"Idol" so far: The worship leaders lead

Hey kids, you want to be on "American Idol"?
This year's best route is a surprising one: Become a musical worship leader.
"It's a different kind of performing, but you get a lot of practice," Kris Allen said.
He's been doing it since he got to the University of Central Arkansas, about six years ago. He's also been on church missions to Mozambique, Morocco,Thailand, Burma, Spain and South Africa.
So far, half the six "Idol" finalists have been worship leaders: Michael Sarver did that in Texas, Danny Gokey in Milwaukee and Beloit, Wis.

(For an interview with last week's three, look back a few blogs. Also, you'll find the blogs I do after each "Idol" episode.)

And what about last season's trend? That was the year when five of the final 12 had Latino roots; this year there's one Latina, so far.
That's Allison Iraheta, whose parents are from El Salvador. "All my life, I've been singing both Spanish and English," she said.
And she's been getting ready for years, at her home in Los Angeles. "I've been wanting to audition since I was 9," she said. "I would put my face on the screen."
She wasn't eligible for "Idol" until this year, but she had a handy warm-up. At 14, she won "Quinceanaro," on the Telemundo network."It was amazing," she said.
By the time she finally reached "Idol," she had a seasoned way to perform a rock song. She also surrounds her little-girl face with hair that's dyed a blazing red. "I'll probably be one of those who is red for a couple months and then maybe purple."
The look is also a key part of Adam Lambert's persona. Even when he was doing Broadway-type shows, he said, he arrived in his goth-emo style. "All the kids (in the musicals) thought I was (strange). The stuff you see on 'Idol' is my daily street wear."
He first landed a community musical -- as Linus in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" -- at 10 in San Diego. Most recently, he understudied -- and got on stage occasionally -- as Fiyero, the love interest in the Los Angeles production of "Wicked."
That's his profession, he insisted, not his passion. "I finally get to sing the stuff I listen to."

Whatever happened to "Idol" surprises?

Remember when "American Idol" used to surprise us?

I don't mean happy surprises. I mean oh-my-God-they've-dumped-Daughtry surprises and Nicki-McKibbon-is-STILL-here surprises. They were the kind that made us grumble vaguely about not watching.

This year, that's gone. Last night, my three-person should-win list and my will-win list were identical. Tonight, those three all did win; a week earlier, two of my three predictions won and the third (Anoop Desai) was barely edged out.

This doesn't mean I've suddenly turned wise. In both weeks, there was a clear separation between the terrific and the others. And as luck would have it, the talented people also are telegenic; there was no reason for perverse tweeners to vote oddl.

So now we have half the final 12. The only two females -- Allison Iraheta and Alexis Grace -- are teen-agers with powerful voices and distinctive looks. Most of the guys -- Kris Allen, Danny Gokey, Michael Sarver -- are likable sorts with fine voices. One, Adam Lambert, stands out because of his unique look and music style. When he finished singing Mick Jagger's anthem, we sort of thought, "Oh, maybe that's how it should be done."

"Idol" tried to toy with us tonight, making us think Nick Mitchell might be voted through. His comic performance was clever and well-calculated -- but when Mitchell was standing alongside Lambert, we knew he'd be going.

Maybe Mitchell will be back during second-chance night (Thursday), when the judges consider several and choose three. I doubt it, though. In particular, I'm expecting to see Megan Joy Corkrey and Jesse Langseth return from this week's crowd, Desai and others from last week. Let me know which ones you're expecting. 


"Idol": The good, the bland and the buoyantly bizarre

Hey, these "American Idol" judges should make up their minds.

They keep telling contestants to choose the right song and make it their own. Tonight, Nick Mitchell did all of that.

He chose exactly the song for him -- the big, broad, over-the-top show tune, "And I Am Telling You." He made it his own, so much so that I doubt anyone will want it back.

The judges shrugged, mostly, but let's give Mitchell credit. To do what he does -- a sort of parody of every oversized performance -- takes the right moves. He chose beautifully. The singing was a D; the rest of the performance was a solid A.

Here are some of my other comments: Please add yours:

1) It will be interesting to see Allison Iraheta and Alexis Grace in the next round. Both are teens who make good use of red hair dye. Both sing with a big, confident sound. The only difference is that Grace (who advanced last week) can also talk; Iraheta seemed confused by that prospect.

2) It was a chaotic night for right arms. Jesse Landseth's right arm was bare, her left was covered. Megan Joy Corkrey's right was wildly deorated in full-color tatoos; her left was unadorned.

3) Still, the night's best limbs, right or left, belonged to Janine Vaile. Her legs received so much praise that I thought they were going to get their own phone-in number.

4) Both Landseth and Corkrey are appealing talents, but I think they finished just short of the night's top three.

5) It also would have been nice to see Matt Breitzke in the final 12. This guy -- a beefy welder and a dad -- would be a neat match for Michael Sarver, who's already in the final 12.

6) My own should-and-will are identical. The three people I'm rooting for are also the ones I feel will make it: Iraheta will be the top female. Adam Lambert -- who seems sort of like Zach Efron's scary Goth cousin -- will be the top male. Kris Allen, a sleeper with a strong voice and boyish good looks, will finish third. We'll see.


The Oscars -- a fun time

It's been a fun night, watching the Academy Awards. Here are some of my comments, as the show goes on:

-- Good news: Baz Luhrmann created that spectacular number, celebrating the return of the movie musical. Luhrmann's touch -- in "Moulin Rouge," "Romeo and Juliet," "Australia" and more -- is masterful. This was a grand moment.

-- Bad news: Five presenters for one awards? That's approximately four too many.

-- Good: Hugh Jackman can really deliver a song, including the clever ones written about the best-movie nominees. That may have been the best song ever to use the word "excrement."

-- Bad: Forget the music and Jackman may have had the fewest jokes of any host in modern Oscar history.

-- Good: Fortunately, lots of other people made jokes. The bit by Steve Martin and Tina Fey was one of the best ever.

-- Bad: Martin wasn't the host. He should be, every year.

-- Good: The "Slumdog Millionaire" songs were beautifully presented. Great dancing and choreographer, in a limited space.

-- The bad: Lots of dull acceptance speeches. Don't these people think about it in advance?

-- The good: An occasional great speech. It was wonderful to hear the guy talk about growing up in Utah, then moving to the more-open world of San Francisco. Now he's written an Oscar-winning script about Harvey Milk, who helped spur the gay-rights movement.

-- The bad: Kate Winslet, a great actress, is still a so-so speech-giver. After her two bad Golden Globe speeches, I had her on my no-more-awards list. I rescinded that because of the brilliance of her performance in "The Reader"; she was better this time, but I might put her back on the list.

-- The good: For Michigan people, it's good to know that Andrea Meditch, the new MSU faculty member, had a weekend sweep. "Man on Wire" -- she was one of the six producers -- was named best documentary at the Oscars and at the Independent Spirit awards. That's a pretty good weekend.

-- The great: Hey, Robert De Niro really is a funny guy. His speech about Sean Penn (like De Niro, a great actor) was delightful.

-- Also: There was a lot of talk about Mickey Rourke winning best-actor. Penn won and included a little Rourke tribute. I didn't see these two films, but any victory by Penn is a good thing.

-- And finally: "Slumdog Millionaire" is best picture, as it should be. Yes, "Benjamin Button" is a meticulously well-crafted film. Still, nothing matches the ragged, eccentric, wild brilliance of "Slumdog." One movie ranged from a kid soaked in excrement to a joyous Bollywood number. This is the creative zest that marks an Oscar.



Let's talk Oscars

The Academy Awards are Sunday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC), so let's talk about them. Also, please check and comment on my previous three blogs, all about "American Idol":

1) The new Oscar producers are out-and-out loony. (You'd tell me if these were too harsh, wouldn't you?) They won't say who the presenters will be; they don't even want the presenters to walk the red carpet. This is sort of like good show business, but the opposite.

2) Hugh Jackman was an excellent Tonys host. Now he's hosting the Oscars, which is another matter. Yes, he's smart, handsome and Australian, all of which are good things. Still, he's no Steve Martin.

3) Steve Martin should be the host. Or Jon Stewart. Or Chris Rock.

4) "Benjamin Button" is a terrific movie -- big, ambitious, precisely crafted. Still, it can't match the sheer, ragged energy of "Slumdog Millionaire," which will get the best-picture Oscar.

5) Fortunately, that leaves room in all the acting categories. I may have some thoughts on that tonight, because I'm heading out now to see Kate Winslett in "The Reader." I'll finish this later.

 6) I'm back from "The Reader" and I see what the buzz was about. No, the film isn't quite up to the level of its best-picture nomination; it's extremely good, without being great. (The same is true of "Frost/Nixon.") But Winslet's performance is superb. Alongside the master of understatement (Ralph Fiennes), she has topped his art; she needs only the tiniest moves to create rich emotions. I have to agree with Ben Mankiewicz, co-host of the syndicated "At the Movies," who told me flatly that Winslet is "the best actor in the world, man or woman." I also have some rather eccentric remarks, but they might be spoilers for people who don't know about the "Reader" plot. I'll put them at the end, with a spoiler alert.

7) Mankiewicz is also delighted that Mickey Rourke is now considered a slight favorite to win as best actor. It would be a Hollywood touch -- a worn-out, self-destructed actor triumphing for playing a worn-out, self-destructed wrestler.

8) People in Michigan should pay attention to the documentary-feature category. Two of the five nominees -- "Man on Wire" and "Encounters at the Bottom of the World" -- were produced by Andrea Meditch, Michigan State University's new faculty member. She's not one of the people who would get the Oscar, but she's still one of the producers; she'll be at the ceremony Sunday, ready to celebrate.

9) Now for the extra Winslet comments. If you want to avoid hearing plot details, quit reading now.

10) Winslet should go down in history as the person who included the most nudity in an Oscar-winning role. Such contributions are too often forgotten. (Jason Segal wasn't even nominated this year, despite his full-frontal role in "Forgetting Elizabeth Marshall.") Much nudity AND much talent. Moviegoers are grateful.

11) As Ricky Gervais pointed out at the Golden Globes, he predicted this well in advance. In a hilarious scene in HBO's "Extras," he had Winslet play a parody of herself, vulgarly insisting that she was doing a Holocaust film so she could get a bleeping Oscar. Now that is about to come true.

12) OK, I'm temporarily removing my ban against any Winslet awards. (I instituted it when she managed to give TWO awful acceptance speeches at the Golden Globes.) I'll give her one more chance, but this is it. Remember, Kate: You're not up there to please a dozen or so actors and agents and such; you're talking to the world. Quit thanking people, say something cogent and leave with your Oscar. You deserve it.