Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Favorite Idol Performances #19 & #20

Neil Diamond night. Not one of the better ones on American Idol, though he's underrated as a songwriter. (He's also written and recorded some wretched songs, it should be noted.) He wasn't quite as scary looking as Andrew Lloyd Weber, but there was a certain eerie resemblance through the eyebrows, even if Neil lacked the surprising wit and pointed advice that Sir Weber brought to last week's proceedings.

David Cook. Let's just declare him the Idol and call it a season. Yet those seemingly certain things often don't work out on AI, so I'm readying myself for the bombshell when he's voted off. He shouldn't be. His second song, "All I Really Need is You," was on a completely different level than all of the other performances. Enough said.

Jason is lost. At the end of his second song Simon put it on the table, telling Jason that he would look back at the night and think, "I don't know who this person is." A melancholic verging on tragic moment. I'm not sure it registered with Jason, who appeared as oblivious as ever, but his body language was saying, "Man, I need to kick back, and it ain't gonna happen on this stage. Get me out of here now." I hope he gets voted off tonight, because he really seems ready to head to the woods with his guitar and a pocketful of mellowness. Another week on AI could ruin his soul.

Syesha is certainly the most versatile female vocalist left, which isn't saying much since Brooke is the only remaining comparison. Both of her songs were good last night, confident and competent, but they lacked the determined edge Syesha brought to earlier performances, almost as if--now that her Broadway-ready talents have been touted--she's rehearsing for future shows instead of aiming to beat out the Davids, which she knows is never going to happen. She also wasn't smart to act surprised when Simon told her she might be in trouble. Girl, hello? Haven't you been in the chairs of humiliation enough to know you're always in trouble? It came off as petulant, and petulant isn't a good note to end on right before the voting begins.

After being hard on David A. in recent weeks, I warmed to him a little last night. When he asked Neil for advice and suggestions. When his voice broke a little bit in the second song, and you could see him mentally chiding himself yet carrying on. When Neil called him a prodigy who needs a little guidance. I am a sucker for vulnerability, and he showed it in endearing ways. He also had a little fire under him last night, a touch of spunk, as if he realizes that David C. isn't going to vanish and he best expand his repertoire beyond squinting at tween girls through yet another ballad. Shades of George Michael when he was on the cusp of breaking free of Wham! blandness. (Okay, maybe I'm being generous, but even vocally there are shades of GM's admirable fluidity in little David.) And he pulled off a clever Kristy Lee move by choosing a song with patriotism built right into it. I liked that performance more than I wanted to. How cannot it not come down to David vs. David? (Note to self: stop using the word "little" in relation to David A.)

Then there's Brooke, sunny, vocally limited Brooke. She repeated the stupendous mistake of trying to rock. Why, Brooke, why? You can sing "I'm a Believer" but, honey, we don't believe! She looked as comfortable as a nun dancing in a miniskirt, and whenever Brooke aims for funkiness her last name suddenly seems wincingly descriptive. Nightmare was right. Then she came back for her second song, palm lyrics written on her palm to ward off the forgotten lyric curse from last week. "I Am I Said." Perfect perfect perfect song choice for her. It showcased the positive side of that break in her voice, and the confidently quiet ending fit just right. Just when you thought you could count her out . . .

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tribute to 'Roid Week

This past week was 'Roid Week on Flickr, a chance for anyone who's so inclined to take out their Polaroid cameras and post the results. The week was started by two of my favorite Flickr people, Gardengal and Cate. I used a Polaroid camera frequently in the 80s, back before the digital age. Sometimes for arty shots, but mostly for silliness. Then I put it away in a dusty closet where the case got mold spots on it and didn't take it out again until I was inspired to buy some 'Roid film, hope the camera still worked (it did!), and try some new shots for ’Roid Week 2007. (The first time around, in 2006, I posted all old shots.) Though many of my shots sucked (if the composition and lighting are off, they're simply off), I was reminded how much I liked the Polaroid colors, the painterly focus, the lack of fine detail. Much is gained by digital, but some things are lost.

Then, this winter, came the news that Polaroid is getting out of the instant photography business. Some people thought that Polaroid had had its day, and the day was over, but many others, like myself, think there should always be a place for Polaroids. I'm not sure what will ultimately happen with Polaroid film, but there are several websites devoted to Saving the Polaroid such as this one and this one, and 'Roid Week on Flickr is good evidence of the timeless yet nostalgic beauty of the medium, one that digital just can't match. Below, are a few of my 'Roid Week contributions, more can be found in my Flickr ‘Roid Set, but to see some artists who are far more adept at their 'Roids than I am, check out the ’Roid Week 2008 group on Flickr.

And then there are the silly ones:

Oh, the 80s, such a time.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Favorite Idol Performances #17 & #18

I'm not going out on a limb to say that this year's American Idol winners will not be: Brooke, Jason, or Syesha. Which leaves David A., David C., and Carly. Although I fulfill several gay stereotypes, I'm definitely not a Broadway fag, so I didn't expect Andrew Lloyd Weber week to 1) be entertaining, and 2) basically settle who the winner should be. It was entertaining. And the winner is . . . let's talk about the performances first.

Again, since I'm on foreign soil, I was watching the performances out of order on YouTube, so I wasn't aware until afterwards that Syesha was stuck with the dreaded first-up slot. A pity. Because she should have closed the show. Since she always described herself as an actress (who sings, obviously) I guess it shouldn't have been surprising that she could pull off an actressy song with style and (as Simon finally noticed) sexiness. It was her "happy place," as Paula said, and I only hope it remains her happy place after elimination, because she does sooooooo not deserve to go home this week. When she is eliminated, Broadway producers should be pounding on her door.

ALW + David A. = Easy Success. This was David A. territory, and, as Paula said, it was perfect. Except I wish it wasn't perfect. If ever a performance was filled with competence and empty of surprise, it was this one. ALW acted shocked that a boy would perform a song clearly meant for a (girl) diva. Hello? David is a girl diva (and I don't mean that disparagingly) inside the body of a small, cute teen-aged boy. The two pieces of advice ALW gave David (Open your eyes! Open your eyes!) were both precise and witty. I could see David trying, trying to keep his lids fully ajar, but no dice. The sincere squint, directed directly at the camera and all the tween girls warming up their push-button fingers, could not be closed down, or opened up, rather. I honestly think his characteristic squint is a hypnosis technique his stage father has forced upon him, but I can't offer proof. David will be in the top three, no doubt (unless those tween girls get lazy), but if you compare his performance with David C's, it's like white bread and bread pudding with whiskey sauce to me, and I'll take the latter. The most unguarded David A. moment of the evening was when the schoolgirls stormed the stage for hugs, and David's mortification shone through the showbiz smile. Underneath that Hillaryesque (just cause that's also on my mind) professionalism lurks an endearingly awkward teen still searching for his real self, even if he thinks he's found it on American Idol.

OK, Jason and Brooke. They were both out of their element, and it showed. Brooke, despite the start-over "drama", that quickly become the Yahoo! headline, seemed less clueless than Jason. (ALW saw she was clueless and took her in hand, literally.) Her performance was riveting, in part because there was the fear she'd lose it entirely, but also because her vulnerability showed again, and not in a bad way. Still, there's a good chance she'll be going home (the flub may have actually helped her get some pity votes), deservedly so, and it will be especially cruel to hear her sing, "You must love me," after she's been voted off. (Do the contestants ever think of this irony when they pick their songs?) I still like it when Jason brings his sweet little falsetto to the biggest of songs (unlike David A., under those dreads he really isn't a diva), but enough is enough.

David C. gets bonus points for singing his "sexy song" with conviction after ALW told David to sing it to him like he was the teen-aged maiden of his desires. Yikes! If David C. has nightmares for the next several decades, this is why. ALW is super-freaky looking as a middle-aged man for crying out loud. Some things are beyond the human imagination. But David C. pulled it off, playing it straight while still having a creative edge that another David doesn't have in him, yet. He's the winner. I don't see anyone else matching him in terms of artistic maturity, but then again AI isn't necessarily decided on either artistry or maturity. I'm not picking David's as a favorite performance because I've picked him enough already. And I'm picking him as my winner, no turning back (unless he really blows next week).

"Carly" and "fun"--two words that never seemed to belong in the same sentence before, especially when Carly has insisted she was having "fun" during a performance, when clearly she wasn't. Here, ALW should get credit as being the best mentor of the season, or maybe all-time. He actually gave contestants concrete advice, and the advice he gave Carly may save her. Ditch the ballad, go with Jesus and paaaaarty! I've always suspected Carly was a good-time gal (she is Irish, after all), and though "Jesus Christ Superstar" is a completely bizarre song choice when you think of it, and the lyrics are completely irrelevant out of context, it worked for her. She let loose, she relaxed, she belted, and she didn't look like death warmed over. (She looked terrific, actually.) If Carly survives another week--and she should--she needs to go with that rollicking attitude and apply it vocally. I'll be very surprised if she wins AI, but she needs to go out with confidence instead of desperation. (And she needs to learn to pick the right song without coaching.)

Addendum: The results are in. Never underestimate the power of the pity vote. I'd accuse Brooke of staging her stumble in a bit of Kristy Lee cleverness to stay on past her time, but I don't think scheming is in Brooke's nature. A shame that Carly is going home just as she was finally showing some joy, but there you have it. It's the battle of the boys now.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Favorite Idol Performance #16 ~ David Cook

Since I'm far away from America, my plan was to catch up on American Idol via YouTube. Simple enough, as long as my connection cooperated. By the time I was able to log-in this week, someone in the Lucky 7 had already become unlucky, but I didn't want to know who it was before seeing the Mariah-inspired performances for myself. Of course the first page that came up was Yahoo! with a big headline about one less Cook in the kitchen. Had Kristy Lee finally been sent home? (Surely it wasn't David, although after last week's elimination of Michael, anything seemed possible.) Sure enough, it was Kristy Lee. So much for surprises.

Watching the performances and commentaries out of order on YouTube (and knowing the ultimate results in advance) can't quite match the excitement of watching the show live, but I got the gist, along with additional spoilers like knowing (according to Simon) that the boys outdid the girls. (No big shock there this season.) Now, the idea of contestants tackling Mariah songs seemed a recipe for vocal pyrotechnics gone flamingly awry. (Would any contestant tackle Mariah's signature dog-ear-hurting squeal? God forbid.) They deserved credit for not even trying. In fact, I was favorably impressed in one way or another with everyone. Perhaps I'm homesick, so anything containing English words and reasonably on-key sounds good to me? Mariah night was unexpectedly train-wreck-free.

I should confess that, since I'm not a big Mariah fan, I (unlike David A.; ding-ding goes the gaydar) do not know her songbook back to front, with the exception of "Without You." The definitive Nilsson version of the song (not to be confused with the recently distinctive Ken Li version) is hauntingly gorgeous, one of those songs I remember hearing in a very specific place at a very specific time in my life (in the car on the way to the Ice Capades in Boston on a snowstormy day when I was a wee lad), and one I never tire of. (It's up there with the best car radio sing-a-long songs of all time, though careful on the melodramatic conclusion or you may have an accident.) So I knew that song very very well, but the Mariah-penned ones, not so much. Mariah's voice has always impressed me as an instrument (I just can't stand to watch her draw the notes with her fingers every time she sings live), and I find her more recent hip-hop layered stuff sonically impressive, but she's one of those singers, like Céline, who's full of technique (technique a bit rough around the edges, given her live performance) and empty when it comes to connecting with the lyrics. No Kleenexes required when listening to Mariah, unless the high notes rupture your tear ducts.

Anyway, the task was to remake Mariah songs at human scale. Brooke did this perhaps too well. She brought it so far down it nearly sank, particularly when she got distracted (as Brooke tends to do) at the end. I love limitations in a voice (Emmylou Harris, a personal favorite of mine, has all kinds of vocal limitations, but she's learned how to bend them for emotional effect), and Brooke is well aware of hers, but I don't think she's learned to use them to her advantage, and American Idol--where vocal grandstanding is celebrated--isn't the best venue for experimentation. (Brooke's also getting annoying at judgment time. Quiet and no pouting, Sunshine, new rule!) Jason Castro is in a similar boat, but that sweetly liquid falsetto of his, and the casual confidence with which he uses it, can slide him through, as it did on Tuesday.

Speaking off fals's, Mariah encouraged starstruck David A. to try his out, and, to his credit, he did, shakily. In his case, having only recently been through the horror of pubescent male voice-changing, it's no wonder he was reluctant. The judges overpraised him this week, which seemed unnecessary since he's as safe as safe can be. At his best, he does find those tones that make you melt, but I feel like I know him less with each passing week, even though vocally he does pretty much the same thing from week to week. What kind of artist will he be? Is he old enough or sure enough of himself to have a clue? The curious leather pants were symbolic of his overall opacity. Did he choose them? Did someone else choose them? Why or why? (Actually, they looked so wrong on him, they were almost right.) I'm hoping for David A. to do something completely unexpected, and to do it convincingly enough to win over cynics like me. (Having selected his as a favorite performance last week, I had to rewatch the clip to remember what it was: not a good sign.)

Who's left? Syesha. Bless her heart, she puts it out there every time, takes ambitious vocal risks, and, for the judges, it's never quite good enough. I think she's as underrated as David A. is overrated, but I must admit I'm not sure what kind of artist she'd be either. Texturally, her voice is the richest of the lot, and, with some good guidance, she could do great things with it. (That said, I expect she'll be going home within the next 2 weeks.) Like Simon, I was glad Carly took on "Without You," and, like Simon, I was disappointed. I'm still wanting to like Carly more than I do. She seemed the most upset when Michael was wrongly sent home last week, and that renewed my desire to root for her. Her voice is big and interesting, but there's something grating about it. I think it's because her big notes always seem constricted, closing down when the should be opening up. Her upper range doesn't blossom like, say, Linda Ronstadt's, so she can't quite pull off being a belter, and, if she's not that, what is she? Beyond desperate to please Simon, an increasingly elusive goal. I was surprised she wasn't in the Bottom 3, but maybe not landing there will give her the confidence to tap some potential she hasn't yet shown.

And, speaking of potential, spunky Kristy Lee. It was her time to go. She knew it. Everyone knew it. A bad performance would have sealed the deal, but I thought she gave a good performance. The girl has found her niche, she made that song her own, and she is certainly the most improved contestant of the season. She let Brooke do the undignified blubbering for her, put her chin up, and took her perfect parting song to Simon's lap with delightfully uncomfortable results. Pair clever Kristy up with a good country production team, and she may have the last laugh. Watch out, Pickler! Watch out, Underwood! Kristy Lee will soon be nippin' at your high heels.

Which leaves David Cook, rebounding from last week's misstep. He's got the sensibility, his hair has improved as much as Kristy Lee's vocals, and, touchingly, with his ill brother in the audience (from what I've read), he got teary-eyed after the judges buttered him with praise. He deserved it. His interpretation improved the song (can't ask for more on AI) and his emotional leaking was both genuine and moving. With Michael gone, David's the one who's most holding my interest. But he'll be up against the zillions of young girls who won't be budging from the other David's camp no matter what he does. (Did they dig the leather pants, though?)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hotel Vanity #1

I've always been fascinated by hotel rooms. Or motel rooms. Or B&B rooms, if they meet my hotel room criteria. There is something mentally cleansing about leaving all your usual junk behind, aside from whatever you've brought with you, and opening a door to a room you've never seen before and will likely never see again. My rules about adequate hotel rooms are few but specific: First and foremost, it must be clean. (I always check the sheets.) It must have a private bathroom, also clean, one not down a hallway. It must have a window. Plush hotel rooms are nice, but plushness is not required, and actually seems out of place in motels. I like the bland sterility of a fancy chain hotel and also the funky uniqueness of certain motels and B&B's. I don't like B&B's where fraternizing with other guests is encouraged, particularly first thing in the morning. (Late night in a jacuzzi, well, that's another matter, depending on the guest in question.) I once, many years ago, went to a prissy B&B in Kennebunkport, Maine with my girlfriend. It was run by older gay men, who put warnings up about sitting or not sitting on certain chairs in the dainty common rooms. Breakfast, we were told, would be served promptly at a designated time. My girlfriend and I were young and looked young. We didn't look like we should be staying there. A cooler was part of our luggage. The entire weekend our host called everyone Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so, except for my girlfriend, whom he called Patty, despite the fact that her name was Lucie. We sat with a bunch of middle-aged married couples at breakfast, everyone making polite small talk, Lucie and I trying desperately not to laugh each time the host called her Patty again, the error becoming increasingly impossible to correct. I could hardly wait to leave. I like B&B hosts who greet you warmly enough and then disappear.

Hotel rooms give one an excuse to be vain. Their bathrooms are inevitably lined with sparkling clean mirrors (no toothpaste spots like at home) and most know enough to have flattering lighting. (An immaculate hotel bathroom with a big tub and acres of mirrors is my dream come true, though I can do without the magnifying mirror that turns each pore into a lunar crater.) In my middle-age, I have no good reason to be vain, but hotel rooms demand it, and I don't let them down. I spend too long looking at myself and showering and looking at myself again. A thick, fluffy, white bathrobe hanging on the bathroom door means that all is well with the world. (On the other hand, a phone installed in the wall beside the toilet, who came up with that idea? Who uses that phone?) Recently, my boyfriend and I stayed at the KM Saga Guest Residence in Budapest. We'd stayed there a couple of nights last year and returned, to a different room, this year. It is gay-owned (the host quirky but not intrusive), which becomes obvious the moment one is confronted by the decor, which can best be described as indescribably over-the-top, the antithesis of hotel-chain sterility. (If it ain't Baroque, don't fix it!) A few moths flitted about, the heavy drapes and carpets no doubt their version of heaven, but otherwise it was clean enough not to freak me out. And not only did the bathroom have copious mirrors, so did the bedroom. For a fairly reasonable sum, we were the kings, or perhaps the queens, of the castle, sumptuously framed and reflected, like works of art, imperfections be damned. If only the mirrors at home were so kind.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Idiots of the Week #9 ~ American Idol Voters!

Okay, I usually don't post my Idiot of the Week until the weekend, and there are probably more serious idiots than the TV viewing public, but, but . . . . Michael Johns, eliminated from American Idol?! Say it isn't so. I leave the country and look what happens! Worse yet, I had to read the news on the Internet in a jet-lagged state before I'd had my morning coffee. So maybe "Dream On" wasn't his best performance ever, but he was way better than, like, any of the girls. (And I'm not being misogynistic--I was all about the girls last season.) All I can say is: I feel your shock and pain, Paula! Clearly, Simon, Randy, and the millions of teenaged girls who clog the phone lines on Tuesday nights just didn't get Michael's genuine appeal. Same goes for the Yahoo! AP commentator Erin Carlson, who said he lacks star-quality. (Um, Erin, check out his departing performance. If you don't see star-quality there, honey, you are blind!) Their loss. And, bitterly, I am now glad to be out of the country, free from this charade and debacle. (Not that I won't be sneaking peeks next week at this time.) Kristy Lee all the way, woohoo!!!!

G'day and G'luck, mate. Come sing in my bedroom anytime. The invitation is open.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Favorite Idol Performaces #14 & #15

It's the song choice, stupid. That should have been the slogan for last night's American Idol.

Making bad choices: David C., Carly, and Syesha. David C. and Carly managed to make inspiration look grim. Not that I object to grim songs, but their selections seemed equally self-indulgent and self-destructive, and David's white jacket didn't help him, even if the hairdo held its own. Carly, I don't know, the girl has a knack for choosing exactly the wrong song. Expect her to be very pale on elimination night. As for Syesha, her voice was in good shape, but covering a song another Idol has blown through the roof is always ill-advised, especially after taking on Whitney last week. Still, of the three, Syesha harmed herself the least, not that that will necessarily keep her out of the Bottom 3.

Making decent to excellent choices last night: Michael, Brooke, David A., Jason, and Kristy Lee. So Randy (whose panties seem to be in a perpetual twist this season) and Simon weren't so hot on Michael seeking inspiration from Aerosmith. I thought it was a good choice (one that, for me, brought back the pure joyful melodramatics of high school car radio sing-a-longs), sidestepping the sappiness implied by "inspirational" songs while still fitting the theme. Michael's at his best when he puts some blues into his vocals, but he rocked well enough. And Paula sees what Randy and Simon either don't or prefer not to see: Michael, when he performs, is a big Aussie stud. Paula, bless her horny heart, it's not just your chihuahuas who want to jump Michael's legs. Right song for Brooke, but the "pleasant" (i.e. lacklaster) response was apt. Jason returned to his "Hallelujah" high with his choice of Israel Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole's (spellcheck, please!) verson of "Over the Rainbow." Perfect for him and, like Jeff Buckley's version of "Hallelujah," just unknown enough to get people rushing to the definitive cover. It might have been my favorite performance, but, was it me, or did he jumble the words around in stoner fashion? I was afraid that David A. might (with Daddy's help, perhaps) pick something God-friendly and god-awful, but "Angels" was spot-on. I had to entirely agree with Simon's assessment of the song and of David's performance. David remains something of a blank slate, but a blank slate who's gonna be going through to the end.

Last but not least: Kristy Lee, Queen of the Bottom 3. Based on last night's performance, she may not be there this week, shockingly enough. It was another very smart song choice for her, and she sang it with admirably natural--if slightly pitchy--conviction. I never expected to include a performance by KL among my favorites, but she deserves it for persistence alone. Definitely her moment. At this point, it's difficult to imagine any of the women cracking the final Top 3, unless one of them pulls out the right stops, but--after last night--I half-believe Kristy Lee is unstoppable. (At least till next week.)

Alas, this Idol fan is headed to foreign lands, where the show is likely to be off my TV and radar screens. Carry on, kids . . .

Friday, April 4, 2008

Idiots of the Week #8 ~ MSNBC's Morning Joes

The story, by now, has been well-publicized. Thomas Beatie was born a woman. Now he is legally male, legally married to a woman, and pregnant. In short, Thomas Beatie is a pregnant man. His first-person account of the pregnancy was featured in The Advocate and discussed on many blogs, including Towleroad. Last week, Beatie discussed his story with God herself, Oprah. I didn't see Oprah's show, but I assume she managed to conduct the interview in a reasonably adult fashion. She is God, after all. The blog response to Beatie's pregnancy has been immense and, to say the least, varied, from comments wishing the couple well to others labeling Beatie a freak. David Letterman and Saturday Night Live have weighed in on the matter with rather unfunny bits.

The fact that a pregnant man has become fodder for bad, obvious jokes is not surprising. And, by putting himself and his family in the spotlight, Beatie has made himself fair game. His situation is thought-provoking on a number of levels, from health and hormone issues to the meaning of gender to the wisdom of putting your family life before a ruthless media. MSNBC's Morning Joe hosts--Willie Geist, Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough--could have discussed the serious implications of Beatie's pregnancy. They are "newscasters," after all, not late-night comics or anonymous blogosphere blatherers. But they chose not to. The segment speaks for itself, but when Scarborough squeals, "We don't want the facts. I can't handle the facts," that about sums it up. So, if you can't handle it, why are you airing it?

Yes, a man having a baby is unusual. But is it particularly more unnatural than what some "normal" couples go through to have children? Is it particularly more freakish than someone having eight children as a result of fertility drugs, or people on the far-side of middle-age adopting children on the other side of the world, or Larry King siring offspring at the age of what, 150? The oh-so-sensitive hosts covered their eyes because they couldn't bear the sight of Beatie. He made them, literally they claimed, sick. With all the atrocities that happen every day, it's a pregnant man who makes you sick? A man, who, objectively speaking, is quite handsome and pleasant looking, certainly less horrifying to look at then any of these people. Their reaction, of course, has nothing to do with the objective facts before their eyes and everything to do with their hysterical fear of the unknown. (Gender ambiguities seem to have this effect on simple-minded media creatures.)

My advice: If you can't stand the heat, Morning Jackasses, get out of the kitchen. Willie Geist, Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough--if you can't meet the minimum requirements of being news professionals or even adults, you should get off TV, now. Go whimper under your beds and cover your eyes and stay there, forever.

Meanwhile, I wish Thomas and his family good health and happiness.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Favorite Idol Performances #12 & #13

I adore Dolly Parton. She's had a long career of looking dumb while being very very smart, and, unlike many of her contemporaries, she's done some of her best work in the past decade. So I was curious to see what the Idol kids would do with her songs last night. Aside from Kristy Lee and possibly Brooke, none of the other remaining Idol contestants struck me as country music naturals. Of course, as several demonstrated, Dolly's songs don't necessarily have to be sung Dolly-style, something Miss Whitney proved way back when. I must say the night was a pleasant surprise. Aside from Ramiele, who, cute as she is, seems incapable of connecting with any song, there were no Beatles-scale disasters and several excellent performances.

Brooke started things off, doing one of my favorite Dolly-penned songs, "Jolene." Great great song, and an excellent choice for Brooke, I thought. But, Brooke, this is a song about a woman pleading with another woman not to steal her man. It is intimate, girlfriend-to-girlfriend, desperate, sad. But ever-sunny Brooke lost her focus while playing smiley with the audience, and, consequently she lost the song. (Meanwhile, while Brooke was distracted, Jolene would've had that man right under her ivory thumb and between her ivory sheets.)

Jason did "Travelin' On," which was on the "Transamerica" soundtrack. Before he sang, Ryan showed everyone a stack of postcards all written to Jason from the same girl. "Your voice is as relaxing as the scene on the front of this card," Ryan quoted from the card, before showing a bucolic Colorado lake and mountain. Rocky Mountain High--that's Jason. The song suited him, and he did a trans-free, no alarms and no surprises take on it. Also no surprises from the previously mentioned Ramiele, who, like her voice last week, really needs to go "bye bye."

Carly chose "Here You Come Again," a song not actually written by Dolly and one of my least favorite of Dolly's recordings. It was during the era when Dolly was trying to cross over to pop stardom, which she did with some success obviously, but it was a low point in her artistic output. Good selection for Carly, however, as Dolly pointed out, since she gave it the pure pop sheen it deserved, Céline solidity replacing the twang. Simon--ever the fashion plate himself--trashed Carly's looks. She's not a style queen, for sure, but at least this week she didn't look like she was about to puke, and she's still got the best pipes among the girls.

David A. chose "Smoky Mountain Memories," which got Dolly teary-eyed, and she added that he "has the voice to really become a great great singer." I believe she meant it, and it snapped me back from the uneasy feeling that I'm either scared of or, more likely, scared for little David. The gorgeous purity of his voice during the ballads (which are his forte) paired with the doe-eyed gaze into the camera makes me imagine a roomful of salivating Christian music producers readying their kidnapping plan. (Imagine all the teen girls and gay boys converting before their Idol!) When he sings about "leaning on my Jesus" the conviction creeps me out a little. Just what this country needs: more Jesus (no offense to Jesus himself). David A. walks that fine line between hopeful sincerity and hopelessly contrived sentimentality, and if I hadn't paid attention to the rumors about stage-Daddy, and the fact that David's been on stage practically since he popped from Mama's womb, I might be less cynical. He's a true talent. He should be in the Top 3. I'm just more interested in what he'll become when he's a free adult than what he is right now. I suppose it would be out of line for me to suggest that Dolly take David to her ample bosom and adopt him for safekeeping?

Clever Kristy Lee made it through with flying colors (of the stars-and-stripes variety) last week to land in her country comfort zone. "Coat of Many Colors" wasn't a bad song selection for her, though story-songs lose something when they're chopped to Idol fragments. I've no doubt Kristy knows the songbooks of the Holy Trinity (or Trio, as the case may be)--Dolly, Linda, and Emmylou--but she lacks even a smidgen of the raw talent those girls had at her age. She might get voted off tonight, even if last night's was far from her worst performance. Maybe she should have chosen "Hello God" with full-hallelujah choir back-up to continue her over-the-top pandering? (I confess to loving "Hello God" in all its hokeyness. I've even made it the finale on several gift mix-tapes, probably to the chagrin of the recipients.) As it stands, KL should be sent on her pretty way to Shaniaville.

Syesha chose, huge surprise, "I Will Always Love You." (Somebody had to chose it.) Uh-oh. Didn't I tell you not to do Whitney, girl? (And you know whose version Syesha was putting herself up against: not Dolly's, not Linda's.) My boyfriend, the pitch queen, caught more than a few sharp shooters, but the thing I still love about Syesha is, even taking the obvious road, she puts herself out there on the cliff's edge of vulnerability and goes for it. She fearlessly pushes her voice beyond its comfort zone in both the big and small spaces, and she connects with a song, or tries damned hard to, however imperfect the results. Brooke and Carly and, lord knows, Ramiele could all take lessons about going for broke from Syesha.

Which leads us to the two best performances of the night, in my opinion, David C. and Michael (again), the mature brothers. I would buy full-length recordings of the Dolly songs they chose. (Which I can't say about Carly's and David A's performances.) David C. captured that haunted bluegrassy sound and married it to his rock strengths. It was perfect, despite Simon's misgivings. (Simon seems to have an irrational loathing of songs involving birds, as Carly probably recalls. Did he have a Hitchcockian bird trauma in his bratty youth? In general, his underwear were too tight or something last night; maybe he'd borrowed Randy's twisted panties from last week?) After reading today about what David was also dealing with--heart palpitations of his own and a brother's cancer along with the usual AI high-anxiety--I have all the more respect for him seamlessly pulling it off. And, David, the new hairdo was like a total 100% improvement, dude, take it from someone who's had his share of male pattern hairdo mishaps.

Michael, Michael, you bluesy ascotted studmuffin, you! I really had no idea what Michael would do with the Dolly canon, but in the rehearsal interview he came across as a genuine fan (I was smitten with his smittenness). He took one of Dolly's ho-hum songs and sang the shit out of it in a style not unlike that of the great country-blues singer, Delbert McClinton. Totally found your niche, baby, and watching it again makes me feel all funny inside.

My Bottom 3 would be Kristy Lee (of course), Ramiele, and Jason, with either of the girls going home, but I'm guessing it might go down differently, sigh. If you're sent packing, Syesha, you deserve better and you're still gorgeous.

Happy Birthday, Emmylou

Happy 61st Birthday to Emmylou Harris. I've been a fan now for over 30 years, and she's a shining example of what it means to preserve one's artistic integrity through changing times. Many happy returns, Emmylou. Keep holding the songbird.

F-Stop Magazine

F-Stop Magazine has included three of my photographs in its brand-new Night-theme issue. A selection of my Montréal alleyway photographs appeared in an earlier issue. Thanks for the inclusion again, F-Stop.