Thursday, April 28, 2011

All Apologies

So I wrote a GREAT post about last night's Idol. I can't post from work, so I wrote it and intended to email it to myself so I could post it from home before tonight's results show. Guess who was in such a hurry to leave the building today that she forgot to send the email home with the blog post. Yup. This chick!

I'll post it tomorrow night, but to make sure I get my picks in, I predict the bottom three will be Jacob, Haley, and Casey. I think Jacob will be the one sent home.

You can read all of my reasoning tomorrow night.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

21st Century Idols

Last night, the Idols tackled songs from this century. I know they were calling it “Songs from the last decade”, but technically, 2011 is a new decade, the first year of a new decade, so since I saw people singing songs older than four months, I am assuming Ryan was just reading the cue cards wrong.

Again, the judges showed some weak attempt at criticism, and the only real honesty came from Jimmy Iovine, whom I grow to love more and more every week. The fact that it’s becoming increasingly clear which of these kids he likes (Casey) and doesn’t like (Haley) charms me all the more. I am probably in the minority, too, in saying that I enjoyed the funny little film segments this week where the contestants sort of poked fun at each other’s quirks. It reminded me of that sort of fun spirit season one often had, and it does help to give these kids more character to see them in this silly sort of moments.

What I did NOT enjoy was the “let’s troop out our losers and make them sing” and then condescend to them by telling them America was probably regretting letting them go. Sure, Pia made a slight case for herself, but considering that she’s banging Mark Ballas and already appearing on Dancing with the Stars to perform next week, I’m not worrying about little Pia. As far as the others….ew. Would I rather have Karen or Ashton in this competition over, well, ANYONE still in it? No. I would even choose Haley (who you know I hate) over those two bland diva wannabes. Let’s save the “loser medleys” for the finale from now on, thank you very much.

Again, the Idols did a fine job last night. Their worst is probably better than a lot of performances we’ve seen at this point in seasons past. I mean, put any single one of these kids up against Nikki McKibben or Jasmine Trias, and well, there would be no contest. And yet, I rank….

1. James Durbin – This kid is a freakin’ showman! I mean, come on – that costuming? That entrance with a freakin’ DRUM CORPS? INSANE! Add to it a brilliant song selection in Muse’s “Uprising” and it’s becoming more and more likely that we could have a metal Idol come May. This kid just keeps raising the bar and then leaping over it with ease. He’s setting a standard, and the others really need to up their game to keep this kid from blowing them away.

2. Casey Abrams – The Casey I fell in love with a couple months ago is coming back. I thought last night’s performance of Maroon 5’s “Harder to Breathe” was pretty darn terrific with all of that growl and sexuality that makes Casey such a terrific performer.

3. Lauren Alaina – This is where things get a lot tougher because, to me, last night belonged to James with Casey running a comfortable second. Everyone else did fine, but they really didn’t leave the impression of James. Nor did they really seem to try. I don’t know why the others aren’t trying to match James’s performance level. Is it a lack of effort and creativity on their part or is there backstage workings that are giving James that unfair advantage? Are there shenanigans in the works? Hmmmm… Anyway, I thought Lauren did a fine job with Sara Evans’s “Born to Fly” – a perfectly serviceable country song. Not being a country fan, I struggle when she and Scotty go this sort of “real” country route in terms of trying to determine what is and is not a good performance. My sis pointed out last night that the difficulty with this country route is that the songs themselves aren’t often designed to really be a tremendous vocal showcase. I do agree with Steven that I would love to see Lauren tackle some Allison Kraus. Her music could give Lauren a stronger shot at creating a moment. I think, too, that some Dixie Chicks could be a good fit for her since Lauren’s spunk is often a bit reminiscent of that same spunk that can get Natalie Maines in trouble. Imagine Lauren doing “Goodbye Earl” or even the D.C. version of “Landslide.” As far as her confidence issues …. Lauren is 16. I know that girl. I work every day with that girl – that girl who is FILLED with talent but just doesn’t quite get what she’s packing. Give her time. Give her help. She’ll get there.

4. Scotty McCreery – First off, I kind of enjoyed Scotty’s “Swingin’” even though it was the kind of country song that normally makes me cringe. It was nice to at least see him go a little more uptempo and have a lot of fun. He seems like a sweet kid. Again, I know that kid. It was time, though, for judges to push him a little more, although I wish they’d done it sooner. Every week, they have complimented him on sticking to his country guns. Slapping him down now seemed a little disingenuous.

5. Haley Reinhart – Here’s the thing. If you have never heard Adele’s version of “Rolling in the Deep”, Haley’s performance last night wasn’t too bad. I appreciated that she reserved the growl until that first chorus (although it then came back for every other note thereafter, which really is starting to get on my nerves). If, however, you have heard Adele’s version, it was a pretty mediocre performance. Seriously, go listen to Adele right now. Do it! You’ll see how wrong the judges were in basically telling Haley that there were moments where she made them forget Adele. THERE IS NO FORGETTING ADELE!

6. Jacob Lusk – Okay, everyone, raise your hand if you were shocked that Jacob pulled out, like, the ONE Luther Vandross song released in this century. Yeah, me either. First of all, clearly the song meant something to Jacob. His tearing up during his session with Jimmy was quite moving. When it came time to the actual performance, though, I found Jacob quite mediocre. I don’t know what happened to Jacob, but lately, his heart just doesn’t seem to be as in it as it was in the beginning. Maybe the competition is wearing him down. It just feels like he’s not willing to push the way that he was when he tore the roof off the Kodak during Hollywood Week and that performance of “God Bless the Child.” If that Jacob could come back, he could have a shot at this thing. As it stands now, I feel like his weeks might be numbered.

7. Stefano Langone – Let me preface this all by saying that Stefano upped his game in terms of physical performance last night. He moved. He grooved. He gave a star turn. The unfortunate thing is that this star turn was to go with a song that was not particularly well sung. Ne-Yo’s “Closer” is not really a singer’s song. It’s a decent enough little jam, but there’s not really a great chance to showcase a voice. Think if Stefano had gone with some Raphael Saadiq (as suggested by EW) or Bruno Mars where he could have grooved and sung. I’m glad Stefano has become a scrapper the past couple weeks and is working to stay on this show, but as the weeks continue, his status as the weakest one left standing will sign his ticket home sooner rather than later.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

It's More Than the End of an Era; It's the End of a Dream

Secret confessions time...

When I was in high school, I had a dream. I told everyone I wanted to be a lawyer, and I set myself on that path with the certainty that would be my life. (Funny how paths take their turns.) Deep down inside, though, I wanted to be a writer. Not just any writer, mind you. I didn't really have dreams of books on shelves or anything like that. No, what I wanted to be was a soap opera writer. From a young age, I had been completely fascinated by soap operas. I loved the idea of telling this ongoing story that really had no real end. One chapter would close and another would begin immediately. I studied soap operas the way some people study nuclear physics. For a good portion of my teen years, I could tell you exactly what was happening on every soap opera on the air. (Thank you, Soap Opera Digest!) When summer came, I would decide who had the most promising summer stories lined up and would go with that show...and easily switch if the promise failed to come true. I had my favorite couples, my most loathed villains, and I was devoted to them all in ways that are maybe a little embarrassing to admit now that I look back. Like the day I played hookie from school so I could find out the test results of Kimberly Brady's paternity test on Days of Our Lives. Or telling the dean of my college I needed to leave because Megan Gordon Harrison was dying of lupus on One Life to Live. (Before Megan, I didn't even know what lupus was.) I had visions of getting on staff for a soap opera, toiling away at it for a couple years, and then branching out and starting my own soap opera. The chance to create characters and essentially usher them through an action-packed life was more incredible than I could even fathom.

As I've gotten older, my soap opera obsession has waned significantly. With the kind of work schedule I have, keeping track of the soaps has become harder. I've tried DVRing one or two, but it's hard to even find that hour every day and weekends aren't much better to try to play catch up. On breaks, yes, I will occasionally find myself tuning in to see what my old friends are up to.

Unfortunately, a lot of those old friends are now gone. CBS has cut its soap opera output in half, cancelling both Guiding Light and As the World Turns in the past couple years. Those were hard losses since those were the soaps that started it all for me, thanks to Mom and Grandma who were avid CBS soap fans. Thursday, ABC announced what seemed to me the unthinkable -- that it was cancelling both All My Children and One Life to Live. I said to my sis as we were driving home that afternoon, "The thought of a world without Erica Kane just seems wrong to me." After all, neither my sister nor I have EVER lived in an Erica Kane-less world. (Susan Lucci started playing the role in 1970. I was born in 1971, my sister in 1970.)

As of January 2012, there will only be four soap operas left on the air -- General Hospital, Young and the Restless, Bold and the Beautiful, and Days of Our Lives. That's it. There will likely be no new soaps to join them...ever. While all four shows have received extended renewals lately or verbal guarantees of long lives, one has to wonder how long the four can hold on in the face of what is clearly a shifting demographic trend in daytime television.

The fact is that daytime television is a dying breed. More and more people are out of the house during the day, and the people that are home have hundreds of channels offering whatever their hearts desire. The networks are no longer the only game in town, and soaps have suffered accordingly. Factor in, too, the fact that it is hard to stick with a genre that depends so crucially on loyalty and perseverance. It is a daily commitment to be a true soap fan -- five days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. That is hardcore. Add to that the fact that soaps take a leisurely approach to storytelling. Some stories play out over years, and when you have actors who have been on for decades, imagine the dedication to keep up with your favorite character. Americans just don't have that sort of dedication anymore. We are a fast food, MTV culture. We want our storytelling quick and easy, and that's something that the soap operas just can't give us anymore.

My hope is that soaps are able to stay afloat, that the four titans left standing are able to go on for decades more, and that this grand storytelling tradition doesn't die. Keep hope (and Hope) alive.

Friday, April 15, 2011

When Celebrities Taunt

There are many things in my life for which I am enormously grateful. Near (if not at) the top of the list are the amazing friends I have made throughout the course of my life. When I went to college, I was lucky enough to fall in with a group of people who shared my sensibilities in many ways. They got my twisted humor and shared my sense of irony like no one before.

What follows is an example of that twisted humor. Please know that what I'm about to share may sound a bit, well, wrong, but know that for us, our humor often stems from a dark but good-hearted place. Really. I swear!


A couple years ago, celebrities were seriously dropping like flies. Every time you turned on the news, we'd lost another legend. It was the summer we lost Michael, Farrah, Ed -- a sad time particularly for those of us for whom the arts are such a vital part of our existence. My friends and I grieved these losses. We did. And then the jokes started flying. A recurring joke involved wondering who would be next. This became a sort of, well, death pool as each of us picked a celebrity that we bet would die next. I, being the ever savvy one who reads Entertainment Weekly the way some people read the Wall Street Journal, picked Zsa Zsa Gabor. I'd read an article that she was having some pretty serious health issues, so I essentially gambled with a little "insider trading" and put my proverbial money on her.

Time went on. Zsa Zsa lived. And lived. AND LIVED. Every time she was admitted to the hospital, I would get an excited message from a friend about my victory being at hand. And every time, she emerged. Granted, she often emerged in worse condition, maybe missing a limb, but she emerged. It was like she was taunting me. Celebrities died around her, but Zsa Zsa persevered like some sort of deteriorating Hungarian vampire. Nothing seemed to stop her.

(Again, please note that this is intended as irony. I do not really WISH for this poor woman to die. I don't!)

Yesterday at the gym, I hopped on the elliptical. I like to listen to my iPod but watch the ticker on CNN so I can find out what is going on in the world while I've been educating tomorrow's leaders. Two items nearly knocked me off the machine and most definitely broke my stride. The first was the news that ABC is cancelling All My Children and One Life to Live, something I'll likely blog about within the next couple days after I've had a chance to deal with my shock and grief. The other was the following headline: "Zsa Zsa Gabor to become new mother at 94, husband says."


You have got to be freakin' kidding me!

When I got home, I went to the CNN website to read the horrific details. Apparently, Zsa Zsa's husband, the very creepy and extremely shady Prince Frederic van Annhalt, is pursuing the creation of a child with Gabor via surrogate. Never mind the fact that Zsa Zsa is 94, Prince Fred is 67. Never mind the fact that the soon-to-be mother hasn't been able to walk in nearly a decade or that the duo have apparently had some pretty serious financial issues lately. Gee, that just seems like the perfect duo to raise a newborn child -- a legless old diva who has LONG surpassed her "sunset year" and her Social Security-eligible spouse (husband #9, by the way).

So not only is Zsa Zsa indestructible. Now she has to taunt me with her superior parenting, too?

Uncool, Zsa Zsa.

And really, really gross.

Of course, there is a very logical part of me that is horrified by this as well. How irresponsible is it for these two to even be considering this? What kind of life would this poor freak show of a child have? Sure, Annhalt could live to be 90 and be there for a couple decades, but what kind of stability can he give this child? What kind of parent can either of them honestly expect to be? I mean, I don't know if they offer a kid's menu at the early bird seating at most "fine" restaurants, and the handicapped and elderly parking at Little League games is shockingly minimal. This kid would have to go through life knowing that he was part of some really sick and weird science experiment, live a large portion of that life without his mother (who certainly won't live long enough to see the kid hit puberty...or even begin teething), and be the subject of humiliation and mocking at every corner. Can you imagine the field day the douchebags at TMZ would have with this kid? Can people be accused of child abuse and neglect before a child is even born?

Another article on CNN tells us that this is likely not going to happen -- and is probably impossible to boot. But the mere idea that this duo has even entertained such a notion is just another example of the belief that celebrities exist in their own imaginary world of delusion. And Zsa Zsa just may be the queen of the world.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

These are the Idols of Our Lives

Movie night. Hooray.

Please note the lack of exclamation point and know that it is a clear indication of my tepid response to this week's theme. Remember last year's Movie Night that found Crystal Bowersox stuck with "I'm All Right" from Caddyshack? SHUDDER!

This year, the Idols did an overall stronger job selecting songs, and I suspect that they were given a deeper pool from which to choose. I found it interesting, too, to see how the Idols clearly struggled with choices this time around with several debating choices or defending their choices to Jimmy Iovine. (In one case, I think Jimmy was totally right. In another, he was sort of right. In a third, I think he was totally off the mark. So the lesson is Jimmy is NOT God...just close.)

With the judges refusing to engage in much constructive criticism (except in one case), the choices for tonight's elimination become incredibly tough. For the most part, it was another stellar night with multiple people establishing a case for their confetti shower. Like I said last week, pretty much every elimination from here on out will be shocking because these kids keep thinking outside the box and putting in terrific performance after terrific performance. And it makes my job here darn tough to try to come up with funny little quips and demeaning ranks.

And yet I soldier on.

1. James Durbin -- Here's where I have to admit I think Jimmy was kind of right in his suggestion that James pick a different song. I loved that James went balls to the wall with a heavy metal tune. (And Jesus Christ, Zakk Wylde on guitar? That's insane!) I do wonder, though, if James might have been better advised to pick a slightly more recognizable hard-driving song. As Jimmy pointed out, "Heavy Metal" doesn't really have a tremendous hook. I think of some other really terrific hard/heavy songs that have appeared in films -- "Welcome to the Jungle" from The Dead Pool, "You Could Be Mine" from Terminator 2, "Eighteen" from The Faculty, just about any AC/DC song from Iron Man 2, HELL -- "Iron Man" itself. With that said, though, I did think James kind of rocked the joint and continues to blaze a trail to victory.

2. Casey Abrams -- Here's where I think Jimmy was wrong. Casey's performance of "Native Boy" was gorgeous, moving, powerful in its subtle simplicity. "In the Air Tonight" is a cool song, but it's also a bit generic. This gave Casey a chance to stand his ground. If he goes home for it, so be it. It'll suck, but at least he will go out knowing that he was true to his art.

3. Lauren Alaina -- Secret confession of the day. I love "The Climb." It's a really inspirational song. If it weren't sung by Miley Cyrus, I would SO have it on my iPod. It is a "Hold On" for the 21st Century, only better. Lauren last night shook off whatever nerves or funk had been holding her back for the past several weeks and not only nailed "The Climb" but improved on it. I will SO be downloading her version for my iPod. Seriously! I still wish someone would work on Lauren's styling. When your mama in the audience is more fashionable than you on stage, something is wrong, Sweet Pea.

4. Stefano Langone -- Stefano may still be the one to go home tonight, but damn if he didn't put up a mighty fight last night. I rolled my eyes when I heard he was doing "End of the Road," and despite a slightly shaky beginning, bam! By the end, I was near tears, watching this scrappy little guy (who seems to be genuinely likable) fight to stay in this competition. I hope it pays off for him. I hope it wasn't a case of too little, too late.

5. Jacob Lusk -- Thank goodness Jacob was one of the few contestants last night who actually listened to Jimmy. Had Jacob gone out on that stage and performed "The Impossible Dream," a song that was over the top and dated when it came out forty-five years ago, I have no doubt it would have been the end for him. And maybe it still will be. While his "Bridge Over Troubled Water" was lovely, it still felt....out of place. It feels like the tide is turning against Jacob. He's starting to feel dated. He's starting to feel cheesy. And this competition is full of kids who are ready to gobble that cheese up and spit it back out -- and have the talent to do it.

6. Scotty McCreery -- Here's where Jimmy was right. I think Scotty should have stuck with "Everybody's Talkin'" rather than pulling out some George Strait song. ("I Cross My Heart." I looked it up. Even the title makes me kind of want to puke. Sorry.) Scotty had an opportunity to do a song that has a slightly higher level of recognizability with the audience and put a contemporary country spin on it. It could have been a home run rather than a solid double that "I Cross My Heart" was. Plus, seriously, Scotty, what the hell is wrong with your neck that you seem unable to hold your head up straight when you sing. It is really starting to get on my nerves. STOP!

7. Paul McDonald -- Danger, Will Robinson! While Paul's performance of "Old Time Rock-n-Roll" wasn't bad, it was the first of the night and was largely forgotten after everything that came after it. Paul looked like a drunk (or deranged, panicked robot) careening around the stage. I still like Paul's vibe, but first is a dangerous spot for him to pull because the quirk is quickly buried by the firepower of James, Casey, et al.

8. Haley Reinhart -- Idol has a lady problem this year. There's no doubt. One by one, America is picking off female contestants. But do you know why that is? Because, for the most part, the girls aren't all that good this year. Look at the list of girls we've lost -- Ashton Jones? Wannabe diva without the diva talent to back it up. Karen Rodriguez? Pitchy and boring despite the Latina flavor. Naima Adedapo? Cool but kind of came across as a bit too over the top in her zeal to think outside the box. She sacrificed artistry for creativity. Thia Megia? SNOOZE! Pia Toscano? Bland despite her clear talent. This thing was off balance from day one when these guys walked in. And think of the talented guys that didn't even make it this far -- like Robbie Rosen or Brett Lowenstern. Haley pretty much phoned it in last night, and like Jacob, her schtick is kind of starting to wear a little thin. Yeah, she picked the wrong song ("Call Me" is honestly one of my least favorite Blondie songs, and I love me some Blondie), but she still didn't sing it all that well. It's like she decided that if she gave a mediocre performance, she could fall back on "song selection" and that would be okay. It may not be. J.Lo's plea with America to stop picking on the girls may work, and it may be Paul or Stefano or Casey or some other guy heading home tonight, but the truth of the matter is that Haley gave the weakest performance last night. If we are really supposed to be voting based on talent (as Simon used to tell us to do), there's no question that it's time for Haley to growl her way out of here.

That popping sound you hear about 8:00 just may be champagne corks popping here at Chez Mel to celebrate Haley's ouster. Or not.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Laugh It Up

You'd never know it by looking at me, but I have never been one of those people who complains about working out. In fact, I really love exercising. My problem has always been one of time...and the fact that I really freakin' love to eat...and not always healthy stuff. I mean, french fries are a thing of beauty, n'est-ce pas? As 40 looms closer and closer, though, I've made a concerted effort (which I've discussed here many times) to change my eating habits and also get more time in at the gym. I'm not doing any crazy fad diets. I'm not going on any meal plans. I'm taking it one meal at a time and really trying to change my thinking and make those choices that will ultimately make a difference in the long run. Slowly but surely, change is happening, and I truly feel like I'm on a journey that will reap rewards today, tomorrow, and years down the line.

Enough preaching.

In addition to the whole eating thing, I have been trying to carve moments into my day for exercise. I had to take the beginning of the year off due to a schedule that made exercise pretty impossible (largely fueled by the fact that I didn't want to spend all that money on gas to add additional trips back and forth between school and home -- a roughly 35 mile round trip.) For me, working out has always been a sort of spiritual thing. I've never really been someone who wants a "workout buddy" because that time in the gym is kind of holy to me. It's a time that's just about me. I can plug into my iPod and spend 30, 40, 60, however many minutes I have just focused on me. It's a chance to commune with myself. Yes, a lot of that communion is thoughts about working out -- mentally encouraging myself, setting challenges for myself, pushing for that extra rep in the hopes that it will lead to good things. Sometimes, that time is spent, too, thinking about life, work, that book I've been reading...and that's okay, too. The spiritual approach to exercise, though, has always been a key component.

Needless to say, yoga has always, then, been a fascinating concept for me. Back when I was much more hard core about working out, yoga was a part of my routine. I liked the spirituality of it despite the challenges of some of the poses. In fact, it was the spirituality that kept me going back more than anything. Those last moments when we would just lie there and breathe ... priceless.

A couple weeks ago, I saw an invitation floating around facebook announcing the formation of a laughter yoga club here in my hometown. That combined two things I love -- laughter and yoga. How could I let that pass me by? When my schedule opened at last -- last week! -- I hightailed my way downtown and decided to give it a whirl. Let me say, friends, it was absolutely incredible.

First of all, it was not necessarily the yoga I remembered. Going in, I had visions (and painful memories) of downward dog and trying to con myself into laughing while in that pose that still makes my arm muscles ache when I think of it. Laughter yoga is incredibly low impact. It involves more mudras (hand poses) than anything else -- although I was thrilled to find myself in an old favorite pose -- the rag doll. (That's where you just basically bend over and hang there. Seriously, it does wonders for your leg and back muscles!) In addition to mudras, laughter yoga incorporates sound...largely laughter. The idea is to increase the amount of oxygen pumped into the body (as an instructor said, "Cancer can't exist where there is oxygen"), and laughter brings in more oxygen than just breathing.

Laughter yoga is not necessarily an intense physical workout. I was glad I'd spent a half hour on the elliptical before heading to the meeting. But its incorporation of that spiritual element did more for me in the roughly 50 minutes we were in there than just about anything. My soul felt a little lighter as I headed out to my car, my shoulders felt a little squarer. Laughter yoga may not make my body skinny, but it make my spirit soar...and there's no substitute for that.

For more information about laughter yoga, go here:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Thoughts of an Idol Nature

Yes, I know I promised I would blog more when the musical was over. I've been lax. I've been a bit swamped. My external hard drive decided to crash over my spring break -- my external hard drive that pretty much contains my entire teaching career. I've been scrambling to re-create lessons and activities. It's sucked. The musical ending also brought an end to any excuses I may have had to not go to the gym and workout, so a lot of hours have been spent trying to get my sorry butt back into some semblance of shape. A lot of my silence, though, has stemmed from Idol itself. Writing about Idol is a lot more fun when it's a ship of fools, but this season? Um, you guys, it's really good.

It's time, though, for me to suck it up and get back on the train because there really is a whole lotta Idol to chatter away about.

Let's skip back a couple weeks to the judges using their save to prevent Casey Abrams from going home in 11th place. I have never made it a secret that I have issues with the save. Even though I have cried and thrown fits and even given up the show for nearly an entire season in reaction to eliminations I deemed unfair, the fact is that part of the drama of the show is those very eliminations. It is good tv when Chris Daughtry leaves about three weeks too early. To me, allowing the judges to rescue one person gives them a little too much power and takes away the very heart of the show -- that people at home ultimately have the power. The set-up of the save would not have allowed the judges to correct some of the truly horrendous errors the American people have made. The save would have not rescued Tamyra Grey, Chris Daughtry, or Melinda Doolittle. I would argue that the judges would not have used that save to rescue Jennifer Hudson. (Am I the only one who remembers what jerks they were to her? Talk about revisionist history!! Ryan actually referred to her as an Idol winner a couple weeks ago when she appeared.) Let's look, too, at how the save HAS been used. In its two seasons before this one, the save was used to rescue Matt Giraud and Michael Lynche. Did anyone really think either of those guys stood a chance of actually winning? Seriously? Okay, MAYBE Michael Lynche had a shot at the finale, but Matt Giraud -- in a season that featured Adam Lambert, Kris Allen, Allison Iraheta, and Danny Gokey?

Which brings us to Casey. I've made no secret of my adoration for Casey. I think he's a gifted musician. While I wasn't overly surprised to see him land in the bottom three, I was a bit shocked to see him eliminated. I, however, was never for a second worried because I KNEW the judges would save him. Had the save not existed, yes, I would have been angry at America for once again letting their middle-of-the-road tastes deny a truly gifted artist a victory. I probably would have fired off an angry, sarcastic, pithy little post here about how stupid people are for letting him go. And then a week later, I would have tuned in again because the level of talent still around makes it impossible to stop watching. Once we got rid of a couple Snoozin Luccis (I'm looking at you Ashton and Karen), the truth of the matter is that anyone left is capable of winning this thing, and the real drama is going to be in watching these tremendously talented people duke it out and pick one another off one by one. While I'm glad that my favorite was saved (and that the possibility of a save has been taken off the table, making this now a true musical thunderdome), I also hate the fact that the result of that save is that Casey has played it increasingly safe, deciding that riding in the middle of the pack and staying in the show is a better option than continuing to take risks, even risks that don't quite pay off, and be sent home. I miss dangerous, sexy, unpredictable Casey, and the save has taken that guy away from us.

And that brings us to Pia's elimination this week. Yes, it was surprising. Pia had never before been in the bottom three, she's had tons of praise lavished on her, and was quietly emerging as the one to beat in a season without a truly clear frontrunner. I was surprised, particularly with her standing next to Stefano who is probably the weakest link left in the competition at this point (more on that in a bit), but I was not disappointed. I've been pretty honest up to this point that I didn't quite "get" Pia. Sure, she's pretty and has a lovely voice and perfect pitch and all that jazz, but she's also pretty bland and lacking in any sort of flavor. She is a perfect representative of what Idol USED to be -- pretty kids singing lots of big notes with pretty smiles on their faces. Pia would have been a sure thing in Idol's early years. Imagine the run she could have given Ruben or Fantasia. The thing is -- Idol has kind of moved beyond that sort of Star Search approach to a talent competition. While he may not have won, Chris Daughtry changed this show forever by thinking outside the box, taking big chances, and embodying the definition of "making it your own." The years that have followed have found performers who take that Daughtry approach to the competition finding great success, if not ultimately winning. David Cook and Adam Lambert took this lesson to heart and have helped make it impossible for the Pias of the world to find success unless they're willing to push and take risks. Standing on stage, looking pretty, and singing a ballad is not enough anymore, and I am grateful for that. It has allowed Idol to become more interesting, more creative, and more daring and keep me much more invested ten years later. While it is unfortunate that a very talented singer was sent home, Pia learned a hard lesson that we need more than pretty smiles and big notes. We want artistry, and Pia, sweetheart, that is a word I would never use in association with what you showed us onstage every week. (PS -- It is unfortunate you were eliminated the week you DID try something new and went with a more upbeat song because it was the first week I actually enjoyed you, but as my sister would say, "Too little, too late.")

So now there are eight left, and with an exception or two, I think it is completely reasonable to think that any one of the eight kids left could be the recipient of a confetti shower in eight weeks. From here on out, just about every elimination will be a shocker. While I'm not a fan of all eight left, the fact is that there is a lot of talent on that stage every week. I just wish that the judges would let go of their fears and actually offer some truly constructive criticism. Yes, they are clearly getting plenty of critique and feedback from Jimmy Iovine and the producers who are serving as their mentors this year (a change that I absolutely applaud and adore). Jimmy is willing to tell them what's not working, and they need to hear that. For them to get in front of an audience and be continually told they are brilliant is not helping them, nor is it helping the viewers at home know how to vote. The judges need to step up with some honesty and not be afraid of the boos from the audience. Otherwise, in all honesty, why are they there?

While it's a total guessing game at this point to try to figure out how the finale is going to shape up, here is how I would rank the performers who are left in the competition at this point:

1. Casey Abrams -- I'm honestly not sure Casey can win at this point. It's gotta be a crushing blow to your ego to know that America wanted you to go home third, that America preferred the song stylings of Thia Megia to you. I still think, though, that Casey has the most interesting stuff in him, is probably the best artist in the show, and if he gets brave enough again to let that out, he will be tough to beat. Bring me back the Casey of "I Put a Spell on You" PLEASE!! That's the Casey Kelly Clarkson and I crush on, not this sort of cleaned up, sanitized version who gives us CCR covers.

2. James Durbin -- This kid really touches my heart. We know from his audition that he's dealing with a lot of demons emotionally, medically, et cetera. I love that he doesn't trot that out. We know this show means a lot for him, but I appreciate that we don't have to hear every single week about his medical issues or his need for financial security. Classy, James. Really. As a rock fan, too, it's nice to see someone go out there and just rock out with his, well, you know, out. Slowing it down this week for a lovely "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was absolutely brilliant and moving and let us see that James has a lot more range than we may have originally thought.

3. Scotty McCrery -- I still struggle with Scotty. It's tough in that I am really not a fan of country music, and Scotty embraces a style of country that I probably loathe more than any other. He has proven, though, over the course of the past couple weeks that he is able to function within the constraints of Idol themes, and that he is able to make wise choices. Bless him for not going with Johnny Cash last week and giving us a fun, rockabilly performance instead. When you add to it the fact that the key Idol voting demographic seems to love this kid, and he's probably safe until May when the cougars come out to support Casey and James. This kid has a career waiting for him regardless of what happens. I have a hard time imagining that the country music industry is going to let this kid get away, and the country music industry has proven itself adept at helping Idols become Nashville stars. (PS -- Could you do me one favor, though? Could you please stand up straight? I'm sort of confused as to why you seem to be perpetually slanted sideways onstage. Also, my sister thinks you remind her of George W. Bush. She's not yet decided if that's a good thing or a bad thing.)

4. Paul McDonald -- I know Paul will likely end up going home sooner rather than later, but I want him to stick around as long as possible. And it's not just because he's flipping adorable. There is a quirky artistry at work with this guy, and I think there's a market out there for him. He's also the choice for Vote for the Worst which will likely help him stick around at least a little longer. (Does VFTW still have the power it used to?)

5. Lauren Alaina -- Oh, Lauren, you are so sweet and adorable. I look forward to your performances every week if only to see what completely age-inappropriate gear your mother will be rocking out in the audience. (I swear that the week is going to come when Mama Alaina will be out in the audience in a bib and onesie!) You have, though, not really ever been able to live up to that audition episode hype. Steven Tyler may have cursed you when he proclaimed to the camera, "I think we found the one today." The truth of it is, sweetheart, that you're just a little outgunned here. You don't quite have the experience that some of these other kids have to really sink your teeth into a song and find a creative and unique spin on it. You've given us lovely, country-lite covers of some great songs, but I'd be hard-pressed to remember what you have done on stage outside of your questionable choice to do "Natural Woman" last week. (Oh, the Internet was ablaze with smirks about you declaring yourself a "woman.")

6. Jacob Lusk -- I was not at all shocked to see Jacob in the bottom three last week. I've struggled with Jacob the last couple weeks. In short, I think his gimmick is wearing thin. That sort of bombastic, possessed by the power of the music tremor he works....over it. The guy has some serious articulation issues (says the speech coach). He still seems uncertain of pitch at times. And when you add his self-important "I'll be in the bottom three because America sucks" Jacob, honey, no. Brother is skating on thin ice. While I understand he apparently had moral issues with singing "Let's Get It On", choosing "Man in the Mirror" did him no favors. Seriously, there is a whole catalog of Marvin Gaye stuff that would have worked better. Or what about some Al Green? Of course, choosing to go with Marvin or Al might make us realize that Jacob is merely a pale imitation of those soul legends, so it's much safer to go with one of Michael Jackson's most treacly ballads and then use it to shame people into voting for you. Americans do not shame easily, Jacob.

7. Haley Reinhart -- Haley has no fans Chez Mel. In fact, my sis asked me this week if we could buy a bottle of champagne to have on hand to help us celebrate Haley's ouster. As for me, while I love the blues rock vibe Haley has (finally) decided to embrace (after soul and country divas didn't prove successful for her), I don't love Haley. She lacks the authenticity of, say, Allison Iraheta (whom I adored) or the power of Carly Smithson. She feels like she's PLAYING rocker chick rather than BEING rocker chick. And she's over the top in her playing. She growls every other note, stomps around like she's wearing her first pair of big girl shoes, but lacks even a modicum of authenticity. She wants to sing songs that are full of pain and emotion (the very definition of any Janis Joplin song), but it's pain and emotion she's never legitimately felt. Like Pia, Haley is technically proficient, but there's a spirit that's missing here, a spirit that may send her home sooner than she'd like. Add to it the fact that she always comes across like a snotty, petulent teenager whenever Jimmy Iovine offers her any sort of constructive criticism, and there will definitely be no tears shed at my house when Haley is sent packing ... unless you count drunken tears of joy as we sip our champagne.

8. Stefano Langone -- We all know that Stefano is living on borrowed time, right? It's not that Stefano is bad. I just think that, like Pia, Stefano is an Idol that the show has outgrown. Imagine how this kid would have done in an early season, when that sort of earnest and safe sort of pop idol was all the rage. Stefano doesn't seem clean enough to be attractive to the legions of Justin Bieber fans, but he isn't gritty enough to appeal to the girls who have forgiven Chris Brown for being an abusive douchebag. I'd like to see Stefano tackle some contemporary stuff -- some Bruno Mars or even, yes, Chris Brown -- to prove that he is marketable and isn't working a decade behind the times. The fact, though, that it was Stefano sent to safety last week while Pia stood alone. I would expect some sort of Stefano backlash since the general consensus was that it should have been him...and I could also imagine that getting a stellar performance out of the kid after America literally booed his success will be a Herculean task. He seems like a nice enough kid, but nice enough is not enough anymore.

Like I said, any elimination from here on out is likely to be shocking (with the exception of Stefano). Any elimination is going to be removing a really talented kid from the show. And yet there's something really exciting about that, about seeing American Idol be the talent juggernaut it always could have (and should have) been. Who knew that it would take ten seasons for this show to put together this deep field of talent? And who knew it would be so much fun?