Points of Ponderation…..Episode 3.16

A semi-regular attempt to address some of life’s minutiae that might otherwise be overlooked…..

 

 

 

 

So I guess the finale of the farewell season of American Idol has come & gone. I had planned on watching the last season just forAmerican-Idol old times’ sake, but that simply didn’t happen. My Idol viewership was hit & miss at best over the years, but like a lot of other folks I began to lose interest awhile ago, especially when turnover at the judges’ table started to be a bit much. As annoying as they could be at times, the lineup of Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, & Randy Jackson had chemistry that was never as enjoyable with additions like Ellen DeGeneres, Steven Tyler, Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, and the last group of J-Lo, Keith Urban, & Harry Connick Jr. It didn’t help that the only two winners since 2007 that even came close to moving the needle for longer than 5 minutes were Jordin Sparks & Phillip Phillips…and I’m being rather generous to them. I suppose it’s possible that I’m just old, out-of-touch, & stuck in my ways, no longer within the target demographic that typically enjoys a show like American Idol.  I know what kind of music I enjoy & what performers I prefer, and that is unlikely to be impacted by the winner of a reality show who fades into oblivion not long after their made-for-TV victory. Having said all that, it is undeniable that for a brief moment in time American Idol was a pop culture phenomenon that gave us memorable stars like Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry, Katherine McPhee, Kellie Pickler, & Jennifer Hudson. One could even throw Cowell and Ryan Seacrest into that mix, although it is possible they may have found another launching pad to fame & fortune had Idol never existed. At any rate, a fond farewell to American Idol. Maybe we’ll see you again someday.

 

nc2There has been much controversy swirling about HB2, aka the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, that was recently passed in North Carolina. Essentially the bill…as I understand it…maintains the status quo and prohibits any special privileges for “the LGBT community”, especially “transgender” individuals seeking the right to use public bathrooms based on the sex with which they “identify” rather than what biology dictates. Bruce Springsteen is angry. Jimmy Buffett is as upset as a pothead gets. The NFL is unhappy. Everybody is throwing their weight around one way or another about the situation. I briefly pondered in-depth pontification on the issue, but I have decided it’s not worth my time or aggravation. I have my opinions. I know right vs. wrong. However I have been doing my best to back off certain hot button topics. I’ll live my life and let others live theirs. But let me offer one quick opinion. If this law stands (which is uncertain at best), I predict that in the next decade the state of North Carolina will experience faster economic & population growth than anywhere in the country. You heard it here first.

 

oj2Did you watch the recently concluded ten part miniseries American Crime Story: The People oj3vs. O.J. Simpson?? I had very low expectations at the outset and was prepared for a tacky yet entertaining cheesefest of epic proportions. However, I ended up being pleasantly surprised by the writing and superb performances. How much of what was on my TV screen accurately reflected real life events?? Did attorney Robert Kardashian (sympathetically portrayed by former Friends star David Schwimmer) really have doubts about OJ’s innocence?? Is attorney Robert Shapiro (portrayed by the legendary John Travolta) really that much of an arrogant weirdo?? Did Marcia Clark & Christopher Darden really almost get it on?? I don’t know and neither do you, but who cares?? The show was fantastic and should end up winning multiple Emmys (especially for Sarah Paulson as Clark and Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran). It is fascinating to think about how different things might have turned out had LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman not been involved in the case or if those infamous gloves (if they don’t fit you must acquit!!) hadn’t been introduced as evidence. Cochran’s strategy to utilize the “race card” may have been morally questionable and sort of a straw man argument, but it turned out to be brilliant. Clark & Darden were seemingly solid lawyers who just got outmaneuvered by more devious opponents. The really sad part of the equation from my perspective is the jury. Everyone involved expected them to deliberate for weeks…maybe even months. Instead they returned a verdict in just a few hours. The American system of justice is the best in the world and provides an opportunity for a defendant to be judged by a jury of his/her peers…but what if those “peers” aren’t up to the task?? O.J. Simpson benefitted from his celebrity and from a jury who was bored, tired, frustrated, easily manipulated by Cochran, & after a year in the courtroom just wanted to go home. That’s my take anyway…you’re mileage may vary.

 

The 2015 Sammy Awards didn’t happen because Your Humble Potentate of Profundity spent the last couple of months of 2015 inthumb a hospital. However, while doing some way too early prep work for this year’s presentation I took a look back at the 2014 Awards and was amazed. We hand out what I call The DB Cooper Award (For the Person Who Most Needs to Disappear). In 2014 there were 11 nominees. As of right now one of them retired from Congress, one acrimoniously departed from MSNBC, one had their reality show cancelled, and one is dead. Damn I’m good.

 

jfkI wasn’t quite as enamored with Hulu’s eight part adaptation of Stephen King’s 2011 novel 11/22/63 as I became of the OJ Simpson miniseries, but then again the book is so fantastic that it would have been darn near impossible to equal. Casting James Franco in the lead was a mistake in my opinion (I envisioned Josh Lucas in the role as I was reading the book), though it certainly wasn’t a fatal flaw. As with any book that is adapted into a film or TV series there were alterations & omissions, but nothing unforgivable. King’s works are notoriously difficult to translate from page to screen, but it was definitely a wise choice to make a miniseries instead of a feature film as was the original plan. All in all it was a solid effort, but it could have been far better.

Superfluous 7 – Ways to Improve American Idol

Never fear American Idol fans. We may currently be between seasons, but I am here to provide a little midsummer respite for those missing one of your favorite guilty pleasures. I am normally a fan of the old adage “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, and since Idol is still getting good ratings and making mad bank some may think it isn’t broken. I disagree. I feel like there are things that need tweaking that would make the show fresh, and more importantly, better. Therefore, I have a few modest suggestions. So, for those of you who out there who have ever (for some mysterious reason) made an effort to see Bucky Covington at a county fair, and those who actually remember who in the heck Sanjaya Malakar is, I give you…..

 

 

a collaborative effort from the home offices in Intercourse & Climax, PA…..

 

 

The Superfluous 7 Ways to Improve American Idol:

 

 

7       Higher Age Limit

Right now Idol rules state contestants must be between the ages of 15 & 28. Originally contestants had to be from 16-24. I would change the rules again. This past season it struck me that my early favorite (before Haley Reinhart grabbed my attention), eventual runner-up Lauren Alaina, was only 16 years old and there were a lot of times when one could tell. I give the young lady a lot of credit…she handled herself well and maintained her composure under tremendous pressure, but is it really a good idea to put 16 year old kids in that position?? It just feels…wrong on some level. I also don’t believe that a person’s talent should be discarded just because they may not be young and tight and sexy anymore. I realize that the powers-that-be are marketing to a target audience skewing toward young teenagers, mostly female. But both from a business & creative viewpoint it would seem to make sense to open up the parameters a bit, and from a moral point of view it seems logical to me that contestants on a reality show should atleast be out of high school. So I would make the age range from 18-35. This would be an easy change to make and I really don’t think it would hurt the product much.

 

6       DWTS Scoring

One of my other guilty pleasures is Dancing with the Stars, and they do something a wee bit different than Idol. They let the masses vote, but they don’t let it become a complete popularity contest. The judges on DWTS aren’t well known personalities giving meaningless advice. They are experts in their field who give scores that are factored into the results. I am not sure how much weight is given to the judges scores versus public vote…it’s probably not 50/50…but it makes enough of a difference that someone who just cannot dance at all won’t be saved by their level of popularity, atleast not for long. Meanwhile, on Idol, if enough 13 year old nitwits think someone is “OMG HOT!!” it doesn’t matter if they sing like Roseanne Barr doing The National Anthem, even if the judges point it out. I say make the judges on American Idol useful. Let them assign some sort of score to each performance that is then balanced in some way with audience input. As frivolous as a show like American Idol is, the outcome does have a significant impact, both positive and negative, on contestants’ lives. I do not think it is right to leave those lives completely in the hands of children with unformed, unsophisticated, decidedly undeveloped musical palates.

 

5       Throw Off The Covers

Idol is so predictable when it comes to songs. Multiple people every season try to tackle Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and Celine Dion (almost always failing miserably). Contestants probably think they are being cute and impressing someone when they sing a Carrie Underwood or Kelly Clarkson tune. I think they are probably wrong. Stevie Wonder gets a lot of play on the show, and one doesn’t really realize how awesome Lil Stevie is until some 17 year old kid with no soul butchers one of his songs. And here’s the kicker: When the lucky & talented winner reaches the end of a long and arduous road THEN they are forced to sing some crappy new song by some unknown songwriter that the producers are praying becomes a huge radio hit. It rarely works. I say let the contestants sing original material throughout the season. Whether it is something they have written themselves or a tune somebody else hooks them up with, atleast it’d be something different on occasion. The contestants that really stand out, like James Durbin or Chris Daughtry, are the ones who go out on a limb and give us a completely fresh take on an old song. All I am suggesting is that we take that a step further and allow the guys & gals to sing stuff we may have never heard before. Would it be a gamble?? Absolutely, which is another reason I really like the idea. But who knows?? Maybe…just maybe…the roll of the dice may pay off for the risk taker, and the audience might be spared from hearing the same dozen songs a hundred times.

 

4       Real Judges

I have liked every judge that has ever been on Idol. I did feel like Ellen Degeneres was woefully miscast in the role, and Kara DioGuardi, ironically one of only two judges who have been really qualified for the gig, seemed completely uncomfortable. Simon Cowell rocked but understandably got bored. That brings us to Paula Abdul and the current lineup of Randy Jackson, Steven Tyler, and Jennifer Lopez. The prevailing thought process seems to be that a successful pop star is the perfect person to choose a new crop of pop stars. That logic is wrong. Look, I LOVE Steven Tyler, but as entertaining as he is, he adds nothing of substance. He gave no meaningful insight, criticism, or helpful advice all last season. Ditto for J-Lo, who is a carbon copy of Abdul in the sense that both seemed to balk at offering any kind of constructive critique. Neither want to be mean. Maybe this is really their personality…or maybe they don’t want to be perceived as bitches and hurt their own careers (insomuch as Paula Abdul still has a “career”). Which leads me to Randy. Randy Jackson, contrary to popular belief, is not one of the Jackson Five. No, his biggest claim to musical fame is being a bassist for Journey for about 5 minutes in the mid-80’s. Okay okay…I guess he is some sort of record producer too. But whatever his legitimate qualifications may be, he has pretty much made them irrelevant on Idol. In my opinion he is the most useless judge of them all, with a collection of catchphrases that substitute for genuine commentary on contestants’ performances. He, of course, calls everyone “Dawg”, but he also says things like “It was just aiiight”, “You worked it out”, “It was a little pitchy dawg”, and “He’s in it to win it!!”. What the hell do those things even mean??  I can predict almost exactly what Randy is going to say before he even says it, and his schtick has become tiresome. He did try to be more “Simon-esque”, i.e. sort of mean, this past season, but it generally fell flat. The show is supposed to be about the contestants, but unfortunately it has become too much about the star power of the judges. If I may, let me once again reference DWTS. The judges on that show are Carrie Ann Inaba, Bruno Tonioli (the excitable Italian), and Len Goodman (the stuffy Brit). Raise your hand if you’d heard of them before DWTS. That’s right…no one raised their hand. But all three bring genuine qualifications to their roles…dancer, coach, choreographer or even all of those things. They give great counsel that, if the celebrities follow, makes a noticeable difference. That needs to happen on American Idol but it rarely does. My advice would be to can all three of the existing judges and bring in folks who have the types of jobs that make or break young, talented singers. So what if the masses have never heard of them?? Atleast Seacrest is still there to be witty & charming. That and the singing should be enough.

 

3       Limited Voting

I talked to a friend during this past season who said she’d just voted (for whom I forget) 200 times. That’s right…two HUNDRED times. In one night. Besides being a sad commentary on the emptiness of that person’s life, it is just plain ridiculous and wrong. How come I can only cast one vote for my choice for President or Governor or Mayor but I can stuff the proverbial ballot box for Constantine Maroulis?? How about we give everyone 10 votes (per week of course)?? I am sure it would be easy enough to do from a technical standpoint. This sort of goes back to the age thing too. A prepubescent girl has a distinct advantage over an old(er) dude like myself when it comes to texting, so this would level the playing field a bit.

 

2       Random Song Choice

They mixed it up a little bit this past season, having record company exec Jimmy Lovine (who’d make a great judge – see #4) suggest songs to the contestants, and in the finale I seem to recall Alaina and eventual winner Howdy Doody/George Strait/Alfred P. Newman (I’ve forgotten his actual name already and I bet I’m not the only one, so good luck kid) were assigned songs by Lovine and the judges. How about we do more of that?? Put these kids on the spot. Make them pick a song out of a hat. If you really want to be a prick about it do it on the live broadcast and make them sing it within the hour with no practice, but I’d be okay with doing it earlier in the week and giving them a fighting chance to not embarrass themselves. You want fan involvement?? Okay…let fans vote on songs they want to hear from each contestant. There are so many ways to shake things up and make the show more fun & unpredictable.

 

1       Voting Age Limit

I know I seem stuck on this age thing. I don’t want to come off as some curmudgeonly old man who doesn’t understand what the kids are into these days, but maybe I am to a degree. However, I don’t think I am being unfair when I say that modern “music” can’t hold a candle to the great stuff I grew up listening to in the 70’s & 80’s. Even music before my time, tunes from the 50’s & 60’s, are tremendous, it’s just that I don’t have as much of an emotional connection. At any rate, I give Idol credit for not allowing crap like rap & hip-hop to soil the show, although how could they since it is supposed to be a s-i-n-g-i-n-g competition and I am sure Fox would balk at contestants jumping around yelling about killing cops, doing drugs, and smacking around their bitches & hos. Plus as previously mentioned there is always a copious amount of love given to great talents like Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Mariah Carey, and Carole King. However, every time I hear someone do a great rendition of You’ve Got A Friend or Overjoyed  I just can’t shake that nagging feeling, pondering to myself “I wonder if the teeny boppers get it??” If Contestant A comes out and does a kickass version of Gershwin’s Summertime and Contestant B sings a Lady Gaga cover, which one will grab the attention of the youngsters?? Maybe I am wrong (it happens occasionally), but I think I know the answer and it’s not good. I humbly suggest setting an age limit of…let’s be generous and say…16. Because maybe…just maybe…someone that age has been driving a bit and accidentally stumbled upon a classic rock, adult contemporary, or other radio station with decent music that has somehow infiltrated their brain. Or maybe I’m being far too optimistic.

 

 

 

Fast Food, Dogs, and American Idol: The Embracing of Pop Culture Mediocrity

A few years ago before I acquired my beautiful puppy Rocco I did a fair amount of  research. I read about different breeds, what to expect from his particular breed, different training techniques and theories, etc. One of the things I learned was that, for various reasons, it is unwise to feed a dog “people food”. And more interestingly, I discovered that dogs are perfectly happy with their own food. Whereas we humans…theoretically…prefer variety (it is the spice of life), dogs couldn’t possibly care less…they just want fed. This has proven quite accurate over the years, as Rocco still gets as excited over the same food that I’ve been feeding him since early on. I did switch brands once, and we made the leap from puppy formula to adult dog food at some point, but essentially he’s been eating the same meal for three years and loving it.

 

Conversely, I recall a trip I was on with a group from my church. I don’t remember what city we were in, but we were going to grab some dinner before the conference we were attending. Conveniently there was a Ryan’s right beside our hotel. The majority rules and I am not one to make waves, so I went along with the plan to eat there, but to be honest I was disappointed. There is a Ryan’s 10 minutes from my apartment at which I can eat anytime I want. When I go out of town I like to try something different, whether it be a local establishment or a chain that isn’t available in my hometown. I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself adventurous, but I do like to mix it up a little bit and venture out ever so gently onto a limb.

 

I realize that not everyone shares my quest for something unique. After all, one of the reasons chain restaurants and stores exist is because of their comfort and predictability. A Big Mac is the same whether you’re eating at a McDonald’s in West Virginia, Montana, New York, or Florida. If someone chloroformed a person and placed them inside a WalMart when that person woke up they wouldn’t immediately know whether they were in Washington DC or the state of Washington. This is convenient & reassuring, but it is also mundane & predictable. And I guess maybe that is what society prefers nowadays. Forget exceptional, eschew excellence, and shun singularity…just give us a tired retread of something familiar and comfortable.

 

This fact became crystal clear the past several weeks as I have been watching one of my guilty pleasures, American Idol. One by one the viewers have voted a person off until we finally got down to our final pair, and then the fans chose their champion. And in so doing the masses confirmed my suspicions.

 

Now let me be clear…I am well aware that everyone has different tastes in music, but that is not what this is about. I may prefer jazz, classic rock, and easy listening, while you may lean toward country, hip-hop, and gospel. That is fine by me. But that doesn’t mean we must settle for subpar quality within whatever genre we like. I love the fact that when I am listening to some of my favorite singers or bands I immediately know their sound. Whether it is Sinatra, Dean Martin, REO Speedwagon, The Eagles, Boston, Van Halen, James Taylor, or Garth Brooks even the most fair weather fans will instantly recognize those voices. Is there any singer in the world as distinctive as Bob Dylan?? Did Fleetwood Mac with Stevie Nicks sound like any other band out there in the 70’s & 80’s?? When you hear a Barry Manilow tune do you have trouble putting your finger on who exactly the artist is?? Do you wonder for even a second who is singing that song when the local radio station plays something by Tom Petty?? No, no, no, and no.

 

One of the things I have had to endure while keeping tabs on Idol these past few months is the vitriolic animosity toward third place finisher Haley Reinhart. I chose Haley as my darkhorse awhile back, predicting that she could possibly make it to the final three. I was absolutely correct. She has a soulful, bluesy vibe and I would buy a record of hers in a heartbeat. But the drumbeat of the soccer moms has been that she screeches and growls, and the hatred for the lovely Miss Reinhart has been stunning to me. It is amazing how some folks wouldn’t know true talent if it fixed them breakfast in bed and drove them to work every day. Meanwhile hacks like Justin Beiber, Miley Cyrus, and Katy Perry rake in millions of the public’s hard earned dollars by selling scrapple but convincing people it is filet mignon. It just doesn’t make any sense to this humble Potentate of Profundity.

 

I do not have anything against newly crowned Idol winner Scotty McCreery. He seems like a nice guy. He can sing. But when I close my eyes and listen to him I hear other voices…Clint Black, Randy Travis, George Strait, Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, and a plethora of other male country singers that are virtually indistinguishable from one another. It’s not that I completely hate country music…I don’t. I enjoy performers like Hank Williams Jr., Sugarland, Willie Nelson, Carrie Underwood, Travis Tritt, and Faith Hill. I like voices that stand out from the crowd. Scotty McCreery does not stand out from the crowd despite looking like the love child of Alfred E. Newman and Howdy Doody. I certainly do not wish any ill will, but I think I have food in my kitchen cupboards that may last longer than Scotty’s career. Meanwhile, contestants from this just concluded season like Lauren Alaina, James Durbin, Pia Toscano, Casey Abrams, and of course Haley Reinhart all have not only the tools for success but the extra…je ne sais quoi…to atleast carve out a worthwhile niche in the market. I may be wrong, I may be right, I may be crazy. Or I just might be the lunatic you’re not looking for.

 

At any rate, regardless of the long term prospects of American Idol contestants or even the questionable validity of the show itself, what I find thoroughly intriguing is how it seems to be symptomatic of an all-encompassing move toward mediocrity. Instead of quality we gravitate toward the lowest common denominator. Bookstores are filled with cookie cutter romance novels and uninspired mysteries. Our televisions broadcast dozens of copycat “reality” shows, cops n’ robbers stories, and blatant CSI ripoffs. Strip malls are filled with the aforementioned chain stores and restaurants. Movie theaters show an endless supply of sequels…even if the original wasn’t that good to begin with…because it is easier than coming up with an original idea. And rarely does a uniquely talented musician succeed unless they are willing to either conform or market themselves using some sort of gimmick, like Lady Gaga (who herself is just a Madonna wannabe).  I am honestly not trying to be critical. Live & let live and to each their own. But personally I will continue to look for new, interesting, and genuinely good things. If others are happy consuming the same old uninspired, uncreative, mass produced, bland “comfort food” every day that’s their prerogative. It seems to work for my dog.

 

 

American Idol: Separating The Contenders From The Pretenders

My friend The Owl and I created our own secret society in college called The FUC Club. I may expand on the particulars some other time, but suffice to say that the moniker stands for Fat, Ugly, & Crippled and is built around the basic idea that the world caters to The Pretty People. It is undeniable that…assuming all other factors are as equal as possible…a hottie will beat out an unattractive, overweight, or disabled/disfigured person the vast majority of the time, whether it be in the job market, in the romance department, or just general popularity amongst friends & neighbors. That’s life. This truth is especially prominent in the entertainment industry. Now I know one could come up with a fairly decent list of relatively unattractive individuals who have somehow achieved some level of fame & fortune, and that’s fine…there are exceptions to every rule, but the rule is the rule for a reason.

What I have decided to do is apply this logic to American Idol and give the masses a look ahead at what to expect on the show in the coming weeks. The great thing about this is, there is precedence. Idol is in its 10th season and has produced nine previous winners and a few non-winners that managed to not be forgotten within 10 minutes:


Kelly Clarkson – The original American Idol, crowned at the conclusion of the first season in 2002. Regardless of whether or not Kelly is your particular cup o’ tea she has had a nice career. She’s had a couple of platinum albums, won a couple of Grammys & various other awards, and has received a fair amount of play on the radio over the years. She’s also young & tasty (if you like the brooding, not-quite-goth Joan Jett wannabe vibe).


Ruben Studdard – Ahhh, The Velvet Teddy Bear. He sounds like Luther Vandross but looks like Fat Albert. I think I have more records on my iTunes playlist that Ruben ever sold. Do I believe there is a racial issue here?? No, not at all. I think the bigger problem is that Ruben doesn’t have “the look”. He’s just not the type of hunk that impressionable 13 year old girls…the kind that have made Twilight a worldwide phenomenon…swoon over. I am certainly not advocating the validity of the tastes of junior high schoolers, but they do seem to wield a lot of power in the marketplace.


Fantasia Barrino – Hands down the worst Idol of them all. She looks like a crack ho and has a stripper name. Her music career was DOA and she ended up doing a reality show. Coincidentally her actual life is like a bad reality show too…dating married men, drug overdoses, foreclosure, etc. Here’s the bottom line – everyone loves a good “they dragged themselves out of poverty and achieved something” story…on 60 Minutes. But other than that most Americans find that stuff depressing and just want to be entertained, preferably by someone they can fantasize about while making love to their spouse.


Carrie Underwood – I’m far too lazy to compare numbers and such, but I am calling Underwood the most successful Idol of them all, with respectful apologies to Clarkson fans. A blonde bombshell with a girl-next-door persona is the prototype American Idol contestant. It helps that she can sing, and it’s even better that she decided her niche was in country music where there seems to be more longevity and fan loyalty. She’s won Grammys, American Music Awards, Peoples’ Choice Awards, and just about everything available from the country community, including Entertainer of the Year. Carrie Underwood might be one of the biggest reasons American Idol is still on the air, because she embodies the potential mega-success that every contestant craves.


Taylor Hicks – Is a 30 year old with grey hair and a voice reminiscent of Joe Cocker cool?? Maybe to some, but not enough. I think he’s in a touring company of Grease these days, playing Teen Angel (made famous by Frankie Avalon in the movie). Does that entail doing anything more than singing one song and being on stage for 5 minutes?? At any rate, his music career is non-existent and I have no idea how this guy ever won the competition, seeing as how he beat out atleast 2 or 3 people who have proven to be more successful. Again, like Studdard, he just doesn’t have much commercial appeal to the target demographic. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying it is what it is.


Jordin Sparks – Let’s give Sparks an incomplete. The youngest Idol when she won at age 17, she is still only 21 years old. She has sold her fair share of records, but to be honest her type of teeny bopper R&B-pop isn’t what I typically listen to, so maybe she’s more successful than I realize. Still, I’d be willing to bet that if a survey were to be taken asking people to name famous Idol alums the name Jordin Sparks wouldn’t roll off the tongues of most (even though it is a catchy name). Why?? I personally think she’s rather attractive…but…does she fit the typical mold of “hot”?? Probably not. She’s a little chunky, and probably still a little too…..girlish. But, as mentioned, the jury is still out. Give her a couple years to lose a few pounds and sex up her image and the American public will eat it up. Sad but true.

David Cook, Kris Allen, & Lee DeWyze  –

I think it may be a little too soon to thoroughly analyze the last three Idols. However, I will say one thing. My concern about all of them would be that they don’t stand out. None really fit into my original hypothesis, as they aren’t overweight, deformed, or empirically hideous in any way. However, decent looking 20-s0mething white guys who sing cookie cutter pop music are a dime-a-dozen and easily get lost in the shuffle. Taylor Hicks and Ruben Studdard may not fit the societal standard of beautiful but atleast they are distinctive and one can pick them out of the crowd.


Justin Guarini – The first ever runner-up, which for years has made him the butt of jokes. I didn’t start watching American Idol until the finale of that first season, but I have heard more than a few folks say throughout the years that Guarini was better than Clarkson and should have won. I became a believer a couple summers ago when he performed at a local festival in my hometown and I was quite unexpectedly very entertained. This dude can sing. And he stands out in the crowd with that geri-curled hair that makes him distinctive without having to be weird. I think Justin Guarini could have been a tremendous success, but for whatever reason he just hasn’t reached that level of fame & fortune. And if it hasn’t happened by now it is unlikely it ever will. I am tempted to blame that God awful movie he made with Clarkson, but it didn’t seem to have any significant impact on her fate. Maybe, despite non-existent record sales or commercial prosperity, the fact that we even still remember the guy that finished 2nd nine years ago is positive.


Clay Aiken – Let’s face it…Clay should have beaten Ruben. And for awhile it didn’t matter that he finished second. As a matter of fact, Justin Guarini, for a period of about 3 years, had to be wondering “What the hell did I do wrong that this dude did right??” Aiken has been much more of a success than Studdard and established the precedent that one need not win American Idol to ride the wave to stardom. And despite the fact that his 15 minutes are seemingly up, he has to be counted as one of the top success stories from the show. As far as how he fits into my theorem…well, he’s a flaming homosexual, so the traditional rules don’t necessarily apply, but women love gay men, especially if they can sing, and the only gay men that most straight men really respect are the ones who can sing, so Clay Aiken’s popularity makes sense.


Jennifer Hudson – Can you believe she finished 7th on Idol?? Hudson is a conundrum. In a way she has outshone them all, even the 9 winners. Because (with all due respect to Charlie Sheen), if your name is preceded by “Academy Award winner” you win. However, her success has come outside of the musical arena. She, like new American Idol judge Jennifer Lopez, is more of an actress than a singer now. Hudson also is the obvious exception to my rule. Despite the fact that she has shed a bunch of pounds, is now super delicious, and shills for Weight Watchers, the bottom line is that her success came when she was overweight and not that pretty. Major props.


Katharine McPhee – Kat McPhee is quite possibly the tastiest morsel to grace an Idol stage other than Carrie Underwood. That should spell s-u-c-c-e-s-s, but has it?? She absolutely, undoubtedly, without question should have beaten Taylor Hicks. How in the name of all that is right & holy could this vision of loveliness be defeated by Jay Leno’s stunt double?? But despite her hotness McPhee has yet to become an established star. She’s released a couple of albums, dabbled in acting, and kept her toe in the shallow end of the fame pool. Like so many other Idol alums fans of the show know who she is and have kept tabs on her, but that doesn’t mean a connection has been established with the masses.


Chris Daughtry – Daughtry is right up there with Underwood, Clarkson, and Hudson on the Mount Rushmore of American Idol. Amazingly, not only did he also lose out to Taylor Hicks (and of course Katherine McPhee), but he was eliminated before Eliot Yamin. Really?? Eschewing an opportunity to become the new frontman for rock band Fuel, he instead formed his own band and they’ve had tremendous success. Does Daughtry (the band) cover any new ground not already done better by the likes of Bon Jovi, Creed, Soundgarden, 3 Doors Down, or Nickelback, among others?? Probably not, but they are a fairly enjoyable listening experience. And let’s give the man credit…he found the perfect platform to separate himself from the crowd. I’m a guy and therefore not a good judge, but I assume that most females would say Chris Daughtry is an attractive gentleman, so therefore he proves the theory.


Adam Lambert – I honestly didn’t pay much attention during season 8 of American Idol. I guess I just needed a break. But I paid enough attention to know that everyone…e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e…thought for weeks that it was a foregone conclusion that Adam Lambert would win. However, Lambert is the exception to a completely different rule than The Pretty People Theorem. Remember how I said America embraced Clay Aiken because women love gay men and straight men appreciate gay men who can sing?? Well, that all goes out the window when the person in question is an absolute weirdo. Despite the fact that Lambert didn’t “come out” or really let his freak flag fly until long after American Idol had wrapped, people aren’t stupid. If I’d actually watched much that season I could speak more eloquently on the subject, but there had to be some reason why America chose nondescript milquetoast Kris Allen over someone with far superior vocal talent, and if I may oversimplify just a wee bit, it boils down to little things like if you’re a man trying to win a popularity contest don’t wear eyeliner. Ozzy and Alice Cooper may have gotten away with it, but they weren’t trying to win American Idol.


Okay, so now that we’ve gone back in time and looked at what works and what doesn’t work, let’s take a peek into the ol’ crystal ball and see if we can narrow down the contenders from the pretenders amongst the baker’s dozen remaining in contention for the 2011 Idol crown. Keep in mind that it’s a given that all these individuals can sing, so talent isn’t a factor as much as likeability, charisma, and whatever else seems to make one person more popular than another.


Casey Abrams – Casey is the Taylor Hicks of this season. With his full beard and pudginess he sort of reminds me of John C. Reilly circa 2000 in The Perfect Storm, and maybe a little like Seth Rogen. He’s just the sort of underdog that might develop a following and end up in the top 3 or 4.


Naima Adedapo – This is Fantasia Barrino 2.0. She’s got a name no one will be able to remember or pronounce, and a…shall we say “exotic” look. Enjoy the ride while it lasts sweetie.


Lauren Alaina – The minute this girl came on screen she was my pick to win it all. She’s got the blonde hair, blue eyed All American girl vibe just like Carrie Underwood. If Simon were still around he’d undoubtedly say she is very “commercial” or “marketable”, and make no mistake…that’s what the powers-that-be are really seeking. The producers of Idol almost certainly hate when fans pull crap like voting for Eliot Yamin over Chris Daughtry or Sanjaya Malakar instead of…well…anybody. My concern about Lauren is that she is only 16 years old, which I think is far too young to be thrust into the spotlight. But I don’t make the rules. As it stands, if Lauren Alaina doesn’t atleast make it to the Top 3 I’ll be shocked.


James Durbin – Here is an opportunity for America to make up for Daughtry finishing 4th five years ago. This dude is like Daughtry mixed with a bit of Adam Lambert, which I mean as a compliment. I love the fact that he’s not your typical metrosexual pantywaist. He’s a rebellious rocker that is still palatable to the masses, and he is obviously having fun. My money is on him being there as the finish line comes into view.


Ashthon Jones – Is she a Beyonce wannabe?? Sure looks like it to me. What I am wondering is this – while I may not find such a ripoff appealing, am I alone in that opinion or will the populace lap it up?? Also, will she develop her own individuality going forward?? Will she be given time to do that?? My guess is that she’ll buy herself 3 or 4 weeks as long as her performances are decent, but she’s not a legitimate threat to win.


Stefano Langone – There were about 3 guys in the Top 24 that all looked the same…dark hair, vaguely Mediterranean, nice smiles. I couldn’t really tell them apart. Luckily for Stefano he’s the last one standing. I’m guessing the ladies will fawn all over him, and he may last a few weeks, but he’s not going to win.


Jacob Lusk – Does anyone remember George Huff from the 3rd season of Idol?? Jacob really reminds me of George. He just seems like a genuinely nice guy who is sincerely thrilled to have made it this far. Unfortunately I think he will be amongst the early exits.


Scotty McCreery – Has anyone called Randy Travis and told him we’ve located his love child?? I like Scotty. He’s just a good ol’ country boy. The thing is, at some point in the next few weeks he’s going to be asked to do something out of his comfort zone, like sing a disco tune or something by an 80’s hair band, and that is when I think he’ll falter. His niche is just too narrow to actually go that far at this stage of the competition.


Paul McDonald – Now here is the very definition of standing out from the crowd. This is my pick for this year’s Clay Aiken, meaning he won’t win but it won’t matter. He’s got a future in the music business. The oldest contestant left, he’s still just 26 years old. I cannot put my finger on who his voice reminds me of. Maybe some Rod Stewart with a little James Taylor mixed in?? He doesn’t sound like Michael McDonald but he does look like him a bit, and the two are similar in that when you are listening to Michael McDonald you KNOW who you are listening to, and the same can be said for Paul. Anyway, I’ll be disappointed if he isn’t among the last 3 or 4 competitors.


Thia Megia – Is she pretty?? Yes. Does she stand out from the crowd?? Not really. She might be the first elimination.


Haley Reinhart – This is my sleeper pick. She’s VERY pretty, and I think she’ll grow on people and begin to stand out more and more if given the opportunity. It sounds silly to say, but more than just about anyone I think the length of her “journey” will depend heavily on her performances week to week. She’s not gonna have a built in fan club of sychophants who’ll vote for her no matter how much she messes up, but if she rocks the house time after time folks will begin to take notice. Don’t be surprised if Haley is still standing amongst the final group of 3 or 4. You heard it here first.


Karen Rodriguez – Will the Latino vote keep her safe?? For how long?? Personally I have found her rather forgettable thus far, which is why I don’t think she’ll last all that long.


Pia Toscano – The judges dig Pia, I can tell. She does have a star quality about her. However, unlike Lauren Alaina or Haley Reinhart, who both come across as wholesome and family friendly, Pia reminds me of the villainous tramp on your favorite soapy drama, the one who goes around stealing husbands and letting her bitch flag fly proudly. Guys LOVE that kind of gal, but women are threatened by it, which is where I think Pia will fail. If she can soften her image, and if either Alaina or Reinhart exit earlier than I expect, then maybe Pia can sneak into that top 3 or 4. Regardless, she looks like a winner who may stick around in the public consciousness one way or another long after her Idol days are over.


So 2 months from now, as this season of American Idol hits the home stretch, I think the front runners will be Lauren Alaina & James Durbin, with Paul McDonald, Haley Rinehart, and possibly Casey Abrams & Pia Toscano still in the hunt.

The Sammy Claus Wish List

Being Sammy Claus is kind of like being Frank Sinatra Jr. or the Vice-President…it’s a nice name that wields no real authority. However, in hopes that the real Santa may take a break from supervising the elves and doing important flight prep by surfing The Internet and being a faithful reader of The Manofesto, I have prepared my own list. Go ahead Big Guy…check it twice, verify who has been naughty or nice. But I am pretty sure my own reconnaissance has been thorough and you’ll find everything here in order. And since it is better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35) I am not asking for anything myself…well, atleast not much. My focus here is on the needs and desires of others.

 

The Marshall Thundering Herd…..a new football coach that will lead my alma mater’s gladiators of the gridiron back to the success we had in the 1990’s. I grant you there was some good fortune back then with future NFL players Chad Pennington, Troy Brown, Randy Moss, and Byron Leftwich…and there may have even been some minor cheating. But there’s nothing that says that level of achievement cannot be attained again and more future pro caliber players can’t make a stop in Huntington.


John & Kate and Heidi & Spencer…..sterility and a complete lack of media coverage


The Economy…..tax cuts & job growth. I know it’s a long shot with a socialist President and a liberal Congress, but we’ll deal with those issues in the coming years.


Kanye West…..the most spectacular career crash and burn of all time!!


The WV Mountaineers…..a new special teams coach. I have softened my stance on canning head coach Bill Stewart, but Stew doubles as the special teams coach and it hasn’t worked. A 9-3 finish was surprisingly decent given the lack of energy, skill, and discipline shown at times this season, but a few special teams plays probably cost the Eers atleast 1, possibly 2 additional victories.


The Republican Party…..a triumphant return to conservative values and the emergence of a formidable group of candidates for the 2012 Presidential campaign. Unfortunately I am not talking about Sarah Palin, who is damaged goods and I believe unelectable.


Adam Lambert…..irrelevance. Really dude, get the hell off my TV.


Myself, The Owl, Greg, Sealey, and Slack…..a memorable and dare I say legen…wait for it…wait for it…dary trip to Vegas this summer. This is the year gentlemen. Seriously…I mean it this time!!


Ford Motor Company…..continued success as a non-government run business


Michael Jackson’s children…..a happy, healthy, normal life while enjoying the boatload of cash your freak of a father left you


Carrie Underwood…..the love of a good man…a man that is single, has his own blog, and lives in northcentral WV. Call me. Please.


Algore…..complete , irrefutable, 100% proof that global warming is poppycock


Susan Boyle…..a musical repertoire that goes beyond I Dreamed A Dream


Coach Rich Fraudriguez…..continued ineptitude and complete failure not only at Michigan but wherever you go and in whatever you do professionally and personally. You are the lowest form of excrement the human race has ever produced and not worthy of sharing the same oxygen as even the most vile and wicked piece of dung imaginable.


Universal Health Care…..complete and total defeat


Tiger Woods…..a case of condoms, a good lawyer, and a full time chauffeur


David Letterman…..cancellation


Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi…..facial movement. Seriously lady, lay off the botox.


Tim Tebow, soon-to-be former Florida Gators QB…..a case of tissues, because the crying will likely continue at the NFL Draft and on into your rookie season there when you figure out you’re really not THAT good (as if Alabama didn’t drive that point home already)


Jay Leno…..better ratings


Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, & Glen Beck…..continued success teaching the masses about conservatism


Phil Mickelson…..success in overtaking that dirtbag Tiger Woods as the worlds #1 golfer