Talking back to "Idol Gives Back"

Here are a few of my "Idol Gives Back" comments; please add yours:

1) This has been inspirational-song week on "American Idol." I know that the Black Eyed Peas inspired me to rock your body.

2) More specifically, it inspired me to rock Fergie's body.

3) Much of the music tonight was truly magnificent. Carrie Underwood ... Alicia Keys ... Elton John ... Joss Stone (backed by Jeff Beck) ... Mary J. Blige (backed by, well, everyone) -- these people sing sensationally. They packed power and emotion.

4) But I'm not knocking true fun, either. The Peas got the show off to a fun start. If anything, "Idol Gives Back" needed more of that. If it had more entertainment, it probably could do a better job of holding its audience and gathering donations.

5) The filmed bits were well-made, emotional and involving. It's just that the show would have been better with fewer of them.

6) And yes, any song has to be good. That opening number -- 12 "Idol" contestants in white, singing a bland, white song -- did nothing.

7) The show did try some humor, which is tricky. It works if the comedian really knows "Idol"; Jimmy Kimmel, for instance, has been great at that. Wanda Sykes had some good lines; George Lopez didn't. The first Russell Brand/Jonah Hill bit was OK; the second was one too many.

8) OK, I almost pegged the bottom three (see previous blog). I'd predicted Casey James, Tim Urban and Michael Lynche; it turned out to be Casey, Tim and Aaron Kelly.

9) Casey survived, barely, proving me wrong. Tim was ousted; still displaying the best smile "Idol" has ever had. This week, his song was only so-so. The smile was as good as ever.

10) Occasionally, "Idol" runs four or five minutes long. This time, it ran 25 minutes long. And it still didn't have time for the pre-taped Justin Bieber song. Or for Tim's farewell song. It did, however, have time for Tim's smile, which is the best part.








Hey, how about inspiring?

I really do think "inspirational song" week should include songs that are ... you know, inspiring. I don't know why so many "American Idol" contestants disagree.

Tonight's show started at the low point -- Casey James' "Can' Stop" was simple, sing-song and dispassionate -- and ended with a high point: Crystal Bowersox was even more sensational that usual, with her stirring "People Get Ready."

Really, this shouldn't be that hard. The world is filled with inspirational songs from gospel ... and the civil rights movement ... and the peace movement ... and Broadway and more. The songs can be as huge as "Walk On" or as simple as David Archuleta stirring crowds with "Imagine."

Still, people keep ducking them. One year, three of the top four finalists had gospel roots, yet religion was avoided like a naughty concept. Here are a few of my comments; please add yours:

1) Even if tonight was disappointing, Wednesday's "Idol Gives Back" should be sensational. Please check my previous blog.

2) Yes, Lee Dewyze did a good job on "The Boxer." Still, on inspiration night he devoted about half his time to singing "la la la la." Maybe it's just me, but that phrase has never particularly been inspiring.

3) Two of the peoplle (Aaron Kelly and Siobhan Magnus) sang songs that had "believe" in the title. Still, there didn't seem to be much specifically that they believed, except for the rather iffy notion that they could fly.

4) I did think that Siobhan was wonderful, though. Her amazing high note -- propelled in primal screams in the early weeks -- was tamed into beautiful subtlety. Alicia Keys was right when she said, "That's your money spot." No matter what the judges say, she should keep going to it.

5) Kara DioGuardia, incidentally, is now banned from the statement: "I still don't know who you are as an artist." Not everyone has to fit some convenient category. I'm quite sure the author of "Imagine" also sang "Roll Over Beethoven," "Norwegian Wood" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand."

6) By comparison, it's always good to have Ellen Degeneres there -- partly for her humor and partly because she's the only person capable of sitting next to Randy Jackson without repeating him.

7) I really don't know what Michael Lynche was thinking. With all those powerhouse tunes he's capable of, he points out that "Hero" is "kind of out of my comfort zone" and then proves it.

8) Crystal, by comparison, was right on the money. Strong song, strong sentiment, perfect performance. It was ... well, inspiring.

9) My prediction for the bottom three? I'll say Casey, Michael and Tim Urban. For Casey and Michael, it's that hills-and-valleys rule: If you're often great and this time you're merely OK, people forget to vote for you.

10) And heading home? Alas, Casey. He was great previously with "Jealous Man," but tonight delivered what would be an OK, middle-of-the-evening, barroom song. He's near the top in talent, but rarely harnesses it.




"Idol Gives Back": Big night, big music

The first two rounds of "Idol Gives Back" offered television at its best -- powerful music, emotional films and more.

Now, after skipping a year, it returns Wednesday. Here's the preview story I sent to papers. I don't include all of my stories in this blog spot, but I try to include all "Idol" ones:


Amid the blandness of TV and (perhaps)
life, there's an instant antidote.

That's “Idol Gives Back,” on
Wednesday. It delivers emotions with small films and big music.

Music? Ask David Cook about the
previous one, when he was an “American Idol” contestant.

“We all snuck up to the balcony and
(saw) Annie Lennox's performance,” he said. “It was just her on
the piano; in the background, they were showing images of childen,
and it just tore me up.”

Films? Ask Cecile Frot-Coutaz, an
“Idol” producer, about one that year; it had Miley and Billy Ray
Cyrus meeting a family in Appalachia.

“I remember the mother saying …
that if the gas prices went any higher, she wouldn't be able to
afford to take her kids to school,” she said. “I remember that
really struck me.”

Now Lennox will be back. So will
Carrie Underwood, Alicia Keys, Elton John, Mary J. Blige, Joss Stone
(paired with Jeff Beck) and more.

“People really want to take part ….
Nobody turns us down,” Frot-Coutaz said. A few people couldn't do
it because of scheduling problems; one or two (including 16-year-old
Justin Bieber) taped in advance. Most, however, will be live in Los
Angeles or (with Queen Latifah) in Pasadena.

That will be part of a crowded night
that includes the elimination of one of the seven contestants.

The first “Idol Gives Back” feigned
an elimination, then spared everyone. The second was a special on a
different night than the elimination; with no drama, ratings dipped,
hurting the bid for donations.

“The competition episodes work better
than the specials,” Frot-Coutaz said. So now everything will be
packed into one night. “We're trying to figure out a way to make it
all fit into two hours.”

That will include time for films about
needs in the U.S. and Africa. Bill and Melinda Gates will talk about
their efforts there; Cook, the 2008 “Idol” winner, will show his
trip to Ethiopia.

“There is definitely a sense of hope
and an amazing vibrancy here,” Cook said by phone, during his visit
to a school in Addis Ababa. “Especially with the young girls at
this school.”

They are a key focus, said Elizabeth
Gore, who heads two United Nations Foundation groups.

“Girls make up 70 per cent of the
world's 130 million out-of-school youth,” she said. Some don't have
access or can't afford school, she said; for others it's “as simple
as the fact that they have to go fetch water for six to 15 hours a
day, because they don't have water holes nearby.”

Cook met a 7-year-old orphan at the
school. “She is one of the most vibrant, joyous girls that I think
I've ever met,” he said. “The girls at the school genuinely want
to have an education …. I remember being 7 years old and I didn't
have that foresight. These girls are wise beyond their years.”

He also met a 19-year-old who has been
at the school for five years. “She actually escaped from a rural
area … on her own, to escape early marriage and sex trade.”

In such areas, Gore said, change isn't
expensive. “When you go and see these places and what the need is,
$10 can literally change someone's life.”

That's a change in attitude,
Frot-Coutaz said. The first two rounds of “Idol Gives Back,” in
2007 and 2008, raised a combined $140 million. When the recession
hit, “Idol” skipped last year (with the possibility of making it
only once every two years) and now talks more about small donations.

It will be “much more low-key,”
Frot-Coutaz said. “Whatever people donate will be great. We realize
that we can't go into this with the same expectations.”

Viewers can, though. They can expect
moments of strong emotion.

– “Idol Gives Back”

– 8-10 p.m. Wednesday, Fox

– Viewers will be asked for
donations. This year, producers say, slightly more will stay in the
U.S. than will go overseas. The groups involved include Malaria No
More, Feeding America, Children's Health Fund, United Nations
Foundation and the U.S. branch of Save the Children.


Katie and Andrew: Nice people; time to go

OK, I was as vigorous as anyone about feeling it was time for "American Idol" to oust Andrew Garcia and, maybe, Katie Stevens. They have decent talent, but nothing in the Crystal-Michael-Siobhan-Casey universe.

Still, I find both of them immensely likeable. Here's the story I sent to papers after a conference-call interview Thursday, the day after they were eliminated:


Shortly after Katie Stevens was ousted
from “American Idol,” her mom put it in perspective.

She asked her to recall the swarms of
auditioners, Stevens said. Then she asked: “If someone had said,
'OK, Katie, you're … going to make it to the eighth spot,' would
you be happy?”

Deliriously so. And Andrew Garcia –
also dumped in Wednesday's double elimination – has a similar view.
“To get as far as I did is amazing,” he said.

Before “Idol,” Garcia, 24, had a
less-cluttered life. “I was a stay-at-home dad …. I would go out
on weekends and do (solo acoustic) gigs for $400.”

And before “Idol,” Stevens, 17, was
just a high school student … albeit one with a great fan. “My
grandmother has been to every performance I've ever had,” she said.

With her parents at work, Stevens was
raised by her grandparents, who speak Portuguese. She now speaks the
language fluently and is fervent about pleasing her grandmother.

“When she was diagnosed with
Alzheimer's, (I wanted) to have her see me accomplish something while
I still could,” she said. “And that's what I did.”

It got frustrating at times, she
admitted. Some judges obsessed on her age and asked her to be
youthful and current … while singing songs from Elvis Presley or
the Beatles.

To complicate things, her voice is
relatively mature; so, perhaps, is her attitude. “I usually hang
out with people a lot older than me.”

Garcia agreed that the judges have been
rough. “They've been really hard this year.”

Still, he kept his approach. “I like
to take pop songs and make them acoustic and put a twist on them.”

It worked well enough. Now he has parts
of a new life, mixed with parts of his own – including his child
and girlfriend. “I'm definitely going to propose to her sometime,”
he said.


A busy TV life -- from Univision to Hawk Girl to Shakira

How often, really, do you see Jeff Garlin (the chunky "Curb Your Enthusiasm" co-star) transform into a sexy Colombian singer? Not often, so that's one reason to watch the loopy "Wizards of Waverly Place" at 8:30 p.m. today or Saturday (April 16-17) on the Disney Channel.

Another reason is to see Maria Canals-Barrera, who's had an interesting acting career. Here's a story I sent to papers:


An acting career can whisk people in
odd directions.

Often, that means waiting tables and
answering phones. Occasionally, it brings a life like that of Maria

She's acted in Spanish and in English.
She's had series roles as a sweet mom, a sexy computer technician and
(voice only) a superhero.

And sometimes, things get weird.
“You'll have to see when the whole family dresses as Shakira,”
she said of the new “Wizards of Waverly Place” episode.

Mostly, she's known as the Disney
Channel's designated mother-of-teens. “I'm rehearsing for when I
really have teen-agers,” she said.

Her own kids are 6 and 4, but her TV
kids are each 17 – Selena Gomez in “Wizards” and Demi Lovato in
the “Camp Rock” movies. “They're very professional, very good
people,” she said.

And they have almost-identical careers.
Gomez and Lovato met in Dallas, at auditions for “Barney &
Friends.” Both landed the job (they were Gianna and Angela on the
show); both later moved to Los Angeles and signed with Disney; they
even starred together in “Princess Protection Program.”

Canals-Barrera, 43, finds that
admirable; she didn't move West until she was 26.

She studied theater at the University
of Miami, had a breakthrough role in the wild comedy play “House of
Blue Leaves,” then did a pair of Univision novelas. “It was
non-stop Spanish,” she said. “My parents were born in Cuba” so
she could sort of keep up.

In her own native language of English,
she played Fig, the red-haired newspaper worker in “Key West,”
one of the early Fox shows. After moving west, she was the female
lead (and computer expert) on the short-lived “Tony Danza Show.”

Most Disney shows live much longer.
“They really stick with you until they get it right,” she said.

At first, she was Gomez's mom in a
“Lizzie McGuire” spin-off. Then the network scrapped that and
came up with “Wizards” and the ultimate mixed marriage – but
not because Jerry (David DeLuise) is Italian and Theresa
(Canals-Barrera) is Hispanic. The big difference is that he grew up
with magic powers, which he had to renounce when marrying a mortal.

The kids and other relatives still have
magic, leading to other problems, including the new one involving
Jerry's brother (Jeff Garlin of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) – a
chunky guy who has a transformation spell. “It turns out that he's
also a female Colombian pop star.”

Shakira turns up in the episode;
everyone – including Garlin and Canals-Barrera – dresses as her.

It's a strange duty – but maybe not
her strangest. In animated shows, she's been Hawk Girl and Fire and
Sunset Boulevardez. Acting whisks her to odd places.

Maria Canals-Barrera

– “Wizards of Waverly Place,”
8:30 p.m. Fridays, Disney Channel, plus frequent reruns. The Shakira
episode airs at 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3:30 p.m. April 25,

– “Camp Rock” and “Wizards of
Waverly Place: The Movie” are at video stores and rerun on Disney;
“Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam” debuts this year.

– More. Tom Hanks has cast her in
“Larry Crowne,” a 2011 movie in which he is the director,
co-writer and star.