Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"American Idol" 2014: Top 13 Perform

The theme was "This Is Me." Apparently most of them are terrible.

Posted By on Wed, Feb 26, 2014 at 10:56 PM

Ohhhhhhhhh, dear…

I went into Wednesday night’s performance episode debating whether or not to bother with this season of “Idol.” On the “pro” side, I like the judging panel. I liked most of the talent I was seeing before I took a few weeks off to watch the Olympics. And the line-up for the Top 13 that emerged last week was surprisingly different from what I was expecting.

On the “con” side, I am burned out on this show, and I was already seeing some really disheartening producer-driven hijinks going down during Hollywood Week. And I would LOVE to have three-plus hours of my life back every week.

So I had decided that I was going to check out the talent and let that be the deciding vote. After all, this is what host Ryan Seacrest himself referred to as an “epic talent show.” Without the talent, what do we have?

Apparently what we have is a lot of flashy production values and quick cuts, a largely mediocre group of singers, and a completely useless panel of judges. Oh, and Randy Jackson. We still have Randy Jackson. And like four or five legitimately good singers. Basically it felt less like “Idol” and more like the American version of “X Factor.” And absolutely NOBODY wants that.

The theme for the week was “This is Me,” which was broad enough to give the singers flexibility in song choice, but didn’t provide much of an actual framework. Some of the contestants picked songs that said something about themselves, or their styles, or their journeys. Others just picked songs they liked.

There are a bunch of “improvements” this year. Fancy new stage.New ways to vote (I suspect they’re desperate to make the voting as easy as possible, because those numbers have to be WAY down). The contestants now sit in an area on stage watching the others perform, which seems awkward and probably hurts their own preparation. There’s lots of split-screen work during performances, largely to poor effect. This was especially true during “mentor” Randy Jackson’s introductions, in which he was virtually impossible to hear over the mindless shrieking of the audience. But I am still confident in my assertion that he said absolutely nothing of value. (Come back, Jimmy Iovine. All is forgiven.)

Anyway, here is how the Top 13 stacked up in my book:

Dexter Roberts did an upbeat country song I did not recognize. He seemed nervous at first and a little uncomfortable on the stage -- there was a LOT going on around him, so I suspect some of that might have been sensory overload. It got better as it went along, but it was far from his best performance. The pitch was very problematic. Keith Urban said it was a solid cover, but Dexter’s challenge is going to be finding a way to make a song his own. Harry Connick Jr. encouraged Dexter to get rid of his ear monitor, because he wasn’t singing completely in tune. Jennifer Lopez also encouraged Dexter to pick songs with a higher range, so that he can hit his “sweet spot.” The judges were kind to Dexter.

Malaya Watson picked “Runaway Baby” by Bruno Mars, which was disastrous. I like Malaya -- I really like her. This was awkward karaoke. It was shouty and out of breath, and did not showcase any of her wonderful vocal qualities. She had terrific energy, but nothing else was good. Nothing. Lopez said, “It wasn’t your best vocal performance.” That was WAY too generous. Connick fumbled around for a while before getting to her bad intonation and her nervousness. Urban basically told her that she needs to do better. JUDGES. Come ON. That was in no way a Top 13 performance. That girl should have been read to filth, 17 years old or not. It was nowhere NEAR what she should have been delivering at this point in the competition.

Kristen O’Connor did “Beautiful Disaster” by Kelly Clarkson. I know this is sacrilege, but I actually liked Kristen’s version better than Kelly’s. It had an 80’s power ballad edge to it. She had some pitch issues, and she needs to work on her presence. But she was easily the best vocal of the first three. Connick questioned the delivery of the song, and the meaning, which Kristen said she changed to be about herself instead of a guy. Eh. Urban liked that the song showed off her range. Lopez thought Kristen was thinking too much and not going for the moment. Kristen kept interrupting the judges during their comments. Kristen: do not do that. It is offputting.

Ben Briley did Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” and it was fine. He got really into the performance, and even though he was shouting for a good half of it, he still did so musically. Urban made the controversial statement that he loves Johnny Cash -- no shit, Keith. Thanks for that sterling insight. He thought the tempo was too fast, and that Ben came awfully close to kitsch in that performance. I agree. Connick thought it was the best performance of the night at that point, and liked that Ben picked an older song. I’m going to respond to that with a giant eyeroll, because it is hardly like “Folsom Prison Blues” is some dusty gem that Ben unearthed from the vault. It is not obscure. It is frankly pretty damned obvious.

C.J. Harris did Darius Rucker’s “Radio.” He struggled through the verse but sounded much better on the chorus, and he seemed to be having a good time on stage. I’m not sure why he had his guitar with him, as he didn’t play it for the vast majority of the song. C.J.’s voice sounds better when he doesn’t push too hard; unfortunately, he pushes it pretty consistently. Lopez enjoyed the upbeat tone most of the contestants were bringing to the show. I’ll agree with that, I just wish the singing was better. Connick wanted C.J. to sing something that showcased the more interesting parts of his voice. C.J. needs to learn how to speak succinctly, because Ryan had to cut him off not once, but twice.

M.K. Nobillette did “Satisfaction” by…someone. Not the Rolling Stones. This was almost painfully awkward. M.K. can clearly sing, but she does not have anywhere close to the charisma or the commitment to pull off that song. Urban, bless him, brought up the “deer in the headlights” thing, which was the nicest way possible to say that M.K. looked petrified to be singing that song, on that stage, on national television. Lopez called her awesome and said she loved it. The judges were just full of fail tonight.

Majesty Rose picked “Tightrope” by Janelle Monae. A great song, but a tricky one for this show. She had a rough start, some pitch problems, and she got weirdly quiet in parts. But she was fully alive during the chorus and overall it was mostly good. (Mostly.) Urban praised the song choice and wants Majesty to become more confident in herself. Lopez loves Majesty’s individual style and approach, and called her “blessed.” I like Majesty, but I expected more from her.

Jena Irene did “The Scientist” by Coldplay. It was, for me, the first performance of the night that felt worthy of an “Idol” finalist. Jena blew away every other contestant who performed before her with a beautiful, powerful vocal, and I enjoyed that very much. Connick asked her why Coldplay called the song “The Scientist,” and Harry, that is why Wikipedia exists. Both Lopez and Urban mentioned some pitch issues in the beginning, but said that once Jena committed to it, it all worked out. I just want to point out that, based on the judges’ reactions to all the other contestants, you would think that Jena’s performance was simply just as good as everyone else’s, instead of a quantum leap ahead of all the others.

Alex Preston did Jason Mraz’s “Beautiful Mess.” Alex has a beautiful voice, and this quiet, simple presentation was exponentially more riveting than 90 percent of the relentless stagings that preceded it. He had a few bum notes in there, but the vast majority of it sounded spectacular. Connick thought it was “brave” to come out and do something so stripped down, but he did not respond to the piece emotionally. Connick was really showing his ass tonight, folks. I like him a lot, but he was WAY off. Urban had an opposite reaction. But to me, it was again a question of consistency. You’re going to give a tepid response to Alex’s performance, but tell the earlier contestants how great they did? Give me a break.

Jessica Meuse did “The Crow and the Butterfly,” and she came out like an actual bonafied rock star. THANK YOU, JESSICA. The vocal was VERY strong, and it had some great moments where she inflected some cool grit and gravel on to it. Urban thought it was a bold song choice, and appreciated the edge and the rasp to her voice. Lopez said that the power of Jessica’s voice gave her “goosies.” Actually, that was true for me as well. She encouraged Jessica to relax her body a bit, but called it “dope.” Pearls of wisdom. Pearls.

Emily Piriz sang Pink’s “Glitter in the Air.” The song was way too low for her. The verse was strictly amateur hour, but the chorus sounded good. Emily has a really corny delivery style -- it’s very pageant. The judges talked about how brave Emily was to sing that song, which is nice. But NOBODY bothered to mention that she was barely getting through the first quarter of the song, which scraped the bottom her range. But hey, let’s be proud of her for picking a song, singing it exactly as recorded, and performing roughly half of it well. Hugs for everybody!

Sam Woolf performed “Unwell” by Matchbox Twenty. This was fine, I guess. I couldn’t help shake the feeling that Sam was trying to make some grand philosophical statement…via a Matchbox Twenty song. And that’s just bad comedy. Connick thought the vocal was too “nice” to fit the song, while Urban thought it was too slow. Lopez called Sam “a quiet storm” -- whatever that means -- and wants Sam to come alive a little more on stage. Let’s start with having him wake up, and then NOT PICKING SONGS BY MATCHBOX TWENTY.

Caleb Johnson did a song I didn’t know by Rival Sons, but he did it well. Really great rock vocal on a cool song. Caleb reminds me of a less-annoying, more vocally talented Jack Black. I think he’s probably still super annoying, though. But guy can sing. Urban loved the song and the band, and thought Caleb performed well. But he warned Caleb that he has to find a way to not be such a throwback. Yep, I suspect his shtick is going to get old in about three weeks. The other judges raved about him.

Honestly, I cannot even predict who will be in trouble, much less going home. The judges really failed not only these contestants, but America as well, with the universal, “Everything is awesome” take. Connick was critical, but it was almost insanely applied -- he came for Alex but not for anyone in the first third of the evening? Are you kidding me?

I am undecided on whether I’ll even bother to watch Thursday night’s episode, or anything beyond that. I haven’t been this disinterested in a crop of talent since Season 7. Based on tonight’s performances, Alex, Jessica, Caleb, Jena, and Majesty are the only ones I care to hear from again. That is a terrible ratio. And I’m not at all convinced that those contestants even have legs in this competition. Sam will be there a long while, and I suspect Dexter and C.J. as well. And given the shrieking from the audience, so will M.K. and Malaya. (And I really have enjoyed many of Malaya’s previous performances, but man, she was awful tonight.)

What did YOU think of the Top 13?

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 6, Episode 1: Meet Your Queens (Well, Half of Them)

Seven contestants enter, one sashays away

Posted By on Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 4:00 AM

Whew, Mother Ru was really putting us THROUGH it! The wait for Season 6 was excruciatingly long, and the show had done such a masterful job building the anticipation with the cast reveal, social-media content, and killer trailers. I was honestly a little worried. Could the premiere live up to my insanely high expectations? But after Monday night’s episode, I absolutely think we’re in for a fantastic season. The queens are fierce, the show has made some clever tweaks, and perhaps most importantly, we have double the Pit Crew. We are already winning!


The big twist in Episode 1 was the fact that it was actually TWO episodes. The new queens entered the Werk Room, as usual, but the number stopped at seven. That’s when RuPaul explained that they were starting the show off with two groups of queens, and that of the 14, only half would be participating in Week 1, with the other half squaring off in Week 2.

This is a brilliant switch, and part of why I love this show. Historically it has been virtually impossible to really get a sense of all the new queens when a season first starts. When you have a dozen-plus contestants it’s difficult to keep track of them, and it’s even more complicated when you’re talking about drag queens -- viewers have to identify/bond with both the male and female versions of each competitor. By focusing on just seven queens this episode we got to actually spend a little time with each one of them, and to form some early opinions. In the past you’d be able to do that for the queens who were in the bottom and top of those early episodes, but the majority just got lost in the middle.

And frankly I think some of the contestants were counting on that vast, safe middle ground to keep them safe for at least a few weeks. Not with this new format. You could see the look of terror on several queens’ faces when they realized that they just went from a 1 in 14 chance of being eliminated to a 1 in 7, with practically a third in danger of going home. I bet that more than one tuck popped when that lightning bolt hit.

So, great twist, even if it meant having to wait a whole ‘nother week to see several of the queens in which I’m most interested (including Courtney Act, Bianca del Rio, Milk, and Rochester’s Darienne Lake). In the meantime, here are my impressions of the queens in Group 1:

Adore Delano is going to be divisive -- she already is in my little viewing party. Adore is the drag persona of Danny Noriega, who was a semifinalist years ago on “American Idol.” I find Adore’s giggly brat shtick charming, and I think much of the attitude is just playing for the cameras -- it seems to be delivered with a knowing wink. What concerns me about Adore is that she seems unprepared for this competition (she even said she only brought like four or five gowns), and that she may be expecting her previous reality-show experience/notoriety to carry her. In any other season she might be right. But the competition is VERY stiff this time, and she already seemed a little rattled by the end of the episode.

Ben Delacreme is an absolute delight and one of my top picks of the season. Ben has a very specific, dizzy housewife character she works with -- think Lucy and Ethel combined -- but she does it SO well. She’s razor sharp, gives amazing face, and has killer personal style. Judge Michelle Visage worried that Ben’s character could become tiring very quickly, but even Ben gets the danger inherent in it -- she refers to herself as “terminally perky.”

Gia Gunn was more or less the bitch of this group, and frankly, I was left cold by her. Gia is relying on her fishy looks and her outrageous fashion (that hula-hoop-sized handbag was a hoot), and was awfully quick to make disparaging remarks in the talking-head interviews. But, hey, it’s a drag competition; I am fine with some shade. I’m just not convinced that Gia’s got the wit to pull it off terribly well. Plus, she delivers it with an irritating, nasal voice that I found grating. Not a fan, although there were moments in “Untucked” where I saw some likable qualities shining through.

LaganjaEstranja is similar to Gia, in the fact that there is a loud, self-satisfied façade going on, but I think underneath there’s more to Laganja. She made a hell of an entrance with her death drops, and I love her colorful, playful style. She’s also quite funny. But she is very “on,” almost to the point of exhaustion. Even RuPaul said that she’s trying way too hard, and needs to just trust in herself. With Laganja it’s not difficult to see a kid with a lot of talent and a lot of smarts, but someone in desperate need of approval/attention. I think the show is setting her up for a redemption edit, and I welcome it. She’s got some rough edges that need sanding down, but I think she’s talented and has a real “it” factor.

April Carrion is my dark horse for the season. I initially dismissed her as just another pretty but uninspiring Latin queen, but she’s got oodles of potential. Yes, she is gorgeous. But she’s also got an adventurous sense of style and lots of ambition. This is a queen who is doing some interesting things with gender and takes chances. She was given arguably the hardest assignment in the main challenge and she nailed it, coming up with something unexpected. She also seems like a sweetheart. Very interested to see more of this queen.

Vivacious had me roaring with laughter, both intentionally and otherwise. Her entrance was a perfect “Drag Race” moment, with her fake alien head Ornacia giving us WTF and the inability to open the costume following that up with a LOL. Her photo shoot also provided some “bless her heart” responses, but I thought she did fine on the main challenge. One thing’s for certain: Mother knows how to work a goddamned runway. And I could listen to the endearing string of nonsense coming out of her mouth all night long.

Kelly Mantle came into the competition with huge expectations -- she is already a fairly big deal in the national/international drag scene, and has an extensive list of showbiz credentials. Unfortunately, this show might not have been a great showcase of her talents. I think the change in format threw her for a loop. I think she expected to be able to coast for at least a little while, but the sudden pressure and an admitted lack of sewing skills led to a fairly uninspiring look for the runway (and a fairly bad photo shoot as well). Still, I liked what we saw of Kelly, and felt bad for her.

The past tense in the preceding paragraph was intentional, because Kelly was the first queen cut after falling into the Bottom 2 opposite Vivacious. (That second spot was somewhat controversial -- while Kelly’s “Downton Abbey”-inspired look was pretty obviously doomed, I thought Vivacious’s Mary J. Blige goes “Game of Thrones” look kind of worked, and the dress had specific callbacks to Daenarys. Adore’s was a straight-up mess and she knew it.) The lipsynch to Madonna’s “Express Yourself” sealed the deal, as it was clearly more in Vivacious’ wheelhouse (Kelly also seemed to struggle a bit with the words). On the good side, Ben won the challenge for his elaborate glued dress in homage to “The Golden Girls” (complete with cheesecake), and April was praised for taking chances.

Kelly going home first basically proves that this season, nobody is safe. For one, she’s already got a legit career and serious name recognition. She’s a pro at this, not some club queen just giving it a shot. Secondly, several of the spoilers I read had her going far, even all the way to F3. That suggests that there’s no reliable leak out right now, and I’m delighted about that. (Predictions: of this group, Vivacious will be next to go, followed by either Adore or Gia. I expect Ben, April, and Laganja to make it fairly far, and I will be sad if/when any of them get eliminated.)

Guest judge Adam Lambert did a fine job, and I loved him flirting with April. I will confess that I’m confused as to why Santino continues to be a judge on this show, especially given his bafflingly high praise of Gia’s runway outfit. He’s supposed to be a bringing a fashion eye, right?

Finally, a few notes on “Untucked.” 1) I can’t believe it’s no longer the Interior Illusions Lounge! My worldview is crumbling. (My viewing party also noted that Absolut no longer seems to be a sponsor; hmmm…) 2) I think the producers expected more drama out of this group, particularly Gia, because the discussion was a bit of a snooze fest. 3) The most worrisome part of the episode was Gia’s blatant attempt for camera time by bringing up her family struggles, which was then immediately coopted by a teary Laganja. We have hit a point on this show where the queens know what the cameras want, and they’re giving it to them in the most calculated way possible, like the kids on latter-season "Real World." I’m not saying that any of that was insincere -- it definitely seemed like Laganja has issues with his mother -- but it was difficult to not see the whole scene as a bid for attention. Perhaps it’s time for the producers to shake up the “Untucked” format as well. The main episode showed that it can be a real boon when they try something new.

Next week: we meet the second seven, including hometown girl Darienne Lake! And Courtney Act continues to freak out a nation of straight men who refuse to believe that she is not a biological woman. (Seriously, folks, THAT is a fishy queen.)

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Friday, February 7, 2014

"American Idol" 2014: Group Round BS

A useless hour of decent people getting cut and people who screwed up getting pushed through

Posted By on Fri, Feb 7, 2014 at 10:53 AM


Hollywood Week continued with Group Round. Historically I have loved Group Round. We've gotten some major break-out moments in past seasons, with performers really stepping to the front of the pack. And we have also got some spectacular freak-outs. Thursday night we got some decent group numbers, we got some awful group numbers, but we saw very few "star" moments from any particular performer.

What we did see was a lot of bullshit judging decisions. I've been saying that there's a ton of amazing talent this season - and I stand by that -- but it could all get screwed up during Hollywood and semi-finals. And some of my fears were realized last night. Group after group came up and delivered uneven performances. That is to be expected at this point, given the pressure-cooker scenario and crazy time restraints. But people who screwed up were sent through to the next round while others who performed competently were cut. The judges' justifications basically came down to, "Well, they did enough before this to justify keeping them, and you didn't." I know we're talking about a glorified TV game show, but that is totally unfair.

If you are going to ignore the group-round performances when making cuts, why bother with it at all? The answer, of course, is for drama. Group round almost always produces tears, yelling, and tantrums - and it did this season. I'm OK with drama if it's for a reason, but this is simply running the hamsters through a maze. And when they get to the end, the judges all laugh and say, "It doesn't matter if you got the cheese. We're sticking with the derpy one who is still stuck at the first corner, because we like him/her better than you." Bullshit.

It all started well enough with Three Mo' Days, featuring "Idol" vets David Oliver Willis, Tony Foster, Jr., and SarinaJoi Crowe, who all were in Hollywood Week last year. They did a very solid job with "Too Close." The number got better as it went along, and the harmonies were fantastic. Kind of shockingly, Tony was cut, because he lacked personality and he spent most of the number looking at the floor.

The Backstreet Cowboys -- Casey Thrasher, Dexter Roberts, and Ben Briley -- did "I Want it That Way" by Backstreet Boys. Casey looked like a full-on creeper in his part. His opening passage felt almost like a threat. But it got better when Dexter came in. He's really great. The harmonies were OK, but nowhere near as good as the first group. The arrangement and pacing made it seem almost like a dirge. Ben did not make much of an impression one way or the other. They all went through, which was our first bullshit moment of the evening: they were nowhere near as good as the first group. And Ben wasn't displaying any more charisma than Tony.

Golden boy Spencer Lloyd created some drama in his group. Apparently he felt he knew the song, which I didn't recognize, and refused to practice thoroughly with his group members Megan Miller and Alyssa Siebken. Megan totally flopped, forgetting her part almost completely. Alyssa struggled through it, but still sounded decent. And Spencer just kind of bobbed along. He certainly didn't kill it for someone who supposedly mastered the song. Even Jennifer Lopez said, "If it was based solely on this performance, it would be a wash." That's how bad they were. And yet, somehow it was only Alyssa who got cut. Megan did not even remember her lyrics at all. Total BS.

Caleb Johnson, Tyler Ahlgren, Matthew Hamel, and C.J. Harris also did "Too Close." Tyler totally forgot the words and thought he was cute making stuff up. Unacceptable. Matthew was quite good, C.J. was very rough, and Caleb can sing, but he's more than a little over the top. The group as a whole was a mess. Caleb and C.J. got pushed through, but Matthew and Tyler got cut. C.J. had no business making it over Matthew, and Matthew knew it. He was right - he sounded quite good on that song. I came around on C.J. last episode but he fell again in my estimation after that weak showing.

Clarity Can Do had Jen Asciutto, Sikenya Thompson, Allie Odom, and a gentleman they didn't ID with a chyron. They also did "Too Close." Sikenya had skipped hours of rehearsal because she was sick. She totally blew her verse, was given a second chance, and then struggled through it. The others seemed to have acquitted themselves well, especially since it appeared that much of their practice time was rendered useless because they didn't know if they were performing as a trio or a quartet due to Sikenya's waffling. Allie, who sounded really great, got cut. The judges gave Sikenya a whole lot of ass kissing about pulling through, but the footage we saw hardly painted her as a survivor. I get that she was legitimately sick, but she had a lousy attitude and did not give one shit about her group. So let's reward her and cut the girl who performed quite well. Again: so much bullshit.

NicaNashae, Stephanie Hanway, Cara Watson, and Jessica Meuse did Beyonce's "Single Ladies." It was dreadful karaoke. Really embarrassing, though not as embarrassing as the one girl's mom dancing in the audience. Jessica really struggled with the lyrics, and gave the judges her whole group-round sob story. That almost certainly helped Jessica get through. Stephanie was the only one cut, and her embarrassing mom interrupted the whole proceedings by yelling and being obnoxious. Her mom then threw Jessica under the bus in the lobby, and was swearing on the Bible and God while being vindictive and mean spirited. Jessica wasn't good and didn't deserve to advance, but Stage Mom was awful. (I like Jessica, but I found it telling that she said, "Drama seems to follow me around." That does not bode well for her, in this show or in life.)

Speaking of drama engines, Love's Angels, featuring Terrica Curry, Carmen Delgina, and Emmanuel Zidor, did Destiny's Child's "Say My Name." Carmen was much better than she has been in the past. Terrica seemed angry the whole time and her vocals were unimpressive, and Emmanuel was totally over the top, as usual. The judges said that the song didn't allow them to showcase their voices. It's true; there was a lot of monotone and then shouting. But the show offered them that song, so... Harry Connick Jr. called it full out "terrible." Carmen and Terrica were both cut, while Emmanual advanced. He sets my teeth on edge.

Loud and Fierce, a drama-plagued group featuring Christina Collins, bossy Olivia Diamond, Queen Bulls, and Malaya Watson, did "I Want You Back" by the Jackson 5. The styling featured a lot animal prints, tight black leather and spandex, and a fair amount of skin. There was a desperation to the whole affair, but the singing was generally good. Christina was totally off the tempo. Olivia and Queen came on like houses on fire. Malaya is clearly the one to watch from that group. She's terrific. They all got through. Olivia seems like a pill.

At the end of Group Round 77 contestants were left. So not so much with the cutting the field in half, like JLo said. I hope you all enjoyed the hour of your life this show just wasted by jerking us off.

Next week: I very well may skip the remainder of Hollywood Week in lieu of the Olympics, because at least they bother to explain the bullshit judging in figure skating, and it's way more fun watching people fall on ice.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

“American Idol” 2014: Hollywood Week, Part 1

The new Airport Round, sudden-death sing-offs, and Group Round DRAMA

Posted By on Thu, Feb 6, 2014 at 9:46 AM


Producers promised us big shake-ups for Hollywood Week - apparently viewers hate the middle rounds (I know I can't stand semi-finals) - which thus far has translated to a new interstitial "Airport Round." Basically the kids got off their planes at Hollywood and were taken to an airplane hangar, where 50 of them were picked out as on-the-bubble contestants and asked to essentially sing for their lives.

This segment flew by awfully quickly, and it was impossible to keep track of all the contestants. A few of the notable Airport Round performancs:

-Johnny Newcomb auditioned in Salt Lake and was given a hard time by Harry Connick Jr. for putting on an affectation. This time he did "Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster the People. It was a low-key vocal and the performance lacked energy and star power.

-Ali Jane Henderson from Atlanta auditions sang beautifully on a cool version of Britney Spears' "Toxic." She sounded like a straight-up recording.

-Caitlin Johnson did a terrible version of "Only Girl in the World" that had serious pitch problems. Harry literally said, "I don't know what we ever saw in her." Poor Caitlin admitted to have terrible stage fright.

-I thought Adam Roth, my beautiful furry sound healer, blew it with his version of Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive," which was a mess vocally and the judges hated the piano playing. Jennifer Lopez fought hard for him, which I respect.

-Tristen Langley is Nikki McKibben's kid, and he auditioned in Austin. We only got a little bit of his singing but the judges seemed thoroughly unimpressed.

-Morgan Deplitch did Sara Bareilles' "Brave" and it was absolutely terrible. I've heard better in karaoke bars. She megachoked, and she knew it.

-Neco Starr did Bruno Mars' "Gorillas," and he IS good but there's something about him that seems so fake and forced to me.

-KhristianD'avis has a decent r'n'b voice but, as Jennifer Lopez pointed out, she lacked flow. One of the other judges said that she "is in love with her own voice." She also got demerits for those hideous Bieber pants.

After the 50 bubble singers performed they were split into two groups and put on two busses. One was going to the hotel and on to the next rounds. The other was headed to the airport to send the kids straight home -- and the contestants purportedly had no idea which bus was which. If they really didn't tell the contestants where they were headed, that is one of the meanest things I have ever seen on this show. Not even Simon would have pulled such a vicious mindfuck. It was pretty obvious that Bus 1 was the cut group, which had 30 contestants. The show didn't bother to identify them, but it seemed like Tristen was among them. You know that McKibben was PISSED.

The next round was the standard knockout round. Singers were placed in lines and sang one by one, and the judges kept and cut who they pleased. There were literally dozens of contestants paraded across the screen - impossible to keep track of them all. Below are the ones that caught my attention. However, I want to say, on the whole: this is an EXCEPTIONALLY talented group of musicians. Best crop we've seen on this show in seasons, I truly believe that. Of course, both the judges and America could totally bollox this up before we get to finals. So...

-Majesty York is so lovely. She did "1234" by Feist and absolutely nailed it, and showed off more power than I expected from her. She's so wonderful! And I love her style.

-Spencer Lloyd did "Say Something" and did a solid job of it. He can play piano, too. And he's so pretty. The girls are going to devour this kid. Let me put it this way: he was already trending on Twitter last night.

-Austin Wolfe did not impress me terribly in her initial audition, but she did a very nice job with "Take It All" by Adele. And normally I hate when kids try Adele on this show.

-Bria Anai has a wonderful voice but she overdoes it. She needs to learn how to pull back.

-Selena Moreno was like a freight train plowing through some song I didn't recognize, and she was singing in like five different keys. Her voice cracked in the midst of a line. She was cut, as was country girl Lauren Ogburn, who never should have gotten this far to begin with.

-Sam Woolf, 17, did a solid job with "Waiting for the World to Change." He's got a really great-sounding voice, but he has to work on his presence. He was staring at his guitar the whole time.

-Keri Lynn Roche is a spectacular singer and I would love to hear her sing more.

-C.J. Harris did "Trouble" and he was much better than his initial audition. He's a very evocative singer. I was unimpressed with him the first time I saw him, but he totally changed my opinion this round.

-Alex Preston came out did some funky-ass guitar work before going into an awesome singer-songwriter version of and Britney's "Scream and Shout." He's amazing! I love him.

-Kenzie Hall did a cool version of "Can't Hold Us" by Macklemore and broke out into a great rap section. She is so awesome and I'm in love with her.

-BristonMaroney did Lorde's "Royals" and I HATED it. He is so affected and ridiculous sounding. I don't get him at all. NOBODY REALLY SINGS LIKE THAT.

-Dexter Roberts can really sing and play. He's a good ol' boy, but he's also a good ol' singer.

-Casey Thrasher is getting pushed so hard by this show, and I don't really get why. He's totally fine. A decent singer, a good guitar player, very old-school country. But there are MUCH better singers on this season.

-Briana Oakley has been trying out for this show for years. She has the goods, although I don't think she has what it takes to win. I notice that she tends to be involved in drama during group rounds, and that happened again tonight.

-Keith London did a ballsy song choice in Beyonce's "If I Were a Boy." The singing was really good. The judges admitted that they talked through the entire thing because they found the song choice so odd, and Keith sang another song, this time" Same Love." I feel like Keith was trying to send a deliberate message with those song choices and the judges were being disrespectful.

-Jena Asciutto grabbed my attention. She has a very mature sounding voice for a 17-year-old. She was so good that Keith Urban wanted to download her song.

A bunch of people got cut, but not really anyone surprising. The judges suggested they still had 100 contestants going into group round, and that they'd have to cut half of them. We got the beginnings of the group-round drama - and there was plenty of drama - and the actual performances will be tonight. But y'all, I am TORN, because the Olympics start tonight and there is a new team ice-skating competition. TEAM ICE-SKATING! That's even more dramatic than group rounds...

Monday, February 3, 2014

“Looking” Episode 3: You Betta Work!

Posted By on Mon, Feb 3, 2014 at 9:27 AM


For its third episode, “Looking” shifted its focus from sex and relationships to the careers of its three core characters. But it did not shift its tone, as Patrick, Dom, and Agustin are about as successful in their work lives as they are in their personal lives. Which is to say, not very.

Patrick’s video-game company celebrated the release of its new title -- a fighting game featuring Naval officers, that somehow involves arm wrestling, which really might be the gayest game ever -- with a lavish launch party on an aircraft carrier. At the shindig Patrick came into contact with a rather cute British fellow who Patrick approached with his typical total lack of social acumen. He literally hit on the guy while they were both straddling torpedoes. Speaking of bombs, Cute British Guy (I don’t know if we ever got a name) dropped two of his own: yeah, he’s gay, but he’s got a boyfriend; and by the way, he’s basically Patrick’s new boss.

Patrick and his design partner spent the rest of the episode in a panic over whether Patrick’s faux pas might have cost them their jobs. We really got to see Patrick’s self-absorption this episode; both Dom and Agustin had to interrupt Patrick’s neurotic spiral to interject important life news of their own. But, again, Patrick demonstrated at least some self awareness in the fact that he keeps doing this to himself in basically every area of his life. By the end of the episode Patrick took some initiative and made it clear that he wants his job -- he also deleted his online dating account, which can really only help him at this point -- and Cute British Guy admitted he was only mindfucking Patrick anyway. He always had a spot on the team. And there was mild flirting that, in a few episodes, will almost certainly lead to major disaster. But hey, he’s cute and British. I think we can all give Pat a pass on that one.

Dom was feeling good after exorcising Real Estate Douche from his life, so he and series MVP Doris went to a…Bollywood dance class? I think? And Dom announced that he’s ready to open the periperi chicken restaurant of his dreams. This was met with a mix of tentative support, concern about finances, and at least one flat-out smackdown from the chef he apparently intended to hire. Dom being Dom, he tried to soothe his frazzled nerves with some casual sex, and thus mainstream America was introduced to the concept of the gay bathhouse. Yes, these are places where men go to get some time in the sauna or steam room -- and also to bang random strangers.

While there, Dom encountered Lynn, an older stud played by the still-fine Scott Bakula. There was some nice furry beef in that sauna scene, so thank you for that, show. The two of them chatted for a bit before Dom went off to wash the back of some pretty young thing, but the show is clearly setting up Lynn as Dom’s potential new business partner -- and possibly something more. (I think a relationship with a guy older than him would totally blow Dom’s mind.)

Agustin was actually given something to do this episode, but I ended up liking him possibly less than ever. He’s a supremely defensive, irritable human being who has very few positive qualities that I can see. I’m not sure why his boyfriend puts up with him. Anyway, Agustin got fired by his terrible sculptor boss for stupidly telling her that her sculptures are, well, terrible. He consulted cake for solace, and in the process met a very handsome, bearded sex worker who showed no shame about his profession -- he owned who he was, and what he does. This had a profound impact on Agustin, a struggling artist who -- the show hit us over the head with this -- has not been creating any actual art for quite some time. Agustin becomes somewhat obsessed with the sex worker, and previews show that next week he tries to do a “project” with him. I’m telling you right now, if Agustin ends up cheating on Frank with the hustler I’m basically done with him as a character.

Shifting focus to the characters’ professions made for a less racy episode than the first two, which is probably a good thing for a show critics say is obsessed with sex. (Mind you, we still had a bathhouse scene, so it’s all relative.) But this episode perhaps more than the first two felt very short to me. The half-hour format is not doing the show any favors. Just when we’re starting to get into some meaty stuff ,the episode ends. It’s a little like edging, but without the required release. (Don’t be confused, straight folks; that’s another one of those gay secrets the show will probably demystify at some point.)

Next: Patrick has a fantasy relationship with Cute British Boss that can only end badly; Dom and Lynn go on a quasi-date; Agustin tries to make art with the sex worker, who costs $200-plus an hour. I am in the wrong line of work.

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Larry McNeil @ MAGIC Center

Larry McNeil @ MAGIC Center

Tlingit/Nisgaa photographer....
"Retro Report" @ Little Theatre

"Retro Report" @ Little Theatre

Series preview & discussion....

In the Works @ Hartnett Gallery, UR Wilson Commons


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Three Green candidates think they can win
You might have assumed that the competition for the seats on City Council was locked up in the Democratic Primary in June. Rochester’s such a heavily Democratic city that the party’s primaries are considered the real election. But Green Party candidates Alex White, Chris Edes, and David Sutliff-Atias strongly disagree. White in particular bristles at the idea that he’s running as a third-party candidate. read more ...

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