Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Idols' Eleven, er, Five

Our top five Idols hit the stage tonight to tackle some of the greatest songs in American music history in this "Rat Pack" themed night. This night brought to mind one of the greatest nights in Idol history, Big Band Night from Season 1 where, for many, Kelly Clarkson made her case that she most definitely should be our FIRST American Idol. Tonight had a similar vibe with all the guys in suits, a big band on the stage, and a lot of really great songs being performed.

I was initially a little put off by the announcement of tonight's mentor, Jamie Foxx. I have to confess that I've always been a bit lukewarm on Jamie Foxx. When he's good, he is GOOD. When he's not, though, he's unbearable. It has felt a lot this season like they've been really reaching for mentors what with Jamie Foxx and Quentin Tarentino. When they mentioned that Jamie had appeared in Dreamgirls with "our own" Jennifer Hudson (Don't you love the revisionist history of Idol where a contestant that was basically treated like a fourth-tier diva during her time on the show is now celebrated like she won the damn show?), it made me wonder why they haven't brought a former Idol back to mentor. Who better to guide these singers through the gauntlet of Idol than someone who has survived it him or herself? Bring in Carrie Underwood for a country-themed week (even though I, as a general rule, hate country-themed weeks). Have Kelly Clarkson guide them through a "Top Download" week. What better way to show that the Idol relationship is a healthy one? Despite this journey into "What If Land," I do have to say that, like Quentin Tarentino a few weeks ago, Jamie Foxx proved himself to be a great mentor, perhaps the best of the season. His classical music training combined with his acting skills allowed him to guide the singers to some of their best performances of the season and created what was, for me, the best evening's worth of performances all season.

Before I get to those five great performances, I do want to give a "oh, come on!" shout-out to Ryan Seacrest who implied that it was popular demand that gave each contestant TWO phone numbers this week. Ryan, this happens every season when we get down to five. It wasn't popular demand that made this happen; it was the elimination of 8 other people. Just had to get that off my chest!

1. Kris Allen: I LOVED it when Jamie Foxx praised Kris for not engaging in "Throat Olympics" when he sings -- a comment on Kris's more mellow, understated vibe. Kris's choice of "The Way You Look Tonight" was not a huge surprise, but I did love the lovely, cool delivery he gave. While most of the comments he received from the judges were complimentary, Simon clearly had taken a sip or two of Paula's "special" Coke when he referred to Kris's performance as "wet." (I could make a really inappropriate comment here about wetness and Kris, but I'll just let that live in your imagination rather than putting it out there to float through the Internet and haunt me for all eternity!) He went on to tell Kris he can't win the competition. I still don't understand how the guy who fits best what's going on in music right now isn't being hoisted up on the judges' shoulders and paraded through the studio like a Greek god. My sis and I were listening to the radio the other day when a Maroon 5 tune came on. My sis turned to me and said, "Yeah, I can hear Kris Allen doing something like this and being a huge star." He is marketable, contemporary, and talented, so cut the kid some slack, Cowell.

2. Allison Iraheta: Allison won me over right away with her choice of "Someone to Watch Over Me." This song has always held a special place in my heart in that it was my father's favorite song. It always makes me a little teary because it reminds me so much of him. When Jamie Foxx suggested that the now-seventeen-year-old Allison think of her family when singing this song rather than an imaginary lover, it kind of got to me since that song always makes me think of my dad watching over me. Poor Allison, though, may be doomed. Mere seconds after Kara predicted Allison would make it to the finals, Simon killed all hope by telling Allison that, since she doesn't seem to believe she can win, she's finished. You know, Simon, the teenaged ego is a pretty fragile thing. For every cocky, arrogant teenager I've worked with, I've worked with even more self-doubting, self-conscious kids who haven't quite got a grip on how smart or talented or beautiful they are. Looking at Allison, I can see a kid who has probably struggled with a lot of self-doubt. She's a kind of awkward kid who isn't conventionally pretty and who has, rather than hiding in her shell of uncertainty, has tried to forge through it by dying her hair and wearing funky clothes. And now here she is on national television being told she has "personality issues" and now a lack of confidence. She can't win! And if the fact that in the 25 minutes I spent hitting redial on Allison's number without getting a single busy signal tonight is any indication, she won't win. And that's a damn shame.

3. Matt Giraud: According to Randy, Matt chose "the hardest song to sing ever" when he chose "My Funny Valentine." Really? The hardest song EVER??? Harder than opera? Seriously, dawg? Well, bravo to Matt. While I didn't think Matt's performance was all that bad (again, I thought all the performances tonight were pretty stellar), I have to say that I am really tired of the runs that Matt feels the need to insert into a song. Just respect the damn melody. Part of the power of these songs is the perfection of their melodies and inserting all those extra notes just diminishes that perfection and comes across as self-indulgent. It kind of reminds me of something my friend Larry (with whom I recently worked onstage in The Sunshine Boys) says about actors who ad lib onstage: "Has your work been produced on Broadway? No? Then leave the play writing to Neil Simon and just say the words he wrote for you." The same is true here -- just sing the notes written for you.
4. Danny Gokey: Danny promised in his video intro that in his version of "Come Rain or Come Shine" he wouldn't be changing much. When has he ever? (Okay, yeah, there was the shenanigans of "Stand By Me" a couple weeks ago.) So he promises this and then comes out and pretty much knocks it out of the ball park. He did put a great spin on the song and while I hated that he felt the need to shout the song to us at the end, I have to admit that he had not only his best performance of the season so far but the best performance of the night. I root for his ouster, but he doesn't deserve it this week. Damn him and his funky glasses!

5. Adam Lambert: Not only does Adam get the pimp spot tonight, he gets the pimp entrance, the pimp lighting, AND the pimp suit. He also got one of my favorite songs in "Feeling Good." I really thought that his performance was a bit of a mess until the very end when he hit a couple really amazing glory notes. Of course, the judges were falling all over themselves to praise him. Even Randy Jackson's labelling of Adam as being "theatrical" became complimentary for the first time in Idol history. Paula compared him to Michael Phelps. It was an Adam love fest, as usual. It's a foregone conclusion (or as Brande on Celebrity Apprentice would say, a "foregoo" conclusion) that Adam is going to win, so let's just leave it at that.

Bottom three: Kris, Allison, and Matt. I think my girl might finally be heading home after Simon's damning her confidence. Oh, well, kiddo. I always worried about all the school and social experience you were missing because of Idol, so I guess now I can take some solace in the fact that maybe you won't miss Prom.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Idol Inferno

Tonight was one of the most feared nights in the Idol repetoire -- the dreaded Disco Night. Historically, this has been a night of epic failure. Disco is so entrenched as a genre, that it can be difficult for singers who weren't even born when the music existed to really connect and make it work as a contemporary genre. Well, that was true until tonight when we witnessed several singers taking traditional disco songs and infusing them with their own flavor, making these very dated songs into potential contemporary hits. Several performers tonight really proved how deep this season is and, were it not for Adam, how difficult pegging a winner would be.

In the interest of time (and to allow all 4 judges to comment on all seven performances), the show dispensed with all the ridiculous "behind-the-scenes" footage (no celebrity mentor this week!) as well as the stupid Ryan-Judges banter and went right into the performances, so let's do the same!

1. Lil Rounds: Okay, everyone, sit down because I have a shocking thing to report . . . Lil picked "I'm Every Woman." I know! Who would have predicted that?? (Please note the high levels of sarcasm here.) In all honesty, it may have been Lil's best performance since she earned her spot in the top 13, but it still wasn't good enough to carry her much further in the competition. It was performed well but sung poorly if that makes any sense. Lil didn't help her cause any either by having a total stank look on her face throughout the pretty harsh judging she received and then she had the nerve to argue that she HAD changed the song up, telling the judges to listen to the original Chaka Khan version. Sweetie, you were doing the Whitney version. I think that Lil has now officially dug that hole so deep that there may be no hope for her.

2. Kris Allen: In a perfect world, Kris would be the frontrunner of the season. His cool-ass performance of "She Works Hard for the Money" was so damn cool I could hardly stand it. I want to download that NOW. It was funky and sexy and hot. This guy has so emerged as a hot, contemporary, viable artist over the course of the past several weeks. He will forever lie in Adam's shadow this season, which is too bad, because I think Kris is the one who may be the most marketable person on the show. Turn on the radio and tell me you can't imagine Kris fitting right in there between John Mayer and Coldplay. Mmm hmmm. I didn't think you could.

3. Danny Gokey: Oh, how I'm tiring of Danny. His choice of "September" by Earth Wind and Fire was honestly kind of a meh choice. It's a great song, but it so benefits from the power of EW&F. Personally, I found it a rather karaoke type of performance. I mean, granted, it was a GOOD karaoke performance, but it was still something I could imagine hearing some drunk working out in a hotel bar somewhere. And despite that, there were the judges sitting and kissing his ass like their approval was mandated rather than a choice. Sigh!!! I'm joining Michael Slezak of Entertainment Weekly in begging America to PLEASE put the "go" in "Gokey." Maybe not this week . . . but soon . . . PLEASE!!

4. Allison Iraheta: I was really worried for Allison this week. Disco week is usually particularly harsh on the "rockers". I wondered how Allison's whiskey-soaked voice would fit with the smoother tones that disco usually employs. Not to worry. Our girl took Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff," slowed it down a little, and rocked that shit out! The lukewarm reception she received was a disappointment because I thought that, outside of Kris, her song was the most contemporary take on a disco song that I heard tonight. Hang in there, kidddo! Simon may have called you an "underdog" tonight, but remember that Underdog kicks ass!! (And how can you be an underdog AND be the "best chance" for your gender . . . something does not compute here, Cowell!)

5. Adam Lambert: Okay, I get it. Adam can do anything. He can rock out on a ballad, he can turn a disco tune into a slow jam. I understand. He's a flipping genius. But could we please, please, please get someone to do something about those damn faces he makes? I could not stand to look at him throughout his performance of "If I Can't Have You" because he is constantly sticking out his tongue and looking ridiculous. Is it just the quality of his voice that keeps him from being dubbed a lounge lizard? Because that is seriously what I see everytime I look at him!

6. Matt Giraud: Oh, Matt, you cheeky little monkey. Last week, you made Idol history by being the recipient (deserved or not is up to you) of the first ever Judge's Save. Yes, Simon and his chipmunks overruled the will of the people and allowed Matt to survive one more week even though he was the lowest vote getter. (No one said Idol was a democracy, folks, and last week proved that!) Personally, I think the Judge's Save was a poor decision from the very beginning. Yes, it may have kept some "shocking eliminations" in the competition back in the day, but would the judges have used it to save Jennifer Hudson? I know I'm not the only one who remembers how dismissive the judges were of our favorite Dreamgirl back in the day. And because the save can only be used prior to the final five, it would not have saved Tamyra Grey, Chris Daughtry, or Melinda Doolittle. Anyway, back to Matt, who celebrated his resurrection by performing (wait for it) "Staying Alive." See what I mean? CHEEKY! It was a pretty cool, funky performance even if the judges were a bit dismissive. Is it enough to keep Matt alive? Maybe if only because he may be cruising on the public goodwill his (and his competitors') genuine, heartfelt reaction to his save may have engendered in the voters.

7. Anoop Desai: Anoop took "Dim All the Lights," slowed it down, and, well, kind of stunk up the joint. I miss the Anoop from the Wild Card -- the kid who came out and kicked out the jams with "My Perogative." Tonight was a night when Anoop could have brought back that seemingly fun loving guy, but instead we get this funeral dirge of a take on a usually hot tune. While it was not as horrific as his "Beat It" from the first week of competition, it was pretty darn awful and may have saved Matt from the chopping block.

Because of the judges' save, two performers will go home tonight. I think that Anoop and Lil are the most deserving to be tearing up as Carrie Underwood sings her ode to "Home Sweet Home." I would suspect that Allison may be in the bottom three if only because of the lukewarm reception her song received and because of the support Matt may have picked up last week. I think Danny is more deserving of sitting on the Silver Stools of Doom than Allison, but for some reason, he's never made that journey across the stage. (Seriously, where are all these Gokey fans? Every Idol fan I talk to hates the guy!!!)

Friday, April 17, 2009

An Artist Is An Artist Is An Artist

As I mentioned earlier this week, I've spent the past week in tech week. I have a very small part in a local community theatre production of Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys. (You can read more about the production here. ) Without a doubt, this has been one of my absolute favorite acting experiences even if I'm only on stage for all of five pages late in the second act.

Rehearsals for this show began while I was still in the midst of rehearsals for the musical I directed at school (I actually auditioned for this play the afternoon that I returned home from State with my speech kids), which I typically avoid doing. I try not to work on concurrent projects because it has the tendency to diffuse my focus. So why did I audition and then actually go so far as to accept the part? Well, I did it for a couple reasons -- a desire for something to do after the musical was over, the opportunity to work with the talent involved in this show (more on that a little later), and a need to keep my acting muscles in shape. I'm a firm believer that, to be a good director, I need to keep in shape as an actor and have that memory of what really goes on onstage. More than once during the rehearsal process of this show, I've been the recipient of speeches very similar to ones I've given my own actors here at the high school -- don't beat yourself up about dropped lines, cheat out, be more likable. The irony is almost delicious, and I suspect my students would find great joy in seeing me be told a lot of the same things I've told them. Being directed makes me a better director.

I've also enjoyed the relief of NOT being the director. I went from being director/designer/producer/mother hen of a spring musical to being JUST an actor. Several other actors in the show are also directors, and the three of us have frequently shared our joy over this freedom from responsibility. When we moved into our performance space earlier this week (and saw our set for the first time), the three of us stood together mumbling over the all the "problems" we saw with the set, things that turned out to be different than what we had rehearsed (doors that opened the opposite way, spaces being a bit smaller than anticipated). For a brief moment, there were three directors standing there griping over all these "errors." Suddenly, we all looked at each other, shrugged, and said, "Oh, well, not out problem" and walked off into the green room to start putting on costumes and make-up.

One of the other things that has made this experience so fruitful and rewarding for me has been the talent I've been able to work with. Besides the director (who is a great friend of mine and was instrumental in helping me become the director I've become as we've enjoyed a five or so year long creative partnership), the cast features two men that would probably shoot me if I called them legendary even though that's a pretty accurate statement. One of them, John, is the man who was my mentor/predecessor here at the high school. I often say that I owe this guy my life. When I was still a pretty young, fresh-faced teacher, he walked into my classroom one morning and said, "Would you be interested in judging at a speech contest for me this weekend?" I spent the next four years by his side, learning the ins and outs of the speech world as well as becoming familiar with the beast of an auditorium that I "inherited" from him. Working with him on this show, seeing him in action, has been a real thrill. There is never a "false" moment from him. Every word, every gesture, every expression is grounded in absolute reality -- even when his character is at his most "fake." He's such an example of making a character a real flesh and blood person onstage, and I strive to achieve such a level of artistry when it's my turn onstage.

Even more thrilling (and surreal) is sharing the stage with the man who was MY director and speech teacher in high school. Larry was one of my high school heroes -- the coolest teacher in school. I once witnessed Larry break up a fight in the halls while still holding a cup of coffee -- a cup of coffee that was forever present in his hand, so much so that I often wondered if it was surgically attached. Over the past several years, we've transitioned rather easily from teacher/student to being colleagues as I've had the chance to work with him in a variety of projects -- being producer to his director, assistant director to his actor, et cetera. But this show is the first time that I've actually had the opportunity to act in the same scene with him. Initially, I was a little nervous about it. I mean, this guy is a powerhouse, and I'm just me! To make it even more awkward and surreal, he has to grab my ass during the scene. There was that moment when the awed 16-year-old girl came out and freaked about the idea of that. Once we got into the rehearsal process, though, it became the most incredible experience ever. Yes, Larry is a powerhouse actor, but he's also the most giving, generous actor I've ever worked with. I feel like there's a real partnership onstage between us. His talent has pushed me to really up my game, so to speak, and really develop a character that can stand on its own. The director the other day complimented me on how my character has developed, saying that she was so funny and tough yet loving at the same time, and I replied, "It's all Larry. I can't imagine this character developing the way she has without him to work opposite." My only regret is that I don't get to spend more time onstage with him because it's just so fun and exhilarating to be engaged in such teamwork. I sense that the others who share the stage with him in this show probably feel the same way. There's this voice in my head every night that chimes in mid-scene, "THIS is what acting is all about, baby."

This brings me to the title of my post which actually connects to a kind of pet peeve of mine. More than once, I've encountered people who dismiss community theatre as if it's something "lesser." Now, I'm not fooling myself into thinking that I or any of my fellow castmates are Broadway bound. This is not a moment of self-delusional grandeur ala Waiting for Guffman. I get frustrated, though, when people turn up their noses at the work of people who do pursue theatre at a community level, as if we're mere hobbyists. To me, community theatre is where theatre is at its most real. These are people who come to theatre for one reason and one reason only -- passion. We LOVE theatre. The people in this show, combined, have devoted close to a century (if you add up the years) of life to local theatre. Some of us have travelled the Midwest to work on shows. We've done Shakespeare, Rogers and Hammerstein, Albee, Miller, Wilder, and more. We've helped instill a passion for theatre in others. We've helped bring theatre to a relatively small community in the Midwest and exposed them to culture and the arts. We take this very seriously. We've given up our time to rehearse, direct, produce, design, and promote theatre. What's the difference between us, then, and the "real" actors/directors/designers/etc. out there? We don't get paid. This isn't a job for us. As Larry once said when we were working on another show together several years ago, "The difference between me and a professional actor is I like to eat." We have day jobs (and fortunately, I found a day job that allows me to still pursue an artistic lifestyle, which is nice in that technically I DO get paid to direct two shows a year), but we then devote our evenings to our art. We don't work with large budgets, which, to me, makes our stage magic all the more impressive; we don't get much in the way of fame and glory, but we do get that release and that satisfaction that comes from flourishing creativity. If that's not REAL art, then I don't know what is.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Inglorious Idols

Ginger-philes, here is an example of my devotion to you and this blog. This week is tech week for the play that I'm in. (Have I mentioned that I'm in a play? It's a small part -- on for about five pages -- in The Sunshine Boys, but tech week stress is still tech week stress no matter how small your part!) I was at the theatre last night until 9:30, but I still came home, collapsed into my chair, pulled out my legal pad and pencil (Yeah, I take notes during Idol. Wanna make something of it??), and queued up the DVR to watch last night's Idol. Last night's theme was "Songs From Movies," which can often encompass just about anything. The judge was Quentin Tarantino. My first thought was, "WTF? Since when is Quentin Tarantino a vocal expert?" While I most definitely remember his appearance as a guest judge during season three, last night initially seemed more like an opportunity to promote Tarantino's upcoming movie Inglorious Basterds (so excited to see it, thank you very much) rather than provide any real assistance to the contestants. I have to say, though, that QT proved himself to be pretty thoughtful in his advice, and I liked that a lot of his advice dealt with tapping into the emotional intensity of a song. As a director, I totally got where he was coming from. Too bad the judges didn't often seem to be.

Because of last week's overrun, the post-performance critiques were limited to just two judges per person, with each contestant hearing from either Kara and Randy or Paula and Simon. While I appreciated the brevity of commentary, I thought everyone onstage last night could have used a little truth talking from Mr. Cowell. I would have loved to have heard his thoughts on Kris's "Falling Slowly." Oh, well. I'll talk more about the judges later.

1. Allison Iraheta: My favorite contestant was up last night, again doing a song I've never been particularly fond of -- Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" from Armageddon. It was a good choice for her, though, even though I found her performance a little breathy and thought her nerves were palpable. Something amazing happened last night, though. Simon rejected the story arc the producers have been shoving on us all season by announcing that Allison was "the women's best hope" and had a shot to make it to the finals. The look of shock on her face was nearly as stunned as the look of shock on my face when he said it. In one week, Allison went from having a "likability issue" to being a frontrunner. Rock on, Wonder Girl!!!!

2. Anoop Desai: Again, a song I have never really liked -- Bryan Adams's "Everything I Do (I Do For You)" from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Sigh. Anoop's version of the song was actually quite lovely, but I was distracted by the shimmering sweat that hovered on his upper lip during the performance. I guess I'm no better than the judges, but it really was distracting!! I think Anoop is the one, though, with a likability issue, which explains why he keeps landing in the bottom three even though he probably does have one of the strongest voices in the competition. At times, I think Anoop comes off a little arrogant, and I often wonder how much his lack of votes is connected to his ethnicity. Our love of Slumdog Millionaire is not translating to votes for the brown one.

3. Adam Lambert: Adam never fails to not surprise me. He tends to go one of two ways -- soft and emo-ish (kind of a later Depeche Mode feel like we saw with "Mad World") or hardrocking and shrieking. Last night, he chose "Born to be Wild" from Easy Rider. In his meeting with Tarantino, he talked about adding an "electronic element" to the song, a comment which elicited a Bitch, please!" from me. I will give Adam this, though. Thanks to his musical theatre training, his lyrics are always 100% understandable. I heard words in that song last night that I never knew were there. I tried an experiment last night with Adam's performance. For the first half of the song, I didn't look at the television at all, and the performance was hot. I would dig that if I heard it on the radio. Unfortunately, I DID look at the screen for the second half and what I saw was a really self indulgent, borderline ridiculous spectacle. I felt like I was watching American Idol: The Musical. My sis commented last night that the best thing that could happen to Adam would be to NOT win and then spend his career rocking out on Broadway, ala Constantine Maroulis who is currently starring in Rock of Ages. Adam's performance did lead to the best quote of the night from Ms. Paula Abdul: "You dare to dance in the path of greatness." Welcome back, Paula. I've missed your zany, whacked out comments.

4. Matt Giraud: Yet another song which I've never really liked -- "Have You Ever Loved a Women?" by (again) Bryan Adams from the underrated Johnny Depp classic Don Juan DeMarco. Matt's energy seemed a little off, leading me to wonder if he was maybe under the weather, and he hit some wonky and scratchy notes throughout the song. I did love the ending of the song, though -- and not just because it was over. He hit a really lovely note there that both my sis (who has decades of vocal training) and I both commented on. I think Matt, though, suffers from the same likability issue that plagues Anoop in that he often seems arrogant and petulant when being critiqued. I suspect he is one of the more vulnerable contestants at this point when you combine that perceived attitude with the lukewarm responses he receives from judges.

5. Danny Gokey: Well, at least Danny sang a song I've always kind of liked, "Endless Love." Unlike Simon, I liked the presence of the harp onstage, but I'm always a fan of bringing more classical instrumentation into pop music. I thought Danny managed to keep his shouty tendencies under control a bit more, although it did pop up at the end. I also give Danny props in that he clearly chose a song that, for him, was all about his dead wife BUT he didn't milk that by making any mention of it other than the heaven-wards glance at the end -- a glance which had me near tears. The cynics out there will accuse him of fakery and manipulation, I'm sure, but the idealist in me thought it was a sincere, lovely moment. But then, I cried at the end of The Mighty Ducks, so what do I know?

6. Kris Allen: First off, props to Kris for picking the relatively unknown "Falling Slowly" from Once. It was a cool choice in many ways and proved a nice showcase for Kris's mellow vibe. The song also really exposed Randy Jackson's ignorance to me. Because Kris wasn't up there screaming and stomping and running up and down the melody, the song "didn't work for him." But you know what, of all the performances last night, this was the only one I would consider buying. So there, Mr. Stupid Head! I'm telling you, it's Randy that's becoming the increasingly most irrelevant member of that judging panel. It's time to send him on a new journey -- back home.

7. Lil Rounds: Before her performance, my sis and I were sure Lil was going to pull out one of the great diva chestnuts like "And I Am Telling You" or "I Will Always Love You" -- songs clearly much too powerful for Lil's diminishing instrument. So her choice of "The Rose" was a surprise and we thought, perhaps, a pleasant one. I did like that she tried to instill some gospel into the song, but overall, something was just missing for me. And clearly, I wasn't alone. Paula rambled some nonsense that I don't remember outside of the note I wrote: "Paula = high!" My sis pointed out that Paula's critique did not include one mention of the actual singing. Simon continued to level criticism about Lil's choices. And here's where Ms. Rounds perhaps dug her own grave -- it seemed as though she became very defensive and fought back, which okay, good for her, but history shows that "voters" don't tend to like that sort of sassiness. WE can boo Simon, but the contestants can't! I say "seemed", though, because my DVR cut off just as Lil was starting her rebuttal, so I don't know exactly what was said. The beginning seemed a bit defensive and snotty, and I'm sorry I didn't get to hear Simon's response, if any. We'll see tonight if Lil's moxie paid off. My money, though, says, "No."

Bottom three tonight: Anoop, Matt, and Lil. Any of those three could be the ones packing their bags, but I think that her defensiveness and Simon's dismissal of her when he suddenly took up Allison's cause may be enough to send Lil back to the hotel.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

Happy Easter, everyone. Check out the newest video I've embedded below. It's an SNL skit that made my sis and I nearly roll on the floor with laughter this morning.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Shenanigans to the Nth Degree

Last night was "Songs From the Year You Were Born Night" on American Idol (aka "Let's Make Mel Feel Old Night", and we were "treated" to a bevy of songs from the 80s (and one from the 90s -- thanks, Allison, for driving that nail all the way to my very soul!!) as the top 8 performed. In general, I was pretty underwhelmed with last night's show. Maybe I was just tired from rehearsal or maybe I was just missing a certain blackbird who cawed her way off into the sunset last week. (Not that I was a Megan fan, but you have to admit she added a high level of hilarity to the show over the course of the past couple weeks. Damn those washing machine arms of hers!!)

I was happy to see the show dispense with the snooty introduction of the judges but was enormously unsettled to see the stonefaced bald man sitting in the front row -- not clapping, not cheering, just glaring at the stage with what can only be outright contempt. I seriously kept watching thinking/fearing/hoping this guy was going to run onstage and attack an Idol (please let it be Adam, please let it be Adam). No mention was made of this man -- also kind of weird. My concern for the safety of the Idols (except Adam) at the hands of this man kept me from perhaps properly enjoying the display of baby pictures. No, wait, that was my good taste that kept me from enjoying that. Who cares what they looked like? Just get to the damn music!!

1. Danny Gokey: Okay, I start off tonight by calling shenanigans! After an introductory video where we were treated to the information that Danny's parents think he can sing (DUH! I bet Helen Keller's parents thought she was a gifted vocalist, too!), Ryan informed us that Danny would be performing Mickey Gilley's version of "Stand By Me." That's a COVER of a song that was originally recorded in 1961. Danny was not born in 1961. Now, you could argue that the cover by Gilley was released in 1981 and that makes it fair game, but it still seems like cheating to me to pick a classic that is really from another era altogether. I add an additional "shenanigans" to my cry by pointing out that Mickey Gilley is, last time I checked, a country singer, so I would assume that his cover would be a countrified version of the Ben E. King classic. So it would be safe, then, to assume that Danny would be doing a similar take on the song, right? WRONG. Danny comes out and gives us a re-invented version of the song that, while actually quite nice, again makes me feel like he's totally skirting around the rules to his own advantage. There was honestly no other song from 1981 that could have worked for him? This is the same year that John Lennon's Double Fantasy came out -- "Woman"? "Watching the Wheels"? "Starting Over"? Journey's "Who's Crying Now"? "Jessie's Girl"? None of those would work for you, Danny? Well, then, just do whatever you want, dude.

2. Kris Allen: Now, I want to point out that when Danny took Mickey Gilley's version of "Stand by Me" and completely re-invented it to suit his needs, the judges went crazy over it and babbled about his "artistry" and crap like that. Not even 10 minutes later, Kris Allen comes out and does this really cool, funkified version of "All She Wants to Do Is Dance" by Don Henley. It was pretty darn cool and kinda sexy and really added a nice, fresh spin to the song (which I've never really liked all that much). And what do they tell Kris? Do they applaud him for making the song his own? Do they go crazy for his artistry? No. He's told that it sounded like a homework assignment for "funk" class. (And what college offers a "funk" class and why did I not go there??!?!?) Oh, friends, it gets better because after Kara dropped that little chestnut on Kris, Randy "I'm So Useless It Makes Mel Sick" Jackson tells Kris, and I quote, "when the original is so great, don't change the arrangement." At this point, my jaw hit the floor at the same time that my ire hit the roof. How many times have we heard them tell performers to "make it your own." Did anyone tell this to David Cook or Blake Lewis or DANNY GOKEY TEN MINUTES BEFORE? I would argue that "Billie Jean" or "Stand by Me" are significantly greater songs than "All She Wants to Do Is Dance." (Maybe not so much with "You Give Love a Bad Name" or whatever song it was Blake Lewis "beatboxed" up two seasons ago.) So why is Don Henley's song suddenly so untouchable? Oh, yeah, because Kris is messing up the story arc and the predicted "Danny-Adam" finale. Can't let that happen! So let's beat this guy down with ridiculous comments like that -- and then spent the rest of the night criticizing the performers who do "copycat" performances and celebrating the ones who "make it their own." SHENANIGANS!!!

3. Lil Rounds: Here's the thing about Lil -- I like her. She seems like a good person who's been through a lot. Here's the OTHER thing about Lil -- she's not a strong singer. While her choice of "What's Love Got to Do With It" was probably a decent choice for her, her performance was just not good. She was called on the carpet for being a bit too like Tina -- in other words, for not making the song her own. And yet Kris . . . oh, don't get me started again. I would like to take this opportunity to, instead of railing yet again against the hypocrisy of the judges, to address the following to one person -- Ms. Paula Abdul. (clearing of the throat) Paula, first off, let me just say that I love you and am so proud of the journey YOU'VE been taking this season, giving more thoughtful and intelligent critiques than ever before. Brava! Unfortunately, I have to take exception with your comment to Ms. Rounds last night where you referred to the pitch-challenged diva as "brilliant." Paula, Paula, Paula . . . let's not go there, honey. Lil is far from brilliant -- FAR FROM IT. It's time for you to spit out that Kool-Aid that the producers are pouring into your Coca-Cola cup each night and reject the story arc they're forcing down your throat and our throat. You know where the talent lies in this competition -- and it's not with Lil.

Now back to your regularly scheduled post . . .

4. Anoop Desai: When Ryan teased us with the information going into commercial that Anoop would be performing "True Colors," I literally said aloud, "Aw, Jesus!" I hate "True Colors" almost as much as "Don't Speak." (This part here is just for Danielle, so if you're not Danielle, you can skip ahead . . . or not . . . no big whoop. Danielle, do you remember our freshman year at Knox when we watched some special -- was it a salute to Sammy Davis Jr? -- where Goldie Hawn sang that song and we nearly peed our pants with laughter?) I will say that Anoop's version of this treacle was quite lovely, but (you know I'm going to say it) SHENANIGANS! Because guess what? Anoop was praised for, according to Simon, "taking a song and making it your own, making it original." This was the point in the show where I suspected I might be having a stroke.

5. Scott McIntyre: Wow. Scott plays (or at least convincingly holds) guitar! He opted to do Survivor's "The Search Is Over" which was one of my favorite songs my freshman year of high school. Oh, shit . . .Scott McIntyre as born when I was a FRESHMAN IN HIGH SCHOOL. I feel a little sick. His performance was a bit of a train wreck -- very pitchy and what we would call in the speech biz "a bad cutting." I don't know how much longer America can continue to let this guy stick around. I admire his tenacity and his courage and the rainbows that apparently shoot out of his sightless eyeballs whenever he takes the stage. But at some point, our enabling becomes just cruel.

6. Allison Iraheta: Allison made a smart, smart choice in Bonnie Raitt's heartbreakingly perfect "I Can't Make You Love Me." The song allowed her to show a softer side while still retaining that rocker edge that I adore. Why she keeps landing in the Bottom 3 baffles me . . . until I think about her critiques? Like when her tolerable (which is saying a lot for me) version of "Don't Speak" is turned into an episode of What Not to Wear by the judges. Or last night when her beautiful performance becomes the latest entry in Simon's thesis, "Why Doesn't America Like You?" You know, I don't know that likability was really an issue with Allison until Simon pointed it out. This is a cute, spunky kid who rocks your socks off every damn week, and you're telling her she is lacking in personality. Simon, I thought I could trust you. Don't you remember how this same kind of critique destroyed the chances of Latoya London? I do! (I will also point out that Allison was praised for making the song her own, but since I love her, I'll let it slide.)

7. Matt Giraud: Matt has been whipped back into shape and is back on the soul train as dictated to him by the judges. When I heard the announcement that he was doing Stevie Wonder's "Part-Time Lover," though, my initial response was, "Oh, because it worked so well for Kevin Covais! " I really liked his blues-y take on the song and how he (clearing my throat in a super obnoxious way) MADE IT HIS OWN! Everybody say it with me . . . . SHENANIGANS!

8. Adam Lambert: Now here's this week's riddle for you all . . . when is the pimp spot not the pimp spot? When the show is running a good 5+ minutes behind and your pimp spot performance is not even seen by the millions of people who watch the show via TiVo or DVR. That wail you heard last night about 10:15 central time was me realizing that my DVR had NOT recorded Adam Lambert's performance. Since I don't DVR Fringe, I was at a lost. Well, fear not, loyal Ginger-philes, I managed this morning to hit YouTube and tracked down Adam's performance of Tears for Fears's "Mad World." He was introduced by a video that talked about Adam's childhood penchant for dress-up -- something which clearly followed him into adulthood considering he spends every week dressing up as a rock star. (Yeah, I had to go there. I can't help it.) Personal loathing aside, I will say that I liked Adam's performance, which was stripped down and built beautifully. Adam is a masterful player of dynamics and shows a lot of control. And maybe that brings me to one of my real issues with Adam -- I think he's too good for this show. And, of course, the fact that I kind of resent that his coronation has already taken place, forcing the judges to give out ridiculous critiques to Kris and Allison to keep them from messing up the plans. Kris makes a song his own and is lambasted for it. Adam does it and gets a standing freakin' ovation FROM SIMON.


My prediction for tonight's bottom three is Scott, Lil, and Anoop (because I just can't bring myself to admit that it could be either Kris or Allison) with Scott being the one to head home.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Light Extinguished

Have you ever found out that someone you knew decades ago -- a childhood friend, neighbor, co-worker -- has passed away? Even though you maybe haven't seen that friend in years, decades even, you are seized by grief. Somehow, the world was a better place just knowing that person was out there, even if he/she was no longer a fixture of your life. Somehow, there was the feeling that your story with that person might not be over and you might find your way back into each other's lives, but now, you realize, it's too late.

I had that sensation yesterday when it hit the news that CBS has announced the cancellation of Guiding Light.

Go ahead -- roll your eyes. Bemoan the fact that I'm comparing the cancellation of a soap opera to the death of a human being. But I suspect that there is more than one of you out there who shares my grief and understands exactly where I'm coming from.

I grew up with Guiding Light. My mom was a stay-at-home mom until I was in middle school, and many summer afternoons were spent watching the goings-on in Springfield with either Mom or my grandmother, for whom her "stories" were practically a religion. While I watched most of those CBS soaps with Mom and Grandma, GL was always my favorite. I KNEW these people on the screen like they were family. I rejoiced in their celebrations and mourned their losses. I learned a lot watching Guiding Light. I learned about adoption watching Alan and Elizabeth Spaulding adopt Phillip, who was really the son of Justin and Jackie Marler. I learned about alcoholism watching young Tim (played by Kevin Bacon) battle the bottle. I learned what rape was when Roger raped his wife, Holly, and later when Beth Raines was attacked by her horrible stepfather Bradley. Granted, some of the things I learned from GL were probably of questionable appropriateness for a young child, but I still learned. GL created lasting, lifelong memories. To this day, I cannot hear the song "You Needed Me" by Anne Murray without thinking of the romance of Kelly and Morgan. I dreamed for the kind of romantic adventures and capers of Quint and Nola. I can remember summer days riveted to the screen to see if Phillip and Beth would end up together or if they would instead choose Mindy and Rick respectively. (I never understood why girls weren't falling all over Rick rather than Phillip -- Rick was so cute with that grin and that curly hair!!)

Like many childhood soap watchers, I drifted away from GL. I had flirtations with ABC soaps (the soaps all my friends watched in high school) and Days of Our Lives (another high school/college chum). I probably watched GL last right after I graduated from college when I returned to the show in a short of fitful nostalgia as I stood poised for my new life to begin. Every now and then, I would see a headline on a soap magazine in the checkout line and shake my head with a smile, thinking, "Oh, Reva, still up to your usual hijinks!" It was nice knowing GL and the denizens of Springfield were still there waiting for me if I ever needed them.

On September 18, GL will gasp its last, and I've already made a decision to be there (at least via DVR) when it happens. It's the least I can do for an old friend who was there for me for so many years.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Naughty Number Nine

Number Nine will put you on the spot.
Number Nine will tie you up, oh, in a knot.
When you're tryin'
Multiplyin' by nine,
You might give it everything you've got
And still be stopped.

Somehow, this little ditty from Schoolhouse Rock came to my mind last night as I watched what was, for the most part, a pretty abyssmal episode of American Idol. We started off with a ridiculously vague theme -- top downloads from itunes . . . top how many? The top downloads covers potentially decades of music. While I'm sure the intention was to have the contestants choose modern music (and ideally present a picture of what kind of artist they intend to be), I suspect it kind of backfired on them as all but three of them picked songs at least a decade old -- and some even older. While a couple put a nice, fresh twist on these older gems, several did flounder in the arena of karaoke/wedding singer material.

While the judges kept a lot of their hijinks to a minimum (I'm looking at you, Abdul and Cowell!), their comments were often a bit odd at times -- if only because I wondered if they were watching the same performances I was watching.

So let's get down to business . . . .

1. Anoop Desai: Anoop's choice of Usher's "Caught Up" was not an overly surprising choice, but it was also not an overly wise choice. This song didn't really give Anoop the opportunity to show off much of anything other than an icky sneer and some pitch issues. The song had the potential to really kick off the night with a lot of energy, but it just didn't work here. Plus, there's just no ignoring the fact that Anoop is no Usher in any fashion. It was a pretty "meh" performance, and I think it could land Anoop in the bottom 3 tonight.

2. Megan Joy: Oh, Megan . . . you dear, sweet, ridiculous little girl. Bob Marley's "Turn Your Lights Down Low" -- not a good choice, sweetie. I love that you tried to keep those crazy arms of yours under control (with a modicum of success). I also think I hate her voice, which is weird because I am a fan of those neo-soul songstresses like Joss Stone, Adele, et al, but to me, Megan's voice often seems like it is a put-on. I think Megan is most likely going to join Anoop in the bottom 3 and MAY be the one to head home tonight.

3. Danny Gokey: I was a little put off when Danny, announcing his choice of "What Hurts the Most", declared that "everybody likes" Rascal Flatts. Um, not Mel!! I will admit that I sort of enjoyed Danny's performance, but at that point, the bar had been set so low that Danny could have gotten away with just about anything and seemed "good." I did come to a realization, though, that Danny may be a bit of a douche. I don't think he's as good as he thinks he is (or as good as the producers want me to think he is). He's a solid mid-pack performer -- think RJ Helton or Josh Gracin. I wonder how marketable Danny really is (especially considering the presence of far more marketable performers this season), and I ultimately just don't think he's going to still be standing by the time the finale rolls around -- again particularly since there are at least two others more deserving of taking on Adam. I also wondered last night how Danny affords all those snazzy glasses on a choir director's salary. He must live near an awesome America's Best!

Also, is one of the members of Danny's family/posse a drag queen? Seriously, go back and re-watch his performance and check out that hot mess in the middle who apparently just went to Wal-Mart and rolled her face in the entire Maybelline aisle!

4. Allison Iraheta: My beloved Allison started off on the wrong foot for me this week when she announced she would be performing what may be my least favorite song of all time -- "Don't Speak" by No Doubt. Seriously, I LOATHE that song. (My sis wasn't able to watch last night's episode with me, but before she did sit down to watch it herself on DVR, I gave her a brief lowdown on the episode and said, "And stupid Allison did the song I hate the most, the song I have railed against for years," and Julie's response was, "What did she do -- 'Don't Speak'?" That's how infamous my hatred of that song is!) To top it off, she came out lookin as if she had literally been put through a blender -- that hair! that outfit! Oh, sweetie! NO! I will have to say that, hatred of the song aside, Allison did a respectable job. I loved that she played the guitar, I loved that she didn't let the song go to that same whiny place Gwen Stefani does, and I even loved that she flubbed the lyrics ever-so-slightly. I was a little annoyed that the judges focused more on Allison's abyssmal attire than her actual performance, and I worry that she may be the third unlucky leg of the bottom three tonight if only because this performance lacked the water cooler buzz appeal of her performance last week. I personally made about a dozen calls on her behalf last night, so fingers crossed our little spitfire stays in the competition. She is one of the people that I think is a more worthy candidate to take on Adam in the finale, and I'd hate to see her go home before significantly less talented foes.

5. Scott McIntyre: Quelle surprise! Scott chose not only to do a Billy Joel song but he chose to do "Just the Way You Are." SHOCKER!! Initially, I was put off by Scott's choice. I didn't mind the Billy Joel choice (anyone who knows me knows that I love me some Billy Joel -- he rivals Barry Manillow for the title of "King of My Cheese-Loving Soul!"); I just thought it might have been wiser to pick one of the Piano Man's less overdone and, well, cheesy choices. What about something like "Big Shot" or "Matter of Trust"? Scott's choice, however, to strip the song down to just him and his piano was wise and really a great reminder of the beauty of this song. While his performance wasn't pitch perfect and his voice lacks the grit and soul of Billy's, I would agree with the judges that it was his best performance to date -- but is that really saying much? This performance may keep Scott out of the bottom 3, but I just can't help but feel his time on Idol is (and should be) numbered.

6. Matt Giraud: I may be in the minority, but I thought placing Matt and his keyboard in the midst of the mosh pit was kind of cool, if a bit Jonas-y. I was, though, in the majority in thinking that Matt's choice of "You Found Me" by the Fray to be a really poor choice. It was, however, a particularly telling choice. Over and over, Matt has been "told" (read: commanded) that he is a bluesy, Robin Thicke-esque artist. I think it's clear that Matt does not want to be that. He wants to be Chris Martin. The problem is that Matt's voice just isn't as suited to those rock numbers as well as it is to the bluesy songs the judges want him to pick. Last night's song was kind of a mess. And maybe part of that was my utter lack of familiarity with it, but it just didn't work for me. I felt Matt's frustration, though, as the judges continually read him the riot act about his song choice and kept trying to make him into the new Justin Timberlake -- the not-at-all subtle subtext of their critique was, "BE WHAT WE WANT YOU TO BE!" If enough people voted for Megan or Anoop (and if my repeated calling for Allison made a difference), Matt could be returning to the Stools of Shame tonight if only for the sort of petulant attitude he displayed both last night and last week when he found out he was in the bottom 3. For someone who is only there by the grace of the Fab Four (judges), he seems to display an awful sense of entitlement.

7. Lil Rounds: Speaking of an awful sense of entitlement, that brings us to Lil. While her choice of Celine Dion's "I Surrender" might seem brave to some, to me, it smacked of arrogance. Here's the thing: I'm beginning to think that Lil is not as good as the producers want us to believe she is. I think back to the great divas who have graced the Idol stage over the past several years -- Tamyra Grey, Kimberley Locke, Trenyce, LaToya London, Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia, Vonzell Solomon, Melinda Doolittle. Lil can't hold a candle to any of those women. She really can't. She has been mightily pimped by the producers, but there's just no ignoring the fact that Lil has turned in at least three disappointing performances in a row -- and a cute kid hugging Randy isn't going to distract us from that much longer.

8. Adam Lambert: Okay, Adam, you had me last week. Your stripped down "Tears of a Clown" was gorgeous. You cut the histrionics and the showboating and just performed a simple, lovely song in a simple, lovely manner. And then you came back this week and pulled out "Play That Funky Music" and were back to that ridiculous screaming, caterwauling nightmare who haunts my Idol dreams. Beside the fact that I SWEAR I saw him grab some peen during his performance, I just was not on board the genius train. I hate the screaming and the tongue stuff. I suspect Adam is probably a decent guy (the shout out to Ricky Minor and the band was classy), I just can't get past the fact that I finish his performances always conscious of the fact that I've witnessed a PERFORMANCE. Every second of his time on stage seems scripted and manufactured. He may be a lock for the finale (and there's no denying the guy's voice is amazing), but I still have some real problems with the winner being someone who has been so totally manufactured to win. To me, Idol is about discovering diamonds in the rough, finding people that may have been overlooked by the industry, and coming to that realization that, hey, this kid has talent. Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia, Carrie Underwood -- would the recording industry have given them a second look without the Idol stage as a backup? The magic of those people is seeing THEM realize that they have star potential right along with us, that feeling of "I can't believe this is happening to me" that they all seemed to have. It's not as powerful when the performer walks onstage knowing he is destined for stardom. Wouldn't it be so much more gratifying to see someone like Allison Iraheta or Kris Allen singing the schmaltzy victory song and seeing that look of genuine shock, joy, and emotion rather than Adam's carefully choreographed one? I'm just saying . . . .

9. Kris Allen: A couple weeks back, I really goofed up. I predicted that Kris would fade into obscurity after getting next-to-no airtime leading up to the semifinals. His inclusion in the top 13 was, to me, a testament to his cuteness rather than his talent. I am here to say that I stand 100% corrected. This guy is the bomb! His performance last night of "Ain't No Sunshine" (a song I LOVE) was absolutely amazing. He is one of those performers who manages each week to put his own spin on a song while still respecting the integrity of the song (cough -- Adam -- cough!). His performance is always about the song rather than the singer. (COUGH- Adam -COUGH!) I loved the arrangement of his song last night. When the strings came in, I was a goner! (I am a sucker for strings in pop music). I think this guy is the real deal and, along with Allison, remains truest to the real heart and soul of this show. In a perfect world, we would have a Kris-Allison finale, but with the juggernaut that is Adam gobbling his way through the competition, we may have to settle for their appearance in the top 3 -- as long as the producers stop standing in the way and shoving their beloved Lil and Danny down our throats.

My feeling is that it's either Anoop or Megan on their way home tonight with Matt or Allison rounding out the bottom 3.