All in one blur -- royalty, reality and real news

For TV, this weekend was a fascinating blur. It started with the royal wedding, ended with the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. We were suddenly reminded that the royals -- interesting, attractive folks -- are still just make-believe.

The transition even caught some of the top anchors mid-Atlantic, unavailable to cover the biggest story so far in 2011. They'll be on it tonight (Monday), however. ABC and CBS quickly announced that their newscasts will be expanded to an hour, giving Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric a chance to anchor full coverage; CNN will have Anderson Cooper and Pier Morgan back to the serious stuff.

Lost in all this real news was the semi-real world of reality TV. "America's Next Great Restaurant" -- an exceptionally good NBC show -- named its winner Sunday and reporters interviewed him this noon. Here's the story I sent to papers:



As jobs come and go in Detroit,
flexibility is required. Jamawn Woods – who has just won the
“America's Next Great Restaurant” reality show – can tell you

He's been a football player, even
playing some pro ball in Finland. He's been an autoworker … then an
unemployed guy starting a catering business … then an autoworker
AND a caterer. And beginning this week, he's an entrepreneur with
three restaurants and four big-time investors.

“Detroit is definitely coming back ….
I hope I can inspire people,” Wood said Monday – the day his
restaurants were set to open, one day after the finale aired on NBC.

That flexibility was key, said Lorena
Garcia, one of the four judges. “What I saw in Jamawn is true
growth. (And) he's a team player; he really has his people working
with him.”

He started with a concept called W3,
for Woods' wings and waffles. Judges frowned. “I thought, 'How long
can I continue to make the wings and the waffles, before they throw
me off?'” Woods said.

So he switched to gumbo and drew
praise. He soon went to baked chicken instead of fried and to
healthier side dishes. “I want to show that you can eat soul food
every day,” he said.

This is the flexibility that's part of
a changing life.

First was football – at Cooley High
in Detroit, at Lincoln University (a Division II school) in Missouri
and as a middle linebacker in Finland. “I try to keep my football
shape,” said Woods, 34, who is 6-foot-1 and 255 pounds. “This
will be the first year I don't play semi-pro.”

In 2009, he was laid off from an auto
job. That's when he started the catering business out of his home; as
Detroit bounced back, he became a forklift operator at the Chrysler
plant in Sterling Heights.

He was still working there until
mid-April, keeping a secret: “America's Next Great Restaurant”
had already been taped last summer and he knew he'd finished in the
top three.

Two weeks ago, Woods flew back for the
taping of the finale. On one side were the three final concepts –
his renamed Soul Daddy, plus Brooklyn Meatball Company and the
India-influence Spice Coast.

The judges announced that Soul Daddy
had won. During the 10-month gap, they had secretly started creating
the three restaurants – in New York, Hollywood and Minneapolis'
Mall of America.

Those judges are also the investors
Steve Ells is the founder of Chipotle and the others – Bobby Flay,
Curtis Stone and Garcia – are chefs and restaurateurs. They've
juggled the concept a bit; there are fewer references to Motown music
and the food choices have grown.

“I'd say 70 percent of the menu is
mine,” Woods said. “They've added some healthier sides.”

He said that with a tone of amiable
flexibility. When you're a middle linebacker, an autoworker and a
caterer, you know how to change directions.




Casey Abrams: No romance, but fun future

OK, this has been a busy time. Here's a quick-turnaround interview with Casey Abrams, which I just sent to papers. Right behind that, you'll find another "American Idol" name (a brief Kris Allen story), then my royal ramblings and then a couple "Idol" commentaries. Life gets oddly crowded sometimes; here's Casey:


Casey Abrams' life seems to be fine now
– but not in the way “American Idol” fans think.

When Abrams was ousted from the show
Thursday, finishing sixth, fans saw some solace: There was his
romance with the gorgeous Haley Reinhart, right?

Apparently not. The rumors are wrong,
he told reporters Friday; “we were never dating.”

What about his farewell song Thursday,
ending with them face-to-face? That was pure improvisation, he said.
“In jazz, the best things are not planned …. I didn't plan on
ending up with Haley.”

What comes across, instead, is a guy
who basically likes life and loves on music. Abrams described himself
as “happy-go-lucky,” despite an ulcer attack in the early weeks
that sent him to the hospital. After that, he took regular shots and
“learned how to deal with the stress a little more.”

Music and the arts have dominated most
of his 20 years. When his dad was teaching film at Columbia College
in Chicago, the family lived in nearby Wilmette and Abrams was in 1st

“I lived a block from school and
walked there every day,” he said. “What's where I learned to play
the recorder, which led me to the clarinet, which led me to every
single instrument.”

Then his dad got a job at the Idyllwild
Arts Academy, near the Jacinto Mountains of California. Abrams
describes having the best of both worlds: He lived at home – “you
got to go explore; the town is just 10 minutes away, through the
forest” – but studied at what was a boarding school for the other

At Idyllwild, Abrams learned from jazz
teacher Marshall Hawkins. Beyond the clarinet, he now plays guitar,
stand-up bass, melodeon, accordion, sitar and more. “I really like
the cello,” he said. “I don't play it that well, though.”

On “Idol,” he kept choosing obscure
songs and giving them unusual interpretations. “I want to be the
middle man,” he said, introducing jazz greats to a broader

Viewers voted him out at the No. 11
spot, but judges used their only save to spare him. “I thought that
would really be embarrassing if I got cut the next week.” Instead,
he outlasted five more contestants.

Along the way, Abrams followed the
advice of trimming his beard, but refused to cut it entirely. “I
don't think it would work; if I shaved, I don't have a chin any

He often ducked the advice of Jimmy
Iovine, the show's in-house mentor. He did agree with Iovine's final
criticism, though: “I think I growled a little too much.”

That was Wednesday, on “Hi De Ho,”
a typically unsual Abrams choice. The next night, he was in the
bottom three with Jacob Lusk and teen-aged country crooner
ScottyMcCreery. When Lusk was told he was safe, Abrams said, he knew
that was it. “It was 'OK, no one's going to (dump) Scotty ….
Let's get this over with and let me sing.'”

Soon, he was singing a vibrant tune,
kissing judges and the audience and ending up in with Reinhart,
offering one more vision of what is, apparently, a fine non-romance.


Royal morning on TV

"I'm very excited that she is wearing a tiara," some voice (a rather British one) was saying on my TV set.

I wished that I could be that excited about headwear. (Or, perhaps, about anything.) Maybe I was influenced by learning -- in the endless previews -- that Princess Diana said she got "a cracking headache" from her tiara in 1981.

The same British voice was quite excited that Princess Kate was wearing her hair down. I agreed; why do great-looking people look their worst at the Oscars, for instance, by piling up their hair?

I was less enthusiastic about the news that Kate would be covering her shoulders and arms, in deference to the solemnity of Westminster Abbey. That, I assumed correctly, precluded any signifigantly plunging neckline.

Here are a few of my other thoughts:

1) At first, I was disappointed that several of the religious figures looked so ... well, ordinary. They looked like they might have done Prince William's taxes.

2) Does someone do Prince William's taxes? Or does he do it himself or get one of those Turbotax things?

3) My early disappointment ended when I spotted the Archbishop of Canterbury, with his wavy white beard. That was more like it; at any moment, he looked capable of commanding an army of demons against the hobbits.

4) The main speaker -- the bishop of London, I believe -- was also quite white-bearded and impressive. I like the British because even their solemn speaker can use the word "pithy."

5) Still, it must be acknowledged that they're much better at saying "pithy" than being it.

6) What are all those trees doing inside the abbey? Are they always there or was this the work of an overzealous wedding planner?

7) There were 1,900 people inside the abbey (including Elton John); if they had taken out the trees, there would have been room for some more (maybe including the Stones or Ringo or someone).

8) Late in the ceremony, I spotted a female violinist and found that oddly reassuring. Until that point, women had no function except to hold up the back of a dress. All of the religious people were male; all of the singers, even the sopranos, were male. It was way too British.

9) How did all those medals get on the coats of William's father and grandfather? I don't think either one of them has shot anyone, not even in the Falklands.

10) I was in Vietnam for a year and got maybe one tiny medal. It was kind of like the participation thing kids get after a race.

11) That British voice on NBC was Camilla something. Or maybe I just assume they're all Camilla something.

12) She also announced that William and Kate would be living simply in a farmhouse. I'm still betting that it's not that simple; it probably has indoor plumbing and cable and such.

13) She also said at various times that it was nice that a prince had married someone from the middle-class and that Kate's parents are millionaires. Just how rich is that country's middle class?

14) And she said we would see "the first kiss" at the balcony. Earlier, we learned that William and Kate have been living together for quite a while. I'm guessing they've already kissed.

15) Westminster Abbey does look very nice, despite the trees. It was nice that the couple could book it on short notice.

16) Kate looks very nice, too. William's OK, but he could use a little of his brother's hair.

17) We were also told that there were great discussions on what color the queen's hat would be. (I'm not sure if there was a pool or a fantasy league or anything.) The best bet was on yellow, which turned out to be correct.

18) These British are really big on hats, you know.

19) At first, I was surprised by all the prince's names -- William Albert Philip Louis -- but then I remembered the roots. Charles and Diana waited almost a week, then named their son after (apparently) the radio station I listened to as a teen -- WAPL in Appleton. ("WAPL's foremost DJ's take your cares away. The news, the weather, the sports all the while -- it's the smile at the top of your dial, 1570, the smile at the top of your dial.") The station really did send a thank-you note to the royal couple.

20) During the ceremony, a clergyman really did ask if anyone knew a reason the two shouldn't be brought together. No one replied, which didn't surprise me. Given that same question during the marriage of Charles and Diana, no one spoke -- and most of us knew plenty of reasons.




"Idol" voters: Go figure

OK, tonight's "American Idol" results are tough to figure.

Scotty McCreery, a potential country superstar, was in the bottom three. So was Jacob Lusk, the show's best pure singer. And Casey Abrams (the best musician) was voted out -- again. This time, the judges couldn't save him.

What do we make of it? A few conclusions:

1) It's helpful, in the early rounds, to have an odd niche. When there are 13 contestants, 10 percent of the votes can mean survival. As the field shrinks, however, it's best to be near the pop mainstream.

2) Lusk and Abrams both dressed eccentrically, as usual; Lusk had an Urkel look, complete with bow tie. Abrams picked one of the few Carole King songs that doesn't show off the singer.

3) As for McCreery, I'm perplexed; I thought his duet with Lauren Alaina was so-so, but his solo ("You've Got a Friend") was his finest moment. Still, it's hard to be a country singer as the field gets smaller; only one (Carrie Underwood) had reached the finals.

4) Keep in mind that we don't know for sure that McCreery was second from the bottom. Ryan Seacrest went out of his way to say he was approaching the bottom three in random order.

5) It's good to see a turnabout, with neither woman -- Alaina or Haley Reinhart -- in the bottom three. Still, I'm stumped about how Alaina keeps staying out of there; she's the only sorta-average person in the finals.

6) By now, some people are predicting Alaina will win. I don't think so. Once the show gets to the finals, with three songs apiece, James Durbin will show off his spectacular range and win.

7) Meanwhile, it was great to see Abrams say farewell with a zesty performance -- ending with him staring at Reinhart, who has apparently become his love object in real life.

8) We'll learn more about that Friday afternoon in the group interview with Abrams. Then I'll put a blog here.

9) By then, I'll probably have also added a blog about the royal wedding.

10) No, really, I'll do a royal blog. My own wedding wasn't until the afternoon, possibly so I could be sure I'd wake up on time. Now I plan to get up at 6 a.m. and watch two strangers marry; life is odd. 




Royal wedding: Getting semi-excited

The first time I saw a television set in operation, we were watching the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. It was kind of grey and fuzzy, but I was told it was very important.

Now I'm semi-focusing on her grandson's wedding. The ceremony starts at 6 a.m. ET, with coverage beginning much earlier and continuing approximately forever. I'll comment about it later -- and, of course, about "American Idol," viewed in the previous blog -- but here's one of the stories I sent to papers


Once every generation or so, the world
obsesses over a British wedding.

Just ask Cat Deeley, the “So You
Think You Can Dance” host. On Friday, she joins Anderson Cooper and
Piers Morgan to lead CNN's coverage of the wedding of Prince William
and Kate Middleton.

“I am nervous, because there are so
many people watching,” Deeley said.

And a generation ago? She was 4, a
small-town England girl celebrating Charles and Diana.

“We had a big party in the back
garden, with all the kids from the neighborhood,” she said. “We
had like a big, long table and all flags hanging in the trees and
lots of jelly and ice cream ….It was kind of like this feeling of
hope and joy and the fairy tale.”

That fairy tale faded and some people
are hesitant to try the next generation. A poll by CBS News and the
New York Times found only 6 percent of Americans saying they've been
watching news of the wedding “very closely,” with another 22
percent watching “somewhat closely.”

Still, 6 percent (or 28 percent) is a
lot in this modern, distracted world. TV will re-obsess, with:

Primetime previews

– NBC says it taped the
wedding preparations for the past four months, for Wednesday's “Inside the
Royal Wedding." The special re-appears on
cable channel E at 10 p.m. today (Thursday).

– ABC has its second “20/20”
special on the wedding, this one at 8 p.m. today.

– And cable? Today, the royals fill all of prime time on TLC, BBC America and Biography fills all of
prime time Wednesday and Thursday. BBC Americ.

The wedding

All of the network news anchors will be
there – Katie Couric (with Erica Adams), Diane Sawyer (with Barbara
Walters), Brian Williams (with Matt Lauer, Meredth Vieira and the
rest of the “Today” team). So will CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, E, BBC
America and TLC – which has a Times Square viewing party, complete
with Randy Fenoli hosting and Colbie Caillat performing.

Officially, most start coverage at 4
a.m. ET – two hours before the ceremony; unofficially, the news
shows may be starting much earlier. Coverage continues until 10 a.m.
on most channels, 11 a.m. on some, forever on BBC America.

Primetime post-wedding

– CBS has its special at 8 p.m.
Friday; ABC and NBC take their turns from 9-11 p.m.

– On cable, Ryan Seacrest hosts a
recap on E at 9 p.m.; WE and BBC America fill prime time with wedding
specials. Also, CNN's Morgan and Cooper have two-hour shows at 8 and
10 p.m.

– By Friday night, people will also be looking
for the light side. The TV Guide Network has a Kathy Griffin special
at 8 p.m., rerunning at 9; E has “Fashion Police” at 10.

– Also, Friday has royal movies.
Lifetime has “William & Kate” (2011) at 8 p.m. and “Prince
William” at 10. Turner Classic Movies has “Royal Wedding”
(1951) at 8 and “Roman Holiday” (1953) at 10.

And more?

– CNN repeats Soledad O'Brien's joint
profile of the princesses Diana and Kate at 8 p.m. Saturday,
rerunning at 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.

– “The Princess Diaries” (2001)
makes the rounds – 12:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday on Hallmark, then
7 p.m. Sunday on ABC Family.