Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

Will “The Voice” Replace American Idol as America’s Favorite Singing Competition?

In Music, Television on April 28, 2011 at 6:19 am

Carson Daly appears on the screen.  He briefly describes the concept of “The Voice” and quickly reads off the achievements of each of the four judges:  Christina Aguilera, country music star Blake Shelton, Maroon 5’s Adam Levine and Cee Lo Green.  After the introduction, the four judges took the stage to show the world how it’s done as they performed “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley (featuring Cee Lo Green).  It was so good that they could probably sell millions of copies if they released it as a single.  It didn’t take long to show that The Voice is much more than NBC’s answer to American Idol.

On American Idol, each contestant’s overall performance and popularity with teenage girls have as much to do with their success as their actual singing ability (see Pia Toscano).  One can’t help but wonder if Toscano would have been better off being a contestant on The Voice rather than on American Idol because of the rules of the show.

Each of the four judges must build a team of eight contestants to mentor based solely on hearing their vocal performance.  The judges’ chairs face the audience, so they cannot see the performer’s stage presence, their look, their age, etc.  They can only see them once they hit a “Family Feud-like” buzzer to spin their chairs around.  At which point, the words “I Want You” are illuminated at the bottom of the judges’ platform.
If only one judge hits the buzzer, then the contestant is automatically assigned to that judge’s team.  However if more than one judge hits the buzzer, then they each get to make their pitch as to why the contestant should choose them as their mentor.

Fortunately for the judges (and also for the viewers), the only singers who perform on the show are the ones who have been hand-picked by the producers.  Unlike American Idol, there is no suffering through the bizarre and the terrible to get to the good singers.

Once each judge’s team has eight members the “blind auditions” end.  At that point, each judge will mentor their team members.  And this is where it gets even more interesting.  Before America will ever get the chance to vote for their favorites, the judges must reduce their teams from eight to four based on head-to-head competition.

If the first episode is any indication, the 16 finalists on The Voice are going to be far better singers than the 13 finalists on Season 10 of American Idol (which is supposedly the most talented group in the show’s history).

By the time that the first episode came to an end, each judge had signed up three members to be on their respective teams.  They are as follows:



American Idol: Week 6 Reviews and Predictions

In Music, Television on April 28, 2011 at 6:13 am

After several weeks of general themes, American Idol went back to their old ways and pigeon-holed each contestant into the narrow theme of Carole King songs.  While King is a prolific songwriter, a night dedicated to her songs by young people was a huge miscalculation by the Idol producers.  A season once filled with hope and promise is now limping towards the finish line.  The momentum created by adding Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez is gone.  In fact, Tyler’s comments are starting to become a bit strange, and he seems bored while delivering them.

To make matters worse, this lackluster show comes on the heels of the debut of “The Voice”  (a fresh new approach to a singing competition).  Thankfully, this season of American Idol is coming to an end in May.  With Simon Cowell’s “X-Factor” on the way, Idol may once again need to try and reinvent itself next season if it wants to remain on top.

Here is this week’s breakdown (in reverse order):

[6]          Scotty McCreery –  The song that McCreery chose this week (“You’ve Got a Friend”) is one of Carole King’s best because of its ability to evoke emotions.  While McCreery finally stepped out of his deep-voice comfort zone this week, his sleepy rendition of this classic song lacked emotion.  The judges and America love him, so he will probably be safe, but his total lack of a “wow factor” may catch up with him and keep him out of the finale.

[5]          Jacob Lusk –  Some contestants strive to get noticed for their singing.  Others for their stage show.  This week, it seemed that Lusk was trying to use a crazy wardrobe to capture the attention of the Idol viewing audience.  His performance of “Oh No Not My Baby” was better than his performances in previous weeks, but his singing was overshadowed by his extremely feminine dance moves.  The judges liked him, but he’s been in the bottom three with regularity lately, so America might not share the enthusiasm of the judges.

[4]          Casey Abrams – No one can argue that Abrams is a talented musician.  And even though he can be very strange, there is something cool about him as well.  His one-handed piano playing at the beginning of his performance of “Hi-De-Ho” was very impressive.  His signature growl was acceptable in the song, but it is starting to feel like a crutch at times.  He did a good job with this song, but more in a Broadway musical kind of way.  The judges are so infatuated with him that they tend to forget to judge his singing at times.  This was not his best performance of the season, but it also wasn’t his worst.

[3]          Lauren Alaina – Once again, Alaina’s lack of confidence in her abilities was on display when they showed her session with Jimmy Iovine and Babyface.  They pointed out that she never seems to disappoint, and urged her to push the envelope a bit.  It seems that the mentors’ message was received this week.  Alaina’s confidence on stage seemed to be higher than usual.  She hit some big notes and showed good presence as she worked the crowd during her performance of “Where You Lead.”  This was another solid showing for Alaina.

[2]          Haley Reinhart – It took many weeks, but it seems like Reinhart is finally in a comfortable enough place to allow her natural talent to shine through.  Her confidence and sex appeal seem to grow by the week.  She showed some good power and range in her performance of “Beautiful” this week.  Mixing in slow parts with up-tempo parts, Reinhart delivered her most dynamic performance to date.  She is a regular in the bottom three, and Randy Jackson’s comments about the beginning of her song may very well land her there again, but she deserves to stay another week based on this week’s performance.

[1]          James Durbin – Another week of average performances…another week of Durbin showing that there is no one who even comes close to him in this competition.  This week there were no pyrotechnics.  There was no surprise appearance by a legendary rock guitarist.  In fact, there was barely any stage show, and yet Durbin still outshined his peers by a very large margin with his stripped-down version of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”  This song had a Bon Jovi-like quality to it.  Like Bon Jovi, Durbin has the ability to take a very familiar song and make it into his own.  Somehow he managed to tastefully bring his heavy metal influence to the song.  There isn’t much that needs to be said about James.  He is by far the most consistent performer this season, and is one of the best in the history of the show.  He deserves to be named the next American Idol already.  The rest of the competition will do nothing to change that fact.


At this point, half of the contestants will be in the bottom three, and it will most likely have more to do with their body of work than their weekly performance.  For that reason, the bottom three will be…

Jacob Lusk

Haley Reinhart

Scotty McCreery


Even though Lusk had his best performance in several weeks, it seems like his fate has already been sealed by his regular presence in the bottom three.  It’s possible that Reinhart could be the one to go, but if she is, it won’t be because of her performance this week.


American Idol: Week 7 Reviews and Predictions

In Music, Television on April 21, 2011 at 6:58 am

Despite the fact that the judges continue to marvel at how talented the Top 7 American Idol contestants are, the overall performances this week were far from jaw-dropping.  The theme this week was songs from the 21st century, so there was certainly an ample selection of songs to choose from.  And with the contestants being as young as they are, it should have been easy for them to find songs to showcase their talents.  Clearly, it was not.  But they may not be solely responsible for their sub-par performances.

At the beginning of the season, it seemed like the changes to the judging panel would breathe new life into American Idol.  Unfortunately, what has happened is that none of them give enough constructive criticism to push the contestants to improve from week to week.  As the season has progressed, the absence of Simon Cowell has become more and more noticeable.

With Simon in the mix, every contestant lived in fear of receiving his wrath in front of a national television audience, and it brought out the best in them.  There may have not been as much natural talent in some of the previous years, but by this point in the competition, there were always a handful of contestants who left their mark with memorable performances.

By pushing the best singers to improve each week, the gap between the top and the bottom was much more evident than it is now.  Because almost every contestant leaves the stage each week with the three judges acting more like fans than critics, none of them are inspired to reach greater heights.  Without the push from the judges, the contestants are left to their own devices to figure out to improve from week to week.  If not for Jimmy Iovine, there would be almost no real guidance being offered.

Though the judges once again said that this is anyone’s competition to win, the reality is that there is only one contestant who delivers memorable performances on a weekly basis.

Here is this week’s breakdown (in reverse order):

[7]          Scotty McCreery – The good news for McCreery is that he is getting more comfortable on stage each week.  The bad news is that his performances have become so formulaic that they only appeal to country music fans.  His version of “Swingin” by Leann Rimes was not only a ridiculous choice given the amount of potential artists to choose from, but it was also very safe and very boring.  Even his most diehard fans had to realize that his performance was nothing special after seeing James Durbin take the stage right after McCreery.  His fan base will most likely keep him out of the bottom three, but based on this week’s performance, he deserves to be there.

[6]          Stefano Langone – Like McCreery, Langone is starting to show better stage presence, but he took a step backwards vocally this week.  His rendition of “Closer” by Ne Yo was no better than average.  If Cowell were still a judge, he most likely would have called this performance “forgettable.”  America does not seem to be in love with Langone as evidenced by his weekly presence in the bottom three.  He had to deliver a game-changing performance to avoid the bottom three this week.  He did not, despite the positive feedback from the judges.

[5]          Jacob Lusk –  If ever there was going to be a week where you would expect Lusk to break down in tears, this should have been it.  As someone who has suffered the loss of a father, I know just how emotional it is to hear “Dance With My Father” by Luther Vandross.  To have to sing it in front of millions of people had to have been very difficult.  And though Lusk’s father passed away a number of years ago, the void never goes away, and the pain can still be intense at times.  Lusk did an admirable job of getting through the song without breaking down.  The song was made even more challenging due to the fact that he couldn’t hear the proper mix in his earpiece, forcing him to remove it almost immediately.  He has a Luther Vandross quality to his voice, so the song choice made sense.  Unfortunately, it was merely an average performance of an incredible song.

[4]          Haley Reinhart – While McCreery had the misfortune of being followed by James Durbin, Reinhart had the even bigger misfortune of having to follow Durbin.  For someone who watched Pia get voted off for not giving enough of a performance on stage, Reinhart took a big risk by basically standing in one spot during her entire performance.  This was especially surprising given the fact that she has also been a mainstay in the bottom three.  She did a good job with Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.”  It was a song that fit her well, and it gave her a chance to mix in some of her signature Joplinesque sound…but will it be enough to keep her out of the bottom three?

[3]          Casey Abrams – Although he received a standing ovation from the judges last week for his performance of “Nature Boy” by Nat King Cole, it was not a smart song choice.  This week, Abrams went much more mainstream by choosing “Harder to Breathe” by Maroon 5.   It is one of the best songs of the decade, largely because of its energy and sex appeal.  Abrams’ version didn’t have much of either.  But he was entertaining, and the song was solid, if not spectacular.  As he got deep into Jennifer Lopez’s personal space before laying a kiss on her cheek to close out the song, it’s hard to imagine that she wasn’t at least a little bit freaked out, even if she was flattered by the attention.  His performance was good, not great.  But it should be more than enough to keep him out of the bottom three this week.

[2]          Lauren Alaina – If Alaina had more confidence in her natural abilities and stopped living in fear of not measuring up to the others, she might pose a real threat to win the competition.  She has shown that with the proper songs, she can be a force in the country crossover category, much like Carrie Underwood, Faith Hill and Shania Twain.  Her cute and bubbly personality shines through almost every week.  And though she doesn’t believe in herself the way that she should, Alaina is one of the best singers left in the competition.  “Born to Fly” by Sara Evans suited her very well, and she gave an above-average performance.

[1]          James Durbin – Unless the American Idol voters are asleep at the wheel, there shouldn’t be anything stopping Durbin from becoming the first rock Idol.  No matter what the theme, no matter what song he chooses, he always finds a way to entertain and make things interesting.  It was disappointing to see him so early in the show because the show goes downhill fast once he leaves the stage.  After his performance of “Uprising” by Muse, the judges were already telling him that it would be the best of the night.  His use of the marching band drummers was further proof that he knows what it takes to deliver that something extra to make it a memorable performance for the audience.  He even found a way to make a ridiculous Adam Ant-inspired outfit (circa 1981) look cool.  With this performance, Durbin proved that he can successfully bridge the gap between his classic heavy metal roots and modern-day hard rock.  Idol producers should be praying that he makes it to the finale!



Because the number of contestants is dwindling, those who often find themselves in the bottom three will likely have to give Durbin-like performances to ensure their safety.  None of them did this week, so the bottom three will be…

Stefano Langone

Jacob Lusk

Haley Reinhart


The judges praised Langone and Reinhart this week, but warned Lusk that he would have to do more if he is back next week.  Was that foreshadowing?  Subliminal messaging to the voters?  No one knows for sure, but it seems like Lusk was the only one who received a true critique this week.  If the voters base their decision on the judges, then Lusk will likely be the one going home, but it would not come as a shock at all if it were either of the other two in the bottom three.


Good Sportsmanship Trumps Winning at All Costs

In Family, Life, Life Lessons, Sports on April 16, 2011 at 9:14 pm

When we decided to relocate back to New York, I reluctantly allowed my son to play spring football in the local league that he played in for two seasons.  After watching the favoritism shown to the teams whose coaches are in the “inner circle” of this league, we searched out a better option and played someplace else this past fall.  Unfortunately, that league doesn’t offer spring football, and I didn’t want him to miss out on playing because of the issues that I had with ridiculous politics.

I spoke to a coach that I knew from our last season in the league about getting my son on his team and becoming an assistant coach.  Everything was on track to make it happen, until my son excelled in tryouts and was selected in the draft by another coach earlier than anticipated.  The team that I tried to get him on is the dominant team in the league, but that was not important to me.  I just wanted my son to play for a coach that I respected as a person.

We have always been on winning teams, but the experience wasn’t always good, especially when the coach cared more about winning than developing the kids as football players.  I am very competitive, but to me, competing hard is more important than holding up the bigger trophy at the end of the season.

This afternoon, we faced off against the team that my son almost played for.  As the last two undefeated teams in the league, this game was highly anticipated, but fell far short of expectations.  Our opponents dominated our team on the scoreboard the way that they have dominated every other team that they have faced.  It wasn’t a total shock given our opponent’s superior talent and experience playing together..

No one likes to lose by a large margin, but at this age, the scoreboard is not necessarily a true indicator of how the teams competed.  For the most part, we kept them in check, but 4 big plays made it look like they were moving the ball at will against us.  Since they have done the same thing to every other team, we knew that this outcome was a possibility.

In all honesty, we didn’t have what it takes to beat them today, and probably wouldn’t if we faced them again in the playoffs.

Even though they are the best team in the league, and will likely go undefeated again, after today, I am very happy that my son did not end up on that team.  Although the majority of their players play the game the way that it is supposed to be played, some of their players think nothing of giving cheap shots and trash talking.  Personally, if it were kids on my team doing that, I would bench them, but that’s just my coaching style.

One player in particular gave a number of cheap shots to our players.  This kid had already been investigated for his actions against an earlier opponent, but of course, he was cleared of any wrongdoing.  I can’t say for sure why he was able to get away with it in our game, but suffice it to say that the referees missed some very blatant unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.

Although there is no rule that says that you have to stop trying to score once the game has clearly been decided, many coaches use that portion of the game to give other kids the ball besides the running backs.  The fact that the opposing coach continued to give the ball to his star players long after the outcome was already decided goes to show that our coaching styles are simply not compatible.  And though my son may end up on a team that runs up the score one day, I would prefer that he doesn’t adopt that mindset at such a young age.

Unless there is a shocking upset, the dominant team will celebrate another championship at season’s end.  It is a moment that I am sure that they will revel in.  Would my son like to win a championship?  Absolutely!  But it is not as important as becoming the best football player and person that he can be.

Years from now, none of this will matter at all.  Only a handful of these kids will continue to play football once they graduate high school.  Most will not.  And the odds are that none will make it to the NFL.

Given the choice between having my son play for coaches who teach kids to play hard with good sportsmanship or one who uses his superior talent to continue to pile on once the game has been decided, I will choose the former any day of the week, even if it means not winning a championship.

I never won a championship in all of my years of organized sports, but I look back on my playing days with an incredible fondness because of the coach that I had the privilege to play for.

When my son’s bruises heal from the cheap shots that he received today, he will forget about this loss.  Eventually, what he will remember most about his last season of football in Texas is the tremendous experience that he had playing for outstanding coaches.  And in the end, he will be better off for not getting drafted by the dominant team in the league!


Movie Review: Russell Brand in “Arthur”

In Movies on April 16, 2011 at 2:24 pm

It’s been 30 years since the classic movie “Arthur” starring Dudley Moore was in theaters.  Moore played the part so perfectly that it seemed a bit far-fetched that anyone else could portray the rich, drunken playboy, Arthur Bach, in a convincing manner.  If any modern-day actor could even come close to pulling it off, it had to be Russell Brand, who has already flexed his comedic acting chops as Aldous Snow in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Get Him to the Greek.”

It would come as no surprise if Brand’s portrayal of Aldous Snow, a character as out of control as Arthur Bach, was the inspiration for the remake.

Brand embodies the character of Aldous Snow much the same way that Moore embodied the character of Arthur Bach.  However, his attempt at recreating Arthur Bach, while admirable, fell far short of the original.

Because of Brand’s natural comedic ability, the movie had its share of laughs, and it was entertaining enough overall, but not worth paying to see it in the theater.

The storyline was similar to the original “Arthur,” but never delved deep enough into what made the original character so engaging.  Brand has the comedic timing down, but never really seemed to be the out-of-control drunk that Moore was in the original.  His character was fairly even-keeled throughout the movie, and if not for the constant sipping from his flask, you would never have known that he was supposed to be drunk.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast did nothing to help pick up the slack.  In fact, the supporting cast was such a noticeable drop-off from the original that they actually ended up being more of a hindrance than a help in moving the story along.

The presence of the brilliant John Gielgud (as Hobson) and Liza Minelli (as “the nobody from Queens”) was noticeably absent in this mediocre remake, as was the rest of the supporting cast.

Remaking a classic movie is always a risk because of the inevitable comparisons to the original.  This remake failed to live up to the original by a large margin.

Fans of the Dudley Moore’s “Arthur” who are interested in seeing Russell Brand’s version should save their money and wait until it is available on DVD.


American Idol: Top 8 Reviews and Predictions

In Music, Television on April 14, 2011 at 9:18 am

After last week’s shocking and extremely disappointing elimination of Pia Toscano, it has become clear that it is almost impossible to predict what will happen going forward.  Never in the history of American Idol has such an outstanding talent been sent packing so early on in the competition.  Though the judges have been heaping praise on nearly every contestant from week to week, many performances deserved more constructive criticism.

If Simon Cowell was still a judge, the show would not be the weekly “lovefest” that it has become.  He said as much in an interview this week.  Perhaps Pia still would have been eliminated if Cowell were still there, but his harsh criticisms of others may have kept her around longer.  There’s no way to tell for sure.

The one saving grace to Pia’s early departure is that there will be long-overdue changes made to the elimination process in the future.

With or without Pia, as the saying goes…“The show must go on.”

This week’s theme was songs from movies.

Here is this week’s breakdown (in reverse order):

[8]          Paul McDonald – With his wild outfits and unique stage movements, McDonald is never accused of being boring.  And yet, each week, I find myself thinking that his two minutes last forever.  There is not much more that can be said about McDonald.  He appeals to the judges, and that has probably why he is still in the competition.  That, and the fact that he is male, which seems to be a big factor this season.  His performance of “Old Time Rock and Roll” by Bob Seger was typical.  The best part was the female saxophone player.  Enough said.

[7]          Casey Abrams – The judges and the studio audience gave Abrams a standing ovation after his performance of “Nature Boy” by Nat King Cole.  I didn’t get it at all.  Jimmy Iovine recommended that Abrams steer clear of this song for a reason.  It doesn’t translate well in a competition.  In a smoky, dimly lit room, this performance would have been fine, but on a big stage, it just seemed like Abrams was trying too hard to be different, which is a bit ironic given that his makeover has now transformed him from cool to nerdy.  If this was a contest based on musicianship, Abrams would win for sure, but it’s not.  It’s a singing competition.  The judges loved his performance, but will the voting audience?

[6]          Jacob Lusk – As one of the judges’ favorites, it seems that Lusk can do no wrong.  But Jimmy Iovine thinks otherwise.  It was great to see Iovine dress Lusk down for his arrogant pre-song ultimatum that he gave to America last week.  “You’re gonna preach to 25 million people and you haven’t even put a record out yet?  Don’t preach to people!” said Iovine.  Lusk looked visibly shaken, and a little bit scared, which is probably why he agreed to take Iovine’s advice on his song choice.  It didn’t matter anyway.  Lusk’s performance of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was basically the same as all of his other performances.  He sings better at the top end of his range than the bottom.  For some reason, his deep voice always seems to sound like Kermit the Frog doing “Rainbow Connection.”

[5]          Scotty McCreery – Another week, another similar country song by McCreery.  If you love country music, there is no reason not to love McCreery.  For non-country music fans, McCreery’s performances are fine, but nothing special.  It is a bit comical that Pia was constantly criticized for her stage presence when McCreery’s stage presence is nothing more than leaning to one side as he sings.  I once thought that he would be sent packing early because of his limited range, but I know think that he may actually make it all the way to the finale.  His performance of George Strait’s “I Cross My Heart” was exactly what you would expect it to be. Every week is just more of the same from McCreery.  If you like him, then you look forward to his performance, if you don’t, then he will never do anything to make you change your mind.

[4]          Stefano Langone – This was an interesting week for Langone because he thought that he was going home for sure when he ended up in the bottom two with Pia.  When he surprisingly dodged elimination, he knew that he had to make changes if he was going to stick around.  In his pre-song interview, he said that connecting with the audience is just as important as singing the song.  He clearly learned his lesson after witnessing Pia’s elimination.  To his credit, he made drastic changes this week.  His performance of “End of the Road” by Boys II Men was probably his best of the season.  He moved around the stage and kept his eyes open while still delivering a powerful vocal performance.  It may not save him from the bottom three, but he doesn’t belong there this week.

[3]          Haley Reinhart – Early on in the competition, I could not understand how Reinhart was surviving from week to week.  To the judges’ credit, they saw something in her that didn’t show up on TV.  But then things finally clicked for Reinhart, and she has definitely been the most improved since the show started.  Her performance of “Call Me” by Blondie was one of her best of the season.  She looked and sounded sexy, and used just enough of her raspy voice to make the song her own.  Once totally awkward on stage, Reinhart has become a confident performer.  The judges didn’t love her performance, which makes me question them.  They told her that it wasn’t a good song to showcase her vocals, and Randy Jackson used the word “karaoke” to describe it.  Regardless of what the judges said, this performance was entertaining and showed another side of Reinhart.

[2]          Lauren Alaina – This has nothing to do with Alaina, but her pre-song meeting with Jimmy Iovine and Will I Am was a bit surprising and unintentionally funny.  Iovine told Alaina that she has the opportunity to “snatch up” Pia’s voters.  This wasn’t necessarily untrue, but it was surprising to hear Iovine say it.  The funny part came when Will I Am kept saying “snatch em up” and reaching out to grab the air.  It was reminiscent of a scene in Beverly Hills Cop with Eddie Murphy speaking in a very effeminate manner to sneak past a gatekeeper.  Will Alaina “snatch up” Pia’s voters?  That remains to be seen.  But she did do a very good job with her performance of “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus.  Iovine said that she would do it better than Cyrus, and he was right.  Alaina has proven that she has the makings of a country pop star in the vein of Carrie Underwood.  With the right songs, she can achieve the same kind of success as Underwood.

[1]          James Durbin – The order of the contestants is supposedly random, but there is no way that having Durbin close out this week’s show was anything but careful planning.  He has always been the best performer from the beginning, and he keeps getting better by the week.  With Pia out of the competition, there is no one who comes close to him vocally either.  If ever there was a time for a rocker to win American Idol, it is now!  But even if he loses, it won’t matter a bit.  This kid is going to be a rock star!  His performance of “Heavy Metal” by Sammy Hagar this week was brilliant.  To paraphrase a movie title in honor of this week’s theme…James Durbin is in “A League ofHis Own.”  He is the headlining act every week, and should always go last.  It’s hard to imagine what it would have been like for another contestant to try and follow up Durbin’s performance last night, especially since it featured Zakk Wylde on guitar.  Durbin embraces metal with pride and refuses to back down from doing what he wants to do even when the mentors instruct him otherwise.  If Durbin is not in the finale, then this voting system will have ruined Season 10 of American Idol.


Paul McDonald

Jacob Lusk

Haley Reinhart


Last week’s vote has proven that predicting who goes home is an exercise in futility.  Given the fact that the girls seem to be getting picked off one-by-one, and the fact that the judges didn’t give Reinhart high marks for her performance, she will probably be the one eliminated.  Hopefully, the voting audience will deliver another surprise this week and finally get rid of one of the boys.


American Idol: Top 9 Reviews and Predictions

In Music, Television on April 7, 2011 at 5:59 am

Last week’s double elimination show started out with the typical fake drama that has become a staple of reality television.  By telling the audience that the results were shocking, we were led to believe that someone like Casey was going home because there were no saves left.  It was a mild surprise to see Thia go home after her improved performance, but certainly not shocking.  And though Naima has had her moments on the show, it was hard to find anyone who thought that she was staying after her performance of “I’m Still Standing” with a faux Jamaican accent.

As the number of contestants starts to dwindle, barring any terrible performances, the voting is very likely to be determined by each contestant’s fan base.

This week, the contestants were once again given a wide variety of song choices with the only limitation being that the songs had to come from artists who are enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Here is this week’s breakdown (in reverse order):

[9]          Paul McDonald – Out of all the remaining contestants, McDonald’s voice is by far the weakest one.  It’s hard to say what would have been a good choice for him other than a Rod Stewart song, but the decision to perform Johnny Cash’s “Fulsom Prison Blues” was a huge miscalculation.  Jimmy Iovine even stated in the introduction that there is no one cooler than Johnny Cash.  Love him or hate him, I doubt very much that anyone thinks of Paul McDonald as “cool.”  About the best description that he can hope for is “quirky” or “eccentric.”  His stage presence has always been bizarre, and this week was no exception.  As he delivered the line “blow my blues away” his face was painted with his signature gigantic smile that was reminiscent of a clown’s mouth at a fast food drive-thru restaurant.  Not exactly ideal when singing about the blues.

[8]          Scotty McCreery – When the Top 13 were first announced, I predicted that McCreery would be one of the people who would exit quickly because of his limitations.  While I still think that he is a one-trick pony, I believe that the trick is a good one for those who enjoy country music.  His voice is just as good as most country stars, and he could make an album today and succeed without any further help from American Idol.  For some reason, McCreery chose this week to try and show some versatility, but it didn’t come off very well.  I found myself looking forward to the parts that featured his signature deep voice.  His version of “That’s Alright Mama” was just that….alright.  Nothing special and nothing terrible.  He did show some stage presence, but other than that, this was not one of his better performances.

[7]          Jacob Lusk – During the introduction, Lusk proclaimed “If I end up in the bottom three, it won’t be because I sang the song bad, it won’t be because I sang the song wrong…it’ll be because everybody in America wasn’t ready to look at themselves in the mirror.”  I’m sure that this meant something to Lusk, but it just came off as arrogant on the show.  His version of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” was exactly what you would expect it to be.  Although Lusk has a wider vocal range than most, he has become a bit formulaic, and seems to be on the verge of becoming a one-trick pony just like Scotty McCreery.  He can sing, and he can work the crowd from the stage.  But there is nothing all that original about him, except for the fact that he seems to be more emotional than the rest of the contestants combined.

[6]          Stefano Langone – Every week the judges encourage Langone to open up his eyes and connect with the audience.  To his credit, he is trying to take their advice.  However, making a drastic change is not easy to achieve in such a short time span, and watching the transformation can be a bit painful at times.  You can tell that he is trying to take the judges’ advice, but at times he ends up squinting as he fights the urge to do what he has always done.  His rendition of Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” had its moments, but overall it was nothing special.  When he sings in his natural voice and hits the power notes, his voice is as good as most of the contestants.  But his falsetto in this song was weak, and it took away from the other parts.  There is nothing terribly unique about Langone.  He is just a very good singer who looks and sounds like a lot of other very good singers.

[5]          Lauren Alaina – Even though American Idol is predominantly a singing competition, there has to be some consideration given to style.  At this point in the competition, the show should be helping the contestants with their wardrobe.  If they already are, then the person who is working with Lauren should be let go.  Her voice is great, and she seems to be gaining in confidence from week to week.  However, her look tends to take away from her performance at times.  Her version of “Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin was a good fit for her voice and she sang it very well.  However, the arrangement was kind of slow and sleepy, and didn’t really allow Alaina to shine as brightly as she could have if it were a little livelier.  Either way, she is one of the best this season, and her performance tonight should be more than enough to push her through to next week.

[4]          James Durbin – It was going to be very difficult to top last week’s over-the-top stage show that Durbin delivered as he performed “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” so he didn’t even try to do so.  He surprised everyone by going in the complete opposite direction by sitting down and performing George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”  With the theme of the night being Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, most people expected another concert-like performance.  Instead we got to experience the softer, more emotional side of Durbin.  The song wasn’t ideal for showcasing his incredible vocal range, but it did show that he is the most versatile and dynamic performer in this year’s competition.

[3]          Haley Reinhart – Throughout the competition, Reinhart has always been solid, but rarely spectacular.  Her stage presence early on was equal parts awkward and strange.  But once she guaranteed her slot on this summer’s American Idol tour, things seemed to click for her.  All along the judges have been mentioning Reinhart in the same breath as Janis Joplin.  In all honesty, I didn’t see it until tonight.  Her version of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” was by far her best since she has been on the show.  Not only was it ideally suited for her voice, but she also connected so well with the song that it changed her whole demeanor on stage.  For the first time this season, I finally saw what the judges have seen all along.  She deserves to stick around for a while after tonight’s performance.

[2]          Casey Abrams – He may not always be the best, but Abrams is always one of the most interesting contestants that has even graced the American Idol stage.  His brush with elimination clearly served as a wake-up call.  The original song that he chose for this week was Sting’s version of “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” but he wisely decided to go in a much more appropriate direction with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” instead.  Accompanied by his upright bass and a guitar player, Abrams delivered the kind of performance that had him turning heads early on in the competition.  He showed a more “conventional” side with this performance, but also tastefully included some of his signature growls that make him stand out from the other contestants.  Once again, the judges’ decision to use their one save on Abrams was validated with his rendition of a CCR classic.

[1]          Pia Toscano – The judges and the fans all want to see Toscano’s subdued stage presence turned up a notch so that they are in line with her amazing vocals.  It didn’t quite get there tonight, but at least it wasn’t just another flawless ballad.  As promised last week, she stepped out of the ballad zone and into an up-tempo number that showed her versatility.  Her performance of Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High” was one of her best of the season.  Even though the song lent itself so well to showing that she can dance, Toscano still played it fairly close to the vest.  But she did move around a bit, and she proved that her talent goes well beyond amazing ballad performances.  As good as some of the female vocal performances are from time to time, none are even close to Toscano when she nails it.  Her singing is at a level that puts her at the top of all current and previous female vocalists on American Idol.


Paul McDonald

Stefano Langone

Jacob Lusk


Paul McDonald – He has outlasted all of the people who didn’t have a strong enough following to stay in the competition. He was in the bottom three last week, and this should be the week that he finally gets eliminated.


NCAA Basketball: UConn is a Worthy Champion…Despite What Some May Think

In Sports on April 6, 2011 at 5:54 pm

The 2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was memorable for many reasons.  The “play-in” games, the numerous bracket-busting upsets, a Final Four which didn’t feature any #1 or #2 seeds, and the unlikely Championship Game pairing all contributed to one of the most entertaining tournaments in years.  When it was all said and done, the UConn Huskies emerged as worthy champions, despite the fact that they only received 30 of the 31 first place vote in the final coaches’ poll.

Northern Arizona head coach, Mike Adras, ranked Ohio State first in the poll, even though they only got as far as the Sweet 16 round.  He ranked Kansas second in the poll, even though they only advanced to the Elite Eight.  UConn was ranked third by Adras, which seems truly bizarre given the fact that they are the champions.

Adras should have taken note of the fact that most people don’t care too much about college basketball until March Madness begins.  With the exception of diehard fans, college students and the media, most people only pay attention to college basketball when the time comes to fill out their brackets.  Like the Super Bowl, even non-sports fans are interested in the tournament because of the gambling aspect.

It’s no secret that the quality of play in college basketball has greatly diminished through the years.  With so many of the best players going right to the NBA out of high school or after their first year of college, the talent pool has been severely diluted.  It isn’t necessarily good for the college game or for the NBA, but for casual fans, parody helps to make things exciting, and the nation loves seeing a Cinderella team win it all.

No one thought that last year’s Cinderella team (the eighth-seeded Butler Bulldogs) would return to the Championship Game again this year, but they climbed their way back against the odds by beating this year’s Cinderella team (the eleventh-seeded VCU Rams) in the Final Four.

UConn started the season strong, but limped to the finish by losing 7 out of their final 11 regular season games.  But they played their best when it mattered most.

They surprised the college basketball world by taking the Big East title after winning five games in five days.  Most experts thought that they wouldn’t have enough physical or emotional energy to make a deep run in this year’s tournament.  But they just kept winning, ultimately ending the season with an 11-game winning streak.

The Championship Game was an ugly win.  A suddenly inept Butler team made only 12 of 64 shots from 2-point range (a Championship Game record-low 18.8% shooting percentage).  But wins are wins, and there is no extra credit for style points.

UConn did what they had to do to be crowned champions.  They beat every team that they faced in the tournament.  It’s unfortunate that the ending to an incredibly entertaining tournament filled with interesting storylines has ended with the focus being on one no-name coach’s ill-advised decision to make his point, rather than honoring UConn for its achievement.

The odds of a UConn basketball championship being delivered by the men instead of the women this season were very low.  But in a single-elimination tournament, anything can happen, and that is what makes things interesting.

No one ever questions whether the best team won in any other sport with a playoff, so there is no reason to do so with UConn.  They are this year’s tournament champions and they deserve to be recognized as the best team in the country because of it.


Man in the Arena

In Inspiration and Motivation, Life, Life Lessons, Pursuit of Happiness on April 5, 2011 at 9:14 am

What would the world be like without social media?  It’s been less than a decade since social media wove its way into the fabric of society, and yet it’s hard to remember life before Facebook, Twitter and the like.  Because of social media and the Internet, anyone who has an idea has the power to share it with the masses with little to no monetary investment required.  However, no investment does not mean that there is no cost.

Ironically, the blessing of social media is also a curse.  The tradeoff for being able to deliver your message to the masses with relative ease is that critics and naysayers have an equal opportunity to dismiss or mock your vision instantaneously.  There is no rule that says that they need to take the time to understand your idea before passing judgment, and even if there was, it wouldn’t necessarily stop them from sharing their negative opinions with the world.

As an entrepreneur, I am always interested to read about other like-minded people.

This past week, I was reading an interview with an entrepreneur who is trying to launch an interesting concept using the power of the Internet.  When asked for a favorite quote at the end of the interview, the entrepreneur shared a short speech entitled “Man in the Arena,” which was delivered by Theodore Roosevelt on April 23, 1910…

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

The world has changed drastically in the 101 years since Roosevelt delivered his “Man in the Arena” speech, but his message clearly stands the test of time.  It is just as inspirational to the modern-day entrepreneur as it must have been to the men who entered the arena over a hundred years ago.

“Ever tried.  Ever failed.  No matter. Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett

Being the “Man in the Arena” is usually difficult and often times frustrating.  No one likes to fail, but those who choose to enter the arena realize that failure is nothing more than an opportunity to make improvements.

Given the choice between being “a cold and timid soul who knows neither victory nor defeat” or the “Man in the Arena” who fails while daring greatly, I will choose the latter 100% of the time.

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.” – Confuscius

It is much easier to wonder what would have happened if I had done things differently than it is to look back with regret for failing to even make an attempt.  It may not always be easy being the “Man in the Arena,” but I wouldn’t have it any other way.


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