Monday, 30 May 2011

A Case for Kara DioGuardi and 'Platinum Hit'

I'm a little ashamed to admit this, but I really enjoy reading celebrity memoirs sometimes. Don't get me wrong, I read lots of other, less trashy things, too, but contemporary memoirs are so far outside of my research interests that they make useful brain relaxation tools. I also find it fascinating to read how certain celebrities see and present themselves autobiographically.**

So as an (some might say) obsessive American Idol fan, I couldn't resist having a look at Kara DioGuardi's new memoir A Helluva High Note: Surviving Life, Love and American Idol. After reading it, I have to admit that I felt a little bad for her about Idol. She was (and still is) a mega-successful songwriter, with vocal chops of her own, but with virtually no experience on TV when she was thrust into the Idol limelight, albeit voluntarily. She describes how difficult the first season was for her, and how she was given very little advice from producers or anyone on the show about how to do the job she had been enlisted to do. To add to that, things were uncomfortable for her with Simon, and as that first season (season 8) went on, she found herself continually ill at ease with him. On top of all that, she knew the second she heard it that the much panned winner's song that year, "No Boundaries", which she penned with another songwriter Cathy Dennis, was a disaster, and after the finale she went to her trailer and cried.

It's not honest of me to say that I didn't criticize her a lot during her first (and about half of her second) season, but after reading her side of it, it's easy to see why she had so much trouble jumping in there with smart, useful critiques for contestants, and I felt genuinely bad for agreeing so virulently with some of her most vocal critics. That said, during the second half of season 9, she was the only judge on the panel doing the job well. Simon had a raging case of senioritis, and Ellen and Randy didn't give the contestants much to work with, either. I thought Kara really stepped up, becoming the lone voice of reason. She won me over, and I was really sad to see her leave with the judging shakeup last summer.

All that is to say that I think her new competition reality show on Bravo, Platinum Hit, which debuts tonight at 10/9c, could be really great. As I understand it, she and Jewel will widdle down a field of twelve singer-songwriters, using a series of songwriting challenges to determine who is most deserving of a $100,000 and a publishing/recording deal. Songwriting is Kara's game, and she's had a very successful run of it***. The kinds of critiques she is capable of offering could be pointed and interesting. As could be those from Jewel, who has proven her worth as a singer, musician, songwriter, and even a TV judge (remember her run on Nashville Star?).

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to this one! Let me know what you think if you tune it.

**For your own delight and delectation, the best ones I've read in the last year are hands down Alison Arngrim's Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated, a hilarious and heartbreaking account of how playing Nellie Oleson helped Arngrim grow into a confident advocate for abuse victims, which she herself had been as a child; and Tina Fey's Bossypants, a witty, non-linear collection of essays about her life, and the laugh-out-loud funniest book I've ever read.

***Among the notable songs she's written or co-written are the following: Christina Aguilera's "Ain't No Other Man"; Carrie Underwood's "Undo It", "Mama's Song"; Colbie Caillat's "I Never Told You"; Cobra Starship's "Good Girls Go Bad"; Kelly Clarkson's "I Do Not Hook Up", "Walk Away"; Pink's "Sober"; Hilary Duff's "Come Clean"; Ashlee Simpson's "Pieces of Me" (say what you will about Ashlee Simpson, but that song is fun!), "Shadow", "La La"; Enrique Iglesias' "Escape"; Katharine McPhee's "Terrified" (a personal fav).

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Cat's End of Season TV Awards

I know this looks like I'm totally copying my favorite TV blog with this post, but I've actually been painstakingly compiling it for months because that's the kind of thing I think is fun to do. For the record, the very talented and TV saavy Ern and Leeard at Because We Watch Too Much TV have put together a far superior list of End of Season Awards, so check them out. In the meantime, here's my list. You'll notice that the list starts out conventionally enough, but becomes a free-for-all of shout outs to shows and actors and plots I've liked this season. But, hey, that's cool: I'm the only one reading my blog anyway!

Best Actor (comedy, female): Amy Poehler on Parks and Recreation
Best Actor (drama, female): [tie] Connie Britton on Friday Night Lights and Anna Torv on Fringe
Best Actor (comedy, male): Nick Offerman on Parks and Recreation
Best Actor (drama, male): Bill Paxton on Big Love

Best New Character, Proper: Blaine (Darren Criss) on Glee
Best New Character, Departed: Amber Tamblyn on House. It’s nice to see a character with uncompromised integrity not get completely snowed over by House. I miss Cameron.
Best Character that should be Annoying but is Actually Awesome: Rob Lowe does it again. His hyper-healthy perfectionist Chris on Parks and Recreation should be horrible, especially since he’s the thing keeping Leslie and Ben from being a real couple, but he’s is actually kind of sweet. It was also fun to see a new side of Anne this season post-breakup.
Worst New “Character”: Steven Tyler’s inanity on the American Idol judging panel. Dude, give them something!
Best/Most Manipulative Character Turnaround: April Kepner on Grey’s Anatomy. There’s some serious puppet-master shenanigans going on over there if that annoying girl who almost killed McDreamy is now more likable than about 50% of the main cast.
Best Character Transformation: Caroline on The Vampire Diaries. Used to be the “most killable character”, but it turns out that death was actually exactly what was needed.
Best Cartoon Character (in a good way): Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon on 30 Rock.
Character I think I’m Most Like: A combination of Payson Keeler on Make It or Break It and Liz Lemon (Although, I’m pretty sure about 60% of my friends also think they’re Liz Lemon. Well played, Ms Fey.)
Best Lovable Villain: Lauren Tanner (Cassie Scerbo) on Make It or Break It. No one oscillates between pure fruits of the Devil evil and sad, broken teenager in pain better.

Best kiss: April finally kisses Andy on Parks and Recreation, and not just because I want to make out with Chris Pratt, but because it was nice to see April put Andy out of his misery with a kiss every bit as surprising (to Andy) as Anne’s surprise smooch in the season 2 premiere.
Best New Couple: [tie] Leslie and Ben on Parks and Recreation and Olivia and Peter on Fringe
Best Couple on Any Shonda Rhimes Show: Calzona on Grey’s Anatomy
Cutest Surprise Couple: Sam and Mercedes on Glee
Most Awkward New Couple: Lexie and Avery on Grey’s Anatomy. It’s mostly his fault, too.
Most Awkward Couple, Proper: Bailey and that nurse on Grey’s Anatomy. Does anyone believe that would happen?
Best Wedding: (tie) Chuck and Sarah on Chuck, although I totally thought it was a fake-out until the credits rolled; and April and Andy on Parks and Recreation, which I totally did not see coming, but found it delightful nonetheless

Best Surprise Pregnancy: [tie] Christina on Parenthood (Btw, I totally called it at the beginning of the season) and Fauxlivia on Fringe
[TIE] Most Shocking (and unwelcome) Nighttime Soap Twist, AND Worst Surprise Pregnancy: Emily Kmetko’s pregnancy on Make It or Break It! NOOOOOO!!!

Best show: Friday Night Lights, for the fifth year running. Sadness.
Guiltiest Pleasure: Grey’s Anatomy. The shooting that wrapped up last season gave the oft-annoying show its mojo back, and propelled it back into the realm of interesting storylines and characters. As it turns out, Meredith actually is a good character.
Best Old-School Procedural: Blue Bloods
Show I Wish I Hadn’t Stopped Watching Five Years Ago: Smallville. The ads for the finale make it look epic.
Most Welcome Summer Programming: (Tie) In Plain Sight and So You Think You Can Dance
[Honorable Mention: Covert Affairs]
Show That’s Trying Too Hard: The Voice. It just feels awkward to me.
Easiest Shows to Drop from My Season Pass List: Desperate Housewives and Gossip Girl. I’m done.
Best One Tree Hill Episode in Two Seasons (deserves its own category because anyone who watches the show knows it operates on another level of “realism” than other shows): The storm episode!!
Most Addictive New Reality Show: Sister Wives
Most Consistently Enjoyable Escapism: Glee. I don't need believable plots, characters, or schemes; I just want the Glee kids to entertain. Check.
Show that Makes Us Angry at Power-voting Teenage Girls and Moms: American Idol. Duh.
Show that Makes Me Gleefully Okay with Not Understanding Anything That’s Going On: The Good Wife.
Show I Keep Putting Off, But Still Really Want to Watch: [tie] Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy
Soon to be Best Family Show in a Post-FNL Era (Sniff): Parenthood
Best Show to Go Down Early: Lone Star
Best Canceled Show that Never Lived Up to Its Pilot: Life Unexpected (wah-wah-wah)
Funniest Friends-Wannabe in Five Years: Happy Endings
Best Ensemble Comedy to Grow Out of a Vehicle for One Person: Cougar Town
Canceled Show that Began with a Bang and Ended with a Whimper: Brothers and Sisters. Meh. Rob Lowe is now two for two in affecting good shows for the worst with his departure. (If Parks and Recreation wasn’t already awesome before it acquired him as a cast member, this statistic would be horrifying.)
Most Enjoyable Mystery Show: Pretty Little Liars. At this point, I honestly don’t care if we ever find out who “A” is because the show is so darn fun to watch.
Once-Great Show That’s Starting to Overstay Its Welcome: The Office
Show that I Believe to Be the Worst Scripted Drama on Television: The Secret Life of the American Teenager. If you watch it, you’ll be sorry.

Most Crush-Worthy Male (age-appropriate):
[tie] Chris Pratt on Parks and Recreation and Zachary Levi on Chuck
Cougar Crush-Worthy Male: Steve McQueen, Jr. on The Vampire Diaries. You go, Bonnie!
Most Crush-Worthy Female: Anna Torv on Fringe. I can't be the only straight girl with a huge crush on her. [UPDATE: Turns out, I'm not!]
Most Hypnotizing Gaze: Ian Somerhalder on The Vampire Diaries

Best Castmember on a C or C+ (Maybe) Show:
Ashley Tisdale on Hellcats
Best Recurring Guest Star: [tie] Mamie Gummer and Martha Plimpton on The Good Wife
Best Breakout Reality Star: Blake Shelton on The Voice. Post-haircut, Miranda-era Blake is great, right?!
Best Under the Radar Triple Threat: Heather Morris (Brittany S. Pierce) from Glee. The "Britney/Brittany" episode was all kinds of epic.
Best Under-the-Radar Acting: Nina Dobrev on The Vampire Diaries. Not just a pretty face, that one. Anyone can play the nice girl and anyone can play the villain, but what about at the same time?
Best Reason for an Actor to say, “Take That, SNL”: Casey Wilson is "am-aw-zing" on Happy Endings.
Best Reality Show Contestant: Haley Reinhart FTW!
Most Affecting Trauma Victim: KaDee Strickland’s Charlotte King on Private Practice. Seriously great performance, y'all.
Acting Award for Best Example of Someone Who Played an Irritating Character on One Show, but a Fantastic One on Another: Lauren Cohan's Rose on The Vampire Diaries was so obnoxious, but Cohan was hypnotizing as Vivien Volkoff on Chuck.
Busiest Actor/Musician: Donnie Wahlberg, who has a leading role on Blue Bloods and moonlights with the reunited New Kids on the Block/NKOTBSB. You might say he’s hangin’ tough. Heh.

Most Jaw-Dropping Moment on a Quality Program: Nate’s death on Southland. Did NOT see that coming.
Best Example of America Only Collectively Hating Certain Women, but Still Not Totally Liking Them: Lauren and Haley make the top 3 on Idol, clinching a female presence in the finale. But then they lost to another “cute boy”.
Most Surprisingly Gut-Wrenching Finale: Sister Wives. It made me feel angry at the government.
Best Inspirational Sports Moment: Payson’s Kerri Strug vault on Make It or Break It. You go, Payson! You land that vault on one leg to help the team!
Best Eating Disorder Storyline on Any Show in Recent Memory: Kayle Cruz’s Female Athlete Triad troubles on Make It or Break It. Awareness five!
Show that Cornered Itself with a Really Specific Gimmick without Thinking It would Run for 7 Seasons: How I Met Your Mother. We’re going to need a little revisionism to make those kids teenagers if Ted doesn’t meet the mother, like, tomorrow.

Best Original Song: “5,000 Candles in the Wind” on Parks and Recreation. MouseRat is kicking Glee's butt right now.
Best Haircut: Quinn's on the Glee finale
Best Invented Word from a TV Show: "Manamonster" (Manager + Mom + Monster. Heh.) from Make It or Break It.
Best Sports Network: Universal Sports. SUCH a better sports network for track geeks!
Worst Night to have a TiVo that Only Records Two Programs at a Time: Thursday. WTH, networks?!

'American Idol' Season 10, Top Five Performances

Well, kids, this season of Idol sure has been a crazy ride. Just a few months ago, we were like hopeful amnesiacs, awaiting a new dawn in our favourite singing competition. There were so many things to be excited about: Steven Tyler had opinions! J-Lo gracefully stepped down from her pedestal of super-stardom (in 8-inch heels, nonetheless) to offer caring, but pointed criticisms to our green little Idolestants! We witnessed amazing auditions and Hollywood week performances from the likes of Casey Abrams, Paul McDonald and Kendra Chantelle, John Wayne Shultz (yes, I'm still bitter about that one), Molly DeWolf Swenson (remember the White House intern who Randy punched in the face?), and even the undeniably naturally talented Lauren Alaina (even if she was pimped from the get-go)! We had a really promising and talented top 24! They told us original songs might happen! Even the wild card round was a thing of beauty for once!

Not to say that the show went downhill from there, but the show kind of went downhill from there. The judging situation has been addressed ad nauseum; we lost a lot of great talent in Hollywood week with nary a word of goodbye, or in the abrupt, one-week semifinal round (I'm thinking of you, Tim Halperin, and I love your single "The Last Song" [which is available as a free and legal download on]); we ended up with waaay too many teenagers in the finals; we never saw those promised original songs post-airplane hanger; and, in spite of this performance, we lost Kendra Chantelle in that Wild Card round. Additionally, the stankness and schticky performances of certain contestants (named James and Scotty) during Hollywood week never came back to bite them, which was a strange and unwelcome turnaround from previous seasons. To be fair, though, we got awesomesauce folks like Naima, Paul, Casey, early Stefano (he fizzled a bit), and future breakout star Haley in the mix, but it was an uneven group, certainly more talented than last year's group, but uneven nonetheless.

So, to end my American Idol, season 10 moaning on a positive note, I give you my top 5 favourite performances of the season (from the semi-finals onward -- great auditions and Hollywood weeks performances are categories for another day when I'm bored):

1. (WITH A BULLET!) Haley Reinhart, "The House of Rising Sun", Top 5 Week: For the record, an early draft of this list was four Haley solo songs (this one and "I (Who Have Nothing)", "Bennie and the Jets", "You and I", with "What is and What Should Never Be" and "Beautiful" as honourable mentions) and the Naima song below, but I decided to spread the love a little bit, since this show is (or, rather, should be) all about musical journeys. When she performed this song, there was no doubt that Haley was the best on the show and perhaps of the season, even though she didn't start out that way. "The House of Rising Sun" represented the height of her evolution as an artist on this show, and probably now stands as one of the ten best Idol performances ever. Oh my gosh, how great was that strung out, angry a capella intro, and that vocal restraint in the build?! The anger that she was feeling post-judges comments for her earlier (AMAZING) performance of "You and I" worked to fuel her performance. All in all, it was sheer Idol brilliance. Ugh, get it, girl!

2. Naima Adedapo, "For All We Know", Wild Card Performance: It's true that Kendra Chantelle's "Georgia on My Mind" and Stefano Langone's "I Need You Now" were the more obvious standouts of that particular round, but I've got to make a case for Naima's lovely, restrained vocal on "For All We Know", a song recorded by one of Elliott Yamin's favorite influences Donnie Hathaway. Singing with all the emotion James felt during his "Without You" performance, but couldn't restrain in his vocals, Naima managed to make every note an expression of what she was feeling in that moment, and she didn't embellish it in the same way a lot of people tend to do for "sing for your life" performances.

3. Haley Reinhart and Casey Abrams, "Moanin'", Top 8 Results Night: This number made me sit up and listen to Haley. I reluctantly loved her "Bennie and the Jets" performance two weeks before, and while her "Piece of My Heart" cover was pretty good, "Call Me" was a disaster. I wasn't on the Haley train until this duet, wherein she and Casey showed their ridiculous amounts of musical chemistry. Like everyone else, I don't think I realized that Haley could sound so lovely and jazzy. The harmonies, the scatting, the performance itself -- it all just worked. It was a turning point for the season.

4. Casey Abrams, "Nature Boy", Top 8: I loved that Casey went against Jimmy's advice that week to pull off a restrained and thoroughly enjoyable jazz combo number. I don't think Casey was ever one of the best vocalists on the show this season, but when he chose to be, he was a good musician. Everything from the song choice, to the instrumental bit in the middle, to the jazzy vocal itself worked. It was so nice to see something this off the beaten path on the Idol stage.

5. Paul McDonald, "Maggie Mae", Semi-finals: This is where a lot of us fell for Paul. His lilting, whispery vocals combined with his kind of silly, kind of drunken performance antics to create a truly enjoyable breakout performance. This fantastic/wacky performance proves that confidence is the most attractive quality in a person. Love Paul's vocals; love Paul's charisma.

'American Idol' Finale Post-Mortem

I complain, I moan, and I cry conspiracy all season, but I am always a fan of Idol finales. Those folks know how to put on a good show, and they get amazing talent in there. Even last season’s uneven finale (seriously, Lee performing a “duet” with the band Chicago because he auditioned in Chicago? Seriously?) still had some great moments (Alanis Morisette and Crystal Bowersox FTW!). This year’s show was fantastic, in spite of an uninspiring final two. Here are a few notes about the Idol finale in no particular order:

Carrie Underwood is a class act, yo. We’ve seen what Carrie can do on that finale stage, and frankly every time she (or Kelly Clarkson) appears on the show, she legitimises it more than just a little bit. So I think it’s pretty admirable how much she dialed it back for Lauren’s sake in their performance of "Before He Cheats" (Carrie's first real breakout song). Even the last several bars, when Carrie is prone to inhabiting pure awesomeness in her vocals and performances, she let Lauren have some great riffs and glory notes. Classy. Same for Tim McGraw. I enjoyed both of those duets, which, you will recall, can sometimes lean toward the awkward (remember this little gem? It's like they were singing two different songs. I still feel uncomfortable).

HALEY AND TONY BENNETT, RIGHT?! Seeing Haley’s level of confidence during that performance (and in her other performances that night, for that matter) was wonderful. If anyone had a true “Idol journey” this season, it was Haley. In her first few performances this season, I was really put off by her performance mannerisms and an unlikability (not a real word) that I can only classify as stankness (also not a real word). But when she performed “Bennie and the Jets”, something clicked for her. She had a hilariously awkward “scootch” off the piano halfway through the performance (about :44 in) and a manic arm-swing going on throughout, but it just worked for her. As she came into her own this season, it was fun to see her gradually gain confidence in her performance style and her vocals. Do I even need to mention her victory march during her last three weeks on the show? That’s the stuff of Idol legends. Haley Reinhart, I salute you.

That was definitely Handsome Mark of SYTYCD fame dry-humping Lady Gaga atop the Aggro Crag, yes?

I thought just about every time Casey performed or commented, he was hilarious. OTT yes, but hilarious and fun. Honorable mention to Pia for skit-chastising James and Casey in their little bit about being the “most shocking”. That was cute.

[SIDENOTE: Where was Pia’s duet in the finale? Shocking omission.]

I loved the Beyonce medley for the female contestants (who were strangely sans Lauren). I think that was the best Karen and Thia ever sounded, and when Haley and Ashthon sang on “If I Were a Boy”, I suddenly felt a little sad that Ashthon never got the chance to show us that side of her during the finals. They all sounded amazing.

Beyonce can saaang…even though I’m not mad about her new single.

On that note, the Lady Gaga performance was pure Gaga and pure fun, but way too risqué for the Idol stage. If I had kids, I would change the channel when Gaga performs. So that’s why I was a little shocked to hear Beyonce sing the lyric, “Make love to me”, over and over again, mere minutes after Gaga's simulated sex scene on a large, fake cliff. Those two performances definitely took a usually pretty TV-PG kind of family hour, and turned it into at least a TV-14 kind of hour, in spite of the fact that the finalists were probably the most G-rated finalists we’ve ever had. Wow. Careful there Idol: never underestimate the “family show” audience’s predisposition to boycotting. #producermiscalculation

Oh, how bad was that U2-Spiderman fiasco? Wow.

Obviously, I’m not a Scotty fan, but I liked his show of emotion at the end. I don’t buy his calculated image, generally, so it was nice to see an honest overflow of tears and gratitude coming from the kid when he won. I also liked that his hair was all mussed. When he matures a little bit as a musician (read: stops imitating other country singers and understands that singing is actually a craft) and releases a fun, pop country hit, I’ll probably download it. I hated David Archuletta during his season (even though I recognized that he could sing really, really well) because I saw him as a tool of producer manipulation and an indirect source of Simon Cowell’s vitriol toward Carly Smithson and sometimes David Cook, but when he released “Crush”, I had to admit that I liked the kid and his undeniably catchy song. I hope the same could be true with Scotty.

Sooo, it may be unnecessarily creepy to speculate about the “relationship status” of a couple of teenagers, but the question has been begged: Lauren + Scotty = showmance?

Monday, 23 May 2011

Rewarding Parks and Recreation Fans

You all know I'm pretty obsessed with Parks and Recreation these days, yes? After watching the finale more than once (we'll leave it at that) this weekend, I found myself singing along to Andy's totally awesome Li'l Sebastian ("that magnificent beast") tribute song "5,000 Candles in the Wind" ("Bye, bye, Li'l Sebastian/You're 5,000 candles in the wind". Hehe). A quick Google search later for MouseRat led me here, where free downloads of all of MouseRat's "hits" are available for free. How fun is that?! Man, it's going to be a long, dark summer without new episodes of P&R.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

NBC's Awake

Check out this trailer for a new drama (starring Jason Isaacs, Laura Allen, BD Wong, and Cherry Jones. What a cast!) called Awake that NBC is planning to debut midseason next year.

Looks totally awesomesauce, right?!

ABC's Fall Programming

Here's an interesting analysis of ABC's decision to order a somewhat staggering thirteen new series for next season. The strategy seems to be to throw a bunch of shows on TV and hope something is a hit. As the article mentions, ABC is in need of a hit with long-term viability, especially as Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy are getting to the twilight years of a series run.**

All in all I think ABC made some admirable decisions on the renewal/cancellation side of things. It stood by the fantastic Cougar Town (even though it's not coming back until mid-season) and Happy Endings, a comedy still in its infancy but nonetheless showing great potential; while canceling the not-there-yet-nor-probably-ever-will-be Better With You and only semi-enjoyable Off the Map. In fact, it gave V an extra, undeserved season, when it probably should have been canceled with Flash Forward last year.

My point is that ABC seems to be sticking with decent scripted programming for the most part, and many of its new orders are, in fact, scripted -- as in, not reality -- shows. Respect. FOX, meanwhile, let the axe fly on [gulp] seven out of twelve of its live-action scripted shows, making me feel really glad that Fringe has such a vocal fan base! Anyway, read the article and tell me what you think. I for one am pretty excited at the thought of a bunch of new scripted shows that aren't exclusively cop and medical dramas.

**For the record, I think Grey's is actually pretty good TV these days. The shooting in last season's finale revitalized what had become stale hospital soapery, and it's been a pleasure to watch since. I actually felt anxiety post-episode for Meredith after Karev's douchy reveal of her naughty behavior to Owen last week. Post-episode anxiety is almost always a desirable emotion for me, btw. Housewives, however, has become a sad, flailing mess, and it needs to join Brothers and Sisters in the dark recesses of canceled shows that used to be interesting.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Idol's Judging Problem, and the Rise of Haley Reinhart

We have an issue that needs to be addressed: the judging situation, and we're at the point now when it is a "situation". At the beginning of the season, it looked like Steven was going to offer pointed, interesting criticism, while the shockingly beautiful J-Lo would give a “We love you” comment couched in some kind of helpful tip for improvement. It seemed like Randy was trying to make himself into the new Simon...unsuccessfully.

Now two weeks from the finale, it turns out only the thing about Randy is true, except he’s not “the new Simon”. That would imply that he’s giving honest, meaningful critiques that tend toward the mean side until a contestant really does something to impress. Rather, he’s become a little bit of a d-bag on that panel. Case in point, his little shouting match with Haley last week, followed shortly thereafter by declaring a three-way tie for the best between three of the four contestants not named Haley.

Classy, yes?

Now lest you think I loved Haley's performance of "Earth Song", think again. The song choice was indeed not fantastic, as it's the kind of song that requires more than 90 seconds to build. But I can't fault the performance in the same way Randy did. It was pitch-perfect throughout, something that cannot be said for James' and Scotty's performances, which were all given A+++ marks from our "beloved" panel of "judges". Last week was the first time in weeks Steven's "you're beautiful and wonderful and I have no real opinion" comments sounded like a needed defense of a performance that didn't deserve the level of criticism it received.

It’s SHOCKING to me that James could come out and give a surprisingly low-energy, off-pitch version of the most covered song in the history of karaoke, and Randy and J-Lo could claim that he “set the bar”, while Haley delivers a vocally solid performance and gets specific criticism about not reaching her high notes. W. T. H?! Some message board comments I’ve seen about this week’s episodes have mentioned Haley’s “stank” attitude about the judges’ comments (I myself thought her attitude tended toward the stank at the beginning of the season. I’ve since changed my mind), but the kinds of comments she got for that performance of “Earth Song” and for last week’s truly excellent “You and I” were egregious, especially in comparison with the "criticisms" given to her fellow “chosen one” contestants. Even Jacob Lusk's truly painful "No Air" performance last week was given the "you're amazing!" gloss by the judges. I love a good Idol conspiracy as much as the next girl, but even if you don’t, you’ve got to admit that, man, Haley’s really been getting the short end of the producers’ stick.

The bright side, however, is after getting hit in the face a few times for her first performance of the night the last two weeks in a row, she came out for those second performances and KILLED THEM. Seriously, "The House of Rising Sun" and "I (Who Have Nothing)" are the stuff of Idol legends, partly fueled by the ridiculousness of the judges choosing Haley as the only one to criticize each week, but mostly as a result of an emotional and theatrical depth that has been missing from the stage for most of this season. Those two performances were pure magic. Haley is certainly benefiting from the judges/producers backlash vote right now, but she's actually delivering the best performances of the season. Go. Figure.

Which brings me to her competitors, Lauren and Scotty. I genuinely like Lauren. Her voice sounds great on my ipod, she's got an adorable personality, and, in spite of the out-of-nowhere "Lauren's lacking confidence" narrative the producers tried to thrust upon her this season, she's a pretty confident performer ("Flat on the Floor" last week was fantastic!). I think it's a shame, though, that they let her on the show this season, and not two seasons from now, because all of her performances could benefit from some emotional maturity. She's so talented, but she usually comes across as overly concerned with pleasing people (Jimmy, the judges, Lady Gaga, America...). This week's performance of "Anyway" was, I think, a glimpse of what she can do when she connects to a song. She really nailed it. It seems to me like that connection issue is the one thing missing from her "package", but if we're talking about a Scotty-Lauren finale (which it seems like we are, kids), I'd be more than happy for Lauren to inherit the crown that has also graced the head of Dame Kelly, Carrie, David Cook, and Kris Allen (to name my favs).

Scotty, however, drives me insane, and not in a teenage girl kind of way. I need to clarify something here: I am a Christian, a proud American, and a massive country fan (I didn't need Scotty to tell me who Josh Turner is. I saw Josh Turner in concert before Scotty was out of elementary school! I digress), but Scotty singing “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” was the worst kind of manipulation. Whether he really is inspired by that song or whether he was just singing it because he knew it would get a lot of votes and make him immune to criticism (as if the judges have EVER really criticized him anyway), I call foul. That was icky. Not since Kristy Lee Cook’s “God Bless the USA” has a performance bummed me out on an emotional manipulation level like that. The thing that troubles me the most is it seems to be working in his case. Grrr. Voter fail.

I want to make it clear that my beef with Scotty is not the quality and texture of his voice. When he sings smoothly, avoiding the repetitive dips and "flourishes" that he feels compelled (and at this point, it is out of sheer compulsion, not thoughtful attention to vocal detail) to add to every phrase, he can sound lovely. Most of his "You've Got a Friend" performance was fantastic, but you could even see him fighting the urge to slip into old habits as throughout the performance. My main problem with Scotty is that I still find him inauthentic, as if he's imitating the adult country stars he admires. Forget what he says in his interview packages: he's a good boy trying to make people think he's a bad boy in performance. "You've Got a Friend" was the closest thing we've seen to vocal purity from him since his pre-semifinal performance of "Long Black Train". Smooth, flourish-free vocals are what could actually turn him into a beautiful singer.

Like Lauren, he probably could have used a few years to mature before coming on this show, but here we are. I'm pretty sure he's going to win this season, but that doesn't mean I can't moan about it a little bit. I'm team Haley all the way, and if Haley gets eliminated after her sure-to-be shoddy hometown visit edit next week, I'm cheering for Lauren to the bitter end. Please, America, break the "cute boy" Idol winner streak!

Renewal/Cancelation Abounding

The time of year when we find out the fate of our favorite shows is upon us, and, actually, the carnage hasn't been too bad. Here's some news on some "bubble" shows I've been moderately to extremely invested in over the years:

Parenthood: Thankfully will be returning in the same night and time!

Brothers and Sisters: Canceled, and I'm not too upset about it. The show took a hard turn for the worst when Rob Lowe and Emily VanCamp left, and frankly I've found the Walkers' antics on the annoying side of late.

Chuck: The show with nine lives will be returning for 13 episodes in a fifth and final (sadness) season.

V: Sad trombone. I'll miss having a weekly dosage of Elizabeth Mitchel's awesomeness the most.

Happy Endings: Renewed! Yayness! If you haven't been watching this show, you're missing out. Even the pilot was funny! Don't be deterred by all the Friends comparisons, either. This show has its own spirit.

Mr. Sunshine: Canceled, and it's a darn shame, since the show was getting better with each installment, and Lizzy Caplan and Matthew Perry had some really fun chemistry in the finale. Ironic that Matthew Perry's show was canceled instead of a show that has some obvious Friends parallels (6 friends, hanging out).

Off the Map: Canceled. Meh. Mamie Gummer deserves better.

Chase: Canceled, and I'm about 87% sure that I'm one of seven people not affiliated with the show in any way that's still watching NBC's Saturday night burn off of the remaining episodes, but I'm enjoying myself. Fun show that got much better as it went. It also had two really dreamy main characters (Cole Hauser and Jesse Metcalfe)! Loss.

Fringe: Renewed. YESSSSS.

Better With You: Canceled. So many likable actors couldn't make the multi-camera sitcom funny again. Plus the writing was bad. All of those actors deserve way better.

Several other shows that I love were renewed weeks ago, like the ever perfect Parks and Recreation, the unceasingly hilarious 30 Rock, and the brilliant Southland. I haven't heard much about new summer or autumn shows, but I'll keep you posted when I get really excited about something!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Rider Strong is Hilarious

After reading this amusing Vanity Fair interview with the enjoyably self-aware former child actor (and former pre-teen crush object of every girl my age) Rider Strong, I feel less embarrassed for having gotten really into Boy Meets World in college, although in my case, no drugs were needed.

I'm glad he agrees that Corey and Topanga got married way too young.

Monday, 2 May 2011

American Idol: The "Select" Five

What did everyone think about Carole King week on Idol? I thought it was kind of amazing, actually, and it has the distinct privilege of being the only week so far in this competition where I wasn't horrified by the annoyance levels of James and Scotty. In fact, and I'm saying this cautiously for fear of my own backlash against myself, I even enjoyed both of their performances. What was the difference this week, you say? Babyface and a songbook theme week that allowed some creativity in the Idolestants. As per usual, though, I have my quibbles, and the basic order of how I would rank the contestants hasn't really changed, but I'm just saying that I thought Scotty and James both doffed some of their most grating habits this week to deliver somewhat heartfelt renditions of songs from one of the greatest songbooks in pop music. It wasn't quite a season 7 Dolly Parton or Mariah Carey night, but it was pretty good, nonetheless.

In this post, let me first start with the negative:

5. Jacob Lusk: Wow. How is this guy still in the competition? I mean, I'm not saying Casey wasn't floundering for a few weeks (the growl was being used without regard for how often and how poorly it was being used, and, let's be honest here, the J-Lo kiss was uncomfortable for everyone. But I digress), but Casey always had the potential to bust out an awesome "Nature Boy" or "Moanin'" or "Georgia on My Mind". Jacob's seeming lack of ability to restrain his own vocals has been my major bone to pick with him this season (Randy's RIDICULOUS advice for Jacob to let loose is a perfect example of the judging problem this season, btw). I remain committed to my early season assessment that he's got some raw, unharnessed talent that he just has no idea what to do with. Unsurprisingly, he's got the coveted Vote for the Worst spot this week, and it would be incredibly disappointing if he were to somehow stick around another week.

4. James Durbin: My biggest problem with James is the type of music he seems interested in thrusting upon us. Heavy metal hasn't been mainstream since 1992, living almost exclusively in the bedrooms of adolescent boys and guitar geeks, and I'd be quite happy for it to stay that way. James' "Heavy Metal" performance several weeks ago was actually my nightmare. That said, though, his softer, subtler performance of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" was pretty great. How I wished he would've "In a Dream"-ed that junk all the way through (that is, continued with the a capella) because that part was lovely! (Sidenote: do you realize that no Idolestant since Bo Bice in season 4 has taken the full-on a capella risk with a song?) This was the first week I think James made himself accessible to me as a viewer. My only issue with his choice this week is that he chose a song that is lyrically meant to be sung by a woman, and although I'm generally a fan of Idols crossing gender bounds with their song choices (see, for instance, Lady Bowersox and Master Johns), adding testosterone to this song wasn't entirely believable to me. I'm not complaining, though. I actually liked this one from James!

3. Scotty McCreery: The other shocker of the night was that Scotty wiped away about seven layers of cheese, and churned out a really nice performance of "You've Got a Friend" (no disrespect, but Brooke White still owns this one on the Idol stage, though). Scotty's worst traits are performance style traits (side mic, full body tilt, mischievous eyebrows) and dipping into low notes as a replacement for completing phrases. This week, he didn't do side mic and he seemed to be fighting the urge to slip back into those other performance habits (which he did a few times, but a few slips is SO much better than the full-fledged Velveeta treatment he gave Elvis Presley a few weeks ago and LeAnn Rhimes last week). I love love love that Babyface advised him to start the song smoother, as opposed to the full twang treatment. It was lovely! It gave us a chance to see that perhaps Scotty has actually grown as a vocalist this season, which we would never know based on the last several weeks. My advice for Scotty moving forward from here would be to: 1) Avoid "hip-hop hand" when he hits the build; 2) Resist the urge to gaze deeply into the camera lens with Constantine Maroules eyes (hurl); and 3) Smooth out the twang a little bit because doing so forces him to sing complete phrases, and his voice isn't bad.

2. Lauren Alaina: I've started to really like Lauren based on the quality of her downloads. I still think she's on the immature side of performances, and she has yet to make me believe that she really understands what she's singing, but based on pure vocal aesthetics, she's the real deal. The performance stuff is forgivable because she's so young, and it seems pretty clear that she's desperately trying to please the judges/producers because she's young and (probably) used to having adults in her life guiding her choices. I wish they hadn't lowered the audition age this year because Lauren (and Thia, for that matter) could have used another year or two or three to mature before coming on this show. However, I can't hear any of that on my iPod. In my headphones, she sounds like a commanding vocalist with a good sense of confidence and emotion. All three duets she's done with Scotty this season have been ridiculous showcases of the quality her voice over his. Her performance of "Where You Lead" (which will never not be associated with Gilmore Girls for me) was good, and would have been great without random prop boy. Even though her Idol run has been a little all over the place, I think she's got a bright future ahead of her. Shoot, I'd buy her record.

1. Haley Reinhart: Little Miss Haley has garnered quite a following. Adam Lambert recently said in an interview that she's his favorite because of the kinds of things she's doing vocally. He also agreed with the blogosphere that Haley's not getting the praise from the judges she deserves. She's managed to emerge as this season's lovable underdog, and America loves an underdog. Part of her appeal is that the producers seem to be trying really hard to get her eliminated, which only makes a certain voting set want her to stay even more. The packages she's getting are often skewed toward the "Haley doesn't know what she's doing" side of things, when I'm about 90% sure the same could be said of 3 or 4 of the others, as well. Jimmy Iovine's comments about her during her results show package last week, for instance, were unnecessarily vicious ("As an artist, Haley’s problem is she doesn’t really know who she is yet. My prediction is, the audience is getting wind of that. And if she goes home tonight, it’ll be because of that." Whoa). I liked her performance of "Beautiful" (one of my favorite Carole King songs!) this week, and I think she weathered the technical difficulties like a pro. In short, she's good, and she's choosing the right songs. I hope she's able to ride this thing a little bit longer! Go Haley!

That's my two cents. Thoughts?