Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Gone too soon

Could he have won? Probably not, unless he put on about six performances in a row equivalent to his performance on the first Beatles night. But Chikezie went too soon. He's far more entertaining and talented than a number of singers still left (see Malubay, Ramiele as example number one). The whole bottom three was a little odd, to be honest--Syesha had her best performance yet, but I guess many people agree with me that she's lacking something in the charisma department. And Jason Castro is thought to be one of the most popular singers in the competition, but he sung early and wasn't as good as in past weeks. But they're still around, and Chikezie is gone. Oh, well.

What is concerning is Ramiele not even making the bottom three (assuming the bottom three is legit--I heard an interview with Chris Sligh from last season the other day, and he raised doubts about whether the producers stuck people in the bottom three who they thought needed more support.) Back in the auditions, she was compared to Jasmine Trias because of her Filipino roots, and hopefully we won't be comparing her to Jasmine Trias seven weeks from now when she makes the final three beacause, like Trias, she had some kind of powerful Filipino voting bloc.

As for the rest of the show, the medley was mercifully short, the call-in segment was tolerable, the Idol Gives Back segment was perhaps the most self-congratulatory segment I've ever seen on a television show, and Kimberly Locke looked good and sung fine. The most interesting part of the show was David Archuleta's defense of his song choice, in which he wondered why everyone else was surprised by his choice. Maybe, David, because no one had ever heard it before? Even Paula and Randy had no idea what it was. Does David Archuleta live in a world where John Farnham is a big star?

Actually, I'm wrong. The most interesting part of the results show continues to be the fact that they need more than 60 minutes to fit in the announcement of one name. My DVR came on at 9:00, went off at 10:00 and still missed the beginning of the show and the last notes of Chikezie's song. Would it kill Fox to keep the show within 60 minutes, or at least tell the DVR listings they'll be starting early and ending late?
You know, we are your customers. Why are you making us miss part of the show because we're not home to tune in at 8:58 and don't remember to set the DVR to come on early? OK, that's the end of my rant. Fingerhut out.


Idol is making me feel old

After last week's disaster, this week on Idol was certainly much improved. Partly, it was a result of one of the better themes Idol has in its bag of tricks--a song from your birth year. It provides enough varied choices that the singers are able to pick something in the kind of style that they feel suits them best or that they would want to sing if they were to record an album. The only problem with the theme, at least for me, is it makes me feel old. I can't believe how many Idols were born in 1987--I was a junior and senior in high school that year. And thankfully, they worked out that volume problem they had last week and we weren't forced to hear the crowd cheering every 15 seconds during most songs.

Ramiele Malubay (Alone)--So Carrie Underwood does a great version of this song and it was a key factor in catapulting her to the Idol title in season four. Carly sings this song in the Hollywood round and everyone loves it. So Ramiele, with a voice that doesn't approach either one of them, gives it a try. Ramiele, you are dumb. Did you watch Idol before you auditioned? It's tough enough if your version is going to be compared to the Heart version, but to Underwood too? And even Carly Smithson? There wasn't any other song from 1987 that you could have picked? Having said all that, it wasn't as bad as I thought it might be. Of course, when it started, I thought it was going to be a train wreck. I did think it was amusing that Simon basically told her that her performance last week was horrendous, and yet she managed not to be eliminated. So since this one wasn't quite as putrid, she should easily survive--and Ramiele got really excited by that. Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations. And, actually, Simon isn't even correct about that. Prior results never predict future performance on Idol--as we've learned, any particular week could surprise us.

Jason Castro (Fragile)--I believe I saw Sting perform this song in concert, less than a year after Jason Castro was born. I was glad to see Jason Castro didn't have dreads when he was a baby, but why was he holding a passport in that baby picture? Anyway, this was nice and, as Randy said, "pleasant," but nothing particularly special or challenging--even if he did alter the song slightly to fit into his style. And apparently he now only does songs that have some of the lyrics in a foreign language. My friend John tells me that's Portuguese not Spanish, but he suggests "La Isla Bonita" should be Jason's song next week.

Syesha Mercado ("If I Were Your Woman")--Syesha makes one of those "seems like it's cheating but I guess technically it isn't" moves by choosing a famous Gladys Knight and the Pips song recorded in 1970 and singing it becase Stephanie Mills recorded it in 1987. To be fair, I am presuming that the slowed-down version she did was how Stephanie Mills recorded it, but I really don't know and don't feel like trying to find a version online. Anyway, by the end of this performance, I said to myself, "Wow, where did that come from? That was really good." It wasn't really something that could have been expected from Syesha's previous performances, which were never good enough or bad enough to be memorable. I still, though, didn't love it. There's something about Syesha I haven't warmed up to yet--perhaps she needs to show a little more personality and charisma on stage.

Chikezie ("If Only for One Night")--I don't really know this song, but I think Paula said it was a Luther Vandross song and I'm not real familiar with his catalogue. And just like Simon said, it was kind of boring. Midway through the song, I zoned out for about 15 seconds from lack of interest. He gave a solid performance, but it was just unexciting--especially compared to the jumping around he's done the last couple weeks.

Brooke White (Every Breath You Take)--I started drinking the Brooke White Kool-Aid a couple weeks ago, but I really didn't understand why Randy and Simon gave her such a hard time tonight. Other than that hiccup at the beginning, she picked a great song and sang it well--another authentic performance by Brooke. They said they didn't like when the band came in and that part of the song sounded "old-fashioned." Huh? So singing with just a piano accompaniment is fresh, but having the band back you is "old-fashioned"? Whatever...I kind of liked when the band came in and gave it a little oomph. Maybe it's that whole "Brooke was good when she sings only with piano, like two weeks ago, so she should always do that" meme that Randy pulls out for a few singers each year.

Michael Johns (We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions)--Finally someone born in the 1970s! And he rocked the house tonight, finally, after showing lots of potential but never being able to put it together. As good as his singing, which was great, was his stage presence tonight. He wasn't doing that jumping around with the microphone bobbing in his hand thing he always does, but instead stalking around with a "I'm ready to kick butt" attitude. And Michael is now two-for-two on Queen songs after doing "Bohemian Rhapsody" during Hollywood week and hitting it out of the park. I propose he does a new Queen song every week. Next week, it should be "Under Pressure" and the following week, how about "Somebody to Love"?

Carly Smithson (Total Eclipse of the Heart)--I have to give the guy who writes about Idol for Entertainment Weekly some props. In the "Idolatry" video he made previewing tonight's show and picking songs for some of the singers, I believe he suggested "We Are the Champions" for Michael Johns and urged Carly to stay away from "Total Eclipse of the Heart." He thought that was a bad choice because the song was too long and with too many parts to fit into 90 seconds. I don't think that was the problem tonight, but Carly should have stayed away. It wasn't bad, but I kind of expected that to blow my socks off, as Kristy Lee Cook might say, and it just didn't. She didn't do anything with it except that not particularly pleasant last note, and it just didn't seem to show off her voice in the way I would have expected.

David Archuleta (You're the Voice)--David Archuleta was born on Dec. 28, 1990. I was a couple days into my first trip to Israel that day. Just thought I would impress everyone by recalling that. Getting back to the show, judging from Paula and Randy, apparently the entire country was sitting on their couches going, "Gosh, I was around in 1990, listening to lots of music, and I have never heard this song in my life." It's by some guy named John Farnham (when Simon said his name, I thought he said John Bonham, which really confused me since he was dead in 1990). Even more remarkable, according to the Internet, John Farnham actually recorded this song in 1986, and then Idol favorite David Foster along with some vocalist I've never heard of, covered it in 1990. So David must have really wanted to do this song. (More on that in a second.) I thought he sounded fine, but this wasn't special at all and I don't see this as the kind of performance that is going to win him Idol (although with his teenybopper voting support, that may already be a foregone conclusion and there's nothing us adults can do about it.) The most interesting part of his segment was when Simon made the somewhat cryptic comment that he would be surprised if David chose this song himself. Who else would choose it? There have been reports that David's father is a pushy stage parent, and perhaps Simon suspects he has too much influence. And it would be like a pushy stage parent to push his son to pick songs that appeal to the demographic he would be appealing to as a recording star (young girls) and choose a song like this that might appeal to that demographic but not a lot of other people. Or maybe Simon meant something else entirely. But I don't think so.

Kristy Lee Cook (God Bless The USA)--So I had only just started to watch the show tonight on my DVR when my dad called and said that he thought Kristy Lee Cook was better than Brooke White tonight. Well, my dad doesn't drink much, but I guess the booze was flowing at the Fingerhut home in Potomac tonight, because I think he went a bit overboard. I do know, though, that he does like this song alot, and I've always kind of like it too. As for Kristy, I don't think she blew anyone's socks off, but this was a very solid performance, and Kristy showed she has a decent voice when she uses it properly.

David Cook (Billie Jean)--First of all, it would have been a lot more interesting if David Cook had sung Michael Jackson's version of "Billie Jean," instead of Chris Cornell's version. He's now gone into Chris Daughtery territory, where every song he does has to be in his particular modern rock style and it does start to get a little boring and monotonous. Now that my editorial comment is out of the way, it was very good. But the way the judges praised it as being "brave," etc.--did they not hear Ryan mention it was Chris Cornell's version (which I admit I'd never heard before.) Sure it was a totally different arrangement, but he ripped it off from one of the top modern rock singers today. I don't consider that risky. Maybe smart, but not risky.

The bottom three is tougher this week, but let's go with Ramiele, Carly (because she made it last week and those funny faces she makes when singing aren't helping--oh, and that husband of her with the face tattoo is just scary. He looks like a Star Wars character), and, for tradition's sake, Kristy. And wtih her lackluster performance and her spot at the very beginning of a 90 minute show, she looks like a goner, despite Simon's assurances. Fingerhut out.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What an awful week of Idol

You know Tuesday wasn't a good night on American Idol when Ryan doesn't even mention the number of votes on the results show. And then when Ryan introduces the taped package reviewing last night, he doesn't even say the usual "what a great night"--he knows he can't fool anyone.

Unfortunately, tonight's hour of Idol was pretty lackluster too. The medley was, as usual, dreadful. That "behind-the-scenes" look at the Ford commercial felt like it lasted three hours. And the call-in segment, which I actually said I enjoyed last week, now seems like a bad idea. If they just have people ask Simon questions, it might work, but why would anyone care what the last song was that Ramiele downloaded onto her IPod?

OK, I'll stop complaining and say that I enjoyed seeing Kellie Pickler again, and I kind of like that song. And it was nice to Elliott Yamin and Fantasia in Africa, and I liked that he was sporting his Star of David. And the lineup of mentors is pretty strong. Yes, Andrew Lloyd Webber unfortunately means there will be a Broadway night, but Dolly Parton is great (if there has to be a country night, at least they have a quality mentor), Mariah Carey is a big star who is sort of interesting (with an album conveniently coming out) and Neil Diamond is someone I have suggested for a theme week in the past (a guy who wrote lots of classic songs with strong melodies).

Finally, we get to our elimination, and although I picked Kristy, it's not particularly surprising that it was Amanda. The combination of her mediocre performance (even worse tonight), her position singing first in a two-hour show that felt even longer, and the fact that she was pretty much doing the same thing every week (and threatened last night to continue repeating herself because, she said, she only has 90 seconds a week to demonstrate why people should come to her concerts) was inevitably going to lead to her ouster in the next few weeks. We just got it a week or two before I may have expected it.

Let's just hope we have a brand new theme next week. Fingerhut out.


A little too much of the Beatles

That was a pretty unpleasant two hours of American Idol tonight. Yes, I had a very long day yesterday, but I couldn't even get through the whole show tonight without turning off my DVR with a couple singers left and taking a brief nap. But I'm not going to primarily blame the singers for tonight's mess--no, I think the producers bear a big portion of the blame.

First, there was no reason to do a second week in a row of Beatles songs. Yeah, I know Ryan claimed this was a reaction to "popular demand," but are there really people who are calling or e-mailing American Idol urging them to do a second Beatles night? You mean that instead of being a frustrated blogger, you can write American Idol and they'll listen to you? Sorry, I don't believe it. And even if that is true, it doesn't mean Idol should have listened. Last week was good, but nothing spectacular. There were a number of strong performances, but just as many mediocre to poor performances. And while there are so many great Beatles songs, many aren't necessarily good American Idol songs. They often have intricate melodies and don't necessarily allow a singer to show off his or her voice. And many of them sound great because of the whole package of a song: the harmonies, the musicianship, the whole feel of the song, rather than just the lead vocal. So a song like "Here Comes the Sun," one of the more beautiful records you're ever going to hear, just sounds a little repetitive and boring when it's just one singer singing it, like we had tonight.

Even more problematic, though, was something I noticed during David Archuleta's performance and got more annoying as the show continued. The volume level on the audience was jacked up so high that it was hard to even hear the singer sometimes, and the crowd was cheering every time a singer did any kind of vocal run--or even, at times, just hit an occasional high note. My friend John said perhaps the producers wanted us to get the feel of going to an actual Beatles concert, when you couldn't hear the music over the crowd cheering. If so, it worked--and it was a terrible idea. Hey guys, this is a TV show where we at home want to critique the singers along with the judges--it is NOT a concert. I could barely hear half of Archuleta's song. And was the crowd getting prompted to cheer that much, or have AI audiences always cheered that enthusiastically when a singer does something as rudimentary as completing a verse? I said I liked the mosh pit idea last week, but if the result is some out of control crowd drowning out the singers, I was terribly wrong. They better fix this soon.

Final question: Why Lennon/McCartney last week and the Beatles this week? Did George Harrison delay his approval for a week? Are you as excited as I am that someone could have selected "Octopus' Garden" to sing this week?

Amanda Overmyer (Back in the USSR)--She started out of tune, but got better as the song went on, but Simon was correct: It was boring, and just more of the same. Amanda responded that she wants people to know what her concert will be like--but isn't this show about getting a record deal?

Kristy Lee Cook (You've Got to Hide Your Love Away)--Kristy actually picked this song just because she liked the title? Some of these singers are just strange. Having said that, it's a perfectly good song that she and the band gave some bizarre rock-like arrangement that I don't think I ever want to hear again (although it wasn't anywhere near as bad as Kristy's country monstrosity last week). Even though I hated the arrangement, I must say I didn't hate the performance as a whole. Her voice sounded stronger than it has in past weeks and I wrote down in my notes at the end of the song "Not that bad." So it's progress.

David Archuleta (The Long and Winding Road)--From what I could hear over the screaming teenyboppers, he remembered the words. And it was probably the best of the night--strong, controlled--although not quite deserving of the praise that the judges lavished on it. Even with last week's hiccup, he's still the heavy favorite, and sung like it tonight.

As for Ryan's I-Phone commercial, at least he and the judges are willing to make fun of it--or am I being presumptous? We'll probably find out that when the judges held up their Coke cups mocking it, Coke paid for that. I guess I'm just cynical.

Michael Johns (A Day in the Life)--So someone did do this Beatles classic this week, but he skipped the 45-second piano chord at the end. Oh, well. The judges sort of savaged him, but as Simon said, this is a really complicated song. Shouldn't he get some points for degree of difficulty? Then again, Simon was also probably correct in saying you can't really pare this song down to a minute and a half and have it make sense. And Michael wasn't at his best--he messed up that early high note at the line "House of Lords." By the way, am I the only one who sees Michael Johns in this competition and thinks "Doesn't he seem too old for this?" He looks like the guy in high school who's been held back a few times. Oh, and Paula providing that earpiece excuse for Michael and then finding out Michael wasn't wearing them was so amusing I don't have anything to add--except why did it take Michael so long to reveal he wasn't wearing them? But aside from that, wasn't Paula relatively coherent for the second week in a row? The Beatles must be good for her, at least.

Brooke White (Here Comes the Sun)--As I mentioned above, great song and record, but not sure it works as an American Idol song. But Brooke is just so likable, and so pretty, and has such a pleasant, pure voice, that I could still enjoy what was a fairly unexceptional performance. And why did Brooke do the "do-do-do-do" part vocally, instead of letting the guitarist do it? That was kind of weird.

David Cook (Daytripper--the Whitesnake (?!) version)--Simon said that this performance wasn't as good as David thought it was, and that kind of sums it up. David is getting to be a little much, with all his strutting around after the song. David needs a new trick, because this was a lot like his performances the last two weeks, but not nearly as exciting or intersting. As for pulling out the whole Peter Frampton making the guitar talk thing--the vocoder as the judges called it--I'm still kind of puzzled why he used that. What an old, odd gimmick that added nothing to the performance.

Carly Smithson (Blackbird)--This was strong vocally, but sort of boring, sort of like Brooke in that the song chosen is kind of repetitive. And both Brooke and Carly shared an annoying trait tonight--while Simon was criticizing them, they both butted in and tried to explain their song choices, etc. I appreciate that they didn't argue, but accepted his criticism, but let him finish and then say something if you want to explain.

Jason Castro ("Michelle")--Maybe I'm slowly boarding the Castro bandwagon, but I didn't think this was anywhere near as poor as the judges seemed to think it was. It wasn't anything special, but it was pleasant and fun and in tune.

Syesha Mercado ("Yesterday")--Vocally, Syesha was very good, but this just didn't do much for me. There's nothing particularly distinctive about her voice, and there was just something about it that left me cold. Maybe I just didn't like all the vocal runs she added.

Chikezie ("I've Just Seen A Face")--I didn't like the slow opening, but did really like the fast conclusion. Not in the league of his performance last week, but good enough to keep him around, I would think.

Ramiele Malubay (Should Have Known Better)--Paula said she wanted to see Ramiele back to the kind of singer she was singing the Dusty Springfield song the first week of the semifinals, but maybe that was the aberration and the real Ramiele is the one we've seen every week since--a pleasant singer but nothing memorable. This was more of the same.

Bottom three has to include Kristy Lee Cook. I think Amanda will end up there, hobbled by going first in a two hour show. And even with the pimp spot, I think Ramiele will end up there. I predict Kristy will be going home.

Fingerhut to bed.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I guess that whole 'pizza bistro' job was a minus

David Hernandez certainly wasn't the worst singer in the final 12, and wasn't the worst singer last night (because Kristy Lee Cook sang). But he wasn't very good, and he wasn't good enough or distinctive enough to come anywhere close to winning, so I don't have much problem with him going tonight instead of two or three weeks from now. And I suppose that whole stripper thing couldn't have helped.

What I do have a problem with is how the producers made us listen to all of the bottom three's songs again. At least we know Kristy Lee Cook has a sense of humor, since she apologized, but wasn't it enough to suffer through the bootee's song? This is going to be a long spring.

While I didn't care for that change, I must admit I sort of liked the answering questions from the phones bit--particularly because they allowed someone to ask Simon and Ryan whether they'll just get it over with and go at it. They didn't really answer it, but at least it was asked. It seems like the producers are trying to make the Wednesday show into something approaching the old variety show that isn't on television anymore--we had comedy with Jim Carrey, music, a little talk about the show--and I suppose there are worse ways to spend an hour. As long as they're aren't too many highlight packages of the Idolettes going to movie premieres--oh, who am I kidding? They probably extended the results show to an hour this year just so they could promote every Fox movie coming out from now until 2010....

Speaking of Jim Carrey, does he even make live-action movies anymore? Where's he been? Is he dressing up as an elephant on national TV in order to get work?

And what was the deal with starting the show early tonight? My DVR recording started in the middle of Ryan's welcome. I know shows run over all the time now, but since when do shows start early? And with so many people using DVRs these days, why do networks do this? It just makes their viewers angry that they missed part of the show even though they set their recording for the time that the show was scheduled for. Why are you angering your customers, Fox?

A few more quick observations: Sanjaya returned and seemed to be cheering heartily for Kristy Lee Cook's country disaster. Does he want her to stick around so people will forget his disasters from last year?...Ryan asked Simon whether Syesha belonged in the bottom three, and Simon answered yes. Then Ryan referred to the "uncomfortable" moment they just had. Well, if that's such a problem, Ryan, why did you ask? What did you think Simon was going to say?...Paula said that there has never been a stronger bottom three. Really, Paula? You had one singer who had an awful performance, and two singers who had mediocre, at best, performances. And of the three, only one, Hernandez, had even had a performance in the semifinals that was at all memorable. Look, I'm not a big fan of season three, but Paula, don't you remember that night Fantasia, Latoya and Jennifer Hudson were in the final three? Um, that's so much stronger it's an insult to compare it to tonight. So they're returning to the Beatles next week because they had so many calls and e-mails about last night's show. Hmmm...why do I suspect that perhaps one of their "mentors" dropping out unexpectedly is the real reason? It seems odd to do the same theme two weeks in a row....Finally, although it was kind of random--since she sang a Beatles song, not a song from her album from last year, so I guess we can assume that's pretty much been deemed a failure--it was nice to see my season five love, Katharine McPhee, again. Loved the short dress. The singing was OK too....


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Is that new Idol set really all that special?

We've got a new opening, a new set, a new choice of songs and even what appeared to be a rejuvenated and relatively lucid Paula Abdul (or was I just tired and not paying attention?) And we went from what many felt was going to be an 11-week coronation of David Archuleta to a competition which may have gotten a whole lot more interesting What a night!

I'm still not sold on that whole "Best top 12 ever" thing, though. While tonight made me feel better about the group as a whole, we need to give it a few weeks to really tell. After all, on this night for season three, I thought it was a great top 12, but by the time we ended up with a final three that included Diana DeGarmo and Jasmine Trias, it didn't seem nearly as good.

As for the much hyped NEW! opening and set--I wasn't exactly blown away. The new graphics made hardly any impression, and the new set inspired me to paraphrase the lyrics of a famous song from another British band, the Who: Meet the new set, same as the old set. Other than putting the band on an upper floor--which seems to take away any chance for the singers to interact with the band but does provide a little more room, was there really much difference in the stage. It didn't seem that much bigger to me. OK, I will say that I like the idea of the mosh pit--it does give everything a more intimate feel. I was also really excited that it looked like they eliminated that platform behind the judges which too many singers used to try to be more intimate with the crowd. Unfortunately, as I'll get to later, that wasn't the case.

As for the theme, you can't find better songs than Beatles songs. And for the most part, the final 12 did them proud. But wouldn't it have been interesting if someone tried "Revolution No. 9"? Or did "A Day in the Life" but included the minute-long piano chord in their performance? OK, maybe not.

Syesha Mercado (Got to Get You Into My Life)--Syesha reminds me of that episode of "The Brady Bunch" in which the whole family sings from some record producers, but the producers really only want Greg because he "fits the suit" that they want their rock star to wear (or at least that's what I remember from more than 25 years ago.) Syesha "fits the suit" for American Idol. She's attractive and she's got a strong voice. And yet... there's something missing. It was evident in her really boring taped piece, which I can't remember anything about except that she's an actress. And it was evident in her performance, which was adequate but nothing special. Her voice was OK, but I thought the arrangement was weird and sort of cabaret-like, as Simon might say. Considering she was the first to sing in a two-hour show, Syesha could be in trouble.

Chikeze (She's A Woman)--That was awesome. Once again, one of the guys puts his own, cool spin on the song and it works very well. I liked the country/folk intro, and I liked the rockin' rest of the song. And he was fun to watch. A couple more performances like that, and he could be a serious contender.

Ramiele Malubay (In My Life)--Sometimes even Simon goes a bit overboard. Look, "In My Life" may not be the most exciting song ever written, but it's also considered one of the great pop songs of all time. It's not boring. And yes, Ramiele didn't do much new with the song, but I thought she did a solid job with it. Once again, though, Ramiele is not doing anything to stand out.

Jason Castro (If I Fell)--So Randy tells Ramiele she needed to change up the melody on the last song, and then when Jason changes up the melody (not all that much to my ears, but to Randy going with a falsetto is changing things up) he tells him he can't change the melody on such a classic song. Oh, these judges, what a tangled web they leave...(You know, I was going to criticize Kady Malloy for a quote I read from her today in which she said that after her first performance, she stopped listening to the judges because "they're only three people's opinions," and everyone's got an opinion. That's just dumb, and maybe when she's a little older than 19, she'll realize how foolish that is. But after you watch this kind of contrdiction from Randy, she doesn't seem quite as dumb.) I thought Jason was pretty good, not as good as last week, but--and I'm shockingly agreeing with Paula--hearfelt and emotional.

Carly Smithson (Come Together)--"Come Together" has always been one of my least favorite Beatles songs, so maybe that colors my opinion on Carly's performance. But I don't really get all the slobbering love from the judges she got tonight--unless they're trying to build up a solid competition to Archuleta to give us some suspense. I thought she was fine, but to compare her to early season one Kelly Clarkson? Please, just stop it. And could Carly wear more sleeveless shirts? Is this some kind of ad for her husband's tattoo business?

David Cook (Eleanor Rigby)--When Ryan mentioned the singer and the song, I thought, "That sounds like a good match," and it was. The first half was good, and then when he opened it up in the chorus, it went to another level. He's really looking like a strong contender, but he still should do something about that hair.

Brooke White (Let It Be)--Back in the season two finale, Randy told Clay Aiken after his first performance that night that he didn't like the song but that "you sang your face off." I'd never heard that phrase before, but presumed it was a music industry term for just putting all you got into a song. Well tonight, Brooke White sang her face off. First, even though she sang the song pretty straight, it sounded like a different song than the original because with the slight country tinge and the raspiness of her voice, she sounded completely different from Paul McCartney. Second, it just seemed so authentic and (I'll use that Paula word again, but it is appropriate) heartfelt. I think it was probably the best performance of the night, and she's a real contender now.

As for Ryan picking up Brooke's shoes and Randy and Simon yelling "they're her shoes," is there some cross-dressing incident in Seacrest's past? What was that all about? And was it related to Simon's reaction after Ryan mentioned leaving a student's room or whatever? Can someone explain these inside jokes? Or am I asking for way too much information that I'll regret?

David Hernandez (I Saw Her Standing There)--I saw a quote from our AI producer Nigel Lythgoe on the Hernandez stripper controversy. His reponse was something along the lines of "He didn't do anything illegal." Well, of course not, Nigel. No one was accusing him of that, and I and most people--except some publications trying to gin up controversy--want to see him kicked off the show for anything other than poor singing. But can you at least tell us what the rules are for getting kicked off the show? Is it just your whim, and what you feel is not appropriate (naked pics on the Internet for Frenchie Davis) for an American Idol and what is (stripper past and, um, naked pictures on the Internet if you're Antonella Barba)? Or is there something written down somewhere? But back to David, who annoyed me from the get-go, but being the first and only singer tonight to get on that platform behind the judges--although he seemed to immediately return to the stage as soon as possible. For new readers, this is a pet peeve of mine--since too many people do it to "fire up the crowd" when, if they were good performers, they should be able to fire up the crowd without running into the audience. And with the "mosh pit," you really shouldn't have to run into the audience--they're right there.

The judges said David tried to do too much with the song, but I personally found it kind of bland and boring. I also couldn't stop thinking about how much the guy talked about the "pizza bistro" he was working at before Idol. Is that a euphemism?

Amanda Overmyer (You Can't Do That)--I think I'm already tiring of Amanda's sound.This was OK, but not memorable (when I looked down at my notes when writing this, I realized that I barely remembered she even performed), and the only thing I really want to talk about is the exchange Paula and Simon had after Amanda's song. Simon told her to stop being disrespectful to him (which she always is by arguing with him about his comments while he's giving them) and then Paula said she wasn't being disrespectful, she was rooting Amanda on when she started yelling in the middle of his remarks. Paula, you are just ridiculous.

Michael Johns (Across the Universe)--Have you noticed that Michael seems to have the exact same movements and mannerisms on every song he does? It's a little strange--maybe Paula can choreograph something new for him. Anyway, this wasn't great, but I enjoyed hearing Michael, after the rockers he's done the last few weeks, slow it down and just sing and I thought he did a really good job. But he's going to have to step it up if he wants to stay as a top contender. He hasn't done anything special since "Bohemian Rhapsody" during Hollywood week.

Kristy Lee Cook (Eight Days A Week)--Wow, that was pretty scary. The tempo on that song was so fast it was giving me heart palpitations and it was just weird. I will give Kristy credit for at least taking a risk. But it is awfully funny to hear Paula tell her "don't take [our advice] too much to heart." So can you tell us, Paula, when your advice is good and when it's not to be taken seriously? I never thought that Simon's advice to go country was all that great anyway. We hear Simon complain about whether rockers are authentic all the time, but apparently you don't have to be authentic to sing country--just wake up one morning, have Simon suggest it and, boom, you're a country singer. It's certainly not working that way for Kristy.

David Archuleta (We Can Work It Out)--Before Simon said it, I wrote it down: "Mess." I speculated last week that the only way David could lose would be a return of his vocal paralysis, but maybe it could be forgetting lyrics. Did he mess up his words just twice, or was there a third time in there too? That might be an Idol record. What a turn of events. The heavy favorite struggles in Beatles Week, two weeks after becoming the heavy favorite by singing a famous John Lennon song. This seems to be working out too well for Fox--did they drug Archuleta before the show so he'd mess up and suspense would return to the show? I think Archuleta is still the heavy favorite, though, because most of his voters are not going to be deterred unless he has about five more performances like this.

Who's bottom three? Kristy Lee Cook, definitely. Probably Syesha Mercado for reasons explained above. And because of the harsh judging she got, Ramiele Malubay is a likely contender too. I would not be surprised if it was Syesha, but I have to go with Kristy. Fingerhut out.


Sunday, March 09, 2008

Why does Michael Wilbon know more about the Phoenix Suns than the Washington Nationals?

No one else seemed to notice this stunning revelation from Michael Wilbon's Web chat last Monday, but I think it's worthy of note:

Bowie, Md.: Will you be at the Nationals' new park for Opening Day? Save me
a parking space.

Michael Wilbon: Nope...When, by the way, is Opening Day here? I will go and
sit in the stands and watch baseball the way I did when I was a kid...Well,
I still do it at least a couple of times a summer (after a boycott in the
mid-1990s after baseball failed us, its fans)...I'll be neck-deep in NBA
hoops and Final Four when the baseball season opens.

So Michael Wilbon is employed as a sports columnist at the Washington Post, and he doesn't even know when Opening Day is for the Washington Nationals--which not only opens the season for the team but also represents the opening of a new stadium? Does he read his own newspaper? Look, I understand with all his other commitments (PTI, NBA coverage), that Wilbon has basically become a columnist who writes about national issues and occasionally slums with a column about the Redskins head coaching search or the Wizards. He's written more columns in the last month about the Phoenix Suns and Shaquille O'Neal than he's written in three years about the Nationals (I believe the official count there is 3 to 1.*) And he and Tony Kornheiser demonstrated their complete ignorance of hockey and the Capitals on "Full Court Press" the other night But isn't there a minimal amount of knowledge of the Washington area sports scene you should have to be a columnist at the Washington Post? Is there a test we can give Wilbon like the guy did with his girlfriend in the movie Diner?

*This blog posting corrected following initial publishing after discovering that Wilbon did write a Nats-related column in August 2005.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

We have a final 12

Not much to say about tonight's Idol. The only person we lost that we probably shouldn't have lost was Asia'h, since she had much more energy and personality and better vocal chops than Kristy Lee Cook. Although she could have been someone who developed enought to stick around for a while, I doubt she really had any chance to win--so it's not a huge loss. As for Kristy, I'd be shocked if she's still around by the beginning of April.

Oh, and Paula, really, your effusive praise of those kicked off and claims that they have some kind of huge career ahead of them after finishing 14th in American Idol--it's not doing them any favors and making you look even crazier, if that was possible.

The other three cuts--Danny, Luke and Kady--were expected, but after watching his farewell video, I realized I will miss Danny. His singing wasn't that great, but he was awfully entertaining. I'm not nearly as upset as Ramiele, though--I hope she can recover enough to sing next week.

There were two highlights of the show tonight other than the top 12 reveal. One, we didn't have to watch a horrible medley. And two, Blake Lewis was really good. I might have to check out that album.

So we've got a new set and Beatles songs next week for two hours of Idol fun on Tuesday. Here's how I see the competition at this point: Archuleta is the heavy favorite at about even odds. Let's make Carly as second choice at 3-1. Let's make Michael Johns the third choice at 7-2, Brooke White and David Cook at 10-1, Jason Castro at 12-1, Syesha at 20-1 and the rest of the field at 50-1.

Fingerhut out.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

OK, I'm coming around on Carly

The "American Idol" ladies were certainly better this week than last, but after watching the last two nights, it's the opposite of last year--the men, as a whole, seem to be significantly better than the women. One significant factor: It does seem that more of the men are willing to mix it up, change song arrangements and take risks than the ladies, who for the most part come out and just sing the song like it was sung originally. So on a night when the judge name-dropping spiraled so completely out of control that we may need a one-hour special so that Randy and Paula can outline what records and videos they worked on and Paula grip on her sanity seem to get a little bit looser, let's get to the show.

Asia'h Epperson (I Wanna Dance With Somebody)--So Simon tells Asia'h last week that she shouldn't choose such big songs, and she goes ahead and chooses a Whitney Houston song. Granted, it's not one of Whitney's most difficult songs to sing, but it's still got some vocal gymnastics. I thought Asia'h did a pretty good job, but I am a little worried for her future on the show if she keeps singing these "big" songs, as Simon puts it. I like Asia'h's voice because it's sort of different, with a little bit of a raspiness or hoarseness. But that kind of voice doesn't seem like the right kind of voice to sing big, belt it out songs. She totally flubbed that high note last week (maybe it was her being sick, but who knows?), and I just wonder if that could happen again if she keeps shooting for the stars, especially this early in the competition.

Kady Malloy (Who Wants to Live Forever?)--The second contestant of the night to disregard Simon's advice. When Ryan said Kady would be singing Queen, I was hoping it was one of their more fun songs. After all, Simon did urge her to show more of her personality. Instead, she sings a really slow Queen song and doesn't show any particular personality or flair. She sang it OK, but nothing special, and then Kady revealed that she didn't even know what Simon's criticism meant. Oh, well. Kady, he just meant look like you're having some fun on stage, be a little playful and young. But why am I bothering to explain? She's not reading this blog, and she likely won't be singing on Idol again next week.

Amanda Overmyer (Hate Myself for Loving You)--So Amanda's most embarrassing moment wasn't having nude pictures of herself released on the Internet during her appearance on American Idol. What a great country America is! Anyway, this song was right in Amanda's wheelhouse--as a former Nationals baseball announcer used to say--and she hit it a long way. Very well done, but I do wonder how many other songs are in her wheelhouse, and whether everyone will tire of that wheelhouse in a few weeks.

Carly Smithson (Drove All Night)--I've been tough on Carly the last couple weeks, but I really liked her tonight. Voice sounded great, she looked the best she has all competition, and she had this really imposing, kick-ass stage presence that I really liked. She had this look and body language which seemed to say, "If anyone else tries to come on this stage, I'll punch them in the face"--or something like that. As for Simon's comments that this wasn't as good as the Celine Dion version, I don't really know the Celine Dion version. I know the 80s version by Cyndi Lauper. And speaking of Cyndi Lauper, "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" would have been a great song for Kady Malloy to sing tonight. Kady, if you're out there, I'm willing to manage your career.

Kristy Lee Cook (Faithfully)--Kristy did listen to Simon and incorporate a country twang into her performance. It still seemed to surprise Randy, but we didn't need more evidence that Randy barely pays attention. As for Paula and Randy thinking that it could be a hit country record--maybe, but not with Kristy singing it. She wasn't bad, but she wasn't particularly good--it was that dreaded "forgettable." As for Kristy's comment that finishing in the top 10 was "OK with me," that's fine to say when you're eliminated, but don't say that's your ultimate goal. I'd hope you'd want to win.

Ramiele Malubay (Against All Odds)--When I think about top vocalists in recent times, Phil Collins doesn't come to mind. And yet, whenever someone else sings this song--whether it's an Idol contestant or Ann Reinking at the Oscars--they always seem to run into trouble. Actually, Ramiele, after a really rough beginning, finished strong in the more belty second half of the tune. While she should make the final 12, I just don't see her going very far.

Brooke White (Love Is a Battlefield)--Finally one of the women rearranges a song, and it's successful, too. I think Brooke has got to be considered a darkhorse--her voice may not have anywhere near the power of Carly, but she knows what songs to use it on and rarely hits a wrong note. I enjoyed it.

Syesha Mercado (Saving All My Love for You)--They were running out of time, which is why the judges' comments were so curt. Maybe if Paula hadn't spent so much time babbling about yogurt, Syesha wouldn't have been shortchanged.But Simon did sum it up pretty succinctly--"good, but forgettable." Competent, but nothing surprising or special. Interesting, though, that she was in the pimp spot tonight. Do the producers see something in her that I don't?

Who's going home? I think Kady Malloy is an obvious first choice. Second choice could be just about anybody except Brooke and Carly (and maybe Asia'h), but I'll say Kristy Lee Cook. Fingerhut out.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The 80s works on Idol, at least for tonight

Before we get on to the show, I guess I should begin by recapping the Idol "scandals" of this week. The major one is the revelation that David Hernandez was a gay stripper for three years. This begins to explain where he picked up the crazy dancing style that David does whenever possible (the revelation of the final 24, the medley in last week's results show.) I have no idea whether this will hurt him in the competition, but I can't imagine it would help. It seems, though, that Frenchie Davis got a very raw deal--once again, someone who took their clothes off for money is allowed to stay in the competition, even though she did the same thing and was kicked off the show in year two. (Don't get me wrong, I don't think David Hernandez should be kicked off the show, it just doesn't seem fair that the rules changed at some point and no one explained why. Not explaining the reasons for things--wow, that never happens with American Idol producers, does it?)

Then there are alleged "lesbian photos" of Ramiele out there. I saw the apparent photo, and it was the lamest excuse for a lesbian photo I've ever seen. She was touching another woman's fully-clothed breast. Call me underwhelmed, but I think the taped piece a couple years ago on Idol when Kellie Pickler and Katharine McPhee were playing around on a bed together was 100 times more exciting if you're talking about Idol and lesbian stuff. Please, celebrity media, don't insult us with these poor excuses for scandal. Oh, and there are apparently some nude photos of Amanda Overmyer floating around the Internet. I have nothing to say about this because I just don't care enough to look for them. If you have seen them and want to talk about them, please leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Tonight's theme was the 1980s, and it was fun. I believe this is actually the first time there has been a pure 80s theme on the show--as opposed to, for instance, a band like Bon Jovi with a bunch of 80s hits--and it gave us a bunch of new songs to Idol and a little bit of a freshness that had been lacking. It was also helped along by a bunch of pretty good performances.

Luke Menard (Wake Me Up Before You Go Go)--This wasn't one of those good performances. Why is this thoroughly unimpressive singer, who tonight showed off a sort of squeaky, tinny voice, still on my TV? I suppose it's because he's a good looking guy--even as a straight male, I can see that. Now I guess I know how women feel when they have to sit through Haley Scarnato and Kady Malloy. Anyway, Simon's absolutely correct as usual--Luke has no chance to win, he's simply not good enough. And I have no idea what the "great instrument" is that Paula referred to Luke having. It sure isn't his voice. I think we can all use our imaginations.

David Archuleta (Another Day in Paradise)--All I could think of during this performance was the radio version of this song--I believe it was during my sophomore year in college--which spliced, throughout the song, snippets of a President Bush (the first one) speech about the homeless. All of a sudden, in the middle of the song, you'd hear Bush say, in that odd speaking style of his, "I'm talking about the homeless." It was very strange. Anyway, David was fine, but even before Simon said it, I was thinking, "Two slow songs in a row? I hope he does an up-tempo song next week." I thought it was a nice performance and like how he changes enough to make the song his own (although apparently his arrangement of "Imagine" last week was originally done by Eva Cassidy--shades of Chris Daughtry and "Walk the Line," anyone? Actually, it was slightly different because Chris was praised effusively for coming up with an original arrangement by the judges and didn't say anything, where the judges didn't say that in this case and therefore he didn't actually take credit for it.) And I just thought of something--that maybe David doesn't have this thing wrapped up yet. Considering the story he told at his audition about losing his voice for a few months, and his story tonight about losing his voice while singing during a fundrasier, hmmm...

Denise Richards is in the audience in an American Idol semifinal show? Wow, her career must really be hurting. She may be on Celebrity Apprentice by next year.

Danny Noriega (Tainted Love)--I was thinking after the second singer that I wondered if we'd hear a quintessential 80s song like Tainted Love, and, boom, it's the next song. So I was happy with his song choice. Once again, I don't know what Paula was talking about when she says "you've got great vocals." I don't think they're anything special, and while I still find Danny's whole performance and personality compelling and watchable, I don't think he's that good a singer.

David Hernandez (It's All Coming Back to Me Now)--This was solid, if not spectacular. And if you remember this as a 90s song because of Celine Dion, Meatloaf actually recorded it in the 80s-and then, of course, sang it with Katharine McPhee on the season five finale in a performance I really enjoyed--but Meatloaf later said on Howard Stern was terrible because he felt McPhee didn't really get what he was trying to do or something. And I don't want to hear about your boogers, David Hernandez. In Danny Noriega's words, that was TMTH.

Michael Johns (Don't You Forget About Me)--I do think Simon is correct, that Michael hasn't found quite the right song for him (although Bohemian Rhapsody in Hollywood was really good), but I think this was probably his best performance of the semifinals. I liked how he instead of keeping the song low like in the original, he took it up a key as the song went on. And Randy, this song was done by the band Simple Minds. They're not from Australia, and Michael Hutchence is not a member of the band. I suppose it was nice, though, that Michael was polite enough not to correct him on camera.

David Cook (Hello)--That was cool--making a Lionel Richie ballad into a smoldering rocker. This performance was so good, I didn't even think about his bad hair the whole time--or even reminisce about that video with the blind woman. I think David is a darkhorse--he's got a good and distinctive voice and has enough confidence to take some risks.

Jason Castro (Hallelujah)--I remember this song most fondly from the final moments of the season one finale of "The O.C." But that's not relevant here. What is relevant is Jason was quite good--this was certainly his best performance thus far. He showed he could really sing. Can this guy win? Really unlikely, but I wouldn't count him out yet.

Chikeze (All the Woman That I Need)--I had no idea this song was a cover when Whitney did it in 1991, and so was ready to start raise the "flouting the theme" issue until Chikeze mentioned it was first recorded in 1981, and then redone by Sister Sledge (!) the next year. I thought this was OK, but it's a song that provides a lot of opportunities to show off vocally and I don't think Chikeze did enough in that area. But it wasn't bad, and I do hope Chikeze sticks around in the competition because he brings some diversity to the guys in many ways.

Who's going home? I hope Luke Menard is. The other bottom two will probably be Chikeze and Danny, and I think it will be Danny.

Fingerhut out.