Monday, May 20, 2013

"Game of Thrones" Season 3, Episode 8: An Imp-ulsive wedding

Posted By on Mon, May 20, 2013 at 10:54 AM

The final act of Season 3 kicked off with several major plot points and some wonderful dialogue, making for another terrific episode in - I think - the strongest season of the show yet.

*The main plotline of the night took place in King's Landing, specifically the utterly joyless forced wedding of Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Stark. So many fantastic character moments leading up to, during, and after the nuptials, which went off with only a slight hitch when scumbag Joffrey removed the stepstool necessary for the cloaking ceremony (the Westeros equivalent of exchanging rings) for the sole purpose of humiliating his poor uncle. That scene in the book is more contentious. Book Sansa deliberately ignores Tyrion's request for her to kneel, and later Tyrion is less gallant about their wedding night. The show has been working to make Tyrion less morally ambiguous and more straight-up heroic, while softening Sansa's less-likable qualities (although most of those have been literally beaten out of her at this point), making for an oddly sweet pairing. Meanwhile, the show is taking great (yet silent) pains to establish Shaye's feelings about this whole mess, and it won't be long before that whole situation goes very, very sour.

Speaking of sour, there were a few uproarious wedding-related scenes with the Queen of Thorns figuring out the complicated family trees that will result from all of these Lannister weddings, and poor Loras awkwardly trying to start a conversation with his de facto betrothed, Cersei, before getting spectacularly shot down. The Loras/Cersei stuff was never part of the book, so I'm loving seeing that (and Loras has become a reliable punchline, which this show will increasingly need as it gets darker and darker). And Peter Dinklage should get another Emmy nod for his drunken yet heartfelt performance throughout the episode. Really terrific work.

*Elsewhere, the Mother of Dragons met with the captains of the Second Sons, the group of sellswords currently working for the slave masters of Yunkai. Daenerys offered their leader, a super hot but totally sexist piece of shit, a ton of gold and titles if they abandoned the Yunkai and worked for her instead. He and one of his lieutenants weren't interested, but the other - Bravosi Daario Naharis - was persuaded not only by Dany's words and money, but also her beauty. So he beheaded both of his comrades, dumped their noggins on the floor of Dany's tent, and pledged himself and his 2000 men to Dany's service. To be honest, I was less than pleased to watch this play out. First, by giving the viewers Daario's point of view, the show ruined one of the more dramatic moments from the books, when Daario visits Dany's camp in the night. Secondly, Ed Skrein is not even close to how I pictured Daario. He's supposed to be swarthy and impossibly sexy - the definition of masculinity. Skrein is blandly pretty, practically androgynous, and in this episode demonstrated very little magnetism. The disgusting pig of a leader he beheaded commanded the camera far more convincingly. Daario should be undeniable, for Dany and the viewer. I'm not seeing that in this casting at all.

*The Melisandre/Gendry plotline, which was arguably the show's biggest departure from the books, was brought more or less back to the source material this episode. Stannis had a frank conversation with Davos, who correctly argued that Stannis was obviously wrestling with the idea of sacrificing his bastard nephew to please the Red Priestess. Stannis released Davos (and bonus: Davos is now literate, thanks to the Westerosi "Reading Rainbow" that went down in his prison cell) in time to walk in on the aftermath and Melisandre seducing poor Gendry, dry humping him, and then leeching his chest and junk to get at his "king's blood." Note that it was slightly unclear, but Melisandre explained that the leeches were used because Stannis required proof that the "king's blood" was important - Gendry is still very much in danger of being totally sacrificed. (That is, if he doesn't die of blue balls first. That was brutal, Mel.) There is a scene in the books that features Mel throwing king's-blood-filled leeches into the fire, which produces godly visions for Stannis. We didn't necessarily get that here, but this does seem to be ending up back where the plot originated. I also liked that Stannis and Davos talked about what I consider to be one of the more interesting debates in the book. It's easy to look at Melisandre as a villain, or at best a zealot. But you can't deny that her power - and by extension her god - is very real based on what we've seen her do. So if you accept that at least part of her belief system is right, how can you doubt the rest of it? My interpretation remains that Mel is actually working on the "good" side (and that Dany, the dragonglass, etc. is all a part of it). Her methods are just massively skewed.

*On the dragonglass tip, the Sam plotline finally ignited as he, Gilly, and Gilly's wee babe came face to face with a White Walker north of the Wall. I appreciated the show explicitly arguing that the creature appeared to them because it wanted Gilly's baby, which Craster had promised to them along with all of his other sons. I honestly didn't pick that up while I was reading the books, I just figured it was Sam's shitty luck to run into one of them. With Gilly and the kid in danger Sam stepped up and attacked the wight. That didn't work out too well as it shattered his sword and sent Sam flying. He instinctively grabbed the shard of obsidian he found at the Fist of the First Men, stabbed the creature in the back, and it shrieked and split into teeny tiny pieces. And of course Sam, being Sam, grabbed Gilly and the kid and ran - leaving behind the very item that saved him. All in all I thought this was a well-executed scene, and I loved the attention to detail, with the crows swarming the tree and the wierwood crying. I'm not sold on the actors playing Sam or Gilly, though. Please know that I will always love Hannah Murray because she was my darling Cassie on "Skins," but both she and John Bradley are giving me too much slack-jawed mumbling and awkward sulking. Neither of those characters is terribly likable, and that's very strange, because I was instantly into them in the books.

*Finally, The Hound carted Arya around the River Lands in what looked like the most uncomfortable pony ride ever. Their brief scene served only to remind us that The Hound did in fact save Arya's sister, so he's not all bad, and to set up the fact that he's taking her to The Twins for the impending Tully/Frey nuptials. And if you thought this episode's wedding scene was memorable yet awkward, just you wait.

NEXT: We have a week off for Memorial Day, and also for the Liberace movie starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. Between all the gold, jewels, and simulated sodomy it won't be that dissimilar from the goings on in King's Landing. And then come back on June 2 for more tragedy and buttocks. And I'm not just talking about that ratty fur-fringed frock they forced on Brienne.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"American Idol" 2013 Finale: And the winner is...

Posted By on Thu, May 16, 2013 at 10:08 PM

And finally, the finale. The show opened with the Top 10 all dressed in white, lipsynching to “Glad You Came” by The Wanted. I honestly barely remembered that Devin and Paul existed. And Curtis Finch Jr. is seriously the worst lip syncher. It’s just so weird that this is a singing competition, and the finalists were paraded around lip synching in multiple cheesy "performance" numbers.

The rumor has it that the show will undergo a massive overhauling next season, with everyone but Ryan Seacrest gone, including several of the producers. Something really does need to be done. I think this season ended up being interesting -- I mean, the Lazaro arc and the all-female Final 5 were oddly compelling. And we certainly had a very talented Final 3/4. But the show overall has become so stale and lame. There is literally nothing cool about “Idol” anymore. The ratings are down something like 25 percent from last season. It’s a mess.

Frankly, I’d even get rid of Seacrest. He’s toned down his more obnoxious qualities this season, I’ll grant you, but he’s on autopilot. As evidenced when he tried to do a little banter with our finalists, Kree Harrison and Candice Glover. He lobbed a few softballs at them, but neither girl was taking the bait and the whole thing felt forced and uncomfortable. Candice and Kree were likely done with jumping through hoops, but that falls on Ryan for letting that segment just die on the vine.

The first performance of the night came from The Band Perry, which came out for a high-energy number that I quite liked. They were eventually joined by Janelle Arthur, who is a much better fit for this band’s music than fellow country contestant Kree. This bordered on rock and, at one point, jazzercise. It was over the top and ridiculous but I dug it. Janelle got completely lost both in terms of the performance and the vocal.

And then a package on the “conspiracy” about how all the guys all went home first this year. This is a theory that was actually floated, seriously, by Lazaro after his ouster. So I actually think it was pretty smart of the show to take advantage of it by doing this bit where the girls sabotaged the guys one by one. So, Kree convinced Curtis to wear his terrible jacket, and Janelle was the reason Lazaro sang offkey. The “mastermind” ended up being the last female winner of this show, Jordin Sparks, who got in a couple good shots: the guys were easy to take out since none of them played guitar, and “Idol” castoffs have been doing well on “The Voice.” That was a surprisingly self-effacing segment for “Idol.”

The boys came out to sing Four Seasons medley, which again appeared to be prerecorded. Frankie Valli joined them, singing quite well for a guy who is nearly 80. And seriously, if you want an indication of the current demographic of this show, there you go. This segment went on seemingly forever. Like, the entire song “Grease is the Word” was performed. Of all the Four Seasons songs, you sing THAT in its entirety?

And then, confusion: Mariah Carey appeared on the stage. But at first I thought it was clips from a previous performance. Because the whole thing was crazy disjointed, the background kept shifting, and she kept doing fast-forwarded bits of her various hit songs. Except, that WAS her performance. But I think Mariah was lipsynching, too. The lips sure as hell did not seem to be lining up with the lyrics. And yet, the mic was obviously live, and she fiddled with her ear monitor toward the end. I don’t know. Regardless, she looked incredibly uncomfortable. I don’t understand. Say whatever else you want, but Mariah is a freaking legend. She should not in any way feel nervous about singing on “American Idol.” She ended the set with her new song, “#beautiful.” (Yes, the hashtag is part of the title.) I really dig that track. But the segment as a whole felt very weird to me, much like Mariah’s tenure on this judging panel. No T, no shade, but I hope Mariah does not return next season. I cannot imagine that she will.

This show’s baffling fixation on Emeli Sande continued with Amber Holcomb singing “Next to Me” along with Sande herself. We seriously just heard Candice sing this song last week. Frankly neither Amber nor Emeli came off well here. Compared to The Band Perry performance earlier it seemed sloppy and poorly rehearsed, and very light on content. They even had a full back-up choir which seemed to be there solely for “woo-hoo.” I couldn’t understand a goddamned word Amber was singing, and that’s not usually a problem with her. After the number petered to an end Ryan announced that Emeli’s album is out now. Someone involved with this show HAS to be financially involved with this girl. I am more convinced than ever.

And then…PSY?! What? Did I fall into a timewarp and arrive back in October 2012? PSY performed his new song, “Gentlemen,” which is basically the exact same song as his first one. And while watching his performance I realized that he is essentially the 21st century version of Robert Palmer, but minus any musical ability whatsoever. The whole thing was so tacky and already felt outdated. PSY was a novelty act half a year ago. You do not trot out a novelty act after it is no longer a novelty. This show is so done it has become a parody of itself.

Not wanting to be left out, judge Keith Urban then took the stage. I think Keith performed on this show no less than a month ago. (Sidebar: did Nicki Minaj perform on the show even ONCE this season?) At least he actually appeared to be singing live. What a concept! I really came around on Keith over the course of the season. I thought he was terrible during the initial auditions, but once we got to the Top 10 he became one of only two members of the panel (the other being Nicki) who regularly had anything of worth to contribute. I wouldn’t be upset if he came back next season, but I think the show needs to clean house completely.

And then finally, almost an hour into the show, we got a performance from one of the two people still in the competition, as Candice sang “Inseperable.” I typically hate it when the judges mention the contestants’ clothes and styling, but why is Candice always dressed so casually? This is the finale. I want glamour! Anyway, Candice was joined by S3 contestant Jennifer Hudson, still looking great. The two of them were fantastic on this song, although they had zero chemistry. When they hit the key change I totally did the gay finger wag from my couch. And I loved the quieter moments toward the end. That was lovely. Almost made up for PSY.

Then third-place finisher Angie Miller took on “Titanium” at the piano, along with S8 runner-up Adam Lambert. These two sounded terrific together with some lovely harmonies. Weirdly, Angie kind of outsang Lambert on this, and I was not expecting that at all. It was all a bit melodramatic, but, well…look who we’re working with here.

And then, Jessie J! I love her. She is apparently bald now? That was new. She sang “Domino” along with Angie (so that’s two duets for Angie thus far, and she’s not even a finalist; wonder who the show wanted to make it to tonight?). Anyway, I loved this. I love the song to begin with, I really dig Jessie, and they were both having a ton of fun up on the stage. It did kind of devolve into a drunken karaoke night, but I don’t even care. I enjoyed myself. Personally I would love to see Jessie on the judging panel of this show -- she’s on “The Voice” in the UK. And then there was an interesting bit, where we found out Angie had to give up singing her single on the show in order for Jessie to perform. So Jessie asked Angie to fly to England to sing the song in concert with her, put it on YouTube, etc. Again: is anyone getting the feeling that Angie is kind of coming out the winner tonight, despite being eliminated last week?

After the break, we got a segment on the judges and a vague reference to the media scrutiny of the Mariah/Nicki dynamic that was ultimately pointless. Mariah was parodied for her super-tight skirts, her “dahlings,” and her general inability to speak actual words. Did you know that Keith likes to wear t-shirts? Lord… Randy Jackson was called out for being obnoxious and totally repetitive and nonsensical. Yeah, we got that memo 10 seasons ago. Nicki Minaj’s wigs, nasal tone, and her no-holds-barred comments were brought up. All true, and all reasons that I loved Nicki. I’m sad to hear she will likely NOT be back.

Then Kree finally got to come out to sing a song with Keith Urban backing her on guitar and Randy Jackson on bass. I guess it was called “Where the Blacktop Ends”? After the past few performances we really got a sense of how weak Kree’s vocals are compared to Angie and Candice. I do like Kree, and I think she’s very marketable, but that was not a particularly good vocal, and it surely wasn’t strong -- she was getting overplayed by Keith’s guitar and even the drums.

BLESSINGS: a farewell salute to Randy Jackson. That means it’s officially over. It has been far too long. Goodbye, Randy. Now…how can we miss you when you won’t go away?

And then Aretha Franklin! Yes, hunties! Coming in to us via satellite from New York. She sang with the Top 5 girls on a medley led by “Natural Woman” and “Respect.” Aretha can still sing (but again: a clear sign of this show’s primary demographic). The “Idol” girls were almost totally lost in this segment -- the camera kept cutting back to the studio where ReRe was performing back in New York. But can Nicki Minaj please give Aretha a call and give her some tips for her wig game? Because that thing on her head was not becoming of the Queen of Soul. Aretha deserves better!

So auditions for Season 13 start in July. That means we should be finding out about the new judging panel in the very near future, no?

The season recap gave us a few precious, beautiful moments of our goddess Zoanette. I still treasure her.

And then freaking Jennifer Lopez, with Pitbull performing her new single, “Live It Up.” We cannot escape the Jennifer Lopez self-promotion machine. Dear Pitbull: find pants with better lining, because I could see your underpants. On a related note, call me. There was a weird goddess/Olympic-ring thing going on here. I like several of Lopez’s recent dance hits, but this was crap. And the performance went on forever. Do you think Pitbull was lipsynching there? The mic was so close to his mouth, and we never saw his lips moving. That’s like the absolute nadir of performing. You can’t even stand on stage and speak live.

At 9:58 p.m. the Final 2 took the stage. I assumed it was to announce the winner, but no, it was to sing a sad duet about men (oh, show...). On the plus side, Candice looked STUNNING. And they both sounded really good.

Finally, at 10:01 p.m. the results were handed over. I was a bit torn here. Candice is clearly the superior singer. But Kree is the one likely to benefit the most from winning this show -- country is super marketable. But my gut and my heart was with Candice.

And the winner of “American Idol” Season 12 is: CANDICE GLOVER! Yay, Candice! I really think she’s a gifted vocalist and has performed astonishingly well over the course of this season. I expect that Kree will end up having a significant career in country music, and I would put money on Angie Miller breaking through into the mainstream as well. I worry about Candice’s post-show career, especially since I don’t think her coronation single is particularly strong. But I believe in her, and I want only the best for her. Go Candice!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"American Idol" 2013: Final 2, Candice vs. Kree Sing-Off!

Posted By on Wed, May 15, 2013 at 9:13 PM

Finally, the Final 2! Candice Glover vs. Kree Harrison. This was not the finale I was expecting, and I doubt I’m alone in that. I expected Angie Miller to be going up against Candice. I felt the whole season was building to it. And Angie’s ouster last week really did surprise me. I had pegged Kree as a silent threat about a quarter of the way into the Top 10, but she had a wildly inconsistent final third of the competition.

Regardless, as Ryan pointed out, it’s our first all-girl finale since Season 3. And if you think that wasn’t at least engineered in part by the producers, who REALLY wanted to break the White Guy With a Guitar winner streak, happy belated birthday. Because you were clearly born yesterday.

Kree won the coin toss and decided to go first. The first round was "Idol" creator Simon Fuller's choice: “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan. A good pick for Kree, because Kree’s voice just soars on those high notes. She still bumbled around the low ones, though, and I thought she was weirdly disconnected from the song. This is right in Kree’s wheelhouse content-wise, but it was merely good. No judges’ comments whatsoever, which was strange.

For Candice Glover Fuller picked Adele’s “Chasing Pavements.” Show, please: NOBODY sounds good when compared to Adele. Nobody. Especially not with this bo-bo lounge-lizard arrangement. The first verse was amateur hour as Candice struggled with the low range and the rhythms. Once she hit the chorus she opened up and from there she changed up the melodies a bit. She wrestled that train back on to the track and it ended up more than solid by the end.

After that we got some judge feedback. Traditionally at this stage of the game the judges just blather on about how amazing the singers are. So it was perfect for Mariah Carey, who continued to be absolutely useless. Randy Jackson -- who is out the door -- said that Fuller’s picks were not good, as they were too sleepy. True. But Randy gave Round 1 to Candice, because she actually did something with the song. Mariah countered that Kree made “Angel” “delicate.” When is that song ever NOT delicate, Mariah? It is primarily known as “that song that makes you cry when they show footage of abandoned puppies and kitties.” It's not exactly bombastic.

And then, the premiere of the song Carly Rae Jepsen “created” with Coke that was Frankensteined together by viewer input. Where to begin? The insanely lame still-photo graphics (the song is called “Take a Picture,” GET IT?!). The incredibly boring song that Carly sang with all the vigor of a sleepwalker? Her Six from “Blossom” Realness? The fact that someone is still trying to make Carly Rae Jepsen happen in May 2013? Yes, I know she had an absolute mega-smash hit last year. Huge! That song was everywhere FOREVER. But she is the very definition of a one-hit wonder. She’s tried to release several other songs since then and America is not having it. Let us be, music industry. And Carly, save that check from Coca-Cola. Invest it. I’m still worried about the financial security of Paula Abdul. I cannot be nervous about your fiscal solvency as well.

After the break Ryan did the typical, “Let’s walk amongst the masses” bit, and fatefully made overtures to one lady of a certain age in the crowd. He was playing to the show’s current average viewer, but things backfired when that woman turned out to be basically a creeper. She kept making all these uncomfortable gutteral noises. Ryan noticed she had a cast on her foot and you could practically see the panic building on his face as he saw the situation going pear shaped. And then she kept getting in front of him and staring at him in the most cringe-inducing way. The whole thing was deliciously awkward and I LOVED IT. That’s what you get, Ryan. That’s what you get.

Round 2: Potential Coronation Single. Kree’s was called “All Cried Out.” That’s a bit on the nose, no? Kree really put herself into this song. There was fire in the belly and gas on the voice. It’s a pretty standard pop-country ballad, but it’s certainly not bad. I could see myself wailing along to it in the car while stuffing my face with apple pies in a McDonald’s parking lot at 1 a.m. after a bad break-up. So if that was the market you were going for, Kree, you’re golden!

Candice’s would-be coronation song is called “I Am Beautiful.” It’s an r’n’b ballad about a woman in a loveless relationship who is being courted by a guy who appreciates her (or possibly it's about Jesus). I wanted to love this, but it’s way too generic to make any kind of impact on modern radio. I realize that’s ironic, because mainstream radio is nothing but mediocrity. But this song just doesn’t hook you, despite Candice’s very good vocal. You could tell that she was on the verge of tears after singing the song. Candice, I still love you. I just don’t like the song.

Round 2 reactions from Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban. Nicki loved Kree’s composure and understated performance, and liked how the song allowed Kree to tap into her gut a bit. She really liked the message of Candice’s song and said it was perfect for Candice. I agree with the logic of that, but not the execution. Keith made some lame jokes. Nicki gave Round 2 to Candice.

Final round: favorite number from the season. Kree picked “Up to the Mountain,” which was definitely one of her shining moments in the competition. The smoke machine was working overtime and she had a back-up choir. Very well sung, although again a bit lacking in energy. I cannot for the life of me figure out what was going on with Kree over the past month on this show. She just seems so ambivalent. When she’s up there does she seem like someone singing for a $1 million contract?

Candice actually had several great performances she could have picked from, and she went with “I Who Have Nothing.” Can’t argue with that. But this time she opened it completely a cappella. No instrumentation until after the first verse -- I believe that was new this time. Now THIS is a woman singing to win this competition! The vocal was flawless, the soul was there, the presence was there -- she did not seem like a reality-show contestant. She seemed like a star. Candice left it all out on the stage. She can go home tonight knowing she did everything possible to win that title.

Recap: I thought Kree threw away the first number, was better than Candice on the new song, and was very good on her third song. Candice pulled it together on the Adele song, did the best she could with an oddly uninspiring inspirational song, and totally killed it in the final number of the show.

Personally I give the win to Candice. I think she won rounds 1 and 3 handily. Kree did have the better coronation single, and the truth is she IS much more marketable, simply because her type of music is still very much current. But I personally hope the win goes to Candice. And I suspect Kree is going to regret letting Candice go last…

So let us have it: who do YOU think will win Season 12?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

"American Idol" 2013: Results (Final 2 Revealed!)

Posted By on Thu, May 9, 2013 at 9:17 PM

Ryan Seacrest started off the show by making a veiled insulted reference to the news that Randy Jackson announced today that he’s leaving the show. We can only hope that is the truth -- he has teased that many times before, and reportedly was only asked back for this season at the absolute last minute. But I’ll believe it when I don’t see it.

The group sing was a mess. First, Ryan said it was to the “current” hit “Who Says,” which is at least a year old at this point. It’s a good song. But it sounds much better when you can actually hear the song. There were massive, horrendous audio problems marring this performance, unlike any I have heard on this show before. The Final 3 sounded like they were performing underwater, or from the “Tron” universe or something. Kree obviously didn’t know what to do with the audio issues, but they were corrected eventually. The rest was fine. But this show, this far along, should really not be dealing with these issues at this stage.

Jimmy Iovine gave his recap of Wednesday night’s First Round, which featured his song choices. Last night he gave the round to Angie, but he expressed serious disappointment that Angie did not play the piano on the song. I truly believe that Angie deliberately did not play the piano on the first two songs of the night so that it would be her “big close” at the end. He still gave the round to Angie despite this. Hm.

After the break S10 runner-up Lauren Alaina came back to sing her new song, “Barefoot and Buckwild.” Play to those stereotypes, Lauren. I liked Lauren during her tenure on the show, although her continued nerve issues became pretty exasperating as she made it literally all the way to the finale. I was really torn on Lauren’s outfit here. She looked good, but it was very mature for a girl her age (she’s 18 now) -- it was some MILF realness, for sure. As for the song, it was pretty standard upbeat country. The chorus was catchy and had lots of fiddle. But none of the lyrics registered at all, especially on the verse. She also didn’t seem particularly assured on the song, which is weird since it’s her own song. Those nerves still a problem, girl?

Round 2 recap from Wednesday night -- the Judges Picks. In hindsight I didn’t like any of those picks. Candice’s was way too simple for someone with her voice. I thought Angie was totally unconvincing with that Pink anthem. But everyone just loved Kree and her song, and so Jimmy gave her the nod for that round. Still didn't love it.

Then we got Mariah Carey’s new video for “Beautiful,” also featuring Miguel. First, I have been flat-out amazed by how little Mariah and Nicki Minaj have pimped out their material/projects over the course of this season. Both Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler were constantly taking the stage (especially JLo) to perform or show a new video. Second, I heard this song on the radio this morning, and thought, “Boy, that sounds like old-school Mariah, but it can’t be her -- her voice is shot at this point.” It also sounded way too youthful for her. So kudos to Mariah for finding a way to make her voice sound as good as it used to, and for putting out a song that I think will hit the younger audience squarely. I think she was very smart to duet with a young, hot male singer on this and have him do the heavy lifting vocally. The video itself was kind of forgettable. But I do like the song.

Then we got an (obviously pre-taped) performance by Alicia Keys performing her new song, “These Tears Always Win.” It’s a good, upbeat r’n’b song, and I just love the hairstyle Alicia is currently wearing. I sometimes find Alicia boring. Part of that is the fact that she’s just so damned good -- she’s like a musical robot. But she was excellent here, and I like the song, too.

Round 3 recap, the Producers Pick. Jimmy thought Angie was competent but not extraordinary in the second Emili Sande song of the night. Seriously, whoever is pushing Emili on this show is doing her a huge favor. Jimmy really liked The Band Perry for Kree, and I normally really like/respect Jimmy, but I disagree with that. He said that Candice absolutely killed it in her final number, and that if she goes home tonight he’s going with her. Boy, I hear that…

Results: the first person in the finale is Candice! Oh, thank god! I was so worried. I even voted for her last night; first time I’ve voted all season. And joining her in the finale will be…Kree Harrison! Holy shit, that is a SHOCKER. Massive, massive shocker. Angie has been groomed since Hollywood Week as a presumptive winner, and I felt like the show has been building to an Angie vs. Candice F2 for weeks now. Was she ever even in the bottom prior to this? I don’t know. She seemed absolutely destroyed by being eliminated, and it was difficult for the second week in a row to watch the eliminated contesant struggle through the goodbye song. I believe it was the original song she performed months ago on the show.

Kree seemed absolutely stunned. I believe that to be genuine. A few thoughts on this: I think that the home visits showed last night had a profound impact on these results. The general consensus seemed to be that Candice and Kree’s were very real, very truthful, while Angie’s seemed to hint at some of the…less-than-authentic aspects that have been on the fringes of Angie for a while now.

I absolutely think that Kree’s very moving home visit helped to push her into the finale. That’s not to say that she’s not talented. She is a great singer, and she taps into the country vote, which cannot be undervalued. And last night we saw a bit of the old Kree back, after weeks of seeming to slowly unravel.

It’s definitely not the Final 2 match-up I was expecting, nor was it the one I think the show was expecting. I believe that the show wanted for Angie to win this thing, with Candice as runner-up (or surprise winner). I think Kree would be a very good winner too -- certainly the last female country winner has done quite well for the show -- but it does feel somehow less exciting with Angie out of the race. When she got behind that piano there was no denying that she became something truly spectacular.

So, what do we think? Happy with the Final 2?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

"American Idol" 2013: Top 3 Perform

Posted By on Wed, May 8, 2013 at 10:03 PM

Ryan Seacrest started off the show by making a back-handed compliment to Mariah Carey about “not eating any carbs this week.” What an asshole.

We had a three-round fight between our Final 3, Angie Miller, Candice Glover, and Kree Harrison. Round 1: Jimmy Iovine Pick. Round 2: Judges Pick. Round 3: Idol Production Pick.

For Kree Harrison Jimmy went with Pink’s “Perfect.” Kree put a country spin on the song, as you might have assumed. But her voice sounded better than it has in weeks. Kree seemed to be alive again. I don’t know if she was homesick and the home visits fixed that, or what, but there was a noticeable change for the better over the past few weeks. A good, strong vocal from her. Keith Urban said that the song just proved that no matter what Kree sings, it’s always country. And that’s a good thing. NickiMinaj said that the song felt very short, but that it seemed like a return to the easygoing Kree form. Randy Jackson didn’t really like the song choice, and felt that it sounded flat to him. I didn’t hear that, sorry. Mariah Carey blathered about being able to pick your own songs. That wasn’t the assignment, Mariah.

Candice Glover was given U2’s “One” for her Jimmy Pick. I worried this might be too similar to Mary J. Blige’s version of the song, but it wasn’t. It was simply Candice being freaking amazing, like she always is. She is so, so good ��" although Nicki is right, these songs are super short tonight. Nicki thought Candice did the song justice, and that it didn’t feel like “American Idol,” it felt like a Candice concert. Randy did his tiresome “in it to win it” thing. LORD. Mariah and Keith had nothing but praise, but Ryan had an interesting bit of info: Candice had never heard any version of the song prior to this week. Child, how do you LIVE?!

Angie Miller’s Jimmy pick was Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.” That is unexpected. It’s a pretty song, and is right in Angie’s range. But it’s also fairly repetitive. Angie started to come to life on the “It’s sad/so sad” segment, and from there it built nicely. But the beginning was much too sleepy at this point. She also slipped off the pitch here and there, too. Randy brought up the fact that that was a natural song for Angie to perform at the piano, obviously hinting that he would have preferred that she did. He praised her restraint, and her emotional investment in the verse. Mariah really liked the performance, saying that the mic stand “grounded” her. Keith actually encouraged her to hold back even more, because “you can break people’s hearts singing gently.” Nicki called it a stellar vocal, but it didn’t hit her emotionally as hard as she would have liked.

Round 2, Judges’ Pick, saw Candice getting “Next to Me” by EmelieSande. Not sure about this song choice. I don’t feel like it really showcases the full power of Candice’s voice. It’s contemporary, which is good, but I don’t think that’s going to pull any votes Candice’s way. Mariah said that it seemed like Candice got reenergized by her home visit. I suspect that’s true for all of the contestants at this stage. Keith spoke to Candice’s increased confidence over the course of the season, which is so true. Nicki nearly broke into tears ��" and nearly caused Candice to fall into her own ��" in a very real, emotional moment. Randy said that the song choice proved that Candice can be a current star, and that’s seriously the only reason they picked that. Nicki jumped back in at the end to talk about how Candice’s confidence on the stage will inspire women all over the world. I hope that is true. She is divine.

Angie’s hipster brother is growing a “play-off beard” while his sister is still in the running. Her Judges’ Pick was “Try” by Pink. Again Angie was performing away from the piano. I honestly believe the on-piano/off-piano stuff was all wisely calculated on Angie’s part. If she’d been doing it the whole time the judges (and America) would have grown bored. Making us wait until the last minute made it seem like she was listening to feedback and giving us what we want. Smart. Angie is not particularly believable in these big work-the-stage anthems, and again she had some pitch issues. Keith said she’s never looked more comfortable on the stage. I must have been watching something different; she seemed awkward and trying too hard to me. Randy: in it to win it. I’m in it to punch him in the face. Mariah called Angie’s homecoming visit very “homecoming queen,” and I think that was more true than Mariah even knows, and touched upon some of the…less-than-authentic notes I was picking up throughout the footage.

Kree’s Judges Pick was “Here Comes Goodbye” by Rascal Flatts. I’m not familiar with the original, but it seemed like Kree was wrestling with the rhythms early in the song, and there’s no question that she slid off the pitch here and there. I suspect this song is all about storytelling, and given how much cutting was required to fit it into a very small time frame, I don’t think it did Kree any favors. Nicki said that you cannot deny the power of a genuine emotional trigger, which Kree clearly got from her home visit. No question about that. She also told Kree that she’s so proud of her, and that her parents would be too. Nicki called it one of her best performances to date, and that is patently false. Kree has done much, much better on this show. Randy called it one of the best F3 “Idol” has ever had. I think there is probably some truth to that. All the judges talked about how heartbreaking Kree’s home visit was, with the return to her late parents’ house. That felt very real to me, and that may very well push her to the finale more than her vocal.

Round 3: “Idol” production picks. For Angie they did “Maybe” by Emilie Sande. OK, what is going on with the song choices tonight Two Pink and two Emilie Sande? She’s barely even broken on to the mainstream. My Spidey sense says that somebody involved in this show has some financial standing in her career. That said, the song was good, Angie was at the piano, and she delivered her best performance of the night. I’m telling you, this girl knows exactly what she’s doing. Randy said that “tonight, [Angie] became a complete performer.” Whatever that means. Mariah said that Angie was Angie, she was there, and she was present. Nicki talked about Angie’s growth over the course of the competition. I would disagree. I think Angie came in strong, dipped in the middle, and came back in the past few weeks. And again, I think much of that was deliberate, because I think she’s quite savvy.

For Kree, the “Idol” team picked The Band Perry’s “Better Dig Two.” Uh, given the grim discussion of Kree’s parents’ deaths in the last segment, this seemed to be in poor taste. The song was also a big too low in the first section. I also didn’t think that Kree brought the swagger needed to really “sell” this number. It got better as it went along, but it never became great. Mariah said that “we saw the wild side of Kree!” It…wasn’t that wild, dear. Keith said that he likes that song, but doesn’t like it for Kree. Well, she didn’t pick it. So that’s not on her. Nicki said that whoever picked that song for her should be stoned. That seems a bit much, but there you have it.

For her producers’ pick, Candice got “Somewhere” from “West Side Story.” That’s a completely bizarre choice, and not even remotely contemporary. That said, Candice has historically shined on these big belt-y numbers. And girl did it again tonight. Not only was the vocal absolutely flawless, but Candice was strong and assured on the stage ��" she HAS TO BE IN THE FINAL. SHE HAS TO BE. This was her “Summertime.” This was her Moment. (She’s had a few this season, honestly.) Keith said, “If you want to vote for Candice dial the number on your screen. If you don’t want to vote for Candice, call your doctor, because you don’t have a pulse.” HA! Nicki said, “See you next week.” Let’s hope. Randy called it a singing lesson.

Recap:Kree was fine on the first number, overpraised on the second, and did the best she could on an absolutely terrible song choice for her on the third. Candice was spectacular on the first, did the best she could with an underwhelming choice for the second, and transcendent on the third. Angie was better than I remembered on the first one, overpraised on the second, and very good on the third.

Prediction: I think Kree is very talented and lovely, but personally I think Candice and Angie should be in the finale. If Kree squeaks in then I hope Angie is the one who loses her spot, because Candice has to be in the finale.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

"RuPaul's Drag Race" Season 5 Reunion: The winner revealed!

Posted By on Tue, May 7, 2013 at 12:15 AM

After two weeks of (mostly) filler we finally got to what we’ve been waiting for. The 90-minute reunion finale was filled with all the S5 queens lazily performing some basic glee-club choreography, some brief one-on-one interviews with Ru, a few clip packages, the blatant promotion of not one but two new RuPaul songs, a LaToya Jackson sighting, the sashing of this year’s Miss Congeniality, and finally the crowning of Season 5’s champion, the queen destined to become America’s Next Drag Superstar. We hope.

I’ll try to cover the highs and lows:

*I don’t know what first eliminee Penny Tration was wearing -- she was clearly going for avantgarde/Leigh Bowery but it just came off as bizarre -- but she was the only queen to throw what seemed like some legit shade at the other contestants. It was a little uncomfortable.

*Serena Cha Cha was virtually unrecognizable in straight-up mainstream glamour, and tried blandly to cover for her terrible behavior during the show. I don’t think anyone was buying.

*Monica Beverly Hillz provided one of the more interesting segments of the night. Ru asked her to speak about how someone can be trans and a drag queen at the same time, and Monica explained that trans is who she is, drag is what she does. It’s a pat answer to a not-so-simple question, but it was meant to be a soundbyte (I also felt bad for Monica being asked to speak for all trans queens -- that’s a very tricky burden.) More than that, Ru clarified that the show does not care how a contestant identifies or, presumably, what gender they are. So does this mean a straight woman could compete on “Drag Race”? I would like to see that.

*Double eliminees Vivienne Pinay and Honey Mahogany came out and, I am sorry girls, but they were just as lame as always. The show and Vivienne continued to perpetuate this myth that Vivienne is the fishiest queen ever on the show. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess, but Lineysha Sparx and Jade Jolie were SITTING RIGHT THERE. Carmen Carrera, Stacy Layne Matthews, Jujubee, Manila Luzon, and Kenya Michaels -- all of these queens are more passable than Vivienne. I do not GET it. I also don’t get how she’s now doing online make-up tutorials given that she has a tendency to look dusty, and tonight it looked like she borrowed Homer Simpson’s make-up gun when it was still set to Whore.

On a related tip, poor Honey Mahogany got ripped for her caftans again and came out tonight wearing a kimono. And then she removed it to reveal a look from her new styling team: a fairly simple red dress with a see-through skirt. Congratulations: you’re a drag queen wearing a dress. That someone else picked out/made for you. You’re doing so well up there. As if to underline her cluelessness, the poor thing was almost never looking in the right camera. She tries so hard, you guys. I’m sure she is a lovely human being.

*Lineysha Sparx addressed the crowd in Spanish because, seriously, she cannot speak English. Show: please stop casting Puerto Rican queens if they cannot speak English. It’s almost cruel. Ru gave her the business for still not knowing who Diana Ross is, and Lineysha basically didn’t care. She looked pretty amazing, though. One of the more striking looks among the S5 queens (the majority of whom were outshined by past contestants sitting in the audience -- sorry ‘bout it, girls).

*Jade Jolie -- wearing a rainbow/glitter/unicorn outfit so terrible it almost wrapped around to being sublime -- copped to being a cut-up-not-toasted while on the show.

*Ivy Winters discussed the non-relationship between she and Jinkx, was the impetus for a pointless and kind of embarrassing segment in which Ru and LaToya Jackson pronounced Ivy’s name that goofy way we all know and love/hate, and was ultimately named this season’s Miss Congeniality. I figured it would come down to her or Alyssa, but Ivy deserved it -- she was arguably the least shady queen of the season, aside from Jinkx.

*Alyssa Edwards continued to give me life with her unabashed joy at her own jokes, and just life overall. Was not a fan of her look, which read juvenile yet blood covered. But even in tiny moments she stole the show. She may have finished in sixth, but Alyssa may end up being the breakout star of this season. She certainly came out ahead in the “feud” with Coco, and she’s apparently got her own spin-off series coming out. Nine inches and fully functional, y’all!

*Coco Montrese was let off the hook way, way too easily -- based on what we saw in this heavily edited show, at least -- for her rank bitchery this season. I found her to be one of the most obnoxious contestants ever on this show. Almost as obnoxious as the color of her dress at the reunion. Chartreuse is not your friend, Coco. In the credit-where-it-is-due department, her make-up was massively improved over what she gave us on the show, and the Doritos clutch was a surprisingly self-parodying touch.

*Detox actually infuriated me in the reunion. She brought more charisma and humor to her reaction shots here than she did to virtually any challenge this season. She easily had the look of the night with her fully realized black-and-white-photo realness and was the go-to queen in the crowd for reaction shots. She fizzled somewhat in the interview with Ru, but WHY could she have not brought an ounce of that creativity and pluck to the competition? We were rooting for you, Detox! We were all rooting for you…

*As for the Final 3, it all proceeded pretty much as you would expect. Alaska addressed The Sharon Issue (wouldn’t it be weird to have two winners in the same household? The answer is no, incidentally, because they both earned it). Jinkx talked about her issues with her mother and promised to use her win to help guarantee marriage equality across the country. And Roxxxy tried again to apologize for her “bullying” (more on that in a minute) and had an emotional discussion about her late drag mother, who died while the show was airing.

But ultimately it was indeed Monsoon Season as Jinkx was crowned winner of Season 5. I was torn on that. On the one hand, editing most certainly had been building to a Jinkx win since “Snatch Game.” She is clearly a supremely talented queen, and unlike any other winner we’ve had before. Jinkx became a massive fan favorite, inspiring an almost cultlike following on social media. And we finally got a “comedy queen” win.

But…honestly, I was rooting for Alaska. I felt she came into this with a lot more working against her (the Sharon connection was a hindrance, not a help), and she really finished the strongest out of the three finalists. I also thought that Jinkx came off fairly poorly in the reunion. I’m sure she was nervous, but the yucking it up and awkwardness was not endearing. I think she’ll go on to do great things, and there is mainstream crossover potential there. But I did find myself slightly disappointed that Alaska came in second.

Because, let’s face it, Roxxxy totally came in third. Absolutely no offense to Miss Andrews, who I think has been unfairly maligned the past few weeks -- and the show has not been helping her. Roxxxy has been savaged online by Jinkx’s rabid, and I do mean rabid, fan base. The very people accusing her of bullying have been vicious to her on Facebook and Twitter, and it got so bad that Jinkx herself has had to ask them to stop numerous times. I’ve seen people compare Roxxxy to last season’s Phi Phi O’Hara, who really was like a dog with a bone when it came to Sharon and Willam. I don’t think Roxxxy is anywhere near that level of vitriol. YMMV, but I saw a very competitive young person with some maturity issues cracking under the pressure and lashing out at the person she considered to be her main competition. I didn’t see planned malice. I saw a pageant girl go into pageant mode. That’s all. I think people overlook Roxxxy’s many talents -- not only is she glamorous, poised, and polished, but she acquitted herself quite well in the vast majority of the challenges this season. I think she’s handled the backlash as best as she possibly could have, but I’ll bet she’s thrilled to have the show wrapped so she can try to move on from this. (With, admittedly, a MUCH higher profile than if she’d never been on it in the first place.)

I was chagrined that we did not get to see this season’s true darling, Li’l Poundcake. But at least we got the Underwear Boy Twerking Hour set to RuPaul’s “Peanut Butter.” Dear Logo, why is that not a show? Remember MTV’s “The Grind”? Bring it back, just call it “The Groin.” Ratings BONANZA!

So that’s the end of Season 5. Overall I’m quite pleased with it, even if I think the current three-episode format for the finale/recap/reunion sucks a lot of the juice out of the show. (I also think the live studio audience hurts the reunions -- the queens used to be fairly candid with one another, and this was 99.9 percent scripted pageant BS.)

I’ve been seeing complaints on various message boards that Season 5 has been a letdown; that it does not compare favorably to past seasons. I have to respectfully disagree. I think part of the issue is that people almost always overly criticize whatever is currently airing while simultaneously over glorifying whatever came before -- I remember a lot of people bitching about S4 being weak at this time last year, and now people are using it as the high benchmark by which all subsequent seasons will be judged. Basically everything is terrible while it’s airing, but is amazing as soon as even a whiff of nostalgia sets in. It makes me feel sorry for reality-show producers, because no matter what they can do they can never really win. (Except they go home and cry in their piles and piles of money, so you know, I’m OK with it.)

For example, the main criticism I’ve heard about Season 5 is that none of the queens -- not even the three finalists -- were really the complete package. That none of them were as amazing as Sharon Needles or Chad Michaels clearly were last season. I actually consider that a strength of this season. It was a much more even playing field this time around. In Season 4, anyone with a head could see who would be in it for the long haul from the very beginning -- Sharon, Chad, Latrice, Willam, and Phi Phi were the only real contenders by as early as episodes 2 or 3, and Sharon and Chad were the obvious standouts not much after that. So the first five or so episodes felt like marking time, because really, who thought any of the early-departing queens had any shot at that crown? The fact that Jiggly Caliente and the fun but unpolished Dida Ritz made it as far as they did is a real testament to how unbalanced that line-up was overall.

In Season 5 I felt like any number of queens could win for probably 2/3 of the run. There was a point where Ivy Winters -- who didn’t even make F6 -- was considered a frontrunner, and even 6th Place Alyssa could have made the finale and I wouldn’t have found it implausible. While it is true that none of this season’s contestants are obvious mega-stars in the making (and I would argue that Sharon really does have that potential), on the whole this crop of queens was more memorable. Very few felt like obvious filler. Serena went out second, but we’ll not soon forget her deplorable backstage behavior or shoddy aesthetic. Monica Beverly Hillz’s trans admission made her instantly a “Drag Race” icon. It’s kind of astonishing that Jade Jolie came in 8th given her escandalo past, ultra fishiness, and the shade she was throwing. And so on.

I also think the challenges this season almost all connected. You get a clunker or two almost every season. The cake episode from Season 3.The magazine shoot from Season 4. This season I can’t think of a challenge that I didn’t like, or that didn’t produce some entertaining results.

So what do you think? Was Jinkx the right winner? What do you think of Season 5 overall? And what can we do to make sure the Underwear Boy Twerking Hour comes to our TVs with a quickness? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, May 6, 2013

“Game of Thrones” Season 3, Episode 6: Pinky swear

Posted By on Mon, May 6, 2013 at 10:36 AM

This week's episode closed the second act and prepared us for the third, and in doing so made some fairly significant departures from the book. First, the stuff that stayed largely consistent with the books:

*SamwellTarly and Gilly continued their run back to the Wall after the implosion of the Night's Watch at Craster's Keep. This scene existed for only one reason, to remind us that Sam found dragon glass (or obsidian; can't remember if the show has explained that) in that hole at the Fist of the First Men. That is the figurative gun in the first arc that will go off in the third. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Wall, Jon Snow, Ygritte, and a pack of Wildlings scaled the massive ice structure and ultimately made it to the top, but not before losing a good chunk of men to a harrowing ice break. The effects in that section were again surprisingly strong for a TV show.

*In Riverrun, the waning King Robb met with two emissaries from Lord Frey, the man whose bridge he needs to attack Casterly Rock - and the man Robb seriously pissed off by jilting his daughter. The two Frey messengers said that their alliance can be preserved on two conditions: that after the fighting is finished Lord Frey gets Harrenhal, the village bicycle of Westerosi castles, and that Robb's uncle Edmure must marry a daughter of Frey's choosing. Edmure continued to be a whiny ass.

*Speaking of Harrenhal, Lord Bolton found Brienne a dilapidated Mrs. Peacock-esque gown and had a lovely dinner with the Beauty and Jaime Lannister. There Bolton informed Jamie that, despite Bolton being one of Robb's bannermen, he was sending Jaime along to King's Landing because it's the smart political (and financial) move. But not Brienne - she'll be staying there and tried for treason. But can she keep the fur-trimmed gown?!

*In King's Landing, the marital chess game going on between the Tyrells and the Lannisters heated up, and most of the scenes regarding it were exclusive to the show - they never happened in the books. First, the Queen of Thorns and Tywin shared a searing scene in which each one used the indiscretions of the other's children as leverage for their goals, with Tywin seeming to come out on top. Second, Sansa and Loras had a poolside chat that featured countless gay-stereotype jokes that would have been offensive if they hadn't been so funny (although Olenna's "a sword swallower through and through" takes the cake). Third, Cersei and Tyrion had a great scene in which Tyrion discovered that it wasn't his sister who tried to have him killed on the Blackwater, it was Joffrey. And fourth, Tyrion delivered the news of their betrothal to Sansa with Shae in the room. We didn't get to actually see the discussion, just the aftermath. Two things bothered me about that brief scene at the end: Shae didn't seem to particularly care about the fact that her man was marrying the woman she serves (I was thinking jealousy would be the motivating factor for actions Shae is supposed to take later on), and I was unclear whether Sansa was watching Littlefinger's boat sail away to the Vale, or if she was looking at it as her last chance of escaping King's Landing. It looked like it was leaving to me, and that makes absolutely no sense.

Just about every other plot line featured last night featured some fairly major departures from the source material. Let's break them down:

*Bran, Hodor, Osha, Rickon, and Meera and Jojen Reed continue to journey toward the Wall so that Bran can meet the Three-Eyed Crow. The brief scene primarily served to remind viewers that the plotline still exists, and also to better establish Jojen's seizure-inducing "green visions" (he sees Jon Snow on the wrong side of the Wall). The serious change in this story arc is that Osha and Rickon are still there. At the end of Book 2 the two of them split off and head to a deserted island so that Rickon can be kept safe. I'm honestly not sure why they're keeping them all together here. It doesn't make any sense for Osha's character to head back toward the Wall, when her entire reason for entering the story was to flee the White Walkers. And taking a 3-year-old on an extremely dangerous trip like this can't be anyone's concept of a good idea. I'm wondering if she'll bail at the end of the season, because right now my gut tells me the show is simply fulfilling the contract of a somewhat prominent actor (Natalia Tena was Tonks in the "Harry Potter" flicks).

*The TheonGreyjoy Torture Hour continued, with Theon's one-time liberator, now full-time tormentor, revealing his true psychotic colors. What alarmed me about this scene - aside from the fairly graphic finger skinning - was that the show seemed to be suggesting that this character is a Karstark, and that he is torturing Theon for what he did to Winterfell. I will be so disappointed if that's the case. But I really don't think it is - the torturer ended the scene by informing Theon that he is, first and foremost, a liar. And then he cut off Theon's finger after Theon begged him to, due to the pain from the flaying. He's got to be the Bastard of Bolton, and the show is mind fucking us just as he is mind fucking Theon. And I love it. A warning to those who found that scene uncomfortable: if this follows the books, the finger will be the least of Theon's worries. So you might want to use those scenes as sanity-preserving potty breaks.

*But the plotline that totally blew my mind last night was the Arya/Brotherhood/Melisandre segment. Literally nothing that happened in those scenes EVER happens in the book. Melisandre never comes to the River Lands. Melisandre never meets with Thoros. Melisandre never interacts with Arya. And Melisandre certainly doesn't take Gendry -- he is left with the Brotherhood and eventually pops up smithing and taking care of a group of orphan kids.

So why this fairly major change?Looks like they're combining Gendry and Edric Storm into one character.Edric is another of Robert Baratheon's bastards, one that was originally in the care of Renly. Stannis sent Edric off to Dragonstone after his demon-smoke-baby snuffed out Renly, and there Melisandre begged Stannis to let her sacrifice Edric to the Lord of Light (read: she wanted to burn the kid alive). Melisandre believes the prophecy that king's blood will wake dragons from their stone. This is a defining, terrifying element of Melisandre, and multiple times throughout he books she keeps trying to burn people she believes to have "king's blood" in them in order to produce dragons. (Of course, we have already seen dragons hatch from stone, spurred by the blood of a king -- the fact that Melisandre's prophecies are 100 percent right but she has the totally wrong person is one of the books' greatest ironies.) The Edric storyline eventually involves Stannis, Mel, Davos, and Shireen. I wonder how far they'll take this with Gendry.

The other interesting developments from those scenes were that Thoros confessed that he was essentially a non-believing charlatan until he miraculously brought Beric back from his first death. Melisandre is legitimately shocked that Thoros had that kind of power, and again it all connects to Dany and the dragons hatching bringing magic back to the world (at least, heat/light magic). And the exchange between Melisandre and Arya provided some interesting foreshadowing to Arya's upcoming adventures, with the mention of different-colored eyes and "darkness within." She also said that that the two of them would meet again. Arya's plot line has stagnated in the books, off on its own with very little connection to the larger story arcs. I feel like in that moment the show was tipping readers off to some things that have yet to be published, which I don't think we've ever seen it do before.

*Finally, a sad farewell to beloved whore Roz, who was brutally killed offscreen by Joffrey and his crossbow. This surprised me, because the show really seemed to be building Roz into a nuanced character with links to a variety of players -- Littlefinger obviously, but also Varys, Shae, and even a bit of Sansa. Her murder helped to remind us that Joffrey really is a sick son of a bitch, and also demonstrated that Littlefinger is not playing. I think that was ultimately important, because although he's always been a schemer on the show, we haven't gotten that many scenes that show the cold-blooded nature that defines Petyr in the books. I think he is in many ways the most vicious human character in the series. By dispatching Roz and then bragging about it to Varys he also made it very clear to the Spider that it is dangerous to get in Littlefinger's way.

Friday, May 3, 2013

"American Idol" 2013: Results (Top 4 to Top 3)

Posted By on Fri, May 3, 2013 at 12:45 AM

The opening group number was to Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love.” I love that song, but it was a terrible choice for this scenario, and none of the Final 4 girls came off particularly well in it. Angie and Kree sounded the worst, I think. It had a 1920’s flapper edge since it’s being used in the upcoming “Great Gatsby” movie. But the whole thing seemed harried and manic, right up to the sad handfuls of glitter some of the back-up dancers threw at the end.

In his recap, Jimmy Iovine thought Angie missed opportunities. Wednesday night He thought the Rihanna song wasn’t a good choice, and Angie just didn’t sound good on the standard. Agreed. Jimmy thought that Amber didn’t have enough time to really prepare for the Pink song, but he thought she crushed “Funny Valentine.” Jimmy thought Candice did a “magnificent” job Wednesday night, and while it wasn’t the best she’s delivered in the competition, it was still head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. Agreed. As for Kree, Jimmy thought she did well on both songs, but she’s not living up to her potential in the past few weeks. Kree’s light has certainly dimmed considerably in the home stretch. I wonder what is going on there. She seems absolutely miserable every time she’s on stage.

Season 7 winner David Cook came back. David’s was the only season since I started watching this show back in 2004 that I gave up on midway through. I just didn’t find any of the contestants likable or particularly exciting. David and his runner-up, David Archuleta, were easily the best of the bunch, and I’m surprised Archie didn’t have more post-show success. I like several of Cook’s songs, but the one he performed here didn’t do a thing for me -- it was very shouty. We will not discuss his ill-considered denim vest.

More “Gatsby” -- boy, they are whoring out this movie relentlessly -- with…Will.i.am. I don’t understand his career. I just don’t. He has no discernible talent that I can identify. His singing is barely passable. His rapping is banal. His lyrics are appallingly stupid. His dancing is fine. He has an ear for hooks, but that’s a producer/DJ, not a pop star. Whoever joined him as a featured vocalist stole that number whenever she was on stage, and she wasn’t even introduced by name.

On the other end of the spectrum we had the multi-talented Harry Connick Jr., singing his new song. I really like Harry and think he was a good mentor to the contestants last night -- and he is forever my hero for telling Randy Jackson to shut up on national television -- but I did not care for this slow, meandering ballad whatsoever. It frankly sounded too low for him, and it’s his own song! Ryan Seacrest asked if Harry and Randy had buried the hatchet after their little spat last night, which prompted Harry to make a joke about couch time with Randy, which prompted Ryan to make a joke about that always being the way things end up with Randy. And Randy went, “Woah, woah, Ryan!” Ah, good old gay panic…

Results: Ryan stressed that they were revealed in no particular order. The first person safe was Angie, who I thought performed the worst Wednesday night. I still think she’s talented and should make the finale, but she was the weakest of the four this week. Candice was the next to join her on the Safety Stools and THANK GOD FOR THAT. Candice was amazing Wednesday and absolutely deserves to be in the finale. I will be devastated if she is not.

That left Kree and Amber in the Bottom 2. It’s interesting to note that Kree was in the Top 2 last week, and the results tonight were a combo from last week AND this week. Amber, however, was B2 both weeks, and indeed she was eliminated.

This is not surprising. Even the judges seemed to be telling Amber that she was done this week, and Amber herself seemed defeated. This is tragic because Amber really does have enormous potential as a pop star. Great voice. Great look. So likable. I would not be the least bit a surprised to see Amber have significant post-show success.

For her sing out, Amber struggled through “I Believe in You and Me” -- Baby Whitney until the very end. The poor thing could not finish the song, and her father had to be called on to the stage to comfort her. That was difficult to watch. Someone please get that girl a giant hug, a big carton of Ben & Jerry’s, and a very long nap.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

"American Idol" 2013: Top 4 Performances (AGAIN: 2013/Standards Week)

Posted By on Wed, May 1, 2013 at 10:31 PM

We’re back to Final 4, Part Deux. Amber, Angie, Candice, and Kree -- a very talented group of contestants, regardless of the alleged producer manipulation. (Ahem, LAZARO.)

There were two themes for the night: songs from 2013, and standards. Harry Connick Jr. was the guest judge. Harry has been a mentor on the show in the past, and he’s actually quite good in the role. I don’t think he’ll ever get added to the judging panel because he’s not a big enough “name,” but he tends to give these kids very good advice. He has also aged very well.

To kick of the 2013 segment Angie Miller picked Rihanna’s “Diamonds,” which she performed while sitting at the piano. I’m not a huge fan of the original (some of that may be my intense dislike of Rihanna as a personality), but Angie made the song something delicate and lovely. The slower, sparse arrangement showcased her voice. Angie does need to watch when she pushes too hard in her upper register, because it can become harsh. It wasn’t the most exciting performance, but she seemed like a star up on the stage. Keith Urban didn’t like the arrangement, which he felt never quite took off. I can see that. It was very one speed. NickiMinaj and her distracting wig did not feel it, calling it “bland” and “lackluster.” Randy Jackson felt that the song didn’t really go anywhere, but he made sure to take the opportunity to sexually harass Angie by commenting on her leather shorts. Why can the universe not swallow him up already? Mariah Carey blathered on and on, with countless tangents, and ended getting into it with Nicki for a hot second, but then said Angie did a wonderful job. I think I speak for America when I say: Whatever, Mariah.

Amber Holcomb went with “Just Give Me a Reason” by Pink and Nate Reuss, although she did not know the lyrics in rehearsal. Amber struggled with the low notes in the beginning, and even the chorus wasn’t terrific. I can understand why she picked this; it’s such a catchy song. But it’s also a duet, and the bulk of the melody hits in a part of Amber’s range that is not the strongest. It got better as it went along, but the beginning of it did not work for me. Nicki started off praising Amber’s jeans, which was not a great sign. She felt that Amber was disconnected from the song in parts, and complained that Amber’s just not bringing her natural bubbliness to her performances. Randy said that in this competition, for years now, “something happens” at this stage and the fun stops. Randy, these children are EXHAUSTED and they are tired of jumping through your stupid hoops. He called Amber’s number “not stellar,” and said that it needs to be stellar. Mariah again had nothing of use to contribute. Keith talked about how fantastically talented -- and underrated -- Pink is as a vocalist (true), but he seemed to like Amber on the song.

Candice Glover went with “When I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars, showing a mature approach to a gender-swapped song. Candice either injected some overly long pauses in the first few lines or she stumbled a bit. Aside from that the vocal was strong, especially on the bridge. Candice has developed into a truly fantastic vocalist over the course of this show, and she connects to the song better than probably any of the other remaining contestants. She had a tricky entrance into the final note, but she got it in the end. Randy blathered and blathered before saying he liked it. Mariah praised Candice’s musicality, which she said separates her from the rest of the competition. Keith said she could have sang “When I Was Your Giraffe” and it wouldn’t have mattered, because it was a winning performance. Nicki led the judges in a delayed standing ovation. She also thought that Candice looked and felt like a current artist.

Kree Harrison said that her spanking at the hands of the judges last week gave her a renewed perspective on the competition. She went with “I Will See You Again” by Carrie Underwood. Kree seemed to wrestle with the rhythms of the song at first, but the melody fit perfectly into her vocal range. In her attempt to connect to the song I think she maybe overplayed her a hand a bit too much. Still, this was a very good contemporary country number and a solid showing from Kree. Mariah felt that Kree was very connected, and appreciated Kree’s authenticity. Keith had an issue with the fact that Kree was singing a power ballad but the staging -- Kree and a guitar player sitting on stools -- was too intimate to make sense. I also picked up on that. Nicki loved it, and Randy also thought it was a great vocal.

For her standard, Angie picked “Someone to Watch Over Me.” The first verse was a total mess. I had no idea what she was singing; the rhythm and melody were totally lost. She got on track eventually, but she still had some major bum notes on the lower parts and then over-sung the bigger sections. The arrangement was dreadful. Keith loved it, however. Nicki said that Angie reminds her of a Disney princess, but said Angie needs to work on getting her beginnings to match up to the endings. Randy had issues with the confusing arrangement, but called it “an amazing vocal.” No, it wasn’t. Mariah tried to make a point -- poorly -- and then she and Nicki started yanking each others’ wigs again. Totally a ratings ploy, you guys.

Amber went back to the well with “My Funny Valentine,” which was her breakout moment on the show way back in semi-finals. The judges raved about her performance then, but it left me cold. To me it was technically well sung, but soulless. And Harry Connick Jr. got right to it, pulling out the fact that Amber had absolutely no idea what that song was about. His coaching here was CRUCIAL for Amber, and the difference in the performance then and the performance she delivered tonight was stark. She was a little girl pretending in semis. She was a woman interpreting a story tonight. Flawless vocal, and what could very well be Amber’s key to walking into the Final 3. Standing ovation from the judges. During the judges critiques Amber started crying. Nicki implored Amber to believe in herself. Randy said that Amber made new fans tonight, and he picked up that Amber came out a little bit defeated. Interesting. Keith commented on the shitty energy in the room, and how it was skewing all the girls’ performances.

Candice selected Billie Holiday’s “You’ve Changed.” God, she is amazing. What can I say about this? Candice’s voice was so perfect on this song. Buttery. Warm. Like a hot toddy after a long, hard day at work. The storytelling, the tone of the voice -- every single thing was exceptional. I would not have changed a single element of that performance, and I will download that song off iTunes. Standing ovation. Randy used his clichéd “in it to win it” line, and I am so done with him. He is paid millions of dollars and he is such a useless sack of shit. Randy said that it’s about singing what you feel, and told Harry Connick Jr. to essentially suck it. Ooh! Mariah said, “There is no critiquing, the only critique is to download this song ASAP.” Wisdom from Mariah! Goodness!

Kreewrapped things up with “Stormy Weather.” Harry begged her to ditch the vocal affectations and just sing the melody. I think that’s good advice in general, but Kree was getting overplayed by the orchestra here -- she could have used some vocal pyrotechnics to stand out. The balance improved about midway through and Kree’s natural plaintive cry really came out in a lovely way. She also started injecting runs, and I bet Harry Connick Jr. was in the audience just gritting his teeth. Mariah thought she sounded good, but she would have liked Kree to sing something naturally bluesier, like “God Bless the Child.” Nicki seemed to bristle at Harry’s coaching style with the girls this week, but said that Kree (and the others) needed to focus on delivering memorable performances regardless. Randy talked about different versions of the song, and -- listen. Pointless. Critique the performance in front of you. How did THESE GIRLS do with THESE SONGS? Harry basically called out Randy for not having any idea what he was talking about. And Randy wrapped it up by saying, “Kree, just be Kree.” Useless. Even Harry Connick was yelling at him to shut his stupid mouth.

Then, bizarrely, we got a group number with the Final 4 doing Little Mix’s “Wings” -- a great song I’m glad is finally getting airplay here -- with some…back-up dancers, I guess? I don’t even know. There were steam vents at the edge of the stage. It was weird. Amber sounded especially good on this, which makes sense since I can totally see her singing this kind of music. Angie seemed to have absolutely no idea what she was doing, and Kree seemed awkward. (Again, not surprising: this is totally out of Kree’s wheelhouse.)

Recap: Angie sounded worse on “Diamonds” in the playback than I remembered, and “Watch Over Me” had its good and bad moments; Amber really did seem disconnected on “Reason” but was stunning on “Funny Valentine”; Candice was good on the first number and transcendent on the second; Kree was good on Carrie and had a great ending on the second.

Prediction: I feel like even the show was shoving Amber out the door. The judges were basically saying, “You’ve done good, kid, and you should be proud.” But that’s kind of shitty, because she was fine on the first number and great on the second. I think Angie actually had the weakest night overall, with Kree coming in just behind her. And I consider Kree to be the most vulnerable since she got the pity vote last week, and I’m not sure that’ll happen this week. But she does have both the country vote and Vote for the Worst backing her. Consider also that tomorrow’s elimination will be based on last week’s votes AND this week’s. Last week Candice and Amber were Bottom 2. Hopefully that will help Candice. I would be heartbroken if she didn’t make it to the finals.

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