Monthly Archives

May 2011

The Demons He Knows: Guest Post by Author Bill Loehfelm + Giveaway

Today I’m happy to welcome Bill Loehfelm (pronounced Lów-felm), author of The Devil She Knows, to PCN. Devil, which was just released last week, has received stellar reviews, including stars from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Though he’s on tour, he kindly took time to write this guest post about getting inside the emotional pain of his characters. Read on to see how he almost turns damage into poetry.

I’m loath to admit it, but when I was in my twenties, I embraced the Tortured Artist myth—the myth of the angst-ridden, muse-abused stumbling poetic soul a la Kerouac, Bukowski, and Morrison. Looking back from just the long side of 40, I wonder now if I just didn’t like to drink and screw around a lot, and being both an aspiring writer and a Catholic lapsed in behavior if not conscience, I chose an identity or persona that allowed me to behave badly and call it art. In truth, I had the attitude of a boy, neither that of an artist nor a man, and behaved accordingly. I wasn’t the first to make that mistake and I’ll wager not the last, either.

I believe in suffering, though I’m not of the “everything happens for a reason” school. I believe it’s hard to be an artist (insecurity, anyone?), but I don’t know that there is a special existential torture reserved by the crueler angels for artists. I do believe in damage. But life has taught me that there is no need to go looking for it; it’ll find you even if you run from it. In fact, like most predators, flight seems to attract its attention. Damage is part being alive. And it will be delivered to your doorstep free of charge. No worries there.

Maureen Coughlin, the hero of my new novel, The Devil She Knows, accuses her tormentor, a politician named Frank Sebastian, of being damaged goods. Sebastian’s response is not “Takes one to know one,” but it could have been, because Maureen surely is damaged goods herself.

In fact, one of the key elements of The Devil She Knows, one of the book’s best qualities and one of my favorite things about it, is that all the characters are damaged and they’ve all made difficult choices—some good, some bad—on how to cope and carry on. When it comes to damage, they’ve all suffered it, and they’ve all inflicted their share. They’re walking into the story half a mess already. That everybody’s flawed, that everybody’s got some dirt on them, is not only what makes it noir, but also, and more importantly, that dirt is what makes it real. And isn’t that the thrilling, challenging irony of fiction, making the stuff we make up eminently believable?

I get asked, often, how I addressed the challenges of writing from a female point of view. The only true answer is that I didn’t—I addressed the challenges of writing from Maureen’s point of view, of making her (and all the characters, for that matter) real and true and believable. Mining her hurts helped me see her as unique, because I do believe that the pattern of our fault lines deep within us is as unique to us as our fingerprints. Shame, remorse, terror, panic, lust, honor, defiance—these things are not the province of any age or sex, they don’t come in masculine or feminine forms. They’re the blessings and the burdens of us all.

Who of us is so unique that others can’t relate to our troubles? And yet, at the same time we suffer and feel the same things, we each carry it all differently. So I write a twenty-nine-year-old woman the same way I write a male sixty-year-old police detective. I dig until I find out what makes them human and what makes them hurt and makes them heal, and how it all fits together and then I grow them from there. From the inside out, instead of from the outside in.

Bill’s not kidding about the damage; The Devil She Knows is very dark. But if you’re anything like me, you like your noir pitch black. And you love getting free books. Bill has generously offered to send one of you a signed hardcover copy of his novel.

Giveaway: For a chance to win, leave a comment about a favorite damaged character from a book or movie. One of mine is Nikita, as played by Anne Parillaud in Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita. I’ll take entries until next Wednesday June 8, 5 p.m. PST. One name will be randomly selected and announced here, on Twitter and Facebook. The winner will have 48 hours to claim the prize before I pick an alternate name.

Many thanks to Bill for stopping by today. For more info, visit his website.

Now let’s hear about the damaged you like!


And the Stalker Nominees Are…

For the past three weeks, to coincide with May being mystery month, I took nominations for the inaugural Stalker Awards, given to authors and mysteries/thrillers published in 2010 that you’re obsessed about. Today, as the month wraps up, I’m pleased to reveal the nominees, determined by crime fiction readers everywhere.

You can now vote for one winner in each category. I’ll keep the poll open for one week only, until June 7, 9 p.m. PST, and reveal the results next week.

Thanks to all who took time to send in your ballots, and to those who helped spread the word. Hope you see some of your favorites here!

*Poll is now closed. Click here for winners.*


Nominated covers


Reminder About Stalker Nominations

Since you’re probably enjoying your long weekend, I’ll keep this short. It’s a reminder to nominate your favorite 2010 crime fiction reads for the inaugural Stalker Awards if you haven’t done so. Polls close Sunday, 9 p.m. PST and I’ll reveal the nominees next week.

Crime authors, you can submit ballots, too, since I assume you also read the genre you write. The race got very interesting the last two days, with late nominations putting some titles and authors ahead of others that had been in the lead. Every ballot counts, so make sure your favorites get on the shortlist!

Happy grilling and reading this weekend!

*Polls are now closed.*


Things Actors Shouldn’t Do in an Audition

Mr. PCN, who’s a casting director, has been busy the last couple months with several projects. While he loves what he does, he’s occasionally subjected to the crazy things some actors do in pursuit of the job. Having heard many of these anecdotes, I’ve compiled a helpful list of actions that actors should never take in the audition room.

  1. Never disrobe, especially if the scene doesn’t call for it and no one asked you to.
  2. If you’re Caucasian, do not try to pass yourself off as African-American or Asian.
  3. If you’re in your 40s, do not pretend you’re 16. Pigtails won’t fool anyone.
  4. Don’t say you’ve read the script if you haven’t. It’ll make you seem really clueless after you read a comedic scene as melodrama.
  5. Don’t rip off moves and mannerisms from famous actors like Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson. Bring in your interpretation of the character.
  6. Don’t bring a bag of props, especially if it includes your boxers, which you then place on the casting director’s desk. It doesn’t matter how clean your undies are.
  7. Bold acting choices should not include actual violence.
  8. Don’t crash the audition, beg to be seen, and then suck.
  9. Don’t make the casting director hold your baby or pet while you audition.
  10. If your palms are sweaty and clammy because you’re nervous, don’t offer to shake hands with the casting director.

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


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?


My Criminal Elements

If you’re killing time at work or just waiting for the Rapture, check out my two posts over at the Criminal Element. This one is about how I sometimes use crime novels to inspire my travels, and this is a recap/commentary on this past season of Bones and the finale last night. What did you think of the bomb Brennan dropped on Booth?


Book Review: SUMMER AND THE CITY by Candace Bushnell

With no more new TV episodes of Sex and the City and no certain news of another movie on the horizon, I was happy to see the recent release of Candace Bushnell’s Summer and the City, the follow-up to The Carrie Diaries in the YA series about Carrie Bradshaw’s teenage years.

Though I had no desire to read Diaries, which takes place in Carrie’s hometown of Castlebury with unfamiliar characters, I wanted to check out Summer since seventeen-year-old Carrie is in New York City, wearing thrift-shop eighties fashion, taking a writing workshop and falling in love with an older man. It’s also the summer she meets Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte, though the last doesn’t appear until the very end.

Bushnell has succeeded in doing the tricky thing of making Carrie’s voice instantly recognizable from the series and movies, but also younger and more naive. Though Carrie is insecure about her writing skills and relationship with her famous playwright boyfriend, her pluck is already evident in instances such as her reaction to a fellow student’s writing:

There’s nothing I hate more than some stupid romantic story about a perfect girl who every guy is in love with and then she kills herself. Because she’s so tragic. When in reality, she’s just crazy. But, of course, the guy can’t see that. All he can see is her beauty. And her sadness.

Guys can be so stupid.

At times, Carrie does get overly dramatic about things but if I cracked open my own teenage diaries, I’d probably find the same angsty thoughts. What I like about both the teenage and adult Carrie is that she makes mistakes but retains her optimism and loyalty to her friends. The young Miranda is already entrenched in her feminism but Samantha is different than the version we know. In this book, Ms. Jones is planning her wedding (wha?) but you can see Bushnell planting the seeds for what Samantha later becomes.

This is the rare YA novel that’s both appropriate for its target demographic and enjoyable by women beyond that age group. Teenage girls can be entertained by Carrie’s sense of romanticism and adventure in New York City, while it doesn’t hurt the rest of us to be reminded of a time when we were fearless and life was full of possibilities.

Nerd verdict: Breezy Summer

Buy this from Amazon| B&N| Indie Bookstores


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


Fall 2011 TV Preview

The TV upfronts officially start this Monday, with the networks rolling out their fall and midseason schedules, but news have already leaked over the last few days about shows that have been picked up and canceled. Following are the ones that look most interesting to me.


I am really curious about the American adaptation of Prime Suspect. How does someone replace Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison? It’s hard to tell from this short clip how good the show is, but I think Maria Bello is a very interesting choice so I’m willing to give it a chance.

The other two new NBC shows that look good won’t premiere until midseason but I’m willing to wait if the network uses the time to make sure they’re done right. First up is Smash, from an idea by Steven Spielberg about a group of people trying to stage a Broadway show about Marilyn Monroe. It features Anjelica Huston (what a coup!), Debra Messing, and American Idol season 5 runner-up Katharine McPhee.

The other intriguing NBC pilot is Awake, which looks Inception-like from this clip. Starring Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy!), Cherry Jones, and B.D. Wong, it’s about a detective who awakes after a family car accident to find his wife dead and his son alive. But he wakes up another day in a parallel universe to discover that his son perished in the accident while his wife survives. He tries to keep both alive by moving back and forth between the two worlds and solving crimes in both realities.

In other NBC news, David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman pilot was rejected, 30 Rock is being held until midseason due to Tina Fey’s pregnancy, Chuck is coming back for its final season, and The Event and Law & Order: Los Angeles have been canceled.


ABC hasn’t offered any preview clips so I’m judging only by the descriptions, which all sound ho-hum. I’ll check out the Charlie’s Angels reboot for nostalgic reasons (I had trading cards growing up) and maybe Apartment 23, a sitcom about a Midwestern girl dealing with roommates from hell in New York City. James Van Der Beek is supposedly very funny in it and though I’ve never been a Dawson’s Creek fan, that nugget of info has me curious.


The eye network has been pretty quiet about pilot pickups, but there’s one that looks very promising. Person of Interest stars Jim Caviezel as a CIA agent who’s supposed to be dead but is instead fighting crime in New York City. This has amazing talent attached, from Taraji P. Henson and Michael Emerson on camera, to Jonathan Nolan (Christopher’s brother and co-writer of The Dark Knight) and J.J. Abrams behind it. In other news, The Defenders and S#*! My Dad Says both got the ax, which I’m sure you’re heartbroken to hear.


I’ll probably sample The New Girl, with Zooey Deschanel as a quirky (what else?) teacher living with three men. If the show can be half as much fun as my own experience living with two male roommates in my twenties, it’ll be a blast. I also think I Hate My Teenage Daughter sounds funny. Jaime Pressly and Katie Finneran play two women whose daughters turn out to be mean girls like the ones who picked on them in high school.

On the drama side, J. J. Abrams landed another pilot with Alcatraz, starring Lost‘s Jorge Garcia. There’s lots of secrecy surrounding this show but it’s supposedly about something mysterious that happened on the island prison 50 years ago, and a group of FBI agents investigating why prisoners who went missing are reappearing in present day. This sounds like it could be amazing, but if it gets too dense like Lost did towards the end, I’ll tune out. UPDATE: Below is the first look.


The only interesting news about its fall schedule so far has been the pickup of the thriller Ringer, which was intentioned for its sister network CBS. The show stars Sarah Michelle Gellar as twins who both have prices on their heads. I really don’t care what else it’s about. I’ll be there for Buffy’s return to TV, with my fingers crossed and hoping it won’t suck.

Are you excited about any of these, or are you yawning already?


Nerdy Hot 10 List 2011

For the last two years, when Maxim released their annual Hot 100 list, which is all about women with fabulous T & A, I posted my own nerdy hot list of celebs who are sexy because they’re awkward and goofy. Since Maxim published their list last week, it’s time for my 2011 edition.

  1. Emma Stone. If she wasn’t such a good actress, we probably wouldn’t believe her as an outcast in movies like Easy A. But she’s hot because she’s so funny and convincing as the goofy girl, and one who’s never dumb.
  2. Kat Dennings. She’s beautiful, but she never leads with that. The most appealing things about Dennings, now appearing in Thor, are her dry wit and intelligence.
  3. Anne Hathaway. When we first saw her in The Princess Diaries, she practically had a unibrow pre-makeover. She recently promoted Rio while wearing giant glasses and will play nerdy again in the upcoming One Day. We know she’s actually quite stunning, but her apparent enthusiasm for portraying awkward characters makes her sexy.
  4. Emily Deschanel. Her Dr. Temperance Brennan defines social ineptitude on Bones, but she’s hot because she’s always the smartest woman in the room.
  5. Sofia Vergara. Yes, it’s obvious she’s gifted physically, but I never thought she was gorgeous until she made me laugh out loud week after week on Modern Family with her hilarious antics and constant mangling of English idioms.
  6. Julie Bowen. She usually shows up on the red carpet looking amazing, but her funny comments about her “full-body Spanx,” which she wears even while sleeping, cement her status as nerdy hot. Her ability to make neurotic behavior funny on Modern Family also qualifies her for this list.
  7. Rachel McAdams. Last fall’s Morning Glory was so ridiculous, it made me roll my eyes often and hard. But McAdams was its one saving grace, even if her character Becky lacked grace, getting herself into more than one embarrassing situation. The scene in which Becky freaks out when first meeting Harrison Ford’s legendary character is cringeworthy, but only because McAdams nailed the nerdgasm many of us would probably have if we run into Han Solo in an elevator.
  8. Emily Blunt. She’s attractive enough to be cast as one of the models in The Devil Wears Prada but I’m glad she plays the bitter assistant instead. Blunt is much more fun as the outsider or misfit, in movies like Sunshine Cleaning and Dan in Real Life, in which she has a small memorable role as a woman nicknamed Pig Face.
  9. Jayma Mays. On Glee, Emma’s OCD tendencies and virginal status could easily make her tedious. As Mays plays her, Emma is heartbreaking and beautiful.
  10. Kristen Wiig. She could have just been another pretty blonde, but her commitment to cracking us up with her goofy characters on SNL and in Bridesmaids (out today) makes her stand out from the crowd.

Who’s on your nerdy hot list?


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