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March 2009

AMERICAN IDOL Season 8 — Group 3 of Semi-Finalists

During the first half of this show, everyone was so boring I felt like we didn’t need this group at all. There was enough rejected talent from the first two groups (Anoop, Jesse, Megan, for starters) to stock the top 12. It wasn’t until Felicia Barton came out to sing Alicia Keys’s “No One” (she was 8th) that the show kinda got started for me. But let’s start at the beginning.

  • Von Smith, the loudest kid in town, went first. He sang “You’re All I Need to Get By” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell and was surprisingly, thankfully restrained (I can cancel my appointment for the ear doctor tomorrow). He’s got a good voice and is awfully cute—I kept thinking Donny Osmond circa 1976—but he’s just not special enough for me to root for.
  • Taylor Vaifanua covered Alicia Keys’s “If I Ain’t Got You” and made a huge stinkin’ mess of it. It was too low for her in the beginning and then too high when she got to the chorus. Oddly, she was passionless throughout her performance but then cried rivers after she was done. If she’d put that much emotion into the song, maybe it would’ve been better.
  • Alex Wagner-Trugman. I actually like this kid’s “dorkiness” but oof, that performance was all wrong. He sang Elton John’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” while dancing and kicking over the mike stand, which didn’t fit the song’s content at all. His voice isn’t bad but I don’t think he had any idea what he was singing about. Simon said it best when he said, “You’re like a little hamster trying to be a tiger.”
  • Arianna Afsar didn’t like getting this far just for being “cute as a button” so she attempted ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All.” Ooh, no—bad song choice. Afsar doesn’t have enough life experience for this song, though her voice is powerful and has lots of range. The slow, dreary arrangement did her no favors and the poor girl looked like she was going to cry during the judges’ comments. I thought I was gonna cry if tonight’s show didn’t get much better.
  • Ju’Not Joyner turned Plain White T’s “Hey There Delilah” into a smoof, R&B slow jam. It was nice but not electrifying enough to make me start dialing. He was entertaining when he admitted he’d gotten a cortisone shot right in his butt and that it hurt.
  • Kristen McNamara spunked up Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason” by making it more uptempo. I like her big, booming voice and sassy personality but not her Stepford-wife look.
  • While listening to Nathaniel Marshall butchering Meatloaf’s “I Will Do Anything for Love,” I thought, “I would do anything if you’d just stop the torture.” His voice just doesn’t have enough heft to carry off this big song. He was nowhere near Meatloaf territory, more like a ham sandwich. The entire performance with the gawky dancing was so disastrous it would’ve scored a 10 on the Richter scale if it were an earthquake. Consider this a flood warning ’cause he’s gonna let loose the waterworks when he gets kicked off tomorrow.
  • Felicia Barton, who got brought back after Joanna Pacitti’s disqualification, sang Alicia Keys’ “No One” and made me wonder what the dickens the judges were thinking when they sent her home originally. This girl was hot! Her voice cracked a little and she went off-key on a few notes but whoo, she’s got pipes! Paula said, “Isn’t it funny how the universe works?” I thought, “No, it’s funny how YOU work, dismissing her in the first place.” Sheesh.
  • Scott MacIntyre covered “Mandolin Rain” by Bruce Hornsby and the Range. Sorry—I think the judges are being overly nice to him because he’s legally blind, which is rather patronizing. He seems like a nice guy but his voice is bland and utterly forgettable. No way I’d recognize it if I heard it on the radio (like I would Kelly’s or Carrie’s or Clay’s) but the judges raved about how he moved mountains (what?!) and his passion and how much he wanted this. Doesn’t everyone?
  • Kendall Beard sang Martina McBride’s “This One’s for the Girls.” Well, at least she knew her audience. I think she’ll advance because she’s very pretty, dressed well and little girls probably love her the way they love Barbie dolls and princesses. There’s nothing wrong with that—I’m just a little old for it. She sounded decent enough but came across processed like a beauty pageant contestant.
  • When Jorge Nunez said he selected Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” I groaned. Why do so many contestants pick this tedious song? I thought Jorge’s passionate voice deserved something spicier. But wait—he blew it up! He injected some fire and emotion into it and was easily the best male vocal of the night. By the way, what’s with the fuss about his accent? I love it and hope he speaks and sings however he does naturally. Also, Drama Queen Nate can take lessons from Jorge on how to cry endearingly on camera instead of making us want to slap him.
  • Lil Rounds. I’ll admit—she looked great and sang great, but I wasn’t blown away by her rendition of Mary J. Blige’s “Be Without You.” She was technically on point but her interpretation didn’t give me goosebumps or evoke any kind of emotion in me. Remember when Fantasia sang “Summertime”? Or even when Jason Castro sang “Hallelujah” last year? Lil never makes me feel like that. It was clever how she worked in the line “Call this show if you can’t be without me” and the judges have been force-feeding her to us so she’ll probably make the top 12.

In the end, best for me were Felicia, Jorge and, technically, Lil. I wish there were room for Kristen, too.

Who did you vote for? Where you as bored by this show as I was? Post in the comments!

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No Limits on the Horizon for U2

So, U2’s dropping a new album Tuesday (download it from Amazon for only $3.99!) and I’m excited, having been a fan since 1980. But when it came to doing a review, I knew the best person for the job would be my contributing writer, Debbie DeNice, the resident U2 expert. I’m telling you—she’s got a Master’s degree in Bonology and has traveled the world to see them live (from the pit, baby). She turned in the following review plus exclusive photos she took herself. Enjoy!

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Uno. Dos. Tres. Cinco. Cinco? Yes, cinco. That’s how many years have passed since U2’s last studio album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. This Tuesday, U2 will release No Line on the Horizon and Club Vertigo, with the boys who play rock and roll and the girls with crimson nails, has been left behind. We’ve walked out in sexy boots because the future needs a big kiss—along with some love and community.

Most certainly this album is a departure for U2. Listening to it for the first time I thought, “This doesn’t sound like U2.” My second thought was, “This doesn’t sound like anyone other than U2, either.”

They began work on NLOTH with Rick Rubin, a producer known for his “stripped-down” sound, creating naked vocals and bare instrumentation. For whatever reason, their teaming with Rubin ended (two songs completed with Rubin, the cover of the Skids’ “The Saints Are Coming” with Green Day and “Window in the  Skies,” were released on U2’s 18 Singles compilation album in 2006) and they reunited with Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite. Out went the back-to-basics rock ‘n’ roll of Atomic Bomb and in came the experimental, sonically textured NLOTH. And it works. It rocks.

The standout tracks for me: “Magnificent,” “Moment of Surrender,” and “White as Snow.” Each of these songs begins pared down, stripped bare with only an instrument or a vocal. A sonic focal point on the water that slowly amplifies by layering tones, vocals, and instruments, sending rippling sound waves out onto the horizon.

The range of sounds and the texture of tones that NLOTH brings are unexpected and welcomed—‘70s rock, folk music flavor, and a touch of otherworldliness. The sound of a droning organ and a fat, fuzzy, or distorted guitar prove that when it comes to rock musicians, the Edge is in rarefied air. Bono is in brilliant voice and writing some beautiful lyrics that touch on themes of love, war, transcendence and being Bono. While Bono and the Edge get most of the attention, the rhythm section consisting of Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. kick ass. Funky bass grooves and staccato drumming add to the richness of this aural pleasure that is NLOTH.

This is a transitional album for U2, in the same vein as The Unforgettable Fire and Zooropa. As such, it may take awhile to be fully appreciated but U2 is back. Back with big sounds, big ideas and a big voice, though some may argue—a big mouth. As I heard Bono say recently, “U2 are not going anywhere anytime soon.”

Tour information goes up on their website (U2.com) next Monday, March 9th. Rumor has it they may have some recession-priced tickets so check them out this summer in a city near you. I, for one, can’t wait to meet them in the sound!

Rating: Brilliant

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