In defense of Glenn Beck and Gilbert Gottfried

This is historic -- the first (and, very possibly, last) time I ever come to the defense of Glenn Beck. As a bonus, assuring more widespread hatred toward me, I'll also defend Gilbert Gottfried.

Gottfried, you may have heard, tweeted a bunch of post-tsunami jokes. "What does every Japanese person have in their apartment?" he asked, thus adding a grammatical error to his other sins. "Flood lights." He said a lot more, including the fact that "Japan is really advanced. They don't go to the beach. The beach comes to them."

Meanwhile, Beck -- with his usual manic chuckle -- said on his radio show that this may be an act of God: "There's a message being sent. And that is: 'Hey, you know that stuff we're doing? Not really working out real well.'"

Gottfried was promptly fired from his job on Aflac commercials. People also lambasted Beck; my comments:

1) Hey, lighten up, people. Humor is not a bad thing, even during (or especially during) tough times.

2) In its statement, Aflac said: "There is no place for anything but compassion and concern during Japan's difficult time." The part about having compassion and concern is correct; all of us feel deep sympathy for the Japanese people. But to say there is no place for anything else is dead wrong. As a Vietnam veteran, I'm convinced there's always room for gallows humor.

3) OK, Gottfried's humor was a bit sophomoric. Still, put this in perspective: People are now saying he doesn't have the stature to portray the voice of a talking duck.

4) Beck's sole crime is idiocy. After his act-of-God statement, he went on to ramble some more, none of it making much sense. People do that on national radio shows; nobody notices because only their minions are listening.

5) If God planned retribution, why would He choose Japan, a country that practices so many traits favored by conservatives (cleanliness, hard work, tough education) and liberals (health care, mass transit, healthy diets)?

6) Wasn't it kind of nice when no one had a Twitter and the world had no reason to decide if people were worthy of voicing a duck?




In Ashton Jones' busy life, leaving "Idol" is kinda minor

Now it's time to start meeting the "American Idol" contestants -- talented ones, mostly -- as they depart.

The previous two blogs have my predictions -- thoroughly incorrect -- for the bottom three and my reaction when Ashton Jones was sent home. There's one more step, though: On most Fridays, I'll catch the departing person in a conference call and then send a quick-turnaround story to papers. Here's the one about Ashton:


Ashton Jones has seen bigger changes.
She's been a runaway at 15, a convert at 17, a worker, a singer.

So she'll take this change – being
the season's first person voted off “American Idol” – in

“I left it behind,” Jones, 25, said
of her job as a Nashville store manager. “I've worked and worked
all my life and now it's time to be the artist and performer God
intended me to be.”

Jones had been singing in church (in
Valdosta, Ga.) since she was young, but her life spiraled downward
after her father's death when she was 14. Troubles grew, she said,
and she left home.

“I was on my own for two-and-a-half
years,” Jones told reporters today. “I got saved and became a
Christian and turned my life around.”

That was about the same time another
singer overcame her troubled teen years. Jones says she cried when
Fantasia Barrino won “Idol.”

Still, she kept ignoring her mother's
suggestion that she try out for the show. This year, Jones – who
had won an award for Nashville musicians – made her move.

Viewers didn't put her in the top 10,
but she was one of three bonus picks by the judges, who praised her
confidence. “I'm glad the judges saw that personality of a diva ….
I was never timid onstage.”

The pace was fierce and one finalist
wasn't on Thursday's results show. Casey Abrams was hospitalized with
what the Hollywood Reporter said was a recurrence of ulcerative

“I'm sure it's going to be OK,”
Jones said. “I prayed for him.”

She's keeping her mind on the positive.
“Idol” was fun (“I never thought I could have this many best
friends”); she worked \with some music heavyweights, sang a Diana
Ross song and got a smile from Ross' old boss Berry Gordy. “If he
had anything for me to do, I would do it.”

In general, Jones said, she sees a
musical life ahead. “I don't want to struggle any more; I don't
want to feel the pain. I want to spread the love.”

Ashton Jones: Right talent, wrong song

"I'm going to start following up on Diana Ross," Ashton Jones told one interviewer recently, "because I'm told that I look like her."

Hey, it's lucky she doesn't look like Tiny Tim; she might have sung "Tiptoe Through the Tulips."

Jones -- the first person in this year's "American Idol" to be ousted by viewers -- succumbed to a common fate: Raised on Southern church singing, she instead on Wednesday sang a bland pop song (Ross' "When You Tell Me That You Love Me").

Judges told her it was the wrong song to show off her voice. So tonight -- when viewers voted her out and judges had one more chance to spare her -- she sang the Ross song again.

I'm still surprised that Lauren Alaina -- my pick to go home -- wasn't even in the final three. Instead, those spots went to Haley Reinhart (whose "Blue" was good, but not great), Karen Rodriguez and Jones.

I'm more surprised that "Idol" contestants so often keep strong church voices confined to bland pop songs.

Still, Jones is an interesting person -- once a 15-year-old runaway, reportedly, who became a Nashville store manager by day and award-winning singer by night. We'll hear more about her, quite soon. On Friday, I resume the habit of catching a weekly conference call with the ousted contestant; I'll be back by mid-afternoon with a quick-turnaround account of that session.


"Idol": OK, now let's get serious

"American Idol" has finally reached the good part, trimming someone each week. That means it has my full attention; a few comments about Wednesday's show and then a prediction:

1) Going country is perilous, for a basic reason: Many of the most popular songs don't show off the singer. Carrie Underwood was wise enough to go with powerhouse Martina McBride songs; Kellie Pickler was almost ousted the night she sang a pleasantly forgettable song about running off and leaving the soap in a bucket. That's the problem Lauren Alaina had tonight; her choice ("Any Man of Mine") did nothing to show off her vocal talent.

2) Also, her dress made a cute, 16-year-old cheerleader look like a plump misfit.

3) I thought the other two country choices were shaky, too, but no one else agreed. The judges liked Haley Reinhart's "Blue"; the audience loves anything Scotty McCreery does. I agree that he's a terrific talent, but "The River" didn't really show him off.

4) Speaking of GREAT talent, Jacob Lusk is out-of-this-world good. So is Pia Toscano, when tackling a drop-dead ballad like tonight's "All By Myself." And Casey Abrams, a gifted instrumentalist, showed he can growl and scream in fine style.

5) Also, this is a year for gifted guys who can reach the high notes at just the right times. In addition to Lusk, that trend is led by James Durbin and Stefano Langone.

6) I still don't get Paul McDonald, but the judges and the viewers do. I must admit that he brings freshness and originality. His dance style alone is a revelation.

7) Speaking of dance, that's Naima Adedapo's field. She's a college grad with a dance major, now teaching hip hop and African dance. The problem is that tonight's song didn't do enough to show off her vocal side.

8) It was a gutty move for Toscano to sing Celine; Randy Jackson has always warned against that, but this time approved.

9) And it was gutty for Thia Megia to sing "Smile." The last person to do that was Gina Glockson in 2007; the next night, she was voted out and found herself, for the farewell tune, singing: "Smile, though your heart is breaking ..." That won't happen to Thia, who gave the song freshness and passion.

10) Now my prediction: At the bottom of the voting will be Lauren Alaina, Naima Adedapo and Paul McDonald; Lauren will go home, a talented teen who stumbled by choosing the wrong country song. 


Miley wins me over -- again

Show business is full of vacant teens -- pretty and hollow and shaped by cynical grown-ups. Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, however, are not among them.

So it was surprising to see the sketch in tonight's "Saturday Night Live." It was another round of "The Miley Cyrus" show, repeating the false assumption that Cyrus is a no-talent ditz. And guesting was a clueless Bieber (played by the real Miley Cyrus, this week's host).

For the record, Cyrus and Bieber are smart self-starters who took their careers in their own hands early. In serious acting roles -- Cyrus in "Last Song," Bieber on "CSI" -- they were solid and restrained.

I give Cyrus credit for hosting a show that has maligned her ... and for going along with the gag. It happened to be one of the best "SNL" outings, highlighted by Seth Meyer's sensational Charlie Sheen rant.

The rant ended with tigers resenting Sheen's statement that he behaves this way because he has tiger blood. Hey, Meyer said, tigers are full of it and they don't act that way; if they want a hot female they have to chase one down. They don't just call a service and have it send over a couple of them.