Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books—-her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!
At the end of Thursday night’s “American Idol” program, Harry Connick, Jr., could be seen mouthing the words, “I didn’t see that coming” to his fellow judges.
What Judge Connick was referencing was the surprising vote given to the 5 remaining contestants, where those still standing could stay together as a team of five and two would be voted off next week, instead, OR one contestant would bite the dust, as per usual.
My spouse commented, “Well, this isn’t exciting at all. You know they’re all going to vote, ‘Yes, stay together as a team of five.'”
Except that they didn’t.
The vote was (supposedly) anonymous and TWO of the five remaining contestants said, “Lower the boom.” And Sam Woolf was let go, as a result.
I am going to speculate a moment on who may have voted to use the guillotine this night.
First, it is quite obvious that Caleb Johnson is going to be in the Finals unless there is some very unusual circumstance that arises that I cannot predict. I have been of the opinion that Jena Irene would be the second finalist because she is, quite obviously, the most at ease on stage, despite her relative youth (17). The others left in the competition are Jessica Meuse, who had a good night on Wednesday, and Alex Preston, who also was viewed favorably by the judges.
Personally, I thought that Alex Preston would get the boot. He is a good musician, but he has no “cools” and what’s with the no socks look? If the group of five HAD voted to boot two out next week, instead, my spouse and I were convinced it would be Alex and Jessica. [Perhaps we should have remembered that Sam had to be “saved” by the judges and has been in the bottom three more than once.] But we didn’t remember that. We both thought that Alex, while a good musician, was too geeky for the finals and that Jessica is the lesser talent of the girls.
So, we now have four finalists: Caleb Johnson of Asheville, North Carolina; Jena Irene of Farmington Hills, Michigan; Alex Preston of Mont Vernon, New Hampshire; and Jessica Meuse of Slapout, Alabama. They are listed in the order I think they may finish, but, again, Alex and Jessica, for me, are interchangeable entities. What he has over her in musical expertise and artistry, she has over him in appearance, presence and cools.
If I were a betting woman, I’d guess that Caleb voted “no” to “sticking together as a group” (so much for the goodtimes P.R. the show churns out each year). Caleb probably just wants to get to the end and get the golden ring, which it looks like he will do.
As for, “Who was the SECOND “No” vote?” I’m guessing it wasn’t Sam Woolf, but I wouldn’t put it past Alex or Jessica or Jena Irene to oust one of the others. After all, it’s a competition and they all want to win.
But who will? Caleb, of course. The Big Question is: who will come in second?
On ‘American Idol’ results night on Thursday, April 3, 2014, Judges Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick, Jr., and Keith Urban used the one save they have per season to save Bradenton, Florida native Sam Woolf. Confetti descended from the ceiling and his teammates hoisted him on their shoulders. For a minute, I thought I was watching a Jewish wedding.
Those in jeopardy of being eliminated, besides Sam, were Malaya Watson and C.J. Harris. It is nearly unbelievable that Malaya—who gave arguably one of the top two performances of the night—was rated so poorly by the audience in television land, but C.J. Harris should have been gone the second or third night that he sang sharp—(which was many shows ago).
As the evening opened, Jennifer Lopez came out wearing a hot pink outfit that was so short I hoped it was a skort and not a skirt. It was so noteworthy that Ryan Seacrest even commented. It was that kind of night. Keith Urban looked as though his stylist had worked overtime on his hair, to give it that casual look (lots of product, I’m thinking) and Harry Connick, Jr., wore a suit and tie to give the panel the air of gravitas and hold down his role as the Grand Old Man of judging. (He is also arguably the most knowledgeable musician sitting at the judges’ panel and a welcome addition after last year’s Nicki Minaj/Mariah Carey year).
There was an odd segment where Randy Jackson was pictured sitting so close to Ryan Seacrest on a blue couch that you wondered why “the Dawg” didn’t move over to the right and give poor Ryan a seat. On the other hand, Randy has been almost non-existent this season, and it has been the best season for judges ever, if not for contestants.
The very first contestant announced as safe (Dexter) was wearing a baseball cap backwards. I read a remark recently that went something like this: “Dude, unless you’re directing a major motion picture, lose the baseball cap.”
Others declared safe, in order, were Jena, Caleb, Jessica and Alex. Then the lowest three (Sam, Malaya and C.J.) suffered through the final moments before Sam—who reminds of a young Ricky Nelson—sang for his life and was given the save for this season. When the judges announced they were going to use the save on Sam, confetti fell from the ceiling. (I wondered if this confetti is rigged each and every week, for whatever contestant might have the save used to keep him in the competition, or if the judges were told the results in advance).
The other notable appearance of the night was former contestant Chris Daughtry. Ryan Seacrest reminisced about the look on Chris Daughtry’s face when he was cut from “American Idol.” I remember it well: a look of complete astonishment and dismay. I guess the final joke is on “American Idol” when non-winners like Jennifer >Hudson and Chris Daughtry go on to greater stardom, while winners like Ruben Stoddard and Chris Allen (who beat Adam Lambert!) are barely heard from again.
The seemingly inevitable happened on March 27, 2014 “American Idol” elimination night. The talented Majesty Rose was eliminated. Meanwhile, the always-sharp (as in off-key) C.J. Harris sailed on into further competition, despite his inability to sing on-key.
Majesty Rose ended up in the bottom three with Sam Woolf (as I predicted in a piece posted earlier in the day). She then had to sing for the “save” and it was a song about how happy she was. Not good. The judges chose not to save the talented-but-always-in-the-bottom-three Majesty Rose.
As the program began, the first 2 to be told they were “safe” were Jena Irene and Malaya Watson—which was predictable, based on their Thursday performances.
Then a break occurred so that Janelle Monae could sing her new song “What Is Love?” from the Rio soundtrack. A brief plug for the new sit-com “Saving Jack” with Christopher Meloni and Rachael Harris occurred, as they were seated in the audience. The new comedy follows “American Idol.”
The next performers told they were “safe” were Alex Preston, Jessica Meuse, Caleb Johnson and Dexter Roberts. That left only 3 performers onstage: Majesty Rose, C.J. Harris and Sam Woolf. This was roughly what I predicted would occur earlier in the day.
At this point, Ryan Seacrest asked for some remarks from Jennifer Lopez but Harry Connick, Jr. answered, “I think America is really smart this season. It’s all about what you did the night before.”
Following those words of wisdom, Majesty Rose had the unenviable task of singing a song about happiness while no doubt, feeling very sad. It was nice to see Malaya Watson give Majesty a big hug as the program ended. I also enjoyed the brief portion of the program when they returned from commercial and Ryan Seacrest’s sound was turned off. There were no purple gummy bears or shoe thefts, as occurred on Wednesday night’s program, as the mood was considerably more somber. The field is now down to eight, and the cream is rising to the top. If you wonder which performers seem to be on the rise, which are falling, and which are simply marching in place, read my earlier post. And then there’s C.J. Harris, who just keeps on keeping on, no matter how off-key he may be.
The judges have spoken and M.K. Nobilette has been sent back to San Francisco, a town she loves, where a loyal female fan base kept her in the competition until March 20th, 2014. Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick, Jr., did not see fit to use their “save” for the baseball-cap wearing Bieber lookalike.
The bottom three this night, (besides M.K.) were Dexter Roberts of Fayette, Alabama, and Sam Woolf of Bradenton, Florida. I’m having trouble coming up with the reasons why the good-looking young Woolf keeps ending up in the bottom three, but perhaps his timid, non-assertiveness is the answer, since Caleb Johnson—a far less attractive youth, but a very confident and talented one—seems to be a big crowd favorite. Yes, this is a singing competition, but, in some ways, it mirrors the “Q” factor ratings that network talking heads are given for how “likeable” the audiences find them. It was a low “Q” rating that doomed Cheryl Tieg’s attempts to become one of those talking heads years ago.
The night featured Jennifer Lopez dancing in a skimpy outfit, backed up by girls half her age, singing “ILuhYaPapi.” She resurrected her “Jenny from the block” image and the song, (which was mainly a choreographed dance number), drew heavily on her Hispanic heritage. On a Yahoo “answer” blog, someone searching for the title of the song was answered by “Noneofurbusiness” with the title (I Luh Ya Papi) and the remark, “Worst song ever and the title puts us Latinos to shame, like we can’t speak English.”
I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say “worst song ever,” but I do wonder how long Jennifer plans to continue with the revealing outfits and the ultra-sexy schtick. She is the mother of 6-year-old twins (Emme and Max) and has been married 3 times. On July 24th, she will turn 45. Madonna is 11 years older than Jennifer and still at it, so perhaps that is the answer.
The other performers this night were a new band from Harry Connick’s part of the world, Royal Teeth, who sang “Wild.” It consisted of a lot of confetti flying and Harry Connick, Jr., saying (just before they performed), “These guys are awesome.” Again, not going there, but they were peppy.
If I were handicapping this race, it would be a good bet that “someone from the South” will win. I say that because, of the remaining contestants—now reduced to only 9—6 of those 9 or 2/3 are Southerners. North Carolina has 2 entries (Caleb Johnson and Majesty Rose), while Alabama has 3 (C.J. Harris, Dexter Roberts and Jessica Meuse.) I’m counting Florida’s Sam Woolf in that number. That means that only Michigan (Jena Irene and Malaya Watson) has an outside chance with a Midwestern win and Alex Preston stands alone as the representative of the East coast (Mont Vernon, New Hampshire). With M.K. Nobilette gone, the west coast has no contestants remaining.
Since C.J. Harris was given a pass despite one of the most out-of-tune performances ever, and has been consistently sharp throughout the competition, he obviously has a high “Q” quotient. His fan base is motivated to keep him in the competition, even when he sang out-of-key for an entire song. I’m less certain that Majesty Rose and Sam Woolf can keep dodging the bullet of the bottom three, but Caleb Johnson certainly has to be considered a front-runner. I’d put Alex Preston in that category if he weren’t so nerdy, overall.
I, personally, would like to see Jena Irene and Malaya Watson hang in there, but they are female and, historically, the voting is done by teen-aged girls. This is not to say that a female contestant cannot win, since many have, but it is to say that perhaps in the years that a female won the competition, they might not have been competing against a powerhouse singer like Caleb.
I could live with the loud showman Caleb Johnson coming in Numero Uno and claiming the crown, but I’ll reserve judgment on who will be the next-to-last contestant standing, [whom barely anyone remembers after the final night.] (Anyone remember the name of the contestant Philip Phillips bested without looking it up? I thought not.) Those singers go on to have careers on Broadway and make a very nice living at it, thank you very much, so kudos to all. We all know that Chris Daughtry didn’t win, and neither did Jennifer Hudson, and they seem to be doing just fine.
I’d look for Jessica Meuse to be eliminated in the near future, and I’m still scratching my head over Majesty Rose and her many brushes with the axe. (Gotta’ get that ‘Q’ factor up, girl!) strong>
Fifty years ago today (February 25, 1964), Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Clay) defeated Sonny Liston (aka, “the Big Bear”) to win the Heavyweight Championship of the World. It was “the Scowl” versus “the Mouth” in Miami.
Muhammad Ali and me: Iowa City, 1968:
When I read that today was the 50-year anniversary of the Clay/Liston fight (Ali was still known as Cassius Clay, what he called his “slave name,” until after the fight), I remembered the day Muhammad Ali visited Iowa City, Iowa and spoke at the Iowa Memorial Union. I was there. I was one of many students crowded into the room.
His anti-war message against the war in Vietnam was what drew me to his speech. At the time, it did not make Muhammad Ali popular, just as the student protests at Berkeley had made student protest leader Mario Savio much reviled in 1965, three years earlier, when I was a student on campus at the University of California at Berkeley. Today, there is a statue of the (now-deceased) Mario Savio on the campus grounds, and Muhammad Ali’s name is known and revered around the world. And, yes, perhaps reviled by some for being “mouthy” and proving he was as “good” and as “pretty” and as “fast” and as “great” as he always claimed to be. [It’s amazing the insights that time gives to events happening in the immediacy of the present.] Like many young people of the sixties, I thought it was unfair that speaking out against the war might land the heavyweight champ in prison. (He was facing 5 years in jail and a $10,000 fine for refusing to serve in Vietnam). Ali was also denied the opportunity to do what he did best—box— and 4 of his prime athletic years were taken from him. He was stripped of his title and banned from fighting from age 25 until he was 29. (March of 1967 until October of 1970). Many sports experts have speculated about how that might have affected his legacy, since he did mount a comeback and fought well past his prime, winning the coveted heavyweight boxing crown three times.
Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Clay)
Ali’s standing up and speaking out on principle emboldened even Martin Luther King, Jr. to push more strenuously for human rights and racial justice and equality for African-American citizens. Ultimately, the Supreme Court overthrew the previous court decision that denied Ali conscientious objector status, and he was able to return to boxing in 1970, beating Jerry Quarry on October 26, 1970. But when I heard him speak, “live,” his future was very much up in the air. Soon after his return to the ring, Ali lost to Joe Frazier in what has been dubbed the Fight of the Century on March 8, 1971, in Madison Square Garden. I still remember my husband’s excitement when he came home from the closed circuit grainy televised match. Time frame of Ali’s Iowa City Speech
Ali’s speech on campus happened between March of 1967 and March of 1968, although the University archives say it was 1969. I am fairly certain this is wrong. (I was married and living in the Quad Cities by March of 1968. Ali’s appearance in Iowa City had to have taken place during the first semester of 1967-1968 when I was still on campus and living at 229 Iowa Avenue. I remember being present. I am certain I didn’t drive BACK to campus from East Moline, so it was in the fall semester of school year 1967-1968). I always tried to take in speeches and concerts by any Big Name speaking on campus, which led me to hear Saul Bellow speak, and the Ramsey Lewis Trio play, and Booker T and the MGs perform “Green Onions” and Johnny Mathis (remember him?) sing in the Union. Many years later, I did drive back, to hear former President Bill Clinton speak and to hear Ben Folds (without the Ben Folds Five). I remember Ali’s message, which was characteristic of the anti-war message he was delivering at a number of colleges across the nation during the time he was not allowed to fight in the ring, but was fighting in court to stay out of jail, be allowed to resume his career, and urging equality for citizens of color. His rhetoric, which sounded very anti-white, was scary to his elders, but the students of the sixties on campus at Iowa, anyway, embraced his message of liberty and justice for all, just as our forefathers had embraced such radical notions in 1776. It’s unclear whether Ali’s reception was as warm and fuzzy in the South, but I can tell you that it was a very closely packed, interested, respectful and enthusiastic crowd that listened to him speak at the Iowa Memorial Union that day. I remember the room was crowded with students who turned out en masse to see the fighter we saw on television “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” Ali’s Legacy
Young Cassius Clay, later to be renamed Muhammad Ali.
His strong suit not being humility, Ali had self-described himself as “the Greatest.” He wasn’t far off in this early self-assessment of his own boxing prowess. Muhammad Ali was named one of the most recognizable sports figures of the past 100 years, with only Babe Ruth coming close to the universal recognition that Muhammad Ali earned. Ali was also crowned “Sportsman of the Century” by Sports Illustrated magazine and “Sports Personality of the Century” by the British Broadcasting Corporation. It’s safe to say that boxing will never see a fighter so good who was so controversial, entertaining and larger-than-life than Mohammed Ali/Cassius Clay, and whose stance on so many important issues of the day resonated in such important ways. He was a showman. The sport will not see his equal and, in fact, seems to have withered and died in favor of WWC and cage matches and other televised fare. History changed forever when the 6’ 2” good-looking, outspoken fighter with the 80 inch reach bested the rough-and-tough gangster-related Sonny Liston [who would later be found dead from a possible heroin drug overdose on December 30, 1970.] The intimidating Liston was heavily favored to knock Cassius Clay’s block off. I remember thinking that Clay probably didn’t have a chance against a thug like Liston and hoping he wouldn’t get hurt too badly. Some even wondered if the brash youngster would even show up for the fight. Clay took pride in his good looks; the general feeling going into the fight was that Clay might have a hard time preserving his handsome good looks against the brutal beating Liston was about to administer.
The Fight Liston was a 7 to 1 favorite. Clay had not really beaten any professional boxers of note, but, instead, had won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division in the 1960 Rome Olympics. In his 1975 autobiography, Ali claimed he threw the gold medal into the Ohio River after being refused service in a white diner in Louisville. Others dispute that version of events, saying he merely lost the medal. [Ali was issued a replacement medal 36 years after the fact, and it was presented to him during a basketball intermission at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, an Olympics where Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic torch. Talk about a national change of heart!]. Clay, prior to the fight that would launch his career as the only heavyweight to win 3 lineal World Heavyweight Championships (1964, 1974, 1978) on his way to becoming one of the most recognizable figures in the world, in a typical display of the psychological trash talk for which he became known, said that Liston “smelled like a bear” and that he was “going to donate him to a zoo” after defeating him In the ring. Prior to the fight, he recited this poem: “Clay comes out to meet Liston and Liston starts to retreat. If Liston goes back an inch farther, he’ll end up in a ringside seat…”
At the time, nobody thought the good-looking 22-year-old kid from Louisville, Kentucky, had a chance against the hardened ex-con, who learned to write his name while in a Missouri prison— a career criminal who had been arrested at least 19 times. Liston told Sports Illustrated, “I had nothing when I was a kid but a lot of brothers and sisters, a helpless mother, and a father who didn’t care about any of us. We grew up with few clothes, no shoes, little to eat. My father worked me hard and whupped me hard.”
Ali’s pattern of confidence and taunting his opponents before fights would continue in his career as he took on other fighters, like George Foreman. Ali was also confident and colorful before the Rumble in the Jungle in 1974. He told interviewer David Frost, “If you think the world was surprised when Nixon resigned, wait ’til I whup Foreman’s behind!” He told the press, “I’ve done something new for this fight. I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.” Ali was wildly popular in Zaire, with crowds chanting “Ali, bomaye” (“Ali, kill him”) wherever he went. The Boxer and the Beatles
When Liston was offered a chance to pose with a new British band touring the United States at the time (and causing a sensation) Liston refused to pose with “those sissies,” meaning John, Paul, George and Ringo, who were appearing on Ed Sullivan’s TV show on February 16th and February 23rd. Cassius Clay (who would change his religious affiliation and his name to Muhammad Ali after the fight) DID accept boxing promoter Harold Conrad’s offer to pose with the Beatles, bursting through the door of his 5th Street Gym in Miami Beach and shouting to the mop-topped group, “Come on, Beatles! Let’s go make some money!” The Conscientious Objector Issue
Then came the difficult years. As an outspoken black man advocating black pride and opposition to the unpopular war in Vietnam, Muhammed Ali’s topics of choice were not popular. He spoke at the Memorial Union, attired in a suit. He had just been denied status as a conscientious objector and stripped of his heavyweight title (1967). He did not fight between March 22 of 1967 and October of 1970, years when he was 26 to 29 years old. That was the period of time when I heard him speak at the Iowa Memorial Union. Every state denied him a license to fight.
After his title defense against Zora Folley on March 22, Ali’s title was stripped following his refusal to be drafted into Army service (on April 28, 1967). His boxing license was immediately suspended by the state of New York and he was convicted on June 20, 1967 (by an all-white jury) and sentenced to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for draft evasion. While his case was on appeal, he was free on posted bond, traveling the country giving speeches like the one I attended, in which he made statements against the Vietnam War and urged that blacks be given racial equality in America. Ali’s conviction was overturned on appeal and, (as he was out on bond despite the threat of 5 years in jail), he served no jail time. He did, however, lose 4 crucial years of boxing eligibility during his athletic prime.
Among statements Muhammad Ali made, woven into his college addresses, were these:
“Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.” (He would add that no Vietnamese had ever called him the “n” word)…No, I am not going 10,000 miles to help murder, kill, and burn other people simply to continue the domination of white slave-masters over dark people the world over. This is the day and age when such evil injustice must come to an end…Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?..My enemy is the white people, not the Vietcong…You’re my opposer when I want freedom. You’re my opposer when I want justice. You’re my opposer when I want equality. You won’t even stand up for me in America because of my religious beliefs, and you want me to go somewhere and fight, when you won’t stand up for my religious beliefs at home?”
In 2014, fifty years later, when the film Twelve Years a Slave is a major Oscar contender for Best Picture at the March 2nd Academy Awards, these words ring as true as ever. Boxing Talent
Ali probably had the fastest hand and foot speed ever for a big fighter. Jimmy Jacobs, who co-managed Mike Tyson, measured young Ali’s punching speed (using a synchronizer) versus Sugar Ray Robinson, a welter/middleweight often considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in history. Ali was 25% faster than Robinson, even though Ali was 45 to 50 pounds heavier. (Ali had once asked Sugar Ray to manage him, but the former champion declined.) “No matter what his opponents heard about him, they didn’t realize how fast he was until they got in the ring with him,” Jacobs said. The effect of Ali’s punches was cumulative. “Ali would rub you out,” said Floyd Patterson, who fought Ali on November 22, 1965, right after his two fights with Liston. “He would hit you 14,000 times and he wouldn’t knock you out; he rubbed you out. It’s very hard to hit a moving target, and (Ali) moved all the time, with such grace: three minutes of every round for fifteen rounds. He never stopped. It was extraordinary.”
Of his later career, Arthur Mercante, (boxing announcer), said: “Ali knew all the tricks. He was the best fighter I ever saw in terms of clinching. Not only did he use it to rest, but he was big and strong and knew how to lean on opponents and push and shove and pull to tire them out. Ali was so smart. Most guys are just in there fighting, but Ali had a sense of everything that was happening, almost as though he was sitting at ringside analyzing the fight while he fought it.”
Taunting: the Louisville Lip
Speaking of how Ali stoked Liston’s anger and overconfidence before their first fight, a sports writer commented that “the most brilliant fight strategy in boxing history was devised by a teenager who had graduated 376 in a class of 391.” Ali knew that what he said outside the ring, taunting his opponents as “ignorant” (Frazier) or comparing them to an animal (Liston) did psychological damage to his opponents when they were in the ring. Ai got under their skin, and that was his intention. When Ali referred to Joe Frazier as “ignorant” on national TV, Frasier wrestled Ali to the ground while live television cameras broadcast the unexpected outburst. The animosity towards Ali, from Frasier, lasted until Frazier’s death on November 7, 2011.
Considering that I’m a small-town Iowa girl from a hometown of not quite 5,000 people, I’ve had the good fortune to be in several places when events were taking place that would turn out to be turning points in history—or, at least, important historic events that one might even call a milestone. Among them were events such as the beginning of the Free Speech movement on campus at Berkeley in 1965 and the student riots that year; Ted Kennedy’s last speech inside the DNC in Denver in 2008 nominating Barack Obama; in Grant Park in 2008 when Obama spoke to a cheering crowd on election night; at Invesco Field in Denver when Obama accepted the nomination for president from his party; at the very beginnings of the Tea Party movement inside Ron Paul’s Rally for America in Minneapolis in 2008; at a concert at the Savoy Hotel in Birmingham, England by a band (using a light show) which would go on to become Pink Floyd; in the 7th row of the Beatles concert at the Cow Palace near San Francisco in 1964; at a concert in Paris given by James Brown and the Famous Flames in 1965; at the Howard Dean Scream Heard ‘Round the World at the Val Air Ballroom in West Des Moines in 2004; at concerts by the Rolling Stones, Prince, Dave Matthews Band, John Cougar Mellencamp, U2, and a host of other memorable live acts, including Taylor Swift on May 8, 2010, at the IWireless Center (formerly the Mark of the Quad Cities) when my daughter worked for 13 Management, Ms. Swift’s organization.
And I was also at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City, Iowa, when Muhammed Ali stood up and spoke out for his beliefs in 1968.
I didn’t need to stay home to watch “American Idol” live, because I already knew that Phillip Phillips had the fan base to pull out the win. It’s not “fair,” in that his vocal talent was not and is not as great as that of either Jessica Sanchez of third-place finisher Joshua Ledet, but it proves, once again, that the show is primarily a popularity contest. Singing is secondary to likeability. The selection of Scotty McReery last year proves that and it has been proven once again.
The selection of the boy rather than the girl proves the bias towards female singers, also. Yes, there have been some female winners, but they are the exception that proves the rule. It is harder for a girl to win this contest than for a boy; maybe in the Kelly Clarkson, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood years, the men, as competition, weren’t as strong. Whatever the rationale you settle on, there is no doubt that young girls vote (repeatedly, it would seem) for their favorite male singer, and this year, that favorite was Phillip Phillips.
When the Top Three made their visits home, Phillip’s father and his relationship with him were a network’s dream. The pawn shop owner was packing a pistol and Phillip even picked up his favorite stuffed turkey and toted it around the store. In the parade sequence, Phillip seemed genuinely touched, and there could be no doubt that he was overcome with emotion at the finale, as he tried (unsuccessfully) to finish singing his song “Home.” I found it touching and rewound and replayed the finale moment(s) more than once.
I find Phillip charming, too. He reminds me so much of a young Dave Matthews, and we certainly can use a young(er) Dave Matthews on the music scene. He writes songs and plays guitar, and his acknowledgement of his brother-in-law’s contribution to his musical success was another sign of the close-knit family from which he comes.
Not that Jessica Sanchez had a family any less close-knit, but, in writing for www.Wikinut.com, I found the half-Filipino/half-Mexican singer being trashed on that international site. Why was she not being praised? The answer is that she was being criticized by a resident of the Philippines for not being “Filipino” enough! I had previously thought that Jessica’s ethnic background might be a plus for her, initially, but, as it turns out, that vote did not materialize.
Those who say, “Well, it isn’t fair. Jessica is a better singer” have a completely valid point. To them, I say, “Is life always fair?” It certainly hasn’t been to me, of late! Talent in any field is not an entree to success if you have to curry favor and win approval of massive numbers of people to cash in on that talent. In the case of “American Idol,” which I have been following since 2007, it has not escaped my attention that someone the audience “likes” (Scotty, last year), rather than someone who really has the pipes will win every time. Remember Adam Lambert’s year? Does anyone really believe that Chris Allen was a “better” singer than Adam Lambert, who had already been in Broadway productions?
I enjoyed the finale, although I found some of it to be sub-par. The Neil Diamond medley and the Bee Gees medley did not “gel” and someone should tell Chaka Khan not to wear a skin-tight catsuit when backed by young women easily 30 years younger and 30 pounds thinner than she is at this point in her career. Also, the “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” number seemed to consist primarily of screaming and weird faces on the part of Jennifer Holliday, so the less said about that, the better. As for Aerosmith’s outing as a band: liked it. Can’t help myself, I enjoy watching Steven Tyler dance around. I enjoy watching Mick Jagger dance around. I’m sure I will enjoy watching Phillip Phillips dance around, in years to come.
I predict bright futures for both Jessica Sanchez and, even more so, for Joshua Ledet. I think these fantastic voices will “live well and prosper.” I think that Phillip Phillips will also be one of the Idol winners who will go on to success. He has that “Q” factor that makes you want to root for him, and he seems to know what he wants to sing and who he wants to be as an artist.
One thought I had about 3 programs back is this: Whatever happened to the announcement that Tommy Hilfiger would be dressing the contestants and “advising” them regarding their fashion faux pas, this season? It seems he sank without a trace. Whover put Sklar Laine in her horrible outfit tonight, when she shared the stage with Reba McIntyre, should have their head examined. My God! What a horrific outfit for the poor thing to wear, given her particular figure flaws. Whose Big Bright idea was THAT?
I did think that Tommy Hilfiger’s “advice” seemed to consist primarily of showing the eager contestants a closet full of potential downfalls and letting them select whatever they wanted. That, to me, is not advice. It’s like taking your child to the candy store to instruct them on eating the right foods. None of the contestants seemed to look “better” after Hilfiger’s appearance on the scene. And then, like the Mad Hatter, he simply disappeared. It was weird. He didn’t ever help Jimmy Iovine to dress and look like an adult, nor did he save Randy from the embarassment of wearing a jacket that made him look like he owned a string of ice cream parlors.
The “group” numbers were weak, in general, and Fantasia, Chaka, Jordin, et. al. added little. On the other hand, it was fun watching Phillip sing with an icon and Joshua and Skylar seemed thrilled to be onstage with their idols (Fantasia and Reba, respectively). I also enjoyed the “live” onscreen proposal of Ace (from some long-forgotten season) to former contestant Diana DeGarmo. The comment he made about “taking Broadway” lends some support to the concept that these singers will go on to have careers in music. I know that I, personally, have seen Syesha Mercado and Constantine Maroulis onstage in Chicago in traveling Broadway productions:”Dream Girls” for Syesha and the upcoming Tom Cruise casting as Stacey Jax in the film version of the play is something to ponder.
I noticed Phillip Phillips, during his moments onstage when he was overcome by emotion and stopped singing, trying to spit out confetti that was raining down on the crowd. This confetti looked pretty substantial! It’s no wonder that Phillip gave up on singing the lyrics, given the emotion of the moment and the paper packing his mouth. It didn’t stop the drum major people in the background who kept marching back and forth as Phillip sang about “Home.” I think it was Phillip’s far superior song on the final night of competition that helped him win. Jessica’s song was shrieky and nonmelodic. She had done well up to that point, but song selection was never Jessica’s strong suit during her weeks on the show. She would go from superb, as with her Whitney Houston selections, to really stupid, as with the number she sang in sky-high heels that was her attempt at an “upbeat” number (“Set the night on fire…etc.). That little ditty really didn’t enhance her reputation on the show, and she has Gloria Estefan to thank for that particular miscue.
Phillip, on the other hand, seemed to select just the right song, even if it wasn’t a song any of us had ever heard. He was always interesting to watch and I enjoyed his awkward dance moves. I also thought that Joshua Ledet was the most “compleat” (British spelling) performer of the entire competition. And, for sheer spunky “Let’s get this show on the road” you had Skylar Laine.
Holly Cavanagh got some good moments during the finale, as well she should have. I enjoyed hearing her sing the perennial graduation favorite “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” I did not enjoy revisiting Colton Dixona and DeAndre Brackensick seemed unusually prominent during the men’s group numbers. I actually have forgotten the name of the chubby male singer that made it through primarily because Jennifer Lopez liked him. My spouse did not like Han whatever-his-name-was, the Asian singer, but it was nice to see Elise (Testone) again. This is one of the few “American Idol'” groups that I would potentially pay money to see, as a group. They were that good, in general. I’m still trying to remember the name of the 2 blondes (one with a new short hair-do, I think), because, like all of America, we forget our idols much too quickly.
The inevitable occurred tonight on the elimination night of “American Idol.” Hollie Cavanagh, who had been in the bottom three so many times previously, was finally kicked off. Just before the announcement was made, you could see in her eyes that she knew she was being cut from the competition.
The remaining three contestants are Phillip Phillips, Jason Ledet and Jessica Sanchez. The Big Question of this year’s competition is whether it is going to be an All-Male Final Two, as one steady watcher thinks it will be, or if it will be the two strongest voices, Jessica Sanchez and Jason Ledet.
Phillip Phillips has all the teeny boppers on his side, and he is, indeed, charming. His vocals are not as strong as either Joshua’s or Jessica’s, but he is certainly an original, interesting, unique performer, and he seems to resonate with the voting public, much as Scotty did last year with his bass country-and-western vocals.
I don’t honestly have a horse in this race. I could live with any of the three winning, for a variety of reasons. The raw emotion registering on the faces of fellow contestants (especially Joshua) and judges, alike, (Jennifer Lopez) was touching as Hollie sang her final song. She did a great job with the lyric and melody that talked about how there are always other mountains to climb.
Reno Lovison, a friend from my membership in MWA (Midwest Writers’ Association) in Chicago, prepared the trailer for my newest release, The Color of Evil. MWA is an organization for nonfiction writers, but many of us write both fiction and nonfiction.
Reno wrote to let me know that the trailer he prepared for The Color of Evil is running on Chicago television and to encourage viewership, either online at www.TheColorOfEvil.com (also reachable through links at www.ConnieCWilson.com) and/or, by going to the channel he mentions. Here is Reno’s message:
I am running your book trailer this month on our Authors Showcase program Thursdays 8 PM channel 25 Chicago city limits Comcast or RCN.
Also online at Authorsbroadcast.com you can see it now 24/7.
Please share this information and help us increase viewers.
The Color of Evil was launched at a very successful book launch at the Book Rack in Moline on Saturday, April 28th. It is the first in a trilogy of books. (The new “Hunger Games?”) It is aimed at a YA audience but has definite adult cross-over appeal. Check out the trailer, which is a bit “Carrie” meets “The Fury” meets television’s “The Medium.”
Wednesday, April 18, 2012, Fox, 8 p.m. (ET) Performance night on “American Idol” with just 7 contestants still standing. The four girls and three boys still remaining in the competition sang 2 songs each: one current song from 2010-2012 and one soul song.
Who did well?
The biggest winners, from the standpoint of judges’ reactions, were probably Hollie Cavanagh, SkylarLaine, Joshua Ledet and Phillip Phillips.
Who was off their game?
The three that seemed lackluster this night, or simply failed to find favor with the judges or the audience were Colton Dixon, Elise Testone and Jessica Sanchez. Perhaps that Judges’ Save, used to prevent Jessica from getting the axe last week, won’t make any difference.
It should be pointed out that Hollie Cavanagh, who has consistently been in the bottom three, did a good job on Wednesday night with her rendition of Adele’s “Rollin’ in the Deep.” It was a good song choice, and, while her performance was not perfect, it was “very well done,” as Randy admitted. (Steven Tyler declared it “perfect.”) Later, Hollie sang “Son of a Preacher Man” while wearing a short pink dress and Randy said, “Dude, you worked it out,” while Jennifer Lopez said that Hollie “showed a new composure.”
Skylar Laine also did herself proud, singing Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” in a country arrangement, which Jennifer Lopez declared she had never heard before, while adding, “A more perfect song for you does not exist.” Steven Tyler pointed out the voting bloc that loves country, saying, “A lot of people with a drawl will vote.” Randy said: “Dude, you’re so ready.” There are 2 things that one can say consistently about Skylar: 1) she will always give a peppy, spirited rendition where she emotionally connects to the material and (2) she almost always will have on a horrible outfit. Only once has she looked really lovely in a long, flowing gown. The bared arm dress she had on this night was horrid. For her second song, Skylar sang Marin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” causing Steven Tyler to declare her to be “somethin’ else” and “a wild horse that cannot be tamed.”
Colton Dixon sang Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” The judges gave him acceptable comments for his first song and Jimmy Iovine pointed out the teeny-boppers will vote for him (unless they, too, are put off by his apparent narcissism). His second song of the night was an “Earth, Wind & Fire” song, and that is where things started to go downhill for Colton. Steven Tyler dubbed it “a bad song choice” and Randy said, “You sounded good, but it’s not as exciting as we would have liked.” Jimmy Iovine pointed out weeks ago that Colton does not have the pipes of a Joshua or a Jessica; he was right.
Elise Testone also had a rough night. First, she sang “No One” by Alicia Keys wearing an attractive orange dress and with a breeze blowing through her long, blonde extensions. Steven Tyler criticized the song choice, while Jennifer Lopez chose to encourage her to smile more (“When you smile when you sing, your eyes come alive.”) Elise’s second song of the night was Al Green’s “Let’s Get It On” and Steven Tyler commented, “You need to take it up a notch.”
The third rockiest performer, in terms of her ability to electrify the audience, was Jessica Sanchez. She opened with “Fallen” by Alicia Keys. While her singing earned raves from the judges, they all noted her apparent remoteness and distance from the material. Later, when she chose to sing “Try A Little Tenderness,” she had on one of the worst outfits of the night. The Jodhpur pants and the overpowering necklace obscured one of the best girls’ bodies in the competition. I fear the Judges’ Save will not matter on Thursday night.
Hanging In There
Phillip Phillips, wearing his trademark gray, sang “You Got It Bad” by Usher and earned a standing ovation from the judges. Steven Tyler said, “With you, we never know what we’re gonna’ get. It was great tonight, great. “ Jennifer Lopez pronounced Phillip’s performance “Sexy” and said, “It shows your versatility.” Randy said, “I smile every week. This year, we have a true artist on the stage.” It does seem that Phillip knows he does best and to his own self is true. His song choices are good; he doesn’t let the constructive criticism throw him or deter him from delivering on his music. He always seems connected with what he sings and is engaging to watch. Phillip’s second song of the night was “In the Midnight Hour.” He came out from behind his guitar and actually danced a dance which Steven Tyler declared “brilliantly awkward.” Phillip is very likeable. He is the one remaining boy in the competition who is handsome, humble, hetero (for the teeny-bopper girls) and sings well. He is also very original. A dark horse (gray, of course).
Joshua Ledet sang “I Believe” by Fantasia and received a standing ovation. Randy declared Joshua, “Truly one of the most gifted singers we have ever had on this show. Love you. Love your voice.” Jennifer Lopez praised Joshua’s commitment to the material he sings, saying, “You leave it all on the floor every time.” Steven Tyler declared, “You could sing the phone book.” For his second number, Joshua did a rousing rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna’ Come.” He displayed more dynamic touches than the other competitors, starting softly, and was praised for “holding back and then letting go.” Joshua sounds a bit like Sam Cooke and looks a bit like Johnny Mathis.
Elise, Colton and Jessica. Either girl could go home.
Thursday, April 12, 2012, Fox, 8 p.m. (ET) Elimination night on “American Idol” was a cliff-hanger not unlike the season that Casey Abrams was saved by the judges. Only, this night, the once-a-season save was used to rescue Jessica Sanchez, who, although being the best singer in the competition (arguably) has no noticeable fan base and isn’t male.
Jessica has stood out as one of the most truly talented singers on season eleven of “American Idol” since the beginning of auditions, but, then, so did Pia Toscano, and she was shown the door in a similarly unceremonious fashion last year. The judges didn’t even allow Jessica—who was in the bottom three along with Joshua Ledet and Elise Testone—to perform her entire song before all three of them stormed the stage and declared Jessica to have been “rescued” by the use of the Judges’ save. As Randy Jackson said, “This girl is one of the best singers in America!” He went on to exhort voters to vote for excellence, not just their favorites. Steven Tyler, seeing the bottom three, had said, “We’re gonna’ use our card tonight.” The three who got the fewest votes were Joshua Ledet, Jessica Sanchez and Elise Testone, who are, arguably, the top three in the entire competition.”
While it wasn’t incorrect to have Phillip Phillips be declared safe, Hollie Cavanagh was the one singer who was expected to finish in the bottom three. After that, Phillip Phillips was a close second, as he had an off night singing an obscure Maroon Five song. I had predicted that a girl would be the third person in the bottom three, and that girl could have been Elise Testone or Skylar Laine.
Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez & Randy Jackson.
As the tension built, Jimmy Iovine was shown repeating his opinion that the bottom three should have been Hollie Cavanagh, Phillip Phillips and Elise Testone.
Jennifer Hudson appeared on Thursday night’s show with Neo, projecting a totally new image. Her short hair and dark black short skirt seemed more reminiscent of some phases of Janet Jackson’s career, with a touch of Rihanna’s short hair-do. Jennifer was introduced as the only “American Idol” alumnus with both a Grammy and an Oscar. She showed off her enviable Weight Watchers’ figure, although her song, delivered while wearing a short, dark leather skirt was forgettable.
Less forgettable was the drama of arguably the 3 best singers in the competition (Joshua, Jessica and Elise) being named the 3 lowest vote-getters. This is the point where I repeat what I said in a previous article: this is a popularity contest. It is not a talent competition, unless the talent resides with one of your “favorites.”
From now on, it’s anybody’s guess who will win. Certainly not necessarily the most talented singer, as we saw tonight. Probably the most popular contestant…the one with the highest “Q” factor. Who is that? Is it Colton Dixon, who seems stuck on himself? Is it Skylar Laine, who sings country songs in a peppy manner? Is it Hollie Cavanagh, who has been off-key the last two performance weeks, but still managed to evade elimination? Is it Nice Guy Phillip Phillips, who seems a younger version of Dave Matthews?