Archive for March, 2009

Idol: I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for ITunes

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

The theme for this week’s show is ‘popular iTunes downloads’. It’s a peculiar theme, but it does give us a rare chance to see some of the contestants singing contemporary songs - though this being iTunes, there are some golden oldies available as well. It also means the contestants can pick from just about any pop genre, so they get to choose exactly which rope they hang themselves with.


The first slot of the night is a terrible place to be - a lot of the audience hasn’t tuned in yet, and anyone who has won’t remember you or have any other performances to measure you again. It’s why Matt Giraud ended up in the bottom three last week (though, to be fair, he was also terrible). This week the shit spot has gone to Anoop, and I’m delighted, because not only does it hurt his chances, but his performance of Usher’s Caught Up is gloriously bad, and his sour sneering face-pulls are entertainingly horrid. Side note: He’s come dressed not as Usher, but as an usher, with a faux military jacket and a gold braid. As stylish as he is musical.

Almond Joy Cockring is singing Bob Marley’s Turn Your Lights Down Low. Megan Joy hasn’t had a good performance yet, and there aren’t many songs that fit her Louis Armstrong-tinged gargling grandma voice. Weirdly, I think this song actually does, and this is the first time she’s gone up on that stage and not scared the horses. It was a lifeless performance, but at least my milk hasn’t curdled. Sadly for Megan, the judges give her such a thorough kicking that she’s surely doomed. Maybe choosing a song that shows people what you actually sound like is a bad idea when you sound like a drowning lizard?

Ghoulish muppet Downey Gokey has picked What Hurts The Most by Rascal Flats, which I do not know, but I suspect it’s going to be a ‘my wife is dead’ song, because he hasn’t played that card recently. Sure enough, it’s a sad song about having to say goodbye, delivered with dull keening earnestness. And as soon as the song is done, he’s got that stupid smug shit-eating grin on his fat pork-butt face, which shows just how deep this particular river runs.

Allison Iraheta is singing Don’t Speak by No Doubt, which I could honestly live without. On the plus side, she’s holding a guitar (but not really pretending to play it much), and her hair is done up in a hilarious Jem and the Holograms haystack. It’s all wrong, of course; Kimber had the red hair, Aja and Shana played the guitar, and Raya was the Hispanic one. You can’t be all of the Holograms at once, Allison! And you don’t sound anything like Jerrica Benton! She does sound OK, though. More energy than ‘musicality’, if you’ll pardon me getting all wank. (It sounded like she was actually singing ‘Don’t Tweet’. Has she updated the song for the Twitter generation?)

Last week I said Scott McIntyre turns everything into a Billy Joel song. This week he’s saving himself the journey and going straight to I Love You Just The Way You Are. “Don’t go changing to try to please me; I’m blind and can’t see what you’re wearing aaaanywaaaaay”. Scott’s hair and jacket make him look like he’s off to play Kenickie in a repertory production of Grease right after the show. The vocal is reliably shaky. He’s a terrible singer and he’s more than outstayed his welcome, but disability is almost as popular as death in America’s heartland. (I can be as mean as I like about Scott. Who’s going to read this to him?)

Matt Giraud is horrible. His wretched voice, his wretched face, his wretched choice of songs - something awful by The Fray - it is all just monstrous. This week he’s singing ‘from the audience’, so even his gimmick is awful. I would puke, but then there would be two Matt Girauds in the world.

roundsLil Rounds has been letting us all down week after week. She was meant to be ‘the voice’ of the competition, but her singing is so aggressive that it hasn’t been at all pleasant. This week she’s singing Celine Dion’s Surrender, which gives her scant opportunity for nuance. She’s completely graceless, and worse, she’s flat for large stretches. Mind you, she has been squeezed into such an unflattering powder-blue vinyl sock that she may be struggling to breathe in anything less than desperate bucket-deep gasps. Best bad wig ever, though.

Adam Lambert, oh how we love him. Last week he showed why he’s the best thing to happen to Idol since, like, ever, with a stripped down Tracks of My Tears (which I have since listened to on YouTube about seventy times). Of course he’s back to full writhing grinding showgirl mode this week with a steamroller performance of Play That Funky Music. Ridiculous boy. It occurs to me that the real reason Lil hasn’t been able to strut her diva stuff on this show is that Adam Lambert hoovers up all the divatronium that gets delivered to the studio. That divatronium was meant to be shared, Adam! I note that, as of this week, Simon Cowell has given up critiquing Adam at all. He knows he no longer has any power here.

And finally, Kris. A couple of weeks ago Anoop sang Always On My Mind, which is a lovely song with almost no notes in it. This week it’s Kris Allen’s turn to do one of the world’s most pleasantly unchallenging numbers; Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers. Not only is it easy to sing, it’s easy to remember! Half the lyrics are “I know”! This means Kris can put all his energy into smouldering, which is energy well spent. The more I see of Kris, the more convinced I am that he deserves to get further in this contest than anyone but Adam. Perhaps not unrelatedly, I also find myself increasingly wanting to filth him up.

That’s the show. It’s Megan’s time to go, but Anoop and Matt ought to be in trouble as well, and I always cling to the hope that Scott McIntyre might be led away (whether he has the least votes or not).

Idol: Don’t Forget the Motor City

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

It’s Motown week! To celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest record labels of all time, a bunch of hapless reality brats are going to do their own hand-clappy mayonnaise versions of some of the most amazing songs ever written! Happy birthday, Motown! I hope Megan Joy sings Al Green! Then I’ll know my life has hit its nadir and it’s all uphill from there!

Actually, I generally like Motown week, because it’s hard to pick a bad song from that catalogue. They do exist - Boys II Men is Motown, after all - but you’re not going to go there when you can pick from Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops and the Jackson 5, are you? Are you?


Matt Giraud goes first with the least sexy version of Let’s Get It On I think I’ve ever heard. The only ‘it’ I can imagine him wanting to ‘get on’ is a Christmas jumper with reindeer on it. This is a performance that immediately puts the lie to the idea that Matt has a white soul voice.

Kris Allen maintains his swoon offensive with How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You. Here’s the thing about Kris: he can sing; he has a nice, palatable voice and he’s proficient in its deployment; but everything he sings sounds so neutered. He’s a child-safe and wipe-clean pop star.

Scott McIntyre is still here, everybody! And he’s wearing astonishingly ugly pink trousers with a brown jacket, because we must not forget that he’s blind. Never forget. His song is You Can’t Hurry Love, because Scott loves taking dynamic girl songs and turning them into dull Billy Joel numbers. This he promptly does.

A few words here on Kara DioGuardi, the new judge. Back in the auditions, Kara seemed like a welcome addition to the show. She was sharp, she was critical, and she said what she was thinking. I want to know what happened to her between the auditions and the live shows. Did she realise being brutal made people say mean things about you, and she wanted to be loved? It feels like she was lobotomised and can now only spew out recycled inanities from the last seven seasons of the show. Is it possible they brought Kara on to make Paula look smarter?


Megan Joy, singing For Once In My Life. I’ve realised who Megan Joy reminds me of. You remember the movie A Life Less Ordinary? There’s a scene where Ewan McGregor and Cameron Diaz sing karaoke in a bar, and though Cameron has a flat, rasping voice that’s hard to listen to, she sings with great and painful enthusiasm. She loves singing, even though she’s absolutely no good at it. That’s Megan Joy, and somehow she’s ended up on TV. Paula gives her the ‘you look beautiful’ kiss of death.

I’m getting drunken office party flashbacks; visions of uncool men dancing badly. That can only mean it’s Anoop Desai time! (Actually, it could equally mean it’s Downey Gokey time, but it’s not. It’s geek o’clock.) Anoop’s song is Ooh Baby Baby, a very mellow and understated little nothing. It almost skates within Anoop’s grossly limited range, bar a few strained falsetto moments. Go back to being flamboyant, Anoop! You’re much more likely to get voted off when you’re being flamboyant!

Michael Sarver is not popular on the intertubes. He’s considered an also-ran, and one without the fanbase of a Scott or an Anoop. I can’t really dispute his also-ran status; he hasn’t had a standout performance yet. He always sounds the same. He’s not bad, but he’s not exciting or quirky, and he never does anything vocally dazzling. He’s aural porridge, without the brown sugar. He sings Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, but does it even matter what he’s singing? If he was ever going to give a performance some razzle-dazzle, I suspect he’s left it too late now.

All the better singers have sunk to the bottom of the cereal box this week, leaving us with a second half full of delicious dehydrated marshmallows. We start the main show with Ms Lilian Rounds, the only black singer in Motown week. Lil has to carry all the divas all by her lonesome! No wonder she crumbles under the weight, both of that expectation and of her cushion of Michelle Obama hair extensions, which, by the way, look like no Motown ‘do I’ve ever seen. The song is Heatwave. The performance is lukewarm. Lilian! Stop shouting! (“I can’t!”)

Adam Lambert’s song is Tracks Of My Tears, which is both an awesome song in its own right, and a great song for Adam to sing if he wants to prove he’s more than just a camp spectaculah spectaculah. To drive the point home, Adam has wiped off his make-up, donned a grey suit, and pomaded his hair into submission. The song is similarly stripped down, and he looks and sounds great. Motown is big on falsetto, and his voice is suprisingly well suited to the style. It’s brave, it’s bold and it’s ever so good. That should silence a few critics.

Downey Gokey is doing Get Ready, because it’s a “fun song” to “get you moving”. We’ve all seen Downey moving, and it’s not nice. He dances like he’s squeezing a brick between his arsecheeks. Like Michael Sarver, he trots out exactly the same performance every week, though people seem to like his version more. I am thoroughly tired of him, but we’ll be stuck with his church hall-brand of  ’rock ‘n roll’ for a few weeks yet.

Allison Iraheta ends with Papa Was A Rolling Stone, which is a good choice for the underappreciated rocker. It’s a little low to start, but once she gets going it’s stadium stuff. Small stadium. Local sports team. I think one of Allison’s problems is that she doesn’t come across as 16 when she’s singing, so she doesn’t get the cute vote. She’s already good enough that there’s no journey to cheer her on for.

Looking at the recaps, it’s pretty obvious that it ought to be Matt Giraud (howling dogs), Megan Joy (screeching cats) and Michael Sarver (raging bull) in the bottom three, but if Scott McIntrye stumbles his way down in there, I won’t be upset about it.

That Was The Geek That Was

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Idol is a day later this week, so in the meantime, some thoughts on the past few days’ geek TV highlights. Spoilers follow for Dollhouse, Battlestar Galactica and Heroes.


Dollhouse: It has been pre-ordained that episode six was ‘the good one’. The Dollhouse press tour has been assuring us, “We know this is a programme only a blinkered Browncoat could love, but we promise we’ll give you legitimate cause to like it if we last until episode six”.

It’s a weaselly strategy to rely on the indiscrimate dedication of die-hards to excuse a show’s creative failure. It’s also a doomed strategy, especially when your ‘game changer’ episode goes up against the Battlestar Galactica finale.

Inevitably all the people who were saying that Dollhouse was awesome from the get-go are now shifting their positions slightly to say that Dollhouse is awesome as of now. But did episode six really push Dollhouse from ‘joyless vanity project’ to ‘entertaining genre show’?

Honestly? Not yet, no. But there were two elements that helped elevate episode six. First of all, it was an ‘arc’ episode, dedicated to giving some much-needed context to the show’s unpalatable sex-puppet premise. Second, it balanced out Eliza Dushku’s glossily varnished wood with a few more interesting textures. Most of the characters are still so loathsome that the show remains a tough taste to acquire, and it’s a bad sign when the comic relief character with all the Joss Whedon dialogue is the creepiest rapist at Rape-o-tech, but it was good for the show to spend a little more time filling in the colours of the supporting cast.

The trouble is, I suspect that next week we’ll be right back to another rapetastic woman-in-peril plot with Dushku at its centre. Not that we got away without a woman-in-peril story this week - in fact there were two women in peril; one raped, the other merely forced to perform sex acts as part of her programming, and then threatened with rape. Rape is drama, you know? Delicious, exploitative drama.

toasterBattlestar Galactica: There has been plenty of eye-rolling about the BSG finale. I only came to the show in the last few months, and I have to admit that I thought the ending was… consistent. I’m surprised that people were expecting anything more from it, but then BSG has been a rather brilliantly executed shell game from the start, and the secret of a good shell game is that the audience always believes it’s not going to get ripped off. Now there are articles arguing that BSG is one of the greatest TV shows ever made - some people still don’t know their watch is missing.

For months I’ve seen people discussing who or what the Cylon god was going to be, as if they thought the show was going to offer them a sci-fi explanation, to which my response was, “why can’t it just be God”? Guess what? Turns out it’s just God. So I wasn’t disappointed with the BSG finale, but I also wasn’t invested in the idea that the episode would be a codex to unravel all the mysteries. BSG was a show that made everything up on the fly. Its philosophical trappings were never more than brightly coloured bunting, and there was never a consistent ideology informing the whole thing. It was a dumb show that convinced a lot of people that it was smart.

The great nerd hope ended with a whimper. No thrilling space battle, no satisfying answers, and no impressive death count. The villains found a few interesting ways to kill themselves, and the heroes went running through the long grass. As for Kara Thrace, the undead tomboy and much-vaunted harbinger of death; it turned out she was aaaaall a dreeeam.


Heroes: Like Dollhouse, this was a pre-ordained turning point for the series - producer Bryan Fuller’s first chance to re-impose himself on the series since he left at the end of season one. I may be falling into the same hopeless blinkered trap as the Whedonistas, but I have to admit, I enjoyed it. It’s the first episode of Heroes in a long, long time that I’ve watched without having to roll my eyes or feel insulted.

Here’s why it worked:

  • For the first time in a story called ‘Fugitives’, there was solid pacing and a sense of tension arising from the characters being, ooh, fugitives.
  • No Sylar; no Claire. Not that I dislike either character, but they both get far too much attention, especially Sylar, who ought to be kept in a glass case marked ‘in case of lull’. The show has a stupidly big cast. It needs to strike a better balance. This episode did that.
  • Speaking of which; they culled the cast. Tracy Strauss made the big pointless sacrifice - two Ali Larters down, one to go - and Daphne got a touching send-off. Along the way, both characters remembered their personalities and their previously established relationships - as, in fact, did everyone in the story! Oh, context, how we have missed you!
  • They also brought back some of the cast, but in a good way. We all knew Rebel would turn out to be Micah, but seeing him and Janice back in the show gives us a sense of a rounded universe. Consequences, there you are! Were you off larking about with context?
  • The baby Parkman story could have been a disaster - the comedy misadventures of Hiro and Ando tend to wear a little thin - but this time around there was actual humour. I smiled! And Hiro got one of his powers back, which is good and proper. No powers is dull. Too much power is dull. A little power is just right.
  • The biggest surprise of the episode, though, was that Peter got to be heroic. In a show called Heroes, someone got to be the hero - without doing anything dumb or inexplicable. Somehow this felt like a watershed moment.

Remember when you used to like watching Heroes? We may have just travelled in time. Look out for exploding cities.

Obituary: Jade Goody

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009


Britain’s long national nightmare is over.

Jade Goody has died of cancer at the age of 27. For anyone to die at such a young age, for such a seemingly random reason, is always a terrible tragedy. That is no less true when that person who died is a reality TV star who got famous for being famous despite having no discernible talent, skill or charisma.

Though widely derided and even hated by many, Goody was not a bad person; just a very stupid one. Her many quotable utterances from her time on Big Brother showed her failing at history, failing at geography, failing at botany, failing at language - basically showing a remarkable breadth of ignorance on every subject.

On her repeat performance on Celebrity Big Brother in 2007 she also failed at humanity, using racist language to describe an Indian housemate whom she’d had a falling out with, though even here it seemed borne more of her cherished ignorance than of full-blooded hate. The other micro-celebrities involved in that incident saw their future careers wither and fade in those moments, but anyone expecting Jade to return to obscurity thereafter was to be disappointed.

Jade’s popular appeal often seemed unfathomable, but it hinged on her being Britain’s village idiot, a likeable fool whom people wanted to talk about. When she became a public villain, she was still going to be talked about, though it made her harder to sell. The new story became the rehabilitation of Jade Goody, and she was still performing her penitant’s pilrgimage with an appearance on the Indian version of Big Brother when her cancer diagnosis first  came in.

It seemed like a publicity stunt. If anyone would stoop so low as to fake cancer to win back the public’s sympathy for a disgraced reality star, it was Goody’s publicist, that modern Mephistopheles, Max Clifford. Jade, as his gormless ventriloquist’s dummy, would never have the wit or the strength to resist his machinations.

Even with Goody’s recent terminal diagnosis, it still felt a little stage-managed. It still felt like an attempt to make her a hero again. And now she’s dead, and still I half believe this is just phase one of the comeback tour.

In the final weeks there was a weird kind of heroism about Jade. If ever it could be said that someone died as they had lived, they could say it of Goody, who made her death the last event in her tabloid life, and she did so not because it would benefit her, but because it would help her children. She married her on-off boyfriend (currently serving out a sentence for assault) and sold the rights to the coverage to OK magaine for a reported £700,000, all of which will go to her two boys. She would have had every reason to retreat from the cameras in her final days, as weak as she was. It’s ironic, then, that the final time she stood in the spotlight, she did so for reasons that seemed brave and noble. She tamed the tabloid monster and turned it into something good.

Jade Goody is gone, and we ought never to have known that she was ever here in the first place. She should never have been famous. There will be a thousand more just like her, and most of them will grab hungrily at their fifteen minutes and wring them dry, only to disappear so completely back into hoi polloi that their eventual death in old age is never noted beyond their own family and friends. Jade Goody might have longed for such an ending.

Idol: Jesus Write My Blog

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Before we get down to this week’s show, let’s talk about the Judges’ Save. Last week I posited that the change in the Idol rules would mean the introduction of the X-Factor method, wherein the judges choose which of the bottom two goes home. It’s an excellent method, as it allows for a little more nuance and intelligence than the brutal ‘boot the loser’ system. But it would not fly in America, where you can take people’s votes from them in a general election and they will demur, but if you even hint that the power of their vote could be diluted on a reality TV show, they will start painting signs and polishing their marching boots.

The Judges’s Save is not the X-Factor method; it’s the French Idol method. The judges have the option to save one contestant from elimination before the final five, if they are unanimous. One contestant. Once. This is in case of another Jennifer Hudson or Michael Johns; a contestant who either had one bad week but was otherwise awesome, or who seemed so guaranteed to go through that no-one bothered to vote for them, and deserves a safety net.

Is it a good move? No. It makes for a clumsy and uncomfortable end to every results show as the judges tell us they’re not saving this week’s loser. It drains the pathos from the leaving contestant’s song, and adds not a lot. But is it a terrible scandal? Is it an outrage? No! And yet Michael Slezak at said it would “nullify the public’s vote”, and James Poniewozik at called it “un-American”. Un-American!!

To be clear; people vote for the person they want to win, not the person they want to lose. There is nothing undemocratic about the Judges’ Save. By all means complain that it’s a bad idea, because it is, but it’s not robbing you of your basic rights as an American, you whining idiots!

Anyway, last week we lost Jorge Nunez and Jasmine Murray. Neither was a big surprise. This week…

This week is Grand Ol’ Opry week, which is a fancy way of saying ‘Country week’, with guest mentor Randy Travis, whom I have never heard of. As someone who loves Dolly and Glen and the Flying Burrito Brothers, I fear the sort of country they’ll be performing is not going to be the sort of country I like listening to. I predict a lot of Garth Brooks, a lot of Martina McBride, and probably some Carrie Underwood.


Michael Sarver is first up, doing some kind of crazy scattershot number that sounds like the Saved By The Bell theme. “When I wake up in the morning / The alarm gives out a warning / I don’t think I’ll ever make it on time”. Fond as I am of Sarver, even I can’t take any joy out of thisweirdness. Paula’s comments, verbatim: “I, you know what, it’s a great Garth Brooks song, and I gotta tell you that, it, to me, allowed, to see you having fun, which made us have fun, and your artistic ability to take a harmonica player, it added charm, it boosted your confidence, and you’re fun. I thought that this is the genre that is, that suits you so well, and (drowned out by screaming crowd).” It’s going to be a good night for Paula tonight. Michael gives Simon some well-chosen sass, which may save him this week.

Allison Iraheta does a song about cheating hearts, but not the Hank Williams song. From rock to country is a shorter walk than many rock fans would like to admit (the difference is a fiddle), so Allison belts it out with practiced ease, and ought to sail through, but girl rockers have almost as much trouble on this show as ‘theatricals’. Ooh, maybe it’s a lesbian thing?

Kris Allen has a sideways Muppet mouth, like Peter Petrelli. This week he is singing, ‘I Am Very Handsome And I Love You; You Do Not Want To Send Me Home’. Unfortunately all the girlies at home will be too moist to want to get up and go to the phone. Oh, kids today all have mobile phones! He’ll be fine, in spite of his ill-fitting trousers, which seem to have given him man-cameltoe. Kris will sing this song every week, and will do very well. I for one am looking forward to his calendar.

Lil Rounds is singing Martina McBride’s Independence Day, which is a song I’ve actually heard of, but I’ve only heard of it because Carrie Underwood sang it on this show. Lil promises to respect the country and not do it R&B style. Lil has not listened to Tom Cruise’s advice in Magnolia: respect the rock; tame the country. Lil Rounds sings like we know she sings. Loudly, competently, and with very little nuance or emotion. Note to Simon and Randy: Lil is short for ‘Lillian’, not ‘Little’.

Adam Lambert is coming out, and we’d better get this party started! Tonight’s outfit; gold jacket, Native American necklace, fingerless gloves. Randy Travis does not understand homosexuals. He does not have the words to express his views on men wearing nail polish. Poor bemused Randy Travis. Adam does an Arabian sitar cover of Ring of Fire while writhing on the stage like a cobra. He does not respect the country. He respects the Bond song. I too respect the Bond song. We will call this Adam Lambert’s low-key, understated week. As Randy Travis has apparently made it charmingly old-fashioned to be skittish around ‘unconventional’ men, Simon takes this as his cue to be an asshole about Adam’s self-indulgence (which is a euphemism for ‘theatrical’).

Scott is blind. We judge him by no other standard than whether or not he’s blind in any given week. This week, he’s still blind.

I’m waiting for Simon to use one of his little predator lines on Alexis Grace. “You’re a minx”, or, “you’re a little devil”, or, “you’re a dirty goddamn whore”. Oh, he’s such a rogue! Alexis’ Jolene is shaky, and not up to her previous standards. It’s just a’ight, for me, for you. I slightly resent that she did Jolene at all, to be honest. You can’t cram Jolene into ninety seconds! It’s disrespectful!


Hurray, Downey Gokey is singing reckless country anthem Jesus Take The Wheel, from the hit album, Jesus Handle My Responsibilities. Other tracks include Jesus Feed My Cat, and Jesus Stop My Sperm From Impregnating This Girl. Downey is not very good tonight, which is a relief, because let’s face it, we’re all sick of Downey now. Loving his spies-on-safari Joe 90 action figure jacket, though! Is Scott picking the costumes this week?

Novelty singer Anoop Desai wants to sex you up, just as soon as he’s finished his calculus homework. His song is Always On My Mind, which is a great song, yet also incredibly easy to sing, as it only has about three notes going up and down a scale. Singing is slightly out of Anoop’s skill set, but he gives it his best I Am Not Very Handsome And I Want To Rub Up Against You; Please Do Not Send Me Home. The judges cream all over him for no reason I can discern. Please send him home.

Megan Joy Cockring does Walking After Midnight. Randy Travis is impressed that she found something new to do with the song. Specifically, she’s singing it like your ancient maiden aunt after too many sherries, trying to relive her music hall days. It is a truly bizarre and frequently tuneless performance, but after last week’s Rockin’ Robin, I’m not sure how bad this girl needs to be before America will send her home. PS, Megan has flu, and she makes sure she coughs enough to let us all know. She coughs so much, I think I now have Megan’s flu.

Matt Giraud finishes the show. When Matt isn’t singing, he’s sneering in a way that suggests he’s wondering why he hasn’t been declared the winner already. His mouth goes up where Kris Allen’s mouth goes down! Melt them down and stir them in a big pot, and this show would be two weeks shorter! Matt sings some song involving a piano, like last week. It is boring, like last week. I hate this piano bar. Let’s go somewhere else next week.

Allison, Adam and Kris were varying degrees of palatable this week. In a sane world, either Scott or Megan should go home, and neither would get the Judges’ Save, but this is not a sane world, and this was not a good night, so I don’t know what’ll happen. I’d only expect the Save to get used on Allison, Alexis or Adam. (Lil and Downey aren’t likely to end up at the bottom before the final five.)

Idol: Unlucky For Some, Possibly Us

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

The ‘final thirteen’ perform tonight, and the theme is Michael Jackson. Simon Cowell gets things off to a heartening start by announcing that two people will go home tomorrow, setting the show quickly back on track to the right number of contestants. This surprises me; I thought they’d delay the double dismissal for a while so they’d have a safety net against the discovery that any of the contestants were hookers or drug addicts or conservative talk show hosts.

Lil Rounds opens the night with The Way You Make Me Feel. She’s predictably strong, confident and bluesy, so it probably won’t matter that she’s in the graveyard opening slot. It’s the strongest opening the show has had this year. Lil’s outfit today has a Pretty in Pink Gladiatrix shoulder ruffle. She left her bedazzled net and trident backstage.

Ryan tells us there is a special number for the ‘extra’ thirteenth contestant. This is not because Ryan is superstitious, but because when Idol decided to have 13 contestants, they forgot to check if the ‘13′ version of their phone number was available. It isn’t. It’s a phone sex line number.


Blind Scott is next, and I should stop being so cruel and drawing attention to his impairment. I should call him Talentless Scott instead. Scott’s song is Keep The Faith. It’s not Bon Jovi night, Scott! Anyway, Scott is terrible and shrill, but they’ve given him a piano to play with, and people get unreasonably excited about blind pianists, so he should be fine. I’ve never heard this Jacko Keep The Faith song before. Thirteen contestants, and they can’t find thirteen good Michael Jackson songs? Simon Cowell’s brilliant criticism of Scott: “It’s fine being artistic; just not on this show”. Quite right, Simon! No art here, please!

Downey Gokey tells us he comes from a precocious and irritating musical family where they all sung their homework. Ugh. No mention is made of the dead wife, which has started to irritate even usually biddably sentimental Americans. The thing is, as unctuous and annoying as Downey is, his rendition of PYT proves he’s a pretty good singer and not a bad performer (apart from his saddlesore John Wayne dance moves).

Chunky blue-collar man Michael Sarver is a very unlikely pop star; he keeps doing soul, but country is surely the only genre that would have him. He’s singing You Are Not Alone, which is so un-country it could have its own parking garage. Michael wisely dodges the high notes with a tactical rearrangement. His phrasing is chewy; his tone is appealing; his dress sense is a bit Rush Limbaugh. I like him.

Jasmine Murray. The Idol blogger at Entertainment Weekly really hates Jasmine, even though she’s sweet-voiced and seemingly completely inoffensive. I don’t get it. Jasmine sings I’ll Be There, and though she has a young voice (and goes flat in a couple of places) she has obvious talent. She also looks great in her shiny 60s mini-dress. She’s a mini Supreme! Shut your dirty bitch mouth, Entertainment Weekly blogger!


Kris Allen got no exposure in the early shows, but he’s rilly rilly good-looking, so he got voted through in spite of this disadvantage and a lacklustre live performance. His video package introduces us to his wife, so this may be the last we see of Kris. Dressed in a lumberjack shirt, and mechanically strumming a guitar, he sings Remember The Time like it’s a Hootie & The Blowfish song (which it might as well be; it’s a terrible song). Kris is still an inferior singer, but he seems to be enjoying himself, and he is rilly rilly good-looking. Simon agrees that he shouldn’t have introduced America to his wife. His wife does not look happy about this comment.

Allison Iraheta is the smoky-voiced, carnelian-haired Dora the Rocker girl. I have no idea what MJ song she’s doing, but she must have dug deep into the back catalogue to find a song she could rock to. She’s very good, but lord knows how far she can go in this contest. Some rockers do well, but they all tend to be guy rockers.

Anoop Desai. I can’t help feeling his scream-inducing, message board-bothering audience popularity - out of all proportion to his talent - is based in a patronising post-Slumdog attempt to appropriate those adorable big-eyed, thick-haired, coffee-skinned Indian fellas as new mascots of American diversity. They might as well have voted for a Webkinz. No obscure highly personal ‘this is me’ number for Anoop; he’s all about the gimmicky karaoke stunt performances, so he grinds and whines his way through Beat It. Horrible. The judges hate it too, but Anoop’s die-hards have lost him once in the early rounds, and will be voting in droves to make sure they don’t lose him again. Based on Anoop’s performance, Simon says he wouldn’t have made this a top 13. Ouch.

Puerto Rico’s Jorge Nunez reminds me of Justin from Ugly Betty. Bless ‘im. The population of Puerto Rico is small, but I suspect they’re passionate about seeing themselves up there on TV, so Jorge definitely has a voting bloc behind him. His Never Can Say Goodbye gets off to a horrible start, recovers slightly, wavers, recovers, gets shrill, does not recover - it’s basically a wreck, and he’ll be needing those island votes. On the other hand, his ‘nuh! nuh! no!’s are adorable.

Perky, booby, strawberry-and-creamy Megan Joy is next, with her floppy dancing and all-devouring smile. In what may be the most bizarre song choice ever in the history of Idol, Megan sings Rockin’ Robin. Or I’ve sustained a head injury and am imagining this ridiculous children’s TV performance. She ends the number by screeching ‘caw caw’, which isn’t even a noise robins make! Lunatic! I suspect Tatiana Del Toro is using voodoo to work through her and destroy her, because Megan Joy took her spot. “You picked the right song”, said Paula. Oh dear, the loonies are sticking together. Then Simon consults Gordon Ramsay, and now I’m sure it was a head injury.


Supah-gay Adam Lambert is here to save the day, hooray! I’m terrified that Adam will be sent home too soon because of the photos of him snogging boys on the internet. He’s such good fun! He’s so confident! The song is Black Or White, but you might not recognise it from the ridiculously huge drunken Axl Rose/Bonnie Tyler/Rocky Horror mash-up vocal he hurls at the audience. He gets a standing ovation from the entire cosmos, and he earned it. Brilliant showmanship. He should win this and RuPaul’s Drag Race!

Matt Giraud has not been punished enough for his rendition of Viva La Vida, and he needs to go home, the big stupid pianist. His video package tells us his parents love him. Good to know. The song is Human Nature, which he makes sound like Al Jarreau doing the Moonlighting theme. “Summm wak ba-hy naaaa-ha-a-ight, summm flah bah dayyyyyy…”

Finally, virgin/whore Alexis Grace - once wholesome and peppy, but since she arrived in Hollywood she’s put a coloured stripe in her hair! Jezebel! This is why she’s been given the phone sex line as her voting number. She sings Dirty Diana, which is wonderfully apt, because with her short blonde hair and slutty little black number she could actually pass for a dirty Diana. “There were three of us in this menage“. Alexis is pretty good, and in a contest with so few girls, she could do well.

Two people go home tomorrow. I predict it will be Megan and boring, boring Matt Giraud. We’re also promised a ‘twist’, which I suspect means they’re introducing the X-Factor element where the judges save someone from the bottom three, rather than just sending home the least popular contestant. How exciting! Clap clap clap!

Heroes: Faster, Stronger, Fuller?

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Even with a geeky show, it’s uber-geeky to pay attention to things like producer credits. Unless the guy in charge is named Joss Whedon or Russell T Davies, we simply should not know their names, any moreso than we should know the name of the factory foreman responsible for our cornflakes. Yet for those who do pay attention to such things, there was a frisson of anticipation leading up to last night’s episode of Heroes, because with last night’s episode, producer Bryan Fuller came back.

Bryan Fuller was one of the producers on Heroes for its first season, back when it was legitimately must-see TV. He was also the writer on the show’s best episode, Company Man. His other credits include cult favourites Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls, and Star Trek: Voyager. Well, everyone has to make their mistakes somewhere.

For the past couple of years he’s been off making quirky cutesy deathly rom-com Pushing Daisies, but that got cancelled, so they lit the batsignal and called him back to Heroes to try to steer the ship away from the rocks of mediocrity. Last night’s episode was also the last one to feature the thumbprints of the man who may bear the blame for much of that mediocrity, Jeph Loeb, a comic book writer who attempts to cover up his startling lack of originality by hiding it behind his towering lack of ability.


Going in to last night’s episode we had Sylar on yet another tireseome extended road trip, having finally ditched but sadly not killed his irritating teen sidekick. (If ever there was a superhero convention this show did not need to explore, it was teen sidekicks, and if it really had to go there, it really shouldn’t have gone there with Sylar.)

We also had yet another blow-up-a-city prediction, this time involving Matt Parkman suicide-bombing DC, and we had the ongoing power-struggle between Danko the sickly-looking sub-Berkoff, and Nathan Petrelli, America’s most negligent senator. Plus, we had Claire participating in a Mutant Railroad that seemed suddenly to require her to help a predatory psychopath - and not the hot one with the eyebrows, but the fat one with the sweating - and we had Hiro and Ando ‘travelling’, ie, not doing anything, because after their pathetic ’save the lesbian, stop the wedding’ sub-plot, they needed a time-out.

Last night’s episode was clearly a bit of a deck-clearing exercise for Fuller so that he could start putting things right. Coming out of the episode, Sylar’s road trip seems to have reached its end; the blow-up-the-city plot was speedily curtailed; the Danko/Petrelli tussle was resolved by putting Noah in charge; Claire was no longer running the railroad; and Hiro and Ando were back doing potentially plot-relevant stuff (or setting up a superhero babysitting sitcom spin-off).

The episode ended with a trailer that pretty much just flat out said, “we’re sorry the show has been crap, but we promise the new episode in two weeks’ time will be better”. Cause for celebration? We’ll see. This marks the third time that Heroes has apologised for itself and promised to do better, so even if the show can still improve, the audience may have run out of patience.

But was last night’s episode any good? Not really, no. It was better than discovering that Noah Bennett has flashbacks in the style of Nouvelle Vague cinema, or that Sylar’s flashback theme is The Chain by Fleetwood Mac (though I was hoping we’d discover that Danko has flashbacks to Make It With You by Bread), nor did we get anything on the level of last week’s wonderful dialogue exchange - “I’ve been here before.” / “How do you know?” / “I remember.” -  but it was still not what I would call ‘good’. 


First we had to get past the millstone of the obligatory exploding city prediction story, in which Danko thought he could convince the world of the danger posed by super-people by using a completely non-super threat. So clever. This narrative cul-de-sac was hastily backed away from by having Nathan yank out a wire. 

Then we had Claire’s fleeting decision to go and work in a comic shop for five minutes, which turned out to have absolutely no relevance to anything and served only as an excuse to mock the dumb dedicated fanboys and fangirls who are still watching this show. I’m going to assume that this sequence was Jeph Loeb’s bitter last hurrah. Claire next went on to save a rapist and set him free in the park. Don’t look back, Claire! Let him go! He needs to be free!

The episode gave us was more progress on the Danko/Nathan/HRG power-struggle than we’ve seen all season, the highlight of which was watching Angela Petrelli eat oysters. I think the Danko/Angela scene was meant to be a tense stand-off between two heavyweight players, but no glower or sneer that Danko could muster came close to the menace of Angela Petrelli chugging oysters in the manner of an erotic Hannibal Lecter. Danko was sent packing like a disobedient schoolboy.

The centrepiece of the episode was Sylar’s confrontation with Sylar Senior, played by John Glover. Glover is best known to many as Smallville’s Lionel Luthor, so in a unified universe, Sylar and Lex Luthor are now brothers, which means the first crossover incest slash-fic is only minutes away. 

Unfortunately, after weeks of build-up, the clash between Sylars Père et Fils was a damp squib. The highlight was Daddy triumphantly pissing in Sylar’s chips by telling him he welcomes death, but no-one gets to outclass Sylar and his thick, lustrous eyebrows - not in Sylar’s show! - so the pouty little vulcan princess overcame pappy’s one-man-and-his-dog whistling powers and took his leave. And that was it.  Well, that, and they killed and stuffed a rabbit together. I’m hopeful that we haven’t seen the last of Lionel Sylar, as he’s far too good an actor to waste on that pitiful scene.

It was a clumsy, hapless episode, but maybe, just maybe, it did enough to set things moving in the right direction for the last handful of episodes of this season and on into season four. And, like a fool, I’ll be tuning in to find out. Disappoint me again, Heroes. I like it when you demean my intelligence.

Too Late on 8

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Does the gay rights movement in America lack leadership? Did the opponents of Proposition 8 fumble their campaign? The answer to both questions seems to be ‘yes’.  Prior to the election, then-candidate Barack Obama wrote a letter to a gay rights group stating, “I oppose the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution, and similar efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution or those of other states”.

The No on 8 campaign had this letter. They chose not to make any use of it, even as the Yes on 8 campaign claimed that Obama was on their side. The letter showed in no uncertain terms that Barack Obama was opposed to Proposition 8, amd yet nothing was done to draw attention to this. That’s mind-boggling. 

I found the story on Towleroad, but they linked back to Dan Savage, who raised an interesting point that I’ve also wondered about, though more with regard to culture than to politics. The point is this; if you’re gay and brilliant at something, why would you choose to be brilliant for a gay audience, or would you choose to be brilliant for a much bigger straight audience? 

Most brilliant people choose the latter course; to leave the ghetto and try their luck in the world. So, gay cinema is terrible because most gay directors don’t make gay films. Gay fiction is crap because gay writers want to reach a wider audience. And gay politics is leaderless because good gay political strategists avoid the niche of gay issues. No-one wants to be the gay Jesse Jackson, even if it takes a few Jesse Jacksons to get to one Barack Obama.

It’s only a theory, but I worry that there’s some truth to it.

Persian Rug

Monday, March 9th, 2009

We now return you to your usually scheduled digestion of trash.

Boy-monkey Jake Gyllenhaal is starring in an adaptation of the video game Prince of Persia. Jakey-poo does not look overly Persian, but since most people don’t know what a Persian looks like (other than Blofeld’s cat), it hardly matters. Just stick a bad wig on him and you’re done.


It is a very bad wig. (Or possibly very bad hair extensions.) Hopefully it will look more convincing in motion, when he’s running along walls and waving his big curvy sword about. For when he’s standing still, they’ve come up with a different distraction, i.e., packing on muscle and not wearing a shirt.

This probably won’t be a good video game movie adaptation (there is no such thing), but it might be quite watchable.

Once A Catholic

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

It hardly seems worth mentioning that the Catholic Church is out of touch with reality on certain issues. While the debate rages on about the US Republican party’s inability to redefine and refocus its message in changing times, there is this other conservative dinosaur lumbering along beside it, and it feels even less compulsion to change. The Catholic Church is ancient and insular and does not need to answer to any human authority, so why even bother challenging its many ignorant and dangerous proclamations? As far as most people are concerned, the solution to the Church’s problems is not to change the Church, but to dismiss the Church as irrelevant.

Yet the Catholic Church can change. It has  already made some changes in the last 50 years, and if it wants to survive it will have to change further. It’s because I believe that the Church will change that I continue to call myself a Catholic, and even if former Cardinal Joseph Ratzenberger (I just can’t seem to get into calling him ‘the Pope’) were to turn up on my doorstep and excommunicate me himself, I would continue to believe myself a Catholic.

I admit, I have a very idiosyncratic view of my Catholicism. I’m a gay man who believes in contraception, euthanasia, and a woman’s right to have an abortion, so if Catholic dogma is a great shining city, I would be living in a box behind a Happy Eater on a motorway exit somewhere beyond the ring road. My Catholicism is one that is proud of its heretics. I am a terrible, terrible Catholic. I cling a Catholic identity not just because I believe the Church can change, but because I want it to change. I also believe that, since the Catholic Church shaped my spiritual identity, it bears some responsibility for the conclusions I’ve come to.

All of which is just preamble to the subject matter I want to discuss. Today I read an extraordinary story about the Church’s decision to excommunicate the mother and doctors of a girl in Brazil who received an abortion. The girl was nine years old, and she had allegedly been raped by her step-father. It was thought that carrying the foetuses to term would have endangered the girl’s life.

In that one story you have all the inexplicable, enraging horror of the Church’s backward and inhumane views on abortion. The people, the government and the medical community of Brazil have all expressed either anger or disappointment at the Church for its decision, and the Church has responded without remorse. And here is where it turns from inhumane to outright diabolical; asked if the step-father would be excommunicated if he had indeed raped his 9-year-old step-daughter, the archbishop of the diocese replied that the abortion “was more serious”. 

It is astonishing to me that a man who believes he acts and speaks with respect to God could so readily make himself a channel for man’s evil. I find it staggering that this Church, or any church based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, could be so insistent on putting judgement and dogma ahead of love and compassion. Above all else, a Church of Christ must be about love. That is what God is, and if that is not evident in a  church’s teachings and actions, then that church is not acting or speaking with respect to God.

That’s my happy-clappy hippy-dippy view of things, but if the Catholic Church doesn’t buy that silly ‘God is love’ stuff, they clearly do buy in to the idea that some sins are, in the archbishop’s words, “more serious” than others. Through a series of ecumenical councils from Nicaea in 325 to the Vatican in the 1960s, the Catholic Church has arrived at a Top Trumps of sin - one in which the abortion of twin foetuses is apparently a graver sin than the rape of a child by her guardian.

This is where the Church has proved itself fatally out-of-touch. In the past two thousand years the Church has changed and adapted with all the haste of a Redwood tree trying to sidestep a continental shift, and it probably believes it did more than enough to stay relevant with the Vactican council of the 1960s. With the speed at which ideas and experiences are propogated today, that clearly isn’t the case, and the Catholic Church is not sophisticated enough for the modern world. The Catholic Church Top Trumps deck still looks distinctly Medieval, and it is in need of a radical update.

I think there is a legitimate place in our society for a moral and spiritual organisation that stands in opposition to issues such as infidelity, promiscuity, divorce and abortion. There is a reasonable argument to be made that these things are not desirable in our society. I also think that such an organisation would speak with more power if it did not complicate matters by staking arbitrary, anachronistic and even socially damaging positions on issues such as contraception and homosexuality.

Even if the church cannot make a volte-face on these issues overnight, if it were to sensibly review its hierarchy of sin and state, for example, that infidelity is more undesirable than contraception, or that promiscuity is more undesirable than homosexuality, it would save or improve millions of lives without eroding anyone’s soul. If the Church spent more time telling people that it is wrong to spread diseases, and less time telling people that it is wrong to enjoy sex, it would become a more powerful force for good in the world.

Abortion is the hardest issue to address. The prohibition against taking life is as grave as any doctrine can be (and that ought to be a good thing - the Church’s positions on war and the death penalty are fairly impeccable). Finessing the church’s position on when life begins is an enormous challenge - even if the Church were to defer to science, science has nothing useful to say about the soul. All that said, I think there is room for the Church to take a more charitable and more loving view of the challenges facing those already born when questions arise about the unborn. At the very least, the Church might exercise discretion when questions of rape or a mother’s health are at issue.

What this really comes down to for me is that neither God nor Christ conferred on any church the authority to pass judgement in God’s name. If there is a God, then that judgement is his right alone. Christ told us so. The role of the Church should be to offer charity and counsel, and to offer encouragement over condemnation. There is nothing irresponsible about a Church that places generosity and love at the centre of all of its teachings. My Catholic Church is strong enough to believe that.