"Idol": Back to the present

After spending some splendid time in the past, "American Idol" will probably be back in the present this week.

There were great moments last week from Motown people, including Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder. This Wednesday brings the current-pop appeal of David Cook and Lady Gaga.

Meanwhile, we're kind of sorry to see Michael Sarver gone. He had to go; he simply isn't at the same level as most of the surviving eight. Still, he's an immenely likable guy; here's the brief story I wrote the day after he was ousted:

Don't expect to see Michael Sarver back on an oil rig.
Fresh from being ousted on "American Idol" Thursday, he plans to spend most of his time at home before starting rehearsals for the show's tour. Then he'll make his move.
"I've always wanted to do this music thing," Sarver said by phone Friday. "I plan on hitting it hard."
Viewers kept seeing images of a classic country guy -- a beefy oil-field worker from Jasper, Texas, with a wife and two kids. They might be surprised to learn:
-- He's been writing songs since he was 14. There are more than 890 so far, he said.
-- And they aren't country songs. When he records, "it's definitely going to be an R&B (rhythm-and-blues), pop, soul album."
Sarver has mentioned that he turned to music at 11, during a difficult family situation. Since then, he said Friday, he's had a lot to write about -- "a lot of hard-lived life and the happiness I'm now feeling."
That joy, he said, centers on his wife and their kids, ages 3-and-a-half and 2. The older daughter has had a mixed relationship with "Idol," he said.
She does like the show; "I understand she plays it back a lot." Still, she also has said she wants him back home.
Now he's going there. As he stood alongside Matt Giraud in the Thursday's final two, Sarver said, he knew he had finished last. "Matt is unbelievable .... There was no way he would be going home."
Sarver had one chance to repeat his song and convince the judges to save him. He said he felt his performance Thursday was better than Wednesday. "I was stronger. I'd definitely been dealing with some sickness this week."
Judges chose not to intervene; Sarver beamed, as he often does. He would have preferred to stay, he said, but he wasn't despondent. "That was a smile because I'm going home."   

Movies, movies, movies

OK, I'm way behind on doing movie reviews. Life -- well, "American Idol" and basketball, mostly -- managed to distract me.

Now I'll shape up. Here are mini-reviews of ones I should have mentioned sooner. They're arranged best to worst:

-- "Duplicity" is absolutely as clever as a movie should be. Then it adds more twists than that. Less would have been better; there are a few twists here that simply sap the film's credibility. Let those slide, though, and you'll have a terrific time. Writer-director Tony Gilroy did just what he did with "Michael Clayton" -- filled a story with smart, verbal people at their best. It's a real pleasure to see two fine actors (Julia Roberts, Clive Owen) playing characters so cunning and complex that they -- and we -- have no idea knowing when they're telling the truth.

-- "Gran Torino" is really not a very good movie at first. Clint Eastwood's performance is flat and one-note; the characters are overdrawn and unrealistic. This is one movie, however, that keeps getting better as it goes along. With a total lack of gloss, it gives us a bitter widower, unhappy that his Detroit neighborhood is filled with Hmong families. Eastwood directs well, acts adequately, gradually gets us to care. And the ending has a big pay-off.

-- "He's Just Not That Into You" is a quick, slick romantic comedy that works well. One of the saving graces is the immense charm of Ginnifer Goodwin, best known as the youngest "Big Love" wife. She plays a cute, good-spirited young woman, futiley looking for love. It's the sort of role Drew Barrymore has done well. And yes, Barrymore is there, too. She's one of the producers who turned a non-fiction book into a fun, fictional movie; she also has a neat role in support, while letting Goodwin have ... well, the Drew Barrymore role.

-- "Last Chance Harvey" is done with such earnest competence that we overlook how simple and formulaic it is. Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, great actors, play people whose lives are rather blank. They meet by accident, in a story that is quiet, credible and endlessly adequte.

-- "Confessions of a Shopaholic" makes no such effort at quiet competence. It's loud, bright, wildly unbelievable. At times, we tolerate that because of the immense appeal of the colorful, big-city setting and of star Isla Fisher. Director P.J. Hogan has managed to turn a silly story into a movie that is occasionally OK.   

The face of Joy

If you ever wanted to see a look of pure Joy, you could have glimpsed Megan Joy in tonight's "American Idol."

On Wednesday, Joy -- she was Megan Joy Corkrey, before jettisoning her ex-husband's name -- had given a performance that Simon Cowell correctly called "a train wreck." She seemed properly astonished tonight to not be in the final three. During the Stevie Wonder medley, she squeezed little Allison Iraheta and had the look of a serial killer who had received a reprieve due to a typographical error.

Scott MacIntyre, who had a so-so week, finished third-lowest. Matt Giraud -- a terrific (if uncharismatic) siinger from Kalamazoo -- was second-lowest. Michael Sarver was voted out, to the surprise of no one ... including Michael Sarver.

He sang "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" one more time, but he really is too proud to beg. This is the sort of guy most of us would aspire to be -- a strong, solid, Texas family man. He's not nearly good enough to be near the top of "American Idol," but people like him. He can go home for a few weeks, be with those daughters, then return for the tour. Hey, at least he won't have to be oil-roughnecking again for a while.

Five other comments; please add yours:

1) I forgot to chastise Kara DioGuardio on Wednesday for saying she had just six words for someone and then saying eight words. Don't they teach math at Duke?

2) What were all those numbers on Kris Allen's shirt Wednesday? Will this turn out to be like Nicolas Cage's new movie, where they all add up to the destruction of the world?

3) Ever since winning, Ruben Studdard has never managed to impress me. He didn't again tonight. I'm a half-step from arbitrarily deciding that Clay Aiken or Kimberley Locke won Season 2, after all.

4) I can thank Allison Iraheta tonight for this one: After decades, I've finally reversed my flat-out policy against red stretch pants. 

 5) And please notice that after saying I would have five comments, I commented five times. They did teach math at Wisconsin.

"Idol": some mixed Motown moments

It was the right advice tonight on "American Idol," even if it was given to the wrong person.

You can't just choose a great song, the judges said. You need one that lets you stand out. There has to be enough space to do something special; you need room to make moments.

As it happens, they were saying that to Lil Rounds, to whom few rules need apply. She chose "Heat Wave," a bullet train of a song; all the singer can do is run at top speed, jump on and hang tight. Fortunately, Rounds is good enough to do that; she nailed it.

Others, however, could have used that advice. There was Danny Gokey with "Get Ready," Michael Sarver with "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," Scott MacIntyre with "You Can't Hurry Love" and (rather horribly) Megan Joy with "For Once in My Life." These are great songs by (mostly) fine singers; there just wasn't much room for the singers to seem special.

Then what did I like tonight? There was:

-- Adam Lambert, once again. After all those Goth weeks, he came out looking like early John Stamos and singing ("Track of My Tears") like a current edition of Smokey Robinson. This guy is a consummate performer.

-- Anoop Desai. On consecutive weeks, he's done the classic ballads of Willie and Smokey, nailing them both.

-- Lil Rounds and Allison Iraheta. They didn't make their own moments, but they rode great songs (Allison did "Papa Was a Rolling Stone") skillfully.

A few other comments; please add yours:

1) Although I generally oppose government intervention in esthetic matters, it wouldn't be unreasonable to pass a law banning Paula Abdul's poofy skirt.

2) Everything they said about the Motown museum in Detroit is true. Go there this year, during the label's 50th anniversary. You'll marvel at the great music made in small spaces; you'll even visit the tiny apartment where Berry Gordy lived while making music history.

3) For this week, I think Megan Joy should and will go. Michael Sarver could also be vulnerable, but he brings a sort of decent-guy vibe when he takes the criticism calmly. Sarver is a good-looking guy; Joy is an immensely beautiful woman. With this voting block, however, hot-babe rarely translate into votes.



"Idol," basketball, Motown, more

This is a joyous week around Michigan, for lots of reasons. (If you're reading this from outside Michigan, just skip the first one; the rest is about "American Idol.")

1) The Michigan State University women had their sharp upset of top-seeded Duke. Lauren Aitch came off the bench to play superbly; in less than half a game (18 of 40 minutes), she scored 15 points, grabbed six rebounds and brought a ferocity to an MSU offense that had seemed hesitant. At one point, this was a 47-47 deadlock; somehow, it turned into a 63-49 rout. The crowd was ecstatic.

2) This is Motown week on "American Idol." The show is always at its best when doing Motown music; that's when Ricky Minor and his band soar. Now -- helping celebrate Motown's 50th anniversary -- Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy will both be around for the show (one night later than usual) at 8 p.m. Wednesday (March 25) and 9 p.m. Thursday (March 26).

The only bad part is that Alexis Grace, a terrific singer, won't be there. She was ousted last week, finishing 11th and just missing a slot on the tour. Here's the story I wrote after a phone interview:

On the day after being ousted from "American Idol," some contestants offer a cheery image.
Not Alexis Grace. "I never imagined going home this early," she said.
Judges had often praised her gritty, bluesy voice and some people saw her as a top contender. Instead, she stumbled during country week.
"I feel like I let my state down," said Grace, who is from Memphis, Tenn. "I'm from the South and we're suppose to sing country well; I think I do."
But there was the question of which song to sing. Grace, 21, considered doing something current from Carrie Underwood, but decided against it because two others were doing Underwood tunes.
Instead, she sang "Jolene," a Dolly Parton hit from 1974. "I felt like everyone knows 'Jolene' and it's such a pretty song," she said.
Judges said Grace had lost her edge. Going into Wednesday's show, she said she felt she would be in the bottom three among viewer votes, but didn't expect to be last.
When she was, she had one last chance to sing for the judges and change their minds. This time, her "Jolene" sounded bluesier, but Grace said that wasn't on purpose. "That was just what I was feeling."
She cried backstage, then went back to the "Idol" mansion "and packed all my bags and packed my 30 pairs of shoes."
It was the second straight year that a woman with a bluesy voice finished 11th, just missing a tour spot. Last year, it was Amanda Overmyer.
The difference is that Grace simply doesn't look the part. Just under 5-foot and 100 pounds, she initially surprised judges with her voice. "It was, 'You don't look like you can sing like that,'" she said.
On their suggestion, she changed to a hip look, including pink highlights in her hair. The color may change, she said, "but I'll definitely keep the edgy look."
The rest is indefinite. She'll go back to Memphis, where her boyfriend and her daughter are. She hopes to sing there and do some recording, with a style that's "Joss Stone mixed with Carrie Underwood and with Sheryl Crow."