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by Steve Leftridge

18 Feb 2010


A few days ago, Ryan Seacrest tweeted that he had just watched the final cut of tonight’s episode and described it as “gut wrenching” and the “most dramatic [he’d] ever seen”. Perhaps Ryno was trying to draw folks away from the Olympics—or at least relegate DVR space to them—in favor of watching the judges whittle the 70-odd contestants down to the highly-anticipated (but previously leaked) Top 24. Yes, the Dirty Double-Dozen was just a Bing away for the last two weeks, but that didn’t stop American Idol from dragging out the official unveiling over an excruciatingly boring three hours.

So with Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White winning gold on another network, Idol stretched across two nights what could have been effectively accomplished in 15 minutes; instead, they made 46 contestants walk to the stage one at a time so the judges could act out a tired fake-out (“You know there were a lot of talented singers this year, and we only had room for 24…”) before letting them through, often delivered with Simon’s little wink, the subtlest in all of show business. The only entertaining twist on this charade was Ellen’s, who lampooned the whole thing by talking at length about how cruel it was to keep contestants’ fates a mystery by talking at length.

by Steve Leftridge

11 Feb 2010


Group Day. The fatigue and the frustration. The mania and the mascara. The chiding and the childbirth. Yes, American Idol, after sending 85 golden-ticket-holders on a quick turnaround back home, 96 contestants competed in groups for a second round of cuts. Previews and lead-ins for this show hyped all kinds of drama with fights and meltdowns and general emotional devastation, looking like clips from The Blair Witch Project. Assuming folks at home aren’t tuning in for a singing competition, the producers last night focused over half the episode on rehearsal tears and tantrums.

There’s almost nothing more tedious than a bunch of teenagers trying to work out vocal harmonies, so the show attempted to ferment as much commotion as possible by forcing singers to quickly and chaotically find their own groups, limiting rehearsal space (they had to either seek cramped spaces or rehearse next to other groups’ competitive caterwauling), giving them tricky, word-tripping song choices, and limiting prep time so that late-night hours would lead to frayed nerves and short tempers.

by Steve Leftridge

10 Feb 2010


On the verge of driving a stake into its own heart with interminable audition shows, Idol finally reaches Hollywood week to separate the wheat from the chaff and end up with the Top 24 singers who’ll make up the season’s official talent pool. The show to this point has been a typical sleight of hand in showing some promising auditions but also withholding others in order to keep a lid on the Top 24, already decided behind locked and heavily guarded doors. Amid the technocalypse, however, it’s virtually impossible to keep anything under wraps that involves two-dozen people, so not only did a story surface that one of the finalists was yanked for blabbing, but the entire Top 24 was leaked last week by a mystery source who has been accurate when letting the cat out the bag during two previous seasons. In any case, it’s down to (mostly) people who can actually sing, so hooray for Hollywood.

As the show unveiled this season’s first look at the Kodak Theater (described by Ryan Seacrest at “The Most High-Profile Stage in the World”: Hmm.), we also got our first look at new judge Ellen Degeneres, strolling out in denim and heavy makeup. News sites last week, with story lines running thin, were trying to make hay out of Ellen’s supposed comments that Simon was meaner than she thought he was. No signs of salty-vs.-sweet friction last night between the two of them, as Ellen seemed to charm about everyone, including Simon and, based on early poll results, the home audience, as well, by finding a balance between praise, criticism, and wit.

by Steve Leftridge

4 Feb 2010


Andrew Garcia

Andrew Garcia

Tonight was a sort of clean-up show that revisited clips from the audition shows that didn’t make the cuts in previous weeks. It was the last episode before “Hollywood Week”, when the actual singing competition finally gets underway and Ellen Degeneres arrives to, presumably, shake things up. Ads previewing next week promised the “most intense” Hollywood cuts ever, with even Ellen looking pissed off. Ryan Seacrest declared that the Season 9 pack might be Idol‘s most talented ever—he says that every year—but that they’ve “never broken down like this before”. So if you haven’t gotten quite enough of close-ups of crying jags, you’re in luck again next week.

Tonight’s catch-all show was a chance to get acquainted with more of the faces we’ll see in Hollywood, so the episode was mercifully light on the joke auditions, geared instead toward viewers who like American Idol as a showcase for actual talent. We have to this point been offered a limited view of the audition’s most promising singers, as the first three weeks maintained a focus on rotten-apple rejects and smirkable misfits, a parade that has proven to profitably extend the show’s season. Among the tryouts’ legitimate singers, the auditions almost exclusively focus on those candidates who have compelling stories of overcoming adversity. As a result, we have perhaps met just half of those who will end up in the Top 24 with a legitimate shot at becoming the next American Idol.

by Steve Leftridge

3 Feb 2010


It is the penultimate audition show before taking to Hollywood and weeding out the golden tickets, and it is clear that the process, both in the audition room and the editing booth, is starting to run on fumes. This episode had little in the way of either memorable performances, freakazoids, or sob stories. The judges agreed to send 26 total singers from Denver on to the next round, but we saw very few of them. Instead, the show spliced together more montages than usual—of quirky audition preparation rituals, of pissed-off rejects being hounded by American Idol cameras, of the upbeat yes-fest from Denver, and of the zany costume gimmicks.

To stay consistent with the general mendacity at this point, Denver saw the return of Victoria Beckham, heretofore the most reticent of the guest judges, who in this round was far more talkative, approaching outright astuteness. She was able to level that criticism first on a paunchy wiseacre named Mark Labriola, a guy who thinks he looks like Jack Black so he tries to act like him. His personal history offers some drama; his mom was a fugitive mother, hiding little Mark around the country since he was four-years old. Mark, now a father himself, sang Squeeze’s “Tempted”, which was passable, so all that backstory wasn’t in vain.

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