Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Can we please get to Hollywood?

I think I wrote a post with this exact title, or some variation of it, around this time last year. We've reached that time, after three weeks of audition shows, that I'm ready to get to the next round--and I think most AI fans probably agree with me. But because these are, other than the final show of the season, usually the highest rated shows of the year, Fox gives us a full month of them. And I guess there's nothing I can do except keep my blog entries short as a way to show my ennui. (I'm not even sure if I'm using that word properly, but it just seemed right in this case.)

Once again, I will praise the producers this year for giving us a few more good singers than they have in past year. Unfortunately, it seems that has also led to what appears to be a nicer Simon this year. Tonight, satisfyingly, it seemed mean Simon had returned, with such comments as "it sounds like you're eating [when you're singing]," "most people don't know what they're talking about [when it comes to judging singing]," and "I would like you if I was drunk" (which was my favorite).

Otherwise, I like the boy band toward rocker guy (had a nice sounding voice) and really liked Brittany, the second of the two, um, big women that auditioned together.
And while that Jasmine Trias flashback was kind of random (she's really got a successful career in the Phillipines? Is she the Hasselhoff of that nation?), I did enjoy the auditioner who aspires to be like her--she's got an impressively big voice, no matter how tall or short she is.

My favorite moment of the night, though, was the girl from American Juniors (which, I promise, I never watched) saying that she was upset because instead of auditioning for Idol, she could have sung at a Red Sox game. Those Boston fans are blessed--a World Series, an undefeated season for the Patriots and they get to miss out on her singing.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Some contenders out of the heartland?

Once again, some random thoughts on the Omaha auditions:

So the first guy started off by saying that being on American Idol was a "life-alternating" moment. I can't make a joke funnier that that.

I have a feeling the guy that forgot the words will forget the words at some point in Hollywood.

Randy is correct--why do so many country-style auditioners sound like they're yodeling? I'm not sure that auditioners was all that good, but she did look like a blond Julia Roberts--or Julia Roberts in "Charlie Wilson's War." (Actually, come to think of it, the better, age-appropriate comparison is she looked like Julia Roberts when she wears the blond wig as the hooker in "Pretty Woman.")

Blond Julia Roberts may not be a contender, but I think Samantha Sidley may be. Cool voice and adorable.

As for Angelica and her dad and that emotional story--having watched American Idol for seven years, I'm sure there's probably much more to that story than they're telling us and it won't seem as touching (I really hope not, but it always seems to happen that way.) Even so, I'm a sucker and they manipulated me into choking up a little.

Finally, I really liked that guy at the end--but I was too lazy to write his name down and I already deleted the show from my DVR. I guess that means I need to work harder the next couple weeks, making sure I'm in peak blogging condition for when the final 24 gets underway in late February. And I was distracted by election coverage. I'm actually an MSNBC guy, but could someone answer this question for me about CNN? Why can't they get Wolf Blitzer a chair. Why is he always standing? Do they at least have a stool for him at commercials?

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Post on hockey: The hopeful and the disappointing

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how disappointing the Washington Post's hockey coverage was. At the All-Star break, I figured it was time for a follow-up. Unfortunately, as the Caps have rocketed to within one point of first place in the last month, the Post seems to have taken one step forward and two steps back.

First, I must praise the Post for actually having a columnist, Mike Wise, write a column on the Caps! It had only been about a year or so--at least--since any of the Post columnists (Wilbon, Wise, Jenkins or Boswell) had written anything on the professional hockey team in town. And Wise's column was pretty good and even made some news. Surprisingly, it wasn't about how well the team was playing, but he did get Olie Kolzig to speculate on the possibility of retirement and say a couple things about new coach Bruce Boudreau that raised some eyebrows (complaining about how Boudreau doesn't handle goalies as well as previous coach Glen Hanlon, although I think they came out worse than Olie intended.)

I also will say that the Caps have been getting more prominent play in the sports section, with game articles often appearing on the front page in recent weeks. That's nice, and I know it makes some people feel good, but I care less about whether the announcement of Alexander Ovechkin's 13 year, $124 million contract gets a prominent layout on the front of the sports page (which it should and did) and more about the coverage of that contract. And that's where the Post's coverage has been puzzlingly lacking.

Ovechkin signed the biggest contract in the history of the NHL. It was huge news throughout the hockey world. had at least two of its writers pen pieces analyzing the contract, whether it makes sense, what it means to the future of hockey in Washington, etc. has one of their writers opine on the same subject. The wisdom of Ovechkin's contract was even a topic for discussion last Sunday at the first period break on the first NBC telecast of the NHL season.

But in the Post, there was the article the day after the contract reporting on its details and the press conference announcing it, written by Caps beat writer Tarik El-Bashir. And El-Bashir wrote a note the next day about how Ovechkin's teammates were teasing him about the contract. And that was about it.

OK, George Solomon, in his weekly Sunday column, did include a paragraph about it. But not one of the Post's superstar columnists wrote anything about the deal. Was it a good move for the Caps? A bad move? What kind of vote of confidence for hockey in Washington is this by Caps owner Ted Leonsis? You didn't hear any of that from anyone at the Post. How about an examination of whether the deal makes business sense for the Caps and Leonsis? When the Post has made its rare forays into writing about the NHL in the last couple years, all it has seemingly written about is how the league's TV ratings are bad, it's tough for teams to make money, etc. How can a team that loses money afford this deal? Seems like an interesting idea for a story--but not at the Post. (The paper, somewhat remarkably, doesn't even have a reporter covering sports business and media, a hugely important beat in this day and age and a beat even the Washington Times has assigned a reporter.)

So a huge national hockey story which involves the hockey team in Washington gets no commentary and analysis from the local paper. It's virtually ignored. And I'm not even angry more, just kind of sad. I hope if the Caps make the playoffs, someone alerts sports editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz. Maybe he'll send a columnist--although it may not be unless they make the finals.

(By the way, as they neglect the Caps and other local teams, the Post did add a THIRD beat reporter to the Redskins beat for next season--because who doesn't pick up the paper and say, "Wow, not enough Redskins articles today." But I'll get to that in a future post.)

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Some random thoughts on Idol in Charleston

Once again, just some quick thoughts about tonight's Idol, an hour which had fewer good singers than the first three shows and not much that was particularly memorable:

Who knew that someone would ever say the words "The Black Clay Aiken" and that it would accurately describe someone? That guy did kind of sound like Clay Aiken. Perhaps the funniest thing about that audition, though, was Simon referring to it as "1970s cruiseship cabaret." This apparently means that not only has Simon been to cabaret shows throughout the world (I have marveled at his apparent knowledge of cabaret in places such as Brazil based on his audition comments from past years), but apparently he's been attending cabaret shows for at least 30 years. He must be a big cabaret fan.

Boy, that auditioner from Kellie Pickler's hometown sure was angry. First, she talks about how upset she'll be if she doesn't sing better than Kellie Pickler, and then she started rambling about preferring a baseball bat to red shoes--to be honest, I wasn't really sure what she was talking about but I was entertained.

To answer the questions of some of you, no, I've never met a woman on the American Idol message boards. But perhaps it's a good idea.

I see what Simon was saying about the abstinence girl being annoying, but I'm not sure she was good enough to make it through to the final 24 anyway. Then again, Antonella Barba and Sanjaya Malakar made it last year, so anything can happen.

Finally, London Weidberg was very intriguing. She was attractive, had a nice voice, and appeared to be wearing a Magen David (Star of David) around her neck. So I did a little Internet research and found out that her late father was actually a rabbi at Beth Shofar congregation in Charleston. Unfortunately, at least for my prospects of rooting for a female Jewish contestant in this year's Idol, Beth Shofar is a messianic Jewish congregation. Oh well. Having said that, if that's true, London makes the final 12 and starts talking about her religious background in one of the biography pieces, it could get very interesting and uncomfortable....


Sailing through San Diego

Tonight's breezy one-hour Idol was a lot like last week's Dallas audition episode--a perfectly entertaining hour of television that was short on much bloggable material. The most important portion of the show may have been the last five minutes, when we got our first glimpse of Carly Smithson. Some of you may have already read about her on the Internet in the past week, but if not...she used to be known as Carly Hennessey and was the subject of a lengthy piece in the Wall Street Journal almost six years ago. At the time, she was 18, and had recorded a pop album with a major record company which spent more than $2 million promoting it. And she had sold 378 albums. As I argued in my last Idol entry about the Dallas auditions, I'm OK with the fact that contestants are allowed to have had a previous recording contract, as long as they don't currently have one at the time of the competition--but it certainly is worthy of debate as perhaps violating a little bit of the spirit of American Idol. Furthermore, in Carly's case, she was apparently considered a favorite by Simon two years ago before she was disqualified over the visa issue--so she's got to be considered a top contender this year. Personally, I wasn't all that impressed--I found her performance a little overly dramatic and her tattoo kind of gross, but we'll see.

Otherwise, I must give the Idol producers kudos for definitely spending more time this year showing us the good singers, especially at the top of each show. I liked the single dad, both his singing and his story, and loved how his young kid knew all the names of the judges. And I really liked the girl who loved Simon--good personality, kind of cute and she could sing.

Even the bad singers weren't that painful or not lingered upon as in past years. I don't understand why the Mariah Carey fan didn't, um, sing a Mariah Carey song (it wouldn't have helped, but at least she would have been going to her alleged strength). As for the guy with the fans, he claims to be a fan of the show, and then actually thinks that Simon and company would "listen to what my song was saying." Have you watched this show before? And I am liking what is turning out to be a theme of the auditions this year--the people who won't stop singing and keep trying new songs. It's much better than the cliched rave-out at the judges that we got in the premiere on Tuesday night. So, onward to Charleston, and wow, everything is about South Carolina this week, huh? Fingerhut out.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Calm down already, Doreen

I know that the only thing more hyped in Washington than the weather is the Redskins. When snow is on the forecast for a Friday, it leads the local news on a Tuesday. It's kind of amazing. But at least be accurate--which Channel 4 News wasn't last Wednesday night. Doreen Gentzler came on the 11 p.m. news that evening and said that a "winter storm warning" was in effect for "our area" tonight. That, of course, is more serious than the winter weather advisory which had been announced earlier that day, and indicates that a big storm with six inches or more of snow could be expected. If I had heard that and hadn't been in the car an hour earlier and heard the forecast on WTOP, I would have been worried that a big storm was coming. The problem, though, was that while a winter storm warning was in effect in the Washington area, it was only in effect for Frederick and Loudoun counties and points west. That means that for the vast majority of the DC area--the city, Montgomery and Prince George's counties, Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, etc.--there was still the less serious winter weather advisory in effect. But Doreen Gentzler never explained this, Bob Ryan never clarified it, and many people--OK, the few who know what those weather warnings mean, but still, they're not that complicated--might have gone to bed worrying about a bigger storm than was actually predicted. And that's just what we don't need in Washington--people worrying even more than they need to about a snowstorm.

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A belated, abbreviated Dallas audition post

I said I'd post my thoughts on the Dallas auditions on American Idol once I finished watching them (four hours of Idol over two days is grueling), so for the four or five of you waiting for it...I have a few thoughts.

Basically, I thought Wednesday's show wasn't all that remarkable and I barely wrote down any notes about it. The good singers were fine, but nothing special, and the bad singers weren't remarkably bad or weird. Even the guy at the end singing that song about brothers wasn't a terrible singer--plus he was in his 40s, and since you can't be over 28 and qualify for the show, why do we keep getting these 40 year old auditioners? Were all the bad auditions under 28 that uninteresting?

I did like the girl who Simon said was the best they'd seen so far, but I think I liked her Britney Spears impression better than her normal singing. I was surprised that the guy who said he would one day be president could actually sing well--but I can't see him really going that far in the competition. And that guy who said he'd never kissed a girl--did he really also say that he didn't plan to kiss anyone until his wedding day? Where is going to find the woman who is going to agree with that? I presume he wasn't an Orthodox Jew--some of whom don't touch members of the opposite until they get married. Do some Christians do this as well, or was this guy just odd?

Finally, if you've been checking the Internet, there's already been a lot of debate about Kristy Lee Cook (from Tuesday night) and others like her--who at one time had a record contract but never had any success. Idol, of course, because it's always so honest with its viewers, is not mentioning this and portraying Cook, for instance, as just off the farm. Should the show allow someone with professional experience, background, etc. on the show? While it does give me some qualms, my answer is yes. After last year's mess, personally I'd rather see a good show. If a couple of the contestants may have a little bit more experience than others, I can live with it. (And since the rules are only that one can't have a current record or management contract, there really isn't anything violating the letter of the rules here.) Furthermore, in these days of the Internet, everyone will know the life story of Kristy Lee Cook by April--so if she gets that far, America can factor all this into their voting. Even more important, though, I consider the "unknown" factor of American Idol one of its most appealing features--the way people go from nobodies to some of the most famous people in the country by May. Even if Kristy Lee Cook did have a record contract once upon a time, she wasn't famous. And it's unlikely she will be without going far on Idol.

Fingerhut out.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Not yet

Due to having to work tonight, and the two hour length of Idol, I don't have a recap for tonight yet. I will try to get something up tomorrow or over the weekend. This delay would never happen during the final 24, but since it is only the audition shows....


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Welcome Back!

It would be welcome anyway, but with the writers strike now really ravaging the TV season, there's no better time for American Idol to return. Like in past years, I'm not going to do a formal Idol recap until we get to the final 24. But I did want to provide a few quick thoughts on tonight's premiere.

First, the producers have been telling the media that they're going to make some changes this year, such as featuring more of the contestants and less of the guest mentors. That's good, but it will be a few weeks until we know if they're serious about that. But I will say that it did seem they were showing us a few more good singers than usual, or at least balancing the proportion between good and bad better than in past years. I'll probably live to regret those words by this time tomorrow, but I can always have hope....

Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that the producers will address one of my pet peeves--showing, at the very least, the audition of every one of the top 24 semi-finalists, so that we don't end up knowing the life story of 10 contestants, have seen 10 others sing a couple times and know absolutely nothing about four of them. It's not fair to those four--and makes no sense considering they'll spend 10 hours on audition shows over the next month. But according to Alan Sepinwall, the TV critic for the Newark Star-Ledger, executive producer Nigel Lythgoe responded to his question about this last week on a conference call by saying that he's trying to make the most entertaining show he can and he's not going to show someone if they're "boring as hell." This, of course, is a stupid answer--because why would someone who is "boring as hell" have even made the final 24? But I guess it's just one of the many mysteries of American Idol.

A few notes on tonight's show:
Favorite Paula remark of the night: To the Egyptian guy at the beginning, when she said, "I think you should keep singing for your enjoyment."

Did the guy with the really deep voice really think his problem was the fact that he sang a Christian song?

So Alexis Cohen walked out saying she wanted to "keep her dignity." Nice job with that, Alexis. I doubt anyone will want to bring their dog to you if you become a vet after that display. And Nigel, why do you keep indulging these people who figure the only way they're going to get on TV is to throw some tantrum? Talk about boring...

By the way, Alexis said she thinks it was Bon Jovi who wrote a song about her hometown of Allentown. Did they have a song about Allentown, or was she somehow mixing them up with Billy Joel?

Kristy Lee Cook--she sure looks like a top 24 member, doesn't she?

So instead of just putting on a shirt, that guy got his whole body waxed? Simon's right--that guy really did want to get on TV.

Not a bad start. Fingerhut out.


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

I know hockey isn't that popular, but this is ridiculous....

I hadn't realize how poorly the Washington Post covers hockey until I picked up the Post sports section this morning. After reading the coverage of the Caps' win yesterday, I looked for coverage of yesterday's outdoor hockey game in Buffalo and found...a photo. Okay, there was one paragraph and a box score, too, which mentioned that the game was outdoors and Sidney Crosby scored the winning shootout goal. And that was it. Nothing on the atmosphere of the game, how the weather affected the players, etc. I thought the game, though it had some faults--the frequent stoppages to fix the ice slowed the game down too much--was pretty cool, and I figured others, even people who aren't hockey fans like me, would have found it interesting enough to give it some coverage.

And I was correct, except for the Washington Post. had a couple articles on the game and gave it a prominent place on its Website (the box above the headlines) on Tuesday. also gave it top placement in its headlines Tuesday and Wednesday morning. The New York Times had a staff-written article on the game and a column about the TV coverage. The Washington Times had TWO wire-service articles on the game, one on the game itself and another on the tailgating beforehand. My dad's in Florida, and he said even the Miami Herald had a fairly lengthy wire story on the game. And in the Post, we got a photo... oh, and a paragraph. And I shouldn't forget the box score, too.

This is just the latest in a series of oversights by the Post in its hockey coverage. Tarik El-Bashir does a fine job covering the Caps beat in the paper and on his blog. And Dan Steinberg has written some great stuff about the Caps over the last year on the D.C. Sports Bog, including some recent entertaining posts about new coach Bruce Boudreau. But outside of that, it doesn't appear that anyone at the Post even knows hockey exists. No Post columnist (not Wilbon, not Mike Wise, not Tom Boswell, not Sally Jenkins) has written a column about the Caps since, if my memory is correct, last January. (It may actually be December 2006, but I can't confirm that because the Post columnist archives don't go back that far.) Even more troubling, this hockey ignorance has led to the Post missing great story opportunities over the last two years that involved former Capitals players--for reasons that I can only surmise are a lack of knowledge of the league and the Caps' history.

Bengt Gustafsson, one of the most popular Caps players ever, coached Sweden to the gold medal at the 2006 Olympics. The Post covered the hockey tournament, but never wrote anything about Gustafsson's history with the Caps, interviewed him about memories of Washington, etc. I'm not even sure if the paper even mentioned Gustafsson's Washington connection. At a time when one can get coverage of sports from so many TV and Internet outlets, this kind of local coverage is what can distinguish a local newspaper and make it essential to its readers. But we didn't get it from the Post.

Perhaps even more inexcusable, when Scott Stevens was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this fall, it got a couple sentences in the four or five paragraph article that made the Post about the Hall of Fame induction. This was amazing. Scott Stevens played more than a third of his career with the Caps, in the heyday of the franchise--when they made the playoffs every year and often finished in the top five of the league in the point standings (although they managed to find some ridiculous way to lose in the playoffs before they should have.) Scott Stevens, with his puck-handling skills and his legendary hip checks, was one of the most exciting players to ever suit up with the Caps and could probably still be called the second-best defenseman that ever played for the team (after Rod Langway). And yet the only mention of his Hall of Fame induction in the Post came in an article which devoted much more space to Mark Messier. No one at the Post could write a remembrance or tribute to Stevens--no one even bothered to even print his stats from his time with the Caps.

When the NHL came back from its extremely ill-advised lockout three years ago, the Post appeared to make a decision--it would cover the Capitals but would not cover the rest of the NHL. So that has meant that it won't send a staff writer to cover the NHL playoffs if the Caps aren't in them. And any time there is any actual NHL news that doesn't involve the Caps (a trade, a suspension, a rule change, whatever), it ends up buried somewhere in the Sports in Brief column--between the results of some tennis tournament in Monaco and the European soccer league scores. This even though we have arguably the best player in the NHL playing in Washington. The only staff or columnist articles it has run about the NHL, in general, have been about how nobody is paying any attention to the NHL.

Post editors have defended this decision based on things such as TV ratings, although they sent a reporter to Japan last summer to cover the World Track and Field Championships, which didn't exactly light up the Nielsens either. In that case, I suppose they thought that event was an important sporitng event that deserves coverage--and I actually agree. I'm just not sure why they've decreed that hockey is so unimportant that anything but last night's Caps game is not worthy of coverage. Maybe the pretty good ratings for the outdoor game--the highest TV ratings for an NHL regular season game in more than 10 years--will change their mind.

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