"Smash" soars; so do (some) "Idol" singers

Let's talk a lot about tonight's "American Ido," after a quick detour:

1) Already the year's best new show, "Smash" is ending its season wonderfully. I just had a chance to see the final new episodes (10 p.m. May 7 and 14); they are brilliant. There's a tad too much melodrama, but the characters are beautifullu drawn and the closing numbers -- a gospel tune May 7, an original May 14 -- are stunning.

2) How can you have an entire studio without a flower expert? Asked what he had in his lapel, Joshua Ledet was stumped. Ryan Seacrest hesitated, then pronounced it a tulip; apparently, no one corrected him. It was, my flower expert says, a daffodil.

3) The dresses, incidentally, were spectacular -- especially the silver one Hollie Cavanagh wore. Now, if they would just quit making those cute little girls wear giant heels.

4) Phillip Phillips, by comparison, is on the verge of depleting the world's supply of brown and grey.

5) When Steven Tyler said Joshua is one of the two best singers in "Idol" history, I paused for a moment -- then agreed. The other one, I'd say, is Adam Lambert.

6) Then again, Adam only finished second. Joshua could -- maybe should -- do better.

7) Then again (again), Katharine McPhee also only finished second. Now she's sensationally good in "Smash."

8) Joshua was superb tonight. So were Hollie and Jessica Sanchez. 

Jessica's second song was one of those breakthrough moments -- right up there with Fantasia singing "Summertime" and ... well, Jessica Sanchez singing "I Will Always Love You."

9) By comparison, I'm still not a fan of Phillip. (Changing a melody is fine; obliterating it is questionable.) Or of Skylar Laine, whose vocal arsenal includes very little except shouting.

10) Incidentally, if you want to hear great singing, alongside smart plots, watch "Smash." Or did I say that already?


Post-Peyton: Now it's Eli's turn to conquer "Saturday Night Live"

It's Eli Manning's turn now, to take over "Saturday Night Live." Here's the story I sent to papers:


Eli Manning, it turns out, really was
hesitant to follow in his big brother's footsteps.

Maybe not in football, but in comedy.

Fresh from his 2008 Super Bowl win,
Manning was asked to be the “Saturday Night Live” host. “One of
the main reasons I did not do it,” he said, “was that Peyton had
done so well the previous year. I didn't want to go against that.”

Fortunately, there was another chance.
“Eli was good enough to win another Super Bowl,” said Lorne
Michaels, the “SNL” producer. Now he hosts this week, with
Rihanna as music guests.

Peyton, 36, and Eli, 31, grew up in New
Orleans with their brother Cooper, 38, an investment banker whose
football time was cut short by an injury. The younger boys were big
on quarterbacking (like their dad, Archie) and comedy. “We were
always great fans (of) 'Saturday Night Live',” said Eli, who said
he has “best-of” tapes of the show at home.

Then Peyton hosted in 2007, with his
brothers in the audience. There was even a sharply satiric sketch,
defining “pulling a Peyton Manning” as losing the big one.

“I think I just laughed at
everything,” Eli said. “We don't mind making fun of ourselves.”

That's something Eli has in common with
Peyton, Michaels said. “You sort of believe he doesn't take himself
too seriously …. If the host spends a lot of time protecting his
image, it's exhausting.”

Besides, Michaels said, athletes are
good at working live. “They're used to being in front of large
groups of people and not knowing how it turns out. We know how Eli
reacts under pressure.”

He's reacted by winning two Super
Bowls; his brother has one and a future spot in the Hall of Fame.

But which one is funnier? “We won't
really know that until Saturday,” Michaels said.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p.m. Saturdays, NBC.

– Eli Manning hosts May 5, with
Rihanna as music guest; two more new shows remain this season

"Idol" ousts Elise: Being the old-timer isn't always helpful

Elise Testone seemed wedged into an
“American Idol” sub-category.

“(Erika Van Pelt) always called us
'the old girls,'” she said today (Friday). “And she's two years younger than I

When the show was down to its final four women,
it almost seemed like Take Your Daughters to Work day. There was
Testone, 28, alongside Hollie Cavanagh, 18; Skylar Laine, 18; and
Jessica Sanchez, 16. She towered over them physically (she claims to be 5-foot-7, but seems much taller) and in experience. She's been a teacher for three
years; Sanchez is still a high school student.

Still, Testone was the one voted out
Thursday, finishing sixth. Is age a disadvantage?

She doesn't think so. Testone said she
only auditioned for “Idol” one previous time; she wanted to
wait until she had seasoning. “I thought I would have these life

Before that, Testone had endless
experiences. After growing up in New Jersey, she studied music in
South Carolina, then stayed there. She sang the National Anthem for a
crowd of 18,000, opened for Snoop Dogg for 10,000; she did clubs,
once “playing to three people, with a four-piece band.” She
linked with guitarist Wallace Mullinax for a band (the Freeloaders)
that won awards in Charleston.

During the “Idol” run, she may have
been an informal mentor for her young colleagues. “I could see
their eyes shift over to me, like, 'Is this what I should do?'”

And yes, she would respond. “I'm just
not shy about my craft,” Testone said.

Experience, however, can be a mixed
blessing. The others appealed to younger viewers who dominate voting;
and with all of her experience, Testone sometimes chose older, odder

She granted that she chose poorly on
the first night for the 13 finalists. Given a list of Whitney
Houston songs, she went with”I'm Your Baby Tonight.” In hind
sight, “I would have sung 'The Greatest Love of All' …. It would
have made a better first impression.”

Testone was in the bottom two that week
and the bottom three the next week. After doing better for two weeks,
she hit her streak – in the bottom three for four straight weeks,
finally being ousted.

Even to the end, Testone made risky
choices. Her final song Wednesday was “Bold as Love,” a Jimi
Hendrix song that never made the Billboard singles chart; Hendrix
died 13 years before Testone was born … and a quarter-century
before Sanchez was born.

Some judges considered it a bad choice;
Testone didn;t. “I'm confident in myself ,” she said.

Confidence can be worthy independence
or foolish bull-headedness. Phillip Phillips ignores advice on
everything from clothes to song choices; he's never been in the
bottom three. Testone was there six times; now she's off the show.

A non-surprise ("Idol"), a huge surprise ("Fringe")

Several things:

1) Please read the previous blog. "Fringe" will be back next season; this is a terrific  surprise.

2) I guess we can't call tonight's "American Idol" a surprise, because it's what we predicted: Elise Testone and Hollie Cavanagh finished in the bottom; they'd been there often. Then Elise was sent home.

3) Whenever Elise stands near Hollie (or the other women), it seems like "Take Your Daughter to Work" night. She's 10 years older than Hollie or Skylar Laine, 12 years older than Jessica Sanchez. She seems a full head taller, even when they're in absurd heels, looking like those painted kids in a toddler pageant.

4) That decade difference is important. She seems to have spent it working the clubs. She comes off as a performer filled with gusto and zest.

5) Still, that experience can work against her. Elise chose a Jimi Hendris song that the others (including viewers) had probably never heard of. It was a tough one to sing, sort of the opposite of Hollie's straight-ahead "The Climb."

6) Phillip Phillips made an even-worse choice, of course. But he got a big boost from Ryan Seacrest, who kept emphasizing he was in trouble. And he was one of only two men, against four women -- with no more Colton Dixon to compete for the cute-guy vote. And he's Phillip Phillips, with enough charm (especially in those talk-about-each-other segments) to survive, even during a bad week. 

Good -- well, great -- news: "Fringe" will return


For science-fiction fans -- which is to say, for all reasonable human beings -- there's been good, bad and good news.

The good: "Fringe" will be back for a fifth season, after all. The current season -- three more Fridays -- could have been the last. But Fox announced tonight that the show will be back for a final, 13-episode season.

The bad: "Eureka" won't be back. This 14-episode season on Syfy is itslast.

The good: At least, this final "Eureka" season is starting brilliantly. Its opening three-parter is filled with great twists. If you missed the first two episodes, don't fret; the entire three-parter runs from 7-10 p.m. Monday (April 30) on Syfy. It's great.