Friday, March 27, 2009

This Week's Pop Culture Round-Up

Even though my life has settled down a bit this week thanks to the completion of the spring musical at the high school where I teach, I realize I've been a bit silent this week. A little bit writer's bloc, a little bit lazy, and a little bit trying to get caught up on all the things I blew off during tech week. Part of what I had to get caught up on, I'm almost ashamed to admit, is the hours of programming stored on my DVR. After wading through quite a bit of it (including the new stuff from this week), I have some thoughts/comments/observations about the things I've seen:

1. First of all, a big WELCOME BACK to Samantha Who? This is such a funny show, and Christina Applegate is absolutely brilliant. Add to it an amazing supporting cast, and you get a really smart, funny half hour of television. I just hope that the fact that the show has been MIA since fall doesn't keep people away.

2. I finally got around to watching the episodes of Castle that had been piling up. Nathan Fillion pretty much has me just by appearing onscreen, even though I've been sort of reluctant to add any new shows to my viewing repetoire (outside of the eagerly anticipated Parks and Recreation starring Amy Poehler). I just don't have a ton of time to add anything new, but for Nathan, I'm there! The show is pretty charming. I'm always a fan of a good mystery series, particularly when they rock that sort of sparring partner chemistry reminiscent of, say, Remington Steele or Moonlighting. Castle isn't quite as light and breezy as those two old favorites, but I enjoy it -- particularly the relationship between Fillion's Castle and his daughter and mother, played by Molly Quinn and Susan Sullivan respectively. I'm willing to commit to this show a bit longer -- and not just because of Nathan Fillion. (Seriously, the guy is dreamy, though!)

3. The past couple weeks have reminded me of just what a quality show we are all losing with the impending end of ER. I stopped watching the show several years ago, about the time that Noah Wyle's Carter took off for Africa to be a Doctor Without Borders (I've never forgiven that organization for breaking up Grace and Leo . . . but that's another story!). To me, ER was the story of John Carter, and the show without Carter just wasn't right. With this being the end of the series, though, I've joined all my old friends in returning to County to say good-bye. It took a little time to adjust to all the new faces (like WTF is John Stamos doing there?!?!?), but the fact that Carter came back helped ease me back in as I got to experience the same sense of adjustment. As we approach next week's final episode, I realize that I'm going to miss this show that hasn't been a part of my life for several years for one simple reason -- ER is an acting showcase -- and not just for the big name guest stars, of which there are plenty. Susan Sarandon predictably knocked it out of the ballpark a couple weeks ago as a grieving grandmother struggling to decide whether or not to remove her grandson from life support -- thus freeing his organs to save countless lives. Her work with George Clooney and Julianna Marguiles was heartbreaking. This week's episode, the penultimate episode of the series, featured some lovely, understated work from Angela Bassett, Courtney B. Vance, and Tom Arnold (yes, Tom Arnold), but the episode was stolen by young Noah Munck who played a young heart patient struggling with grief and rage over the loss of his friend, a fellow patient. It's rare to find such subtle, lovely work at times, so it's sad to see a giant like this show walk into the sunset.

4. WTF is going on behind the scenes on Dancing with the Stars that has stars hobbling around like arthritic war veterans? It is nice to see the show lacking any clear frontrunner this season; instead there are several "stars" who could easily lay claim to the disco ball trophy -- outside of Steve Wozniak and Steve-O, just about any of the other competitors would be relatively realistic in thinking he/she had a shot. (Okay, maybe Holly Madison's days are numbered, too) The question really is whether or not the "stars" involved survives to the end of the season!

5. Am I the only one who is totally bored with America's Next Top Model?

6. What would a post from me on pop culture be without mention of American Idol? This week's Motown theme was a bit on the dull side for me at times. The show started off incredibly well with great performances from Matt Giraud and Kris Allen (who gets more and more appealing every week) and then got dull as we were forced to endure several mediocre performances, including a shockingly disappointing Lil Rounds. (Lil, if you can't knock it out of the ballpark on Motown week, you are in big trouble!) I was shocked and horrified to find myself LOVING Adam Lambert this week. Damn his eyes -- he's winning me over. NOT winning me over is Danny Gokey. I'm still pulling hard for Allison Irahita. She brings out the protective Mama Teacher in me. Even though I still have qualms with someone so young putting her education at risk for what could be a pipe dream, I love the kid's spark and the fact that she seems to be a very real, albeit precocious, kid. I'm also happy to see Michael Sarver hit the road. The guy reeked of douchebag to me. When performers argue back to the judges, I'm pretty much through with them. As much heat as they take and as ridiculous as they can be, the judges deserve respect. That's why I get annoyed when the audience boos -- or when Randy boos Simon EVERY SINGLE G-D WEEK! Respect, man. Respect. I will also add that I have been thrilled with the exceptionally lucid judging we've been getting from Paula lately. Her chemistry with Simon has also never been better, harking back to the days when my sis and I were convinced that there was something going on there. Paula's newly upped game makes Randy Jackson more and more irrelevent and annoying. Maybe it's time for the dawg to go back to the pound.

Oh . . .and one more thing . . . . Smokey Robinson is the living dead. His performance on Thursday's results show with Joss Stone was creepy on sooooooo many levels.

Also, a shout out to the folks at for pointing out the similarity between Megan Joy (wtf happened to "Corkery"?) and Charlize Theron's character on Arrested Development. MrF indeed!

I think that's enough for today . . . plus, there's more awaiting me on my DVR!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Kindness Experiment

Regular readers may remember this post where I announced my intention to try to give compliments more freely and frequently. This is a progress report.

Right away as I started this experiment, I realized that it was impossible. When standing outside my classroom between classes, literally hundreds of kids walk by in large groups, so singling each and every one of them out to pay a compliment was just not feasible. I instead decided that I would either compliment or at least greet every single kid who came into my room. Sometimes, compliments just wouldn't come, which is why I went to a greeting. I figured it would at least make everyone who walks in feel welcomed, acknowledged, and appreciated.

For the most part, I'm not sure if kids have noticed any change. I frequently stand outside my room between class periods and greet students anyway. Where I did see some sort of change, though, was when I did pay a compliment -- whether it was a nice shirt, cool shoes, or just a happy smile on a face. Inevitably, I was greeted with a big smile, and that smile frequently lasted well into the class period.

I've found, too, that my complimentary ways has extended beyond those four-minute passing periods. I've become much more open about paying compliments to co-workers, friends, and extracurricular kids. I keep hoping that the complimentary joy will spread and people will start paying more compliments themselves, but so far, I haven't seen it happen . . . yet!

In the meantime, the experiment continues. I will report further findings as they make themselves found.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

An Open Letter to President Obama

Dear President Obama (yup, it still feels great to say that):

First of all, we are big fans of your work. We've been right there with you since that speech at the Democratic Convention in 2004 when we sat side-by-side on the floor of our old living room and sobbed through your speech. We wept openly on election night as our dream of seeing you elected became a reality. We are rooting for you as you face the nightmare you inherited from your predecessor and have faith that your hand is the hand that will keep this country on the road and not careening off into a ditch.

We also understand that you believe in keeping the lines of communication open and appreciate that you have been giving a lot of interviews and making appearances and holding press conferences. It's nice to know that our President wants to keep us all abreast of what is going on in the White House. We feel appreciated and valued.

Here's the thing, though . . . do you have to schedule these things for Tuesday nights? That is American Idol night. It throws off our whole week as suddenly we have to watch for results on Thursday night instead of Wednesday -- and our DVR tries to cancel out the recording of Must See TV to make room for Idol.

So what we're asking is that you pick a different night to address the nation. Like Monday. No, wait, that's Dancing With the Stars. Okay, Wednesday. Oh, but that could cause problems with America's Next Top Model. Fine, Thurs . . . no, Must See TV, Ugly Betty, etc. Friday. Take Friday! Sure, viewership is lower on a Friday, but at least you would have the assurance that the people watching might be people who really care and not people who are just waiting around for House to come on, right?

Thank you for considering this.

Mel and Julie

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It's Tech Week

. . . so no lengthy Idol post this week -- or much of any post of length this week. Suffice it to say, I hated Country Week, hated Adam's Middle Eastern take on "Ring of Fire," hated Michael's jagocity of talking back multiple times to the judges, and loved Allison. My experiment in giving compliments is going well -- I'll write more about that this weekend perhaps. I'm off to get tickets printed and then appear on a local radio station (check out if you see this message before 8:00am on Wednesday) with two of my boys (I always say that ala Roxie Hart).

So more over the weekend if I survive this week! Love your faces -- all of you!!!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Weekend of Two Bushes

This weekend, without any purposeful intention, became George W. Bush Weekend Chez Mel. Earlier this week, Netflix had ever-so-kindly sent me a copy of Oliver Stone's W. Last night, my DVR ever-so-kindly recorded Will Ferrell's Thank You America: A Final Evening with George W. Bush on HBO. While both looks at our former commander-in-chief offered some meaty food for thought, in the end one left me feeling a bit more satisfied than the other -- and it may not be the one you think it was.

My sis and I curled up with blankets last night to watch Stone's look at the former president. (Gosh, it feels good to type that!) Now, I should begin this with the admission that I am not a big fan of Oliver Stone. While there is often much to think about and admire about many of his films, most of them ultimately feel to me like an exercise in director ego than any real artistry. I also often feel like Stone doesn't trust his audience to be able to think through things alone, so he finds it necessary to beat us over the head with his thesis time and time again. Even his best work (which, to me, is Born on the Fourth of July) drowns in an excess of political philosophy at the expense of emotional connection to the stories and the characters. And that is exactly what happened for me with this film. To me, W. feels like a survey rather than the sort of in-depth analysis I was hoping for. Large chunks of what makes George W. Bush the man (and president) that he is seem to be lacking here. Looking for an inside glimpse of the 2000 election debacle? Look elsewhere because it's not here. Hoping for some sort of insight into what was going on on September 11 when Bush sat for seven plus minutes reading "My Pet Goat" rather than springing into action upon learning that the World Trade Center had been attacked? You're going to be sadly disappointed. Instead, we get these episodes spread out across Bush's life -- his initiation into a Yale fraternity, a college arrest, constant clashes with his father, meeting Laura at a barbecue, a lunch with Dick Cheney where he reminds Cheney which one of them is technically president. While these episodes are interesting and often humorous (Bush leading his staff through the field of his Crawford ranch in the Texas heat is a riot), their existence in a sort of vaccuum make them devoid of any real context. Stone also chooses to insert a couple dream/fantasy sequences, including a dream where W. is lambasted by his father for destroying the family reputation. Those scenes are intended to provide psychological insight, but they often become kind of jarring and heavy-handed. Again, Stone doesn't trust his audience to come up with his Oedipal thesis without spelling it out for us in big neon letters. The acting borders on little more than skilled impersonations, again leaving us feeling like we don't really know these people. It's impressive but empty when all is said and done. We are left with the notion of a man who was little more than a doltish rich boy who sought the highest office in the land as a joint way to gain his father's affection and also as a bit of a "f-you" to his brother, the one Dad always seemed to like best. It's a bit disturbing to think that the last eight years was basically the result of sibling rivalry taken to a ridiculous extreme.

This afternoon, we turned to Will Ferrell's ode to the outgoing president. I went into this expecting silliness, and I got a large dose of that whether it was the large penis purported to be Bush's flashed on the screens above the stage or the breakdancing Secret Service agent who covered for Ferrell during costume changes or the vaguely uncomfortable dirty dancing scene between Bush and Condoleeza Rice. This one-man show, though, was filled with cutting satire as Ferrell's Bush recounted Election Night 2000, discussed the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with former FEMA chief Michael Brown, and confessed that the Crawford ranch was merely a way to seem more down-to-earth, an idea cooked up by Karl Rove in 1999. Ferrell also found a way to reveal a little of Bush's humanity, particularly in a moment where Bush reveals that he cries often when he thinks of the Iraq War and the devastating effect it's had on soldiers and their families as well as the people of Iraq. For the most part, Ferrell spent the ninety or so minutes strutting across the stage ("In Texas, we call that walking.") and finding a way to both mock and embrace the former president in a far more tender and insightful way than Stone managed in his two hours of roasting.

When it was all said and done, I felt more satisfied by Ferrell's show. It was funny and moving. I felt like there was more compassion and empathy at play while still maintaining a strong sense of satire. It didn't pander or beat me over the head with a message. It just entertained, and sometimes, that's all a good piece of political satire really needs to do to accomplish it's mission.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Love Your Face!

I was reading the Chicago Tribune today and I came across this article about these two students at Purdue University who spend roughly two hours a day standing outside a building on campus giving compliments to everyone who passes. Genuine, heartfelt compliments.

This story made me think. Why is this newsworthy? Because we, as a society, have become more and more guarded with our kindness and compliments. People are suspicious of these guys because they think they're in it for something -- girls, fraternity membership, something. In actuality, the guys just think there's too much negativity in the world and decided to do their part to add just a little bit of kindness and sunshine to people's lives.

I am inspired by this story and it's got me thinking that maybe I should try something similar. What would it hurt for me to, say, stand outside my class between periods and compliment kids as they enter the room or even walk by? How would the kids react? Who knows? I'll report back with the results of this new social experiment.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What's Your Lucky Number?

The real fun for American Idol kicked off last night as the 13 finalists took the stage. For the most part, things were more of the same -- yes, the stage is very pretty, the mosh pit between the judges and the stage has been replaced by a screen upon which performers can walk (which led to the humorous image of Jasmine Murray on the screen seemingly looking up the skirt of Jasmine Murray in real life), and rather than Ryan introducing the judges to us, we were introduced to them via a separate announcer as the judges emerged from the stage in a very dramatic and pretentious fashion. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Simon was in his usual attire, Paula's outfit was a little over the top, and when Simon was introduced, you could hear Randy leading the boos. (Which I always find incredibly rude and inappropriate -- as my sis yells every time, "He is your CO-WORKER!!")

Ryan confirmed what we all knew -- that this week was a Michael Jackson-themed week, which makes me say, "Really?" How many times over the past seasons have contestants been told that MJ is "untouchable"? How many times over the past seasons have contestants been ripped apart for tackling a Michael Jackson song? So here's a great idea -- after spending seven years lambasting singers for singing Jackson, let's make them ALL sing Michael Jackson. I guess they all go down together or soar together.

And for the most part, they did a pretty decent job. This seems like a pretty deep season in terms of talent, and last night was a relatively enjoyable evening. So let's take a look at our contestants and see who soared and who might be needing to pack those bags for home.

1. Lil Rounds: This is the producer's attempt to prove that they aren't trying to pimp singers over others. They place one of the "chosen triumvirate" first, which everyone knows can be a really big handicap for a singer to overcome. Her video introduction played up her sob story -- she and her husband and their three kids are living in an extended stay hotel after their home was destroyed by a tornado. When Lil took the stage, I was struck by her pretty icky looking outfit. I hated the mom pants and the fluffball at her shoulder. (The pink was a lovely shade on her, and I did like her makeup, as Paula pointed out) Her performance of "The Way You Make Me Feel" was quite strong and a good, energetic way to kick things off. Lil reminds me a bit of Fantasia Barrino (one of my all-time favorite Idols). Lil has the sort of powerhouse voice that Fantasia has, but Lil lacks Fantasia's sense of abandon. Lil always seems 100% in control of her voice whereas it often felt like Fantasia was 10 notes away from bursting.

2. Scott McIntyre: Scott was the first finalist to tackle an instrument, sitting behind the piano for his quite nice rendition of "Keep the Faith." Simon called Scott's performance "old fashioned," and while I agree with him, that's really what I liked about it. I love those old singer-songwriters like Billy Joel and James Taylor, and Scott really fits in with that era. Scott could release an album and sell a lot of copies, but the buyers would all be people my age and older, which is, unfortunately, not the demographic this show is going after. A couple other things about Scott -- can we please let go of the inspirational message crap? Yes, the guy is blind. Yes, he's had to overcome that to become an accomplished and gifted musician. Can we just leave it at that and not turn every performance into a Lifetime movie? To me, it's more insulting to fawn over his "magic" than just appreciate a good performance and let the blind thing go unmentioned. And speaking of Scott's "magic", we have my favorite quote of the night when Kara said, "It's so magical to see your instrument at your fingertips." Oh, Kara . . . that's what she said.

At this point, too, I have to applaud Simon for being pretty blunt and honest this season about the purpose of the show. During the Wild Card episode, Simon flat out said that they were "casting" the show and looking for personalities. Last night, following Scott's performance, he said, "It's fine being artistic -- just not on this show." After eight seasons, we're finally being honest. This is NOT an artistic competition or even a singing competition -- it's about style and personality. That's how we get winners like Ruben Studdard, Taylor Hicks, and Jordan Sparks. I've understood that from day one. I'm just glad we're finally all honest about it.

3. Danny Gokey -- Okay, I've been back and forth on Danny all season. Initially, I was touched by his story -- until I was fed his story for hours on end by the producers. Last night's video, I think, did a lot to help win back those people who liked Danny at the beginning. Never once was Danny's dead wife mentioned. Instead, we met his family who had the charming habit of basically narrating life through song. That sounds lame, I know, unless you're someone like me who does the same thing. I sing to my cat, sing to my sis, sing to my car . . . constantly. I also think Danny is super cute, but super cute has never swayed my voting. Honest! On top of it, Danny sang one of my favorite Michael Jackson songs when I was in junior high -- "PYT." And he was really good. Yeah, his dancing was kind of lame, but at least HE knew it. And as someone who also has been known to flail a little spastically when singing . . . I understand!

4. Michael Sarver -- I honestly keep forgetting this guy is even on the show. His video was nice, but did anyone else find his kid a little creepy. (Who was creepier last night -- Sarver's kid or Scott's sister who appeared behind Randy during his critiques? I know Scott's sister is blind, but her stoneface was still a little offputting at times.) Michael performed one of my least favorite Michael Jackson songs, "You Are Not Alone." I guess it was an okay performance. The song is just so damn treacly that I couldn't get over that. On top of it, Michael seems to have the faint whiff of jag about him -- that same sort of douchey-ness that I often sensed about Josh Gracin. Being placed middle of the pack may not help Michael's chances much either.

5. Jasmine Murray -- I just find Jasmine exceptionally dull. She's this sort of precious teen who seems way more mature than she should be, which is probably due to the big age difference between her and her siblings, but still! Her performance of "I'll Be There" was just kind of boring. My sister said it felt like she was auditioning for "Annie," while I thought it felt more like the talent portion of the Miss Teen USA pagaent. When even Paula is critical of your performance, kid, you know you're in trouble.

6. Kris Allen: Okay, this guy is really flippin' adorable. (But again, my votes are not based on cuteness . . . but if they were there would be a whole lotta calls to 1-866-IDOL-06 on my phone bill next month!) He also brought out his instrument (THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID) for his performance of "Remember the Time." It seemed like kind of an odd choice for an acoustic guitar performance, but he does have a sort of John Mayer-y vibe that could help him out. That and that smile. (I couldn't help but laugh when Simon told him he had brought out the wife too soon . . . and thinking, "Someone shoulda told that to Danny Gokey!")

7. Allison Iraheta: Wow. Hair dye really can change your ethnic appearance. Allison is Salvadoran which I can totally see now (and after having seen her perform with her natural hair color at what appeared to be a Latin Costco) but had no clue of before. She sang "Give In To Me," a lesser known song. Not knowing the original version, I don't know how much Allison changed the song to give it that awesome rock edge. She really kicks a lot of ass. I think she's my favorite!

8. Anoop Desai: First off, Anoop picked "Beat It." Wow. That's ballsy. It is perhaps one of the most iconic songs in the Jackson canon. Anoop has good presence, but the performance just didn't work for me. His range wasn't really evident, and it did sound a tad karaoke.

9. Jorge Nunez: Jorge also pulled out a Jackson 5 tune -- "Never Can Say Good-Bye." It felt really odd and dated. I think Jorge is a decent singer, but I kind of wonder if he's not a little out of his league here. And it doesn't help that he now represents to me that Ju'not is at home and NOT competing even though he should be.

10. Megan Corkery: Another Jackson 5 tune -- "Rockin' Robin." Megan is cute, but man, this was a cheesy performance. By this point in the night, I was growing really tired of all this.

11. Adam Lambert: I will start this off by acknowledging that Adam has a great voice. He does. The thing is, I always feel like Adam is playing the part of a rock star rather than BEING a rock star. Compare him to someone like Chris Daughtery. Chris felt real and raw and genuine. Adam's performance of "Black and White" was solid in terms of notes and voice and pitch and all that jazz, but there is a lack of realness to this guy, this sense that he is the robo-Idol, manufactured somewhere in a lab to become the ultimate American Idol -- "We'll take a little bit of Daughtery, maybe a splash of Constantine, add a little Clay Aiken for good measure . . . ." I just don't know if my love affair with this show can last if someone so crassly manufactered wins the competition.

12. Matt Giraud: Another musician -- Matt broke out the piano for "Human Nature." It was an all right performance -- nothing particularly memorable. And he did have the misfortune of following Adam.

13. Alexis Grace: Poor Alexis thought she was getting the pimp spot. Unfortunately, Alexis was the unlucky 13th contestant of the night. For those of you who don't know, it turns out that Idol did not own 1-866-IDOL-13. That number belonged to a phone sex hotline, so Idol had to scramble and came up with 1-866-IDOL-36. So people who wanted to vote for Alexis had to overcome that handicap and hope her voters were smart enough to call the right number. Her performance of "Dirty Diana" felt kind of rushed and just didn't quite work for me, even though I do still really like her.

In all, it was a strong night. I would guess that the two contestants heading home will most likely be Jasmine and Anoop, although Michael or Jorge will probably join them in the bottom three. I think once we get rid of some of these safer, more boring performers, though, this season could really be a hot one -- even if Paula has already determined that it will be a Danny-Adam final.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The First Fifty Days

Well, today marks the fiftieth day since Barack Obama took office. He took office in the middle of a dire economic crisis, a quagmire in Iraq and Afghanistan, a society that had been beaten down and had rights stripped away while its intellect was relegated to whatever culture is to be found on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. The media, liberals, the world was filled with hope and joy, sure that the inauguration of Obama meant an end to all the ills of the world.

Fifty days later, here we are with the Dow the lowest its been in years, unemployment out of control, and Rush Limbaugh's ascendency to power in the GOP. Way to fail, Barry! I guess we can write this presidency off right here and now.


When has anything major been accomplishable in fifty days? President Obama entered office with the weight of the world on his shoulders. The expectations we set for this man were utterly unrealistic and ridiculous. When he works to find his footing and even struggles to come up with solutions, we scream and howl and label him weak or ineffectual or a failure. Yes, the first fifty days have had their trials. The administration made some choices that were problematic -- people who had issues with paying taxes -- and has faced some mighty steep uphill climbs -- an entrenched and stubborn GOP in Congress. Fifty days later, we are still faced with the same problems (if not worse) that plagued us on January 20, but this economic crisis needs more than a quick fix. The wars abroad can't be ended overnight. There's still a whole culture of ignorance that has fought hard to lay claim to our society that a single, articulate man can't overcome instantly. The guy needs time, and we need to give him that time. Rome wasn't built in a day, nor were our current problems created in such a short time. Fifty days is a drop in the bucket, and we need to have the patience and perserverence to let those solutions arrive.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Internet Rocks My World

I sit at home this weekend with a slightly heavy heart. You see, halfway across the country, Phish is back and performing in Virgina, and I'm here in Illinois trying to convince teenagers to give up a Saturday morning to paint and build a set. (I managed to convince 4 to come -- and 2 of them aren't even in the cast of the show!) I love my job, but dammit -- I want to be at Hampton! (I should add that there was never even a remotely serious consideration on my part about going. Besides work, there was just no way I could afford the trip -- tickets, air fare, hotel . . . not on THIS teacher's salary!)

Years ago, I would have been online reading the set lists and pouting like a baby and then trolling the discussion groups for a taper, hoping to land on a tape tree and get a 3rd or 4th generation copy of an audience recording. And I would have been happy with that.

Today, I sit here cozily in my living room as last night's show plays away on my laptop. Less than 8 hours after the band left the stage, I have it on my laptop. I sat this morning in my pajamas and felt the tears stream down my face as the crowd roared and the band launched into a lovely "Fluffhead."

If you had told me even two or three years ago that this would be possible, I would have laughed in your face. And yet here I am with not one but TWO copies of the show downloaded.

Thank you, Al Gore. Your internet is a true gift. Now, if you could get to work on that global warming thing, I'd be ever so appreciative.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sigh . . .

American Idol and I have had a pretty dysfunctional relationship over the years. More than once, the show has broken my reality-tv-watching heart. Once, I even went so far as completely ending my relationship with the show (following the ouster of Melinda Doolittle), only to be lured back by the promise of Andrew Lloyd Webber night and an increasingly loopy Paula. In the past, whether it was the dismissal of Tamyra Grey, Jennifer Hudson, Chris Daughtry, or Melinda or even the loss of Clay Aiken at the hands of Rueben Studdard (face it -- doesn't that loss seem ridiculous now?), I was able to kind of explain away the battered heart by placing blame where I felt it belonged -- right square on the shoulders of the American public. After all, WE are the ones who call in (or don't call in) for our favorites. We're the ones who let Hawaiians glut the phone lines to keep the marginally talented Jasmine Trias on the show in favor of the vastly superior Hudson or LaToya London. We're the ones who keep Sanjaya Malakar warbling his way across the stage and into the hearts of sobbing tweens. It's OUR fault.

Last night, though, I realized that this abusive relationship is a two-way street. Last night, there was no one to blame for the injustices that occured but those four judges upon whom we often count to be the voices of reason and sanity (well, at least in the case of Simon). Yes, it's America's fault for choosing Jorge Nunez over Ju'not Joyner, but the case could be made for Jorge in that the guy seems talented and likable and the idea of an accented American Idol is kind of appealing (although I don't think poor Jorge has a snowball's chance in Hell of cracking the top three). But I, like many other disappointed viewers, wasn't all that heartbroken over Ju'not. After all, I thought, he would still be competing for one of the wild card slots and would easily gain access to the top 12 that way. Right?


In their infinite wisdom, the judges last night decided that the one contestant who had "made a song his own" in a GOOD way was not worthy of the top 12. They limited their wild card candidates to 8 (instead of the 12 I had assumed) and decided to reward marginal performers like Von Smith, Tatiana Del Toro, and Jasmine Murray rather than the vastly superior Ju'not, Kristen McNamara, and Felicia Barton. While many of the choices they made made a lot of sense to me (and few were huge surprises outside of their decision to bring back Tatiana), I can't help but feel that a great injustice has been done here. I'm not even going to get into the fact that the decision to not bring back Ju'not has, as of right now, made Lil Rounds and Jorge Nunez the only performers of color this season. One of the things I always liked about American Idol was the "rainbow" nature of the show -- that it seemed to embrace all colors and nationalities as long as you were cute, skinny, and marketable. While I am not in any way implying that the decision to not include Ju'not is racist, I can't help but feel that something vital will be missing from the Idol landscape this season.

I'm not giving up on the show, but I continue on in this season with the blinders off, finally really understanding that this is a relationship that will break my heart time and time again but also understanding that, well, I just can't quit Idol.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Final Batch

Tonight, the final group of 12 performed on American Idol. All in all, it seemed like a stronger group, which is funny considering that this group seemed less competitive when the groupings were first announced. The contestants tonight, though, seemed to at least try to bring something to the table. Whether or not they were successful is up to America to decide.

1. Von Smith: I am not a fan of Von Smith. I find his shouty voice and messed up facial expressions while singing both distracting and laughable. Seriously, the dude looks like he is about two seconds away from inhaling the freakin' microphone when he sings! He was a little more subdued tonight with his "You're All I Need to Get By," but I just can't watch him when he sings.

2. Taylor Vaifanua: "If I Aint' Got You" is maybe a song that needs to be banned. It's been so overdone and there's really no topping Alicia Keys. And yet here was poor Taylor giving it her best with a competent but bland, generic performance that did her no favors. She did come across as a little old (not that that's a bad thing) and left no real impression.

3. Alex Wagner-Trubman: This guy is such a cute little nerdy guy. I'm sure his high school drama teacher loved him! His "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues" was a bit silly with the weird growls and the odd twitchy dancing. He seems like a really sweet and earnest kid, but I suspect we won't be seeing much of Alex after tonight's results show.

4. Arianna Afsar: Talk about a sweet and earnest kid. This girl is adorable -- indeed "cute as a button" as she was labeled in her audition and reassured tonight by Kara that this was indeed a compliment. Arianna is also the one who runs an "adopt a grandparent" program, so there's a good heart behind that sweet face. Unfortunately, Arianna's performance tonight was just really, really not good. She chose "The Winner Takes It All," which is perhaps Abba's most overwrought song. Again, it was a song too old for her instrument. The angst and pain in that song is not something a 17 year old can really understand. (If she wanted Abba, why not a more upbeat selection like "Take a Chance on Me" which has a more youthful vibe.) On top of that, Arianna decided to "make the song her own" by, well, making up her own notes so that the song became unrecognizable at times. Very sad.

5. Ju'not Joyner: Finally a performance worth remembering! Ju'not's mellow, sexy take on "Hey There, Delilah" was so enjoyable. He didn't push and delve into histrionics like so many did before him. He just came out and sang a sweet, simple tune in a lovely, simple way that made the song his own while still respecting the integrity of the song. If Ju'not doesn't make it through tonight (and it's iffy for him considering his placement in the lineup and the performances that came later), he definitely deserves a wild card shot.

6. Kristen McNamara: I wasn't much of a fan of Kristen's leading into tonight. Her group performance drama just kind of turned me off. Her performance of "Gimme One Reason" tonight, though, wasn't bad. She has a strong voice and is slightly reminiscent of Kelly Clarkson without Kelly's power and presence. I found Kristen's performance, though, a little "clean" (this is kind of a dirty, gritty song) and she was done no favors by the laughable Broadway-esque arrangement provided by the band. (Seriously, what is up with them this season?) But again, she is likely a top wild card contender.

7. Nathaniel Marshall: Oh, Nathaniel. Within about 5 seconds of his performance of "I Would Do Anything for Love," my sis and I were rolling with laughter. She said it felt to her like a cheesy 70's variety show performance. With the cheesy dance moves (the pointing, oh, the pointing!) and the over-the-top song choice, Nathaniel gave a memorable performance, but not the one I'm sure he intended. And Nathaniel, when a judge compares your performance to Boy George, they're meaning that you're queer, dear.

8. Felicia Barton: For those of you that don't know, Felicia was not supposed to be performing last night. She was supposed to be home with her baby watching and seething and thinking how that coulda been her up there. But Felicia got lucky when the producers realized that letting a close friend of theirs (Joanna Pacitti) get through MIGHT be considered a conflict of interest. So Joanna (whose life is a string of near misses with fame -- seriously! Google that chick and see. If it was a made-for-Lifetime movie, you wouldn't believe it!) was sent packing and Felicia was brought back. Felicia performed Alicia Keys's "No One" and did a passable job even though it did sound pretty copycat to me. (Can Alicia Keys be added please to that list of "untouchable" artists?) I wouldn't be overly surprised to see Felicia sneak in if only because America might dig her "second chance at the dream" story, but she probably isn't as deserving as, say, Kristen.

9. Scott McIntyre: I have to start off by saying I really love Scott, and not just because he's blind. I like that folk-y sort of vibe he has. It was not overly shocking to see him select a Bruce Hornsby song, and I liked the mellow vibe he gave off. That sort of "folk dude" thing is gaining some popularity right now, so I could see Scott having a successful career. I would also suspect he's a top contender to make it through tonight. And if he doesn't, wild card for sure.

10. Kendall Beard: For a second there, I thought I'd switched the channel accidentally and ended up on "The Search for Elle Woods." And then I remembered that Legally Blonde closed months ago and I saw Paula Abdul and knew I was safe. Her choice of a country song made her stand out, but "This One's for the Girls" is kind of a ridiculous song and was not particularly well sung by cute little Kendall.

11. Jorge Nunez: I didn't have incredibly high expectations for Jorge, particularly after his intro video that made him seem like some sort of crazy Ricky Martin/Ricky Ricardo stereotype. He does have some weird, funky facial things he does when he sings, but if you close your eyes, he's really quite good. His performance of "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me" was lovely. His teary response to the praise he received may allow him to sneak past Scott and Ju'not for a spot on the silver stools of success, and it would be a deserved victory even if I do like Scott and Ju'not better.

12. Lil Rounds: Okay, I call shenanigans here. Like Danny Gokey, Lil has clearly been annointed by the producers as a "chosen one." To make that selection even more obvious, Lil got the "pimp spot" last night, pretty much assuring her spot on a silver stool, joining previous pimp spot holders Danny and Adam Lambert. Here's the thing -- none of these people probably needed that boost. Lil, especially, blew the rest of the women out of the water last night with her version of Mary J. Blige's "Be Without You." That girl has presence, talent, and charisma and is PROBABLY the next American Idol. But can we just be trusted to realize that for ourselves without having her shoved down our throats?

So my pick for tonight's winners would be Lil for sure and then I think the other two spots will go to Jorge, Scott, or Ju'not. Kristen could sneak in there, but I think the three guys had the stronger performances.

Tomorrow night is the Wild Card show where the judges will select three more people to round out the top 12. Working under the assumption that they will pick an even number from each of the three groups, I predict they're going to bring back the following for one more shot at glory: Ricky Braddy, Anoop Desai, Ann Marie Boskovich, Stephen Fowler, Megan Corkery, Mishovanna Henson, Jessie Langseth, Jasmine Murray, and then from tonight Kristen McNamara, the loser of the Jorge-Scott-Ju'not standoff, Felicia Barton, and Von Smith.

Monday, March 2, 2009

"This Crowd is Nasty!"

I was so distracted by the extra bonus attraction at the symphony Saturday night that I forgot what I had initially planned to discuss about my experience Saturday night. Prior to the "moon" incident, I was actually in a bit of a tiz, a bit shocked and horrified about the ordeal I had experienced prior to taking my seat.

In the parking lot of the show, I'd encountered yet another former student of mine -- Missy, a speech and drama alum who was pretty much my right hand all last year as president of the Drama Club. She is off at school now but had returned home for the weekend for a dentist's appointment and to see the symphony. She is a cellist herself, so the chance to see the featured soloist (whom she has known her whole life) was pretty great.

Missy and I walked into the lobby of the Orpheum Theatre which was packed to the gills with people in line waiting to buy last minute tickets and/or waiting in line to go into the theatre itself. We cut through the lobby as best we could and headed over to the empty concession area where Missy's mother was waiting. We chatted briefly and then decided to head in and find our seats.

THIS is where the tiz originates.

We moved out into the lobby and began the process of joining the line waiting to get into the theatre. I joined the line and then stood there and watched at at least five old ladies cut right in front of me. What should have taken a matter of a minute or two ended up taking nearly ten as I was continually brushed past by these elderly women. At one point, we reached a standstill and I realized it was because one old lady had stopped and was holding a full conversation with the ticket taker (also an old lady). My sis had managed to be more agressive or something as she was waiting for me when I finally got through the line. She was standing with a theatre manager (also a former student) and laughing because she could see the look of frustration on my face and had witnessed at least one line jump from a particularly tiny old lady (I probably should have just stepped on her and crushed her, but I was taught to respect my elders!). I said, "Old people are freakin' rude!" The theatre manager replied, "Welcome to symphony night. This crowd is nasty!"

And here's what I was chewing on in the minutes leading up to the beginning of the program Saturday night . . . "WHAT THE FRICK?!???" I cannot wait to be old so I can throw common courtesy right out the window. Now, it would have been one thing if I had kindly stepped aside and let the women go first. And I actually did that as I was initially merging into the line. What irked me was that I was clearly already in line and these old bats just walked right in front of me like I wasn't even there. So take this as a warning, world. When Mel gets old (and it's coming quicker than I'd like to admit), I am going to be the rudest, brassiest, most inconsiderate old broad ever. So watch your toes. The symphony has taught me that with age comes privilege and that privilege is not having to wait in line to see the symphony!!