Katie did it -- jumped to ABC

Katie Couric's decision finally became official today: She'll start working immediately for ABC, which will syndicate her talk show in the fall of 2012. Along the way, key questions were answered:

1) Which network? NBC -- which is already comfortably No. 1 in news -- wasn't in the running. CNN was for a while, in a deal that would have Warner Brothers syndicate the show. Still, it was down mostly to CBS and ABC.

Some speculated that Couric had mixed feelings about CBS News and would be glad to jump. They may have been right.

Now she's back to the network where she once worked as a desk assistant. There, we've heard, Sam Donaldson once thought she was so darned cute that he lifted her up and put her on a desk, for everyone to admire. She's come a long way since then; so has the general status of cute little females in the workplace.

2) Network or syndication? There was some talk of simply bumping one of the other shows -- maybe one of the few surviving soaps -- and putting Couric on the network schedule. Still, syndication is better; it gives her a shot at the best, Oprah-style time slots, at 4 and 5 p.m. weekdays.

3) What kind of show? People were willing to pay more if she did an Oprah-style show, one strong on human relationships. Couric reportedly wanted to have more newsy, one-on-one hours. 

Still, one key seems to be the fact that Jeff Zucker will produce her show. Zucker made a lot of mistakes when he ran NBC -- you do remember Jay Leno at 10 p.m., don't you? -- but he was considered masterful when he ran "Today." Couric was there then and the show soared in popularity.

He's always found a balance between people and hard news. With Zucker in charge, Couric will have a shot at some of that Oprah gold.

The only complication is that her show arrives a year late. This fall, many shows will be battling for dominance in Oprah's old slots. It will be Ellen DeGeneres and Anderson Cooper, plus Judge Judy, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and more, all fighting for dominance. Chances are, none will completely succeed; a year later, Couric and Zucker will try to rule the late afternoons, just like they once did in the mornings.

"Idol": Lauren is thinner and cheery, but NOT a dumb blonde

This is the ideal ending for "American Idol": The right person wins, a nice-and-cheerful person finishes second,  both have big things ahead. My previous blog is the interview with Scotty McCreery, the winner; here's the story I sent to papers on Lauren Alaina, the runner-up:


In her five months on “American
Idol,” Lauren Alaina has grown musically and shrunk physically.

So far, she said, she's lost 16 pounds;
that will continue. “During the tour, I'm going to work out and get
to the point where I want to be,” she said, adding promptly, “not
where other people want me to be.”

That last part may be important. Alaina
doesn't want that old image of a Southern belle, obsessed with big
hair and small waistline. “People call me a dumb blonde.”

She's neither, she said. “I'm
actually smart. I like to go to school; math is my favorite subject.”

Scotty McCreery – who sat with her
in school each weekday during the “Idol” months – praises her.
“She sings like a bird and she's a lady.”

She also has a goofy humor, he said. “I
tell jokes,” Alaina agreed, “but I can be serious, too. I cry a
lot and that's just me.”

Ironically, viewers saw her cry often
when others were voted out, but not on Wednesday, when she learned
she had lost. She flashed huge smiles while hugging McCreery twice.

This was the logical person to win, she
said. “He's so talented and he's got the look and he loves Jesus. I
can't think of a better person to finish second to.”

The two teens – she's 16, he's 17
abnd they both say they're just friends – expect to make a quick
trip to the CMA Festival in Nashville next month. Despite living near
Tennessee, she's never been there before. “I do believe I'm going
to be there this year …. It's going to be amazing.”

She grew up in Rossville, just inside
the Georgia border. There, she was a cheerleader, helped in the
special-ed class and sang often. “My parents loved country music
and it's in my heart.”

For “Idol,” she dropped her surname
(Suddeth) and used Alaina as her stage name. “It just rolls off
your tongue.” She sang big, until blowing out her voice during
rehearsals Tuesday.

“The doctor took good care of me,”
she said Thursday, her voice still weak. “The show must go on.”

It did, with Alaina at partial
strength. Then came McCreery's win, the hugs and the start of her new



Scotty McCreery; pure country, with a Puerto Rican twist

Scotty McCreery fits cozily into his new "American Idol" fame. He's a classic country guy ... albeit with a slight Puerto Rican twist. Here's the story I sent to papers:


Scotty McCreery isn't your typical,
cookie-cutter “American Idol” winner.

He sings deep, he seems casual, he
talks country. And he's one-quarter Puerto Rican.

“Jennifer (Lopez) seems to think it
gives me a little flavor,” McCreery said quietly.

For Lopez, growing up in the Bronx, the
Puerto Rican culture was omnipresent; for McCreery, in Garner, N.C.,
it was distant. “I visited Old San Juan once,” he said.

He doesn't speak or sing the language
yet, but he took Spanish I and II in school. “My grandmother asked
me once if I wanted to learn, but I was young and said no,” he

His dad – who is Hispanic on the
maternal side – was born in Puerto Rico. McCreery, however, has
spent his 17 years in North Carolina, a setting he reflects via:

– A love of sports. He was a star
baseball pitcher – “I don't think I would've gone past high
school” – and “Idol” showed him making a basketball shot from
the balcony. It was, he admitted, his third try.

– A fondness for country music.

– And that casual manner. “This is
pretty wild, I've gotta say,” McCreery told reporters on the day
after his win. “It's sure a whole lot more than I bargained for
when I started out.”

His single (“I Love You This Big”)
was already No. 1 on iTunes. “You're kidding!” his mother said,
when he paused during the phone conversation to tell her.

McCreery had long known that he could
sing deep notes, in the country style. On “Idol,” he said, a
vocal coach showed him “I could sing higher than I thought I

Soon, many people were calling him the
front-runner. McCreery has his doubts after Tuesday's final
performances. After winning the coin toss, he let Alaina choose going
first or second; she went second and closed the show with “Like My
Mother Did,” complete with a hug for her mom.

“My thought was she wrapped it up
when she sang that momma song,” McCreery said.

The two had been friends from the start
of “Idol,” he said. Both are Southern (she's from Georgia, at the
edge of the Tennessee border), both sing country, both are in high
school. He's 17 and a junior, she's 16 and a sophomore; they were
required to take classes, while others focused on the music.

He rejects talk of romance – “It's
more like a brother-sister thing … We're really close friends” –
but said they might link musically. There's already talk, he said, of
getting both to the CMA Music Festival (formerly Fan Fair); that's
June 9-12 in Nashville, a month before the “Idol” tour starts.
He'd also like to do a duet with Alaina, but isn't sure if that would
be on the first album.

Yes, he's already talking album. He
knows two of the songs, including “I Love You So Big” … which
he performed after winning. “It was a kind of a choked-up
performance, but I got through it.”


TV after "Idol": It's time to "Dance"

Yes, I'm very pleased with the "American Idol" results (see previous blogs), very displeased with the Oprah Winfrey finale.

Those, however, are instantly in the past. As Wednesday ended, the regular TV season was over. It was time for summer TV.

And that means "So You Think You Can Dance," the best of the summer shows. Each year, it has great talent and judges who are both entertaining AND serious about their work. Here's the story that I sent to papers:


The people at Fox don't spend much time

On Thursday – the night after their
latest flash-and-fuss finale of “American Idol” – they crank up
the next show. A new summer begins for “So You Think You Can

Both are produced by Nigel Lythgoe –
who is also the “Dance” head judge and directs the opener. How's
he feeling about all this? “Panicky,” Lythgoe said Tuesday.

He has reason to panic, Cat Deeley, the
“Dance” host, said earlier. “He is crazy …. I go, 'Oh my
goodness, this man is 60 years old and he's running around. He's
going to be doing a trans-Atlantic flight (for the British version of
'Dance') every week.”

He seems to have fun, even when judge
Mary Murphy – her voice recovering from surgery – screams in his
ear. She sounds “like a small hair-dryer now,” Lythgoe said. “She
used to be like a jet engine.”

Murphy, a former ballroom dancer, was
once skeptical about the show, which makes dancers stray far outside
their genres. “I never thought it would work …. A hip-hop dancer,
doing quick-step?”

She was a choreographer and guest judge
for two seasons, then became a regular judge. Her screeching
enthusiasm contrasted with the British restraint of Deeley and

For last season, however, she suddenly
disappeared from the show. It was a money issue, Lythgoe said; Murphy
and the network were at an impasse, so Mia Michaels took over.

The plan was for Murphy to sometimes
choreograph, or fill in when Michaels choreographed. Then everything
changed last summer. “I started to get more tired,” she said.

In December, thyroid surgery removed a
cancerous tumor. In February, she says, “I was told I was
cancer-free.” Soon, she was in Atlanta, which had a fast string of
outstanding auditions. “It was like a party …. It was
overwhelming and exciting.”

Lythgoe agrees: This year's top
auditions were in Atlanta (being shown as the season-opener) and in
Los Angeles. Quality was high; so was variety.

“Last year, seven of the 10
(finalists) were contemporary dancers,” Murphy said. They were
well-trained and skillful, but something was missing. “There are
more street dancers this season.”

Lythgoe's new plan has 20 finalists,
not 10. Once they get to the final 10, they'll link with “all-stars”
(past contestants), losing one person a week.

And this year, he said, there's the
full range of contestants – from ballet to ballroom, from
contemporary to a surge of hip-hop and street dancers. “Those kids
– many of whom aren't trained – are terrific,” Lythgoe said.
“And they're picking up the Viennese waltz.”

When they succeed, Murphy will roar.
“Mary has this enthusiasm,” Deeley said. “This is completely
infectious …. We kind of missed her a little bit on the panel.”

– “So You Think You Can Dance,” 8
p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, Fox

– Audition episodes: Atlanta and San
Francisco, May 26; New York and Salt Lake City, June 1; Los Angeles,
June 2

– Callbacks in Las Vegas on June 8-9,
choosing the top 20 on June 9

– Pattern begins June 15-16, with two
people eliminated weekly; once the field is at 10, contestants will
pair with a different “all-star” each week


Good news, bad news: Scotty wins, Oprah flubs

So there are happy endings, after all. Tonight -- four hours after Oprah Winfrey disappointed us with a so-so farewell -- "American Idol" got it right. Scotty McCreery, who already has the sound and the feel of a country star, was named the winner.

Yes, I worried about it (see previous blog) after Lauren Alaina got all the breaks in Tuesday's performance finale. For two straight years, my favorite -- Adam Lambert and Crystal Bowersox -- had lost.

But the final visions images tonight were just as I'd hoped: Instead of spending his time selling his song to the public, McCreery was half-singing while hugging his family and the contestants.

Alaina, beaming broadly, twice encased him in mega-hugs. Then the unshakable country kid fell to his knees. I was happy for him.

And no, I;m not always happy. Winfrey's finale was a major mistake. A few comments on both:

1) There would have been nothing wrong with Winfrey's finale, if she had told us this was coming. She could have simply said she was going to do a no-guest show. We would have settled back for the lecture -- we've been happy to do that on some Sunday mornings and (in our student days) many weekdays. But when the show said it was keeping the contents of the last show secret, we could only imagine something big. Instead, we got a lecture.

2) The one good thing about both shows is that the people openly mentioned their religious faith. Winfrey did often, McCreery did after he won, Alaina would have if she'd won. I don't care what faith someone has (within reason), it's still a hugely important part of life. It's good to hear people sincerely mention it.

3) McCreery has it all. His deep tones suggest the best moments of Josh Turner, Johnny Cash and the Montgomery Gentry duo, but he also hits the high notes well. He has a casual, country ease. He's a cute guy -- being one-quarter Puerto Rican helps, in the same way that being partly Filipino helps Lou Diamond Phillips; he's also athletic, a good baseball pitcher. When he stood there alongside Tim McGraw (the son of the late former major league pitcher Tug McGraw), it looked like two parts of a fine mound rotation.

4) Yes, Steven Tyler looks and sounds great at 63. Then again, he was a relative youngster tonight. Gladys Knight turns 67 on Saturday; Tom Jones is 70, Tony Bennett is 84.

5) The best moments of the show? I thought James Durbin's work with Black Sabbath was sensational. Marc Anthony's Spanish-language song was splendid -- with some vigorous visual help from his wife J-Lo. Beyonce's solo was powerul. Casey Abrams was great fun -- both in his duet with Jack Black and in his humor bits; he'll be a fine entertainer, albeit not a recording artist.

6) I'm still worried about what Lady Gaga and the half-naked guy did after plunging into the pit. After all, they almost consummated their relationship while she was still singing.

7) What they did was probably what Anthony and J-Lo did during the commercial break after their song. And what Abrams does 3-4 times daily with Haley Reinhart (but only in his mind). And what Tony Bennett was trying to remember about, after singing with Reinhart, who's one-quarter his age.

8) A few numbers were so-so -- the women's medley, the men's medley, the TLC medley. Like many medleys, these were too scattered to carry real power.

9) Alaina's duet with Carrie Underwood was also so-so, but that was because Alaina blew out her voice Tuesday. Underwood, incidentally, is now mega-toned and looked great in white short-shorts. Maybe some day Alaina will be able to wear short-shorts, after a Jennifer Hudston-style transformation. Then again, maybe she'll go the other way, like Kelly Clarkson.

10) Let's not feel too sorry for Alaina, though. Think back to when you started your junior year of high school. She'll be driving there in whatever car she chooses; in a rare moment of eco-weakness, I'd skip the hybrid and choose a Mustang convertible. And she's already given her favorite teacher a new car; that's way better than an apple any time.