Stefano: This time, "Idol" didn't shock him

OK, all of us -- including Stefano Langone -- thought that Stefano Langone would be leaving "American Idol" soon. He took everything, including a huge hug from James Durbin, in stride.

The real surprise may be just how deeply music is embedded into Langone's life. He talks about things viewers never saw -- original music, piano, more; he talks with contagious enthusiasm. Here's the story I sent to papers, after a group interview this afternoon:


Many “American Idol” contestants
look stunned when they're cut from the show.

For Stefano Langone – ousted this
week – the surprise came two weeks earlier, when he was NOT
dropped. “It shocked me,” he said. “I think it shocked

That's when he stood alongside Pia
Toscano, who had drawn cascades of praise from the judges.

“We really have a close bond,”
Langone said. “I was really pulling for her …. I knew how badly
Pia wanted to be THE American idol.”

That doesn't mean he's less ambitious.
“Music has been everything to me,” he said.

His grandfather, Don Langone, owned a
music store in San Diego; his father, Ernie Langone, learned the
trumpet, guitar and bass, giving his first public performance at 10.

His dad has a desk job (career
counselor at the Art Institute of Seattle), but has kept with the

“I grew up playing instruments,”
Stefano Langone said. “I learned I could sing in band, ironically.”

He figures he barely tapped his
potential on the show. “I haven't done my original music. I haven't
got behind the piano …. When you're up there singing covers for a
minute, 30 (seconds), it's hard to show what you've got.”

There have been setbacks in his life.
Two years ago, a drunken driver crossed the center line and hit his
car; with two broken arms and a fractured pelvis, Langone was in a
wheelchair and had to re-learn to walk. A year after that, he was
arrested for driving under the influence; jail time was dropped,
under the condition he take a class and have a clean record for two

“Everyone goes through some things in
life,” he said. “Everything has lead me to this point.”

It's a point he seemed to enjoy.
Langone joked about what happened to his fellow contestants Thursday:

– Casey Abrams, in mid-song, snuck a
kiss on Jennifer Lopez's cheek. “That's cool for Casey …. It's
probably the first kiss he's had in a long time.”

– James Durbin wept when Langone was
eliminated. “He was a wreck. He's a big crybaby, but I love him
dearly. I'm going to be the best man at his wedding.”

Durbin is one of several front-runners
(alongside Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina) who have avoided being
in the bottom three. Langone, by comparison, counts four previous
times. Before that, he didn't reach the viewers' top 10, but got one
of the three extra spots when his “I Need You Now” impressed
judges. “At that moment in time, I needed everything.”

He's had more close calls, but seemed
unfazed. “I'm too positive a person to be affected by this or




"Idol": A great year to be a teen

On Wednesday, "American Idol" producer Ken Warwick told reporters that the voting procedures may be tweaked next season. "It's something that w're going to have a long discussion about," he said.

And tonight, we again saw that a change is needed.

The shock wasn't that Stefano Langone was sent home. He's been in the bottom two or three most weeks; two weeks ago (when Pia Toscano was ousted) he seemed stunned that it wasn't him.

(Two side notes: First, I'll catch Langone in a group interview Friday and have the story here by mid-afternoon. Second, please read my preceding blog, with the immensely gifted John Noble talking about a key "Fringe" episode Friday.)

Instead, the big thing was another reminder of the advantage teens have this year. Even after a so-so night Wednesday, Scotty McCreery, 17, avoided the bottom three. Those spots went to Langone (as usual), Haley Reinhart (as usual) ... and Jacob Lusk, despite his truly sensational performance Wednesday.

"We are aware, very much, of the fact that the voting could quite possibly be skewed toward the boys," Warwick said Wednesday. It also, he could have added, is skewed to the young and cute.

"Idol" has always leaned that way. This year, however, it added computer voting and Twitter communicating. Both tend to be strongpoints of teen girls.

Girls like guys and that's been clear in the results: Five females were ousted before any males went. (Admittedly, Casey Abrams was voted out and then rescued in the judges' one-per-year save.) Even now, the remaining teens -- McCreery and Lauren Alaina, 16 -- have been untouchable. Great singers have been ousted (Toscano) or in the bottom two (Lusk), while the kids stay safe.

Now, I like McCreery and country music; I just can't see such easy survival on a week when he goes bland ("Swingin'") and the others go big. 

By next year, Warwick said, there might or might not be some limit to the computer votes. For now, it's a cozy year to be a teen.











Friday's "Fringe": An "epic trilogy" begins

There is only one actor who deserves an Emmy more thoroughly than Hugh Laurie. That, of course, is John Noble of "Fringe."

Even when he was only one Walter, he was magnificent. As two of them, he's stunning. Now he's heading into the season's final three episodes, promising big things. Here's a quick-turnaround story (from a phone interview this afternoon) I sent to papers:


In a crueler world, “Fringe” would
be heading toward its series finale now.

Not this year; not this show. After
drawing high praise and low ratings, “Fringe” had already been
renewed when it was working on this week's episode.

“It's the beginning of three very
powerful episodes …. It's like an epic trilogy,” John Noble

He's talking about the hours (April 22,
April 29, May 6) that wrap up this season. “Our Earth starts to
deteriorate,” Noble said. Blame it on Walter – both of them.

When “Fringe” began in 2008, Noble
was playing Walter Bishop, a brilliant researcher whose mind crumbled
during fringe science projects. Now he's added an alternate-world
Walter – “Walternate,” to fans – whose mind is sharp.

Walter, whose son Peter died in our
world – crossed into the alternate world and stole that son;
Walternate wants revenge. “They both have the same tools ….
Walter has to try to get his best faculties together,” Noble said.

Friday's episode, he said, will “finish
in a very dramatic place,” but will also set up the next two. And
no matter what happens, “Fringe” will be back next season.

Last week, Nielsen listed 84 primetime
shows on the four biggest networks; “Fringe” tied for No. 72.

Still, it's been renewed. That may be
because it attracts young men …. or because it thrives in foreign
sales …. or because Fridays are a dead zone anyway.

Whatever the reason, it will return,
with endless possibilities. Perhaps, Noble said, “there are other
universes and other Walters and other problems.”

– “Fringe,” 9 p.m. Fridays, Fox

– Season finale is May 6


Idol: Scotty's way too casual

It's really possible to be too casual and, I must admit, too country. On tonight's "American Idol," Scotty McCreery pushed that to the limit.

The typical country song shows off the story, not the singer. That means it doesn't work well in a singing competition.

Kellie Pickler learned that a few years ago, when she chose a pleasantly bland song. "You had an entire year to pick from and you chose 'Soap Suds in the Bucket'?" Simon Cowell groaned.

The judges aren't as frank these days, but Simon would have said the same thing tonight. Scotty McCreery chose "Swingin'," an easygoing song that does nothing for the singer.

That was accented by the fact that all six of the other singers went big -- either a passionate ballad (Jacob Lusk) or raucously uptempo tunes (everyone else). The one country song -- Lauren Alaina doing "Born to Fly" -- was uptempo and spirited.

Two absolutely stood out. Lusk's song about a missing father resonated rich passion; James Durbin's song was Bowie-esque and Adam-worthy. Such a comparison to Adam Lambert is roughly my highest possible compliment.

That leaves my prediction:

-- The bottom three: McCreery and (as usual) Haley Reinhart and Stefano Langone.

-- And then: People will be shocked that McCreery is in the bottom. He'll scrape by and the much-underrated Langone will go home.

-- Afterward: McCreery will dig through country catalogs and find bigger songs. He'll bounce back to being a front-runner. 


Paul McDonald: Not the youngest or cutest, but the busiest

This is a time for teens to rule Fox. On Tuesday, "Glee" brings back Charice, a sensational 18-year-old; on Wednesday, "America  Idol" starts its new week with two teens -- Scotty McReery and Lauren Alaina -- as front-runners.

My previous blog is an interview with Charice. Now here's a look at the most recent "Idol" departure (Paul McDonald, an old-timer at 26) and at the show in general:



With “American Idol” down to its
final seven people, a couple things are clear:

– Yes, the guys have had a huge edge
this year. By the time the first one (Paul McDonald) was dismissed
last week, five females were gone.

– That isn't much of a factor any
more, though, simply because there are only two females (Lauren
Alaina and Haley Reinhart) left. Votes for males are split five ways.

Instead, there are other advantages to
ponder: For instance, it helps to be a cute, young guy.

“In the audience, it's like one
poster over there that says 'Paul,'” McDonald said after being
ousted. “And then there's like a thousand screaming 14-year-old
girls that have Scotty McCreery posters.”

He did not say this with any hint of
bitterness. McDonald – who already had a successful band – said
he hadn't really thought about doing the show. “Our guitar player's
girlfriend at the time was on 'So You Think You Can Dance' and she
was like, 'Go do this, man.'”

At 26, he was in the final 13 –
including three teens. “It was really cool, because I haven't hung
out with 16-year-old kids in like 10 years …. It made me feel like
I was in high school again.”

Two of the teens remain, bringing
Southern charm and varying amounts of country-music flavor: McCreery,
17, is from North Carolina; Lauren Alaina, 16, is from Georgia.

They've never been in the bottom
three, while others fell. “After Pia (Toscano) got kicked off, I
was like, 'Dude, what's going on here?' McDonald said. “Because she
has an amazing voice.”

He considers his own voice unamazing.
“I'm actually not very good at singing other people's songs.”

So his specialty has been writing his
own. His band – formed in Alabama in 2005 as Hightide Blues,
renamed in Nashville last year as Grand Magnolias – specializes in

Indeed, it's surprising that McDonald
had time to sing. He spent “Idol” time:

– “Writing tons of material, which
I probably shouldn't have been doing.”

– Tweeting. He was the first “Idol”
contestant to have 50,000 people on his Twitter account.

– Dating. When contestants went to a
movie premiere, he met Nikki Reed, 22, the brainy actress (she wrote
the semi-autobiographical movie “Thirteen” as a teen) who is
Rosalie in the “Twilight” films.

“She's a super smart and a really
cool girl, so I'm happy with it,” McDonald said. “We've been
hanging out here and there; you know, we're both pretty busy.”

Well, he's now less busy, as younger –
and, sometimes, cuter – people get closer to the finish.

– “American Idol,” 8 p.m.
Wednesdays and Thursdays (results show), Fox

– Front runners may be Scotty
McCreery, 17; Lauren Alaina, 16; James Durbin, 22

– Judges have been high on Jacob
Lusk, 23, and Casey Abrams, 20. Abrams was rescued with the judges'
save, which can be used only once per season.

– The other contestants – Haley
Reinhart, 20, Stefano Langone, 21 – have spent much time in the
bottom three.