Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Other people are seeing the charm, too

Both and have declared Dancing With the Stars this summer's surprise TV hit.

Maybe it's because there's nothing else on, or maybe it's because we're waiting for the trainwreck when one of the C-listers drops their partner or falls over their own two feet, but it seems that ABC has stumbled on to something. We can only hope that they don't spawn legions of copycat shows, but it does seem to have brought some interest to ballroom dancing.

One of the articles notes that ballroom dancing gets lower ratings on TV than dog shows, even though the contestants exert more energy and have to be in better shape than than the "athletes" in other "sports" like auto racing, bass fishing and golf.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Next Food Network Star(s)

In case you missed it, Dan and Steve won The Next Food Network Star, beating out Deborah in the audience voting.

I'm really not surprised; Dan and Steve were the best package. The four finalists going into the final show were Dan & Steve, Deborah, Hans and Susannah.

Susannah was eliminated first. She was my favourite but she was clearly not at home in front of the camera. Her single-minded devotion to healthy cooking sometimes got in the way of her actual cooking and doing it well on TV.

The second person eliminated before the voting started was Hans, who was the best chef of all the contestants, but not very good on TV. The selection committee said that he was the most improved (he was) but he talked way too fast and didn't perform well on camera.

That left Deborah and Dan & Steve, all of whom were solid contestants, although Dan & Steve had a clear advantage. Being a team, in situations where one of the other contestants would flub a segment, Dan & Steve could cover each other. Steve (the tall one) is clearly the more accomplished cook, but he's not so good on camera. Dan appears at home as an entertainer and as the funny guy, so where Steve can cook for him, Dan can take some of the pressure of Steve when it's time to explain something or interact with a guest.

If they had been on their own, I don't think either of them would have outlasted Michael (who was eliminated last week) or the other three people to make it to the final episode.

I think any (or all) of the top four finalists could do very well with their own shows. Given some practise and coaching, they all brought something different to table I'd like to see maybe Hans and Eric do a show as a tandem; Hans as the better cook and Eric as the personality. Another good combination would be Deborah and Susannah; Deborah is better on camera, Susannah is better at the stove.

One of the things I was hoping for was that the winner wouldn't be white. Think about it; how many hosts on Food Network are brown people? Ming is gone. Yan Can Cook is still on PBS. Bobby Rivers only shows up a couple of times a week on Top 5 (which isn't even a cooking show).

Almost everyone else is white. Mario. Bobby Flay. Giada de Laurentis. Rachel Ray. Paula Deen. Sarah Moulton. Emeril. Barefoot Contessa. The carb guy with three chins. Jaime Oliver. Tyler Florence. Alton Brown (who doesn't sound white, but he is).

And then there the road shows, most of which are also hosted by white people. $40 a Day (Rachel Ray), The Best of (Jill & Marc), Unwrapeed (Marc Summers), The Secret Life of Dot Dot Dot (Jim O'Connor).

I take that back, Al Roker has Roker on the Road, and not only his he black, there's a whole lot of Al to go around (but not as much as there was two years ago). Still even a big guy like Al Roker doesn't make up for the fact that Food Network is almost as white as Friends.

You'd think with the amount of Chinese and Japanese food eaten in this country there would be at least one regular Asian host on the network (hey, Food Network, hire me!!!!!!) Or what about a soul food show? The brothas and sistas eat, too.

Anyway, Dan & Steve's show starts in September, and I hope they do well.

So until September (and football season), I guess I'm stuck with Hit Me Baby 1 More Time and Dancing With the (C-List) Stars for my reality fix.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Jump the Shark time!

One of two things happened last week on Hit Me Baby 1 More Time.

Either the show officially jumped the shark or they ran out of one hit wonders willing to go on TV and sing a 20 year old song and show the world how badly they aged.

After a pretty good opening show and a very good second show, last week and this week were both disappointing.

There was no one on this week I was absolutely dying to see. Glass Tiger was at the top of the heap for me, and I really didn't need to see them.

Greg Kihn was there without the rest of The Greg Kihn Band and he didn't even sing what I consider to be his signature song "Jeopardy". This should be a rule for "Hit Me Baby": If Weird Al has parodied one of your songs, you must sing that song. No exceptions. Weird Al is the benchmark for all apsiring musicians. If one of your songs shows up as a full-length parody on one of Al's CDs, you have officially "made it".

Kihn was bad, and he's put on a lot of weight. Not as much as Mike Reno, but close.

Club Nouveau was also on singing "Lean On Me" which was annoying in the 80s and was annoying again last night. Yech.

Three out of five of the Glass Tigers were there; shouldn't it be a requirement that all of your band has to show up?

An then there's Billy Vera, without the Beaters. I wonder if he has to pay NBC every time he sings "At This Moment" because without Family Ties, he'd still be unknown. As it is, he is what Chris Elliott will see when he looks in the mirror 20 years from now. He didn't age badly (like some other people who have been on the show), but then again, he was old 20 years ago.

Finally was Thelma Houston. What the hell was she wearing? Was that a maternity dress or a nightie? I'm still scarred after watching that. At least her song has been on American Idol a couple of times (LaToya sang it last year and blew everyone away).

And don't get me started on the covers. They were all nearly unwatchable.

And wasn't she from the 70s? How the hell did she win? Nobody was great, but c'mon, Thelma Houston!?!?!?!?!?

Next week on Hit Me Baby are Animotion ("Obsession"), Juice Newton ("Queen of Hearts"), Missing Persons ("Words"), Shannon ("Let the Music Play") and an artist to be named later. Maybe they'll get Night Ranger who bailed on the show for last week. At least these five are getting back to the 80s.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Dancing With the Stars

Another couple got eliminated last night.

I must really not know what to look for because what I saw obviously wasn't what the judges were looking at.

In these last two weeks, they have been uncharacteristically nice to Kelly & Alec, who were absolutely horrible the first two weeks of the competiition. To be fair, Kelly has been getting better, but I don't think they're as good as the scores indicated last night (they placed first among the four couples). It makes me wonder if the judges got a talking to by the suits at ABC to make sure that their GH girl sticks around.

Rachel Hunter was eliminated last night, not surprising given the dynamics of the voting. She and her partner Jonathan were second by the judges scores, but I think she has struggled to find support from the viewers. Joey gets votes because people remember him as one of the New Kids. Kelly gets votes because she's on GH. John gets votes because he's been on Seinfeld and because he has been the most consistent.

Last night, no one was bad, so with only four couples left, someone has to go. I liked Joey and thought John was pretty good, too. However, those two got the lowest scores from the judges.

I have accepted that Kelly is probably going to make the finals, but I don't think she deserves it, given how bad she was the first two weeks of the show.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Programming note

If you're a Star Wars geek, you already have your TiVO set, but if you're not, you might want to set it anyway because tonight on the USA Network is the 2005 AFI Lifetime Achievement Award: A Tribue to George Lucas.

Lucas, the originator of the Star Wars franchise, is being honoured for his contributions to film which given his filmmaking body of work is on one level surprising (he's only directed 6 or so major motion pictures), especially given that he's such a horrible director. Still, on another level, you wonder why it's taken him so long to get this recognition because his contributions to film have been so far-reaching.

To be fair, Lucas himself, declined the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award several years ago (back around the time Star Wars: Episode I came out) saying that he didn't feel like he was done with his "one big movie" (he thinks all six Star Wars movies are just one big move, like The Lord of the Rings movies are).

If this award were being given out for actual movie making, Lucas deserves to be shot, not deified. When he's behind the camera, he's a liability. He somehow manages to take the acting talents of world-class thespians and waste it with an obsession with eye candy, bad dialogue and stiff delivery. Even fanboys and fangirls have to concede this.

What makes Lucas worthy of an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award is his vision. Lucas is a much better idea factory than he is a film maker. When he teams up with a world-class director (like Stephen Speilberg on the Indiana Jones movies or Ron Howard on Willow), Lucas becomes a force. If he can't find the technology to do something, he invents it.

To do the special effects for the first Star Wars, he founded a company called Industrial Lights and Magic, which is responsible for the water creatures in The Abyss, the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park and is grandfather of all CGI effects that have come since. When he needed top-notch animation, Lucas founded a company that became Pixar, the studio behind Toy Story, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo. When he wanted higher quality sound, Lucas put together Skywalker Sound and established the THX standard, setting the bar for a totally imersive environment.

As much as I bash on Lucas for not letting someone good direct the Star Wars prequels (can you imagine what Stephen Speilberg could have done with Liam Neeson, Samuel L. Jackson, Natalie Portman and Christopher Lee?!?!), without Lucas, the movies would never have been the same.

So set your TiVO's for USA tonight at 9:00 pm to 11:00 pm and honour the master. And be sure to check out William Shatner show up to honour the other "Star" franchise.

Bye, Michael . . . bye, Eric!

Happy belated Father's Day to all the dads out there (especially my own). I heard an interesting statistic on CBS news yesterday: The day for the most long-distance phone calls is Mother's Day (it's also the second-most popular day to send flowers after Valentine's Day). The day for the most collect calls is Father's Day.

Dad, I hope you noticed that I called you on my dime, not yours.

Anyway, I stayed up last night and watched two people get eliminated from The Next Food Network Star. The hour-long show seemed rushed as they tried to squeeze what should have been two hours into a single episode.

In the first part, the six remaining finalists got some coaching from Paula Deen, the woman on Food Network who likes to cook southern food with lots of butter and lots of carbs. Atkins people, she is your worst nightmare. The test for the contestants in the first part was to cook two of Pauls's dishes at the same time.

My earlier comments about each of the contestants are pretty much the same, although I was surprised at who was eliminated in the first segemnt.

Michael, the surfer with the crazy hair, was sent packing. He seemed out of rhythm and lost track of time. My wife thinks he's annoying, and he is to some extent, but at least he's lively.

In the second half of the show, that left five people to cook one of their dishes for the mainstream press. Not only did they have to do a meet and greet, they had to cook and answer questions at the same time. Everyone seemed to do well in the segment, although the press went very easy on them.

Eric, who is easily the best personality on the show, was eliminated mainly because he doesn't have the knack for TV. He gets confused as to which camera to look into, and the teleprompter is like the headlights of an oncoming car to him. I had him picked as one of the final 3, but as a TV host, he is clearly the most deficient.

That leaves four contestants remaining: Dan & Steve, Deborah, Hans and Susannah.

Each is different, and I'd probably watch any of the four of them on TV. Next week, two people are being cut and then the audience will vote on the two remaining contestants to see who gets their own show.

I think Hans should be the next to go. He is technically the best chef. His dishes look great, they probably taste great but he has all the personality of a grapefruit. I don't find him engaging and he always looks a little stiff. The selection committee is always telling the contestants that they need to form a relationship with their audience, and Hans never does that for me. I'm sure he's a nice guy, but I just don't get him.

Deborah will probably also be eliminated because one of the judges doesn't like here, and I don't know why. I like Deborah; she's funny, pretty and I think she would be a hoot to go out and have a few drinks with.

Dan & Steve will probably advance to the finals because they have an advantage: they are a complimentary duo. Dan is a little bit awkward on TV, but Steve can cover for him. Steve is not technically as proficent as Dan, but it's okay because he talks while Steve cooks. If Hans and either Deborah or Eric would pitch a show together, they would easily rock the house.

Susannah is the wild card of the bunch. She is singularly determined to win. She is constantly on message. It seems that she is really taking the criticism and trying to make herself a better package. Of all the contestants, she has the clearest agenda: healthy diet, moderate portions, cut fat, limit calories. She appears to study the most and has loads of good content ad nauseum. Her only problem is that the judges called her a little "robotic". He singlemindedness gets in the way. A couple of times, she seems so intent on performing the task she forgets to have fun.

If she were on American Idol, she would be Diana: automatic, you know what you're getting each time she's on camera and she delivers. However, she's not the firecracker Deborah is (ie-Fantasia), she's not the teddy bear that Eric is (Rueben), and she's not the technical perfection that Hans is (Anwar).

I think the voting will come down to Dan & Steve and either Deborah or Susannah. I think Dan & Steve have a clear edge because they have another person to cover their weak spots. Deborah may have a wider appeal because right now the Food Network doesn't have a lot of brown people on it and Suzannah is just another diet-conscious cook.

On the flip side of that, Susannah brings her own personal story automatically to the show: she lost 89 pounds on her own diet as a largely self-taught and self-educated cook.

I'm not sure that I would eliminate two people next week. If it were me running the competition, I would eliminate one contestant (counting Dan & Steve as a single contestant) and then have the audience pick their favourite out of the three remaining finalists.

Tha danger for Food Network is that while the audience will pick the final winner, will they watch the show? Sure Fantasia won American Idol, but what's she done since then? So did Reuben and he's all but disappeared. On the flip side, the Food Network is already a niche audience, so letting the viewers pick someone can bring a built-in audience to ths show.

I wish they'd advertise for a food show that didn't involve actual cooking, such as Unwrapped, The Best of, The Secret Life of . . ., or even $40 a Day. Even I could host a show like that.

After the two people are eliminated next week, the audience will vote and apparently a new Food Network personality will be picked. It's too bad the show isn't all that popular or I might be able to find odds on who is going to win.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Hit Me Baby 1 More Time (or not)

I missed the first part of the show last night, but got back in time to see the covers. Of the three episodes that have been on so far, this has been the most disappointing. To be fair, I'll try to catch the rebroadcast on Bravo this weekend to get the full effect.

Our friend Kari called last night. She and her kids bought her husband a basketball hoop for Father's Day (which is curious since I don't see Charley as much of a basketball player) and needed some help putting it together. Not having anything better to do, Sarah and I went over to assemble the thing. I was pretty easy, but I missed the first three acts of Hit Me Baby 1 More Time, which is unfortunate since what I saw was bad.

When I got home, Howard Jones was one. At first I thought it was John Lithgow, only shorter, but then he started singing and he was actually pretty good. I never cared for his song "No One is to Blame", but he sounds good. I had a friend in middle and high school who was obsessed with Howard Jones . . . ah, Elizabeth . . .

The next person I saw was Grammy Award®-winning artist Irene Cara, who on her bio page looks like SNL's Maya Rudolph. She sang "What a Feeling" from Flashdance.

Both Jones and Cara were plain, if unspectacular.

Then the covers started.

Wang Chung, who still looked like they were in good shape, was first playing Nelly's "Hot in Herre". The high point was the young lady who was singing the line "I am gettin so hot/I wanna take my clothes off"; everything else was bad.

Next was Cameo.

You know how there are certain things in your life that you can't un-see? Like the first time the fat guy down the hall in your dorm walks around without his shirt on? Or maybe you had a friend who's parents made an "adult" home video you stumbled on one day while looking for a movie?

Since I missed their performance of "Word Up", I was unprepared for the sight of a big red codpiece on stage. I did a doule-take and had to resist the urge to either burst into laughter or stab my eyes out with a spork. At least Cameo can still dance in step together.

Oh, and how about the four inch lifters on the bass players shoes? I don't even remember what it is they covered.

I am also disappointed that I missed Sophie B. Hawkins's song because her cover of "100 Years" was unintelligible. I didn't even recognise the song. But she looked good.

Then it was time for Howard Jones again. If there is one lesson that people can learn from American Idol, it's that men should not cover songs that were written for women. Jones's cover of "White Flag" was awful, and when he's standing next to Vernon Kay, he looks like he's ready to sign up for the Lollipop Guild. The original line-up for the show did not feature Jones; that spot was reserved for Night Ranger ("Sister Christian") and I can't help but think that I would have much preferred them to Jones.

The final perfomer was Irene Cara covering another song I had never heard of with her new band. Not good, not bad.

Irene Cara won, I think mostly because her new girl band is extremely hot and because everyone was so bad, she was the best of the worst. I didn't stick around to watch he encore, so I don't even know who she made the $20,000 donation to.

I'm not sure that I feel like I wasted an hour of my life, but I'm disappointed that I missed the opportunity to Wang Chung with everyone last night.

The original run of the show was for 3 espisodes, but it seems that it's become such a hit (and so inexpensive to produce) that NBC has ordered up at least 3 more episodes. On for next week are the Baha Men ("Who Let the Dogs Out"), Glass Tiger ("Don't Forget Me When I'm Gone"), Greg Kihn ("The Breakup Song") and Thelma Houston ("Don't Leave Me This Way").

It seems that NBC has gone out of the 80s box because they're pulling a disco-era artist ("Don't Leave Me This Way", 1976) and a more modern group ("Who Let the Dogs Out", 2000) for this show.

I wonder if they're out of one-hit wonders who are willing to be on TV or who have new projects to plug or if people are beating the doors down to be on the show. We'll find out next week, although the show may have jumped the shark after "Ice Ice Baby".

Thursday, June 16, 2005

More Dancing With The Stars

In case you missed this story, Dancing With the Stars had half again as many viewers as the NBA Finals last week. With over 15 million viewers, it beat both the first and second games in the Spurs/Pistons finals, each having about 10½ million viewers. How pathetic is that for the NBA?

Meanwhile, the trainwreck that is "Dancing With the Stars" continutes. The dancing is actually pretty good and may spark a whole new interest in ballroom dancing, which seems to be far more of a sport than golf, bass fishing or auto racing because it requires actual physical exertion.

There are five pairs left, with Trista and her Micky Dolenz look-alike partner having been eliminated last week. This week, the couples danced either the jive or the tango, two totally different dances.

Nearly everyone improved over last week, especially Kelly Monaco who has been somewhere between bad and horrible. By no means was she outstanding last night, but at least she looked like she was having fun (for the first time).

Rachel Hunter and her partner Jonathan Roberts were the best of the night, a point accentuated by the fact that they got the highest scores from the judges. A close second for the night, but the most consistent for the competition was John O'Hurley and Charlotte Jorgensen, who continue to be the couple to beat.

The celebrities still in are Joey McIntyre and Evander Holyfield. Joey is okay but Evander looked horribly out of his element doing the jive. He's simply too big to be a good ballroom dancer. He's got good footword for a boxer, but even my amateur eyes can see that he's stumbling a lot trying to dance. Still, he's doing a lot better than I would be.

One of the things I like about this show is that all three of the judges don't pull any punches when they're giving their reviews. Their comments are almost always pointed at the celebrities, since the dancers are all professional champions and it's the celebrities that screw things up (but the celebrities are also the ones people are tuning in to see).

Another thing I like is that the judges not only give their commentary, but they give some contructive criticism and try to do some coaching. One of my problems with American Idol is that lately, all we've heard from the judges are "I wasn't feelin' you, dawg" or "You look wonderful tonight" or "That was right out of a Portugese nightclub" with virtually nothing that can be gleaned to make the contestant better.

Even though some of the comments are not always complimentary (eliciting the boo-birds in the audience), they're usually spot on and the celebs would do well to take that the judges say learn from the criticism instead of being defensive or taking it personally (Kelly, I'm talking to you).

When the night was over, Evander and Edyta were eliminated on the heels of Evander's heavy steps (thank you very much; I'm here until next Wednesday; don't forget to tip your waitress).

Part of it may also be that the song they used for their jive dance was "Footloose" and Evander looked nothing like Kevin Bacon. I also heard a version of Toxic that was only marginally better than Haddaway's rendition that was on Hit Me Baby 1 More Time last week.

It will be interesting to see how this shakes out. John and Charlotte are easily the best couple in the competition. Kelly and Jonathan are the worst, but Kelly is the most popular (as star of GH, another ABC show) so both these folks are going to get a lot of votes. Rachel has been out of the public eye for a while (except for her appearance in the "Stacy's Mom" video) as has Joey, so those two seem to be fighting for third place next week.

I wonder if I took up ballroom dancing if I'd lose as much weight as John and Rachel. I also wonder if "Dancing With the Stars" is going to eclipse the NBA Finals again this week (probably).

A call in the middle of the night

After going to bed last night the phone rang at 10 minutes 'til midnight. My wife picked it up and it was a West Virginia State Police officer telling her that she needed to pick up her son.

Thinking the worst, we got up and went to where the officer told her he was. When we got there, my stepson's car was pulled over on the side of the road with his hazard lights on. No State Police officers in sight.

Apparently, my stepson changed lanes and didn't use his turn signal, so the State Trooper pulled him over, cited him for "improper lane change" and then told him he'd better not catch him driving home himself.

What the hell is this about?

My stepson acknowledges that he had a beer earlier that evening, but passed a field sobriety test and apparently passed the breathalyzer because the office let him call us instead of taking him to jail.

I don't have any tolerance for drinking and driving, and less for driving when your blood alcohol level is past the legal limit, but why the hell is the West Virginia State Police calling my house in the middle of the night when my stepson is not legally drunk. If he broke the law, fine, give him a ticket or arrest him. If he's not breaking the law, leave him alone.

It sounds to me like there's some West Virginia State Trooper with a little too much free time on his hands out patrolling the streets in the middle of the night.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Michael Jackson Verdict

The jury in the Michael Jackson case declared that Jackson was not guilty of all ten charges brought against him. These include:
  • Four counts of committing a lewd act on a child

  • One count of attempting to commit a lewd act on a child younger than 14.

  • One count of conspiracy to commit false imprisonment, extortion and child abduction.

  • Four counts of providing alcohol to a minor to facilitate child molestation.

According the the jurors, who were interviewed ad nauseum on TV last night, the prosecution did not provide enough evidence that Michael Jackson is a child molester. They said the mother of the accusor was not credible and that the accusor himself was not credible.

Basically it came down to the word of the boy against the word of Michael Jackson and lacking any sort of evidence, enough reasonable doubt exists to acquit the accused.

This is the same thing that happened in the OJ trial. Americans think guilt or innocence is "did he do it?", which is a fallacious assumption. If someone is "not guilty" of a crime, it simply means that the prosecutor did not meet the legal standard ("beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt") to determine guilt.

Even one of the jurors said, "I think he has molested children in the past", but that does not mean the prosecution proved its case this time.

If there's a lesson that comes out of the OJ and MJ trials, it's not "prosecutors like to go after famous black people" or "celebrities get off more often than ordinary schmucks", it's "money can buy a not guilty verdict." Both OJ and MJ had deep war chests when it came to spending on defense attorneys. Attorneys that are good at their jobs and who can raise enough doubt to bring about an acquital.

The country was pretty much divided along racial lines about whether they thought OJ was guilty or not guilty. Black people thought that he was being pursued because he was a famous black man who married a white woman. White people thought he was a cold-blooded killer. Everyone had an opinion.

People in the Michael Jackson case were divided, although from my observation, not along racial lines. Some people absolutely love MJ, and they're not seemingly isolated to a single demographic group. I think most people have always believed Michael Jackson to be a little weird, but after this trial, I think he's gone from being eccentric to being a full-blown freak show.

After all, he's acknowledged settling two previous child molestation cases for something in the area of $22 million and he's acknowledged that he sleeps in the same bed as 10-14 year old boys on a regular basis. In addition, former employees have come forward saying that they've seen things that make them "uncomfortable".

What we need to remember is that just because someone is creepy, that doesn't make them a child molester. The police seized porn from his house and found porn on his computer. Remember, though, that an adult owning porn is legal. It is also legal for an adult to surf for porn and it is legal for an adult to drink alcohol. What is not legal is for an adult to expose a minor to pornography without the knowledge and/or consent of their parents and for an adult to give a minor alcohol.

Personally, I thought they were going to get him on the lesser charge of giving an intoxicant to a minor, not with the intent to commit a felony, but just giving alcohol to a minor. However, after listening to a couple of jurors, they certainly believed that there was enough reasonable doubt to acquit him of all charges.

So where do we go from here?

I think that MJ now has a free pass for the rest of his life. With all the press this case has gotten, if you are a parent who allows your child to spend the night in Michael Jackson's bed, and he does whatever it is he was alleged to have done in the past, you are just a guilty as he is.

Jackson is a now offically a freak show. And not just because of the way he looks. Not just because he sleeps in a hypobaric chamber. Not just because he used to be black. Not just because he holds his children over the ledge of a balcony.

Michael Jackson is a freak show because everything crazy that he has done rises above curiosity and has become the giant rolling head we just can't look away from. Where some celebrities are interesting, all we want to do with Michael Jackson is rubberneck.

Can he recover from this? Maybe, maybe not. His last album sales were disappointing. He hasn't had a bit of good publicity in years. He has brought some of his troubles upon himself. Will this acquittal make him bolder and feel more invincible? Or will his handlers be able to reign him in and get some damage control done before he really self-destructs?

Monday, June 13, 2005

The Next Food Network Star

Is anyone out there watching this?

The show started last week and the premise is this: Food Network is giving a viewer the opportunity to have their own show. They solicited thousands of audition tapes and selected 8 (acutally 9) finalists). A selection group of 3 people from Food Network is whittling down the group and then the Food Network viewers will get to vote on who gets their own show.

They had two episodes on last week; one was the selection show where they selected the 8 finalists and the second was the first show where they eliminated one contestant. Then last night they eliminated another contestant.

The finalists are:

  1. Brook
    I forget how they billed Brook, but he was a little stiff on TV and thus was the first one eliminated.

  2. Dan and Steve
    These guys come as a team and they're actually pretty good. Dan is the cook and Steve is more of the entertainer, which works out nicely since they're caterers in real life.

  3. Deborah
    I like this girl because she seems fun and always seems to cook up interesting stuff. She's not the best at being on TV, but it will come to her. Her schtick is that she is into southern/caribbean fusion cooking.

  4. Eric
    If you live by the mantra, "Never trust a skinny chef", Eric is your guy. He's a big guy who seems like a lot of fun, kind of like Al Roker before Al lost all that weight. Eric's biggest problem is that he's horrible with the teleprompters.

  5. Hans
    Hans is a professional chef who has worked in his family's restaurant since was little. He technically the most proficient of the chefs and his dishes look the best. His problem is that he doesn't have a lot of personality and his so dry and deadpan that I don't think he'll make it out of next week. Hans reminds me of Gene Sadler, my high school trig/pre-calc teacher who has forgotten more things about math than I'll ever know, but is soooooooooooo boring that it was hard to learn from him.

  6. Harmony
    As the blonde of the group, Harmony is the prettiest and seems fun, but she has two major problems: 1) off camera, she seems very spontaneous and fun, but on camera she's very nervous and it shows, and 2) she doesn't prepare very well. She's a very go-with-the-flow kind of person and TV productions are very choreographed.

  7. Michael
    As a white guy with a 'fro, he has to be good or he just comes off a goofy. I like him; he's got a lot of personality and is fun while cooking. He is not a technically sound as Hans, nor as friendly as Eric, but he has an energy that is infectuous.

  8. Suzannah
    Billed as the healthy cook, Suzannah's hook is that she lost 89 pounds through healthy eating and exercise and the gist of her show is that she's going to share that with other folks with low-fat, healthy foods. She cut her hand last week and aside from being kind of a wuss at the sight of blood, she's actually very good.

At the end of each show, a selection committee consisting of Food Network personality/producer Gordon Elliott, and two suits from Food Network come on. The give each contestant some critiques, both positive and negative, and then eliminate one contestant.

I'm not sure how many they're going to eliminate before the viewers get to vote, but eventually the winner will be determined by the audience.

The first person to be sent packing was Brook, and I can't for the life of me remember a single thing about him. Which is probably why he's gone now.

This past week, Harmony was eliminated, which surprised my wife because Bobby Flay, Mario Batali and Gordon all seemed ga-ga over her (thin, blond and all that). I was not surprised because she didn't prepare for the segments very well and was not very good on camera. Some of the other folks are also new to the whole TV thing (Eric and Hans, for example), but at least they get all their prep work done for when they have to demo their dish.

Harmony's other problem was that her pitch was for a show that taps into the five senses, which sounds good in concept but the fact of the matter is that on TV the audience can't smell, touch or taste what she's cooking, so she's really down to 40%. I think she was counting on her good looks to go with her "sensual" cooking to get to the male judges and audience members.

For some reason, one of the judges thinks Deborah comes across as being fake, but I don't understand that. My personal favourite is Suzannah, but I don't think she'll advance to the finals. On the plus side, since going on the diet that dropped 89 pounds, she went out of her way to educated herself about nutrition, food and dieting so in each of her segments, she's get a lot of content in. She's also pretty and peforms well on camera, but when she's on she's really on, and when she's off, she's really off.

I also think Hans is not going to make it because while he's a good chef, he's not very exciting, and on TV that's going to hurt him.

Eric is another guy who is on the bubble because of his problems with the teleprompter. He claims to be a self-taught cook, and is always looking into the wrong camera and not following the breakdowns like they want. His deficiencies with the camera will be his undoing.

In my opinion, the front runners in this competition are Dan and Steve, Deborah and Michael. I wonder how log it is until the audience decides who they want to see.

You can learn more about the show here.

Friday, June 10, 2005

It never hurts to ask

The fast food tie-in for Star Wars is at Burger King; with the purchase of a value meal, you can pay another $1.29 for two Star Wars toys.

I haven't been collecting them, but I've picked a couple up if I happened to be eating lunch at BK. So today, we're out and we stop by Burger Czar. This particular BK hasn't been the best at giving out the toys, so I was just going to redeem one of my coupons for a free Whopper and have that for lunch.

The three of us walk in and I'm first. I ask, "Do you guys know what you want?"

They shake their heads and I ask the girl at the counter, "Which Star Wars toys to you have?"

She says, "Well, we've got most of them. Which ones do you want?"

I thought for a minute and said, "Do you have a Leia and a Yoda?" because I was going to get them for the Baby. She likes anything having to do with princesses, and Yoda is her favourite character.

The girl goes into her big case of Star Wars toys and gets one of each and I add flippantly, "I don't suppose you have any Vaders."

The Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker toy is the Holy Grail of this promotion. There are only 5 per case and the collectors scarf them up as soon as the cases are opened.

Much to my surprise, the girl says, "Sure, we've got one."

"I'll take it."

My buddies, who are collecting them, just stand there, mute with disbelief. I had to give up a Leia for Vader, but I got him and Yoda. I'm sure they're still kicking themselves for not going first.

I haven't decided if I want to sell this guy on eBay or open him, but the moral of the story is this:

It never hurts to ask.

The MTV Movie Awards & Hit Me Baby 1 More Time

I don't know who to be more upset with: NBC or MTV.

With both shows up against each other, I had to watch them on the split screens of my TV, so I missed a little bit of each show. I know that Hit Me Baby will be on sometime Sunday and I figure that the MTV Movie Awards will be on several times this week, next week and in the months to come (basically, whenever they need 2½ hours of filler it will be on).

I was really looking forward to Hit Me Baby 1 More Time this week because it featured Tommy Tutone and Vanilla Ice. Also on was The Knack, Haddaway and The Motels.

The Knack opened the show and were surprisingly good. Where last week featured geezers who really should have just gone away (Loverboy, Flock of Seagulls"), the folks this week actually aged pretty well, plus they all had reasonably good performances. I was never a big fan of "My Sharona", but it was good as was their cover of "Are You Gonna Be My Girl".

Haddaway was bad, and I mean cheezy bad, but then again, he was cheezy bad when he was on and when the Roxbury guys were popular. It would have been very funny if Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell had shown up to dance with him. His cover of "Toxic" was absolutely gawd-awful, and he somehow managed to be more gay than supergay host Vernon Kay (not that there's anything wrong with that).

From the NBC website, I was interested to learn that Haddaway has a PhD in History and Politcal Science from George Washington University, but it seems that he spends most of his days playing golf. If I were a one hit wonder and had a PhD from GWU, I think I might spend all day playing golf, too.

"867-5309/Jenny" is one of those songs that sticks with me through the years and Tommy Tutone did not disappoint, although the cover of "All the Small Things" was okay, mostly because they didn't bring anything new to the song (neither did the Knack, for that matter, and Haddaway was just scary).

The Motels were also on, although I didn't get to hear their rendition of "Only the Lonely". At that point, Dustin Hoffman had just won some award on MTV (Best Comedica Performance or something like that) and I was watching his acceptance speech. He was saying, "I'd like to thank MTV for connecting me with a younger generation, and I was trying to think of how to do that myself, and I'm watching Eminem touch himself like 37 times . . . So I'd like to thank, Bob DeNiro [grabs crotch], Ben Stiller [grabs crotch] . . ." and that went on as he named off lots of folks connected to the movie and MTV ". . . and I'd like to thank my kids [grabs his crotch several times] and my wife [grabs his crotch and makes some pelvic motion]."

Maybe you had to be there, but I was laughing so hard, I forgot to flip over to NBC to see how the Motels were doing. If you missed it, I'm sure there's video of it out there somewhere.

Anyway, is it just me or were "The Motels" that performed lead singer Martha Davis along with 4 other 20-something year old guys that she picked up off the street? I don't think it was the original band. Still, her cover of "Don't Know Why" was very interesting; it had a punk sound that was very different from Norah Jones and while it sounded a little rough in parts, it could be made into a very good single. Plus, she wasn't writhing around on the floor like Haddaway.

That brings us to the final performer, Vanilla Ice, who hit the scene my senior year in high school. True to form, he didn't disappoint. I think he's finally accepted that "Ice Ice Baby" is part of who he is. For a while there, he tried to distance himself from that, but just as George Takei has accepted that he is going to be Sulu for the rest of his life, Robert van Winkle needs to accept that he is going to be Vanilla Ice until the day he dies. And just as people go to see the Eagles to hear "Take it Easy" and they go to see Jimmy Buffett to sing "Margaritaville", Vanilla Ice needs to accept that every show for the rest of his life is going to end with "Ice Ice Baby".

He covered "Survivor" by Destiny's Child and it turned out to be an angry hardcore rap and it was surprisingly good, even though I'm not really a Destiny's Child fan and I don't like rap music. Ice ended up winning the audience vote and donated the $20,000 to the Make a Wish Foundation, a worthy cause to be sure.

So after Hit Me Baby 1 More Time was over, I switched back to the MTV Movie Awards to watch the spectacle. They had a tribute to The Breakfast Club on it's 20th anniversary. Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall and Ally Sheedy showed up to accept and Paul Gleason (the principal) was there to present the award. I read somewhere that Judd Nelson was also at the Awards, but disappeared right before their time came on stage.

While I enjoyed "The Breakfast Club", if you're going to have a tribute to the movie, you've got to get all five of the folks there. That's like having an A-Team reunion without Murdock. Besides, what else does Emilio Estevez have to do in his free time?

Anyway, here are a couple of my other thoughts on the MTV Movie Awards:

  • What the hell did Jessica Simpson have on her head? Was that really her hair, or were those some of the most gawd-awful extensions ever?

  • I realise that Sue Storm has blond hair in the comics, but I'm not sure I like Jessica Alba as anything other than a brunette.

  • Jon Heder from Napoleon Dynamite and Rachel McAdams did pretty well at the Awards. I may have to watch some of their movies.

  • Was it just me or did Chris Rock and Adam Sandler seem kind of embarrassed to be plugging their movie?

  • I wonder how they talked Sandra Bullock in to letting Jimmy Fallon feel her up on TV.

  • Dakota Fanning is one of the cutest 11 year olds I have ever seen. She's going to be a heart-breaker unless she gets into drugs and goes all Corey Feldman on us.

  • I can't stand to watch Tom Cruise any more. He came out to accept some award; his mouth started moving and I had to switch the channel.

  • Was Quentin Tarrantino drunk?

  • How much do you think Mariah Carey paid for her surgically-enhanced breasts? She got her money's worth, for sure.

So that's what I did last night. With my deck done, American Idol and no new computer games, I'm finding that I really don't have that much to do any more. I guess it's time to find a new hobby.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

I know why GM is cutting jobs

This past Tuesday, the chairman of General Motors announced that they were cutting 25,000 jobs (approximately 1 out of 6 of its employees in the US), closing plants and buying more parts from overseas parts suppliers. According to the article, GM is blaming poor sales, rising health care costs and high gas prices, among other things.

If anyone from GM reads my blog, let me save you a bunch of money on focus groups, cost analyses and soul-searching. The reason why GM is losing market share is simple:

Hey, General Motors: You build an inferior product.

I have a 2001 Oldsmobile Alero coupe. Yes, I'm 31 years old and I drive a car that starts with "OLD". The car drives reasonably well. The engine has a lot of power, the transmission shift smoothly and it's reasonably comfortable.

Where the car falls short of its competition is in the details.

Whoever designed my car never had to drive it.

For instance, there are two cupholders in the front of the car. One is infront of the center console/armrest and the other is between the shifter and the HVAC controls. If you put a drink in the cupholder near the armrest, you can't rest your arm on the console and shift. The drink, even a small or medium drink from most restaurants, gets in the way. If you get a "super-sized" cup or a 24 oz. Pepsi bottle, forget it; you have to move your arm uncomfortably around the drink to get to the shifter.

It wouldn't be so bad if I had an automatic, but since I won't pay money for a car with less than three pedals, this is a huge problem.

Also, the other cupholder is so shallow that even a medium sized cup that is full will tip over if you take a turn at moderate speeds, and full super-sized cup is so top-heavy that it's guaranteed to spill.

I had two cup holders in my 99 Honda Accord that were next to the emergency brake, between the center console and the shifter and they never got in the way. The accomodated a wide variety of drink sizes and I never had a drink tip over or spill.

Attention to detail is everything.

The cupholders are my biggest gripe, but also consider these other design flaws:

  • They put a sensor that detects when it's dark or raining and automatically turns the headlights on. I haven't turned my lights on since I bought the car. Plus my car is afflicted by daytime running lights. However, there's no light in the trunk.

  • There's a sensor in the radio that automatically turns the volume up on the radio depending on how fast I'm driving to compensate for road noise, but there are no pockets in the doors for maps and other stuff. The Alero couple has big, bulky door panels so it's not like there's not space for them.

  • As a "safety measure", ignition keeps me from taking my key out if the transmission is not locked in "reverse" but the B-pillars are large and blocky to the point where they obstruct the view when checking the blind spots.

  • A sensor in the ignition detects when I turn the car off and that unlocks the doors, but there are no maplights in the front passenger compartment.

None of these things are in and of themselves fatal, but I never had any ergonomic problems with my Accord, or my Corolla for that matter. When my wife and I were looking at a replacement for her Saturn coupe, we test drove a base Civic and it didn't have any of these shortcomings, and I looked specifically.

For my hard-earned money, the last two GM cars I have owned don't have many of the amenities that come standard on other makes and models. Maybe GM really wants me to buy a more expensive car, an Intrigue instead of an Alero. Maybe they tell themselves that they're saving money by skimping on some of the small things. I don't know. At this point, I really don't care. But it seems to me that while they got me to buy one of their cars this past time, they're hurting themselves because when I go looking for a replacement, I probably will not consider anything with Chevy, Oldsmobile, Buick, or Pontiac badges on it.

Plus, I have a number of quality related issues that should not affect a car that's less than four years old.

  • My emergency brake lever doesn't stay up. The brake cable works, but the lever will not lock in the up position.

  • The engine idles at about 1800 rpm, high by any standard, and if I take it out of gear, sometimes the engine will spin up to about 4,000 rpm for no reason and stay there for several seconds before dropping down to idle.

  • The rear-view mirror is falling off.

  • The rear defroster light does not always come on. The defroster works, but I don't always know if it's on or not. I asked the local Chevy dealer (who services the car now that Olds was dissolved) and they told me, "It worked for us."

  • My windshield wipers have gone psycho. The intermittent wipers are jerky and when I turn them off, they may make between 8 and 12 passes before turning off for good. Or if, I press on the lever to get them to go across the windshield one time, they may make 4 to 8 passes, leaving lots of streaks on the windshield.

It's not that the car is necessarily bad, but it seems that a car with 44,000 miles on it should not be having these kinds of problems. That's not to say that a Honda, Mazda or Toyota will not necessarily have these same problems; my 99 Accord used to stall when I took it out of gear, and the local dealer couldn't figure out what was wrong with (prompting me to trade it in for the piece of crap Olds I ended up with).

I had a 92 Pontiac Grand Am and it had may of the same problems that my Olds has, mostly small design flaws and a few quality problems. I don't believe in the "American" car in this day and age (that's a whole nother rant altogether), but I want to support American workers when I can, but I will not buy an inferior product just for the sake of buying "American".

My wife and I have owned two Saturns and both were good cars, both from a design standpoint and from a quailty standpoint. I'd buy another Saturn in a heartbeat. Do you know why? Becuase Saturns are sold under the GM name, but they're GM's attempt to be more like Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Mazda. That is, they took a "Japanese" approach to building an "American" car. And it worked, even through GM never wanted Saturn to begin with.

If the Big Two "American" automakers (that's Ford and GM for those of you keeping count. Chrysler was bought by Mercedes in 1998 so it's not an "American" car company, it's owned by the Germans) want to survive, here are my suggestions:

  1. Don't bitch about how the Japanese are undercutting you in terms of price. Toyota and Honda both make a lot of cars in the US, so they're affected by the same increases in health care costs you are.

  2. Stop relying on big, gas-hogging SUVs to make all your profits. Gas prices are going up and people aren't buying the Tahoes, Suburbans and Escalades like they used to. Make your mid-size cars more economic and profitable.

  3. Quality. And not just initial quality. Long-term quality. We had an 87 Ford Taurus that had an alternator go out on my prom night in 90. The transmission in my 92 Grand Am fell out in 96. See above for my problems with my Alero. These things are not hard to fix and will earn you lots of goodwill for the future. I never had problems with either of my Saturns. I never had problems with my 94 Toyota Corolla. Except for the clutch problem in the Accord, it never any any problems either. Make the little things work, and I may be more inclined to buy your product again.

  4. Pay attention to detail. Put things in all your cars like door pockets, map lights and cupholders that don't get in the way and I won't curse your designers every day that I get in the car and I won't tell all my friends what a crappy car Oldsmobile built. If something is mass produced or standard, it drives cost down and makes the cost per unit for door pockets minimal.

  5. Concentrate more on economy and less on cubic inches and horsepower. I like that my Alero doesn't lose any speed when the cruise control is on and I'm going up big hills. Even my Accord dropped a couple of mph when going up hill, but the Alero's engine and transmission is a real trooper. Still, it gets poorer gas mileage (21 mpg city, 28 mpg highway) compared to the Accord (24 mpg city, 33 mpg highway) and the Corolla (28 mpg city, 35 mpg highway). Of course, the Alero weights 100 pounds more than the Accord and 600 pounds more than the Corolla, so it's not surprising that the fuel efficiency is less, but why does it weigh more despite having two fewer doors and less interior useable space inside?

  6. Have your people actually drive the cars before putting them on the market. This may have solved my cupholder complaint earlier.

  7. Consolidate your brands. How many GM brands are there now? Chevy, GMC Truck, Cadillac, Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer, Saab, and Buick. Olds is still listed on their website but they were dissolved last year. Why are Buick, Pontiac and GMC Truck still around? They have a couple of brand-unique models but for the most part, all the makes share a couple of models and that's nothing but a waste. GMC doesn't make anything that Chevy doesn't make, too, so why bother?

    GM is often competing with itself as well as with Toyota, which has a 13% market share, a high for the "Japanese" brands, so why not eliminate some of the competition by consolidation?

The bottom line for a lot of folks is this: We want to buy "American". We want to support GM ahead of Toyota or Honda or VW. However, we've been burned in the past so it doesn't really make us want to buy your products again.

Part of it is the dealers; when the alternator in our Taurus died, the dealer tried to tell my mom, who knows absolutely nothing about cars, that she also needed to have her head gasket replaced. If not for this dealer, I would not have sworn off ever buying a Ford product again.

However, a lot of the problem is the design teams and the quality of the product that is sold. Low end Chevys and Pontiacs like the Cavalier and Grand Am feel cheap and plasticky. They did in the 90s and they still do. Some thing on my Alero; the radio buttons and the shifter feel more like a Fisher-Price toy than a car.

Unfortunately for GM, the little things that are wrong with my car I don't see as exceptions, I see them as symptomatic of GM's larger problems. When I say to folks that something was wrong with the clutch in my 99 Accord, I am usually greeted with a surprised reponse, like "Really? I never had any problems with my Accord until it racked up a quarter million miles." When I complain about the little things that are wrong with my Alero, I usually hear, "That's what you get for buying an Oldsmobile" often with an emphasis on "old".

After this car, unless things get markedly better, I won't buy another "American" car for a long, long time unless it is a Saturn.

I just don't trust GM or Ford. And that's a sad thing for me to say.

TV wasteland

What's happened to television lately?

Is it because the season ended for all the shows I usually watch? Is it because there's less good stuff to watch?

Even the channels I usually find something good on (Food Network, TLC, Discovery, History) seem to have less stuff on that interests me. Things were so bad that on Tuesday night I watched "Lethal Weapon 4" and last night I surfed "Beauty and the Geek" before watching "Dancing With the Stars".

I thought "Beauty and the Geek" would be an interesting show, but it's just as vapid as any of the other "reality" shows out there. It feeds upon the usualy stereotypes not only of the geeks but of the girls, too. I probably won't be watching it again.

"Dancing With the Stars" was on again and I watched part of it. Actually, for the first 20 minutes, it was on the TV and I was playing Legos with the baby.

I am intrigued by this show, as much as I hate to admit it. I know nothing about ballroom dancing, so I think the celebrities who are on the show have big, big balls for trying it. To me, easily the worst couple is Kelly Monaco and her partner Alec Mazo. Mazo is, of course, a professional, so any of the couple's failings are attributable to Kelly.

Last night, Trista Sutter (The Bachelorette) and her partner Louis van Amstel (think of an arrogant Micky Dolenz) were eliminated, when it should have been Kelly and Alec. Trista is no great dancer, but Kelly is stiff and unexciting. For two weeks in a row, Kelly and Alec have been the lowest scoring with the judges but thanks to the fan voting, they were kept around at the expense of Trista and Louis.

Part of the reason for Kelly and Alec sticking around may be that ABC has been pushing "Dancing With the Stars" during Kelly's other show "General Hospital" and she could be benefitting from crossover votes whereas Trista gets no such help and her partner does seem rather full of himself.

In any event, as the judges last night indicated, the best couple is George O'Hurley and Charlotte Jorgensen. Jorgensen is, of course, a great dancer and O'Hurley is a consummate entertainer. Plus, I think he really is getting into this dancing thing. He actually looks like he is having fun and if I may say so, I think he has probably had some dancing lessons in the past. He may also be of the age when basic dancing was still taught in schools.

The other person who intrigues me is Evander Holyfield who, of all the contestants, probably has the most to overcome. As a boxer, he has to have good footwork. However, the footwork required for boxing is far different from the footwork required for dancing. Last week, he actually looked pretty good, but his week he seemed a bit heavy on his feet. On top of having the most to unlearn for the show, he's also got he most mass to move around, so when he does a quick dance, he has to move a whole lot more of himself than, say, Joey McIntyre.

The judges declared John and Charlotte as the "couple to beat" last night, and by the looks of things, they're right.

I can't believe I'm watching this show.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Some quick thoughts

  • Is it just me or does Stan Van Gundy look like Ron Jeremy?

  • I just finished reading Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and it's much, much better than the movie. It doesn't get bogged down in long fight scenes like some books can, it fills us in on a lot of the backstory, shows the beginnings of the rebellion and doesn't plague the reader with the bad "acting", horrible "directing" and even makes the stiff dialogue palpable.

  • This week on Hit Me Baby 1 More Time, Vanilla Ice is going to be singing "Ice Ice Baby" and Destiny's Child's "Survivor". I don't know which song will be worse.

  • I'm not a Batman fan, but the new Batman Begins doesn't look half bad. Christian Bale (who?) is Bruce Wayne/Batman and the supporting cast includes Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Ken Watanabe, Katie Holmes and Cilliam Murphy (who?). Surprisingly, Gary Oldman isn't the bad guy. I don't know if I can handle that.

  • Speaking of Katie Holmes, don't you wish that she and Tom Cruise would either break up or just disappear for a while?

  • I've also heard bad things about the new Fantastic Four movie. I may wait for it to come out on DVD but I don't know that I can resist the siren call of Jessica Alba in spandex.

  • Kellen Winslow, Sr. let it go at the media for its coverage of his kid's injury saying that he was unfairly portrayed and that people make mistakes. I understand that 21 year old people don't always make the wisest decisions, but when he signed up to play in the National Football League, he knew he'd be in the spotlight. When he started calling himself "The Chosen One" he brings extra scrutiny and attention up on himself. When he holds out of training camp to become the highest-paid tight end in the league before playing a single down he brings extra scrutiny, attention and expectation up himself.

    Like it or not, Winslow, Jr. did something stupid to himself, and the fans of the team who invested so much in him a taking him to task for it. That's not irresponsible; what's irresponsible is buying a motorcycle, not getting any instruction on how to ride it, trying a wheelie and then flipping it on a curb in clear violation of the contract he signed that made him the highest paid tight end in the league before playing a single down.

    There may be some good to come of this, namely a rookie salary cap that prevents hotshots with more talent than brains from cashing in and causing a team to invest a huge chunk of their salary cap in a player only to see it flushed away by poor decision making.

  • Even though it's still June (D+One for those of you who care), it's not too early to be thinking about Fantasy Football. I just joined one legacy league for next year and I'm thinking of running a free Yahoo! Fantasy Football league again this year. No prizes other than bragging rights. If you're interested, drop me an email and we'll try and put a league together.

  • Would someone buy this for me on my birthday?

  • Someone shared the link to with me and I can't help but wonder about some of the people who send stuff in.

    The premise is that you can anonymously send a postcard with a secret on it to a PO box and they'll post it on the internet. Some of them are funny, some are heartbreaking and some make me thank God that my life is, despite all of my ups and downs, not as bad as some other people's.

  • Our friends who are going on the cruise with use have started the Adkins diet to lose weight. Sarah has started herself on the South Beach Diet, which means that unless we go out to eat, I'm on the South Beach Diet, too. I dropped 10 pounds last summer when I simply stopped drinking soda; I wonder if I can drop another 10 pounds this summer.

  • School is getting out here today. I wonder what I can come up with for my stepson to do over his vacation.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Hit Me Baby 1 More Time

I watched this show last night, partly out of nostalgia and partly to see what had become of some of my favourite 80s icons. It was kind of like VH-1's "Where Are They Now?" only with singing.

Some of it was good, some of it was unbearable and almost all of it was just downright scary.

The first show featured 5 artists from the 80s and 90s singing one of their hits and one contemporary song. The studio audience voted on who they liked the best and the winner got $20,000 to donate to the charity of their choice. Last night, the five artists were Loverboy, CeCe Penniston, Flock of Seagulls, Arrested Development and Tiffany.

It was like being in high school again.

Loverboy opened the show and they all got eaten by some fat guy who was singing "Working for the Weekend". They were awful. I didn't care for them in the 80s and they were even worse in the 90s. Mike Reno couldn't hit the notes on his own song, much less their cover of Enrique Iglesias's "Hero". Bad. Bad. Bad.

CeCe Penniston, an 80s club staple was next and she was alright. I'm not into dance music but she sang "Finally" and covered Faith Hill's "There You'll Be" (the love song from "Pearl Harbor"). She's still got a good set of pipes, although she was a little strained trying to get some of the high notes.

Third up was A Flock of Seagulls, named after Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull and known more for their hair than their singing. Like Mike Reno, lead singer Mike Score couldn't hit all of his own notes on "I Ran" and certainly wasn't up to "On the Way Down" by Ryan Cabrera. It was so bad, I didn't even recognise the song they covered.

The fourth band was my least favourite in but the best of the night. Arrested Development is the kind of R&B/soul that I'm really not into, but their performance was not only solid, but their cover of "Heaven" (Los Lonely Boys) was the most orginal of the night.

Generally, I hate cover songs just like I hate movie remakes. If you're not going to bring something new to a song, don't sing it. The only exception to this is Faith No More's cover of "Easy" by the Commodores, and that was just because of the novelty of Faith No More sounding just like Lionel Ritchie. Otherwise, unless a cover is like "Heaven" last night, I think people should just not try them.

I give Arrested Development lots of "artistic merit" points, even if I didn't care for them. There are apparently 5 people in the band, although only four of them do anything. The fifth member looks like someone's father who just stands around and claps alot. Maybe he's the band's muse.

The final performer was mall sensation Tiffany, who is still the youngest solo artist to score a #1 hit. She sang her cover of "I Think We're Alone Now" in a near-see-through top she was spilling out of. Tiffany was good, even on her cover of Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway".

The winners for the night were Arrested Development; not surprising considering that they appeared to have aged the most gracefully, although Tiffany and CeCe were also good and supposedly have projects in the works. They donated the $20,000 to UNICEF and the supergay host Vernon Kay announced that next week will feature The Knack, The Motels and Vaniller Ice.

During the show, I also channel flipped to UPN where "Beauty and Geek" was on and to Bravo where they were showing the Eagles "Farewell I" concert. I like the Eagles; they're one of the iconic bands of the 70s and one of the few acts that can still fill a stadium. When they're on, I try to watch, even if Don Henley needs to cut back on the pork rinds.

I was also intrigued by "Beauty and the Geek" which pairs one "geek" with a girl who is "academically challenged". While seeming to exploit the worst stereotypes of the socially maladapted computer science major/pre-med student with the airheaded sorority girl who wants to be a model but is biding her time as a cocktail waitress, I found that the show has a few shortcomings.

First of all, most of the geeks aren't really that geeky. For instance, while they don't all appear comfortable in large groups, none of them are 30 year old guys who still live with their parents and dress up for Star Trek conventions. Plus, the girls are wayyyyyyy to nice to them. Maybe it's because they know they need the guys to win the money at the end of the show, but in the real world, they wouldn't want to spend 2 minutes in the same room with a real nerd.

Still, the premise of the show is rather interesting, although Fox is leading us nerdy guys on by showing soundbytes of one of the girls saying that she actually likes her geek. False hope, that is.

Anyway, with American Idol over, I don't know what else to watch, so I'm looking forward to Vaniller Ice next Wednesday night.

Sad, isn't it?

Thursday, June 02, 2005

How I Would Fix American Idol

With the season over and nothing better to do with my free time at work, I've come up with a list of things I would do to the American Idol format to make the show better.

Here goes:

  1. Change the voting and let the judges judge
    This has been my biggest gripe about the show and I have a way to fix it. Given that Fox is not going to change the format to vote someone off, let's let the judges actually do some judging.

    I liked that this year the judges picked the Top 24 and then let "America" eliminated contestants until there were 12 left, so let's continue that trend. Here's how it works: To keep Paula from being just a cheerleader for everyone and to keep Randy from using the same 5 phrases over and over and over, each judge picks one contestant they think had the worst week. Not the worst overall in the competition, but the worst performance that week. Everyone else is automatically safe.

    "America" then votes to keep two of the three around. If you want more suspense, have the audience select a fourth person to be up for elimination. When the competition gets down to six people, it's a free for all and the person with the fewest votes gets kicked off.

    Simon and Randy are the most grounded of the judges and I wouldn't be averse to replacing Paula with someone with a little more attitude who will give a little more "tough love" and actually tell people they sucked without using code phrases like "How are you feeling tonight?" or "You look wonderful." So let each of the judges actually do some judging and that will keep people who don't deserve it from being eliminated too early in the competition.

  2. Hard Theme Nights
    Air Supply. Beastie Boys. Weird Al. Make the contestants work a little bit on theme night.

  3. Bring back the guest judges
    I didn't like having guest judges during the auditions. Put them back on during the regular season, but make sure to get folks with a musical background, not people who are selling some other product, like Quentin Tarrantino. And get guest judges with a little bit of attitude, like say, Queen Latifah. Can you see her telling Scott how much he really sucks? Sure you can.

  4. The Wheel of Death
    To borrow something from MTV's Say What? Karaoke, American Idol needs the Wheel of Death. Maybe in the semi-finals, but certainly after they get down to the point where everyone sings two songs, there should be a random element that can screw up even the most seasoned contestant.

    When it's their turn, each contestant spins the wheel, which has between 16 and 32 songs on it. Then they have to sing that song, regardless of what it is. The songs are picked at random but include a wide variety of genres, artists and eras. The contestants are given the list of songs the day before and the words are provided Karaoke-style on a screen while they're singing.

    Can you imagine how different things might have turned out if Clay had to sing "U Can't Touch This" or if George had to try "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go"? Or what about Rueben having to sing "Wannabe" (by the Spice Girls) or John Stevens having to take a shot at "Baby Got Back"? Think of Constatine having to sing "Stand By Your Man" or Carrie trying "Welcome to the Jungle". Lisa Leuschner might have advanced if she got to sing "Open Arms" but Jasmine had to sing "Hungry Like the Wolf."

    This Wheel of Death thing could have some serious legs if they'd implement it correctly. Just pick some of the most obscure songs out there and make people try. It would quickly eliminate the people who don't have a lot of range or appeal and it would advance the most versatile of performers.

  5. Ban the following phrases:
    • "Seacrest. Out."
    • "I'm so proud of you."
    • "After the break."
    • "You're in the dawg pound."
    • Any analogy involving a European nightclub.

  6. Stop the product placement.
    Fox is already making a gazillion dollars off the show. I don't need to see ads for Coke, Cingular and Ford in the show.

  7. Have the contestants sabotage each other
    For the theme one night, each contestant draws a name out of a hat. They then get to pick a song for that person. Fox already tries to manufacturer drama and screw the contestants over, so why not have them do it to each other, too. How great would it be to hear Kimberly Caldwell say, "Clay, the song I've picked for you is 'One Week' by the Barenaked Ladies. Good luck, sucker!"?

  8. Fan judges
    If American Idol is going to have guest judges, why are they always music people? Why not have fans on the show? And not dedicated fans of a certain contestant, but fans of the show. Fans who have no compunction about being brutally honest with the contestants, like the girls over at Idolrant. They need to pick people who like the show, not just yokels who want to be on TV or fawn over their favourite contestant, but this could really stir some additional interest and hype (not that AI needs any extra interest or hype).

  9. Get rid of the big band and the backup singers
    Remember when American Idol was just someone singing along with some canned music? I think they've gone way overboard and need to get back to people singing. Not overproduced monstrosities in which the contestant gets lost in the show. Just singing.

  10. Ban songs
    Once a song is on the show (auditions and Hollywood don't count), it can't be sung again for three years. No exceptions. How many times do we have to suffer through "Against All Odds"? Blech. Fox has deep pockets and can get the rights to a wide variety of songs, so don't make us listen to the same stuff year after year after year.

So that's my list of things I would change about American Idol.

Any other suggestions?

Dancing With The Stars

In the post-American Idol/pre-football programming abyss, I have come up on the first of several new "contest" shows, ABC's Dancing With the Stars, which couples six celebrities with six professional ballroom dancers and eliminates one couple per week.

The series started last night and, in truth, I expected the show to be absolutely gawd-awful. Thankfully, it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be, and in fact, it was rather entertaining.

First of all, I know nothing about ballroom dancing, so to hear the judges, who are purported by ABC to be professional ballroom dancers, nitpick was kind of interesting. It's kind of like watching the Olympics and hearing the commentators say that someone slipped here or there during an ice skating routine; it looked fine to me, but then again, what do I know?

I thought all of the pros were excellent and some did a better job of covering for their heavy-footed celebrity partner better than others, but for the most part, even the celebrities looked good (to me, the untrained eye). Evander Holyfield is the person I was most intrigued by. I wonder why he is doing the show. He looked a little clumsy, but his commitment to training was never in question.

Rachel Hunter, who admitted having a short attention span looked really good, but also seemed a little off-kilter. In my opinion, the best celebrity dancer was character actor John O'Hurley, who is the oldest of the bunch, but seemed to bring that old-school charm to the show.

It was interesting to listen to the judges's comments, both because I don't know what to look for but also to see that unlike American Idol, they give scores, and on a scale of 1 to 10, the highest they gave out all night was a 7. I don't know if they're being too harsh on the contestants or if it's their way of letting them know that they can improve.

The format was a little clumsy and the weakest link on the show isn't the dancing or the judges, but host Tom Bergeron who tries to be funny on a show that isn't especially compatible with his wise-ass comments. I'm sure I'll be watching this show again next week, if for no other reason than to see how much better someone can get at ballroom dancing with only six weeks training.