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.

"Idol": It could have been worse

As "American Idol" wrapped up tonight, we felt relief: On double-elimination night, it could have been much worse.

Andrew Garcia was no surprise; he had to go. Katie Stevens was a mild surprise -- I didn't even expect her in the final four -- but it's one we could live with.

Here are a few of my comments; please add yours:

1) Katie is leaving after one of her better weeks. She's a good pop singer with a great pop face; still, her fairly deep, mature voice didn't seem to connect with the young-teen audience.

2) We were glad to see her go, though, because the show toyed with us. It had Michael Lynche standing alongside her, before admitting that he wasn't even in the bottom three. That was a relief; this edition only has two great talents (Crystal Bowersox and Big Mike) and can't afford to lose one of them.

3) Speaking of great talent, Adam Lambert continues to be superb. Simon Cowell -- who's sometimes very wrong about these things -- has accused Lambert and Lynche of being self-indulgent or too Broadway or such. On Elvis week, let's dismiss such nonsense; when done correctly, this is simply great showmanship.

4) Now we come to "Idol Gives Back" on Wednesday and inspirational songs on Tuesday. For some people -- led by Crystal anbd Big Mike -- there could be some terrific moments.

5) And remember that this is supposed to be the year of the women. With seven people left, only two are female.


Good "Idol," great Elvis

After spending the weekend with Elvis Presley, I was delighted to find his music and memory also appearing on "American Idol."

My mind was there, anyway, thanks to 20 hours of weekend riding in a car that happened to have Sirius XM satellite radio. I flipped channels furiously, ranging from disappointments (Radio Classics) to delights (Rabbi Bob Alper on the laugh channel). In particular, I savored the all-Elvis station.

Like most reasonable humans, I had known that Elvis was a great talent and I had fumed at the career that took him away from real rock 'n' roll. Still, I may have missed the point: Sure, he made bad choices in song selection (or in management selection). Whatever he sang, however, he did it brilliantly. Slow ballads? Fast rock? Gospel? Vegas-style blasts? He kept singing with passion and power.

So I was happy to see that "Idol" has Elvis week -- and that Adam Lambert, one of its best contestants ever -- is the mentor. Here are a few of my comments; please add yours:

1) Tonight was like a ski hill. It started big, with Crystal Bowsersox's powerhouse gospel-style tune. It ended with a shrug, as Casey James did nothing special to a song that deserved nothing much.

2) In between, there was mostly good stuff. Andrew Garcia and Aaron Kelly were so-so; the rest were good.

3) Yes, I'm actually saying that Tim Urban was good. I thought he wrapped himself into that ballad beautifully. Usually, I have nothing good to say about him, once we're past the hair and the smile.

4) An ad said "Avatar" will reach video stores on Earth Day. That's odd, because it's not set on Earth.

5) Judges, just accept this: Siobhan Magnus ends her songs with high-pitched screams. If you like that (as I do), that's good; if not, at least you were forewarned.

6) Why do people say "forewarned"? I mean, how useful would it be to be "post-warned"?

7) More praise to Siobhan, for suggestjng that Michael Lynche sing "In the Ghetto." I'm surprised that he didn't do a powerhouse song -- I would have given him "This Time You Gave Me a Mountain" -- but he delivered this one beautifully.

8) I really liked Katie Stevens' singing this week. I also liked her outfit, all blue and black and filled with endless ornamentation. Siobhan would look that good again, if she quit abusing her hair.

9) I'll say that the bottom four will be and should be Andrew Garcia, Aaron Kelly, Casey James and Siobhan Magnus. For Casey, it's the peak-and-valley rule: If you're usually great and this time you're only good, people forget to vote for you.

10) I think he'll survive, though, and Andrew and Aarib will go home, on double-elimination night. Then again, I could be wrong. Last week, I would have never imagined Big Mike in the bottom. 



"Idol" saves itself

In theory, the "save" feature lets "American Idol" judges save one contestant from dismissal. Last season, that was Matt Giraud; tonight, it was Michael Lynche.

But it's more than that: Tonight, "Idol" really saved itself.

This edition only started with five really distinctive singers --and one of them (Lilly Scott) inexplicably failed to make the top 12. That left it with two great talents (Lynche and Crystal Bowersox), two very good ones (Siobhan Magnus and Casey James) and a lot of OK ones.

Then came the bizarre result. Lynche -- massive talent, massive likability -- had the fewest votes. Why? I'd guess:

a) He has an air of confidence and invulnerability. Viewers never feel like he needs their voted.

b) The peaks-and-valley effect. Sometimes, a singer will have lots of great nights and then one that's merely good. Viewers shrug if off, vote for someone else, and expect to return to him the next week. That valley could be the week he finishes last -- not because of being bad, but just because of being less great than usual.

So Lynche stood in front of the judges and was sensational again. The judges voted to save him; they also saved the show.

Here are a few of my other comments; please add yours:

1) The opening medley almost made us forget that John Lennon and Paul McCartney have written great songs.

2) We remembered it, however, a few minutes later, when David Archuleta returned to again sing Lennon's "Imagine." One of the best songs ever was performed perfectly.

3) Next week, there's no save left and two people must go. There are still four or five good prospects for that.

4) The viewers got two-thirds of it right, when they put Andrew Garcia and Aaron Kelly in the bottom three. But man, did they ever get the third one wrong.

5) The people who brought in a bagpiper and a didgeridoo both avoided the bottom three. Next week, it's definitely time for an accordion.




Hey, where's the tuba?

Somewhere in the TV audience tonight, tuba players, accordionists and cowbell players were grumbling: "Hey, what about us?"

A didgeridoo AND bagpipes on the same night of "American Idol"? Maybe it was a satellite error; maybe I was watching "Outback Idol" and "Highlands Idol."

There's one thing, though: Overall, this may have been the best night in "Idol" history. Working from that huge Lennon-McCartney songbood, there were lots of great moments, a few adequate ones and dandy surprises. Here are my comments; please add yours:

1) They asked the name of the loud guy in the audience and it turned out to be Earl. But really, didn't most of us already assume that?

2) Note to Simon Cowell: The war over Broadway is over and you lost. Your comments about "too theatrical" or "too Broadway" carried some weight a few years ago. That was before Adam Lambert and "Glee" and "High School Musical" and the "Hairspray" movie. It was before big Michael Lynche. The war is over and they won.

3) Note to Kara DioGuardi: Please restrain from all future references to "you could be on the radio." Maybe that's what you obsess on, but I find it sadly limiting.

4) Note to Ellen Degeneres: Thank you. You keep finding the right moment when humor is helpful. It was Ellen, after Andrew Garcia sang that "money can't buy you love," who politely pointed out that it can. And it was Ellen who refered to the bagpiper as "the gentleman who lost his parade." Thanks.

5) Each week, Lynche and Crystal Bowersox have wowed me. They did it again this time -- he with that hugely theatrical (that's now a good thing) "Elinor Rigby," she with the zesty-jazzy "Come Together."

6) Yes, I agree that Katie Stevens looks pretty in pink. Still, please inform her dad that shorts are not a great look for him, when he's in a front row.

7) Speaking of pretty, I melted every time they cut to a close-up of Siobhan Magnus singing that gently passionate version of "Across the Universe." Also, she finally fixed her hair.

8) Speaking of pretty yet again, Casey James finally extended himself. Last week's song was terribly safe; this time, he put great range and passion into "Jealous Guy."

9) No, I hadn't heard that song before. I'm starting to feel that these Lennon-and-McCartney guys have written some good ones.

10) I thought the praise for Lee DeWyze and Tim Urban may have been excessive. Still, those two will probably be saved by, respectively, a bagpipe and a smile.

11) My should and will: Aaron Kelly, Tim Urban and Andrew Garcia should be in the bottom three, with Garcia leaving. Kelly, Garcia and Katie Stevens will be in the bottom three, with Kelly leaving.

12) Did I mention that I played the tuba in high school? It's true. Now get busy figuring out how to put one into a song next week.