Saturday, January 29, 2011

More New Songs from REM's Upcoming Album "Collapse into Now"

Any time REM announces a new album I'm filled with exalted expectations and inflated hopes.  This will be another Fables, another Reckoning, a masterpiece.  Then I'm hit with the panicked thoughts, what if it's another Around the Sun?  Finally, reality sets in and it's okay, fine, but nothing memorable.  How many "okay, fine" albums am I willing to listen to before I have to put my love of REM in the past tense? 

It was with these conflicting thoughts that I approached the first releases of songs from their upcoming 15th album Collapse into Now.  I've posted and reviewed some of the songs as they came in and was either greatly disappointed or unimpressed.  But finally there is a song that makes me smile.  That reminds me what it feels like when Michael Stipe's voice can burrow into my  heart and Peter Buck's guitar can make me feel all dreamy and floating. 

Uberlin was an unfortunate title (complete with umlauts!) for a song that is giving me hope.

The lilting melody is back.  Stipe is singing from his heart again.  It's warm and enveloping, like a hug from an old friend.  I'm happy.

So I'll do my best not to think about this song, the first single off the album:

It's not horrible.  But I expect much more from REM than not horrible.

For great:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

American Idol Season 10, Episode 4 -- Nashville

Well, with the auditions coming to the town known as Music City, USA, we should expect some good talent tonight.  Of course, as it's also known as the home of the Grand Ole Opry, we could be getting a heavy dose of country music sangers.  And, now that we have three prior episodes on which to base our expectations, we may assume there will be some sexual banter between Steven Tyler and a few of the contestants, Randy Jackson will be relatively useless, and Jennifer Lopez will glow like the bronze goddess she is.

Chelsee Oaks and Rob Bolin are up first together, though apart.  They are exes and former duet partners who are trying out separately for American Idol.  The judges first try to play Dr. Phil and get them to patch things up which Rob is all for, Chelsee, not so much (and Chelsee's boyfriend standing outside is even more opposed to their rekindling their relationship).  They sing To Love Somebody together and they sound like they were meant to sing -- and be -- together.  Is there a marital therapist on staff?

Then Rob sings, amazingly well.  Great raw, rough vocals, terrific recording voice.  Chelsee sings well, too, though not as well as Rob.   But they both are going to Hollywood.  Is this the start of a new RomCom, maybe they'll pair up during Hollywood group performance round, sit side by side in Room 1 awaiting their fate, and the camera pans in as they realize they were meant to be together?  I've seen too many cheesy movies!

Some biker dude who may or may not be a racist (vanilla, chocolate?) sings Skynyrd (shocker) very badly (another shocker).  He makes the judges laugh, so that's not all bad.  Turns out, he's a cool guy who you'd be happy to have on stage belting it out while you were on your fifth shot of Jack -- but not on your TV when you're stone sober.

Next up is Miss Teen USA 2009 Stormi Henley.  She wants to see how far she makes it on her talent.  So that's why she shows up in a super short flirty skirt with a plunging neckline and cute cowboy boots.  In fairness, though, she did not glam up like a pageant girl, and looks like she should wear a cowboy hat, not a tiara.  She sings Father Can You Hear Me.  She has a nice though not amazing voice.  It has an interesting sound to it and she could easily be the next Kellie Pickler (assuming we need another).  JLo thinks she doesn't have enough power to her voice and votes no, leaving it up to the guys to decide if the young, attractive girl should move on.  I think you can guess what happens next.

Short parade of no's, then Adrienne Beasley is up.  She's a farm girl, African American adopted by white parents.  She sounds like a farm girl, strong twangy country voice.  She doesn't over-sing and she has a nice gently raspy tone to her voice, also a nice little country cry.  But  no reason to cry, she's going to Hollywood with three votes!  Not so fast, Daddy asks her who's going to pay for her trip to California.  Hope he was kidding!

Kameela Merricks has been singing and winning competitions forever, she tells us.  She's small, not Snooki small, but much smaller than the loud, painfully loud, sounds that come out of her.  As if that wasn't bad enough (and, really, it was) we get a bunch more bad singers.  It's AI version of how low can you go, and they're scraping the bottom of the talent barrel.

So when's the reprieve?  It comes in the mini-jeans skirt wearing Jackie Wilson.  She's another twanger, but again, I have to give her props.  She has a pretty nice voice.  She needs to control it and not let it get away from her.  But she has promise. 

Next up is LaToya "Younique" Moore who tells us she's a star and that she glows.  She wears a pageant dress and brings in "her CD" for the judges.  She sings about breaking down and crying, which is what I'm doing listening to her voice.  The song is, I think, called When I Close My Eyes and it makes me wish I could shut my ears.  Wait, there's a mute button.  Ahh, this is better. 

A few good singers in a row.  The last one, Danny Pale, I particularly liked.

Now it's time for tonight's feel good story.  Matt Dillard is a southern boy with a family that has a huge heart.  They have taken in hundreds of foster kids.  Sweet.  He has a really interesting sound, even if he did sing a little high in his register.  I liked the tone of his voice and how he put his own spin on the Josh Grobin You Raise Me Up.  But I want to grab a razor and save his face!

Okay, another sad backstory, a girl who's cousin is battling a brain tumor.  Lauren Alaina sings and at first, it's not working for me.  I don't like the breathiness and the breaks as she sings.  It's like listening to music while driving through a tunnel.  Of course, it's the judges' favorite performance of the day!  It just made me want to send her an albuterol puffer.  I was due to get one wrong today, so apparently Lauren's the one.  Wait, she sings again, an Aerosmith song, and now I can hear what they're talking about.  She sounds awesome!  So apparently I like this girl -- I just don't like country music.  News flash!

That's it for Nashville.  Who did you like?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

American Idol Season 10, Episode 3 -- Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Hometown American Idol hero Danny Gokey welcomes us to Milwaukee.  As one of the natives says, "We don't have a accent here we just like our cheese & beer."  Who doesn't!

Up first is Scotty McCreery.  He's described as an all American kid. Rosy cheeks, buzz cut.  He plays baseball, naturally.  And he's all of 16.  He doesn't do too good a job with his Bye Baby Bunting rendition, but when the audition starts, his voice is surprising.  Deep, twangy country voice.  I break out in hives.  But if you're into that kind of music, you probably like this.  Boys done his homework. He knows Randy has worked with Travis Tritt and does a Tritt song.  And he sounds good, even to these Southern California ears.  I wouldn't exactly give him the same review as Steven Tyler (something about ducks hatching), but I like him.

We're then forced to listen to Joseph Repka attempt to sing ... "For the Longest Time."  Why do people pick songs that provide such an easy joke?  Because any time you have to listen to Steve sing will feel like the longest time.  Ba-dum-dum.  Then the producers gave us even more by having his mother tell us that she doesn't sing because she's tone deaf.  Apparently, that hasn't stopped her son.

Fifteen-year-old Emma Henry from Littleton, Colorado is up next.  She's singing "True Colors" and she has a unique, quirky voice.  Raspy and dangerously close to  being wrong.  But it stays right.  You would remember her if you heard her.  Is that tricky instrument developed enough to move on to Hollywood? Randy has the deciding vote after Steven (yea) and JLO (nay) split.  He does not think she's ready, but she cries and begs and he caves in.  He gives her one more shot, and says, don't disappoint us.  I like her less after finding about a thousand You Tube videos of her performing, starting with a tapdance in utero.  Maybe I exaggerate, but she's a little too "Gypsy" for me. 

Karate GaGa and then something really off fill my TV screen.  These people actually came back months after they originally auditioned just to bomb and not even in a memorable William Hung fashion.  Why?

Naima Adedapo has been working the biggest musical festival in the country -- Summerfest -- as a janitor.  Will American Idol give her the chance to be on stage?  She has a sultry sound and beautful eyes and confidence and a big smile.  She's the whole package.  And she does a fierce high kick.

Jerome Bell is introduced as a bar mitzvah singer. That was the first thing I thought of when I saw him. He sings, loudly, and is benefitted by the fact that Let's Get it On, is an amazing song.  I'm not sure if I'm digging him or I'm just thinking about Marvin Gaye right now.  He's not bad and he's easy on the eyes as they say. So, of course, he's in.

Somehow, I have to live through Bieber fever as he's the reason that kids with retainers and driver's permits are auditioning.

Thia Megia, whose name is fun to say out loud, is just a babe, 15.  She sings Chasing Pavements and has a weird southern accent when she sings.  I don't get it.  What Steven calls character, I find indulgent and overwrought.  OMG, I'm channeling Simon Cowell.  So not feeling this girl.

Shocking(?) statistic -- every 15 year old who auditioned was put through.  So it's clear what they're looking for this year.  If your voice has changed, if you need a razor, if you're legal in all fifty states, don't bother applying.

We have a civil war Wisconsin.  Since I knew he wouldn't sing well, I had time to research Wisconsin's role in the Civil War.  Did you know they sent just under 100,000 men to serve on behalf of the Union?  Me either!  Oh, my, he's still singing!  Did you know that they lost about 13% of those men?  Thanks for your service all those years ago!  We'll remember you while forgetting this young man.

Hmm, we have a contender for the worst singer of the Season.  Way to go Mason!  Don't make eye contact when you sing, they'll only try and steal your soul.

Raise your hand if you hate Molly Swensen?  She's a Harvard grad who fell into a White House internship.  Then she comes in guns blazing, saying that Randy elbowed her as he was high-fiving his way into the audition room.  Did I tell you that they teach you at Harvard how to work in the name of your alma mater in a casual way for maximium effect?  She's singing Sitting on the Dock of the Bay, slooooowly.  She probably thinks she's awesome because she's been told that every day of her tall, blonde life.  That's great, beautful, blah blah.  I'm starting to wonder if Randy's punching her in the face was an accident after all.

And with that, we're done with Day One.

Haley Reinhart has tried out before and is back for more.  She's knocking out some Beatles, Oh Darling!  I loved her.  She's got it and then some (some being roots that need attention, stat!).  A different sound, powerful voice.  Like her.

Tiwan Strong is a throwback to the fifties.  He's singing Twisting the Night Away and doing that annoying finger snap.  Can that be banned, the same way they were thinking of banning instruments again?  He has a interesting retro sound that you will never hear on your radio unless you're an oldies fan.  I see Broadway in his future!  Or booking some of those bar mitzvahs.  He will not be the next American Idol.

Steve Beghun is a CPA with the sense of humor you would imagine an accountant would have.  He has an awkward, different voice.  For once, I'm unsure how I feel about this.  He has zero appeal, and a voice you can't explain. He might be so wrong he's right.  But probably not.

Vernika Patterson is threatening us with Minnie Riperton.  Put the dogs outside, cover your kids' ears. This could be painful.  Okay, she can't sing.  But what will happen when she tries for the high note?  Will my TV explode?  My head?  Nothing.  She doesn't even go for the money note.  It's a dud.

Okay, Albert Rogers, III, is not going to get a gig as an Obama impersonator.  Rerun, possibly.  He said he's been told he sounds like Luther Vandross and Usher and Ruben Studdard.  He's singing Stand By Me.  What is it with people slowing down songs to the point they're unrecognizable?  His voice isn't train wreck awful, but it sure isn't great.

Scott Dangerfield audition starts strangely with Steven Tyler talking about his lips.  Awkward.  Scott is singing Amos Lee, Dreamin.  I'm digging him.  He's cool, he's hot, he's got it.  IT.  I like his choice of song and his whole vibe.  Just watch the runs, dude.

Time for the obligatory Green Bay Packers segment of the show.  We have found the ultimate Packers fan, Megan Fraser.  But can she sing?  She has such a heavy Wisconsin accent, I want a big hunk of cheese.  She's singing Bieber as an operetta.  Of course she is.  Hope her Packers do better than this in the Super Bowl.

Alyson "Ally" Jaydos promised to bring an edge, some rock and roll to Hollywood. She has a huge crush on Steven Tyler.  The feeling appears to be mutual.  She professes her love, she gets a hug.  She's singing Come Together.  She's a little heavy-handed with the rocker-chick schtick, but her voice is pretty good.  She then tackles Dream On, and has a nice rough edge to her voice. Steven mercifully takes over because she can't hit those crazy notes.  But Steven's worried about her pitch problems.  Oh no, Randy says no. JLo says yes.  Now Steven has to cast the deciding vote.  He caves like a Chilean mine and she's going through.

The last contestant has a story we've heard about for weeks and yet it still pulls at your heart when you hear it. Yeah, it's an old AI trope to give us a romantic sob story (remember Danny Gokey), but this is this guy's real life.  So, manipulative or not, it is part of his story. 

Chris Medina is from Chicago.  He's 26 and he's engaged.  And here it comes. His gorgeous fiancee was  seriously injured in a single vehicle car accident just as they were getting close to setting the date. She suffered a traumatic brain injury.  He now takes care of her along with her mom.  He better sing well!!  He's singing Breakeven, by the Script.  And luckily, he sounds really good to me. He apparently sounded good to The Script as well as the day after they tweeted him:  "Not only R U a major talent but U R 1 in a billion! Stay Strong,Never waver,This world needs more MEN like U. Peace+Love, Mark"

I like the tone of his voice and the fact that it can cross genres.  And then they bring his financee in and I'm losing it.  I hope she has some idea what's going on.  Wow, this is tough.

On that sad note, I'll put the snarkiness aside.  There are some good singers and some others who may have potential.  We'll see when they get to Hollywood.  Maybe I'll even learn to like Molly.

Be safe out there!

Monday, January 24, 2011

American Idol Season 10 -- Episode 2, New Orleans

In this mercifully shortened episode, we visit just one city, NOLA, where the promos promise us better talent than in our first two audition stops.  We'll see.  The episode starts with a woefully bad rendition of Smile as one of the thousands of rejects gets his chance to show that singing well is much harder than it looks.

Jordan Dorsey is the first real contestant up.  It is risky when someone who advertises themselves as a vocal teacher switches roles and becomes the singer.  Will the old adage "those who can -- do, those who can't -- teach" hold true?  I already love his mom for telling Ryan that he looks taller on televsion (which considering he looks like a munchkin on my screen, must mean he's particularly tiny in real life).  Coincidentally, Jordan auditions with Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which he turns into a jazz tune halfway through, along with obligatory finger snapping.  Apparently, in real life he sounds much better than he did on TV and they let him through, after JLo shows her goosebumps.  I thought his voice was ordinary and his jazzy switch-up of the tune forced and corny.

After the mini-montage of the below-average singers, we get to Sarah Sellers.  She sounds a little like Pink, and since she looks like a librarian, it's a startling sound to come out of her. This time I agree with the judges, she's a keeper. Welcome to Hollywood.

Jovany Barreto sings Luis Miguel, some song I couldn't catch the name of, having only had five years of Spanish.  He has a booming voice and a bit of a crush on JLo, whom he calls a goddess.    He looks about forty years older than most of the people they've put through, so, I'm happy when they give him three thumbs up.  Then he strips off his shirt, joined by Steven and Randy.  Weird and unnecessary.

Next up is Jacquelynn Dupree, who brings along pictures of Randy Jackson from his high school days.  Her uncle, it turns out, was Randy's old football coach.  Since this isn't the Supreme Court, Randy doesn't recuse himself from the judges' panel and goes on to vote for Jacquelynn.  She has a country sound to her voice, which is very strong and sweet at the same time.  She sings I'll Stand by You and does Chrissie Hynde proud.  Good job!

I'd already been spoiled about Brett Lowenstern, so I was interested in seeing how his audition went.    He is visually unique, with too much unruly reddish hair, and some unfortunate facial hair, and his speaking voice is a bit too soft.  He describes himself as different and reflects back on being picked on as a child. He has the balls, though, to audition with Bohemian Rhapsody.  And though a tad too breathy, he has an interesting tone to his voice.  Since he's only 16, it will be interesting to see how his voice develops -- it already has quite a bit of promise.  I think we'll be seeing quite a bit of Brett. 

Gabriel Banks says, "I think America will fall in love with me."  He won a Steven Tyler lookalike contest.  He sings Bad Romance, with emphasis on the bad.  He was wrong about America.

After a few more painful auditions, it's time for Alex Attardo.  He went to Idol camp and learned quite a bit.  It was an eye opening experience, he tells us.  He should ask for his money back. 

Jacee Badeaux is auditioning at the old age of 15.  He's singing Otis Redding's Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay --  really well.  He's being called the chubby Bieber, which is unfair as, unlike Bieber, this kid can really sing.  Talent is an amazing, mysterious thing, isn't it?  He sounds like a little kid when he talks, but sings like an experienced old timer.

Last contestant of the night, Paris Tassin, has a beautiful face and sad story about a troubled teen pregnancy.  She is now the proud mom of an adorable daughter with some special needs.  She's auditioning with Carrie Underwood's Temporary Home, and for me it's a train wreck.  She sings with a speech impediment of some sort and she doesn't convey the melody, assuming the song has one.  It's just a lot of loud notes.  The judges fall instantly in love.  So what do I know?

So those are the contestants lucky enough to get an early introduction before the voting public out of the 37 sent off to Hollywood.  Next week, we see the auditions from the first American Idol trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Yes, it promises to be cheesy.  But that's why we love AI, right?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Live Blogging American Idol, Episode 1, New Jersey

This is an experiment and it could be New Coke or it could be Coke Zero.  But either way, with my AT&T phone sitting nearby and a Ford in my garage...Okay, enough for the American Idol product placement.  I'm going to try live blogging tonight's American Idol debut.

7:30 Pre-Idol show with past winners talking about their American Idol experience.  It was not surprising to hear Lee admit that you might not be the best singer.  Of all the past Idols featured, he was the one to get this line.  David Cook reveals more about the real audition process, explaining how many times you have to interview before you get before the judges.  Taylor Hicks said they kept checking his ID to make sure he wasn't past the age cut off and wondered where his kid who was auditioning was.  Very cute.  He also said that he was encouraged to "move around" a bit onstage.  It worked for him.

7:36 We're back and we're now telling childhood stories.  Kelly discovering her amazing range.  Reuben Studdard's family talking about him constantly singing along to the TV -- which got on his brother's nerves.  Fantasia ironically discusses how music makes her happy.  Jordin sang with a tip cup when she was a little kid -- smart girl!  Good advice from Keb' Mo': "Know who you are.  You might fool around and get famous."

7:43 Conversation switches to your hometown and representing your home state.

7:46 Discussion turns to life after American Idol.  Lee discusses working for charities relating to poverty in America.  Ruben discusses raising money to bring music to public schools.  Kris talks about doing a USO tour, playing for the troops and their families.  Carrie does charity work for animals, opening a new shelter that will have a no-kill policy.  How did Michael Vick not get this gig?  Too soon?

7:50 Kelly Clarkson remembers being bombarded with suggestions about what she should do after the show, but says as a Texan she dug in and did what she wanted.  Fantasia says the sky's the limit and she can do it all.  Cook is coming out with a new record.  Kelly admits winning gives you more leverage and an advantage that others don't have. The talk turns to American Idol as the American Dream, taking the kid next door and changing their life.

7:54 Life post-Idol as a performer.  Seeing your name up in lights, being in bigger venues, traveling.  More about American Idol making dreams come true.  Going from playing tiny places to a huge crowd.  The decision to try out for American Idol changed their entire lives.  The message -- we did it, you can do it.  And in four minutes, the next season will start and will lead to some other regular Joe having their life changed forever.

And now -- This is American Idol.

8:00 Changes afoot on American Idol.  New Judges. Rumors, leaks, announcements.  The new judges are introduced like the superstars two of them are.  And then, back to what the show is supposedly about.  The contestants.  We begin with the pan of the thousands of hopefuls --125,00 in all -- lining up for the first of what they hope will be many auditions.  Liking the highlights framing Steven Tyler's face.  The face?  Not so much.

Steven Tyler is looking for the next Janis Joplin?  Did he miss last season?

JLo.  is.  gorgeous. 

Randy's back. Thanks to who he was grouped with last year, he was the best of the bunch. 

Teasers.  We're already planning on watching.  You don't need to tease us. 

Bleached blonde hurting my ears.  And eyes. 

Hell yah.  Jimmy Iovine and Universal Music Group are now running the music side of things.  Wants to help these artists develop, get the best out of them.  If that can stay the focus, and not the silliness, this may be a good show and a great platform for some new talent.  If.

8:13 New Jersey is up first.  Rachel Zevita had made it to Hollywood in Season 6, but was cut the first week.   JLo remembers her (a then curly-headed opera singer).  She got a modified Brazilian blowout and is going slightly less operatic, singing ? Hallelujah.  I'm not a fan.  She hits the high notes, but does not deliver on a song that should really convey emotion. Did Steven say he wants to water her flower?  Is that allowed?  The judges put her through based on her previous audition, not this relatively bland one.  Look out for her, JLo says.  Foreshadowing?

Look, it's Taylor Hicks' grandson.  Caleb Hawley is a cute, bluesy sounding kid.  Steven joined along, so you knew he was feeling it.  Hopefully, he'll buy a hairbrush before Hollywood.

Kenzie Palmer is the first of the newly-allowed 15 years old.  She goes to a performing arts school, where they apparently teach you to add extra syllables to every word as you sing.  Then she asked if they wanted her to sing.   What did she think she was auditioning for?  Anyhoo, I'm with Steven and Randy, her voice was just fine, nothing great.  She did sound older than 15, but there was nothing memorable or unique about her.  She begs for their votes.  I can do whatever you want me to do.  Hmm, sounds familiar.  She gets the votes.

We see three quick yeses, two identical girls and a guy who jump up and down, not knowing that their auditions didn't get on TV and if they make it to voting rounds, that may put them at a disadvantage.  The next was, instead of the trainwreck that our Schadenfreude requires, a nice girl who can't sing but doesn't suck enough to be enjoyably bad.  From what I can tell, one of the girls was Pia Toscana.

8:31 A little bit about New Jersey.  Where is SNL's Governor Paterson when we need him?  We're getting lessons on how to look like a Jersey girl.  Ryan refuses to look at the girl's butt.  Shocker.

Tiffany Rios is a Puerto Rican dance instructor who was inspired by JLo.  In fact, she cries when she sees her.  JLo comes over and gives her a hug.  For the record, guys, cry when you meet JLo.  She shows off her star covered headlights and sings ? an original song about how America needs me for higher ratings on tv.  She says she has three things to offer, but she's wrong.  Her body's just so-so, but I like her voice.  They tell her to focus on her voice if she wants to be taken seriously.  And she gets three yeses.

Okay, put the dogs out.  They shouldn't hear this.  Ouch, the parade of the sucky singers has begun.

More advice for the gentlemen out there.  JLo apparently has trouble saying no.

Finally, a woman sings so awfully, painfully, extraordinarily bad that even JLo has to say no way.

Robbie Rosen has our first sob story, part of a childhood spent in a wheelchair as a result of some condition I hadn't heard of before.  This means we'll be seeing more of Robbie.  His medical condition improved and he's fine now, and all of 16 and "waiting to do this since he was 7."  He sings Yesterday, "by the Beatles."  So glad he clarified that.  But, snarkiness aside, he's got a really nice voice.  If he stays away from unnecessary vocal gymnastics, his only a mother could love it face may be on our TV for some time.  He made JLo squeal.

8:48  Filler.  Which judge do you want to meet the most?  Girls with crushes on Steven Tyler, Tyler crushing on some girls.  Where's the Millionaire Matchmaker when we need her?

Chris Cordeiro, a boy scout.  Not yet an eagle scout.  His message, don't text and drive.  Chris, the boy scout uniform does not work on the ladies.   Just saying.  He doesn't seem to get that the hat is not working either.  He butchers Frank Sinatra and gives the judges an easy opening with "and now the end is near" which immediately wins agreement.  Goodbye, Chris.  Better luck with the anti-texting and driving message.  You might not be the next American Idol, but you could maybe save a life!  Did you notice, his mom has a nice voice?

8:58 Loser montage.  Burp montage.  Followed by dumpy guy audition.  Rather hear him burp some more.

"Did you eat a lot of paint chips as a child?"  Funny, but my questions is original or prescripted?  Discuss.

Spending way too much time with this one.

Ashley Sullivan lives in Springfield Mass and works at the mall.  She wants to be the next Britney Spears.  Someone hold me, I'm scared.  She wants everyone to hear her sing for three minutes.  She's singing Broadway, not Britney.  And she doesn't suck.  Get her on Glee.  She knows herself, she wants to be the first showtune popstar, a current Liza Minelli.  She cries, but it's still a no from Randy.  But her tears turn the newbies around, and she's going to Hollywood!

Victoria Huggins has been waiting forever, y'all, for her to be 16 so she could try out for American Idol. She videotapes every moment in her life to document her life.  The North Carolina cutie sings Midnight Train to Georgia.  And she's got the chops. She sings with an accent, so if they're looking for a young, cute, female country artist who hasn't dated everyone in town already, bingo!  Move over Taylor Swift.  Victoria "Yo Yo Dawg" is in the house.  Too precocious?  Maybe.   But, c'mon, you gotta love her.

Okay, hanky time.  Kosovo refugees talking about having to leave their homeland, but being fortunate enough to win the green card lottery.  They've won their golden ticket, now their daughter is vying for her own to Hollywood.  Melinda Ademi can sing.  And she's cute.  Just how many cute female singers are there?  Steven calls her pretty and beautiful, yes.  Randy says she has potential, yes.  JLo says you're in.

9:23 And, we're back.
Devyn Rush is a singing waitress at Ellen's Stardust Diner.  She sings God Bless the Child, then scats a bit.  She thinks she's all that and a bag of chips and the judges' reaction will only reinforce her exalted opinion she has of herself.  Soon, she'll be smacked down to reality.  It's not the right sound for the radio.  I think they were overcome with the song and the volume, but not the tone of her voice.

Are they casting for Deliverance?  That guy's a shoe-in.  Love hearing the Monkees, but, no.

Big intro.  Probably, crash and burn time.  Michael Jackson imitator, since before he was born.  Okie dokie, then.  Yoji "Pop" Asano takes on Party in the USA, singing it -- and I didn't know this was possible -- worse than Miley Cyrus.  He dances better than Miley, if that's any consolation.  Then we have a painful montage of other contestants butchering (save for a couple nailing) the song.

9:42 Some intentionally bad singing. 

Brielle Von Hugel comes to the audition with her dad who is successfully battling throat cancer.  She has a good, strong voice and her dad gets to come in the room to get the good news!   I really liked her voice, no theatrics, no "look at me," just a solid, powerful voice.  They're awash in good news and much celebrating ensues.  A nice story. 

Last up, Travis Orlando.  He grew up around violence and lived in a shelter in the Bronx. He has a twin brother.  Maybe his brother can sing?  Because he's butchering Eleanor Rigby which he also was good enough to tell us was by The Beatles.  They ask him to sing another song and he brings out, Jason Mraz.  This is better.  His quirky voice works better in a song without a straight melody.  So, it's three yeses and we're done with the first episode of the new season.

51 Golden Tickets were handed out in New Jersey.  Tomorrow is New Orleans. You're on your own. This was fun, but I have other plans, y'all.  So, feel free to let me know what you think about tonight and tomorrow night in the comment section.

American Idol Spoilers and First Looks

As much as I'd like to give attention to all of the young hopefuls that will be radiating from my TV screen over the next few weeks, I know from experience it does no good to become invested in someone who will not end up in a voting round.  Jermaine Purifoy?  Josiah Lemming?  Mary Powers?  I spent too much time learning about them and caring about their results only to forget all about them once they failed to get a phone number attached to them.

With that in mind, I am cautious about dipping my toe in the spoiler pond.  But the folks over at Joe's Place Blog have been gathering data over the past few months to find out who of the nearly 200 who were handed a golden ticket to Hollywood will end up in the final 40.   I've been watching their YouTube videos so I'm well prepared to make a snap judgment about few of them.  Click on the video links and see what you think of this new crop.

First, if Ashthon Jones isn't the ultimate ringer, I don't know who is.  When I played her videos, I thought my iTunes had switched on. This was professional, catchy, worthy of repeated plays.  Maybe it's a false rumor or maybe there are two women whose parents decided to bless them with an excessive amount of consonants in their name.  But if she's for real, and is a real contestant, then let's shut it down and just hand her the crown. 

Brett Lowenstern sounds like a podiatrist, but he's a Art Garfunkel-haired singer-guitarist.  His cover of Apologize reminds me of last year's Alex Lambert.  He's quirky and the voice has an interesting tone, but then he just goes off key (like last year's winner!) and it is goes from eccentric to painful.

Casey Abrams perhaps should sue the videographer who kept his camera poised on the horn section as Casey sang some wicked old time jazz come blues.  Love the sound of his voice. The video listing says it's from the Idylwild Arts Academy Jazz Festival, so the guy knows his stuff.  There's another video that shows him doing one of those stunt a cappella numbers with himself, and he's definitely got a unique sound, but is it too old school?

Chris Medina has this year's Danny Gokey heart-tugging story, of his fiancee's near-fatal car accident that has left her severely impaired.  Hard to separate the sadness from the performance, and rumor has it that Steven Tyler was driven to tears by the story.  The only YouTube I've seen of him has an original song.  He's got the Daughtry/David Cook rocker sound.  He's definitely a contender.

I almost wish Simon Cowell was here just to tell Clint Jun Gamboa that he sounds like karaoke.  You see, Clint is a two-time karaoke winner.  He has a good voice for that sort of thing, but will it work in the real world of music?  It didn't for me. Boy, Simon could also tell him he's too theatrical.  Good times.

There is a brother-sister combo in the final 40, Colton and Schyler Dixon.  The videos of Colton have been removed, so perhaps he is expected to make it far?  Or his uploaders were less diligent than the other contestants?

Jessica Cunningham is a serial auditioner, having tried out almost every year for AI. She went far enough to have a Golden Ticket interview on the AI site The only video I've seen is of her Hollywood group performance last year. I think the new judges should in this case trust the old judges' opinion and pass once more.

In the case of Pia Toscana, who made it to Hollywood week during Season 6, from what I've seen, I think that she does deserve her second chance. Beautiful face, beautiful voice.  What more do you need? How 'bout a video of her adorable self belting Whitney Houston at the ripe old age of 4?

Robbie Rosen may not be as magazine cover ready as Pia, but he has a current sound and he's young -- which seems to be the key to selling records these days.  And I'd like to see all his years of practice on the piano pay off -- I'm sure playing wasn't cool when he was younger!  But, dude, lose the hat.  And be careful not to lose the tune -- you got a little pitchy at the end, dawg.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes -- Love Him or Hate Him?

Did you find Ricky Gervais funny during his hosting gig at the Golden Globes last night?  Apparently, the answer depends on your sensitivity and your sense of humor.  But anyone who knows Gervais from the squirm-inducing, pond-crossing TV show "The Office" should not be surprised that his humor is heavily reliant on discomfort.  He is known for plowing the depths of awkward embarrassment.  If you don't find yourself averting your eyes during that show, you probably should be on stronger medication and the national "No Fly" list. 

So when you ask Gervais to host your show, you know what you're getting.  Brutal, unpleasant truths bathed in humor. There will be sharp barbs directed between the eyes of those who came to be feted.  He won't stroke their egos, he will skewer them.  That's what he was hired to do, and that's just what he did.  He came out last night with the obvious first target, reigning bad boy Charlie Sheen. "Welcome to a night of partying and heavy drinking. Or as Charlie Sheen calls it: breakfast.”

If the audience joined in the gibe against Sheen, they were a little less willing to go after a holier grail.  Gervais took on an unnamed but not unidentifiable Golden Globe and Hollywood stalwart, when he made his most risky joke of the night.  When discussing the film I Love You Phillip Morris, and its two leads Ewan McGregor and Jim Carrey, Gervais said it was about "two heterosexual actors pretending to be gay - so the complete opposite of some famous Scientologists, then."   As the audience audibly recoiled, he added, "My lawyers helped me with the wording of that joke.

He went after uber stars Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp and their critical and financial flop The Tourist -- inexplicably nominated for two awards -- when he joked: "It seems like everything this year was three-dimensional... except the characters in The Tourist." 

But he ratcheted up the barb, and approached dangerous "check with your lawyer" territory by adding, "I'd like to quash this ridiculous rumour going around that the only reason The Tourist was nominated was so the Hollywood Foreign Press could hang out with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. That is rubbish. That is not the only reason. They also accepted bribes."  Under the theory that every good joke has an element of truth, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is currently being sued by a publicist who claims the Association accepts gifts in exchange for supporting certain films.

He took on former poster boy for bad behavior Robert Downey, Jr., introducing him with the comment: "Many of you in this room probably know him best from such facilities as the Betty Ford Clinic and Los Angeles County Jail..."   He picked on Sarah Jessica Parker and her aging costars by saying "Nothing for Sex and the City 2. I was sure the award for best special effects would go to the team that airbrushed that poster.”

He made the following jab at Tim Allen, who presented an award with Toy Story costar Tom Hanks: "What can I say about our next two presenters? The first is an actor, producer, writer and director whose movies have grossed over $3.5bn at the box office. He's won two Academy Awards and three Golden Globes for his powerful and varied performances starring in such films as Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Castaway, Apollo 13 and Saving Private Ryan. The other is Tim Allen."

What do these jokes have in common?  First, they were funny.  That should be the beginning and ending point in an analysis of a comic's bit.  Is it funny?  Did you laugh?  Then it did its job.  But these jokes are the focus of a lot of negative attention because there is more than a hint of truth in them.  But that's the beauty of it.  Because that's what good comedy is -- taking some universal or specific truths and finding the humor in them.  If you want watered down jokes that have no sharp edges, go watch Jay Leno.

Gervais was not batting a thousand.  A few of his quips fell short.  His swipe at the HFPA president, Philip Berk, "I had to help the HFPA president off the toilet and pop his teeth back in" was a bit of a dud.  His introduction of Bruce Willis as “Ashton Kutcher’s dad” was a bit funnier, but not exactly side-splitting.  But too mean?  From the writer who brought us the Charlie Brown of Scranton, Michael Scott?  He built an entire show -- two actually -- out of a hapless shlub for whom almost nothing goes right.  His failures, his disappointments, his pathetic excuse for a life propel the laughs.  So we're surprised when the comic genius behind the mixture of pathos and humor is mean-spirited in his humor?

Perhaps CNN host Piers Morgan said it best when he tweeted: "Complaining that Ricky Gervais was too rude is like inviting a shark to your pool & moaning when it bites the kids.” He's right.  Gervais was being the quintessential Gervais.  He had us uncomfortably wincing and laughing at the same time.  And I hope he is invited back to do the same next year.