St. Patrick's Day notes

A few St. Patrick's Day comments, while waiting for "American Idol" to wrap up. (Also, please read and comment on my previous and upcoming blogs, both on "Idol"):

1) It's very difficult to play the bagpipes. It's impossible to play them well.

2) Midway through a song, I realized it was "Danny Boy." Ideally, that realization should come much sooner.

3) Anyone who goes out to eat on March 17 has no right to do a blog that grumbles about St. Patrick's Day things.

When "Idol" meets Nashville

There might have been a musical milestone tonight (Tuesday, March 17). That was averted,  however, when Jorge Nunez was ousted last week from "American Idol."
If Nunez had lasted one more week, he would have faced tonight's country-music theme. "I would have been ... the first Puerto Rican in the history of Puerto Rico to sing country music," he joked by phone.
He had even started picking out a song -- possibly Martina McBride's "Anyway" or Carrie Underwood's "I Know You Won't." Then Nunez and Jasmine Murray were ousted; the country nights (with Randy Travis as mentor).
For a moment, consider the people who were ousted during country week. In orter, they have been: Julia DeMato, Matt Rogers, Anthony Federov, Mandisa, Sanjaya Malukar and Ramielle Malubay. Most of them had roots and homes far from Nashville.

Murray -- who had been pondering several Underwood or LeAnn Rimes songs -- sounded somber. She was upbeat about some things, however, including being with "Idol" when it moved to its larger setting. "That stage is so amazing -- the lights and the audience; it's amazing, all the energy you feel."
As for Nunez, his mood was unvaryingly upbeat.
"I've got lots of text messages saying wonderful things," he said. "That's how my family is and that's how I am."
Before this, he had been comfortably into his final year of college, studying comparative literature and planning to be a lawyer. He had sung with school groups, but little more. When he tried out for "Objetivo Fama" -- sometimes loosely called "the Spanish 'American Idol'" -- he didn't survive the first round of auditions.
In the actual "Idol," however, he reached the final 13 and was praised, via text-message, by Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez.
He'll definitely finish college, he said, but he'll also take advantage of the waves of publicity in Puerto Rico. And yes, he's planning to be there soon. "I can't wait to go back and finally eat some real Puerto Rican food."
For Murray, it will simply be a return to the life she's long known. She's been singing since she was 3 and is a high school junior at the Mississippi School of the Arts; she's also a pageant veteran.
Last year, Murray finished in the top 10 for Miss America's Outstanding Teenager. The year before that, she sang the National Anthem at the Miss America pageant.
By one view, that experience hurt her: Pageants emphasize poise and precision; "Idol" viewers often want something looser and more vibrant.
One judge (Simon Cowell) even called Murray "robotic." She prefers an alternate view: "Paula (Abdul said) I had poise on the stage. I think it's a good thing."  

MSU is playing whom?

So now there's one big question around Michigan: Who, exactly, is Robert Morris?

That's whom Michigan State University will play Friday, to start its run in the NCAA basketball tournament. That still leaves people wondering who Bob Morris is.

Well, he starred in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," on Broadway and in the movie. Roundish and bright-eyed, he was instantly likable. Now, in his 70s, he plays quirky roles, including Truman Capote on Broadway and the boss on "Mad Men" and ...

Oh wait, that's Robert Morse; I guess I don't know who this Robert Morris is. He'll probably have trouble playing MSU by himself. Maybe he can form a five-person team by combining with other colleges. It could be Robert Morris and George Mason and Oral Roberts and ... well, William and Mary.

Sorry Jasmine, it's not enough

How much has "American Idol" advanced in the past five years?

Consider this: Jasmine Murray and Diana DeGarmo were essentially the same person on "Idol." Each was a cute teen-ager with a big voice, belting out high-volume finishes.

Back in 2004, that was enough to take DeGarmo all the way to the top two. This time, Murray didn't reach the top 11.

There were plenty of reasons Murray and Jorge Nunez were eliminated tonight, but one is the steep improvement in the competition.

The third season, in 2004, had three strong talents -- Fantasia (the winner), LaToya London (fourth) and Jennifer Hudson (seventh). The rest? Well, remember Jon Peter Lewis and John Stevens and ...

There are no such weak spots this time. The only problem Tuesday involved people whose songs left little potential to display their talent.

Anoop Desai did a solidly forgettable job on "Beat It," but scraped past Nunez, whose ballad was only adequate.

Megan Joy Corkrey did a so-so "Rockin' Robin," but at least she's distinctive and memorable. Murray sang "I'll Be There" as if we were enmeshed in a beauty pageant; it seemed cold and calculated, it had precision without passion. She can win any Miss Teen Sings Nice competition; she just can't win the 2009 version of "American Idol." 

A weird night of "Idol"

This was a strange night of "American Idol," throwing away all the usual patterns.

Usually, the show is all about balance -- boy-girl, loud-soft, good-bad. Not this time. It started and ended with women -- fresh, fierce work by Lil Rounds and Alexis Grace; that left the middle with eight men and only three women. It started with seven songs the judges loved -- then three they didn't -- then three more good ones.

It was all odd, but interesting. Here are a few of my comments and then my should-go, will-go. Please add yours:

1) The three people who drew scorn made identical mistakes, picking songs that give little room to do anything extra. What could Megan Joy Corkrey do with "Rockin' Robin," or Anoop Desai do with "Beat It" or Jorge Nunez do with whatever that was he sang?

2) Scott MacIntyre also picked poorly, but got away with it. He chooses songs by the lyrics, not by the music potential. This one had a good thought, but little musicality. He'll get through, of course, due to nice-guyness, sympathy and piano talent.

3) Danny Gokey, the Milwaukee widower, no longer needs sympathy. He's just a fine performer, sort of a less-mobile Taylor Hicks.

4) Let's add a fashion note here: Gokey added an extra level tonight: His glasses coordinated with his shirt.

5) This was the first week of the "glam squad," when contestants have more money and more help from fashion consultants. Some don't need it -- Adam Lambert is already the consummate showman -- but some got interesting touches. There was Allison Iraheta as the world's smallest biker babe. And Lil Rounds looking great in white (with a tad too much poof on one shoulder). And Alexis Grace as the naughty French maid's tween daughter.

6) In the midst of this fashion show, someone decided to give Kris Allen ... well, a plaid shirt. It was kind of basic.

7) Allen is the deceptive one -- a downhome Arkansas church guy with a hot new wife and an encyclopedic knowledge of Michael Jackson tunes. He's interesting.

8) Iraheta is a strong rocker, someone who knows how to work the mike and work the crowd -- at age 16. And Lambert, more than a decade older, is a complete pro. Usually, "too Broadway" is an insult on this show; Lambert sort of morphs the best Broadway touches of "Rocky Horror" and "Grease" and anything Elvis-like.

9) The instruments were OK tonight. Matt Giraud and Scott MacIntyre got a few good piano licks; Allen's guitar, however, didn't particularly seem linked to a speaker anywhere.

10) Amid all the Michael-style rocking, the few ballads were pretty well-done. Jasmine Murray showed off all her pageant polish; Michael Sarver showed none of his oil-rig work.

11) My favorite comments: From Ryan Seacrest, "and speaking of self-consumption -- Simon Cowell." And Cowell, who was on the money all night, spoke up after "Idol" showed -- yet again -- Sarver at the oil rigs, then had him sing his ballad. It was a fine song, Cowell dead-panned, "but I just wish we knew what you do for a living."

12) There are supposed to be two people going home Wednesday, in a show that includes Kelly Clarkson and Kanye West. For the should-go -- based only on tonight -- I'd say Megan Joy Corkrey and Anoop Desai. For will-go, I'd say the same. Still, Desai could survive and the departing person could be Giraud (the show picked a bland section of his song for the final montage) or Sarver or Nunez. Tell me what you think.