Eclaire Fare

Enjoying Pop Culture, One Bite at a Time

American Idol Presents… Cheese April 30, 2008

Filed under: American Idol,Television — Emily @ 9:28 am

Welcome to Cheesefest 2008! That’s what I thought of this week’s Neil Diamond performance show. Each contestant sang two songs. There wasn’t much to like, but here are my thoughts:

ROUND ONE OF SONGS:

  • Jason Castro – “Forever in Blue Jeans” – This isn’t a very exciting song, but the style suits Jason okay. It was pretty boring, though.
  • David Cook “I’m Alive” – This song is really cheesy, so much so that even David Cook can’t make it sound cool. I was bored again.
  • Brooke White – “I’m a Believer” – I wasn’t a fan of the frantic pacing of the song, and something about Brooke’s super happy demeanor reminded me of The Brady Bunch. For me, it’s been three strikes so far in my search for a performance to love.
  • David Arculeta – “Sweet Caroline” – I’m sorry, I’m just not digging Neil Diamond night. During this number I kept flashing back to that old show Kids, Inc.
  • Syesha Mercado- “Hello Again” – It helped to hear a female version of a Neil Diamond song. She was able to make it “her own.” Plus, I don’t know this song, so I didn’t have any preconceived notions.

How awkward was it when Paula started talking about Jason’s second song that he hadn’t sung yet? Where was she for the first half of the show?!

ROUND TWO OF SONGS

  • Jason Castro – “September Morn” – Even Jason looked bored while he was singing this one. It didn’t suit him.
  • David Cook – “All I Really Need Is You” – This is the first performance that I actually enjoyed tonight. David’s voice was great, the instrumentals were nice, and the song wasn’t bad. Simon made a good observation that David made this song sound like it was written this year. That’s what was missing from most of the other performances. The songs seemed dated. Everyone should have taken some risks to make their songs more interesting.
  • Brooke White – “I Am, I Said” – I liked this one. I always like Brooke better playing piano instead of guitar. Plus, this song brought her back to the Brooke I liked in the early weeks, with that 70s vibe. Welcome back, Brooke!
  • David Archuleta – “America” – So this is one of the cheesiest songs I know, so I already had that bias going in. But for me, David’s performance was just a continuation of his “inspirational message of the week.” I wasn’t wowed in the least. All the networks might as well go ahead and sign David A. up for their 4th of July specials. He’d be perfect. Simon is right about it being a perfect song choice, based on David’s fan base. Kristy Lee Cook knows about that, too, since she’s “Proud to Be an American.” (Don’t get me wrong. I love America. But that doesn’t mean patriotic songs have to be my favorite. Actually, I just wrote something about American music…).
  • Syesha Mercado- “Thank the Lord for the Nighttime” – Syesha’s performance was part Kids, Inc. (the background drum beat) and part Sunday gospel hour (her vocals). These are two things that don’t mix, though, so I was very distracted.

I agree with Simon that this was the strangest show they’ve ever done. At least of the ones I have seen. It seems like they should have done the Neil Diamond episode earlier in the season, and done some of the more current artists here at the end of the season. Oh well.

Top Performances:

  1. David Cook’s “All I Really Need Is You”
  2. Brooke White’s “I Am, I Said”
  3. Syesha Mercado’s “Hello Again”

Bottom Two: Jason and Syesha

Going Home? – Syesha

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Musical Snapshots of American Life April 28, 2008

Filed under: Music — Emily @ 10:04 pm

America is often considered a place that lacks originality. It is a melting pot, and therefore much American culture has been copied or adapted from some other culture. However, nothing seems more American than a good old-fashioned road trip: pack a suitcase, fill up the tank, crank up some good music, and hit the highway

It was on one such road trip that my husband and I started thinking about the topic of this post: American music. That is, what are some artists, albums, or songs, that capture the feeling of life in America? So much American-made music is sappy love songs, overdramatic power ballads, or factory-fresh bubble gum confections. I don’t want to listen to any of those while I am driving through the small towns, scenic byways, and endless interstate highways that represent life in America. Because really, America is so much more than suburbs full of cookie cutter houses and shopping malls.

With that in mind, I’d like to share some of my favorite American music, listed below by artist. This list could also be called “Great American Road Trip Music” because these are songs that match the mood of America’s many and varied landscapes.ย  Feel free to add your own favorite American songs in the comments section. I find this an interesting topic to discuss.

  • John Mellencamp – especially back when he was still “Cougar” – I mean, nothing captures small-town American life more than “Little Pink Houses,” “Jack and Diane,” “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.,” and “Small Town.” A small sampling of lyrics: “There’s a black man with a black cat living in a black neighborhood. He’s got an interstate running through his front yard.” (so true, how the interstates took over people’s yards)
  • Tom Petty – Remember when Tom Cruise was driving down the freeway in Jerry Maguire singing “Free Fallin'” at the top of his lungs? That song is such fun to sing along to. Some more “American” lyrics: “She’s a good girl, she loves her mama, loves Jesus, and America, too.” Interestingly, Tom Petty also mentions “there’s a freeway runnin’ through the yard.” The price of progress seems to be a recurring theme in American music. Another that comes to mind is “You pave paradise to put up a parking lot.” There’s so much natural beauty in America that you hate to see it all cut down and paved over for roads and malls. Anyway, Tom Petty has lots of songs about the American experience. Another that comes to mind is “Into the Great Wide Open.”
  • Counting Crows – This band’s sound is very gritty, yet their music also has a comfort-factor to it. I can identify with the rural landscape described in “Omaha” – “run past the heather and down to the old road” – it reminds me of my childhood days roaming around the countryside near my house. Another great song of theirs is “Raining in Baltimore,” which is partly about the distance that can separate loved ones in this large country of ours, and the feelings of isolation and monotony that can lead to: “I need a phone call, I need a plane ride, I need a sunburn, I need a raincoat… Three thousand five hundred miles away, but what would you change if you could?”
  • R.E.M. – I’m thinking particularly of Automatic for the People. The first song on the album, “Drive,” seems to be about the random and carefree driving around that American teenagers do. I used to do that. Of course, that was before gas was $3.50+ a gallon! “Nightswimming” and “Find the River” are other great songs from that album.
  • Simon & Garfunkel – They represent another generation of American music, but many of their lyrics still hold true. For example, in “America” they sing about people searching the country for something: “Kathy, I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh, Michigan seems like a dream to me now. It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw, I’ve gone to look for America.” Another good example is “Homeward Bound.” Although it is specifically about a traveling musician, the lyrics also apply well to anyone who travels a lot or drives a long way to get back home: “And each town looks the same to me the movies and the factories, and every stranger’s face I see reminds me that I long to be homeward bound.”
  • James Taylor – Another classic artist, James Taylor has many songs that reflect the spirit of America. One of my favorites is “Carolina in My Mind” (In my mind I’m goin’ to Carolina. Can’t you see the sunshine, can’t you just feel the moonshine. Maybe just like a friend of mine, it hit me from behind.
    Yes, I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind.”)
  • Elizabethtown soundtrack, Vols. I & II – Unlike most people, I loved this movie, and I also thought the soundtrack was excellent. It is full of music that fits my idea of American, more for the sound than the lyrics in this case. It is fitting that many of these songs were featured during Orlando Bloom’s road trip during the movie.

I’m sure I could continue listing songs forever, but I will stop here. The songs I listed above are the ones that best fit my idea of music that reflects America.

 

Catching Up With Lost

Filed under: Lost — Emily @ 11:23 am

I have been enjoying Lost this season, and last week’s Ben-centric episode revealed much new and interesting information, while also continuing the trend of creating new questions. Here’s an assessment of what we know, or in some cases think we know (or what I think I know), about the various characters and plots.

Ben:

  • He keeps a gun stowed away in his piano bench. That’s handy. When you’re Ben, you never know when you’ll need to switch gears from Mozart to a massacre.
  • He can handle himself in a fight. I don’t recall seeing him show off his combat moves before now, only his smooth and creepy skills of manipulation.
  • The mercenary guys who attacked Locke’s happy camp wanted to take Ben alive. My guess is that Charles Widmore hired them to force Ben off the island, since Charles thinks it is rightfully his. Or maybe it’s more complicated than that. Maybe Charles needs Ben because Ben has a mystical connection to the island that he lacks. If that’s the case, maybe Locke is the person he should be commandeering, since the island is always speaking to Locke.
  • He is a hired assassin who, apparently, travels through time to do his dirty work (he had to verify what year it was when he checked into his hotel in Tunisia). But who does he work for?
  • He really does love “his” daughter Alex. How hard was it to watch her get shot and killed? Michael Emerson did a fantastic job of conveying Ben’s emotional chain reaction during those tense moments when Alex was held at gunpoint and was ultimately killed. His facial expressions went from resolute to nervous to shocked to grief-stricken in a matter of seconds.
  • Ben can summon the black smoke monster to do his bidding. How fun is the secret passageway in Ben’s house? I always wished I had one of those. I’d love to know how his encounters/conversations go with the black smoke. Is it a few pushes of a button, a phone call, or a face to face pow wow?
  • “Once you let your grief become anger, it will never go away. I speak from experience.” Is he referring simply to Alex’s death, or does Ben’s anger stem from feelings of guilt and grief over his mother dying after giving birth to him? Maybe that’s a stretch. But, it makes sense that Ben would become a vigilante after Alex’s death. But again I ask, who is he working for? Himself? Jacob? Someone else?

Jack:

  • He’s coming down with something and prescribing himself antibiotics. Apparently the whole purpose of his conversation with Kate about his sickness is to set up next week’s episode, in which we are supposed to believe that Jack is on the verge of death. I hope it’s not a filler episode…

“The Doctor”:

  • It amused me that everyone just referred to the dead guy who washed up on the beach as “the doctor from the boat.” His death brings up more interesting questions of the time disparity between the island and the boat, since the people on the boat insisted that “the doc is fine” when Daniel made contact with them.
  • His throat was slit, so someone murdered him. Was he another casualty of the crazies that are running rampant on the boat, or was this a premeditated act?
  • When Daniel sent a message to the boat asking “What happened to the doctor?” we learned that Bernard knows morse code. These secondary characters have to be useful for something, right? I wasn’t surprised that the “rescuers” lied about something else. Daniel wanted the castaways to believe that the helicopters were coming in the morning, when in fact they never intended to send them. And of course the people on the boat wouldn’t know what happened to the doctor, because in their time, it hasn’t happened yet. This gets very confusing…

Sayid:

  • He managed to track down Nadia after years of searching, and he married her. How sad that she was then murdered in Los Angeles by a man with an apparent connection to Charles Widmore. I can’t figure out what’s up with that. Maybe Charles is trying to strongarm anyone who has a connection to the island into helping him find it?
  • Sayid has quite the sixth sense about being watched. During the funeral procession he sensed Ben’s eyes on him, even though he was high above on a rooftop. Maybe the island told him to look up. ๐Ÿ™‚
  • We learned how Sayid started working with Ben as an assassin. He felt he had nothing else to live for, so now he is living for revenge. Poor Sayid! It’s strange that Sayid and Ben now have something in common – extreme grief and the need for revenge. I wonder if the previous Sayid-centric episode showed us Sayid’s first kill, the guy on the golf course. Who are these people on the list? The best idea I have is that they are people who are a threat to the island.

Claire:

  • She survived, for the moment, only getting a little rattled by the explosion that rocked her house on the compound.
  • A little foreshadowing: when Claire said “I’m a bit wobbly, but I’ll live,” Miles the psychic said “I wouldn’t be too sure about that.” We already know that Aaron makes it back to the mainland, but Claire doesn’t. This is more confirmation that Claire dies on the island.

Jacob:

  • Sawyer doesn’t know who Jacob is. In fact, Sawyer is out of the loop on a lot of things, including who Charles Widmore is. I think he’s “inner circle” enough that Locke should share some of this crucial info with him. But now that Sawyer and Claire are headed back to the beach, I guess Sawyer will stay in the dark.
  • Hurley is the only one who can locate Jacob. I wonder why that is. Ben used to know how to find him. What changed?
  • Jacob is “the man who’s going to tell us what to do next,” according to Ben. All signs suggest that Jacob is the Protector of the Island and Its Rightful Inhabitants. Remember the list of worthy crash survivors from season one?

“He Changed the Rules”:

  • When Ben said this, after he watched his own daughter be killed, my first thought was that he was talking about Jacob. That would make sense, since Jacob seems to control events on the island. I figured that Jacob had promised Ben that nothing would happen to his daughter. But, apparently, Ben was talking about Charles Widmore. Perhaps they made a pact to not harm each others’ families in their quest for island domination? Doesn’t really make sense to me, but okay.

The Black Smoke:

  • As a result of the rule changing, Ben decided to set loose this nifty weapon on the soldier guys. It took care of the problem, killing them all (we assume) swiftly. Is it just me, or was the smoke monster much bigger this time? Maybe Ben cranked up some “super strength” lever to make sure the job got done. When was the last time we saw the black smoke? Was it two seasons ago when Mr. Eko died? I wonder what this island monster has been up to since then.

Benjamin Linus vs. Charles Widmore:

  • I’ve already discussed the significance of “he changed the rules” above. There’s obviously a power struggle going on between these two men. I wonder if we’ll ever have more back story to explain it.
  • “I need you to take a message to Mr. Widmore for me.” These were Ben’s last words to Ishmael, the man who killed Nadia. Unfortunately, we don’t know what the intended message was, because Sayid shot and killed Ishmael before Ben could finish his statement. Was the “message” going to involve Ben going all Rambo again, taking Ishmael’s gun, and shooting him (sending the message that Charles can keep sending people out, but Ben will keep defeating them), or was it an actual verbal message, like “you’ll never find me and my island!”
  • Charles keeps a bottle of scotch by his bed now, ever since “the nightmares started.” I imagine Jacob and the island have something to do with those.
  • I hated to hear that Ben plans to kill Penelope Widmore to get revenge on Charles for his involvement in Alex’s death. I like Penny, and I love Desmond. I don’t want to see him suffer. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ
  • “That island’s mine, Benjamin. It always was. It will be again.” With these words Charles declared ownership of the island. But Ben replied, “But you’ll never find it.” I don’t get how the soldier guys found the island if Charles can’t. Is Jacob preventing Charles from finding it?
  • “Then I suppose the hunt is on for both of us.” These were Charles’ words to Ben, in reference to Ben’s hunt for Penny and his hunt for the island. It will be fascinating and nerve-wracking to continue watching these two powerful adversaries.

It’s sad that we only have four more episodes this season, but hopefully they will give us plenty to discuss until next January’s fresh batch of episodes.

 

American Idol Takes on Broadway April 23, 2008

Filed under: American Idol — Emily @ 11:42 am

Now that we’re down to six contestants, I will compile my thoughts on the performances in order of my preference – from my favorite to least favorite.

  1. David Cook – “Music of the Night” – Wow, what a great voice he has, and he proved it with his rendition of “Music of the Night.” I was surprised he played it straight, without giving it his usual rock edginess. I think that was a smart move, because it showed his versatility. In my opinion, this David is the front runner, not David Archuleta.
  2. Carlyย  Smithson – “Jesus Christ,ย  Superstar” – I liked Carly’s outfit, her enthusiasm, and – of course – her voice. She seemed very comfortable on stage for this performance, and looked like she was having a lot of fun. She had been missing that element for the past couple of weeks. Hopefully this improved performance will keep her safe this week.
  3. Syesha Mercado – “One Rock and Roll Too Many” – Syesha looked great, in her red dress, and this song was perfectly suited for her. She had tons more spunk in her than she has ever shown this season. Like Carly, she stepped it up this week.
  4. Jason Castro – “Memory” – Although I liked Jason’s understated version of this well-known Broadway tune, I have to agree with Simon’s assessment that it looked like Jason was being forced by his parents to sing this song. I fear he may be in trouble this week, unless his beautiful eyes save him. ๐Ÿ™‚
  5. Brooke White – “You Must Love Me” – Brooke has gone from being my favorite contestant to being near the bottom of the list. For the second time this season, she stopped and started over. That shows that she is jittery, and the person who wins this competition needs to exude confidence. So far she hasn’t done so. I still love her voice, and her different vibe, but I’m not sure those are enough to keep her around at this point.
  6. David Archuleta – “Think of Me” – If he had continued the song in the style he began with, this may well have been my favorite performance of the night. I loved the guitar, and the pop sound. For the first time, I was able to believe David A. as a pop singer. But… then he had to go and turn it into his typical “inspirational message of the week,” complete with generic hand motions. Plus, I was very distracted by how hard he was trying not to close his eyes. I just don’t get why he’s so many people’s favorite. Well, I guess his great voice and the fact that he’s a cute, precocious teenage boy have something to do with it. ๐Ÿ™‚

Bottom Three: Brooke, Jason, Carly

Going Home: Brooke? (but I am usually wrong with my predictions, so it will probably be someone else)

 

American Idol Gets “Carey”d Away April 16, 2008

Filed under: American Idol — Emily @ 8:45 am

Who knew that the guys would fare so well on Mariah Carey-theme night? Here are my thoughts on the seven performances:

  • David Archuleta – “When You Believe” – As much as I love the animated movie Prince Of Egypt, as well as this and all the other songs from it, I was bored. I stand by my opinion that David A. is not pop star material – at least not yet. I’m not sure he would ever be. He needs to finish high school and then head for Broadway, where he can wow audiences with his soaring, controlled voice. But my opinion must not be shared by much of America, as he always seems to be safe from the Bottom 3.
  • Carly Smithson – “Without You” – For the first time in a few weeks, I thought Carly looked really good: her hair, her makeup, her dress. However, her vocals were not as strong as they have been in previous weeks. I think she was responding to the judges’ comments that she seems angry when she performs, by toning it down. Since her strong voice is my favorite thing about her, this was not one of my faves from her.
  • Syesha Mercado – “Vanishing” – I had forgotten about this lesser known Mariah song from her first album, which I used to listen to on my purple “jam box” way back in the early 1990s (great album – I had forgotten!). I thought Syesha did a great job with it. Her personality was more apparent than in previous weeks, her voice was very controlled and confident, she looked great, and I would have to say this is my favorite performance from her of the season.
  • Brooke White – “Hero” – What happened? The song started well, but then she got all trembly and pitchy. Plus, this song is one of Mariah’s more bland ones. Brooke needs to step it up, or soon she’ll be steppin’ out.
  • Kristy Lee Cook – “Forever” – She is still at the bottom of the list for me, and I don’t like country music, but I can’t deny that she has done well the past couple of weeks, and that this could legitimately be a country hit. Looks like she may have dodged a bullet once again.
  • David Cook – “Always Be My Baby” – I always enjoy David’s rock twist on other genres, but his vocals this time were kind of weak. I still enjoyed it, but not as much as some of his others. But I agree with Simon that David is a risk taker, and he’s creative – more than any other contestant. That’s a trait that will serve him well as an artist.
  • Jason Castro – “I Don’t Want to Cry” – Another Mariah song that I love! I really liked the first half of Jason’s version, but I thought the arrangement lacked gusto toward the end. Hopefully Jason will earn enough votes to stay, especially since he was the final performer.

My Favorite Performances: Syesha, Jason

Predicting the Bottom Three: Carly, Brooke, Syesha

Out of those three, I am sad to say that I think Carly will be going home. She has a great voice, but she has never connected as well with the audience as some of the others have.

 

Michael Johns, We Hardly Knew You April 11, 2008

Filed under: American Idol — Emily @ 9:28 am

Michael Johns

This week I declared that Michael Johns was my current favorite Idol, so it is only fitting (based on my track record with these sorts of things) that he was sent home this week. I was very disappointed. He had the voice, the stage presence, and the personality to be a viable contender for the title of American Idol, so it is just a shame that he was voted off. The past two weeks his performances were miles above the first few weeks, when I thought he wasn’t reaching his full potential. I have heard rumors that they will introduce a new twist, “Vote an Idol Back on the Show,” this season, so I will hold on to that idea in hopes that we may see him again before too long.

The other two in the bottom three, Syesha and Carly, didn’t surprise me. I would much rather have seen one of them sent packing, though. With the number of finalists now down to 7, there will probably always be someone in the bottom three who seems undeserving. In fact, the only contestant that I would be disappointed to see win at this point is Kristy Lee Cook. She has a good voice, but I just think she lacks something that the other contestants have in terms of overall level of talent.

With Michael out of the picture, I will now cheer most for David Cook and Brooke. Who are you hoping will win it all?

 

American Idol’s Inspirational Week April 9, 2008

Filed under: American Idol — Emily @ 10:49 am

For those of you familiar with my So You Think You Can Dance recaps, don’t expect the same kind of detail about Idol. Although I am enjoying Idol this season more than any other, my enthusiasm for it pales in comparison to the, in my opinion, superior Dance. Speaking of which, I was excited to see the fun promo for SYTYCD during last night’s Idol. Back to the topic of this post, here are my thoughts on last night’s performances:

Michael Johns’ “Dream On” – This was my favorite performance of the night. A few weeks ago I commented that Michael had the potential to be one of the last contestants standing, but that he needed to step up his game if he wanted to survive. I’ve been pleased that he has done just that the past two weeks. Last week his “It’s So Wrong, But It’s So Right” was my fave, and while I like him better with the blues feel, I still enjoyed his rocker vibe this week. He has found the charisma and stage presence that he was lacking in earlier episodes. For now, he is my favorite.

Syesha Mercado’s “I Believe” – Honestly, I lost interest before the song began, when Syesha informed us that she had chosen Fantasia’s “I Believe.” I’ve always thought it’s a bad idea for Idol wannabes to perform a previous Idol winner’s song. First of all, it’s difficult to compete with a previous winner, and second of all, these songs are almost always cheesy (except for Kelly Clarkson’s songs, but no contestant should try to top her version of these hits). I was bored during this performance, although the choir singing background vocals was a nice touch. Syesha is just never very interesting to me.

Jason Castro’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” – This was my second favorite performance of the night. I also liked Jason’s “Travelin'” last week. In the early weeks of the season, I was concerned that Jason was limiting himself to too small a niche with his Jack Johnson style performances, but now I am glad that he has chosen this strategy, because he has continued to grow on me each week. I’ve always loved this version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” whether it was on a commercial, an episode of Scrubs (that Wizard of Oz episode was my favorite of that show, by the way), or my Ipod. Jason’s version of it was well done in every way.

Kristy Lee Cook’s “Anyway” – She’s still on the show? Seriously, I’m sure she’s a nice person, and she has a decent voice, and she always looks fantastic, but she is nowhere near the level of all-around talent that most of the remaining contestants are. That being said, I agree with Paula that this was her best performance of the season. I’m afraid that might keep her around another week. She is very good at song selection, as Simon pointed out. I am sure there is a large cross section of the population who will vote for her simply based on this song.

David Cook’s “Innocent” – I hate to say it, since David is one of my favorite contestants, but this was his worst performance of the season. It wasn’t so much his singing or stage presence as it was the song arrangement that was the problem. Everything just seemed off. He probably has a large enough fan base that this little bump in the road won’t hurt him too much.

Carly Smithson’s “The Show Must Go On” – Lighten up, Carly! She’s always so angry when she performs, and that attitude simply didn’t fit with this song. I also wasn’t loving the high-waisted pants, the flashy gold belt, and the vertically striped top. I agree with Simon that she may be in trouble after this performance, even though she has one of the most powerful voices this season.

David Archuleta’s “Angel” – Simon thinks that this song is one of the greatest pop songs of all time. While I agree that it’s catchy, I think he’s overstating things a bit. Besides, the song makes no sense: “I’m loving angels instead.” Huh? Despite my concerns about the song, David A. gave a spot on performance, as usual, although I think the piano playing threw off his vocals a bit. I still just can’t see David as a pop singer. He should follow Clay Aiken to Broadway, where his talents could truly soar.

Brooke White’s “You’ve Got a Friend” – How appropriate for Brooke to sing a Carole King classic, since I’ve been saying all season that Brooke is a throwback to the 70s. I agree with Simon that this was pleasant (“like a walk in the park” is how he put it), but not great. Brooke was once my favorite, and while I still really like her voice, she needs to get back to the great song selections and performances of the early weeks to make it back to the top of my list. Cute dress, though!

My Top Picks: Michael Johns, Jason Castro, Brooke White

Predicting the Bottom Three: Syesha, Kristy Lee, Carly

Going Home: Syesha

Do you agree with me, or do you have a different take on these inspirational performances? We’ll have to wait an extra day to find out the results, since this is the very special Idol Gives Back week. Look for several SYTYCD contestants to perform on Idol Gives Back. That’s enough reason for me to tune in!