Sunday, 29 April 2012

More Randoms

Short post to say that I really like this Droid Razr commercial right now.

Idol's Final Five: What Needs to Happen, What Probably Will, and What We Can Do About It (Nothing!)

We're finally down to the final five, that austere moment in the Idolverse where we start widdling down the really great contestants to get to the okay contestant that will win the show. I kid, I kid. (But seriously, let's be honest with ourselves about the quality of the last couple of winners of this show!) With Elise's unceremonious departure following two of her better performances, Skylar's SHOCKING appearance in the bottom three after one of her very best, and Phillip's amazing ability to skate by on sub-par jam band songs with a wink and a smile I'm starting to feel a little nervous about where we're heading. I really don't know who that second person in the finale is going to be for the first time in a while, and I don't think anyone can beat Phillip.

Don't get me wrong: I rag on Phillip/Dave, but I like him okay. I'd probably buy his record if he proves astute in song-writing, but how depressing would it be to see another cute white guy with a guitar win the show and sell 150,000 copies of his debut record? For singing reality shows to continue (and there are some of us that still like them!), shows like Idol and The Voice need to produce popstars with radio-friendly potential. I genuinely love a lot of the singer-songwriters that Idol has produced (I'm thinking of the underrated post-Idol efforts of Crystal Bowersox, Brooke White, Michael Johns, Katelyn Epperly, Tim Halperin, and even David Cook and Kris Allen), and I look forward to future releases from the likes of Elise Testone, Colton Dixon, and Phillip Phillips, but I want someone with pop potential like Skylar, Hollie, or Jessica to win the show. Scotty McCreery, in spite of the boring way he played Idol, has been good for business; David Cook, Kris Allen, and Lee Dewyze have not. Idol needs another Jordin Sparks, pronto. (Btw, is anyone else REALLY excited about Jordin's new movie remake, Sparkle? Seriously, watch the trailer! "Why would the Lord give me this gift if I wasn't supposed to use it?" Get it, Jordin! I digress.)

I would never leave you without a solution to the problem of this season's deserved Idol winner, though, now would I? As I see it, that solution is Skylar Laine. No matter what happens in the next four weeks of this show, it seems almost a sure thing that Skylar's going to have a music career, post-Idol. Frankly, she's the kind of artist 19 has been looking for. She's only (just) 18 (as the show likes to remind us), but she's a more mature singer/performer/show-woman (not a word in my computer's dictionary, although "showman" is. Hmmm) than many Idol teens that have come before her, and according to Jimmy, she writes, too. She hasn't had a bad performance in weeks, and her performance of Queen's "The Show Must Go On" last week was kind of legend. As J-Lo pointed out last week (and I pointed out six weeks ago. Just sayin'), she's a great storyteller, which is 90% of why she's believable as a country singer. Plus, anyone that can make me like/download "Wind Beneath My Wings" must be an evil genius.

I shouldn't have to sell Skylar to you at this point in the competition, though. If you're like me, you've probably already chosen your favorite, and it either includes the country vixen or it doesn't. These kids aren't earning more fans at this point: they're simply trying to keep their fanbases from getting apathetic. I'm just saying that Skylar is crazy-marketable and she's going to have a huge career no matter what the speed-dialling teens do this season. According to Billboard, Kellie Pickler is the fourteenth best-selling Idol artist ever, and she finished in sixth place.*** Also, lest we forget, Miranda Lambert got started on a reality show, too. On the USA Network. And she was third. (If you haven't seen Miranda's Nashville Star performances before, this one is fab.) It probably won't happen, but my point is that it would just be awesome to see a winner in the Skylar mould. Dare to dream. Fangirl rant over.

Before I wrap up this little soapbox (and if you're still reading, good for you!), I also wanted to add a little word about the other three contestants, any of which would be fabulous winners this season, as well. I'm still waiting for Joshua to sing something I want to listen to over and over again, although that India.Arie song was lovely. I can't really fault him for being himself, though. He's undoubtedly a great singer, and I look forward to seeing what he can do with it next.

Jessica is definitely getting better, post-elimination/save, showing (probably!) real emotion with that wonky "Dance with My Father" song (the horrible silhouette behind her did no one any favors). Whether you like her, find her robotic, or both (I think that's where I am with her), you can't deny how special her voice is. With the right songs, she could have a huge career after this thing is done.

I saved Hollie for last because she's become a little bit of a loveable underdog for me lately. I think her "Rollin' in the Deep" performance last week was shockingly good, and I actually loved both of her performances this week. "The Climb" is the PERFECT (pehr-fehct?) song choice for her because she can sing over it rather than up to it. She's finally starting to show some of her adorable personality in her performances (even though her wardrobe situation is still a strange mix of business casual and pageant-wear), she no longer looks terrified onstage, and she's singing really well. It's likely too little too late to compete with the others, but I wouldn't be upset to see her stay a couple more weeks. She should be right at home with this week's British Invasion theme, in any case.

Sorry for the essay, you guys! I get a little carried away sometimes. I take my Idol-watching a little too seriously :) I'm also really bad at conclusions, so, the end.

***Btw, you guys, Kellie Pickler's new record 100 Proof is so good! I finally caved and downloaded it, and it's been on non-stop iPod rotation since. Her voice is smoother and lovelier than I've ever heard before from her, and the songs have that great Pickler-esque blend of hillbilly spunk and heart. Instant classic.

When Our Eyes Roll: TV and the Perpetuation of Bad Theology

Your facepalm TV moment of the week comes to you courtesy of April Kepner (Sarah Drew) on the latest instalment of Grey's Anatomy (ever the bastion of intelligent commentary): "I was a virgin because I love Jesus; now Jesus hates me."

Ugh, Chagrin.

Always nice to hear that a TV Christian who believes in her faith enough to stay a virgin into her late twenties (presumably?) could get through university, med school, and residency without understanding the grace and love of Christ. Oh, Shonda Rhimes, your characters make me sad.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

'Make It or Break It' Officially Cancelled

After ABC Family's promo department not-so-subtly let the cat out of the bag after this week's AWESOME episode of Make It or Break It, the show's creator has officially announced its cancellation. Although this is not exactly news (since rumors about this one being its final season were endemic to talks about it even being picked up for a third season), I've still got to give this news a sad trombone.

And yet, somehow Secret Life soldiers on.

Monday, 23 April 2012

'American Idol', Top 6

With last week's relatively shocking elimination, we're finally down to six. In one fell swoop (and two very underwhelming performances) Colton Dixon, who was considered by many (including yours truly) to be a lock for a hometown visit, leaves, and we suddenly have quite a race on our hands. Idol history tells us that the winner probably won't be someone who has spent any time in the bottom three, which at this point leaves us with Phillip Phillips as the perennial favorite. Fantasia and Kris Allen are the lone exceptions to this bottom three rule, but season three (Fantasia's season) is a universe away from the Idol we currently know, and Kris's appearance in the bottom three came during top five week, when the horse race was almost too close to call.

I'm not willing to call Phillip the winner just yet, though. I would like to believe (even though it's probably a delusion) that someone besides a cute white guy with a guitar can win this show. Hmmm. If Phillip finds himself in the bottom three just once, it truly is anyone's ballgame. (Sorry, I'll nix the sports metaphors from here out.)

The strangest thing about this season for me is how much I genuinely like all of the contestants. I think they're more evenly matched than nearly any season in recent memory. Season five also had an amazing top six, except for, oddly, its winner Taylor Hicks. Rounding out the top six that season? Katharine McPhee, Elliot Yamin, Chris Daughtry, Kellie Pickler, and Paris Bennett. This season has an oddly reminiscent air about it. Most of them are performing so well that contestants aren't going home because of "poor" performances, but rather because of slightly dull ones. It's been really interesting to watch.

To do something different, then, here the strengths and weaknesses of the remaining Idolestants in alphabetical order:

Strengths: Likeability; powerhouse pipes; charisma when she lets loose; teenager-ness; spunky accent.
Weaknesses: Stuck in the boring, powerhouse diva vocal category, otherwise known as the "Pia Zone"; often seems unnatural and robotic; boring and overly ambitious/old song choices.

Hollie's greatest asset at this point is her likeability. It's not surprising that on a week many saw her going home (the first top seven episode), she survived after an adorable clip package showed her goofing around with Joshua. Her personality has finally started to emerge in the last couple of weeks, and, with that little rebirth, she's started to sing better. Her cover of "Rolling in the Deep" was grrrreat! Adele covers are terrible ideas, but she owned this one and showed some confidence in the process. I don't see Hollie winning, but she very well could scrape by to the top four, maybe three, with a couple of good weeks. Voters love to see growth.

Strengths: Consistency; showmanship; personality; ability to tell a story in a 90 second performance; song choices; authenticity.
Weaknesses: Some people don't like country music; range often overshadowed by the other teens in the competition.

Skylar is everything we wanted Lauren Alaina to be last season. She's authentic, smart, a true performer, and has one heckuva voice that she somehow manages to keep surprising us with. I'm constantly impressed with her ability to own her performances, with so much natural charisma. And she hasn't had a bad performance in weeks. Her only trip to the bottom three, after she covered Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder and Lead", was probably, as Jimmy rightly pointed out, because she sang a song with a lot of character but not a lot of emotion. She hasn't made that mistake again. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that I'm rooting for Skylar to steal this thing from Phillip. I think she's the dark horse.

Strengths: That voice; ability to tame his voice when needed; humility; onstage charisma; excellent selection of slightly-too-small-but-somehow-just-right jackets.
Weaknesses: Song choices tend to somehow all be oldies; post-Idol album potential; the fact that he's not a white guy with a guitar (a quality which frankly applies to all but one in this competition).

Joshua has been a real surprise for me this season. I'm constantly floored by his ability to perform like a freaking pro! I think it was his performance of "When a Man Loves a Woman" that first made me pay attention to his natural charisma and performance instincts. His transformation from mild-mannered teenager (yes, teenager!) in real life to sixties-era soul singer onstage is still shocking to me every week. I think his biggest hurdle is song choice, though. He seems like a singer that was born 40 years too late, and except for the Bruno Mars song he did two weeks ago, he has yet to show that he can sing contemporary pop hits believably. Love Joshua, but would be surprised to see him in the top three.

Strengths: Cute, white boy with a guitar; "unique" voice; natural sexiness; song re-arranger; personality; sticks to a winning formula.
Weaknesses: Does the same thing every week (!!!); not great with melody; aversion to change.

I know I sound grumpy about him, but I really do like Phillip! Unlike the other contestants, though, he doesn't need my encouragement. As I said earlier, I think he's the frontrunner, and it would be surprising to see him land in the bottom three. As someone who likes Phillip's potential, I'm frustrated by his inability to change up his shtick every week. Even Crystal Bowersox, who arrived on the Idol stage every ounce the musician that Phillip is, tried new things and experimented with different kinds of sounds. When I think back on Phillip's performances, I hear one long jam-band tune accented by a signature growl. Last week's "U Got It Bad" cover was great, but somehow still the same as his other performances. I guess the argument is that if it ain't broke, there's no need to fix it (much like Scotty did. The. Whole. Season.), but I'm just bored with him at the moment. Rant over.

Strengths: Best voice in the competition; ability to control and finesse her vocal runs better than anyone else; excellent at taking advice; marketable.
Weaknesses: Has already been voted off by America; falls into the "singing-by-numbers" category; too young.

"Too young" may seem slightly unfair to rail against Jessica, but the charge is not to do with her vocal maturity, but rather her emotional maturity. Her instrument is incredible, and her vocal prowess unmatched by anyone in the competition, but I don't know that I believe her all the time when she's singing. On the radio, this is not something that makes a massive difference, but when she's performing on TV, I never feel like the beautiful runs she's doing reflect a connection to the song. Her Whitney Houston cover was an amazing vocal performance because Jessica is a great student with an uncanny ear, not because she was feeling the emotion of the song. If she can have one or two truly emotional, affective performances, she's got a shot at being in the final two.

Strengths: Most downloadable voice in the competition; seasoned musician; best potential for really high highs ("Whole Lotta Love"; "Vienna"); not afraid to try new things; sang "Dreams" with Stevie Nicks!
Weaknesses: Personality on results shows is perceived by some as "stank"; occasionally questionable song choices; "vacation home" in the bottom three; age.

I hate to put "age" in there as a weakness (mainly because Elise is younger than this blogger), but women over the age of 20 do not do well in this competition. Melinda Doolittle was the closest "old lady" to ever get to the finale (she was 29), but she of course was eliminated instead of Blake Lewis (a cute, white boy with a kind of instrument. See a pattern?) for the finale. At this point Elise, with her fabulously smoky rasp and refreshingly adult point of view, will be lucky to make the final four. Sad trombone.

'Make It or Break It' and Maintaining Balance (heh.)

This is a laudatory note to say that after a 7th Heaven-level awkward season premiere, I'm so happy to report that Make It or Break It has returned to form. I was seriously doubting my allegiance to the ABC Family fan favorite after its wonky season three premiere a few weeks ago, which followed the three main Rock girls as they checked into a college-like camp for Olympic hopefuls in Colorado Springs away from their meddling parental figures. It was uncomfortably awkward and laced with saccharin from start to finish. turns out that all the annoying squeeeees from our three leads was actually a kind of excellent way of setting up one of the central conflicts in this season's early episodes, namely, how the girls will go from BFFAEs to competitors on the Olympic team. Well played, show. MIOBI usually lets us live in the fantasy world that all of the main girls will be successful in their sport, so there's little reason to doubt that they'll all make the squad, but that's okay. The show is about the journey, the training, and how the dream effects the friendships.

I think this show really thrives when it's offering a balance between soapy intrigue and actual gymnastics, and the last three or so episodes have done that really well. When it gets too soapy, it's usually at the expense of showing the girls being athletes, which undermines the whole trajectory of the show. I like that the climax in the episode "Time is of the Essence" was the girls coming to an understanding with their clueless coach about his methods, rather than Payson's cute crush asking her to be his girlfriend (which is an adorable-in-every-way puppy love situation, but not the point of Payson [Ayla Kell] as a character). In fact, those of us who have been on semi-competitive teams with adolescent girls can attest to the drama that can develop naturally between athletes and other athletes, and athletes and their coach. I really like when MIOBI goes there, but manages makes the drama palpable.

I also really like all the character additions. It's nice to see Kelly Parker (Nichole Anderson) getting to do things other than backstabbing, and Chelsea Tavares is doing a fabulous job of keeping Jordan Randall interesting with a vulnerable glance here and there. For the record, I still think what happened with Emily Kmetko (Chelsea Hobbes) is uber-shady on the show's part, but I hate to admit that the new set-up has kept me from missing her.

All this is to say that I'm really liking Make It or Break It these days. It ain't gonna win any Emmys, but it knows how to please its audience. Well done, show!