"Idol" has Mariah, a small-town bus and questions

OK, I'm still not a fan of superstars as judges. Unless they're all Blake Shelton (which would be a good thing), they spend too much time censoring themselves and worrying about what people will think.

Still, I have to admit "American Idol" hit the jackpot with Mariah Carey. Here's the story I sent to papers:


“American Idol” now has its new
superstar judge (Mariah Carey) and its wider net to find stars.
Still, that's no guarantee that it – or Fox – will soar anew in
the ratings.

Kevin Reilly, the Fox program chief,
announced Monday that Carey will be a judge for the show, which
returns in January. Carey – talking ultra-briefly to reporters via
speaker phone – confirmed that.

“I'm so excited to be joining
'Idol,'” she said. “I can't wait to get started.”

Fox also is expanding the “Idol”
search, with details coming to www.americanidol.com:

– A “Small Town Audition Bus Tour”
that will go through 10 towns, mostly in the Heartland – Iowa,
Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Montana and Wyoming – plus Clarksdale,

– The return of Online auditions.

– Adding a new Online factor, in
which other people can nominate someone.

That still leaves questions. Reilly
didn't guarantee that Randy Jackson will be back, but implied that
it's likely. He's Carey's co-manager, he said, and “Randy was very
instrumental in getting the deal.

Earlier in the day, “Idol” producer
Nigel Lythgoe said he isn't positive that he'll be back or that
Jennifer Lopez will be gone. “She said she's 99 percent sure ….
Who says '99 percent.'”

Reilly promptly quashed that. It's “100
percent” that Lopez and Steven Tyler have left “Idol,” he said.

Those two started the trend toward
major music stars bcoming judges. This fall, Reilly insisted, “X
Factor” fans “will be surprised how feisty” Britney Spears is
and will be pleased with Demi Lovato. “She took on Simon (Cowell,
the producer and chief judge) the first day.”

Still, ratings slow as copies,
including NBC's “The Voice,”arrive. On this year's “Idol,”
Reilly said, winner “Phil Phillips went to gold faster than any
artist in the history of the show,” but ratings were down.

For the new season, Fox will anchor
“Glee” firmly behind the “X Factor” and “Idol”results
shows on Thursdays, letting Tuesdays have a strong, four-comedy

Still, “House” is gone, “Glee”
is splitting its stories between Ohio and New York; also, prime
challenger CBS has the Super Bowl. “We may not win the season this
year,” Reilly said. “We've been No. 1 for eight years.”


When the sci-fi world wobbles, just say "huh????"

A terrific show ended its run last week. Fortunately, a good one takes its place.

Gone is "Eureka," an oft-overlooked delight. However, "Warehouse 13" manages to have a similar sense of offbeat whimsy. After exploding its world (literally) at the end of last season, it returns with a dandy episode at 9 p.m. Monday (July 23). Here's the story I sent to papers:


As “Warehouse 13” returns, Eddie
McClintock has an important function.

That can be summed up with one word,
plus punctuation: “Huh????”

The warehouse has artifacts of history
and myth. Its keepers seem to know it all; in the season-opener (an
explosion aftermath), discussion leaps from Magellan to Pandora, from
H.G. Welles to techno-talk.

During this, Pete Lattimer sometimes
stares in awed confusion. McClintock knows the feeling.

“There's a lot of Eddie in Pete,”
he said. “I love history, but the stuff they talk about is pretty

That's the fun of the show. The
warehouse is run by the wise Artie (Saul Rubinek). He hired computer
whiz Claudia (Allison Scagliotti), plus Myka (Joanne Kelly) and Pete.

Those last two are FBI agents, good in
any fight. Myka brings extra skills – “she seems to speak every
language known to man,” McClintock said; Pete reflects the
bewilderment of the viewers.

That's easy for McClintock to do. He's
a bright guy and a science-fiction fan, but other interests took away
from his time reading the classics. That included:

– Fun. “I spent a lot of time
drinking out of shoes” in college, he said.

– Sports. He grew up in Canton, Ohio,
home of the pro football Hall of Fame. As a kid, he met the greats;
in high school, he was a 165-pound outside linebacker (“I was
pretty fearless”) and wrestler.

The wrestling continued at Wright State
University, where he almost – until a final-seconds setback –
reached the nationals. Still, McClintock was able to occasionally
visit the rich history of the area – Wright Brothers, national Air
Force Museum, Wright-Patterson air base, even rumors of hidden UFO's.
All of that seems to reflect the“Warehouse 13” spirit.

McClintock was 30 before trying acting,
something he approaches with a linebacker's fearlessness. The 15
years since then have been busy, but most roles were rooted in
reality; now comes sci-fi fun.

“Sometimes, I can't believe it,” he
said, pointing to two guest roles: “My mom (Kate Mulgrew) is the
captain of the Voyager; my ex-wife (Jeri Ryan) is arguably the
sexiest cyborg in history.”

And sometimes, he's had dinner with the
brainy Rubinek (“one of my favorite humans”) and friends,
including Brent Spiner, who was Data on “Star Trek: Next
Generation.” The stories – about show-business, history, life,
science-fiction – flow; McClintock can merely grin and

– “Warehouse 13,” 9 p.m. Mondays,
Syfy; reruns at 11

– Season-opener, July 23; leads into
the season-opener of “Alphas” at 10.

– That's preceded by a marathon from
8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. July 23, concluding with the warehouse
explosion. Keep in mind that on this show, H.G. Welles is female,
ageless and evil.

– Opener reruns at 8 a.m. and 11 p.m.
July 27, 9 a.m. July 29 and 8 a.m. July 30



Reality TV discovers fresh turf with "American Gypsies"

Reality-TV has its best moments when it nudges us into worlds we've never known. Now cable does that twice this week.

On Thursday (July 19) will be "Great Lakes Warriors," visiting blunt, blue-collar guy working the tugboats of Lake Michigan. Before that, however, is "American Gypsies" tonight (Tuesday, July 17); it's chaotic, combative and, at times, kind of interesting. Here's the story I sent to papers:



Anyone who's known the Sopranos and the
Corleones will sort of grasp the Johns family.

“We're a big family,” Nicky Johns
said. “We love hard, we work hard and we fight hard as a family.”

Tradition is key. Most people stick to
the family business, being careful not to step into someone else's
territory; most follow the edicts of the family patriarch.

The difference is in legality. The
others are fictional crime families, the Johns clan – in the new
“American Gypsies” reality show – is law-abiding, running New
York psychic shops. “Everybody has a psychic ability,” said Bobby
Johns, Nicky's older brother. “They just don't know how to use it.”

Their mother is a psychic and says all
women in the family have the gift. Bobby's daughter-in-law works
as a psychic, as do his brothers' wives and daughters.

Still, his younger daughters resist.
“Bobby is especially progressive and trying to encourage his kids,”
said Steve Cantor, the show's producer. “He lets his daughters take
acting lessons, which is unheard of in Gypsy culture. Nicky is a
little more conservative and there's a lot of tension.”

More tension comes from rules against
dating and marrying outside the culture.

In the opener, viewers see handsome
Valentino Johns date a sweet-faced outsider. Supposedly, this is kept
secret from his dad – Erik, the eldest of the five Johns brothers.

Do others date outside their culture?
Sitting next to his dad (Bobby) and uncle (Nicky), Chris Johns, 20,
answered carefully: “I can't talk about things like that …. But
let's just say I married a Gypsy.”

He offered no complaints – “I love
my culture; I'm very happy with it” – and business seems to be
booming. The first two episodes see him preparing his first shop and
having his first son.

“My wife is a truly gifted psychic,”
he said. “My cousin and my brother and I just opened up a Gypsy
food truck in the city. In the future, I'm looking to open a fashion
design. I'm happy where I am.”

Chris reflects the mixed attitude
toward the show's title. “The word 'Gypsies' is a racial epithet to
us,” Nicky said. “We're Roma.” Yet while talking to reporters,
the three Johns men used “Gypsy” 13 times to describe themselves,
their family or their culture.

The wariness reflects centuries of
biases. “Gypsies were the first people in the Holocaust, before
Jewish people, before anyone else,” Nicky said.

The World Book Encyclopedia agrees that
“thousands of Hungarian, Czech, Romanian and Polish gypsies were
murdered in Nazi concentration camps.” It says the people probably
date back to India in the 1300s, then traveled through Iran and
Armenia to Syria, Egypt and North Africa, before reaching Europe in
the 1500s. A 1968 encyclopedia listing discusses traditions of dance,
music, mobility and businesses, acknowledging: “Gypsy life is not
always gay, nor are all gypsies dishonest.”

Along the way, language took twists.
“The word 'Gypsy' derives from 'Egyptians,'” Nicky said. “Gyp”
probably began around 1750 as a derogative variation of “Gypsy,”
the Webster dictionary says.

By comparison, “Roma” and “Romani”
suggest links to the Italian culture, something Ralph Macchio – the
actor who is producing “American Gypsies” – finds appealing.

“In my Italian, American and Greek
heritage, there exists that same kind of respect for elders and
respect for family, (which is) a very rich part of what the show is,”
Macchio said.

The Johns family has shed some of the
old ways. “The Gypsies in America are not really nomadic,” Bobby
said. “We're very modernized. I've lived at my place for 20 years.”

It's “a nice, two-bedroom” at a
good address, Cantor said. “He's assimilated into our society. His
kids have one foot in the American world, one foot in the Gypsy
world. And there's a lot of conflict in that.”

– “American Gypsies,” 9 p.m.
Tuesdays, National Geographic, rerunning at 11

– The opener (July 17) reruns at 9
and 11 p.m. July 19; 10 and 11 p.m. July 21; and 5 p.m. July 24

– The first two episodes air together
from 8-10 p.m. July 24 and 9-11 p.m. July 28



Tyler and J-Lo leave; "Idol" will be fine

After all that speculation on whether Jennifer Lopez is leaving "American Idol," there was a different matter first:

Steven Tyler has just announced he won't be back. He'll return his focus to Aerosmith, making sure he'll keep rocking while he's still young. (Well, while he's still 64.)

Afterward, news came that Lopez won't be back either.

Is this a double dose of bad news? Not necessarily. Lopez and Tyler had never quite accepted the notion that judges should ... well, judge. By praising everyone, they praised no one, making it harder for the truly talented to stand out.

This notion of non-judgmental judges will probably continue as long as "Idol" (along with "X Factor" and others) uses music-celebrity judges. Celebrities worry about their own images, about making nice. They have little helpful to say on "American Idol."


From ballet to belly: "Dance" adds variety

We're getting to the good part of "So You Think You Can Dance." The 20 finalists have had their first chances to impress viewers; next Wednesday (July 18), two will be sent home. Here's the story I sent to papers.



In some years, “So You Think You Can
Dance” has moved along like a disciplined chorus line.

There were performances one day,
eliminations the next. One person was dumped each week, until only a
few finalists – mostly short, slender kids specializing in
contemporary dance – remained.

And this year? “Hold your breath and
hang on tight, because it's going to be a very fast ride, and pretty
bumpy, too,” said Nigel Lythgoe, the show's creator and judge.
That's due to:

– Fox trimming the show to
Wednesdays-only. Lythgoe wants to stuff all the usual elements –
including group numbers and guest-star performances – into a
tighter space.

– Format changes. This is the first
year with two winners, male and female; each week will oust
one of each.

– And more variety among the

The show is sometimes dominated by
heavily trained contemporary dancers. They “are a little bit more
well-rounded physically and technically,” said choreographer Mia

Still, she said, they also can have a
common drawback. “They're so reliant on … the perfection of
technique and not really about the personalities.”

At times, Lythgoe said, it all seems
too precise. “There's something about formally trained dancers that
beats them around (and takes out) a little bit of heart and passion.”

For the show, one solution is to have
more variety. Only half this year's 20 finalists list contemporary, jazz or modern dance as
their main specialty. There are three ballet dancers and three
ballroom dancers; there's a belly dancer, a step-dancer and guys who
lean to “robotics” and “martial arts fusion.”

After choreographing all 20 for a
number, Michaels singled out two of the ballet people for praise. One
is Daniel Baker, 24, an Australian; the other is Eliana Girard, 21,
from Florida. “She's emotional and she's powerful and her work
ethic is amazing.”

Any variety is helpful, in a field
leaning toward sameness. Michaels found that in her dance days:

For starters, she's 5-foot-11. Many
female dancers have barely topped 5-foot; men haven't been a lot

“It takes much more power to move a
taller body around,” Michaels said. “But when a taller dancer
gets it together, it's so gorgeous …. Tommy Tune (6-foot-6) and a
few people were so massively gorgeous in length.”

She also didn't fit the mode in another
way: “I was always a thicker girl; I've always dealt with a weight
issue (so) I never really got the chance to dance professionally.

“I remember the key moment: It was
one of those auditions where they were like, 'You know, you'll never
dance, because of your body.' And I remember just at that point
going, 'OK, then fine. I will make my own world of dance.' And that's
kind of what I did.”

It's what “Dance” tries. People
with mismatched specialties are thrown together as instant partners.
Choreographers adapt routines for their varied skills; dancers try to
learn quickly. “You have to click into the speed and the
intensity,” Michaels said.

It can be dazzling; it can also be a
fast and bumpy ride.

– “So You Think You Can Dance,”
8-10 p.m. Wednesdays, Fox

– Viewers had their first vote July
11, after the 20 finalists perform as duos.

– On July 18, dancers will perform
again. Then the bottom three men and bottom three women from the
previous week will be announced. They'll solo for the judges, who
will eliminate one of each