Saturday, May 30, 2009

Summer Ennui

I have a sort of love-hate relationship with this time of year. Early summer is filled with a sort of ennui for me as I wait for the school year to end and figure out what direction my summer will take.

It probably doesn't help that the past several weeks have been filled with a lot of grief and stress. I'm finding it difficult to begin the process of living a life without my mom in it. On an almost daily basis, I think to myself that I want to call Mom for help or advice or just to tell her some funny little something -- and then I remember that I can't and the grief of losing her becomes fresh all over again.

Perhaps if there were some good distractions to take my mind off it all. Work has slowed down to the point of almost nothingness as my students spend their time in my classes working on final projects with little to no actual "teaching" going on. My classroom time has been spent trying to get my classroom organized for next fall -- purging unused files, organizing books, etc. It occupies time but doesn't offer the challenges that actually teaching does.

I get home and the ennui becomes worse. There's precious little on television to help pass the time. I've been reading, which helps, but it makes conversation with my sis a bit more challenging than I'd like.

I know that eventually the summer will really kick into gear (Phish is just weeks away) and I'll have precious little time to be bored, but for right now . . . . .

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Do You Believe in Miracles?

Well, well, well . . . what do you know? Miracles DO happen. Well played, Idol.

Last night's season finale of American Idol delivered just about everything we have come to expect from the show -- some painful group numbers, goofy tributes to some of the more memorable (but less talented) auditioners, surprise musical superstars. Yes, it was a typical Idol finale all leading up to the moment when Adam Lambert was to be crowned the new American Idol and tearfully sing his victory anthem as fireworks light up the Nokia Theatre sky. Except that's not quite how it played out. Instead, there was Kris Allen (KRIS ALLEN) standing there with this dazed "I can't believe it's happening to me" look as the fireworks erupted and the confetti fell. Back in January and February, who would have predicted a finale like this. Kris Allen received little to no airtime prior to the semifinals. Before the season had even started, names like Adam Lambert, Lil Rounds, Danny Gokey, Ricky Braddy, and Joanna Pacitti were all anyone could talk about. By the semifinals, the judges were all but guaranteeing us a Gokey-Lambert-Rounds final three. Throughout the entire competition, Adam Lambert stood there each week like Julius Ceasar repeatedly being offered the crown and politely demurring. Hell, even Kris Allen wanted to give the damn thing to him, telling Ryan moments after the announcement that he had won that "Adam deserves this." I seriously thought we were going to have a Ving Rhames moment on our hands here.

Last night's finale was such a delightful surprise. I've had a real love-hate relationship with Adam Lambert this season. I thought he represented everything Idol was NOT supposed to be in that he was TOO talented, TOO polished, TOO good to be the winner. Eventually, once I stopped LOOKING at him when he sang, I came to appreciate his talent and creativity but I still kind of rooted against him if only because I suspect his career can be even more successful without the Idol chains wrapped around his ankles. Plus, like apparently most Americans, I like a good underdog story and man, that is so what we got last night. Bravo, Idol, and bravo, America for giving us such a shocker finale that it literally made me gasp aloud. (But because I am still a bad sport at heart, wouldn't it have been so much cooler if it had been Allison there instead?)

As with all things Idol, last night had its highlights and its most definite lowlights. I want to touch on a couple of those moments before I officially wrap up my Idol ramblings for this season. (Don't worry -- I'll still find other stuff to ramble about here on the Ginger Files. It will now, however, be So You Think You Can Dance like my sis is trying to convince me! That screaming, overly tan woman in the commercials makes me sick to my stomach everytime I see her! Give me Carrie Ann any day!!)

1. Allison and Cyndi Lauper sing "Time After Time" : Cyndi Lauper kind of makes me sad, and here's why. When I was a kid, the airwaves were dominated by two women -- Cyndi and Madonna. They seemed poised to dominate the airwaves forever. And then Cyndi kind of disappeared. I think she was kind of done in by her own schtick. While Madonna was able to transform herself again and again to keep up with shifting trends, Cyndi seemed forever mired in that image of the goofball in the weird clothes with the weird hair getting in the face of Captain Lou Albano. The sad part of that is that Cyndi was clearly the more talented of the two, which she has proven over and over again for the past decades -- including last night. She and Allison performed a beautiful, stripped down version of the song that is probably Cyndi's masterpiece. It was lovely, haunting, and once again proved the underappreciated genius of Cyndi -- and the underappreciated talent of Allison.

2. KISS: Seriously, how surreal was that moment when KISS appeared onstage with Adam? KISS . . . on < . . . . seriously!

3. The Golden Idols: This segment can often be a bit, well, horrible, but I have to say that it was nice to see the return of "favorites" like Norman Gentle, Tatiana, and even Bikini Girl. Each did a nice job poking fun at the personas they developed on the show (Tatiana's "pursuit" by security was actually really funny) as they kissed goodbye to the 60th second of their 15th minute of fame. Plus, as Randy would say, "Dawg, Kara can sing!"

Honorable mention goes to the look of disgust on Steve Martin's face when Megan Joy opened her mouth to sing.

1. "So What":
The opening group number, featuring all 13 finalists, was a kind of painful reminder of the weak links we lived through this season. I had seriously forgotten Jorge Nunez, Jasmine Murray, and Michael Sarver even existed! As the number of finalists dwindled down, the group numbers became slightly stronger each week, so it felt like a major backslide to hear them all, well, murder a song I quite enjoy.

2. Where was the love for Scott?: Just about every finalist got a chance to sing with a guest star or got a featured solo in a group number -- except for Scott. WTF? I know that Scott finished relatively low -- but he outlasted Megan Joy, Michael Sarver, Alexis Grace, and Jorge Nunez, all of whom got at least a moment of glory. Scott is a talented young man and deserved more than just being the awkward blind guy waving his arms in the back row of the group numbers.

3. Where were the Idols?: Yes, David Cook performed (and man, I choked up pretty seriously during that lovely tribute to his brother), but other previous Idols were relegated to the audience? My sister pointed out what a golden opportunity the show had during the group performance with Queen of "We Are the Champions." How could would it have been to have Kris and Adam backed up not just by their fellow members of the final 13 but to have them backed up by a chorus of former Idols -- Kelly, Ruben, Fantasia, Carrie, Taylor, Jordin, and David? I guess the argument could be made that former Idols are stars and DON'T sing back up, but what a tremendous moment to have all of the former winners onstage with their future "brother." They brought many former Idols back during the season (did Fantasia ever appear -- am I just forgetting that??), so why not last night? Poor Carrie looked lovely sitting in the audience -- with nothing to do. What better reminder of the power of this show than to put particularly their most successful Idols onstage? Ah, well . . . . .

Overall, it's been a fun season. I'm interested to see what the future holds for both Adam and Kris, and I hope that my assertion from Tuesday proves true and that Adam is able to parlay his "loss" into a major career free of the tyranny of 19 Entertainment. And I can't wait to buy Kris's first CD; I'll just be skipping over "No Boundaries." (I bet I still cry, though, the first time I hear it on the radio!)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Idol Your Face Off

Well, friends, we've reached the end of another season of Idol. It's been a season full of great moments and great disappointments. Tonight's matchup could certainly be ranked up there with some of the great finales -- Ruben vs. Clay, Carrie vs. Bo, David vs. David. We have the Chosen One vs. the Underdog. Tonight, I thought both made their cases as to why they should win and both had moments when it seemed as if the competition was getting away from them. I have to admit that I got a little choked up at the beginning when they showed footage of both men during their auditions declaring to a camera (and clearly doing so with the help of a cue card) "I am the next American Idol." I am a sap that way -- I admit. With three songs (including the victory song co-written by Kara DioGuardi -- which I'll get to a bit later), Adam and Kris had the opportunity to really connect with their audiences and enjoy a tremendous amount of screentime. Only one can win, so who will it be? Who SHOULD it be?

Round 1: "Greatest Hit" Round
Here, Adam and Kris each got to pick one of their favorite songs they'd already performed this season. Adam wisely went with "Mad World," the song which was probably his most talked about performance of the season AND a song that a portion of his audience had perhaps never seen due to the show running over time and getting cut off on TiVo's and DVR's across the country. Once again, Adam gets the techie love with the special lighting, special entrance, freakin' fog rolling across the stage, and that kick ass trench coat. It was during this performance, though, that I also realized what has been bugging me about Adam. He has reminded me of someone all season long, and I finally figured it out tonight. He reminds me of (and man, I am anticipating crickets here since I doubt many of my readers will even GET this reference -- and making me once again wonder just how old I am) . . . Dick Shawn . Seriously . . . check out the clip and tell me you don't see a little of Adam!

During Adam's critique, which was apparently brought to us by Sesame Street since Randy gave Adam an "A for Adam", I noticed perhaps the oddest audience member ever. Seriously, wtf was ANTHONY FREAKIN' HOPKINS doing in the audience??!?!?!?!?!?!?

I would have to say I agree with Simon that the performance, though, was a bit over the top with the lighting and the fog and the coat. And I love that for Simon, dressing up for the finale just means a button down shirt and suit coat. I love that guy!

Kris's greatest hit selection was an even smarter choice than Adam's. He went back and selected "Ain't No Sunshine." It was perhaps one of the first performances where I (and others) began to think that maybe Kris had a shot at this thing way back in "Top Downloads" week. It's a performance that's not quite as fresh in our memory as "Falling Slowly" or "She Works Hard for the Money" (two of my other favorite Kris performances from this season) and a performance that hasn't quite become as "iconic" as those two or "Heartless" -- or as iconic as "Mad World" is for Adam. Kris was able to take the stage with slightly lowered expectations, make his song fresh again, and subsequently knock it out of the park. Kris finally got some long-deserved respect from the judges with Simon declaring round one for the mellow Southerner.

Round 2: Simon Fuller's Pick
I was a little worried going into this round. After all, it was the producer's pick last year that saddled David Cook with "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing," David Archuleta with "Longer," and poor, poor Syesha Mercado with some song from a penguin movie. (Seriously, that has to be the most blatant case of sabotage in the history of the world! I mean, that's Black Sox Scandal levels of sabotage!) Simon Fuller apparently decided to go with a theme, assigning both singers tonight with classic soul "message" songs. Adam was up first with Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," a song that often brings tears to my eyes. I don't know that I was quite as impressed with Adam's performance as the judges were. Perhaps it was a loyalty to the original. Perhaps it was an inability to let go of the Dick Shawn thing. I just kind of felt like it was a bit over the top, but I suspect I'm in the minority.

I much preferred Kris's mellow, funky take on "What's Going On?" -- another favorite of mine. (I LOVE 60s/70s soul music . . . just mentioning that for my stalkers out there taking notes.) He stripped the song down and went the "She Works Hard for the Money" route by bringing out the guitar and being accompanied by the bongos. Just very, very cool. Of course, he was lambasted by the judges who told him the performance was too "light" for that stage. Whatever! Kris stayed true to himself and didn't suddenly go into histrionics onstage just because he was in the finale. It was a lovely performance that I think will stand up better on repeated viewings. I would happily download it. I can't say the same thing for Adam's performance.

Simon gave round 2 to Adam; I respectfully disagree.

Round 3: The Victory Song
Oh, Lord! You know, when Ryan said that the victory song was co-written by Kara DioGuardi, I was pretty psyched. I mean, the victory songs lately haven't been too great, mired in inspirational treacle rather than being a, well, good song. David Cook's "The Time of My Life" wasn't bad, but "This Is My Now"? "Do I Make You Proud?" ICK! I don't know that there's been a decent finale song since Fantasia's "Believe" (which works mostly because Fantasia rips the roof off that song). Okay, I did sort of like Carrie's "Inside Your Heaven."

Anyway, I was hopeful. Kara wrote "Ain't No Other Man," one of my absolute favorite songs of the past several years (and my "go-to" work out song). She wrote Pink's "Sober." She wrote Kelly Clarkson's "Walk Away." Some good stuff. Okay, I'll overlook the multiple songs written for Hillary Duff. We all make our (multiple) mistakes . . . . good Lord, there are a LOT of Hillary Duff songs on her resume . . . and is that a Lindsey Lohan song? Now, "No Boundaries" makes sense.

Yes, that's the title of Kara's one contribution to this season -- a trite little piece of fluff called "No Boundaries." There's something about climbing mountains and surviving hurricanes and, you know, not having any boundaries. It just may be the worst victory song ever!

It was during Adam's rather tortured performance of the song that I had a slight epiphany. Adam should NOT win this competition. It's nothing against his talent. I agree -- he is an incredible performer. No, my desire to see Adam lose is nothing against him; it's more a desire to protect him from treacle like this. If he wins, he is basically the property of the Idol machine and will have little choice but to record bullshit songs like this. As much as his individuality is praised by the judges, how long will that individuality survive under the thumb of 19 Entertainment? Wouldn't Adam be better off going the Daughtry route and having more freedom to forge his own path? As much as I like Kris, I think that his style will work better with the Idol machine, sparing him from the soul crushing that could be awaiting Adam should he win tomorrow night.

Not that Kris was done any favors by this "song" either. First of all, the song was written out of his range, forcing him to really strain to hit those notes. (Even Kara admitted the song was out of his range -- had it been written more with Adam and Danny in mind?) He was completely overshadowed by the arrangement, too, seeming to struggle at times to be heard over the band. I wish that Adam and Kris had been allowed to take the song and kind of make it their own -- that Adam could have rocked it out and Kris been allowed to move it into his range and go with a more mellow vibe. I think it would have been more entertaining (and informative) for the audience to get a glimpse of something like that -- two singers taking the same song and interpreting it to his own personal style. Instead, we got Adam screaming and Kris struggling. It's a pity.

In the end, I suspect the Adam juggernaut is just too hard to take down. Not winning American Idol is certainly not a death sentence in terms of having a music career, and there's no reason to think that Kris won't at least get a record deal out of this whole thing. The victory, though, does seem to make success a little easier to attain, though. For every Clay Aiken and Chris Daughtry, there are many more Blake Lewises, Justin Guarinis, Bo Bices, and others who have tried to parlay their second place finishes into successful careers with limited success. That title of "American Idol" opens a lot of doors and while not every winning Idol has gone on to the kind of success enjoyed by Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, the odds do tend to favor the winners over the runners-up. Sure, surprises happen and Kris Allen could be the one tearfully warbling his way through "No Boundaries" (ugh -- I threw up a little in my mouth there) tomorrow night, but the finale is one place where Idol rarely surprises us and I don't necessarily expect tomorrow night to be any different, even though I'll kind of be hoping for just that surprise anyway.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pick Your Idol

Come on now, friends, you didn't think I'd let something like a death in the family keep me from my weekly Idol ramblings, now did you? Of course not!

Before I start, I do want to thank everyone who has been so kind and supportive through the past several days. Just as people say that they don't know what to say to me, I don't know what to say either. I don't know that it has quite sunk in yet, and I know there are tough days ahead, but I know that I will make it through those tough days with the support system I have in my life.

Okay, now let's get down to the Idol!

I entered tonight's episode filled with a lingering bitterness. My girl Allison was sent packing last week. There was a time when such a move would have caused me to throw my remote across the room and declare, "I'm done!" After all, that's exactly what I did when Melinda Doolittle got the boot. I boycotted Idol for nearly a year -- which did spare me from what I understand was the nightmare that was "This Is My Now" but also did not allow me to really witness the transformation of David Cook into a true star (or bask in the glory awfulness that was Amanda Overmeyer -- oh, how I would have loved to mock her!!). I've come to realize that, well, I just can't quit Idol, as much as I sometimes might wish I could. It is my Ennis.

So we have three men standing -- Danny, Kris, and Adam. Going into tonight, Kris was the definite underdog. Who am I kidding -- he still is after tonight's performances. The judges just will not let go of their predetermined finale pairing of Danny and Adam even if Danny has only rarely proven himself worthy of that reserved spot. While Danny didn't do anything nearly as heinous as last week's "Dream On" (the final note haunts my dreams!), he also didn't really do anything that said, "Star!"

Tonight, each performer got to sing twice (the show has become so bloated with critiques and who knows what that we're getting fewer and fewer actual performances -- this used to be a 9-song night rather than a 6-song night). I'll take a look at each singer rather than going song-by-song.

1. Danny Gokey: For his first song, Paula chose for him to sing "Dance Little Sister" by Terrence Trent D'Arby. (Anyone else remember that guy? Somehow it seems appropriate to saddle the show's biggest ego with a song by a guy who basically destroyed his career by claiming to be bigger than the Beatles.) This was an interesting song that forced Danny out of his usual ballad safety spot, but it also subjected millions of helpless Americans to more of Danny's hideous dancing. It was an okay performance, but Danny just exudes such an aura of douchery to me that I can't get into his performances. (Maybe I need to stop looking at him and just listening the way I do with Adam!) I thought his second performance was slightly better. He selected "You Are So Beautiful." Yes, he chose more of a ballad, but he did play around a little with the arrangement and I did like the hint of gospel he brought to the song, but I just can't help feeling that Danny is not the right choice for the finals. A lot of that feeling stems from the fact that I just don't think he's a bankable, marketable artist. I would not buy his record, and it's not because I don't buy albums by douchebags. (I own Sting CDs!) I just don't see where he fits into the current state of music outside of maybe getting some play on adult contemporary stations -- and is that really where Idol wants to be? They had a blue-eyed soul artist in Taylor Hicks, and we all see how well that turned out. Of course, perhaps there's a touring company of Grease in need of some star power. Someone get them Gokey's number!

2. Kris Allen: Randy and Kara worked together to pick "Apologize" for Kris. Wow -- it took TWO PEOPLE to come up with that pretty uninspired choice. Kris commited the apparent cardinal sin of not really changing up the arrangement, choosing to sit at the piano and sing the song relatively straight. I'll agree with the judges that it was competent if not extraordinary, but I also agree with Simon for taking Randy and Kara to task for criticising Kris for basically singing the song they gave him. At this point, I, like Simon, pretty much gave up hope for poor Kris even though I still maintain that he is probably the most bankable, marketable artist they have right now. As if he rose from the ashes of his first performance with a defiant "Oh, hell no!", Kris came back out and did Kanye West's "Heartless." WOW! For me (I sound like Randy now!), this was hands down the best performance of the night and one of the best performances of the season. It was just Kris and his accoustic guitar out there putting this cool, cool vibe on the song. This could be what saves Kris. I'm not holding my breath, but I think he definitely made his case that he deserves to be in the finale next week more than Danny.

3. Adam Lambert: Simon chose Adam's song, apparently calling in a favor and getting permission from Bono himself for Adam to perform "One." Adam gave a solid performance that was a little U2, a little Mary J., and a whole lotta Adam. It was really quite gorgeous -- if you didn't look at him and see the tongue flying. His acting experience did him well because he also infused the song with a tremendous amount of passion, pain, and desperation. I loved it. I wasn't as crazy about his second song, Aerosmith's "Cryin'". (If it weren't for the fact that Adam seems like such a nice guy, I would almost think he chose this to taunt Gokey, as if to say "THIS is how you do Aerosmith, you stupid jag!!") Yes, Adam did a lot of his amazing dynamics and showed off his range, but it just wasn't as strong. Adam would have been better served by closing with "One." The judges practically coronated Adam on stage tonight (which he very graciously deflected by pointing out that his competition had done very well) and Simon all but begged America to vote for Adam. We'll find out tomorrow night if that worked.

To me, the finals would be a sham if Adam weren't in them. I know I've railed against him a lot this season, but it's hard to deny his talent. If the point of the show is to select a star, Adam has to be one of the choices presented to us. He already is a star -- he just needs the support to get him out there. I really think it's Danny who needs to go home tomorrow, but I worry poor Kris will be lost and forgotten. That would be a real shame. I just hope he's able to parlay his third place finish into a career ala Daughtry or Elliot Yamin rather than fading into obscurity. I really do want to buy a Kris Allen record!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My Mom

I don't know how to even begin this post, and I apologize in advance for what may turn out to be a chaotic mess, but it's something I need to get out.

I was woken up at about 3:15 this morning to the news that my mother had "taken a turn for the worse." To back track a little, several weeks ago, my mother discovered a small lump in her armpit. Tests found that it was a malignant tumor. Her doctors, after considering my mother's medical history, recommended chemotherapy, telling her it promised the best results. For the past 13 or so years, my mother has been constantly battling her health -- primarily an irregular heartbeat that has exacerbated a lot of other issues and really ravaged her immune system. The doctors, though, were optimistic that this cancer would not be a huge issue. Last week, she went into the hospital for chemotherapy and it seemed to do the trick -- the mass was smaller, softer, and all the other things that indicate success. She went home last weekend, we made plans for her to come over for Mother's Day today, and all seemed well. As the week went on, though, her reactions to the chemo became more and more severe, severe enough that she returned to the hospital Thursday. We talked to her Friday and while she seemed a bit groggy, there was still no real cause for alarm. Yesterday morning, she called me about 8:00 to tell me that they were moving her to ICU. Again, no real cause for alarm -- Mom has often been put into ICU for additional monitoring because of her heart. I told her not to worry, everything would be fine, and that I loved her. I talked to the nurses in ICU later that morning who recommended I not come up to visit -- the fear being that, because of my job, I am a carrier monkey of germs galore and they were being really careful to protect her from exposure to anything.

And then came the call this morning. When we got to the hospital, we learned that my mom had coded and it took over a half hour for them to revive her. Once they did revive her, she was, for the most part, unresponsive. My sister and I had to make a decision what to do should she code again, and we followed my mother's wishes that no "extraordinary measures" be taken. The conversation soon became what to do about the myriad of machines to which my mother is hooked up. In talking with my uncle and my mother's fiance, we believe that my mother would not want to continue on the machines. So we had to make a decision whether or not to continue with the respirators and other machines to which my mother was connected. The doctor has asked us to wait so that they can run an EEG tomorrow morning which will determine what, if any, brain function is going on there. He's not optimistic, but he does not want to take any action until we have a definitive idea. The family decision, though, is if the tests show no activity, then the life support has to be discontinued because that is what my mom would want.

People who know me know that my mother and I have not always had the best relationship. It is a relationship that has been fraught with frustration, annoyance, and even hostility at times. And yet it was also a relationship filled with a lot of unconditional love and support. I was my mother's firstborn, and even though I took more after my dad, my earliest memories are all of my mother -- the days we would spend together while my dad was at work, the walks to the library, the hours she would spend reading to me (to the point where she finally recorded herself reading several of my favorite books on tape to appease my demands for more), the movies she and I would go see, my joy when she FINALLY gave into my demands for a little sister (and my subsequent disappointment when I realized that baby sisters are, for the most part, pretty useless when they first arrive). I remember the day she agreed to have a "Freaky Friday" with me and let ME be the mom for the day -- an experiment that lasted all of two minutes when she saw me attempt to stick a piece of bread already covered in peanut butter and jelly into the toaster.

There were the times when my mom made me cringe with embarrassment -- like the time she and I went to see Fatal Attraction and during the kitchen sink sex scene, my mother, apparently remembering my childhood loathing of my freckles, leaned over and said, "Now look at all HER freckles." Like watching a scene like that with my mother wasn't horrifying enough!

There were the times my mom proved herself to be the toughest, scrappiest person out there -- like the many times she stormed into the school office to fight some injustice, whether it was the school's refusal to let me take driver's ed during summer school because of huge enrollment numbers and my birthday falling 10 days after the cut off they had devised to address the huge numbers or fighting to get my sister removed from the class of a woman who followed my then-4th grade sister into the bathroom to "verify" she was really going.

There were the times when my mom made me burst with pride -- like today when my sister told me that the reason my mother had stopped attending her church (a church which she had RAVED about for months on end and then just dropped out of the blue) was because the minister had gotten up and given a sermon preaching hell and damnation against homosexuals.

So much of who I am stems from the upbringing I received from my parents -- my love of literature, my passion for theatre, even my writing. My parents showed me what unconditional love is -- whether it was their love of me and my sister or their love for each other. Even those areas where I rebelled against them (rejecting my father's Republicanism for a life as a liberal Democrat) was made possible by their support -- and the fact that my mother was apparently a closet Democrat all those years.

I am choosing not to have regrets even though my mom and I spent a lot of time the past several years (and especially the past couple months) butting heads and getting into arguments with each other. I am choosing instead to think about all the good times -- and how all of those good times most definitely outweigh the stupid, petty bullshit both of us got wrapped up in. I know my mom loves me, and I know my mom knows that I love her, and in the end, that's what matters most.

Update: My mom died about 9:00 tonight. They called us to tell us she was deteriorating, but by the time we got there, it was too late. She had already died. The last favor my mom did for me was sparing us from having to make the decision to take her off life support. I think I'll be forever grateful to her for that. Even in the end, she was a great mom.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Flunk You!

Today, I was minding my own business, standing out in the hall visiting with a couple of my drama and speech girls when a fellow teacher (and fellow Knox alum) came walking up to me with this sly grin on his face. Before he even opened his mouth, I knew. It's Flunk Day. As soon as he said the words, I raised my fists in celebration and gave out a long, sustained "WOOOOO!" that stunned my two students and the others standing around at their lockers. I quickly explained to my students what Flunk Day is -- a day at Knox College that happens each spring when, basically, the world stops for a day and you engage in the most fun possible -- playing games, dancing in the streets, drinking copious amounts of, um, liquids, and generally basking in the glory that is being a college student devoid of any real responsibility. It is like Ferris Bueller's Day Off with more inflatable toys and fewer uptight principals. It is heavenly.

Of course now, Flunk Day sort of fills me with a little bit of melancholy as I long for those days of yore when all of my friends and I lived together in a sort of state of ignorant bliss, when the worst worry you had was whether or not you were going to get your paper done on time, and when the repercussions of spending a day drinking were no more serious than a hangover the next morning in class (or maybe throwing up in a trash can in your friend's suite, but I digress seeing as I know NO ONE who would have ever done such a thing -- or spent the majority of her senior year Flunk Day passed out in her room, sleeping off the massive amounts of vodka she attempted to drink in a very, very short amount of time). I miss those days of lounging on Old Main lawn listening to drunken classmates "sing" karaoke. I miss those evenings of dancing in the Quad. I even miss the inevitable donut fights in the middle of the street outside the Phi Delt House. Sometimes, being a grown up is just no fun!

So I wish all of you -- be you Siwash, Prairie Fire, or none of the above -- a very happy Flunk Day. Go home tonight and stir up a little blue Kool-Aid and vodka and remember those times when the livin' was easy, when the food was free, and Mom and Dad (or student loans) paid your rent. You may not be able to go home again, but you can at least visit it in spirit.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Rockin' Idols

Ah, Ginger-philes, we're entering the home stretch with Idol, and while I applaud their attempts to shake things up a little this year (adding another judge, returning to the old semi-final format, having a top 13), I think that most of them have just not worked as well as intended. I do like Kara DioGuardi, but the show does drag with four judges instead of three giving comments and I don't know that she always brings as much to the table as she should given her resume. Tonight's change was the decision by the producers to pair the final four into two duets -- an experiment that was only partially successful. I'll get to that a little more later. I have to say that I was looking forward to Rock Week (note that it's WEEK not DAY) this year if only because I was curious to see what kind of mentor Slash would be. I've always loved Slash; hell, I even dressed up as the guy for Halloween once and went to school that way -- only to be enormously depressed when 99% of my students had no idea who I was supposed to be (although I did score an infinite number of cool points with the one kid who DID recognize who I was). I can't even imagine how incredible it must have been to perform onstage at the Roxy with Slash playing guitar along with a full band to back you up, but it kind of felt like Slash's mentorship was only so-so. He did suggest Allison tackle "Cry Baby" instead of "Somebody to Love" and encouraged Danny to do that scream . . .but I digress. Overall, I think Rock Week lacked the same universal quality that Rat Pack Night had last week. I think that it highlighted some weaknesses and moved many of the performers so far out of their element that their real talent was eclipsed. It was not that dissimilar to Country Week where so many performers typically struggle.

1. Adam Lambert: Adam kicked things off for the first time this season. (He's never gone first, a spot which many consider the most vulnerable since apparently American Idol viewers are borderline idiots who can't remember what they saw just 55 minutes before and vote only for the most immediate performance.) His choice of "Whole Lotta Love" highlighted what I both love and hate about Adam (yeah, I actually said "love" and "Adam" in the same sentence!) -- Adam has great, big, brass balls, man. It takes real cojones to not only pick a Led Zeppelin song but to pick one like "Whole Lotta Love." It's a testament to his courage (which is what I love) and his ego (which I hate). I personally thought it was a good performance but it didn't sound that drastically different than Robert Plant. And you know, Adam's sneer was just a little over the top for me. I did have to laugh at all the screaming, adoring teen girls who went nuts as Adam sang about wanting to "show you every inch of my love." Oh, girls . . . you are in for a rough road of loving gay men who will never, ever show you every inch of their love.

2. Allison Iraheta: While Allison's choice of "Cry Baby" was probably as brave and ballsy as Adam's choice of "Whole Lotta Love," I do wonder if maybe she wouldn't have been better off with her other choice -- "Somebody to Love." Janis Joplin's version of "Cry Baby" is so iconic that it's hard to duplicate, and trying to change it up and make it your own will just make people yearn for the original. I did, though, love that Allison kind of stuck to her guns when the judges challenged her choice -- pointing out that "Somebody to Love" felt too safe and that "Piece of My Heart" has been done a lot on the Idol stage (and not well ). I also loved her moment of self-awareness and fear that her justification for her choice not be viewed as "arguing" -- a kiss of death on this show. (Yeah, I'm looking at you, Lil Rounds.) I love this kid, though, and I feel like I know her -- or countless kids like her who are kind of struggling to get a handle on a talent so big.

Now, here is where I'm tempted to yell, "Shenanigans." Adam and Allison performed their solos. Then, Kris and Danny were brought out to perform their duet before getting their own solos. This means that Adam and Allison got over a half-hour to rest and prepare for their duets while Kris and Danny got little to no time to rest before taking the stage with their solos. It seems slightly unfair to me -- except for the fact that it benefitted my girl Allison, so, well, shenanigan away!

Kris and Danny joined together to perform "Renegade" by Styx. While I liked the blend of their voices when they sang together (it was really quite lovely), I thought the performance itself felt kind of flat. There were a lot of bum notes, and I thought Danny looked exceptionally uncomfortable, although not nearly as sad and uncomfortable as Kris did when Simon's only critique was that Danny was better.

3. Kris Allen: Unfortunately, Kris didn't quite get his mojo back in time for his performance of "Come Together." His voice is not a rock voice, and the bombast of guitars really highlighted the lack of power in his voice. I did like the breakdown he did towards the end and was impressed with his guitar work (he got to play onstage with Slash!), I think this performance may put Kris in danger particularly after his lackluster duet with Danny. Rats!

4. Danny Gokey: Danny chose "Dream On", which IS an early Aerosmith song, Kara. "Cryin'" and "Crazy" are LATER Aerosmith songs. (This is one thing that does bother me about Kara -- sometimes, she doesn't seem, oh, very bright. Whether it's calling it Studio 57 or referring to a disco singer looking like "that guy from Saturday Night Live" or referring to "Cryin'" and "Crazy" as early Aerosmith, I'm sometimes frightened by Kara's inability to get facts straight.) Overall, I thought that this was the weakest performance of the night outside of Danny and Kris's duet. Danny looked exceptionally uncomfortable again, although I thought maybe the sick, "I'm gonna puke" look on his face was maybe his attempt at an Adam-esque snarl. Yeah, it wasn't working, Dann-o. I could have sworn, too, that he threw a skat in there . . .rock does not feature skat! And I'm not even going to get to that hideous scream at the end. Ouch! And yet despite the fact that this was a bit of a train wreck, Simon pretty much assured Danny that he would be safe -- thereby offering Kris and Allison up on the chopping block. D'oh! While I was a fan of Danny's work last week, I do think that he is the most limited of the contestants in terms of his marketability and I don't think he's as great as the judges (or Danny himself) think he is. (If I see that dude applaud his own damn performance one more time . . . . . . . .)

We ended out the night with Adam and Allison's duet on "Slow Ride." (I did find it rather amusing that while the contestants on their own picked four incredible, iconic rock songs but four incredible, iconic rock acts that when it came time to pick their duets, they picked two of those "classic rock" songs that kind of make you roll your eyes -- "Renegade" and "Slow Ride." Sigh!) Despite my eye rolling at the song choice (I was so hoping for them to go completely balls to the wall and do something like "Paradise City" or "Sweet Child o' Mine"), I gotta say that Adam and Allison rocked that joint. They highlighted everything that was wrong with Kris and Danny's performance -- which was just two cute guys standing side by side singing. I mean, they could have been a rock version of Air Supply, those two. Meanwhile, Allison and Adam interacted and were clearly having a ton of fun and performing the hell out of that song. (Those two have a great chemistry -- even hotter than the legendary chemistry of Michael Johns and Carly Smithson.) And I love how this also gave them the opportunity to overcome the "beginning of the show" jinx by being the last two singers to perform. The last thing viewers (and voters) will remember as they start calling is how hot that duet was. Simon may be right; Adam's duet with Allison may save her this week. If there's any justice, it also paved the way for her to go right into the finals. How cool would those two be going head-to-head?

This all brings us to the $65,000 question: Who is going home tomorrow night? Well, I think Adam's flirtation with the bottom three last week was just that -- a flirtation. I can't imagine people not voting for him after tonight. (Of course, I thought the same thing last week!) My hope is that Allison's duet with Adam will keep her safe. (If there's any justice to this world, it will be!) That would put Kris and Danny (who's never been in the bottom three) in the bottom two, which is really the way it should be after tonight. While I think Danny's performance was the weaker of the two, I worry it's Kris who will be watching the farewell montage tomorrow night -- leaving us with an Adam-Allison-Danny final three (which is admittedly probably the strongest final three since the Ruben-Clay-Kimberley final three in season two -- and I think at least two of this year's potential final three are stronger than that mighty triumvirate.) I would much prefer a Kris-Allison-Adam final three, but, well, in honor of tonight's theme, you can't always get what you want.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Little Friday Rant

It's been a long, tiring week, and today I can just feel my general annoyance with the world bubbling. It doesn't help that I feel like I'm surrounded by stupidity. Between the ridiculousness of this swine flu thing and the stupid bigotry of some people, I'm just exhausted.

Here are the things stuck in the proverbial craw today:

1. The Swine Flu: Is it just me or are we all overreacting a little here? What makes the whole thing even more annoying is that it becomes an opportunity for seemingly (or supposedly) educated people to become complete and total morons. Here at work, I have heard the most ridiculous stuff coming out of the mouths of COLLEGE EDUCATED people -- stuff like, "Oh, I wouldn't go to the Mexican restaurant for lunch today. You don't want to get swine flu" and "Well, you know, all these Mexican students are always going to Mexico for visits. I bet one of them brings it back." To once again quote my new favorite recurring character on SNL: "Bitch, please!"

2. Homophobia: Nowhere does the ignorance of others bother me more than right here. I overheard a teacher today in the lounge ranting and raving about "Every time you turn on the tv, you hear about Iowa allowing same sex marriage or Vermont. I'm so sick of it! It's so disgusting to see these people on tv getting married and kissing." Now, right here, I could really go on a profanity-laced rant, but I won't. (And oh, I really, really want to!) Instead, I will simply shake my head in profound disgust. Here's what I don't get about these people . . . why the f**k do you care? I get so annoyed with people who have certain rights and priveleges who then turn around and want to deny those same rights and priveleges to others. I also bristle at the argument that same sex marriage "destroys" marriage. How?? To me, it strengtens the sanctity of marriage because it allows more people to make that pledge to one another. Just because I drew the "lucky" sexual preference card, I have more rights than someone else? That doesn't make sense to me. Same sex marriage is not taking anything away from anyone; it's allowing for a subgroup of our population to enjoy the same privelege another subgroup enjoys -- to say to the world, "Hey, this is the person I love and want to spend the rest of my life with!" How can that be wrong? And if the sight of two men or two women showing that love is so "disgusting" to you, then don't freakin' look.

3. College Rivalries: Okay, a little background information here. I went to Knox College. I teach in Monmouth, home of Monmouth College. Knox and Monmouth are rivals. I guess that's a big deal. Personally, I've never really gotten all that into that whole thing. Don't get me wrong: I love Knox and value the time I spent there, but my love and devotion to my alma mater doesn't mean that I then turn around and "hate" other schools out of that love and devotion. I am part of a faculty that is full of Monmouth College graduates, and there are times when their anti-Knox rhetoric just, well, just gets me down. Last night we had our drama and speech banquet, and at the end, the seniors all stood and told what their future plans were. One of my students is going to Knox, and I commented how happy I was about that. (He's the first kid I've been able to successfully shepherd to Knox, and it's such a perfect fit! I hadn't lobbied him particularly hard and had been encouraging of him as he looked at other schools even though I knew Knox was the perfect school for him.) After a couple of other kids shared their plans, another student took the mic and said, "I'm going to Monmouth College because Knox sucks." WTF? Since I started teaching here, never have the words "Monmouth sucks" escaped my lips. It's just gauche! (And I should also point out that my student who is going to Knox did not apply to Monmouth, so it's not like I "stole" him.) I chalked that incident off to youth. Well, then today in the teachers' lounge, the Knox student's name came up and someone asked where he was going. Someone said, "Knox," and the other teacher's response was to roll her eyes and say, "Well, they can have him." (She has always kind of had a grudge against this kid, which is another long story) I mean, seriously? Is this rivalry that important? Sigh!

Okay, so I'm going to go try to spend some time outdoors and shake off all this ridiculousness. It's First Friday, which means free Packinghouse cinnamon rolls (for those who know Galesburg enough to know why that might be a lure to head downtown tonight).