Monday, March 31, 2008

American Socialism is Alive and Well

I recently visited an American community of more than thirty thousand people where socialism is flourishing. In this gated community there are no homeless people. While some of the housing is basic, all of it is clean, spacious, and comfortable. Everyone has free full dental and health coverage. Higher education is available for free and equally important you are guaranteed employment in your field once you get your degree. No one is unemployed. All neighborhoods are well kept and safe. There are state of the art libraries, pools, and recreation centers available to everyone in the community. In addition, they have a wide-range of social service systems that deal effectively with mental health issues, providing activities for children, and social support. Where is this place? It’s Fort Gordon, Georgia.

Is it possible too have an effective health care system for millions of people? The military’s been doing it for over a century and a half. Yes, the Veteran’s Administration has had its problems in the last couple years, but the Military Health System generally works. I’d like to see more figures on how much it actually costs, but it manages to combine universal coverage, an effective preventative care system (technically the Surgeon General is a General for a reason), and high quality results. For some odd reason, Military Health never comes up in our national discussions of Universal Health Care. I don’t believe that the military does everything well, but the right likely knows perfectly well that the military (the bad old government) actually delivers health care and public housing surprisingly efficiently.

One of the ironies of the military defending the “American Way” is that the military itself is hardly a market-based or laissez faire system. One would think the armed forces, as the literal front line of national defense would choose the most efficient system possible to distribute goods and services. If that’s the case, our military is far more socialist than any Western European country. I realize that the army is not a complete society. It doesn’t serve the very elderly among other groups, but it suggests to me that there are millions of Americans who know quite well that there are American institutions that already know how to set up a health care and housing system.

I do want to mention one other thing. The free market is often praised for its level of innovation. There has long been one other spur to the development of new technology that’s been far more efficient than the market and that’s war. I don’t endorse war in any way in fact I abhor it. I just point out that there’s this counter-example to the notion that all government services are utterly incompetent that’s more or less staring us in the face.

I’m not saying that the armed forces do everything well or that they aren’t corrupt at some level. I’m just pointing that they deliver social services with surprising competence using a system that a large number of Americans (a group that takes pride in its patriotism and support for the military btw) insist is utterly abhorrent.


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Friday, March 28, 2008

Chikezie Listening (Idol 7 Round of Ten)

In past years of this show, the judges' mantra was “This is a singing show not a popularity contest.” I'm not sure that was ever actually true. This year, they've changed that. Maybe it has something to do with the commercial success of Chris Daughtry relative to the three performers who finished ahead of him in Season 5, but this year American Idol has turned into American Arranger. It's become fairly common for Simon or Paula to tell performers like Syesha Mercado, Chikezie, Carly Smithson, and Michael Johns that they sang well enough but they still didn't bring enough “original” to make an impression. This season's judges' favorites appear to be David Cook and Brooke White who don't get praised so much for being vocal athletes, but for what amounts to being “arrangers”. This is the season of Idol going Nelson Riddle.

This is more than a little ironic. David Cook got wildly praised for being original for slowing down Billie Jean from disco to rock dirge. Looking back, could any performer be a more bizarre choice to sing the lyric of Billie Jean than Michael Jackson? What is so original about doing Chris Cornell's version of the song? As Paula said, “David you take it right to the edge without going over.”

Actually, I didn't hear much of what she said on Tuesday night, I was staring at those weird gloves. I think they forgot to tell her that eighties night was last week. I think going to the “edge” on Idol is to copy stuff that might not have been on the radio constantly for six months in a row. I did like David Cook's performance and his jokes about the size of his head as a baby. So far though, he's Chris Daughtry with hair trying to take alternative rock just a bit more mainstream. To me that remains a pretty disturbing concept. It' s the modern equivalent of being the serious jazz player in the Lawrence Welk orchestra, being the guy assigned to give Olivia Newton John a rock edge, or having the task of making John McCain young and hip.

It was about twenty years ago when I started hearing the Rolling Stones played through the speaker in the elevator. Maybe it's just one these musical laws of nature, everything with an edge eventually rolls downhill.

After last week it was apparently Brooke White's assignment to agree with the judges in four words or less. She managed that, but too pleasant is one of these things that can be a little scary. I'm starting to think that she's actually cursing these people beneath her breath. Again, she's getting huge props from the judges for being some sort of artiste, but Every Breath You Take seemed oddly mechanical in reverse. Instead of being over-produced, it was as if she stripped it back yet didn't pay a whole lot of attention to the meaning of the lyric. There's a spooky quality to the original because it's about unhealthy love. The version with the orchestra slipping in at various points was sort of stalkers gone Disney. I did like the flub at the beginning. Say you made this into a duet, is there anyone in the world who'd be thinking this arrangement was perfect for John Mayer?

Both Brooke White and David Cook sing well and with a measure of emotional sincerity, it would still be a bit of a stretch to call either of them a great singer. I'm not against this shift to Arranger Idol where the winner's essentially find an interesting version of a sing then sing it reasonably well, but it is a shift in the way the judges are doing business. This year, notice how often they're saying “It's all about song choice.”
To be honest, they're probably right. After six plus years of vocal gymnastics, it would take an incredible performer to make me think anything other than been there done that. Melinda Doolittle and Latoya London may have been the best “vocalists” to have appeared on the show in the last four years and they finished third and fourth. If Syesha Mercado had shown up in some earlier season, she might have been better received. To be fair, I don't think she's quite as good a pure singer as either of the two singers mentioned above but this year it really doesn't matter how well she performs in any given week. The voters clearly seem to be responding with “Ho hum, another Tuesday another diva to vote off.” Then again, they may be punishing her for bringing out that crying baby noise thing she does over and over.

Perhaps no performer was whipsawed more by the changing performance values of the show this year than Chikezie. He struggled when he started out the season as a tradtional soul singer. The judges loved it when he went neo-country and became Chikezie the rearranger of Beatles songs. This week, someone talked the guy into following his heart and he dragged the Luther Vandross thing back out and like that he was back in LAX searching Paula's gloves for water bottles, lotions, and other items routinely used by terrorists. Btw, I was a little surprised that no one noted that a guy born on September 11 wound up working airport security. There was one other small problem with Chikezie's attempt to go with his heart. He has a good voice, but a thin one. When he tried to go full on soul love song, you hear it but you don't feel it. That said, he did accomplish something. He handled himself well in general and I think let America know that there's a whole generation of African-Americans who's families really did live in Africa.

Jason Castro - Never ever tell America that you'r not practicing as much as you should be.

Carly Smithson- She doesn't look that much like her baby pictures. No, I'm not saying that I expected her to have the tatoos as a baby. It would have been much more interesting if she were pregnant. Last time they had Katharine Mcphee deny being pregnant on the Wednesday show it turned out that she'd just been in treatment for bulimia. I was actually having trouble remembering that she sang Total Eclipse of the Heart by Thursday. All I ever remember is how hard she appears to try with each song without quite moving anywhere either musically or emotionally. She'll probably get a few more chances though.

David Archuleta- I liked Simon's comment about singing that song with a bunch of animated creatures. Poor guy's suddenly in this box of people thinking that he's too “managed”. He's a junior in high school. What's he supposed to be doing? Should he be dropping out of high school and living out of his car? Ooops, forgot they did that one this year.

Michael Johns- He's clearly really good at singing Queen. Two years ago Queen Night was not exactly a success. I still remember Kellie Pickler doing Bohemian Rhapsody. If he gets voted off, do you think he'll try to give his sister a noogie or whatever Australian siblings do? Btw, two days ago we drove through Buckhead, Georgia. We'd just gotten off a redeye, but there were no signs by the highway that said “Home of Michael Johns”. There used to be a giant billboard outside Yukon, Oklahoma bragging that it was Garth Brooks's home town. Maybe if Michael makes the top three, they'll put a billboard up off Highway 20.

Ramiele Malubay - The judges were telling her to show off her “big old voice” so she chose “Alone”. She wasn't bad, but this is a song you have to hit a home run with. Also why do a song that Carly Smithson who has a more refined big voice already did well with just a month ago, much less try to evoke the show's current saint, Carrie Underwood.

Kristy Lee Cook - God Bless Kristy Lee Cook for being the most manipulative Idol contestant in history. In the auditions, she does Amazing Grace twice. Who's going to criticize music with spiritual overtones? In the semi-finals Paula keeps shilling for her by telling America how sick Kristy's been. Last week, she says something about “blowing” Simon (though she was talking about his socks). This week she invokes God and the Flag in the same song and gets herself out of the bottom three after three weeks of narrow escapes. I figure with Dolly Parton next week, she'll sing a country ballad and dedicate it to some small child with cancer who comes onstage right when she gets to talk to Ryan. The week after that she'll pretend to be Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl. Carmen Rasmussen, Haley Scarnato, and now Kristie Lee Cook. At least Kellie Pickler was actually funny.

Maybe next week, they'll all have to dress up as Dolly Parton.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

We'll Always Have Paris (Bachelor 12 round of 15)

The ladies on this edition of the Bachelor all seem to think that Matt Grant is Simon Cowell. Why do they keep singing for him? If it isn’t the clarinet playing Michelle from Syracuse breaking into song, it was Carri Perrier moving from crushing beer cans with her teeth to singing Summertime and possibly breaking glass with her voice. Both went home without a rose and Michelle got to deliver an eerie speech about getting to go home to her true love, her cat. Given the “Bachelor Where are They Now” show two weeks ago and that lady who had been twice rejected on the show who had stopped dating and settled in with her Yorkshire Terrier, it did call up this sad vision of an elderly Michelle now being condemned to a life of living alone with her cat and playing the melody from the Little Friskies commercials for him on the clarinet.

How do I put this? I’ve talked to any number of couples about how they first met and only one woman ever said that her husband to be heard her sing and they fell in love. They live down the street from us and they’re both music teachers. She sings really really well and he composes contemporary Christian music. So it’s possible, but I don’t think Matt Grant ever mentioned that music was an important part of his life. If he had a clue would he be asking Robin Canfield to play a Mozart opera on the piano while sitting on his lap?

Two episodes in, I’d have to say that they seem more interested paying homage to other reality shows than in generating any sense of romance. They turn the first group date into some sort of spinoff of America’s Next Top Model only with a group of bachelorettes who may not be all that model like. I’ve never thought they needed wannabe super models and sitcom love interests to make the show work. In fact, I’ve thought it would work better if they used more civilian looking women. If the demographic is female, doesn’t it make sense that the ultimate fantasy would be for a regular looking woman to win away a hunky guy from a handful of bitchy cheerleader types? Anyway, sticking them on the runway was just a weird choice. They might as well have put a brass firepole in the middle of the set and had Matt buy lapdances, something which happened anyway later in the show with Marshana et. al. The dancing was fun, particularly with Matt, but who the hell acts like that that you’d want to date seriously?

Maybe it’s a race thing, but Marshana vaguely stirs up memories of Omorosa Maingault Stallworth from that show where Donald Trump fires people instead of denying them roses. What was with her bit of trying to make sure that Matt kissed her just because Robin got a kiss? Aren’t you supposed to find out if you like each other first? Also, the race conversation was interesting. Matt said "your skin color doesn't matter to me", but did he ask if "his mattered to her"? It wasn't a big deal, but it was revealing of the way people often think of these things.

This is the worst part though. Most of the camera time has been devoted to a pair of twenty two year olds who don’t seem quite that old, Ashlee the wannabe singer and Shayne Lamas the wannabe actress who both clearly came on the show to meet the man of their dreams or at least that’s what the press release from their respective agents tell us. With Ashlee Willis I thought the kissing was a bit forced (I've been staring at your lips all day), but the victory dance in the endzone where she jumps around in her pajamas? Is this the Bachelor or is it Lizzie Maguire? You’d think that David Archuleta had just asked her out for a date.

As if Ashlee wasn’t enough, Shayne has a meltdown in Las Vegas because (Can you believe this?) the Bachelor dates a bunch of other women? Yes, she is descended from a family of actors and if this was acting I’d say the Fernando, Lorenzo, Arlene Dahl genes are clearly in evidence. None of your family members could act either. Initially Matt tells her that she’s being an idiot, then thinks better of it and starts talking about how attracted he is to her. I’m sorry, but I have no sympathy for the bit about a young woman as hot as me never has to compete against other women for a guy’s attention. That’s especially true when the young woman looks like she came out of the second tier of Paris Hilton’s party friends. Maybe it wasn't an accident that the Las Vegas casino just happened to be "Paris".

I want to like this guy and maybe it’s a cultural thing ( if you remember Hugh Grant went off with Divine Brown while he had Liz Hurley at home) , but this Bachelor lost serious credibility with me by giving these two ladies roses especially when he explained that Ashlee was the most forward. When she started acting like that, I would have asked for it back. To top that off, he gave a rose to Kelly who started slurring when talking about how she was impressing the Bachelor with her ability to hold her liquor.

About the only moment of charm was a manufactured one, Amanda Rantuccio hiccoughs when her name gets called for a rose. To be honest, the one bachelorette who appeared to come off well during the episode was Noelle Drake (sudden hairstyle change) who basically got no camera time except to say “I’ll accept your rose, mate.”

If they’re going to do bits from other reality shows, the Gambling network, America's Most Attractive Contortionists (Chelsea), and the Rugby channel, I’d suggest that they pick a show like Moment of Truth where you at least get some chances to find out a bit more about who these people really are. The closest they appeared to getting to that was with Chelsea. Would it be that much to ask that the Bachelor just have a couple conversations with a couple of the women about normal things with no stunts involved and that there be some sort of natural attraction? That does happen in real life. More to the point, it’s actually something that television picks up really well.

In the meantime, if he brought home any of the young ladies he’s kissed so far (the number is mounting btw) to mum and dad, I’m not sure that Matt Grant’s elderly dad would survive the home visit.
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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Backtalk Week (American Idol 7 round of 11)

One of the stranger things about this season is that we’ve gone five weeks and no one’s been permitted to sing a song written later than 1989. For instance, the twenty four year old Amanda Overmyer wasn’t alive when there was a USSR. Should it be any shock that she totally missed the irony in one of the Beatles most political songs? I do think this would have been a terrific song for Anthony Federov. I wasn’t that surprised that Kristie Leigh Cook had never heard the song “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” but it still made me wince. Perhaps I didn’t wince quite as much as I did when hearing her try to turn “Eight Days a Week” into a country ramble or whatever annoying thing she did with the “Hey” refrain in “You’ve Got to Hide”, but it reminded me that an awful lot of time has passed between the Woodstock generation and the Idol-tunes generation. btw The difference runs deeper than getting music downloaded instead of getting loaded while listening to music on one of those record changing turntables. John Lennon died in 1980. I think only one of this year’s Idols was alive then.

In case you were wondering, the Beatles were still together when Woodstock happened in 1969. It’s just that they didn’t perform there although the movie of the event includes two Beatles covers, Richie Havens on “Here Comes the Sun” though he didn’t perform in a yellow dress nor did he do any kind of twirl just before the chorus and Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends”. That said, it’s not all that shocking that none of the eleven remaining contestants with the possible exception of Michael Johns appeared to have any grasp of the significance of the Beatles.

Basically, the power of the Beatles goes way beyond the fact that they created dozens of hummable melodies that now hawk a vast array of products and enhance any number of movie soundtracks (USA network was showing I Am Sam last night which I’d forgotten had a soundtrack of Beatles covers). I suppose we’d still remember and maybe even revere the Beatles if they’d chosen to remain the Shea Stadium-Ed Sullivan fab four who exploited the synergy between television and pop music to become an unprecedented marketing force. No, I never had a Paul McCartney lunch box nor did any member of my immediate family have a Ringo Starr bobblehead but I do remember when every shop in the pre-porn Times Square had an assortment of weird Beatles merchandise in its windows. Part of the power of the Beatles is that they were commercial musicians who managed to grow and change as artists. One result is that they pioneered musical ideas like the thematic linkage between the songs in Sargeant Pepper, the use of East Indian instrumentation, the mixture of styles and sendups of the White Album. Just as significant, they moved beyond just churning out danceable love songs and into the realm of social and philosophical commentary through pop music.

Because of that, the Beatles caught the volatility of the sixties perfectly by making the case for the notion that pop music mattered in ways that went way beyond album sales and sold out tours. There was a perfect tension between the pop hook sweetness of McCartney and the anger and vision of Lennon that simply couldn’t hold together forever. So much of the pop music world both before and after the Beatles has been about the “ME”, I suspect some of my generation’s reverence for the Beatles comes from the fact that they briefly made the music about the “WE”.

What I remember mainly about Tuesday night’s Idol Holds the Beatles hostage week 2 is that the backtalk from the contestants was way more memorable than the music. Whether it was the sweetness of Brooke White, the rebel without a clue of Amanda Overmyer, or Amanda Smithson’s turn at Norma Rae does American Idol, it was strangely and disturbingly about the “ME”. It reminded me that Idol is really about Coca Cola and Iphones and that the saddest thing about the materialism of the show is that all these teenagers go on it and tell the camera with utter sincerity that the show is the only dream they’ve ever had. Music is so much more than a carrier for Materialistic fantasies. Exactly what did happen to “Love Is All There Is”?


Amanda Overmyer: I can picture her rocking out on top of a flatbed truck or even packing a club in Lafayette, Indiana. I’d buy a ticket to send her back to doing that. Singing is about more than cranking up the volume and shouting. If you’re going to be a “shouter”, it also helps if you’re shouting about something. Amanda’s kind of music is usually some attempt to channel some real anger or frustration or to give voice to those who are angry, frustrated, or alone. The only thing I sense when she does her act is that she just thinks it’s cool to sound like that. So she rides the Harley, burns up her condo, and sells oxygen devices by day. Being Amanda the singer is a hobby not a mission and it shows.

I don’t blame her for being clueless about Back in the USSR, though it would have been great if she had. I blame her for being about “selling tickets” to hear “ME” sing someday. Very possible bottom 3 tonight.

Kristie Lee Cook: Can someone please get her horse out of hock so they can send her home. Does she own stock in the sparkly outfit warehouse? Simon’s more or less right about the musical wallpaper. Did she really obliquely offer to blow Simon if she gets to stay next week? Say she does survive. They need to start next Tuesday with a quick shot of Simon’s bare ankles below the judge’s table and a quick cut to Kristie. She did get herself a high-powered agent somehow.

David Archuleta: When did good become brilliant? How can you be a 17 year old on American Idol and persuade people that you’re really feeling “The Long and Winding Road”? He sounded rather remarkably McCartney like in that opening. They cranked up the shrieking girls for him again. The Beatles sang it as a valedictory to a journey from playing in basement clubs in Liverpool to being more famous than Jesus and all that came with that personally and professionally. This was a power ballad with all the detours and switchbacks removed. David’s winding road was that he had one bad week when he didn’t even hit the bottom three. I suppose there’s also the throat thing and the rumors of the demanding stage dad….mmmmm.

How bad was Tuedsay night? This was still one of the better performances.

Michael Johns: He probably shouldn’t have taken on something as complicated as “Day in the Life”. My guess is that he saw it as another possible “Bohemian Rhapsody” which also is sort of a song in three acts. I thought he performed it much better than the judges gave him credit for, but it was probably the wrong choice for this audience. I still give the guy points for at least appearing to have a real appreciation of the Beatles and their music. He also handles criticism very well. Yes, it was weird to have to stand there while Paula expounded on the pitfalls of wearing an ear monitor when you didn’t happen to be wearing one.
If anyone doesn’t like this review, I’m dedicating this post to a dead friend who loved American Idol.

Brooke White: Her version of Here Comes the Sun was like something out of Hollywood Palace or some other sixties varieties show trying to embrace the rock and roll generation. The yellow dress with the weird layered thing, the spin, and the doo de doo doo doo with the Whoo….If you paired that with Ramiele Malubay’s performance, it was like some Reality TV version of time travel.
I thought her patter in the face of the criticism came off as a bit too preemptive. “I know I sucked, I’ll go back to my box, and it’s my time to get smacked with the Simon stick.”
Last week, she was pitch perfect emotionally in her reaction to the judges. This week felt very calculated as if she was agreeing loudly so she wouldn’t actually have to listen.

David Cook: Whitesnake? The Vocoder? It was like Idol transformed into Guitar Hero. How many points did he score with that version of Ticket to Ride?

Carly Smithson: I love Blackbird. I don’t love Blackbird as a divafied version of Broken Wing. You know why Carly Smithson might have failed to catch on that first time? I’m wondering if it has something to do with not having a tv face. She’s attractive enough, it’s just that her face doesn’t communicate emotion very effectively on camera. She sang fine even if I didn’t like the arrangement.

I didn’t like the Hyde Park oratory after Simon’s comments. Why? My problem is that she’s a singer who’s now had multiple chances to hit the big time. Prior to her major label debut, she had lots of professional opportunities. Idol is yet another chance. I’m sorry she’s not a little bird who keeps struggling to fly or their spokeswoman. I appreciate the fact that she’s now an ordinary person who faces the same obstacles as any other aspiring singer, but she’s not Glenn Hansard’s character in Once busking on the street corner and borrowing money to do one recording session. She’s had connections. She’s had exposure. Her speech sort of disrespected those who might have her talent who’ve never come close to those things. She’s not really one of them.

Can’t she just settle into some job singing in clubs owned by the Russian mafia or the Yakuza during those tattoo ceremonies?

Jason Castro: Last week Simon criticized him for sounding like some guy singing in a dorm room for some girl. He responds by picking the ultimate play guitar for girl you like in dorm room song, assuming her name has the same number of syllables as Michelle. I wasn’t sure that he knew that it was a love song. Paula was right about his turning it into a kind of polka. Some of those looks at the camera with the wry smile made me think Constantine Maroulis and I never in a million years would have thought I’d be comparing these two.

Syesha Mercado: She needed to show vulnerability and sensitivity in a performance. She did that with “Yesterday”. She changed the look, brought out the cleavage, and sang mostly soft and in a higher register before bringing on her inner Mariah Carey. It wasn’t great, but it was good enough to get her well back into the middle of the pack.

Chikezie: I’ve never seen a black man play harmonica with less of a sense of rhythm. Yes, I know it’s a racial stereotype. What next, we’ll start hearing that Chikezie goes to a church where the minister talks bad about white people? It’s weird how his version of “I’ve Seen a Face” did a better job of taking the Beatles country than Kristie Leigh Cook managed. How’s that for messing with racial stereotypes?

Ramiele Malubay: The decline of the pimp spot continues. She sang okay, but yes, she should have known better. It was uninspired in that it felt like she’s painting by numbers. The judges told me to try this, so I’ll do it.
Honestly, that film clip of how she loves everyone on the show worried me a bit. After they supposedly voted off her best friends in the world, she’s now calling Brooke White mom and treating David Cook as her older cooler brother? It felt sort of emotionally desperate and even a little creepy. I’m sure in real life, she’s fine. I’m just saying that it came off that way.

Okay, as addicted as I am to the show….I swear if they now do a Bob Dylan week after what they did with the Beatles, I’m done with the show.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stupid Human Tricks (Bachelor 12 Round of 25)

My favorite moment in the opening cocktail party for Matt Grant’s season came when the Karl Rove protégée Denise was telling the 6’5” bachelor that she loved London because so many people there were willing to talk about politics. Carri Perrier, a church marketer from Oklahoma, responds by ripping through a beer can (likely provided by the producers) with her teeth then handing a chunk to the rugby playing Bachelor. At the end of the evening, Matt gives Carri a rose and gives Denise a record low approval rating. If a former Bush White House aide can’t make the first cut with Matt, I have to sort like the guy. It would, however, have been great to chat with my former boss Karl Rove about my co-worker.

For whatever reason, the cocktail party has hung on as a Bachelor tradition. I know they say one man chooses among twenty five lovely and eligible women (each season it’s really closer to twenty with four to five out and out lunatics), but that’s always been a bit of a stretch. The Bachelor goes to one cocktail party and is then expected to dump ten of them after the look test and a brief “Hi, where you from and what do you do?”

Generally, the Bachelor takes the more physically attractive women and at the end of the evening you see all the women who couldn’t possibly be 33 or who looked like they came straight from the casting call for some tv series version of Hairspray get the long limo ride home. The last few seasons, they’ve included at least one woman straight out of rehab or at least a casting reject from Rock of Love to enliven the cocktail party. Some of them like Doctor Rotting Eggs have been reality tv memorable, others like Lindsay who laughed at the woman who fell off her bar stool seemed to be like some sort of high tech take on Punch and Judy.

Stacey, the woman in the blue dress who stuffed her panties into the top of Matt’s pants, came straight out of the nothing is too embarrassing for Mike Fleiss school. The show billed her as a graduate student of some kind, but she was basically inchorent throughout her camera time with talk of inventing something to fix some sort of problem and then a final shot of her passed out on a sheetless mattress dreaming about all the hybrid cars in London. My guess is that she was cast to make some sort of ruckus. The show allegedly does drug and STD testing for all its contestants btw. I assume she was there as a test of Matt Grant’s poise and he handled the situation and her just fine. Unfortunately some of the women didn’t manage quite as well as the Bachelor. If there are thirty people in one very big house and there’s someone like that, can’t you just avoid and/or ignore her? People used to complain that there was too much gratuitous sex and violence on network television. In Reality tv world, my take is that there’s too much gratuitous embarrassment.

I was, however, glad to see that Matt Grant did take my advice. Instead of limiting his choices to the women at the cocktail party, he had the good sense to show up half an hour early to check out the women on Dancing with the Stars. They gave Julianne Hough a dud partner this season. She once lived in London. It would make perfect sense for her to cross over to the Bachelor once she gets exited from DWTS. Anyway the women on DWTS seem much more attractive than your average Bachelorette and far more normal. In the meantime that odd Miss New York woman, Marshanna, who seemed to think she was on Project Runway does Flava of Love with her self-designed I Dream of Jeannie outfit could maybe design gowns for that show. More reality show swaps would make perfect sense.

The first impression rose has been one of the better additions to the Cocktail party segment. Usually it unleashes all the bitchiness in Bachelorette Manor on the recipient, but the truth is that most of the first impression rose ladies have made the final four. Jenni Croft, the slightly delusional Sarah from Charley’s season, Trish the Stalker, Lisa Blank and her Wedding Dress, Susan Edds all stayed on the show a long time. It’s just that none of them have ever won, though Jenni sort of won by not getting stuck with that pathological liar guy. The only exception was the let me rub up against you again Stephanie from Andy Baldwin’s season and she still lasted four shows.

Matt gave his to Amanda Rantuccio from Florida as opposed to Amanda Peterman (Las Vegas), one of two women who said that she’d lived in England. I liked her claim that she hiccoughs when she gets nervous and the relative shyness played well on camera. It also worked from Noelle Drake the one who claimed to have grandmotherly qualities in addition to impressive mammary qualifications for rose bestowal.

Stupid human tricks appears to be an adjunct to the First Impression Rose. Chris Harrison, loyal butler to the bachelor and now the Alex Trebek of Reality Tv, apparently convinces the women that the best way to get the first impression rose is to do something memorably outrageous in front of the Bachelor. In the past, we had a human pretzel, a lawyer who challenged Andy Baldwin to a pushup contest, a nice looking young woman who stripped down to her underwear and jumped in the pool (she got a rose), Tina Wu singing the national anthem, etc. This year, in addition to Marshanna doing Project Runway, we got another American Idol reject Ashlee who looks a bit like Helen Hunt and who got a rose for a song that would have gotten a tongue lashing from Simon Cowell. Chelsea, the arm wrestling lady, also got a rose. My take is that Matt threw the contest but won the war by saying that he usually only arm wrestles pregnant women. There was also a lawyer from California who did kind of a strange booty dance. I wouldn’t have mentioned it, but she felt like the sister of the sort of bug-eyed lawyer who challenged Andy to the pushup contest even had the same fake tan.

If you back up, you’ll notice that almost none of the first impression rose winners did anything bizarre to get the Bachelor’s attention. Usually it’s simply been a matter of their being physically attractive. Jenni Croft was the one exception and she was more or less goaded into doing her cheerleading routine for Brad. I did think the clarinet player was pretty good, but that one seemed to be from America’s Got Talent.

The basic message of the first show though was that Matt Grant held up pretty well. He appears to have a sense of humor, some level of discretion and grace in awkward situations, and appears to be modest enough. It is interesting that this one is pointedly well-educated, Cambridge. He may or may not be taller than Travis Stork, but he’s a bit more outgoing and certainly wittier than any Bachelor in recent memory. Btw, iirc Jesse Palmer is Canadian. I’m also amazed that they’ve now had something like 13 white guys as the Bachelor (this is Bachelor 12, but Byron Velvick’s season also had Jay Overbye). You’d think that ABC would have noticed this whole Obama phenomenon. We could have a mixed-race president before we have a non-white Bachelor.

Shayne Lamas is the daughter of one time Falconcrest minor character Lorenzo Lamas. Her grandparents were Fernando Lamas (best known as a Billy Crystal takeoff) and Arlene Dahl. Esther Williams was her step-grandmother. Her mother is Michele Smith, the second of her father’s 5 (more or less depending on how you count) wives.
Matt seemed quite interested in her if only to do the home visit and say “You look Mahvelous…It’s better to look good than to feel goo…” in his British accent.

Holly Durst from Ohio scored some points by being the only woman not to comment on how nervous she was. Maybe she’ll write a children’s book about her experience with the Bachelor. “Did she stuff those panties in Matt’s waist? Did she do it in great haste? Did she do it in bad taste?” Did Matt give a rose to any of the hoes?

Apparently she also once dated Justin Guarini of American Idol. After that, who'd be scared of anything?

Erin from San Diego will probably stay on the show long enough to find out why she’s a hot dog vendor. She handled the whole underwear incident well even though she had to handle the underwear.

Robin Canfield mentioned Oxford in her British spiel and I think she was the one who also spoke some French and said she liked soccer better than rugby. I figure she’s good for at least three roses.

My only question is why they gave such a “high road” Bachelor such a strange group of women, based on those previews. It is interesting that they’re not promising anything this season. Bottom line, there’s enough here to at least give this installment a chance.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Corned Beef and Kvetch

Mrs. Chancelucky and I went to a corned beef and cabbage St. Patrick’s day dinner over the weekend with seven other strangers all in late middle age. They were nice enough, but the conversation kept turning to dismal topics. It started with talk about younger relatives who were losing their homes in the mortgage crisis. It moved to talk of elderly relatives who need extensive care, how much time it takes, and how much it really costs. There were some segues to the employment situation for our children, health care options and quality of services, and my two least favorite dinner table topics home remodeling and other people’s vacations. Somewhere in there we talked about the fact that the state is now requiring that schoolchildren with diabetes who can not administer their own insulin shots have it given by a qualified health professional, i.e. a school nurse. At one time that wouldn’t have been a problem but budget declines over the last twenty years have rendered the school nurse a nearly extinct species in my state.

While Bear Stearns saw it’s stock drop from sixty dollars a share to two dollars a share (the price Morgan got it) in two weeks, I keep thinking about the difference between a main street vs. a wall street approach to the current problem. Over the last few years thousands of families got lured into buying houses with the combination of low variable interest mortgages paired with very low down payments like five thousand dollars. In addition, some odd financial tools appeared like negative amortization loans. In some really bad cases, folks who had owned their home for many years were tempted to remodel based on the attractively low rates. All of this was based on the notion that home prices would go up and that the economy would continue to grow. Apparently, a lot of buyers were told not to worry about rate increases etc. already built into their loans.

Now thousands of would be homeowners can’t make their payments for various reasons and they’re losing their stake in the most typical American dream. The Wall St. Solution seems to be to bail out the bank in some way and to find ways to protect the various financial institutions who helped to make this mess. There has also been some talk about a freeze on interest rate hikes with variable loans and some level of forebearance or restructuring for certain kinds of loans.

I’m wondering if a Main Street solution might look different. For one, I’m thinking that one end of all of this is a bunch of paper. At the other end, you have real families and actual physical homes that tend to do better when its occupants have some stake in the value of the property. At some fundamental level, people need to live somewhere. If a couple families default on a loan in a town, it’s a big deal to them but not that significant to the community itself. The lender forecloses then puts the house back up for sale and generally gets a slightly below market price. The family hopefully moves on to a more modest place.

When it becomes hundreds or thousands of homes though, the problem is a bit different.
For one, the price of homes drops dramatically and a large portion of the town has to move away. The lender now owns paper for a bunch of homes whose value has decreased dramatically. In the meantime various families are looking for alternate living quarters as a downward spiral begins.

I’m not a finance person, but it seems to me that if there’s no lost “opportunity” cost (as in ready buyers at the old price) for the lender then it makes perfect sense to simply rent the home back to the homeowner at a price significantly lower than the mortgage itself, say a payment somewhere close to what it was when the house first sold. The money would strictly be rent as opposed to going towards anything resembling equity and any other money the bank loses would come out of the eventual sale of the house. There’s no displaced family. The bank doesn’t lose out on the whole stream of payments and perhaps more important a bunch of housing inventory doesn’t suddenly hit the market and further lower prices. The financially overextended family keeps some sort of stake in home ownership in the community.

The insulin problem is similar. Other than the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of non-qualified people (family members) who administer insulin (my mother did it for my grandfather for 3 years) anyway, the actual issue is that there aren’t qualified health care professionals who work near public schools. One result is that some schools are paying a service $55/hour to send out an LVN supervised by an RN or a Doctor to drive out to the school and give the shots. If you co-locate community health clinics in the public school and serve the community at large, possible solutions become much easier. The clinic then has ready access to several hundred families who use the school for preventative medical advice and treatment.

Senior centers that work closely with schools and pre-schools offer similar synergies. For instance, relatively able-bodied elderly folk often make very good daycare providers. In turn, students can learn any number of job skills helping the elderly. Obviously, there are many whose condition on either end makes this impossible, but we’ve lost the capacity to take advantage of these possibilities largely because we lay out our communities in curiously irrational ways. We talk constantly about finding ways for our vehicles to get better gas mileage. It actually makes much more sense to build towns in which cars are less necessary. If you can, for instance, walk to work, school, and shopping, then you could have the least efficient vehicle imaginable and still use less gas than someone with a plug in Prius.

Although our hosts were great and the guests were quite funny and friendly, I hate these endless conversations about how everything about our lives is doomed and how it will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to attend to a single elderly person. Similarly, it would be a criminally stupid society that leaves thousands of homes vacant because of a failed mortgage system. Looking back wasn’t it obvious that some of these finance practices were more or less begging to have this happen?

Anyway, if anyone invites us to dinner again, something that won’t happen if any of those guests see that, I’d much rather talk about solutions. I hate getting trapped in conversations about the compound interest of misery. There have got to be more interesting ways to talk about this stuff and maybe there are things we can actually try. Otherwise, it all feels like corned beef and kvetch instead of cabbage.

Meanwhile, I'm grateful that we're just talking about these things rather than being the people living them right now.


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Thursday, March 13, 2008

David Hernandez Meets Pete Best (Idol 7 round of 12)

Was that David Vitter and Elliot Spitzer singing a duet on Can’t Buy Me Love? (is there a possible AI tryout connection?) Was that Kathryn Mcphee auditioning for the lead in the remake of the Fabulous Baker Boys? As a baby boomer, I love the Beatles. David Archuleta lost major points with me by saying, “Okay, well at least there’s this Stevie Wonder version I can do.”

The Gods of pop music must have been watching and brought their justice down on Junior Star Search David. I love Stevie Wonder too, but you welcome an opportunity to do the Beatles and you call it the chance of a performing lifetime. You definitely don’t reveal to the camera that it’s something you’d just as soon avoid.

David Archuleta screwing up the lyrics, losing his poise (not in a big way), and then meandering through his version of I Can’t Quite Work It Out was a disaster for David Arhculeta fans but it was great reality television. For six years, Idol watchers have been trained to expect the final singer of the evening, the Pimp spot, to be indulged with wild praise by the judges. This year, it’s been the jinx spot. Asia’h Epperson’s All By Myself got the meh treatment and an exit the next week. Syesha Mercado did Whitney Houston no less then got three total words worth of critique from the judges and fell to the bottom three yesterday after being considered an early contender or at least pimpee. Mmmmm… Now, whatever he does this week is way more dramatic because no front runner has ever been quite this bad for a given performance(I do think Katharine Mcphee came close though during Elvis week and Jordin Sparks was not good with Bon Jovi, but they still didn't fall this far).

I doubt that the kid will fall that far even with a second so-so performance for Beatles week #2. I know double albums were big in the early seventies and the Beatles do probably offer more variety than most any single artist “theme” group going, but I’m a bit puzzled by Idol’s sudden all Beatles all the time format. If they were going to do it in two parts, I think they could maybe have done it thematically. Songs written by Paul vs. songs written by John. Psychedelic Beatles vs. Moptop Lads from Liverpool. They could have dragged Yoko and say Heather Mills out there to make some token appearance. Yoko Ono on American Idol would have been incredible.

Ryan: So Yoko did John really call you “Mom” and is it true that you’re the one who broke the group up?

Yoko: Ryan, what do you think of my shoes?

Ryan: Wasn’t Ricky Miner’s arrangement for the Plastic Ono Band just great America?
That wail at end was amazing.

I do think that whatever was going on between the new fab four of Simon, Paula, Randy, and Ryan might have been some attempt to parallel the chemistry and eventual demise of the original fab four. Seriously, the weird sexual/sexuality banter is getting kind of old though. I did like the junior high “shutup already” exchange between Simon and Paula, but sideshows need to stay on the side.

No one seems to have commented on this season of Idol maybe not being the most “talented” ever, bu the most multi-cultural Idol ever. The show not only had a record number of “Hispanics” in the final 12, it managed to reveal the range of what it means to be Hispanic. Jason Castro (Columbia), David Archuleta (Honduras), Syesha Mercado, and David Hernandez all seem to represent some distinct slice of the demographic without singing Gloria Estefan or making like Cheech Marin. Throw in Danny Noriega and it’s a pretty interesting cross section. In addition, the show has Ramiele Malubay, Chikezie (Nigerian), Michael Johns (Australia), Carly Smithson (county Pub in Ireland), and Amanda Overmyer (Bikers with two-toned hair). It’s not an America that existed on television when the Beatles were still together. Somehow though, the Beatles have something to do with the fact that we now have much broader cultural possibilities. In a sense, this is the real way to honor the sixties and the influence of the Beatles and the notion of breaking free that they represented in the pop world. John Lennon might not be smiling about what Idol did to all of his music, but I suspect he’s smiling to see that this little bit of what he Imagined did happen. Now, if they’d just get busy with the Give Peace a Chance Part.

David Hernandez: Got to be Season 7’s Stuart Sutcliffe in that he leaves the show just before the tour. He never sounded bad, but with the audience reach outs and the non-dance dancing, I think he thought he was performing at the county fair (you know that scene in Hugh Grant’s Music and Lyrics). I wasn’t that shocked that he got voted off. It also seemed oddly convenient. The show got to say they didn’t kick him off, America gets the honor of not voting him off the week the scandal broke, and he just happens to not make the tour the next week. That said, I’m not sure the gay lapdance thing mattered that much. In fact, it might have helped at this stage of the show. It was the boring part that got him voted off.

Kristie Lee Cook: Yikes. Didn’t she wear that outfit before and does she do the same eye movements and poses every time she sings? Why speed the song up if you’re going country? A couple fiddles and minor tones don’t make something country, it’s about the feel of heartache never being more than a couple notes away that makes something country. Bouncy does exist in country, but even then whatever you’re trying to escape is still in the shadows. This was Eight Days A Wreck and no, I don’t have ways to show I care. Naturally, she stays on for another week.

If she’s one of the “ringers” for this year, the scandal in her case isn’t so much that she’s on this show, it’s that she had a big time music agent and label ties in the first place.

Michael Johns: Is Michael Johns one of those tennis instructors whose real private lessons always seem to involve the country club moms? I thought he was pretty good on Across the Universe and that he made the right choice to stay with the song pretty much as is. Some of the better versions get more of a floating quality to the melody and I don’t think he managed that. Mrs. Chancelucky thinks he’s attractive.

Chikezie: I not saying this happened, but I have this image of Chikezie working airport security and maybe finding something in Paula Abdul’s bags (not terrorist related more like some controlled substance that might explain those strange verbal adventures) and he then just happens to get his spot on Idol. Before this week, that scenario would have made more sense to me because I wasn’t quite sure how the guy had made it this far.

The judges talked about Brother Wherefore Art Thou influencing the country section of She’s a Woman. This is a bit of a tangent and maybe it’s kind of out there, but I was hearing more bits of an old album I have with Ry Cooder and Ali Farka Toure (a guitarist from Mali) called Talking Timbuktu. The album reconnects African music with both blues and rock in a celebration of the real roots of our pop music and I recommend a listen if you haven’t had the chance.

Anyway, my problem earlier with Chikezie was that he started off on the show as some sort of retro-lost member of the Fifth Dimension or the Pip who got left behind mid-tour at LAX. The great thing about this arrangement was that Chikezie sort of reconnected with his Nigerian roots with that first section (yeah, I know Mali and Nigeria are different cultures and have different music) and the performance was kind of a sped up history of where the Beatles came from. In fact, if anything I wish that that first section stretched a bit longer. In any case, it was suddenly like the Cheze went out of Chikezie and the Ike was back in for everyone to see. It was genuinely interesting and a fresh view of him and the Beatles.

Amanda Overmyer: I’ve been spelling the woman’s name wrong for like three weeks. Doesn’t anyone read this blog carefully? Including me, I guess. I agree that this was better in that she seemed to have a sense of the shape of the song rather than just turning it into a growlfest.

David Cook: I liked what he did with Eleanor Rigby soundwise. Did the arrangement catch the loneliness and despair in the lyric though? He’s sort of getting the praise that was supposed to be going to Michael Johns. I wonder if there’s a book somewhere in David’s new apartment called “Daughtry for Dummies.” There are 2 Cooks and until last night there were 3 Davids in this. No wonder they keep singing the same songs on this show.

Carly Smithson: She was fine, but what about Come Together was all that new? Simon seems to be working from some sort of road map with his critiques of her. Hold back in the beginning to keep it less obvious, then build up slowly. No, I didn’t see the Kelly Clarkson parallel. Kelly Clarkson really came out of nowhere. Carly has had about forty two hours of camera time so far.

Ramiele Malubay: Way back in audition land, Simon mentioned that she seemed too old-fashioned. It seems like her voice is only exciting in top gear, partly it’s the little girl giant voice thing. When she goes delicate like with In My Life, there’s no contrast between the presentation and the sound and it reverts to being more soy sauce than wasabi. America sent all her friends home, I have this feeling that the remaining Idols are now kind of afraid to hang out with her.

Syesha Mercado: I was waiting for her to have to deal with material that was outside the soul-diva powerhouse thing. All that was left behind was a lounge act.

Jason Castro: He went back to the guitar and it felt a little bit like he was doing an update on John Lennon’s more lyrical mode. Usually the sweet melodic stuff was supposed to be Paul, but John did some of that too. He wasn’t singing it for me. It was sort of for the teenaged girl vote and I think it likely worked. Simon’s guy with a guitar in the dorm room wasn’t that far off, it’s just that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think Brooke White and Jason have done well because Idol’s mostly been about oversizing the music. The audience has been hungry for “intimate”. After all, the voter demographic has generally been young and female.

To be honest, I’ve always liked the two part harmony from the original and the solo version loses something in that you don’t get to see the solo premised on the conditional “if” turn into a duet.

random note- Many many years ago, I went to a school whose Marching Owl Band did a halftime show that parodied the military culture at Texas A&M. My school which never was much of a football school also managed somehow to win the game. After the final whistle, thousands of crew-cutted A&M cadets surrounded the stadium waiting to confront the long-haired, pot smoking, affronts to all things Godly, American, and Texas that were summed up in the Marching Owl Band. It didn't help that their parody of the Aggie band included goose stepping and a giant fire hydrant in honor of Reveille peeing on some football field in the old Southwest Conference.
Thirty five years later we've segued to the dreadlocked Jason Castro as a Texas A&M student. How do you say times have changed in Aggie? God I'm old.

Brooke White: Let It Be is actually one of the few songs that I play okay on the piano. It’s that simple :}. She was fine though she wasn’t stellar musically. Again Brooke White seems pretty much in the tradition of coffee house musicians. I liked the de-frizzed hair btw. The level of the music though isn’t the point. She’s managed the presentation of herself better than any contestant this year. Those tears paired with the I’ve dreamt of this stage, this piano, this band, were right on pitch. For various reasons she’s perfect for the camera in the way she pulls off wholesome without seeming either forced or corny. At this point, it appears that it’s going to come down on the female side to Brooke vs. Carly at some stage. Right now, I’d bet on Brooke.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

There's No Where There (Bachelor Where are they now special)

Susan Edds the smitten kitten from Travis Stork's season

I know he was one of the Bachelors, but do you actually know of anyone outside Missouri who wonders “Whatever happened to that renaissance man, Aaron Buerge?” Does anyone really care what became of Erica Rose as long as she stays off television? I followed that season very closely and I never saw a soul call her “Tierica”, fame-starved camera whore maybe, but no Tierica. Is there some village full of idiots somewhere who really consider Jesse Palmer and Jessica Bowlin at the Rose Bowl with the USC Marching Band a genuinely romantic moment? Doesn’t there have to be some minimal level of romance for it to be a romantic moment. I swear the actual romance has got to be at least a little bit beyond, I’m keeping the ring but here’s this one way ticket to New York City.

A few months ago, I was on an airplane that got maybe five channels off a Direct TV signal and I got stuck watching a Mouseketeers reunion. Clearly, there were only three Mouseketeers anyone cared about Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Xtina. They had a fair amount of footage, but mostly the where are they now consisted of interviews with just about every former Mouseketeer other than those three. I think they did get some time with Kerri Russell. A few of them were still in show business, but at the “Appearing Near a Dinner Theater” near you level. It was hard to tell which was sadder, this attempt at a reunion show or the “I hope this gets me back in the public eye” expression on grown mouseketeer faces.

Mostly the Bachelor’s “Where Are They Now?” special was sixty minutes of raising more questions than it answered. They started off with Jenni and Deanna. We learned that Jenni Croft was one of many surviving bachelorettes who either got engaged to or married a guy who was noticeably less “hot” (in physical terms) than the Bachelor. Of course after Brad Womack any male who could tell the truth more than fifty percent of the time probably looked way hotter than the “sexiest bachelor ever”. Deanna, to virtually no one’s surprise, got announced as the next Bachelorette on the Ellen Degeneres show. Even though it’s Ellen, I think the idea is that Deanna’s going to meet twenty five men.

In the meantime, they just glossed over the obvious question, “What the heck happened to/with Brad Womack?” Wouldn’t a serious where are they now show have at least told America that Brad Womack went back to this ex-girlfriend, but no one knows if that was before or after filming the show? Wouldn’t they also mention that he broke up with her too? They could at least have revealed that Brad Womack was in negotiations to be a spokesman for Viagra. “Yeah, I admit. Sometimes, even the sexiest bachelor ever has a difficult time handling a hard decision. That’s why I use….”

They then talked about Andy and Bevin’s separate fate, but somehow didn’t mention Tessa. For whatever reason, it didn’t seem interesting to ABC to explain what happened to so many of the end of the show relationships. There was Bob Guiney’s ultra annoying laugh, but where were Estella and Kelly Jo? Didn’t someone at ABC get the memo that whatever charm Bob Guiney has on screen disappeared well short of his fifteen minutes? Did it seem like way too many former bachelorettes went on to careers on local medium market television stations in non-anchor roles? So where were Charley and Sarah? What happened to Sadie and Jennifer from Prince Lorenzo’s season? No, he wasn’t a favorite, but Lorenzo doesn’t compare to Brad Womack as the worst Bachelor ever. For one thing, he’s not a liar (I’m not even having a cup of coffee with another woman) or someone whose “pal” has to defend him on message boards. Of course, there’s the biggest one of all. What the heck happened between Byron and Mary?

I do understand that Fleiss thinks Trista and Ryan are the franchise, but four hours of baby Max highlights was a bit extreme. It’s at least seventeen years until Max can be the Bachelor maybe with the offspring of that now weirdly middle-aged looking bachelorette who lives in a modest house in Boise with her dog and maybe some of the nieces and daughters of the genuinely interesting Bachelorettes The Next Generation who likely didn’t consent to appear on this show. Tina Fabulous, Mandy Clemens, Krisily Kennedy, Jesse the lawyer from Texas who was in Miss Congeniality, the single mom from Charley’s season, Tina Wu,Tara Huckabee and her AK47 dad, Danielle from Andy’s season, Bettina Bell, or say Meredith Phillips. At least they could have had Kate Brockhouse on to talk about her blog.

Did it look to you like Trish got engaged to the same guy who married Kristin Davis’s character in Sex in the City? It sounded to me like he works as a ticket agent for an airlines or maybe as a tour guide. Trish as the stepmother to three kids might actually make for a good sitcom. All these mean bachelorettes could show up and keep trying to turn her in to Child protective services.

And how about those highlights for Bachelor 12? It looked like the champagne room of a strip club tied to a bunch of photoshoots from romantic weekend travel brochures. Of course, the English get a whole different set of images when people mention the War of the Roses. I think the basic idea is that America is getting into such severe economic straits that we’re now selling off our women on reality tv to wealthy foreigners. I don’t think that’s all that romantic unless you used to be the governor of New York. Still, you never know.
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Friday, March 07, 2008

Houston We Have a Problem (Idol 7 Round of 16 results)

Before there was Britney, there was Whitney. Obviously, there are differences: Whitney Houston could actually sing. Still, it’s the same basic idea. You get famous really young in a way that goes beyond just your music. They put you in movies. Your marriage becomes fourteen pages every other issue of People Magazine. Every time you laugh, cry, or make a face three hundred photographs of the event appear and the tabloids read all manner of things into the look on your face, the hour of the day, and whoever happened to be with you at the time.

At some point, you can’t take it anymore and you wind up in rehab, get divorced, have another baby, and wind up relegated to some second-rate reality show, not necessarily in that order. So why in the world does everyone on Idol want to be Whitney Houston?

I suppose it beats wanting to be Michael Jackson, but I did watch an episode or two of Being Bobby Brown. With or without Clive Davis to guide me back to stardom, I wouldn’t want to be Whitney Houston. That didn’t keep at least three Idol contestants from covering Whitney this week. In fact, the ladies eight started with Asia’h Epperson doing a kind of low carb, no fat version of I Wanna Dance with Somebody and ended with Syesha Mercado doing Saving All My Love For You as this fifteen dollar watch looks and sounds exactly like Rolex's Whitney model if you buy six I'll give you a discount. The men’s night closed with Chikezie turning All the Man that I Need into All the Woman that I Need (would have been interesting to see David Hernandez do this one).

Is it written somewhere that if you’re a black contestant on Idol, you have to try Whitney Houston? I do remember that it did work for Vonzell Solomon.

Now if you want to be Celine Dion, that’s another matter. She has a family, a nice elderly husband, has held onto her money, etc. I get Carly Smithson and David Hernandez wanting to be Celine. On the other hand every jazz player in the world wanted to be Charlie Parker at one time and look what happened to him. Heroin addiction, dead at 34, and the subject of a Clint Eastwood movie shot completely in the dark. The saddest thing about Whitney these days is that if she reappears as a guest mentor on Idol, it would feel like a comeback.

I’m sort of wondering what the real difference between Final Sixteen and Final 11 is. I probably actually remember several final 14 folk better than I remember 11-12 place finishers like Melissa Mcghee, Brandon Rogers, Lindsey Cardinale. Compare that to some non-finalists like Antonella Barba, Sundance Head, Gedeon McKinney, Amanda Avila. Unless you make the tour, it really means that you get to sing an extra time or two on national television which may get you another look for a cameo on say Being Bobby Brown, but it’s all in the realm of “Oh yeah, I sort of remember him/her. What was that song again that they did sort of okay?”

Asia’h Epperson: There are certainly other years when Apostrophe Epperson would have made the top 12, my take was that she made a mistake by going into Syesha Mercado’s wheelhouse two weeks in a row. Her best shot was to stay fun, likeable, and sympathetic. As strange as it sounds, she made the mistake of trying to prove to America that she can sing like an “Idol” when she didn’t really have the horsepower for that. She handled herself well on the show though and her Dad would be extremely proud of that.

Danny Noriega: It seems that every year there is someone who takes a shot at staying simply because he or she is entertaining. Pre-Sanjaya, John Peter Lewis probably got the furthest and that was partly because there was a time or two when he sang pretty well. In the past the Miykalah Gordons and Kevin Covais cracked the top 12 mostly for being memorable and singing well enough once. The irony is that Danny Noriega probably could sing better than either of those two, but he seemed to be working so hard at being Danjaya and sassing Simon in various adolescent ways that it looked like he wasn’t taking the music very seriously at all.

The other big difference was that Sanjaya was honestly loveable. We first met him as the guy who didn’t want to hurt his sister’s feelings and he actually took some very stiff criticism with impressive maturity. Danny was snarky. I think the sentimental Danny who turned up for the elimination moment might have lasted another round or two. Btw, I thought Chikezie scored some major points in the way he showed affection and support for Danny, particularly given the gay subtext with Danny and the whole fear of the down-low among African-American men.

Luke Menard: Seemed like a nice normal guy. Didn’t have a chance.

Kady Malloy: Okay, got a brief glimpse of what I assume was mom and some other older female relative during the results show. They didn’t look much like Kady. On Wednesday, it was clear that someone had told her to smile more and be a bit more animated in her interaction with the judges, but it came across as strangely unnatural especially the robot bit.

It’s very odd to see a young lady as conventionally attractive and talented as this seem uncomfortable in her own skin, but on stage that seemed to be a big part of it. She also needs some lessons on playing to the camera. Carly Smithson got a hard time from Simon for the way she handled the wireless mike. How many shots of Kady performing had the microphone almost completely blocking her face and did she ever make sense of how to play either to the camera or the audience? I also think she would have done better with a ballad. She had a bit of a Katharine Mcphee mixture both with the potential in the voice, the look, and this slightly geeky/awkward quality. For whatever reason, she chose the same sort of material that gave Mrs. Cokas a tough time. She should have waited a couple years to try the show when she can get more feeling into the song not just the sound.

I’m also going to catch hell for this, but I think part of what’s going on is that when Kady is out there she thinks the world thinks she looks like her female relatives and not the young woman we see. It makes for a strange disconnect. The thumbs down at Simon at the end of Wednesday probably didn't help. It's kind of like school. Certain kids say or do something and everyone laughs. Others do the same thing and everyone thinks they're a dork. Who knows why.

Kristie Lee Cook: I loved the image of her in a dog costume with live rats on her back. I hope she does that for one of her performances soon. I just don’t understand why the judges worked so hard to keep her in the competition. She picked a good song, not just because Randy Jackson was in Journey. A day later though, I didn’t even remember her singing it which underscores Simon’s point.

Carly Smithson: Celine Dion? Yes, she can sing, yet every week I also see why she didn’t catch on the first time through. Something inside her doesn’t get across. The tattoo and the accent make her memorable, but I don’t have an adjective for her. It’s like she’s passionate about succeeding, but not necessarily about sharing something distinctive about herself. Her mom looked good. Sort of reminded me of seeing Bo Bice’s mom and... You know you’re getting old when you start looking at the parents and thinking they’re hotter than the offspring.

Ramiele Malubay: She sure does cry a lot. She also has sort of an amateur charm in her exchanges with the judges that will serve her well in the year of the ringer. She does eventually need to sing something that I think someone would want to record and sell today. Sort of a female Anthony Fedorov in some ways.

Amanda Overmeyer: What was Simon up to? He was more or less demanding that America put Gravelmaker in the final 12. I do agree that she was better with Pat Benatar than she was with Kansas. There’s this whole caricature thing going on with her though that I hate. My take is that they’re desperate to make this year’s women a little more interesting. She’s had a car crash, set her apartment on fire, and god knows what else they’ll have her confess to in the attempt to make her a real rocker. I actually think they need to go the other way. Just show her being a perfectly competent nurse in a very straight hospital. That’s plenty exotic for Americans of average means these days. Maybe Paula can faint mid-babble and Amanda can stop mid-growl to restore Paula to consciousness even if coherence is no longer a possibility.

Brooke White: First, this was around the point where Paula was getting seriously disassociative so it was a shock to hear her make a coherent suggestion about the orchestration for Love is a Battlefield. Usually when they give you a solo guitarist on stage, it means the producers like you. I do think Brooke White is the lone female finalist who has a core identity as a performer that seems to be her own as opposed to Aretha 2.0, if you’ve ever seen the British movie “Little Voice” you kind of get my worry about Ramiele, that bar rocker chick, the one with the tattoo who sings good, and that blonde one who makes those funny eye movements on the close-ups. She’s also unlike any other Idol finalist that I can remember. I don’t know that she has the range nor do I know if she’s even all that good in her niche, but I think we’ll get several weeks to find out about both. It’s probably an accident that her name is “White”, but she’s pretty relentlessly white.

Final 12:

I actually picked the male bottom three and did comment on Beckeye’s page that Asia’h was probably going to be a surprise boot. On the other hand, I claimed that David Hernandez had done a Whitney Houston song. AI5 was a genuinely interesting season right down to the end. AI6 became less interesting as the season went on especially after Sanjaya left. They actually have some distinctive performers this year, particularly on the male side. Jason Castro, David Cook, David Archuleta, and Michael Johns are all already quite recognizable in a give me an adjective and I’ll say the guy’s name sense.
That said, I think this will be more like AI6 than AI5 though.

My first AI post two years ago compared the then group to a basketball team. If I stick with that metaphor, I think the bottom of the bench Chikezie and Kristie Lee are better singers than previous final 12 backenders. I, however, doubt that anyone would argue that either would be in any season’s starting five at crunch time. I also think that it’s quite possible for any of the other 10 to make the final five. It’s just that I don’t see a franchise player in the finals. Good teams get you to the playoffs, but it’s the superstars who get people to buy tickets or in this case Itunes downloads. I may be seriously underestimating the Hannah Montana factor with David Archuleta, the hotness of Michael Johns, the National Enquirer appeal of David Hernandez, the underdog charm of Ramiele Malubay, and Jason Castro’s likeability, but I’m not seeing anyone who’s name is going to be on America’s lips for six or seven weeks even the way it was with say Taylor Hicks. We know how AI felt about that one after it was all said and done. They simply declared Chris Daughtry the winner after the fact.

Anyway, this year’s crew can pretend to be Whitney, Celine, or even Britney (though that didn’t work for Kady Malloy) all they want, but I don’t think any of them are headed for that kind of celebrity.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

My Way or the Subway (Idol 7 Men Round of 16)

Back in the nineties, I happened to be in the Jay Street subway station in Brooklyn when I noticed a Chinese man in an overcoat standing between one of the tiled columns and a casio keyboard. He started playing a couple arpeggios on his Casio then broke out into Puccini or some bit of Italian opera. The guy was terrific. His bass-baritone voice resonated through the platform while some people stopped to listen, most just did whatever people do while waiting for subway trains. I don’t know for sure, but I did do a bit of googling and have since learned that he probably wasn’t exactly a street musician-busker in the conventional sense. I’m pretty sure the guy’s name was Tao Qi and he was part of a project called MTA Arts for Transit. In other words, he was a working musician who just happened to be working the Jay Street subway station.

Still, the effect was pretty incredible. He hardly looked like an opera singer and this wasn’t exactly the sort of space in which you’d expect Puccini, much less good Puccini, and all that conspired to make it one of those great musical experiences. It’s almost too bad I did the google thing and found out that he was sort of a ringer. I had thought of it as one of those New York moments that we tourists get to enjoy and take home to regale our friends with.

I’ve said before that you generally know when the producers think the music’s pretty good when an Idol installment really is mostly singing. Let me put it this way… Those embarrassment moments, even David Hernandez’s booger story as opposed to his other story, weren’t very distracting. Btw, How many benefits has David Archueleta performed for? Basically, the guys sang their eighties song, Randy did his human tuning fork bit, Paula told them how great they were, and Simon actually crossed the 50% mark of being more positive than not with his critiques. So who keeps alive his chance to sing pap for 19e productions and who are we going to be hearing at a subway station near us soon?

Luke Menard: This is show biz, memorable counts way more than competent. He did Wham, but not the George Michael version more like the Zoolander version. It’s so hard to be really really good looking and still be a forgettable performer. I’d be surprised to see this guy next week anywhere but in the audience.

David Archuleta: He’s basically got a pass to the final six or so. He played the piano, sang, sounded okay, licked his upper lip, and giggled awkwardly. Paula said “it’s so perfect that you’re not completely perfect and that’s what makes you even more perfect.”
Truly, it was Another Day in Paradise for this guy’s run on the show.

The most interesting thing about the whole segment was his claim that he chose the song to remind people that not everyone lives in Paradise in this world. I kind of liked that. Simon says you have to lighten it up from time to time though. I guess when they do Idol Cares this year they’ll have Jack Black and Ben Stiller there to riff on the whole bit about millions of starving children. Oh wait, that was last year…

It’s nice for one of the teenagers to make reference to something other than “Idol” being the only dream he’s ever had in his life. I do have this lurking “stage mother” worry because of that story though and yes, I did want to see him freeze up on stage some time. I’d even vote for him if he did it and I don’t vote.

Danny Noriega: This is show biz, memorable counts way more than competent and the who survives Luke or Danny may be the ultimate test of that. The show is clearly trying to establish Danny Talk, as Ryan points out it’s more or less a dialect based on text-messaging (who sponsors this show again?), as one of this year’s sideshows. He’s really good at it. The half moose head back at Simon was pretty inspired, the dandruff flick maybe not so much. For someone who Paula and Randy insist has great vocal skills, their love seems a little tainted at this point.
Every now and then, you get these clues that Simon actually doesn’t know pop music all that well or at least as well as Randy and Paula. There are always groups and songs he’s simply never heard of and it takes me by surprise.

David Hernandez: Interesting that they put him next to Danny Noriega after a week of multiple rumors about Hernandez’s past as a gay stripper. Naturally, he got to sing a love song (It’s All Coming Back to Me Now). Maybe a little weird choice given the gay stripper story( btw Beckeye who knows 80's music way better than I do pointed out that Celine Dion first popularized the song in the 90's and that it was written originally for Meat Loaf, I'd originally had it in my head that Simon accused Hernandez of doing a Whitney Houston cover). I think the guy sings well, he has a clear singing identity, only the style is well straight out of the 80’s even when he’s not singing 80’s. The one thing that may do him in was the booger story. I’ll be thinking about what's up his nose every time he performs and not in the Amy Winehouse kind of sense.

Michael Johns: David Cook apparently broke his guitar so Michael Johns ( the pro) had to step in a little early to do the theme song from the Breakfast Club, maybe the ultimate 80’s movie. Where is John Hughes these days anyway? Where’s Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson for that matter? Not that I miss any of them. He’s good. My only worry is that he comes off as a bit too slick. I’d love to see a bit more spontaneity from him on stage or we might forget about him say like the entire cast of the Breakfast Club.

David Cook: Lionel Ritchie and an electric guitar in the Nicole Ritchie era? It worked and Cook I think established himself as the serious “Musician” among the guys. He appears to have the most distinct musical identity of the about to be finalists. That’s a good thing isn’t it? Hello! McFly are you listening? (random eighties reference to honor the theme)

Look for him to start getting the Chris Daughtry treatment.

Jason Castro: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the unmentioned Rufus Wainwright all set the bar for Hallelujah (featured in Shrek I think). I still say that dreadlocks and all, Jason Castro would and should have gotten carded at that bar. He seemed to run out of breath just after the whispery sections and at a couple points broke character to wink/smile at the audience. Yes, he brought off the vulnerability but I wasn’t thinking that he’d pulled off anything that I’d want to record or that he’d ever had a contemplative moment quite like that in real life. He really does seem like the sort of person where pulling out one of his own dreads is a major life event.

I think the judges were rewarding him for taking their advice and losing the guitar for one show.

Chikezie: I liked the falsetto. He went for a more modern semi-casual look and I’m thinking this guy may actually do better with being an iffy dresser. There’s kind of a Sinbad vibe about the guy. As in he might find some way to get popular, but no one’s every going to be convinced that he’s either really good or special in some way as a performer. “All the wo/man that I need?” though…and more Whitney Houston? So why didn’t the judges call Chikezie on Idol’s secret “No more Whitney” rule? Is it because the guy’s black and therefore exempt? Even with the pimp spot though, I think he’s a candidate for elimination. Until he turned up last night, I’d almost forgotten that he was still on the show. That can’t be good.

I don’t normally do this, but here you go.

Michael Johns
David Archuleta
David Cook
Jason Castro

David Hernandez (I keep thinking about Antonella Barba for some reason)

No tour for you this summer:
Luke Menard
Danny Noriega (another test for Vote for the Worst-ish)

Off to Whole Foods to shop for baby shower gifts for Nicole Ritchie. Can you see food shopping with Simon Cowell? "You call this fish, it's like something you'd find in a cabaret, karaoke,genetically modified fish farm fish. I hated this. Don't you have Mrs. Paul's?"

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