Wednesday, June 22, 2005

American Idol

Bye, Bye Baby V

And then there were two … Bye, bye Baby V.

Only two American Idol finalists remain now that Vonzell Solomon has been voted out of the top three. Competitors Bo Bice and Carrie Underwood remain for one last week to duke it out for the title of American Idol. Will it be the rocker with a heart or the country girl with sweetheart appeal?

Hats off to Vonzell, who improved every week as she found her groove more and more with every live performance. As she went along, she won over ever increasing numbers, and although she didn’t make it in to the top two, I think most Idol watchers are still fans. Her personality is fantastic, and she truly does light up the stage with her presence and her charisma.

She did great on her last three performances, especially “Chain of Fools.” The way she sings makes you love her. I have never heard anyone say anything negative about Vonzell - what’s not to like? - and I am sure she will have an amazing career. Say, “bye, bye” to the postal carrier route, Vonzell, because you are destined for bigger and better things, and from what I’ve seen of you, you deserve it.

Bo had a fantastic night with the final three competitors. It was so bold of him to sing with no music! It is entirely possible he won the competition with that move alone. To have so much confidence to take that risk says a lot about his maturity as a performer, and I think it also says a lot about his ability to handle the success that will be coming his way shortly. Bo seems to have a realness in his desire to sing that touches people, and I think his age helps his success mean more to him than perhaps it could mean to a younger singer.

His “I can’t get no satisfaction” bit, while fun, didn’t make him come across as the sexy star Constantine was, but perhaps that is to his credit. Bo seems to have such a good heart that he is the type of guy women would actually love, not just desire. That’s better in the long run for him - and probably for his sales, too.

Carrie’s voice sounded the best I’ve ever heard it when she sang, “Crying.” Her rendition was haunting and mature sounding. I have to say, though, even as a big Carrie fan from the very beginning, her second two performances weren’t that exciting. We know she has a good voice, and she showed it, but there was nothing that said, “Wow!” Perhaps I am being too hard on her because she has set her standard so high by her past performances, but she really is going to have to kick it up a notch if she wants to win against Bo.

It was nice to see clips of the three finalists visiting their hometowns. You could tell that the reality of how drastically their lives had changed was just starting to hit them. Every embarrassing moment or relationship they’ve had probably is thrown out the window now that their communities consider them hometown stars.

And when Bo was at a loss for words when given the key to his city, he won points on my scorecard. Who hasn’t dreamed about something for years? And how many of us actually get to experience a moment when we realize that it is all very real?

Rocker versus Country Girl. Was this a predictable final two? Absolutely, but I still will be glued to my seat breathlessly awaiting the end of that final commercial break to find out who will get the title and who will simply get a record deal. Until then … Caroline.

And then there were eight …

The “Comeback Kid” Nikko Smith made his final performance as one of the American Idol finalists this week when he was voted off the show for the second time. Nikko, who was initially kicked out of the Top 12, was brought back after Mario Vasquez dropped out for “personal reasons,” which later proved to look suspiciously like an excuse to cash in on a music deal of his own without the influence of American Idol.

Nikko really did make the best of his comeback appearances, proving he deserved to be there with his great vocals and style. However, this week he was under voted second to Scott Savol, who was deemed safe for another week of competition.

Let me just say, Scott is not a favorite of mine and never has been. I guess his voice is all right, but he has all the personality of … someone with no personality. That alone made me not a fan, but when news of his domestic abuse charge became public, he sunk even lower on my list. Even though the charge was eventually reduced to disorderly conduct, responding in a violent manner, no matter what the circumstances, says a lot about a person. I will not be disappointed if he is the next to go.

This week’s theme revolved around musicals, and it made for the least interesting week thus far. There are a lot of great songs from musicals - songs we have heard, even - so I was surprised at how dull the chosen selections were. It was like the contestants were just trying to get through it, rather than really trying to prove themselves. It was disappointing, actually. I’m sure the producers figured out pretty quickly that it wasn’t an audience pleaser and will come back with a bang next week.

The reigning American Idol Fantasia Barrino rejoined the gang this week to sing one of her new hits, telling the contestants to “get ugly” with their performances from here on out. I’ve heard her other song, “Baby Mama,” and it’s one of those songs that is impossible to get out of your head. “B-A…B-Y, M-A…M-A! This goes out to all my baby mama; this goes out to all my baby mama!” Who would have ever thought there would be a song for all the “baby mama” out there?? I guess all the baby mama drama with all the baby daddy makes everyone forget to … pluralize their words???

Ruben Studdard, the American Idol winner previous to Fantasia, made a special appearance on Fox’s new show, “Life on a Stick” after American Idol. It was okay. I’m guessing the corndog will make for a lot of sexual innuendo jokes. Kimberly Caldwell, a past contestant known for her “personality conflicts,” also appeared on the show and reminded me that I don’t like her - even when she is playing someone else.

Here is where I think we stand for this season: I still believe Carrie Underwood will win. And, just in case anyone is keeping score, I have thought this since she first appeared during tryouts. (Her “Independence Day” was amazing!) Also, Jessica Sierra deserved to stick around longer.

I think Scott will probably go next, unless he benefits from a supporter bounce back because of being in the bottom three. Vonzell Solomon will continue to improve each week. I hope America gives her a chance to stick around a while.

Anthony Fedorov, who I glanced over at first, is letting out his inner hunk. It will be interesting to see how that plays out. Constantine Maroulis has always been sexy; if he switches his style more to king-of-the-bedroom than rocker, watch out! Bo Bice needs to pick up steam. He was ahead of Constantine, but it is becoming the other way around now.

Nadia Turner is very good, but she is just a little too out there for me to be a big fan. Anwar Robinson. Oh, Anwar. He is such a cutie. Doesn’t he just make you smile? Not only can he sing like crazy, he seems like the sweetest puppy dog of a guy. I think he’ll go far.

Of course, each season there have been surprises. People get lazy and don’t vote. One bad performance can ruin a contestant’s chances. We’ll just have to see what happens … after this commercial break. Until then … Caroline.

American Idol Premiere

They’re back! Simon, Paula, Randy, Ryan, a lot of people with no talent, and just a few with great talent - they are all back for the fourth season of American Idol. With Washington D.C. and St. Louis premiering so far, over 33.5 million people tuned in to watch the debut - an even bigger debut than last season, and that says a lot - usually shows begin to lose some steam about this far in to their existence.

But we all know American Idol isn’t just any show, right? Where else can you find Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath telling someone he likes the way she spanks, after her rendition, complete with theatrical effects, of a song with this verse:

“Treat me like I'm a bad girl
Even when I'm being good to you
I don't want you to thank me
You can just spank me, mmmh”

Guest judges in the beginning phases are a change for this season, with other celebrity judges to include Gene Simmons, LL Cool J., Brandy and Kenny Loggins. Another change is raising the contestant age limit to 28 (I may be too old for The Real World, but not for American Idol!) I predict that raising this age limit is going to have a huge effect on the talent that is put through this season.

Overall, thus far, I like the creamy-skinned Oklahoma girl who has never been on a plane. Carrie, who lives on a farm, can definitely sing, and she has one of those pure, untouched voices you’d expect from someone who lives … well, on a farm. She’s also gorgeous in a girl-next-door kind of way, and looks never hurt anyone on this show. I think she’s going to be liked by the guys because she is so cute, and the girls will like her because she is so sweet that they have to give up disliking her because she is so cute. Did you catch that?

Of course, then there are Dirk and Adam. Dirk and Adam. Dirk and Adam. I’m sorry - it’s just, what do you say? Adam told Dirk before he went in, “Just don’t be the next William Hung.” Poor Dirk thinks David Hasselhoff of Baywatch fame is a great singer and so chose to sing one of his songs for his audition. Alas, he was a little misguided about his idol and about his singing talent and, after the judges realized that he was actually serious, was told he did not make the cut.

In a nice twist to his sad story, however, his friend, Adam, with whom he had really bonded, gave him a big Papa bear hug when he walked out defeated. And then in Adam went ... but, unfortunately, let’s just say to a fate not any better.

So off go Dirk and Adam in to the sunset, leaning in to each other for support as the song, “That’s What Friends Are For” plays in the background. Not all losses are really defeats, Dirk and Adam. No, not all losses are defeats.

Let me pause to wipe a tear from my eye …

Okay, I’m back and just as excited as ever about this season of American Idol. But, let me tell you, if I make it to Hollywood, I am not going to change my last name to “Guilbeaux” because it has more star quality. Nor will I spank myself. Nor will I tell everyone that my family says I sing like Brian McKnight. No, I’ll just wonder how I got there since I didn’t try out. Until then … Caroline.

Political Idol

By capturing a majority of 65 million votes, Fantasia Barrino is the new American Idol, beating out contestant Diana DeGarmo. To put the enormity of this number in perspective, realize that one hundred five million votes were cast in the 2000 United States Presidential Election, the election that decides the leader of the free world. Fantasia and Diana were not trying to lead the free world, nor were they even trying to lead a little bitty country no one ever hears about. Nope. Sixty five million votes were cast so that we could have an American Idol.

Because of this phenomenal success at reaching the public, I have decided that the structure of our political process should take its cue from American Idol and operate in a similar format. Imagine it - if we put the presidential candidates through a rigorous program like Idol, not only would we get to know what they are really like, but I bet we’d get an enormous voter response come election time.

I propose that we call it American Icon. Instead of winning a recording contract, the winner receives a huge, professionally maintained house free of charge for four years, use of a vacation home, all meals and a large amount of parties professionally catered, and the keys to Air Force One - not to mention having a fleet of professional bodyguards, exposure to the press, and meetings with world leaders ...

Now, obviously this would not be a singing competition. I don’t think seeing George Bush sing “Home on the Range” and seeing John Kerry sing – well, I just can’t picture him singing anything – would likely inspire voters. No, these would have to be intellectual feats and feats of prowess and success - Bush and Kerry duking it out week after week until the final votes are cast. Here’s what I propose:

The “Photo Opportunity Pose” competition. Each would show America how well he can hold a single pose for minutes on end while maintaining a pensive/concerned/hopeful look.

The “Walk and Wave” competition. A variation of the “Photo Opportunity Pose” competition, this involves doing two things at once and will really separate the winner from the loser – yes, walking and waving at the same time, while, I might add, looking “presidential.”

The “Presidential Impersonations” competition. No American President would be qualified without knowing our history. As such, names such as Nixon and Reagan and Lincoln would be randomly drawn from a hat, and each candidate would use their improvisational skills to depict the most memorable characteristics of each President.

The “Elusive Answer” competition. Contestants will be asked, “What do you really think about (any controversial issue)?” Each would answer as eloquently as possible, searching for a heartfelt connection with the audience, but without ACTUALLY answering the question. This is where we really see who has what it takes to be President.

And to give Americans a taste of the Presidential candidates as people, we could watch “Presidential Candidate Bloopers” going in to each commercial break.

Ryan Seacrest as a host of American Icon it seems would be enough to get people to vote. Plus, if we could text message our vote to 1-800-USPREZ-1 or 1-800-USPREZ-2 ...

Simon, Paula and Randy can register voters and serve as judges. Simon would say, “That was awful, just awful!” Paula would say, “You tried your best.” And Randy would say, “Yo Dude, you worked it out, man.” Wouldn’t that be something? Until then … Caroline.

Down to Three - American Idol

For La Toya London to get voted off of American Idol, a lot of people, myself included, must not have done their jobs this past week. With the final four that we had, she was who I hoped would win, and now I’m not sure at all who should be the American Idol.

My vote had been with La Toya. She has a knockout voice, of course, but she also seems classy and like she has some substance, attributes some of the others seem to be missing. And she is absolutely beautiful, too, so that wouldn’t exactly hurt her CD covers. She kind of reminds me of a young Whitney Houston – you know before the drugs, starvation and weird lifestyle made her in to some kind of a freak show display.

I guess the “favorite” now is Fantasia Barrino. She is excellent, I suppose, or at least that’s what all the judges seem to think. But, her voice really gets on my nerves – it’s kind of like Minnie Mouse on helium. I’ve never been a fan of Macy Gray, either, so the comparisons that have been made aren’t flattering in my book. Besides, how often do you hear about Macy Gray since her first CD? That’s the thing about a voice on helium – it doesn’t last very long.

Diana DeGarmo is a very good singer. I don’t think there is any denying that. She has quite a set of lungs on her, and she knows how to use them. Young? Yes, but she seems to be holding herself together just as well as the others, and that says a lot about her maturity. Is she a little too perky, perhaps? Perhaps, but I’ll never begrudge a teenager happiness.

Jasmine Trias. I like Jasmine, and I always have, but she is just not in the same league as the others. She is who should have been voted off, not La Toya. I really do like her, and I like her voice, but her time to leave was last week. I think she actually will leave this week unless Hawaii skews the vote again. (I, for one, thought the flower-behind-the-ear routine was cute!)

George Huff, who is such a likeable guy, will do well. He’ll be crooning for women in their bathtubs and on the dance floor for a long time.

Of course, there has been a lot of hoop-la over Jennifer Hudson and how she was booted off way too early. Some have made an issue of her weight, but I think it’s much simpler than that - she just didn’t have much of a personality. She could sing, but I never once thought, “Hey, she would be a cool person to know.” There is more to American Idol than voice; a lot has to do with overall popularity. She just did not portray herself as a cool kind of gal. Maybe she is in “real life,” but viewers don’t get to see that part. We have to make our decisions based on what the television shows us.

Now John Stevens, as I have mentioned before, was one of my favorites. I realize that he did not fare very well in the competition part of it. Those types of music just aren’t who he is, and that is why it didn’t work. John Stevens and Latin music? Come on, now – there’s not an ounce of Latin rhythm in his body. But, give him a chance to sing Frank Sinatra-type songs on a CD, and I guarantee you that they will sell. When he sings what matches his voice he is … again … like butter.

What does this mean for American Idol now that we are down to just Fantasia, Diana and Jasmine? I must admit I’m a little confused now who to root for in this round. I guess my vote will go to Diana, but she’s not who I would have imagined in the beginning of all this, I can tell you that. But, then again, who would have thought Clay Aiken would be where he is today when we first saw him? Until then … Caroline.

She Bangs! She Bangs!

American Idol mania is in full swing again. No fair-weather friend here, I’ve been around since the very first episode and the very first audition. And like millions of Americans, I really can’t get enough of the show. These days, when people ask, “Do you vote?” they don’t mean for President, they mean for your favorite American Idol singers.

What is it that people like so much about the show? Come on. You know.

I’ve seen you driving in your car at night, thinking no one can see you. I’ve seen you singing at the top of your lungs with the music on loud and the windows rolled up.

I know you have those nights where you sing in your underwear in front of the mirror - with the Madonna song.

And I know you all sing to your pets … Okay, maybe that’s just me … my cats stare and tilt their heads back and forth like, “She’s actually crazy, isn’t she?”

Which one of you has never dreamed that you could let it loose in front of thousands of people cheering for you? American Idol is a phenomenon because it is a secret fantasy that so many of us have. Each week we are able to live vicariously through the winners and the losers. We see the winners, and we imagine how wonderful it must be. We see the losers, and we laugh at them, but we enjoy laughing at them because in a way we are laughing at ourselves.

Of course, the most prominent reject from American Idol is William Hung. “She Bangs! She Bangs!” I know, I know. Everyone is jumping on the Hung Train, but what’s not to love here?

William said on the recent “Uncut, Uncensored and Untalented’ show that the best thing about all this newfound stardom is that he gets to touch people’s hearts with his music. Isn’t that sweet? It is true; he is touching our hearts, but you’ve got to wonder if the guy really gets it.

Sometimes when I hear him talk, I sense that he really thinks we love him because he is good, not because he is so bad. But, his innocent spirit is what makes him even more endearing.

Of course, I’m just as guilty as everyone else at laughing at his performances. Every time I watch him go “She Bangs! She Bangs!” I laugh out loud. And apparently, singing is not his only struggle. When they asked him how good he is as an Engineering student (by the way, he has to be escorted around campus by police because of fans), he said he struggles with his studies, too, and that actually he struggles with just about everything.

Poor kid. I guess America has cut him a major break.

My favorite so far among the winners is John Stevens – the red head who everybody compares to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Something about his voice is just buttery smooth, and I find myself not able to pull my thoughts to anything else when sings. He’s just amazing, really. In “She’s Always a Woman,” tell me you weren’t listening intently to every word. Like butter.

On my other favorites, I’m withholding judgment for now, but once I decide I’ll let my fingers do the walking and vote, vote, vote for my favorite American Idol … You mean I need to vote for President, too? Can I send it by text message, (standard text messaging rates do apply) or do I dial 1-800-Pres-001 or 1-800-Pres-002?

By the way, I still really like Carmen. Until then … Caroline.

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