Rolling past the Stones

No one did us any favors by declaring this Rolling Stones week on "American Idol."

Mostly, the Stones haven't had great songs. They've had pretty good ones, transformed via their great talent. Now the "Idol" kids -- some of them born more than 30 years after the Stones began -- had to find a way to make them fres.

Several succeeded. There were great moments from Siobhan Magnus, Michael Lynche and Crystal Bowersox, good ones from Katie Stevens, Casey James, Aaron Kelly and Page Miles. Only five of them ranged from bad (Tim Urban) to bland.

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

1) No matter what happens, I still miss Lilly Scott and Katelyn Epperly. Please read my previous blog, interviewing them.

2) No one yet rules the stage the way Bo Bice or Taylor Hicks did. Still, those guys were unburdened by instruments; it's harder to romp when you're attached to a guitar.

3) Some people have mastered the theatrical approach of Adam Lambert. Michael Lynche, a theater veteran, is always sharp; Siobhan Magnus turned "Paint It Black" into a performance piece.

4) The costume people must have thought they heard "Paint It Grey." From contestants to judges, everyone seemed dressed in grey, the kind you wear when you can't remember if you're going to a seminar or a funeral. Come on, people, rock 'n' roll is supposed to be fun.

5) Still, it was a splendid night for the accessories folks. This was a great batch of earrings and necklaces.

6) I haven't figured out Siobhan's tattoo yet. I think it's a guy on a horse with an umbrella, but I don't know why.

7) What Siobhan does do, brilliantly, is the primal screen. A scream destroyed Danny Gokey last season, but she's mastered it twice.

8) Yes, Crystal is still my favorite. She wasn't the best tonight, but she was terrific. And yes, I'd be much happier if Lilly hadn't been voted off.

9) My prediction? The bottom three has Tim Urban, Andrew Garcia and Lacey Brown. Then Tim goes home. 

10) Then again, I coulde be wrong. Last week, I was way wrong. Or, actually, the voters were.




Life without Lilly? That's bad for "Idol"

You may have noticed in a previous blog that I'm deeply bummed about Lilly Scott failing to make the top 12 on "American Idol."

That's enough about me, though. Now let's hear from the people involved -- Scott and Katelyn Epperly, who was also voted out. Here's the story I sent to papers. I don't put all of my stories in this blog space, but I try to include all the "Idol" ones:



For “American Idol” fans, it's time
to assess the damage.

This had seemed like a breakthrough
year, filled with women – Crystal Bowersox, Lilly Scott, Siobhan
Magnus, Katelyn Epperly – ready for independent-rock stardom. Then
Scott and Epperly were ousted.

“I thought I could break the mold,”
Scott said. “But I guess it's going to be that same old stuff.”

That mold seemed clear when “Idol”
started in 2002. This was a show for pop singers; results would be
dominated by teens and tweens who had lots of time to phone in votes.

Then that began to change. “Idol”
expanded into rock with Bo Bice and Chris Daughtry, country with
Carrie Underwood and Kellie Pickler. Indie-rock seemed next.

Even Time magazine was enthusiastic,
putting Bowersox at No. 1 on the “short list” for its Arts
section. “The husky-voiced folkie has done 'Idol' a favor by
breaking its malleable-pop-star mold,” it wrote.

This seemed like an exciting time,
Epperly said. “Seeing so many singer-songwriters this year, people
that really are credible musicians and have been working at it their
whole lives and … didn't just roll out of bed one day and wanted to
be on a TV show and have an OK voice and a pretty face.”

Then two were gone and Scott was trying
to be philosophical: “My voting demographic is probably more of the
underground scene, who probably don't even own a TV and if they do
they're probably out riding their bike or doing something more
productive than watching TV, let alone 'American Idol.'”

Epperly grants she hadn't watched
“Idol” and was reluctant to try out. “I did have some pride

Scott, however, had watched the show
and knew what she was getting into. “I … wanted to break the
mold and just kind of be that offbeat contestant who did exactly what
I wanted to do.”

Last week, she did a song (“I Fall to
Pieces”) that Patsy Cline recorded 50 years ago. It may have been a
mistake, she said. “11- and 12-year-old girls, I'm sure, don't know
who Patsy Cline is.”

In recent years, “Idol” has
expanded its range by:

– Giving singers a live band and a
chance to work out fresh arrangements.

– Letting them play instruments.
Viewers saw Epperly at piano, Scott with mandolin, Bowersox with
guitar and harmonica.

Still, the show has discouraged
original songs. “Lilly, Crystal and I would really excel,”
Epperly said.

Instead, she looked for songs that
suited her. “I kind of scrambled around last-minute …. I don't
listen to mainstream music and … I don't typically perform covers.”

Two weeks ago, judges said her version
of “The Scientist” was too slow. Last week, she chose Carole
King's uptempo “I Feel the Earth Move” and was soon voted out.

Scott was soon gone, too, along with
Todrick Hall and Alex Lambert. The damage-assessment began.

– “American Idol,” Fox

– Performances 8-10 p.m. Tuesdays;
results 9-10 p.m. Wednesdays

– This week has Rolling Stones songs
by the 12 contestants. On Wednesday, one person will be ousted. Previous champion David Cook will be back. Also, Ke$ha will sing “Blah Blah Blah” and Orianthi will do “According
to You.”


Antonio: Designing with the heart of rock 'n' roll

OK, here's the story I promised on cable's "The Antonio Project." I just sent it to papers, but I also wanted to put it here right away, because the series opens Sunday.

First, however, please promise me that you'll: 1) Read the previous blog (more of a rant, actually) on the "American Idol" ousters; and 2) Agree with me fully.

Now here's Antonio:


Antonio Ballatore had all the
qualifications for a rock 'n' roll life. He had the hair and the
tattoos, the guitar and the gusto.

He also had one flaw: “I was used to
money,” he said.

So an adjustment was needed. Now he's a
designer (albeit with a rock attitude) with his own cable series.
Fresh from last season's “Design Star” win, he has “The Antonio
Project,” Sundays on HGTV.

This is a guy who used to find limited
choices for day jobs. “I played in a band and I had long hair, so
construction was the only thing I could do,” he said.

He did well enough in rock; at one
point, he said, he even played with Murphy's Law, a successful New
York band. The music was fun; the life was so-so. “It was six guys
in a van,” Ballatore said.

This wasn't what he was used to. His
dad was a thriving designer for Macy's and others.

Then came a break: Ballatore used his
construction skills to build sets for photographer David LaChapelle.
Soon, he was designing the sets, too.

His specialty involved sets for
photographs in Vanity Fair and other magazines. A typical one photo
required a 20-foot rocket ship, with Pee-wee Herman emerging.

Ballatore eventually moved to
California, where someone nudged him onto the “Design Star.” Its
emphasis on speed fit him. “I've done a lot of hard jobs where you
really have to work in a hurry.”

Now “Antonio Project” has him work
quickly, with colleagues who resemble a wandering rock tribe.

Amid all the male bonding, there are
spectacular bursts of artistry. One moment, Ballatore is dressing up
Mario Lopez's gym with faux versions of classic boxing posters. The
next, he gives a deaf artist a re-creation of what he considers the
ultimate example of sign language – Michaelangelo's painting of God
touching fingers with Adam.

It's the kind of artistry you might not
get to do when there are six guys in a van.

– “The Antonio Project”

– 10 p.m. Sundays, HGTV

– In a change of plans, the first
night (March 14) has two episodes; Ballatore works for a deaf
cartoonist at 10 p.m. and for TV personality Mario Lopez at 11 p.m.





A bad, bad night for "Idol"

This was a wretched night for "American Idol," one that will hurt the rest of the season.

Until tonight, this season was distinguished by the wonderful variety and talent of the women. These weren't just the cookie-cutter cuties we're used to; they had distinctive looks and sounds. And three of them -- Crystal Bowersox, Siobhan Magnus and Lilly Scott -- had the feel of indie-rock stardom.

The first two survived tonight, but Lilly -- one of the most interesting contestants the show has had -- was inexplicably voted out.

Well, I'll try to make it explicable, anyway. First let me say that I'm also bummed about the departure of Todrick Hall (good voice, great stage presence) and Katelyn Epperly (good voice, good presence, great hair). Alex Lambert was the only departure I found reasonable. Except for that great piano-man duet, it was an awful night.

Now for two possible explanations for Lilly's departure:

1) The peaks-and-valleys factor. Sometimes, an "Idol" contestant will do great work every week and people keep voting for him or her; if there happens to be a week that's merely good, people lay off and plan to come back and vote the next week. Occasionally, alas, there is no next week; that lone valley is fatal. That may have been what happened to Lilly, whose "I Fall to Pieces" was good, but not nearly as good as her previous weeks.

2) Or maybe we should look to country songs for all explanations. A recent one summed it up: "God is great, beer is good, people are crazy." That last part says it all. 


New shows reach overload; "The Guard" starts Saturday

This is one of those weekends when everyone wakes up at once. Suddenly, the line-ups are overloaded.

The new series range from superb (HBO's "Pacific") to the awful (NBC's ""Minute to Win It"). Somewhere between those are HGTV's "The Antonio Project," NBC's season-opener of "Celebrity Apprentice" and Ion's "The Guard" -- the only Saturday debut in the crowd, with the others on Sunday.

There are new movies, too: Lifetime's excellent "Who is Clark Rockefeller" on both days, Roger Corman's quirky "Dinoshark" on Saturday for Syfy and "The Cutting Edge 4" on Sunday on ABC Family.

For details, check my TV columns for those days. With things this crowded, however, I'll also use this blog space for some of the stories I sent to papers. A few blogs ago I had my Corman interview; soon, I'll put in my "Antonio Project" story. First, here's one onf "The Guard":


In an overcrowded weekend, TV viewers
are likely to sail right past “The Guard.”

For a tiny American network and a busy
Canadian writer, however, that series is fresh turf.

The network is Ion, assembled from the
remains of Pax TV. Usually, it stuffs its primetime with CBS reruns
(“Ghost Whisperer,” “NCIS,” “Criminal Minds,” “Shark”)
and old movies. Now “The Guard” marks its second original series.

Like the first (“Durham County”),
this is a Canadian show, as solid as a Mountie. This one is about the
Coast Guard – which is Raymond Storey's new turf.

“I'm landlocked in Toronto,” Storey
said, “so I knew nothing about the Coast Guard …. For me, that's
one of the great joys of being a writer.”

He went to Halifax and found that this
is nothing like the gun-toting Americans who stop smugglers. “The
Canadian Coast Guard isn't even armed …. At a moment's notice, it
will rush to rescue someone.”

It was the Coast Guard, he said, that
rushed to the Swissair plane that crashed near Halifax in 1998; all
218 people were dead.

The job can batter the people involved,
Storey said. “It's not like they're from some big, urban center
where they might become hardened …. This is still a situation where
grown men and women cry.”

So he created a fictional team of
rescue specialists, plus their colleagues and outside lives. Like
most Canadian series, this one is filled with actors who are talented
and (to Americans) unknown.

Especially strong – as Carly Grieg,
groping with alcoholism and a quirky lover – is Zoie Palmer. She's
typical of Canadian actors, Storey said; “she doesn't have that
cookie-cutter, turned-up-nose look.”

Then again, the series also has (in
brief bits) David James Elliott, who has the classic leading-man
look. For a decade, he starred in the American “JAG”; then he
returned to his homeland for a small role in “The Guard,” as
someone suffering from multiple sclerosis.

“I knew him when he was a young guy,
just getting started …. He never wanted to just do those
leading-man roles,” Storey said.

Now he's found a place for some extra
depth. That place, of course, is Canada.

– “The Guard”

– 10 and 11 p.m. Saturdays, debuting
March 13

– Ion network