Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Usher-ing in a New Idol

Last night was R&B night on American Idol. While many performers gave some pretty forgettable performances, there were a couple shockers as one "mediocre" Idol made the first real case that he could challenge the Mighty Bowersox, one powerhouse Idol fell with a crashing thud, and I considered a restraining order against Ms. Bowersox.

For the most part, Usher seemed like a relatively competent mentor, but anything is an improvement over Hannah Montana last week. I grew frustrated with the overabundance of talk coming from the judges since a lot of it boiled down to them arguing over who was giving the best advice. It's a wonder the kids' heads don't explode from the conflicting advice that they must sit through each week. For the most part, Simon was in the right more often, although I am not so sure Katie Stevens is a country artist. I know he's desperate to discover the next Taylor Swift, but Si-Si, Katie Stevens is NOT Taylor Swift.

Before I move onto my rankings, I'd also like to ask the producers to please stop with the backstage "Idol Cam" to usher us back in from commercial breaks. It's uncomfortable in some cases (seeing Siobhan skulk through the green room after being torn apart by the judges) and downright cheesy and self-indulgent in others (like whenever Mike grinned and posed for the camera). It's bad enough sitting through the weekly torture that is the group numbers. Please don't make us sit through this. Thank you.

1. Crystal Bowersox -- Last Thursday, I wrote the following: "I'd LOVE to hear her do Gladys Knight. Since Crystal is stalking me, I wouldn't be surprised to hear her tackle 'Midnight Train.'" Guess what Ms. Bowersox did last night . . . yup, "Midnight Train to Georgia." If I go missing, please send police to question Crystal Bowersox. Please. Crystal broke from her norm last night, setting aside the guitar to play piano a little and then singing on her own. Yes, it worked, but I agree with Simon that she shouldn't mess with a good thing. Bless him for defending her in the face of the other judges harping on and on about her personality issues and the need to change things. Crystal has a good thing going. It works for her. It sets her apart. This is the artist that she is and she will be, so stop making her dance your little puppet dances, Kara. (Additional props to Simon for telling her she should have 86'ed the backup singers. Those bitches attempted to drown out more than one performer last night and should have been kicked to the curb. It's American Idol, not American Back-Up Singers!)

2. Lee Dewyze -- Lee pulled away from the pack last night and made a real play for Crystal's throne with his rock-fueled, energetic performance of "Treat Her Like a Lady." It was the first time Lee's given solid evidence that he could be a potential challenger. His gruff mellowness, if that is such a thing, is appealing, and he's a talented kid. He's like a slightly dirtier Kris Allen, and maybe once we finally get smart and get Tim Urban off the show, he can score some more of the bubblegum voters.

3. Michael Lynche Thank you, Michael, for setting aside the grinning and pointing and jazz hands for a week and reminding us that you are actually a talented singer when you're not hiding behind the "Hooray for Everything" dance moves. Michael benefited the most, perhaps, from Usher's mentoring in that he stripped India.Arie's lovely "Ready for Love" down to its purest form and just sang. He connected with the song and respected the song to be enough without the grinning and pointing and kicking. (And shame on you, Kara, for not knowing this song!)

4. Casey James Casey's "Hold On, I'm Coming" was rockin' and infectious and fun. The problem is that he was outsung by the backup singers. Their mix was significantly higher than his, which meant he was often lost on the chorus of the song. Despite that, though, he gave a solid performance. The problem with Casey is that he's not a great singer; he's a potentially great musician. He really could, with some work, be the new Jonny Lang or Kenny Wayne Shepherd -- guys who are great musicians but not necessarily great singers. The problem is that the kind of fan base that a Lang or Shepherd (or even, dare I be so bold to say, Stevie Ray Vaughn) aren't the kinds of people who will necessarily embrace a dude from American Idol no matter how mean his guitar playing skills are.

5. Andrew Garcia I can't comment a lot on Andrew's performance as the only thing I know of or about Chris Brown is that he beats his girlfriends. I did like Andrew's performance despite not knowing the original. I'm glad that Andrew seems to be willing to put up a fight through this thing rather than just shrugging and giving up ala Paige Miles last week.

6. Katie Stevens I was really disappointed in Katie's choice last night. I really thought this would have been the perfect week for her to skew young and really showcase what kind of pop/R&B artist she could be since she claims that is what she sees for herself. Instead, she pulled out "Chain of Fools," a song that is 3 times older than Katie and a million times too mature for her. Come on, Katie! You're working the main stage on a cruise with shit like that. Grow a set and tackle something contemporary! Katie's performance was competent but it was like watching a precocious child entertain Mommy and Daddy's friends before being hustled off to bed so that the key party can start. And while we're talking outdated references -- Katie . . . the outfit? Seriously? A dull grey onesie over shiny, shiny black tights? Do they not have mirrors backstage? Sweetie, that was NOT flattering. When in doubt, break out a pair of jeans and a cute top. And lose the accessories.

7. Aaron Kelly Earlier this week, Entertainment Weekly printed a list of 20 songs that should be banned from Idol. I'd like to add "Ain't No Sunshine" to this list. First of all, it's a tough song. But more importantly, there have already been two, yes two, stunning, iconic performances of this song performed on the Idol stage. Season 1's Christina Christian gave her finest performance on the Idol stage with this song during 1970's week, a performance that briefly made her seem poised to present a real challenge to Tamyra Grey and Kelly Clarkson. And then there was last season's performance from Kris Allen during iTunes Download week. That was the first week where Kris really seemed like he could take down Adam Lambert . . . which he did. Aaron's version lacked the heart and passion of Christina and Kris and instead, again, seemed more like a kid performing for Mom and Dad's friends. Like Katie, I wish Aaron had picked something that skewed a little younger, because, sweetie, you're not going to become a superstar performing like that.

8. Siobhan Magnus Yes, I am ranking Siobhan in the bottom three this week. Let's be honest; her performance was a hot mess. From her selection of "Through the Fire" to her outfit, it was just not right. Not helping Siobhan was that she was the first singer, which often can lead to being completely forgotten. The judges were careful to point out that this week was a mis-step rather than a reason for her to be sent home. The truth is that Siobhan is still the strongest non-Bowersox performer in the show and losing her now would be a real blow to the competition. I just wish Siobhan had not gone such a staid route. I mean, it felt like the anthem from a bad 80's movie rather than a contemporary performance. I love that Siobhan had the nerve to tackle Chaka Khan, but why not "Tell Me Something Good" which would have allowed her to play a little more with her dark and funky side. And yes, Siobhan, let's retire the scream for a week and see what happens, 'kay?

9. Didi Benami Well, Didi did take my advice by performing "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?" I guess I had hoped she'd do a little re-imagining of it -- bringing out her guitar and giving it a delicate, folksy feel. Instead, she came out dressed like a refuge from a 1970's cruise ship and did a so-so karaoke take. She was overwhelmed musically by the song and the arrangement. The song served to shine a big, fat spotlight on not just the fragility of Didi's voice but the limitations of it as well. If Didi survives this week, which I'm worried she may not, I do hope that she goes back to that Cobie Callait vibe she was working back during Hollywood Week. If next week is Country Week (like I'm kind of thinking is the case based on Casey's promise to go acoustic next week), it would be great to see Didi take a Patsy Kline or Dolly Parton tune, strip it down, and go for it rather than doing this sort of Love Boat schtick. (Again, props to Simon for his dig at Dancing with the Stars and the poor performance skills of the singers on that show. Priceless!!)

10. Tim Urban Okay, this next post is for the girlies out there. Girls, I get it. Tim is adorable. He is! He has a face made for plastering on bedroom walls. If I were 20, 25 years younger, I would be crazy about that kid. But here's the truth of the matter, ladies . . . Tim is not a good singer. His performance of "Sweet Love" (yeah, seriously, dude sang "Sweet Love") was painful -- to us and clearly, judging from the look on his face, to him, too. He has no charisma to compensate for that lack of ability the way Sanjaya did. I'm also beginning to think the guy is either extremely arrogant or extremely stupid after watching him laugh through his entire critique last night. The judges kept giving him some pretty decent constructive advice and expressing their concern that he doesn't seem to be listening to things that could help him, and he just laughed. Either way, he needs to be sent home. Please, please, please, girls, do the right thing. Vote for Aaron. He's cute. Or how about Lee. That's the guy you'll fall for in college. Just please let Tim go.... for America!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Armchair Quarterbacking American Idol

My students are testing today (we just finished reading Of Mice and Men), so it leaves me with a little downtime -- the perfect opportunity to do a little surfing as spring break gets closer and closer. Having exhausted local car dealership websites as I debate whether now is the time to get rid of my Sebring before it needs any more costly repairs, I moved to American Idol and stumbled across this, a list of the songs from which the Idols will chose for next week's R&B themed performances.


As I looked through the list, I found myself thinking, "Oh! I hope Crystal tries that one. Oh, Lord, please let Katie Stevens keep her hands off that!"

So I decided to do a little armchair quarterbacking to list what songs I THINK the Idols should do next week. Feel free to agree or disagree . . . not that I think anyone is actually reading these Idol ramblings of mine.

Crystal Bowersox
"Let's Stay Together" (Al Green), "Chain of Fools" (Aretha Franklin), "Midnight Train to Georgia" (Gladys Knight and the Pips), "Dancing in the Streets" (Martha and the Vandellas), "People Get Ready" (The Impressions).
Crystal intimated to the judges that she had a "surprise" planned for Tuesday. My suspicion is that she's going for something a little more upbeat. "Dancing in the Streets" would be a good, upbeat number that would lend itself to her happy hippy vibe. (Check out the Grateful Dead doing that song.) Many of the others I've listed would also allow her to let loose a little more. I'd LOVE to hear her do Gladys Knight. Since Crystal is stalking me, I wouldn't be surprised to hear her tackle "Midnight Train." When this theme was announced last night, I worried for Crystal, but seeing this list makes me think that she'll be just fine.

Siobhan Magnus
"I Can't Stand the Rain" (Tina Turner), "Tell Me Something Good" (Chaka Khan and Rufus)
While Siobhan has tackled some classic R&B tunes before ("Think", "Superstition"), it is her rock performances that tend to stand out more. Siobhan is at her best when she goes dark, and either of these songs will let her go there. I think "Tell Me Something Good" is probably her best choice in that it's got a great groove that she can dirty up a little.

Didi Bemani
"Rainy Night in Georgia" (Brook Benton), "Georgia on My Mind" (Ray Charles), "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted" (Jimmy Ruffin), "Mercy Mercy Me" (Marvin Gaye), "Just My Imagination" (The Temptations)
I think Didi is going to be in trouble next week. For starters, the theme doesn't necessarily suit her voice or style all that well. For another, am I the only one who found her a bit petulant and maybe even rude last night when she called the judges on the carpet for their contradictory advice? My sis is a firm believer that contestants who talk back to the judges (particularly Simon) are dooming themselves to bottom three territory at the very least if not outright elimination. It happened to the beloved Justin Guarini. He got a little sassy in season one and boom! He was in the bottom three. (His curls saved him from elimination, I suspect.) Kevin Covais got snippy with Simon. Boom! Gone the next week. I think Didi would do well to stay within her wheelhouse and tackle one of these soulful tunes that might lend themselves better to her note bending voice rather than come out and try to be a total diva. Her delicacy may save her. Or not.

Katie Stevens
"Umbrella" (Rihanna), "We Belong Together" (Mariah Carey), "The Boy Is Mine" (Brandy), "No One" (Alicia Keys)
Even though her Fergie cover landed her in the bottom three last night, Katie needs to stay contemporary and young to save herself from elimination. She claimed last night that she wanted to be a pop/R&B artist, so here's her chance. Granted, there's not a ton of contemporary stuff on the list (at least not that's well-suited for a 17-year-old girl), but any of these songs could be good for her. Also, they are a bit more upbeat, which may help breathe a little life in Katie who can seem a bit wooden onstage. "We Belong Together" would be my choice although I worry it's out of Katie's range. The kid needs to take some risks, though, if she wants to stick around for another week.

Mike Lynche
"I'll Make Love to You" (Boyz II Men), "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" (Marvin Gaye), "I Wish" (Stevie Wonder), "This Old Heart of Mine" (The Isley Brothers)
The big mystery of next week will be wondering who is going to show up -- the Big Mike capable of tearing our hearts out (ala "This Woman's Work") or the Big Mike who's pointing and cheesing it up and shucking and jiving his way around the stage (ala "Miss You"). My hope is that Mike takes the heart tearing route and chooses a slightly uptempo ballad. Yes, I recognize that any of these songs (particularly "I'll Make Love to You") have a lot of cheese potential, but done right (which I think Mike is capable of), they can be really moving.

Casey James
"Mustang Sally" (Wilson Pickett), "In the Midnight Hour" (Wilson Pickett), "Easy" (The Commodores)
I'm going to be really surprised if Casey doesn't do "Mustang Sally." Seriously, the guy is just a good ol' bar band dude, and is there a good ol' bar band out there that doesn't have "Mustang Sally" in its repetoire? Come on!

Tim Urban
"Don't Be Cruel" (Bobby Brown), "I Want You Back" (Jackson 5), "I Second That Emotion" (Smokey Robinson and the Miracles)
We have to think that Tim is probably in the most danger this week based on two consecutive weeks in the bottom three. At some point, his cuteness will no longer be enough to keep the votes coming in (and come on, we all know the reason Tim is still around is the fact that he's so damn cute!). I think he could probably do any of these songs justice . . . well, okay, maybe that's stretching things. He wouldn't totally suck at these songs. Well, okay . . . maybe . . . Fine! These are my suggestions.

Andrew Garcia
"Dock of the Bay" (Otis Redding), "Who's Loving You?" (Jackson 5), "Human Nature" (Michael Jackson)
I'm really at a bit of a loss for Andrew. We know he's going to go acoustic. There aren't a ton of songs that lend themselves to the acoustic treatment or even to an Andrew-style reinvention ala "The Song I Refuse to Mention from Hollywood Week." I think he could do a really lovely "Dock of the Bay." But at this point with Andrew, who knows?

Aaron Kelly
"Never Can Say Goodbye" (Jackson 5), "Higher and Higher" (Jackie Wilson)
Aaron is another tough one. He's had some good performances the past few weeks with ballads, but I think Aaron needs to youth-enize himself, too, to begin proving he could be the new Justin Bieber or the country Bieber I think he should try to be. He might be better off with some Chris Brown or Ne-Yo, but I'm not overly familiar with their work, so I'm going with these two more uptempo numbers with the caveat that Chris Brown or Ne-Yo might be a better option. How's that for playing it safe?

Lee Dewyze
"Rainy Night in Georgia" (Brook Benton), "I've Been Loving You Too Long" (Otis Redding), "Living for the City" (Stevie Wonder)
Poor Lee. I have to admit I keep forgetting that he's even on this show! Again, I imagine this week may be a struggle for him. I am reluctant to put "Living for the City" on this list since Taylor Hicks did such a memorable cover of that back in season five, but it's a song that could be well suited to Lee's gravelly tone.

Thoughts? (No hate mail when NONE of my predictions come true)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Superstar or Creeper?

Okay, guys, I have something a little uncomfortable to discuss with you. I've been debating whether to bring it up, but, well . . . here goes . . . . I think I'm being stalked. After last night's American Idol, I'm actually pretty sure I'm being stalked. I appear to have an obsessive fan who is going above and beyond to get my attention. Well, Miss Crystal Bowersox, it's working. You have my attention. I am flattered by your obsession and how you have gone above and beyond to get my attention. You shrewdly showed up on the Idol stage with your dreadlocks and lot-fresh look, making me wonder if perhaps I didn't once buy a goo ball from you in some parking lot long ago. But that wasn't enough for you. You needed insurance. So you started pulling out songs you were sure I would like -- "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman." A little Alanis. A little CCR. Throw in some Tracey Chapman. Nice. Subtle. Not too over the top. No, over the top came last week when you decided to pull out the big gun and pick the song that is universally known to be my favorite song -- "You Can't Always Get What You Want." That started to make me feel a little uncomfortable. After last night, I'm downright scared. Crystal followed up her terrific performance from last week with an absolutely incendiary performance of my OTHER favorite song of all time "Me and Bobby McGee." Of ALL the Billboard #1's she could have picked, she picked that one. It was beautiful. It was powerful. It moved me to tears -- partly because I was afraid she was going to show up at my door with a plate of magic brownies. Okay, maybe THAT wouldn't be so bad.

In all seriousness, Crystal was absolutely amazing last night. There was Crystal and then there was everyone else. She was the only one who seemed to make a real case for being the next American Idol. She was the only one who seemed like a real star up there. And as a fan of the type of music Crystal seems to be peddling, I can't wait for her to start releasing her own work.

Other than Crystal, last night was a largely disappointing venture as even Siobhan seemed a little off. Maybe it was the influence of "mentor" Miley Cyrus (please don't get me started on that one!). There was little last night, though, that made me sit up and take notice once Crystal was done, but here are the rankings nonetheless.

1. Crystal Bowersox. DUH! And thank you, Simon, for basically telling Crystal she doesn't need to lose anything. Keep the guitar, keep the rug (which I just noticed this week -- has it always been there?) and keep rockin', sistah!

2. Siobhan Magnus I'm not sure that "Superstitious" was Siobhan's best choice, which, outside of Crystal, seemed to be the theme of the evening. For Siobhan, it just seemed that Stevie Wonder really didn't fit the artist she seems to be selling herself as. How do you go from that dark, alternative take on "Paint It Black" to Stevie? Wouldn't Siobhan have been better served with maybe "Nothing Compares 2 U" or Lisa Loeb's "Stay" or "I Kissed a Girl" or even "My Life Would Suck Without You"? I know that the Billboard charts aren't necessarily filled with alternative girls, but they weren't tied to the Hot 100. There is a Billboard "Modern Rock" chart from which she could have picked Siouxsie and the Banshees "Peek-a-Boo", Kate Bush's "Love and Anger", Concrete Blonde's "Joey", Tori Amos's "God", The Cranberries' "Zombie." All much better choices. Now, I know that even though we were told the Idols could pick ANY #1, they probably had a limited list from which to choose, but you can't tell me there wasn't something better suited to Siobhan than this one. And I will also add my voice to the chorus of people asking that Siobhan please stop screaming at the end of every song. Thanks.

3. Casey James Yet another lousy choice as Casey picked Huey Lewis's "Power of Love." Yeah, you read that right. Listen, Huey Lewis was old-fashioned in 1984; he's old-fashioned now. His music has not aged well and feels incredibly dated now. I thought maybe Casey would come out and really give the song a cool re-invention. Nope. Same horns. Same riffs. I felt like I needed to grab hold of someone's bumper and go skateboarding through Hill Valley. Again, let's play a "Why Not" for Casey. Instead of Huey Lewis and if Casey is so set on the 80s, what about some Don Henley? He could lend himself to a blues rock re-invention. Springsteen has surely had a couple number one tunes.

4. Lee DeWyze Lee chose "The Letter," which I actually didn't think was an awful choice. The problem for me, though, was the memory of the hot version of this that Michael Johns and Carly Smithson threw down a couple years ago. Lee's version seemed rather staid by comparison . . . a little on the loungey side, if you ask me.

5. Mike Lynche Mike bored me for the second straight week. If the judges are going to keep throwing "Straight Up" in Andrew Garcia's face, how much longer will it be before they start throwing "This Woman's Work" at Mike? Plus, can I be frank here for a second? Mike's "Sensitive Dude" angle is really starting to grate on me to the point where I kind of wonder if the guy is rocking a mangina down there. Mike chose "When a Man Loves a Woman", and it was really, really dull. It was competent but forgettable and totally cliche. And it brings me to a point that started to get on my nerves last night -- the fact that the contestants really seemed to be mired in the past. Outside of Katie Stevens, no one did a song originally released within the past 10 years. These are young people and they are singing songs significantly older than they are. Now, I know the argument would be, "That's because there's no good music anymore." Kinda true -- with some exceptions . . . take a listen to some contemporary radio and you may find a couple artists who are doing some cool stuff still. Honest! The thing is that these kids are attempting to inject themselves into the contemporary market ... by doing covers of songs that are older than dirt. As much as I love "Against All Odds" or "You're No Good" or "The Letter," these songs really don't have a ton of relevance in today's music market unless they are given a modern spin. These kids need to prove that they can sell records (or downloads), and I just don't see the market (particularly in the key demographics) rushing to download "Power of Love." And the older people who drive CD sales, well, we'll just go buy Huey Lewis's original rather than a pale imitation.

6. Aaron Kelly I believe I've mentioned on this blog before how much I dislike Aerosmith's "Don't Wanna Miss a Thing." Well, I do ... I dislike it ... a lot. I love Aerosmith, but that song is just like nails on a chalkboard for me. So of course it would be performed last night by a contestant whose very presence is like nails on a chalkboard. Aaron did an okay job with a schlocky song. I do think Aaron would be smart to go a country route since I think he could be super marketable as a country teen idol -- a country Justin Bieber. There are a LOT of teen girls who love country music, based on the girls I work with, and they would love a cutie like this kid.

7. Katie Stevens Kudos to Katie for choosing a contemporary song in "Big Girls Don't Cry" by Fergie. I will say, though, that I have to agree with my sister that I would like to hear Katie's "real" voice. I have a hard time believing that this deep, smokey voice is coming from this girl. I still am not a fan, and I still think she needs more training than Miley Cyrus can offer, but she's safe for another week or two.

8. Didi Benami I have to admit that I actually LIKED Didi's version of "You're No Good." I get where the judges were coming from, particularly Simon's critique that it seemed very theatrical. I'm a theatre teacher; of course I'm going to love a performance like that! Yes, Didi could have picked something better suited to her -- "Stay," "Take a Bow" (the Madonna version), maybe taken a look at the Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac offerings again, or even tried a different Linda Ronstadt song. I kind of worry that Didi is in danger of bottom three territory tonight, which would be unfortunate because I think the girl has a mighty performance in her, and I'd like to see it and I do think there were others worse than she was.

9. Andrew Garcia
Poor Andrew. He will forever be dogged by the ghost of MC Skat Kat for having the balls to perform "Straight Up" so well during Hollywood Week. He created a tremendous buzz and has yet to live up to it. He took on "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" last night and it was just kind of dull. I give him props for putting the guitar down, but there was just nothing all that interesting about his performance. Totally in danger tonight.

10. Tim Urban
Same for Tim who made a really bad choice in Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," a song which was intentionally dated when it came out. Wouldn't it have been nice if Tim had come out and done something like "Hey There Delilah". Jesus, even some Nelson would have been better than this.

11. Paige Miles
What is going to save Tim and Andrew and Didi from elimination, though, is Paige. Oh, Paige! First of all, PHIL COLLINS?!?!???? "Against All Odds" is a great song, but it was totally out of her range, forcing her voice to dip down into some really scary places. And seriously, who chooses Phil Collins? This girl has to know she's vulnerable -- she was in the bottom two last week. This was the time to kick out the jams, to really show her stuff and prove to America why she's the artist they want playing on their radios all summer long. Paige is a Michael Jackson fan. Why not tackle one of his songs? Why not try Janet Jackson? Or Rihanna? I admire her for not tackling a big gun like Whitney or Mariah, but what about Toni Braxton? Beyonce? Heck, I'd even say Alicia Keys. Prove your marketability, prove you can hold you own on the charts with the women who are dominating them right now. Don't pull out a 25-year-old ballad by a balding British man and then have the audacity to sing it so poorly that it's being labelled one of the worst Idol performances ever. EVER! Unless America decides to throw the biggest pity party ever, I suspect it's Paige who will be packing her bags tonight ... and not for the summer tour.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I Got SOME Satisfaction

Let's start off with one thing: I freakin' love the Rolling Stones. I would say they are one of my top five favorite bands of all time. So when I heard that the first theme night of American Idol this season would be the music of the Rolling Stones, I was both pumped and nauseous. To be honest, we all know that this season of Idol has been mediocre thus far at best (with a couple exceptions), and I wasn't sure I would be able to handle the sure mangling some of my favorite songs were about to face. And of course the big question: would any singer have the cojones to tackle "Harlem Shuffle"?

Last night wasn't as much of a train wreck as I was expecting, but outside of two performances, nothing really stuck with me. By the end of the show, I had a hard time remembering what some people had even performed. Not a good sign, right? The little I've read from other bloggers seems to be in line with what I'm thinking -- this has become a two-woman race with everyone else scrambling for scraps. That could all change next week (or in weeks to come), but for now, this show belongs to Crystal Bowersox and Siobhan Magnus. Both hit it out of the theatre last night with confident, engaging performances that were miles above anyone else.

The rankings:

1. Siobhan Magnus -- Holy cow! This girl is the shit! Her version of "Paint It Black" was mesmerizing, powerful, and entertaining. I nicknamed her "Girlbert" last night in that she plays the dynamics and drama of music the way that Adam Lambert did -- and she can scream without sticking out her damn tongue! She's a gorgeous combination of Tori Amos, Margo Timmins, and Dolores O'Riordan...but with an edge. And her geeky glasses make me love her even more. Out of sight! I can't wait to download this song and BLAST it on the ol' ipod!

2. Crystal Bowersox -- My girl got not only the pimp spot but she also played my favorite song of all time -- "You Can't Always Get What You Want." The judges were slightly withholding of great praise, instead accusing Crystal of getting lazy and seeming like she thinks she "has this in the bag." I've never gotten that perception of her. If anything, the JUDGES have been acting like Crystal has it in the bag. Maybe they think calling her out on that is doing her a favor and activating her fan base. To me, it seemed like they were accusing her of arrogance and that it might end up doing her more harm than good. (How adorable was Papa Bowersox when he started choking up remembering the song Crystal sang to him?) I thought it was incredibly gracious of Crystal to acknowledge that Siobhan probably took the night, but Crystal did put up a good fight and made it clear that it's a battle between these two amazing, original woman.

3. Didi Benami -- Yeah, I'm still on the Didi train. I still see a lot of potential in her. I thought her "Playing With Fire" was lovely. In other seasons, she'd probably be middle of the pack, but once Siobhan and Crystal are taken out of the mix, I think Didi was probably the best of the night.

4. Casey James -- Casey was right on Didi's heels, though, with a cool kind of country-blues take on "It's All Over Now." (It does smell a little like shenanigan spirits, though, that they were given the option of doing a Rolling Stones COVER instead of a Rolling Stones original. Just saying . . .) I thought the comparisons to Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Jonny Lang were pretty on target, although I think Casey still lacks the grit and soul that Shepherd and Lang have. He's kind of like the Great America salute to Kenny Wayne Shepherd -- competent, engaging, but ultimately too scrubbed down to really be a bluesman.

5. Michael Lynche -- Yeah, I'm putting Big Mike lower this week. I suspect if I went back and watched over again, Mike's performance may have been better than Casey or Didi's. But here's the thing . . . about 30 minutes after his performance (while the show was STILL GOING ON), I could not for the life of me remember what Mike had performed. Seriously. His "Miss You" was completely forgotten. And that's not a good sign. I continue to worry about Mike's cheese factor. He takes his mannerisms so over the top at times that it's painful. My sis takes it even further and accuses Mike of essentially becoming a minstrel -- forcing himself into the role of the R&B man that the judges so desperately seem to want even though he has the talent to take chances and tackle some more rock-heavy music.

6. Lee Dewyze -- Yes, Lee continues to stir controversy Chez Mel, although I did get my sis last night to admit that he seems like a nice guy and not the roofie-packing date rapist she'd said he resembles. His "Beast of Burden" was decent enough. I like the little growl in his voice. My sis finds it lazy. She thinks he's in danger. I think he's good enough to stick around a bit longer. We'll see who's right.

7. Aaron Kelly -- Yeah, the shocker of the night. Aaron was pretty decent. Sure, he picked one of the safest choices in "Angie." He gave it a little country spin that worked well. He was in tune. He's cute, I guess. I still don't like him, but I have to begrudgingly put him here because he did a decent enough job . . . even if it should have been Alex Lambert standing on that stage last night instead.

8. Andrew Garcia -- Oh, Andrew. How the mighty have fallen! Just a few weeks ago, I labelled Andrew as the men's best hope for success this season. Now, he's ranked in the bottom half and is falling fast. His choice of "Gimme Shelter" was brave. It's probably the hardest song in the Rolling Stones catalog. It is a powerful song that grabs you by the gut for a solid four and a half minutes and won't let go. It is a mighty song of social activism that found a way to blend power chords and a railing against social injustice like no song before. I mean, it has a chorus that screams, "Rape! Murder! It's just a shot away!" WOW! And Andrew came out and did this kind of blissed-out, mellow performance that undercut everything Jagger and Richards intended this song to be. I am totally with Kara on this one. If you're going to sing a song like "Gimme Shelter," you have GOT to feel it. Andrew let the song down last night in a big way. If he were sent home tonight, I would honestly not be all that shocked. I do think that the four people ranked below him were worse, but I wonder if they might not have powerful enough fan bases to keep them alive a little longer.

9. Paige Miles -- So is Paige a country singer now? Her "Honky Tonk Women" had a definite country feel to it (and yes, the song has the same feel, I know). I thought it was an odd choice -- to pick one of the most masculine of the definitely masculine Stones songs and then turn it into a female song. "I'M a honky tonk woman?" Really?? It was okay enough, though. The real question here is whether Paige will be "punished" for stealing a spot in the top 12 that most people don't seem to think she deserves. Again, can you imagine what Lilly or Katelyn would have done last night? What kind of challenge could the two of them have posed to the Crystal-Siobhan juggernaut? Since we can't vote AGAINST performers, that may keep Paige safe for a little longer. Or not.

10. Tim Urban -- Tim's in trouble. No doubt. To be quite honest with you, I kind of liked his sort of reggae-fied version of "Under My Thumb." Of course, I also have an ipod loaded with Jack Johnson and Jason Mraz, so take that comment for what it's worth. Tim's no dummy. Tim has to know he probably should be home right now, but I applaud him for being self-aware enough to come out and not try to emulate Mick Jagger, to stay within his own wheelhouse as best he could. Perhaps his mellow vibe would have worked better with a different song rather than "Under My Thumb," but bless the kid for taking some chances. The fact that he's also super adorable may get the tweens voting enough to keep him around.

11. Katie Stevens -- Oh, what a surprise! Katie sang "Wild Horses." Oh, what a surprise! Katie sounded like she was auditioning for Star Search . . . or the Miss Teen USA pageant. Zzzzzzzzz. Here's my big question: with her family in the audience rooting her on, who's home taking care of Grandma with the Alzheimer's?

12. Lacey Brown -- I have come to loathe Lacey Brown. I think her voice is totally affected. I think her performance skills are shoddy. I think that she's a closet bitch. (Seriously, look at her face when she's given any sort of criticism. She has laser eyes!) I thought her performance of "Ruby Tuesday" was painful -- showing no sense of emotion or dynamics and I hated the way she changed up "Still I'm gonna miss you." LAME. Please, America, let's send Lacey home where she can continue shopping for glittery leopard print tops and start auditioning for the Golden Girls musical. PLEASE!

I kind of feel like Lacey is/should be headed home. I know that surprises are always plentiful, though, on Idol, so who knows? Next week, my spring musical will be over, and perhaps there will be a surprise in store. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Dirty Dozen

(Have I used that title before? Probably. Aw, who cares?)

The top 12 contenders for the American Idol title were revealed last week. There were some major shockers, some questionable choices, and the general season that this year may not be as strong as initially hoped. There are definitely several people that stand no chance of continuing on, and I'm not sure I really see any Idols who have the potential to enjoy Clarkson/Underwood kids of record sales or Lambert-esque media buzz. I could be wrong, but I still worry we're looking at a Taylor Hicks kinda season.

I'm going to put myself out on a limb here and rank the Idols. A lot of this is based on my personal preferences more than who I actually think will win, but wouldn't it be cool if I were in sync with American tweens and their speedy texting fingers? No, it probably wouldn't....

1. Crystal Bowersox -- Yes, I worry that America may not be ready for a hippie mama blues singer to be American Idol, but there's no denying that Crystal is probably the best singer in the competition. I wonder how she will handle theme weeks and I worry that the acoustic guitar vibe will eventually become tiresome for American tween attention spans, but I suspect that Crystal will likely gain a big adult following and may get the same kind of bump from those adults as David Cook got two years ago.

2. Siobhan Magnus -- Siobhan seems little more open to mixing things up, and damn, I love the quality of that girl's voice. Again, I wonder how she'll fare during theme weeks, but I have a suspicion she may hold her own better than Crystal. I mean, this is a girl who has gone from "Wicked Game" to "Think" to "House of the Rising Sun." My big concern for Siobhan is that Simon doesn't seem to like her all that much.

3. Mike Lynche -- In a season without a truly obvious frontrunner, Mike is probably the closest thing following his gorgeous take on "This Woman's Work" last week. Mike has settled into an R&B vibe following his not-particularly-well-received take on Maroon 5 in the first week. How is he going to handle Country Week? I also think his voice is just not as interesting as Siobhan and Crystal's and his tendency towards cheesy performance moves may prove grating after another week or so.

4. Andrew Garcia -- The general perception is that Andrew squeaked by Alex Lambert to make it into the top 12. He came in at the head of the pack but has struggled to emerge from the shadow of his legendary Hollywood Week performance of "Straight Up." I still love Andrew's vibe and the way he reimagines pop songs. I am pulling for him to stay alive long enough to prove some versatility and create another great watercooler moment.

5. Didi Benami -- I am probably being overly optimistic placing Didi this high on my list, but her performance of "Rhiannon" last week reminded me why I had initially placed her as #1 on my list before the semi-finals started. She has a lovely tone to her voice and could have a nice little career in today's market full of Cobie Callaits and Ingrid Michaelsons. Again, proving her versatility and controlling her nerves will be her biggest challenges.

6. Lee Dewyze -- The most controversial figure in the top 12, at least at Chez Mel. I love Lee's gravelly voice. My sister thinks he looks like a guy who carries roofies on him at all times -- just in case. I think he has the potential to pull some David Cook kinds of tricks out of his bag, though, and he may keep the show exciting.

7. Casey James -- Casey is cute, I get it. But he's also kind of dull. I don't know that he will be able to do as well when he's swimming in co-ed waters. Crystal and Didi do a much better job at that guitar-strumming vibe. One bad week, and Casey will be gone.

8. Tim Urban -- Tim snuck his way into the semi-finals, and he snuck his way into the top 12. Yes, he had a great performance last week with "Hallelujah," but the truth is that he probably should not be here -- not when Alex Lambert is home crying into his pillow. Tim's cuteness will probably allow him to sneak onto the Idol tour, but that's about the extent of it.

9. Lacey Brown -- Once upon a time, I thought Lacey could be a contender. Now, I find her boring and affected. She's a stronger singer than the three listed below her, but America will most likely not put up with her kewpie doll voice and stupid smile very long.

10. Katie Stevens -- Katie most definitely should not be in the top 12, now when Lilly Scott and Katelyn Epperly are not here. Katie has a nice voice; the problem is that she's boring. We have long moved past the days of clean cut, peachy keen Idols. Heck, we've never had a clean cut, peachy keen Idol. Even Kelly Clarkson had an edge to her voice. Carrie Underwood was clean cut, but again, listen to her voice. Katie may make the tour, but I can't see her lasting too long beyond that.

11. Paige Miles -- Paige should not be here. I know Simon keeps saying she has the best voice in the competition, but when are we going to hear that? We definitely haven't yet. Her "Smile" last week was a total travesty -- a butchering of a beautiful song. How she made it to the top 12 is beyond me, but I really can't see her "charm" lasting much longer.

12. Aaron Kelly -- Aaron should not be here. His performance of "I'm Already There" last week was painful. He's yet to have a moment of pure "wow" and I'm not sure the kid has such a moment in him. Like Haeley Vaughn and Katie Stevens, Aaron really could use another year or two of pure vocal training to work out some of the flaws that he has. He would be better off spending the summer in such training than hitting the road. I shudder to think what he'll do with the Rolling Stones, but I suspect it will be bad enough to send him home quickly as the tweens will likely cast their votes for the far cuter Tim Urban.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Men of Idol Court Mel...

.... by pulling out a variety of my favorite songs.

Yup, more than once I let out an audible groan before a performer began singing when his choice for the night was announced and I realized that he would be performing a song that I adore. Ray LaMontaigne's "Trouble"? Check. Leonard Cohen/Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah"? Check. Queen's "Somebody to Love"? Check. Kate Bush/Maxwell's "This Woman's Work"? CHECK! For the most part, I wasn't horrified by the treatment my favorite songs received but wasn't particularly dazzled until . . . until . . . until . . . .

Okay, let's just address the elephant in the room (and that's not a comment on the size of the performer in question here) and just get to the rankings.

1. Mike Lynche -- As Mike began his song last night, I was ready to hate. I absolutely love "This Woman's Work." It's one of those songs that frequently move me to tears, particularly if I'm listening to Kate Bush's version. Mike hit those initial falsetto notes, and I admit that I rolled my eyes a little. I am a Big Mike fan, but I just didn't think he had it in him to do this song justice. By the middle of the performance, though, I had tears streaming down my face. I literally felt like I was watching the birth of a star. It was a powerful, powerful performance. And I loved that look of confidence on Mike's face at the end when he turned to face the judges. As a performer, you KNOW when you've hit it out of the ballpark and it's an exhilarating feeling and at that point, faked humility would have been just that -- fake. Last night was the first time I thought that there was a chance for a guy to win this after all.

The problem is that Mike may be the ONLY guy with a chance to win this. As Alan Sepinwall wrote last night, there was Big Mike and then there was everyone else. And sadly, everyone else was only moderately impressive. I have no idea who may be in danger tonight -- I could see any one of the seven other guys hitting the bricks as any impact their performance may have had was shattered the second Big Mike took the stage. But here are my kind of gut responses to how they panned out.

2. Casey James -- I don't know that Casey's performance of Keith Urban's "You'll Think of Me" was particularly interesting. My sis said it was a bit karaoke (good karaoke, but karaoke nonetheless). I appreciated his mellow vibe, and I think he's got a marketability about him that will do him well regardless of how he ends up. (I mean, Bucky Covington has a decent recording career, so that means anyone can!) I do think Casey is heading for the big stage, though, based largely on the fact that he seems like a nice guy, he's very attractive, and he's really the only one rocking a good country-rock vibe that America likes to reserve a spot for in the top 12. (See Josh Gracin, Bucky Covington, Michael Sarver, etc.)

3. Alex Lambert -- Alex tackled a favorite of mine -- "Trouble." It was a competent performance. The problem I had with it (outside of his hair) was it felt a little clean. It was like a puppy playing guard dog. Listen to LaMontaigne's performance and there's a grit and growl there that was lacking in Alex's performance. Again, though, it was competent and he is likable and so I think his spot in the top 12 is pretty secure at this point.

4. Andrew Garcia -- I worry for Andrew. I personally liked his stripped down, acoustic re-imagining of Christina Aguilara's "Genie in a Bottle." Was it as memorable as his "Straight Up"? Oh, God, no! However, I think it's a bit unfair to continually hold Andrew to that standard. Last night, he did pretty much what the judges told him to do -- he took a cheesy pop hit and turned it into a groovy guitar jam. The unfortunate thing is that "Genie in a Bottle" is not quite as strong of a song as "Straight Up." There were no real vocal challenges there. I wish he'd maybe gone for something like "Baby One More Time" or "Oops I Did It Again" or (if he's dead set on Christina Aguilara) "Come On Over" -- great pop songs that would offer a little more musically.

5. Lee Dewyze -- It wasn't the strongest way to open the show, and I worry for Lee, too. "Fireflies" is a catchy little tune if you hear it on the radio (or catch it on pre-dawn VH1, which is how I discovered the song during speech season), but there was no real wow there. Going first probably hurt Lee, too. I mostly rank him in my top 6 to get another dig in at my sis who has decided she loathes the guy -- right down to the "douchey" way he spells his name.

6. Tim Urban -- Talk about improvement. Urban's "Hallelujah", again, was flawed in that it was too clean at times, but the kid is a fighter. He has been bloodied over and over again by the judges, but when it mattered most, he proved he's in it to, well, maybe not win it but at least make it into the top 12. I think this kid is the little engine that could and will keep chugging along for another week or two before the quality of competition (and having to go up against the far superior ladies) will do him in.

7. Todrick Hall -- The relative competence of the others last night makes me think that Todrick Hall will be the next victim of the Idol Ethnic Cleansing going on this season. It's not that Todrick's "Somebody to Love" was bad. It was okay. The problem, to me, is that Todrick doesn't always seem particularly likable. America likes their Idols charming and humble (which would explain Kris Allen beating Adam Lambert, Jordin Sparks beating Blake Lewis, Ruben Studdard beating Clay Aiken, etc.) And then, of course, Simon brings out the "musical theatre" card and that kind of seals poor Todrick's fate. (Although, as my sister pointed out, there hasn't been an Idol more theatrical than Adam Lambert and Simon practically bl, well, loved that guy a lot!)

8. Aaron Kelly -- And then we have Aaron. I really found his performance of "Already There" kind of dull. And I totally got where Kara was coming from -- the song was too big and too old for the kid. And it's not like Simon hasn't made similar charges. How many times has he questioned a kid for singing a big love song? Aaron is not ready for the big Idol stage, and he needs to be sent home more out of mercy than anything else. Like Katie Stevens, I am sure there are thousands of high school musical directors who would kill to get their hands on that kid. Hell, I'm loading the rifle right now!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I'm Running Out of "Lady" Puns

We're down to the wire -- the last semifinal performances before the top 12 are assembled and paraded in front of us each week to be picked off one-by-one until a champion is announced amidst confetti, tears, and bad, bad victory songs (preferably NOT written by Kara DioGuardi). Several ladies made a strong case for their inclusion in the top 12 and one was prematurely crowned by Simon (of all people). Of course, a couple also made it clear why they should be sent home and sent home immediately.

Here's how they ranked (in my not so humble opinion):

1. Crystal Bowersox -- There's really not much to say about Crystal. She is awesome. Her performance of "Give Me One Reason" was captivating, interesting, and fun. Simon told her this competition was hers to lose, and at this point, I think he's right. She's the only one with any real buzz. The concern, though, is that America tends to reject the anointed. We did not give victory finales to Tamyra Grey, Chris Daughtry, Latoya London, Melinda Doolittle, Adam Lambert, David Archuleta. We tend to root for the underdogs. Granted, Crystal is so "anti-Idol" in her image that being the frontrunner may not tarnish her in the eyes of America. Here's hoping because, damn, that girl is freakin' special.

2. Siobhan Magnus -- Speaking of freakin' special, I love me some Siobhan Magnus. I love that dark, indie quality of her voice. I found her "House of the Rising Sun" absolutely haunting. I cannot wait to download that girl onto my ipod!

3. Didi Benami -- Let's call it a comeback. After two really unspectacular weeks (that followed a pretty darn spectacular Hollywood week package), my former frontrunner came back in a blaze of acoustic guitar. Her "Rhiannon" was a nice reminder of what got her here -- a stripped down, acoustic performance that was heartfelt and engaging. I hope it's enough to save Didi because I would really love to see more of that kind of work for the next couple weeks.

4. Katelyn Epperly -- Her performance of Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move" wasn't particularly memorable or even all that exciting, but Katelyn's singing has grown on me since last week's "The Scientist." The problem with Katelyn is that I sense she might be a bit of a stank bitch. Maybe it was her look of confusion when Randy told her she had Carole King hair. (Bitch didn't seem to know who Carole King was.) Or maybe it was the stank look on her face during Crystal's performance. Katelyn may very well be one of those unfortunate girls who are very sweet but are cursed with perpetual BFS (Bitch Face Syndrome -- I've had students with that problem, and it's truly heartbreaking to see!). Her body of work during the semifinals are enough right now for me to over look the BFS, but I may not be so forgiving when she hits the top 12. (And she really should, right?)

5. Lilly Scott -- I love Lilly's voice, but I was underwhelmed with last night's performance of "I Fall to Pieces" which ended up feeling very gimmicky and more Megan Corkery than Idol worthy. I also have a hard time getting past my sister's insistence that Lilly looks like a cross between the albino from The Princess Bride and the Chicken Lady from Kids in the Hall. I worry about the lack of versatility Lilly has shown thus far, but I still have a hard time picturing the top 12 without her.

6. Lacey Brown -- Speaking of gimmicky voices . . . Lacey has just started to irritate me like crazy. Maybe it's that her voice feels like a horrific affectation. Maybe it's that perma-grin she sports in performance. Maybe it's her lousy song choices. I was underwhelmed by last night's choice of "The Story." It just was kind of dull. Sadly, though, I think there were two worse performances, which could earn Lacey a trip to the top 12...and maybe a spot on tour considering how weak the men are this year.

7. Katie Stevens -- Oh, Katie. If you walked into auditions for the high school musical here, I would be beside myself with joy. You have a lovely voice, and you seem so very sweet and determined. You just don't belong on American Idol with the potential of earning a recording contract. Your "Breakaway" was serviceable but dull. You're out of your league here, kiddo. Maybe the best thing would be for you to head home to Grandma and audition for some local theatre gigs. Trust me -- they will love you!

8. Paige Miles -- And now we get to our vomit inducing portion of the night. I was kind of rooting for poor Paige after last week's edition of Idol Ethnic Cleansing. (Props to Jesse Tyler Ferguson for tweeting that last week and "letting" me steal it!) It's hard to imagine Idol without a good diva, and I think the judges really wanted Paige to take that role. And then she comes out and warbles her way through Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" (which is one of the most beautifully heartbreaking songs ever written). Rather than attributing her warbles to nerves or the fact that the song itself is so moving, Paige blamed.....Michael Jackson. Her grief over the loss of MJ apparently made her so emotional while singing. Yeah, I couldn't MAKE that up. Bye bye, Paige. You can blame the King of Pop for a lot of things but NOT for a crappy Idol performance.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Oscar Post Mortem

I'm sure the first thought going through the minds of many Ginger-philes last night was, "Did Mel see The Hurt Locker in time?" The answer, good friends, is . . . . yes! The streak continues! I managed to get my hands on a copy of the DVD Saturday afternoon and watched it before heading off to the closing performance of Plaza Suite. Whew! I liked The Hurt Locker. I thought it was well acted and beautifully directed. I was not really a fan of the script, which I found a bit too episodic for my taste, but thought it was a fine film worthy of being named Best Picture (even though I really liked Inglorious Basterds better).

I will admit, though, to finding the awards last night rather boring. Yeah, it was cool to go 6-for-6 in the big categories last night for the first time ever, but I would have sacrificed perfection for a good shocker like Basterds winning Best Picture. The night, though, seemed to drag, the fun seemed to be lacking, and I spent a good portion of the night just wishing it would be over so I could go to bed. I did live tweet during the show, though, so check out my Twitter feed on the left side of the screen for more "in the moment" reactions to things.

Some random Oscar thoughts:

1. I love Alec Baldwin. I love Steve Martin. I do not love them together and especially did not love them as Oscar hosts. I found their opening monologue dull outside of a couple funny lines here and there. And then the two pretty much disappeared for the rest of the show. What a waste. I found a large portion of the patter unbearable, as usual. What I did like, though, were some of the introductory packages to the smaller and technical awards. The film explaining the difference between sound editing and sound mixing -- fascinating. The film showing "big" directors who started off winning Oscars for shorts -- fascinating. And I love it when they give the screenplay awards and "narrate" the clip with the directions in the script.

2. As soon as Barbra Streisand appeared, I knew Kathryn Bigelow would win.

3. Sandra Bullock's speech was text book perfection -- self deprecating, charming, touching, gracious. Can we make sure a copy of that is sent to all future nominees as a reference guide?

4. Don't shoot me, but I kind of missed having performances of the Best Original Song nominees.

5. I did not, however, enjoy the dancing.

6. I loved having the Best Actor and Actress nominees saluted by former co-stars. I thought it was a nice, personal touch.

7. Ten nominees is too many. I do think, though, that the extra minute it would have taken Tom Hanks to read off the nominees (rather than just opening the envelope without any ceremony to award The Hurt Locker its Best Picture Oscar) would have been worth it to remind of us the nominees. It was a really anti-climactic moment for what is supposed to be the most climactic moment of the ceremony. Bad form.

8. Also bad form: neglecting to include Farrah Fawcett and Bea Arthur in the "In Memorium" tribute. Okay, I can KIND of understand Bea Arthur, who was known primarily as a stage and television performer. (Although she was in the film of Mame!) But Farrah? Yes, you could argue Farrah was largely known for television work. I would argue, though, that while her film work was not as extensive, it was impressive, particularly her role in The Apostle . . . The Oscar-nominated Apostle . . . a performance that a lot of critics thought at the time was Oscar-worthy. It's just one more slap in the face to poor Farrah who had the misfortune to die just hours before Michael Jackson and thus be a mere footnote to the circus that surrounded Jackson's death. (And note that Jackson WAS included in the montage.)

9. I thought I would be more moved by Kathryn Bigelow breaking the glass ceiling. I applaud her for being restrained and dignified and not being a total Halle Berry up there, but at the same time . . . a LITTLE Halle Berry would have made the moment a little more moving.

So now I enter a hellish two weeks of 14 or so hour days as I prepare to get our school musical up and running. Perhaps I'll blog about it later or maybe talk a little more about my experience of doing Plaza Suite. I can't promise timely American Idol posts, though. But in two weeks, I'll be all yours!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Oscar Picks

They've snuck up on me again this year, but the Oscars are Sunday night. I wish they would wait one more week, I must confess. My show closes this week (boo!), we strike the set on Sunday, I have a visiting guest out of town . . . . and NOW I have to focus on the Oscars? I still haven't seen a ton of the movies I'd hoped to see and am wondering if I can quickly sneak a viewing of The Hurt Locker in late Sunday afternoon after strike to keep my streak alive.

It seems this year that the winners have become foregone conclusions outside of, possibly, Best Picture, so I wonder if my picks are just moot -- adding to the already deafening chorus in the blogosphere assuring all that Monique will win an Oscar. (I am still kind of struggling to wrap my head around that one, let me tell you.) And yet I feel as if I have a sort of primal need to join that chorus, so here we go . . . .

Best Supporting Actor: Christophe Waltz (Inglorious Basterds). Waltz has won every major precursor leading up to the Oscars this weekend. Hell, I think the guy even won a Super Bowl ring for this movie. Were he to lose, it would be a stunner for sure. And it is frequently in the supporting categories that the upsets come -- where Alan Arkin beats Eddie Murphy. Fortunately, Waltz hasn't been plastered all over our tv's lately advertising some film that features him in a fat suit and cracking fart jokes, so he may be okay. If the tide turns, though, I suspect that Woody Harrelson will be the one holding the trophy Sunday. But I'm still putting the money on the Nazi.

Best Supporting Actress: Monique (Precious). It is still a difficult thing to imagine -- someone who has been affiliated with Flava of Love in some fashion (by running a Charm School) could be an Oscar winner. Let me put this in perspective -- a woman who spent time teaching women to stop being sluts could possess an Oscar and yet the same cannot be said of Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Glenn Close, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Ralph Fiennes, James Dean, Lauren Bacall, Michelle Pfeiffer, Madeline Kahn . . . shall I go on? I'm not saying that Monique doesn't deserve the win, and I'm betting big money that I cry like a baby when she does win. It just points out the more unfortunate aspect of the awards that so many gifted people with a tremendous body of work go unrewarded. Just saying. If there's an upset, who will it be? To be honest with you, I'm not sure an upset is even possible. Not that the women nominated with Monique aren't deserving, but none of them have the same buzz she does. Penelope Cruz won last year (deservedly so) and is nominated here for a movie that was roundly recognized as, well, sucking (Nine). Maggie Gyllenhaal was a shocker nomination and is not really something discussed when people rave about Crazy Heart. (Again, how hard is it to pretend to be in love with Jeff Bridges? Can I please have that as my next acting "challenge"?) That leaves the ladies of Up in the Air, a film that had tremendous buzz in November but has since slipped off the radar. (The movie never even came to my town. EVER!) I have a hard time picturing either of them making the move for Monique's Oscar and suspect they could potentially split the vote of any impassioned Air fans out there. (I will admit, though, to secretly rooting for Anna Kendrick since realizing that this is Anna Kendrick.) So Monique for the win.

Best Actor -- Jeff Bridges is going to win this, and it's about damn time. Seriously. That guy is amazing. No, I've not seen Crazy Heart (it is in town this weekend, but with the show, I just don't know that I'll have the time to see it), but his body of work alone should get him a little something. Upset potential? Two months ago, before Crazy Heart really took off, I would have thought maybe George Clooney was a leading contender. I wouldn't necessarily count out Jeremy Renner or Colin Firth who have been slowly developing small but loyal (and vocal) followings amongst critics. Clooney, Renner, and Firth, though, are just hitting their strides and have a lot of amazing work ahead of them. Bridges walks in this weekend with a reel of work that has never been rewarded -- The Last Picture Show, Starman, The Big Lebowski, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Seabiscuit, Fearless, The Door in the Floor, The Fisher King. While there are probably a good many amazing roles and films ahead of him (Dude's only 60), the time to recognize him is now.

Best Actress -- It's Bullock versus Streep. Lately, the general consensus seems to be emerging that Sandra Bullock is going to win. The only person who doesn't seem to think that is Sandra Bullock herself. The advantage that Bullock has over Streep here is that Bullock's role gets to do the showier emotion whereas Streep could be written off as a comedic role. (Those who discredit Streep's Julia Child, though, as mere impersonation and comedy need to watch that movie again. Streep's work is so moving and so complex. That scene where she and her husband walk by the couple with the baby? The scene where she finds out her sister is pregnant? Perfection!) There are some in the critical camp who wonder if maybe Gabourey Sibide may pull out a major upset as Bullock and Streep voters battle it out, but I am still thinking Sandra Bullock is going to win. And won't that be nice?

Best Director -- And here is where the night will get awesome! The leading contenders going into the final two races of the night are Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron. Once upon a time, they were married. Now they're not. For years, Kathryn Bigelow has toiled away making brilliant, small little pictures that critics love but no one sees. James Cameron has been making a name for himself as the film world's biggest douchebag. He directed the two biggest moneymakers of all time. And now they are nominated against each other -- Bigelow's "little" The Hurt Locker (which, if it wins, will be the lowest grossing Best Picture winner of all time) and Cameron's huge Avatar (the highest grossing film ever made). Cameron has gone on record talking about how he's rooting for Kathryn and how he hopes they split the vote (love how he never even considers the thought that something ELSE might win). I'm rooting for Kathryn Bigelow here because there is a myriad of stories that it would tell -- ex-wife triumphing over ex-husband, first female winner in this field, a woman winning without directing a sappy, schlocky "female-oriented" movie, etc. Plus, I really hate James Cameron.

Best Picture -- Here, we have the nail biter of the night. Will tiny little The Hurt Locker triumph over the behemouth Avatar? I'm struggling here. As of this writing, I have not seen The Hurt Locker. I hope to this weekend. If I want my streak to live, though, I should probably be rooting for Avatar right now, right? And yet, I'm not. As much as I liked Avatar, I have serious issues with a film as flawed as Avatar is (and it is flawed -- just check out the script) being named Best Picture. To me, the Best Picture should in some way represent the best of all aspects of a film -- acting, script, cinematography, sound, etc. Avatar is a visually stunning film, but it's not a great script (Cameron has no ear for dialogue) and, frankly, the acting is often a bit on the wooden side. Let Avatar win all sorts of technical prizes, but let a film like The Hurt Locker capture the big prize in recognition of the fact that the best films don't have to be in-your-face technology driven but purely good storytelling. If I had my druthers, of course, Inglorious Basterds would pull off the upset of the night, but my gut tells me it's down to Locker and Avatar. I''m going to call it for The Hurt Locker. Here's hoping I see it in the next 48 hours!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Girls On Film

The girls of Idol took the stage last night and while I'm not doing emotional somersaults of joy at how vastly better they were than the gents the night before, the truth is that they WERE vastly better than the gents the night before. Not that every performance was perfect or all that exciting, but there were definitely more performances that made me smile or had me thinking, "Yeah, I'd download that" than any of the other performances we've had so far.

The big question going into last night was whether Crystal Bowersox would be able to perform. She was taken to the hospital Tuesday morning, which prompted producers to switch the performances so that the boys went on Tuesday. As of yesterday afternoon, her status was still unknown. But mercifully, there she was last night, looking a little pale, a little sickly, but a whole lotta awesome when she opened her mouth to sing. She most definitely emerged last night as the one to beat, at least according to the judges, and remains my favorite.

Here are my rankings from last night:

1. Crystal Bowersox -- Crystal took a big gamble, kicking the night off with a cover of CCR's "Long As I Can See the Light" -- a more obscure song from CCR's pretty extensive catalog. The gamble ended up being a smart move because she gave us a performance we could "discover" with not necessarily an iconic tune with which to compare it. It was moving (particularly considering her backstage drama), gutsy, and really entertaining. I love this chick and love her even more for not correcting Kara when she said Crystal had performed "You Oughtta Know" last week. (Although who wouldn't LOVE to see someone have he cojones to tackle that mofo on the Idol stage??)

2. Kaitlyn Epperley -- Yeah, I'm shocked by this ranking, too, but I really enjoyed Kaitlyn's stripped down performance of Coldplay's "The Scientist." Okay, yes, it was maybe a touch on the slow side, but it was quite lovely and, again, quite moving. It forced me to reconsider Kaitlyn and her chances for hitting the road this summer. She may have it after all.

3. Lilly Scott -- Still love Lilly although I wasn't quite as jazzed about her "A Change is Gonna Come" as I wanted to be. Perhaps my head is still ringing from the power of Adam Lambert's finale performance of it last year. While I appreciated her more restrained take on the song, I missed the drama, too. And I still wish Lilly would get a little styling assistance.

4. Siobhan Magnus -- I liked Siobhan's performance of "Wicked Game" so much better last week because I thought it showed an originality and a risk that was lacking with this week's choice of "Think." The Siobhan who performed "Wicked Game" -- I would buy that chick's CD. The Siobhan who performed "Think" -- not so much. I do like her quirkiness. I just want her to bring back that alterna-edge I sensed in "Wicked Game" and leave the Aretha throat gymnastics to the lesser divas. (Wouldn't it be great to see Siobhan maybe doing a little Liz Phair?)

5. Paige Miles -- Maybe I'm starting to "get" Paige. She does have a nice voice and her performance of "Walk Away" was a solid one. I still keep thinking, though, that she's kind of old-school Idol and that the show has progressed past the sort of serviceable diva that Paige represents. In the post Cook/Lambert years, a good voice just isn't enough. Paige would have probably been great in the early years and could have given, say, a Kimberley Locke or LaToya London a run, but this year? I worry for the girl.

6. Michelle Delamor -- I think the same holds true or Michelle. She would have been a terrific addition to season 3, but here . . . I worry. I did appreciate Michelle thinking outside of the box and giving Creed's "With Arms Wide Open" a kind of sexy, soulful vibe. It's just too bad that she chose Creed, but as long as she steers clear of Alicia, Whitney, or Mariah and keeps up the more progressive song choice, she may be able to sneak her way into the top 12.

7. Katie Stevens -- I hate how much this girl bores me. She seems like such a sweet little girl, but . . . .sigh. After a bland performance of "Feeling Good" last week, Katie went contemporary -- adult contemporary -- with Corinne Bailey Rae's "Put Your Records On." I remember very little about it. It was ... nice. It didn't suck. But it also wasn't as interesting as any of the six women listed above. Katie is quickly becoming forgettable, and that's not a good thing.

8. Didi Benami -- Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Before the semifinals started, I had Didi listed as my number one choice to make it to the top 12. Her Hollywood Week work seemed to make her a shoe-in. And then . . . . sigh. After a lackluster, affected performance last week, Didi came back this week with an almost painful "Lean on Me." It is a song that's just not right for her voice, and the poor girl was annhilated by the judges. She kind of broke my heart....but pity does not move you higher on this list. Usually.

9. Lacey Brown -- I've decided that Lacey annoys me and I am ready for her to go. She made the decision to take Kara DioGuardi's advice (WHO DOES THAT?!?!?) and performed "Kiss Me" by Sixpence None the Richer. It was affected, precocious, and just uninspired. She seems like one of those people who thinks she's really cute and plays it up, but sweete, when you are pushing your mid-20's, adorable just doesn't cut it anymore.

10. Haeley Vaughn -- Speaking of adorable . . . . . When Haeley said that she had chosen to cover Miley Cyrus's "The Climb," I groaned aloud. How cliche. How uninspired. How painful! Again, Haeley seems like a very nice young woman, but that perma-grin of hers is irritating. When Kara told her she needed another year, I very nearly threw something at the screen. IF SHE NEEDS ANOTHER YEAR, WHY THE FUCK DID YOU PICK HER FOR THIS YEAR?!?!????!???? It's not Haeley's fault that she's competing a year too early; IT'S YOURS! I have a hard time imagining Haeley not going home this week unless God decides he likes her, too, and gives her the Jermaine Sellers treatment ... or people feel bad for the grinning little Southern belle. People, keeping her around longer is not kindness; it's downright cruel!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I Know What Boys Like . . . Not Singing Well

I've struggled with Idol the past couple weeks. What seemed like a season full of promise has left us with two weeks of not overly awe-inspiring performances. Right now, I'm not sure I can picture any of these kids winning or pursuing a terrifically successful career. I worry that this could be the season that produces another Taylor Hicks rather than a Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood. Don't get me wrong -- I love me some Taylor Hicks, but let's also be honest in recognizing that his career has not exactly been ablaze outside of his appearance as the Teen Angel in Grease. It's hard to get jazzed about a season full of Taylors, though, especially when none of the contestants seems to even have Taylor's stage presence.

So I settled in to watch last night's Top 10 men perform with extremely lowered expectations. For the most part it was a moderately entertaining evening, but not exactly something to fuel a pithy blog post. Even sadder than my ennui is the seeming ennui amongst the judges. There they sit looking bored, disappointed, and the only way they seem to find any entertainment is to give the contestants as much conflicting advice as they can. "Make it your own." "Don't mess with a classic." "Play your guitar." "Don't play your guitar." As frustrated as I am, I can only imagine how hard it is on the kids who are so eagerly bending over backwards to please the Furious Four.

Here are my rankings of last night's performers:

1. Mike Lynche -- He started things off pretty powerfully with James Brown's "It's a Man's World." This was a vast improvement over last week's Maroon 5 cover, although my sis felt frustrated by what she perceived to be the judges painting Big Mike into an R&B corner. They seem to want another Ruben, and Mike seems willing to give up his originality by giving them a new velvet teddy bear ... with ginormous muscles!

2. Casey James -- Kara's boy toy took on one of those Idol staples that I wish could be retired -- Gavin DeGraw's "I Don't Wanna Be." Casey feels like a member of the cast of Kids Incorporated -- scrubbed and clean and wholesome but trying to rock out nonetheless. Yes, Casey played an electric guitar (GASP!) but there just wasn't the same swagger and grit that has been there when this song has been performed by, say, a Bo Bice. I want Casey to come out and truly rock out with his . . . well, rock out. I think it's in him.

3. Andrew Garcia -- Poor Andrew. He turned the world on with his smile -- or rather his amazing acoustic version of "Straight Up." Since then, though, his career has pretty much followed the trajectory of Mary Tyler Moore's post Mary Richards tv career -- one disappointment after another. I still like the guy, but I am still waiting for him to knock my socks off the way he did during Hollywood week.

4. Todrick Hall -- The judges were pretty harsh on Todrick's slow jam take on "What's Love Got to Do With It?" I have to admit that I kind of enjoyed it. I've never been a huge fan of that song (GASP! Can we still be friends?!?!), so hearing a new spin on it was kind of refreshing to me. I found it funny that Todrick was criticized for not doing a "current" song...but that the same critique was not offered later in the night to Aaron Kelly or Jermaine Sellers who did songs even older than this one. I almost want to call shenanigans, but I'll restrain myself . . . for now.

5. Lee Dewyze -- Lee is perhaps the most polarizing contestant this year Chez Mel. I like the guy. (Okay, does he remind anyone else of a grown up Trevor Einhorn, the young actor who played Freddie Crane on Frasier and popped up a couple seasons ago on The Office as a high school kid Michael turns away at a job fair because he doesn't have the right image for Dunder Mifflin? Am I alone on this one?) Anyway, my sis hates the guy largely based on his "rape" (her words, not mine) of "Chasing Cars" last week. He's one of the few (if not the only) guy this year, though, that I listen to and think, "Yeah, I would buy this guy's CD." While I wasn't overly crazy of Lee's "Lips of an Angel," I like his voice, I like his vibe, and I'd like to see more of him.

6. Ad, er, Alan, er Alber, no Alex(!) Lambert -- First off, I really wish Alex would cut his hair. That little mullet thing is really hideous and distracts me from detecting any discernible talent. When I don't look at the screen, I hear what is a pretty decent voice. Yes, there are some pitch issues, but the actual quality of his voice is really pleasing. His choice of John Legend's "Everybody Knows" was a good one, and I appreciated that he played it relatively simply. Just please, cut the damn hair.

7. Aaron Kelly -- Aaron is cute. Aaron is boring. Aaron sang "My Girl." Please, please let Aaron go away. He is more Kevin Covais/John Stevens than David Archeleta.

8. Tim Urban -- Tim is cute. Tim is boring. Tim sang "Come On Get High." He clearly had not done so. It would have made for a better performance, I'm sure. Ellen was right, though, in telling Tim he should act. His tolerable voice would be a delight on Glee. Not so much on American Idol.

9. John Park -- Poor John. He seems like a nice guy. He just also seems really over his head here. He's just not very good and lacks the personality that would maybe allow him to stay around longer. I suspect last night was the last time we'll see John. So I guess we're still waiting for an Asian Idol.

10. Jermaine Sellers -- Where do I even start with this guy? Do I start with the Malcolm X meets Bobby Brown styling? Maybe I mention the cojones of tackling "What's Going On?" and having the nerve to riddle it with runs and crap like that? No, I think I'll start with Jermaine's assertion that he will NOT be going home because he "knows God." Jermaine, sweetie, take a look around you. Our world here is fucked up. I really seriously hope that God has more important things to worry about than making sure that an arrogant douchebag moves on in a singing competition. Maybe once He gets shit taken care of in Chile, Haiti, America, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Darfur . . shall I go on? Maybe THEN he'll pay attention to your desire to win a karaoke contest. Until then, give the Almighty a rest.

As I finish writing this, the girls are performing and, outside of my girl Crystal, it's not looking too hot. More on THAT, though, tomorrow.