Thursday, February 7, 2013

"American Idol" 2013: Vegas Week, Part 2: So many crying men

Posted By on Thu, Feb 7, 2013 at 9:20 PM

It was the final solo auditions for the guys in Vegas. We started with 43 with a goal of getting down to 20. That’s not quite how it went down, but it’s nice to have dreams.

Paul Jolley, who reminded me of a Canadian version of Adam Levine, was having a total freak out both backstage and in front of the judges, but he actually sounded just fine on Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away.” That’s a very scream-y song to begin with, and Paul was screamy, but controlled. NickiMinaj busted on him for his public freak-out and she asked him for “one minute of professionalism,” because the negativity was “such a turnoff.” Agree. Nicki was clearly over him, but it seemed like the other judges were willing to fight for him.

LazaroArbos did “Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga and it was very lounge singer. Curtis Finch, Jr. is giving me Cowardly Lion Realness. He did “Jar of Hearts” and it was mid-tempo and schmaltzy, but also beautifully sung. He’s Joshua Ledet Part 2. The question is: do we need another?

Curtis, Lazaro, and Paul were all through. I have to say, I really don’t think Lazaro has the vocal ability to compete on the same level with many of these other singers.

Devin Velez oversang the ever-loving shit out of “What a Wonderful World.” Child: just hold a note. Don’t try so hard. Just sing the song. Devin has a very nice voice, and he doesn’t really need to show off -- he’s got it. But there’s more than a hint of pretension there.

Gurpreet Singh Sarin picked up a guitar and did a livelier version of “George on My Mind” than I would have expected from him. Cortez Shaw sang ar’n’b classic I’m not familiar with, but he’s one of my favorites for this season. Just a great clear voice, look, presence.

MatheusFernandes did “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson, which was a bad idea -- it started out too low for him. He also really overdid it, turning it into this…I don’t know, dirge or something. It was a little embarrassing. Nicki told him to stop marinating in his personal issues and stop trying so hard -- she felt like he kept trying to milk his height issues in his performances for a de facto pity party. I think she’s actually right on the money there. She told him to be great and just let the rest go. Unfortunately for Matheus, that was his final performance, as he was cut. Again, based on that moment, I cannot disagree with the judges’ call.

Nicholas Mathis did “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars, and it was basically karaoke. He seemed oddly checked out of the first half of the performance, and then for the second half he dropped to his knees and did some stunt-squeen theatrics. He kept talking about how he wants to provide a better life for his two kids. Eh. Keith had some excellent points when he told him that it seemed less like he was chasing a dream and more like he was chasing the song.

Papa Peachez went with Lady Gaga’s “You and I,” which immediately turned off NickiMinaj. It really was a terrible fit for his voice, which is so low and borderline monotone. Nicki told him that the flame has been sucked out of him by this competition -- I don’t think anything could suck the flame out of Papa Peachez -- and she told him that she was disappointed in him. Damn!

Jimmy Smith (I think, I missed the last name) did a really lovely version of “Landslide.” Mariah loved him, but said that the rest of the “opinionated” group had to make their deliberations.

From that group, Nicholas and Papa Peachez were cut. Papa Peachez realized that this competition is not really his bag, while Nicholas just fell apart outside. Eyeroll!

Nick Boddington has been on this show in previous seasons. I didn’t like him then, I didn’t like him last night, but I did like what he did with this audition, where he played the keyboard and sang a really lovely ballad. It fit his high, thin voice so much better than what they normally make him sing.

The incredibly odd Charlie Askew did Gotye’s “Somebody I Used to Know.” He had a long intro to the song and then got all pinchy and screamy and it seemed very drunken frat-house party at 2 a.m. catharsis to me. No thanks, weird little man. Nicki, however, loved it, and said she was “obsessed” with him. She said that today he became an artist in her eyes. Charlie’s response is that he “glorifies weirdness.” Again, trying too hard. Not half as clever as he thinks he is.

In the end, Nick and Charlie made the cut from that group, as did Mathanee and trans flower JDA.

Burnell Taylor did “Jar of Hearts.” I picked up on this last night, and felt it again tonight -- Burnell is the most boring performer I’ve ever seen on this show. Burnell himself seems to be falling asleep as he’s singing. He has a good voice, but he is WAY too low energy.

Marvin Calderon ALSO did “Jar of Hearts” and it was good, I suppose. After hearing that song FOUR TIMES in an hour I became incapable of discerning good from bad.

Micah Johnson did “I Told You So” by Randy Travis. An unconventional song choice for him, and possibly not the best pick for his voice. But he sounded great on the big notes. Lots of soul in that voice. And then suddenly, he was cut. That was surprising -- the first big surprise of the competition thus far.

Also cut: Dave Brown, Sonni, Nate Tao.

The guys who made the cut were all called back on stage. There were 28 then. The judges explained that they have to go through the girls next week, and then next Thursday we’ll all discover who makes Top 20.

Next week: the girls, and lord it looks dramatic. And Zoanette takes to the drum set! YES!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

“American Idol” 2013, Vegas Week, Part 1: Let’s raise the bar a little bit

Posted By on Wed, Feb 6, 2013 at 10:33 PM

So the show is changing up the semi-finals and finals process this year, and we started to see some of that come into play as we started Vegas Week tonight. Only 20 guys and 20 girls will make it to semi-finals this year, and there will be only a Top 10 -- no wild cards, no Top 12/13. More than that, the genders will be split up until we reach the finals. This week it’s the guys, next week it’s the girls. I always find semifinals to be deadly dull on this show, so I’ll take whatever changes they have to offer. But I also reserve the right to bitch freely about them at a later date.

There wasn’t much of note in the first round of Vegas Week, the sudden-death a cappella cuts. Most of the people you expected to do well did well. There was debate amongst the judges as to whether Cortez Shaw was openly pissing on the grave of Whitney Houston with his rendition of “I Will Always Love You” -- Nicki Minaj was not having it at all. I thought it was fine, if a bit overboard. But I could see where Nicki was coming from in her critique.

Speaking of Nicki, she pulled one of the absolute meanest tricks I have ever seenon a contestant when she asked if a guy was tired. H e said yes, and then she said good news: they were sending him home, so he could get lots of rest. But she was kidding! The lesson: never tell anyone you’re tired. Absolutely vicious, but kind of hilarious.

Half the guy contestants were slashed in Day 1, and then we went right on to Group Round. And there was a TWIST! For the first time in the show’s history the producers selected the groups. Wow, that’s some pretty blatant behind-the-scenes manipulation.

I did the best I could to keep with all the groups as they came up, but it’s always such a crapshoot with these things. Here’s what I saw:

The Mathheads -- Nick Boddington, MatheneeTreco, MatheusFernandes, Gabe Brown -- did “Somebody to Love.” It opened with an absolutely beautiful a cappella intro, but it kind of went downhill from there. Boddington was easily the weak link on this group, and Matheus really stepped it up. Mathenee -- who I believe I remember from previous seasons -- was also really strong. Gabe’s voice didn’t really mesh with the other three, but they used it to their advantage. Nicki continued to twist the knife with these guys by drawing out the verdict. She is absolutely vicious. Anyway, all four straight through.

Normal Hills, featuring Johnny Keyser, Kareem Clark, and two guys they didn’t bother to name, did “Reach Out, I’ll Be There.” And it was dreadful. Johnny pushed for the song and then regretted it because he couldn’t remember the lyrics. His voice was good, but he was a mess with the words. Kareem was straight-up off pitch. Kareem was cut, the others got put through. I feel like this was redemption for Johnny after his baffling elimination in Vegas one or two years back.

Curtis Finch, Jr., a ginger moppet named Charlie, and some guy I don’t remember being identified did “Today I’m Not Doing Anything.” It was great -- really awesome. Curtis can sing like a mothertrucker, but he is also a first-class diva bitch and he was throwing mad amounts of shade behind the scenes at odd little Charlie. That’s going to come back to bite him should he make it to the live voting rounds. They were all put through.

The Four Tones, featuring Micah Johnson, Vincent Powell, Marvin Calderon, David Willis, did “Hold On, I’m Coming” and nailed it. Similarly Zach Birnbaum, Nate Tao, Cortez Shaw, Elijah Liu, did a totally solid job on “Some Kind of Wonderful.”

A group called The B Sides, who were never identified by name but included The Turbantor and some dweeby guy and a dude in a head wrap, murdered “Payphone” by Maroon 5. For reasons that escape me NickiMinaj really pushed for them and, somehow, they were all put through. I’m kind of floored by that.

Another group featuring Jason Jones, Dan Wood, Jessie Lawrence, and some other guy came out dedicating One Direction’s “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful” to Nicki and Mariah, and that was probably a bad idea, because it was DREADFUL. Full implosion. All four axed.

Devan Jones, Devin Velez, and two other guys who weren’t named did “Payphone” but decided to do it a cappella. This had an interesting effect, in that the song was much slower and sadder sounding. Three out of four of them went through to the next round.

Tony Foster, Jr. Mario Jost, Burnell Taylor, Darien Moses nailed “Some Kind of Wonderful.” Keith pointed out the fact that Burnell was getting lost a bit amongst the other members of the group -- he just doesn’t pop. I got confused as to who got cut and who went through on that group.

Super 55, the group featuring Josh Stephens, Scott Fleenor, Christian Lopez, and Lazaro Alvaro, did “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys. The rest of the group complained about Lazaro quite a bit and his “limitations,” but honestly, Lazaro seemed to have held up his end of the bargain, while several of the others did not impress vocally. And the two main complainers got cut while Lazaro and Christian were allowed to continue. That’s got to be a swift kick to the butt. But at least they got some sour grapes to snack on for the plane ride home.

Country Queen, a team featuring polar opposites Lee Pritchard and JDA, Joel Wayman, Trevor Blakney, did “More Than Words” from Extreme. I felt bad for Trevor, because his voice was really lovely on this song and then he blew the lyrics spectacularly. All of them except Joel did, actually. It just fell apart on stage. Unfortunately Lee and Trevor were cut, and that’s especially unfortunate because Lee was crazy hot. Trevor handled it really badly, but thankfully didn’t lash out as his group members.

David Leathers Jr., Kevin Quinn, Kayden Stephenson, SanniM’Mamairua did “For the Longest Time” by Billy Joel. Randy said that David was the best of the group, but I thought Kevin was also quite good. Kayden has the sweetest little voice, but he just doesn’t have a voice for this competition. Ultimately both Kayden and Kevin got cut.

Team Oz, featuring Papa Peachez, Adam Sanders, Frankie Ford, and Charles Allen closed out the night. Frankie Ford definitely wins the Drama Queen Award for this episode. I didn’t care for him in his initial audition -- there was something about him I found off. Something is not right there mentally. He completely collapsed on stage, and leading up to their performance was a gigantic pain in the ass for the rest of his team. I though Papa and Charles were both great. Nicki told Papa Peachez that he’s becoming too complacent, and he needs to step up. And Frankie was cut despite Keith advocating for him strongly. And Frankie had a meltdown outside, suggesting that his group sabotaged him. Mess. Complete mess.I hope we never see him on this show again.

Tomorrow we go from 43 guys down to 20. That is a HUGE cut.

Performance photos: Joel McHale and Brooks McBeth at RIT

Posted By on Wed, Feb 6, 2013 at 3:08 PM

"The Soup" and "Community" star Joel McHale came to RIT as part of its annual FreezeFest weekend on February 1. Brooks McBeth opened up the night.

Monday, February 4, 2013

"RuPaul's Drag Race" Season 5, Episode 2: Paying lip service

Posted By on Mon, Feb 4, 2013 at 11:46 PM

So I missed the first 10 minutes of the episode because the bar I watch it at decided to blare the local Top 40 radio station and run muted episodes of “2 Broke Girls” on the TVs until the bartender got around to changing the channel. If anyone would like subsidize my personal cable bill, do let me know.

Anyway. By the time I tuned in the teams had already been selected for the week’s elimination challenge. The queens were split into three groups and tasked with reenacting -- and lipsynching -- infamous moments from seasons 2-4 of “Untucked.” Here’s how the teams shook out:

Ivy Winters led LineyshaSparkx, Vivienne Pinay, and Honey Mahogany in reenacting moments from Season 2 featuring Morgan McMichaels, Mystique Summers Madison, Tyra Sanchez, and Tatianna.

Detox captained Alaska, Monica Beverly Hillz, and Coco Montrose in S4 battles between Phi Phi O’Hara, Sharon Needles, Jiggly Caliente, and Lashauwn Beyond.

Serena ChaCha had the reins over Alyssa Edwards, Roxxxy Andrews, Jinkx Monsoon, and Jade Jolie in S3 moments with Raja, Shangela, Mariah, Mimi Imfurst, and Delta Work.

I’m of two minds on this challenge. It was fun to see great moments from the past again, but since the queens had to lipsynch to the actual dialogue tracks of the original contestants there wasn’t much room for improvisation. Some of them included some funny bits, like Detox and Alasks making out as Sharon/Phi Phi, or Alyssa and Jinkx working in Mimi’s infamous full-contact drag moments into their spat. But instead of interpreting the scenes as melodrama, and cutting the ladies loose, the lipsynching really limited them. And frankly most of them weren’t very good at it. (This bodes poorly for Lipsynchs for Your Life this season.)

I honestly have no idea what the assignment was for the runway, but since the queens weren’t making gowns out of garbage the looks and face stepped up tremendously this week. Guest judges Kristen Johnston and Juliette Lewis (JULIETTE LEWIS!) came across as huge fans of the show who were super excited to be there, and invested in the proceedings. It was a memorable judging panel, that’s for sure.

Ivy Winters’ team was declared the winner, which I did not understand at all. Ivy and Honey basically bombed their section -- neither was particularly on point or memorable, and they didn’t look a thing like their original inspirations. (Hilariously, on Twitter Mystique called out Penny Tration for painting her fake Mystique face so dark -- Penny got eliminated last week, and is white, while Honey is, you know, black. Never change, Mystique! Are those Mexican cartels giving your mom trouble again?) Only individual challenge winner Lineysha really shined as Tyra, although her success had more to do with Tyra’s easily mocked attitude and mannerisms than an on-point lipsynch (although it must be said, both queens are stunningly beautiful). The forth part of that quartet, Vivienne Pinay, failed to make any kind of impression for the second week in a row. Not good.

Just about every other queen came alive this week, though. Jinkx is starting to emerge as the sweet screwball I hoped she would be (Pandora Boxx should be afraid, very afraid…). Coco delivered a sickening lipsynch in the challenge and was on fire in “Untucked.” Ivy came out on effing stilts in a giant butterfly cape, but I still wish she would amp up the personality to match the aesthetic. Detox looked absolutely stunning on the runway. That is a queen who knows how to paint a face.

The darling of the night, however, was poor Monica Beverly Hillz. I was unimpressed with Monica last week. She was memorable almost exclusively for being a crying mess for seemingly no reason in “Untucked.” This week we found out her deal: Monica is actually a transgender woman and was struggling with hiding her secret from the judges and contestants. This raises some interesting questions. This show has featured several contestants who have gone on to live as women -- Carmen Carrera, Sonique, and Victoria Porkchop Parker all identify as transgender, I believe. I have read debates online as to whether a trans woman would have an unfair advantage in this competition, since hormones or surgery would obviously aid them in their transformation from male to female.

But we don’t know where Monica is with her change in gender. And you could make a compelling argument that MANY of these queens -- especially this season -- have had plastic surgery done to their faces to enhance their feminine features. So what’s the difference? Should any kind of surgery be outlawed? Are hormones the dealbreaker? If not, could biological women apply? Would it be discriminatory to ban transgendered people or women from competing? Truly, it’s an interesting debate, and I can’t think of another show where this would even be a topic of discussion.

After her admission, Monica found herself in the Bottom 2 (totally justifiable based on her lackluster challenge performance) along with last week’s cellar dweller, Serena ChaCha, who is just plainly awful. They lipsynched to “Only Girl in the World” by Rihanna, and Monica had this without any problem. Serena seemed desperate, while Monica was confident. I hope that’s a sign of things to come from her, because as the first person to be openly trans while serving as a contestant on the show, she’s breaking new ground here.

Serena was, blessedly, given the axe, but not before insulting pretty much everyone backstage, and at home in the viewing audience. In “Untucked” we saw her once again insinuate that everyone else is an idiot because they don’t have her art-school education, refer to people as “ghetto” (this sparked a particularly ugly exchange with Coco, and then Detox), and generally act as though at 21 she knows it all, and that everyone else is an old, dumb, talentless skeeze who needs to get out of her way. Her few moments of self-awareness came way too late, as she admitted that she was intimidated by these queens and knew they would never take her seriously. That’s not because you’re young, dear. That’s because you’re an asshole. Her parting words to the contestants: “Read a book.” I think she was confused about what RuPaul was looking for on this show. Ru wants upper-case C.U.N.T., not lowercase. Serena has plenty to spare of the latter.

A couple random thoughts on the other S5 queens:

-I really don’t like Alyssa. I’m sorry. I don’t believe anything she says -- her supposed feud with Coco seems to have disappeared already -- and the way she opens and closes her mouth on the runway makes me want to get out a fishing rod and bait. It’s not cute unless you’re Chilean sea bass, dear.

-I was glad that Honey Mahogany called out Jade in the lounge for being a serious shit-stirrer, because I keep seeing everyone refer to Jade as this sweet young thing. Jade is obviously a vicious little queen. That’s fine, but I’m glad to see that at least one other competitor has her number.

-I know we’re all supposed to be rooting for her, but two episodes in I am really not feeling Alaska. It’s so unfortunate, because you can tell how much she wants this. She seems sweet and like a perfectly fine queen -- there’s clearly some wit there -- but there’s a real lack of star quality thus far.

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Friday, February 1, 2013

“American Idol” 2013, Episode 6: Thank you for being a superstar

Auditions wrap up in Oklahoma City

Posted By on Fri, Feb 1, 2013 at 9:10 AM

We wrapped up the initial audition process in Oklahoma City, which of course included a huge group sing to the title song from the musical. Blessedly the show was only an hour so I'll try to touch on most of the featured contestants. Interesting to note that the theme of the evening seemed to be people who started off as jokes, but then somehow turned awesome.

Karl Skinner, 26, from Joplin, MO, is a fool. He started out singing James Brown and being a giant dork, dancing all over the stage and shouting like an idiot. But when the judges prodded him to pick up his guitar and sing an original song he was actually pretty good. Nicki Minaj said that when Karl grab the guitar it stifles the "monster" inside of him. Is Nicki suggesting that Karl is possessed? I could buy that. Randy Jackson suggested that Karl become the new Ryan Seacrest. Honestly, I'd like basically anyone to be the new Ryan Seacrest, because the current model is TIRED. Anyway, Karl got four yesses, which is ridiculous.

Nate Tao, 24, is a sign-language teacher from Reston, Virginia. Both of Nate's parents are deaf, which led to his career in ASL. He went with Stevie Wonder's "For Once in My Life." I was unsure of Nate at the beginning of his audition, but he got better as it went on, and his upper register is really strong. A very clean, clear tone, and he seems like a nice guy. Good audition, four yesses.

HalieHilburn came in with Oscar, her dog puppet, through whom she "speaks." I was really torn on her. Halie can actually sing - she's a country girl -- and she's a really good yodeler. Seriously! But the puppet thing was so corny. I feel like if she had just come out and performed by herself, like a normal person, she would have made it through alone. And in fact, when she put Oscar down and sang another ballad it was warm and wonderful. She needs to work on her upper register, but she's got talent. The judges told her that Oscar was holding her back, but they liked Halie. She got sent through, but Oscar was left to beg on the streets for change. Side note: why does Oscar have absolutely no eyes? Why deliberately make a puppet blind?

Oh my lord, Zoanette Johnson. ZOANETTE! Zoanette looks like one of the cast-off members of Destiny's Child who has been hanging out at McDonald's, in the same outfits they wore in "Bugaboo," waiting for the group to get back together. Zoanette has five different voices all fighting to get out of her. As she sang the "Star Spangled Banner" - which she forgot the lyrics to at one point - it looked as though a ghost walked through her, or possibly that she was passing a kidney stone. She hit some incredibly high notes, one of which caused Keith Urban to fall out of his chair. Zoanette brought it to church! And then she wrapped up the National Anthem by dropping it like it was hot and stepping. And she got very upset that President Obama has not yet invited her to the White House - he needs to hold another BBQ. She got four yesses! Nicki Minaj: "Thank you for being a superstar!" Yes! Thank you, Zoanette!

Kayden Stephenson, 16, from Tulsa has Cystic Fibrosis, and a life expectancy of 35 years old. Absolutely tragic.Kayden seems like a really sweet, bright kid. He did "I Wish" by Stevie Wonder, and Kayden has a small, sweet voice. Nicki compared it to young Michael Jackson, which is apt. Kayden is a real charmer. If I'm being honest, he is nowhere near vocally ready for this competition, and my fear is that Kayden is going to get continually pushed through because of his story, and because of his sparkle and charm. But I can't really mind it just yet.

Finally we had PeppaLaBeija, from the House of LaBeija. This was all a ruse; it was Steven Tyler -- Aerosmith legend and former judge of this very show -- in drag. I have a few notes. No. 1, Tyler knows his drag, because the LaBeija family is drag royalty. Go watch "Paris is Burning." You'll thank me later. Second, this makes me feel better about the song "Dude Looks Like a Lady," which I always felt was kind of homophobic. Maybe Steven was talking about himself. Third, Tyler actually makes a pretty convincing lady of a certain age. And fourth, I actually miss him this season. Steven was great in the initial audition part of the competition. He just became useless in the live shows. While I'm liking Nicki, Keith and Mariah are dull as dishwater so far.

Next HOLLYWOOD! YES! Bring on the tears!

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