Saturday, April 29, 2006

AI5 Royal Flush: The Heir and Four Spares

Every season around this time I get fed up with the favoritism and manipulations of the American Idol crew. This year my revulsion is tempered by gratitude that the remaining contestants comprise the most talented, diverse top 5 – and next week’s top 4 – in American Idol history. Any of them would do justice to the victor's title.

As I have written once or twice, Elliott Yamin and Taylor Hicks are my favorites – in that order. From the get-go, my husband Luis preferred Taylor and Bucky Covington, but it took him a bit longer to board the E-train. Awed by his performance this week, Luis said reverently, “Elliott has nothing left to prove.”

I had to agree. On A Song for You, Elliott established himself as a self-assured performer who connects with the audience visually and audibly. Although I was suffering from a bothersome lumbar injury and the usual mid-week anxiety common to Elliott’s long-time fans, confidence about his future calmed me. So I stopped voting and took my aching back to bed. Not! I figured how to work the speaker phone so all I had to do was hit the redial button repeatedly with my thumb. Then I settled into the least uncomfortable position and, during the final 30 minutes of the voting period, startled myself awake every time I began to fall asleep. Am I a meshugenah Yaminion – or what?

Paula Abdul is, too, especially the meshugenah part. Like her, Elliott’s performance moved me to tears. Unlike me, she seemed to be feeling no pain. She is so intoxicated by Elliott that she told him this week he is “this handsome, evolved performer” – hence the expression high praise. Heck, Elliott’s mom Claudette will commit only to “almost handsome.”

AI producer Ken Warwick informed the media on Monday that the judges learn the voting results when the audience does and not a nanosecond sooner. Paula may not know the numbers, but she sure knows the score. The other judges and crew like Elliott well enough, but Chris Daughtry is TCO – The Chosen One.

The competition began with Randy Jackson’s prediction that a boy would win. He reiterated his forecast last week on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and this week on The View, the only time when he named Elliott as a potential winner. Randy has complimented Elliott consistently if not as enthusiastically as he has Chris from the judges' table. On Ellen, Randy envisioned Chris and Taylor in the finale.

Recently I asked, “Is Simon Cowell off his rocker, Chris Daughtry, or just off his rocker?” Simon seemed to have grown bored with TCO Chris and Extra claimed somewhat incredibly that Paris was his new favorite. Two weeks later, the answer seems crystal clear as Simon’s preference for Daughtry remains undeniable, as is Randy’s. From the start, music producers Simon and Randy have salivated over Daughtry’s recording voice. Likewise the show’s TV producers are motivated to deliver a winner from a different genre each season to keep the formula fresh.

As we enter the final month of AI5, we are left with one contestant heavily promoted by the show and four talented spares in the way. Therein lies the potential for extraordinary entertainment and extraordinary mischief. The mischief has already begun.

Monday's official Fox press release announced this week’s theme: Classic Love Songs. David Foster was the guest judge, jury and executioner all in one smug, self-important package. Andrea Bocelli was more like his psychic sidekick, able though blind to divine that Kellie Pickler was blonde and Katharine McPhee pretty.

The editing on Foster's introductory clips was interesting. They showed him acting impatient and hypercritical with Elliott. Afterward, however, Foster said of Elliott, "He sings really, really well." Then the audio was cut off, but we could see him add, "He really, really does." Of Chris, Foster predicted, "If he delivers the performance of his life, he'll do amazing. But..." The but could not be heard and the video ended.

Comic actor Kevin Nealon, who gave the camera two excited thumbs up and a standing ovation in response to Elliott, and his female companion were seated next to Linda Thompson Jenner Foster, wife or ex-wife of David, ex-wife of Bruce, and ex-girlfriend of Elvis Presley. Sometimes I just spout useless trivia to free up space in my brain, but it doesn't work.

In his Wednesday briefing as transcribed at MJ's Big Blog, producer Nigel Lythgoe announced that Classic Love Songs didn't really mean love songs that are classics but – I’m paraphrasing here – Love Songs We, the Idiots in Charge, Consider Classic and Can Imagine Andrea Bocelli Wanting to Perform Although He Never Has and Probably Never Will. Alone among the top six contestants, only Kellie was smart enough to select a song that met Nigel’s specific criteria – and look where it got her.

Lythgoe admitted that, after letting Taylor rehearse Try a Little Tenderness until the beginning of this week, they forced him to scrounge up a new song less than 48 hours before Tuesday’s show time. Explaining why he disqualified Taylor's song, he said something like, "This ain't no stinkin' Blues Brothers theme." If you think I'm lying, check the record.

Tenderness could have been another barn-burning, show-stopping, kick-out-the-jams Hicks masterpiece. Instead, Taylor stood under a harsh floodlight usually reserved for escaped felons and struggled to salvage the heart of James Ingram’s Just Once buried by the predictably loud Bandzilla. Small wonder that his vocal sounded strained and he looked wounded. If the set designer ever tried lighting like that on Paula, she would go psycho killer on his ballast. Today I reviewed Taylor’s performance again and was quite impressed that he could master the abbreviated arrangement so quickly.

Never mind that Try a Little Tenderness appears on an Otis Redding album titled Love Songs. It is also listed as a love song here, here, here, here, and here. Other artists who recorded Try a Little Tenderness include Bing Crosby, Mel TormĂ©, Aretha Franklin, Michael Bolton, Michael BublĂ© – and the most famous Italian crooner of all, Frank Sinatra. So – was Taylor a victim of the regrettable ignorance of American music that pervades the AI team or clumsy sabotage? The two are not mutually exclusive.

TCO Chris Daughtry covered Bryan Adams’ undemanding, repetitive, single-octave-range ditty, Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman. In the pimp spot. Again. Under flattering lighting. Again. Accompanied by two Spanish style guitarists. Please God, don’t let me die before Bocelli records this magnum opus. If Daughtry's performance came with a label regulated by the FDA, I would be appalled at all the corn syrup, fillers and artificial additives – and immediately put it back on the shelf. However, I like Chris, so I’ll be charitable. For a blind taste test involving a Bryan Adams product, I didn’t retch.

In seven weeks of competition, Taylor Hicks has never performed last. Never.

Meanwhile, the exquisitely talented Paris Bennett cannot catch a break from Simon or Randy, of whom I honestly expected better. The male judges just will not be bothered to give her a coherent critique – and shame on them. They know how technically challenging it is to reproduce the quality of Billie Holliday and Gladys Knight. Paris does it effortlessly nearly every week and still adds her own impossibly mature interpretations. Nevertheless, she has been in the bottom three twice. Referring to those other trips to the bottom, Ryan Seacrest asked her Wednesday how often she had been there. She had the poise to remind him that it was her first time in the bottom two. Along with Paula and Parisians everywhere, I cheered.

Now that Kellie is no longer a spoiler in the competition, I can enjoy her personality, if not so much her sometimes painful singing, especially on Unchained Melody, Simon's self-described favorite. Kellie’s lack of surprise at the voting results was obvious. But she accepted the unwelcome news like a classy trouper. I have read and watched her post-elimination interviews, in which she is more charming and less ditzy than she behaved onscreen. I hope the AI experience continues to help her break away from her tragic childhood.

From Tuesday torture to Tuesday’s torcher. The judges uniformly criticized Katharine McPhee’s performance of I Have Nothing. They even denied her credit for attempting a Whitney Houston epic. Kat does tend to screech in her uppermost register, which has undercut many of her vocals. The disdainful, how-dare-you dismissal from Simon and Randy seemed almost personal.

The next evening Kat received a rare Cowell apology for his harshness, plus enough votes to place her in the top two. She may have Simon to thank for making her a martyr overnight. More likely, her change of status was a reaction to her change of clothes. She left her matronly duds behind and donned a cleavage-baring, figure-hugging halter dress so tight that some thigh-high buttons popped, revealing her Fruit of the Loins. Unsurprisingly, since Tuesday there has been an outbreak of McPheever on AI-inspired message boards.

Dave White provides a possible explanation for Cowell’s contrition. Two of Dave’s friends attended Tuesday’s show and sat near the families of Paris and Elliott. According to Tony the Spy, “In the commercial break after Elliott sang, McPhee’s McFather comes over to the judges’ table to complain about how they dissed Katharine. Simon and Randy get the hell out of there, but Paula gets trapped by him for the whole break, much of it with her hands holding his face, consoling him while he cries. I can see Paula clearly, mouthing stuff like ‘It’s just our job’ and ‘She’s gonna be fine.’ I lean into Paris’s mom and grandmother and whisper, ‘I didn’t know you could do that.’ And Mom whispers back, ‘We’re not supposed to…’”

Daniel McPhee is no ordinary stage parent. He is an established film and TV producer. If Simon ever considered signing Katharine, the prospect of dealing with her father must be a buzz kill. No worries, though. Kat has a powerful defender. In his richly quotable Wednesday update, Nigel “was a little miffed that Randy would compare Whitney Houston to Katharine, but not compare Donny Hathaway to Elliott.” He referred to Randy telling Elliott he could sing like Donny’s record because he’s “got it like that.”

Translation: Elliott has talent that compares favorably to Hathaway. Randy is right and Nigel proved two of my points. The judges and producers no longer speak with one voice – and Elliott, although well-liked, will never be the producers’ TCO. More than ever, though, Simon and Randy are on the same page. Simon told Elliott that his performance of A Song for You was superb and, in parts, of vocal master class caliber.

Conversely, Nigel said that Katharine is in a class above most AI singers. Uh oh – looks like we might have dueling TCOs. If only for the sake of karmic justice, I almost wish Kat would win so that clan McPhee can join the AI dysfunctional family and Simon would finally face his comeuppance.

Until now I have carefully sidestepped the is-Kat-conceited debate. But I must grant that it takes an amateur with an inordinately high opinion of herself to launch into a spontaneous duet with a world-class opera star. Whether Pappy McPhee influenced Simon’s retraction or not, Kat might be feeling empowered and a little cocky about now. I am curious to see her song selections next week and how the judges handle her – and if she'll be wearing any of Pickler's skimpy castoffs. That ought to make her father cry.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Vote for Elliott Yamin! April 25, 2006



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Please vote two hours non-stop for Elliott!

No vote splitting!

Dial Idol regularly for voting data updates.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Dial Idol: T-H-E-Y Are the Top 2?

I cast 206 votes for Elliott Yamin in 2 hours from my landline in the Orange County, California 714 area code. My votes for him this week are less than half my usual total due to twice as many busy signals.

Is Dial Idol accurate? DI's results do not count or monitor American Idol votes via text messages.

Did Ace Young, Paris Bennett and Chris Daughtry earn enough text message votes to escape the bottom three?

My hunch is that Ace, Chris and Katharine McPhee probably benefit from text messages. Each week, as I have monitored the changes to Dial Idol results as voting moves from east to west, my time zone – Pacific – always boosts Kat's score. Over the weeks, Elliott Yamin's score has equalized across the time zones.

I have never posted a prediction this season but, if DI and my instincts are correct, the bottom three will be Ace, Paris and Kellie Pickler. I doubt that Ace received enough text message votes to escape the bottom. If American Idol discarded all of Kellie's Vote for the Worst votes, she might be in as much trouble this week as her off-key, off-tempo, awful performance merited.

I pray that Paris and Elliott Yamin live to sing another day. They were the best o’ the week. Along with Taylor Hicks, they are my top three.

With Dial Idol, it's a big if.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Vote for Elliott Yamin! April 18, 2006


Please vote two hours non-stop for Elliott!

No vote splitting!

Dial Idol regularly for voting data updates.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Find Me Some Bunny to Love

Idol found. Call off the search.

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Happy Easter!

The Energizer Rabbit: Taylor Hicks.

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Saturday, April 15, 2006

Is Simon Cowell Off His Rocker?

Viewers of American Idol figured out early in the season five competition that, of all twenty-four semifinalists, Simon Cowell clearly prefers Chris Daughtry for his recording voice and Kellie Pickler for her other – ahem – talents. Cowell told Larry King on March 17, 2006 that Daughtry, Pickler and Taylor Hicks were the top three contestants to beat.

On April 14, 2006, Extra posted a summary of the interview Simon gave to their reporter Terri Seymour, also Cowell’s girlfriend. Surprisingly, Extra identified Paris Bennett as Simon’s favorite to win, despite a record of giving her mixed reviews.

So – is Simon Cowell off his rocker, Chris Daughtry, or just off his rocker?

Cowell is an extravagantly wealthy British music and TV mogul who will have shows this year on nearly every major American network. Reportedly he is the highest paid star in Fox TV history. He started as a teenager clerking in the mailroom for EMI and worked his way up to record producer within three years. He has lost a fortune in the music industry and remade it a hundredfold. An Artist and Repertoire (A&R) executive, Cowell serves as a talent scout for Sony BMG, the label that signs the winners of American Idol and other Cowell-affiliated programs.

"The only reason that I put myself through this pain is because my label gets the artist," he told Bill Carter of the New York Times about his gig as AI judge. "Which is why I actually do care if I hate somebody or I actually like somebody."

Simon is motivated by more than a big payoff. He relishes variety and challenge. "Making a lot of money usually means not putting your neck on the block anymore, but putting your neck on the block is part of the thrill. If I genuinely believe something is a good idea, then I'm willing to fail or succeed by giving it a go."

Two years ago, as he was preparing to launch new and risky projects, the coolly confident Cowell experienced an unfamiliar twinge of self-doubt. "I remember thinking: My gosh, I've sold a new talent show in Britain, and I'm taking 'Idol' off the air there. I'm launching a classical group called Il Divo. I'm changing the sound of the group Westlife, which had already sold 40 million records. And I was thinking: This could all come crashing down. This new show could fail. The classical group could fail. I could screw Westlife's career up. Why am I doing this, because it's going to be quite a high-profile bomb if that happens."

A lawsuit last year against Cowell by partner Simon Fuller was settled in time for him to return for season five of American Idol. He reluctantly surrendered the right to bring his beloved British show The X Factor to the U.S. in exchange for a three-year AI contract extension, including rights to record the winners, and a shipload o' shekels.

Days before the debut of this season’s top 24, Simon told Associated Press writer Derrik J. Lang that only three semifinalists "have got a chance in the music industry."

"To me, it was absolutely crystal clear at this stage last year that Carrie Underwood would win the competition," said Cowell. "So it all felt a bit obvious. Whereas this year, I could argue the case for seven or eight of the contestants. I genuinely don't know who's gonna win. I've got a feeling who are gonna make the finals. But once you're in the finals, I think you're gonna have the most open competition you've ever seen, which for us and the viewers at home, that's a good thing."

Interviewed by Don Kaplan of the New York Post, Simon assayed the top 24 as “a real chocolate box of talent – or lack thereof."

“You're not going to find 12 amazing singers this year,” he predicted. “But you're going to get 12 characters, I'm sure of that." Cowell described Idol as "a drama. When we first pitched the show to [British TV], we said: 'This is a soap opera with a music backdrop. It's much more about that thumbs-up or thumbs-down than the music.' "

"When we made the decisions about who was going to go through,” he explained, “we tried to mix it up as much as possible so that there would be people who the audience would be genuinely interested in."

Simon told Kaplan that personality more than talent contributed to the program’s enduring success, which he blamed nevertheless for the season one finale mismatch. "Unfortunately that year popularity, in the case of Justin [Guarini], won over talent,” he complained. “It should have been Tamyra [Gray]."

That Simon – always trying to have it both ways. He can say darn near anything he wants, contradicting himself with little consequence and insulting those who share his screen time at will. Every American Idol contestant yearns for his approval, but being his prized pet has its downside.

The backlash against Chris Daughtry began with his decision to cover Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground in the style of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Even some Daughtry fans thought his choice was a cop-out.

The last undiluted praise Simon lavished on Chris was after his re-interpretation of Johnny Cash’s I Walk the Line during Fanilow week. “And actually I’ve got to tell you," he said, “I think you are the first artist we’ve ever had on this show who’s actually refused to compromise. And for that, a round of applause.”

Within hours, the internet was abuzz with the discovery that the version Cowell attributed to Daughtry as an uncompromising original should have been credited to the band Live, of whom Chris is an avowed fan. The backlash grew ferociously.

The next week Chris performed Creed’s What If with a hard edge reminiscent of Nickelback’s How You Remind Me, which sent Constantine Maroulis packing in season four. Much as he warned Constantine, Simon said, “Chris, for the first time I’m gonna be negative with you because again I thought that was indulgent. There is a line you don’t cross. Creed would not be seen dead on this show. This show is American Idol. You’ve got to start showing, in my opinion, a different side to you. I think you’ve gone too far with that song tonight. You can’t keep doing this week after week after week.”

After Chris sang Keith Urban’s Memories of Us on country night, Simon said, “Chris, listen, it was great to see a different side to you. Having said that, I think that, for two weeks now, you as contestants have chosen really boring, uninteresting songs. And I think the audience at home deserve better than that. I really do. They’re not good songs.”

For this week’s Queen theme, Daughtry selected the obscure Innuendo. “Chris, they don’t perform that song live because it’s not a very good song,” said Simon. “Look, I will grant you the best vocal tonight, the best believable vocal tonight. I’m just disappointed, Chris. I just think it’s a shame that you didn’t decide to entertain the audience at home with one of the great Queen songs, because you could have had a moment tonight. And it was to me, once again, the song was too indulgent.”

By indulgent, Simon meant uncompromising, which this time was not a compliment. In contrast, Queen guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor were mightily impressed by Daughtry.

Later in the show Simon declared that Katharine McPhee “almost had the moment” on Who Wants to Live Forever.

After Elliott Yamin sang Somebody to Love, Simon said, “You know, Elliott, as the guys [Brian and Roger of Queen] said, you chose the tough one. You know, I agree with Randy. It was a kind of in and out performance. Overall, I think you probably pulled it off.” Simon looked a bit sickly and would not meet Elliott’s eye.

Cowell reacted as though he handed Chris a royal platter only to have the ingrate spit on it. Maybe Queen night was intended to be Daughtry’s majestic showcase, but Chris focused on remaining true to his own vision. I suspect Elliott came closest to the moment Simon thought Chris needed to nail to win the competition.

Chris Daughtry has been as consistent in his performances as Simon has been inconsistent in his criticism and rhetoric. Conviction, authenticity and independence are important components of Daughtry’s persona, which I find admirable. Regardless of how long he stays in the contest, I am optimistic that he can have the kind of music career he wants on his terms.

Taylor Hicks is phenomenally popular like Clay Aiken, but Taylor’s fan base might actually be larger because he appeals to so many men as well as women - with one snarky, cranky, non-Yankee exception. The prospect of Hicks as the winning artist Cowell must record and sell to the masses is unlikely to improve his disposition in coming weeks.

The best in Taylor brings out the worst in Simon. After his spirited rendition of Living for the City, Cowell compared Hicks to a "drunken father singing at a wedding." When Taylor delivered the single most entertaining performance in American Idol history this week on Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Simon asked simply, “Are you drunk?” To Terri Seymour of Extra, he added, "It's ungainly, all over the place. It's funny. I'm not disputing the guy can sing, but it's all a bit stupid."

TMZ reported that Taylor was offended by Simon’s saucy remark.

Newly ousted contestant Bucky Covington shared his blunt assessment of Cowell with the Associated Press.

“It seems like he used to give advice,” Bucky observed, “but now he doesn't give advice as he does try to put you down. He told Paris: 'Weird.' What is that supposed to mean? You did not help her any with that comment. You should have just kept your mouth shut. For him to like someone like me or Taylor is out of the question. No matter what we do, he's not going to like us. We're just not his thing."

Back to the question posed by the title of this piece. Is Simon Cowell off his rocker?

I think Simon is bored with American Idol and would rather be judging the American version of The X Factor, which cannot happen until AI goes off the air permanently. I doubt that he would try to sabotage Idol overtly, but he is obviously detached from it and often apathetic. His comments have gotten lazy and careless.

I think Simon found Chris Daughtry and his alt-rock-meets-top-40 genre a refreshing change from past Idol wannabes and an interesting potential challenge for his music label. However, Chris has not displayed the killer instinct of a competitor required to shake up the voting trends that are moving Taylor’s way.

Of course, Simon would never expect Chris to record 30-year-old or older hits from the songbooks of Barry Manilow, Kenny Rogers, Rod Stewart or even Queen. As Simon noted above, American Idol is more about soap opera than opera. Theme nights beget good television. Good television begets higher ratings. Higher ratings beget more voters. Unfortunately for Daughtry, monotonous performances on theme nights do not beget more voters. Fortunately for Hicks, his happy feet beget terrific Taylor-vision.

Simon’s inexplicable endorsement of Paris Bennett, if true, could be a devious ploy. Maybe he thinks his favoritism has cost Chris votes, so he will pretend to support Paris instead. Maybe he has truly forsaken Chris and thinks Paris is his best hope to beat Taylor. Or maybe he finally appreciates the sweet little girl with the big voice, but he didn’t offer any such indication after her powerful vocal on The Show Must Go On, which he called "weird."

Bucky was right about Simon’s inappropriate comment to Paris. He made inappropriate comments to Taylor and Kellie, too. He only seems to be having fun when annoying Paula Abdul or Ryan Seacrest, who – scripted or ad-libbing – has turned scolding Simon into farce. The good-natured teasing of the past among host and judges has been replaced by poisoned darts lobbed between adversaries. Seacrest appears to be the official spokesman for the American Idol team with Cowell an outcast. During Wednesday’s elimination show, Ryan told Simon, “Each week you look more and more agitated to be here. You’re the grumpiest millionaire I’ve ever met.”

Simon Cowell has behaved all season like a spoiled sourpuss. He may be off the Chris Daughtry bandwagon – or not. But he is about as crazy as Taylor Hicks.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Paris Staying! Ho, Ho, Ho - Not Funny

Paris Bennett is not – I repeat, NOT – dropping out of American Idol. Hurray! Hurrah! Yippee!

The real Rodney Ho stepped forward this morning at 11:35am to pronounce yesterday’s 5:13pm poster an imposter.

Ho wrote, "Some jokester posted under my name yesterday at 5:13 p.m. It’s a faker. (Ditto to anybody else posting under my name last night or this morning.) Not me at all. Why would I post something in the blog comments section of that magnitude rather than make a real blog item? So if someone tries that again, please email me or call me at xxx-xxx-xxxx and flag it for me. A friend of mine flagged this one down for me.

So in summary: Paris isn’t going anywhere. I was just at Starr’s Mill High School this morning and was interviewing some of her friends. That’s why I hadn’t even been on the blog lately.”

I had no idea when I wrote Ho-Town Hoedown on American Idol that I would be spending time shortly thereafter in a real Ho-Town and it would feel like purgatory. Mea maxima culpa. I take full responsibility for my foolish role in this gossip mongering and pray that no one was harmed.

Good Friday found regular readers of Rodney Ho’s American Idol Buzz columns hoodwinked like me and still as confused about the fake comment before he published this morning’s column. Here are excerpts from today’s pre-clarification thread about the poster-imposter.

Deirdre 8:17am: “So I guess today is just going to be confusing. My suggestion to the real Rodney is to either not post today at all, or when you plan to post something, give one of us a call so that we can let the others know it is you. Either that, or send out the jerk police and have this guy arrested…

My poor 85 year old mom got all upset when I told her that Paris was thinking of leaving the competition…are you proud of yourself…are you going to tell an 85 year old to ‘get a life’?”

Mike S 8:27am: “As an IT professional it would seem to me they should be able to set things so no one can use the name Rodney Ho —- RH ya’ll might want to look into that.”

Yo Daddy 9:07am: “I am so confused. This is why it would be nice if AJC would set up a bulletin board type forum. We could register our names and trouble makers could be banned.

Carla 9:08am: “What up Yo. So was the Paris posting a fake or what?”

Carla 9:15am: “Yesterday Rodney or a Rodney impersonator said that Paris was quitting the competition. But then some later posts said it was fake. I’m not sure who the real Rodney is anymore.”

Vin 9:39am: “Hi All. I caught Rodney’s post yesterday about Paris wanting to blow the gig. So that wasn’t the real Rodney? What is going on up in here?”

Jim J 9:51am: “What up, blawg pound? Someone seems to have gotten really carried away on this blog lately. Hey Mike, is there not a way AJC could require email addresses to be registered or some kind of safeguard. I feel your pain, Rodney Ho. Some idiot jerk has posted under my name many times, and there is really nothing that can be done about it.”

Update: The real Rodney Ho (at least, I think it was the real Rodney Ho) contacted me this morning. I thank him and apologize sincerely for helping to perpetuate the hoax.

He wrote, "“This is the real Rodney Ho at the Atlanta Journal Constiuttion. All that is not real. Someone was pretending to be me. Feel free to call me at xxx-xxx-xxxx and I can confirm that.”

Thursday, April 13, 2006

More Confused Than Ever

I think I’m having a Dan Rather moment. This whole Paris Bennett rumor may be a hoax initiated by a malicious manipulator, possibly one using the name Idol Fan. As of this posting, I am still trying to assemble the facts, which are in short supply.

I can only hope that Dan felt as gullible as a Kellie Pickler fan like I do right now – but I don’t think he ever did.

This afternoon, while recuperating from a 4-day (thus far) stomach flu, I was checking out different American Idol message boards that I usually don’t have the time to read. Several of them posted the same report about Paris Bennett attributed to Rodney Ho. I researched the rumor for more than two hours before posting it. Nowhere was it contradicted – not on the Access Atlanta site where I confirmed that the post existed. Not in the thread where I found it, which included comments that seemed to corroborate it as a legitimate Rodney Ho post. Not on the message boards treating it as gospel from an extremely reliable source.

As of now, there is no clear confirmation or denial. But here are the tiny tidbits of clarification I found at the Access Atlanta American Idol Buzz site. The links below are live so that you can check them out for yourself. I would have posted this sooner, but my blog and especially Rodney Ho's are experiencing high traffic. For the record, his site was congested long before I posted a link to it.

Exhibit A: the post that started it all under the name Rodney Ho - linked to Rodney Ho’s professional e-mail address

April 13, 2006 05:13 PM Link to this

Hi all, I’m in between classes, so there’s no time to create a new blog, but the Fox execs let me have 8 minutes with Paris today. She told me she’s thinking of dropping out of the competition becuase singing is really not her thing. She said she realized that she’s doing it moreso for her family than herself. Don’t know if she will stick with it or not. Stay tuned….

Exhibit B: posted under the name Idol Fan – but linked to an MSN e-mail address beginning with the name Renee

April 13, 2006 09:19 PM Link to this

Any truth to this rumor? It has been reported on a couple of Idol sites that you interviewed a contest that is supposedly leaving the show because singing isn’t for them. I’m told it’s posted on one of your blogs, but I can’t find exactly where?

Exhibit C: the only clear denial posted by a seemingly good Samaritan under the name Know It All

April 13, 2006 10:08 PM Link to this

Idol Fan,
No truth. I think that was a ghost blogger.

Exhibit D: a confusing post under the name Rodney Ho - linked to Rodney Ho’s professional e-mail address

April 13, 2006 10:05 PM Link to this

Hrm, apparently anyone can post as “Rodney Ho,” so maybe the bit about Paris is not legit.

Sincerely, NOT Rodney Ho

Exhibit E: posted under the name Rodney Ho but linked to the same MSN e-mail address beginning with the name Renee as Idol Fan

April 13, 2006 10:11 PM Link to this

Breaking News, Paris is staying until the end. I’ll keep you posted.

Exhibit F: posted under the name Rodney Ho but linked to the same MSN e-mail address beginning with the name Renee as Idol Fan

April 13, 2006 10:16 PM Link to this

Paris is staying posted by Singing 102!

Will the real Rodney Ho please step forward and clarify? I guess we will know for sure tomorrow if I have tangled myself in a web of shame.

Please leave a comment if you have any helpful information.

Paris Bennett Leaving American Idol?

Rodney Ho of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution just posted the message below at his Access Atlanta blog. He is a legitimate writer-reporter, so this is not just idle Idol gossip.

Update 7:00pm Pacific Time:

Here is another way to find Rodney Ho’s message if the hyperlink above is too slow due to traffic congestion. There is still no confirmation regarding whether this is a hoax or not. The only response under the name Rodney Ho was actually linked to someone else's e-mail address.

Go to Access Atlanta’s American Idol Buzz column (please note Access Atlanta’s affiliation with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). Look for Rodney Ho’s blog article titled Bucky is finally going home, published on 4/12. Scroll down through the comments at the bottom of this article until you find the message below, which was posted on 4/13 at 5:13pm under the name Rodney Ho.

Hi all, I’m in between classes, so there’s no time to create a new blog, but the Fox execs let me have 8 minutes with Paris today. She told me she’s thinking of dropping out of the competition becuase singing is really not her thing. She said she realized that she’s doing it moreso for her family than herself. Don’t know if she will stick with it or not. Stay tuned….

Real Good Man

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Bucky Covington, singing Best I Ever Had, his high-water mark and one of my personal favorites from all five seasons of American Idol. I hope he gets to record this, the sooner, the better.

Luis and I had never heard the song before, but Bucky performed it with such simple honesty that the sad, haunting beauty caught us unprepared. We rushed out to buy Vertical Horizon's original and the Gary Allan cover, which inspired Bucky's interpretation.

We could tell this was no ordinary heartbreak song. See Gary Allan's website for more details. By the way, Bucky's is still our favorite version. You can download Bucky's video and mp3 among other performance clips available at Bucky Country.

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Bucky, singing his elimination song, Fat Bottomed Girls, and touching base with his close friend, Elliott Yamin. Interviewed after the results show by Simon Cowell's girlfriend/reporter Terri Seymour, Paula Abdul described Bucky and Elliott as the most unpretentious and humble sweethearts.

Asked what he will miss the most about American Idol, Bucky replied, "Elliott Yamin. He was my best buddy through this whole thing."

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Bucky with his good friends, Elliott and Taylor Hicks, and the $5 pickle.

Middle and bottom photos courtesy of Gray Charles.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Vote for Elliott Yamin! April 11, 2006

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Two hours non-stop for Elliott!

No vote splitting!

Check Dial Idol regularly for voting data updates.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Ho-Town Hoedown on American Idol

Tuesday Throwdown

Someone somewhere was asking, “Whatever happened to Kenny Rogers?” And – whoops – there he was hawking his new album on American Idol, fresh from his appearance-altering appearance on Nip/Tuck. Just kidding. I understand his greatest hits compilations sell well in Europe, where he and David Hasselhoff are considered gods.

Chris Rock was in the audience to check out a new show with a lot of industry buzz, Everybody Hates Simon. Whoopi Goldberg, too. So was actress Rachel Bilson. Or was it actress Amber Tamblyn? It must be Bilson because Tamblyn doesn't have a show currently on Fox. Either way, she looks like she could be Katharine McPhee's sister.

The only obvious qualification for a guest performer or coach this season is the need to plug a recording. So, who acquired QVC - Fox or RCA? I don't have enough time to keep track of all these mergers and American Idol.

Pearl Jam has a new release due May 2, 2006. Should we look forward to Complaint Rock as an upcoming theme? I relish the prospect of Eddie Vedder coaching Chris Daughtry. “Not enough vibrato,” Eddie would say. “More intensity.”

Daughtry’s abbreviated version of Jeremy would feature the line “Jeremy spoke in, spoke in” snarled repeatedly for 80 seconds. Elliott Yamin would open the show with an emotionally charged performance of Black, ruined by its early placement and constant bickering between Simon Cowell and Ryan Seacrest.

Of course, that would never happen. Pearl Jam is the antithesis of corporate rock – and, anyway, I suspect Vedder is a Taylor Hicks fan.

Back to Kenny Rogers, whose last two high profile gigs were promoting Indian casinos and selling chicken. Couldn’t the Idol crew find a country star with a smidgen of relevance to today’s youth – or at least the ability to put aside personal biases to offer constructive advice? I could have sworn I saw Travis Tritt in the audience Wednesday.

Rogers coached the way Cowell judges. Simon allows his limited tastes and libido to guide him. He disdains country music, but he shore likes purty Kellie Pickler. In similar fashion, Kenny instantly cottoned to her. Apparently he thinks with his little Simon, too.

Kenny’s frame of reference is the sleepy country-adult contemporary market. His coaching didn’t seem to help any of them – and actually harmed Elliott. Rogers was complimentary to the contestants who could fit those niches. He was iffy on Chris and negatory on our good buddy, Taylor.

I have watched Tuesday’s entire show four times now and still think everyone performed well, especially Bucky Covington who deserved the evening's pimp spot. In less than two minutes, Bucky conveyed the heartbreak of Best I Ever Had, giving my husband and me chills and moving us to tears. We have replayed his performance over and over. It was a star-making turn that I think assured Bucky of a recording contract.

I understand why Taylor, Chris and Bucky have large, loyal fan bases. They know exactly who they are and remain true to their musical vision. They are authentic, consistent, and confident - a distinct advantage they have over the younger or less experienced contestants.

Is American Idol trying to sabotage Taylor? On Fanilow night, he was nearly drowned out by a completely unnecessary saxamaphone. This week he was drowned out by a fiddler at the foot of the stage, a hopped up arrangement, and backing singers who shadowed his melody on the chorus. Next week the theme will be Queen. I half-expect the crew to tie a boulder around Taylor’s waist and push him off the Queen Mary into the Pacific Ocean. That’ll clear the way for Simon’s pet, Chris, to win, by golly.

Kenny Rogers was dismissive of Taylor’s talent and downright contemptuous of Elliott – the only soul singers left in the competition. Coincidence? I think not. His advice was tantamount to giving a sprinter cowboy boots to run a marathon.

Rogers actually told Elliott, “If the lyric’s important, don’t do a lot of licks. Sing it simply. I have a feeling that’s your comfort zone – that, as long as you’re doing those, you know people are impressed.”

Them’s fightin’ words.

So, Kenny, I guess that Billy Joel is just a piano show-off who should stick to Chopsticks. And jazz musicians – they only play those complex lines and chords because they suck at country music. Grrr.

I scrutinize every note Elliott has sung on American Idol. He has never oversung, not once. His vocal runs – or licks, as Kenny called them – are never gratuitous. In contrast, Katharine McPhee tends to pad the more intricate melodies with aimless vocal runs that fall apart when she tries to improvise, as heard on All Is Fair in Love.

Elliott and Katharine have arrived at the same destination from opposite directions. If she gained more experience and he more confidence, they can become superstar vocalists. Like Ayla Brown, Katharine is a hard worker more than a raw talent and deserves credit for doing so well, as does her mother, the vocal coach. She pretties up every song - and I am referring more to her singing style than to her looks. On Until You Come Back to Me, a pure R&B composition immortalized by Aretha Franklin, her coquettish delivery was distracting. Every time she glances off to the side with that little celebratory smile, I imagine her thinking, "Look, Ma, no clunkers."

Too often Katharine seems detached from the material she sings. Usually she purrs when she should growl, although she did rock out this week quite effectively. For that reason, I enjoyed Bringing Out the Elvis in Me more than most of her serious, challenging selections. However, the song must have brought out the Beatles in the arranger because it sounded at times like I Am the Walrus.

Elliott has only one good ear, but it’s a doozy. He is a rare vocal prodigy with a powerful instrument. His talent is so natural that it's certified 100% organic. He would benefit from professional training, but not from some drive-thru album-plugger du jour who doesn’t appreciate righteous soul. His pitch is nearly flawless, as are his instincts. His most enjoyable performances have been the under-coached, heartfelt favorites that he selected.

American Idol edits the video introductions for each performer. Shame on whomever decided to play that particular clip right before Elliott began to sing. As Simon has noted, a visible lack of confidence has held Elliott back before and, unsurprisingly, did again Tuesday. Nevertheless, his performance of If Tomorrow Never Comes was clean, warm and lovely.

I think the judges have been very fair with Elliott. Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul are unabashed fans. On our local Fox news affiliate this week, Simon reiterated that he is interested in signing only each season’s winner to a contract or else it would cheapen the victory. I like to think that, no matter how Elliott fares in the next seven weeks, Randy will do what he can to help his singing career. But I will still be voting constantly for two hours next Tuesday.

Wednesday Showdown

By the luckiest accident of birth, I was raised by parents who were ethical to the core – sometimes to their own detriment. They taught me the value of good moral character by modeling it throughout their lives and as they confronted death.

My definition of an idol was influenced by everyday heroes that I have known or read about. The modern celebrity culture elevates personalities of minor accomplishment to superhuman status, albeit with their full cooperation, and then annihilates them when they fail to meet our unrealistic expectations. Folks of good character need not apply.

To paraphrase one of my favorite maxims, character can be measured by how we behave when we think nobody is watching. I believed that was the ultimate test of one’s mettle until Wednesday’s American Idol results show. Elliott Yamin exemplified character, courage, compassion, and class under stress with 25.4 million viewers watching.

As much as anyone competing this season, Elliott wants and needs to win American Idol. Standing in the bottom three lineup, he must have felt his dream slipping away. I have received plenty of bad news over the years and anyone who knows me even casually would attest to my personal strength. Elliott Yamin handled his with a depth of unselfish kindness that I find hard to describe. Generous. Loving. Awe-inspiring. Just flat out inspiring.

We have seen several contestants cry, but few tears were more touching than Elliott’s when he met his idol, Stevie Wonder. In those heart-stopping minutes as the elimination drama played out, Elliott did not cry. He did not even appear to sweat, but he was glowing with an unexpected aura of serenity.

Elliott applauded and threw a supportive glance Paris Bennett’s way when she was declared safe. Immediately, he grabbed Mandisa Hundley’s hand and assumed a protective stance until she was revealed as the lowest vote getter. Then he hugged her tightly and said, “I love you, Mandisa.” With a sad smile and a few more words to cheer her, he relinquished her reluctantly.

The stylists have been working their magic on Elliott and he looks hunkier by the week. I dare anyone to watch Elliott with Mandisa and not see what a beautiful human being he is, inside and out.

Those of us who dote on Elliott Yamin already knew about his humility, honesty and humor. His charm is quintessentially American - that of the common man with uncommon talent. Many of us believe that Elliott is the most gifted vocalist in five years of American Idol.

He listens respectfully to the judges and coaches - perhaps more to them than to his inner voice, a trend that needs to be reversed immediately. He is caring and considerate of his peers. He adores his mother, who raised him and his siblings primarily as a single woman.

Elliott has endured much adversity in his life but refuses to act the victim. He is 90% deaf in one ear and wears an insulin pump with a monitor that clips to his pants – hence, his untucked shirts. After dropping out of high school, he earned his GED while working full-time and turned his life around with the help of a mentor who remains a close friend.

On a good week, American Idol offers wholesome entertainment and delightful singing talent. Since Clay Aiken technically did not win season two, the show has never delivered on its self-titled promise of an American idol.

Ladies and gentlemen, for your considerationand reconsiderationhere is your American Idol.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Vote for Elliott Yamin!

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Two hours for Elliott!

No vote splitting!

11:15pm Update:

I stopped counting at 400 votes at around the 100 minute mark in the 2-hour voting window, not quite as many as last week's total or the week before. I heard the "circuits are busy" message consistently through the 120 minutes that I voted, especially during the first 25 minutes.

I hope that the extra phone line congestion in my Pacific time zone augurs well for Elliott. However, lines for other contestants might be busier than usual, too.

Dial Idol, which we have learned is of limited value, shows its bottom three - Paris Bennett, Elliott Yamin and Mandisa Hundley - dropping steadily percentage-wise as voting spread westward across the U.S. time zones.

Now that I'm done voting for Elliott this week, it's time to pray.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Flavor of Love Reunion Tonight on VH1

Have you been Googling to get the latest lowdown on Flavor Flav and Hoopz? Rooting for a rematch between New York and Pumkin? Wonder and wait no more.

VH1 is airing the Flavor of Love Reunion: After the Lovin' tonight at 8:00pm Pacific Daylight Time. Check your local listings.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

We Still Have Paula Abdul to Kick Around

Reality Blurred reports that Paula Abdul has signed an extension of her contract to appear as a rambling, incoherent cheerleader on American Idol for at least three more years, although it may feel like thirty.

Regrettably, this is not a sick April Fool's joke.

Abdul released this statement:

“It is truly an honor to be a part of the AMERICAN IDOL phenomenon. As an artist myself, it is a pleasure to have a connection with each of the contestants and be able to fully support their dreams and aspirations. They truly inspire and amaze me each week. Of course, I also look forward to putting Simon in his place for years to come."

Details of her agreement, including those pleasurable connections with contestants, have not been publicized. The confused Ms. Abdul, who was caught this week looking for an Ace bandage to heal whatever ails her, apparently thinks she is a judge on Scar Search.

Tweaky Tuesday on 21st Century Fox

If I didn’t have incontrovertible evidence, courtesy of Digital Video Recording, I would still be questioning my visual faculties. If you watched the March 28, 2006 edition of American Idol, you saw it, too.

In the space of one hour, Taylor Hicks and Elliott Yamin pulled off a body swap.

It is not unusual for people who spend large chunks of time together to assume each other’s language and idiosyncrasies. But this – this was more like identity theft. Yaminesque, Taylor stood relatively motionless at the microphone stand, pouring himself soulfully into an unfamiliar song, Trouble by Ray LaMontagne. He remained stationary and uncharacteristically subdued as the judges assessed his performance.

As Taylor did on Stevie Wonder night, Elliott entered dancing from the band side of the stage. His delight in performing I Don’t Wanna Be was transparent and contagious – one of those moments of perfect joy when he was obviously in love with the world and everything in it. He reacted to the judges’ varying degrees of praise by laughing heartily, spinning and bouncing – a self-effacing variation of the Hicks Snoopy dance.

I may be one of the few regular AI commentators not whining about Tuesday’s show. What that tells me is that the others’ favorites performed less than spectacularly this week. I completely enjoyed Taylor Hicks, Elliott Yamin and any combination thereof. T-H-E-Y are my top two from season five, not necessarily in that order.

Taylor seems like the least likely AI contestant ever – the anti-Idol, in fact – but is the most likely to win this season, provided that his enormous fan base votes consistently. He is like pure, unfiltered sunshine – or moonshine, if that’s how you get your kicks. His irresistible appeal is that of an overgrown, unspoiled boy with an old white man’s hair and an old black man’s mojo for music. He is the Steve Martin happy feet skit sprung to life.

One week he sat down on Stevie Wonder’s piano bench and said, “It’s nice to see you.” An awkward pause followed. The next week he walked into rehearsal, greeting Barry Manilow with a Mandy serenade.

Undoubtedly it helped Taylor to show this week that he is a serious singer who can control his rubbery limbs when necessary. Almost certainly Elliott had to prove that he is more than a bashful crooner of jazzy, complex ballads from a bygone era. Missions accomplished.

Elliott dared to select a song the audience closely identifies with the ever-popular Bo Bice, scrubbed away the pretty soft-rock veneer and uncovered the raw funkiness underneath. While displaying more versatility than any other contestant this season with the exception of Paris Bennett, who was equally impressive on Tuesday, he conquered yet another intricate melody, this one testing the bottom of his range and his falsetto. As he roller boogied across the stage on invisible skates without losing his pitch or his nerve, he looked the part of a crowd-pleasing idol for the first time since If You Really Love Me.

Elliott took a huge risk, leaping out of his comfort zone with no guarantee of a soft landing. Miss Pickler, this is what a ballsy looks like. Instead of choosing a 21st century composition that he could retrofit into his niche of classic R&B, he used the theme to modernize his image and tweak audience expectations. In return, Elliott was rewarded with the so-called pimp spot, the final showcase of the evening under star-maker lighting just as voters are picking up their phones. He also earned his most flattering reviews since shocking us with the unsurpassed musicality of Moody’s Mood for Love.

Growing legions of Yaminiacs, Yaminions, and E-Train passengers swoon over his every note and move. Someday his sweat towels will fetch big bucks on the internet. I write proudly as one of the Yamin-obsessed. Regardless of our age, gender or religion, we are all his Jewish mothers. [For the record, I am not Jewish. However, during my first marriage, I was Jewish by injection.]

We kvetch on message boards when our boy is criticized or under appreciated. We rack our fixated brains to find just the right song for him to fit each theme. We are impatient for Tuesday to arrive and, when it does, we await his turn with hope and high anxiety. We vote with the zeal of true believers and fret when his phone line isn’t busy enough. Then we form a prayer circle to get through Wednesdays until we know that he is safe for another week.

We consider Elliott a prodigious vocalist, perhaps the most naturally gifted in American Idol history. We note that the perceived AI5 frontrunners benefit from advantages that Elliott does not – formal training, industry contacts, onstage experience, superficial beauty. We understand that he may be a long shot and worry that he needs more AI exposure to secure a recording contract. We want the fairy tale to come true for our Cinderfella.

This week Taylor Hicks and Elliott Yamin proved how much they want to win this competition – not for the sake of victory or celebrity or the perks of success, but because they were born to sing. After T-H-E-Y zap themselves back into their respective bodies, please pass the magic wand.

If only for one very special episode of American Idol, I would like Taylor and Simon Cowell to switch places. Just imagine Simon doing Taylor's signature dance, the Diddley Squat! Now that would be a show sure to please everyone.