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.




Scotty might not win? Blame him ... and George Strait ... and moms

Going into tonight, I was somewhere between 95 and 107 percent sure that Scotty McCreery would win "American Idol." Now that's shrunk to 43 percent, tops.

What happened? A best-case scenario for Lauren Alaina, with:

1) An emotional tug for her at the beginning, with a small fuss about her voice being blown out during rehearsals.

2) A big tug for her at the end. She got to sing about her mom ... while hugging her actual, weeping mom.

3) A let-down from his idol, George Strait, who was assigned to choose McCreery's second song. The trouble is that most county-male songs show off the lyrics, not the singer. Strait chose the extreme case: "Check Yes or No" sounds relentlessly pleasant, no matter who sings it.

4) And McCreery's ultimate mistake: Winning the coin flip, he let Alaina make the choice of going first or second. She chose second -- as any logical human would. That's an advantage any year ... and a mega-advantage in the year when someone is singing about and hugging her weeping mom.

So now I'm putting Alaina as the mile favorite -- despite the fact that McCreery (my favorite) will have the bigger country career.

A few other comments, all rather shallow:

-- Jennifer Lopez looked sensational in that green dress. If it were possible, she'd be the winner.

-- OK, maybe Steven Tyler was right when he told Alaina "you're prettier" than McCreery. Still, it's close.

-- And speaking of that, isn't it an oxymoron to be wearing cowboy boots with a party dress? A wise soul suggested that this implied Alaina was walking through manure to get to the prom.

-- Hey, McCreery also has a weeping mom with dyed-blonde hair. (In fact, I think most or all Southern moms are interchangable.) Maybe if he sang about her, he'd still be the favorite. We'll see.




One reality winner ("Apprentice") down and three to go

OK, we now have the first piece of the late-May reality rush: John Rich is the winner of this year's "Celebrity Apprentice."

Rich had already proven himself a canny country guy, propelling his own career and several others. By choosing him, Donald Trump made amends for picking Piers Morgan over country's Trace Adkins, a few years past.

Marlee Matlin also proved to be a fierce competitor. A few blogs back, you'll find a joint interview of the two finalists.

But now it's time to look ahead. On Tuesday, we'll have the winners of "The Biggest Loser" and "Dancing With the Stars"; on Wednesday -- the final day of the official TV season -- is "American Idol."

In the previous blog, I took an overview of the "Idol" season. Here are thumbnail sketches of the finalists; some of the details are from


– Who: Scotty McCreery, 17

– From: Garner, a North Carolina town
of 18,000, near Raleigh

– School: Garner Magnet High School,
which emphasizes an international baccalaureate program and the arts.

– Is he international, then?: A
little; his dad was born in Puerto Rico, with a Puerto Rican mother.

– Straight-arrow type: He was on the
honor roll and sang in a choral group that travels the country; also,
he speaks often of his Christian faith.

– Sports: He might have been a
starting pitcher on his high school team, if “Idol” hadn't
intervened. Last year, as a sophomore, he had a 6-win, 1-loss record
on the junior varsity, with a 1.04 earned run average. He finished
the summer season with a shut-out.

– Music tastes: His first concert had
George Strait and Reba McEntire. Still, he says he also has a
“Jackson 5 Greatest Hits” album that he listens to often.

– Obsession: He listed Josh Turner –
the deep-voiced country star – as his favorite and Turner's “Long
Black Train” as the song he'd most like to do on “Idol.” He's
sung that and “Your Man” on the show … and with Turner (a
surprise) in his homecoming concert.

– Who: Lauren Alaina, 16; she was
only able to audition because the age limit had been cut to 15

– Alternate name: Actually, it's
Lauren Alaina Suddeth. Some “Idol” contestants have used stage
names; after auditioning the first season, Tiffany Ryan Montgomery
changed her name to Ryan Starr.

– From: Rossville, a town of 3,500
just inside the Georgia border, alongside Chattanooga, Tenn., where
her dad works. She's a high school sophomore.

– Straight-arrow type: Ever since 8th
grade, she says, she's spent part of each school day helping out in
the special-ed class. She speaks often of her Christian faith and
prays before each performance.

– Sports: She's a cheerleader,
sometimes the hard way. She was the last person on the squad to learn
the back-flip, she said. On a rainy day, visiting friends at half
time, she once slipped and slid down the bleacher steps; also,
viewers have seen (often) a tape of her slipping down a stairway.

– Music tastes: There are no
surprises, she says; the first concert she saw was by country's

– Obsession?: She isn't obsessed with
Justin Bieber (“but he is very cure”), she says, but she's
impressed with how he manages his career at her age.



"Idol" finale: Teens rule the world

This has been a fascinating "American Idol" season, both for what it delivered (great and diverse voices) and what it lost (most of that diversity, as the voters took over.

I'm fairly happy with this, because I think Scotty McCreery will make a worthy champion. Nashville -- which has had plenty of teen females -- is about to get a 17-ytear-old star, with an old guy's voice.

Still, it's interesting to look at what happened. Here's the story I sent to papers:


As “American Idol” concludes this
week, it looks suspiciously like previous seasons.

Here are two teens, talented and
telegenic. (“They're definitely so cute, so darn cute,” said
Haley Reinhart, who finished third.) Each reflects a piece of the
“Idol” past:

– Lauren Alaina, 16? She's a
variation on Diana DeGarmo from 2004 – a pageant-ready, Southern
teen with round face, warm manner and big songs.

– Scotty McCreery, 17? He's a male
version of Carrie Underwood from 2005 – understated, athletic,
seemingly ready for an instant transformation to Nashville stardom.

McCreery sings country; Alaina
alternates between country and pop. “They're in such a close lane
together, as far as country goes,” Reinhart said. “So it's
anybody's game, man.”

A close lane? For a while, this 10th
season seemed like a super highway; producer Ken Warwick was cheerful
about having “a diverse group that lots of people can hook into.”

The final 13 included those two country
kids, two people with strong jazz experience (Casey Abrams, Reinhart)
and one with gospel (Jacob Lusk). It had one who blasted arena rock
(James Durbin), another who did power ballads (Pia Toscano); one
soared in Spanish (Karen Rodriguez), another was an expert on African
dance (Naima Adedapo). And Paul McDonald had a quirky, folky style
that defies category.

This was going to be a richly diverse
season – but viewers' votes ended that.

Five straight females were ousted.
“There are more females watching the show, (so) the votes were
going to be more for the guys,” Thia Megia said, after she and
Adedapo had finished 10th and 11th.

Adedapo, 26, also pointed to an age
factor: “More than 50 per cent of the audience is little, teenage
girls and once they get a crush, we're done.”

The next week, Toscano, sometimes
called a front-runner, was gone. “It was a shocking moment,”
Stefano Langone – who had assured her she would survive – said

After Toscano left, Warwick agreed
there might be a need to make changes next year. “It's no secret
that most reality shows are female-driven,” he said, and voting is
“always bent toward the boys.”

Adding to that trend were two changes
this season: Viewers now could vote by computer (in addition to phone
and text); also, contestants have Twitter accounts.

“The texting and the tweeting (are)
the kind of social glue that we strive for, to be truthful,”
Warwick said. “We want things that kids talk about in school the
next day.”

Still, the changes may have tilted
results. Teens are tech-savvy, Adedapo said. “I would get people
saying, 'I voted for you three times!' And it's like, 'Well, you
could've voted like 500 if you just texted.'”

One other factor this year has been the
hands-off attitude of judges.

Back in the first season, in 2002, some
contestants said they were sure guys would dominate and Justin
Guarini would win. Then Simon Cowell and others began exerting
themselves; three of the final four spots went to women, with Kelly
Clarkson winning.

In other years, the judges' had an
impact; Fantasia Barrino and David Cook prevailed over sweet-faced,
teens (DeGarmo and David Archuleta). This year, judges have often
been a non-factor, praising everyone.“The truth of the matter is,
these kids are very good,” Warwick insisted.

So viewers have clicked their votes
cheerily. McDonald said he could tell what was happening when he saw
the studio audience: “There's like one poster over there that says
'Paul' and then there's like a thousand screaming, 14-year-old girls
that have Scotty McCreery posters.”

This was inevitable: A telegenic,
country teen (McCreery or Alaina) would be the next American idol.

– “American Idol,” Fox

– Final performances are 8-9 p.m.
Tuesday; then viewers vote

– Winner will be announced at the end
of the finale, 8-10 p.m. Wednesday