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AMERICAN IDOL S11: Top 12 Girls Perform

Once again, guest blogger Poncho breaks down Idol as only he can.—PCN

Before I start bashing the girls, I have to dedicate a little rant to dear ol’ dawg Randy Jackson: Stop with the freaking name dropping! Really! It’s becoming annoying. I really don’t care if you worked on a record with the pope! Arrgh.

Now that I got that out of my system, let me give my 2 cents about the girls who fought for the Top 12.

The first one was country girl Chelsea Sorrell with “Cowboy Casanova.” I kept thinking of random girls dressed in shiny outfits in karaoke bars I’ve been to. But then I noticed a cool violinist at the top of the stairs. He was rocking it!

Erika Van Pelt has a very nice old-school sound to her voice. That said, her “What About Love” was good but unimpressive. I expected a little more risk-taking in her arrangement since she’s (allegedly) a DJ.

Next, Jen Hirsh was overpowered by her song. “One and Only” showed she had a lot of trouble keeping her breath and that her range (or control) is not that much. Then, during her post-performance bit, I thought, “Why is this girl trying to play dumb when she’s seemingly a lot smarter than that?”

Fourth was a girl named Brielle Von Hugel singing Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay,” and though the song started very rough, she brought it together and I noticed a very cool rasp in her voice. But that’s about it. I was unimpressed overall.

Hallie Day has this too-cool-for-school vibe, and I liked that about her, but I wasn’t “Feeling Good” about her singing. It started well, she had nice moments in her lower register, but when she brought it up, it was so-so. By that point, I was already bored.

But then cool-named Skyler Laine brought me to tears of laughter. The second I saw her I wondered, “What is La Chilindrina doing on American Idol?” Her “Stay with Me” was fine and had a good rock-country feel to it, but I got angry at Randy when he said they have never had that rock-country sound from a girl on the Idol stage. I was like, “Really? What about Allison FREAKING Iraheta on Grand Ole Opry night in season 8?!” I get so angry at that guy all the time sometimes. (BTW, La Chilindrina is a character by Mexican actress María Antonieta de las Nieves, who both had her own show and was part of the ensemble on El Chavo del Ocho.)

Baylie Brown might have to pay for the damages caused by the train she wrecked on stage. I was certainly “Amazed” that she didn’t hit one note.

Next, Hollie Cavanagh rushed through the beginning of “Reflection,” but then controlled it at the middle. The girl has a very beautiful voice, and she knows how to use it. But one could actually see her heart pounding through the whole performance. I want to see her through just to hear her sing without her nerves, and to look at those gorgeous eyes of hers. Other than that, she has a very thick Texas accent so I couldn’t understand one word she said to Ryan.

I think “Sweet Dreams” was not a sweet song choice by Haley Johnsen, though I was liking it at the beginning. Once the band kicked in, the arrangement sucked, the banshees drowned Haley’s voice, and I couldn’t hear the runs and voice acrobatics the judges said she did. All things considered, I think her sweet AI dream has ended.

Shannon Magrane decided to sing “Go Light Your World,” and I snored so hard I woke up everybody in my house.

Sanchez

When Jessica Sanchez started to sign “Love You I Do” from Dreamgirls, it was the fastest I’ve ever gone from groaning to picking up my jaw from the floor. I had to run to pick up my socks that had been blown off by that girl’s voice. There is nothing short of amazing about Jessica’s singing. My eyes were out of their sockets when I realized THAT voice comes from such a petite girl. Fantastic, indeed.

Closing the show was Elise Testone with Adele’s “One and Only” (again!), and I thought she was great. The first half was a lot better than the last, but she totally connected to the song and I could feel the emotion coming from her. And I love her voice, which reminds me a little of (Mexico’s) Alejandra Guzmán. And she has a room-service flower on her head!

What did you think? Were you hit any debris in Baylie Brown’s train wreck? Were you blown away by Jessica Sanchez’s huge voice? Did you feel Elise Testone?

Photo: FOX

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Movie Review: FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS

Justin Timberlake’s character, Dylan, has an impediment that prevents him from doing simple math, i.e. he thinks 6×3=92. But it doesn’t take someone with a math problem to see that Friends with Benefits, despite a few mildly amusing scenes, adds up to less than the sum of its parts.

The premise, a rehash of No Strings Attached with Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, has Dylan and Jamie (Mila Kunis) deciding to have sex without emotional attachment (“like playing tennis”) after getting out of bad relationships. They also agree to be friends since head hunter Jamie just got Dylan a job at GQ that makes him a Los Angeles transplant in New York City.

I saw this movie with my friend Eric Edwards, a PCN contributor, and we thought we’d review this movie Siskel & Ebert-style so you get both the male and female points of view. Turns out, a bland movie is a bland movie, no matter how you look at it.

Pop Culture Nerd: Wow. I thought this would be much funnier. JT is always hilarious on Saturday Night Live, Kunis can do no wrong, and director Will Gluck did Easy A, which we both liked. So, what do you think happened?

Eric Edwards: We already saw this movie earlier this year and it was done better.

PCN: You can tell this one was written by men and No Strings was by a woman. First of all, in this one, Jamie was dumped by Andy Samberg. Excuse me?? Then she developed real feelings first in the relationship, while Natalie Portman’s character was the one who hung tough in the other one, which I liked. It wasn’t as much a cliché.

EE: There’s a movie within this movie that makes fun of all those clichéd rom-coms, so we think we’re watching an anti-rom-com, but then it ends up doing everything it was making fun of, right down to the soundtrack! It was very confusing.

PCN: Yeah, it started out wanting to be edgy, then lost its nerve and decided to be like all the rom-coms that came before it, including bad Katherine Heigl ones that Jamie was cursing at!

EE: The other problem was, I don’t think Timberlake is ready for leading man status.

PCN: He was playing it safe and wasn’t very funny. I wanted him to break loose and get all wacky the way he does on SNL.

EE: Which probably would have made him more charming, but he came across stiff and out of his league, especially since he was surrounded by such a great supporting cast.

PCN: He wasn’t up to Mila’s level when it came to comic timing and making it look effortless. Oddly enough, I thought he was more effective in his few dramatic scenes. And he had decent chemistry with Mila but they often seemed like just friends, exactly what their characters kept claiming they were.

EE: I loved everything about her.

PCN: Oh, she’s so gorgeous and funny, I just wanted to shove her down the stairs of that tall building where she likes to go up on the roof. And I love Patricia Clarkson. She’s welcome in any movie. Richard Jenkins did nice work as Dylan’s dad, but his storyline is unnecessarily dramatic and seemed like it belonged in another movie.

EE: Woody Harrelson’s comic timing was perfect but you almost wish he was younger so he could play Timberlake’s role.

PCN: Not that it’s Harrelson’s fault at all, but I didn’t understand why his character Tommy was even there. He didn’t serve any real purpose.

EE: He’s the male sidekick who provides comic relief, and JT probably would have been better doing that.

PCN: That would have been interesting but either way, Tommy needed better dialogue. It seems the writers just made him say “dick” a lot and felt that was enough.

EE: They let him make that speech to Dylan about what it’s like to find the love of your life, but it happened too early in the movie so they had to have Dylan’s dad say it again towards the end to hammer the point home. The writers didn’t trust us to get it the first time.

PCN: When Dylan’s dad was going on about how Dylan shouldn’t waste time once he’s found the one, I couldn’t help picturing JT morphing into Billy Crystal running down the street in NYC trying to get to Meg Ryan before midnight in When Harry Met Sally

EE: Yeah, I agree. And I could have done without the ongoing joke about how you’re gay if you like Harry Potter, and the flash mob sequences, which went on too long.

PCN: I think the movie went on too long. I should have stayed home and mated my socks.

Nerd verdicts: PCN—No Benefits here. EE—Follow Mila, Un-Friends JT.

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Quick Movie Notes

Here’s the first poster for The Dark Knight Rises. It’s clever in that Magic Eye way, which, come to think of it, I was never good at. But I figured out the trick in this one right quick so I was pretty proud of myself.

Below is the full trailer for The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (man, that is a pain to type). I’m still iffy on whether I’ll love it but I remain hopeful. The movie opens December 23.

UPDATE: Finally, here’s the trailer for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (what is WITH these long-ass titles??), which opens December 16. Once again, Downey is nekkid. OK, maybe only half-nekkid but it works for me.

Which are you most looking forward to?

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Royal Memories

I’m not a huge royals watcher but it’s funny how British princes keep following me around whenever they make their first official visits to the U.S. after marrying their lovely young wives. As you and every hermit in the world know, William and Kate, aka the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, stormed L.A. this past weekend, visiting kids in Skid Row and hobnobbing with movie stars at a BAFTA event. I pretty much stayed indoors since I like crowds and gnarly traffic as much as I love getting acupuncture in my eyeballs. But this event had me reminiscing about Will’s parents’ first official U.S. tour back in 1985.

I was living right outside D.C. then so it wasn’t surprising that Charles and Diana would be in my vicinity because, you know, the White House was there. They attended the dinner where the princess famously danced with John Travolta. What startled me was when, a couple days later, they came to the very mall where I worked after school and in the summers while I was in college. Their purpose? To promote a British clothing line at JC Penney. The mall was so close to my house that all my parents had to do was step outside onto their front lawn to see the motorcade pass by.

Twenty-six years later, though I’m now living on the opposite coast, I was amused when I heard that this generation’s royal couple would once again visit my city on their first tour together. Who needs stalking when they just come to you? I considered standing on the street somewhere along Will and Kate’s itinerary so I could wave and bring it full circle. But then my crowd-phobic self said, “Are you nuts?? Do you want to get stomped by the lady who drove all the way from Temecula wearing a hat with a papier maché sculpture of the royal couple on top?”

So I stayed home and critiqued the fashion instead, specifically the outfits that showed up at the BAFTA “42 Brits to Watch” event on Saturday. (Oddly enough, in all the media coverage this weekend, there were no mentions of who those 42 Brits were; you can see a list here that was released earlier this month).

Not surprisingly, the duchess shined. It was brutally hot here but she looked breezy, classy and most importantly, comfortable. That dreamy lavender Alexander McQueen gown designed by Sarah Burton? I would totally wear that to a black-tie occasion because you could actually eat in that thing and not look pregnant. Duchess Catherine looked like she just threw it on in the car over to the Belasco Theatre (she probably did, considering their tight schedule) instead of spending hours to squeeze into it. Not all of the celebs who attended the BAFTA event fared as well. Check out my slideshow below for my fashion roundup.

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THE GLEE PROJECT—Vulnerability

Anybody watching this on Oxygen Sunday nights? It’s a mildly diverting show which documents the process of the creative team behind Glee trying to find an actor or actress for a seven-episode arc on the series next season. The twelve kids who made it onto the show have been given challenges every week, and the three who perform most poorly have to sing for Glee creator Ryan Murphy before he and his colleagues, casting director Robert Ulrich and choreographer Zach Woodlee, decide on the one who doesn’t get a callback that week. I like that it’s a swift decision without calls or texts from viewers to save their favorite contestants.

Dot-Marie Jones & GLEE casting director Robert Ulrich

Murphy isn’t just looking for a good actor and singer; he wants someone with a unique personality he can create a new character for. Therefore, each challenge is designed to make the contenders reveal different aspects of themselves. The first episode had them play up their individuality, the second their theatricality, and the third episode, with Dot-Marie Jones (Coach Beiste) as guest mentor, had them put their vulnerability on display. Literally.

The kids were asked to come up with a word that described the one thing they’re most insecure or vulnerable about. Then they had to wear that word on a sandwich board and walk around in public while singing “Mad World” and being filmed for a music video. I was surprised by how moved I was. The singers came up with some raw words (see video below), showing that you’re never too young to experience damage. It made me wonder what I’d put on my board and whether I’d have the courage to walk outside with it on.

Cameron

I had a problem, though, with the results of the challenge. Ulrich and Woodlee faulted Cameron, a nerdy cool singer with a smooth-as-silk voice, for not doing the exercise well because he is “comfortable with himself,” “so well-adjusted” and “doesn’t have any big issues.” How dare he be normal? I think this sends the wrong message to the show’s youthful audience that you have to be completely effed up in order to make it in show business or just to be an artistic person. (I find it especially objectionable since Cameron is my 10-year-old niece’s favorite contestant and I’d applauded her for picking the most seemingly grounded person to idolize.)

I would have had no problem if the creative team had phrased their comments more tactfully, by perhaps saying Cameron doesn’t have the acting chops to convey emotion without having something real and traumatic to tap into. Blame the talent or lack thereof, not the person, especially a healthy one. I’m nitpicking but the kids watching at home can be impressionable and they absorb everything adults say. I like Cameron and hope he stays well-adjusted forever.

Damian

My favorite contender, though, is Irish boy Damian. This 18-year-old crooner with the lilting brogue is so adorable, I want to bring him home and make him cabbage. He was also in the bottom three because his word was “numb,” which apparently wasn’t a flashy enough flaw for the judges. He admitted he doesn’t cry often, that he keeps his feelings in check. So he got “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” to sing for Murphy. Damian promptly broke down because the song apparently brought back memories of his breakup with his girlfriend whom he’d known since he was eleven. He performed an emotional rendition for Murphy, who gave him high marks.

I would have been more upset about Damian and Cameron being in the bottom three if it weren’t for the fact I got to see them sing whole songs. During the challenges, everyone performs together, with each singer getting only one or two solo lines. Ironically, being in the bottom allows contestants to shine and improve their chances at staying on the show.

Who are you rooting for? What word would be on your sandwich board? If you haven’t been watching, you can view whole episodes here (select the show, then the episode) or just watch the “Mad World” video below and tell me if it doesn’t make your throat a little lumpy.

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Reaction to THE KILLING Finale

OK, hands up—how many of you shouted profanities and shook your fists at the TV when The Killing finale ended last night? If you haven’t seen it, may I divert your attention to a variety of other posts on my site while I discuss SPOILERS with viewers who might have some strong words about last night’s ep?

I’m conflicted about the conclusion without a resolution to Rosie’s murder. On the one hand, it ensures my interest in season two. On the other, Twin Peaks pulled the same stunt twenty years ago with Laura Palmer’s murder and my interest waned fast in season two when I felt producers were stringing me along. Then again, I kinda admire executive producer Veena Sud for taking such a big risk with the cliffhanger, especially since the show had not been renewed at the time the finale was shot. But while I can intellectually appreciate what she did, I wanted to be emotionally satisfied, too. Is that too much to ask?

What did you think when you found out Holder had falsified evidence? Whose car did he get into? Mr. PCN said it had to be Mayor Adams’s because he’s the only person who had something to gain by Richmond going down. But I’m not convinced because that’s too obvious a suspect. I keep looking for someone we’ve never been suspicious of and at this point I can only come up with Mitch. She’d be the craziest twist. Who would suspect the grieving mother? Michelle Forbes usually plays tough women so there might be more to her character than we’ve seen.

What did you think? Click here for Sud’s comments on the season finale and her plans for next season.

Photo: AMC

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Movie Review: SUPER 8

*No spoilers*

When I read this article on Deadline.com yesterday that reported J.J. Abrams’s Super 8 is tracking softly because he’s being so secretive about it, I found it ridiculous. Moviegoers are supposedly not eager to see it because the writer/director won’t reveal certain plot points or pictures of the creature? So they’d be more interested if the trailer gives away everything?

I attended an advance screening of Super 8 tonight and let me say: Abrams is doing the right thing. Go see the movie before too much chatter ruins it for you. It was the most fun I had at the cinema in a long time.

From L: Gabriel Basso, Ryan Lee, Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths

Set in 1979, it took me back to the summer flicks of my childhood, movies that were not in 3D or dominated by green-screen effects, entertainment that contained a good story, character development, and skillful acting—completely foreign concepts to the Michael Bays of the world. It’s reminiscent of E.T., Stand by Me, and Jurassic Park, in that it’s a coming-of-age tale about friendship and family but has lots of moments that made me jump, gasp, then titter as I anticipated the next thrill around the corner. (The big dude sitting next to me jumped so far out of his seat one time, he almost landed on top of me.) The train crash teased in the trailer is spectacular in a disaster-movie way, and Abrams knew exactly where to sprinkle witty lines among all the action and suspense.

The movie is anchored by a group of young thespians so naturally gifted, they don’t appear to be acting at all. Their friendship seems lived-in and their dialogue believable for middle-school kids who have known each other for years. The standouts are Joel Courtney as Joe and Elle Fanning as Alice. It’s astonishing that this is Courtney’s first acting gig. He can make you ache for him without saying anything, he can reveal Joe’s heart without any Method-y business. Fanning should finally be declared a star in her own right. Kyle Chandler provides solid support as Joe’s dad, a harried deputy sheriff trying to hold a small town together in the face of some weird goings on.

Chandler (L) with Abrams

Holding it all together off camera is Abrams, who has obviously learned a thing or two from Steven Spielberg, one of Super 8′s producers. Thematically and stylistically, the movie is old-school Spielbergian (it even has a John Williams-ish score by Michael Giacchino) and is Abrams’s best directorial effort to date. His strength here is in knowing when to hold back and when to reveal. And the place for the reveal is in a dark theater, not a trailer you watch on your Smartphone.

Nerd verdict: A 10 for Super 8

Photos: Paramount Pictures

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AMERICAN IDOL S10: Scotty & Lauren’s Country Duel

by Poncho

I couldn’t believe myself. This afternoon I read somewhere that Lauren Alaina might miss the finale and Haley would have to fill in for her. Turns out Lauren blew a vocal cord while rehearsing. I felt like the worst person ever for a few moments because I actually wanted Haley to have another chance, but then I went back to my usual nicer self (I hope) and actually prayed for Lauren to get better. Gladly, she did, and went to sing on the finale. It would’ve been much more interesting with Haley there, but it would also be unfair. You know, America voted.

I’ll give it to Lauren—pulling herself up and singing with whatever limitations she might have had because of her strained voice IS very professional. But on the other hand, I expect people to vote for the best one, not to pity-power-vote for Lauren. I’ll consider the damage to her throat, but I’ll try to be just. After all, it’s the final two and one of them will take the whole enchilada.

So, let’s get to the performances.

Round one was the repeat round. The kids got to sing stuff they’ve already performed, hoping to match—or improve—their first go. I dreaded this round because so far only one person has had a better moment on his second try: Kris Allen. Anyway, this is how it went.

Scotty McCreery opened with a repeat of his performance of “Gone,” which I thought was pretty nice the first time. This one? Well, vocally it was way better, though we still can hear the places where his range ends. I applaud the song choice. Not only was it one of his best performances, but one which allowed him to power-play his corniness accordingly and was not as similar to the others he’s been singing.  He toned down the crazy faces and played the whole stage instead, even coming out from the audience. But all in all, it was underwhelming. I’ll give it a B-.

Lauren’s repeat was “Flat on the Floor,” which I also think went quite well the first time. Though it didn’t repeat the thrill it gave me, this second time also went fine. I guess Lauren likes this song because it looked like she was having fun, but I also felt like she was afraid her voice might crack (or was it my fear?). I was thinking there wasn’t much damage to her voice, until the shouty parts of the song where I could hear her stretching. Overall, it was a nice performance and I’ll give it a B.

For round two, some actual successful recording artists picked songs for the wannabes. And if anyone didn’t feel like this was Country Idol, they might’ve gotten the Grand Ole Opry feel when it was revealed George Strait (“The King of Country”) and Carrie Underwood (“The Country Robot Idol”) would be making the choices.

Strait chose “Check Yes or No” for Scotty. Now, imagine you have a cheeseburger. You throw away the bread, the meat and the veggies. What you have left, you cover in cheddar, add a pound of Velveeta, then garnish it with maize. That’s how corny and cheesy the performance was. He tried to cover it with a guitar, and kept the cheese factor locked in one place with his I’ve-been-riding-a-horse-seventeen-hours-straight stance, but…yuck! I’ll give it a C.

Underwood picked “Maybe It Was Memphis” for Lauren, who reminded me how young she is by wearing a tutu and silver cowboy boots. I don’t know if she was trying to create the trailer-park-Sailor-Moon look, but with a pair of twin ponytails, the whole “I’m a child” shtick would’ve actually made me turn off the TV! I will say again that there’s somebody either evil or clueless behind her because she couldn’t have come out more ridiculous if she performed in a Snow White costume. And her voice wasn’t strong. It just wasn’t. Blame the injury or whatever, but the performance wasn’t good at all. I’ll give it a C.

I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed by this point, but the judges weren’t speaking. Yeah! If they hadn’t been tools, I wouldn’t have minded their opinions, but since we would’ve most likely heard stuff along the lines of “It was beautiful,” “You gave me the goosies,” and “You’re in it to win it,” I think the Mexican proverb is right: En boca cerrada no entran moscas. In a closed mouth no flies come in.

Anyway, for round three it was Jimmy Iovine who picked songs for them.

“I know I’m still young…,” Scotty’s third performance started, and I was like “Yeah! I know!” The song was “I Love You This Big,” and for the first time I felt something was wrong with me. I actually liked the visual part of his performance. Nay. I LOVED the visual part of the performance! It was held back, heartfelt and quite honest (even the shot of his crying mom). But whatever he was singin’, I didn’t listen. He sounded fine on a couple of verses, and then the band came in and the banshee backup singers overwhelmed his voice and I couldn’t hear him. That was sad. I will give it a B.

Lauren sang “Like My Mother Does” and when it started, I was half expecting another pageant-y performance. But then mid-performance, Little Lauren walked down the stage (cue gentlemanly Ryan Seacrest) to hug her mom. And though I don’t doubt the girl loves her mom, it felt VERY rehearsed. But it worked. Lauren lacked the health—or the expertise—to blow people away vocally, so she instead used the emotional weapons without going into overly sentimental and pitchy territory. And I’ll admit it, I got misty-eyed. On another note, one look at her mom and I suddenly forgave Lauren for all her wardrobe wrongs. I’ll give the performance a B+.

OK, so what do you think? Who will be the next American Idol?

Photo: FOX/Michael Becker

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Crumbling HOUSE

*Spoilers about House season finale ahead*

Second warning, if you haven’t watched last night’s episode, stop reading now. If you have seen it, read on and discuss!

Last week I was shocked when I heard Lisa Edelstein would not be back as Dr. Cuddy for House‘s season 8 (read the announcement here) but after watching last night’s finale, I’m thinking she’ll be better off. Dr. House (Hugh Laurie) has been an ass for many years now, but in the beginning it was fun. He was a kind of wish-fulfillment character—we wish we could be that blunt and live life on our own terms.

But during the past couple of seasons, he has become much more cruel and destructive, sometimes just for sport instead of for the good of a patient. The harm he caused, though, was mostly to himself so I put up with it. When he drove his car into Cuddy’s living room last night to break up a small dinner party, he stopped being just a petulant man in arrested emotional development. He became a psychotic person who attempted, at the very least, vehicular manslaughter. House is one sick jerk who didn’t just get thrown back to square one when Cuddy broke up with him (as she should have), he’s become a character I no longer like, and not in a love-to-hate way. Edelstein’s news indicates Cuddy will finally leave House behind next year, something I’ll probably do, too.

What did you think of the finale?

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AMERICAN IDOL S10: Top 3 Fight for the Finale

by Poncho

Let’s cut to the chase. Tonight there were three rounds, each one with different “rules.” For their first performance, the kids got to choose whichever song they liked. And it went like this:

Scotty opened with Lonestar’s “Amazed.” And I am…at least a little. This song did seem like a change for him, both in tone and in range. He managed to bring real movement to the stage instead of his trademark corniness. Sadly, I could hear the stretching of his voice as he tried to reach the higher parts of the song—which he didn’t. And during those parts, the backup singers totally outsang him. I couldn’t even hear him. He did nail the lower parts, though. I gotta admit that I really like his low-tone singing, but this performance, which could’ve been a nice moment for him, turned instead into an I-think-it’s-OK one.

Next was Lauren, singing Faith Hill’s “Wild One.” Again, it was just nice. She did seem very comfortable on stage, much more than she’s been for a long time. Lauren fills my screen during the closeups, but she lacks the experience to blow away the audience with her voice. It’s not how loud your voice is, but how you can bring people into your performance (see: Kris Allen’s “Ain’t No Sunshine” cover). This is when I remember Lauren is just a child, and I wish they would’ve let her grow before they threw her into this machine.

Closing the round, Haley sang “What Is and What Should Never Be” by Led Zeppelin, and she fell on her face, quite literally. After making a tour around the judges’ table, she tripped and fell. But that aside, the performance was pretty impressive. The song choice was highbrow for me (I don’t quite like it), but the fact that it’s not that familiar gave her the chance to own it. And own it she did. And the fact that she fell, and then stood up and continued singing, gave her applause from J. Lo & the block for being professional. Also, her dad was playing guitar during her performance, which gave her like a thousand how-cool-is-that points.

So round one, the winner was Haley, hands down. For round two, the songs were picked by Jimmy Iovine.

We saw Scotty again, singing “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not.” (Hell, no!) The performance was really good vocally, and even McCheesy’s Velveeta felt like it belonged where he put it. It actually felt honest and quite age-appropriate for him, and it sounded like he could record it. What made me quite uncomfortable was that his legs looked like he came from a seventeen-hour horseback ride and he couldn’t pull them straight. But I like when a song allows Scotty to use the twang in his voice and abuse his lower register. This Thompson Square song did that for him.

Iovine chose “If I Die Young” for Lauren. She started out sounding pretty good, but then she blew it. Not “out the box,” as Mr. Dawg likes to say. She missed some words because of the key change at the end of the song. And that blows. It’s sad, because she was having a very tender moment in the performance and then bam! But the judges pampered her like the kid she is. I wish they would start treating her like the professional she wants to become.

If Iovine’s the one to blame for Haley’s “Rhiannon” arrangement, then I’ll say he’s totally trying to screw her up. Haley looked gorgeous on camera and the almost-Marilyn-Monroe situation with the wind machine made the performance shine, but the arrangement was weird. The vocal part was very impressive because there wasn’t a moment where Haley growled, but instead, she sang softly and caressed the words, even though her pronunciation wasn’t top-notch. But I didn’t like the arrangement. I just didn’t.

I’ll call Haley again for round two. For round three, the judges gave their song choices to the contestants.

Trouty Mouth Steven Tyler chose Kenny Rogers’s “She Believes in Me” for Scotty. It was not only a great song for him, but also a very good performance. Scotty even managed to slay the big notes. Though the arrangement was that of a piano-driven ballad, he made the song feel a little country with his voice alone. It was quite nice, for a change.

J.Lo picked Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance” for Lauren, who redeemed herself big time. But I have a big issue with ballads. When you sing a ballad, you need to find a way to engage the audience, find something to do, either moving, playing an instrument, or even sitting on a stool or chair (when you sing uptempo you need to move less so you can keep your breath). With that gorgeous dress on, Lauren looked like she was in the talent portion of the Miss Georgia pageant, the teen version. She did show off amazing vocal chops, though.

What Steven & La Lopez did in their picks was choose a song that fit their singers’ voices and asked for some stretch. Randy, however, gave Haley a very tough song to sing: Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.” I don’t know what he was thinking. That song has so many changes in pace, it’s insane (I love it, though). Haley belted the choruses like there was no tomorrow, and did a fantastic job with them, but the fact that she botched the staccato bridges made the performance lackluster. It just wasn’t good. And, for the first time, the judges recognized the problem instead of just bashing her.

I’ll say the winner for round three is Steven’s song choice for Scotty.

And that’s how it went. I totally want to see Haley in the finale, and watch her take the trophy home. HALEY FTW!

Photos: FOX

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AMERICAN IDOL S10: Were the Top 5 Inspiring?

by Poncho

As I’ve written a few times, I don’t get American Idol [in Mexico] until about a week after it airs in the U.S., so I only watch the performances [online] and none of the judges’ comments. A week later, I watch the whole show. During my initial viewings, after writing about what I saw, I often read online what the judges said and find I rarely agree with them.

But this show brought a few surprises for me. By this time in the competition, they’ve gotten rid of the bad, the mediocre, the preachy and the ones unwilling to grow. The four left are definitely good and have delivered fine performances, and even a couple of great ones (*cough* Haley *cough*). So as some people say, “the game is on.”

This week there were two rounds with two themes. For round one, they performed “Songs That Inspire,” and this is how it went:

James Durbin opened with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Blame my uncle, but I love Journey and I love the song. I enjoy Glee and LOVED The Sopranos, so what’s not to like when that song is treated with respect? It was very well done and, unlike last week, James was on pitch the whole time and his vocals were very clean. The only turnoff was that he didn’t add much to the song, so it felt unoriginal and a little karaoke, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in this case.

Next was Haley Reinhart channeling Michael Jackson. “Earth Song” is a great song and there was nothing that Haley could do wrong with it. It was very well done and filled with emotion while she stayed on pitch. Mr. Dawg & La Lopez told her that the song didn’t fit her and that she shouted. I call it BS! She overgrowled (if that’s a word), not yelled. I know Randy has a very limited vocabulary but I think that’s too much. And yes, the song didn’t quite fit her but she was limited by a theme that asked for a specific feel, so she couldn’t parade sexily or lament angrily—which is more her niche. Anyway, she sang nice, and the gospel choir definitely gave the performance extra feeling.

When I heard Scotty McCreery singing Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” I started yawning. I became very angry, well after having a whole mug of coffee (my Don Quijote mug can hold about 500 ml, so you can guess how hard it was for me to wake up after the performance). I agree that Scotty has been somewhat consistent, he’s never actually botched a performance, he has a very mature voice and marketable singing style, but he has never really given a good show. Not once has he stretched himself, not once has he tried something different, and not once have the so-called judges told him that he’s always played it safe. According to many critics he’s the frontrunner and he’s never thrilled the audience enough. If he wins, he will be competing for the lamest winner ever. I do like his voice—I actually like it very much—but I’m bored of watching him.

Lauren Alaina then sang Martina McBride’s “Anyway” and for the first time, she showed some sort of connection to the material! Not only was the pitch and arrangement perfect for her, but it felt like she understood what she was singing about. I’m not quite buying this pseudo-growth shtick the producers are trying to sell just yet, but I do see a little improvement in her. I mean, she’s just very young. What she needs is not to perform songs too mature for her and start belting age-appropiate songs and she’ll find her connection. “Anyway” was the perfect case.

So those were the pseudo-inspiring songs. I call Lauren a questionable round one winner.

For the second part, the performance order and the theme changed. Now it was time for the Leiber & Stoller songbook. And the guest mentor is Lady Gaga but…why is she trying to channel Billy the Puppet?

The first one was Haley with a fantastic rendition of “I (Who Have Nothing).” I’ll say it: My favorite growler could never match the raw anguish Jordin Sparks brought to the song when she performed it during her season 6 run. Haley changed it into some sort of stalker plea. And it sold. It wasn’t as amazing as her “House of the Rising Sun” last week (I doubt anyone can match it now), but it was great nonetheless. And I got angry again when I read the judges’ comments. I sort of understand why they are so unfairly hard on her if they’re pushing her toward brilliance, but what I’m missing is why they don’t do it to the others. They deserve constructive criticism too! That’s the point of them folks being there! Anyway, Haley should be in the top three just for her lungs alone. That girl can hold a note!

I’m changing Scotty McCheesy’s nickname to Scotty McCreepy. He sang “Young Blood” and trotted around the stage like a drunken monkey trying to be sexy. I gagged, then got goosebumps (not the good kind) and then wanted to barf. The cheese factor was so over the top that it became completely uncomfortable. The whole visual was completely wrong. I listened to him again without the visual and noticed the vocals were nice and his lower register was on fire. It wasn’t superb and the visual part almost made me want to tear my eyes out, but he’s still consistent. The judges had cheese-gasms, though.

If singing Elvis Presley was the only chance we saw Lauren, I’d say she should be in “Trouble.” She wasn’t bad, though she lost her breath in a couple of verses, but it was pretty underwhelming. I agree she has the IT factor, but she hasn’t found IT. She does look more comfortable on stage than she has in weeks past, but she doesn’t know yet how to match her body movements with the song. I think “Trouble” should be sung by a girl in a more teasing and sexy kind of way and she’s too young for that! I often ask myself about the people behind her: Are they trying to screw up this girl’s teenage years, or are they really clueless about what to advise her?

Closing the show was James Durbin. I wonder why is he both opening and closing the show. His song choice was “Love Potion No. 9” and, yet again, it was nice. He missed a few notes here and there but I was feeling quite pleased with the arrangement and the performance until the very end. During the final notes, twice he stopped singing and the band quit playing for him to grasp the audience’s love for him. If it didn’t make me laugh I would’ve gotten angry at that. The way he did it was overconfident and just too much, which made me uncomfortable, and he looked the most like Sloth from The Goonies. I know I’ve teased about that a few times, but this time the resemblance was uncanny!

And so, round two ends with a definite win for Haley. If it was my choice I’d send Scotty home. If you had asked me last week, I would’ve said Lauren had the toughest chance, but I think she might grab a few votes [this week] for her “Anyway,” if “Trouble” didn’t hurt her that much.

Who do you think will make the top three?

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX

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Trailer: ONE DAY

Last summer, I reviewed David Nicholls’s book, One Day, which follows the relationship between friends Dexter and Emma by dropping in on them on the same date every year, from the time they meet on their college graduation day to twenty years later.

The trailer for the movie, starring Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway, was released this week. I think the lead actors are good choices for Dex and Em, and a movie can only be enhanced by having Patricia Clarkson in it.

One Day fans, what do you think? If you haven’t read the book, does this make you want to?

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