Jason Castro - "Forever in Blue Jeans" / "September Morn"
I'd agree with Simon that Jason just seems to be going through the motions. He didn't put much liveliness into "Forever in Blue Jeans", a song that gets even Neil's fattest and most crippled elderly fans to their feet and dancing. He did a better job with "September Morn" and seemed to be feelin' it. That was a sexy performance. He's still great to look at it, but is that enough?
David Cook - "I'm Alive" / "All I Really Need Is You"
David is looking fugly again, with a hairstyle that makes him look like a Fall Out Boy roadie. Why did he pick such obscure Neil songs? I think he would have done a great job with "Love on the Rocks." His voice is good and I imagine he'll make the Final 2, but I'm not convinced he's really special.
Brooke White - "I'm a Believer" / "I Am I Said"
Simon called Brooke's first performance "a nightmare" and Brooke vigorously shook her head in disagreement. Sorry, Brooke, but Simon is right. It was a terrible karaoke performance and sounded off key, and if the Monkees can sing this, we know it's not a high degree of difficulty. She fared better with "I Am I Said" on the piano, even if she did take Neil's dorky advice to make it her own by changing New York to Arizona (thereby making the line about being lost between two shores as nonsensical as the line about the uncaring chair). At least this song was more in her comfort zone. She seemed to have a bit of twang in her voice tonight, making me wonder if she was grabbing for the Kristy Lee Cook country vote. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
David Archuleta - "Sweet Caroline" / "America"
I loved David's fun version of "Sweet Caroline." He picked probably the most famous Neil song but managed to make it sound fresh, much like he did with "Imagine." And of course, singing "America" is a great strategic move, appealing to the patriotic vote. David seems very drawn to anthemic songs and while he didn't belt this with the passion and "reach for the stars" gesturing of Neil, he did plenty to ensure he'll be back next week.
Syesha Mercado - "Hello Again" / "Thank the Lord for the Nighttime"
Syesha looked really good. I dug her 70s hair. She managed to turn two Neil songs into convincingly Whitney-esque numbers, while leaving me impressed with her technical skill and vocal skills but yawning as the renditions seemed sterile.
Neil Diamond seemed heavily medicated, only really perking up when he got to hug Syesha.
Paula made a huge gaffe, showing confusion at tonight's new format. All the contestants sang their first song without receiving immediate comments. Then they had to line up and hear comments all at once. Paula read off her notes and commented on both of Jason's songs, even though he had only sung once at this point. The looks on Simon's and Ryan's faces were pretty priceless. Simon did his best to cut Paula off and move things along, saving her from having to admit she makes her judgments based on rehearsal takes and spends the actual performance show flirting with Simon while the kids sing their hearts out. The second half of the show returned to the usual format of immediate critique.
I'm hoping for a sing along of "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show" tomorrow night, and maybe a montage of Simon and Paula moments set to "You Don't Bring Me Flowers."
Bottom 3 will be Jason, Brooke, and Syesha, with Brooke going home. And nobody will care at all, not even the chair.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Monday, April 07, 2008
I fulfilled a long-time dream and saw Artie Lange in concert on Saturday at the Gibson Amphitheater. I was so excited I felt like Eric the Midget flying with balloons! I have had a long-standing fear that Artie would succumb to his self-destructive tendencies and croak before I'd get to see him (see websites like Artie Lange Deathwatch).
As a longtime Stern Show listener, I was a big Jackie "The Jokeman" Martling fan and was skeptical in the beginning about Artie's ability to replace Jackie. It didn't take him long to win me over and he's now my favorite Stern show personality (well, maybe second favorite after George Takei). I like Artie's openness to talk about his lowest points, and I sympathize with his lack of willpower. As a listener, I go along for the roller coaster ride of Artie's life - and lately the ride has been mostly dips such as breaking up with Dana, admitting heroin usage, the flop of Beer League, and Hawaiian Punch/cupcake binges that have led to a huge weight gain.
To get to the show required braving Citywalk. I can figure out why tourists visit Citywalk - the shopping complex attached to Universal Studios theme park - but I can't figure out why so many locals go. The place is always jammed and the narrow streets are further glutted by street performers and large objects jutting out of the facades of the shops. Do Angelenos really want to pay $10 to park just to shop in the sock store and the magnet store? Apparently so. After surviving this walk, I rewarded myself with two beers at dinner.
Upon arriving at the show, we got another beer and a shot of Jack to get into an Artie state of mind. The Bleeding Deacons opened the show. I hadn't heard of them, but I guess they do a lot of parody songs on the Stern show. A hearse parked outside the arena declared them "the most evil band in the land." The only thing really evil about them was the way they hogged the stage. I could have said an entire rosary during their set. I guess their best song was a speed metal cover of "You Gotta Fight for your Right to Party" but I spent most of their set back in the long line for drinks. The crowd was booing them to get off the stage. Artie later said he nearly punched the singer for staying on stage too long, and he declared they would not be opening for him ever again.
Pete Dominick took the stage and turned things around, while I consumed another shot of Jack and another beer. He did a brief but hilarious set, talking about being a bald guy. Next up was Reverend Bob Levy who was completely vulgar and awesome. Then came Greg Fitzsimmons, delivering a blistering set that ended with him berating a heckler and knocking him in the head with his microphone. Nick DiPaolo also came on and didn't impress me too much although to be honest I was drunk enough at this point to be laughing at everyone and everything.
At last, it was time for Artie. Initially, I was shocked by his grubby appearance and extreme girth, but I got over it. To get an idea of the current decline and fall of Artie, watch this clip of him doing a blind cupcake tasting. Artie covered a lot of the usual Stern-related topics in his set and came up with some funny new bits, none of which I remember now due to my Artie-esque inebriation. I know he brought up Henry Hill at one point, and we all braced ourselves for a mob hit that never came. He also brought out George Takei to thunderous applause. Crazy Alice had been promised, but apparently she didn't like the car that was sent for her so decided not to come. Bummer, man. Blue Iris was in the crowd but didn't come up on stage. Apparently, Ryan Philippe was also in attendance, according to today's Stern show discussion.
I love Artie for his humanness, hedonism, and humor. If his life was the game Candyland he's currently stuck in Belushi Bog and in danger of drowning in Farley Falls. I hope he rights his ship, but not all the way.
Tonight's show opens with a Hollywood street scene and clearly visible is Tommy Wiseau's mug on his perennial billboard for The Room, reminding me that I still need to go see this cult classic. How great would it be to have an episode of The Hills in which Lo, Lauren, Audrina go to this modern-day Rocky Horror and shout out lines.
Lauren invites the She-Pratt to her birthday festivities, but She-Pratt isn't sure she should attend given her divided loyalties. Spencer visits Heidi and inquires if they are still dating or if he can see other people, because, you know, there's a line of girls outside the door waiting to go out with him. Later, She-Pratt berates Spencer for bringing some of his furniture into her condo and for not getting a job. Hmm, maybe she is cool.
She-Pratt shows up at Lauren's bday party and is received by a greek chorus of Lo, Audrina and Whitney making shocked faces right out of Edvard Munch's The Scream painting. Lo doesn't trust She-Pratt, but Lauren is soooo happy they came. Heidi's assistant breaks this news to Heidi, who promptly calls Spencer who describes the She-Pratt as "Brody Jr."
Lauren and Brody have lunch. Brody warns Lauren to be cautious about She-Pratt. Spencer confronts She-Pratt over her duplicity. She-Pratt gets upset, "You're making me cry right now." Spencer retorts, "No, you are making yourself cry because of what you did." Oh, snap.
She-Pratt tells Lauren that Spencer was all mean to her. She-Pratt justifies her friendship with Lauren to Heidi: "We do have fashion in common." Heidi retorts, "Every girl has fashion in common!" Heidi says She-Pratt was like a sister to her, making me think Heidi must mean She-Pratt is like a sister you find out you had when you're already in your 20s who lives in another country and you email sporadically because I haven't seen a ton of closeness between these two.
Whitney and Lauren have lunch. Whitney tells Lauren about her new job, and Lauren pretends to be interested.
Whitney's "Devil Wears Gap" boss Kelly Cutrone calls a meeting about Fashion Week and states that complete devotion and only black clothing is expected of all staff. Whitney comes up with an idea and shows up the chief publicist in front of Kelly. Over at Teen Vogue, Lauren looks longingly at Whitney's empty chair. She takes a break from playing the Virtual Hills to call Whitney who is too busy with Fashion Week to talk to her. Lauren looks sad.
Heidi and the She-Pratt go to a club called Vice. Audrina is there. Heidi brings her breast implants over to meet Audrina. Heidi says she wants to be friends again and there have been times she cried because plastic surgery is painful and she was so alone.
Heidi and She-Pratt go shopping and Heidi tells She-Pratt she wants to be friends with Audrina again. Whitney and Lauren work out and Lauren again pretends to be interested in Whitney's job. She-Pratt tells Lauren that Heidi and Audrina talked for "a long time" at the club. I guess the long time was edited down to 1 min 30 seconds on the show. Lauren warns Audrina that Heidi would use her to get back at Lauren. A slight worried look crosses Audrina's moon face as she reassures Lauren that she would never be friends with Heidi since Heidi hurt Lauren. My head is spinning at the Shakespearean complexity of all these entwined relationships.
Lauren visits Whitney at her work and angles for a part time job. Heidi comes over to Audrina's and Lauren's apt to pick up some things she had left there. Heidi comments on the oddity of She-Pratt and Lauren being friends and Audrina responds with a surprising amount of wisdom: "It's weird how the world works." Audrina admits that Heidi came over and Lauren freaks out. Awkward silence ensues...fade out.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
First, let me say that Ryan's opening with the April Fool's joke could not have possibly fooled anyone and is was beyond lame and went right on to just plain stupid.
- Brooke White - "Joleen" - The more I hear her the more I fall for her voice. It has a lovely tone and just enough uniqueness to keep me interested. And her style and demeanor just increase my crush on her each week. I didn't feel the emotion, but I liked it anyway. There's just something fresh and pure in her performances each week.
- David Cook - "Little Sparrow" - Talk about taking a song that didn't interest me in the least and making it interesting....Wow! Again! He is showing that not only can he be so creative but that he has far more vocal range than I gave him credit for when this season started. Another fantastic job. AND, he FINALLY did something to improve that hair!!
- Ramielle Malubay - She has such a good voice and is so darn pretty, but it is becoming painfully obvious that she lacks the ability to tap that special something and truly connect with her audience. I kept thinking that with time and improved confidence it would come. But it hasn't. And it's becoming increasingly evident that it won't. She's running short on time....and may have finally run out.
- Jason Castro - "Travelin' Through" - Good song choice for him. Fit him and his niche. He didn't stretch musically as I know Simon would like, but he did push himself vocally and showed he can offer more. I didn't love it but I did like it.
- Carly Smithson - "Here You Come Again" - Sounded good but not great. Should be safe(?). And Simon is right! I was thinking the same thing (he might just be my evil British twin). She's been looking dour and not at all like a (rock) star. She has all the hardcore tats but has been dressing like some frumpy dumpster diver.
- David Archuleta - "Smokey Mountain Memories" - Let's see, first Dolly practically anoints him, then he gives a terrific performance. Oh yeah. He's safe. And back in true form.
- Kristy Lee Cook - "Coat of Many Colors" - One of her better performances but oddly not that interesting. She has a touch of Ramielle-itis in that she has trouble connecting and conveying real emotion, too. Could be her undoing.
- Syesha Mercado - "I Will Alway Love You" - Smart! She veered towards Dolly's softer more intimate version....for about half the song. Then she got stupid (and egotistical) and jumped into the more openly powerful Whitney version. Stupid! And ego-driven. She very likely would have been safe if she had stuck with the Dolly version all the way through. But, she just had to show Simon and the world that she IS as good as she thinks she is....but, she's NOT! And if it doesn't blow up in her face this week, it surely will some week soon.
- Michael Johns - I loved his bluesy take and this was by far his best performance since Hollywood (which I, quite honestly, wasn't as impressed with as the judges were). He finally lived up to his potential. A great vocal, great arrangement and he was just smoldering on that stage.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Brooke White - "Jolene"
I'd agree with Simon on this one - Brooke didn't put a lot of emotion into the song. I didn't hear any desperation in her voice as she begged, "Jolene - JOLENE - Puhlleeez don't take my man!" To make a Paula-type comment, I'll say her hair looked nice. I was hoping one of the rockers would take on this song.
David Cook - "Little Sparrow"
This was David's best performance yet, I thought, probably because it was truly original. I'm glad he credited all the original performers who made the quirky arrangements of the other songs he's done the past few weeks in his interview with Ryan. It's not that he didn't admit it before, but it wasn't really emphasized, and I think a lot of voters were giving him credit for being more creative than he was. But tonight he came up with a fresh arrangement, a nuanced vocal, and he sported a much better haircut. However, I still can't stop picturing his alien baby photo when I watch him.
Jason Castro - "Traveling Through"
Jason did a decent job with Dolly's Oscar-nominated tune from Transamerica (great movie, by the way). Again, he didn't really stretch, well, maybe a little bit toward the end where the song went more uptempo and required him to be kinda animated. He's dreamy, but he could be in the Bottom 3 again this week. Then again, maybe his fans will mobilize and storm the phone lines after last week's scare.
Ramiele Malubay - "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?"
Simon is in a mood tonight. He should just admit that country music makes him cranky. Instead, he likened Ramiele's performance to one you'd hear on a cruise ship. I thought it was a decent vocal but unremarkable, and her outfit looked kinda waitressy. No, Ramiele, I don't think you'll ever cross my mind after you get booted off.
Carly Smithson - "Here You Come Again"
This is my favorite Dolly song, and I love what Carly did with it. She took a catchy uptempo ditty and spun it into a power ballad, and it worked. She has the biggest voice in the competition by far, but too bad she doesn't have much likability. She'll probably get some sympathy votes after Simon told her she needed to get somebody to dress her better. I actually thought this was one of her better outfits. I also recommend less close-ups of her husband - America isn't overly fond of dudes with tattooed faces.
David Archuleta - "Appalachian Memories"
David picked a more comfortable song for himself and delivered an emotional performance that inspired Randy to yell "David Archuleta is back!" Paula commented on his positive aura - cut to Michael Kors smirking in the crowd. Smirk all you want, Michael, but just listen to those tweens scream.
Kristy Lee Cook - "Coat of Many Colors"
Building on the emotional manipulation of Middle America she began last week by singing "God Bless the USA", Kristy Lee picks Dolly's saddest song, inspired by the true story of Dolly's mom making her a coat out of fabric scraps that the other kids in the one-room schoolhouse deemed a "fashion don't." Kristy Lee looked gorgeous with her peacock print dress and fetching up 'do. Her vocal was fine on a not particularly demanding song. I think she'll sail through this week.
Syesha Mercado - "I Will Always Love You"
This was the only song choice I predicted correctly, because, well, it was so freakin' predictable. Syesha tried to do a hybrid Dolly/Whitney version of this song, and while the Dolly part was okay, the Whitney part lacked oomph. She comes off like a very generic diva, and she better hope that America's love for this song is enough to carry her through (I'm skeptical). The yellow dress worked much better on Syesha than it did on Brooke, but one attendee at the Ape Culture Idol Watch likened her hairstyle to Condoleeza Rice's - ouch.
Michael Johns - "It's All Wrong, But It's All Right"
Wow, Michael blew me away. I thought this was the best performance of the night. As the only contestant who was born before Best Little Whorehouse in Texas was released, Michael seemed to have the best knowledge of Dolly. After all, he saw her in concert back in 1986. He had an understanding of the source material and the ability to reinvent it. I loved the bluesy, soulful vibe. I'm not crazy about the ascot look, but, still, as Randy said "blazin' hot!"
Dolly was fun but she wasn't a bit critical. Of course, she said she resisted going on the show before because she didn't want to be critical. So, she smiled a lot and told everyone they looked great. I still think she's awesome, though, and I liked hearing her songs this week. I'm stoked for the "Island in the Stream/Nine to Five" medley tomorrow night.
It's a tough call, but I'm thinking Jason, Brooke, and Syesha will be the Bottom 3, with Syesha going home.