Thursday, May 29, 2008

Jeff Buckley: Not the Last Goodbye

Today is the 11th anniversary of the shockingly premature death of Jeff Buckley. My dear friend A and I heard his Grace album fourteen years ago and fell in love forever with Buckley's voice, which held the poetry of Edith Piaf, the purity of Brian Wilson, and the passion of Patti Smith.

If Jason Castro did nothing else in his American Idol run, he introduced Buckley's music to an appreciative new audience that propelled "Hallelujah" to the top of the iTunes charts. As Jason said in his many post-elimination interviews, if viewers hadn't heard Buckley before, they needed to.

Castrocopia has posted a tribute of bootleg recordings and quotations about Buckley from his peers who describe his talent more effectively than I can. Better still, here is the talent of Jeff Buckley to speak for itself.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

I Was Thinking Jason Castro. Yeah!

Last night I used my cell phone and my brand new Go Phone with unlimited texting (thank you, Best Buy) to vote for Jason Castro for two hours. I would have voted with my laptop, too, but even my computer genius son cannot figure out how to get Dial Idol to work with our digital phone line.

Even before I first read the play-by-play by those wonderful folks at Castrocopia who get to watch American Idol three hours before I do, yesterday was an usually long and stressful day for me. My handicapped brother who lives with us was sick with severe pain, a high fever, and blood coming from places that a sister just doesn't want to look at. Although he is sixteen years my elder, I feel almost maternal toward him and it hurts me to my soul to see him suffer.

But as I voted two-handedly with all the energy I could muster, yawning in solidarity with Jason, you know what I was thinking? I was thinking Jason Castro. Yeah! So I couldn't help but smile, a feeling of calm settling on my bruised heart, and I kept voting.

From his first televised performance, Daydream, until the last falsetto note of Mr. Tambourine Man, Jason has remained true to the heart of music celebrated by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In choosing to honor two of its most daring pioneers, Bob Marley and Bob Dylan, Jason was faithful to rock’s spirit of musical rebellion. Knowing that the PaulaGate 2008 firing squad would be locked and loaded this week, it would have been so easy and even tempting for Jason to pick two safe songs approximating the feel good, easy listening vibe of Somewhere over the Rainbow. Instead, he risked everything on I Shot the Sheriff, finally revealing and reveling in that music loving mojo on display in his pre-AI videos that turned new fans into devout followers. He stepped way outside his comfort zone and, arms outstretched, invited us all inside, even the firing squad. I would expect nothing less from a self-taught guitarist who earlier in the season was brave and ballsy enough to debut his one-week-old ukulele skills on international television.

Jason's stripped down Mr. Tambourine Man was just lovely, but he is not responsible for Bandzilla's desecration of what is arguably the seminal song that spawned a reggae revolution. It was grossly unfair but hardly surprising for the firing squad to blame Jason for the band's bluesy interpretation of I Shot the Sheriff. For a brief moment before Jason's vocal began, I could have sworn they borrowed the intro from one of Elliott Yamin's arrangements in season five.

If you think Jason doesn’t care about his performance any more or never did, you aren’t paying close enough attention. Jason’s nerves manifest in his falsetto and his vibrato. This week both belied his otherwise serene demeanor. The shaky falsetto finish to Mr. Tambourine Man in AI week 12 is reminiscent of the broken falsetto ending on Hallelujah in week 3. Those songs bookend a string of increasingly self-assured outings that featured a tamed vibrato and absolutely gorgeous falsetto, which suggests the confidence that imbued his renditions of Fragile, I Don't Wanna Cry and even Forever in Blue Jeans was shaken to the core. He was still as pitch perfect as ever, but his first lyrical lapse of the competition was further evidence of his emotional vulnerability to the AI mind games.

I've been doing some serious thinking. I don’t know Jason Castro and I am old enough to be his mother, but it hurts me to my soul to see him suffer. So why did I double my votes for him, knowing what it may cost him to stand before the firing squad another week? I was thinking Jason Castro. I want his ruby red slippers to take him back to Texas this week for the homecoming of a lifetime.

Which AI7 contestant shares my passion for music and respects its power to change lives? I was thinking Jason Castro.

Which contestant in this season of American Idol – heck, in the history of the show – best represents my musical sensibility? I was thinking Jason Castro.

Which contestant has treated American Idol with exactly the modicum of respect that a manipulative machine devoid of heart and real soul deserves? I was thinking Jason Castro.

Which contestant got me to purchase my first ever Mariah Carey tune and my least favorite Neil Diamond composition? I was thinking Jason Castro.

Which contestant inspires me to buy a Go Phone, revive my sleepy blog, buy singles on iTunes, and do whatever is necessary – raise money, start a petition, whatever – to get him a recording contract? I was thinking Jason Castro.

Which contestant will be entertaining his audience long after the American Idol franchise collapses under the weight of its own emptiness? I was thinking Jason Castro – and I bet I'll be thinking Jason Castro for years to come. Yeah!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Vote for Jason Castro!

Vote for Jason Castro!

Vote by phone:



or text vote:

Text the word "VOTE" to 5703

Jason Castro: Show Us the Mojo and We'll Show You the Money!

As I write this on Tuesday, May 6th, rumors indicate that Jason Castro will be performing “I Shot the Sheriff” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” tonight. Since these spoilers were first posted on Monday, a wave of negativity swept across the internet before Jason has sung a single note.

Sound familiar? It’s PaulaGate 2008 all over again!

How do you think this makes Jason feel? After realizing the judges are sharpening their long knives no matter how well you perform, just imagine how disheartening it must be to discover that your fans have so little faith in you.

If you have watched the You Tube videos of Jason performing "Santeria"and "Bad Fish," you already know Jason has a mojo for reggae and ska. When Jason threw himself into the cheesy Neil Diamond group medley on results night last week, many of us shouted, “Yes! Where has that Jason Castro been hiding? Give us more, please.”

We already know that Jason has such a heart for music that he can hardly contain it. He cannot help but sing along even when it’s not his turn or his solo, regardless how uncool he looks or how craptastic the song may be. We are hungry to experience that sense of abandon and surrender again. We want America to see the Jason Castro whose rendition of "Crazy" was so powerful and passionate that even cynical Simon Cowell became a convert.

Who cares what the judges and some critics will say? I mean, really! They don’t vote. We do. I even bought a “free” Go Phone from Best Buy yesterday.

If Jason brings the mojo tonight, he will deserve the top 3 and beyond. He will deserve fans – and record labels – that bring the money.

Are you with me?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

What Does Katharine McPhee Have That Jason Castro Doesn't?

loose cannon
a dangerously uncontrollable person or thing

cannon fodder

an expendable or exploitable person, group, or thing


what happens when a loose cannon prematurely discharges the cannon fodder and it backfires

I am truly outraged by the flippant way that Nigel Lythgoe and the American Idol crew shrugged off any suggestion that they owe Jason Castro an apology for PaulaGate 2008. Clearly they figure that Jason was safe, so no harm, no foul. Right?


I remember that completely unnecessary mea culpa Simon Cowell delivered to Katharine McPhee two seasons ago strictly because she was one of Nigel’s favorites. Hey, Simon, would you apologize to Kat McPhee if she looked like Quasimodo?

I’m not ready to make nice.

As a Castronaut, I am furious at Paula Abdul for her callous treatment of Jason since she sucker-punched him right before his second American Idol performance Tuesday night. Not once in any of the post-PaulaGate interviews did Abdul express even the slightest concern for Jason’s feelings – and she is reputedly the kind, nurturing judge. Phooey. One day after the most notorious public lapse in mental clarity since the 1992 Vice Presidential debate, Paula showed up to work dressed appropriately enough for a remake of “Valley of the Dolls.” Nigel did learn his lesson, though. Before he dispatches his bus o’ death to take out Jason this week, the driver will have to pass a breathalyzer test.

American Idol has never been a fair contest on a level playing field, but somehow the show’s shenanigans are ignored by most of the press because the milieu is reality TV. Like their mainstream media brethren, in general entertainment journalists exhibit a “group think” herd mentality characterized by an absence of critical thinking, resulting in articles that hew closely to the official AI line with little or no independent reporting. Once again bloggers in pajamas have to do all the heavy lifting. No wonder the arrogant AI crew think they are untouchable.

Imagine a baseball game officiated by umpires who get their paychecks from the team owner. At the end of the season, that team produces their Most Valuable Player. Now imagine that the umpire behind home plate – the most prominent umpire who calls the balls and strikes – is collecting an even larger paycheck from a company that will own the exclusive rights to the season’s MVP. If major league baseball operated like American Idol, the owners, the umpires, and even the MVPs would be investigated by a Senate committee.

Simon Cowell and Sony BMG own the recording rights to every contestant in the worldwide Idol franchise that they choose to sign to a deal. In his March 18, 2007 interview with Anderson Cooper, Cowell explained, “My only interest was 'Idol' was a vehicle to launch records. That was the only thing I was thinking about. But, what we actually did, interestingly by doing 'Idol,' was I signed the biggest artist on the planet, and it's called 'Idol,' because every single 'Idol' winner is now signed through Sony BMG. And, this applies to all the countries we sell 'Idol' to, which is over 30 countries. So, there's probably now 75 to 100 artists all signed through this one center thing." Ka-ching.

So, if American Idol is just another moneymaker for Cowell and Lythgoe, that makes the contestants nothing more than this year’s widgets, right? They are looking for a specific widget based on an early 1990s prototype of pop, R&B, crossover country, or watered down alt-rock acceptable to top 40 radio, which is their concept of a current sound. To retain AI’s credibility as a talent show and talent scout for Sony BMG, the winning widget needs to be marketable according to their shortsighted expectations.

Every season the top 24 also include contestants selected by the AI crew for their TV entertainment value, hereafter known as cannon fodder, but not necessarily expected to be real contenders. As the contest progresses, the cannon fodder become expendable when they exhaust their usefulness and downright dangerous when they outlast some of the anointed favorites, hereafter known as TCOs (the chosen ones).

The Neil Diamond theme night and results shows offered a textbook example of how American Idol favors its TCOs and exploits its cannon fodder. After Carly Smithson, one of the crew’s favorite favorites, was eliminated the week before, Nigel admitted, "I was very sad. I think Carly is extremely talented, a brilliant voice. I was sorry to lose Michael and I was certainly sorry to lose Carly." He added, “Yeah, I was surprised. In my opinion, I felt that Jason [Castro] was the weakest in the bunch. But he’s got a following, a good following.”

Actually, Nigel, Jason has a great following that is loyal and getting larger. He may be the most appealing contestant in the history of American Idol and he is arguably its most entertaining. He is a folk rock revivalist who brought the artistry of Jeff Buckley and Israel Kamakawiwo’ole to a whole new audience. Jason’s studio recordings remain near the top of the AI iTunes sales charts. He never flubs his lyrics nor suffers from pitch problems. He is unfailingly polite and flat out funny. Despite all these admirable attributes, Jason is the AI crew’s worst nightmare and we are nowhere near ready for him to leave, so get used to us.

Anyway, Ryan Seacrest opened Tuesday’s show with a shout out to Carly. “We’re still reeling after last week’s drama,” Ryan began. “Carly is watching from home tonight. Say ‘hi, Carly!’” That's how AI treats its TCOs.

He also wondered aloud if anyone would lose their cool during the ensuing episode. Paula, misreading her notes again, thought Ryan was referring to her instead of Brooke White and, well, we all know what happened – PaulaGate 2008. And that's the way AI treats its cannon fodder.

First up, Jason performed a fairly faithful rendition of one of Neil Diamond’s fluffier pop confections, “Forever in Blue Jeans,” with the happy-go-lucky folk style he usually displays on uptempo numbers. During the song, Randy and Paula were seen nodding along rhythmically but definitely not taking notes. Afterward the camera panned to the judges' table where the grimacing Randy and grinning Paula fixed their eyes towards the stage. Simon was looking downward with pursed lips and a pissed off expression as though the clock had just struck midnight and that darn Castro kid wasn’t home yet with Cowell’s million dollar Bugatti Veyron sports car.

Fast forward twentysomething minutes to PaulaGate 2008, in which Paula told Jason that he didn’t used to suck, but he sucked now and was destined to suck in the future because her notes said so, and by the way she really meant that David Cook sucked except her notes said Cookie is fantastic and totally not sucky. Speaking on behalf of Castronauts everywhere, Paula, you are officially uninvited to the all-night luau.

Immediately after, as reported by eyewitness Adam B. Vary, “At the ad break, the judges were all whisked out of the studio, Syesha Mercado, David Cook, David Archuleta and Brooke White left waving to the audience, and Jason Castro was left on a stool, stage center, contemplating what, exactly, had just happened.”

Right after that commercial, Jason had to perform again without anesthesia and “September Morn” became “September Mourn.” Unsurprisingly, he appeared preoccupied and his tender singer-songwriter heart just didn’t seem to be engaged. But I’m sure being condemned to an eternity of suckiness by someone who pretended to be a supporter shouldn’t bother him one little bit. Then those shameless “store bought” (Neil Diamond™) judges had the colossal gall to criticize Jason’s subpar performance. They probably didn’t want to do it, but it was in their notes – well, except for Randy. I think he enjoys being mean to Jason.

At the end of the show, the top 5 were reassembled at the foot of the stage as the credits were about to roll. Normally this is when Jason does some of his best work twirling or mimicking Seacrest. But Tuesday night he looked forlorn and too defeated to muster a smile. We wuz robbed.

In contrast to his verbosity during Carly Appreciation Week, thus far Nigel has not commented publicly on Brooke’s elimination, Paula’s verbal faux pas, or its deleterious
effect on Jason. Lythgoe did tell Us Magazine, “There's no one more ditzy than Simon. Or more ass-y than Simon when he wants to be. Depends on the night.” Nobody more ass-y than Simon? I think we need a real judge’s ruling on this.

Thanks for caring about your contestants and your audience, Nigel. We feel so much better now. [/sarcasm]