Archive for March, 2008

AMERICAN IDOL 7: TOP 10 ANALYSIS

March 26, 2008

Songs from the year you were born tonight, which includes some of the greatest years for pop music ever! Charge!

RAMIELE MALUBAY – “Alone” (1982)

She hears the ticking of the clock all right… on her last day as an “Idol” contestant. Maybe she shouldn’t have chosen a song previously owned by Carrie Underwood on the “Idol” stage. Randy Jackson continues his year of being right, as he points out how off she was at times. Turns out she was sick, but that won’t be enough to save her, especially when she’s going first. Maybe she should have tried a song that wasn’t such a big ballad, like “La Isla Bonita” or “Don’t Dream It’s Over.”

JASON CASTRO – “Fragile” (1987)

Here’s a song off the beaten track. I have to admit the song wouldn’t have made me turn around if I heard it at a coffeehouse. While the background vocals gave it the island flavor, it might have been more impressive if he had done it solo (or tried an actual hit, like “I’ve Been In Love Before” by Cutting Crew).

SYESHA MERCADO – “If I Were Your Woman” (1987)

Nicely simple and soulful. Probably her best performance.

CHIKEZIE – “If Only For One Night” (1985)

Sure, it might have been more fun if Chikezie had tried “Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits, but let’s face it… this is the kind of artist Chikezie will be. Unfortunately, he’s no Luther Vandross and pales in comparison. Oh, and didn’t Chikezie look like he was boiling when listening to Simon’s comments?

BROOKE WHITE – “Every Breath You Take” (1983)

Somewhere Sting is rolling his eyes. Doing “Every Breath You Take,” a song about obsession and desire, like a Lionel Richie ballad didn’t work for me, plus it seemed like she had trouble fitting all the words into each line. Even worse were the audience flailing their arms to the song.

MICHAEL JOHNS – “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions” (1978)

I would have liked this better if he had skipped the “We Will Rock You” intro and just done “We Are The Champions.” Still, his best performance, but one all about vocal power, not emotion.

CARLY SMITHSON – “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” (1983)

I applaud the song choice, but doesn’t she seem scary when she starts screaming near the end?

DAVID ARCHULETA – “You’re The Voice” (1990)

Between talking about his prom and showing the video of dancing with his sister as a kid, David wouldn’t even have to sing this week to stay in. At first I liked his performance, but once the backing vocalists joined in, it seemed a bit like a performance by Up With People. I know this song was a big hit in Australia, but with all the of the great ballads from 1990 (“Praying For Time,” “I Don’t Have The Heart,” “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You”), I would have never picked this. David ended with a nice big note though.

KRISTY LEE COOK – “God Bless The U.S.A.” (1984)

To me, 1984 was the greatest year ever for pop music (well, I didn’t grow up in the sixties). So picking Lee Greenwood’s patriotic classic is a disappointment, but it will certainly keep her in the competition. What’s next, though? “God Bless America”? “The Star Spangled Banner”?

DAVID COOK – “Billie Jean” (1982)

Well, he mentioned Marvel Comics in the intro, so he’s got my vote. But unlike the judges, I wasn’t as impressed by this, considering we’ve seen the trick of slowing down and rocking up a song before from David. That held note at the end was a show stopper though, raising hopes that if he makes it to the finale, he can give David a run for his money with the bound to be a ballad “Idol” Song Contest winner.

AMERICAN IDOL 7: TOP 11 ANALYSIS

March 19, 2008

Top 12? Nah! This is the big night, because whoever gets into the Top 10 gets to go on the “American Idol” summer tour, giving each performer valuable exposure and quite a payday. And don’t think the contestants don’t know it…

As always, Simon got it right about tonight. He said maybe they shouldn’t have gone back to the well and done The Beatles again (well, last week they did Lennon/McCartney, but as only one person chose a George Harrison tune, that’s a quibble).  During the show, a quote from one of my album review books echoed in my head. Critic Robert Christgau once wrote this about Ringo Starr’s album, “Ringo”: “(Producer) Richard Perry cannot transmute questionable material into magic. And don’t kid yourself… the Beatles could.”

I mean really, is “Michelle” all that exciting a song? I don’t think so, and given that not all the contestants have even heard the Beatles’ biggest hits before, let alone some of the good but obscure stuff, it created a problem tonight.

On with the show…

AMANDA OVERMYER – “Back In The U.S.S.R.”

I liked the way she played with the melody, but was it really that special? I mean, if you had her voice, couldn’t you do the same thing? I thought she did herself some good during the post-song segment, and seeing her in the highlights at the end of the show made it clear that this performance towered over most of the others.

KRISTY LEE COOK – “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”

Kudos to the arrangement. I could see Celine Dion doing the song on one of her albums. Still, it’s hard to do a great job when the verses are more interesting than the chorus, and it’s even harder when you don’t bring any emotion to the song. Kristy needed to bring the pain, and she didn’t. She’s the performer who deserves to go home tomorrow night.

DAVID ARCHULETA – “The Long And Winding Road”

Yes, David was right… this was the Beatles’ final number one in America (Ryan said “Let It Be” had that distinction, but only in the U.K.). Unlike Kristy, David automatically brings emotion to any song he touches. I think just the fact that people will want to see him break down and cry in the finals will lead him to the “Idol” crown. I do think it would be a shame if he stops doing fast songs just because he forgot the words to one.

MICHAEL JOHNS – “A Day In The Life”

Although a bit psychedelic like last week’s “Across The Universe,” at least there’s a story in these lyrics for Michael to dig into. But having to edit a classic kept him from being amazing, and I think his voice broke a few times. Also, couldn’t they have included the dedication to his late friend in his opening montage? Not only was it a downer, but it made it seem like Michael was using the death to garner votes.

I think Michael needs to sing something gritty like “Drift Away.” Essentially Chikezie is showing the creativity and the folk rock feel Michael should have.

BROOKE WHITE – “Here Comes The Sun”

I really like the version of this song Sheryl Crow did for “Bee Movie,” so I was looking forward to Brooke’s version. I thought her vocal was good, but was hurt by the fact she slowed the song down a bit. As the judges remarked, she sure wasn’t helped by her horrible dress and bad dancing.

DAVID COOK – “Day Tripper”

I see he gave Whitesnake a shoutout after last week’s ruckus when a band accused David of lifting their arrangement of “Eleanor Rigby” without any acknowledgement.

Compare this performance to David’s “All Right Now” a few weeks back. You can see how confident he’s gotten. This was even a bit over the top, but still fun. I really loved the use of the vocorder. Can we expect a duet between Peter Frampton and David Cook come the final?

CARLY SMITHSON – “Blackbird”

Doing a ballad tonight, Carly seems like a totally different performer. I thought the arrangement was a bit boring, but really, what could she do with it? I liked her explanation for why she did the song. It showed she actually studied the lyric. And just what she needs, more tattoos!

JASON CASTRO – “Michelle”

A boring song with a very teen idol type performance.  Still, he got the French words right and brought some warmth to it. A bit of popping on the mike shows that he’s had less stage experience, than many of the rest, but he’s still fun to watch.

SYESHA MERCADO – “Yesterday”

Her best performance, complete with a new, improved hair style. I might not have added the vocal showing off, but she certainly brought the right emotion to it (sadness). This is the way Carly’s “Blackbird” should have been.

CHIKEZIE – “I’ve Just Seen A Face”

Started out slow with an R&B flavor, which was very smart. I would have lost the harmonica and cut back on the country guitar licks, but vocally this was excellent. Two great songs in one.

RAMIELE MALUBAY – “I Should Have Known Better”

Ramiele is lucky she’s last tonight, because that should be enough to keep her in. Maybe she should have Britneyed it up even more, but she brought some R&B power to the song. Unfortunately, she’s obviously limited creatively compared to some of the other contestants.

BELL, BRAND & MCBRIDE

March 17, 2008

Had a very pleasant round of interviews this past weekend for two Universal movies, “Leatherheads” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”

The interview for the George Clooney directed “Leatherheads” was on Saturday, and featured all three stars. John Krasinski from “The Office” was first up, followed by George and then Renee Zelwegger. All three were very honest and self depreciating. George, always a great story teller and certainly the most charismatic and likable actor you’ll ever meet, told us how he stays away from doing romantic comedies but made “Leatherheads” because of the interesting backdrop of early pro football. He also thinks it’s ridiculous that he’s been tagged as the new Cary Grant and repeatedly referred to himself as a knucklehead.

Renee matched George for modesty, calling herself an accidental actress who’s not that competent (the Oscar voters would disagree) and has a poor knowledge of film history.

The next day brought another trip to the Four Seasons Hotel for interviews for “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Aside from a disturbing amount of talk about male nudity from star Jason Segal and director Nicholas Stoller (see the movie and you’ll know why), the most fun interview was of an actor I’d never heard of before this week. In “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” Russell Brand gives a standout performance as a charismatic self centered English rock star who’s the new boyfriend of the title character. The funny thing is, except for the rock star part, Russell is pretty much the person he plays in the movie, right down to the leather pants! While I suspect that in a few years, Russell’s personality will turn out to be a Borat like acting job, he sure was hilarious.

Of course, the other highlight was my first roundtable with longtime fave Kristen Bell. I remember sitting in the audience during a “Veronica Mars” panel at the San Diego Comic-Con and being mad at myself that I had nothing for her to sign. I didn’t make that mistake this time, as I had my “Veronica Mars” Season1 DVD ready to go. Sure enough, I got she signed it (although even though I spelled my name for her, it looks a lot more like Breeen than Brian!).

Kristen told me I gave her one of the greatest compliments she ever got when I said, “Some actresses play good girls. Others play bad girls, but you’ve been lucky enough to play women that are a mixture of both.” She said she really hadn’t planned that and just goes with her gut when choosing roles. In fact, although she’s never been unemployed for long, Kristen always thinks she’ll never work again when she finishes a job, which is why she sought the job of the narrator on “Gossip Girl,” just so she would have something to do after the cancellation of “Veronica Mars”!

I also asked Kristen what interesting things she’s learned how to do when researching roles. She said she thinks she could pull off being a private investigator after playing Veronica Mars, although she admitted doing the show initially made her paranoid because she found out how easy it was to steal someone’s identity or tap their phones.

The junket interviews weren’t my only brushes with stars this weekend. My friend Chuck Thomas gave me a ticket to the Paley Festival’s celebration of “Pushing Daisies” on Saturday night.

Officially the 2008 William S. Paley Television Festival, the event takes one TV show a night, brings together the creators and the cast and sets them loose on stage to answer questions from a moderator and the audience. I’ve been attending the Festival for years, and have gone to nights celebrating shows both famous (“Desperate Housewives,” “Magnum, P.I.,” “Lost” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation”) and obscure (“Under Suspicion,” a great cop show from 1994).

Although I stopped watching “Pushing Daisies” a few episodes into its run, the clip package they showed made me rethink that decision. Then the cast came onstage. Usually there’s one person in every cast that takes over the proceedings with their sense of humor. In this case, it was Chi McBride, who after hearing how some of his fellow actors hadn’t been looking to do television until they received the “Pushing Daisies” pilot script, said he was tired of all the B.S. you hear on panels! What were they doing, sailing in Majorca?

Throughout the evening, Chi continued to be very, very funny and even convinced Kristen Chenoweth to let loose with her fantastic singing voice. Just a great night, so I highly suggest if you live in L.A., check out the Paley Festival website and if there’s a show you like on the schedule, check it out. Yes, it may be too late to get tickets to the “Buffy” reunion (they plan on streaming it live on their website so you can see it that way), but there are still tickets available for a little show called “The X-Files”!

MR. POPULARITY

March 14, 2008

After I wrote the entry, “Ghosts Of Idols Past,” a week ago, I had my biggest number of page looks since I began blogging on January 1st: 206. I immediately realized the reason was the article mentioned the names of a few popular formal “Idol” contestants, and their fans found out and clicked in. So I had the idea that if I wrote about the “Idol” star with the most dedicated fan base, I thought I might reach a new plateau… and boy, was I right!

Over 1500 people have looked at my last entry, “My Life As A Claymate” (thanks to one of the comments, I now know  I should have called myself a Claydawg, but I don’t think I’m going to change it…). Obviously that’s many more people than I thought I would ever reach, and that doesn’t even count the many Clay fans that have read the article when it was reprinted on other websites.

I especially enjoyed looking at the chart WordPress provides showing  how many hits your blog gets each day. In the past, it looked like a series of small hills. Today it looked like a straight line with one very tall and thin triangle on one side reaching all the way up to the top of the page!

So I thank everyone for taking a look at my work and for all the kind words about my writing. I did want to add a few comments though. First off, to everyone who recommended that I fly out  immediately to see Clay’s turn in “Spamalot,” sadly, I won’t be visiting the east coast again until later in the summer when he’s long gone.

To those who are eagerly awaiting what I might have to say about Clay’s upcoming album, be careful what you wish for! While there is no doubt in my mind about Clay’s talent, I am very tough when it comes to judging song quality. If the songs aren’t up to snuff, I won’t be afraid to say so… although maybe I should be, considering the passion I’ve seen all of you display! Still, like you, I hope Clay reaches a new, even higher standard when it comes to the CD.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get some sleep so I’ll be wide awake tomorrow for interviews which only my usual thirty readers will care about. It’s just a shame George Clooney and Renee Zelwegger don’t have the popularity Clay does!

MY LIFE AS A CLAYMATE

March 13, 2008

While this season of “American Idol” is shaping up as an especially exciting one full of surprises and reversals, I don’t know if I agree with the show’s claims that the current Season 7 features the best lineup of talent ever. After all, I’m partial to Season 5’s combo of Taylor Hicks, Katherine McPhee, Elliott Yamin and Chris Daughtry, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the most exciting season was number two, featuring the neck and neck competition all the way to the end between Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken.

While I had tuned in at times to Season 1 of “Idol,” the second season was the one that really captured my attention, starting with an appearance by my friend Fred Bronson, who pitched the show the idea for the theme, “Billboard Number Ones.” That theme night was followed up with shows devoted to some of my favorite artists, including Billy Joel, the Bee Gees and Neil Sedaka, but I think what really sold me on the show was Ruben’s fabulous performance of “Kiss And Say Goodbye,” the final song on that Billboard night.

But as I continued to watch, I started to grow more and more impressed with Clay, who shined on both ballads (Neil Sedaka’s “Solitaire”) and fun uptempo songs, like one of my alltime favorites, “Build Me Up Buttercup.” Then on the season finale, Clay let out a one-two knockout punch: first a transcendent version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (while Ruben sang a rather boring take on “Imagine”), followed by his soon to be number one hit, “This Is The Night,” which I liked much more than Ruben’s “Flying Without Wings.” But Ruben still ended up winning the “Idol” crown, which I didn’t feel bad about because it seemed like it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. As it turned out, I still haven’t met Ruben, but I would cross paths with Clay again and again.

The first time I met Clay was at a radio studio across from the NBC building in Burbank where Clay was appearing on “The Tonight Show” that evening. Fred Bronson had been assigned to do one of the first in-depth interviews with Clay after his “Idol” stint, and as often happens, I tagged along. Fred conducted a long interview that covered Clay’s life from singing in the carpet department at Sears at age five all the way to the Idol finale, and along the way added a lot to his fans’ knowledge about their hero. I found Clay to be an excellent storyteller, funny and also brutally honest about his “Idol” song and wardrobe choices. One other thing surprised me: Clay gave me a hug when he left (a year later, when Fred interviewed Season 3’s Diana DeGarmo at the same studio, I gave her a hug as she was leaving, probably surprising her at the time… but then, I’m no Clay!).

After the interview was released on the internet, Clay’s fans came out of the woodwork, deciding Fred was a reliable insider when it came to Clay and sending him e-mail after e-mail with questions and comments. One such e-mail came from a lady named Diann in Lancaster, PA, which is my hometown, so Fred asked if she knew me when I lived there. She hadn’t, but she mentioned it to a few of her friends, including Anita, who I had indeed palled around with during summers at the local pool. We ended up getting back in touch and I always make time for dinner with Anita and her Claymate friends whenever I’m visiting Lancaster.

Fred interviewed Clay again a few weeks before his debut album, “Measure Of A Man,” was released. This time Fred and I met Clay at the hotel he was staying at in L.A. and joined him for breakfast in the hotel restaurant. With no publicists in attendance, this interview was much more informal than the first one. I was impressed by Clay’s determination to learn all he could about the music business. He often stopped the interview to ask Fred questions about radio play and the charts.

Eventually, I got a chance to interview Clay myself, but it would have never happened if I hadn’t been at those earlier interviews. One of my friends hosts his own movie review show on TV. He was based in Portland, Oregon at the time and couldn’t make it back to Los Angeles to cover the festivities celebrating the DVD release of Disney’s “Aladdin.” He asked me to do the interviews on the red carpet outside Hollywood’s El Capitan Theater for him, and I gladly agreed, having never done any interviews for TV before. Many of the stars attending were featured in Disney produced shows, and I got a good number of them to talk to me. But when Clay arrived, it seemed like he was in a hurry to get inside and skipped talking to most of the gathered press. Fortunately, I caught the eye of his publicist, who recognized me from the earlier interview with Fred (as did Clay) and steered Clay over to me for a few minutes.

I got in four questions. First I asked Clay how he keeps his energy up on tour, to which he replied, “McDonald’s!” He laughed and added that he tries to change his show a little bit every night to keep things interesting for him, and in turn, the audience. I also asked him about his upcoming Christmas album as well as the song he did for the “Aladdin” DVD. But the best response I got from him came when I said that I know his female fans love him to death and go to great lengths to see him in concert, but does he ever hear from the husbands and boyfriends they drag along? Clay said every once in a while, he’ll see a T-shirt on a guy in the audience that says, “I got dragged to see him,” but to him the funniest thing was how the women manage to make it to the front row in front of the stage, leaving their men stewing fifteen rows back.

I’ve seen Clay a few other times as well, like at a Halloween party at Kim Locke’s house (Clay didn’t bother to dress up in a costume, but he did stay a while), and also backstage at two of his concerts I attended with Fred. And while I thought his last album was a bit of a disappointment, I’m hoping the one he’s releasing later this year will mark a return to the strong songs and melodic diversity of “Measure Of A Man.” Plus any time Clay’s out promoting a new CD, he makes a stop on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” which is always hilarious. I can’t wait!

AMERICAN IDOL 7: TOP 12 ANALYSIS

March 12, 2008

I’m a little late with this post because I had to go see a movie tonight (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) and when I got home, I discovered I had only taped part of the show because I forgot to reset my video recorder’s clock for daylight savings time. So I watched what I had and then went over to a friend’s house to see what I missed… and also hear what I missed, as that friend was in the actual “Idol” audience. So we’ll have a little inside scoop this time around! Onward!

It turns out that Top 12 night is so special, they not only have a new set to mark the occasion, but Simon’s wearing a white shirt! And look, there’s someone I know, that friend I mentioned: Billboard columnist Fred Bronson, giving a little background on the importance of the Lennon/McCartney songwriting team. Notice I didn’t say the Beatles and neither did anyone on the show. There were no George Harrison songs for the contestants to choose, thus no “Something” or “Here Comes The Sun.”

Fred told me he spent an hour and a half being interviewed for the segment on Friday morning, because the producers also had him talk about each of the songs the contestants chose, although they decided not to use those comments. Too bad, because the footage of the Idols talking about their lives seemed to be a rerun of past weeks. I know they want to give us more insight into the contestants, but we already know Carly works at a bar!

They followed up the piece with a shot of Fred in the audience. That must have helped some of the people sitting near him understand why Paula, Randy and Ryan all came over to talk to him during the commercial breaks. Fred sat near Taye Diggs, who is married to Broadway actress and singer Idina Menzel. Taye was very happy to hear that Fred enjoyed the album Idina recently put out.  Now, on with the show:

SYESHA MERCADO – “Got To Get You Into My Life”

I was all set to talk about how Syesha used the Earth, Wind & Fire arrangement from the movie, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” but Randy beat me to it. So I’ll just say that this was a solid R&B performance, not momentous, but with some nice held notes. Certainly better than her last few tries and enough to keep her in the contest for another week.

CHIKEZIE – “She’s A Woman”

The surprise of the night, it was like Chikezie was replaced by a better performer! At first, I thought he would go with a country arrangement, using the kind of guitar sound that the production team Stargate brought to songs like “Irreplaceable” and “Tattoo,” but the song quickly turned rocking. He even used some stuttering out of the Who’s playbook and gave us a big note at the end. Nice job…

RAMIELE MALUBAY – “In My Life”

I still like the throaty quality of her voice, but the arrangement just wasn’t exciting enough to make her stand out. Still, you can’t make her into something she isn’t, so this singer in the Celine mold shouldn’t be around too much longer.

JASON CASTRO – “If I Fell”

The song would have started out on a higher note if Jason had brought in another guitarist to finger pick the intro instead of strumming it himself. I thought he brought some nice emotion to the song, actually seeming hurt. I would have left out the falsetto, but good enough to keep him in the hunt.

CARLY SMITHSON – “Come Together”

The best performance of the night, showing that Amanda isn’t the only contestant with a little Janis in her soul, although I did think part of the reason she sounded so good was that the background singers sounded great behind her. Interestingly, Fred told me that when they showed her friends in the audience, one of them was former child actress Danielle Brisebois, who later became a songwriter/producer (she’s one of the writers of Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten”). Danielle is not only one of Carly’s best friends, but worked on Carly’s ill fated 2001 album, “Ultimate High.”

DAVID COOK – “Eleanor Rigby”

David did a nice job of putting power into his vocals, although “Eleanor Rigby” didn’t quite make the jump into being a power ballad as easily as “Hello.” Also, like many of the contestants this week, David seemed a little looser with Ryan and the judges after the song, actually smiling, which should help his likability quotient.

BROOKE WHITE – “Let It Be”

Ryan makes a big mistake in the intro, calling “Let It Be” the Beatles’ last single. Actually “The Long And Winding Road” came out after “Let It Be” and hit number one. That doesn’t even include all the singles Capitol has put out since the band broke up.

I think “Let It Be” is a hard song to screw up, and Brooke does a lovely job. Still, if you compare her version to the passion Paul McCartney brought to the original, well, Brooke’s doesn’t even compare.

DAVID HERNANDEZ – “I Saw Her Standing There”

Memories of the stripper controversy won’t go away as David talks about another job he had at a pizzeria. It’s a charming interview, but the song fails him. He shows off some strong vocal power, but he’s just not a rocker. As he’s more of a soul singer, I wonder what he would have done with “We Can Work It Out” using the Stevie Wonder arrangement David Archuleta did.

AMANDA OVERMYER – “You Can’t Do That”

Amanda has the Steven Tyler rocker posture down. If you saw her in a club, you would be blown away by her voice, so there’s no reason not to be impressed with her on the “Idol” stage. But she’s limited as a performer and it won’t seem like much of a loss when she goes…

MICHAEL JOHNS – “Across The Universe”

Nicely sung, but not too exciting. There’s really no interesting lyric for Michael to dig into.

KRISTY LEE COOK – “Eight Days A Week”

A horrible mistake, this is like one of those house remakes of a hit song, all sped up with no emotion. Too bad Kristy never heard Rosanne Cash’s version of “I Don’t Want To Spoil the Party.” Rosanne took that Beatles song to number one on the country charts. There’s no doubt Kristy Lee deserves to go tomorrow night, although Ramiele’s in the running. It all depends on how big their respective fan bases are.

DAVID ARCHULETA – “We Can Work It Out”

The front runner falters, although he could easily have some more bad nights like this and stay in the contest on likability. I actually thought his microphone was cutting out on him the first time I watched the show. If he knew the song as well as he said, then he’s being affected by nerves. Maybe he should have taken the easy way out and sung “Yesterday”…

VIVA RED ROCK VEGAS

March 11, 2008

So I had a fine time in Las Vegas. Made it there in plenty of time Friday to take a shower, have dinner and get to my seat in the Orleans Showroom by eight to see Neil Sedaka in concert. After opening with “Bad Blood,” Neil played his hits in roughly chronological order, performing the late fifties-early sixties material first before heading into the songs I love from his second heyday in the seventies. Neil hasn’t lost a bit of his vocal range, easily handling a challenging song like “Solitaire.” He also had a few surprises for the audience, showing a video from the sixties of himself performing “Calendar Girl” with a bevy of Italian beauties and later singing a duet with his daughter Dara (who was there via videotape) of their 1980 hit, “Should’ve Never Let You Go.” He even played a classical piano solo!

In fact, my only disappointment was that Neil skipped over my favorite song of his, “The Immigrant,” which wouldn’t have been so bad except for the fact that when I accompanied my friend Fred Bronson backstage after the show, Fred mentioned to Neil how much I loved the song and Neil said he would have been happy to perform it if he had only known ahead of time! Oh well… at least I got to tell Neil that he was the only one of my favorite artists I hadn’t seen in concert, so I had to come to Las Vegas and see his show.

Otherwise, I spent the weekend checking out some of the changes that have occurred in the city since my last trip there in August. I visited the new hotel adjacent to the Venetian called the Palazzo, and took a look at some of the new bars and clubs at the Luxor. But I was most impressed by the Red Rock Casino Resort, which opened two years ago and is located about fifteen minutes away from the Strip in Summerlin. Just a nice modern hotel full of beautifully designed restaurants complete with a lovely pool area.

As for meals, aside from stuffing myself at the Red Rock’s buffet, I also ate prime rib at the Orleans’ Canal Street and had a wonderful cut of ahi tuna at the Bonefish Grill. And as always, I made a stop at Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop for lunch. This time the small restaurant was filled with a girl’s softball team whose bus was parked outside, but I still managed to get the last seat at the counter.

While I was in Las Vegas, I happened to turn on the TV on Saturday afternoon just in time to catch the week’s episode of “American Idol Rewind,” which featured Fred Bronson’s first appearance on “American Idol.” During Season Two, Fred was on the show teaching the contestants about the Billboard charts, which tied in with that week’s theme of number one hits from the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Of course, as fun as it was to see Fred on TV, it’s too bad Fred’s visit to the show coincided with the talented and affable Rickey Smith’s last week in the contest.

But if you didn’t get to see Fred on “Rewind” this week, don’t worry, because Fred will be making a return visit to “Idol” tomorrow night, giving his thoughts on the theme of the night, the Beatles. And of course, I’ll be back tomorrow night giving you my thoughts on the performances. See you then!

WORK STOPPAGE

March 7, 2008

I’m headed for Las Vegas tomorrow. I would have went today, but I had some work to finish so I put the trip off. It looks like I’ll be finished with the project by midnight, so I’ll be able to leave with a clear conscience.

The main reason I’m going this weekend is I have the chance to see Neil Sedaka in concert at the Orleans tomorrow night. Neil is one of a very few of my favorite artists that I haven’t seen in concert. I was hoping to hear Neil perform my favorite song of his, “The Immigrant,” but it happened to pop up on my Ipod today and I realized the anti-illegal immigration crowd might take offense even though the song came out in 1975. It will be interesting to see if Neil plays it.

In other news, I’d have to say America got it right with the Idol eliminations tonight. I did like Asia’h Epperson, but I like Syesha Mercado more, so I’m glad things went the way they did. Of course, the question is if their positions on the show last night were reversed, would Syesha be the one going home?

Look for a report on my trip on Tuesday. I’ll also be covering some fun junkets at the end of next week, featuring George Clooney and Kristin Bell. You know I’ll be taking my “Veronica Mars” Season 1 DVD along to get signed! Hmm, maybe I should change my log line to “Adventures Of A Celeb Autograph Seeker”…

THE THRILLING RETURN OF MOOSE & SQUIRREL

March 6, 2008

Sorry, but this column isn’t for Bullwinkle aficionados. I just wanted to mention that ever since I read the coverage of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson’s appearance at the recent WonderCon in San Francisco, I’ve been very excited about the return of “The X-Files” to the big screen (if you watched the show, you know that Duchovny’s character Fox Mulder once referred to himself and Agent Scully as Moose And Squirrel).

During its 9 season run, “The X-Files” was my favorite show. I really enjoyed piecing together the clues to understanding the conspiracy that executive producer Chris Carter created, and the humorous give and take between Mulder and Scully made them my favorite TV couple. So while I also appreciated the sci-fi and horror plots, the most memorable moments of the show for me were between Mulder and Scully, such as when Mulder showed Scully how to hit a baseball in the episode, “The Unnatural,” or when the pair took a turn on the dance floor to the music of Cher in “The Post-Modern Prometheus.”

So of course, as a fan, I especially enjoyed attending the junket for 1998’s “The X-Files: Fight The Future.” Not only did I get to see the movie early, it was my first chance to meet the stars (and to get them to autograph a keepsake for me, a Cinefantastique with Mulder and Scully on the cover). But my favorite moment came as Chris Carter was leaving our table after our fifteen minutes with him. I said, “So the reason that bee got stuck in Scully’s collar was because of the alien implant in her neck, right?” While Chris didn’t give me a direct answer, he did smile, so I knew I was right. And just like that, all the pieces of the conspiracy that was the backbone of “The X-Files” fell into place.

Ever since, every time I’ve had a chance to interview David Duchovny, I’ve brought along a piece of “X-Files” memorabilia to autograph, and he’s always signed it gladly. Unfortunately, I haven’t interviewed Gillian Anderson since, as she’s mostly been working in England in recent years.

I do have one worry about the “X-Files” sequel though. Chris Carter has promised to make the movie very scary. How am I supposed to enjoy the reunion of two of my favorite characters while I’m hiding my eyes?

AMERICAN IDOL 7: TOP 16 ANALYSIS – THE GIRLS

March 6, 2008

Top 12… ha! Last year they didn’t even bother to release a compilation CD of songs by the Top 12. The real emphasis should be on making the Top 10 because that’s who gets to go on the tour and make some money!

So let’s see how the ladies did tonight (and this time, the added bonus is a suggested Beatles song for each contestant, since I read on the internet Beatles Night is coming up soon)…

ASIA’H EPPERSON – “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)”

What is it with these contestants? Over and over the judges insist it’s not a good idea to pick a song by Whitney or Celine, and what happens? There’s three of them tonight! Asia’h gives this dance classic a powerful vocal and shows some likable modesty while facing the judges. But will it be enough to keep her in?

BEATLES CHOICE:  “Ticket To Ride” (the slowed down version performed by the Carpenters)

KADY MALLOY – “Who Wants To Live Forever”

Maybe it’s not that smart to say in your embarrassing moment clip that you blew a song! It was smart of Kady to try a song with dramatic possibilities, but she ended up showing more technique than emotion. At least she’s smiling more during the judges’ critique, but the song title probably bodes ill for her tomorrow night.

BEATLES SONG – “Here Comes The Sun”

AMANDA OVERMYER – “I Hate Myself For Loving You”

She really shined on the catchy chorus, but the truth is she should be able to sing this kind of rocker in her sleep.  I await the rumors about her starring in a Janis Joplin biopic.

BEATLES SONG – “Come Together”

CARLY SMITHSON – “I Drove All Night”

She really brought out the rock side of this very catchy song. A perfect vocal. Now all she needs is to connect with the audience. Perhaps that will come on the big stage next week. You can tell someone told her to turn on the personality while facing the judges, because there was a big improvement there.

BEATLES SONG – “Got To Get You Into My Life”

KRISTY LEE COOK – “Faithfully”

A bad haircut, but a good vocal that brought out her country leanings toward the end of the song. But no, this wouldn’t be a country hit…

BEATLES SONG –  “You Won’t See Me” (which you might remember was a powerful single for Anne Murray)

RAMIELE MALUBAY – “Against All Odds”

She played with the melody a bit, but this song has never been very exciting, and even with her big voice, that didn’t change. She was foolish not to take Ryan’s opening and explain why she chose the song.

BROOKE WHITE – “Love Is A Battlefield”

An interesting arrangement, but again, I would have liked to see a bit of anger in Brooke’s vocal. Still, the risk of doing an acoustic arrangement paid off, as Brooke was the class of the women tonight. But I can’t help but think what Carly might have done with the same song…

BEATLES SONG – “And Your Bird Can Sing”

SYESHA MERCADO – “Saving All My Love For You”

Funny that a perfect Whitney imitation doesn’t score many points. If only she had brought that same passion and commitment to  a song that wasn’t so identified with a superstar. She was unfairly cheated out of her time with the judges (but going last should make up for it). Nigel will have to give Paula and Simon a scolding.

BEATLES SONG – “Let it Be”

And because I didn’t  do it last night, here are some Beatles suggestions for the guys:

DANNY NOREIGA – “Hey Jude”

DAVID ARCHULETA – “Here, There And Everywhere”

DAVID COOK – He’ll probably rock  out with “Helter Skelter” but I’d go with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”

DAVID HERNANDEZ – “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”

JASON CASTRO – “I’ll Follow The Sun” or “Across The Universe”

LUKE MENARD – “We Can Work It Out”

MICHAEL JOHNS – “Something”