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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

IdolCritics, Top 10

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

From NPH: Matt Giraud is in the bottom three. That's a bit of a shock. Especially given the fact that Megan isn't. Michael, Scott, and Megan were my bottom three prediction, so I got two of the three right, but certainly missed the third. This is what drives me nuts about this show: it's arbitrary. Also, there's no way to tell why these results shows are put together the way they are. Matt and Michael are left to dangle in the wind after Scott is declared safe, and everyone knows that it's a travesty to put those two next to eachother. But . . .

In past seasons, strong contestants have found themselves in the bottom three early and enjoyed a big bounce in subsequent weeks, as their fanbase reacts to the slight. Maybe the producers are engineering something like that for Giraud.

Of course, Giraud is safe, though, and Sarver has been misled to believe that he can "sing for his life" now. It's a sorry spectacle, watching him straining with every note to save himself and knowing full-well that his chances of being saved by the judges are about as good as Paula's chances of cracking the Billboard charts ever again. There's no way they're saving him. Sayonara Sarver. The judges can't get their act together, though, so it's a clumsy execution, completely lacking in grace. Up against the next show that needs to start, Simon is forced (since, after all, a save has to be unanimous) to tell Michael he's going home. Ugly and unnecessarily insulting.

From NPH:
Live-blogging the top 10 (a couple hours after the fact):

10:28: Why have they started announcing the judges? That's dumb.

10:29: Paula wants the contestants to "challenge their artistic integrity." What doest that even mean?

10:33: The Barry Gordy/Smokey Robinson vignet in Studio A is pretty cool.

10:37: Giraud is so much better when he's at the keys, and he looks like a schoolboy in that cardigan, but he carried that off really, really well. For a guy who's recorded a couple of "Christian" records, "Let's Get It On" is an interesting choice, to say the least. Good for him.

10:39: For a guy who gets compared to Justin Timberlake, being called "Sexy cool" by Paula only helps.

10:40 Matt gets declared a "frontrunner" by Simon. Bad karma?

10:41: Kris hasn't even taken the stage yet, and I'm already annoyed.

10:43: Kris contorts his face too much while he sings.

10:44: Stop the presses! Kris Allen is boring.

10:45: Kara says Kris did "everything right" on the performance and Paula's proud of him. "Technically speaking," she says . . . but wasn't that really unremarkable. Lame, even?

10:47: When Ryan and Simon spit back and forth at each other, it's bad TV.

10:52: Scott McIntyre is much better than last week, but he's not long for Idol, I'm afraid. His voice just isn't that good.

10:53: Simon is giving it to Scott and getting booed. This is his first real criticism of the show. Simon called it "cheap." "I've heard that a million billion times," he says. Yes, at Stax of Wax.

10:55: Scott, don't respond to judge critique. It only makes you look bad. And don't admit that you changed songs in the middle of the week!!

10:56: Paula reaches under the desk and retrieves crayons and coloring books for Simon, saying "Here you go you six year-old." And if that's not akward enough, Ryan has to explain to Scott what's happening. This is really bad TV.

10:59: Megan Joy's voice is cracking. Not good. And it never works when contestants circumnavigate the judges table while singing. Her voice is easily the weakest of the 10, and it's not possible for her to hide that in her cuteness and phrasing anymore.

11:02: Kara is singing to a contestant again. That's petty. Stop. Paula tells Megan she's beautiful and Simon mutters, "It's not Top Model." Fair enough.

11:03: Megan looks like she's going to cry.

11:05: Anoop is sitting on the front of the stage. And he's singing--eek: this is bad. His falsetto is painful.

11:07: If all Anoop had to sing of "Ooh Baby Baby" were the verses, he'd be fine. The chorus is killing him. Or rather, he's killing the chorus.

11:08: Another plea for "creativity" from the judges. It seems to me that David Cook set the bar really high last season for how contestants arrange songs. No?

11:10: Seacrest just sang. Gulp.

11:11: Sarver tells us he was sick last week and didn't get to go to Detroit with the rest of the contestants. Is it telling that you didn't even notice his absence earlier?

11:13: Smokey Robinson says Sarver needs to not "sweet talk Ain't Too Proud To Beg." Best. Advice. Ever.

11:13: Sarver ignored Smokey's advice.

11:14: Sarver is boring, boring, boring. Better than Scott McIntyre, but not by much.

11:15: Paula apologizes and nearly cries in criticizing Sarver. "This is hard," she says as she tells him that his performance was "Vegas-ish." Buck up, Paula.

11:16: Simon tells Sarver he has "No chance of winning." Amen.

11:17: Sarver, don't talk back at the judges, especially if you're just going to validate their critique.

11:18: DiaGuardi again with the "artistry" plea! The ghost of David Cook strikes again!

11:19: Sarver is "being true to who he is." Smart move. Also smart is the skillfully employed drawl (he's an oil rigger, you know). He's got a few more weeks in him.

11:20: How good is Lil Rounds going to be? Expectations are hiiiiiiiiigh.

11:21: Wow, Lil looks awesome.

11:22: As expected, she's crushing the song. Girl can flat-out sing.

11:23: Write this down: that performance was one of Idol's best ever.

11:25: Randy and Kara didn't like it. Pthhhhhh.

11:26: Simon thinks Lil didn't have a "moment" in the performance because the song didn't allow it. For me, the whole performance--starting with the video footage--was the moment.

11:28: Lil just reminded Paula that the President is Obama.

11:30: Lambert's hair!

11:31: Lambert to Desai: here's how you sing falsetto.

11:32: Lambert is growing on me. That was pretty amazing. And Kara is standing and telling us about it. There's no context for that move. It doesn't mean anything coming from her.

11:32: Again, one of the judges tells Adam he's in "his own league." I buy it more this time.

11:33: Simon calls it the best performance of the night. Oh, and he's "emerged as a star." Pull it back a bit, Cowell.

11:35: Giraud's my boy, but I just voted for Adam Lambert. Really, I texted "vote" to 5708.

11:36: Smokey told Gokey to add the "You're Allrights" and the "You're Outta Sights" to his version of "Here I Come." Good advice. But then the backup singers are doing it. This is me, shaking my head.

11:38: Seriously, though: Gokey's really good, right?

11:39: The show is running late and the producers are rushing the judges through Gokey's critique. Does that help him out or short-change him?

11:41: Iraheta's not big enough for "Papa Was A Rolling Stone."

11:42: The clap track during the chorus isn't doing her any favors.

11:42: Oh, look: Kara is standing up again. "That is from God," she rants. "You can't teach that!"

11:43: Cowell drew a moustache on Paula's face with a crayon and Iraheta thinks it's hysterical. She is only 16.

11:44: Cue the recap.

11:48: post recap, top-to-bottom: Lil, Adam, Matt, Alison, Danny, Anoop, Kris, Michael, Scott, Megan.

From NPH: This week's schedule is a bit wonky, so that the top 10 don't perform until Wednesday night. The results are on Thursday.

So, Producer, it's Motown week. Surely this format will favor Danny Gokey, Lil Rounds, and Matt Giraud. Also, given his acapella singing experience, Anoop Desai ought to do well. Based on what she did with "Rockin' Robin," I think Megan Joy will survive but not flourish. The contestants I would worry about would be Michael Sarver, Scott McIntyre, and Allison Iraheta. Kris Allen and Adam Lambert? Eough love has already been lavished upon them to get them at least through this week.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 12:48 PM | link | 5 comments |

Album of the Year Nominee: Anna Egge, "Road to My Love"

Monday, March 23, 2009

Never heard of her before January, when I read this Rolling Stone review of her latest record. I grabbed it off of LaLa for $.80, and have been listening to it a couple times a week for nearly three months now. It's strong. Egge is a little bit Shawn Colvin, a little bit David Wilcox, a little bit Pattie Griffin. This record's really good.
Road To My Love - Ana Egge


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 2:09 PM | link | 0 comments |

IdolCritics, Top 11

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

From NPH: If the judges are actually going to use the "save" option, it's going to be on Lambert. I just don't think they love anyone else as much.

I don't know what to say about Lil Rounds' attire. Only that you're noticing things that I'm not. As for her chances to win, they took a hit this week, no doubt. I've watched the performance twice now; it was bad. And it's not just because she's an R&B singer doing country. That can be done well (see the video of Fantasia singing "Always on My Mind" from season three).

Worse for Lil, she got into a spat with Simon, which, regardless of what a contestant thinks, never helps their case. I know that the live audience gets a kick out of it when someone like Lil or Michael Sarver pops off with some snarky retort, but the live audience isn't voting; the television audience is. And it never makes them look good. It always shows them up as whiny. And, of course, the criticism they're fending off is always spot-on, which the TV audience can clearly see.

I called Alexis in the bottom three (the only one I got right!), but not to get the boot. What I thought would save her for another week was her initial popularity in Vegas, which gave her the best odds of winning among the final 36. Also, she was named in that New York Post story last week, the one about the Idol staffer claiming she knew the final four (I guess that story's old news, eh?). She sealed her own fate, though, literally begging viewers not to vote her off and promising to "dirty it up" if she survived. She's going to look back on that as a low point in her career, I'm afraid.

From The Producer: I apologize for my tardy response NPH, but it's been a pretty crazy week. I was too busy to write yesterday because I had to wait in line with Bearded Man all day yesterday so we could get matching Danny Gokey Storm Trooper outfits as it's now the craze since Danny Gokey tried to do some product placement for George Lucas on American Idol.

I have to be honest NPH I'm quite surprised you like Matt Giraud who is hands down the best talent on the show. Looking over your blog and now this post it became very apparent you love horrible music especially with telling the world you liked Adam Lambert's rendition of 'Ring of Fire' this last week so I'm just shocked you would have the conviction to like Matt Giraud because he's so good. Lambert was horrible and he should be careful with how weird he gets as I think he's one week away from middle America voting him off the show.

So NPH I know you've said to me a couple times you think Lil Rounds is a good performer ... do you still think she has what it takes? I mean I think she can wail I just can't get past the fact that every week she has what seems to be a tribute to phallic symbols. On the Top 13 show she wore pants that showed how large her penis is and then this last week when they did the jib shot with her sitting with Ryan she was holding the silver microphone in a way that allowed America to again imagine how larger her penis is ... can someone please tell her to stop with all the Phallic Symbols?

NPH, I think you are right about the hat pick that if two people pick the same song they draw for it ... but what does that say for Alexis ... that Joelyn song was horrible and she deserved to lose as a result of her poor choices. I must admit though at the end of the first night I really thought Michael or Lil Rounds was going home. I was surprised Alexis was sent home until she sang that Joelyn song again on Thursday night ... wow that whole performance sucked.

NPH you have more American Idol Seasons under your belt so I feel as though you're correct that the Producers know how to keep Middle America tuning into the show. I don't really care if they perform praise songs, but I wonder if faith or lack of faith will come into play for the voting public later on in the season. I think there will be a week America finally votes Lambert off the show and The Three Stooges plus Simon will bring him back. Thoughts?

From NPH: It's almost 1:00 in the morning on Thursday, and I've just watched Tuesday night's performances. I'll wait for the results until tomorrow. This thing was solid, though, top-to-bottom. My horse Matt Giraud rocked it and won the accolades of all four judges in the process; dude is the professional of the bunch. He's treating an audience to beautiful music, not competing for votes. I think he's going to have to come away from the piano at some point, though.

Scott MacIntyre also got told to get away from the piano, which led to one of those trademark choreographed spats between Simon and Paula. I think it's true, though, both for Scott and for Matt. To win Idol, you have to be able to stand at a microphone with nothing else and wail. David Cook really got traction last year doing numbers with his Luna Apollo, but he won the thing by laying down songs like "The Music of The Night" completely solo. It's strange to say, but knowing how to handle the microphone is an important skill by itself.

A bit about the storylines of the night, then a shocker I'll throw your way. MacIntyre refuted criticism of his choosing Martina McBride's "Wild Angels" by saying that he's "lost a lot of hat picks." That sent me scurrying to message boards, where I learned that he'd either just revealed that the contestants don't actually pick their own songs or that, when two of them pick the same one, they draw out of a hat to see who gets it. I think the latter is probably more likely.

Secondly, Megan Joy had the flu and was hospitalized during the week. She even missed the run-thru. The judges obviously gave her slack for that (as she hacked her way through their criticism), because she was bad. She is bad. She's cute as a button and fun to watch, but she has the presence of nervous waitress. She's incapable of standing there and singing without swinging her hips and hands around, ala an ill-fated "Harispray" audition.

Now the shocker: Adam Lambert impressed me. Big time. His arrangement of "Ring of Fire" was straight-up weird, and it provided a study in class contrast between him and Lil Rounds, who played "Independence Day" straight to "honor" country music. She "honored" the genre (at her own expense), and he hijacked it. The judges have seemingly come down off their Lambert high, but here's the thing that impressed me with this performance: I hear echoes of Jeff Buckley in this kid's upper register. You just don't find guys who can sing like that. I want to hate him, but I've gained a new respect for his ability.

A few other tidbits: Kara loved on Kris because his version of "To Make You Feel My Love" didn't sound country at all. Duh, it's a Bob Dylan song. Gokey appears overconfident and looks like he's wearing a parka. Anoop's "Always on My Mind" was hailed as one of the best of the night and a comeback performance, but I'm not buying it. He's a one trick pony.

Predicted bottom three: Scott, Megan, and Alexis. Predicted boot: Scott.

From NPH:
Producer, here's a nugget in anticipation of tonight's performances. MTV's Gil Kaufman is running a story about all the Christian worship leaders who've found themselves on Idol. Of the remaining 11, six contestants "either have a strong affiliation with the church or are worship leaders in their communities."

This is what got my ire up last year, when the show started showcasing religiously-themed performances from its contestants, even going so far as to coreograph a group rendition of the praise and worship song, "Shout to the Lord."

Here's a money quote from the piece:
"The people at 'American Idol' are not idiots. They realize that there's this huge percentage of America that watches TV as a family, and a lot of families go to church. ... [The viewers] know worship leaders and musicians in church, and why not bring that aspect to the show?
Is this Christian-baiting or a coincidental and authentic expression of the contestants' faith?


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 1:25 PM | link | 2 comments |

IdolCritics, Top 13

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Welcome to a Not Prince Hamlet experiment: a weekly conversation with The Producer about American Idol. I assume it requires no explanation. Oh, and we may add a third voice to the conversation before long. Stay tuned.

(Note: the newest post is first; to start at the beginning, scroll down and read upwards)

From NPH: Here's a first line of disagreement, then: Kara Dioguardi. I'm into what she's doing, and I think Idol producers knew what they were doing in bringing her on. Before, when judging was limited to the Trinity of Randy, Paula, and Simon, criticism went something like this:
Randy: Yo, dawg, is was just aight f'me.
Paula: I love what you're wearing, and you obviously tried real hard.
Simon: It was horrible and your parent should be ashamed.
By adding Dioguardi to the mix, Idol has not altered the input of Jackson, Adbul, or Cowell, but it has put them in stark relief. She is just substantive enough to validate most of Cowell's disguist and to show Abdul up as painfully vapid. In fact, with any luck, the move will turn out to be subtraction by addition; Abdul is redundant, and this should be her farewell tour.

Next week is Grand Ol' Opry week. VFTW has a list of songs the contestants can choose from. Here's my bold prediction for the week: Michael the oil rigger will sing "The Dance" by Garth Brooks. You heard it here first.

From The Producer: First let me thank NPH for asking me to take part in the weekly conversation about American Idol. This is the first season The Producer has actually sat in front of the TV to watch this show because his beautiful and wonderful girlfriend told him this is a show we will TIVO and watch religiously. While my Reality TV viewing has always been limited to Project Runway and recently Top Chef I must say after watching American Idol so far this season ... it's a good show.

I took this photo of NPH outside of Fox Studios as the contestants for American Idol were driving through the gate to the sound
stage ... he's totally not a conspiracy theorist ... I mean look at those eyes!

NPH you can't really think there is a conspiracy going on with the producers of American Idol planting talent and forcing the judges to bow down to Adam can you? You gathered your binoculars after fetching information from a website that was made famous by the great Howard Stern who used his platform to try and keep Sanjaya on American Idol a few seasons back because it was hilarious.

Judges - They suck except for Simon. My remote cannot fast forward over the manipulative, crafty, selfish Kara Dioguardi fast enough. The words that come out of her mouth drip with everything that awful in this world ... she is horrible and I wish America could vote to have her hung from a rope publicly in Time Square. Randy and Paula ... still crazy stupid. If I have to hear Randy say bro, dude, like, dawg, or have to watch Paula's flabby old maid arms and crazy injected face dance for one more show I think I might have to stop watching. The only person worth listening to and who is honest about every performance is Simon. Simon who stated that Adam Lambert was the best contestant they saw for the Top 13 show, but reminded Paula there are 10 weeks left so let's not get too ahead of ourselves. No conspiracy there NPH.

Adam is good, has real talent that captured the audience with his performance of Black and White this week. In my opinion only three contestants this week sang a Michael Jackson song that didn't sound like they should have been hammered drunk singing karaoke with the Bearded Man down at the Brass Monkey in K-Town.

My favorites for this week and this season boil down in this order Matt Giraud, Adam Lambert, and Danny Gokey.

For next season I'd love to see both women judges thrown off the show and replaced with Kelly Ripa. American Idol may be a step down for Kelly, but I would much rather listen to her talk for three hours a week about how great the contestants are on American Idol rather than Kara and Paula.

From NPH: That was fast. From 13 to 11 in one fell swoop. I have no problem with Jorge and Jasmine getting booted, although it can hardly be argued that Anoop was the worst performer of the top 13; who in their right mind would try to cover Beat It?

The thing that got my ire up more than anything as I watched the performances last night (yes, last night: absent a television, I watch online the next day) was the judges' fawning over Adam Lambert. Paula actually said that Idol had never, in all of its previous seven seasons, seen a performer like him. But not only the Queen of Hyperbole, but also Simon, Kara, and Randy: they all heaped slobbery praise upon Adam's rendition of Black or White (watch it below). It was good, sure. Excellent even. But there's something suspiciously disproportionate about their accolades, both in terms of the evening's other performances and in terms of Idol judging protocol as honed over the last seven years. They were all so starstruck that I was embarrassed for them. If Kara had leapt upon the stage and pleaded for an autograph, I wouldn't have been surprised.

I think something's fishy here. Vote for The Worst tagged Lambert as a plant early on, which, by itself, doesn't bother me in the least; plants are a part of finding talent. But they seem to be going out of their way to push this kid who, to my mind, is a bit over-the-top and, well, garish.

Am I being a conspiracy theorist?


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:35 PM | link | 3 comments |

I Voted

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Last night the presbytery to which I belong (a presbytery is a regional body of Presbyterian ministers and elders) voted on the controversial amendment to the church's constitution that would remove the requirement of ordained officers to "live lives of obedience to scripture and conformity to the historic confessional standards" of the church, among which are said to be "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between and a man and a woman or chastity in singleness." Last summer, the church's national assembly approved replacement language requiring "obedience to Jesus Christ" who is the head of the church. Nothing about fidelity or chastity.

This is not the first time presbyteries have had this debate and voted on such an amendment. In fact, the current language was only added in 1987, and at least two attempts have been made since then to remove it. Interestingly enough, the standards in question originated in this presbytery.

Long story short, the amendment was defeated, which surprised no one. What was surprising (and very disheartening to those championing the amendment) was the margin. 63% of ballots cast were in opposition to the amendment, and only 37% were in support. That's worse than the last time. As I heard one supporter say on her way out of the meeting, "We didn't gain any ground on this one."

Two trends caught my attention during the debate. First, the vast majority of the bible-quoting being done was being done by those favoring the amendment. Those opposing it made repeated appeal to what "the bible teaches" or what "the bible says," but the pro side repeatedly read excerpts from the biblical texts to make their argument that the standard ought to be changed. In fact, only one opponent of the amendment quoted the Bible, and that was Romans 1.

The second trend that you couldn't help but notice was that most of those speaking against the amendment were from the presbytery's racial/ethnic churches. Appeal was made more than once to "The worldwide church" and its opposition to such a change. The racial difference, once noted, made me very uncomfortable.

I'm not impartial. Yet the arguments in favor of the amendment were theologically grounded and scripturally supported. In the end, I fear the arguments don't matter.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:31 AM | link | 1 comments |

That Takes Me Back

Saturday, March 07, 2009

I heard this story on NPR the other day, one of the Youth Radio pieces they regularly produce. It's about West Belfast, Northern Ireland, ten years after the Good Friday Agreement was signed. Incidently, that's also ten years after I spent nine months there.

My gosh, the story captures the sound of that place in a way that makes me long for it. I haven't done that for awhile.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 10:06 PM | link | 0 comments |

Album of the Year Nominee: M. Ward's "Hold Time"

He's toured with Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes, and last year he made a record with actress Zooey Deschanel, but M. Ward has made his name making solo records. "Hold Time" is the first I've ever owned. It's solid. Ward is a soulful writer. These songs are good, largely because they're so fun. In particular, "Fisher of Men" keeps popping up in my playlists, often two and three times in a row. It's a Song of the Year nominee for sure.
Hold Time - M. Ward

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:34 PM | link | 0 comments |

Culling Contentment

Thursday, March 05, 2009

I'm leading a Lenten group at our church called "Cultivating Contentment." The idea for the group is very open-ended, and I used the first gathering last Sunday to get a sense of where people are experiencing contentment in their lives and where they aren't. I was surprised to hear from many of the 13 participants (lots of them being retired) a sense of discontent not with material possessions and well-being, but rather with things tied to obligation and duty. People were voicing an oppressive sense that they aren't doing enough, that they are not content with their ability to do good.

It could be, of course, that people are as discontent with their material status as I assumed; they're just not admitting it. I'm sure that's true to some extent. But I'm genuinely surprised by this other discontent, and I'm not quite sure what to do with it.

One resource I'm going to use, one that I was using for something completely unrelated to the Lenten group, is Elsewhere U.S.A. by Dalton Conley. The book's main thesis is that Americans today are working more than ever and are less satisfied and secure in their work than ever. We feel like we should be elsewhere all the time; we should be working during leisure time and we should be playing with the kids instead of working. On and on it goes. One of the things that Conley suggests is leading to this discontent with the what and where of right now is something he calls an "economic red shift":
From any link in the chain, it looks like everyone else is rushing away. We may be doing better and pulling away from those below us (perhaps that old college friend who is still struggling to find his calling), while the folks just above us on the income ladder are leaving us in their wake. . . An individual in the top half of income distribution appears, to herself, to be at the eye of an economic storm. This is equally true for those in the top 1 percent as for those just above the median U.S. income. This simultaneous dropping of the floor and raising of the ceiling is enough to induce a panicked, though rational, anxiety response: Work constantly.

Could that be behind my group's sense that they're not doing enough? Could there be a "spiritual red shift" at work, wherein people feel a pull to do more and more (volunteer more, come to church more often, give more) because they perceive that everyone else is doing more than them?


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 10:39 AM | link | 0 comments |

Song of the Year Candidate: "This Tornado Loves You"

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

I preemptively nominated Case's new album, Middle Cyclone, for my album of the year. Having listened two it a few times before it was released and now several more times since, I stand by that.

"This Tornado Loves You" is the first track on the record. Case told NPR's Scott Simon that the song came from a dream she had in which a tornado professed to love her. There's music in there.

This Tornado Loves You - Neko ...


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:44 AM | link | 0 comments |