Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cannes Film Festival Coverage

I'll be blogging daily for The Advocate at (can't figure out how to do links for French blogger) and I'll post any links to stories that I write for the NY Daily News and others.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Next American Idol Will Be...Jordin

Is there any doubt? If she isn't, it'll be the first time looks beat out talent. I think Blake's talented too and he seems to know what he wants to do, so I would't be surprised if his album outsold Jordin's and if not the first one another one down the road.

Blake's first song ("Bon Jovi") was fun, but Jordin's pipes were in great shape. His Maroon 5 ballad was a fatal mistake.Knowing he had to sing that lame ballad, Blake should have sung another upbeat song. neither tune was in his comfort zone, which is upbeat and foreceful, not quiet and high and melodious. Jordin's take on the Martina McBride was classic Idol vocalizing -- big flourish at the end to wow the home viewers. After her second song, wrote down, "Jordin can taste it and she's out for blood." And then she delivered the death blow by even making that ballad (and hey, it's nice to know the folks at home can write a crappy ballad just like the pros) showcase for her emotions. Jordin ran out of breath and it could have been disastrous on the final lines, but then she turned it into an emotional moment by oh so gently being overwhelmed by it all. Jordin is the next American Idol. No question.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"American Idol -- Melinda Goes Home"

Yep, that's the story: not the name of the two finalists but the fact that the most consistently good singer is going home. It made Blake's elevation to the final almost seem like an afterthought, actually. Melinda probably suffered from being the front runner right up to the final three, along with the burden of being a "pro."

I initially speculated that Blake could supplant Melinda. But it seemed too crazy a proposition. Hey, that's why you should never change your first guess on the SATs. You don't get any points for the right answer you erased.

So it's Jordin and Blake in the final. They're both spotty with som genuine highs. It's clearly the most nail-biting, wide-open final since Ruben and Clay. I thought Clay had sealed the deal with his "Bridge Over Troubled Water," but Ruben's consistency all season long made the difference. Neither finalist can claim that mantle this season, so it might very well come down to who has the best night. Tuesday, it was clearly Blake; he's firing on all cylindars. But one dynamic finale from Jordin can erase all other memories and Blake simply can't pull out those vocal fireworks. it's foolish even to predict until we see their performances next week. But it's gonna be a doozy. (Damn, why didn't I stick with my Blake knocks out Melinda stab? I'd be te toast of the town right now.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"American Idol -- Top 3"

UPDATE: I just read Entertainment Weekly's rundown of the show (some of which I missed. Hey, I'm in Cannes so it ain't easy staying up till 3 am. and then getting up at 8.) They describe Jordin dissing Simon's first choice of song for her. It WAS a bad choice, but that is not the right attitude to take. Coupling that with her retort to Simon when he said "I (Who Have Nothing)" was old-fashioned (she said, Wasn't Rose Royce -- the singers of Wishing On A Star" -- from the Seventies?) is very bad for her image. Battling with Simon is tricky, but in this case it sounds petty rather than witty or earned. In some ways, she started it when remaining polite is ALWAYS the way to go on Idol, even when you stand up for yourself, ie give Simon a little bit of attitude. I really do think it's a squeaker and that the producers (and judges) loaded everything in Blake's favor, from song choice to presentation to their comments. If Wishing On A Star was as weak as "She Works Hard For The Money," I'd say two weak performances and a mildly bad attitude mean Blake will be facing off with Melinda.

You know what? It's a horse race Like most everyone, I've assumed it would be Melinda and Jordin in the final. But Blake has come on very strong and while sex appeal hasn't been a huge factor on the show (people really focus on the personalities and yes the singing or it would always be cute, less talented people in the top and it never, ever is), it could help Blake here. No combination of these three would surprise me.

JORDIN -- Missed her Simon picked song. "Wishing On A Star," I think. Had trouble with the slingbox.

COMMERCIAL BREAK -- Did Blake do a goofy, "I'm shorter, I'm taller" sort of thing?

BLAKE -- Paula picked the Police's "Roxanne" and first we saw Blake with his hometown mayor and a raucous crowd. He had the preppy look and the vest. Everyone pegged Chris Richardson for the Justin Timberlake ripoff but Blake aped JT's style just as much. Looked wholesomely sexy throughout, perfect for moms and their daughters. He was just singing and though it was a xerox of the Police he had fun and moved well and was v confident and dropping to his knees at the end was v Idol-friendly. Definitely has his game face on.

MELINDA -- It's almost cruel. Blake got to be seen w a huge, cheering crowd. Melinda is stuck in some anonymou meeting room with a stiff governor talking. No favors for her here. Randy chose Whitney Houston's 'I Believe In You and Me." (He even mentioned in the telegram that he has worked with Whitney, which is so funny I have to pray he meant it to be. But he didn't.) She did it well, but I couldn't really watch it because Slingbox as it's set up by Pete and Joe only lets me watch live and my friend Stephen was fascinated by Slngbox and asked all sorts of questions while she was singing and I was too embarrassed to say, Dude, wait a minute. I'm watching my Idol.

COMMERCIAL BREAK -- Blake and Jordin did a funny mock kiss and then surprised stare that the camera caught them. This is the defining quirk of the season -- Blake's little commercial break ideas -- and we're gonna get awfully sick of them in years to come but full credit to him for thinking of them and keeping the camera on him in a fun way.

JORDIN -- Her favorite song is "Mmmbop!" Don't apologize: it's a great pop tune. Nice extra camera time, though I think they all got a question to answer. Thanks, producers! Then the producers had her sing Donna Summers' "She Works Hard For The Money. " Thanks a lot, producers. The song is filled with low notes on the chorus (her weak spot) and doesn't give her a chance to shine. Jordin rearranged the finale to give herself some higher notes and flourishes at the end and pulls it off nicely. But still, a boring song to cover. Nonetheless, she does it well and laughs like a pro when the judges get silly and lose focus. It could have been annoying - hey, it's my life on the line here -- but she made it seem like it was all fun. Randy jokes that Simon is drunk: "Can we get some black coffee here?"

BLAKE -- He says Jim Carrey should play him in a movie. Uh, maybe he could play Blake's DAD. The producers pick Maroon 5's "This Love," a much better fit than Jordin's. Could they possibly want Blake in the final instead of two women? In either case, it'll be youth versus experience. Blake does a nice dance move spin into his first vocal line and the range here isn't great. But since he doens't have a big voice, this is perfect for him. He's wholesomely sexy still and has finally learned that the beatboxing should just be a little spice thrown in, not the main meal. Simon says it wasn't a copycat vocal -- even though it was, wasn't it? (Except for the beatboxing.)

MELINDA -- Melinda gets a street named after her, then the producers give her an entire town: Tina Turner's "Nutbush City Limits." Turner is a good model for showing off Melinda's modestly funky side, but why a relatively lesser known song instead of one of her big hits? What if Melinda wailed on "River Deep, Mountain High" with a full orchestra? But she has fun w it and seems young and ready to go. Doesn't miss a step.

JORDIN -- She gets a star at the mall she used to work at. The operative word being "used" since she ain't ever gonna work in a mall anymore -- not even a mall tour. Her favorite song (from the season, I assume) is "I Who Have Nothing," which was absolutely sensational the first time she did it, though the judges didn't rave nearly as much as I expected. She does it really well again and the finale when she goes into that upper register with such controlled conviction and passion is sensational. Thrilling. The judges are positive again but should be raving. Simon says the song is"old-fashioned." It's a classic, actually and yes, it's an old-fashioned one in its arrangement but she delivers it with such belief that it works completely. Her best performance.

BLAKE -- His favorite song is the Robin Thicke number "When I Get You Alone." Big mistake to show him in the video intro performing with Sir Mix-aLot who was singing about big butts. That strikes a terrible note in the heartland. If Blake doesn't make the finale, he can always blame that. He really has grown as a performer and looks really confident on stage. Whatever happens, I bet his first album sells better than their first albums, though that doesn't mean he'll have a longer or more fruitful career -- it's just that he's easier to market out of the box and seems smart enough to make sure he is contemporary. Both Melinda and Jordin will get drenched with sappy anonymous ballads and covers and will probaby shine on later albums when they have more control. Blake seems to know exactly what he wants. Really fun vocals that showcase his singing as good as it can be live and the beatboxing at the end is cool and just the right flourish. He did his best, no matter what. Simon -- who seems to have been subtly pushing for Blake over Jordin-- gives a thumbs up.

MELINDA -- Her fave song is "I'm A Woman," another funky number. The order of her tunes really bothers me. I wish it had been funky number then a ballad then another funky number. As is, the two funky tunes blended together too much. Again, it didn't offer a great vocal range for her, but she performed with flare. The kids all end w a group hug. Why not? They're all going to be recording solo albums soon.

THE WINNERS -- Like everyone, I assume Melinda and Jordin. But darned if I can't stop thinking that Blake would, not Jordin, but MELINDA. Is that possible? I doubt it. It sure would help if we ever knew the vote totals or at least percentages. It would more likely ruin the fun if we could see say Melinda with a bigger fan base week to week. Simon gives her his stamp of approval as most consistent and she deserves it. And Blake really could supplant Jordin. But I'll stick with the safe bet. Blake had the best night but it'll be the two women in the finals.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Idol Recap - Who Got Booted Off?

Talk to me.


I've been in LA and Illinois and now I'm off to London and Cannes. It's been a very hectic two months. Hence the lack of ANY posting. I MIGHT be able to watch Idol and blog next week but it'll be tricky. Ditto the final. I should be blogging at Cannes for the Advocate, so I'll point you there when that happens. And I'll also be doing individual stories for the NY Daily News, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and others.

"American Idol" -- The Top 4

Whoops! I'm so harried getting ready for London and Cannes that I forgot to post!

BARRY GIBB -- good guest coach, though I kept thinking it was Sean Connery talking. Thankfully, Gibb has written/recorded almost 700 songs so there were plenty of choices, unlike on Bon Jovi night. And Gibb was encouraging and positive with some specific helpful key changes, arrangements, etc.

MELINDA -- Sang "Love You Inside Out." Gibb was funny. Even though it was written for a man, "I was singing like a lady in the first place anyway, so that's okay." I don't know why he made a fuss about the gender of the song. Most great songs can work for either sex with just a tiny switch in wording. Melinda looked young and had fun. She's had a very successful quiet makeover. Now if only she could stop that chicken dance sort of posing where she leans back when hitting one side of the stage before turning around and heading the other way. I thought she sounded very good. Flawless, even. I did not agree with the judges. I think it was more the nature of the song that she didn't burst out more.

BLAKE -- Again, before the commercial break, he arranged a goofy moment with LaKisha. This guy is SMART. I like him more and more on a personal basis. Sang "You Should Be Dancing." Blake had a cool t-shirt on but I mostly remember Gibb calling his own song an anthem for the Seventies. It was, but really you shouldn't say that yourself. Blake should have held on to that t-shirt. He wore a godawful jacket that would have been a funny joke on Eighties night. His beat-boxing fit in PERFECTLY during the instrumental break. Unfortunately, he also beat-boxed during every chorus, which was beat. If he'd saved it for that one ten second break, it would have stood out much more, not seemed so indulgent and would have brought the crowd to its feet. Otherwise, so-so.

LAKISHA -- Sang "Staying Alive" slowed down. She had good interplay with the backup singers during the chorus. But the camera did her no favors, by putting the backup singers on the big video so they were literally and symbolically overshadowing her. She looked good.

RYAN -- His joke that Simon is not the sort who calls back after a first date was funny. But what the hell was Judge Judy doig? She knows it's a live show. Does she think she can just wander around the set and do what she wants? Order! Order in the court!

JORDIN -- Viewer questions will be more and more valuable these last two weeks since it means precious airtime. Jordin got to be sincere and say something positive about herself, by talking about their schedule and saying she could handle more than she ever thought. Got to imply it's all pretty overwhelming but without being pity-ish. Sang "To Love Somebody." gibb -- clearly impressed -- said "I've never heard a greater version than Jordin's," this for a song that's been recorded hundreds of times by Nina Simone and the like. Jordin was indeed terrific. She especially should have enjoyed it since the song had numerous low notes that she handled better than usual, got to hit those big high notes and end with a flourish in the mid-range that sounded great. And the producers showcased her here to the max -- nice beginning shot of her mid-frame that moved in for a lovely closeup. When we saw the big video monitor, it featured Jordin, not some trumpet player or backup singer. Slightly shaky towards the end but ended nicely. Very triumphant.

BLAKE -- Again, before the break he and Melinda did a dorky robot dance. Every savvy contestant in the future will be coming up wth this stuff ad nauseum; Blake was there first.

MELINDA -- Sang "How Can You Mend A Broken heart?" Very amusingly, she avoided singing the line "How can a loser ever win?" which Gibb wholeheartedly endorsed. This gal isn't as flashy as Blake but she's no naive pup, either. Marvelous performance with a very Idol flourish towards the end. Randy disses her by calling Melinda "our resident pro," a not so subtle dig that she's been a professional backup singer. On top of their initial criticism that she sang the first song anonymously -- like a backup singer -- it's a double blow for Melinda. On the other hand, this makes her not seem inevitable and a bit of an underdog.

BLAKE -- Much better outfit and looks cute, though the odd sweater/vest t-shirt thingy is still kind of strange But he looks preppy and approachable. Sings "This Is Where I Came In." There's nothing wrong with tackling an unfamiliar song at this late stage of the game -- it just better be so amazingly winning on the first listen that people are blown away by it. That's far from the case here. Big mistake by Blake when Gibb has so many classic songs to choose from. "Tragedy," "How Deep Is Your Love," "Jive Talkin'" and their last big hit "One" could all have worked wonders for him here. Song selection could cost Blake a chance at the finals.

LAKISHA -- "Run To Me," another slowed down song. Good, but all I can remember is how she absolutely lost her voice at the end. A terrible last impression.

JORDIN -- Sang "Woman in Love." She should have ended with "To Love Somebody" because that was slightly stronger but another very good performance. She is peaking again at just the right time. Gibb knows her shaky lower-register means nothing and that her upper register is pure gold. "This is going to be one of our greatest female RECORDING artists." Good lord, how could she even sing after hearing that? I thought she looked good, though the dress was a bit ike ligerie. Shaky low notes at the beginning but then a key change (!) and a big chorus. I would have just kept repeating the chorus and going higher and higher because the verses weren't working for her. But she had a big Idol-like finale. This was clearly her night, though Simon's criticism that she wasn;t young enough and sounded a bit beauty pageant-ish was on target as far as what could be better.

In the numbers recap, Blake was cut off in the middle and we didn't see Jordin at all. That could be significant for the millions who Tivo it to skip the commercials.

BOTTOM TWO -- Like everyone, I believe -- no, I KNOW -- it will be Blake and LaKisha. Blake had the weaker two performances, but LaKisha had that terrible last note, Blake is of course the only guy left and LaKisha has seemed like an also-ran for weeks now. Like Phil, she can leave with dignity after a solid performance this week. Unless the sky falls in, Blake will be eliminated next week and it'll be Melinda and Jordin in the finale and either one of them could triumph.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

"American Idol -- The Top 6 Results Show"

It's never a good sign when the show starts being too self-aware. If you can have Ryan Seacrest joke about filler in the hour long results show, joking about it doesn't mean it's okay. To be fair, this season bringing in another musical guest at least makes the hour less draggy. And thank goodness Robin Thicke has that pencil thin moustache -- that's the only thing that keeps me from thinking of his dad Alan Thicke when he's singing. He was good, but why a soul singer during rock week?

Man On The Street -- Ryan went amongst the people and got kind words about every performer except Jordin, which made me even more worried. Ryan's joke later that Simon had a girlfriend and it was VERY serious almost sent Simon into paroxyms of laughter -- happily, since a minute earlier he'd confused a joke about a sex doll as a slur on that very same girl and demanded an apology. So Simon will defend her honor but NOT give her that diamond ring.

FORD CIRCUS AD -- Yet again, I found the Ford not nearly as annoying as the ones in seasons past. Is someone new coming up with them. Blake looked good as the ringmaster.

FIRST ELIMINATION -- I notice that Blake and Chris are wearing AIDS ribbons and then I realize they all are. What prompted that, I wonder and will they wear them next week? How about a peace symbol, somebody? With Melinda and LaKisha and Phil standing up, I was actually feeling a little suspense until they said Phil was going home. My first thought was that he was so good the night before they should have saved Phil's goodbye for the second half. He sang the song really well again, hugging his Navy buddies and for a moment I thought he was gonna avoid his wife (out of fears of choking up?) but then he embraced her. Ryan said Phil had a big heart and everyone hugged and LaKisha won points for the most copious tears. Don't any of them want to claw out the eyes of their competitors to win it all?

BON JOVI -- Sang "You Wanna Make A Memory," which is right in his current comfort zone of Adult Contemporary and soft rock. Sounded great and looked good but the line about "Look at all that hair we had" was annoying -- he's still got all that hair.

SECOND ELIMINATION -- Jordin got to sit down right away, which was as close as they came to apologizing for their cheap stunt the week before. Then it came down to Blake and Chris and everyone knew Chris was going home. Phil and LaKisha would have made a much more suspenseful finale since either one of them might have gone. Pairing up Blake (the most highly praised) with Chris was dullsville. But then it got cute. They insisted they were "best friends." Not BFFs -- best friends forever? And what about the people they've known ALL THEIR LIVES? Suddenly their best friend is a guy they've only known a few months? Chris said, "I'd go home for him right now" which wasn't very noble since he knew he was going home. Ryan tried to spice things up by asking them if they wanted to switch whatever the result was but they didn't bite. But they were so buddy buddy I was half hoping they'd kiss no matter who went home. And then of course it was Chris and he did a fine job singing and they all hugged and at the last moment the mikes picked up some mumbled joke they made. I'm serious: American Idol could make MILLIONS online by letting us listen in to the Randy, Paula, Simon or contestant mikes no matter what was being played on air. We saw Chris's journey -- which included a remarkable triumph over bad acne in just a few weeks and lots of loving looks at the camera. And for the first time in ages, I was right about who went home: Chris and Phil. Next week, the sole remaining male Blake should be a safe bet for at least one more round which means the resurgent LaKisha and floundering sweetie Jordin are duking it out to make it to the final three.

"American Idol -- The Top 6...Again"

Bon Jovi night? Sure, they sold a ton of records and there are only six contestants so they only need six songs. But limiting them to Bon Jovi rather than say rock n roll in general doesn't seem fair. They only have 11 top 10 hits which is not exactly a ton to choose from. Bon Jovi has also sold 35 million albums in the US, so I assume that reference to 120 million sold worldwide was "records" and included singles. Anyway....

PHIL -- Sang "Blaze of Glory" from "Young Guns," their last #1 hit and a film I have fond memories of seeing in the theater for extra-curricular reasons. Phil had a pretty good rock star style jacket on and was so confident he even gave a fist tap to Randy Jackson as he moved through the crowd. All I could think during his performance was 'what have they done with Phil and who is this guy that replaced him?' He was confident, his vocals were really strong and he had a big finish. No annoying Josh Groban like quiver in his voice. This was by FAR the best Phil has ever been, though it wasn't really in the country vein we were supposed to think for a week was the REAL Phil. I have no idea what Simon was listening to, but since this vote combines two weeks of voting, Phil could still be vulerable. Last week's was so-so.

JORDIN -- Sang "Living On A Prayer." Bon Jovi proved himself a good coach. His comments politely made clear what he thought without being rude ("this is a really hard song to sing" translates into "she's having trouble with this one") and he really orked on the arrangement and changed the melody around to make it easier for her to tackle. She was very rough on the low notes (as always) and showed almost no personality on the verses. The chorus was a little better but not great. The only thing she had going on was the fun hairdo. This was a very weak performance, the worst of the night. Combined with her so-so performance last week, that means Jordin is anything but safe. The producers thought they were cute pretending she was going home last week but maybe in fact she and Chris were the bottom two. She is very vulnerable and if she gets booted it won't be a travesty-- she's been poor two weeks in a row. Her saving grace was a nice bit of honesty when talking to the judges; she was winnningly blunt about not being very good. The judges went on and on about rock not being her genre. But it's not the main genre for any of them -- she just made a bad song choice.

LAKISHA -- Sang "This Ain't A Love Song." Just like Phil, you'd swear someone new has taken over LaKisha. After weeks of looking very unhappy, LaKisha was dressed for fun and had a blast. She belted out the song with verve and total control. She even threw in a little Jennifer Holiday style uh-huh at the very end, just to echo her best performance before this one. Kissing Simon on the lips was very fun. Last week's "I Believe" might have booted her, so it's a combo of a great and a terrible performance.

BLAKE -- Sang "You Give Love A Bad Name." They built up the risk he was taking so much, I thought Blake was going to be singing in Latin or maybe doing a strip in the middle of a song. Instead, he did a cool amount of beatboxing -- not too much, not too little. (In general, I hate it when the musicians are on stage; in this case, it was earned. But normally, they're just distracting. His dyed black hair looked more emo than rock, but it still looked good and better than his normally goofy do. This combined with last week's very safe "Imagine" should keep him fine. Blake is looking more and more like a finalist every week and if it's down to him and Melinda she will win easily.

CHRIS -- Sang "Wanted Dead Or Alive." Chris didn't know all the words when meeting with Bon Jovi, which is never a good sign. But he was funny about saying that someone had to sing this song and if it was gonna be him, then fine. He had a chat with Ryan, who introduced him as Justin Timberlake -- every once in a while the producers or judges or Ryan seem to do something that could only hurt a contestant (like calling Melinda "our resident pro.") I got the same feeling here and Chris sure didn't like it; he didn't even crack a smile. He started off pretty strong and I thought for a moment we'd have another revival a la Phil and LaKisha. No such luck. He did better on the verses than the chorus but he just wasn't very memorable. It sort of faded away right in front of you. Also, Chris seemed to think rocking out meant leaning forward as much as possible while you sing. I feared he might tip over by the finale. And his green t-shirt didn't seem very rocker-ish either. Combined with last week's weak performance, Chris is the most vulnerable of all.

MELINDA -- Sang "Have A Nice Day." She looked cool and young for a change and rocked out with conviction. Heck, she even strutted there for a moment. Inner Tina Turner was definitely unleashed. After last week's terrific Faith Hill number, she is definitely safe and looking very strong indeed.

GEORGE AND LAURA BUSH -- Ugh. $70 million for charity is wonderful, but it's a pittance compared to what's needed. And Bush could help save lives but instead just can't be bothered and lets the feel-good moment of a charity concert substitute for the real work of foreign aid and investment. Who in God's name contacted who to arrange this moment?

THE BOTTOM THREE -- Melinda and Blake are safe. Other than that, it's a crazy quilt of good and bad performances from the last two weeks that make this very tough to call. Phil and LaKisha both had poor and great performances. Chris and Jordin both had two weeks of so-so to bad performances. On straight performances, Chris and Jordin should go home. But I'm gonna get fancy and assume Jordin has enough of a fan base and Phil has been weak enough for weeks that it'll be Phil and Chris going home. But I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see Jordin there too. If we knew who the bottom two were last week, this would be easier. If Jordin really was in the bottom two, then I'd say it's definitely her and Chris. So, Chris going home and Phil will join him, with Jordin in the bottom three as well and counting herself lucky if she's around for the Top 4.