Hey Dogg, they're messing with you

What's it like to have a TV show toy with your emotions?
"It was the pits, man," Anoop Desai said today (Friday). "It's the difference between having all your dreams dashed and seeing them (revived)."
For a moment Thursday, it appeared that Desai was out, failing to make the show's final 12. Then came the switch: There will be 13 this year and he's in.
That came on an emotional day for Desai. Thursday was the first anniversary of the slaying of Eve Carson, a friend who was the student body president at the University of North Carolina; Desai had watched an Internet feed of the memorial service and brought a memento with him onstage. "I carry that in my pocket, just to remind myself," he said.
Desai fits none of the hip-youth stereotypes one might expect from an "American Idol" contestant.
He grew up in Chapel Hill, N.C., where his mom is a biochemist and his dad designs software. He graduated from the University of North Carolina with a double major (political science and American studies). Now he's in grad school studying folklore, which he calls "like cultural anthropology."
There are plenty of cultures for him to study. His dad is from India, his mom from South Africa, "where there's a large Indian community." His own interests are all-American, including basketball, barbecues (he wrote a 60-page thesis on the subject) and rhythm-and-blues, leading to his nickname of "Anoop Dogg."
Then again, none of these last four seem to fit any "Idol" stereotypes. The others are:
-- Jasmine Murray, who surprised judges. They thought Murray, only 17, would stick to light pop, but she let loose with a power ballad. "I thought it was age-appropriate ... It was in a Disney movie," she said. She's used to the spotlight, from competing in beauty pageants and even singing during a Miss American pageant.
-- Matt Giraud, who picked up the name White Chocolate when he sang with a Detroit-area gospel choir. Giraud grew up in Ypsilanti, Mich., where he used to sit down for free and play the piano at the Marriott Hotel. ("I never got any tips; I was just learning.") Now he lives in Kalamazoo, where he graduated from Western Michigan University and sang at piano bars.
-- Megan Joy Corkrey, who has colorful tattoos down one arm. It's a fairy-tale scene, she said, with her as the queen and her 2-year-old son as the prince. It's still a work in progress, after two years.
She has six other tattoos, including her middle name of "Joy," which is informally becoming her last name. "Corkrey is my ex-husband's name and I'm moving away from that."
Her off-center look and personality may conflict with some people's view that her home state of restrictive. "Utah is such a beautiful and friendly place," she said.

Idol "finalists" -- a mixed bunch

Don't expect a bunch of look-alike, sound-alike people in this year's "American Idol" final 12.
The differences are enormous. Just consider the three who advanced on Wednesday:
-- Jorge Nunez is a comparative-literature major who was hoping to be a lawyer. He's sung in choirs, he said today (Thursday), but that's about it. "This is the only big thing I've ever done with music."
-- Lil Rounds grew up amid the music of Memphis. Still, she's confined her singing mostly to church.
-- And Scott MacIntyre? Well, the list goes on and on.
At 23, MacIntyre has a degree from Arizona State University and a Master's from the Royal College of Music in London. He's also studied in Boston and Toronto and Salzburg, Austria. He's won competitions, soloed with orchestras, performed at the Kennedy Center. And he's cut six CD's.
Despite his blindness, he has also done a couple musicals and some dancing. "As long as I don't fall off the stage, I'm OK," he joked.
This show may be a jumble of opposites, but MacIntyre says one thing has linked them since the Hollywood round: "Where else can you find 150 people in one place who love music?"
Two of the finalists, Rounds and Alexis Grace, are from Memphis. "She's a great girl, so we clicked," Rounds said.
Still, they have dipped into different parts of the city. Grace grew up around the blues clubs and now sings in them with her father's band. Rounds is familiar with that music -- "I have a grandfather who played with B.B. King" -- but her own taste has been for gospel.
In case you're wondering, this is not "Lil" short for "Little." It's her full first name, she said, one that goes back in the family.
She had considering auditioning before, but didn't. "A couple of the years, I was with child."
This year, she made the move. "We just got up and went," she said. "I just felt it was time."
A former customer service representative, she was a stay-at-home mom before leaving for her long "Idol" stay. Her kids -- ages 5, 3 ad 2 -- understand, she said, and her husband is also into music. "I don't let him go too far with his singing, but he's a great writer."
Nunez had dropped his music hopes after auditioning unsuccessfully for a show in his native Puerto Rico, three years ago. He settled into academia, which is logical enough: His extended family includes doctors and an architect; he speaks Spanish, English and French.
Now the musical ambitions are back, especially since he received a text message today (Thursday) from Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez. "That was the best thing that has ever happened to me," he said. "They told me that I brought them to tears."
For MacIntyre, the music is a given; he's been playing the piano since he was 3. What people seem most interested in are the complications for someone who has been virtually blind since birth.
Once, Ryan Seacrest even mistakenly tried to give him a high-five. "That's happened to me my whole life," MacIntyre said. "People try to wave to me, try to high-five me. I had one guy who tried to fist-bump me."

Now "Idol" is cast

"We've got to cast the rest of the season," Simon Cowell said tonight.

And that, of course, is what we figured they'd do. These final picks -- the judges' wild cards -- are all about filling out what's missing.

We'd predicted Wednesday that the judges would go with Jasmine Murray, Anoop Desai and Megan Joy Corkrey. They did; they also threw in a surprise with Matt Giraud, expanding the field to 13.

Until now, the show oddly had only one black among nine finalists. It needed Jasmine -- who also happens to be cute, 17 and talented -- to balance the field.

And it needed more teen-pop appeal. Megan -- the beauty with one arm gaudily tatooed -- fills that; so does "Anoop Dogg," a guy who can work an audience.

And Matt? Well, he's just different. The show needs different, too. Here are a few of my comments, please add yours:

1) Oops, wrong night. Jasmine and Tatiana Del Toro both had big-voice, big-finish songs. Those have a killer impact when viewers are voting; they rarely do much for the judges, though.

2) Talking about the ever-changing Tatiana after her song, one judge said, "At least, she's not crying." Cowell's response: "She will." She did.

3) I really wasn't that impressed with Corkrey's rendition of a song with a very narrow vocal range. The judges loved her, though.

4) For years, Paula Abdul simply repeated -- in (barely) different words -- what Randy Jackson had just said. In the new system, she can't do that. She's had a few rough spots, but mostly she's done a better job this year.

5) It was kind of cruel to toy with Anoop that way. The last time "Idol" did that, it made Jordin Sparks think she was out. Instead, she went on to win it all; that could happen again.

6) In fact, the eight guys are the best male contingent the show has ever had. The five women are pretty good. This is turning into an interesting season.





No Ju'Not? No way!

Maybe I should never again complain  about the lack of "American Idol" surprises. The one surprise tonight was nasty: Ju'Not Joyner -- a terrific singer -- isn't even getting a slot in Thursday's second-chance night.

Until now, surprises have been sparse. So far, I've predicted eight of the nine finalists; the only miss was a close one -- Michael Sarver edging Anoop Desai by less than one per cent.

Tonight's choices were kid of easy: Scott MacIntyre, Lil Rounds and Jorge Nunez all are strong, emotional singers. They also happen to be, respectively, blind, a mother of three and a cute guy who jumbles his English in the most charming of ways.

I had feared that Nunez would slip past Joyner for that third spot. What I didn't guess was that Joyner would be snubbed when the judges chose the eight people competing for the final three spots.

The people they did choose are solid: Desai made it, plus three other guys -- Von Smith, Ricky Braddy and Matt Geraud; the women are Jesse Langseth, Megan Joy Corkrey, Jasmine Murray and -- seemingly teetering in and out of sanity -- Tatiana Del Toro.

Even if Murray pulls an upset, there will only be two blacks in the final 12; if she doesn't, there will be only one. Joyner would have added to the total. He shouldn't have been cut.

I'll try some predictions. Please add yours, plus other comments:

1) So far, there are six men and three women. Judges will address that by picking two women and one man.

2) Jasmine will be one of the women. That will also address (a little) the racial imbalance.

3) "Idol" does best when there are some really attractive people, too. So Corkrey will get the other female spot; Desai will get the male one. It will be a good line-up, a good year. And when she's rejected anew, Tatiana will keep wobblig in and out of sanity.  





Can Jillian bring sanity to "Bachelor"?

So now Jillian Harris will try to bring sanity to the "Bachelor" process.

She brings two key advantages: She's Canadian and she's female.

(Please throw in your comments on this and on the "American Idol" blogs that follow.)

The last few guys have been absurd. One went through the whole process with 25 bright and beautiful women and chose no one; viewers wondered why they had bothered. Then Jason Mesnick kept choosing and unchoosing.

He went with Melissa Rycroft and they said they were going to be happy forever. Then -- in an hour that was taped six weeks later -- he said he really wanted Molly Malaney of Grand Rapids instead. In the next hour, taped six weeks after that, Molly said she was OK with it and was moving to his home town in Seattle.

This is a strange way to conduct romance, life or television. We're reminded again that the "Bachelor" version has never produced a marriage; one "Bachelorette" has.

Now the show returns to "Bachelorette" turf. In a show that will start in May and heads into the summer, Jillian will be choosing from 25 guys. She finished third this time. People liked her. She's now an interior designer in Vancouver, but she may be the first TV star to come from Peace River in Alberta, Canada. That is, one hopes, where sane people are raised.