Thursday, March 26, 2009

American Idol Top 10

Most of my readers don't even care about American Idol, but several have provided pleasant feedback about my assessments in spite of their lack of interest in the show. I am unable to fulfill my self-imposed duty of informing a tiny corner of the internet populace with my opinion of last night's American Idol. Thankfully, my husband shared with me the following article which I will provide here as a substitution for my own words. Most of her opinions echo my own, and the writing is far better than what I could muster today, so please read it and enjoy!

Motown Makes for an Easy Bottom 3 on 'American Idol'
Thursday, March 26, 2009 By Diane Macedo

It was off to Detroit for "American Idol" this week as the Top 10 took a shot at Motown classics. With the theme announced last week, I was expecting it to be great for some contestants and not so great for others. Having seen them perform, I have to say my assessment was correct … I just happened to have my contestants switched.

One of the people I thought would have a hard time this week was Adam Lambert because I was expecting him to come out with some kind of rock-poser version of his Motown hit. Instead he ditched the cotton candy hair and black nail polish and came out looking like Elvis and singing like Smokey Robinson. Simon dubbed it the best performance of the night, as did I.

But that was of course before we’d seen Allison Iraheta kill it on “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” Allison was another contestant I thought might be hurt by the week’s theme but she showed just how far song choice and soul can take you in this competition. Though I do agree with Paula’s critique from last week: we already know she can rock out with the best of them, it’s time for her to show us that she can sing softly too.

Stepping out of her comfort zone could end up working well for Allison, unlike Paula, who I think stepped a little too far into her comfort zone, and as result catapulted me out of mine. She was crawling under tables; she compared Matt Giraud to a great old pair of jeans; and I’m not sure what she was implying when she told Seacrest she was hiding something ‘under her skirt,’ but I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know.

Simon had his own little uncomfortable moment telling Megan Corkery that whoever is advising her should be fired. Um … wouldn’t that be the week’s mentor, Smokey Robinson, who was sitting five feet away from him? Awkwarrrrrd. [I, Kristen, completely disagree with the author's comments here, since I can tell the weekly mentors show up the day of performances and provide a few sound bytes...they have little to nothing to do with the contestants' choices and performances.]

Though there were a few moments in there where I thought maybe Smokey should have been fired. It’s like the guy was allergic to criticism. I mean he told both Megan Corkery and Scott MacIntyre to not change a single thing with their performances. I rest my case.

Just once it would be nice to see a mentor flatly tell a contestant that they should stop butchering the melody of a great song (Michael Sarver), or that they shouldn’t sing a certain song and then help them pick a better one – THAT would be some real guidance.

And it’s the kind of guidance that could have done wonders for Lil Rounds. As Kara said, with Motown as the theme, this was supposed to be Lil’s week, but, like Simon said, the soulful diva missed the opportunity to have a real ‘moment’ on the show by picking a song that was way too fast-paced and didn’t give her the opportunity to show off her voice.

So where was Smokey on that one? Too busy telling Lil that she “could sing the phonebook.” Sorry Smokey, they already have a fourth judge.

But I did think that Smokey was spot on when he told Danny Gokey to sing both parts of the verses in “Get Ready.” And after Danny gave this whole speech about how Smokey’s a legend and clearly knows better so he was just going to trust him … he didn’t do it.

How can we motivate mentors to offer advice if we’re going to ignore them when they finally do? Work with me people!

I still liked Danny’s performance though, but not as much as I thought I was going to. Like Lil, I thought Danny was going to really shine this week. And like Lil, he did fine, but fell a little flat. Though despite loving how Matt, Anoop and Adam were flaunting their falsettos, it was nice to hear one of the guys singing like a guy — and doing it well.

Whatever Danny’s flaws they came nowhere near the fumbles of Scott singing “Can’t Hurry Love” (or his performance, unfortunately), Megan howling “For Once in My Life” or Michael managing to ruin may favorite song of the night: “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.”

If American gets it right these will be our bottom three tonight and Michael will finally go home. I just hope this time I don’t have my contestants switched.

by Diane Macedo, original article can be found here.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Flashback Friday: An awful friend, that's me

I was in second grade at the time, about 7 years old. We lived less than 15 minutes away from my cousin, Rachel. Our birthdays are only 20 days apart, and we were very close playmates as little girls. I loved getting together with Rachel any time the opportunity arose.

The phone rang one day after school. After answering it, my mother handed me the phone saying, "it's for you."

I was delighted to hear my cousin's voice at the other end, inviting me to come over and play! Getting together on a school night was slightly unusual, but that didn't bother me one bit! Covering the mouthpiece with my hand, I eagerly asked my mom if she could drive me over. After having me confirm that it was okay with Rachel's mother, my mom allowed me to accept the invitation.

Before I hung up, brimming with excitement, Rachel casually suggested that I bring my collection of My Little Ponies and accompanying accessories. Usually we played with Pound Puppies or Barbies, so I was surprised, but not deterred.

Jacket on. Shoes tied. Wide, flat box of Pony paraphernalia gathered. And off we sped to Rachel's house.

My mom waited with the car running in the driveway while I knocked on my Aunt and Uncle's door. The moments I waited, holding that oversized box in front of me on their doorstep, were too long. Eventually Rachel's mother slowly opened the door and peered out through the crack. A perplexed look spread across her face when she saw me, and she opened the door wide.

"Kristen?...Hi honey, um, what are you doing here?" She said something like that. Oh no. Rachel told me she asked her mom, but clearly she did not. We were going to be in trouble.

But my aunt continued, "Rachel isn't here right now." My mother joined us on the doorstep to hear the explanation of where Rachel was and why it would have been impossible for her to have invited me over to play on this particular afternoon. I just stood there awkwardly burdened with a box overflowing with neon My Little Pony manes.

On the shameful drive home, my mother and I deduced that it must have actually been my neighbor from across the street who invited me over. This actually would make more sense, being that it was a school day, and we frequently entertained ourselves with the MLP make-believe. Lindsey never introduced herself, and I simply jumped to the hopeful conclusion that the playmate on the other end of the line was my cousin Rachel.

I have always wondered if Lindsey heard me enthusiastically asking my mom if I could go to Rachel's house and play. Did she think I had simply forgotten her name? And how did she react when, while anxiously awaiting my amble from across the street, she instead watched me shove my box of Ponies into the car, hop in excitedly, and drive far, far, away from her?

I think when we got home I might have called and apologized. That would, of course, be the right thing to do. But I can't remember if I sheepishly went over to play with my second-choice friend that day or not. I might have been too embarrassed.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Craigslist Capers: Snowboard surprise

I am deep in the process of attempting to purchase some decent snowboard equipment for my husband and myself through craigslist. I just sold both our sets of skis through the very same online marketplace, so I have a wad of cash which I consider to be my budget for the new gear. I really love craigslist and sincerely appreciate the baffling fact that the majority of its usage is absolutely free, yet we can enjoy it without the distracting bombardment of sidebar ads and pop-ups.

Each time I dive into the craigslist world I am reminded that there are some pretty clueless people out there. And I frequently encounter some peculiar situations, postings, and people. So I am introducing a segment here on Beyond Mommy called Craigslist Capers. I hope you enjoy it and will feel compelled to share your own entertaining craigslist experiences.

This particular hunt for two complete snowboard sets has been mentally intense and surprisingly time-consuming. We need two different specific sizes, I have particular tastes, and I am on a budget. There are not very many full sets including board, boots, and bindings for sale, and of those that even list the important details, only a few comprise the correct combination of boot and board size for either of us. Generally, those are completely hideous.

So I resort to my "craigslist dance," adding items I like to Favorites folders labeled for different combinations of board only, board with bindings, complete sets, boots for me, boots for him, etc. Then I email questions to the owners, make lists of combos I like on paper, and map out how I might be able to meet these handfuls of people to get everything I want in one trip. All of this might seem inordinately complicated (I know my husband thinks so), but consider it necessary when you live 30-60 minutes away from most craigslisters, and due to specific preferences want to limit the number of times you have to endure the awkward, "no thanks, I don't like your personal belongings, but I appreciate you answering all my emails and driving here to meet me for nothing."

I asked several people to email me photos, because either the ones on craigslist were too small or they hadn't posted any. In one instance, I could see that the snowboard had an artistic graphic printed on it but couldn't make it out. The owner resonded to my request with 5 photos. The two showing the bottom of the board appeared to be nearly the same picture. The third picture was a close-up of the Palmer logo which is already pretty clearly shown in the following, which were the best I got showing the top of the board:

You can see that there is some sort of design there around the right binding. It looks like it might be abstract painting or a stained glass design...possibly a television set there on the side.

The specs of the board fit my criteria for the mens' board, and it was a great price for their claim of it having never been used, so I agreed to meet them to take a look. I was already looking at a board for me in Oregon City (which I also did not end up buying because it was too small), and the owner of the Palmer above agreed to meet me in the same parking lot. Knowing it was a little out of her way, I tried to find a meeting place more convenient for her, but she insisted.

Following the customary pleasantries confirming that we're looking for one another, the short, round woman hauled the snowboard over to my car. I inspected the surfaces and edges first. It didn't look brand new as she claimed, but perhaps it was all only the result of garage storage.

My brief examination made its way toward the end of the board containing the graphic. It suddenly became clear why the owner didn't send more forthright photos (although it would have made more sense to simply do so).

The image is a cartoonish painting; in a style reminiscent of the old Garbage Pail Kids cards, or some of the more offensive Mad Magazine renderings. It depicts a disgusting, obese, hairy man sitting in a ratty armchair surrounded by empty liquor bottles. A fat cigar hangs between his crooked, yellow teeth, with a couple dozen more butts overflowing from a nearby ashtray onto the floor at his feet. On the wall behind him is a tiny framed pictured of a naked woman.

I gathered up my confidence and remained nonchalant when I said to the woman, "This looks like a really nice board. But I have to admit, the graphic doesn't really suit my husband's personality."

Before I even finished the sentence she conceded, "Not your style?"

Her immediate understanding, followed by the abrupt departure which seemed lightly laced with irritation leads me to believe that they have been having trouble selling this snowboard because of one common denominator.

In light of that, I don't understand why they don't simply embrace the board for what it is and focus on attracting an appreciative audience. No one is going to simply "not notice" the illustration. So by concealing it, they wasted my time as well as their own, and who knows how many others'. In addition, I believe they would actually sell the board more quickly by advertising it for what it is. The market for that artwork exists. But the people (boys) who would be interested in it will only see polka-dots until you put the edgy rebellion right in their faces. Then you won't have to bother with people who would never consider it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

American Idol Top 11

We've entered unprecedented territory, here folks. It is the second week of the American Idol finals and I'm actually not sure who will prevail in the top five positions. Naturally, the votes are never guaranteed, but it always very clear to me who SHOULD be there. At this stage in the competition, it is at least pretty clear who won't be moving forward, but after a set of stellar performances last night, I'm having trouble just deducing who will go home this week. I have yet to select my own favorite this season because with each performance my opinion shifts and evolves.

Such an admission is made more peculiar by its timing: "Country Week" is historically known to separate the true artists from the bunch who can copy Shania's twang like the rest of us. Like usual, the ones who stood out are those whose performance of a song originally rooted in the genre made me completely forget it might have ever been sung under a cowboy hat.

Certainly the best example of this feat came boldly--but not surprisingly--from Adam Lambert. His dark flamboyance would stick out in Nashville like a drag queen in kindergarten. His Middle Eastern-inspired, sitar-infused rendition of "Ring of Fire" gave me chills! It left the judges feeling somewhere between confused (Kara) and appalled (Simon), but I loved it. You just have to take a taste:

While Adam's performance may have offered a blatant affront to the life's work this week's mentor (Randy Travis suppressed his disapproval respectably), the others who chose not to worship the steel guitar earned rave reviews. Anoop sang "You're Always on my Mind," which may ignite a conspiracy theory involving a stunt double performing last week's "Beat It" trainwreck. His redemption, fully deserved, reminds us why his beautiful voice and sincere disposition are here. Kris Allen sang a Garth Brooks song that I had never heard, but his controlled, straight solo never even hinted at country music. This ballad gave a perfect balance to last week's upbeat performance, showcasing his range of skills. I would suggest that Alison Iraheta take a lesson from Kris, and change it up soon, because we've now seen the same basic act from her three times in a row.

On the other hand, sometimes what ain't broke need not be fixed. Lil Rounds decided to abandon her R&B style and pay homage to the Grand Ole Opry with a slightly twangy Martina McBride number. I dislike country music only slightly less than R&B, but I think she probably would have done more for her cause in the competition (i.e. to win) by appealing to to her fan base. It is important to show a range of skills, as I described above. In fact, I hope Scott MacIntyre will find a way to branch out of his piano-accompanied ballads if he can. But one can't overestimate his or her capabilities (perhaps Alison should keep doing her upbeat rock songs), and people who like Lil are going to like that style. The contestants who thrive tend to use the genre to their advantage without being a completely different singer each week. That unpredictability is more confusing than Adam completely in-character (not to mention impeccably performed) creativity and intensity.

Matt Giraud sounded awesome at the piano again with a song I didn't recognize, and Danny Gokey was right at home on Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel." Unfortunately, the opening verse was rocky; I sensed a disconnect with the band until he opened up at the big chorus. Storytelling songs require varying levels, but the verse needed more support. Danny has been one of the surefire contenders for the finale, but a performance like this among so many outstanding vocals makes me less sure. No matter what happens on American Idol, there are millions of wholesome teens who would rush out and buy his Christian Rock album.

We heard "Jolene" performed last year by another petite blondie, Brooke White, but thankfully Alexis Grace offers us a far superior vocal talent. She remains my favorite of the four females in the competition. Poor little Megan Joy Corkery was afflicted with influenza this week, but you really wouldn't have known it until she started hacking during the judges commentary. I just can't bring myself to enjoy her whiny vocal style and strange inflections as much as the panel seems to. I'll give her unique. But good and unique are not the same in my book.

The one true country boy, Michael Sarver, didn't do himself any favors with "Ain't Goin' Down Till the Sun Comes Up" by Garth Brooks. The jam-packed lyrics demand so much concentration that he couldn't relax and perform the song. And when the words have to be spouted so quickly, the singing gets excruciatingly sloppy. But all the country kids will love it, so even though he went first, I think Michael might be safe. Thus based on the singing, the next person to deserve a ticket home is Lil. Or as the always-proper British judge kept inadvertently calling her, "Little."

Saturday, March 14, 2009


My friend Karen sent an email with a whole slew of these things. The following collection were the funniest to me, so I decided to pass along a good laugh. Enjoy.


Oooooooooooh. It's a quarter. I see now.

I make the same mistake ALL THE TIME.

Boy, were their faces red.

At first I hoped this Mr. Beto lost his job as Senior VP of investments. But then I realized that what I really hope is that the person who submitted this "question of general interest" received a blunt smack on the back of the head.


Why you should never rely on statistics.

Come on, doesn't this paper have an editor?


Why would an individual have a wide selection of brands and designs of toilet paper to begin with?

Will file this one away in case I meet anyone named Grady, and then he dies. I do love the implication that an interested buyer would not have to be named Grady.

You never know when a collection of old people will come in handy. I'd be really disappointed if it was just a stack of magazines.

An impossible contradiction.

Just wanted you to know.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

DIY hair

It seems that my hair dilemmas will never fully be resolved. I recently concluded that I was not ready to endure the awkwardness of growing out my hair, thus committed to a cute, short haircut. I was happy with said haircut save two regrets.

I wish I had asked her to do something fresh with my long bangs (I don't think she even touched them and I felt like they needed some style), and I wanted to do something bold with the color. Since I had not requested this service beforehand, there wasn't enough time.

This is how my hair recently became a do-it-yourself project. I'm not sure that hair is a project well-suited for DIY.

When I left the stylist with her next appointment, I was suddenly latched on to the idea of dyeing a purple or red streak in my hair. Spontaneous impulses such as this are difficult for me to repress, so I drove to another salon a few blocks away (I think there are 3.1 salons per capita in my tiny town). The stylist there could see me right away, only it would take about an hour and I had to be at another (non-hair-related) appointment in half an hour. Who runs to a salon expecting significant service with only 25 minutes to spare?

She convinced me to make an appointment for the next day, but I was already pretty sure I would cancel it. I was there because I wanted it done now, and when I learned that she would charge $35-40 for ONE STREAK of color, I started re-calculating my plan. I figured if I was going to have to wait a day or two anyway, I could return to the stylist who had just cut my hair and get a better deal since my friend got a full weave from her for only $55.

In the meantime, I spent my 25 free minutes going to Safeway, where I purchased a box of Garnier soft black hair color for all of $4.99. I had hoped to get the materials to do my own colored streak from the grocery aisle too, but apparently it isn't sold to the public in a convenient box at the local supermarket.

The next day I called my stylist to see about coming back for some color (and some work on my bangs, I would ask at the appointment). Unfortunately, she was taking the rest of the week off for her upcoming wedding, and was booked the entire following week. When I set my mind on a change like this, I want it done. Now. Plus, she was going to charge the same amount as the new lady. So it became time to take matters fully into my own hands. Although I did give up my desire for a $35 purple streak. For now.

A few days later I finally had time to work on my project. I started with the bangs. I know most stylists will cut bangs for less than ten dollars. But I didn't want to pay more money when I had just paid to get a haircut, yet was too impatient to wait two weeks for my own stylist, who would probably have fixed them as part of her original service.

A lady in my Moms Club recommended watching YouTube to learn how to do your own childrens' haircuts as a way to save money. I had never really thought of YouTube as serving a practical, educational purpose. Of course it is more than just bicycle stunts gone hilariously awry, but I hadn't thought of using strangers' videos for instructional purposes. However, I tried her advice last week in preparation for my daughter's first haircut. I simply showed Madelyn a video of a toddler getting a haircut before we went to the salon. I think the images helped her understand and remain calm.

That process gave me an idea. So I tried a new search: "how to cut your own bangs" and came up with hundreds of video results, of course. I spent about 30 minutes perusing the clips, watching different techniques until I felt like I had a good grasp of the process to achieve the style I desired. Of course I had to wade through copious ditzy girls in front of mirrors, but there were a few useful ones.

Then I draped a towel over my sink, pulled out a pair of dull scissors, and started sculpting. I am not very good at cutting hair, or following directions, it would seem. Like a painter who ruins his masterpiece by adding too many strokes, I find it difficult to STOP cutting. Thankfully I did not end up with a spiky tuft of hair where my bangs used to be, but they are definitely not the picture of trendsetting style that I was going for. My punishment for trying to save a few bucks.

Next I worked on the color. Since I wasn't able to get a colored streak, I decided that my bold style would come from a two-toned look. I colored only the bottom layer of my hair with the soft black, so it would peek out from the shorter layers. The dark color is really beautiful, but my hair is already dark, so the difference in color between the layers was not as striking as I wanted.

So I went back to the store the next day and bought a lighter color for the top half of my head. It was a very dark blonde, which I knew on my dark hair would result in a light brown. Doing this color job was very tricky, because I had to keep the color away from the bottom layer that I had already dyed, and I had this wild idea to leave the my bangs naturally colored.

After rinsing out the dye and blowdrying my hair, I was disappointed. The color wasn't ugly, it just wasn't noticeable. After all my hard work, I didn't want it to look plain and natural, I was going for bold and fun. So I took a chance and dyed the entire section AGAIN, and left the color on twice as long as instructed, since it had already been sitting mixed up in the bottle for about 45 minutes. I didn't care if it came out almost blonde--that would be better than the dark brown it currently was.

After the second rinse and blow-dry, and the color is much more noticeable. But it isn't really the right color; too red. Oh well. If I keep going like this, I'll have spent more money than I would have for what I originally wanted at the salon.

Now I'm mainly struggling with styling my bangs. They are a little too short to look right with the side-swept style, but that is what I usually go for. Now I am insecure about my hair, noticing everyone else's pretty bangs and hoping no one is internally criticizing my self-serve job. C'est la vie for the hopelessly self-conscious.
I do actually like this picture; it is the better side of the 'do. Thanks to my friend Barb for working some camera magic to make me (and even my hair) look decent.
Here you can see the red tones overpowering the color, and also how my bangs look as though I am wearing a helmet.
This is a new style I tried today, flipped out with the bangs pulled straight forward. I'm not really feeling it.
Aaaaah! I hate my hair.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

American Idol Top 13

Making American Idol history, the judges selected four contestants from last week's Wild Card round to complete the show's first-ever top 13. I would have taken their expansion of the anticipated dozen as a way to get one more week of the big advertisers' bucks, except that no additional show will be aired to make way for Number 13. Instead, we'll be saying farewell to not one, but two contestants during tonight's results show.

This news pleases me. In fact, I wouldn't mind terribly speeding up the elimination process this way for the first few weeks. The standouts who will form the top six typically become apparent early, so the first several weeks of dropping the less-qualified performers can be a tedious process until we reach a group who each equally stand a chance at earning the title. That's when the show gets more interesting, but there are two significant problems with such a plan. One I already mentioned: the big advertisers' bucks. More shows equals more money, and there is no way around that. Secondly, sometimes the best singers do not get the most votes. The reality that your own favorite could be eliminated keeps the anticipation high each week, which is of course what Reality Television is fundamentally based on. It would be unfortunate to lose one of the best because he or she was in second-to-last place one week when the voters got lazy.

An unexpected twist this year is that I'm finding it more difficult to draw the line between those who truly deserve to be singing their finale pick under the fluttering confetti and balloons and those who don't, even this early in the game. I have my personal favorites, yes, but last night nearly every contestant came out fighting for their chance by admittedly singing well. Since all but a slim few have a heartwarming back story, the votes will be difficult to predict. Does most of America relate to the single mothers or the 16-year-old belters? The widower or the vision-impaired? The blue-collared worker or the rocker waiting for his break in LA? Since the performances last night were technically proficient almost across the board, I believe the phones will be dialed according to the pseudo-relationships that the past two months of carefully orchestrated build-up have cultivated.

Which leaves contestants like Matt Giraud and Kris Allen without non-musically-based footing in the competition. They can both sing their butts off (thankfully Matt was given a second chance after his painfully horrid Cold Play rendition), but must survive without the tear-jerking montage which paves the way for so many of the others. In fact, we were made privy to the existence of beautiful Mr. Allen's Mrs. during last night's show, so he rapidly lost some of his appeal as eye candy. No offense to his lovely (and newlywed) wife, but for the sake of his shot at stardom, I believe she should have remained in the shadows for at least a few more shows until the voting public realized that they could love him as much for his vocal talent as they could for the pure enjoyment of seeing his sparkling eyes light up the stage.

Thematic options for the evening were selected from Michael Jackson's musical catalog. Anoop Desai's copycat version of "Beat It" duly received the most criticism. I loved that Paula Abdul seemed excited that she received her first "boo" from the crowd after she explained that this song "belongs to the consummate artist, and anything else sounds karaoke." Her analysis was certainly apt, but "consummate?" I swear Paula has been doing some vocabulary-building exercises, and possibly joined Toastmasters over the summer, because the girl sounds supremely more coherent and professional than she ever has. The change may well have been motivated by some understandable jealousy toward the new, younger, and very well-spoken judge, Kara. Whatever the reason, I like the new intelligible Paula. Now it's Randy Jackson I have to fight the urge to fast-forward over. "You know what I mean, dawg?"

Back to the predictions, Anoop was a head below the rest of the competition in both vocal performance and stage presence. But I wouldn't be too surprised if he survives this round. For one thing, people really like him and he has shown his great voice in the past. Also, people tend to give pity votes to the people who had a rough time or got reamed by the judges. Especially this early when it isn't yet about whose album you actually intend to buy.

More likely, I think we'll hear farewell songs from the talented yet forgettable performers of the night. I would place Lil Rounds, Michael Sarver, and Jasmine Murray at the top of that category. Lil has been touted as one of the best thus far, but not only was her performance incredibly dull, she sang first. During such a lengthy procession, the first one is easy to forget, and she didn't stand out. Plus, anyone who comes home late and picks up the show in the middle missed her entirely, and I doubt she is one who will get votes just because she is Lil Rounds. Which I think is the case for Scott McIntyre (the piano-playing blind man), Danny Gokey (the Christian widower), and Adam Lambert (a darker, yet more effeminate version of David Cook).

I also enjoyed the rockstar-style performances from Alexis Grace and Alison Iraheta, and Megan Joy Corkery's quirky voice actually worked while she sang "Rockin' Robin." Jorge Nunez' version of "Never Can Say Goodbye" would have been perfect in a retirement home's activity lounge, but American Idol would be better off without that level of cheese.

In addition to learning which two individuals are doomed to the ranks of forgotten American Idol hopefuls, a mysterious "change in rules" will reportedly be unveiled tonight. Simon Cowell hinted that it "involves us" (the judges), so shall we assume that the judges have some sort of overruling power if they don't agree with America's votes or something? That would essentially reduce the viewers' role in the contest to nil, so it can't be that. Maybe tonight we'll have a chance to vote for our favorite judge, and the loser has to sing. Or won't be back for Season 9. Hm. We'll see.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Finally, musings on the Twilight Saga

I finished the four novels which comprise Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga over a month ago, but I'm just getting around to sharing my impressions. And a few random impressions is all this will be, because I just don't feel like writing a book report suitable for English 302: Literary Analysis and Thematic Deconstruction. I'm not going to provide many examples to support any of my positions, either. The appropriate thing to say might be that I don't want to spoil anything for those who haven't yet read the series. The honest thing to say is that I don't own a copy of the book, and it has been too long for me to remember some of those specifics. We are talking about YA novels here, so perhaps my ramblings would be fit for Sophomore English.

In general the Twilight series was, for me, an excellent re-introduction to the world of reading because it was fun, creative, and drew me into the fantasy entirely. For many, many months I listened to hype from family and friends and the internet (and my own husband) before I decided to give it a shot. My original avoidance was due mainly to the fact that I just wasn't reading anything. But also, like many who initially resisted or have yet to read this series, I tended to condescendingly balk at the idea of a "vampire love story." Now it seems entirely inadequate to describe the tale with a label so superficial. The story and the writing may not have been perfect, but I thoroughly enjoyed the fantasy. I do not regret in the least that I waited to begin until the series was released in its entirety. I simply walked to my sister's house next door to trade one finished book for the next, never being forced to endure the agonizing wait for each sequel.

A minor grievance of mine, completely unrelated to the story itself, is the poor editing. I was shocked at the number of typos throughout the books, and it got progressively worse. During New Moon I lost count around 18 errors, and since I am a slow, deliberate reader, the interruptions were distracting. On the other hand, I felt that Stephenie Meyer's writing improved over the course of the series. While reading Twilight, I recall thinking to myself, "If only I could come up with a great idea like this, I know I could write it just as skillfully." But after another 1500 or so pages, I've been convinced otherwise. The author did a tremendous job of weaving the numerous storylines together, and her capacity for descriptive narrative expanded a great deal after the first book.

There are a few exceptions to this analysis, however. The most glaring in my opinion being excessive repetition of specific diction. Certain phrasing and word selections appeared over and over in the text, which annoyed me. Probably because my seventh grade English teacher honed in on repetitive writing, and taught me how to make use of a thesaurus. Perhaps in approximately 2800 pages of novel, duplication simply cannot be circumvented.

My husband usually predicts outcomes to movies with surprise endings within the first 20 minutes, while I am left to cluelessly enjoy the illusion. I am plainly not one who attempts to unravel a story's mystery before it unfolds as intended. A few too many times, pieces of the Twilight story that I sensed were supposed to be shocking plot twists were obvious to me before the intended moment. When it happened, the meticulous foreshadowing and double-entendres which paved the way for said shocking moment lost their effect as I incredulously waited for the clueless characters to wise up as I had.

I am glad I watched the movie of Twilight first. This allowed me to appreciate the film on its own merits, rather than viewing it through the lens of my own hopes and fabricated images. Also, my brain doesn't transfer descriptions of people and places into visual imagery very well, so I loved having faces and settings to picture while reading. I liked most of the casting choices, except now after having read the author's very detailed descriptions, I can say that Alice should have been far more dainty, and the actress portraying Rosalie was definitely not the picture of goddess-like flawlessness that Meyer intended.

Speaking of detailed character descriptions, we got it. Edward is a statuesque model of perfection. I would have preferred a little less of Bella's swooning for his impeccable physical features, ad nauseum. The constant reiteration of this particular premise left me feeling like the author believes me to be an idiot, since she felt that I wouldn't fully grasp the concept the first 63 times it was described.

Edward is an amazing character, however, and if you haven't read Stephenie Meyer's partial draft of Midnight Sun, then you have not fully experienced the Twilight Saga. This draft apparently began as a character development exercise, where Meyer wrote Twilight from Edward's first-person narrative. Personally, I'd love to read the entire series from his perspective, because Edward is a stronger character than Bella, and his perception and internal monologue is even more interesting than the love-struck teenage girl's, in my opinion. This version offers a new layer of depth to the story, opening a perspective that was closed throughout Twilight. It was such an interesting, entertaining break to read the story through Jacob's hilarious perspective in Breaking Dawn. If you thought that was refreshing, then you must read Edward's version of Twilight.

I commend the author for developing such a solid premise on which to build her fantasy. She expertly reveals the history and character connections only through story development instead of expositioning us to death. Nothing ruins good fiction more than a bunch of here's who's who and what's what.

New Moon was easily my least favorite book. I wouldn't quite go so far as to say it was merely a necessary evil, but close. Of course having finished the two subsequent books, I completely understand what the author had to portray and why. But the extent to which Bella allowed herself to be destroyed actually weakened my perception of her character more than I believe was necessary to convey the message, and probably more than was intended. It becomes clear later why the relationship between Jacob and Bella had to be developed to the degree that it was, but I believe it could have been done in about 150 less pages. I actually allowed myself to flip toward the back of the book to make sure that Edward's name did actually reappear in the text at some point.

I realize I have listed more criticisms than accolades, which might leave you with the impression that I wasn't very happy with Twilight. In truth, this combination of minute faults doesn't overshadow the bliss I enjoyed reading a purely fun, interesting, suspenseful, romantic thriller. The development of each and every character was as absolute as the relationships between them were intricate. I definitely hated the name Renesmee, but its cheesy origin was probably the only aspect I would deem lame in an entire four-part saga concerning vampires and werewolves falling love with humans in the Pacific Northwest.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Flashback Friday: Security breach

A similar event in Sarah's history reminded me of this memory to share.

My mother, my sister and myself have traveled together a number of times on business-related excursions. The most frequent destination has been scenic Waco, TX for training at Curves International HQ. But we've also enjoyed the finer life in such hot spots as Las Vegas, NV and Olympia, WA.

While these have all technically been business trips, the primary purpose involving training, education, or a convention of some kind, the sensation of a girls' weekend away can't be escaped, and we always try to make the most of our time together. Sometimes that means splurging on pedicures, other times just watching a chick flick on pay-per-view in bed. But there is always a great deal of girly giggling and sisterly bonding reminiscent of our relatively carefree childhood.

If you know my mother, then you know she typifies the adage, "be prepared." Some of our Curves team members affectionately refer to Barbara as their "den mother" in light of her uncanny ability, among other talents, to produce exactly the odd object needed when it becomes unexpectedly necessary.

This skill is only heightened while traveling since delays and unfamiliar surroundings are just part of the gig. Any travelling companion of my mother's is guaranteed a sweatshirt if the plane is too cold, an extra bag if the load is too awkward, a band-aid if the shoes were too tight, a snack if the delay is too long, and a stick of gum if the snack was too offensive.

It was near the conclusion of a girly getaway/business trip that my sister and I learned how being too prepared can get you in trouble. And also that ignorance is not bliss--it only makes you appear to be an idiot in front of a lot of people.

We packed our suitcases and carry-ons for the trip home and headed to the airport. I love airports when filled with the excitement of an impending adventure to somewhere far away. But when facilitating the return home, airports serve as a depressing reminder that the trip is already over. My mom had surely completed advance check-in online, but nevertheless we endured the usual hustle and bustle of checking baggage, hauling the suitcases to the CTX, dumping liquids in the trash, and standing shoeless in the security line.

My mom escaped through the gateway first, with Diana and me trailing shortly behind. She was in need of the facilities, so quickly laced up her tennies and ran off to find the nearest Ladies' Room. My sister and I waited for all of our carry-ons to emerge from the X-ray tunnel to be re-situated for the trek to our departure gate. (Have you ever noticed that Southwest inhabits the furthest gates possible from the main terminal in every airport? I guess that's what we get for selecting the best-priced and most friendly airline. Southwest should add that to their "no hidden fees" campaign: "Pre- and Post-flight exercise program included at no extra charge!")

Diana's big bag tumbles down the conveyor belt, followed by my backpack and then the gray plastic tub containing my flip-flops and cell phone. We were still waiting for my mom's bag to appear when a large and important-looking security guard asked us to follow him. After exchanging an anxious glance, Diana and I trailed the guard to where another huksy man in uniform was hovering over my mother's black canvas tote bag, still full of its contents. One of the men motioned to the satchel belonging to my sweet, innocent mother, and very seriously inquired if there was a knife inside it.

Without hesitation, Diana affirmed that there was not. I think she even laughed. We didn't know what my mom might have inadvertently put into her carry-on that could have looked like a knife in the X-ray, but we were sure it was a mistake. Until we were asked directly by the second man.

"Are you sure?"

And suddenly we weren't. But we continued to protest the possibility. Our mother is an experienced traveler, and there was just no way she would bring a knife in her carry-on. If he could indeed produce a weapon from within this very bag, then surely it was slipped there by a mischievous degenerate, unbeknownst to Mom.

By this time, we weren't altogether astounded when the guard withdrew from Mom's bag the knife he seemed calmly certain was there. What did come as a shock, however, was our immediate recognition of exhibit A: serrated steak knife, worn wooden handle with brass rivets, blade dull from decades of use atop our family's kitchen counters. No reaction would be more appropriate at this moment than nervous laughter. Which is what our audience of rubberneckers witnessed.

Exhibit A

The security guards had unceremoniously confiscated the weapon and returned the bag in which it was concealed before Mom innocently power-walked (that's how she always walks) up to where we were waiting to collect her for the journey down to gate C-427 or whatever. We reported with great animation how her inexplicable inclusion of a steak knife in her carry-on forced us to play the part of knife-wielding maniac's unsuspecting daughters amidst the wary eyes of onlooking travelers.

With a horrified and apologetic look on her face, my mother sheepishly dug through her backpack, retrieving the simple explanation. An apple. Lovely to snack on while waiting for the plane. And what sort of barbarian eats her apple directly off the core? She brought the knife in order to facilitate quartering the apple for civilized sharing amongst ourselves. Of course.

There are some grey-area items I think are easily overlooked while packing, or don't immediately register with us as post-9/11 airport security threats. A nail file. A tube of toothpaste. A fork. But a steak knife doesn't really leave a lot of room for "maybe" when it comes to carry-on allowances, no matter how dull the blade or benevolent the intentions.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Wild Card Dream Team

I believe the Wild Card contestants will be announced tonight on American Idol. These dozen singers have already endured the humiliation and dejection of being sent home, but will come back clinging to one last thread of hope. Hope that they won't have to suffer the same fate again so soon.

These are the people I want to see on the Wild Card show. I hope someone over there at AI pays attention!

1. David Osmond: Yes he is one of them. And yes he does have an unbelievable voice and is pretty easy on the eyes as well. David was cut during the first episode in Hollywood, with no more explanation than a clip showing his sullen face walking off stage. Since we didn't even hear his group's performance, I can only assume he forgot the lyrics (since Simon decreed forgetting the words to be an automatic ticket home). Then when people who hummed half a song or stormed off stage when their mind went blank moved ahead, I had to assume something else was up. I want answers.

2. Nick Mitchell/Norman Gentle: I want to see more of this. Entertain us, American Idol!

3. Ricky Braddy: An unknown contestant with a purely pristine voice.

4. Jamar Rogers: I think Danny Gokey's best friend, the one who supported him through his wife's recent passing and demonstrated at least equal talent throughout the competition, was excluded from the top 36 for dramatic effect, heightening the excitement when he is put through on the Wild Card show. That's what I think.

5. Anoop Desai: The performance that sealed his fate was utterly unremarkable, but we've heard his worthy pipes before.

6. Mishavonna Henson: She's cute and she can sing. I'm running out of people I care to see again.

7. Kristen McNamara: Assuming she doesn't move ahead from last night's votes (I haven't watched the show yet).

Those are the people I would actually care to see return for another shot. Here are a few more that I predict will be coming back:

8. Jackie Tohn: This girl's personality grates on my nerves a little, but she would definitely stand out in the crowd. Offering a unique sound is worth a lot in this game. I predict she will be Randy Jackson's pick.

9. Megan Joy Corkery: I hated her song last week. But the judges seem to love her, so I think they will bring her back.

10. Matt Giraud: While his vocals were horrid last week, I know he seriously impressed in Hollywood, so maybe he'll get another shot to prove himself tomorrow.

11. Scott MacIntyre or Jorge Nunez: Whichever of these two doesn't move forward tonight should be called back for the Wild Card show.

12. I wonder if Simon will invite Bikini Girl back to the stage. If that chick defines the word despicable, then one far worse is needed to describe the male judges' encouragement and the female judges' allowance of such a disgrace. American Idol's shameless promotion of the entire spectacle was truly appalling. I would say it did the enterprise a disservice, only I'm sure the wake of press created was well worth a few unread angry letters and feminist internet outcries. Maybe if I ditch a flaming bag of poo on Fox's doorstep the approach might be reconsidered. Hmmm.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The third dozen: fairly forgettable

My predictions for best male and female last week were right on, just as with the first group. But the third spot was a shocker for everyone. And probably for no one more than Kris Allen himself. I thought he did a great job, but didn't expect him to take the vote. I am excited to hear more of his voice on some better songs, though. I knew my choices for #3 during the last two weeks wouldn't go through, and stated such in my recap. I don't think this week will break that pattern.

It wasn't a particularly bad night for American Idol. But the nine contestants who will bid adieu to the cameras and lights tomorrow night will be forgotten before the stage has been swept. I didn't particularly hate anyone's performance, but there were a slim few that I connected with on a level deeper than, "that was nice."

As I understand it, the final three voter-selected spots in the Top Twelve go to tonight's guy and gal with the most votes, and the person with the next-highest votes. I believe the remaining three slots will be filled by the judges as part of the Wild Card show on Thursday. As usual, here is my relatively unimportant take on what transpired this evening on American Idol:

1. Lil Rounds: They saved the best for last, of course. Lil closed the show with a powerhouse vocal, which leads me to believe the folks behind AI just don't care about any suspicions that they manipulate the public to vote for their educated favorites. Not only by having her sing last, which I have already mentioned is practically a guaranteed golden ticket (worked during the last two weeks already), but also the judges' gushing praise. Their comments exuded only positive, to the extent that they might as well have been reading from a script. Which might have been necessary if they were as distracted from her singing as my couch-partner. Truth be told, I could hardly hear Lil's Mary J. Blige over my husband's awestruck curiosity at the wonder that is Lil Round's "big round." Admittedly, it's impressive. Gary mused that if we looked up "badonkadonk" on wikipedia, there would be a picture of "that." If only I knew how to spell badonkadonk, we could check. I don't dare dirty my internet cache with that term, but you go right ahead. Anyway, the girl can sing, and she has shown herself to be an adorable mother of three, which you know people relate to. So I think she'll roll on forward.

2. Scott MacIntyre: Although definitely in the top three of the guys, he wasn't actually the best singer of the night. Scott is legally blind, which in itself is a pretty incredible back story. No one wants to not vote for the blind guy. More importantly, the passion flowing through his vocal instrument is profound, and the judges keep assuring us that once he gets behind his piano we'll fall deeper in love. So I think people will vote to see that.

3. Kristen McNamara: You might remember Kristen from such blog posts as this one about my hair, where I posted a photo from her first audition. Tonight she attempted to fool us into believing that her stylist "accidentally" gave her purple hair and she was so embarrassed. Whatever, Kristen. We know that's not true, and anyway, I liked it. So, in precisely the same situation as the last two weeks, I don't actually believe that my third choice will win the vote, but Kristen was my next favorite. And not just because we share a name, but because her version of "Gimme One Reason to Stay Here" was creative and fun. She looks like an absolute natural on stage, which is a breath of fresh air in these early rounds while we whittle away the wannabe's. Unfortunately, the judges completely disagreed with my opinion, and the lemmings usually follow them.

4. Jorge Nunez: I don't know how to make the little squiggle over the n to make it a Spanish "enyay." As in Horhay Noonyez. He'll probably take the third place because he is different, has a good voice, and is refreshingly humble. The Puerto Rican young man belted out Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me," a perfect choice for a vocal competition if you've got the pipes for it. In earlier auditions, we heard the judges criticizing Jorge because his accent bled through too much. At the time I thought that was at least condescending if not downright prejudiced, and tonight I felt his attempt to mask the latin accent sounded all wrong. Simon must have thought so, too, because he stepped up to the P.C. plate and admitted they were remiss to have told him to train away his natural inflection, but only after Paula blatantly attributed his smooth sound to adopting their advice and his excellent work with the dialect coach. Nice.

5. Ju'Not Joyner: When his song was first introduced, I was less than thrilled, since we all heard Plain White T's' "Hey There Delilah" about a hundred and sixty-three times too many a few months ago (and I actually like the song). But he softened up the tone so distinctly and took some creative risks that I felt really paid off for his silky voice.

6. Felicia Barton: She seemed to be fighting harder than nearly anyone else. This is likely attributable to the fact that she already took that long, misty-eyed flight home once, only to be recalled as a replacement for a contestant who was deemed ineligible. Felicia has a big voice, but it cracked on a few of the powerful notes. She also looks a lot like Jim Halpert's ex-girlfriend, Karen, and that doesn't work for me. I just love Pam too much.

7. Von Smith: I was shocked when he was invited to come to Hollywood in the first place, and his voice was still strangely grating when he got there. Tonight I thought he did an excellent job, but the song was very boring. I don't even remember what it was. He also sang first, the guillotine position of American Idol lineup, so his vast improvement won't get him through. I think Von was meant to be a 1920's newsie. I can see him wearing suspenders and a plaid newsboy hat, shining shoes for a nickel.

8. Alex Wagner-Trugman: The judges were too hard on Alex. This competition is way out of his league, sure, but he poured his heart and soul into this Elton John rendition, and they kind of teased him as if he were Norman Gentle, who is dorky on purpose. I put Alex in 8th position because these last 5 contestants are equally mediocre, but Alex is at least hilarious! My favorite part was when they showed a clip of Simon telling Alex during Hollywood Week that he would rate his personality as a 9 and his voice as a 3. Then cut back to Alex's interview where he says, very matter-of-factly, "I can only assume that both of those were on a scale of 3." Ah, now that's comedy. And he's just this adorbale little nerd who reminds me a lot of an old friend Mike Bush, whom some of you know.

9. Taylor Vaifanua: I read somewhere a while back that this girl was a "plant" in the auditions: someone that the record label-people (or whoever comprises the "powers that be" of American Idol) want to be successful and so they "encourage" them to audition and then make sure they get through. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, because if a record-producer wanted an individual to produce records, they wouldn't need to wait for said individual to muster through the ranks of American Idol. Just offer a bunch of money, and she'd be yours, right? Anyway, if this rumor were indeed true, tonight's performance would be enough to make those record label-people deny it. Not awful, but very forgettable.

10. Arianna Afsar: Haven't these contestants ever watched American Idol before? The slow ballads almost never win in the early rounds, when so few move forward each week. So far the winners have without fail performed upbeat rock, pop, or jazzy tunes. Later, when only one person is cut each week, those songs stand a chance of not being in last place. But right now, there isn't room to be "not last." Abba's "Winner Takes All" was an ironically grim sentence for "cute as a button" Arianna. Her voice is lovely, but it caught on a few notes, and she had a lot of pitch problems (I refuse to say she was "pitchy" a la Randy and Paula, because I don't think even they could define their own word).

11. Kendall Beard: Of course there needs to be a nondescript pretty blonde girl! More definite pitch issues, but the Martina McBride selection suited this sweet little Texan.

12. Nathaniel Marshall: What a joke. There were some really, really talented singers who were cut from the competition to make room for this hot mess. In the middle of his performance of "I Would Do Anything for Love" by Meatloaf (yes, he did sing that), I wanted to take bets on which would be the first anaolgy we'd hear from a judge: mortifying high school talent show, drunk uncle at a wedding, cruise ship cabaret...the winner? Kara claims she wants to be his karaoke buddy! His whole image is a contradiction to me (effeminate tough-guy, for one), but that is another story. Musically, he just doesn't have the skills to make it as a recording artist. High school drama director? Totally. At least he has tattooed around his neck, "Music is my Life." Show us, Nate, don't tell us.

We shall see tomorrow if my top two predictions are right for a third time.


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