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Idol: Hooray for Hollywood Week

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

“I’m one of those kids that’s been through a lot, and it means something to me becase music has always been the anchor that keeps me from freaking out when something bad happens or when I didn’t have people around me to support me like other people. And I just want this more than anything. It’s on my skin, and it just bursts out of me whenever I’m on stage, and I don’t know why.”

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Welcome to the world of Nate Marshall. Nate wears a headband, and sometimes a tie, and flip-flops, and sometimes a pair of cheap plastic seaside sunglasses that probably cost eighty bucks at Urban Outfitters, and he has acne piercings and haystack hair with a swoosh. Nate is an American Idol contestant, and Nate is what we like to call ‘theatrical’.

‘Theatrical’ is a word that Simon Cowell likes to use dismissively about many of the male contestants. On a show about standing on a stage and singing for public acclaim, we are told that it is bad to be theatrical. And the public sits up and listens. In last year’s final 12 boys there were four ‘theatricals’. Colton Berry got sent home in the first week; Jason Yeager in the second; Danny Noriega in the third; and David ‘gay go-go dancer’ Hernandez in the fourth. There is no room for theatrics on the stage of the Kodak Theatre! In Hollywood!

Still, in Nate Marshall’s case it’s probably fair to be concerned. He is theatrical, but it’s one of those free theatres you get in the food courts at amusement parks, where cheesy teens recite their parts by rote for the thirteenth time that day while you try to ignore them and plan out the best route to get to all the remaining rollercoasters after lunch. Unfortunately, Nick survived the first week of Hollywood week. (Hollywood week airs across two weeks; it’s confusing, but no more so than the fact that ‘group night’ always happens by day.)

The first hour of bootcamp this week was all about the singing line (one: stand in a line; two: sing), which gave everyone a chance to bellow like horny walruses. Even Lil Rounds, who is surely destined for the competition’s top three, managed to deliver ‘I Will Always Love You’ as more of a threat than a promise, but the judges just love her (”I just love you,” Paula said, probably), so they all pretended that this did not happen.

Also bellowing for all he was worth was Von Smith, who had to sing after two talented black guys with big voices and unwisely tried to match them. Von Smith is another theatrical. Von Smith is Shirley Bassey trapped in the body of boy scout and screaming to get out. Von Smith is a ‘YouTube star’, apparently, which is worrying new territory for this show. In spite of a performance that Simon calls “indulgent nonsense”, Von Smith gets through, so apparently singing terribly is no bar to success in this competition.

Other theatricals take to the stage. Adam Lambert, of the dreadful assymetrical hair, stupid boots and wonderful theatrical voice, sails on through. Norman Gentle has a bumpier ride. Norman is the comedy character who somehow survived longer than any comedian has ever managed before in the face of Simon’s withering scorn, possibly because he’s both a decent singer and genuinely quite funny. He sings that one bellicose Dreamgirls song, which I think is called, “And I Am Yelling At You, I’m Not Singing”. To everyone’s surprise, Norman survives, to be sent home another day.

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Also surviving the first day in Hollywood against all odds is Hey Everyone Come Look At The Tiny Triangle Of Cloth Covering My Pubic Mound Girl, who has been more widely dubbed ‘Bikini Girl’ (above; bikini not pictured). Simon does not find Norman Gentle funny, but he finds his own schtick where he keeps putting the slutty skanky girl through even though she can’t sing absolutely hi-la-rious. Keep the laffs coming, Simon, you wit.

Some people who are neither theatrical nor quirky also get through, but who cares about those people? Actually, I do care a little about oil rig worker (and adorable giant teddy bear) Jeremy Michael Sarver, who was ‘Jeremy’ when he first appeared on the show but is slowly transitioning to ‘Michael’ and is currently in that awkward ‘two first names’ stage. (This is not the first time a contestant has done this, but I might be the only person who has noticed this strange phenomenon, which I think is called ‘we can’t market someone called Jeremy; what’s your middle name?’). Jeremy Michael has a lovely voice and absolutely no idea what to do with it, but I’m hoping they can fix that.

And so we head into the second hour of Hollywood Week; ‘group night’. Group night is when all the contestants form into groups (ah, you see?) and try to put together a group performance of a song, thus testing their ability to create a showpiece and work well with others - skills that have absolutely nothing to do with this competition! They might as well have juggling night, or a Ready Steady Cook round.

No, the reason there’s a group night is not because it’s useful to the competition; it’s because it creates a tentpole of interpersonal drama in the middle of Hollywood week, between the first solo round and the second solo round. Group night has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with finding out who’s a bitch.

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Tatiana (above) is a bitch. Tatiana is a world class bitch. And she has no idea she’s a bitch; she thinks she’s the nicest person in the world, trampling through life with her satanic empty giggle and her disregard for the feelings - and possibly the existence - of others.

When Tatiana says, “This is everything to me. You don’t understand. This is not a game to me. This means everything to me. I’ve been to hell and back to be here”, she either honestly believes that she’s the only person who feels this way; or else she just thinks that if she says it loudly enough it can only possibly be true for her. Tatiana is certifiably bugfuck. When one girl says how tired they all are in the group, Tatiana replies, “Don’t say that about me. Ever. Ever. Never. Ever. Ever.” All with a broad, nutty, I-will-kill-you grin on her face.

Despite the fact that Tatiana is both an awful person and an awful singer, she survives the week, as does the rest of her group, who come out the other side of the process looking like they have known war and seen death and understand the true horror of man’s inhumanity to man.

Yet such is the effect of Tatiana that the tremors of her tantrums manage to reach out and destroy the chances of Nancy Wilson, who is in a completely different group! (Of course, Nancy Wilson already had a career with Heart and is now in her 50s, so she shouldn’t even be… oh, different Nancy Wilson. The jazz singer Nancy Wilson? No, it’s not her either. Reverend Nancy Wilson of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches? I need to spend less time on Wikipedia.) 

Nancy Wilson will return to the spotlight one day, as I think she’ll hunt down and kill the dumb blond girl she was singing with. Meanwhile, the machinations of Tatiana will surely claim more victims before the week is through. On getting through the day, she proudly proclaims, “You all make this a part of me. You’re all a part of me.” Psycho.

Bikini Girl also tries her best to destroy the hopes and dreams of the people around her, in her case by going to bed while the rest of the group is still rehearsing - she needs her trampy sleep, poor thing - and then by claiming she’s too ill to get up for more rehearsals the next day. But she’s magically well enough to slip on a slutty little nothing and shimmy on down when it’s showtime!

Thankfully the scheme doesn’t work, and Bikini Girl gets sent home, despite claiming that she only went to bed because she has scoliosis. (”You wanted to go to bed early because you were in high heels all day”, says Simon brilliantly.) Unfortunately her rejection does not seem to matter in the least to Bikini Girl. She did not come here to sing; she came here for exposure. She’ll probably never sing again. You can see from the steely glint in her eyes as she sashays off the stage that she’s already moving on to phase two.

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One of the strangest things about group night is that apparently every group needs a name for their once-in-a-lifetime performance, so Nancy Wilson and Nate Marshall are part of ‘Team Compromise’ (nothing says ‘reach for your dream’ like the word ‘compromise’; was ‘Team Give Up And Go Home’ already taken?), Bikini Girl is part of Team Diva, and Danny Gokey (above), the Robert Downey Jr lookalike I choose to think of as Downey Gokey, is in Rainbow Coalition. What? Are they named after the former ruling coalition of Kenya? The Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow Coalition in Israel?  The ruling coalitions of Finland from 1995 to 2003? (Back on Wikipedia again; sorry.)

Incidentally, Downey Gokey has a great voice (and a dead wife; don’t forget the dead wife), but it’s such a soulful and - may I say - black voice that I keep expecting him to come out with, “I know what dude I am. I’m the dude playin’ the dude, disguised as another dude”.

On which note, the worst name of all the groups may be White Chocolate, but they were the first group to perform, and their inspired arrangement of ‘I Want You Back’, complete with beatboxing and rap, was so completely brilliant that it probably made everyone else in the theatre vomit their hearts out into the aisles. 

Among those who lost their cool were a couple of surprises. Rose the Hippie hated Bikini Girl so much that it made her forget her lines. David Osmond of the Utah Clan Osmond is sent home despite the fact that he’s a motherfucking Osmond, and even the chipper little ‘yay spirit team’ kid, who is president of every club in his school, did not get through. Not that he seems at all bothered. Gee willickers, tomorrow is another day! 

And thus ends the second hour of Hollywood Week. The week continues next week, with the second solo rounds, and a full hour of people standing in a lift. TV does not get more compelling than this.

Heroes: Gonna Take A Superman To Sweep Me Off My Feet

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

Heroes is back. Uh-gain. ‘Volume Four: Fugitives’ started last night, and an ever-diminishing audience tuned in to see if this time the creative team would follow through on their eternal promise to fix what they knew was wrong with the show. So, how did they do? If you want to know my thoughts on the latest episode, follow me beyond the gratuitous Zachary Quinto pic. If the new episode hasn’t aired in your parish and you don’t want to be spoiled, scroll on, dear reader; scroll as if your life depended on it, and mayhap return another day.

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SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!

Previously on Heroes: Arthur Petrelli had a plan to give lots of people superpowers. I don’t recall why. Then he got shot, and that was pretty much that. New York Senator Nathan Petrelli signed up for the ‘give everyone powers’ scheme, and when that fell apart he asked President Worfbama to implement a ‘lock up everyone with powers’ scheme, because Nathan likes any scheme so long as it’s stupid and evil enough.

So where are we now? It’s a few months later, and all the characters are getting back to their normal lives. Peter is trying to save lives; Claire is uncovering conspiracies; Hiro is setting up a Batcave; it’s all so refreshingly normal! Where ‘normal’ means ‘par for the course”.

The episode begins with Niki expositing on the phone while Nathan exposits on TV. Double the exposition! (It’s not Niki, of course; it’s the other one, Ice-Niki. Remember that cloned-babies plot that they almost got around to dealing with? Isn’t it nice to know there’s a third Ali Larter out there somewhere for when they decide to kill this one?) Nathan is being interviewed with plothole-covering questions like, “Didn’t you have a religious epiphany storyline ten episodes ago?” and, “How are you so influential as a senator when you spend more time in Haiti putting down warlords than you do in New York or Washington?”. They don’t explain why a senator is doing the job of the Secretary of Homeland Security, but, details, details. And then Niki gets kidnapped.

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L-R: Niki, Tracy, Barbara

And thus goes the rest of the episode. Look, here’s another of your old favourites getting back to their normal life; and here they are getting kidnapped. And all your favourites are back! They still haven’t culled the cast! Because the plot involves the government kidnapping them all, they can’t be drip-fed into the plot one by one. Instead we have to catch up with everyone at once! (Except the ones in New Orleans, because we all know that you can’t get the US government to go to New Orleans.)

So over here we have Mohinder and the return of his magic yellow cab of coincidence. Over there is Hiro, setting up an immensely contrived GPS-tracker plot device. And then there’s Matt and Daphne and their stalker/stalkee love nest. I never understood how those two became a couple. Lonely? Single? In need of a date? Go up to someone you fancy and tell them you’ve been to the future and you’re destined to be together. Follow them around for long enough and they’ll eventually assume that their ‘destiny’ must have come true!

Even that damned African mystic is back, and he was beheaded! Yet here he is, handing out iteration five of the stupid plot-hobbling paint-the-future powers. Not that these powers are very useful when two people can stare at a painting of their own backs seen through a bullethole-cracked window and not immediately think ‘duck!’

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Oh, and what of Sylar? Any fool knows that a good villain will wither from overexposure, and Sylar is as overexposed as a streaker at the Winter Olympics. The writers have surely taken note and wisely tucked Sylar away in their back pocket to reintroduce to the board at a time when he’ll have the most impact, right? No. They waited precisely ten minutes before bringing Sylar back into play in an already crowded episode. 

So having been reintroduced to the entire bloody cast, just about everyone is dressed in Gitmo jumpsuits (so contemporary!) and shovelled into an aeroplane, whereupon the aeroplane crashes. The end. Next episode; meet the all-new, all-different Heroes! Please?

As opening episodes go, I will say that they’ve set up a good pace that gets to the meat of the new plotline in a hurry, and that at least is a rerurn to form. Also, everyone seems to be acting in character (though they do each have several characters to choose from). Best of all, Peter and Mohinder have a clunky conversation about the potential dystopian future that could arise from the current plot - it’s not good dialogue, but it may save us from yet an0ther trip to the future to spoon-feed us the idea of ‘what’s at stake’. Sometimes ’show, don’t tell’ is not such great advice.

Blessedly, Hiro is still depowered, and hopefully at most he’ll only get his teleporting powers back. Peter also appears to have been significantly powered down. That takes care of two of the three characters with powers that regularly make a nonsense of the plot, leaving only Sylar. The best way to deal with him? Stop putting him in every episode!

That the writers have identified any of the show’s many problems and taken steps to fix them is at least a positive sign, but I’m not sure what the show can do with the Fugitives arc that will feel terribly new, given that it’s the same bunch of character running around chasing after each other. Uh-gain. I will of course be tuning in next week to find out, because I am a sap for pretty people shooting magic out of their fingers. Therein lies the true power of Heroes.