Jaleel is dancing; others are groping

This is a big week for Jaleel White.

On Monday and Tuesday, he bounced back from last week's "Dancing With the Stars" slump and jumped to No. 2 on the leader board. Tonight (Wednesday, April 25), his game show ("Total Blackout") opens on Syfy. Here's an updated version of the story I sent to papers:


An actor's life is hard to predict. It
goes from under-employment (often) to overwork (rarely). It goes from
serenity to …. well, the day Jaleel White's manager sent him to a
“Total Blackout” audition.

“Pretty soon I'm in the Fremantle
building,” White said, “with a tarantula crawling up my arm.”

The key was that first part. “The
second I knew it was a Fremantle show, I was there,” he said.

Fremantle bought or created many of the
top reality or game shows, including “American Idol,” “Deadliest
Catch,” “Masterchef,” “America's Got Talent,” “The Price
is Right” and more. Now it has “Blackout,” which plunges people
into total darkness, then makes them guess what they're touching.

That idea was launched in a dozen
countries last year. “I think everybody can relate to being in
darkness,” said creator Henrik Nielsen. “Everybody can relate to
… terrifying other people.”

For White, 35, this is a major detour,
after decades of acting. He was 7 when he had his first TV role, 7
when he almost landed “The Cosby Show” (until Bill Cosby decided
Rudy should be a girl), 12 when he started his nine-year run as Urkel
in “Family Matters.” He's been a regular or guest on other
scripted shows; now, instead, he's:

– A “Dancing With the Stars”
contestant. This week (April 24), he movied into the final seven,
from the original 12.

– Host of “Total Blackout,” with
contestants groping about. “It's an extreme experience,” said
Mark Stern, a Syfy Channel programmer. “(It's) your imagination
being your own worst enemy.”

Often, Nielsen said, those fears are
unfounded. One bit has people walking gingerly on a narrow plank.
It's “actually just two inches above ground, but they think they're
15, 20 feet in the air.”

Then they're touching something, he
said. “It could be teddy bears; it could be live tarantulas.”

White got the latter, during his
audition. “I think they were testing my focus,” he said.

He got the job – and the overcrowded

White figured he could do fine on
“Dancing.” He played the clumsy Urkel, but others have called him
one of the best celebrity basketball players. “I consider myself a
coordinated person,” he said.

He started strong and had one bad week,
finishing in the bottom two on April 17. A week later, he was all the
way up to No. 2 on the leader board..

Now he races between dance rehearsals,
“Blackout” promotions and being with his 2-year-old daughter. The
work ethic is inherited, he said: “My dad was a bus driver who
became a dentist. Watching him going to work and studying made an

Critics say White doesn't take the
overload gracefully. Bridget Hardy, the mother of his daughter, has
accused him of abuse and cheating; multiple sources have said he was
once verbally belligerent to his “Dancing” partner, Kym Johnson.

White has denied the abuse and has
called stories of his “Dancing” outburst “exaggerated.” He
insists he's happy with his overstuffed life. “My career has caught
a wave.”

Still, there will be critics, including
his daughter. He tried to show her “Dancing”; instead, she
muttered the name of her TV character (Dora) and left the room.

– “Total Blackout,” debuts 10
p.m. Wednesday (April 25), Syfy; reruns at midnight

– Opener has many more reruns,
including 5 p.m. Thursday; 7 and 11 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m. Sunday (April
29); and 6 p.m. Wednesday (May 2)

– “Dancing With the Stars,” 8-10
p.m. Mondays, 9 p.m.Tuesdays, ABC. White is in the final seven.


A strong and faithful fairwell

Yes, I'm surprised to see Colton Dixon leaving "American Idol" so soon. Here's the quick-turnaround piece I just sent to papers, from his interview this morning. Also, please read the three previous blogs -- one on my comedy gig Sunday and two commenting on "Idol" this week:


It may take a while for Colton Dixon to
realize he's not on “American Idol” any more.

“This morning, I thought, 'I've got
to get ready for the mentor session,'” he said today (Friday, April 20). “Then I
thought, 'Oh wait, that wasn't a bad dream, was it?'”

It wasn't. Dixon – pegged as a
front-runner by some people – was ousted Thursday. He finished
seventh, a position that has also gone to Jennifer Hudson, Kimberly
Caldwell, Sanjaya Malakar and many people the world has forgotten.

And ultimately, he blamed himself.
“Song choice got the best of me,” he said.

Dixon made an impact doing intensely
emotional numbers, sometimes with Christian lyrics. But given a list
of song that have been No. 1 in recent years, he chose “Bad
Romance” by Lady Gaga.

It was a chance for Dixon – with his
streaked hair and hip clothes – to put on a big show Wednesday. “I
got caught up in th musicality and performance …. That turned off a
lot of my voters.”

The next night, he was standing with
two others, knowing one of them would be in the bottom three.
”Standing next to Phillip (Phillips) and Jessica (Sanchez) was kind
of a clue” it was his time.

This was Dixon's first time in the
bottom three. Elise Testone and Hollie Cavanagh had been there often,
but Dixon, 20, was the one sent home.

For his farewell song, he did the
Christian ballad “Everything,” one sign that he's distinctive.
Many “Idol” singers have talked about their faith – including
Carrie Underwood, who tweeted her support after Thursday's show –
but rarely has anyone sung about it on the show.

“The producers and everyone else
always say, 'Be yourself,'” Dixon said. His farewell was a sign of
what he wants to do next. “I definitely want to do Christian

He'll return to Nashville, near his
hometown of Murfreesboro, to write songs. He'd like to tour with a
band like Switchfoot – the contemporary Christian group that went
mainstream – “stopping in at churches” for intimate music
between th big show.

First is this summer's “Idol” tour.
He expects to repeat songs from the show, none of them “Bad


Stand-up comedy, coming up Sunday

So you know that recurring dream, the one  in which you arrive at a pizza place to do stand-up comedy but there's no one there, so you end up attempting to amuse three guys who are obsessing on pepperoni and one who's worried about wi-fi and ....

OK, maybe that is a bit specific, but it's my current concern. Long ago, I agreed to be in a stand-up comedy contest, because ... well, it was way in the future (April 22) and nothing to worry about. Now the future is almost here and I worry about whether anyone will be there.

This will be in Lansing, Mich. If you're not in Lansing -- or don't really care about stand-up -- please go to my previous blogs on "American Idol," "Heaven's Rain," Kathy Griffin and  such.

If you are interested, though, let me repeat the basics:

-- When: 6-9 p.m. Sunday (April 22). Strange Bedfellow hosts and performs; at 6:30
p.m., there will be a drawing to see what order the four stand-ups will
perform in.

-- Where: Grand Cafe/Sir Pizza, 201 E. Grand River Ave. in Old Town.

-- Cost: No cover charge.

-- Stand-ups: Jonathan Stars, Melik, Dolo and me. This will be my second
stand-up gig ever and my first in at least 15 years; I'm pacing myself.


Colton goes home too soon

I came fairly close to nailing "American Idol" tonight. My prediction had Elise Testone, Hollie Cavanagh and Colton Dixon in the bottom three; they were.

I also predicted, alas, that Elise would go home. Instead, it was Colton. Two contestants (Cavanagh and Phillip Phillips) were reduced to tears; I was reduced to my usual stunned look. Here are a few comments about the show and about Dick Clark:

1) First, Clark. For the second straight night, Ryan Seacrest had an excellent mini-tribute.

2) More tributes are coming. Just added is "Dick Clark: American Music Pioneer," at 7 p.m. Saturday (April 21) on the TV Guide Network. Also on Saturday, GSN (Game Show Network) has added an extra hour (noon to 1 p.m.) of Clark hosting "$25,000 Pyramid." Each half-hour will have a mini-tribute; that will also be true of the previously scheduled "Pyramid" block, from 7 p.m. to midnight Friday (April 20).

3) And Colton? Let's attribute this to the "catch you next week" syndrome. If a person who has had great moments suddenly has a week that's merely good, people shrug and don't get around to voting for him; they'll do it next week. So Colton -- who had never been in the bottom three -- sank all the way to last.

4) That same syndrome tripped up Jessica Sanchez last week; fortunately, the judges used their only "save." This time, they had no way to save Colton.

5) To his great credit, Colton went out singing a gorgeous religious song. Religion is one of the key factors in life, but rarely shows up on TV. One year, "Idol" announced that the week's theme was "songs of inspiration." Three of the six contestants that week had gospel experience; none sang anything remotely religious.

6) Colton sang it beautifully. He has a good voice, great instrumental savvy, a rock star's face and haircut and, possibly, a choir boy's soul. He'll be back in the spotlight, becoming the best-known seventh-place finisher since Jennifer Hudson.

7) Hollie? Timing almost killed her. She was sensational on Adele's "Rolling in the Deep," but that was at the start of the show; voting didn't begin for another two hours and her second song, "Son of a Preacher Man," was merely OK.

8) And Elise? Well, she's always in the bottom three, isn't she?

9) I often disagree with the judges, but I almost always agree with Jimmy Iovine. I especially agree that Jessica, 16, should sing something that fits her age.

10) Judges keep telling the singers to be themselves, so let's start there: People should emphasize what makes them distinct. Tall women should wear heels, to tower; tiny women should wear no heels, so they can seem short and cute. On "Idol," alas, Jessica and Hollie are both in absurdly high heels. Let them be themselve -- a couple of cute little kids, ages 16 and 18, ready to charm.  


A white and soulful evening

A few comments on tonight's "American Idol":

1) Ryan Seacrest's tribute to the late Dick Clark was quiet, brief and affecting. I'll mention more Clark tributes, as they come up; the first one announced (see previous blog) is on the former Game Show Network.

2) This was a gutsy movie, having a rhythm-and-blues hour, keyed to "Soul Train," with one of the whitest "Idol" groups ever. Joshua Ledet is the only black contestant in the final seven.

3) This is the fourth straight year to have only one black in the final seven. The numbers used to be much better -- three the first year, three the second, four in the third, two in the fourth, only one in the fifth, but three in the sixth. There were black champions in three of the first six seasons, but no champs or runner-ups in the next four.

4) It shouldn't surprise us that Ledet triumphed. He soared on "A Change is Gonna Come," just as he did a few weeks earlier on "When a Man Loves a Woman."

5) Some others did well with R-&-B tunes -- particularly Phillip Phillips and Elise Testone. Otherefforts, including Hollie Cavanagh's "Son of a Preacher Man" were only adequate.

6) Shouting is great at just the right time, but can quickly become a monotone. Skylar Laine shouts almost everything. Jessica Sanchez is great, but I have one question: Why such a fierce, un-tender performance of a song called "Try a Little Tenderness"?

7) Fortunately, Sanchez and Cavanagh had already triumphed in the first half of the show, conquering two great songs -- Alicia Keys' "Fallin'" and Adele's "Rolling in the Deep."

8) Based just on tonight, I think the bottom three should be Skylar, Hollie and Colton Dixon.

9) My prediction? Elise, Hollie and Colton. Hollie's main problem is that her triumph came too early in the show.

10) Then Elise will go home. She has survived close calls before, but won't this time.