Monday, April 30, 2007

Idol Gives Back

Just back from LA for a story and then Illinois for the Roger Ebert Film Festival. I just watched Idol Gives Back and it was just as cheesey and deliriously bad as I'd hoped for. The sing-along with the six finalists all in white was absolutely dreadful -- terrible, goopy song circa Q and given a terrible performance by them. That song will never be sung or heard from again. Jack Black was very funny, as always. Il Divo did what they do. But the cheese highlight was surely Josh Groban with a choir of little African children. ONe boy was missing two front teeth (if only this had been a Christmas special!) and so got lots of close-ups. Since Groban is singing about being lifted up he invariably sings this song while gazing up into the sky. But here of course he was surrounded by little children and Groban didn't know what to do --he looked up and then down and then up and then down. As a bonus, he looked like a giant, or at least a human surrounded by hobbits in the Lord of the Rings when they went to a wide shot. At the end, there was a brief pause and then the kids "spontaneously" gave Groban a group hug in the single most shamelessly staged moment of the night. The Elvis bit was fine, terrible, and frightening. It was fine as an amusing minor stunt and at least the song was a little different from the "inspiring" other numbers. it was terrible because they hyped it to death. It was NOT a piece of momentous TV history; just a silly stunt. But in fact it WAS a piece of TV history in a way. The technology is getting so good that in five years Elvis could probably be a guest star on CSI and fit in seamlessly, including all-new dialogue. Celebs will record a string of words and sounds that can be manipulated into almost any piece of dialogue and their digitial image will be available for work long after they're dead. Elvis performed on American Idol and that's the beginning of an inevitable trend. Kelly Clarkson gave one of the best performances of the night and she was NOT fat. I was expecting Mama Cass from what my idiotic brother said; she was a healthy, normal looking girl in an unflattering dress. It's thanks to people like him that so many young women have eating disorders. Finally, the emotional jerking around of Jordin -- like Elvis, it was hyped repeatedly as the most shocking Idol finale ever -- was terrible and mean and they should apologize. Two things: they've done that before (have no one go home) so it WASN'T the most shocking finale ever; also, the sympathy Jordin will presumably get won't hurt her one bit will it?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"American Idol -- The Top 6"

Okay, just back from LA and off to Illinois for the Roger Ebert Film Festival. Here's a quick, not-so-detailed impression.

INSPIRATION -- Urgh, surely the worst idea for a theme night. But it wasn't the songs as much as the treacly testimonials the kids gave on video before singing.

CHRIS -- the pants with the huge pockets ruined the look of the jacket. To me, Chris's "Change The World" just had no personality, despite the runs towards the end. It evaporated right in front of our eyes. Very vulnerable.

MELINDA -- Sang a Fatih Hill song and looked like a woman in her classy dress. And she was fierce, so controlled, so commanding. It felt more like a guest performer coming in than one of the contestants hopng to become a star. Her banter with Simon is loosening her pup too, getting away from the puppy dog looks. And that's a good thing. Just because she's the front-runner, don't rule her out.

BLAKE -- still pin-upable, even though his intro (we can't always make the world better but we can start by making it a better place? Or something like that) was incomprehensible. Sang John Lennon's "Imagine" and while you wouldn't want to mess with it too much, he could have tried to inject a little verve. But the singing was nice -- it was his deer in the headlights look that bothered me. Blake seems determined to have no facial expression while singing and tons of it afterwards -- like that goofy grin. But overall, appealing and safe. I'd rather listen to it ten times than Chris's...uh, what the hell did he sing? See, I forgot already.

LAKISHA -- Dreadful song choice -- Fantasia's I Believe? What is she gonna sing next week? Kelly Clarkson's A Moment Like This? And it was rough going all the way through. She covered it pretty well, but LaKisha had trouble catching her breath again, keeping the melody going and trying to avoid cutting lines short. She belted it a little bit but just seemed utterly lost and boring up there. The fun seems to have gone out of it for her as well. Very vulnerable. Why would you vote for her when you could vote for Melinda and Jordin is coming on strong.

PHIL -- another country song because he's SO country and then he goes and sings a Garth Brooks tune as if it were Josh Groban. Simon nailed it completely. But I think he was fine enough to get by.

JORDIN -- I love Jordin (though I'm already finding myself rooting for the first adult to win Idol) but I thought the judges were way off tonight. Jordin's much discussed wavering on the low notes was front and center on this song, which is all low notes till you hit the big chorus. She was shaky, shaky, shaky. Hit some lovely big notes but then Jordin got piercing on the final big note when normally that's when she takes my breath away. I also didnt like the arrangment, which started to build and build but then just sort of stopped. She should have been topping herself, when suddenly the song was over. Should have skipped the reprise of the low-note verse and just done one verse and a double or triple chorus slam. This is all to be kept in perspective I've been blown away by her the last three or four weeks, so I expect everything. This had fun moments and some chills, but wasn't nearly as polished as say IWho Have Nothing. But she's safe.

BOTTOM TWO -- Chris and Lakisha were the weakest, with Phil bringing up the rear. Chris was first so that doesn't help and he was so forgettable. But LaKisha to me was worse. And chooinsg another Idol song was so boring. I think she's going home.

SURPRISE GUEST -- Who is the biggest star, ever? You have to assume Michael Jackson, right? That was the guess of my flight attendandt, he said, Michael does all those charities. The female flight attendant said Michael isn't charity, he's a charity CASE1 I wouldn't think they'd want to associate with Jackson but you never know. A Beatle would certainly be big, so Paul McCartney could pop out. But given the charity and the dva-esque designation of "biggest star EVER," I'm going with Barbra Streisand. Hard to imagine she'd do something without tons of rehearsal, but you never know.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"American Idol" -- Results For Top 7

I swear on my golden "Idol" that in the future my picks for the bottom two will be simply my picks for the least effective songs. I look back on my notes and my three least favorite songs were clearly Sanjaya, LaKisha and Blake (with Chris right in there). So who does America wisely pick for the bottom three? Sanjaya, LaKisha and Blake. I of course got all cute about Phil and Blake's sex appeal and momentum and all that rot and got it almost completely wrong. But first, the show.

Ryan began the show by reprising his "Who is going home" while staring at Sanjaya. It was cute last week. This week it was just mean or annoying. I have no idea what Sanjaya said back to him. His t-shirt was very Sanjaya-ish -- "Life Is Beautiful." Sanjaya is love indeed, as Miss Ross said.

SIMON'S APOLOGIA -- The producers did a good job of showing exactly what went on last night. Letting us hear the unaired dialogue between Simon and Paula made clear they were talking and not listening to what Ryan and Blake were saying. Of course, no one thought Simon was mocking the dead at Virginia Tech, they thought he was mocking Chris and finding his reference to it insincere. But this clarification showed that wasn't the case either. Now if only we could ALWAYS go online and hear what the judges were whispering to each other.

PERSON ON THE STREET -- Is this now a weekly way to pad out the hour? I suppose it's better than a second group sing-along. By why in heaven's name did they show the clip of the woman calling Sanjaya a "girlie girlie sweetie boy. He a'ight but he don't belong there anymore." They could have just shown her saying the second half, but they included the girlie girlie ref. That's gratuitous and mean.

GROUP SING ALONG -- I'm Alright. The four people who were weak last night did a lot better here. Except for the dorky choreography, this was almost pleasant.

WHAT I'M LISTENING TO -- A shout out to Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams, Incubus and Willie Nelson. Phil said it might seem weird that he was listening to Willie. Uh, why in God's name would it be weird to listen to an icon like Willie at any time? And surely during country week it would be alsmot a given for anyone with taste or sense. Phil is clueless, especially since he just tried to convince us the night before he was country to the core. If you're country, you don't apologize for listening to Willie. Heck, if you like MUSIC you don't apologize for listening to Willie.

FERGIE -- Sang some dull song. The best part when a little kid -- looking quite bored -- was presumably shoved to the stage so she and Fergie could hold hands for a moment in what had to be the least spontaneous gesture in Idol history. The kid looked so disinterested I hope she got paid.

FORD AD -- I just noticed Ryan keeps calling them Ford music videos. It's an AD! Again, I suppose they're hopelessly goofy but for some inexplicable reason I find them less tiresome this season than before. And a nice nod to Flock of Seagulls during the spy scenes was appropriate since Idol is the new MTV. But there's no need for them to look so darn excited after the ad runs.

SHREK THE THIRD -- Oodles of promo for "Shrek The Third" with the kids meeting Jeffrey Katzenberg (Jordin looked REALLY excited when Katzenberg came out; is she some sort of animation freak or a studio chief groupie or just getting really good at acting?), learning how animated films are made, doing voice over work, meeting Antonio Banderas and then omigosh Antonio Banderas is sitting in the audience with lovely wife Melanie Griffith, their kid and Katzenberg again. Quincy Jones didn't get to speak for more than a second but Banderas gets to gab away. Amazingly, it wasn't even a Fox film. (I suppose Fox's Fantastic Four in mid-June is too far away to push.)

CUTTING TO COMMERCIAL -- When they're cutting to a commercial before announcing the bottom three, we get a shot of Jordin, Chris and Blake all staring open-mouthed in astonishment at the news. Very funny and I just KNOW it was Blake's idea.

TOP FOUR -- Melinda, Phil, Jordin and Chris. I jsut knew it was the top four when Jordin joined them. There was no way she was a low vote getter this week. Melinda was placed in the middle, the unspoken assumption that everyone knows she's the frontrunner. This is NOT good for her, since she's been in the lead so long that Jordin is gonna seem awfully appealing. Sitting down when asked to choose was very cute and perfect for her.

MARTINA MCBRIDE -- sings nice uplifting song. I could have done without her kid getting camera time; is this Idol or The 700 Club?

BOTTOM THREE -- Sanjaya, LaKisha and Blake, my three least favorite performances. Blake sits down right away and it must unnerve LaKisha to hear everyone freaking out first when he was in the bottom three and screaming for him to be safe. You are in trouble, Kiki. Then Sanjaya goes home, with LaKisha giving him a long hug, then Melinda getting good camera time by hugging LaKisha and then Blake topping them all by wiping away LaKisha's tears. Sanjaya tears up but gets through his song singing "something to talk about...other than hair."

Next week, I go with my gut. Really.

"American Idol" -- The Top 7

Okay, this blog has become the "Idol" only blog. That will change after my current crush of traveling: I'm in LA this weekend for The Advocate, I'm in Illinois next week for the Roger Ebert Film Festival and then I'm in London and Cannes for the Cannes Film Festival. After all that, I'll be home and getting used to my new Apple laptop and I'll find a happier balance between blogging and paying the bills. For the moment, cold turkery seemed an important first step after 18 months of constant posting.

MARTINA MCBRIDE -- She seemed nice enough, but most of the comments we heard were just sort of general enthusiasm. As with most pros, she managed to say something nice about everyone without tipping her hands as to what she really thought. She gave a few concrete suggestions, but mostly just told 'em to "concentrate on the lyrics." Country, rap or rock -- that's always a good idea, folks.

PHIL -- Singing Keith Urban's "When The Blacktop Ends." Like everyone else, Phil made no attempt to go country with his outfit. I guess everyone decided if they looked like they were wearing a costume it would have cut down on their believability factor. But surely Phil if anyone would have benfitted from a cowboy hat. Martina said she loved the tone of his voice, the latest celeb judge to compliment his vocals. Can't they find something nice to say without going so far? Or is it conceivable they are hearing something we're not? (Nope, it's not.) On the other hand, when he's rehearsing, they cut to her face during a vocal and she seems to rear back, like a horse that's just been spooked. We read a lot into the tactics of the producers, but the truth is they always try to rotate who goes first, last, etc. But surely Phil going first after being in the bottom two again and again can't help. Though not country looking, he looks pretty good and for Phil, the vocals are pretty lively. It's not memorably good, but it's far better than he's been in weeks if not ever. He gives man hugs to some of the guys in the audience -- are they his friends? They don't quite act like it, but I assume they must be. He gives a final "That's right y'all" towards the end. Phil is the first of many to insist he's country to the bone. If he'd been country all along, he might have built a fanbase. But I don't think you can switch on the vote of a genre's fans after just one week. No one in this show has the country vote and this week won't change that. Still, my initial instinct is that he could be safe this week. It certainly was a high point for him. On the other hand, he's been bottom two repeatedly and just went first. The judges are very nice to him.

JORDIN -- Singing McBride's "A Broken Wing." Talk about quietly being ballsy -- Jordin sings McBride's signature song. McBride gives her the most concrete advice of anyone by urging Jordin to just stand there and sing. Unlike LaKisha when Diana Ross told her the same thing, Jordin listens. Her dress is a little old for her, but it is definitely country-friendly. She sounds great, though the beginning is a little colorless. But as soon as she hits the chorus for the first time, Jordin just soars. She gets stronger and stronger and when she sings "Man, you oughta see her fly!" it's just sensational. She has an absolutely huge ending that is both emotionally satisfying for the song and pure "Idol." (Fans love it when you hold that big note at the end.) Just brilliant. She is def the Kelly Clarkson this year -- a quiet contender who gets better and better every week while being a little under the radar so no one gets sick of her. I wrote down "Jordin V. Melinda" for the finale as soon as she finished the song, as well as the note that she isn't gunning to be in the finals, she's gunning to win it all. Then of course, Simon said the very same thing by saying for the first time he believed she could win the whole enchilada. I guess petty minds think alike.

SANJAYA -- Okay, Sanjaya has spent the past three weeks trying to be considered a singer/entertainer rather than a punchline. But I still have to say I was bummed he didn't don any cowboy duds. Serious entertainer and showmanship can go hand in hand, Sanjaya. The bandana and hair thing was different but looked more appropriate for rap week. His joke in response to a reader's query was very funny -- he'd have Simon sing R.E.M.'s "Shiny Happy People" so Simon's true personality could come out. Sanjaya is def a smart kid. Last week was his strongest vocal with "Besame Mucho." This week went right back down with John Hiatt's "Something To Talk About." It's a pretty flat number in the verses; you really have to bring a lot of color to make those lines jump out, something Hiatt and Bonnie Raitt can do, of course. Sanjaya doesn't and the overall result is just boring, something Sanjaya should never be if he wants votes for his personality. He tries to groove with one of the backup singers and she smiles politely but seems to be thinking, "Oh please." [Later that night, Craig Ferguson guesting on Dave would refer to Sanjaya as "that effeminate" teenager. Boy, I hope this kid's self-confidence is high.] It was utterly dull and I thought, maybe now is the week he'll go. Simon said he was utterly horrendous, Ryan looked silly when he insisted that Simon would never like Sanjaya and Simon rightly pointed out he'd been complimentary last week. But the Sanjaya chat went on way too long. Will that help or hurt him? He should be very vulnerable, unless the anti-Idol vote (which I just can't take seriously) is far bigger than we thought.

LAKISHA -- Singing Carrie Underwood's "Jesus, Take The Wheel." McBride likes that LaKisha really identified with the song and a brief clip of her singing the first lines sounds very promising. LaKisha uses a mike stand (hello, Miss Ross!) and when she sings "She had a lot on her mind" LaKisha helpfully points to her head. People, never act out the song. Best of all, LaKisha has on some serious gold boots that are a hoot. She's really harsh on a big note in the middle and pretty piercing throughout when going for volume, though the quiet beginning and end are fine. If we think of her and Melinda appealing to the same vote the way Blake and Chris do, LaKisha seems to be falling behind. Vulnerable.

CHRIS -- Singing "Mayberry" by Rascal Flatts. McBride insisted he was versatile. I'd kind of like to think he was versatile too. He had on a terrible jacket (the rolled up sleeves didn't help) and was it my imagination or were the teenage squeals far less noticeable last night? He was kind of flat at first and had a rough middle section but was pretty good on the first chorus. Overall, lots of rough notes, though he gave it a pretty good country twang throughout. Randy was right when he said he didn't feel any emotion from Chris at all. Simon called it nondescript, nasally and tinny and Chris was actually right when he was defending the tone of his voice as a choice that was appropriate for a country song (a genre Simon hates). But that doesn't change the fact that it was weak overall. Unmemorable and therefore vulnerable. Chris at the end made a brief, appropriate reference to having friends at Virgina Tech, highlighting the fact that Ryan should have made a brief mention of it at the top of the show, something like "a terrible tragedy and our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Virgina Tech. If you want to try and take your mind off that sadness for an hour, hopefully we'll be able to help."

MELINDA -- Singing "Trouble Is A Woman" by Julie Reeves. McBride had never heard of her and neither had I -- she seems to have released all of one album in 1999. Melinda has some crazy taste. How ever did she find this one? Usually, her taste leads her astray and it's always dangerous to choose a song almost none of the audience will know. But the lyrics were easy to follow and the song was a lot of fun. It was great at making Melinda seem playful and young, something she definitely has to work on with Jordin breathing down her neck. If it comes down to those two, Melinda would have to blow the kid away vocally to win and I don't know that she can. Otherwise, weeks of being the frontrunner and the general air of being an adult (who wants to vote for their mom to win Idol?) hurts her. But performances like this def help. Great fun. Randy gives her a backhanded compliment by referring to Melinda as "our resident pro." Is he trying to lose her votes? Simon was very funny by insisting Melinda lose the look of surprise when he said something nice. (Wisely, she did.) His Tina Turner ref was a stretch, but deserved.

BLAKE -- When they cut to the break right before Blake's performance, he did a goofy thing miming cowboy pistols. Blake is definitely an entertainer; he always tries to think of something silly and memorable to do like that every week. Singing Tim McGraw's "When The Stars Go Blue." McBride's comments that he seemed nervous and attempts to get him to hit a purer tone on his high notes were very specific and concrete and seemed to indicate he could have trouble. And boy did he ever. The producers pulled out all the stops production-wise, with lots of colored lights covering the stage. And Blake looked very cute in his sweater vest ensemble. His vocals were rough throughout, Blake kept looking back at the band as if he they weren't in sync or he couldn't hear them well, he just seemed lost up there and was even screaming a bit on the big notes. It never came together and he looked very unhappy when it was over. Then, bizarrely, the judges acted as if he had done a good job. Are they trying to protect their best male candidate so it doesn't become a final four of women? I hate to be cynical but I can't think of any other reason why they didn't criticize what was Blake's weakest performance in ages. Normally, I'd say he was vulnerable, but with the judges polite comments and the fact that Blake has won over more of the Tiger Beat vote, I guess one off week won't be enough to hurt him.

THE BOTTOM THREE -- Looking back, I've got lots of contenders with Phil and Sanjaya and LaKisha and Chris (and Blake). I'm going to assume that LaKisha and Blake are safe thanks to weeks of building up a fan base. That leaves Phil and Sanjaya and Chris in the bottom three. Both Phil and Chris have been there before, of course. Just on performance, I'd say Sanjaya and Chris. But since Phil has been in the bottom two for weeks, I've got to assume he will be again. So let's say Phil and Chris, with Chris going home.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

"American Idol" -- Results For Top 8

A strange thought came over me during "American Idol" last night. Yes, everyone has been saying for a while that the show is a phenomenon, a pop cultural landmark, a blockbuster, etc. But as Ryan showed footage of him and Simon visiting Africa, as he and the judges bantered easily by playing off their "characters" just like people on a sitcom or perhaps more accurately "The View," as they discussed plans for a benefit concert/telethon, as Ryan went into the streets and chatted up people about their favorites a la Jay Leno's walkabouts and as the talent show aspect of the show faded further and further into the background, I just got the feeling that "American Idol" can do anything, be anything. If they suddenly staged a scene from, say, Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet," I don't think anyone would blink an eye. I think Paula or Randy or Simon will retire in a decade or two but the show will go on. Seriously, it's an institution like "The Ed Sullivan Show," which ran for 23 years.

Anyway, lots of teasing of Sanjaya last night, with Sanjaya soaking it up and enjoying it, as he should. The judges are really getting along this year and Randy and Paula continue to offer more pointed criticism than in the past. The group sing-along at the beginning was awful, with terrible choreography and presentation, with Sanjaya whispering "Te Quiero" and Blake going into hyperdrive over his new-found sultriness. (Don't get ahead of the hype, Blake.)

AKON -- Sang "Don't Matter." Why in heaven's name was he on the show, performing? Was it a make-good for showing up and signing basically a line or two with Gwen Stefani? Was it to give the Idol kids encouragement by showing you don't have to have a decent voice at all in order to achieve pop stardom. Lots of people critique the talent on "Idol" -- are these the best eight kids they could find, etc.? Well, I'd rather listen to Melinda, LaKisha and Jordin than Michael Buble and Akon any day. It's not a matter of taste, it's a matter of talent.

SCHOOL IN A BOX -- Simon's banter with the schoolgirls in Africa was genuinely amusing, first with Simon staying true to form by snapping, "Pay attention, girls" and then that girl's drawing of him with breasts. Will Simon sing on stage? Maybe if they raise, say, $50 million. Will that be the jump the shark moment?

REWIND -- among the new footage from the performance night, we say Haley walking backstage after Simon's comment about her outfit when she said "Guess I'm going to put a robe on." She justified wearing shorts because it was Latin night? Uh, she wore shorts the week before. The outfits weren't sleazy but she has been wearing much skimpier outfits throughout the competition. To get offended by Simon's comments is absurd. If you don't want people singling out your appearance,don't wear short shorts repeatedly. If you are gonna dress sexy and fun, don't be uptight about it. Just say, "I'm just dressing fun; it's nothing you wouldn't see walking down a street." uh yeah, but the high heels don't help.

BOTTOM THREE -- Phil, Haley and Chris. I don't deserve any points for picking perennial bottom two-ers Phil and Haley so all I deserve is disdain for picking Jordin instead of Chris. I thought his performance was pretty weak but got distracted by the judge's nice comments. Clearly, Blake is sucking up all the "cute boy/Tiger Beat" votes and Chris's days are numbered. When Chris was added to the bottom three, he stood a little to the side of Phil and Haley. He wanted no part of their mojo.

J-LO -- Jennifer Lopez sang a song from her first full Spanish-language album, demonstrating how you really don't have to move that much if you make the backup singers do all the work. But the best part of it was the video of Sanjaya saying maybe he could get J-Lo's number and they could get together and keep it a secret from Marc Anthony. Happily, he wasn't trying to play straight; he was just being silly and broke into a big grin. I also liked J-Lo saying she came from the Paula Abdul school of criticism.

GOING HOME -- Haley. I lose another point here, but hey, it just means I'll be right next week when Phil goes home and the bottom three includes him, Chris and Sanjaya. All three men? Could be -- especially since it's country week. I liked Blake and Chris dancing next to Haley as she sang and Blake's very Hollywood kissing of his palm and waving it at Haley at the end of her song. And here's a note to Melinda and LaKisha -- when you're tackling country, think Ray Charles.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Blogging

Yep, just a little blogging between performance night and the results show on Idol. Seems like old times, doesn't it? Buying a Mac this week. Can't wait but dreading the switchover.

Advertisers Flee Imus

Variety says four of Don Imus's top ten sponsors are pulling their ads from his show, though they don't detail whether this refers to his radio show, his MSNBC TV show (which was beginning to challenge CNN in the ratings) or both. But let's make one thing clear: none of these advertisers are leaving Imus because of the bigoted, racist comments he and his cohorts on the show delivered about the Rutgers' basketball team. No way: bigoted, obnoxious comments like those have been Imus's stock in trade for many, many years. Some people ignore those comments and like the lengthy time he devotes to politics and substantive issues. Others like how Imus can flog a serious book and turn it into a bestseller. But all those people are kidding themselves if they think they can pick and choose what parts of Imus they find acceptable. His show traffics in typical, shock jock inflammatory comments that play on obnoxious stereotypes for cheap laughs and Imus has been doing it for years. All his advertisers knew this. They just think that now everyone else knows it too and this could damage their image. If this hadn't gained traction, they would have happily advertised on Imus's show for years to come and laughed at his nasty jokes and contributed to his charity and thought that makes it all okay. And they all advertise on shock jocks just as bad as Imus all over the radio every day. Now they'll just have to switch their ad dollars to Glenn Beck.

Are Subtitled Movies Mainstream?

The Times Of London points out that subtitled movies have gone mainstream, but they don't really nail down why. Certainly, the growing sophistication of foreign films vis a vis adventure and action films is a big reason. "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" was as great a spectacle as anything Hollywood delivered and horror flicks like "The Eye" traveled well too. But surely the biggest reason movies have gone mainstream is the multiplex. Art films -- and movies with subtitles -- aren't relegted to art houses that most people literally never attend. Art films, whether talky flicks like "Cache" or action films like 'Curse of the Golden Flower" are at your local multiplex, right along "Borat" and "The 300." And the biggest tipping point of all may have been TV: shows like "Lost" and "Heroes" use subtitles all the time and no one blinks an eye. Unquestionably, that makes people far more amenable to going to see subtitled films in the theater. They're not ghettoized into art houses and people don't freak out at the idea of having to do a little reading along with their watching.

Sneak Preview Of New Tolkein Book

A writer for the Times of London has read the "new" JRR Tolkein book "The Children Of Hurin." He liked it, sort of, but since he said he could never get through "The Lord Of The Rings" and agrees with AN Wilson that Tolkein is hardly a writer, that doesn't sound very promising, does it? if it's anything like "The Silmarillion" or other snatches of Tolkein prose not found in TLOTR and The Hobbit, it's sure to be deadly dull. But I'll read it anyway. As an adult, I've been surprised and delighted by how well TLOTR is written, actually. His descriptive powers, especially of landscape and nature, are especially good.

New Nick Drake Album

Nick Drake died or committed suicide 33 years ago and we've had numerous reissues of his three proper albums, a fourth album of outtakes, a boxed set, biographies, and a documentary. And if you haven't heard his three classic CDs, you can't go wrong with any of them but start with "Pink Moon." Surely we've heard everything there is to hear from him? Of course not. A new CD out June 19 contains demos and covers and sing-alongs with his sister, not to mention two solo numbers by his mom (and bless her, but why they're included other than to cajole her into releasing this stuff is beyond me). Apparently, the family used to hand out home-made cassettes to people who visited where he grew up. Now we're getting to hear it all too. One song in particular intrigues me: a cover of Jackson C Frank's "Blues Run The Game," a classic tune covered by Simon & Garfunkel and included in my friend's film "The Street."

"The Sopranos" -- Out With A Whimper, Not A Bang

It's a shame, in a way. "The Sopranos" was building to a series finale where Carmela officially turned her back on Tony and the lavish Mob life that left her hands covered in blood. Unfortunately, that finale took place at the end of season four with the episode "Whitecaps," widely and rightly considered one of the best hours of TV ever. But the show kept on going, with increasingly diminishing returns. Season Six part two kicked off to a so-so 7.7 million viewers. That's a great number for HBO, but far down from the series peak. It just doesn't matter that much anymore. Personally, I was simply bored by the episode. "The Sopranos" deserved better, but we'd have to go back in time and pull the plug earlier to accomplish it.

Blur Breaks Up

I suppose Blur has been on "hiatus" for a while now and since Damon Albarn keeps releasing new albums will new collaborators it certainly shouldn't come as a shock. But when one of the members of Blur is running for political office (he wants to rep the poor people ignored in one of London's wealthiest neighborhoods), it hits home. Blur is kaput. A reunion is always possible, but that's what it would be. In other words, they're not taking a few years off, they're through.

Johnny Cash's Home Burns Down

A fire swept through Johnny Cash's home, now owned by Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees (he was remodeling it). Among the strange comments: a member of the Oak Ridge Boys suggested this was God's way of making sure the home was no one's but Johnny's. (Really, you might think God wouldn't want to injure a fireman just to accomplish that, but maybe it was the Old Testament God.) And another neighbor talked about the house's history, insisting that the Fulsom Prison record and San Quentin records came from that house. What could he possibly mean? Those were live albums recorded on location at those prisons. He didn't introduce new songs and if he mixed the albums at that home (which I'm almost certain wasn't the case), it would still be pushing it to suggest those albums came from his home. Lots of history there, but live albums recorded in prison are not among the notable events at Johnny Cash's home.

"American Idol" -- The Top 8

Well, one thing is clear -- Sanjaya isn't going anywhere. In easly the most boring performance show yet, Sanjaya didn't just entertain. He also wisely chose a song that let him sing, something most of the acts failed to do.

JENNIFER LOPEZ -- I thought she might be in full diva alert for a moment. And surely Diana Ross was sorry she didn't arrange to have the kids sit on the ground at her feet like apostles while she held forth, the way J-Lo did. But one on one, J-Lo offered concrete useful tips to the kids. She was also a lot more politic about keeping to herself who her favorites were. And from her comments, I genuinely think she watches the show.

MELINDA -- Sang "Sway." A quiet number I know best from the Dean Martin version used in Wong Kar-Wai's "2046." It was a pretty good choice for Melinda, who said "I am so not sexy" in her intro. She's right. Melinda's forte is sweet, not sexy. Her performance was Vegas, but in a good way. Very smooth and almost swinging. She didn't quite let loose until the very end. And her outfit was pretty adult. Melinda's big problem is that voting for her feels like voting for your mom. She's definitely an adult and shouldn't pretend differently, but she doesn't have to seem dowdy. Simon was spot-on in saying it was a bit lounge, cabaret and Melinda had a funny response: "I think he really wanted to say something bad and he got the chance."

LAKISHA -- Sang "Conga." Why in heaven's name did the producers put Melinda and LaKisha one and two? What does it mean? Who were they trying to hurt or help?Her dress was a fun red and black number and I loved the video with J-Lo. J-Lo said LaKisha mainly wanted help with her dance moves. In other words, LaKisha came in and said, "This is what I need." This girl definitely has her own mind. Unfortunately, she isn't always right. LaKisha chose a terrible song for singing. It's all rhythm and gives her almost no chance to inject any personality. Boring, boring and as Aaron aka watchbboy told me in a phone message, LaKisha could be vulnerable. I thought he was crazy until I heard her sing. Both Randy and Paula have been much more pointed this season. Randy was nice to LaKisha and usually Paula would have gladly taken his cue and avoided any criticism (without praising them either, to be fair) but here she spoke up and said LaKisha played it safe with this song. LaKisha amusingly took most umbrage when Simon criticized her dancing. Ryan then made a joke that he'd pay to see Simon try those dance moves and Simon retorted "I'm sure you'd pay a lot." Oh how those boys love to tease each other about being gay.

CHRIS RICHARDSON -- His video with J-Lo was TERRIBLE -- didn't that scarf make him look like a fool? And in the commercial break before he performed, Chris was shown for just a moment, but he managed to make a mock-serious sort of bow or hand gesture that screams out "I am in love with myself." He's hitting all the wrong notes as far as presentation. Chris's song was "Smooth" by Carlos Sanatana and Rob Thomas, a savvy choice because the vocal isn't Latin, it's pop and more in his comfort zone. He looked okay, though no sense of any Latin accent and he's really got to lose the wallet chain thing. Chris started rough with some low notes but he ended pretty well and throughout the music was much better than his vocals and gave a real latin feel to an otherwise so-so performance. Band 8, Chris 5. Paula said it was sexy and Chris managed to look down modestly without looking coy. Simon was right that it felt contemporary, unlike Melinda and LaKisha. But that's about all I would say for it. Just three performers and already I feel like two of them are vulnerable.

HALEY -- Sang "Turn the Beat Around." AGAIN she wore short shorts to show off those legs, not to mention high heels. At least the tiger print top gave her a Latin vibe of sorts, but if she has the nerve to look offended at any suggestion she's playing up her looks, I'll scream. During her video, Haley had some serious boots on and Blake got to be a nice guy by coming in to provide some beats for her rehearsal. Her performance was again very unmemorable. She was a bit breathless at the start and sure it was kind of fun in a theme park sort of way but it had nothing to do with her really. Her lipstick was very, very red. When she went on the stage behind the judges and sang to the audience, Simon turned around to get a good look, something he almost never does. I even saw a small smile on his face when turning towards Paula at one point. When Simon said she was smart to wear as little clothing as possible, the camera did a slow pan of Haley from the feet up. At least she had the good taste not to act offended this time. But again, "Idol" does not like contestants who too obviously play on their looks. Sorry Aaron, middle-aged straight men are simply not a big voting bloc. Very vulnerable.

PHIL -- Sang "Maria, Maria" by Santana. Okay, is this Latin night or simply Gloria Estefan/Santana night. I'm not sure if it's just out of ignorance or a desire to play it safe. Will anyone actually dare to sing a song with Spanish lyrics? I hate it when you see the performer and the massive video behind them with the same image you're looking at close up - it's like watching someone hover over themselves in a really narcissistic way that to me has a subtly negative vibe. The director also cut away to a close-up of the acoustic guitar playing about six times or more during the song. One quick shot at the beginning is find, but why keep cutting away from the performer to show an inanimate object? They seem to be stacking the deck against him. Plus, his jacket was horrible, his vocals were faint and his performance was colorless. Very, very vulnerable.

JORDIN -- Sang "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You" because of course Gloria Estefan = Latin music. Like "Congo," this is not a song that gives the singer much of anything to do. Jordin has been coming on strong but tonight she was very boring. The song seemed to take FOREVER to get over and even her big high note at the end seemed far too little too late. Is there anyone that WON'T seem vulnerable this week? My list is getting very long.

BLAKE -- "Sang Marc Anthony's "I Need To Know." Great song choice and you would think it would have won over J-Lo, though she didn't seem to tip her hand, referring to her husband as "Marc Anthony" in a rather formal manner. She just wanted Blake to focus on the meaning. "In just want you to pick that girl up," she said. Hmmmm. Then Blake came out with an untucked shirt in a very latin style of dress and a cool hat and sang his ass off in what was surely his best performance to date. He is gunning for the finals and is clearly the #1 guy -- Chris Richardson keeps falling farther and farther behind. I don't know what kind of a recording artist Blake will be, but he is definitely going to find out one way or another. Very good even great vocal and a great ending. It's a big night for him and this may be the only week we say that Blake was the best of all. And I wrote all that down before Simon said the same thing. You cna't go wrong just listening to Simon week in and week out. And did I notice his tattoos before? They snake up and down one arm, at least.

SANJAYA -- Sang "Besame Mucho." J-Lo was very cute about him, giggling that she thought even Simon would be impressed in a way that really makes me think she has watched the show. His hair was Latin-appropriate and he showed an eye for detail by staying scruffy and not really shaving. Major points for singing a song with Spanish lyrics. As always, Sanjaya is on-key. His voice faded away a little in the lower notes at the end of some lines, but he made it seem more like the style of the song than a weakness on his part. It was by far his best vocal and he even sang with power at a few points. It wasn't just good for Sanjaya. It was a better performance than most of the other performers tonight. I'll bet he's in the Top Three this week, along with Blake and Melinda. I loved the shot of Sanjaya's sister and his super gay-looking friends. (I should have paid more attention to what Blake's friends looked like too.) Simon said "It wasn't horrible," which was funny but didn't go far enough in my book. Sanjaya has clearly done the best he will ever do tonight. Ryan joked that Sanjaya was "clearly unaware of the camera though, right?" Simon: "Didn't know it was there." Sanjaya wisely just smiled and ignored their banter.

THE BOTTOM THREE -- Heck, I've already guessed the top three might very well be Melinda, Blake and Sanjaya. Will the people voting for Sanjaya because he's the worst keep voting for him when he's actually good? Besides, they won't be a factor much longer and frankly probably never were. People who hate the show just don't watch it. What tiny percentage of viewers do you think bother to watch the show even though they hate it or take the time to find out the numbers to dial so they can vote within two hours of its airing? People who hate "Idol" simply wouldn't care that much. You think there's a big cross-over between Howard Stern and Idol? I don't. Assuming Blake, Melinda and Sanjaya are the top three, the middle two might be Chirs and LaKisha. That means the bottom three is Haley, Phil and Jordin. I think Jordin is safe and Haley and Phil are the bottom two. And Phil goes home. But it's such a weak batch of performances, I think those three and LaKisha and Chris are all vulnerable.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"American Idol" -- Results For Top 9

I was right! I was wrong! Yes, I correctly I predicted I would be wrong and boy was I right. I only named one of the bottom three (Phil) and -- if you're being nice -- Haley as well. (I named a bottom four but forgot to narrow it down. And of course Gina went home. She sang well the last two weeks but completely abandoned her niche so the people who were supporting her were turned off. Tony Bennett had the flu and Michael Buble performed the title track from his May CD "Call Me Irresponsible." I imagined him thinking, "I don't need no stinkin' 'Idol' when he took the stage." And when he left he should have been grateful the judges weren't critiquing him. Buble and the band seemed out of sync -- someone was draggy -- he faded out on more than a few lines, hit an awkward high note towards the end and maybe even forgot a lyric briefly. His attitude was very late period Rat Pack, casual and a bit sloppy, frankly. Not great. And like a lot of young guys who sing the standards, he seems wildly insecure about making sure people know he likes the honeys. That joke about Antonella was worthy of the Oscars for its ineptitude. I don't know what's worse: the idea that he made it up or the idea that they wrote it for him. It was great to see Jordin in the top three. She is definitely this season's Kelly Clarkson: someone who keeps getting better week after week, has a sweet personality and yet somehow is under the radar so you don't get bored with her the way people may be with Melinda and LaKaisha. The middle three were Chris and Blake and Sanjaya and boy must Sanjaya have been pleased to see himself grouped with them. Clearly Phil and Gina and Haley were the bottom three and would it have surprised us to see any one of them go home? Nope. I placed too much emphasis on the extraneous stuff and not enough on the singing: I think you've got to stress what is forgettable. And Haley and Gina and Phil (and arguably Blake) were the most forgettable. Haley burst into tears because she just KNEW she was going home, only to find out it was Gina, who then really burst into tears. Some loving close-ups of Jordin were the cherry on top for her week and it's always fun to see the Idols lingering off-stage unsure of when to go up and surround the winner -- will they be comforting her or upstaging her? All perfectly reasonable with the crazy possibility that Sanjaya might have been in the top 4 in voting this week.

"American Idol" -- The Top 9

Here's one safe prediction: my recent run of luck in predicting who is going home will end this week. Too many of the performances were so-so for me to feel confident. But here we go. Tony Bennett was a good coach -- he made solid, specific suggestions to the kids. On the other hand, he made same insanely polite comments. And how sad is it that "Duets" is his best-selling album? People, give "When Lights Are Low" or "The Beat Of My Heart" or about a dozen other CDs a chance. That's where his greatness lies.

BLAKE -- Sang "Mack The Knife." Blake looked really good...from the chest up. In medium shots -- when all you saw were the jacket and tie and his hair -- Blake looked great. But then we found out his jacket was kind of long and awkward and worst of all he was wearing sneakers. Bennett urged Blake to "pay attention to the meaning" and think about how Mack was a gangster, advice Blake sort of took to heart. Unfortunately, Bennett didn't help Blake with the key he sang in -- Blake couldn't handle the low notes, but most of the song sounded uncomfortably high to me. He had a very sharp note towards the end and wavered at the finale but at least he didn't beat-box here. His talking outro was very effective, if drowned out a bit by the band. Overall, Blake was about as menacing as a Boy Scout. Simon as usual was spot-on: "I'll give you a 7 out of 10 and the band 8 out of 10." Blake turned that around positively by saying the band was hot. He also had a nice, lopsided grin a la David Arquette. Apparently, he struggled with the lyrics in rehearsal, which wasn't a problem here. Foolishly, Blake insisted, "Going first is fun! I like getting it out of the way." Doesn't he know that the show gains viewers every half hour? Blake's vocals were awkward all the way through, basically, and going first doesn't help. If he and Chris Richardson are interchangeable Tiger Beat contestants, Blake is vulnerable. But even though I emphasize each week's performance rather than getting caught up in who has momentum, etc, I feel he probably has enough base to get by.

IDOL GIVING BACK -- More big celebs attending, including Kelly Clarkson, who will perform. Funnily enough, that seemed like big news not really because it means former Idol winners don't have to turn their back on the show to be taken seriously but more to the point just big news in general because she's one of the biggest stars in the industry right now.

PHIL -- Sang "Night and Day." Phil was stoked and said "Tony Bennett is my hero" and they immediately cut to Phil butchering "Night and Day" in a pained, high register with Bennett standing in front of him. I literally had to pause while laughing. But what does Phil care what I think? Bennett said, "Believe me when I tell you he's one of the better singers that I've heard. Not just today, but for a long time. He's a real good singer." What exactly is Bennett hearing when Phil sings? I haven't a clue but if I were Phil, that one comment would make every online reference to Nosferatu and Bat Boy more than worth it. Tony Bennett paid him a real compliment. To hell with Popsurfing. So, salud, Phil! Phil looks pretty good but immediately started wavering on the first high note of the song. He's in a weird, high register (sounding strained just like Blake) but of course he's even weaker in the lower register. He touches his heart when he gets to the line about "heart." Phil gets stronger and really does nail the final big note, which is often all that matters sometime. HE believed the performance was good and that can be really helpful too. Randy Jackson, wearing a cross, was so-so. Paula has been really solid this season with actual critiques instead of just greater or lesser cheerleading to indicate her frame of mind. But like Bennett, she went way over the top. Paula: "You remind me of a yong Frank Sinatra." Simon: "What?!" [looks away in astonishment.] Simon: "Which Frank Sinatra are you referring to? Seriously." Paula: "My opinion." (Which was a nice, end-of-discussion rejoinder.) Simon went on to refer to how gloomy and funeral parlor-ish the song was, with Phil smiling but clearly puzzled. Didn't Simon hear that big final note? He might have saved it all by responding to Randy's comment that he was disconnected to the audience or the song by saying, "I was trying to focus on my wife. That's what I was doing." It got an "awwwwwww" from the audience and a quick shot of the wife found her mouthing "I love you" to Phil. Congrats, Phil, that post-song performance may keep you safe for another week. But without getting too clever and ignoring the big final note and the post-song triumph, Phil was REALLY weak vocally and seems vulnerable to me too.

MELINDA -- Singing "I Got Rhythm." Bennett says Melinda was the "best singer all day." Uh, but Phil is the best singer he's heard in a long, long time. So does that make Melinda the best since Billie? The shot of Melinda with misty eyes over Bennett's comments was nice without harping on the modest girl vibe. Her hair looked really good, her dress was fun and thank goodness Melinda was singing something upbeat. She sang the intro, which is a sign of pure class and respect for the standards, she dove into some funky syncopation and had a terrific finish she milked for all it was worth (unlike LaKisha). She even had a little raspy, soul thing going on one of the last lines. Huge! Awesome! Those were some of the words I scribbled down. Some people still insist she's a "ringer," even though other performers have had record deals that fell through (like Kelly Clarkson) or sang on demos or released CDs regionally. If tons of backup singers start competing on Idol and get through, well, so be it. It's not like Melinda is pulling a fast one and could have signed a record deal without the show. She can look nice but she's hardly a babe and her modest persona and adult leanings in song styles a la Anita Baker make her out of step in an industry obsessed with youth. She is very deserving.

When going to the break, Chris Richardson and Jordin both did a cute little look at the camera, look at each other, look at the camera thing. It's the little things that can give you an edge.

CHRIS RICHARDSON -- Singing "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." The vest and hat were very Rat Pack, but he spoiled the look with jeans and those dorky suspenders. Ryan joked with Chris after a viewer question by asking if he practiced by imagining he was staring into Paula's eyes. Chris -- in one of those unscripted moments that can be so telling -- said, "Sure" in a nice, whatever tone, but then went on to add tellingly, "More or less the camera's (eyes)." We know he's playing to the camera but he shouldn't be revealing that. He is definitely the closest to Justin Guarini we've seen in a long time as far as knowingly playing to the camera and giving off the aura of being in love with himself. "Memorize the lyrics," Bennett told Chris helpfully. And he did. But who cares about the lyrics when you've got the producers rooting for you? Chris got a great production number, beginning with a striking silhouette beginning that should make all the other guys jealous. But what the producers think will work for the show -- cute pin-ups -- is rarely what America goes for, as they've shown repeatedly. Chris struggled with the low notes and generally just seemed to get through the song, rather than performing it. But he was working the stage and got stronger after the bridge (gee, do I repeat myself too much, just like Randy?) and brought in some actual personality. He had a cool run towards the end, especially when able to sing in a better, higher register for him and ended with a loving close-up that didn't seem too self-adoring. Even though I've found a lot to criticize, I remember the first season when Big Band night seemed way out of their league. Tonight, I feel like the standards are challenging the singers in a really good way. I've had a lot to critique, but it's been fun and cool. Don't smile too much Chris. But overall marginally better than Blake and he got to go later and had a much better presentation thanks to the producers.

JORDIN -- Sang "On A Clear Day." The song is pretty unfamiliar, which is always a danger on "Idol." Bennett said, "She sang very much in tune, which is rare these days." I'd have to peg that as a modest comment, compared to what he said for Phil (really, Phil, savor that) and Melinda. Her black vest and white shirt sort of emphasize her body in an unflattering way, making her look more pear-shaped than necessary but she looked fine overall. She had a little breathing problem at the very beginning. But as the melody went higher she got better and better with just a marvelous, lovely high note at the end. She pointed to her ear when she sang "You can hear." More effectively, she did a little "come on" gesture with her hand while building towards the finale. Controlled and classy (the very word I think Paula used, "controlled") with great lighting for the final shot when she tilted back her head. (The producers want her in a long while, too, just like Chris.) Really, her voice just soared at the end but I'm afraid it played better in the arena than on TV. Her voice was buried a little bit in the mix at the very end or the band drowned her out or she just had the microphone a hair too far away from her mouth. She was great, but I'm not sure it came fully across. Paula called her a "magnet of joy" and said "I'm just so frickin' proud of you." Simon brought me up short when he called it "old-fashioned" which is right on. It's also a little dangerous because the song is relatively unknown. I thought she was terrific but she too might be a tad vulnerable.

GINA -- Singing "Smile." Bennett said, "That was beautiful, the way you sang it." He then offered up his comments on the song, saying, "When I sing it, I think of 9-11 and the soldiers in Iraq right now. [pausing, as a note of emotion and heartbreak makes his voice crack] And praying they come home." That framing of how to think of the song should be invaluable to Gina this week. The heartland should eat it up. Of course, his comments were undercut by her ludicrous, multi-colored hair that looked like some Eighties wig that a Pat Benatar or Heart wannabe would don. Just awful and really weakening her entire presentation. But then she sang. For two weeks in a row, Gina has proven she can sing. This time, Simon's comments of "old-fashioned" seemed a little silly. It is Standards Week. On the other hand, while Gina actually can sing, she's lost her distinctiveness as a rocker which makes her weaker down the road. But when she tries to sing like a rocker, she's far less effective. That's what we call a Catch-22. With Bennett's comments about Iraq and her overall solidness, I think Gina is safe. But long-term, the style of singing in the last two weeks has left her adrift and ruined her distinctiveness.

SANJAYA -- Singing "Cheek To Cheek." Ryan says, "Now two legends collide" when intro-ing the piece with Bennett. In further astonishment, Bennett says, "I'm a big fan of yours." Really? From Bennett's comments, either the "Idol" people sent him the entire season and he watched it to prepare like the pro he is. OR, or is it possible he actually watches the show? The mind boggles. The all-white suit with a black shirt was fun and since of course he couldn't top the faux-hawk Sanjaya went with slicked-back hair. But he made the fatal mistake of wanting to be taken seriously this week. He danced with Paula (after Simon bodily lifted her out of her chair to encourage it) and gave just a sidelong glance at Simon (his funniest moment, to me). And as always, he had a pretty decent vocal, though it wavered more than usual at the beginning. Maybe when he sings at fuller volume, he has less control, which is not unusual. Randy, stealing Simon's comments from the week before, said, "I can't even comment on the vocals anymore." Yes, you can, Randy. They were his strongest overall since Sanjaya's audition. Simon jokingly said, "Incredible" and Sanjaya chimed right in with an amused, "Welcome to my world" response. But it wasn't really FUN and the hair was boring and asking to be taken seriously is a big, big mistake for him. I think the party's over and that Sanjaya is very vulnerable this week. If he's not bottom three, I'll be surprised.

HALEY -- Singing "Ain't Misbehavin'." She had on a great green dress that showed off her legs (which Simon commented on) and her breasts (which Simon wisely avoided mentioning). Her comments in response to a reader's question did nothing but piss off Randy and Paula. Don't contestants realize how stupid it is to focus on how much they care about what Simon says and make Randy and Paula feel peripheral? They were PISSED and treated her dismissively in their comments, not even bothering to talk about her performance and that does not look good to America, which really pays attention to what the judges say. Bennett pointed out that her improv on the song was all wrong because the lyrics are about a woman pining for one man. But he's wrong. This is Fats Waller, after all, one of the more playful lyricists. It's hardly a stretch to see this song played as vampy and with a woman "pledging" herself to one guy after another. "Ain't Misbehavin'. I'm saving my love for you. And you. And you." Heck, she says she's just waiting at home for him, but you don't have to believe her. Haley sort of went along with Bennett but couldn't resist throwing in a second "and you" when she began the song, giving her the worst of all possible choices by seeming to ignore him but not really committing to her interpretation. Her vocals were technically fine but essentially boring. Simon commented on her singing by saying "I think you've got great legs," to which Haley looked utterly confused. His later comment that it was a little "pageant-y" was also dead-on. Adult men are NOT a strong contingent of voters. And "Idol" viewers have consistently rejected contestants who try to use their sex appeal too obviously. I think Haley is very vulnerable.

LAKISHA -- Singing "Stormy Weather." Bennett gave her one big piece of advice -- that she should skip the little riff at the end and stick with that big final note. That is ALWAYS good advice on "Idol," especially if you've got a voice like hers. Melinda held her big final note with aplomb earlier. But LaKisha has a track record of ignoring advice. That can be good when you're being true to yourself and avoiding being shaped into something you're not. But when you're talking about presentation (something Diana Ross knows all about, who suggested a stand for the mike) and giving a pow finale (something Bennett knows all about), repeatedly ignoring the advice of the experts is just stubbornness. LaKisha is going to be a handful for anyone who works with her. She sure looked great though. She had a rough beginning, due in part to the saucy spin she tried to put on the vocals. Her "keeps rainin' and rainin' and rainin' and rainin'" was a terrific build-up to the finale and then she hit that huge final note and could have raised the roof but deflated it with a dull little riff at the end. Yes, she has a big voice. But talk about having no sense of the song you're singing. Unlike "Ain't Misbehavin' (which even sounds playful in the title), "Stormy Weather" is strictly a song about someone who is in the depths of despair. There is simply no other way to read those lyrics. LaKisha sang it as if it were a come-on, with that sassy little curl in her voice. It's not a song of triumph; it's a song of titanic heartbreak but she went for triumphant. It was a complete misreading of the song, something she's done before. The finale - if it's her and Melinda -- could be a real diva-off, but frankly I think Melinda would be challenged more by Jordin. LaKisha simply belts everything out and I've never been more convinced she won't win. But is she vulnerable? Heck no. Do I wish I had her voice? Heck yes. Will she have a post-Idol shot at a career? Absolutely. And hopefully not winning it all will teach her she doesn't have all the answers yet and that Tony Bennett and Diana Ross might just know what they're talking about.

At the final group shot, Chris Richardson had that faux-sexy, arms at the side hot dude pose akin to the finalist on "Grease: You're The One That I Want." Dude, go for bashful and aw-shucks. If you can. He definitely has a future on the CW in a "One Tree Hill" type show.

So here's my problem. Looking back, I've said that Blake and Phil and Jordin and Sanjaya and Haley are all vulnerable. And certainly all of them (except for Jordin) will be gone, with Melinda and LaKisha in the final four with Blake or Chris the sole guy and Jordin the last one in. Phil, Sanjaya and Haley will all be gone, along with Gina. But in what order?

THE BOTTOM TWO -- Just trying to focus on this week's performance, I'd say Phil and Sanjaya and Haley and Blake are the bottom four. (Talk about hedging your bets.) The fun definitely went out of Sanjaya, but I'm going to say Phil and Haley are the bottom two, with Haley going home thanks to her unmemorable performance and ultra-competitive demeanor. No, I'm thinking too much about this. My first instinct was Phil and Sanjaya in the bottom two with Sanjaya going home with a wave and a smile. And that's what I'll stick with. Just when everyone thinks Sanjaya gets to coast for a few weeks, America will send him home.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

"Idol" Tonight

With all the interviews I did last week and into the weekend (not to mention three nights of theater and opening day at Yankee Stadium), the chickens are coming home to roost. I'm writing nonstop all this week (two stories so far today with one more due...right now), another two due tomorrow (including a cover story), a meeting with a new editor tomorrow morning, another three stories due next week and on it goes. I couldn't blog right now if my life depended on it. (Did I mention the Yankees are in town all this week?) But you know I have to blog about "Idol" and try to keep my streak of correct guesses going. Sight unseen, I'd say Sanajaya will be safe for at least one more week -- there are plenty of other weak singers who are a lot less fun. And it won't be a scandal when they go home first.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

My Replacement

I used to write a DVD review column for the NY Post. Who has taken my place? Apparently, "Name RightThere." Worst of all, they have bad taste -- "Charlotte's Web" was terrible and didn't begin to convey the delicacy of the book. Yes, everyone can be replaced.

Weekend Box Office -- Friday Estimates

Box Office Prophets has the early figures from Friday. It looks like Will Ferrell's silly "Blades Of Glory" will have a solid first week, doing $34 million. Disney's horribly reviewed "Meet The Robinsons" animated flick is at second with $27 million, but I'd expect it to drop hard next week. Certainly "The Last Mimzy" did. One of the worst-named movies in memory, "Mimzy" dropped a horrific 75% from $12.1 million last week to $3.8 mil this week. On a sad note, Miramax foolishly pretended the quiet little drama "The Lookout" was a thriller, putting out a misleading, action-packed trailer and releasing it on almost 1000 screens. It's a nice little indie film that got good reviews for the marvelous Joseph Gordon-Levitt and should have been treated as such. Instead, it got a ridiculous launch that will only make about $1.6 million and lose a lot more because of the expense of making all those prints. Gordon-Levitt is an actor, not an action hero and anyone seeing the trailer wouldn't have the slightest clue he is a brain-damaged janitor instead of expecting Jean Claude Van-Damme or something. Idiots.

"King Hedley II" At Signature

Sometimes critics get cheated by having to see a show early in its run. A lot of shows get much better AFTER they've been reviewed. I saw a critics' performance of Sondheim's "Passion" that was remarkable but weighted heavily towards the role played by Donna Murphy. (One of the four main characters had just replaced another actor.) I saw the show again right before it closed and the change was amazing -- a show I had loved before was much, much better with the entire cast fully integrated into the story, without any sense of one person dominating the tale. Murphy was still brilliant, but the show was much better with the others matching her blow for blow. And so to "King Hedley II." It's the third August Wilson play revived by Signature. I saw "Two Trains Running" and "Seven Guitars" and both productions were very, very good. Strong ensembles all around and of course Wilson's plays are great. The only Wilson I'd seen before this season at Signature was "Jitney" off Broadway, so I was eager to jump into his ten-play cycle. "King Hedley II" was a mess on Broadway from all I've heard, with Brian Stokes Mitchell (wonderful in "Kiss Me Kate") simply wrong for the role of King. This revival got nice reviews, with everyone feeling the play was rambling but frequently magnetic and the ensemble very good. That doesn't go nearly far enough. But it's not the critics' fault. I'm sure these actors are getting better performance after performance. Wilson's work is rich and demanding and the more they do it, the more they cohere. If the critics came back and reviewed the show I saw tonight, I'm sure they would RAVE. King is brimming with rage and righteous (but it is rarely a righteous rage), his best friend Mister is a familiar character without being a type and the genial hustler Elmore (the terrific Stephen McKinley Henderson) is endearingly clever enough to know he might just have a few moments of happiness left in him but old and wise enough to know the odds are still long. People talk and talk and talk in Wilson's plays. But when a cast like this is doing the talking, it couldn't be more satisfying. Signature hasn't announced its next season yet, but they're on a roll -- I pray they keep tackling Wilson. Give us "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" and "Fences" and "The Piano Lesson." And I'm debating whether to go back to "King Hedley II" again before it closes. It was that good.