Oh, Boy’ by Buddy Holly” and started to sing the beginning, I said to myself, “Sounds like a good song for Bucky.” Unfortunately, it didn’t work out all that great. Simon was right–there was nothing special about the performance. As I think I’ve said before, you kind of think Bucky is going to break out and do something special, but he really doesn’t–he just sings the song with his cool-sounding but not that powerful voice and that’s about it. But if it’s any consolation, Paula did tell Bucky that “people love you.” Oh, and once again we had Ryan sort of putting down Simon by thanking Randy and Paula for their constructive criticism. This was what Ryan considered constructive criticism from Mr. Jackson: “Find the song that’s going to give you the best vocal performance.” Wow, Ryan, you were actually impressed by that? Randy has said more or less the same thing about 460 times over the last five seasons. But maybe Bucky went backstage, slapped his forehead and said, “Wow, I’ve been choosing songs all this time that didn’t give me a good vocal performance–what was I thinking?” (Actually, considering some contestants just this year have picked songs because it was their grandmother’s favorite song or they thought the lyrics reflected being voted into the Top 12, maybe this advice is more needed than I give it credit for.)

Paris Bennett (“Fever”)–I’m not a huge fan of this song–you hear it a lot and so many people have covered it, but is it really that great a song?–but I really liked Paris doing it tonight. She has quite a powerful voice, and can really put on a performance. As I’ve said before, she may be little, but she commands the stage. I hope she’s around for a while.

Then we saw Constantine Maroulis and Ryan Cabrera sitting together for some reason, which got me thinking–who is more famous of those two? I believe Ryan Cabrera had a number one record, and he dated Ashlee Simpson for a while (kind of lost its cachet after the lip-syncing incident), but Constantine finished in sixth place on American Idol. It took me a while to think of the name of Ryan Cabrera’s hit single (“All The Way Down” and it’s terrible), while I could name four or five songs Constantine sang on American Idol right off the top of my head. And my parents know who Constantine is, but wouldn’t know Ryan Cabrera if he walked into their kitchen (I might not either.) So I think the answer is Constantine. Oh, and was it alumni night tonight at Idol? We saw Jasmine Trias and Lindsay Cardinale (which was really about as low on the Idol food chain as you could go), and Carmen Rasmussen was even there (I was flipping the channels about 10:30 and saw her appear on an MSNBC talk show talking about Idol, and she said she had just come from the show.) Sorry, back to the singers.

Chris Daughtry (“Walk the Line”)–So Chris’s singing was very good, and he took charge of the stage as well. But does he have to turn everything, even a Johnny Cash song, into a Staind song? (For my older readers, Staind is a current rock group that, in my opinion, sings slow, ponderous and often boring rock songs.) Isn’t the whole point of these theme weeks to make the singers stretch and show that they can do different things–and make it more interesting for the audience at home so that the singers aren’t singing exactly the same thing every week? But we have Chris, who takes a song from whatever theme they’re doing that week and fits it into his “modern rock” theme.Maybe I’m being a little inconsistent, since I am a fan of the singers doing something to make a song their own, but there’s making a song your own and twisting a song so much that it’s not even really the song you started with. Of course, the judges seemed to love it–you “refused to compromise,” said Simon. “You know who you are,” said Randy. But here’s a lesson for Chris from Johnny Cash. About ten years ago, Johnny Cash recorded a bunch of other people’s songs–from classics like Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water” to then-current songs like “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails. And you know what? He just sang the songs, pretty much the way they were (with some slight changes in the arrangements) and they were great. He didn’t have to make wholesale changes so that they were unrecognizable in order to make them Johnny Cash songs, he made them Johnny Cash songs just by singing them. Now, of course, Chris Daughtry doesn’t have a voice like Johnny Cash (and who does?), but I just think what he’s doing is kind of a copout, kind of cheating. One last thing: Why was Paula pantomiming swinging a lasso at the end of Chris’s song? (BREAKING NEWS: Right after I posted this item, I was reading an American Idol message board and learned that Chris' version of "Walk the Line" was not original, as was implied, but was actually a cover of a version recorded by the rock band Live a few years ago. Make of this what you will, but it's not a positive thing in my book.)

Katharine McPhee (“Come Rain or Come Shine”)–So Katharine finally wore a dress that didn’t make her look pregnant, she’s starting to resemble, facially, Jessica Alba (and that’s a very good thing), and she sang very well. So that’s a pretty good night for Katharine in my book. I guess I’m gettting a slight McPheever. Call a doctor. But seriously, Simon was right–she’s becoming a star. In the last two weeks, particularly tonight, she’s shown she knows how to move around a stage and take control of it, and she’s got a lot of vocal ability. I’m also looking forward to seeing her around for a while.

Taylor Hicks (“Not Fade Away”)–I liked it, but I didn’t love it. And I think the reason I liked it was more because I like Taylor, not because I thought the performance was anything special. The whole performance seemed to be more about Taylor moving around the stage and the audience than it was about Taylor actually singing. The song was kind of simplistic for him, but I hope he realizes. The dancing is the fun, amusing part of Taylor that complements the singing. But people like Taylor because of the singing and the special voice, not because he’s a spaz. As for Paula and Simon’s little spat, who do you think I’ll side with? What does Simon’s dance prowess (or lack thereof) have to do with him not liking Taylor’s performance? And why did she keep talking about it like it did? Does she really think that has anything to do with Simon’s critique? Does she really think the audience thinks that has something to do with Simon’s critique–that he allegedly can’t dance? What goes on in that head of Paula’s?

Lisa Tucker (“Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”)–At least Lisa looked cute and young, her age of 16, Vocally, she sounded solid, but both the arrangement and the way she sang the song didn’t give me a pop music feel–to quote both Simon and a former co-worker referring to Clay Aiken, it all came across as “too Broadway” to me. Simon said he felt like he was “trapped in a high school muscial,” and that’s a good way to put it too. (By the way, speaking of Clay, on the Stern show last week, Simon said that when Clay came back to the show to perform a couple years ago, he went into Simon’s dressing room and said that Simon’s comments the night he wore the red leather jacket and sang “Grease”–no, sorry, I don’t recall what the comments were–“still hurt.” Wow, Clay, get over yourself.)

Kevin Covais (“When I Fall In Love”)–So Simon laid off Kevin tonight–maybe strategizing that ripping on him makes him more popular to some people-- by only saying that those who like him would like this performance. Well, I don’t like him, and I didn’t really like this performance, although it probably wasn’t his worst. Paula, of course, praised him for something completely irrelevant, his moxie–what does that have to do with singing “When I Fall In Love”?–but what do you expect from her? Also, Kevin dressed tonight like a guy who was asking to be thrown into a locker in junior high school. That’s the best the stylists could come up with? Can’t they give him a blazer to wear?

Elliott Yamin (“Teach Me Tonight”)–Elliott seems to pick really complex songs, and he did again tonight. I’m not sure I really liked the song all that much, but the second half of the song he really kicked it up a notch and was impressive. I really like Elliott’s voice, but I worry he just hasn’t shown enough charisma to keep him around for a while. And what was going on with that outfit tonight? I’m thinking of wearing that into work tomorrow morning, a tie with an untucked shirt, and see how many people say, “Tuck in your shirt” or “Do you know your shirt is untucked?” before someone says, “Hey, you got the Yamin look going?” (I think I’ll be waiting awhile.) But seriously, is that a look now in style? Anyone know?

Oh, and one last thing about Elliott’s segment. Hope everyone saw Simon mockingly mouth the words “I got goosebumps” after Paula said it about Elliott’s performance. Paula must have to go to the dermatologist after the show most weeks, because it does seem she’s always talking about the way her skin feels during the show.

Kellie Pickler (“Walking After Midnight”)–That was a much improved performance from last week and I think clearly Kellie’s best vocal performance of the competition. She was sexy, confident and interesting. One thing, though: Does Ryan have to treat her each week after her song as one of the Beverly Hillbillies? He seemed to almost say tonight, “So Kellie, can you give us the latest adventures of ‘The Hick in the Big City’?”Is that really necessary? Then again, when Kellie says she thought Simon called her a coat when he referred to her as a minx (and she heard mink), and when she’s so amused that people made signs of her inside a pickle, maybe she brings it upon herself.

Ace Young (“In the Still of the Night”)–The many American Idol conspiracy theorists, as I’ve mentioned before, believe the final spot of the night is used by the producers to feature contestants they want to do well–since it’s the last person voters see before the phone lines open--and call it the “pimp spot.” So it really wasn’t surprising that after a couple weeks as an apparent favorite, and then his surprising appearance in the bottom three, that Ace would end up in the “pimp spot” tonight. The producers don’t want to lose him yet. And Ace took advantage of it tonight–he was better than I thought he’d be on this song. While I still don’t think his voice is all that special, he used it to maximum effect and, combined with his fans rallying to his side this week, should stick around.

So who is the bottom three? Let’s hope Kevin Covais, I think Bucky Covington should end up there, and probably Lisa Tucker. And I’ll predict Bucky will go home, although I really have no idea.

Fingerhut out!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

NCAA Tournament thoughts

It finally came around 7:00 Sunday night, in the late stages of the Villanova-Arizona game. Billy Packer admitted he was wrong.

Jim Nantz seemed to have prompted him at least two or three times during the day (and probably a lot more, considering I only saw the games they were broadcasting at halftime and in between other games). Nantz would say, "How about that Bradley team?" and Packer would all of a sudden start talking about Memphis. Or he'd just ignore Nantz when he started praising George Mason. But when CBS put up a graphic listing the conferences represented in the Sweet 16, Packer said, "I'm seldom wrong, but..." and then noted that the Missouri Valley and the Colonial conferences had the same amount of teams left in the tournament as the ACC and Big 12 did, respectively.

And that really was the story of the first weekend of the tournament--that some of those smaller conferences proved they did belong. I'm a big ACC fan, but what makes the NCAA tournament fun in the first couple rounds is watching teams like George Mason pull upsets. And it was great to see a team that just barely got in the tournment like George Mason beat two of the biggest powers in the country. Even more amazing is that while watching the Mason-Michigan State game it was obvious who the better team was: George Mason. Sure, MSU played poorly, but George Mason is good, and might have won that game by 20 if they could have hit their foul shots. That wasn't a fluke. As for UNC, announcer Gus Johnson made some comment comparing George Mason's chance of winning to Dean Smith once saying he could never beat Jack Nicklaus in a round of golf, but maybe on one hole--or something like that. Sure, UNC would likely win a seven-game series from Mason, but I think it might be close. They've got solid inside players and guards who make plays and don't turn the ball over too often. I can't believe anyone who watched both games wouldn't think the same--but I still don't understand why some college players make it in the NBA and others don't even get a chance, so maybe I really don't know anything about basketball.

As for my Duke Blue Devils, I have no idea whether LSU is a tought matchup or not, since I've only seen them play for the five minutes of the LSU-Texas A&M game that they showed Saturday. They have some really big guy built like Shaq who looks tough (I presume his nickname is "Baby" because he's like a baby Shaq?) and that's the extent of my knowledge. I do know that Josh McRoberts played great Saturday, and if he can score, rebound and handle the ball like that for the next four games, Duke's chances increase considerably. I also hope that someone finds DeMarcus Nelson before Thursday, because he obviously got lost on the bus trip to Greensboro. Yeah, I know he played 20 minutes according to the box score, but I didn't see him.

One other thing about the coverage of the NCAA tournament by CBS. When you sit down and watch the Redskins-Chiefs NFL game on CBS during the fall, and there's a Broncos-Patriots game going on at the same time, does CBS come back from a commercial, show you a random second and 6 play by the Patriots, then show Tom Brady calling a timeout and walking to the sideline--while Greg Gumbel and Boomer Esisason talk about how the game's been going? Of course not, they update you on the score by showing you a touchdown or key play setting up a touchdown or turnover. Of course, basketball is different because there's a lot more scoring, but wouldn't showing us 20 or 30 seconds of highlights be a better way of telling us what's going on in the game than random shots of people lining up for free throws or watching one team get called for traveling. (ESPN often does it during its college basketball coverage during the regular season.)

There seems to be an obsession by CBS to show as much live action as possible to emphasize the excitement of the tournament, but showing live action just to be live is pointless. This philosophy reached absurd levels on the first night of the tournament. I came home from work, having not seen any highlights from the afternoon games, and eager to see Tennessee's buzzer beater against Winthrop. Instead, because the San Diego games had been delayed due to a bomb scare, we didn't see any of the exciting plays from the afternoon action--despite the fact that there must have been millions like me. No, we saw about five minutes of the first half of the UCLA-Belmont game, two minutes of which was a timeout. And since I never saw any more of that game once the game in my region started, the whole thing was pretty pointless. I had to tune over to ESPNews to see the Tennesse shot--did they really want me doing that? Then later that night, after the GW-UNCW game ended, CBS switched me to the Gonzaga-Xavier game. I'd been paying attention to that score all night on the top of the screen, and Xavier had been ahead almost all of the second half. And when CBS switched us, the announcers noted that Gonzaga had just recently gone ahead, and it had been due to the great shots and passes of Adam Morrison. I was looking forward to seeing some of those great plays, but no luck. When the Gonzaga game ended, we were quickly switched to the opening moments of the second half of Air Force-Illinois. Yes, I like to see as much live action as possible, but I also want to know what I may have missed because I can't watch four games at once. CBS couldn't switch me to that uneagerly anticipated game a few minutes later and show us a highlight or two detailing why Adam Morrison was so great?

I was encouraged that on Friday night, CBS did show a highlight or two of the Connecticut-Albany game to update viewers watching other games, so maybe they're making progress. We'll see what happens during the Sweet 16.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A surprising bottom three

So I'm sure just about everyone was a little surprised to see Ace and Lisa in tonight's bottom three, and there were certainly other people that deserve to go home before them (Ahem, Kevin...) But would it really have mattered if they had gotten booted. But as a former co-worker said when Vanessa Olivarez was eliminated in season two before some more deserving candidates, "It's not like she was going to win."

Yeah, we keep hearing Ace is a favorite, but other than his first performance of "Father Figure" in the semifinals (which was still nothing memorable), he hasn't had a good vocal performance yet. He's a good look in search of a strong voice--it reminds me of that Brady Bunch episode where they want Greg to front the band because "he fits the suit." OK, maybe I'm being a little harsh (Ace isn't bad, he's just unremarkable), but he can only surf the waves created by Paula's drool so long. Going first last night, most people probably forgot about him by the time the two-hour show was over and they had seen a bunch of good singers at the end. I'm sure his fans will probably rally to save him for a couple weeks, but tonight's results--and Tuesday night's performance--demonstrate that he's not a favorite anymore, and Americans like their Idols with more than just a pretty face.

As for Lisa Tucker, her appearance in the bottom three didn't surprise me after I read the blog of a USA Today music writer today about the show. He had gone through his comments (remember, you can leave a comment for me, and it's free--and maybe I'll mention you in a future post!)and summed up the prevailing attitude about each of the singers. His entry for Lisa was something along the lines of "nobody has really said anything about Lisa." She may have a great voice, but she just doesn't connect with the audience. (I guess lots of other people also find her mechanical, seemingly older-than-her-age movements off-putting as well.) She may not be around much longer, unless she can really do something special.

But if Kevin Covais wasn't going to go tonight, the next best choice was Melissa McGhee. Not only was her last name causing too much confusion with Katharine McPhee, but she was pretty mediocre last night, forgot the words, and shouldn't have beaten out Ayla Brown for a spot in the Top 12 anyway. I was really disappointed that they cut off her final performance and we didn't get to see if she messed up the lyrics again, but there's nothing I can do about there. (There's probably somebody on a message board somewhere who was at the show and will post about it, but I don't think it's worth my time.)

I did just want to say one more thing about the American Idol producers--you have Stevie Wonder perform a song live, and then, as people are still giving him an ovation five seconds after his performance, you have to introduce the cast of the new sitcom "The Loop."? Show some respect, please.

Fingerhut out!

Some thoughts on the NCAA tournament

I love the NCAA tournament, I love hearing the pairings and studying the bracket--but I think the whole pool craze has gotten completely out of hand.Yes, I was a fan of picking brackets before picking brackets was cool--when the tournament still had 48 teams I would bring the sports section into the Hebrew school carpool so that everyone could make picks (I'm not even sure we wrote them down, I just thought the whole idea of picking a bracket was fun.) But now, for three and a half days, you can't go anywhere without hearing people picking their brackets, telling you their Final Four teams, bragging about which 5-12 upset they have this year. I heard a couple minutes of the Tony Kornheiser radio show Monday, and he said that until the tournament starts, all he'd be doing was inviting guests on to pick brackets. First of all, are there that many people sitting out there going "I was wavering on the Seton Hall-Wichita State game, but James Carville said go with Wichita, so I guess I will." Or "Wilbon said pick LSU, and I had them going out in the first round. I guess I'm changing my bracket"? (Frighteningly, there probably are.) I love hearing people talk about the games in the tournament, what region is toughest, what are the good matchups in the first round and the potential matchups down the road--but listening to someone just rattle off their bracket picks holds about the same excitement as listening to a fortune teller reveal strangers' fortunes.

Please, don't let the tournament become all about your picks. The tournament is about buzzer-beating shots, upsets and great basketball games. Do I really care that I picked Arizona last year and Illinois beat them in the Elite Eight? (I was probably eliminated from my pool already anyway, but still...) No, what I remember is I saw Illinois come back from 15 points down in about two minutes, one of the most unbelievable comebacks I've ever seen in a sporting event. So root for your favorite team this weekend, but don't sit there and get grumpy if one of your picks gets upset on an incredible last second shot. Enjoy the basketball, and check to see who you picked when the game is over.

Having said that, one trend I've observed with the selection committee in the tournament--not every year but fairly frequently in the last 20 years. There is often a team from one of the major conferences (usually the SEC) that is not a traditional basketball power but gets a surprisingly high 2 or 3 seed. And they usually go down to defeat, if not in a first round upset then certainly in round two. There was Stanford in 1989 (in the years since they've become a much more regular participant in the tournament), which got a three seed and lost to Siena in the first round; there was the University of Southern California with Harold Miner, which got a much too high two seed and lost in the second round to Georgia Tech on a last second three-pointer by James Forrest that CBS still replays; there was South Carolina in 1997, I believe, which came out of nowhere to get a number two seed and promptly lost in round one; and there was Mississippi the following year, which has never been all that good at basketball and got beat by Valparaiso and Bryce Drew on another last-second shot that CBS has replayed every March since. It's not too hard to figure out who that team would be this year: Tennessee. So be careful with them.

One more thing before the tournament starts: Even though all the bracket talk may be annoying me, it's far preferable to the "bracketologists" on TV and the Internet telling you who's going to be in the tournament. What I can't stand is their overconfidence in predicting who's in and who's out, acting like they really know. I realize much of it is about putting on a show for the viewers watching TV, but there are a lot of dumb people out there who might hear someone saying their team is in the tournament a week before the pairings are announced and really think that Digger Phelps knows what he's talking about. Which brings me to Seth Davis on CBS (Full disclosure: Seth and I were in the same class in college, and he never returned a videotape he borrowed from me with tributes to late Washington, D.C. sportscaster Glenn Brenner.) As CBS was signing off from their college basketball coverage the last Saturday of the regular season, Greg Gumbel asked Seth, "What was the most important development today?" Seth responded, "Cincinnati beating West Virginia and clinching a tournament bid." I thought, "Wow, I didn't know Seth was on the selection committee. No, that can't be right. Oh, maybe Cincinnati won the Big East tournament today. No, that's not until next week. Hmm, I wonder how Seth knows that."

So I was immensely satisfied to see Seth very upset on Sunday when Cincinnati was left out of the field. Sure, maybe he felt they were genuinely snubbed (and maybe they were, but if you finish eighth in your league, don't complain--win a couple more games during the regular season), but I couldn't help thinking part of that anger was because the committee made him look kind of silly.

In Seth's defense, I will add that he's actually not bad in the college basketball studio show--I'd much rather listen to him talk about the games than sit through too much of Clark Kellogg yelling about "stat sheet stuffers." Seth's prediction of six Missouri Valley Conference teams in the tournament Sunday, though, makes me wonder what they're drinking in the CBS studio. And if Billy Packer had been there, he probably would have strangled Seth with his bare hands.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

At least it should be a strong Final 6

After the announcement of the final 12 last week, I declared this to be a wide-open competition. At the beginning of tonight’s show, Paula Abdul said something similar–never a good sign. And midway through tonight’s show, it did look like that the only reason the competition was so wide-open was because everyone was so mediocre. But by the end of the show tonight, we did get enough quality performances that the next two months could be pretty interesting.

We started tonight with Ryan commenting on how everything was bigger tonight--the band, the stage, etc. It seemed like Ryan was saying that the stage for the finals was bigger than it had been in past years (not just bigger than in the semifinals), which I found hard to believe. (Fox and American Idol actually spending a little additional money on the show–no way!) But after watching the show tonight, I think it did get bigger–there seemed to be more area on the sides. Why am I discussing this arcane matter? Because the big stage, as I believe Randy mentioned at the top of the show, kind of swallowed a number of singers up–they didn’t seem to have the presence to command that big stage. And that seemed to be a crucial factor.

So before we got to the singing, and perhaps specifically to annoy me, we got a montage of “how we got here,” and were shown highlights of the final 12 from their auditions and their semifinal performances. Wow, what memories–I think it may have been three full weeks since we last saw some of these clips. If we for some reason wanted to forget Paris Bennett or Katharine McPhee’s early auditions, apparently the American Idol producers just won’t let us.

Our theme tonight was Stevie Wonder, and like everyone I thought, “Gee, wasn’t the theme of the semifinal round Stevie Wonder? We must have already heard more than a half-dozen of his songs in the last few weeks.” Interestingly, none of the Stevie songs that were performed the last three weeks were sung tonight–I guess they were put off-limits. Of course, that meant some of Stevie Wonder’s best songs were missing on Steve Wonder Night, but it was probably the correct choice to give us some variety. And because I’m a sucker, I was quite moved at first seeing some of the contestants get so choked up and emotional when meeting someone whom they had idolized for so long. I must admit, though, after the fifth or sixth person broke down in tears, it got a little old. (And where were all these guys when Stevie Wonder put out a new album a few months ago? It didn’t exactly burn up the sales charts...) Let’s get to the singers:

Ace Young (“Do I Do”)–In my continuing search for Ace’s personality, I noticed his pun saying he was “overjoyed” to meet Stevie Wonder (get it, that’s the name of a Stevie Wonder song...) On the negative side, I can’t believe we had the first singer of the night immediately venture out into the audience and stand on that platform behind the judges–one of my pet peeves of last year. It doesn’t make a performance any better, just more frantic. Thankfully, no one else followed suit. Unfortunately, it seemed this transparent ploy to get more audience love did work, since the crowd seemed to love Ace’s unexciting performance. He wasn’t terrible, but vocally he was just adequate, and other than a couple cool dance moves at the beginning, I really didn’t see much of that vaunted Ace charisma (which I’ve never really noticed that much of to begin with.) The most interesting thing about his performance was how long he held his pose on the last note–he must have stood there with his arm out staring into the camera for at least five full seconds, enough time for them to cut away to the audience for a while and then come back with him still standing there. Kind of creepy. Paula, of course, said Ace was “fantastic,” extending her streak of not saying anything negative about any male contestant for a second consecutive week.

Kellie Pickler (“Blame It On The Sun”)–So Kellie seemed to be crying after meeting Stevie Wonder even though she seemed to indicate she really didn’t know much of his music. I guess she’s just emotional. Anyway, tonight was the first week that the vaunted American Idol stylists had their way with the contestants, and Kellie was one of those most affected. She looked good with the new hairstyle and fancy dress, but I think when they glammed her up, they took all the fun out of her. Vocally, I guess she was OK, but Simon was right, her performance was just boring. And I don’t have much more to say, except that Kellie’s country girl act is starting to grow a little tiresome. Tonight, we had her first encounter with false eyelashes, which she compared to tarantulas. Don’t they have fake eyelashes in Albermarle, North Carolina? Does the Walgreens there not carry that product? I never shopped for false eyelashes in my four years living in Durham, N.C., but the drug stores there were pretty similar to those in the big city. (And yes, Durham is in a much more metropolitan area than Albermarle is, but I think you get my point.)

Elliott Yamin (“Knocks Me Off My Feet”)–First of all, to follow up on my remarks last week wondering what else Paula was referring to when she spoke about the challenges Elliott had faced, it was pointed out to me that on the Idol on Fox Web site Elliott talks about living with diabetes (and how he hopes to educate people about the disease.) So I’ll cut Paula some slack on that. As for Elliott’s performance this week, it didn’t exactly knock me off my feet (yeah, I’m sorry–and I was belittling Ace a few minutes ago.) Elliott does have a really nice voice and did a good job singing the song. But it just didn’t have that “wow factor” that made it memorable or stand out from the rest of the performers. One of the most interesting things about Elliott’s segment is that Paula spent her entire time speaking talking about Elliott’s emotional reaction to meeting Stevie Wonder and how beautiful that was or something, and didn’t say anything about Elliott’s actual performance. There’s really no one quite like Paula.

Mandisa (“Don’t You Worry About A Thing”)–I haven’t been as big a Mandisa fan as the judges these past few weeks (and I’m not sure what the readers out there think of her–leave a comment for me!) But tonight I did like her–she didn’t seem to try and overpower the song, but simply sang well and made it her own. First really good performance of the night. Two other things: Is Randy trying to find a new phrase to take over for “dawg”? Because he sure has been increasing his use of the words “for me.” As in, “Stevie Wonder is one of the greatest vocalists of all time, for me.” Or “For me, that performance was just all right.” I just think it sounds odd. Much more disturbingly, was Ryan Seacrest revealing some sort of shoe fetish to the world tonight? Offering to take Mandisa’s shoes off, commenting on her moisturized ankles–I want to forget the whole thing immediately.

Bucky Covington (“Superstition”)–I just found Bucky, the country rock guy, singing one of Stevie Wonder’s funkiest songs, just one of the weirdest performances I can remember on American Idol. That didn’t mean it was bad, just odd. I guess it was OK, because Bucky does have a unique voice. As for the fact that someone seems to have washed and brushed Bucky’s hair, I guess I agree with Simon. It just didn’t look right.

Melissa McGhee (“Lately”)–So Melissa messed up the lyrics, and I didn’t even notice. So I ran back my tape and noticed that at the beginning of the song, she did sort of mumble for a line or two and I guess that’s when it happened. I noticed that the first time, but I just thought she was unintelligible because she was hoarse and out of breath. And that was kind of my problem with Melissa’s performance–although she did improve and hit some big notes at the end, I think her voice’s raspiness isn’t all that cool. It’s just a sign that she often doesn’t hit the notes she should be hitting. She’s just kind of limited vocally. And why was she sitting all the way on that left part of the stage for her performance? Why was she not sitting in the center, oh, in front of the judges? Maybe it was done so that she wouldn’t get swallowed up by the stage by sitting in its center, but the feeling I got from watching her way out on the fringe was that she was trying to avoid something. Simon said she was “edgy,” and for the first time in a couple weeks, I must disagree with him.

Lisa Tucker (“Signed, Sealed, Delivered”)–I have to disagree with Simon again about Lisa. I’ve been kind of critical of Lisa and her mannered, mechanical performance, but when she chose something other than a ballad for tonight, I wanted to like her tonight. But she just seemed like a ballad singer who was trying to rock, but didn’t quite know how. Although vocally she sounded pretty good, I just found her boring and trying too hard.

Kevin Covais (“Part-Time Lover”)–I at first wrote here that “nothing has really changed for Kevin.” But then I thought about it and realized that’s only half true. Yes, he hasn’t become a better singer–he’s still not a good enough vocalist to deserve a place in the top 12 and wasn’t very good tonight (although I did like his modified “duck walk” or whatever he was doing at the beginning of the song moving from one side of the stage to the other–the judges generously referred to it as a “dance move” but all I could think of is that thing Chuck Berry used to do during his performances where he’d sort of kneel down and walk across the stage. The difference of course, was that Chuck Berry was playing a heavy guitar at the time and Kevin wasn’t.) What has changed is that Kevin all of a sudden seems to be taking himself a lot more seriously (or, if one wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, is trying to joke about his sudden increased stature but falling flat at comedy). First, he asks where all the signs are about him, then he continues with the already tiresome jokes about him being some kind of stud, and then he mouths off to Simon with a “I wasn’t expecting much from you” when Simon criticized him. Kevin’s slowly turning into Scott Savol–and I don’t really find him nearly as likeable as I did a month ago. Highlight of his segment: Paula praising Kevin for being “in time” with the music. Wow, Paula, that’s the least we could ask from a singer, isn’t it? What’s next? “Kevin, I liked how you held the microphone.”

Katharine McPhee (“Until You Come Back To Me”)–Katharine stepped it up tonight–this was a really good performance. While she may not move around a lot on stage, she certainly seems to have a presence that takes command anyway. And she’s got a powerful voice. And although no one will believe me, just like Simon I also had a “there’s something about her that reminds me of Kelly Clarkson” moment during her performance too, and that’s a really good thing.

Taylor Hicks (“Livin in the City”)–So now the competition is starting to heat up. Taylor is just fun to watch, and he was very enjoyable tonight. And he wasn’t too spastic with the dancing. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does over the next few weeks.

Paris Bennett (“All I Do”)–Paris was good too, although I wish that when the song ended, she’s stop singing, instead of continuing to sing in her answers to Ryan. But that’s a minor quibble, and once again the key here was that like Taylor and Katharine she, along with singing well, had a stage presence that drew you in. Oh, and Paula, sit down.

Chris Daughtry (“HigherGround”)–While I didn’t like it quite as much as the judges, I enjoyed what Chis did with this song, but still wonder if he’s going to be able to adapt everything to the rock style in which he excels. Simon said this was the only song that would “stand up in the real world.” I’m not totally sure what he meant by that (and it’s kind of unfair, since a contemporary rock group actually covered this song and Chris admitted he melded the two versions, while most of the singers only had Stevie’s versions to work with. So he came in with an advantage.) Finally, Chris, one piece of advice. Bo Bice did that dragging the microphone stand around thing last year and it got old after a couple weeks. Please, don’t do it again.

Who goes home? Kevin Covais should, but I have a feeling he’ll survive. No one else stands out as being particularly bad, so picking someone is difficult. So I’ll just guess it will be either Melissa or Bucky, and I’ll select Melissa.

Monday, March 13, 2006

A Trumpian Shanah Tovah

Instead of going out to celebrate Purim tonight, I came home and spent Rosh Hashanah with "The Apprentice." And, to my pleasant surprise, it wasn't as big a debacle as I had feared.

If you've read a Jewish newspaper in the last two weeks, or trafficked some areas of the Jewish blogosphere, you might have heard about the two Orthodox Jewish contestants on the new edition of Donald Trump's show, Lee Bienstock and Dan Brody. The buzz had been that their refusal to work on a Jewish holiday would create problems within the team. And sure enough, that buzz was correct--their decision to observe Rosh Hashanah and not participate in a task did create tension with another team member. Unfortunately, that other team member is Jewish.

Lenny, referred to as "The Russian" by Trump in the first episode this year, was the only person who apparently had a problem with Dan and Lee skipping the task to attend synagogue--although with the way this show is edited, we shouldn't take anything at face value and that very well could be misleading or wrong. The only other person we heard comment on the situation was Bryce, who said he respected their decision, but that it would be tough to win without them because they were good players.

Lenny, on the other hand, said he was Jewish, too but got angry and said he wouldn't use it as an excuse. Then, when speaking to the camera, he used the example of the Israeli army. "They fight ... but they're not supposed to" on Jewish holidays," he said. Dan and Lee "will get the blame if we lose."

Now I'm no Talmudical scholar, but Lenny, I believe that the rule is that saving a life takes precedence over observing a Jewish holiday. Thus doctors can work if needed and the military can fight back if, for instance, the country is attacked on Yom Kippur--or even just to make sure that the country is safe on Shabbat. Last time I checked, though, putting on a corporate retreat for Chevy dealers doesn't save anyone's life.

After Lenny's outburst, we saw Dan and Lee walking to shul (with the musical accompaniment of something that sounded vaguely like "Sunrise, Sunset"), Lee's voice-over that he'd say a prayer for his team and Trump making the whole thing a non-issue by announcing that George was also observing the holiday. He added that Lee and Dan were skipping the task, but "there's nothing in life that's fair."

And when Lee and Dan returned after Rosh Hashanah for the boardroom, Trump asked them how their holiday was. Later on, Lenny told Trump he is Jewish and he didn't think it was right that Lee and Dan had skipped the task, and Trump responded "It's called life," and added that Dan and Lee might work on Christmas when nobody else would, so it all evens out.

Am I surprised by mature attitude of Trump and the rest of the contestants on this issue compared to a fellow Jew's complaints? Not really. Trump's worked in the New York business world for decades, so he's obviously come across quite a few observant Jews and knows most Jews aren't going to work on Rosh Hashanah. And since most Americans consider themselves religious, I presume most of the Apprentice candidates are religious, and, almost invariably, any truly religious person is respectful of the observances of someone's else's religion. I can remember bringing matzah for lunch in junior high school during Pesach and found non-Jews very respectful and curious about what Passover was and why I was eating what I was. And yet I also remember a couple Jews one time who weren't observing the holiday and spent some of the half-hour taunting and throwing bread at me. I would hope Lenny wouldn't do anything like that (after all, he's not 15), but in some way it's sort of similar. Lenny has the right to observe or not observe Judaism whatever way he wants to, but he doesn't have the right to tell other people how to practice it--and I'm not sure why he thinks he has that right. And I'm glad that seemed to be the message that Trump and the show left us with tonight, too.

(To be fair, the opposite is true--some Jews will criticize those who don't observe the holidays, but I'm not going to get into that now other than to acknowledge it.)

Of course, tonight's episode also raised lots of questions for the next few weeks. Will a conflict arise on Yom Kippur? How about Sukkot? And do they get Saturdays off? And what about Brent Buckman, the screw-up of the show so far? He came in after not getting fired at the beginning of the show and wished everyone a "Shanah Tovah." Then he apparently celebrated by eating two bagels. Is he Jewish? He worked on Rosh Hashanah, so he wasn't in the boardroom when the issue came up.

Oh, and to be fair to Lenny, he did have the funniest line of the night about tonight's project manager: "I wish her brain was bigger than her boobs."

Thursday, March 09, 2006

It could have been a better Final 12

Going into tonight, we were looking at possibly the deepest, most wide-open final 12 in American Idol history. It's still wide open, but not as deep as it could have been after tonight's results show.

Kinnik Sky and Will Makar were good choices at the lowest vote-getters, but seeing Ayla Brown and Gedeon McKinney go was very disappointing. Not because my predictions were wrong, but because both were clearly better than people that survived, namely Melissa McGhee and Kevin Covais. I guess Kevin's "fans" rallied around him after his bottom three finish last week (or that whole "vote for the worst" movement is picking up steam), and the strangeness of Gedeon just didn't draw people in. As for Ayla, she was one of the best singers last week, but she wasn't at her best this week and people really do judge from week to week. (Then again, it's not like Melissa was all that special...) I still like that song Ayla did--Simon is right that it wasn't a good song for her or American Idol, but I maintain it is a really good song--and after Ryan was able to talk Ayla off the ledge, I thought she performed it even better tonight. But apparently she's got a basketball scholarship waiting for her at Boston College, so she'll be all right. And I was a little confused when she started talking about how she learned what was important. Did she mean she realized singing and performing is important, or did she realize that was the wrong choice and she should have picked basketball, or what?

So we could have seen a final 12 where it would have been really difficult to figure out who would be going home in the early weeks--unlike the past couple years, when people like Leah Labelle, Lindsay Cardinale and Matt Rogers were obviously going to go home first. But with Kevin and Melissa still in the competition (as well as Bucky), it will probably be pretty easy to call. Oh well, I think it still should be an interesting couple months.

Almost as upsetting as tonight's voting results was watching "The O.C." afterwards. How did that show get so bad? Other than Julie Cooper as Sharon Stone, the hot tub scene at the beginning, and the too brief appearances of Taylor Townsend, that show was incredibly boring. And a couple of other questions: Why can't Johnny's mom pay the mortgage all of a sudden? Did Johnny's funeral cost so much that she can't afford the house? Was Johnny bringing in lots of money with some afterschool job? Was she counting on Johnny's surfing income to help out?

And Volchok--why is he back on the show? This character did not seem to have any redeeming virtues--why do we want to see him again? And have him pursuing Marissa? And Marissa seemingly not uninterested? What are they thinking? It looks like this show is just going to get worse.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Simon is just about always right

While the women rallied last night from their rough performances last week, I’m not sure I can say the same about the guys tonight–we had some good performances and a lot of mediocrity, I think. And my short summary of tonight would be Simon was, as usual, pretty much right on with all his comments tonight, and Paula has some kind of mental disorder. She was reasonably critical (for her) last night with the women, but tonight she referred to everyone–at least after seven performers, and we know what she thought of Ace–as “fantastic.” What was she watching? Every guy is fabulous with her. It seems like a big F-you to her critics last year with the Corey Clark incident–it’s like she’s saying, “I might have acted like I was having an affair with Corey Clark, but that’s not true. I act like I’m having an affair with every contestant, and I’m going to go the extra mile to prove that this year.” It’s really, really disturbing. Does she have anyone to advise her and slap some sense into her? Onto the songs.

Gedeon McKinney (“When A Man Loves A Woman”)–I haven’t been Gedeon’s biggest fan, but I thought he was pretty good tonight. I think he could put a little more emotion in songs like this and his choice last week, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” but he was pretty solid. And I hope he stays just because of his bizarre clipped, overenunciating speaking style and the (apparently) unintentional hilarity of the explanations of his painting. So the record inside the globe signifies how the “sound of music makes the world go round.” I’ve got to see more of his paintings...

Chris Daughtry (Some song by the group Seether that I don’t know the title of)–Chris’ performance was fine, but not great, and part of the problem was that the song really isn’t that good. And if I understood Simon’s criticism that Chris was being too “insular” correctly, I think he’s right–he’s kind of doing the same kind of middle of the road rock songs and needs to broaden his appeal. As for Paula’s comment that Chris will be “selling out stadiums”soon–does she follow the music business? Does she know that there’s only a handful of acts–whose names are the Rolling Stone, Bruce Springsteen and U2–who can sell out stadiums on their own these days? Did she mean ampitheaters? More acts can do that, although I think it’s way premature to say Chris would be doing that anytime soon either. And once again, the most interesting thing personally for me was the video clip. Sure it was starting to recede, but he still had a pretty decent amount of hair left when he started shaving his head. It took me a lot longer to get up the courage to make that leap. But I agree, once you do it, it’s very satisfying.

Kevin Covais (“Vincent”)–First of all, Kevin said he really is gangsta because he likes Kanye West. Is Kanye West really gangsta? Doesn’t he wear Polo shirts all the time? Those guys that won the Oscar the other night? They’re gangsta. Kanye West is a hip-hop artist. Anyway, Kevin picks the song that almost tripped up Clay Aiken one night in year two (of course, Clay was made to sing it, and Kevin actually picked it.) And I thought Kevin started out sounding nervous, and it never got any better. Yeah, he seems nice (although the jokes about him impregnating Katharine McPhee are just creepy), but he’s just not that good a singer. And I think he’s gotten worse each week. Oh, and then Ryan demanded “constructive criticism” from Simon. Ryan, don’t act like Simon doesn’t give constructive criticism–he just gave some to Chris a moment before. At least he’s not giving constructive criticism that contradicts the constructive criticism from the week before, like Randy does. Simon’s not giving Kevin Covais constructive criticism because he would have to say, “Pick a better song and sing better.” Is that really helpful?

Bucky Covington (I have no idea what this song was and I’m too lazy to look it up)–I like the sound of Bucky’s voice, but he just doesn’t excite me and I got kind of bored by the middle of the song. He does provide a sharp contrast to many of the other singers, but he’s, as Simon said, just kind of “adequate.” Paula said she loved his “raw, untapped talent” (feel free to make a joke here), but isn’t an American Idol finalist supposed to mold and “cook” and tap that talent, not just provide that promise?

Will Makar (“How Sweet It Is to be Loved By You”)–This was OK, a little bit than I though it would be, but still kind of boring and pedestrian. The most exciting part of Will’s appearance was his call, in Japanese, for 11-year-old girls to unite (pretty funny), and then Paula proclaiming that she was a fan but realizing that she didn’t want to reveal her age and trying to figure out what to say instead of that and just stuttering for a couple seconds to get her bearings.

Taylor Hicks (“Taking It To The Streets”)–This rocked. It’s what everyone has been expecting from Taylor. Sure, it looked like he was going to have a stroke during the song, but it was fun and the perfect song for him. If he flames out on Idol, he can front a Doobie Brothers cover band. Oh, and Paula: Sit down. I think she was up dancing at the beginning of the song. And we haven’t even gotten to the finals yet.

Elliott Yamin (“Heaven”)–I really like the sound and power of Elliott’s voice, but I didn’t think this song showed it off. I didn’t really like this performance–it wasn’t all that exciting and I didn’t think he sounded that good. Maybe it’s just I had high expectations, but I was disappointed, like Simon was. As for Paula’s comment that Elliott had overcome so many “obstacles” to be here, yes, having 90 percent hearing loss in one ear is a big obstacle. But are there many more we haven’t head about yet? Yeah, his mother was sick a few months ago, and that’s sad, but she’s better now. Is that another of the obstacles? What else have we not learned about Elliott?

Ace Young (A Michael Jackson song I don’t know the name of–yes, I’m weak with the titles tonight)–So again we have a singer going with the falsetto, and again I’m not pleased. This didn’t work for me–it just seemed like it was all over the place. The most interesting thing, once again, was the video clip. It demonstrated that Ace may be good looking, but he’s not exactly blessed with a fascinating personality: Tonight we learned that Ace did odd jobs when he first came out to L.A. Wow, imagine that! You know, I also heard that some very famous current actors and actresses once waited tables in L.A. restaurants. Stunning.

So who’s going home? I would send home Kevin Covais and Will Makar. And I think America will too, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Bucky went home instead of one of them.

I’m Eric Fingerhut, and I’m going to go to bed.

You were looking LIVE at American Idol

So we had the first LIVE performance show of the season, and I guess it really wasn’t all that much different than the past two weeks, but I’ve always thought that the liveness (is that a word?) adds just a little extra excitement to the show. So I was pumped up to watch the show tonight, and glad that it left me feeling a little better about the women than last week’s fiasco did.

First, we started the show with no mention of what some have been referring to as Paula’s extremely bizarre behavior on last week’s results show–during which she said someone would be eliminated based on whether they ate pizza or salad, rambled on about some bizarre proverb from a fortune cookie and blamed it all on Simon. Personally, this seemed like par for the course for Paula, so I didn’t even feel it notable enough to mention in the blog last week. But I’ve seen a couple people writing–including the esteemed Washington Post TV writer Lisa DeMoraes in a Web chat–that this was disrespectful to the contestants because the results were one of the most important moments in their lives (something Seacrest mentioned at the time.). I guess I see their point, but maybe we’re taking this a little too seriously. It was the cutdown to the Final 16 on American Idol, it’s not like they’re giving away a scholarship to Harvard. It’s not even the finals yet. And if you’re someone like Heather Cox standing there, don’t you kind of know you’re not winning? Sure, you want to stick around a few more weeks to keep the party going in Hollywood, but if you have any self-awareness you must know you’re just not as good as a bunch of the other singers. But let’s get to the singing.

Paris Bennett (“Conga”)–I’ve never liked this song–in fact, I think I spent an entire winter break in Florida at my grandmother’s when I was a teenager complaining to my sister about how there were way too many “Conga-like” songs on the radio down there–so I was surprised that I didn’t hate this performance. I didn’t particularly love it either, but when Paris actually sang a little–instead of just chanting “do the conga,” she sounded pretty good. I enjoyed her little dancing too. It wasn’t a great choice of a song for American Idol, but give her credit–she actually did follow the judges’ instructions and pick something younger and more fun (even if I don’t think doing the conga is fun, it’s still more fun than the “Wind Beneath My Wings.”) And just as I have been predicting would happen over the last couple weeks, Randy didn’t like the song choice and suggested that maybe Paris do a ballad next week–providing her the exact opposite advice of last week, when he said she shouldn’t sing songs that are “too old” for her. (Not that every ballad is old, but you know what I mean.) Randy, dawg, you’re an idiot. Do you even listen to what you say? Do you have as much trouble understanding you as we do sometimes? At least Simon acknowledged that Paris was doing as suggested.

Lisa Tucker (“Where I Stand” by someone I’ve never heard of, Tiffany Taylor)–At first, it seemed kind of cool when Lisa played Hendrix on the electric guitar, but there was something just slightly wrong with it that I couldn’t put my finger on. And then I realized what it was–something about watching her play the electric guitar reminded me of one of those really smart 10-year-olds that go to college and look all grown up even though they’re not. It’s kind of the problem I have with Lisa’s performances, too. As I’ve said before, it doesn’t look like she’s spontaneous or natural or having fun–it looks like she’s acting like she thinks she’s supposed to act and perform like she’s supposed to perform if she was a big star. Yes, she has an excellent voice, but she doesn’t draw me in at all. And unlike Paris, she didn’t take the judges’ advice at all–she was told the same thing as Paris, to pick a younger song, and did nothing of the sort. And she violated two of my rules for picking a song to sing on Idol–she picked a song that just about everybody in the audience has never heard before in their life, and picked it because she liked the words and they were “appropriate for the Top 12.” (Lyrics included “Here’s who I am, love me and we’ll make it through.”) Lisa, no one is paying attention to that. You should be picking a song to show off your best singing voice.
One last thing–Simon said Lisa’s song choices don’t show “who you are.” I beg to differ–I think after three weeks, we’ve seen who Lisa is, and that’s someone who likes to sing those kinds of songs. And if people used to say that Clay Aiken is “too Broadway,” couldn’t you say the same thing about Lisa?

Melissa McGhee (“What About Love?”)–I don’t have much to say about this, except that it just was missing that spark that makes a performance good. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t particularly good, and Simon, although he was really harsh in saying that she had “blown it” (I think she was likely to go home Thursday no matter what she did tonight), she’s probably done.

Then we had the lengthy interview with Katharine McPhee, which was kind of odd since no other singer tonight got that kind of camera time before their song. For those conspiracy mongers out there on Internet message boards who think the producers try to “pimp” their favorite contestants to make sure they make it far in the competition, I can’t argue that was certainly some ammunition. And considering I had not heard this rumor of Katharine leaving the show (and I’m usually on top of all the American Idol rumors), the whole thing was sort of strange.

Kinnik Sky (“I Ain’t Got You”)–I’m not even sure how Kinnik is still in the competition, considering her first two performances were so unremarkable, but this should be her swan song. That was not good–at one point, she kind of hurt my ears.

Katharine McPhee (“Think”)–So finally Katharine did a fun song, and it worked. She was really good, and Simon was right–she seemed sort of effortless. She didn’t try to overpower the song, like some people do with Aretha songs, but just sang it and put her own slight spin to it to make it just a tiny bit different than the original–it seemed a little more relaxed than Aretha’s version. To be fair, though, Diana DeGarmo, whom I was never a fan of, did a version of this song in the first week of the finals two years ago, and it may have been better.

Ayla Brown (“Unwritten”)–So last week Ace did a Daniel Bedingfield song and I remarked about how much I like his sister Natasha’s songs. And this week Ayla does a Natasha Bedingfield song. Maybe she’s reading my blog. So I like this song, but I wasn’t crazy about Ayla’s version–she seemed to sort of struggle with it. But to be fair, she was also taking the judges’ advice and going out of her comfort zone to try something challenging–and while Randy may be right that the song only has a “five-note range,” wasn’t she doing a Celine Dion song last week with a huge range of notes? And even though it may not have a huge range, isn’t this a song with a complicated melody that must be difficult to sing? Anyway, I ran back my tape and watched Ayla again and it wasn’t as bad as it sounded the first time–although it still wasn’t great. But it should be plenty to advance her to the next round.

Mandisa (“I’m Every Woman”)–Mandisa has a great voice and did a good job tonight, but am I the only one who gets annoyed when someone on American Idol spend half a song doing call-and-response with the chorus and singing long held notes? Sorry, in the words of Shania Twain, that don’t impress me much. But that’s what Mandisa did. Sure, that’s how the song goes, but she didn’t have to pick that song–after Chaka Khan and Whitney Houston sang it, is there really that much you can do with it that’s original? I’m not saying Mandisa wasn’t good tonight, just not as good as the judges think she was.

Kellie “Pick” Pickler (“The Only One”)--.She was rocking tonight, I loved when she went down to her knees during the song, and her voice sounds better each week. Certainly her best performance on the show. (The only minus was no video of her and Katharine McPhee rolling around together on a bed this week.) I’m not sure what to make of Simon’s comments that he prefers Kellie to “last year’s winner.” I think Carrie Underwood is a better singer, but I think he was saying that Kellie has a lot more personality–and he’s certainly correct about that. As for Kellie not knowing the difference between a minx and a mink, would those words be considered more unfamiliar to the average North Carolinian than calamari? I really don’t know.

So it’s easy to pick who’s going home tonight–Kinnik and Melissa both deserve to go home and will go home. And if it’s anyone else, the voting public should be ashamed of itself.

Fingerhut out!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Elliott is an MOT

I asked about it in Wednesday night's post, and I have received an answer. According to a co-worker who has a friend whose sister knows his family, Elliot Yamin is Jewish.

Once again, America did a good job

No surprises tonight on Idol--I don't mean to toot my own horn, but I got three out of the four eliminated correct, and said that Brenna should go home (I just figured she had a little more fan support, but I guess a completely unappealing personality only gets you so far.) And apparently Brenna is delusional. Does she really think she's going to be making an album with Clive Davis? Hey, Brenna, did you enjoy the Sarah Mather album? Are you eagerly anticipating the Judd Harris album? Geez, Diana DeGarmo finished second, and I think she was sucked into a black hole for all the times I've seen her since the end of the third season.

It was nice to see Carrie Underwood I suppose, though that song is nothing special. The most interesting thing about it its overtly religious theme, considering it is the first single from an American Idol winner. But she's sold 2 million albums and I believe the album has pretty much been in the top 10 since it came out in November, so I guess it didn't matter.

As for that rendition of "Love the One You're With," the less said the better. But it did remind me of the time I got to hear Stephen Stills sing that song live somewhere on the Hofstra University campus. It was 1992, and I was working on a congressional campaign on Long Island and my candidate and two other Democratic candidates were supposed to come to Hofstra for a "Rock the Vote" event outside with Stills. Of course, it was 35 degrees and snowing that afternoon, he was more than an hour late--when he got there he spent some time talking about how his limo driver was really stupid--and while he knew one of the candidates personally, he gave my candidate and the third candidate the ringing endorsement of "Phil and Steve are new guys, and we need new guys." But the best part was when he said, "The Clinton campaign doesn't like it when I sing this song, but I don't care" and then launched into "Love the One You're With."

Fingerhut out!

Slightly better than last night

So just like for the women last night, the excitement last week of seeing everyone sing for the first time and realizing that there were some promising candidates gave way this Wednesday to a realization that there are also a bunch of not-so-great singers left in the competition, too. Overall, the guys as a whole tonight may have been a little better that the girls as a whole last night, but I wouldn’t want to live on the difference.

So the show began tonight with the judges back in their customary seats, although I must say I was sort of hoping Paula had stayed on the far left tonight, just to shake things up a bit. But Paula didn’t really interrupt Simon tonight, so maybe she’s learned her lesson.

Our opening banter tonight included Simon ripping Ryan because unlike the judges, he has his lines written for him. I know Simon was sort of joking, but I just wanted to point out that I appreciate Ryan a lot more this year after watching a few episodes of Rock Star: INXS last summer. Brooke Burke, the Ryan Seacrest of that show, was very attractive, but in the episodes I saw, it did not appear that she uttered one single word that was not on a cue card. It was really remarkable and kind of scary how you could practically see her reading at all times. Whatever Ryan Seacrest’s faults, he at least can ad lib and joke around and is comfortable on air. On to the singers...

Taylor Hicks (“Easy”)–The gray-haired guy, who has to be considered one of the favorites on the show, since he is certainly the most-talked about contestant (last week on the highly trafficked Television Without Pity Website, his discussion forum had something like 25 pages, and I don’t think anyone else had more than 10), was OK tonight but not great.. The judges were right, “Easy” just wasn’t the right song choice–he needs something a little more hard-edged and soulful. And Randy, could we ease up on the Ray Charles comparisons? The guy hasn’t even made it to the finals, and you’re throwing out the name of one of the great singers ever. And Bo Bice is apparently a fan, since they showed him in the audience and he appeared to be loving Taylor. Then again, we never saw him cheering for anyone else, so maybe he was going crazy about everyone.

One other thing with Taylor. Back in college, my roommate sophomore year used to talk about how we needed to do a “boom count” whenever John Madden was the analyst on a football game, because he said “boom” so many times during the game. (I’m not saying this was particularly funny–sorry, Darren--or he ever seriously did a count, but it was just something Darren said.) Anyway, we might need to start a “whoo” count with Taylor. I think he gave us three “whoos” just during the judges’ remarks, and a few more during the song. On second thought, a “whoo” count isn’t really that funny either. Sorry I got into this mess. But all those “whoos” is a little odd, even if Taylor is a pretty excitable guy.

Elliott Yamin (“Moody’s Mood For Love”)–I didn’t really like this song–Randy has used the term “stylized song” way too much in criticizing song choices the last two weeks, but this really is a stylized song. (And why did Randy say this was a Stevie Wonder song–didn’t Elliott say it was by James Moody–not that I know who that is...) But despite the song choice, Simon was correct last week–Elliott is a really great singer. His voice was so rich and clear and strong, and he pulled it off. I was very impressed. On an unrelated subject, I’ve been wondering for a couple weeks, because of his name and look, whether Elliott is Jewish. Our first clue that he may be a member of the tribe is his mother’s use of the term “verkelmpt.” Certainly not enough proof–maybe his mom was just a big fan of Mike Myers’ Linda Richman character on Saturday Night Live–but some important information in this quest.

Ace Young (“If I’m Not Made For You”)–I didn’t think I knew this Daniel Bedingfield song until he got to the chorus and then I started to recognize it. I still prefer Natasha Bedingfield, who I believe is his sister, who apparently sings only about writing–her first song was about poets and her second song seems to be about writer’s block. Sorry for the tangent. Ace has a nice pleasant voice, and I liked the song, but I’m just not totally convinced he’s really that great a singer. He’s certainly in the top six of the guys, but I’d like to see a lot more risks from him, as the judges suggested, before I’m ready to say this guy is all that special. Right now, he just seems like a lot of making love to the camera. He may be a little better and less obvious about it than Constantine was last year, but at least Constantine was interesting in song choices and other ways. Ace isn’t all that exciting, except for his “beanie.” And his “beanie” and Taylor Hicks’ “tobaggan”–are they the same thing or different? Can anybody help me with this? Oh, and did you see that really odd face Ace made on that high note? Kind of disturbing.

Gedeon McKinney (“Change Is Gonna Come”)–So Taylor Hicks is Ray Charles and now Gedeon McKinney is Sam Cooke. Calm down, Randy. And Paula, Gedeon is a performer we’ll see for decades? Maybe Heather Cox will, watching her tapes of the show every summer, but I’m not sold on that yet. I wasn’t as impressed as the judges–the beginning of the song, as Randy said, was not good, but he did turn it on by the end. I think I liked Taylor Hicks’ rendition of this song at his first audition better, though. And why does he talk so slowly and mannered? It’s kind of creepy. But overall, better than last week, and promising.

Kevin Covais (“I Heard It Through the Grapevine”)–I was glad Simon did bring some sanity to the proceedings after this performance. Hey, I like this guy a lot, I enjoyed his heartfelt performance last week, but this just wasn’t all that good, singing wise. Sure, it was amusing and fun, but is that really enough to put him into the final 12 and then see him struggle with the bizarre theme weeks? Is it fair to him? Actually, what am I saying–he’s loving every minute of this.

Jose “Sway” Penala (“Overjoyed”)–I thought Saw was just terrible last week, so I think this week was an improvement–at least he stayed away from the falsetto. That doesn’t mean he was all that great, but I don’t think he was quite as bad as the judges said he was. But Simon was correct, there was “zero originality.”He sang the song exactly like Stevie Wonder does. And of course Paula said he had an “off night,” which Sway immediately took and ran with-–all of a sudden he’s telling Ryan he was sick or fatigued or whatever. Hey Paula, maybe he’s just not that good. On the bright side, I did really like Sway’s video, where he talked about seeing his parents together and how American Idol brings families together. So he seems like a good guy.

Will Makar (“Lady”)–So Ryan asked Will about singing a song written before he was born like it was something unique, which was odd, because he was at least the third or fourth singer to do that just tonight. And then Will talked in his video about how excited he was to get a picture taken with Justin Guarini. I’m not even sure how to respond to that. I’ve been sitting her for five minutes trying to think of a joke and I can’t. Please write your own. Anyway, I thought Will was pretty bad–all I could think of during this song was how much better Kenny Rogers’ version was. I don’t think that’s good. But Simon says 11-year-olds like him, so I guess I’m just too old and don’t get the kids anymore.

Bucky Covington (“Thunder Rolls”)–So Boomhauer did a solid job tonight, and he’s certainly unique in the competition. But I’d like to see a little more energy–he just seems so lethargic when he’s performing, and a couple times tonight his voice got soft enough that I thought it was going to be drowned out by the music. He’s certainly no Bo Bice–he has no chance to win, in my opinion–but I’d like to see him stick around a little bit to see what he’s got. Can you imagine him on Broadway night, though?

David Radford (“The Way You Look Tonight”)–Randy was right–this was just boring. I really don’t have much else to say about it, except to praise David for not taking the easy way out like Sway. When Ryan asked him if he was feeling OK or something in that vein, David said, “Yes.”

Chris Daughtry (“Hemorrhage”)–Another song I didn’t think I knew until the chorus. This was good, and it’s ironic that Simon said that Chris was lacking in star quality when he first auditioned, since he seemed to have as much charisma as anyone tonight. And Chris is a good guy too–this is the guy who married a woman with two young kids. But as I will often say this spring, the judges’ comments about how Chris is in his comfort zone and needs to stay there will of course change a few weeks from now–either when they say they’re bored and needs to take risks, or Chris has to sing disco and salsa numbers.

Who should go home? David Radford and, as much as it sort of disappoints me, Kevin Covais. Who will go home? David Radford and Sway Penala.

And since Ryan signed off tonight with the phrase “I’m going home,” I’ll say I’m going to bed.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A disappointing night on Idol

At the outset of last Tuesday’s show, Randy Jackson predicted that we’d have a male American Idol winner this year, and then, in that inimitable Randy Jackson way, started hedging on that bet less than two hours later after actually hearing the women perform. But if he had made the same forecast at the outset of this Tuesday’s show, it’s doubtful he would have found it necessary to reverse course. It was a pretty disappointing night overall for the Idol ladies. No one really broke away from the pack tonight, and apparently there was some horrible rumor going around this week among the women that America really wanted to hear them sing slow, boring ballads–what other explanation could there be for the poor song choices? You know it’s a rough night when Paula has negative comments–actually in Paula’s case, it would be more proper to say non-positive comments–for more than half the singers. Of course, Paula was still upset at Simon tonight for, I guess, being more negative than she was and always having to “be right.” Well, yeah, Paula, don’t you think your opinion on the singers is correct, too? What’s the point of doing this show if Simon said to a contestant, “I don’t think you can sing, but Paula is probably correct that you’re going to be a big star because she was once a successful recording artist for a few years and she knows more than I do.” In fact, the whole premise that Randy, Ryan and Paula seem to reinforce every week–such as at the outset of Tuesday’s show when they semi-mocked Simon for being “on a different page” than everyone else–is so odd, considering that every adult I know of who watches this show respects Simon’s opinion more than any other. I would think that trio–OK, maybe not Paula, because she’s not the most self-aware person–would know that, but they certainly don’t act like it. Oh, just one of the puzzles of American Idol. Oh, and I kind of liked the new judges’ seating arrangement in the second half of tonight’s show–anything that helps to prevent Paula from interrupting Simon is good, and the once entertaining flirting between those two turned nauseating long ago. On to the singers...

Katharine McPhee (“All Is Fair In Love”)–First of all, they said that we were going to hear each singer’s “defining Idol moment,” and I thought they meant stuff like, “When Clay sang Solitaire,” or “When Kelly Clarkson won the first year” or “Fantasia’s version of Summertime.” No, it apparently meant the most important moment for each contestant in the two or three weeks they’ve been on the show so far, so we got mostly unexciting stuff like the first time they saw the Idol stage, or what they learned about makeup. On the bright side, we also got to see a clip of Katharine McPhee and Kellie Pickler laying on a bed hugging. I imagine I was just one of many millions of males over the age of 12 watching the show who had to walk out of the room briefly to compose himself after watching that and also thinking of all the other possibilities Idol producers might be able to show us in future weeks–Katharine and Kellie trying on bathing suits together, Katharine and Kellie bathing each other....Oh, I’m sorry, I got distracted there, but if those new Fox sitcoms bomb, I think that could be a hit half-hour show. Anyway, back to the music...I thought Katharine was kind of boring tonight. She sang that song well, but it wasn’t particularly exciting, and while she moved around a little more tonight on the stage than she did last week, her performance still wasn’t very animated (although she does do facial expressions well.) In fact, we might want to call in Nadia Turner for a consult with Katharine. They’re both very attractive, they’re both good singers, and Katharine is showing signs of Nadia’s bad habit of picking songs she likes, instead of songs viewers can relate to and like (yes, Katharine did sing a Stevie Wonder song tonight, but it’s not one of his more well-known tunes.)

Kinnik Sky (“I’m Here for the Party”?)–The judges were generally right on tonight for almost everyone, particularly here where they said that Kinnik, in contrast to last week, gave a fun performance that showed some personality, but that it still wasn’t really that great. I haven’t been to a theme park in a number of years, but Simon’s “it was a theme park performance” seemed accurate. As for Paula’s statement that she’d like to Simon on a roller coaster, was that supposed to be funny? I think Paula needs to hire back that joke writer that she reportedly hired back in season one to help her respond to Simon–come to think of it, I don’t think she had any intentionally funny lines then either.(She does deliver on the unintentional comedy every week, though.)

Lisa Tucker (“Who’s Loving You?”)–I complained last week that while Lisa has a good voice, she comes across as much too polished and adult for her age of 16. Strangely enough, she chose to sing this week a song by a performer who was even more polished and adult at a considerably younger age, Michael Jackson in the Jackson 5 era. And it was fine, but not particularly exciting, and very polished with all the hand movements and facial expressions that seemed a little too robotic. Then again, maybe I’m being unfairly critical and have just latched onto a theme and decided to beat it into the ground with Lisa. I imagine most singers plan out how exactly they’ll perform something, it just doesn’t seem like there’s much spontaneity with Lisa. But let’s give her a couple more weeks before reaching a final decision on that.

Melissa McGhee (“Why Haven’t I Heard From You”)–Melissa said she had four months worth of clothes with her in her little video message, which puzzled me. Is she just a heavy packer when she leaves home, or do they not get a chance to do laundry while doing the show? Can’t Idol spring for some dry cleaning, or set aside a day every couple of weeks for a trip to the laundromat (that would probably make a great Ford commercial for the results show one week!) And who actually has four months worth of clean clothes anyway? Anyway, we barely know Melissa, because she was for whatever reason absent from all the results shows, and she wasn’t all that impressive last week in her debut but managed to avoid the axe. This week, I kind of like her–she looked good, and I liked, as Randy said, her raspy voice. I did disagree with Simon–I thought the song fit her well, even though I’m not a big country fan. It wasn’t great, though, and considering that she probably has a small fan base because of her lack of screen time, it’s not clear whether it’s good enough to keep her around.

Heather Cox (“Hero”)–Wow, a bigger fan of American Idol than I am. I do tape the show most weeks because I work late on Tuesday, but tape over it after I watch it. Heather keeps the tapes and watches them over the summer. I wonder if she writes long recaps of the show for her blog, though. Anyway, Heather’s “defining Idol moment” was seeing a woman with a boa constrictor in Hollywood. I’m not sure what that has to do with Idol, or why I’m even bringing it up, except to avoid talking about how thoroughly mediocre her rendition of “Hero” was. As Simon would say, although he didn’t say it tonight, “It just wasn’t good enough.” Actually, he may have been harsher when he said it was “pointless.”Heather also seems a little overheated in the personality department–whenever she talks, she sort of reminds me of a hot, unfunny Kathy Griffin, which isn’t a good thing.

Brenna Gethers (“Last Dance”)–First of all, I guess Brenna was trying to look like Donna Summer, but I didn’t think that was a good look for her. Second, she talked in her video about the red carpet that the Idols are on. Are they already going to movie premieres and parties even in the semifinals? I know American Idol is enormously popular, but do paparazzi really want Brenna Gethers’ picture already? As for the singing, it was at least more exciting and spirited than last week’s Brenna borefest, but she didn’t sound very good–kind of off-key--on the chorus of the song, and the whole song was structured strangely. She started in the middle of the slow verse at the beginning of the song–it seemed like she missed her cue or something, but maybe that was where she was supposed to begin–and then once she got to the fast part of the song sang a verse that comes later in the song. It wouldn’t have mattered if the singing was better, but it wasn’t. I don’t think it was bad as the judges, thought, though. I might not have left the bar, as Simon said he would. I would have left the bar, though, if I had to listen to Brenna talk about how America really loved the performance and would vote for her. Please, Brenna, shut up.

Paris Bennett (“Wind Beneath My Wings”)–Paris said on the couch with Ryan that she got “favor” and then pointed to the sky. Is that a God reference? Just wondering, because I’m not familiar with the lingo. So Paris talked in her video about her taste for fashion, but while her clothes might have been fine tonight, I didn’t think that hairstyle was working for her. She didn’t look cute anymore, just kind of weird and pained. She actually looked sort of like one of the worst semifinalists in Idol history, last year’s Janay Castane, and you don’t want to remind anyone of her. Of course, Paris’s singing was much better than Janay’s–it’s not even really fair of me to put their names in the same recap, let alone the same sentence. But as the judges said, it wasn’t Paris’ best performance, particularly after last week’s memorable scorcher. I did like it more when she kicked it into second gear late in the song, but Paula was actually correct, although she said it in her own weird way: “Celebrate your youth.” And Paris, don’t select a song because it’s your great-grandma’s favorite song, sing a song that make you sound good and will make the viewers happy.

Ayla Brown (“I Want You To Need Me”)–Ayla said this was a Celine Dion song, but she sang it with sort of a country edge. Was that Ayla’s own invention? Whatever it was, it seemed to work for her. She once again showed that she has a pretty solid voice, and looks like she’ll probably stick around for a while, although I can’t really see her having a real chance to win the competition. Simon said she was too “mechanical,”and while I guess I know what he means, it didn’t bother me that much.

Kellie “Pick” Pickler (“Let’s Give Them Something To Talk About”)–As Simon said, it wasn’t a great vocal performance–although it was solid and fun–but how can you not like someone who says that she’s “never seen so many dogs with clothes.” I think we need a regular feature, “Kellie’s thoughts on L.A.”

Mandisa (“Cry”)–I actually agree with Paula, that it is interesting how Mandisa is taking songs in different genres and making them her own–this week a country song. But while I think Mandisa has an excellent voice, I think she kind of overpowered the song tonight in a Jennifer Hudson-esque kind of way, and I just felt exhausted after she was done. It was a little too much.

So who’s going home? I think Heather should, and so should Brenna for just being really annoying. Who will? Heather and Kinnik, because Kinnik also was missing from the audition shows and hasn’t done anything to distinguish herself in the last two weeks.

And if you haven’t noticed, for unexplained reasons Ryan Seacrest has dropped the Seacrest out signoff for the more conventional “Goodnight, everybody”–although tonight a couple of the contestants yelled it in the background. So I suppose I should change my signoff and say, “Good morning, everyone.”