Tuesday, January 30, 2007

How long until Hollywood week?

We've now gotten to that point we come to every year during American Idol. Around the fifth audition show, I--and I'm sure I'm not the only one--start to get restless ready to move on to Hollywood week. Of course, I don't get restless enough to keep watching. It's still enjoyable, and what else is there to do on a cold Tuesday night in January?

First of all, I never wrote anything about that New York freak show of an audition last week, and by now it would all be old. So I'll just say that I've coined the lovely Jory Steinberg the "Great Jewish Hope" of this year's competition and leave it at that.

Second, I hope people saw last weekend's edition of Best Week Ever on VH1, because they did the funniest takedown I've seen of the whole controversy involving "Bush baby" and his friend Jonathan (the two auditioners who were allegedly humiliated by Simon in the Seattle auditions). They played an interview of those two on the Today show, where the hosts just smiled and nodded as the two guys talked about how they were going to get into acting, and the comedians on Best Week Ever basically asked what was more humiliating: being told honestly that you don't have a future in show business, or being patronized when you say something ridiculous on national TV because someone doesn't want to hurt your feelings?

Anyway, just a few observations from tonight. First of all, Erica Skye, singing anyone's favorite song, especially Simon's, means they're probably going to be much more upset if you mess it up than they would be if it was a song that they didn't particularly care about. (I know if someone massacred "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" by The Smiths on American Idol, I'd probably devote a whole blog posting to it.). For some reason, Erica had it backwards and thought Simon would go easier on her if she sang his favorite song. Well, I guess she learned her lesson. And do you think Erica knows that the Righteous Brothers sang "Unchained Melody" before Leann Rimes?

Wow, we actually had a contestant which got a yes from Simon and a no from Paula. Unfortunately, I can't tell from my notes who that contestant was, and I already deleted the show from my DVR.

It's only been about 2 and a half hours since the show ended, but I'm pretty sure I'm far from the first person to call Jamie Lynn Ward "Kellie Pickler '07." Pickler and the "Blue-Eyed Bombshell" are both from small towns in North Carolina, both have decent voices but oversang a little in their auditions and both have sad backstories. Unfortunately, Jamie's backstory is more than just sad; it's kind of creepy with the dad shooting himself, etc. I'm not sure what to make of her.

Then there's Chris Sligh, who I really liked. He's funny, but funny within the context of the show (unlike, say, a John Peter Lewis, who was funny but making fun of the show. Does that make sense?) And he can sing. Let's hope he sticks around.

Finally, other than Chris Sligh, the funniest moment of the night was Simon choosing the wrong door to go back in the audition room and that nutty final contestant of the night making fun of him for it. Considering all the times we've had to sit through that "wrong door" bit, it was a nice turnaround.

Oh, and I'm in a much better mood after this audition episode than usual because they didn't waste our time with one of those medleys of bad singers messing up some random song. Now if only they'd show a few more of the good auditions, I'd be the happiest American Idol viewer ever.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Finally some contenders?

Before I briefly discuss a night where we might have finally seen some contenders for the title, a few words on the controversy of the week: the uproar over the "meanness" of American Idol this year. The controversy was stirred up by Rosie O'Donnell, who somehow has appointed herself America's Moral Arbiter and got everyone to take her seriously. How did this happen?

Anyway, apparently Rosie, her compatriots at "The View," the New York Times and all the other journalists writing about this alleged "controversy" haven't really watched the Idol auditions before. They're always kind of mean--in fact, other than that one "bush baby" comment, I don't think that Simon has been nearly as rough on people as he has been in past years (Randy has been a little harsher, but it's Randy, so no one really cares that much). The American Idol blogger at USA Today did point out that the judges are letting the bad singers go on for a lot longer than they have in past years, and I think he is correct about that--but that doesn't strike me as mean to anyone but the viewers.

But even if the judges were nastier than the past, it doesn't even matter. This is a completely bogus controversy because everyone that gets ripped on by the judges knows exactly what they might be in for. American Idol isn't a hidden camera show. Nothing is a surprise Everyone who appears on American Idol has seen the show (yeah, probably even that urban Amish guy) and stands in line for two days to get on the show because they want the opportunity to be on TV. And they know that Simon says mean things to bad singers. Oh, and "bush baby" and his friend Jonathan seem like they're having a pretty good time, for all the "humiliation" they allegedly suffered. They were on the Jimmy Kimmel show Friday night, and Kimmel said he was taking them to the Bob Hope golf tournament last weekend to interview celebrities. And a co-worker told me that they were on the Today show Monday morning. Seems like it's working out pretty well for those guys. (Oh, and as for his friend Jonathan, who the media is now reporting as "mildly autistic," are the producers and judges supposed to know this and throw him out? Are they supposed to screen for disabilities? It's all really silly.)

As for tonight's show from Memphis, "Sundance" Head (wow, what an interesting name) was pretty impressive and seems like a contender with his bluesy voice. And I guess we see once again that Simon wasn't a big Taylor fan, considering he said this guy blew Taylor "out of the park." That may be a little premature, but I guess we'll see soon enough.

We also saw Danielle McCulloch, one of the people featured in the commercials--which I supposed is usually a good sign that they'll make it to the final 24, at the least. (Wasn't Carrie Underwood in the commercials, and Kellie Pickler? Then again, so was the guy that sang "Raining, raining, raining" a few years ago, and I'm not even sure he got through the auditions.)

Love the guy that looks like Fidel Castro, just because he looks like Castro. Although now that he's been featured on Idol, I'm sure the Cuban government is planning to kidnap him and use him as a double while Castro is sick.

Finally, Melinda Doolittle was very good, and has to be considered a favorite considering Simon's comments in an Entertainment Weekly article a couple weeks ago. In that article, when asked about favorites, he said there was one contestant with a fantastic voice but not much personality. That's obviously Melinda, and I think we'll be seeing her in the final 24.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Seattle not as cool as everyone thought

It aired more than 10 years ago, but whenever I think of Seattle I often think of the Beavis and Butthead episode during which a video from a Seattle band comes on (it was probably Pearl Jam, but I'm not sure) and the two of them carry on a lengthy conversation about how cool Seattle is. "If you just walk around in Seattle, you're cool," was the best line from that conversation. But after watching American Idol tonight, they would probably change their mind.

Once again, we didn't see many people that one would think had any chance at becoming the next American Idol. An hour after finishing watching the show, the only three good singers I can really remember is the 16-year-old Jordin Sparks (the one Simon said had too much sugar in her performance), and the Indian-American brother-sister duo. I thought both members of that duo, the Malakars, were pretty good (maybe the guy was better, but I'm not sure why Simon seemed so unimpressed with the girl, who was beautiful.) I was getting a Paris Bennett/Lisa Tucker vibe from Jordin Daniels, which actually isn't bad, I suppose. She's probably got enough raw talent to make it to the final 12, but is too young to really contend for the title.

A lot of people were saying and writing today that Paula seemed very subdued last night. I suppose she did, but she came out of her shell tonight. Randy, though, seems really talkative this year. Is he trying to form a new identity apart from just saying "Dawg" all the time? And is this something we really want to see? The jury is out.

A couple other observations: I was glad to see that at least one singer actually took criticism for the judges seriously--he actually said, "This is a major wake-up call for me."

That girl at the beginning that said everyone in high school called her "The Hotness"? Is she sure her high school friends weren't goofing on her?

There's really nothing I can say about the girl who brought her mother and sang the Pussycat Dolls song. But speaking of the Pussycat Dolls, I'll just do a brief rant because I've ranted at least once or twice about this subject last year at this time. To waste our time showing bad contestants singing that "Dontcha" song (which the producers asked them to do because many of them auditioned with other songs) when we could actually be seeing good singers, singers who went to the Hollywood round, is ridiculous and inexcusable. This happens every year, and then we get to the final 24 and there's three or four people we've never seen before--and they start with a huge disadvantage. But for some reason, the producers don't care, and they don't listen to me.

Finally, two last observations: Paula held that dog and said "If Simon and I ever had a baby" it would look like this. Why, exactly, did holding a small little dog bring that into your head? Wow, Paula, you are in love with Simon.

And my favorite line of the night from that last guy, "Big Red.": "Don't sing it, just bring it." It hearkened back to the ill-fated appearance of Stevie Smith in last year's final 24 with her statement, after a bad performance, that she "can bring it." And yet it's completely different. And I have no idea what it means.... Wouldn't you want to bring it when you sing it? Oh, why am I trying to make sense of this.....

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

It's nice to have Idol back

Although I prefer the latter portion of American Idol,when we get down to the final 24 and then 12 and have the singoffs, I still enjoy the audition episodes. And thankfully, unlike some past years, it seems like tonight the producers gave us a pretty decent mix of good singers, horrible singers and unclassifiable freaks--so it turned out to be an not bad start. And Simon was in fine form.

I won't start the full, singer-by-singer rundowns until we get to the final 24, but here are a handful of observations and thoughts:

Did we see the next American Idol tonight? Hard to say. I guess if there was one person I might keep my eye on it would be Sarah Krueger, the one who sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow. She had a good voice, was pretty good looking, and Simon seemed to like her. But who knows, we'll probably never see her again. And I suppose the one who sang the Deanna Carter song might be someone to watch. As Simon said, she's
"confident without being irritatingly precocious." What a great quote.

I think I wasn't the only male who really enjoyed "Shakira Junior," Perla Meneses (no jokes about the last name yet). But while she has some very nice, um, assets, vocally I'm not really sure she's strong enough to get very far.

There's not really much to say about many of the strange or horrible auditioners, but the guy who sang Johnny Cash--did he really think he was good? And the "Urban Amish" guy? He's never seen the show and doesn't know anything about it. So how does he end up hearing about the auditions? Was he walking by the hotel and somebody told him about it? Did he see a flyer somewhere? Was he an actor making all this up?

The guy who sang "California Dreamin'" took me back--not to the Mamas and the Papas, but to year one, when Simon often said of R.J. Helton and others, "Boy band yes, American Idol no." Having said that, I love when people cry after they are told they're going to Hollywood--it's one of the great moments of American Idol every year.

On the other hand, I get very uncomfortable when the people who get rejected cry, particularly if they're obviously not very good and have deluded themselves into thinking they're going to make the show. Watching that first singer tonight, the one who did the makeovers at the mall, was not pleasant. And wow, Simon was pretty harsh with the "Hey, good news, you know you're not going to be a singer" so you know you should move onto something else.

I was thinking the juggling guy should have gone on "America's Got Talent" just seconds before Randy mentioned it.

One of the funniest comments of the night came from surprisingly solid guest judge Jewel, when she told the woman who said she was "BFF" with Idol that even though she had been rejected, she should be happy because "you got to be on your favorite show!"

That same auditioner also gave me something I was pining for last year. During Queen week, I thought Chris Daughtry would do a great job perfoming the Queen/David Bowie classic "Under Pressure." Unfortunately, he chose to do some obscure Queen song and then sang a couple lines of the song in the medley the next night. Well, I did finally get to hear someone perform "Under Pressure." Unfortunately, it was some shrieking, tone-deaf crazy woman. Oh well. Maybe next time... Oh, and how could I forget...perhaps the best part of tonight's show was the repeated suggestions of "other door." Fingerhut out.

My return to blogging

Now that American Idol is starting, it's time to return to blogging. For the two or three of you who were wondering why I haven't been blogging since September, I guess the answer to that is ... um .... well, there isn't a really good answer for that--except that in my job, I write all day. Do I want to come home and do that all night too? And when I start a blog post, I want it to be good and say everything I want it to say in an easily understandable way--which means I end up taking an hour to write it, and instead of spending that hour writing, I give up and usually decide to watch TV or go to sleep. But I'm reinvigorated with the start of Idol, and I'll try to do better, but also try to keep my postings shorter.

So let's make some quick observations on this grueling week on television--the two-night, four-hour premiere of 24, the Golden Globes, and four hours of Idol. I'm exhausted and Idol hasn't even premiered yet. And I didn't even mention last weekend's football.

First of all, 24 is an thrilling show which often raises all kinds of interesting questions about terrorism and how governments should deal with it, but it also can be absolutely ridiculous at times, and it was at its peak for that Sunday night. My favorite part of the show was when Jack gets off the Chinese plane, Bill and Curtis tell him that they're giving him over to a terrorist as payment for the terrorist giving them information, and Jack asks if he'll have a chance to wash up (a pretty reasonable request for a guy who's been in a Chinese prison for 20 months.) Bill and Curtis tell him they've set up an area in this airplane hangar for him, and Jack walks over and there's a bowl of water with a jug sitting next to it. That's it? They couldn't let the guy at least take a hot shower before handing him over to be killed? All he gets is a bowl? It looked like the area set up in a synagogue for people to wash their hands before eating. It was one of the funniest things I'd seen in a while.

Almost as good was less than an hour later, when Jack actually escapes from Fayed the terrorist and calls in to CTU. Bill doesn't even seem all that surprised that Jack lived. I don't even think he asked him how he escaped, although Jack would probably just say "There's not much time." Two other great moments from the premiere: Jack standing in the drain after escaping and wiping the guy's blood from his mouth, and the convenience of the subway suicide bomber getting on the last car of the subway train and sitting at the very end of the car, so that Jack could just push him out the emergency door. If you were bombing a subway, wouldn't you get on in the middle of the car for maximum effect?

Last night's episode didn't have as many nutty moments, so let's move on to the Golden Globes. I made the mistake of tuning into a few minutes of the pre-show and quickly turned it off after seeing Ryan Seacrest get the opportunity to interview Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and wasting everyone's time by asking questions such as "Why did you do Babel?" and "Take us through your day getting ready." Ryan, would it have killed you to ask something with a slight bit of edge, like "Do you guys ever get tired of saving the world?" or "How do you do so much traveling with all those kids at home?" I thought the reason magazines like US are so popular is because they're all about celebrities behaving badly--getting drunk, having fights, dumping their boyfriends/girlfriends, acting generally insane. I don't want to hear about Brad Pitt putting on his tuxedo or Angelina getting her hair done. But maybe I'm wrong.

But what got me really annoyed was Jennifer Hudson's acceptance speech at the Globes, not just for what she said--or more correctly--didn't say, but for what it symbolized about the whole night. Hudson didn't mention American Idol in her speech at all, even though I can't imagine she would have gotten anywhere near an audition for Dreamgirls if she hadn't been on the show. Sure, she didn't win, but 30 million people saw her sing every week, so she was anything but an unknown. And really, not thanking American Idol, which is so dependent on fans and their voting, is really kind of a slap in the face to all the fans watching at home. And it wasn't just Hudson. I don't believe anyone thanked the fans all night, which is amazing considering that no television series survives without people watching (series get canceled now after two weeks if ratings aren't decent) and it's rare that a movie wins an award if people haven't gone to see it. All these rich Hollywood people are sitting in this beautiful ballroom drinking champagne and talking to all their fellow beautiful people and they can't even throw a bone to their fans who made them so rich--and are sitting on their couches in their pajamas eating Chinese food out of the carton? Yeah, this all sounds pretty silly, you're thinking--and if someone does thank "the fans" at the Oscars or the Emmys, it's not like I'm going to be dancing around the next day saying, "Wow, Alec Baldwin actually thanked me!" I just think it all speaks to how insular and arrogant Hollywood seems to be. At least when sports teams win, the coaches, and sometimes the players, thank their fans (see Mike Krzyzewski, Joe Gibbs, etc.)

Oh, and I've won three Rockower Awards over the last five or six years (that's the awards for good journalism in the Jewish press--kind of the Jewish Pulitzers, but somewhat less prestigious), but they don't allow winners to give speeches. So I just want to say, thank you to my readers.