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. 





California dreaming? Maybe not

A sharp contrast slaps many young people when they move West: Back home, they were envied -- the prettiest people in town; in Los Angeles, they joined the sea of great-looking waiters, waitresses and homeless people.

Didi Benami -- the latest person ousted from "American Idol" -- can tell you that. Here's the story I sent to papers today:


On the day after her tears, Didi Benami
realized that her life has perked up.

“I can go on tour,” she said. “I
don't have to work as a waitress.”

And after the chaos of recent years,
that's a huge jump. “I faced a lot of ridiculous hardships …. You
get kicked out a lot,” she said.

Mostly, her life offers a warning:
Moving to Los Angeles isn't nearly as easy as it seems.

By all logic, Benami should have been
the perfect person to make the move. She was 19 at the time, four
years ago; as her Web site (
indicates, she's been a spectacular beauty as a blonde (currently)
or a brunette, with approximately zero body fat.

She seems ideal for California, but it
didn't work that way. There were troubles with romance and with
starting a performing career, she said. “I moved six different
times (the first year). I lived in my car sometimes …. You get kind
of used to starting over.”

She had grown up mostly in Knoxville,
Tenn., with a given name (Vered) that's Hebrew for “Rose.” Her
sister dubbed her “Didi” and she now uses both.

Benami went to Belmont, the Nashville
college known for its music program. She was inspired by her
roommate, Rebecca Joy Lear, she says …. then was stunned when Lear
was killed in a car crash, while heading home to Kansas for Christmas

Soon after that, Benami moved to Los
Angeles, where she found waitress work. “I taught myself to play
the guitar …. I'm really shy (but) my songwriting is my passion.”

She hadn't been an “Idol” viewer,
but went to try-outs and “got a lot further than I thought I

That's 10th, passing the key
cut-off: Each year, the top 10 go on tour; last year, that meant
doing 52 concerts to a total of 484,000 people.

It's a summer – and maybe a life –
without waitress work. “I'll be doing what I really want to do,
what I love to do, this summer.”




An illuminating evening

You may have heard about the global lights-out exercise last Saturday. At 8:30 p.m. in each time zone, many homes and businesses turned off their lights for an hour.

I mention it now only because of this: I'm quite sure that all the electricity saved then was cancelled out by Diddy's number tonight on "American Idol."

Lights flashed, lights glowed. I could almost hear people rushing new power plants to keep up. Beyond that, here are my comments; please add yours:

1) The only surprise tonight was a good one. I had predicted that Didi Benami would go home, with Tim Urban and Siobhan Magnus rounding out the bottom three. That's what happened, except that it was Katie Stevens (not Siobhan) in that second-from-last spot.

2) That's as it should be. Siobhan had some troubles with song choice and hair choice, but she's still a terrific talent who should bound back next week. Katie usually settles for blandly likable.

3) I've always been opposed to the 90-second time limit for a contestant's song. Alas, I began to favor it midway in Ruben Studdard's song. And again in Diddy's song.

4) Studdard provides a simple lesson for the immensely talented Michael Lynche: Don't let this happen to you.

5) I usually grumble about the extra ads and promos that "Idol" sneaks in. Still, I have to admit that I liked the "Clash of the Titans" bit -- especially when a movie character said "release the dragon" and we got a shot of Simon Cowell.

6) My only problem is that I remember when "drain the dragon" was an expression  for a male relieving himself. That gives a different perspective to "release the dragon." And it makes me flinch when I hear: "'How to Train Your Dragon,' in 3-D."

7) The night's highlight came after Ryan Seacrest tried to make Michael think he was in the bottom. Michael responded by lifting him in the air and spinning him. We've all wanted to do that.

8) Coming next week are the songs of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. That should be good -- or as good as it can get with a line-up that now has only three women, alongside six men.

9) Why is it such a bad thing that Tim Urban smiles a lot? I still think smiling is good. I've done it occasionally myself.

10) And smiling definitely beats the frequent weeping of Didi Benami. Except that now we won't have to worry about that.