Thursday, March 28, 2013

"American Idol" 2013: Results (Top 8 to Top 7)

Posted By on Thu, Mar 28, 2013 at 9:15 PM

First, and most importantly, WHAT WAS LAZARO WEARING? It looked like “Day of the Triffids” attacking his shoulders.

The Top 8 opened the show with a group sing of “Old Time Rock N Roll.” The boys just shouted. The girls fared better. I noted that Lazaro and Amber were the only two not given solo sections. (Amber was basically ignored all episode long, despite having -- I thought -- the best performance of the night on Wednesday. The producers are making it awfully obvious who they’re pushing this season. *Cough*Kree, Angie, Janelle*Cough*)

There was some product placement for Ford in which the Idols had to mentor grade-school kids on singing Phillip Phillips’ “Home.” I have a cold, dead heart but even I thought that was cute. If we’re going to have gross product placement, I’d rather we have stuff like this than the stupid pimp-o-mercials.

In Jimmy Iovine’s recap of last night, we got some interesting tidbits. He said that Janelle’s poor performance in the duet with Kree negatively affected his overall opinion of her (but he loved her solo number).He said that Lazaro was indeed better than the previous week, but Jimmy obviously bristled at NickiMinaj’s note for Lazaro to ignore Jimmy. Jimmy thinks Lazaro needs to listen to something -- the melody, at least. SNAP! He thought that Devin sounded good, but compared to the rest of the crop, he “came up short.” Devin is so screwed. He also called the men’s group number terrible. Nicki’s appalled close-up during that performance was a thing of beauty.

After the recap, in which Jimmy predicted an all-boy Bottom 3 and a Lazaro boot, Kree got a nice surprise -- Aretha Franklin left her a voicemail telling her she did a great job on “You Lied” and saying she wasn’t going anywhere. Let’s hope the last part is true. Also, I found that really sweet and cool. Much better than those stupid hometown proclamations.

Then Season 11’s Colton Dixon came back. He put out his first album in January, and it shot to the top of the gospel and Christian charts. That does not surprise me at all. Colton was always incredibly marketable, and he was one of several contestants last year who I expected to find success outside the show, winner or not. (I am still waiting for big things from Skylar Lane and Jessica Sanchez.) Colton sang his new single, an emo-rock ballad called “Love Has Come For Me.” A bit overwrought for my tastes, but I’m sure people into that kind of music will love it. You cannot deny the high level of execution. He’s already a polished star. And just like Casey last week, he was a reminder that we have very few ready-made artists this season.

And then a blast from the WAY past! Season 5’s Katharine McPhee -- one of my all-time favorite “Idol” contestants -- singing with One Republic on its new single. I’ve found it weird that Kat has not appeared in the show lately, given her prominence on “Smash.” I assumed she was trying to distance herself from “Idol.” (Reportedly she’s doing that with “Smash” now, which…isn’t good.) She started singing her part while sitting on the couch with the S12 contestants. I thought that was kind of cool -- a sign of solidarity. She looks great with the shorter hair. The song sounded like modern Coldplay, which is not at all a bad thing. I found I liked it more as it went on. I noticed that she did not speak to Ryan at all.

And then Keith Urban came out to sing his new song, “Long Hot Summer.” Given how relentlessly Jennifer Lopez promoted her various projects on this show, I’m amazed that none of the new judges have performed up until this point. I mean,Nicki has to have stuff in the works. Anyway, this song sounded an awful lot like a couple of Keith’s other songs, and I thought he sounded shouty and sharp. The band was awfully thin for what is obviously supposed to be mainstream-radio bait. Keith’s got some great arms and a nice chest, though. I am objectifying you, Keith! Deal with it!

Results: we are obviously not going back to the public rankings. Way to put your dick on the table and then yank it back, show. Kree, Candice, Janelle, Angie, and Amber were all safe -- this has to be a record for the most number of weeks without this show losing a girl. That left the Bottom 3 consistent with Jimmy’s prediction: Devin, Burnell, and Lazaro.

Lazaro looked pissed. Devin seemed really frustrated. Burnell was largely inscrutable. He was the guy sent to safety, which is right. I didn’t like his number Wednesday night, but Burnell is a very talented singer. And shockingly (kind of) it was Devin who received the lowest number of votes. You guys, that was our best shot at getting Lazaro out the door. His fans will rally around him for the next few weeks, and every time he has a clunker of a performance that’s just going to encourage them more. God damn it…

For his sing for the save Devin did “Impossible,” switching to Spanish halfway through. I believe we’ve seen this exact performance from him before. Mariah Carey was literally crying and the judges seemed deep in conversation. Here’s the thing: Devin is obviously very gifted vocally. But he has been in the Bottom 3 EVERY SINGLE WEEK of the finals. He is so talented, but he does not connect with the audience. It’s not there, folks. Again and again and again this has been a problem for him, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Ryan made a point of saying that the judges only have three more weeks in which they can use the save. I was almost positive that the judges were going to use it, especially after the crowd literally chanted, “Save! Save! Save!” But Randy Jackson announced that it was NOT unanimous, and so they would not be saving Devin. I wonder who the holdout was there. My guess was Randy, although Nicki was stonefaced during that entire process. Mariah was clearly pro-Devin.

Ryan seemed legitimately shocked that they let him go. Honestly, I think it was the right decision. He had no chance of winning this competition, and within the next three weeks we’re going to start losing the girls, and I think every one of them actually COULD win this. So discretion is the better part of valor here.

Next week: let’s see if Lazaro can get even worse!

"American Idol" 2013: Music from Detroit (Top 8 Perform)

Posted By on Thu, Mar 28, 2013 at 2:29 PM

It was Detroit night on "Idol," which I initially interpreted to mean Motown, but it was actually much broader than that - we even got some Madonna in there. Smokey Robinson was our guest mentor. He seems like a nice man. I wish he would stop doing things to his head.

Candice Glover opened the show with "Heard it Through the Grapevine." It opened really slowly, which I did not care for. And whoever set up the shot from below, with the stage light flickering on and off above her, was an idiot - that was super distracting. Candice had tempo issues through the verse, but the singing was great even though parts of the song hit the lower edge of Candice's register. She kept getting better and better as the song went on, and Etta James'd that last note. Judges all loved it.

Because this show cannot be less than two hours long, we had three groups in addition to the eight remaining soloists. Group 1 was Kree and Janelle singing "Like a Prayer" by Detroit native Madonna. Their voices did not work well together. Kree is just so much better than Janelle; Janelle's whiny notes, pitch issues, and weaknesses were underscored here. Nikki Minaj summed it up by saying that Kree looked like a superstar who flew in to do a duet with an "American Idol" contestant - she just totally outshined Janelle.

LazaroArbos did "For Once in My Life" by Stevie Wonder. I thought Jimmy Iovine was noticeably restrained with Lazaro in the coaching session, given how furious he was with Lazaro last week. This started out really slowed down and worked nicely as a ballad. But then the tempo picked up halfway through. It was one of Lazaro's better vocals but it was also noticeably lacking in energy until the last chorus. The whole thing still felt amateurish, and Lazaro himself seemed over it. During the judging Lazaro kept talking over anyone who was saying anything critical - I believe he actually said, "It's all good, Boo" to Randy Jackson, which is wrong on EVERY level. And the judges almost seemed to be apologizing to Lazaro for critiquing him last week. Oh, what a fucking mess this situation is. Nikki Minaj said Lazaro did a great job and it's because he stopped listening to Jimmy Iovine. Nikki, you in danger, girl.

Janelle Arthur did "Keep Me Hanging On," which she performed sitting on a stool and strumming a guitar. Cool, new different take on a really familiar song. This was the second straight week that I loved what Janelle put out there, and she's starting to bring me over to her side. Mariah Carey just kept screaming, "Janelle at her finest!" But I can't hate, because she was right. Nikki weirdly thought her voice wasn't as good as normal, because she was smiling too much. OK...

Devin Velez did "Tracks of My Tears," which was a good choice vocally. But Devin was wrestling with the tempo in rehearsal and that came out a bit on stage as well. Ultimately Devin's issue is that he's simply not connecting, with either the song or the audience. Guy can sing - probably the best male vocalist left - but there's nothing about him that's magnetic. This performance in particular felt very old-fashioned, and even though it's a 50-year-old song, that doesn't have to be the case. Nikki said that Devin was looking like a "ripe banana," which was apparently a good thing.

Group 2: Candice, Angie, and Amber on "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" by The Supremes, which is a song I LOVE. Amber had rhythm issues and Angie slid off the pitch toward the end of her verse. Overall I thought this had some nice moments, but it needed a few more hours of rehearsal. Amber was easily the weakest of the three.

Burnell Taylor did "My Cherie Amour" by Stevie Wonder. I thought I would love this, but I actually hated it. The phrasing on the title - the emphasis on "share-REE am-ORE" - really turned me off. His phrasing was awkward in parts, and he sounded really pinched and fully terrible after the key change. I hated it, I'm sorry. I like Burnell, but I hated that. And I thought he looked very strange in that outfit and no glasses. The judges fawned all over it. And hey, guys, did you know that Burnell is from Louisiana? Like Randy? And that he is in it to win it?

Angie Miller picked "You Better Shop Around." She put a slinky rock spin on it, which was...different. I liked the impulse here, but the execution was deeply flawed. The song was too low for Angie. She was trying to be cool and fun strutting all over the stage, but it didn't really work. I think she flubbed a line or two. And nothing about this felt like Angie. She's the moody/emo singer-songwriter, not rocker girl. This just wasn't a good showcase for Angie at all. Randy thought the performance was really pitchy. Mariah thought it was a bad song choice. Nikki said that Angie doesn't need to try to be something she's not.

Amber Holcomb sang "Lately" by Steview Wonder and she absolutely killed it. Her best vocal in weeks. She sang it flawlessly, looked flawless - not a single thing was off about that performance. Tens across the board.

Group 3: the guys sang "Can't Help Myself." Total mess. Lazaro completely forgot one of his solo sections, Devin was more alive in this than he was in his solo, and Burnell actually had some fun. Nikki Minaj said that it was Hollywood Week all over again, that she was going to pretend she never even saw it, that Lazaro fell flat as a pancake, and told them to get off the stage. Awkward moments ensued when both Burnell and Devin said they learned their parts, and gave sharp side eyes to Lazaro. Seriously, he is the worst. If you are still on Team Lazaro, please open your eyes. And ears. At this point he's coming across terribly.

Kree Harrison closed the show with "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)" by Aretha Franklin. Normally I love Kree, but this was the weakest we have seen her since Hollywood Week. There were parts where she looked almost in pain, or irritated to be singing. It certainly wasn't bad, but not what you expect to close the show. Definitely a letdown after her duo performance and Amber's solo number.

Predictions: The Bottom 3 should be Angie, Lazaro, and Burnell or Devin, with Lazaro going home. That's not going to happen. I think Devin is basically doomed for another trip to the bottom. Rounding it out will probably be Burnell. Angie could make a surprise appearance down there. But even if she does somehow get the lowest votes, the judges will use the Save on her.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

"American Idol" 2013: Results (Top 9 to Top 8)

Posted By on Thu, Mar 21, 2013 at 9:17 PM

The show opened with the Jimmy Iovine recap, which I always find fascinating. Jimmy is the one person who I feel actually knows what’s going on this season. He found Wednesday night confusing, because some of the singers were good, some were bad, and yet the judges were nice to all of them. He basically gave it to the judges for not doing their jobs. Seriously, we’ve never had a more useless group of judges on this show. Only Nicki and Randy even approach honesty, and sometimes Nicki is way off.

Jimmy also had an issue with several of the contestants not knowing the Beatles catalog, saying that “American Idol” is a job just like singing is a job, and the contestants should be doing their homework. Amen. And lest we forget, some of the judges didn’t even know these songs (MARIAH). Jimmy really came for Lazaro, calling his number on Wednesday easily the worst of the night. He also basically called Lazaro a liar for his plea to Ryan (and America) that he learned his song the night before. Jimmy said that Lazaro sang that same song when he worked with him on Saturday. So something in the milk isn’t clean there.

Jimmy felt that Amber deserved to be in the Top 3, but he called Candice the best performance of the night. On the other hand, he thinks Paul made some really stupid mistakes and will end up in the Bottom 3. Angie got the dreaded “too dramatic” note from Jimmy, and you could see his concern about her. I weirdly feel the same -- she could totally get lost in this competition, yet her potential is massive. Meanwhile, he considers Janelle his dark horse. She had a great night on Wednesday, but I wouldn’t go that far, Jimmy.

Group sing! The boys sang “Got to Get You Into My Life.” You could barely hear them. And there’s no excuse for that since I’m 99 percent sure these stupid things are prerecorded and autotuned into oblivion. This week it was Paul’s turn on the lame city/town proclamation day merry-go-round. This is such a stupid addition to the show this season. And furthermore, actual government officials are wasting time making official proclamations about also-rans on a reality show. Is that how you want your elected officials spending their time? The brutal twist is that after Ryan gave Paul his dumb plaque, he also informed him that he was in the Bottom 3. Boom. (But not surprising.)

After the commercial, Season 10’s Casey Abrams came out to sing “I Saw Her Standing There.” Casey’s muttonchops are not the look. Not even remotely. I swear, I need to teach a seminar for straight men on questionable facial hair choices. Anyway, I always liked Casey, and he was good on this, too -- although the noodling at the end got a bit tiresome. He’s a real musician and artist, and I realized while watching him that those are in short supply this season. The closest I think we come is Angie.

Then the five ladies came out for a group number. I know that damned song but I cannot for the life of me remember the title. I thought parts of it were simply gorgeous, while other parts nearly went off the rails. There were times I also questioned whether it was pre-recorded or not.

Results: Devin found himself in the Bottom 3 again. I agree with that. It was a very dull number. He talked about how he had a really hard day yesterday but was proud of his performance. Hm, interesting. Lazaro said that the judges last night were right “for the most part,” and said that he has to pick songs he loves and not switch songs. Again: Jimmy Iovine told us that Lazaro sang “In My Life” over the weekend. So did he switch songs, and then switch back? Or what? Regardless, Lazaro was not in the bottom. Absolutely ridiculous. This is what the show gets for pushing Lazaro through to the live voting just so it could milk his sob story.

And then, Jessica Sanchez! I really wanted Jessica to win Season 11. No offense to Phillip Phillips. He is great. But Jessica, to me, was the best shot this show had at a girl winner in years. (Until this year, when the producers obviously stacked the deck in the ladies’ favor.) SO talented, so young, so full of potential. She premiered her new single with Ne-Yo, which sounded suspiciously like “Closer” in the beginning but came into its own in the chorus. The song was too low for Jessica, and the poor dear really can’t sing and dance at the same time. I liked the song less the longer it went along. It’s super repetitive. But, hey, that’s what’s on the radio right now. So good luck to Jessica. I hope she makes it huge.

More results: Kree was safe, Candice was too. Angie was safe, meaning every person I was really worried about was fine. Janelle made it through, and that’s right given her performance last night. But after Lazaro she’s the weakest person left in the group.

That left the final B3 slot between Amber and Burnell, and surprisingly it was Amber in the low-scoring group. Randy Jackson said that he was shocked that Amber was in danger. Me too; I suspect that had to do with song choice more than anything else. She sounded great on “She’s Leaving Home,” but it’s not an attention grabber.

Given that Ryan zipped through the results without any rankings, I guess we can assume that they’ve discontinued that after just one week. Oh, the conspiracy theories one can associate with that one! My guess is that this comes down to Lazaro, who I suspect was one of -- if not THE -- highest vote-getter last night. And that’s got to be a huge egg on the face of this show, because he’s easily the worst singer in this competition. There’s not even a question about that.

Anyway, it was Paul who received the lowest number of votes. Not surprising. For his sing-for-the-save he did Heart’s “Alone,” which I believe he sang in semi-finals. A mistake then, a mistake now. The song is simply too low for Paul, and he barely got through the first verse. He cut loose on the chorus and sounded great on it, but a song is more than a chorus.

Not that it really mattered. Paul had zero shot of getting the judges’ save. He has never been a favorite of the judges, and I think some of them (Keith, possibly Randy) were surprised that he made Top 10 to begin with. He’s got a great voice for the radio, but he has some serious weaknesses that he needs to address. Hilariously, after Randy told him he wasn’t getting the save, the crowd booed. Paul said, “Hey, I think I’m pretty great, OK?” Of course you do, Paul.

So that’s two boys down, and Devin continues to circle the drain. Unless he does something massively different next week he’s toast. Unless America wakes up and actually starts listening to Lazaro.

Next week: “the music of the Motor City.” So, Motown?

"American Idol" 2013: Top 9 Perform (Beatles Week)

Posted By on Thu, Mar 21, 2013 at 12:07 AM

Oh, gee. Beatles week. Because we haven’t done THAT countless times before. At least Nikki Minaj showed up on time tonight.

Before we got to the actual singing, the show had to do some quality whoring. Carly Rae Jepsen apparently still exists, and she’ll be debuting her new song on the season finale, and it has something to do with Coke. Let me blunt: Carly had her hit. She had a HUGE hit. And America has been indifferent at best to her subsequent singles. It's over. This whole thing feels gross and lame to me at the same time. It’s a reflection of how out of touch this show is that they think a Carly Rae Jepsen/Coke collab is going to get attention.

Speaking of gross and lame, Ryan Seacrest then announced the winner of the final spot on the Idol Tour, which was between Charlie Askew and Aubrey Cleland. I was stunned to hear that Aubrey made it over Charlie. Aubrey sang very well last week, but it wasn’t exactly a memorable performance. Charlie, on the other hand, actually impressed me, and I full-on hated him going into it. Part of me wonders how legit those results are…

Kree Harrison got the show running with “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Kree did not sing out of key, so that’s good, but the verse was a bit thrown away. She came alive on the first chorus and sounded terrific from that moment on.It was a great number for Kree for several reasons, especially because it broadened her appeal beyond just the bluesy-country thing she’s been doing so well. Nikki Minaj liked that it didn’t sound like the original, which was true, but it did sound a lot like the Joe Cocker version. Nikki also spoke about Kree’s confidence, which really is improving. That lame-ass Randy Jackson tired to do a fake-out, and then Mariah Carey one-upped him by saying, “I didn’t think it was good…I thought it was fan-freaking-tastic!” And that’s literally all she said. How much is she getting paid for this?

Burnell Taylor chose “Let It Be,” and I thought this was a missed opportunity for Burnell. After the notes he got last week, and Curtis’s boot, you would think that he would try something different than yet another slow, sad ballad. Have we ever heard Burnell sing anything up-tempo? I normally love Burnell’s voice but I found it too affected on this song. It’s like he wasn’t paying attention to the lyrics at all; he was trying too hard. And yet still I felt the song swallowed Burnell by the second chorus, and he has an aggravating inflection on his intense “ee” sounds, too. Nikki thought he was very gentle with the song, and said that she felt like she was in church. Randy got Burnell to admit that he was largely unfamiliar with The Beatles -- he definitely didn’t know the song. Basically the judges all loved it. I didn’t think it was bad, but I was really hoping for Burnell to step up this week, and he didn’t.

Amber Holcomb did “She’s Leaving Home,” a beautiful song and a real change-up for Amber. She kind of biffed the first line, and Amber continues to have tempo issues -- second week in a row she was fighting the song’s rhythm. That said, once she got to the chorus it was absolutely lovely. Big notes and well executed with some nice twists to the melody. Amber was really connecting with the song and I saw what the judges have been talking about with her -- that was a natural performance, and felt very authentic. Amber also had never heard her song prior to this performance -- Mariah Carey had never heard of it either! Who are these people? Weirdly Nikki felt that Amber’s lack of awareness with the song made her come across as defeated on stage, which I did not get at all. “She’s Leaving Home” is not a smiley song. If she’d been smiling through it she would have looked deranged. Which Nikki knows something about…

LazaroArbo picked “In My Life.” At this point the Lazaro recaps basically write themselves. The song was too low for him? Check. The lyrics were largely indecipherable? You know it. Pitch problems? Sure. On top of that, it was dreary and boring and his voice was the weakest we’ve ever seen. This wasn’t even a “Star Search”-caliber performance. I think Lazaro knew he’d laid an egg on that one. Mariah started out saying how difficult it is to perform a song by Lennon & McCartney. She thinks Lazaro was brave to get on stage with it. What a bullshit critique, especially on a night when the contestants HAVE TO SING BEATLES SONGS. She did say it was too low. That note is about a month too late for this kid. Keith Urban said that Lazaro needs to watch his keys. Nikki said that Lazaro is still too nervous and she needs them to stop putting him in the room with Jimmy Iovine. Give me a break. You don’t want him to be in a studio with a well-respected music executive because his confidence takes a hit? What is he supposed to do after the show is over? Only work with nice people? Pfft. Randy at least had the guts to tell Lazaro that it was his worst vocal ever. This prompted tears from Lazaro, who told Ryan that he only learned the song last night, because they changed his song at the last minute. This kind of things happens fairly frequently on these shows. I don’t need the on-stage waterworks from Lazaro when the judges do something other than fawn over him, nor do I need Ryan’s “sensitive” schtick. After the break Ryan tried to make it sound like Lazaro’s issue was about not listening to himself and listening too much to what others tell him. The issue with Lazaro is that he is not a very good singer. He is certainly not capable of singing at the level of this competition.

Candice Glover owned last week, and I had high hopes for her “Come Together.” I thought she took a few bars to really get into it, but once she was there she just kept getting better and better. Candice is emerging as not just a great singer, but a true star. She’s got charisma and swagger to spare. She actually made this song sound different, blending the rock with some r’n’b flare. Nikki wants Candice to commit more to the performance in her face. Randy was thrilled to see her do an uptempo song -- yes, god, yes. Mariah wants to hear Candice taking different approaches to songs. And then Randy embarrassed himself. God bless Candice for putting up with these people.

Paul Jolley did “Eleanor Rigby,” which, given his propensity for unintentional dramatics, was a risky endeavor. He started out in falsetto, the stage was covered in fog, stained glass was projected on the walls. I mean…drama, right? And yet Paul really did tone down the theatrics for the first half of the song. Once he hit the second chorus, with its big high notes, the cabaret act started to come out. Solid vocal for the most part -- the last note was a bust -- but also one of the sleepier numbers of the night. Nikki said as much while chomping on her gum: she called it safe, predictable, and forgettable. Randy felt that Paul didn’t connect with the song, and I think it’s because Paul is so preoccupied with not being dramatic that he’s living in his head right now. Keith again encouraged Paul to drop the country, because tonight’s pop/rock worked well with his voice.

Angie Miller should straighten her hair more often; she also has a kind of hot brother. Anyway, she chose “Yesterday.” Jimmy Iovine encouraged her to not oversing the song, and just to put real emotion into it. From where I was sitting, that’s exactly what she did for the first half of it. Some really delicate, beautiful notes in there. She started to goose the song in the latter half, which was less successful to me. But she was trying to build it, and she was obviously interpreting the song, and it still sounded really lovely throughout. Her best performance in weeks. Randy liked that Angie held back but still showed hints of her vocal pyrotechnics. Mariah thought her take was very respectful to the original. Keith thought that Angie was wrestling with trying to please her various masters, but I didn’t really get that. Calculated, sure. But I didn’t think it was conflicted. Nikki brought up the fact that Angie started the song in a really high key and still killed it in the high notes. That’s very true -- it was ambitious and she nailed it. And then Ryan made a flat-iron joke. That’s not going to help fight those gay rumors, Ryan.

Devin Velez did “The Long and Winding Road,” and Jimmy encouraged him to go for a more r’n’b take. Again, this seemed like a bit of a mistake. Devin was criticized last week for being dull. “Long and Winding Road” is not exactly the most exciting Beatles song. But hey, the vocal was very good and showed off Devin’s voice. But I did find myself checking out of the performance toward the end, and the song seemed to last twice as long as any other that night. Mariah basically just said that he was amazing and that it would be “a travesty” if he didn’t go through. Devin is one of the strongest male singers left, but he’s not giving us star power. Keith talked about that, saying that Devin’s got a connection issue with his performances. He really does. Nikki made a couple crass comments that got bleeped by Fox and then acted a bit like the enfant terrible. But she thinks Devin is great. Randy said that Devin brought the swagger back. There was 0 percent swagger in that performance. And then Ryan did this weird thing when he went to Mariah for a “shout out,” and she went into full diva mode, and everyone forgot that Devin was standing there. Even Devin!

Janelle Arthur astonishingly got the Pimp Slot. Country historically has not been served well by Beatles Week. She went with “I Will,” which Jimmy noted is a “subtle song.” Jimmy actually had to explain to Janelle why it was important to breathe properly during the song. Seriously. That’s where we are. This was an awfully quiet song on which to end the show, but Janelle has never sounded better. It was a really pretty, delicate vocal that justified her place in the Top 10 after I would argue at least three disappointing weeks. And Janelle was really selling it in her performance. This was a great moment for her. The ending was a bit twee, but that’s about it. Nikki said that Janelle looked like a “beautiful swan goddess,” and that the performance made her obsessed with Janelle. She loves the honesty and authenticity inherent in Janelle's performances. Randy called it one of the best performances of the night. Mariah babbled incoherently.

Recap:Kree was great but went first, which is…worrisome; Burnell was grating and kind of dull; Amber belted beautifully; Lazaro was thoroughly outclassed; Candice gave us a much-needed pulse; Paul was arguably too subdued; Angie sounded and looked lovely; Devin sounded good on a boring song; Janelle was surprisingly great.

Predictions: The only person who really bombed was Lazaro, and given his fourth-place finish last week I think we can assume his sizable fanbase will rush to save him. That leaves the forgettables, in which I would lump Paul, Devin, Burnell, and possibly Amber or Kree. The sad thing is, no matter who goes home tomorrow, they will almost certainly be better than Lazaro.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"RuPaul's Drag Race" Season 5: Scent of a drag queen

Posted By on Tue, Mar 19, 2013 at 12:13 AM

Another hilarious episode with great challenges. This season is really on a roll; I can’t think of an episode yet that didn’t deliver. And this week’s was arguably the most entertaining yet. We got hot shirtless guys with bulging packages and drag queens acting the fool (some intentionally, some not), plus some salty guest judges and serious back-stage bitchery. Well done, “Drag Race” team.

The episode began with Roxxxy Andrews apologizing to Jinkx Monsoon for coming at her in the previous episode, before Roxxxy had to lipsynch for her life and had an emotional on-stage meltdown. I suspect Roxxxy wishes that segment had been shown last week, because she got savaged online by many, many people, and Jinkx actually had to step in and ask her fans to show Roxxxy some compassion. (It was a rough week for Ms. Andrews in general, as her drag mother died right after last week’s episode aired.) Personally, what I’m seeing with Roxxxy is someone who is increasingly unsure of her place in this competition, and she’s lashing out wherever she can. Last week it was Jinkx, this week it was Alyssa. It’s not a flattering portrait of her, and she’s starting to self-destruct a bit. It’s the Curse of the Big Girl all over again.

The mini-challenge was like the childhood game Memory, except for with 100 percent more beefy men dropping trou. Twenty-something dudes were brought out and the queens had to systematically have them pull down their pants until they found all the matching underwear in the group. Children, on what other show are you going to see this kind of entertainment, this kind of good taste? None! The Emmy should go to RuPaul! All the Emmys! Ivy Winters got all the matches the fastest, but as RuPaulsaid, the true winners were every straight woman and gay man in America. And hi, Ronnie from “Make Me a Supermodel”! Please eat a sandwich, you look really skinny.

The main challenge tasked the queens with developing their own signature fragrances, just like true sell-out superstars looking to make a quick buck. They had to decide everything, from fragrance name to what it smelled like to bottle design, and had to shoot an accompanying commercial. Several of these turned out to be hilariously awesome, with a few queens turning in some really clever work. Others were duds that showcased the queens’ lack of creativity and professionalism. And yet another was a blatant attempt to kiss Ru’s ass, and a copycat to boot.

Alaska really owned this challenge, showing a confidence we’ve never seen from her before. I want more of it. Her fragrance, Red for Filth, was a slam dunk and included an uproarious video that made good use of her comedy chops. She also really changed it up on the runway this week, ditching the prom gowns and going for something a little freakier. (I hate to say it, but it looked to me like something Sharon would wear, just with much crazier make-up.) Alaska got the win, and she deserved it. A great week for her. Build on it, Alaska!

Jinkx Monsoon also really nailed this challenge -- she's also surging at the right moment -- and her Delusion perfume and ad were smart and well executed. The slightly downtrodden flapper look worked for me on the runway, and she has made such a dramatic turnaround with her make-up skills. The continued blossoming of both Jinkx and Alaska gives me hope that a comedy queen could win this thing this year.

Detoxfinally decided to show up again after what seems like weeks of phoning it in. Her commercial for Heroin wasn’t on quite the same level as the previously mentioned queens, but it was a solid effort with some funny moments. Still, she’s not really growing. Am I the only one who thinks she’s bored by the whole competition? Juliette Lewis nailed her on that weeks ago.

Coco Montresewas deemed safe, and that is the biggest crock of horseshit I’ve seen on this show all season. Where to begin? Coco’s fragrance was named RuAnimal by Coco. This is a blatant attempt to suck up to the head judge, and beyond that, it made absolutely no sense. Why would a superstar name a “signature fragrance” after someone else? Would Jessica Simpson have a perfume named Brit Brit? But what was even more egregious to me is that Coco lifted her entire commercial from other contestants. Her look -- leopard-print body suit, huge lion-mane wig -- was an EXACT COPY of BebeZahara Benet’s iconic look from S1. There’s no way RuPaul doesn’t remember that. The dude in the lion mask? Totally ripped from Alaska in the Snuggie mini-challenge a few weeks back. This episode convinced me that Coco is a total hack. She’s made it thus far relying on gimmicky drama, by wisely using her teammates’ strengths to her advantage, or by straight-up stealing other queens’ acts. I am amazed that not one person on panel has called her out for this. She should have been up for elimination tonight.

Roxxxy Andrews narrowly avoided a second consecutive trip to the bottom for her Thick & Juicy perfume. The idea wasn’t bad -- a perfume that smells like food for big girls who are confident in their figures. But Roxxxy didn’t seem to have a script and her concept -- school-marmish mod get-up that is quickly removed for glamorous amazon underneath -- was unsurprising given who it was coming from. Roxxxy also got blasted by Michelle for her unprofessionalism. She’s clearly struggling at this point, and I’m not sure if she’s going to be able to get back on track.

Alyssa Edwards DID make her second B2 appearance in a row. Alyssa once again bombed the main challenge, admitting that she wasn’t 100 percent sure what she was doing. Alyssa seems so very dim, but I love her. I cherish her. I thought her video shoot was hilarious. Who else names her fragrance Alyssa’s Secret and then hasn’t thought through an answer when the head judge asks the obvious question: “What IS your secret?” No clue from Alyssa. Bless!

But it was Ivy Winters’s first and last trip to the bottom for her perfume, Dress Code. Ivy seemed to be adrift nearly from the beginning, changing her original concept (Poison Rosebud, a riff off assholes but clunky and not at all youthful) and then not knowing what she was doing during the actual shoot. This was not the first time I found myself wondering how intelligent Ivy is (I have the same questions about Roxxxy and sometimes Coco -- Alyssa is obviously not getting a MENSA invitation any time soon). I’m not saying you need to be a Rhodes Scholar to be America’s Next Drag Superstar, but you do need to have some wit about you. Ivy seemed to lack that. Great runways and what seems like a total sweetheart. But really more of a supporting cast member than the lead. Alyssa clobbered her in the lipsynch. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that Alyssa took that round. And good on Alyssa, because she needed the win.

On “Untucked” Coco vaporized whatever lingering goodwill she had by openly attacking Jinkx and then daring to act offended when people told her she was acting like a bitch. What a tired old queen she is, good lord. Exasperating and exhausting to watch. Not even her sweet video message from her husband, or the very sad story about both of her parents dying of cancer, was enough to redeem her. Everyone in my viewing party is sick to death of Coco and we want her ass gone next week.

Well, in two weeks, I mean. No new episode next Monday. My friends and I are taking the opportunity to watch “Paris is Burning,” the Episode 1 of “Drag Race.” Except not terrible!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Rochester Arts News: Bulletins from RPO, High Falls Festival, Rochester Fringe

Posted By on Fri, Mar 15, 2013 at 1:54 PM

The High Falls Film Festival announced an additional film in its 2013 festival line-up. The documentary "Pretty Brutal" will make its American premiere on Friday, April 19, 9:30 p.m. at Cinema Theater. The film follows skaters Pieces of Hate, Kid Vile, and NakiKronik as they make their way in New Zealand's first roller derby league. For more information on the film, or on the upcoming film festival, visit highfallsfilmfestival.com.

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra announced a new project, the RPO Community Chorus Concert, which will take place on Saturday, May 4, 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall. The free show will include a 200-voice community chorus -- and you could be a part of it. If you'd like a shot at singing with the RPO, apply online at https://tinyurl.com/bbolnwd by Tuesday, March 26. Auditions are not required, but there will be at least one rehearsal prior to the show. For more information visit rpo.org.

The First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival announced Thursday afternoon that it will hold two Fringe 101 information sessions, on Saturday, March 23, and Saturday, April 6, both running 11 a.m.-noon at Geva Theatre Center (75 Woodbury Blvd.). The sessions will give important information about how area artists and performers can apply to perform at this year's festival in September. Fringe 101 sessions are free to attend, but reservations are recommended; email info@rochesterfringe.com. For more information on Fringe check rochesterfringe.com.

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

"American Idol" 2013: Top 10 Results

Posted By on Thu, Mar 14, 2013 at 10:46 PM

The first results show of the main competition was actually surprisingly interesting. The format has been tweaked significantly, meaning that there’s more actual content in the result reveals. It just felt like more was going on throughout the whole show. Plus, Nikki Minaj actually bothered to show up on time.

In the recap of Wednesday night’s performances, mentor Jimmy Iovine agreed that the girls on the whole way outsang the boys. No question there. He did have some very different takes on a few of the performances, though. Jimmy really liked Janelle Wednesday, and I thought she was pretty dreadful vocally. He thought that Angie was overpraised by the judges, but still good. He thinks that Paul needs to drop the pop-country thing, because he’s not believable as country in any way. Jimmy also loved Amber, saying that she has charisma/star power to spare. I just don’t get that. I realize I’m the outlier here, but I don’t see what all the fuss is about Amber. She is a decent singer but has very little personality to me. Still, I’m willing to be sold.

Ryan explained that the results are going to be done with “a little more detail” this year, with the Top 3 all being identified -- but not the exact order -- and Ryan also gave us some minor geographic breakdowns. So, for instance, Devin was No. 1 in Puerto Rico. That’s not at all surprising. Basically all the contestants he talked to were No. 1 in their home states.

He first called up Devin, Janelle, and Candice, and revealed that Candice was in the Top 3. She was the best of Wednesday night to me, so no complaints there.

After commercials we had our first group song, which was basically a commercial for that terrible-looking new “Croods” movie. So I guess we won’t be getting Ford commercials now? I’m conflicted about that. We also learned that Curtis and Amber are dreadful lip synchers. Do not go on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” you two. You WILL be told to sashay away.

Then weirdly, the mayor of the town where Kree grew up came out to give her the key to the city of Woodville, Texas. What the what is this? Interestingly, Kree was also named to the Top 3, which thrills me. I think she’s great but I worried that she might have gotten lost last night considering that several other girls had much more attention-grabbing songs.

Following that odd segue, Bon Jovi came out. We’ve hit that point where Jon Bon Jovi has started to look old, and that makes me feel terribly sad. The band still sounds good, even though the vibe was dramatically different from what we’ve come to expect from it. Much more laid back. And what is going on with Richie Sambora’s hair?

And then…god, and then. Remember last week, Ryan threatened us with the fact that the runner-up guy and runner-up girl who just missed out on the Top 10 would be competing for a final slot on the “Idol” tour this summer? Well the first person competing was fucking Charlie Askew, who I had just started to believe that we’d never see again after he was blessedly eliminated last week. Here’s the thing, though: he sang an original song called “Sky Blue Diamond,” which he performed while playing the piano -- and I actually didn’t hate it. The pitch was a bit quavery in parts, but the melody was quite pretty. Most important, Charlie wasn’t doing his drama-queen theatric bullshit that drove me absolutely nuts the last few weeks he was on the show. All in all, I thought it was interesting, and stunningly mature given his usual penchant for juvenile attention-baiting.

The girl competing against Charlie was Aubrey Cleland, who did “On My Own.” It was beautifully sung, but that’s an awfully sleepy song to pick for a win/lose voting situation. I suspect that Charlie will win that one. I guess that’s fitting, since he made much more of an impact on the competition than Aubrey ever did.

Then last year’s winner, Phillip Phillips, came out to sing his new single, “Gone, Gone, Gone.” It’s a jangly country-tinged rock song. Not nearly as catchy as “Home” -- a huge hit that Phillip did NOT want to release -- but it’s a totally solid song, and I think “Idol” might have its first legitimately successful winner in years. He’s gone quadruple platinum with “Home.” Thanks, Olympics!

Angie and Lazaro were called up next. Both sang Kelly Clarkson last night, and it was Angie who also made the Top 3 with Kree and Candice. I find it so interesting that Amber did not make it, given that she got the Pimp Slot and a heavy, heavy push from the judges.

So after we found out the Top 3, we got the rest of the results in actual order. The show may have a real problem on its hands in a few weeks, because Lazaro -- who is easily the weakest singer in this competition -- came in fourth place. FOURTH. He should have been fighting for survival, and he was in FOURTH PLACE. Wow. In fifth was Amber, which is still lower than I think many people expected her to be. Coming in sixth was Janelle, which was bullshit. Janelle is also dramatically weaker than just about anyone who placed below her, and should have been toward the bottom of those rankings.

I was surprised, but pleased, to see Burnell come in 7th. I think he’s got a great voice, but I worry that he’s not grabbing votes. I’ll be curious to see what he does next week in terms of song selection. Paul came in 8th, and I have to assume that is largely due to the country vote, and partially because he’s really cute.

That left elimination coming down to Devin and Curtis.Both very good singers. Devin had a really sleepy performance on Wednesday, and Curtis had a potent cocktail of disaster. Death Slot + boring r’n’b song + lousy personality + mediocre performance = a swift ticket home. And it was indeed Curtis who found himself singing for The Save, which I’m sure infuriated him, because Curtis clearly thinks he should be WINNING this thing, not going home first.

You know who else thinks Curtis is great? Nikki Minaj, who literally got up and threatened to walk off stage if he was eliminated. As Curtis sang “I Believe I Can Fly” they camera panned to the judges’ table multiple times as they deliberated. Nikki was FURIOUS and clearly over the whole situation as Keith Urban tried to convince her of something. I assume it’s the fact that using The Save on the person coming in 10th would be spectacularly stupid. Curtis never had a shot to win this thing if he was that low in the rankings already.

Truly, it was nowhere near Curtis’s best performance. I do think he peaked too soon in Hollywood/Sudden Death, and he hasn’t been as good since. The judges had to be unanimous in their vote, and they were not. Nikki was clearly really angry that she didn’t get her way here, saying that she didn’t feel like the judges had the time to properly consider the situation. Again, Nikki: using the Save on the person coming in 10th is an awful idea. America obviously is not interested in Curtis in that way. Nobody is saying isn’t he talented, but he was not going to win this competition.

"American Idol" 2013: Top 10 Performances (Prior Idol Week)

Posted By on Thu, Mar 14, 2013 at 12:17 AM

Nikki Minaj was absent for the start of the first live performance show. I cannot ever remember a judge not being present during a live performance round. Apparently she was stuck in traffic. Are you kidding me? If I was Nigel I would be positively shitting myself with fury if the only judge people even care about was LATE to a live performance show, much less the FIRST live performance show.

The theme was music from previous American Idols -- any song from any previous winners of the show. I’ve thought this would be a smart theme idea for few seasons now, but expanding it to previous “Idol” contestants in general, not just winners. Chris Daughtry, Kimberly Locke, Jennifer Hudson, Kellie Pickler, Clay Aiken -- some of those guys went on to be more successful than people who actually won the show, and have some pretty damned good songs of their own. But the show did approach this differently, not limiting it to just songs BY previous winners. The new kids could select any song ever sung by the winners on the show. So that broadened it considerably. (I do think it’s fun to point out that the only winners not represented tonight were Taylor Hicks, David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee Dewyze, and Phillip Phillips -- all of the non-country white guys. I mean, even RUBEN got a song in there!)

Curtis Finch, Jr. opened the show with “I Believe,” the coronation song for Season 3 winner Fantasia Barrino. Curtis has to watch his nasal tone -- it’s front and center whenever he sings in his middle register. His “yeah yeahyeah” section in the middle also bordered on comical. Overall I thought it was fine, but unspectacular until that last falsetto note. My fear with Curtis is that he peaked in the Sudden Death rounds -- he’s been a bit of a letdown the past two weeks. Keith Urban made some comment about Curtis’s adrenaline causing him to sing above where he was supposed to. I couldn’t tell if that was in reference to oversinging, or a comment on Curtis’s pitch. Randy Jackson doomed Curtis by telling him he has to do something different than just these spiritual songs. Mariah Carey, meanwhile, only wants to hear more gospel-tinged music from Curtis. So Curtis was cursed not only with the Death Spot, but he’s also getting wildly conflicting advice from all the judges (minus the still-absent Nikki). So he’s off to a fine start.

Janelle Arthur is really playing up her country twang in the interviews. I don’t feel like she was quite so…rustic prior to making the Top 10. She chose “Gone” by Montgomery Gentry, which was performed by S10 winner Scotty McCreery. I found it difficult to really gauge Janelle’s vocal here because she was moving so much that I felt like it was impacting the singing. To me it sounded consistently flat, and I was surprised by how little power she exhibited. It was basically the same level throughout the whole performance. After the end of the song she said that she had “cotton mouth.” That might have explained the lack of dynamism. Nikki had shown up at this point -- wearing a hoodie and ridiculous sunglasses -- and told Janelle that she wants to see her singing prettier songs that show off her voice. Randy also picked up on the go-nowhere aspect of her performance. Mariah thought that Janelle’s “aura was giving us star.” I thought she seemed like an obvious pretender. She too wants Janelle to pick mid-tempo ballads. God, please don’t make these children sing nothing but mid-tempo ballads. It’s so damned boring to sit through for two hours.

Devin Velez went with Carrie Underwood’s “Temporary Home,” which he pointed out was different from his usual ballads with a Spanish flare. Devin blew the words in beginning of the first verse and it threw him for a few seconds, but he got it back by the chorus. Devin seemed unsure of himself during the performance, and where he was supposed to be looking. But the vocal was quite lovely, even if the song itself was not my favorite. Keith didn’t think it was one of Devin’s better performances, saying that Devin didn’t seem comfortable with the song at all. Nikki disagreed with Keith’s critique 100 percent. She thought the song was in Devin’s comfort zone, and thought he sounded and looked great. (I would agree that Devin already seems to be benefiting from the styling help.) Randy thought it was way too safe and that Devin didn’t really do anything with it. Even Mariah told him that he kind of biffed it with his song choice tonight.

Angie Miller selected Celine Dion’s “I Surrender,” which Kelly Clarkson sang back in Season 1. This was a great song choice for Angie, and it really showcased her range and great pop voice. The performance did come awfully close to what mentor Jimmy Iovine was talking about when he said that Angie can sometimes be a bit beauty pageant-ish. Keith says that Angie can take a song from any age and make it sound current. Nikki said that Angie looked like a billion dollars, and that she personifies perfection. Randy predictably said that the competition started with Angie, and that she was in it to win it, and blah blahblah. Pull the string on his back again and he moos like a cow. Mariah simply said it was stellar. How much is she getting paid to judge this show, again?

Paul Jolley continues to exist, so he’s got that going for him. He did “Amazed” by Lonestar, sung by Scotty McCreery in S10. Is Scotty really that influential as a past winner? How weird. The song scraped the bottom of Paul’s register, so the beginning was really breathy. And bless his heart, but the cornball performance was still there, and you could see that he was actively thinking about how to hold back. What’s so upsetting is that when Paul is on, he sounds wonderful. About 3/4 of the way through there were a few bars that were radio-ready. I just fear that he is destined to be a back-up singer, because he just doesn’t have leading guy qualities. Keith, however, thinks that Paul is listening to the criticism, and that this was one of his better performances. Nikki said that, “This is the first time you’ve stimulated my sexual appetite.” What do you say to that? Randy thought it was a great song for Paul, and then he totally misinterpreted Jimmy’s notes to Paul. Mariah told Paul to forget about everything that people are telling him and just go for it. Again, great contradictory advice from our esteemed panel.

Candice Glover seems really sweet, and she looked tremendous tonight. She did “I Who Have Nothing,” performed by Jordin Sparks back in Season 6. Candice sang the shit out of that song. She did a very straight version of it, but made it sound much more modern than it actually is -- it sounded like a Mary J. Blige joint in parts. I also thought her performance was authentic. This to me was a breakout performance for Candice. She got a standing ovation. Keith said that Candice evoked Shirley Bassey’s effortless command with that performance. Nikki said it was her favorite performance Candice has ever done -- it was current and fresh. Mariah finds Candice mesmerizing, saying that a singer of her ability can really do anything she chooses no matter what genre.

LazaroArbos went with “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson, which was certainly ambitious. The jacket Lazaro was wearing was doing no favors to his figure, I’ll just say that. As usual with Lazaro, the verse was too low for him, so he was just marking time until he could let loose on the chorus. But even that was pretty unimpressive. Typically Lazaro has one or two moments in his performances that are pretty special. But this was almost exclusively karaoke-grade. The last note was nice. That’s about all I can say. Keith said that he didn’t think the song was in Lazaro’s wheelhouse, and Lazaro agreed with him. Then why did you pick it, dear? Nikki said it was her least favorite performance thus far by him, saying that Lazaro usually seems comfortable and calm. Nikki, are you watching the same thing I am? Because Lazaro NEVER seems comfortable on that stage. Randy said the pitch issues were prevalent, and the song was simply too big for him. Mariah again tried to make it less about singing and more about Lazaro overcoming obstacles. This isn’t Perseverance Idol, dear. How much longer will Lazaro continue to advance because of what he’s gone through, not what he’s actually doing?

Kree Harrison picked “Crying” by Roy Orbison, which Carrie Underwood sang back in S4. Love that song, especially k.d. lang’s version. Kree looked ravishing -- whoever is doing her make-up deserves a raise. I loved the beginning of it, but it felt a little rushed once it hit the chorus. But Kree handled the very challenging high-note section of this song beautifully, and it was believable. Absolutely lovely. The best I think she’s ever sounded. Keith said that he simply loves Kree’s voice, and she’s “there,” ready to record. Nikki started talking about eating buttermilk waffles for breakfast with Aunt Jemima syrup. This was all so she could say that’s what Kree’s performance reminded her -- smooth, delicious, and she could enjoy it at home by herself. Did Nikki stop at a bar on her way to the show? Is that why she was late? Randy said that Kree’s voice makes him feel good all over, and he loves that she puts emotion into everything she does.

Burnell Taylor gave S2 winner Ruben Studdard some love -- somebody needs to -- by picking “Flying Without Wings.” Jimmy Iovine wisely warned Burnell about picking only mid-tempo r’n’b ballads, because people are going to get sick of that fast -- it’s simply not going to bring in votes. Burnell started the song by emerging out of a huge cloud of purple haze. Hilarious. This song is so goddamned boring, but Burnell sounded wonderful on it, up until he hit the really high notes. Then it got pinched and uncomfortable sounding. But when he’s in his sweet spot, nobody sounds better than Burnell. Keith talked about the unique timbre of Burnell’s voice, and the eccentricity of his performances (those flapping hands!). Nikki loved Ruben’s first album (!!!) and was glad Burnell picked one of his songs, and thinks Burnell is “well on his way.” Randy blathered on and kept talking about Louisiana. Randy Jackson: shut up about Louisiana. We get it. We know where you’re from. Mariah said nothing of consequence.

Amber Holcomb is more charming than I initially expected. She did “A Moment Like This,” the S1 coronation song for Kelly Clarkson. It’s funny; when that song first came out I kind of hated it, but it stands up remarkably well -- especially when compared to most of the other coronation songs. (It still makes me laugh that poor Lee Dewyze couldn’t even get an original song of his own, he had to cover U2.) They played with the tempo here, and Amber struggled to keep on the beat up until the chorus. I had some issues with the other minor changes she made to the melody, but overall it was a solid performance. Not deserving of the standing ovation she got, and nowhere near as good as Candice, but it was good. I suspect it sounded better in the studio. Keith loved how easy it seemed for Amber, even in the super high notes. Nikki called it best performance of the night -- no. She also said that Amber’s voice and aura remind her of early Whitney Houston. Again: no nono. Amber is good, but she’s not there yet. Randy summed up the night succinctly by saying that the girls absolutely killed the guys. Mariah again said nothing of consequence. I really think the judges praised Amber way too excessively.

Recap: Curtis was fine but not great, and the recap highlighted his worst moment -- interesting; Janelle is really pretty bad; Devin can sang but was terribly boring; Angie was great; Paul was arguably the best of the guys, which is a terrifying statement; Candice jumped to the front of the line in a big way; Lazaro is in living in a high -- school talent show, or perhaps an episode of “Glee”; Kree was gorgeous but oddly I found I forgot her; Burnell sounded good but sang another boring-ass song; Amber was really good, but still a bit overpraised.

Predictions: It has to be a guy to go home, right? Aside from Janelle all the women did really well. My personal Bottom 3 areLazaro, Janelle, and Devin, but I think both Devin and Janelle have fan bases that will save them for a few more weeks. Burnell and Curtis will probably split votes, and Curtis’s first slot can only hurt him. But if we’re talking strictly vocal, it should come down to Lazaro and Janelle for the boot.

Tomorrow: Bon Jovi, Phillip Phillips, and a sing-off for a spot on the tour.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"RuPaul's Drag Race" Season 5: No chickens safe at the roast

Posted By on Tue, Mar 12, 2013 at 4:00 AM

Earlier Monday night judge Michelle Visage Tweeted that this week's episode of “Drag Race” defines the season. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what she meant by that -- and whether it’s a good thing. Like every episode of Season 5 thus far, it was entertaining with great challenges and some memorable moments. But what’s interesting about this season is that I still have absolutely no idea who is going to win this thing. That’s exciting in one regard -- when it’s too obvious (Raja) it’s unsatisfying in the end. But it’s slightly worrisome, because while most of the remaining queens are all on the same level, none of them at this point are offering what I consider to be the full package that this show purportedly looks for in a winner. This week’s episode didn’t do much to change that opinion.

The mini-challenge was the annual opening of the Library, as the reading glasses were passed around and all the queens read each other. It was a totally solid segment and each contestant seemed to get in at least one or two decent digs at their competitors. Alaska won, and rightly so. She continued to be charming even as she insulted her compatriots with some biting comments.

The main challenge was the RuPaul roast, a variation on Season 3’s stand-up comedy challenge. Not only were the queens supposed to skewer RuPaul, they were also allowed to take aim at regular judges Visage and Santino Rice (who blessedly left his hat/scarf combo at home), the other competing queens, and guest judges Leslie Jordan (forever Beverly Leslie in my heart) and Jeffrey Moran, “Image Czar” for Absolut Vodka. I actually booed at the screen when Moran came on, because I find him such a humorless, insufferable presence whenever he makes his annual appearance on the show. But to my delight he was actually fine this time around. That may or may not be related to the fact that the editors used barely any footage of him.

The roast was good, with some pretty deep burns delivered by the queens. Here’s how they stacked up:

Coco Montrese ended up winning the challenge, and I wasn’t happy about it. Here’s the thing about Coco -- the editors have turned her into this season’s piñata. I’m sure she’s not nearly the whiny, eyeroll-inducing bummer that the show would have us believe. But at least some of that is true, because the footage exists. Coco was indeed funny during the roast, but she basically lifted Shangela’s entire shtick from the S3 stand-up challenge, and I also thought it was lazy to go for cheap ethnic stereotypes. I also thought she looked terrible on the runway tonight, which has become a recurring theme for Coco. I’m just done with her, and I was thrilled that the other queens told her and Alyssa to shut up when they started going into their pageant drama YET AGAIN on “Untucked.” That shit is tired, and it has nothing to do with Daylight Savings Time.

Jinkx Monsoon did quite well in the challenge, which was to be expected given the comedy chops she has exhibited thus far. The pleasant surprise was that Jinkx really brought it on the runway as well, with a very polished look and make-up that finally flattered her features. Jinkx had a few interesting developments this episode. First, she talked about her difficult upbringing and her guilt over feeling like she abandoned her younger siblings. Second, she multiple times got into it with the other queens, who think that Jinkx's self-deprecating/nervous tics are an act, and that Jinkx is playing the victim for sympathy. Coco, Alyssa, Roxxxy, and Detox all made comments that Jinkx is full of shit and knows that she’s a threat, but truthfully, I think they’re off the mark. Jinkx might be a good actress, but she reads as authentically self-conscious to me. Maybe I’m a sucker, but I think Jinkx lives in her head a lot, and sabotages herself quite a bit.

Alaska could be accused of doing the same thing, but she seems to be getting better about it. This was another good episode for Alaska. Her comedy was very strong -- witty and wry -- and she finally disentangled herself from the Rolaskatoxx clique because she realized she was being overshadowed, and she desperately needs to make an impression. (Alaska is now the only remaining contestant to have not won a challenge.) Alaska continues to get dinged for her one-note runway, and there is some truth to that. But as I said last week, I think Alaska is being held to a much higher standard in general than the other queens, and I do think it is related to Sharon’s success. That isn’t fair. The good news for Alaska is that her edit right now has her poised for a real breakout moment in the next few episodes. The bad news for Alaska is that if she doesn’t capitalize on it she’s never going to make the finals.

Detox, in my mind, is the queen who should be grilled by the judges right now. Every week I become increasingly bored and frustrated with her. How does someone with that much polish, that much experience, that many connections manage to fade into the background week after week? I am hard pressed to remember anything Detox did in either challenge this week, and the runway look was pretty forgettable, too. I can only recall her bitchy talking heads. It feels like she has been coasting since her win in Week 2. If not, and this is her really trying, she’s an enormous disappointment. At this point she is the second-most boring queen left. Your last name is Icunt and you are 80 percent recycable materials! How are you boring?!

Ivy Winters is, sadly, the most boring queen left. Or at least, that’s what the editors are having us believe. It’s entirely possible that there’s hours of entertaining Ivy footage on some cutting room floor somewhere. But I have a really hard time buying into that conspiracy theory. Ivy is cute, has great runway presentations (except this week), and has done very well to acceptable in pretty much every challenge. But there’s just no personality there. I don’t think Ivy was shown in a single talking-head this week, nor was she shown saying a thing on “Untucked.” She’s just there. She is easily the most superfluous queen left at this stage.

Alyssa Edwards had another interesting week. I will confess that I have a hard time fairly assessing Alyssa, because I find her so damned endearing. Even when she’s completely bombing or being a clueless goon in the workroom, I can’t help but root for her. And it’s funny, because I loathed her in the first few episodes of the season. Alyssa can throw some serious shade, but she is obviously not a comedy queen. Her quips were basically brass-knuckle swipes and there was really nothing funny, except for her borderline desperation in trying to land a zinger. Still, I root for her. She’s like your weird aunt who gets drunk on one wine cooler and takes off her top at the family Christmas party. You just want to give her a hug and take her out for lunch and gossip down to the Cracker Barrel.

Roxxxy Andrews joined Alyssa in the Bottom 2, and it was a really rough week for Roxxxy on multiple levels. I need to preface this by saying that I genuinely like Roxxxy, and I think that -- this week aside -- she has turned in some fan-fucking-tastic runway looks and has great energy. But this week she got completely demoralized by pre-challenge check-in with a panel of comedians and she was unable to recover, turning in what -- according to the edit we saw -- was a painfully bad comedy performance. That I can forgive, but what really soured me on Roxxxy was the “it’s not fair” excuse, saying that this challenge was clearly biased toward funny queens like Jinkx. Sure, and several of the glamour/costume-based challenges have been clearly biased toward someone with a killer wardrobe like you, Roxxxy. Her weird jealousy toward Jinkx in the workroom and “Untucked” also did nothing to endear her to anyone. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together (and as the show has pointed out numerous times, Roxxxy is not exactly the brightest queen in the court) can see that she’s intimidated by Jinkx, but the defensiveness is not cute. And lastly, her tearful breakdown after the lipsynch (more on that in a second) initially read as cheap emotionalism, but “Untucked” showed us that moment didn’t come out of nowhere. I honestly believe Roxxxy was feeling some very difficult emotions at that point, and my heart goes out to her for a traumatic upbringing. But I also hope we never, ever see her play that card again.

That’s because, following a vigorous lipsynch to Willow Smith’s “I Whip My Hair,” both Roxxxy AND Alyssa were told to stay. Given how strongly both queens fought to keep in the competition, I was fine with it. At first I was ready to discount Roxxxy as she took off her skirt and then removed her wig -- a huge drag no-no -- but that hot bitch had a second wig underneath! Amazing! After that she dominated the segment for the first half, but Alyssa came roaring back for the second. It was a good battle, and I didn’t want to lose either of them. So I am thrilled they’re both still around to give us hilarious reaction shots (Alyssa) and body-ody-ody (Roxxxy) for another week at least. (You know Ivy and Coco are going home before either of them, right?) My only question: does this mean we won’t get the annual returned-queen episode?

Next week: the marketing challenge, this time featuring signature fragrances; a guest appearance by living cautionary tale Joan Van Ark; Aubrey O’Day discusses the odor of your grandmother’s vagina.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

"American Idol" 2013: Top 10 revealed!

Posted By on Thu, Mar 7, 2013 at 9:56 PM

Even at a super-sized 90 minutes this episode had more padding than a 80 lb. drag queen. The format for revealing the Top 10 was easily the stupidest, most time-wasting gambit I can recall on this show. Clunky and awkward, and that’s not even considering the tenor in the holding pen. When they were down to six in each room it was really uncomfortable to see the misery on these kids’ faces.

The first person to make the Top 10 was Paul Jolley, which was something of a surprise. I thought he would get lost in the mix after Wednesday. However, in the playback they showed tonight, Paul’s was the only clip that made me actually look up and really take notice. He’s one of the few guys who has a voice I can actually imagine hearing on the radio. Plus, he’s really cute. The contestants that made it to the Top 10 all got to sing a victory song. This was a bad idea in Paul’s case, as he did Heart’s “Alone,” which was both too low and too high for him and fell squarely into his cheesy-performance trap. I really don’t think he understands the concept of, or possibly even the definition of, the word subtlety.

Next up, another surprise, was Burnell Taylor. I say a surprise because according to DialIdol, Burnell didn’t make the cut. But he was absolutely amazing Wednesday night and I’m thrilled that he made it into the Top 10. For his victory song he did the dirge-like “Ready for Love,” and the vocal was again really terrific. My fear with Burnell is that he’s going to continue to pick these slow, emotionally heavy songs that the vast majority of America probably won’t know. I guess I want to see more diversity in tone and tempo from him, because his voice is one of the best I’ve heard on this show in a while. He also needs to up the energy when he’s not singing.

Curtis Finch Jr. acted all surprised when Ryan told him he made it, but I’m sorry, I’m not buying. Curtis was a lock for the Top 10 -- he’s a very strong singer. Plus, he keeps giving us some Cowardly Lion realness, so I can’t hate him for that. For his victory song Curtis also sang a slow gospel/r’n’b song I’ve never heard. I’m sensing a theme this season, and if it’s r’n’b and gospel every week I’m going to get very bored very quickly. The majority of the song was well sung, but Curtis isn’t quite as good at the falsetto runs as he thinks he is.

Devin Velez was the other more-or-less lock to make it into the Top 10, and so he did. He’s a very good singer, as demonstrated by his victory song -- which again I did not recognize. Let me say straight up: I’ve been watching this show since Season 3 and I’ve never seen so many songs come up here that I had never heard before. And I consider myself a fairly well-versed pop-culture guy. Anyway, I liked the song, I liked Devin’s vocal -- it was upbeat and exciting! And huge thanks to him for not switching into Spanish. It’s fine every now and again, but every time feels a bit desperate. And yet Nikki Minaj told him to do exactly that, and stick to just ballads. I normally agree with Nikki, but not here. (And by the way, Nikki, that Spanish-language trick HAS been done on “Idol,” by Karen Rodriguez a few seasons back.) Also, confidential to Devin: please have a discussion with your very cute mother about her choice in eyeshadow. We can do better!

And the final guy into the Top 10 was LazaroArbos, the famous stuttering contestant. I have…thoughts. First, before he took the stage for his victory song, he ground the show to a halt as he had a conversation with the band leader (I guess). Really awkward.And almost as awkward as his actual performance. Once again Lazaro picked a song that was way, way too low for him in the beginning, this time “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” He had serious pitch issues throughout the rest, and the lyrics were basically mush. He has beautiful moments in just about every performance, and a great upper register. But Nick, Cortez, and Vincent just got really and truly robbed -- they are much stronger singers than Lazaro. That was not a vote based on singing. That was a vote based on Lazaro being someone people like.

We got a brief send-off to Elijah, Nick, Vincent, Cortez, and Charlie. Cortez and Vincent screwed themselves Wednesday night, and Elijah was always chaff. I was terrified that we’d be stuck with Charlie (DialIdol put him ahead of every other guy by a wide margin), and so I am absolutely DELIGHTED that we dodged that melodramatic bullet.

I’m so sorry I missed Tuesday night, because I missed my beloved human unicorn Zoanette taking on Tina Turner. The recap suggested that the rest of the girls were all mostly competent, but also largely dull.

The first person to make the Top 10 was Janelle Arthur. I have a real problem with that, too. First, I didn’t see her full performance on Tuesday, but the clip they showed tonight did not sound good. But the truth is, Janelle never should have made it through Sudden Death -- she was flat-out awful that week, and the judges pushing her along was shameful. She’s been trying to get on this show for three seasons and has been featured fairly prominently at least twice. I think Janelle has a great voice, but she seems to have a problem with nerves or picking songs or something. For her victory lap she went with a country song I don’t know. It was fine, but unexciting. There is something about her that’s likable, though, and that might get her votes far beyond what her vocals should be bringing in. Nikki said that tonight was the best that Janelle has looked or sounded, and there may be truth to that. She just seemed to be having fun out there.

Candice Glover was next, another heavily hyped contestant this season. For her victory song she did “I’m Going Down” and it was the best I’ve ever heard Candice sing. I’m glad, because up until now I’ve found her wildly overpraised. I still don’t think she’s bringing anything new to the table that we haven’t seen on this show dozens of times before. But she can sing, so I’ll take it for now.

Angie Miller was next, which was absolutely no surprise -- if there’s anyone who is the presumptive winner this season, it is Angie. And with good reason. Angie is an enormous talent -- she can sing, she can write songs, she can play piano. She is an honest-to-god artist and, frankly, a bit too legit for this show. For her victory she sang something that seemed vaguely familiar, I’m guessing it was called “I Was Here.” She struggled with the beginning -- the rhythms were off, it was too low in parts. It was easily the worst performance I’ve seen from her, but still better than all but maybe two of the guys.

Amber Holcomb was the ninth person to make it into the Top 10, and frankly, I’m ambivalent about her. The judges raved about her Sudden Death performance, but I found it to be solid yet unexciting. The clip I saw of her Tuesday-night performance didn’t wow me either. She went with “I’m Every Woman,” which was a mistake. This song was made famous by Chaka Khan and Whitney Houston, and basically nobody’s voice is going to stack up favorably to either of them. It was super rough at first and Amber spent too much time engaging with the audience during the middle. The sustained notes at the end were good, though.

The final person in the Top 10 was Kree Harrison, which was again, absolutely no surprise. Kree has been heavily promoted by the show since Hollywood Week and there was no way she wasn’t advancing. Kree looked better tonight than I think she’s ever looked. Her victory song -- which started at 9:29 p.m. for a show that was supposed to end at 9:30 p.m. -- was another song I didn’t recognize. It had a nice bluesy country edge and Kree sounded great on it. She was more lively than I’ve seen her, and I’m glad to see that.

And that meant farewell to three girls I don’t know (including the two that Nikki gushed over about being ready to be signed last week), Tenna, and modern muse Zoanette. Show: please hire Zoanette as your special magical-creature correspondent. She’s too special to just drop.

As the credits were hastily rolling, Ryan rattled off something about some online sing-off for the runners-up for a special slot on the “Idol” tour. Thanks for making that clear, show. Maybe you should have wasted a little more time with the stupid holding pens and Ryan running back and forth.

So that’s our Top 10. Given the sea of garbage we initially had when we got to the Sudden Death rounds it came out a lot better than I expected. For the guys, I expect Devin and Curtis to go far, and depending on how rabid Lazaro’sfanbase is, he could get pushed as far as Top 6. I just don’t see Paul or Burnell lasting too long, despite the fact that they both have great voices.

For the girls, Angie is the one to beat right now, but she’s got to show more diversity and fast, lest she go the same route as PiaToscano. I see votes getting split between country girls Janelle and Kree -- though Kree will absolutely come out on top there -- and r’n’b queens Candice and Amber. I’ll be curious to see who wins that particular battle.

So what do you think of the Top 10? Who do you think has it takes to win?

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