Friday, May 30, 2008

It Begins

The empty Amazon Room awaits the donkeys**

I'm presently tucked away in the far corner of the nearly-empty Amazon Room at the Rio, where in forty minutes time, Event #1 of the 2008 World Series of Poker will begin. I'm on blogging duties for Poker News today, sharing the captain's chair with Mean Gene for the $10,000 World Championship pot-limit hold'em. A small, elite field should ease us into the grind today, with about 250-300 runners expected. That's nothing like last year when the first event was a $1,500 NLHE donkament with a 3,000-strong field, endless registration lines, and a crowd so thick I could barely make it through the hallways.

There's a number of changes in the Amazon Room setup this year. Each "quadrant" is color-coordinated for one. There's a blue section, a red section, a green one and an orange one. With up to 6 tournaments running per day, it will be far easier to divide up the room. The cage has been completely moved out of the Amazon Room, as has the satellite area, which is now relocated to the room where the Poker Kitchen was situated last year. For the media, though, the biggest change is the presence of the "media sky box" which has 46 on-floor seats for reporters from all outlets.

Even only minutes away from the start, I'm still in an odd state of denial about the WSOP. Sitting here right now, I can hardly feel the year that has passed since I last sat in this spot.

Tune in to Poker News for live coverage of today's event. And for all the WSOP behind-the-scenes juice that you've grown to love over the last three years, pay my beloved a visit over at the Tao of Poker.

**= awesome photo by flipchip/

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

JohnnyBax Signs with Ultimate Bet Amidst Superuser Allegations

I learned very quickly in Hollywood that behind every seemingly brain-dead decision is one helluva ulterior motive. When Eddie Murphy, a movie star who could wipe his ass with $100 bills for the rest of his life and never go broke decides to make a piece of shit like Norbit the question arises: Why the FUCK is he making this movie?

Is it money? Is is ego? Does he actually think this flaming bag of shit is actually going to be a good film? Or is it something else entirely?

I'll take "his brother wrote the script" for $500, Alex.

So why on earth would a guy like Cliff "JohnnyBax" Josephy-- an extraordinarily talented player swimming in money who enjoys a sterling reputation in the poker industry--decide to go and sign with Ultimate Bet, just as the hard evidence of a UB superuser scandal, eerily similar to the Absolute Poker Shitstorm of 2007, is breaking?

I'll take "UB's buying PokerxFactor" for seven figures, Alex.

Seriously, I can't think of one other reason why Josephy would decide to align himself with this company at this time. Why not wait until this infamous "report" is released by UB's supposedly squeaky-clean new management team? I can think of plenty of reasons why UB would want to sign him. There's serious value for them in getting a "good guy of poker" like Josephy on their side, especially in terms of rehabilitating their image among the hardcore online players/2+2 crowd.

Josephy/Bax released a statement on the Pocket Fives forums this morning:

Hey All, I have always enjoyed playing at UltimateBet. The interface and the structure are 2nd to none. It is my belief that management is committed to doing the right things on a going forward basis. Thus, I have decided to support them. I will do all I can to ensure the players really like the improved UB.

I implore you all to read through this piece, Superusers and Silence: How Ultimate Bet let players get cheated for millions by Stephen Ware and Cornell Fiji, which originally appeared on the 2+2 forums.

For more details on the Bax signing, check out this 2+2 thread.

Welcome to Scheckytown

About 150 miles southwest of Las Vegas, along the northbound side of Interstate 15, ten simple black and while signs, each bearing one of the Ten Commandments, are nailed into the ground. I don't know who put them there, but I've whipped past them at 85 MPH more times that I can count. Every time I do, I wonder how many of those Commandments I'll break on this trip.

After an uneventful four-hour haul across the desert, we pulled up to our temporary new home-- a two-story vaguely Spanish-style tract house in Summerlin, where poker power couple John "Schecky" Caldwell and Jen Leo currently reside . For our purposes this summer, we're calling the digs "Scheckytown." Right now it looks like it will be the two of them, the two of us, and one of Full Tilt Poker's red pros living under its roof.

"God, it looks like Agrestic" Pauly said, humming the theme song from Weeds as we drove past all the identical houses.

Once we hauled all our stuff upstairs, we tried out the pool, which was a tad cool for a dip. That didn't stop Pauly from jumping in almost immediately, even though the temperature outside barely cracked 85 yesterday. Our digs here are by far the nicest we've had for a WSOP stay. The pool even has a fountain and is flanked by little sculptures of frogs that spit water back into the pool.

We had dinner at Nora's Wine Bar and Osteria, which was only a few blocks away. Before digging into three kinds of pasta, we had sweet & sour Sicilian meatballs and fried risotto balls to whet our appetite. Sublime. Sure beats those Asian chicken wraps at the Rio I know will practically become a food group for me over the next seven weeks.

After dinner, it was back to Scheckytown, where John set up Guitar Hero III and we all took turns. It was only my second time trying the game and I'm totally hooked. John was by far the best at it, usually scoring somewhere in the 90-95th percentile, while Jen and I managed to hit the high seventies-low eighties in terms of accuracy. Pauly had never played before and got booed off the stage on his first try.

I crashed early, after nodding off during an episode of World's Deadliest Catch. Pauly was ridden with insomnia and decided to go tilt the locals at a $1-2 NL game at Red Rock while I slept. Today is full of shopping and errands, before we're sucked into a string of pre-WSOP meetings on Thursday. Hopefully I'll get a few hands of poker in before I disappear into the void of the Rio.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Desert Calling

In many ways, it's like preparing for a jail sentence. You get your affairs in order, leave sets of instructions, close up the house, give the keys to its caretaker. You say goodbye to your loved ones and warn them that you may not call a lot because the hours are messed up and one day tends to bleed into another as the sun rises and falls, rises and falls over the parched Nevada desert. You know that in a week's time words like Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will cease to matter; only Day 1, Day 2, Day 3. You know that 2 a.m. will, at some point start to feel like 2 p.m., that meals will happen whenever there is time, and that little time at all will be spent in the scorching outdoors.

Your new home is a room the size of an airplane hangar cooled to the temperature of a refrigerator and you'll spend over 500 hours serving time in there over the next seven weeks. You've committed no crime, but you're a repeat offender. You know the consequences, you understand how punishing the grind will be. But you're still drawn there. Drawn to the lights in the desert. Drawn to the clatter of chips and the promise of fortune and the patches of darkness that lurk around every corner of the city. Year after year. Summer after summer. Three of them now.

The sun, unforgiving. The heat, persistent. Oppressive. Unfathomably dry. The valley, overflowing with identical tract houses in various states of construction or foreclosure. The roads, newer and wider the further you drive away from the highway. Mile upon mile of chain restaurants, discount superstores, anonymous office parks, and subdivision after subdivision after subdivision. The Strip, it's grimy sidewalks sizzling, overflowing with tourists from California, from St. Louis, from North Carolina, from Utah, from London from Stockholm from Melbourne. They come to escape. To gamble. To get married. To find Elvis. They come to see America. They come seeking a dream. They come seeking a quick fix. They leave and come back, leave and come back. But always come back. They always come back. I always come back.

We wonder how we got here, how any of us got here, and why, after all we know, we continue to return. On every drive through the desert I wonderwhat were those slings and arrows of fate that turned me off Wilshire Boulevard and onto this two-lane highway?

24 hours. To pack, to prepare. To plot. To brace. To sleep. To inhale those final lungfulls of ocean air and enjoy the comfort of a cool breeze.

The lights in the desert are calling. I have to answer.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Reminder: Saturdays With Dr. Pauly

Don't forget about Saturdays With Dr. Pauly this afternoon! Four card bingo and good times with my beloved and I.

Friday, May 23, 2008

American Idol Wrap-Up: David Cook Wins One for the Rockers

As you all know by now, 25-year old St. Louis bartender David Cook defied the early oddsmakers and won the seventh season of American Idol in a 12 million vote landslide. Even my own mother confessed to voting for him upwards of 80 times on Tuesday night.

I was able to catch the performance show on Tuesday, just as I'd arrived in the Crescent City to cover the final table of the WSOP-C New Orleans. The Wednesday finale results show, I unfortunately missed out on, though I got several phone calls from people letting me know that Cook had won. When I finally caught the episode on DVR when I got home, just as Ryan Seacrest was announcing "The WINNER of A-MERican Idol 2008... IS!... DAVID!..." the recording cut off literally at that very instant. Thank God for You Tube.

I'm thrilled David Cook won and look forward to watching his career take off. If he finds Chris Daughtry-like success on the charts, it'll surely be a boost for the show, which has been contending with sagging ratings for the past two seasons. I'm sure the folks at 19 Entertainment are thrilled by Cook's win too, as he is by far the more "manageable" winner. I think those guys must have been sweating bullets over the last few weeks thinking about dealing with Scary Stage Daddy full-time had David Archuleta taken the title.

As we wrap up this season of American Idol (as well as American Idol Wednesdays), I'll leave you with my two favorite David Cook performances from this season.

Cook first emerges from the Idol pack with this cover of Lionel Richie's "Hello":

Cook sings Chris Cornell's arrangement of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean":

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

American Idol Wednesdays: A David vs. David Finale

Kelly vs. Justin. Reuben vs. Clay. Fantasia vs. Diana. Carrie vs. Bo. Taylor vs. Katharine. Jordin vs. Blake. And now, David vs. David. I've watched them all-- from witnessing Kelly Clarkson tearfully warble "A Moment Like This" while sitting in the living room of my first L.A. apartment, to last night's unfortunate boxing-themed duel of the Davids, which I caught from a New Orleans hotel room. Of the seven American Idol finales, only two have been truly competitive-- season two's, which pitted a 350 lb. "velvet teddy bear" against a skinny nerd from North Carolina with a golden voice that defied his awkward appearance, and last night's David vs. David affair, where despite the pundits' and oddsmakers' predictions that Cook would take the title, it was really anyone's game.

Unfortunately for these two talented men, the Idol producers decided to kick off their final night of competition with cheeseball introduction that bore a boxing motif, complete with the "Let's get rrrrrready to rrrummmmmbbbblle!" dude in the announcer's role. Ohmygod did they really make those poor kids come out and wear silk boxing robes and gloves as they were introduced to the crowd? Well, yeah. It is FOX, after all.

David Archuleta, or "little David" as Seacrest branded him, won the coin toss and smartly elected to sing second. And once they touched gloves (really), it was time to strip off the robes and get on with the show. Each David had three songs with which to wow the voters. Their first number was chosen for them by music mogul Clive Davis. For the second one, the contestants chose a new song from the 20 finalists' entries into the American Idol songwriting contest. And for the third, it was the contestants' choice. In past seasons, many of the Idols have chosen that slot to reprise one of their best performances from a past episode. Others have chosen something entirely new to them.

"This is duel, baby. For the KING of the Nokia Theatre!" bellowed Randy Jackson as the starting bell rang.


David Cook "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" Cook's take on the U2 classic started off softly, with a single electric guitar accompanying him on the first verse and it slowly built to an anthemic conclusion. It was a solid vocal treatment by Cook, but honestly, he didn't do anything terribly interesting with the song and it never hit a real high point for him. Though he was in far better voice than last week, I think Cook could have done a bit more re-arranging on the song instead of sticking so closely to the original. Maybe a 7 out of 10 for this first round.

David Archuleta "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me"
For the first time all competition, David Archuleta looked like a scared little boy as he sat on the steps of the stage, singing the first verse and I was reminded that holy shit... this kid is only 17. I'm not the biggest Clay Aiken fan (we'll leave that title to my mother), but Archuleta didn't do nearly the job with the song that Aiken did five seasons ago. Despite Randy, Paula, and Simon's fawning comments at the end, I thought he looked like he was trying to hard, even shouting to be heard in parts of it. Simon declared Round 1 to Archuleta, but I think it was more of a draw.


David Cook "Dream Big" Yay, he brought out the axe! Of course the songs they're trotting out this round are going to be pretty lousy if past seasons are any sort of indicator, but Cook's rocked-up version of "Dream Big" wasn't half bad, given that it was a below-average composition and he got in a NICE money note at the end. Despite the corniness of the song, I thought this was one of his best vocals ever. But was the song itself strong enough to be the winner's single and get it's fair share of radio airplay? That's debatable.

David Archuleta "In this Moment"
Of course he picked a cheeseball pop ballad, firmly entrenched in the adult contemporary genre. He delivered a predictably good vocal while donning a predictably trendy blazer with a patch. But dude... the song itself sucked serious ass, despite Simon's assessment that Archuleta chose the better song. He declared Round 2 to Archuleta, but this time I disagree... it was Cook all the way.


David Cook "The World I Know" Cook chose a Collective Soul song which he admitted in his pre-performance chat with Ryan Seacrest that he had never sung before. He brought out an acoustic guitar and went into a slightly more downtempo version of the original that I thought really showed off his vocal colors. Tearing up and breaking down a bit after the final chords, Randy Jackson praised his performance, loving that his choice allowed the "sensitive side" of David Cook, to shine. As for Simon, he noted that Cook is "one of the nicest, most sincere contestants we've had... but I'm going to be honest, it was completely the wrong song choice for the night. You should have sung 'Billie Jean' or 'Hello.'" And perhaps he's right. While "The World I Know" would have been a great pick for Cook during the regular season, the better third-round play would have been to trot out something familiar that the audience already loved and could readily identify. I would have gone for the Lionel Richie song, personally.

David Archuleta "Imagine"
Archuleta made a shrewd choice for his final performance, picking the song he performed the best all season, and also selecting something he's sung for ages and is obviously comfortable with. A great choice and a strong performance, as this is the one that's going to be stuck in the mind of America at the show's conclusion. "You are exactly what this show is about... and the best singer of season 7 is right there!"said Randy. "You came out here tonight to win, and what we've witnessed is a knockout" opined Simon as Archuleta held back tears of joy.

David Archuleta truly wanted to win this competition... almost as much as his Scary Stage Daddy wanted it for him. It's not like David Cook phoned it in or anything last night but let's remember-- Cook auditioned on a whim...he was only at the auditions to support his brother when the producers picked him out of the crowd to sing for the judges. Archuleta, on the other hand, has been dissecting the show since he was 10 years old.

If Dial Idol, the various pundits, and the public momentum is to be believed, David Cook will be crowned our seventh American Idol tonight and Otis and I will push our bet.

But that's fine with me if a rocker finally wins.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Why Poker Movies Have Failed (Thus Far)

My esteemed editor at Poker News, John "Schecky" Caldwell led off what is becoming an interesting discussion in the poker blogosphere on the total failure of any of the recent poker-themed films to do any business at the box office. His piece "Poker at the Movies-- Why Does Hollywood Fail?" can be found here. As I was compiling my thoughts, another blogging heavyweight posted his take. Otis' thoughts on the matter can be found in "Poker Movies See too Many Flops" over on Up for Poker.

Schecky posed a number of questions in his piece and I'll attempt to answer a few of them, namely Why does Hollywood fail to make good poker films?

As my older readers know and my newer readers may not, before I became a whore for the poker industry, I spent eight long years working in motion picture development-- two of them at a studio, six at a high-volume production company. Half of my job involved reading scripts, hearing pitches from writers, hearing pitches from agents, and hearing pitches from the Big Man's surfing buddy/wayward cousin/former law school classmate and deciding if any of them were worthy enough of being developed into a film. The other half involved working with writers and giving them notes on their drafts, and, once the script was ready, getting talent attached and proceeding to production.

I once estimated that during my time in the business, I read over 2,000 scripts. Of those 2,000, maybe 150 were worth serious consideration. And of those 150, only about 20 were truly great. Included in those 20 are the screenplays to American Beauty, Little Miss Sunshine, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Juno.

The point? It is very, very difficult to write a great screenplay. Even the best writers out there shank it more often than not.

Of those 2,000 screenplays that I read, none of them were about poker (though a few had poker scenes in them). There was one out there, the Untitled Curtis Hanson Project, which was being heavily guarded by Hanson's agents at UTA. The agency suits loved talking it up to D-types like myself, but rarely let anyone read it. There was also one out there about blackjack. Originally titled Bringing Down the House, it had been in development for several years at Trigger Street Productions, Kevin Spacey's film company. It came out in theaters this March under the title 21.

But let's back up for a second and talk about that Untitled Curtis Hanson Project, the film that eventually was retitled Lucky You. We'll come back to 21 later.

Hollywood gave poker films a $100 million dollar chance to succeed with Lucky You. On paper, it looked like everyone's dream poker film. An Academy Award winning director in Hanson and an Academy Award winning screenwriter in Eric Roth. Major stars in Eric Bana, Drew Barrymore, and another Oscar winner in Robert Duvall. A $60 million dollar budget and worldwide marketing and distribution courtesy of Warner Bros. Lucky You had everything you can possibly have going for you when it comes to getting a movie made. But all the money in the world, or at least Burbank, couldn't solve the film's biggest problem.

It just wasn't good.

If a movie is good, people more often than not tend to see it. It doesn't matter if it's about poker, the apocalypse, or hot-air ballooning. If Lucky You was good, even a little bit good, I really believe it could have found some sort of audience. Unfortunately, after two years of delays and 8 different release dates, the movie got a bit of a stink on it, and in the current entertainment climate that kind of bad buzz is the only surefire killer out there. As a result, Lucky You was DOA. Even it's core audience-- folks like you and I-- were skeptical of its quality by the time it hit the screen.

Warner Bros gave poker films a $100 million dollar chance. All they got in return were scathing reviews and anywhere from an $85-$95 million dollar write-down for fiscal year 2007. That is one deep, deep hole. That's like, a Pluto Nash sized hole. It made less than Gigli for Christ's sake.

If that's not enough to ensure that a studio will not put a poker movie into production in the foreseeable future, I don't know what is.

Lucky You wasn't the only chance poker got in Hollywood. Have we already forgotten the abominably bad ESPN original series Tilt starring Michael Madsen and Eddie Cibrian? Or NBC's half-hour pilot All-In based on the life of Annie Duke? God, I hope so. Again, it's a case of bad product, not a lack of opportunity.

So, that's three strikes against poker-themed entertainment right there and we haven't even talked about the two more recent poker films The Grand and Deal.

Despite Lucky You's total failure with critics and at the box office, two more poker films were still able to get financing. Unlike any of the projects mentioned above, both The Grand and Deal are independent films. Their budgets came from investors, not a studio, and both came in around the $5 million mark. The Grand happened because Zak Penn is a poker fanatic and is a well-established Hollywood director. He had the clout to get poker playing actors like Woody Harrelson, Dennis Farina, David Cross, Michael McKean, and Cheryl Hines to be in the film for very little money. Penn's co-writer on the script with him, Matt Bierman, was a longtime Hollywood executive, who at one time ran Phoenix Pictures. With that level of talent attached to a project, it's not that hard to get a $5 million movie to happen. And to Penn and Bierman's credit-- they did it their way. The Grand was largely improvised, full of insider humor, and aimed at hardcore poker fans. It got pretty decent reviews but, unfortunately never broke out of very limited release. At it's peak, it was playing on only 6 screens.

Deal was written and directed by Gil Cates, Jr., a hyphenate without much of a resume, save for the fact that he's the son of Gilbert Cates, who produced the Academy Awards for 13 years. His co-writer on the script was Mark Weinstock, who runs the marketing division at Screen Gems. Funny enough, the duo originally decided to write Deal because neither of them thought there were any good poker movies out there. Scott Lazar, who made the final table of the 2005 WSOP Main Event was one of the film's executive producers/financiers. It was distributed by MGM, which explains why it got into 50 theatres instead of 6 like The Grand. Its release was perpetually delayed until they finally decided to just put the damn thing out there and get it over with. It was universally panned by critics and made an utterly embarrassing $57,000 at the box office.

Is it just that America doesn't want to see movies about Las Vegas or gambling? Not at all. I told you we were going to get back to 21.

One of the most successful films of the first half of 2008 was a movie about Las Vegas. And gambling. 21 was modestly budgeted, had one star (Kate Bosworth) but only in a supporting role, and got mixed reviews. Still, it earned over $24 million its opening weekend and has grossed over $80 million to date. If Rounders came out today with the same cast, it would probably earn a similar amount.

Why? There is one common thread these movies have and it's not a deck of cards.

It's wish fulfillment.

21's protagonist is a smart, good-looking student who finds a way to earn his medical school tuition by playing blackjack in Las Vegas. Until it all goes to hell. But despite the obstacles (robbed by his mentor, beaten up by casino security) he outsmarts everyone in the end and ends up living his dream.

Rounders' protagonist is a smart, good-looking student who finds a way to put himself through law school by playing poker in underground NYC clubs. Until it all goes to hell. But despite the obstacles (his ex-con best friend runs up debts in his name and gets him in trouble with the Russian mob) he outsmarts everyone in the end and ends up living his dream (moving to Vegas to play in the WSOP).

Mike McD and Ben Campbell are relatable characters. It's easy to put yourself in their shoes. They have gifted minds but also human weaknesses. We root for them in ways we'd never root for a dark soul like Eric Bana's Huck Cheever. Anyone thinking of writing a poker-themed screenplay should take note of that.

I do think another great poker movie is possible. The world is too rich and full of stories and personalities for it not to be. I'm not going to write it but I hope someone does. Because if the script is good it really doesn't matter what it's about or how marketable it seems. Good scripts are a rare, precious thing.

Poker movies (and scripted TV shows) have failed because every single one post-Rounders has been poorly written. Plain and simple. They haven't failed to ignite because the general public doesn't "get" poker or because the writers and directors involved don't understand poker or because the subject matter isn't commercial enough. They've failed because their stories and characters weren't original or compelling. They suffered from one-dimensional characters, cliched conflicts and cheesy dialogue.

I look back at those 20 great screenplays I read over eight years and realize now that none of them were at all what you'd call commercial. But all of them got made, most of them won awards, and many grossed over $100 million. They were about a depressed suburban father, a pregnant teen girl, an unlikely beauty pageant competitor, a sexually frustrated writer who can't adapt a book about flowers and a heartbroken man who wants to erase his lover from his memory. And their common thread is nothing more than brilliant writing.

Perhaps Rounders will end up being the definitive poker movie of our generation. Perhaps someone will come around and do one better. What about starting the film with our hero winning a million bucks on the WPT and then take him to the dark side before he has to climb out of the hole and redeem himself? It'll be loosely based on Newhizzle and star Jonah Hill from Superbad and John Cho from Harold and Kumar as his crazy Asian gambler best friend.

Whaddya say?

Appendix A: The Hard Numbers (all data courtesy IMDB)

Rounders (1998)-- Budget: $12 million. Marketing costs: approx. $5-8 million. Opening weekend: $8.5 million on 2,176 screens. Total domestic box office: $22.9 million.

Lucky You (2007)--Budget: $60 million. Marketing costs: approx $30-40 million. Opening weekend: $2.7 million on 2,525 screens. Total domestic box office: $5.75 million. Approximate write-down for Warner Bros: $85-95 million.

The Grand (2008)-- Budget: $5.4 million. Marketing costs: approx. $500,000. Opening weekend: $16,454 on 2 screens. Total domestic box office: $114,669.

Deal (2008)-- Budget: $5 million. Marketing costs: approx. $500,000. Opening weekend: $35,251 on 50 screens. Total domestic box office: $57,180.

21 (2008)-- Budget: $35 million. Marketing costs: approx. $20-25 million. Opening weekend: $24.1 million on 2,643 screens. Total domestic box office: $80.4 million.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

American Idol Wednesdays: Syesha Slips, Cook Cracks, and Boy Wonder Sails Toward the Finals

Usually, the semi-finals is my favorite Idol show of the year, as this is when the final three contestants really turn things up in order to ensure themselves a spot in the finals. This is the night when many contestants hit their high point, creating that "signature" moment for themselves that will be etched in Idol history. Remember Katharine McPhee's gorgeous version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow?" Semi-finals. Melinda Doolittle finally hitting her stride with a cover of Tina Turner's "Nutbush City Limits?" Ditto. Taylor Hicks ripping up "Try a Little Tenderness" when Paula picked it for him in the Judges' Choice round? If you've been saving up a song that's gonna blow the doors off the place, this is the night to unleash it.

This year? Not so much.

Syesha Mercado, David Cook, and David Archuleta all looked positively exhausted last night, and each one phoned in at least one of the three songs they were required to perform. Some might argue that well, how could they not, after a week that had them making whirlwind trips back to their hometowns, doing a shitload of local press while they were there, and then having to learn and/or re-arrange three songs on top of that? Everyone's voice was fried to a degree, most notably David Cook, who in my opinion turned out some of his weakest performances of the season. But this is the semi-finals, kids. The most important moment of your young careers. You'd better have something ready.

As I mentioned before, each contestant had to sing three songs this week-- one chosen by the judges, one chosen by the American Idol producers, and one of their own choice.


David Archuleta "And So it Goes" Paula Abdul made this selection for Boy Wonder, who chose a very spare, largely string arrangement to back him up on the Billy Joel classic. To his credit, Archuleta handled the tricky, difficult melody almost effortlessly, though it wasn't exactly the most forward-thinking choice of song for an emerging young pop artist. I thought Randy Jackon's assessment was right on-- that it would have been cool to see Archuleta do it at the piano, accompanying himself. A predictably solid effort from Archuleta.

Syesha Mercado "If I Ain't Got You" Syesha certainly dressed the part of a superstar diva in a gold floor length beaded gown for this performance. I was really surprised how well she handled the song. This is not an easy track and it's so readily identifiable with Alicia Keys-- the main problem with Randy Jackson's song choice for her. It gave Mercado a serious handicap going into her first minute forty-five onstage that night. Just getting through it with a couple of nice runs and melodic adjustments was a formidable feat, but it just didn't sizzle enough onstage to give her much help in overcoming her underdog status at this final stage the competition.

David Cook "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" Simon Cowell chose this for Cook, wanting something"different" for him as well as to give him the opportunity to re-arrange it, not to mention seeing how he'd handle such a challenging melody. The result was...meh. Cook's voice was exhausted enough, but this song drew even more attention to that fact, showing off every crack in his armor. It built to a nice conclusion but the verse was very pitchy. Cowell's choice was a bit of an odd one for Cook, or really any rocker that doesn't have the crystalline voice of a Freddie Mercury. I'd rather have heard something that enhances that throaty growl in his throat than something that unfortunately showed off its limitations.


David Archuleta "With You" "16 year old girls who like John Mayer will like this song."-- Pauly.

Boy Wonder went a younger, more modern R&B route with this song, and though it was pretty damn awkward hearing him sing lyrics like "my boo", Archuleta (and/or Stage Daddy) actually made a brilliant choice for himself. This kind of clean, sickeningly marketable radio-friendly pop that makes all the little girls scream is exactly the shit he's gonna make when he wins Idol and this was our sneak preview. Does this mean I enjoyed his performance? Not at all. This kind of shit makes me want to stick bamboo shoots up my fingernails while waterboarding a kitten. As Simon Cowell said "It was a little bit like a chihuahua trying to be a tiger." Well... yeah. This poor little Mormon twinkie is getting all this female attention and the fact that he feels nothing must be weirding him out!

Syesha Mercado "Fever" This may go down as one of the most brain-dead song choices in Idol history. I mean, how many smarter, less played-out songs are out there if Syesha wanted to do a more jazzy number? Does it show off her voice? No. Does it tell me what kind of record she's going to make ? Not really. Was it contemporary at all? Not in the least. This was too stagey, too cruise ship, too late-night-lounge at a fading Vegas hotel. This song bleeds "cabaret." And we all know how bad it is to be called "cabaret" on American Idol. And not only was she called "cabaret," but Simon called it "lame cabaret."

"I think you'll come to regret this" said Cowell, in his closing remarks. No shit.

David Cook "Dare You to Move" Cook picked a song by the San Diego band Switchfoot, which, evidently 5 people in the audience had heard of. It was an OK alt-rock song with a decent hook and Cook's treatment of it provided a fair forecast for what his record will sound like. Again, though, the theme emerging for Cook tonight is to be the wear and tear that is becoming really apparent in his voice. Pitchy and scratchy again.


David Archuleta "Longer" Snoooooooozefest! What is this, some awful wedding from 1983? On Boy Wonder's return to ballad-land, even he seemed to be phoning it in. I mean seriously, the producers picked this? WTF?

Syesha Mercado "Hit Me Up" What the fuck is this song? It has no melody... it keeps changing tempos... I'm getting a headache... Seriously, a Beyonce/Rhianna kind of thing isn't gonna work on her. With this song not working for her, that makes two out of three totally busto performances from Syesha this week. It looks like Ms. Mercado's ship has sailed. She hit her high point last week with "A Change is Gonna Come" and didn't even come close to hitting that mark again this week. Syesha needed a big-time surprise in order to keep herself in contention and have any hope of overcoming the Davids in the vote. Instead, she'll have to settle for this season's bronze medal. And hopefully, a Broadway show.

David Cook "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" This song always makes me think of one of cinematic history's true low points-- the animal crackers scene with Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler in Armageddon. So again, not any sort of personal favorite here. I thought the arrangement was a little contrived and overblown, but after Syesha's bomb-a-rama night, it was certainly enough to get him into the finals. Oh and look, it's Diane Warren in the audience... ya think that might have been why they picked it?

Contestants whom Dial Idol is definitively predicting to be in the finals: David Cook, David Archuleta.

Latest American Idol Alumni to release an album: Season 6 sixth-place finisher Phil Stacey.

Current Bodog odds on the remaining contestants:

David Cook 5-12
David Archuleta 19-10
Syesha Mercado 50-1

Odds of me freerolling on my bet with Otis by tonight at 10 p.m. PDT: Spectacular.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mother's Day, Starring Phil Lesh and Grace Potter

"Are you a mother too?" asked the young blonde waiter at the French restaurant where I'd just wrapped up Mother's Day brunch with my parents. He held out a bright pink rose, identical to the one he'd just given my mom.

"No. I'm one of those people that shouldn't have children" I replied.

This much is true. I'm the girl who told Pauly to grind up 1/4 of a Xanax and slip it into the food of a screaming child on his latest cross-country odyssey, via the Jet Blue skies.

I tried to be a good daughter this year. I wasn't in Las Vegas or gallavanting around at some music festival on Mother's Day, so I took her and my father out for brunch at their favorite French place. Though it was kind of odd to be eating lamb chops at 11:30 in the morning, they were delicious all the same, as was the pecan-hazelnut torte I shared with my mom.

Later in the afternoon, Pauly and I headed across town for the Greek Theatre. He'd picked up tickets for us to the Phil Lesh & Friends show several months ago when he'd figured out that he'd be arriving in California that weekend for his nearly four-month west coast sojurn. As a bonus, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals were opening for Phil. I really dig her album This is Somewhere and have caught her a couple of times at various festivals.

Only 24 years old, Potter sings lead vocals in a thick, blues-influenced timbre that might lead you to believe she was raised on a windblown ranch or deep in the Mississippi Delta, but in fact she and her bandmates hail from Phish country-- the rolling hills of Vermont. She also sits on keys, playing piano and a Hammond B3 and picks up an electric guitar on certain songs. Rounding out the band are Bryan Dondero on bass, Matt Burr on drums and guitarist Scott Tournet. They've spent the majority of the last two years on the road, playing afternoons at large-scale music festivals and smaller club dates on their own. This summer, in addition to their festival schedule, they've started opening for bigger artists like Phil & Friends and the Black Crowes.

Traffic was easy for once and we took our spot in the stacked parking lot around 4:30. We listened to a Phish bootleg in the car and smoked a bowl as we watched a mix of old school Deadheads, tour kids, and wookies file into the lot. A pickup truck with a guy in an Uncle Sam Hat drinking out of a red plastic cup was parked in front of us. A Lexus was parked behind. Pauly pointed out the various iconic Deadhead school buses to me.

"That one's full of fundamentalist Christian Deadheads. See them handing out their literature? And that other one, with the bus on top of the bus? It's been around forever" he said, pointing at a gargantuan purple and orange double-decker with its windows covered by a rainbow of curtains.

Security was a joke. So was the $10 price for a Dos Equis, but I still bought two. We had great seats-- dead center about halfway up. Two sisters from Vermont were sitting in front of us. They stood out to me because their clothes and makeup were far too ladylike and polished for this kind of scene. A couple of older Deadheads my father's age took the two seats next to them. They made fast friends, eagerly and excitedly talking music. At one point, one of the old dudes went out and brought back beer for himself and a carafe of white wine for the girls.

"We've never been here before" said Grace Potter, as she took the stage. "This is a beautiful space." Indeed the Greek is one of my favorite places to see live music-- anywhere. The 5,500 seat amphitheater is nestled in the hills of Griffith Park and there is hardly a bad seat in the house.

Grace opened with a bouncy Ain't No Time and went straight into Treat Me Right. Next was a heavy, jammy treatment of Stop the Bus, where Grace picked up her guitar to solo with Tournet. Nothing but the Water started with an a capella verse-- just Grace singing gospel-tinged blues and slamming a tambourine, before the rest of the band kicked in. They broke for an all-hands-on deck drum jam before segueing back into the final verse. Things then shifted downtempo for Apologies, one of my more recent "favorite songs to sing in my car while sitting L.A. traffic." Mastermind and The Big White Gate, both of her latest album, finished out the set.

Pauly bought us a couple more beers during setbreak-- a tasty Hefeweizen. About halfway through it, I made my first of a half a dozen bathroom trips. As I walked down the ramp toward the restrooms, I noticed a deadlocked guy staggering around, followed by his friend/caretaker. Once he located a large trashcan, he immediately started vomiting, while his pal held his dreads.

As the joker always says, "Pace yourself!"

Phil & Friends took the stage just as the sun was going down. They opened with a sizzling Shakedown Street and immediately broke out into a long jam. About halfway through the song, two younger hipster dudes arrived in the row in front of us, exchanging hellos with the two older guys. One of the hipsters was the nephew of one of the older guys. The hipsters' faces lit up when they saw that their older, wiser companions had already charmed and liquored up two hot chicks for them. Then one of the old dudes pulled out a packed bowl for one of the hipsters and they all started getting high.

I thought about what it would be like to go to a Phil Lesh show with my uncle... well, that would be totally horrifying as he's a redneck who voted for George W. Bush both times and thinks marijuana is evil.

Phil & Friends played some of my favorite Dead songs including China Cat Sunflower, Friend of the Devil and Franklin's Tower. I was really impressed by young guitarist Jackie Greene as well as Larry Campbell, who took up the fiddle during Friend of the Devil. One thing I did miss was someone taking on sort of a Donna Jean role a la Joan Osborne, who toured with Phil & Friends several years back. I was looking for that layer of vocal harmony.

It's pretty easy to smoke weed at the Greek. The mistake so many amateurs make is turning their head skyward and blowing the smoke straight into the air after taking a hit. Literally sending up a "smoke signal" is the easiest way for security to find you. Blow down, people!

I guess I had been smoking a lot during the show. I'm a champion pothead and have a high tolerance. This is not news to anyone who knows me. Seeing me smoke 3-4 bowls in a row is like watching Al Cant Hang drink 3-4 Socos in a row. It's really just a warm-up.

During Phil's second set, the guy sitting on my left tapped me on the shoulder. He had cropped salt and pepper hair, wore a leather jacket, and had been singing the words to all the songs.

"I've seen you smoking nonstop through the whole show and man... I just want you to get high!" He held out a small wooden bowl.

"This is full and I'm not going to smoke it. But I want someone to enjoy it" he said, placing the bowl in the palm of my hand.

"Seriously, man, she must be smoking all your shit!" he said to Pauly.

I looked over at my beloved and he was doubled over in laughter. I was never gonna live this down.

So I smoked the nice man's bowl. It was a decent, mid-grade sativa. I finished the thing off in 5-6 puffs... and then, of course resumed smoking my own shit.

Pauly called Box of Rain for the encore, just as he'd done earlier with New Speedway Boogie in the car on the way to the show. From the stage, Lesh thanked the dude who had given him a new liver back in 1999 and urged us all to turn to the one we love and offer up our own organs, should anything happen.

"You can have anything left that still works, my love. But I wouldn't recommend the lungs" I said sweetly, as the opening chords of Box of Rain rang out and the moon rose over the Hollywood Hills behind us.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

American Idol: David Archuleta's Father Banned from Backstage

Boy Wonder and Stage Daddy Pose for US Weekly

American Idol has finally had it with David Archuleta's scary stage daddy. Boy Wonder's father, Jeff Archuleta, had his backstage pass revoked this week after his Mama Rose antics went one step too far.

According to TMZ's report (they broke it and the AP caught up this morning), Jeff Archuleta, in addition to being somewhat of a lunatic and a total nuisance to virtually everyone involved in the production from producers to vocal coaches, to the other contestants, has now cost the show a tidy sum after urging his son to insert a lyric from Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girls" into his performance of "Stand By Me" last week. As these things need to be cleared through music publishers and lawyers, his little improvisation ended up costing FOX a tidy sum. Archuleta Sr. was summoned before Idol's legal team the next day and was told in that meeting that he was done with his backstage antics.

The AP tried to reach Jeff Archuleta for comment, but he is refusing interview requests and has disconnected his home phone in Utah.

In other news, David Archuleta's odds to win have gone up to 7-5, from 2-1 earlier in the week. Told 'ya to be the farm then!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Reminder: Saturdays With Dr. Pauly

For the second week in a row, I'll be guest hosting Saturdays with Dr. Pauly. My beloved will be on a flight from NYC to L.A. during game time, and both his dead money and mine will be there for the taking. I had a great time hosting last week, when Mr. Mojo took down the tourney, with Mean Gene as the runner-up.

1:20 PM Pacific/4:20 PM Eastern/10:20 PM Central European time. Seeya there!

Thursday, May 08, 2008


I remember going on a business lunch back in 2003. It wasn't uncommon for me to have four or five of these a week and usually I'd coax my companion into eating not at the same old "see and be seen" places of Beverly Hills where you'd eat the same $18 salad every afternoon, but somewhere a little less conspicuous where the food was infinitely better. Talesai on Olympic for their amazing coconut soup. John O'Groats for the best breakfast in Los Angeles. I once even took a fellow d-girl to my beloved Nick's diner, where she fell in love not only with the homey neighborhood ambiance but their chocolate chip pancakes, after I coaxed her into ordering them for lunch. I'd not only eat better and often cheaper food throughout the week, but they'd remember me as the girl who introduced them to their new favorite place.

Most of these encounters ended with an exchange of business cards, which I'd effortlessly whip out of my pocket. But one time, after turning a recently transplanted New York exec on to the Huevos O'Groats, she just whipped out her cell phone in the middle of the meal.

"What's your cell phone number?"

"I don't have one."

"You don't HAVE one?"

"Nope. I'm keeping it real."

"I'm all for keeping it real, but... how do you... FUNCTION?"

She couldn't wrap her mind around the whole concept of not wanting to be reached in the very few hours of the week where I wasn't readily reachable in my office or at home. So I left that meeting remembered as "the girl without the cell phone" instead of the one who introduced her to the wonders of eggs and black beans served on top of a tortilla made of biscuit dough.

A few weeks later, I got promoted and a cell phone was quite literally forced into my hands. It felt like a tumor to me, squeezed into my pocket. Within a few days of getting it, I dropped it on the floor of a crowded bar and the screen cracked. But the phone still rang and I could dial out, so I didn't really care about replacing it. What the hell did I need text messaging for anyway?

I did end up replacing the phone, with the one that up until yesterday, I continued to use. The screen was still intact, I could send and receive texts and I had it set to a completely annoying ring. I will never hear Pachlabel's Canon again without thinking of that goddamn cell phone. The thing is, this little potentially radioactive piece of plastic was so worn out that it had grown hard for people to hear me over it. Pauly, for one was completely fed up with straining to listen to my ramblings every night.

Time for a new phone. Thankfully, I was eligible for a free upgrade from Sprint. I should have gone to the Sprint store, but the thought of fighting traffic up La Cienega at 5 p.m. didn't appeal to me. So I went to the Radio Shack five blocks away where it took four (yes, four) non-native English speakers with high-school educations 75 minutes, five phone calls to Sprint, and at least six, out loud, in-the-middle-of-the-store requests for the last four digits of my Social Security Number to get the phone to activate.

"Would you like to get a Bluetooth headset and a car charger for $49.99?" one of them dared to ask me as she finally rang me up.

"No. I would like to get the hell out of here."

So I have a new phone. It's not a Crackberry, for that is the latest layer of technology where I'm continuing to refuse to give in. That and MySpace pages. It does, however, have this nifty, slide-out keyboard for texting. I also discovered last night that one can Instant Message via cell phone now. My infinitely more technologically savvy 25-year old cousin helped me figure it out and I IM'ed with him over the phone last night until I started getting carpal tunnel in my thumbs.

Yeah, I know you're all laughing at me now. Welcome to 2008, Change.

Ergo, with these wild new technological capabilities in my hands, I've completed another hipster ritual. I've joined Twitter. Shouldn't a can of Milwaukee's Beast be falling on my head about now?

So now you can follow me all day and all night. I feel almost as cool as Jen Leo right now.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

American Idol Wednesdays: In Which Dreadlock Boy Forgets the Lyrics and Syesha Surprises Us

"In muh mehnuh meh muh"

With only two weeks left until America votes in their new Idol, every performance counts. Every song choice counts. There's no more skating by, no more flying under the radar. Such a strategy has proven to be a winning one this season, with both Syesha Mercado and Jason Castro squeezing out enough votes to get them into the Top 4, while more well-defined artists like Carly Smithson and Brooke White fell by the wayside. Mercado has emerged as the competition's true dark horse, discovering a soul-meets-Broadway jazz vibe that suits her far better than the overblown pop ballads she tried on early in the competition. Castro, however just couldn't find it within himself to step it up, and has likely strummed his guitar for the last time upon the Idol stage.

Ladies and gentlemen, your Top 4:

David Cook "Hungry Like the Wolf", "Baba O'Riley" All goateed and scruffy, donning the requisite leather jacket, Cook gave the audience a decent rendition of the Duran Duran hit, pausing to grab a few teenage hands as he strode across the stage. But that's just what it was... decent. Totally competent but equally as ordinary and nothing we're going to remember tomorrow morning. Then, after basically confessing to phoning it in during his "chat" with Ryan Seacrest, he brought out "Baba O'Riley", and the Cook we know and love was back. The arrangement was quietly intense-- holding back in the first half with organ and strings taking the place of the verse's signature electric power chord hook, and then turning the volume up on the chorus, Cook picking up the axe and letting his voice soar on the money notes. Cook also pointed out that the song had never been done on the show and you know what? That gets him even more points in my book. A great find and another memorable performance.

David Archuleta "Stand By Me", "Love Me Tender"
"Stand By Me" was actually a great song choice for Archuleta and I liked the spare arrangement with just bass, bongos, and background singers. Oh, and a triangle (for that ding! punctuating each phrase). He manipulated the melody just enough and got in some nice runs. It was also appropriate for him, which is more than I can say for his second song, "Love Me Tender." Look, I'm just not into underage gay boys singing love songs, what can I say? Fortunately for him, 11-14 year old girls are. I think at this point, it would take Wonder Boy being struck down by a meteor or kidnapped by a rabid band of Jason Castro superfans to prevent him from going to the finals. He's gonna win this thing.

Syesha Mercado "Proud Mary", "A Change is Gonna Come" "This song has been covered over one hundred times. That's a lot!" -- Syesha Mercado

And that's just on iTunes, baby. So... after choosing a song that you yourself admit has been done to death, what in the name of all that is holy possesses you to decide to attempt the Tina Turner dance. And not just any Tina Turner dance. The Tina Turner dance. However you do it, if you are not, indeed Tina Turner, you're gonna look like a wannabe. Amateurish. Cruise-ship ready. Chorus girl in Legally Blonde: The Musical. Then there's the matter of the too-short gold lame dress (God help her should she ever decide to get out of a limo in it). Ditto the cheeseball band-on-the-stage arrangement. It was all very "Legends in Concert" at the Imperial Palace for me. Syesha has definitely been stepping up her game over the last several weeks, and this performance was an unfortunate detour. But... the Idols had two songs tonight. And on Syesha's second choice "A Change is Gonna Come", she blew the doors off the place. It was the first time I got chills from her since her Hollywood Week audition. It was a beautiful, supple vocal that showed off her soaring belt in just the right range. I don't know who shit in Randy's oatmeal this morning... it was probably her best performance to date. I'm still very happy with my side of my bet with Otis, but Syesha went a long way tonight toward perhaps pulling what would be one of Idol's most stunning upsets ever.

Jason Castro "I Shot the Sheriff", "Mr. Tambourine Man" Wow. I mean wowwwwww. I haven't seen such a pile of musical roadkill on Idol since... well, since Castro completely obliterated "Memory" during Andrew Lloyd Webber week. Dreadlock Boy proved tonight that he has entirely overstayed his welcome on the show. Randy called his Bob Marley cover a "karaoke bomb" and I think he was being kind. Simon's "utterly atrocious" was far more apt. Then there was the matter of "Mr. Tambourine Man" where Castro committed perhaps the worst offense possible from an AI contestant-- he forgot the lyrics. And not just a word or two. We're talking several lines where he quite literally substituted "eh muh mehnuh meh muh" for Dylan's verse. Seriously, I've seen better performances from strung-out wookies in the Bonnaroo parking lot and an 11-year old busker outside a surf shop in Byron Bay (he could play the violin and remembered his words). Goddammit, I expect more from my Top 4! But you know what? All things considered, here's what I admire about what Castro did not only tonight, but throughout the competition. While Simon and Randy completely ass-raped him with their criticism, he just stood there, smiled, looked charming, and gazed into the eyes of teenage girls across America. Now that's knowing your audience.

Order in which I (still) think they'll finish:

4. Jason Castro
3. Syesha Mercado
2. David Cook
1. David Archuleta

Current Bodog odds on the remaining contestants:

David Archuleta 2-1 (OMG can you say value? if I had a Bodog account I'd bet the farm.)
David Cook 1-2
Jason Castro 25-1
Syesha Mercado 30-1 (poor Otis...)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Skill Series: Double Stacks Razz

Change100 Eliminated in 10th Place ($0)

Change100 got all in on fourth as about a 2-1 favorite with 7-5-4-3 vs. Fuel55's 9-6-5-3. Unfortunately for everyone's favorite California pothead, the Canuck ran like God tonight and caught 2-2-A to make a 6-5, besting Change's 7-5 after hitting Q-3-A. Change hit the rail and headed for her beloved bong, after yet another near-miss at the money.

"G*ddamn motherf#cking razz! Come on!" she screeched at the screen. "What kind of f*cking masochist am I for playing deep stacks razz!"

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Vanessa Rousso and the $27 SNG

I jumped into a $25+2 SNG the other day on Stars and lo and behold, there was Vanessa Rousso sitting to my left.

Wish I could tell you how I busted or bad-beated her or something, but there were easier fish to fry at that table. Vanessa was eliminated in 7th after playing very few hands and getting her chips in with Q-J vs. 7-8. An 8 on the flop gave her more time to focus on the other 5 SNGs she was in, as well as a $109 NLHE freezeout. I ended up finishing third because Q8>K8 when the flop is J-8-8 but you reallly just can't do anything about getting your money in there.


Saturday, May 03, 2008

Brooke White Rides into the Sunset, Paula Sees the Future

I think Brooke knew she was going home. There was a certain resignation on her face as she took the stage for her final cheesy group number, the five remaining Idols paying homage to their mentor-of-the-week Neil Diamond (who coincidentally has a new album coming out, imagine that!) An undeniably talented performer who perhaps understood the entire time that her Carly Simon vibe wouldn't ever earn her the title of top vote-getter among the under-14 demographic that drives this competition, White went as far as she could, and turned out perhaps one of her best performances in her final week with Diamond's classic "I am, I Said."

But in true Idol fashion, it wasn't Brooke's ouster that grabbed headlines this week. Everyone's favorite space case Paula Abdul must have popped a double dose of those pharmies this week, sending herself into some alternate universe where Jason Castro had sung two songs when he had only sung one at that point. Awkward!

We've now reached a final four consisting of a precocious balladeer, a commerical rocker, a dreadlocked coffeehouse refugee, and a Broadway-bound soul singer. Otis has proven to be dead-on in his assessment that Jason Castro was one helluva value bet at the 35-1 odds he was going at three weeks ago to win, and his ultimate pick to win, Syesha, is finally finding her groove after spending most of the competition just under the radar. I still believe, though, that the finale will be a battle of the Davids, unfortunately with Boy Wonder Archuleta becoming our eighth American Idol. Tragic, I know, but mark my words.

Here's how our final five fared this week:

Jason Castro “Forever in Blue Jeans”, “September Morn”: The first verse of "Forever in Blue Jeans" sat way too low in his voice. There were no fireworks at all! This was something you might hear some wookie playing on Venice Beach for tips inside his guitar case. Wake up, Jason! You're in the final five!

Then Paula thinks Castro has sung twice. Dude... what kind of pharmacy is she holding in that bag?

When he does actually get to his second song, it’s completely static and boring, filled with a lot of pitchy passages and flat notes. Castro wasn't playing in the big leagues with this effort. He’s back to acting like he doesn’t care. Maybe he doesn't. He pretty much shot himself in the foot with his performance tonight, but there's no doubt his rapid fan base will buoy him for another week.

David Cook “I’m Alive”, “All I Really Need is You” I didn't recognize these songs at all-- evidently they're a couple of lesser known Diamond B-sides. Cook gave "I’m Alive" a nice, if unspectacular treatment that was redeemed with a catchy hook on the choruses. The second song was much better-- a focused, radio-ready professional effort. Cook took on great arrangements that made both songs relevant to modern pop music and showed us two sides of his personality while maintaining a consistent aesthetic. At this point he's punched his ticket to the finals and I'm excited about what he'll turn out.

Brooke White “I’m a Believer”, “I Am, I Said” Brooke seemed overwhelmed by the melody on "I’m a Believer." It really was one of her weakest vocals and I had no clue why she chose to play her acoustic guitar behind such a heavily electric arrangement. Ooh, looks like Paula’s pharmies kicked in again... she’s up and dancing. I don't know, I just wasn’t into it... and it didn't look like she was either. "I Am I Said" though was more of the old Brooke that has the talent to get this far. She really connected to the song, and handled the difficult melody with the skill we all know she has. A fitting send-off for Ms. White and a nice note for America to remember her on.

David Archuleta “Sweet Caroline”, “America” "Sweet Caroline" actually made me smile. This is maybe the first thing I’ve kind of liked from him– in the way that I like schticky karaoke shit. I mean, how can anyone NOT like "Sweet Caroline", even when the drunk sweaty fat dude in the bar stands up and sings it with a mic in one hand and a Bud Light in the other. Then, the Disney kid returns on a song so outdated in its optimism and an American flag waves on the screen behind him and suddenly I’m more immersed in discerning the different ingredients in the tropical salsa I’m eating, rather than his performance (mango, papaya, cilantro, red onion, is that jalapeno?). Yeah, his audience will come in their pants. Yeah, he'll win. But will anyone over the age of 15 care?

Syesha Mercado “Hello Again”, “Thank the Lord for the Nighttime” Syesha’s general audition for the 2008-2009 Broadway season continues with her decidedly old-fashioned renditions of both Neil Diamond songs. Barefoot at the foot of the stage like the legit balladeer she’s destined to become, Syesha delivered a sweet, consistent vocal. There were not many highs and lows, it was just, as Simon Cowell is so fond of saying, “pleasant.” The girl really does have an excellent voice though. The judges “like her in this”sort of genre too, but unfortunately, it's not one that sits at the top of the pop charts. Unless Jason Castro pulls out something spectacular next week, I think Syesha is on course for a third place finish.

Order in which I believe the contestants will finish:

4. Jason Castro
3. Syesha Mercado
2. David Cook
1. David Archuleta

Current Bodog odds on the final four:

David Archuleta 20-21
Jason Castro 25-1
David Cook 20-21
Syesha Mercado 50-1

Friday, May 02, 2008

I'm Guest Hosting Saturdays with Dr. Pauly!

My beloved is in the midst of a multi-day bender at a rotating cast of New York City dive bars and will thus be unavailable to host his tournament tomorrow. Since I'm such a nice girlfriend, I'll be taking the reins this week.

Come one, come all. Pound a beer, light up the bong, and play some Omadraw.