"Idol": Scotty gets much better; Lauren doesn't

So it turns out that Scotty McCreery takes direction very well.

Last week, his song was easy and bland. Viewers gave him a pass anyway -- he is, after all, young and cute -- but judges told him they need more.

This time, they got it. McCreery's "You've Got a Friend" had all the passion that the previous week lacked. This guy could be a country star right now.

A few other comments and a prediction:

1) Lauren Alaina keeps skating by on average performances, done adequately. She did that again Wednesday; even her duet with McCreery was so-so.

2) When did the Urkel look become hip? Jacob Lusk had it for one song, with vest and bow tie; Randy Jackson had it all night.

3) Speaking of appearances, Haley Reinhart was spectacular in her duet with Casey Abrams. In that silver dress, she was thoroughly memorable.

4) James Durbin's first verse, sung acappella, was gorgeous. It ranks alongside similar moments from Bo Bice, Chris Daughtry and Adam Lambert, as the best in "Idol" history.

5) And my prediction? Reinhart, Alaina and (despite two great performances) Jacob Lusk are in the bottom three. Reinhart goes home; looking gorgeous (and singing well) isn't enough, when young girls dominate the voting.

"Restrepo:" A strong, final project for Hetherington

Regular reporters (people like me) are in awe of war correspondents like Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger.

These guys plunge into the world's most dangerous places, emerging with results that are balanced, solid and deeply human. Their "Restrepo," following one unit in Afghanistan, was beautifully done.

Hetherington was killed last Wednesday in Libya. Tonight (Monday), the National Geographic Channel reruns "Restrepo," adding a tribute to him. Here's the story I sent to papers, from interviews last August:



Last year, Tim Hetherington was trying
to explain why he takes the most dangerous news jobs.

“It's important to cover stories that
(have) meaning to me,” he said.

He spent more than a decade covering
war. That's what he was doing Wednesday (April 20), when he was
killed during an attack on a rebel-held city in Libya; he was 40.
It's what he did with “Restrepo,” the award-winning documentary
that reruns Monday (April 25) on the National Geographic Channel.

“We need to know what is happening in
Afghanistan,” Hetherington told reporters last August. “We need
to understand the lives of these young men that we send over there to
fight on our behalf.”

So two men switched their specialties:
Hetherington was a still photographer, Sebastian Junger was a writer,
best known for “The Perfect Storm”; for”Restrepo,” they spent
a combined 10 months filming soldiers in Afghanistan.

“The military provides an amazing
amount of access to those units,” Junger said.

And bonds developed. “I have got 180
brothers that I would die for any day of the week and twice on
Sunday,” said Staff Sgt. Aron Hijar. “And that includes Tim and

In particular, the soldiers talk warmly
about PFC Juan “Doc” Restrepo, a medic born in Colombia and
raised in Florida. “You could never get him down,” Hijar said.
“He was just like an amazing person, always optimistic, even in the
worst of times.”

He was 20 when he was killed while on
patrol. Now the military base and the film bear his name.

“We sort of made an apolitical film,”
Hetherington said. “We just wanted to make the most visceral,
immersive war film we could.”

At first, he and Junger financed
“Restrepo” themselves. They shot 150 hours in Afghanistan and
another 50 hours when the unit was deployed to Italy, then began
shaping it into a movie.

The result drew a dozen major
nominations, including an Academy Award nod for best documentary. It
won four awards, including the Sundance Film Festival's prize for
best documentary.

It had its TV debut last November on
the National Geographic Channel. Now it will rerun Monday, with a
tribute to Hetherington.

– “Restrepo”

– 9 p.m. Monday, National Geographic
Channel, with a tribute to co-director Tim Hetherington; repeats at


Stefano: This time, "Idol" didn't shock him

OK, all of us -- including Stefano Langone -- thought that Stefano Langone would be leaving "American Idol" soon. He took everything, including a huge hug from James Durbin, in stride.

The real surprise may be just how deeply music is embedded into Langone's life. He talks about things viewers never saw -- original music, piano, more; he talks with contagious enthusiasm. Here's the story I sent to papers, after a group interview this afternoon:


Many “American Idol” contestants
look stunned when they're cut from the show.

For Stefano Langone – ousted this
week – the surprise came two weeks earlier, when he was NOT
dropped. “It shocked me,” he said. “I think it shocked

That's when he stood alongside Pia
Toscano, who had drawn cascades of praise from the judges.

“We really have a close bond,”
Langone said. “I was really pulling for her …. I knew how badly
Pia wanted to be THE American idol.”

That doesn't mean he's less ambitious.
“Music has been everything to me,” he said.

His grandfather, Don Langone, owned a
music store in San Diego; his father, Ernie Langone, learned the
trumpet, guitar and bass, giving his first public performance at 10.

His dad has a desk job (career
counselor at the Art Institute of Seattle), but has kept with the

“I grew up playing instruments,”
Stefano Langone said. “I learned I could sing in band, ironically.”

He figures he barely tapped his
potential on the show. “I haven't done my original music. I haven't
got behind the piano …. When you're up there singing covers for a
minute, 30 (seconds), it's hard to show what you've got.”

There have been setbacks in his life.
Two years ago, a drunken driver crossed the center line and hit his
car; with two broken arms and a fractured pelvis, Langone was in a
wheelchair and had to re-learn to walk. A year after that, he was
arrested for driving under the influence; jail time was dropped,
under the condition he take a class and have a clean record for two

“Everyone goes through some things in
life,” he said. “Everything has lead me to this point.”

It's a point he seemed to enjoy.
Langone joked about what happened to his fellow contestants Thursday:

– Casey Abrams, in mid-song, snuck a
kiss on Jennifer Lopez's cheek. “That's cool for Casey …. It's
probably the first kiss he's had in a long time.”

– James Durbin wept when Langone was
eliminated. “He was a wreck. He's a big crybaby, but I love him
dearly. I'm going to be the best man at his wedding.”

Durbin is one of several front-runners
(alongside Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina) who have avoided being
in the bottom three. Langone, by comparison, counts four previous
times. Before that, he didn't reach the viewers' top 10, but got one
of the three extra spots when his “I Need You Now” impressed
judges. “At that moment in time, I needed everything.”

He's had more close calls, but seemed
unfazed. “I'm too positive a person to be affected by this or




"Idol": A great year to be a teen

On Wednesday, "American Idol" producer Ken Warwick told reporters that the voting procedures may be tweaked next season. "It's something that w're going to have a long discussion about," he said.

And tonight, we again saw that a change is needed.

The shock wasn't that Stefano Langone was sent home. He's been in the bottom two or three most weeks; two weeks ago (when Pia Toscano was ousted) he seemed stunned that it wasn't him.

(Two side notes: First, I'll catch Langone in a group interview Friday and have the story here by mid-afternoon. Second, please read my preceding blog, with the immensely gifted John Noble talking about a key "Fringe" episode Friday.)

Instead, the big thing was another reminder of the advantage teens have this year. Even after a so-so night Wednesday, Scotty McCreery, 17, avoided the bottom three. Those spots went to Langone (as usual), Haley Reinhart (as usual) ... and Jacob Lusk, despite his truly sensational performance Wednesday.

"We are aware, very much, of the fact that the voting could quite possibly be skewed toward the boys," Warwick said Wednesday. It also, he could have added, is skewed to the young and cute.

"Idol" has always leaned that way. This year, however, it added computer voting and Twitter communicating. Both tend to be strongpoints of teen girls.

Girls like guys and that's been clear in the results: Five females were ousted before any males went. (Admittedly, Casey Abrams was voted out and then rescued in the judges' one-per-year save.) Even now, the remaining teens -- McCreery and Lauren Alaina, 16 -- have been untouchable. Great singers have been ousted (Toscano) or in the bottom two (Lusk), while the kids stay safe.

Now, I like McCreery and country music; I just can't see such easy survival on a week when he goes bland ("Swingin'") and the others go big. 

By next year, Warwick said, there might or might not be some limit to the computer votes. For now, it's a cozy year to be a teen.











Friday's "Fringe": An "epic trilogy" begins

There is only one actor who deserves an Emmy more thoroughly than Hugh Laurie. That, of course, is John Noble of "Fringe."

Even when he was only one Walter, he was magnificent. As two of them, he's stunning. Now he's heading into the season's final three episodes, promising big things. Here's a quick-turnaround story (from a phone interview this afternoon) I sent to papers:


In a crueler world, “Fringe” would
be heading toward its series finale now.

Not this year; not this show. After
drawing high praise and low ratings, “Fringe” had already been
renewed when it was working on this week's episode.

“It's the beginning of three very
powerful episodes …. It's like an epic trilogy,” John Noble

He's talking about the hours (April 22,
April 29, May 6) that wrap up this season. “Our Earth starts to
deteriorate,” Noble said. Blame it on Walter – both of them.

When “Fringe” began in 2008, Noble
was playing Walter Bishop, a brilliant researcher whose mind crumbled
during fringe science projects. Now he's added an alternate-world
Walter – “Walternate,” to fans – whose mind is sharp.

Walter, whose son Peter died in our
world – crossed into the alternate world and stole that son;
Walternate wants revenge. “They both have the same tools ….
Walter has to try to get his best faculties together,” Noble said.

Friday's episode, he said, will “finish
in a very dramatic place,” but will also set up the next two. And
no matter what happens, “Fringe” will be back next season.

Last week, Nielsen listed 84 primetime
shows on the four biggest networks; “Fringe” tied for No. 72.

Still, it's been renewed. That may be
because it attracts young men …. or because it thrives in foreign
sales …. or because Fridays are a dead zone anyway.

Whatever the reason, it will return,
with endless possibilities. Perhaps, Noble said, “there are other
universes and other Walters and other problems.”

– “Fringe,” 9 p.m. Fridays, Fox

– Season finale is May 6