TV

American Idol: Week #7, The Top 9 (Again)

Tim Urban has become a legitimate contender by redefining the competition. This year, American Idol might not be about the best singer; it might be about who makes for a pop idol, and since when has that been about awesome singing?

Nine finalists competed again this week after the dramatic turn of events last week in which the judges used their one get-out-of-jail card to snatch Big Mike Lynche from the jaws of elimination. Simon proved that he never gets tired of the fake-out—even taking the other judges for a ride—when announcing the unanimous decision, at which point Mike assumed a gigantic Buddha pose and Ellen did the Lindy Hop. It means that this week, we'll cut two singers to stay on schedge, and after a lackluster round of Elvis covers, perhaps it's a shame we can't wipe out twice as many. Adam Lambert met the kids in Vegas to mentor them, and it's no secret that Glambo has a little E in him, so he was the natural choice to take care of business this week.

The other story is the ongoing evolution of Tim Urban, who has become a legitimate contender by redefining the competition. This year, American Idol might not be about the greatest singer; it might be about who makes for a pop idol. Tim isn't a singer of great skill. And neither was Shaun Cassidy or Leif Garrett or Britney Spears. Since when is awesome vocal ability a requirement for teen idolatry? Tim, by virtue of his Ringo haircut and loyal-puppy demeanor, has won over voters who have moved singing down to third or fourth place on the list of support criteria. What's hilarious is that Vote For The Worst is claiming “victory” every week that Tim survives, which is getting to be like "saving” Crystal every week. If VFTW really wanted to prove that they're making any difference in results, they'd put their support behind Aaron or Andrew—otherwise they're no longer voting for the worst. Here's what we found out Tuesday.

Crystal Bowersox. Crystal delivered the performance of the night (again) and made by far the coolest pick, “Saved” the rousing foot-stomping gospel number from Elvis's '68 comeback special, even throwing in a nifty half-time tempo change to allow for maximum roof-raising. Plus, she looked better than ever, rocking a glittery Les Paul. See. Bow.

Andrew Garcia. Oh, Christ, did he really choose “Hound Dog”? Then again, this is the guy who picked “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” for R&B week. Andrew isn't the greatest singer or the best-looking performer, so he can't rely on a lugubrious version of Elvis's most cliched song. The only reason that song is famous is because it rocks, yet Andrew sang it like he was walking to bed. Remember when Andrew was the odds-on fave? Well, that was just a lie.

Tim Urban. Turbo sang “I Can't Help Falling In Love With You”, styled after Bono's falsetto-y version. It sounded pretty shaky, especially at the beginning, but the judges heaped on the praise. Is this some sort of reserve psychology to chase away Worsters? Ellen compared him to a fourth tequila shot, which means that she's having a great time with Tim, but any more from him and she might puke.

Lee Dewyze. LD sang “A Little Less Conversation”, sounding rougher than usual, which worked, as the key took to him well up in his range. It was a vibey arrangement, which pushed him into classic-rock style belting, Lee's ace in the hole. Lee is cruising, but can't they leave the guy alone about smiling? He's not bored—he's bashful, which is probably bringing in more votes anyway.

Aaron Kelly. Sigh. In the clip before Aaron sang “Blue Suede Shoes”, he said “[This song] is probably wrong in every possible way”. Dude, you nailed it! (I mean that prediction, not the song.) Trashing Aaron's version of an Elvis rocker is like panning a Sarah Palin speech on foreign policy. You can stick his collar up, gel his hair, and roll up his sleeves, but this guy has no moves. Little dude should have sung “If I Can Dream” or some such ballad. As it is, he'd better have his fingers crossed for a reprieve (and an upcoming country-music theme).

Siobhan Margus. She's been called the female Glambert for her unpredictable theatricality and peircing scream, but last night's screwball take of “Suspicious Minds” was pure Branson schlock. The two-voices thing is a problem, as the lower, husky one is generally terrible—it sounds like she's yawning the whole time. The higher, power vocal is pretty killer, but it's obvious that Shobe is a one-trick pony. She once seemed destined for the finals. Now her chances for Wednesday's chopping block are as good as anyone's.

Michael Lynche. This cat has nine lives. First, he was nearly disqualified for leaking the Top 24. Second, he was noted off but saved by the judges. Third, his wife should have killed his ass for skipping the birth of their baby. But here he was Tuesday night, singing “In the Ghetto”, a terrific choice that found him in his best mode—sitting, playing the guitar, singing quite well, and looking ready to deadlift an elephant.

Katie Stevens. Katie looked nice again tonight, but her stage moves were limited to some sassy neckitude, and her vocals were passable but unexciting on “Baby What You Want Me To Do”, a pretty sorry pick. The judges offered no critiques whatsoever with time running out, so they were unable to help her with voters, which means that it may be Katie who is running out of time as well.

Casey James. Finally given the closing spot, and he picks “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”, a real letdown. He should have sat down and picked along to “Kentucky Rain”. Instead, he used "Lawdy"'s blues-rock clamor to mask that unworkable hummingbird vibrato, a severe liability. It was, as Simon put it, “a wasted opportunity”.

Well, Ricky Minor and the Band have left the building, so it’s up to the voters. Who gets cut Wednesday? My prediction: Katie survives. Mike lives. Tim surges. Andrew and Aaron get yanked.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

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