Friday, April 24, 2009

A Night of Great Disco Ballads (Idol 8 round of 6+1)

Carrie Prejean was recently spotted out with Ryan Seacrest

I’m still trying to figure out why Adam Lambert dressed up as K.D. Lang the other night. While Randy Jackson kept assuring America how great this year’s singers are because they hit all those notes, I kept wondering why they had a Disco night and the only person dancing seemed to be Paula Abdul and her inner-goddess. Just a reminder, in pop music it’s not the notes, it’s the beat especially in Disco. Let me translate, “This is our most talented group ever” really means “America’s not talking about you guys at all and they consider about five of you interchangeable.”

Are there really record executives dreaming of the day they find the next Donna Summer? Apparently, a bunch of these Idol finalists think that. How about that Anoop dressed up as a lounge lizard complete with mustache? You know what? The whole night sucked. Think about this, the apparent highlight was Kris Allen doing “Hard for the Money” unplugged. Did he persuade you that there were layers either to the lyric or the melody that benefited from it? Did you pick up any new resonances in the meaning. I have to say, I liked it better when it just seemed to be a song about prostitution, either literal or figurative. Either that or it’s something you play during lunch hour aerobics class. This is what I think, the guy was mostly just trying to get out of having to do disco. According to the judges, Kris is now a contender for the finals. What other story have they got? The whole Allison thing is not happening. If you have more bottom three appearances than actual memorable performances, you’re just not going to win.

That wasn’t the case with Adam Lambert. I’d say when Ryan starts asking, “Say Adam, how are you going to surprise us this week?” It’s time to just throw the fast ball knee high on the outside corner. I know Adam Lambert has both the voice and the stage presence to do that, but now I keep sitting on the curve ball. Let’s see him perform in a clown outfit. Maybe they’ll do Broadway night and he’ll go Freddie Mercury. Maybe he’ll shop in the women’s section like Kris and Paula, but maybe for different reasons. The way the judges have gone lately, Adam’s chances of winning are better than even against the field. This is Secretariat, the Chuck Noll era Steelers, like betting on Clay Aiken coming out some day.

Okay, that one didn’t fit, but the only real drama (not to say the show won’t manufacture some) about the next 4 episodes of American Guydol (Jordin Sparks was the last female finalist and Katharine Mcphee was the last one over 18) has to do with the coming reality show collision between the Miss USA Contest and American Idol 8. If you wonder how they might have made Miss USA more with it, instead of asking Carrie Prejean (this year’s Miss California, well except for parts of San Francisco) about gay marriage they could have said “Do you think American Idol is ready for an openly gay winner?”

If you haven’t been following the news, Carrie Prejean may have lost the Miss USA title because she told the judges she felt gay marriage was wrong and stuck by her answer. Given that half the male audience and a similar percentage of the men working behind the scenes at your average Pageant are gay men, some people didn’t like her answer. It also seemed mildly odd for a woman to parade around in a skimpy bikini, high heels, and makeup then start talking about the Bible being her guide in life. I just didn’t know that Ephesians came with a centerfold. Nonetheless, much of America is giving her credit for not playing the politician and sticking up for what she believes. Would they be saying the same thing if Carrie Prejean had suggested that we burn gay couples at the stake or mentioned that the Jews killed Jesus? Who knows? It’s all a matter of degree I guess.

In the meantime, they’re saying that she went on a date with Michael Phelps. Maybe if they’d asked her about legalizing marijuana, she’d go on a date with Rosie O’donnell? I do think they’re making too big a deal of it. When’s the last time you ever heard of a former beauty pageant winner getting into politics? You betcha, it’s not like Carrie Prejean is going to run for vice-president of the US or something. This is just Miss USA. Can you imagine the other four finalists that night though? How many do you think agreed with Carrie Prejean and America just didn’t get to find out.

Enough with the Adam and Steve business, I assume you want me to talk about Adam and Ryan. Here in California, we recently had Proposition 8 where the Mormon Church spent millions to make sure that we were all clear on the concept of traditional marriage being between a man and one or more women. You wanna talk about Big Love, what bigger love is there in protecting us from the horrors of gay people being in committed relationships. Proposition 8 split California voters right down the middle with slightly more of them siding with Miss USA.

Idol 8 is in this fascinating position of healing the cultural divide. According to most, the likely final is the openly gay guy who really can sing against the widower who works as a church music director. If it weren’t in such bad taste, I’d say it. This isn’t American Idol, it’s like a special episode of Wife Swap. I can see a final where Adam and Danny duet to Ebony and Ivory except with pink keys marking the sharps and flats. For a couple weeks, we may get to watch the finalists engage in all this camaraderie and exchange various tokens of mutual respect.

Adam can sing Bobby Goldsboro's 'Honey' in memory of Danny’s wife. In the middle when gets to 'I long to be with you", the camera cuts to Danny who has to take off his glasses to wipe away tears. The judges tell Adam how he can sing anything and Paula compares Adam to Bob Dylan and Tim Buckley. Danny then sing “It’s Raining Men” and blame it on Jasmine Trias. Just before the final chorus, he points to Adam then Ryan and winks. Paula tells Danny how on key he always is no matter what he sings. Simon thanks Danny for dedicating a song to him. Kara says something about how David Hernandez is probably dancing around right now if he's watching. Carrie Prejean comes out to hug both contenders and to tell America who she loves the sinner and not the sin. Adam gives her an odd look.

American picks a winner based on talent not sexual preference and our country will be whole again, though still 80 trillion dollars in debt. We’re probably not far from a time when instead of a recording contract, the winner of the show just gets a job.

If you ask me, I’d just like to see one season of the show where the winner at the end is pop music itself. Just don’t think that’s going to be this year.
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Friday, April 17, 2009

Is There Anything to Save? (Idol 8 Round of 7)

It was nice to see Jennifer Hudson come back for results night on Idol. Her voice still sounds great; whatever issues there were about her wardrobe and look are smoothed out (though I liked the original Jennifer Hudson); She’s more comfortable doing patter. I doubt that her coming back for the round of 7 elimination was an accident. She’s both the only Idol contestant to win an Oscar and the most infamous early exit in the show’s history. As it happens, Jennifer Hudson went out in round 7. As it happens, one of this year’s gimmicks is the judges’ save option: America decides, but we get one chance to correct. Lo and behold, Jennifer Hudson comes to sing on the results show and what do those zany-unpredictable judges just happen to do for the first time? They save Justin Timberfake, I mean Matt Giraud. Imagine that!

If you’re wondering why I’ve cut back on posting about the show this year, that’s it in a nutshell. From Paula pulling out the box of crayons for Simon, to Kara flirting with male contestants, to various oblique references to Danny Gokey’s departed wife, to Scott McCintyre’s disability, everything feels rehearsed. Reality TV thrives on spontaneity. If you’re one of the three people who hasn’t seen the Susan Boyle clip from Britain’s got talent, have a look. Whether anyone really was surprised to hear that voice come out of that person, they sure acted like it and that’s what makes the video viral. Reality shows do best when things happen that just don’t seem to be scripted.

There’ve actually been some pretty memorable vocal performances on Idol in the last two years, but I still wonder if there’s been anything as arresting as Sanjaya Malakar doing Wild Thing. It’s not that the guy was a great talent, it was that there seemed to be something chaotic about his presence on the show. It’s part of why I actually watch this year when Adam Lambert performs. It’s not so much when Paula starts talking about his special sauce, it’s more interesting when he does a Middle Eastern Ring of Fire and Simon hates it. The problem is more with everyone else.

You may or may not remember the American Girls software. American Girls is this history-conscious-politically-correct line of dolls that came packaged with a backstory. Instead of Lingerie Barbie and her pink corvette, American Girls dolls were supposed to provoke little girls to think about what life was like during the revolution, working in a factory, or say a slave girl working in the Master’s plantation manor. Anyway, the dolls were a big hit so since everyone else was doing educational software the company did its own. In it, you could take their characters and stage little plays with them. Nice idea, but in those days most home computers didn’t have the horsepower to do it well.

I think American Idol licensed the software and most of the contestants are just dolls with pre-printed back stories. There’s the Desi-next door who’s kind of like Phil Stacy with a tan. He appears to work hard, has a nice voice, but there’s nothing all that interesting about his music. There’s the 16 year old rocker with the great voice who can’t quite connect with the audience yet (what was she thinking with that song from Armageddon?). There’s the nice-looking married fellow from the sticks who’s doing really well singing ballads. After 8+ performances with this cast, some weeks are good and some not so good, but I’m never all that surprised. A few times, a couple of them have come on to sing I check out the costume, figure out which way they’re going to play it fast-slow, bluesy-sensitive, etc. in about fifteen seconds then I walk out of the living room to put something in the microwave or move clothes from the washer to the dryer. I figure I can just go to the toystore and get an American Idoll next week if I change my mind. With the exception of Allison and Adam, I just don’t see any of these people having any chance to be Jennifer Hudson or Carrie Underwood. As Simon has told a few contestants this year, “I don’t see any way you can win this.” It’s true, but nine zillion people auditioned for this show, what the heck happened?

I know this is horrifying, but I’ve been paying more attention to Dancing with the Stars than Idol. One aspect of DWTS, apart from the fact that even when it’s bad there are always a handful of really attractive people on the show (Mrs. Chancelucky has developed a thing for Gilles Marini and she keeps accusing me of watching the show for Julianne Hough), there are never more than four or five people who can win on that show. For some reason, it’s still fun watching the also rans. That used to be the case on Idol, then something changed and the also rans became oddly forgettable. Does anyone remember Stephanie Edwards, Ramiele Malubay, or Brandon Rogers? Want something even more scary, who are Alexis Grace and Michael Sarver? DWTS more or less keeps the sexy factor in the mix at all costs, this year's AI cast just isn't long on that kind of appeal.

Reality TV is about surprise and a big part of the surprise is rooted in personality. Years ago, Idol had a semifinalist, Melinda Lira, who was so pissed off when she got eliminated that she didn’t go through the motions of even appearing to do her sing off. Not so good for her, but really entertaining tv. One of the joys of watching Jennifer Hudson when she was a contestant was to see both the talent and the rough-edges. It just seems like the contestant show up in the final 12 with their makeovers already done these days. It can be argued that Jordin Sparks grew some on her way to being Idol 6, but I’m hard-pressed to think of other “watch them grow” runs on the show. Taylor Hicks and David Cook pretty much had their acts tv ready. I think the same can be said of Adam Lambert. It’s also one of the reasons Melinda Doolittle didn’t make it past third. We want to see a story unfold. I don’t mean back story, a la my wife died, I mean one where things happen and change over the 20 week season. Think more Elliot Yamin.

So, what can happen to make this season more watchable? Allison Iraheta can acquire a bit more stage presence so it appears less like she’s singing into a microphone and more like she’s connecting to an audience. Lil Rounds can take Jennifer Hudson’s advice and defiantly be herself. I don’t think that’s going to happen though. If I were to list Divas who appeared on the show, well all three from Jennifer Hudson’s season were better perfomers than Lil Rounds. Throw in Carly Smithson, Mandisa, and Lakisha Jones and how can you be like the 8th best singer in your category and seriously expect to win the show? Anoop, Matt, Kris are all reasonably attractive guys with good voices who score somewhere below a 5 on virtually anyone’s originality meter. Generally, this means you finish anywhere from 3rd to 7th. Antony Federov, Chris Richardson, Ace Young, and sorry Beckeye there may even be an Australian or two who fits this category.

With the guys that Paula put in the finals like five weeks ago (like Simon, she might well have been right), I feel like we’re seeing two instances where the show got a do-over. While I think Adam Lambert is in a different talent league from Constantine, they play the same sport. Both clearly love being on stage and see their Idol performances as a “show” rather than a singing opportunity. I also think that Danny Gokey is a new and improved version of Chris Sligh. You have the church ties, the wife being part of the story, even the glasses. This time, though they took away the back talk and the blog. That said, the story with both these contestants is pretty much told. I imagine that Adam Lambert will find yet another way to surprise America, but it’s not going to be breaking news even if he wears Allison’s dress from two weeks ago. Bottom line, I suspect the only lurking story line is Allison making the jump from singer to “performer”. I wasn’t shocked that the judges pimped so hard for her on Tuesday night, whatever sauce Paul was on.

If AI wants to get its mojo back, even if it’s not Born to Be Wild, it needs to get away from being “tamed”. The performers need to take the show back from the producers and
we need to see a couple Susan Boyle moments. If you think about it, that’s more or less what Clay Aiken was so many seasons ago. Though, who knows whether he’d been kissed back then and by whom.
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Thursday, April 09, 2009

An Update

From the Sacramento Bee

If you’ve been looking for my most recent American Idol posts or (God forbid) looking for any new posts from me on other topics, you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t been around as much.

First, I’ve been very busy with regular life, but I’ve also been working very hard on a short story collection that I’m submitting for publication. Picking the stories is one thing, editing nearly 300 pages of material so that it’s coherent has turned out to be a huge task.

Second, I tivoed AI from Tuesday night, came home, and didn’t even feel that much like watching it. So Simon, it’s me, it’s not you…..Nonetheless, I think I just saw too much of the show. Other than being curious about what Adam Lambert will do next , it’s more or less stopped mattering to me whether or not any of the other contenders do well or badly. The show itself has turned oddly joyless.

I’ll be back to the blogging soon, btw….I may even do a couple more AI writeups assuming that I can watch all the way through. On the other hand, maybe I’ll get an agent, a publisher, and people reading my fiction. Me and the other million or so fiction writers out there :}

In the meantime, I do appreciate everyone who takes a look here and I’ll try to post once a week or so after this.

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Binghamton Blues

The scary thing for me is that 2 of the biggest mass shootings in the US in the last couple years had Asian gunmen. The Virginia Tech shooter was Korean and the Binghamton killer was Vietnamese. So much for the model minority club.

I'm also used to reading shooting stories where hundreds of shots are fired, but surprisingly few people actually get killed. One of the disturbing things about the most recent shootings has been how efficient the killers have been.

One of the NRA's arguments is that if everyone has the right to carry, then people can protect themselves. I don't understand why these things keep happening and the targets never shoot back. In fact, the Unitarian Church shooting in Tennessee, they just tackled the guy and stopped him (that's liberals for you) I would think that if someone really wanted to lobby for the second amendment, he/she'd make sure he was around for one of these mass shootings and shoot the gunman. The NRA could even do something like what the Gideon Society does. All these loose firearms out there and every time some nut walks into a building with dozens of people in it, no one there ever happens to be armed.

Even in Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority had the sense to let every family keep one AK47 after they disbanded the army. I'm not sure the combination of mass unemployment and loose assault weapons worked that well there, but it's the principle that counts. We were, after all, building an American style democracy.

I used to see these bumper stickers that said "In a police state, only the police have guns". What's it mean when only crazy people seem to have guns? It's hard for me to register what that implies.


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