Thursday, September 30, 2010

Survivor Guatemala Episode 3 -- Put me in Coach!

If there is a lesson to be learned from tonight's Survivor episode it is that we never really leave junior high school. Jimmy T and Marty resented Coach Jimmy's confidence, his ability to get people to follow him, and his aura of celebrity.  Rather than being glad they were given a natural leader to help coalesce the team and direct them as a united front, they were envious.  Both are alpha males, both wanted to be the popular ones, both wanted the light to shine on them.  So the only contestant on the show referred to by both a first and last name had to go.  Bye-bye Jimmy Johnson, we'll see you behind the big desk this weekend, neatly shaved, professional coiffed, and still in possession of your self-respect.

Still at Survivor retirement camp, we'll have Marty, so clueless and arrogant that he thinks he can control an ER doctor, and Jimmy T, who fashions himself a leader because once he hooks a fish he manages to reel it into his boat.  Dude, fish don't have thumbs, they can't take the hook out!  It's a little one-sided.  Anyhow, once these two realize that only one can be the new Coach, I see another power struggle on the immediate horizon.  Meanwhile Dr. Jill is perfecting the Sandra Diaz, game-winning "anybody-but-me" strategy and Holly miraculously survives another tribal vote after flipping out only a couple days earlier.  And Yve is making the rest of us oldsters feel really bad about ourselves.  Stop looking so hot, this isn't Cougar Town!

Over on the young people's team there is a fractured tribe, split into two camps -- we'll call them likable and the digging their own grave ones.  In the likable camp we have Jud, who could get stuck counting to three, Benry, who's only interesting characteristic is combining two names used by Michael Emerson's character in Lost (Ben and Henry = Benry), Alina (this season's Coleen/Elizabeth aka girl next door) and Kelly B, the med student with the prosthetic leg who has rocked out so far on challenges.  On the other side we have... NaOnka and her irrationally simmering ball of hate.  She hates Jud because of his hair and Kelly because of her leg.  Maybe all the damage she's done to her brain by tossing it from side to side when she speaks is causing her to lash out uncontrollably and for no apparent reason. 

I'm thankful to her for clarifying for me the difference between "hood" and "ghetto."  Now it's my turn.  There's a difference between a character and a caricature.  You are embarrassing yourself and you should pray for a blindside to get you off of the TV before you can do any more harm.  And speaking of harm, pushing over a disabled person -- yes, even for a clue that could win you a million dollars -- is something even Johnny Fairplay wouldn't have done.  "Hopefully I'll push you so hard your damn leg will fall off."  This girl has serious issues, none of which can be addressed on a reality TV show that does not include Dr. Drew.

My question is why is she in an alliance with so many people?   What could possibly have caused the other people in her group to say, "she's mean, she's angry, she's nuts, I like her!"  I want to see her torch snuffed stat! 

But here's the problem for the viewer.  Without her, the young camp would be deadly dull.  It's the third episode and I resorted to Wikipedia to get the names of the two strapping male contestants on the team (interestingly, the editors had the same problem because they listed them as boring light haired guy and vacuous dark haired guy.  Well, that helps clear that up!)  I vaguely remember the dark haired guy came up with this brilliant minority alilance because the smaller the alliance the better, or something liket that -- or maybe I don't understand the concept of minority.

Thanks to tackling the handicapped girl and smashing the fruit in the process, NaOnka has a clue to the Hidden Immunity Idol that she can't figure out -- so she shows it to Brenda.  I hope Brenda proves smarter than our ER Doctor and does not give NaOnka the answer (the way Jill gave it to Marty last week.  That sounded a lot more interesting than it was).  Someone, please play strategically.  It's right there in the intro, outwit.  Use your brain, people.  No more sharing clues and sharing immunity idols.  The Care Bears were wrong.  

After last week's explosive tribal council, this week was due to be a bit of a letdown and it was.  Maybe next week Holly will steal Jimmy T's necklace or Dan's hair gel or NaOnka will shake her head so violently it'll pop off or Kelly B will tire of NaOnka's attitude and pummel her with her leg.  If not, at least let there be a reward challenge.  I miss hearing Jeff say, "Wanna know what you're playing for?"

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Disappointment and Anticipation -- TV style

So I blame myself. I should know better than to fall for hype and little has been hyped more than the Britney Spears episode of Glee. Still, I actually counted down the minutes till the show started and waited to be blown away. Instead, I was mildly entertained and greatly irritated.

The entertaining part was Brittany as Britney. She's always been one of my favorite characters for her utter cluelessness and memorable quotes ("dolphins are just gay sharks"). So it was refreshing seeing her front and center this episode, singing her namesake's song (kudos to the genius behind Brittany S. Pierce = Britney Spears). Her recreation of Britney's more infamous music video moments was inspired. And her duet with her partner in crime Santana was a highlight -- both these girls deserve better than being buried under Rachel's imposing shadow.

Speaking of Rachel, this was not her shining moment. The most awkward, unimpressive cover of the night went to Lea (should the show be renamed GLea?) Michelle in her school girl outfit, trying to match the video to "Hit Me Baby One More Time." She was just -- off. She didn't exude either side of Britney's video character, neither innocence nor burgeoning sexuality. Rachel may be the star of the glee club and Lea the star of the show, but she paled in her attempt to channel her inner Britney. She should stick with Streisand.

But what irritated me the most was how it was all just one big stunt. They sacrificed the show -- the characters, their stories -- for one really long series of music videos. In the past, the songs have informed the show or punctuated certain moments for the characters. This was just one big commercial for the immediately available Glee/Britney Spears compilation CD. It's bad enough that TV shows now incorporate their sponsors into everything (you'll be cooking on you GE Monogram range), but when the show is just one big commercial, you have to draw the line.

Speaking of the GE Monogram range, BravoTV announced the line up for the first Top Chef All Stars, which will start on December 1. The cast really is an all star group with some of the best cooks, and some of the more interesting personalities, in the show's seven-year run. There will be Tiffani from Season One along with Richard and Dale from Season Three, each of whom coulda woulda shoulda won in their year. Add to that the hotness that is Angelo from last season, the charm of Spike, Fabio and his adorable accent and Mike Isabella who is the resident love-to-hate chef
and I'm allowing myself to build up unreasonably high expectations for Season 8. Did Glee not teach me anything?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Survivor Guatemala Episode 2 -- Did he really just say that?

When preparing for Survivor you might want to practice making fire, fishing and, oh yeah, keeping your mouth shut.  Shannon Elkins, the second castaway voted off, would be well-served to take that piece of advice and apply it to his real life, because if he makes that many inappropriate comments with only about five minutes of screen time, I'd hate to hear what he must say in a regular day.

As the episode began, there was no way to guess that it would be the tall, athletic-looking young guy who would self-destruct.  That role appeared to be claimed by Holly of the "older" tribe who had a small mental breakdown shortly after returning from tribal council.  She was beside herself with guilt for voting out her alliance member (of all of two days) Wendy the talker, and channeled it into one irrational act after another. 

First, she grabbed a bucket of snails -- apparently the only food source the tribe had at the time -- away from the dining doctor, Jill, and tossed them out, fearing they were dangerous.  Then, even more inexplicably, she decided that Dan must be taught a lesson and so his shoes (as an aside, who brings $1,600 alligator shoes to an island?) were filled with sand and dumped in the water.

As the tribe gathered the next day to sort out the case of the missing shoes, she confessed and, in a rather funny moment, Jimmy T. decided to forgive her, which was easy considering they weren't his shoes.  Dan was not so quick to forgive, but enter the soothing voice of coach Jimmy Johnson.  He managed to smooth over the tension and get Holly to, at least for a while, screw her head back into some semblance of sanity.

The coach does have to worry about ruffling feathers and egos as his take-charge style is still rubbing Jimmy T. the wrong way.  Marty and Jill, meanwhile, have the edge in that tribe having discovered the first hidden immunity idol after Jill solve the clue that baffled the youngsters last week (with the help of Jimmy T. who knows that the pole on the ship was called a "yardarm" -- aye, matey, good job!).  Jill then gave Marty the info and they went a-digging.  Then they found it.  Or, if you asked Marty, it actually went something like this:  "I got the Idol! I got the Idol!" [Pause] "We got the Idol."

So with so much time on the oldster tribe and Holly's meltdown, it was just a matter of time before she was sent down the scary path of loserdom.  Not so fast!  Because over at the young'uns camp, things were starting to get a bit loopy as well.  First, Sash decided to form a "minority" alliance because somehow having fewer members was going to be an advantage.  Then we discover that while  clothes dryers back home manage to steal one sock out of a pair, there are magical forces in Guatemala that make both socks disappear.  NaOnga was fit to be tied when she couldn't find her socks, but she handled it rationally -- she took Jud's (aka Fabio). 

As we later learned, it was okay for her to take his socks, because she doesn't like him.  And he's dumb.  Oooo-kay

At the immunity challenge (with a reward thrown in for the winners) the oldsters decided to use the medallion of awesomeness to give themselves an advantage and NaOnga decided to give them an additional advantage by sitting out in favor of the girl with the prosthetic leg -- not realizing just how agile Kelly is.  But despite running faster through the first part of the challenge (which involved running through mud, finding balls buried in hay, then passing them from board to board before shooting them in a bucket), the combination of the advantage and Benry's questionable aim led the old people team to victory. 

Then it was scramble-time on La Flor.  NaOnga was fighting with Fabio and it seemed like an easy choice to get rid of the troublemaker, but Shannon had other ideas and wanted to get rid of Brenda.  Chase, who had an alliance with Brenda in addition to his alliance with Shannon (and I think three or four monkeys, two anteaters and a tortoise -- he doesn't want to miss any potential allies), was troubled.  This made Shannon upset, and you don't want to see him upset.  Then Shannon contemplated getting rid of Chase for forming another alliance behind his back.

This turned out to be the calm part of the show, because once they got to tribal council, all hell broke loose.  As Jeff Probst said, after 21 seasons, this was the biggest serving of whoop ass ever.  Shannon came unglued and spilled everything, who was allied with whom, who was the target, everything.  And then, from the Mel Gibson school of bigotry, Shannon turned to Sash in the middle of the discussion and said, "Hey, I'm gonna get this out of the way right now. Are you gay?"  When Sash tried to deflect the comment by making a little joke about studliness in New York, Shannon ratcheted the hate up another notch by saying most of New York City is full of gay people. 

Do you want to know how a physically fit male player can get tossed early in a game where the ability to compete in challenges is of extreme importance at that stage -- that's how you do it.  Out-of-thin-air hateful, homophobic attacks will do you in every time.  NaOnka is right there behind him, though, with calling Kelly a charity case.  Central casting, I need two intolerant, bigoted people, who will share their innermost hateful thoughts on national TV.  Awesome!

I do feel sorry for poor Fabio.  First, he has his socks taken and no one seems to care.  Then NaOnka starts attacking him for no apparent reason (editing or is she just B.S. Crazy?).  Things only got worse for him at tribal as Shannon, who was supposed to be in his alliance, begins his self-destruct program.  Fabio tried his best to stop him, "Be quiet, dude. We're on the same team for the next 2 or 3 weeks!" but Shannon was on a mission.  When Fabio asked, "can we vote now," it was cute in a pathetic sort of way.  Kinda like Fabio.

See ya never, Shannon.
Next week will it be Holly or NaOnka who cracks next?  And when will Jimmy T. decide he's had enough of Jimmy the coach?

American Idol Announces New Judging Panel/Other Changes

It was one of the more unnecessary announcements -- "revealing" who the new judges on American Idol would be.  Anyone who is on Twitter, Facebook, or the planet already had seen the names of the new judges plastered everywhere.  So here's the unshocking news:  Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler will be joining the only judge who even tried to hold on to some semblance of dignity last year, Randy Jackson, on the judging panel.  The best news out of today is that we're back to just three judges as four was unwieldy, farcical, and unnecessarily time-consuming. 

We now have three actual performers on the panel, people who have had to practice and rehearse and put themselves out in front of an audience to be judged.  That's a good thing.  We also have two superstars who might eclipse the talent they are judging and become more important than the contestants.  That's a bad thing.  I hope that the new two can keep their egos in check (something our dearly departed judges were incapable of doing) and realize that this is a show about discovering and helping to launch new talent.  It's not about the judges.

As I think back over the past nine seasons, what stands out are the performances.  I remember Kelly Clarkson's playful "And Stuff Like That There," Fantasia's moving "Over the Rainbow," David Cook's simmering "Billie Jean," Adam Lambert's haunting "Mad World," and, last year, Casey James' plaintive "Jealous Guy."  Those were the moments that resonated and the moments where you understood the mission of the show.  I remember only one moment from the judges and that was Paula's loopy critique of a performance that hadn't happened yet.

I'm a tad concerned when I hear JLo say she's looking for the next Michael Jackson.  But with her pop background, it's understandable, if a little worrisome.  I'd prefer she, and the rest of the judges, keep an open mind and don't try to find a "type."  I hope they go into the audition rounds and each successive week looking for the best performer regardless of genre.  I am heartened that she'll be joined on the panel by a genuine rocker, Steven Tyler, who, I hope, will look beyond the bubble gum and search for someone with a bit of an edge, someone whose talent runs deep. 

The real surprise, or the real new news, from today's press conference was not the announcement of the new judges, but the announcement of the new procedures and the new people behind the scenes.  The introduction of Jimmy Iovine, legendary producer who has worked with the best in his long, amazing career, gave immediate credibility and gravitas to the press conference.  This is a guy who knows music, probably better than anyone else, and is deeply passionate about finding new talent.  He spoke of the show looking for originality and using producers like Timbaland and Polo to work with the contestants on "recreating the magic."  He will act as mentor and along with "the best producers in the world working with these artists" will help the contestants improve from week to week.  Even if you don't win, having people of this magnitude to work with you is invaluable.

Iovine stressed how the goal is to make the music "better and more interesting" than in past seasons.  To that end, the approach will be "developing the young artists the way they would anyone who signs with the label."  With Sony ending its association with American Idol, Iovine promised there will be changes now that a new record label is on board.  "We're going to bring our best game at Interscope," he said. "Our producers, our creativity and our enthusiasm so that what you see on this show is something you've never seen musically. I can guarantee that."

Nigel Lythgoe mentioned some changes in the middle rounds, which sounds intriguing.  Most interesting was doing away with the awkwardness of taking someone out of their comfort zone.  No more country singers doing show tunes!  They really appear to be interested in working with the contestants to make them the best they can be.  So they will have themes based on decades, not genres, allowing the contestants to work and develop within their genre, honing their skills, every week. 

Especially after today's press conference, I'm looking forward to giving American Idol another chance after the disaster caused by confusing, insulting, and petty judging last year and the silly themes of the prior nine years.  Now that those responsible for trying to make a mockery of the show are gone, maybe it can go back to being fun again?  I actually heard Randy Jackson say today that it's not about us, it's about the contestants.  That's what we've been waiting to hear for a long time.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Okay, how ridiculously excited were you for the start of the second season of Glee? Excited enough to hunt down the east coast feed so you didn't have to wait three hours to see it? Excited enough to text your daughter during each commercial just to say how awesome it is?

So who is loving the new football coach? Genius casting. I don't know if this character will set women's rights back about a hundred years or not (but, heck, it's not like we'll ever get a woman elected president, I'm just sayin') but that is the most subversive bit of casting I've seen in a long time. Love it!! And love having a foil for Sue, even if the Beiste doesn't seem as up to the challenge as I originally thought.

And Sue, oh how I love her. "See this? Court summons. Child endangerment. There's been a line of would-be Cheerios out there since late July. I guess they lost their humanity a little bit. One girl ate a pigeon. Several others started worshiping a possum carcass as their lord. That's how much they want to be Cheerios." And Jane Lynch's delivery of such tasty words is delectable.

Sad to see Artie and Tina broke up. But love when Artie raps!

Love Sam, the new guy, who was given the best line: "I've never had any balls in my mouth. Have you?" Anyway, I'm guessing four. And Sunshine mde Rachel fear her headliner spot on the squad. Good for her! I already don't get how Mercedes isn't the lead singer on the squad. But I have one question -- how does the school have money for AutoTune? And dolls bearing the likeness of each student. Just how often do claims of molestation come up at that school?

Finn is still a trembling ball of wuss and I'm kinda okay with him losing his QB status. He never really sold me that he could lead anyone -- lemmings would turn around and run in the opposite direction.

Quinn is the new face of abstinence and Brittany tried her hand at false accusations, but it was too much for her tiny little brain to handle. Vocal Adrenaline has a new coach and now a great new short singer. Changes abound, but what remains is someone gets a slushie in the face, Will makes a terrible bad guy, Sue will always win in the end and Rachel can really nail a show-stopping tune.

Life has meaning again -- REM's 15th album due out in Spring

Sorry CJ fans, but my first love, my own true obsession, is and will always be R.E.M.  They don't need my help, they have a nice long career behind them and years of more beautiful music ahead, so I haven't devoted my every waking moment to them.  But don't mistake that for lack of interest.  So when I hear that they just finished work on their latest album, my heart skips a beat. Which, at my age, is not necessarily a good thing!

According to the article on, they recorded both in Nashville and in Berlin -- an odd, but oddly R.E.M.-like choice. The album was produced Jacknife Lee who also produced their last album, Accelerate, which was a much better record than the disappointing Around the Sun which left even this R.E.M. fanatic cold.

To commemorate this announcement, here are some of my favorite R.E.M. songs:

Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars):

Harborcoat (when they, and the rest of us, were young)

Fall on Me (From MTV Unplugged)

So. Central Rain (great photos of Michael Stipe!!)

In the off-chance that a certain someone is reading the post today, here's something you haven't seen. It's very cute. But for others, a warning. There's lengthy intro and if you're are really easily offended you might want to skip to 2:30.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Survivor Nicaragua Episode 1 -- And Who is Michael Grimm?

39 days, 20 people, 1 survivor.  And with that, Season 21, Survivor Nicaragua was officially launched.  One hour later (okay, 45 or so with skip time) and we had this season's Sonja, the first voted out.  The ignominious fate could not have landed on a more deserving person as Wendy weirded and chattered her way down the tribal council path to oblivion.  While she had a tailor-made for Survivor profession of goat rancher (a sure bet to make it on the show along with gravedigger and stripper), she also gave the Mark Burnett trained producers enough material to guarantee she would make an early exit. 

Discuss how you have no social game.  Check.   Show her making an immediate alliance with someone who just as immediately regrets that decision.  Check.  Have the person say the one thing they will not do lest they become a target and then follow it up with them doing it, repeatedly.  Check.  Only Wendy could keep the huge target on football's Jimmy Johnson from drawing fire.  But he is going to have to take a more laid back approach to his team, and appear much stronger, if he does not want to be the next out of the Espada (Spanish for wrinkly, perhaps?) tribe.

This season opener provided two new twists to rattle the contestants early on.  After having them marched to the beach and placed on mats in two separate groups, Dimples (aka Jeff "Why did they need to put my name up, who doesn't know me by now" Probst) sent them off in search of the newest unfortunately named item -- the Golden Medallion -- which would provide the winning team with an unidentified advantage.  Golden Medallion sounds cheesy, like something you inherited from your Uncle Salvatore that you'd hock at a New Jersey pawn shop.  But unidentified advantage still sounded good enough for everyone to throw themselves into the challenge to find it for their team.

After Brenda located the item by climbing up a tree, Jeff let them in on the little surprise.   The teams they thought existed did not.  He reshuffled the groups by telling those old enough to remember Kirk Gibson's home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series to go join the Espada tribe and those who think Lady Gaga invented outrageousness to go to the La Flor tribe.  There was a bit of a Let's Make a Deal moment and Jeff offered the young'uns the option of keeping the GM or trading it in for flint and fishing equipment.  They decided fire and food were more important than an advantage at a later challenge and handed off the GM to the geriatrics.

The oldsters had a trick up their sleeves -- actually a smart player named Jane who is now on my radar for doing the one thing that immediately endeared her to Jeff.  She listened to what he said.  In a previous interview, Jeff wondered why anyone would go on Survivor without learning how to make fire.  According to Jane, she heeded his advice and spent two months learning how.  Being in the advanced age group meant that finding the one item she'd need would not be a problem.  No, not a pair of Depends, a set of eyeglasses.  With those, a bright sun, and thirty minutes baking down on some shredded tinder, she was a fire-making machine.

So what else happened?  Two women on La Flor found a cryptic clue to the Hidden Immunity Idol as opposed to the clues last year that said, Psst, Russell, over here!  One contestant revealed that she has a prosthetic leg (and I revealed that I can spell prosthetic without the aid of spell check), Jimmy Johnson gets a lot of air time for someone who has a show on a rival network, Wendy is one of those annoying women who want to be told how much younger they look than their age, I got a good laugh at the fact that the girl my husband thought was hot ended up on the old person's team, Shannon is a pig and Jimmy T. has no game.  I like Tyrone, Jill, Marty and Chase. 

So I watched the last episode of America's Got Talent, primarily because I was trying to get some skip time on my recording of Survivor.  I saw a snippet of cute opera singing girl who I swear has to be a bot of some kind or the world's best lipsyncer because I cannot for the life of me figure out how those sounds come out of that girl.  But then I saw some cute guy in a rakish hat strumming and singing and I thought -- when did this show become American Idol?  I thought everyone on AGT were odd balls of some sort, ballet dancing jugglers or fire eating mimes or possessors of some other bizarre Ripley-esque skill that made them ineligible for all other talent shows.   But this guy was a very good, bluesy singer. 

His name is Michael Grimm.   Yeah, I hadn't heard of him before either.  He had a nice tone to his voice, a good look, and a great connection to the song and the audience.  I turned the show off (nothing can separate me from my Survivor addiction) but later found out (courtesy of my friend MNCyn) that he was the winner.  I also discovered that he has been performing for years in Vegas but had yet to hit it big.  Which, again, begs the question I put to you after "discovering" Casey James.  Just how many good singers are there out there who have yet to be discovered.  And what is that unknown quality that separates them from stars?  The "it" factor.  Why do some make it and others fade away?  Is it the power of the medium of television that the simple act of putting someone on it elevates them, singles them out, makes them more than they would otherwise be?  Or are these talent shows providing a needed service to shine a light and illuminate something that is deserving of the attention?

Thanks to your comments, I've decided to add some more video of the newly-crowned winner.  Nice to see someone with a fantastic voice (who sings on key as well!) win for a change.  He already has some CDs and MP3s for you to purchase, so check him out on the link of his name above and here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

This and That -- The LOST epilogue and what's coming up on TV (hint: Survivor!!)

So I just watched the final twelve minutes of LOST. As any true LOST aficionado will tell you, until you've watched any episode, or in this case scene, a dozen times it doesn't really count. I need to rewatch, obsess, dissect, make connections, rethink and otherwise waste a good chunk of my brain and my time to deal with what I just watched. Because that's what LOST meant to me for so long. It wasn't about the viewing, it was about everything that came after. Theories, ideas, angles, analyses, questions, some answers, but usually only leading to more questions.

I miss that about LOST! Now, if I watch any episodic TV it's just not the same experience. It's passive and transitory. But with LOST it was dynamic and thought-provoking and irritating and inspiring and enlightening and confusing. The epilogue was intended to do what LOST rarely did during its run -- give you answers, one right after another, so you can close the book on some lingering questions. Why were the Dharma drops continued, why were there polar bears on the island, what happened to Walt.

I didn't need any answers. I was so completely satisfied with the six years of unparalleled enjoyment that if the show left with some gaping holes, that was fine with me. I got out of the show what I wanted -- many (too many) hours of thinking about something that didn't have easy answers. A huge puzzle to put together. For this crossword puzzle/Sudoku fanatic, having a giant, interactive, multi-year, character-driven puzzle to mull over was heaven. That gathering in the church was all bitter, no sweet, for me. It was the end to a very long game I had enjoyed playing. The characters reached a resolution of their respective stories, and that may have offered a sense of completion or finality. But, as with finishing the NY Times puzzles, the feeling of satisfaction is immediately followed by a tinge of regret that the hunt is over.

Having said all that, the epilogue was redeemed for me in that split second when I heard that familiar voice from the backseat of the car say, "Dude." I felt a little like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, wanting to whisper to him, as she did to the Scarecrow, "I think I'll miss you most of all."  Hurley was the heart and soul of LOST.  Jack may have been the anchor, the key man in the story's arc, but Hurley was the audience surrogate in the show.  He was as confused and yet as trusting of the ride as the rest of us throughout those six years.  He was the ultimate good soldier and was rewarded with life beyond the last episode, his story to continue as most of the others concluded.  It was good to hear him, good to see him, good to know that all his character went through was for a reason and that his faith (if not poor Locke's) was redeemed.

I've been a little preoccupied these last few months, and haven't written about much beyond a certain Texas singer and a certain reality TV show, but I hope to write about other singers and other shows while waiting for news and updates on the Casey James front.

Weezer has a new album out titled, not coincidentally, Hurley.  I'll let you know what I think about that.  And tomorrow Survivor comes back for Season 21!  I've watched every episode of that show since Richard Hatch climbed into a tree and told the camera that they could write him the million dollar check right then.  This year the theme is old versus young and while Survivor is a physical game, it will be interesting to see if wisdom carries more weight than brawn.  According to some early reports, they will be tweaking the challenges to adjust for the physical differences, so the playing field should be level.  The show is set this time in Nicaragua and starts with 20 contestants, including former football coach and current TV analyst Jimmy Johnson.  But, as always, the true star of the show will be Jeff Probst's dimples.

 Here's Jeff talking about some of the 20 contestants:

I'm leaning toward Tyrone or Chase so far, with Alina as the dark horse. Ten points to the first person who tells me why contestant Ben "Benry" Henry reminds me of LOST.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Reviews & Videos of Casey James' American Idol Live Tour Performances

I know the saying is idle hands are the devil's playground, but in my case idle Idol hands are an excuse to come up with another blog post about Casey James.  This post is designed to remind Casey's fans that we were right all along and to demostrate how, at venue after venue, when people are exposed to Casey's singing and playing they become fans as well.  It's really as simple as that. 

So, I've put together the reviews of Casey's all-too-brief set during the American Idol Live Tour 2010.  While I am exhausted having put this together, I would not call it exhaustive as I'm sure I'm missing some reviews.  I would greatly appreciate the help of my intrepid readers to alert me to any reviews I've omitted. 

For now, I'm leaving out reviews of concert-goers/general fans.  They're important, since they're the ones who actually shell out their money to attend concerts and buy records, but I wanted to start with more "unbiased" (for the most part) professional reviews.

I'm also including at least one video from each stop along the tour (except Pittsburgh and Cincinnati which have no video of Casey that I have been able to locate). For the first show, the last show, and a couple in between, I'm providing the full set. Enjoy!!

Auburn Hills, MI

USA Today/Idol Chatter
By Brian Mansfield
Four Songs, Five Guitars
The noise ratchets up another notch when Casey James takes the stage -- not just because more of the audience jumps to its feet, but because Casey kicks off his set with a blues-rocking version of the Black Keys' I Got Mine geared to let the crowd know just how much they missed on American Idol by not getting him to play guitar more.

Given the freedom of a full song -- and the solos that come with it -- Casey's more animated tonight than he ever was on the show. It's almost as if everything he couldn't do on the show is coming out at once in a flurry of notes, as Casey bends his guitar neck and tortures the strings.

Casey trades in his electric guitar for an acoustic on Shania Twain's Don't! but he switches it out for a second electric in time for the solo.

Afterwards, Casey says, "I want to invite a good friend of mine back up on the stage right now -- Mr. Mike Lynche." Mike comes back out to do Bryan Adams' Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman with the same black acoustic that he used during his set, but Casey has yet another acoustic -- that's four guitars for three songs, for those of you keeping score at home. Around the hall, the cellphones and glo-sticks begin to sway.

After Mike leaves the stage, Casey launches into a scorching version of It's All Over Now, the old R&B hit done by everybody from the Rolling Stones to The Valentinos. It's got a much sharper edge than it did on the show, especially with Casey's slide-guitar licks. And, yes, he's playing yet another guitar. He changes guitars the way Carrie Underwood changes costumes.
In a later article, Brian Mansfield added: 
Turns out Casey James doesn't play five guitars on four songs. He plays six guitars on five songs, since he also plays on the American Idols Live show's finale, a cover of Bon Jovi's It's My Life.

Here's the rundown:

•a 1983 blue Fender Stratocaster for I Got Mine;
•a Paul Reed Smith acoustic and a white Fender Stratocaster for Don't!;
•a Gibson nylon-string guitar for Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman;
•a PRS Starla for It's All Over Now;
•and a PRS 513 for It's My Life.

Why does he need six guitars for five songs? "Because they all sound different," Casey said afterwards. "Big time. Like night and day."

And for seriously gearheaded Casey James fans, apparently he uses Dunlop Tortex .88 mm guitar picks. Because I think he hit me on the shoulder with one when he threw it from the stage, and it landed in my shirt pocket. I say "apparently" because I didn't actually see him throw it, and I didn't find the pick until I got back to my hotel room -- though I did spend a while after the show helping the people next to me look for it.
By Gary Graff
Casey James, meanwhile, played guitar hero on a searing romp through the Black Keys' "I Got Mine."
Milwaukee, WI

Journal Sentinel
By Eric Ernst
Casey James' vocals were spot-on, but it was his fast and loose slide guitar on a bluesy "It's all Over Now" that really shone.
Grand Rapids, MI
By Lorilee Craker
Casey James, of course, went 90 miles an hour in the opposite direction, employing four or five guitars and shredding the daylights out of "I Got Mine" by the Black Keys and “It's All Over Now” by The Rolling Stones. He sold the song “Don't!” by Shania Twain as a sweet, bluesy ballad. He’s a stellar guitar player, with a lovely voice, despite the cold he was fighting.

Hamilton, ON

SJ Christian Flamethrower Blog
By Scott Jackson
The highlight of the show was Casey James. His soloing on guitar is far better than I picked up from the TV series and he seemed to be directing the band, rather than the band directing the singers. I think of all the performers, Casey is it. He handles himself well in interviews and he can rock out like you’d expect at a concert. He’s a good package. That was the only part of the show I liked.
Jones Beach, NY

New York Times
by Ben Ratliff
Casey James ... proved up and down (particularly on the Black Keys’ “I Got Mine”) that he could play the electric guitar close to the style of Stevie Ray Vaughan....
Bridgeport, CT

Atlantic City, NJ

Press of Atlantic City            
By Rob Spahr
Making the guitar look like a toddler’s toy, Casey James and his flowing-blond locks brought the crowd to its feet with dazzling songs such as the Black Keys’ “I Got Mine,” a duet of Bryan Adams’ “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” with Lynche and the cover of “Don’t!” that earned him a hug from Shania Twain herself.
Atlantic City Weekly
By Lori Hoffman
Casey James was the guitar god who did his best work wailing the blues.
Casey James brought his smokin’ guitar licks to “I Got Mine” by the Black Keys,” “Don’t” by Shania Twain and “It’s All Over Now” by the Rolling Stones. He and Lynche teamed up for their popular duet from the show, “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman.”
Philadelphia, PA

Uncasville, CT

Manchester, NH

MJ Santilli from MJsBigBlog attended the concert and took a number of terrific photos, including this now iconic photo of Casey:
Photo by MJ Santillit
Here's MJ's review of Casey's set: 
I woke right up when Casey James took the stage. He really got the crowd going with his incredible guitar skillz. I really dug his set from beginning to end. Well, I could have done without the Big Mike duet (GAH, how I HATE “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman.”)  Casey got things off to a blistering start with the blues cover, “I Got Mine.” His duet with Tim, the Idol guitar player, was major fun. He brought the temperature down a bit with the acoustic ballad “Don’t”, but then after his duet with Big Mike, it was back to some major guitar riffing as he closed the show with the Stones. “All Over Now.”
by D.C. Aries
Like I said before, not a country fan, so I thought I might be bored by third place finisher, Casey James, who sang primarily country. Boy was I wrong! Just his guitar playing skills alone makes Casey a star. Add the singing, and he was awesome. Casey was another one who seemed super sweet. Casey was my aunt’s favorite and she called him a “doll.” Big Mike also came back out to join Casey for “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” Their voices sound beautiful together, something you might not expect from 2 people in such diverse genres. Overall, I would definitely classify Casey as a star.
Additional photos by MJ:

Photo by InvisiBel1

Hershey, PA

By Chris Mautner
Casey James tore apart the stage with his guitar pyrotechnics and bluesy growl on The Black Keys' "I Got Mine." (easily the best and most un-Idol moment of the night).
Albany, NY

By Steven Barnes
the infectious, often thrilling blues-guitar rockin’ of Casey James
Mansfield, MA
By Sara Rodman
Casey James showcased his guitar heroics on the Black Keys’ “I Got Mine’’ among other tunes.
The Sun Chronicle
By Amy Caine
The second set featured more energy, screaming, and fantastic singing from Lynche and James who proved they can sing solo, together and with instruments.

Providence Journal
By Rick Massimo
Casey James took full advantage of the use of instruments by showcasing his guitar playing as much as his singing on the Stevie Ray Vaughan-styled “I Got Mine” and the slide-laden “It’s All Over Now.” “Have You Ever Loved a Woman?,” his duet with Lynche, was sweetly harmonized and saw them both on acoustic guitars.
Newark, NJ

By Jim Cantiello
Casey James, often stiff and awkward on "Idol," had one of the more effortless sets of the night. His impressive guitar work on the Black Keys' "I Got Mine" and the Rolling Stones' "It's All Over Now" made many forget they were watching an "Idol" concert.
by Michael Slezak
Following Michael's [set], Casey James was almost guaranteed to impress, and he did exactly that using a succession of guitars, particularly with the aggressive blast of the Black Keys’ “I Got Mine” and a southern-fried jam session on the Rolling Stones “It’s All Over Now.”
Pittsburgh, PA
By Scott Mervis 
The instrumentalist of the night was big Casey James, who came out blazing with the Black Keys' "I Got Mine," and continued to flash the kind of guitar chops that would raise hollers in a Texas roadhouse.
Bristow, VA

Baltimore, MD

USA Today/Idol Chatter
By Brian Mansfield 
It's showtime at the 1st Mariner Arena. The top tiers are sparsely populated, with only a few glow sticks glimmering from the darkness. But the bottom tier is ready to go--during the intro sequence, the highest-decibel shrieks are for Tim, Casey and Lee. 

In an abrupt mood swing from Mike's ballad-filled set, Casey James takes the stage next. He doesn't say a word at first, instead letting his guitar speak for him in the opening riff of I Got Mine.

"My whole life has been leading up to this point. I can't say enough thank you's," he says before diving into Don't.

"We're gonna need the mood to be just right for this one," says Mike, who has come back out onstage to join Casey in Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman. Upon his command, thousands of cell phone screens and glowsticks emerge from the crowd waving.

Backstage during Casey's set, Tim is listening to his guitar solo during I Got Mine.

"Is it just me, or does that guy do a lot of soloing?" he asks.

He means that in a good way.

"He's amazing. It's not even fair."
Charlotte, NC

Columbus, OH

Knoxville, TN

Virginia Beach, VA

Lexington, KY

LexGo Listen
By Rich Copley
But several artists seized the opportunity to make good second impressions, particularly third place finisher Casey James. On the show, James always seemed to be a little lost trying to make the judges happy. But taking the stage playing The Black Keys’ I Got Mine, he quickly established himself as a Texas bluesman who had a Stratocaster and wasn’t afraid to use it.
Duluth, GA

By Rhonda Cloutier
Casey at #3 bought the heat and a slew of guitars, electric and acoustic. He lit up the stage on “I Got Mine” playing off of the Idol band’s guitarist, Tim Stewart. It is safe to say that there has not been another Idol who can play a guitar like Casey. “Don’t” by Shania Twain, was my favorite on the show and on the Tour, although the duet with Mike on “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman” by Bryan Adams, was swoon worthy. His set ended with the Rolling Stones’ “It’s All Over Now,” a performance that felt like a real rock concert from back in the day.
Sunrise, FL

Tampa, FL
By Sean Daly
Casey James is a truly wicked guitar picker....
By Summer Lott
The resulting mix of Aaron's country songs, Casey's electric guitar shreds, and Crystal's low-key powerhouse vocals all blended to make the audience feel wrapped up in ten different concerts in one.
Wild 94.1
By Mellie Mel
Kara DioGaurdi’s favorite, Casey James was next. Disappointing to all the females in the audience, his signature blonde locks stayed up in a loose pony-tail. Jame’s voice, however made up for the lack of his flowy maine. It seemed as if he was more comfortable playing his electric guitar in this arena, than he had been all throughout the season for million’s of home viewers. His guitar riffs and bluesy voice proved why the ladies had become infatuated with him in the first place.
Houston, TX

Houston Chronicle Online
By Joey Guerra
Texas boy Casey James exhibited some presence and nice guitar work....
Tulsa, OK

Tulsa World
By Cary Aspinwall
The show contained plenty of highlights, including Casey James' impressive guitar skills on a cover of the Black Keys' "I Got Mine" ...
Dallas, TX

Dallas Morning News
By Darla Atlas
During James' set, he asked Michael Lynche to join him for a duet of "Have You Ever Loved a Woman?" It was a highlight of both the season and the concert.

"So this is home for you – this is your family, huh?" Lynche asked.

"That's right," James replied. "I think I know everybody in the crowd."

The beaming blond rocker, clearly trying to take it all in, waved to several people during his songs, which included "I Got Mine," "Don't" and "It's All Over Now."

"It's taken a long time – a long time – to get right here, and you guys all made it possible," he said. To his family, friends and fans, he added, "I'll always love you until the day I die."
Phoenix, AZ
By Randy Cordova
Both Katie Stevens and Casey James displayed more presence than they ever offered on the TV show.
James' bluesy guitar work and laid-back vocals were effective on Shania Twain's "Don't," which was offered as a yearning country ballad. James was in good spirits, announcing that he had just signed a deal with Sony earlier in the day.
Los Angeles, CA

Yahoo!/Reality Rocks
By Lyndsey Parker
The three best performers of the night, however, were--unsurprisingly--Siobhan Magnus, Casey James, and Crystal Bowersox.

Casey was also a total rock star. The energy level in the Staples Center immediately elevated when he cranked up the bluesy guitar for an unexpected (and unexpectedly great) cover of the Black Keys' "I Got Mine," and his Vedder-ish voice on his twangy renditions of Shania Twain's "Don't" and the Rolling Stones' "All Over Now" sounded fantastic live. Casey just announced that he's signed to Sony Nashville, and if his Idols Live set is representative of the country/rock sound he'll be going for, then I predict he's going to do very well.
By Matt Elias
The night continued with Casey James, who shredded guitar on the Black Keys' "I Got Mine" and Shania Twain's "Don't!" Lynche returned to the stage to join James on Bryan Adams' "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?" prompting the ladies in attendance to swoon. James closed his set with his version of the '60s Stones hit "It's All Over Now."
Mountain View, CA

by Kirsten Coachman
Next up was newly signed Sony Nashville artist, Casey James. He opened his set with The Black Keys’ “I Got Mine,” and showed why he’s probably the most talented guitar player to ever hit the Idol stage.

His second song, Shania Twain’s “Don’t” proved why James will probably do very well as a country artist. A bit of twang could be detected in his voice throughout the song. It was probably the best vocal of the night from James’ set.

Big Mike was brought back out on stage to perform their duet from Idol, Bryan Adam’s “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman.” I didn’t think that the duet was as vocally strong as it was initially on Idol, but it was still fun to see performed live.

James closed his set with The Rolling Stones’ “It’s All Over Now.” He was absolutely fantastic, from the guitar playing to the singing. James had finally got the second half of the show started.
Anaheim, CA

San Diego,CA

Sacramento, CA

Seattle, WA

By The Other Chad 
Moving into the top three, Casey James brought down the house with a dazzling display of guitar soloing on The Black Keys' "I Got Mine." James received high marks during Idol for his instrumental prowess, but due to time constraints his solos were always limited to a few bars. In concert, he unleashed a torrent of blues rock fury that brought nearly everyone at the Key Arena to their feet. His vocals were excellent as well, arguably more convincing than anything he did on the television show. Shania Twain's "Don't!" allowed for a tender moment with far more restrained guitar work, as James switched from acoustic to electric for the solo.

Joined by Michael Lynche, James dueted on "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?" which was a popular moment during season nine. I would've preferred something from James on his own, as my tolerance level for that insipid Bryan Adams ballad is very low. James closed his set with some ferocious slide guitar as he tore through "It's All Over Now," which he first performed during Rolling Stones week of Idol. A common complaint about Casey James during his time on the show was a lack of stage presence. He seemed to wash away any doubts regarding his charisma, working hard to give the fans their money's worth.
Seattle Times
By Misha Berson
If young Kelly deserves a shot at the recording game, the lanky blond Texan hunk Casey James has justifiably scored one. He's been signed by Sony, and proved his mettle at the Key with blazing guitar and vocal renditions of "It's All Over Now" and the Black Keys' "I Got Mine."

Though dressed down in tousled hair and scruffy jeans, James adorned himself with four (or was it five?) different guitars, including a nifty turquoise electric model. And talent-wise, he's the real deal, a Southern rocker with a bluesy growl (and none of that irritating vibrato he used on TV), and instrumental chops that suggest a deep immersion in the ways of Allman and Hendrix.
Portland, OR

by Geoff Kleinman
The highlight of the evening was Casey James, who stole the show out from under Crystal Bowersox and Lee Dewyze. His rendition of “I Got Mine” by the Black Keys was simply amazing, showing off extraordinary guitar skills. All I could think of during this first song was, "Damn, this boy can really play guitar". Casey James' "I Got Mine" was the real first exclamation point of the evening. This was followed by “Don’t” by Shania Twain, which was a great example of an artists making a song his own. It was at this point that it stopped feeling like an American Idol Tour and started feeling like the Casey James show.

Casey brought Big Mike back on stage for a nice rendition of “Have You Really Loved a Woman”. Mike's performance with Casey was stronger than any of his own three songs and it was nice to see the two of them sing together. The real highlight of Casey's set was “It’s All Over Now” by The Rolling Stones, the hands-down best performed song of the evening. Casey played a terrific slide guitar and made it clear that he is the best guitarist to have ever performed on American Idol. By the end of the song it was easy to forget that it wasn't an original song – a monstrous task considering its origin.
Denver, CO

St. Louis, MO

Des Moines, IA

(Casey's part starts at 6:35)

By PJ Yusten
Kara Dio-freaking-Guardi and the American Idol machine owe Casey James an apology. As soon as she drooled over the tall lean Southerner he was cast as a sex symbol. Judges reinforced that role week after week. Maybe that sexy image carried him to third place but OMG, this guy is talented. Vocally, James was more than solid showing a bluesy twang sound for his solos and a deep sweet harmony in a duet with Michael Lynche. As a guitarist, he is way up in the ranks. After shedding the TV show stereotype, it’s clear he is the real deal. Instead of creeping into the top three as a wanna-be Idol, if voters got a glimpse of his captivating style outside the patronizing judge’s box, the phones might still be ringing. To avoid hypocrite status, I’ll offer up my own apology. I liked him on the show. After seeing his live performance, thoughts of a new groupie group kept tugging for my attention. 
Highlights of the show
The whole Casey James set
• Better vocals than the TV show ever produced
• Natural unassuming style allowed the music to be the focus
• Proved he could be a star in more than one genre
• Master guitarist on electric and acoustic
The James-Lynche duet
• Contrasting styles made a perfect blend for romantic ballad
(It felt like they were making love to the words they sang)
• Both totally committed to emotion in lyrics, raw emotion and credibility
• Fused harmony caused chills; sounded like they’ve worked together for years
• Made the duet their own with unique style, each individually strong w/o taking away impact of duo
• Great audience connection with intimate tone
Minneapolis, MN

Chicago, IL

Chicago Sun-Times
By Thomas Conner
The most entertaining guy on stage, though, came in third. Casey James can sing and play the bejesus out of his guitar. He shredded a solo in the middle of his opener, the Black Keys’ “I Got Mine,” and again for his closer, the Rolling Stones’ “It’s All Over Now.” His ballads sagged, even the duet with Michael Lynche on “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?,” but his rakish grin and studied nonchalance made him fun to watch, not to mention that Eddie Vedder quiver in his purr.
By Eloise Valadez
As with contenders from seasons past, it's not often just the winner of "Idol" who makes the strongest impression overall on audiences.

Third runner-up Casey James proved a real attention-getter with his heavy rockin' guitar playing and gutsy vocals on "I Got Mine"
Toledo, OH

Cincinnati, OH

Indianapolis, IN
By David Lindquist
Near the top of the class, third-place finisher Casey James and runner-up Crystal Bowersox took advantage of being liberated from filming car commercials, begging for votes and making small talk with Ryan Seacrest.

Wielding top-notch guitar skills, James deserves the shot at rock stardom previously afforded to Chris Daughtry. James takes more risks and exudes greater swing than Daughtry, as proven on steamroller renditions of the Black Keys'"I Got Mine" and "It's All Over Now" (written by Bobby Womack and popularized by the Stones).

Here's the final group finale -- watch all the way to the end!