A white and soulful evening

A few comments on tonight's "American Idol":

1) Ryan Seacrest's tribute to the late Dick Clark was quiet, brief and affecting. I'll mention more Clark tributes, as they come up; the first one announced (see previous blog) is on the former Game Show Network.

2) This was a gutsy movie, having a rhythm-and-blues hour, keyed to "Soul Train," with one of the whitest "Idol" groups ever. Joshua Ledet is the only black contestant in the final seven.

3) This is the fourth straight year to have only one black in the final seven. The numbers used to be much better -- three the first year, three the second, four in the third, two in the fourth, only one in the fifth, but three in the sixth. There were black champions in three of the first six seasons, but no champs or runner-ups in the next four.

4) It shouldn't surprise us that Ledet triumphed. He soared on "A Change is Gonna Come," just as he did a few weeks earlier on "When a Man Loves a Woman."

5) Some others did well with R-&-B tunes -- particularly Phillip Phillips and Elise Testone. Otherefforts, including Hollie Cavanagh's "Son of a Preacher Man" were only adequate.

6) Shouting is great at just the right time, but can quickly become a monotone. Skylar Laine shouts almost everything. Jessica Sanchez is great, but I have one question: Why such a fierce, un-tender performance of a song called "Try a Little Tenderness"?

7) Fortunately, Sanchez and Cavanagh had already triumphed in the first half of the show, conquering two great songs -- Alicia Keys' "Fallin'" and Adele's "Rolling in the Deep."

8) Based just on tonight, I think the bottom three should be Skylar, Hollie and Colton Dixon.

9) My prediction? Elise, Hollie and Colton. Hollie's main problem is that her triumph came too early in the show.

10) Then Elise will go home. She has survived close calls before, but won't this time.





The Dick Clark tributes begin

Dick Clark was a master of many things, you know. That ranged from producing award shows to spotting and spotlighting pop talent.

And there's one more: Clark was an excellent game-show host. He was nominated for 10 daytime Emmys for best game host, winning three times. So it's logical that Clark tributes are coming from GSN (formerly Game Show Network).

Prior to that, one of the first tributes was on tonight's "American Idol," about five hours after news arrived of his death of a heart attack at 82. Ryan Seacrest -- who has been taking most of Clark's New Year's Eve duties -- had brief and emotional words. (More on the rest of the show later tonight.)

Now comes GSN, which has lots of "Pyramid" reruns. It's adding an extra hour Saturday and putting a Clark tribute into each half-hour, over the next three days.

During those days, "Pyramid" airs at 3 a.m., plus: 10:30 a.m. Thursday and Friday; 7 p.m. to midnight Friday; noon to 1 p.m. Saturday.



Kathy Griffin: A fun verbal roller-coaster

Any conversation with Kathy Griffin soon turns into a fun roller-coaster. Today, she had a conference call, talking about the "Kathy" talk show that debuts Thursday on Bravo. Here's the story I sent to papers:


Kathy Griffin's life seems to have been
a talk-show-in-waiting.

Now comes the logical step: “Kathy”
debuts Thursday on Bravo. “It's a little like 'The McLaughlin
Group,' but with a drunk 91-year-old,” she said today (Tuesday, April 17).

That's her mom, whom she says sips wine
from boxes. “Now she's such a diva she wants wine out of a bottle,”
Griffin said.

Maggie Griffin has all the
qualifications for a “Kathy” guest, it seems: She's uncensored,
she takes criticism well and she's not a real celebrity.

There will be no big celebs,
KathyGriffin promised. She doesn't like to insult people who are
looking at her; that approach, she said, “makes me a lady. I prefer
to talk behind someone's back.”

And Griffin has much to say on any
subject. Including:

– Comeback attempts. “I love the
fact that Wilson Phillipshas its own show and they performed at (a
clothing store) recently.”

– Rick Santorum. “He doesn't even
walk upright, he's so backward,” said Griffin, a heterosexual who
is a gay-rights activist.

– Sarah Jones, the high school
teacher and former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader accused of having
sex with one of her students. Griffin says she surveyed all of her
straight-guy friends (“I have four”). “They all felt that she
is hot and they would have loved, when thy were 16, to have sex with

Such views often stir controversy. A
news report circulated today that she had been “re-banned” by
NBC's “Today”; it was promptly denied, but Griffin savored the

“I don't care how many Emmys you have
– and by the way, I have two – (it's special) to see your name on
a TV set in your bathroom, when you're brushing your teeth and

Griffin mentions nudity quite often
these days. She's 51 and quite pleased “to have a hot bikini bod.”

As for “Today,” it may not have
banned her, but she said it also hasn't invited her, even though
Bravo is a sister network. Still, she's done the show before; she's
been a guest on at least 29 different talk shows.

She's also hosted or co-hosted many
“from the second week of 'Jimmy Kimmel Life' to, very notoriously,
'The View.'” Then why did it take so long to get her own talk show?

Bravo suggested it a few years ago,
Griffin said, when her “My Life On the D-List” reality show was
thriving. “I told them I still had some 'D-List' left in me,
(including) going to Iraq …. That ran its course, so last year I
did four specials.”

Now she's ready for her talk show.
She'll make no predictions except that it will be unstructured “in
a way that will be dazzling to you and (disturbing) to the
directors.” And if there are any celebrities, they'll be well below
the A-list.

– “Kathy,” 10 p.m. Thursdays,
Bravo, debuts April 19

– Opener reruns that night at 12:30
a.m. and 3 a.m.; also, 10 a.m.Friday; 8 a.m. Saturday; 2:15 a.m.
Sunday (Saturday late-night) and 11 a.m. Sunday.


Finding forgiveness amid life, tragedy and the Brazilian rain forest

At film festivals, it's easy to marvel at what independent moviemakers can pull off. With no studio, no guarantees and little money, they make things that are sometimes as good as the big films ... and sometims ("Searching For Sonny," for instance) better.

"Heaven's Rain" is clearly an accomplishmnt. On a tight budget, it has solid stars -- including a superb supporting performance by Taryn Manning -- and even some scenes filmed in the Brazilian rainforest, with native kids in supporting roles.

Unlike many indie films, however, it's easy to find ... or semi-easy. GMC (formerly Gospel Music Channel) helped finish it and premieres it Sunday and Monday. GMC is in 52 million homes so far, mostly via satellite or digital cable; here's the story I sent to papers:


Brooks Douglass remembers that first
time he saw forgiveness.

He was 5 and had just made a mistake, a
big one; his dad somehow restrained himself. “He was a really
loving man, an affectionate man,” he said.

Then – almost three decades later –
it was Douglass who showed restraint: He was meeting Glenn Ake, one
of the two men who had killed his parents and had left him and his
sister for dead.

That's a key part of “Heaven's Rain.”
Made on an independent-movie budget, it has Hollywood stars (Mike
Vogel, Taryn Manning), international locations and a debut on the GMC
cable channel. “I did not know that GMC existed as a network,”
Douglass said. “But I'm awfully pleased that it does.”

Many people don't know the former
Gospel Music Channel, but it has 52 million homes and is linking with
Magic Johnson on the upcoming Aspire channel. GMC has music
(including the Dove Awards on April 24), reruns and movies; it often
makes its own films, but not this time. “We came in at the tail end
and have been working on editing and scoring the film,” said Brad
Siegel, the GMC founder.

The rest was nudged along by Douglass,
who has always been a self-starter. One example: “I was about to
graduate from law school in Oklahoma, couldn't find a job, and I did
what an awful lot of people do who can't find a job: run for

He was 27 then, the youngest person
ever elected to Oklahoma's state senate. He did three four-year terms
(not seeking a fourth) and pushed through victims'-rights
legislation. Then, while working as a mortgage banker, he did
“Heaven's Rain” as co-writer, co-producer and co-star, playing
his own dad.

This was a remarkable clergyman and
author, Douglass said, “the most tireless worker I'd ever seen. I
remember seeing the light on at 3 or 3:30 a.m., when he was working.
Then he would be up at 6:30.”

He had just finished a doctoral thesis
when Brooks, 5, and his younger sister Leslie turned the 200-some
pages into decorative snowflakes. “My mother told me it took about
three weeks to retype it. She said ..., 'I'm still surprised you
lived through the night.'”

Later that year, the family began a
four-year Brazilian mission along the Amazon. “I hated it when we
got there and then I loved it and didn't want to leave …. There was
extreme poverty, … but it was all about playing music together and
playing sports.”

His dad (Richard) became pastor of a
3,000-member Oklahoma City church. In 1979, two robbers shot all four
Douglasses. The parents died; Brooks, 16, drove Leslie, 12, to the
doctor's house.

They recovered physically, but he
found himself drifting into anger and away from his sister. Much
later – after being a Green Berey and a law student – he began
to deal with victims' rights.

Back t\in 1979, Douglass said, the
family had to pay $500 for Leslie's rape-exam kit and $115 to
retrieve the car he'd driven her in. Later, his legislation would
change that.

Then he moved to California and took a
screenwriting class. His teacher, Paul Brown (a former “Quantum
Leap” writer), wrote “Heaven's Rain” with him and said the next
step was to go to studios. “I said, 'Can't we just make it

It was a near-impossible step that they
pulled off. They raised the money and hired stars; Vogel (who went on
to do “The Help” and “Pan Am”) played Brooks; Taryn Manning
(a critics' favorite from “8 Mile” and “Hustle & Flow”)
is Leslie. Brown directed, including a Brazil week during which three
cameras failed. “When a 35-mm camera breaks,” Douglass said, “you
don't just go to the mall.”

GMC supervised cuts and helped add a
rich music track that includes The Who, Randy Newman, Wendy Page,
Manning and, as a nightclub singer, Leslie Douglass. “Other than in
my two weddings, this was the only time she's sung” since the
shooting, her brother said. It was one small step in a healing
process that has taken decades.

– “Heaven's Rain,” 7 p.m. Sunday;
repeats at 9 and 11 p.m.; also, 9 p.m. Monday

– GMC (formerly Gospel Music
Channel); generally via satellite or digital cable

Comedy on Sunday: Some details

For people in the Lansing, Mich., area, I have a few more details about Sunday's comedy show. It starts earlier than I thought ... which shows roughly how much I know about it, even though I'm in it.

Anyway, here are the basics:

-- When: 6-9 p.m. Sunday (April 22). Strange Bedfellow hosts; at 6:30 p.m., there will be a drawing to see what order the four stand-ups will perform in.

-- Where: Grand Cafe/Sir Pizza, 201 E. Grand River Ave. in Old Town.

-- Stand-ups: Jonathan Stars, Melik, Dolo and me. (It will be my second stand-up ever and my first in 15 years; I should have new material.)