Friday, March 30, 2007

The Hills, the Hills, the Hills are on Fire!

The desk in my bedroom where I do most of my writing sits in front of a huge window with a view of palm trees. Very California. I looked up from my screen, saw at the scene depicted in the above photo and thought "holy shit, it must be like a stage 3 smog alert out there today" when my phone rang. It was Showcase.

"The hills are on fire!" he screamed.

I grabbed my camera and walked half a block down the street to the condo building where he was dog-sitting and snapped this photo from the roof. The Hollywood Hills were indeed, on fire.

Accoding to NBC News it looks like we're dealing with a possible case of arson fireworks. The fire started in the parking garage of the Oakwood Apartments on Barham Blvd. Located between the 101 freeway and the Warner Bros. lot, it's the temporary housing complex where all the wannabe actors stay every year during pilot season. If you're a spunky 9-year old from Texas with a smile and a dream and your mama brings you out to Hollywood to try and make it big, your path will likely travel straight through the Oakwood.

It's still burning, but there's less smoke drifting past the palm tree now.

Bye-Bye Sligh, Idol in People Magazine, and the Fate of Studio 60: The Friday Media Roundup

Chris Sligh had me from "I want to make David Hasselhoff cry." He had a wry, self-effacing sense of humor, a warm, smooth voice that lent itself to an indie-rocker sort of style and those dreamy curls. He just didn't turn out one of those singular, star-making performances that are so crucial to getting though to the later stages of Idol. Think Fantasia's "Summertime" or Kelly Clarkson's "Natural Woman." Those are the kinds of standout turns that are going to send a contestant to the record-contract land that is the final 2 or 3. Don't forget-- that's what these kids are REALLY playing for here. Winning doesn't matter anymore. Taylor Hicks made an album but so did last year's runner-up Katharine McPhee. Even bronze medal winner Elliott Yamin just released a disc. And those two don't have to come at their careers with the iron chains of 19 Entertainment around their ankles, but with the immesurable benefits of the exposure that Idol affords.

Sligh even addressed this phenomena himself in an interview with his hometown paper, the G-Vegas Greenville News.

"I never came into this wanting to win it," Sligh said Thursday in a telephone interview, a day after being voted off and finishing tenth in the wildly popular singing competition. "I made the Top Ten. That was my goal."

"I wanted to make the tour," he said. "I wanted to be able to make music for my living, so I don't have to work at the marketing company that I was working at. It doesn't matter who is going to place ahead of me. What matters is the fact that I reached the goal that I really wanted to make."
Sorta like making the money in a tournament but juuuuust missing the final table. The article also reveals that Sligh also bet fellow contestant Phil Stacey $50 that he would be sent home that night. During his final performance after hearing the bad news, he interrupted the chorus of his Police song to remind Stacey "you owe me $50!"

Know what else? Chris Sligh attended Bob Jones University (yes, THAT Bob Jones University) and was expelled for attending a Christian rock concert.
"They kicked me out," Sligh said. "It was actually good, because I had been trying to figure out how to leave. My parents had given me the option of going to two colleges, and I chose the less-crazy one, believe it or not."
Sligh, however deserved to stick around longer than LITE-FM Scarnato and the horror that is Sanjaya and his pony-hawk. Showcase and I were doubling over in the front seat of his car this morning at radio talk show host Rhandi Rhodes' take on the Sanjaya situation. She's convinced that Abu Malik Al-Zarquawi (or whoever our new terrorist-of-the-week is) is texting in millions of votes for Sanjaya as an attack on America.

In more Idol news, the top ten grace the cover of this week's People magazine. Haley Scarnato is clearly continuing to play the leg card-- check out her choice of outfit in these photos from the People magazine shoot:

At this rate, Haley will be performing on J.Lo night in nothing but pasties and a thong. And high heels of course.

See up there where it says "Wedding Singer?" That explains a lot. Like why she can't get past the LITE-FM thing. Clearly she's sticking with what she knows.

And in the last Idol tidbit I have for you today, apparently Ms. Gwen Stefani was so horrified with Sanjaya's performance of "Bathwater" in rehearsals, she wanted to pull her song from the show. Check out the sordid details on CelebNewsWire.

For the (few) of you out there who still watch Studio 60, it looks like they're finishing out production on the rest of the first season, but chances for a second look non-existent. Anyone care to set an over-under on the first "Sorkin-totally-loses-it-to-the-press-and-blames-failure-of-show-on-middle -americans-who'd-rather-watch-Steve-Sanders-dance" interview?

Speaking of Steve Sanders dancing, my friend Carmen is posting some excellent episode recaps of Dancing With the Stars over at her site. Check 'em out.

Last but certainly not least, Showcase just showed me these two videos of Lily Tomlin and David O. Russell going apeshit on the set of I Heart Huckabees. In video one Russell flips out on Tomlin and in video two, Tomlin goes equally crazy on her director and poor Dustin Hoffman is sitting there in the middle just trying to keep it together.

Back when I was a D-girl, I worked on a lot of projects with an exec who was one of the producers of Russell's first big studio pic Three Kings and was on the set during the infamous George Clooney-David O. Russell strangling match/fist-fight. "That man is a FREAK" he would say, dryly, whenever asked about the experience.

Enjoy your weekends, people...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

American Idol Wednesdays: Sanjaya's Hair is BANANAS, B-A-N-A-N-A-S!

American Idol may be the top-rated program on television, but even those at the top slip sometimes. AI's ratings are down 10% from the same point in the competition last season. This translates into about 3 million fewer viewers per Tuesday performance show. Is Sanjaya a lack of talent to blame for the falling ratings? Here's the party line courtesy of Idol exec. producer Nigel Lythgoe:
"To be honest about it, people are saying this is not our greatest year for talent," Lythgoe said. "I don't necessarily agree with them...[But] if it is a bad year for talent—and we'll find out over the next few weeks—then we always do watch a ratings drop of between 3-4 percent."

"Even if we lost 50 percent of our audience, we'd still be in the top three shows in the country," Lythgoe said.
I wonder which seasons he considers "bad years for talent?" Someone's publicist just shit a brick. CoughFantasia'scough.

Here's another big surprise. The crying little girl on Idol was pretty much a fucking network plant. Doesn't exploitation rock? You get to be famous for a week and be on TV and do all sorts of interviews for free! Dance, monkey dance!

Well, onto the important shit. It was Gwen Stefani Week, people! In this episode the top 10 performed songs from the No Doubt catalog as well as selections from artists that inspire Stefani including the Police, Donna Summer, and The Cure. My first thought when I found out the theme was that we'd better get something good from Gina Glocksen, because this genre is squarely in her wheelhouse. Here's how they did.

LaKisha Jones: "Last Dance"

It was sort of unfortunate LaKisha had to go first, because I liked this performance even more when I watched it back a second time. She's leagues above most of these kids. It was a great choice for her to return to an uptempo number and she turned out an excellent vocal. Highs, lows, color, emotion, love it. LaKisha's back after last week's diamond fiasco. I dug the outfit and the boots too!

Chris Sligh: "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic"

Ooooof, we have some rhythm problems here. The vocal was OK, but at no point did I sit up in my chair and go "wow." NO money notes, no impressive runs, just kinda "eh." I really liked this guy a few weeks ago. What happened? This was a good song choice for him, actually a really great song choice and it sat well in his voice. But he just couldn't get it done in terms of pitch and delivery. An iffy performance like this isn't going to hack it at this point and it leaves him very vulnerable this week.

Gina Glocksen: "I'll Stand By You"

I was just saying to Showcase last week that Gina really needed to channel Chrissie Hynde. The song sat perfectly in her range and gave her the opportunity to go for the big notes and show off her voice. I'm glad Gina reminded us that she can sing after the disappointing last few weeks she's had. But despite her great vocal, that outfit was tragedy in motion. Gina is an attractive girl, but come on, miniskirt plus WAY-too-tight-for-her satin corset plus fishnets plus knee high boots with fucking skulls on them is gonna make anyone look like a cheap hooker. More clothes, less skank please. You're better than that, sweetheart.

Sanjaya Malakar: "Bathwater"

My jaw is on the floor. Seriously, this poor kid has become an unwitting national embarrassment. He simply doesn't belong there, and as I watch Sanjaya react to rendering three judges that are never at a loss for words speechless yet again, I think that even he knows at this point that he should have been out weeks ago and that it's all just some sad joke. Please, for the love of all that is holy, put this poor kid out of his misery and give him a shot at recovering from this unfortunate 15 minutes of fame and having a normal life. I mean, what utterly brain-dead stylist agreed to put that thing on his head? That tragic faux-hawk mess is all his REAL HAIR, people. NOT extensions or some sort of fall. Poor Sanjaya forgot the words, was totally off pitch, and made a terrible song choice. VFTW must be jizzing their pants.

In the words of Simon, "I don't think it matters anymore what we say actually... I think you're in your own universe and if people like you, good luck."

Haley Scarnato: "True Colors"

Another leg-baring outfit for Ms. Scarnato this week, this time a black minidress with a lower-back cut-out. Clearly Haley understands her assets and what kept her off the chopping block last week. I really don't remember much about her performance. It was that forgettable. Sorta breathy, un-special vocals one might hear on LITE-FM. Or in a wedding band. But that does not a pop star make. Eh... next! Just watch. I bet her legs will get her through again.

Phil Stacey: "Every Breath You Take"

Yes! Hat saves audience from gleaming white head! Vocally, I think Phil is the best guy remaining in the competition. He did the song justice and got in some of those glorious high notes there at the end. I just wish there was something a little more interesting about him. Something more charismatic. I just don't understand who he is yet as a performer and artist and I'm not sure he does either. But there's such potential there and I think this effort will at least earn him another week on the show.

Melinda Doolittle: "Heaven Knows"

Weeeeeeee! Melinda dances! Melinda sings! Melinda has NO NECK and that hideous go-go meets 1987 outfit did nothing but accentuate it. But goddamn if that woman doesn't just blow the doors off the place every single week. The judges are right-- it's that effortless connection she has with the music and lyrics she's interpreting that give her that edge over the others. Everyone else at some time or another looks like they're trying. On her, I never see it. Can't wait to see what she brings next week.

Blake Lewis: "Love Song"

The intro was like a smooth jazz nightmare. I was totally bored throughout. I know people like him but I just don't get this guy. This was Blake's first performance sans beatboxing and it really highlighted for me what a sub-par vocalist he is compared with many of the others. Without the gimmick, he's just ordinary and I completely disagree with the judges that he's the strongest guy. And.. we have yet another hideous outfit. It's as if he took one of Grubby's Cosby-era sweaters, cut it apart, and had Paula Abdul sew it back together by hand while faded on vodka and percoset.

Jordin Sparks: "Hey Baby"

Honestly, is some blind kooky grandmother with a flask of Seagram's in her pocketbook dressing these kids tonight? Putting a curvy girl in a pleated skirt is just fundamentally cruel. And that hoodie that looked like it was made out of some horrid picnic tablecloth? Poor Jordin looked like some junior high school tragedy straight out of the Delia's catalog. She also handicapped herself by choosing a song that at least for me is VERY hard to separate from Gwen Stefani. Jordin definitely took last week's note about doing something more young and fun and twisted the dial ALL the way in the other direction. With all the terrible styling choices it's really a tribute to her talent that it was one of the better performances of the night. She delivered pretty much a flawless vocal and showed a spunky, energetic side to herself. Viva la Jordin! But burn that hoodie NOW and consider keying the car of whomever convinced you to wear it.

Chris Richardson: "Don't Speak"

Gwen told him not to oversing the song-- a good note. And while the first half was standard Timber-lite nasaly whine, the second half surprised me once he hit the chorus and made some nice runs at the end. Timber-lite's voice is actually halfway decent when it's supported. I think he's still at the back of the pack, though and likely still splitting a lot of his votes with Blake. Methinks he could be sweating the bottom two again this week.

Here's where I sit with the contestants thus far...

This week's Performance Rankings (week of 3/27):

1. Melinda Doolittle
2. Gina Glocksen
3. LaKisha Jones
4. Jordin Sparks
5. Phil Stacey
6. Haley Scarnato
7. Timber-Lite
8. Beat-Box Blake
9. Chris Sligh
10.Sanjaya Malakar

Overall Rankings:

1. Melinda Doolittle
2. Jordin Sparks
LaKisha Jones
4. Gina Glocksen
5. Phil Stacey
6. Beat-Box Blake
7. Chris Sligh
8. Chris Richardson
9. Haley Scarnato
10.Sanjaya Malakar

In trouble: Chris Sligh, Chris Richardson, Haley Scarnato

Safe: Melinda Doolittle, LaKisha Jones, Jordin Sparks, Gina Glocksen, Beat-Box Blake, Phil Stacey

So Immortal even Vegas might list it as a pick'em: Sanjaya

My pick to leave us this week: Chris Sligh


(potential Idol spoilers below... if you want to stay completely in the dark until tonight, stop reading)

10:20 AM : If the robo-voters over at Dial Idol are to be believed (Showcase and I always take their predictions with a grain of salt), the three contestants that are the most vulnerable for elimination tonight are... Chris Sligh, Haley Scarnato, and Jordin Sparks. Melinda, LaKisha, and Sanjaya were among the top vote-getters as usual, while Timber-lite joined them in the safe zone as well this week. Gina, Phil and Beat-Box Blake also look to have enough votes to put them through.

I'm seriously crossing my fingers for Jordin to survive. This girl has serious talent and I don't know if I can handle another Idol travesty that would surely be spoken of in the same manner as Jennifer Hudson's 7th place elimination in season three.

6:32 PM: I just checked the official Idol message boards (the results show just aired on the East Coast) and it looks like our boy from G-Vegas, Chris Sligh, will be leaving us this week. Haley, Phil and Chris were the bottom three, Jordin and Gina were thankfully safe and the Sanjaya train keeps on running. More thoughts on the show once I've actually seen it!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Shorts Save Haley on AI, Stephanie Voted Out

In yet another appalling decision by the American Idol voting public, Stephanie Edwards was voted off the show last night, joined in the bottom two by Chris "Timber-lite" Richardson. Haley Scarnato and her brown hot pants were declared safe and Sanjaya will get circle the country damaging teenage eardrums everywhere on the AI tour.

Sweet Jesus, what the fuck is going on here?

Stephanie had one of the top four or five voices remaining in the competition, but I think, fell victim to being "the other black girl besides Melinda and LaKisha," splitting the vote against her. She got a little lost in the shuffle and it's a shame, as she is legitimately talented and deserved to go much further than she did.

So I'm 1-1 in top 12 predictions now and the 10 contestants still remaining leave much to be desired. Not to mention that some stupid fuck on MySpace is starving himself until Sanjaya is voted off and 13-year old Ashley, the crying little girl from the audience is now making the mainstream media rounds today, doing all the morning shows and God knows how many print interviews talking about her burning love for Sanjaya. Another 15 minutes of fame begins...

Who will leave us next week? Scarnato, Chris Sligh and Timber-lite need to bring it to survive. Sanjaya, of course, is essentially immortal as long as VFTW weilds significant power, and Gina Glocksen is hovering right on the edge as well. And what slutty outfit will Haley wear next?

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

American Idol Wednesdays: Jordin Sparkles

It's the night before a trip, so I'm at peak multi-tasking capacity. Doing laundry, packing, finishing a bunch of stuff I needed to write, making sure I don't leave filthy dishes in the sink for Showcase to growl about while I'm gone. And, of COURSE watching American Idol! I'm driving to Vegas tomorrow morning to meet up with Pauly, Derek, and Senor on their annual March Madness trip, where the three of them spend one spring weekend betting heavily on the NCAA action. Best part about the whole damn thing aside from seeing the three of them? We're staying at the uber-swank Red Rock Casino! Psyched doesn't begin to describe it. Though I won't be betting on hoops, there juuuuust so happens to be a sick poker room right next to the sports book, where I'll undoubtedly log some hours in the $4-8 half kill.

But onto American Idol, where this week the final 11 treated us with songs from the 1960s "British Invasion." It's also worth mentioning that the contestant eliminated this week will be the American Idol "Tour Bubble Boy" (or girl) as only the top 10 contestants get to embark on the 50-city post-competition national concert tour. Tour, of course= mo' coin, mo' exposure. Let's see how they did:

Haley Scarnato: "Tell Him"

Haley Scarnato wore shorts. Obviously she's betting on her looks and her body at this point instead of her talent, which is a good strategy for her given that she's solidly at the back of the pack amongst the remaining female vocalists. Haley did do better tonight, but when she performs I feel like we're still at karaoke night at a Jersey Shore bar instead of watching the birth of a new pop star. Granted she's a pretty good karaoke singer, but as we've heard time and again from Simon, that just ain't gonna cut it on Idol. If any straight guys actually watch this show, I'm sure they'll be diggin' on the backless silk halter and the hot pants and maybe that'll get her a few votes, but instead of pop stardom I see this one getting a gig on Disney Cruise Lines after she's finally voted out of this competition. That, and a spread in Maxim.

Chris Richardson: "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Cryin'"

"Timber-lite" started out strong. I actually heard some supported, on-pitch notes from Chris in the first verse of this song instead of the nasaly falsetto he usually delivers. The acoustic guitarist onstage was a nice touch to top off a good arrangement of the song. He's still not one of my favorites, but this performance should at least leave him safe for another week.

Stephanie Edwards: "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me"

Uh-oh! Simon said "cabaret!" Death! Doom! Destruction! I actually thought this was a GREAT song choice for her, but it did get pretty rough for me there 3/4 of the way through when she started adding some of those runs to the last chorus. With Stephanie, I'm not quite sure what the judges want from her. They told her to move away from the really rythmic R&B stuff... so she did... now she's "losing her edge." OK? So, what now? I think Stephanie is safe for this week, but she'd better bust out something seriously dramatic next show or else she'll be heading for danger.

Blake Lewis: "Time of the Season"

Another interesting arrangement from the beat-box king, which I do admire, but yet another weak vocal. He couldn't handle the high notes on the chorus at all and practically shouted them in order to hit the pitch. But...the judges didn't seem to notice that. How about if they addressed his VOCAL instead of his arranging skills or how fucking "contemporary" he is. It's a SINGING COMPETITION, people not American Electronica Track Producer Idol. I won't even discuss the plaid pants.

LaKisha Jones: "Diamonds Are Forever"

I was soooo hoping for her to sing "You're My World" after the Lulu segment. Instead, I was underimpressed by LaKisha for the first time all season, and it was purely due to song choice. She sang it fine, but Simon hit the nail on the head when he said that the song aged her-- the arrangement, the borderline drag-queen mannerisms, the styling choices. I still believe in LaKisha, but this one wasn't too good for me. Here's hoping she listened to Lulu and busts out "You're My World" later in the competition.

Phil Stacey: "Tobacco Road"

FINALLY we hear the range he has! Sweet Jesus can this kid wail. This performance had energy, it had personality, and it had showmanship. He totally outsings Timber-lite and Beat Box, I don't know what Simon's smoking (but it's certainly not as good as the shit I'm smoking, hoooo-weee!). Fuck the judges, I liked Phil a lot more this week. But more self-tanner on the head, please. The gradual tan moisturizer isn't doing enough.

Jordin Sparks: "I Who Have Nothing"

This is one of the ultimate I-love-you-so-much-I-wanna-slit-my-wrists songs of all time, and this girl LAID IT DOWN. This performance was one of the most memorable efforts from any contestant this season and is the only one I've watched back twice. LaKisha had better get her game face on because Jordin outsung her his week and positioned herself as a serious contender for the title. Now that she's more than proven her vocal chops in relation to LaKisha and Melinda, I'd like to see something fierce and up-tempo from Jordin next week. As the judges, Seacrest, and everyone keeps beating into our heads, she is only 17. So let's see something young and sexy and fun.

Sanjaya Malakar: "You Really Got Me"

I'm not sure which is more horrifying. The blazer, the shirt, the fingerless gloves, the strangely feminine hair blow-dried within an inch of it's life, the deep knee bend hip grind in front of Paula, or the ridiculous faux rock-star jump at the end. Who is that deranged little girl crying in the audience and where are her parents? I will join her if those Vote for the Worst freaks robo-vote enough to give him another week PLUS a spot on the Idol National Tour. It's just wrong.

Gina Glocksen: "Paint it Black"

This was theoretically a good song choice for a girl with the "rocker" image Gina is going for, but the excecution fell way short. She screamed her way through her performance for the second week in a row. The outfit was a bit much for me as well. There's "rocker" and then there's so overdone it eliminates any shot at authenticity. Where's that girl that can tear up a Heart ballad? I miss her, and she'd better come back if she wants to stay in this competition.

Chris Sligh: "She's Not There"

Chris is fading fast for me. The vocal just wasn't there and the phrasing way off. Every time Chris went for the money note tonight, I found myself wondering what Phil Stacey could do with it. It was just a'ight for me, dawg. He's gotta blow the doors off the place next week if he wants to stick around .

Melinda Doolittle: "As Long as He Needs Me"

I wasn't totally thrilled when I heard this was her choice. A show tune? This show tune? The melody is kinda plodding and boring, but it does have a hell of an ending, so... could she make it work? Come on. This is Melinda. Like Jennifer Hudson, Katharine McPhee and Fantasia before her, she can just make anything work while placing an indelible personal stamp on the song. Yet another knockout vocal from our front-runner-- one that far outshone the song she chose.

My prediction for this week:
Scarnato's sexy shorts aren't enough to keep her alive-- she'll be our bubble girl while the voting power of the VFTW freaks and outsourced Dell employees on the Indian sub-continent will propel Sanjaya to a spot on the Idol tour.

Here's where I'm at with the contestants--

My Performance Ranking (week of 3/20):

1. Jordin Sparks
2. Melinda Doolittle
3. LaKisha Jones
4. Stephanie Edwards
5. Phil Stacey
6. Beat-Box Blake
7. Timber-lite
8. Chris Sligh
9. Gina Glocksen
10. Haley Scarnato
11. Sanjaya Malakar

My Overall Ranking:

1. Melinda Doolittle
2. LaKisha Jones
Jordin Sparks
4. Stephanie Edwards
5. Gina Glocksen
6. Chris Sligh
Phil Stacey
8. Beat-Box Blake
9. Timber-lite
10. Haley Scarnato
11. Sanjaya Malakar

Agree, disagree? Sound off in the comments!

Catch y'all later from Vegas...

Monday, March 19, 2007

Langerado, Part II

We met Pablo and Chris at Denny's on Friday morning for a pre-show breakfast, and adjourned to their hotel room (conveniently located next to the Denny's) to rip bong hits. Pablo and Chris had trucked a 2 foot tall glass piece 300+ miles down I-75 in their gray Honda, and man was it worth it. Nothing better than to start a festival day with than an All-American slam and some ice bong hits of White Widow.

We had our shit together on that first day . Traffic was light and we got to the festival grounds just as the first acts were starting After a quick twirl around the parking lot to check out the scene, we headed in. Security was a joke and, as usual, hiding the pipe in my bra worked. I slathered my pale arms and legs in SPF 45.

The grounds were set up as most of these festivals are. There was a main stage, a mid-size stage, and a small stage enclosed in an open-sided "tent." The first band we caught was Lotus, and they performed in the tent. I'd seen them before at Knit Ball in L.A. and were the pleasant surprise of that night. Here, it was no different and they gave our day a light, groovy start. Lotus plays traditonal instruments (guitar, keys, drums, bass) but replicates an electronica sound-- sorta like Particle, but with a lighter, trippier sound. We caught the first half of their set before heading over to the main stage to catch one of Pauly's favorite new jam bands, Tea Leaf Green.

As we sat in the grass and took in Tea Leaf Green, my eyes wandered and landed on the green-and white patterned halter a girl wore about ten feet away. Her long auburn hair could have used a washing and brushing, but was nowhere near dreadlock territory. She wore beads, but not a hemp necklace and flip-flops, not Birkenstocks or rope sandals. I recognized the green and white pattern of her dress because I had tried it on myself at Old Navy 2 weeks ago. She was an Old Navy hippie. A vacation hippie. A weekend hippie. There are hundreds of Old Navy hippies at these festivals, and they can instantly be recognized (at least by me) by their familiar, mass-produced dress patterns. I can't tell you how many girls I saw at Bonnaroo in those purple paisley sundresses Old Navy put out last year. This girl's choice in fashion set off a whole weekend of me recognizing Old Navy dresses in the concert crowds.

After Tea Leaf Green wrapped up their set, we crossed the field to the second stage, where Pauly wanted to check out New Monsoon. I heard a banjo (too much twang and this Hollyweird blonde heads for the hills) and decided instead to check out the vendors with the Joker (and saw two girls in the brown and white Old Navy babydoll top). I got a delcious corn cake and mozarella sandwich, and we stopped at the media tent to chat with some of Joker's friends from Boulder. One of them had a golf cart. Joker asked if he could ride around the festival in it, but we were denied. In the distance, I heard New Monsoon playing a Zeppelin cover and had a twinge of regret.

Our next stop was back at the main stage for the North Mississippi All-Stars and then back to the second stage for Galactic. I've seen Galactic about half a dozen times this year at the House of Blues in L.A. and on festival stages across America and these guys never disappoint me. Stanton Moore is a marvel to watch on drums, leaping out of his seat at a song's climax. Highlights included "FEMA," "Shibuya," and a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song." (You know that one... awww ahhhhh aaaaaa.....aaaaa!! Now imagine the lead line on sax.)

We chilled out in the grass during Bela Fleck & the Flecktones' set, and stayed afterwards to ensure a great spot for Trey Anastasio Band. We landed a perfect location in front of the soundboard that had a special bonus of being easy to locate by virtue of our "neighbor's" bright yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flag that flew ten feet above our heads. We were all speculating at what Trey might have been "saving" for his Langerado set, as his set the night before at Revolution had included more of his recent stuff and only one Phish tune.

Trey came on at 8 and was scheduled to play for 2 hours. About 30 seconds into the opener, I nudged Pauly.

"Dude... is this 'Shine' again?"

Pauly nodded. I gave the thumbs-down. Not my favorite Trey song.

Most of the set was a repeat from the night before. "Mr. Completely," "Tuesday," "Push on 'Til the Day." That shitty song "Ice and Snow" from Bar 17. He did bust out with "First Tube" to close and that made me happy, but the Joker and Pauly weren't as impressed-- they'd heard Phish play that song 100 times live... and better. So kind of an "eh" set.

We piled into the Jeep and headed into Ft. Lauderdale. The Joker had tickets to the Disco Biscuits night show back at Revolution, but Pauly and I decided to sit that one out. After dropping the Joker off, we headed back to the hotel awaiting a call from Sweet Sweet Pablo. We had planned to possibly meet up with him and Chris later in the night, but those two decided to hit the lot scene after the festival and ended up scoring some geltabs from some sketchy hippie. As more time passed between our arrival back at the hotel and Pablo's call, the odds on us actually making it out again that night declined rapidly.

And at some point, around 1:30 in the morning, I fell asleep in my clothes.

Photos of the crew:


The Joker in his birthday crown

Sweet Sweet Pablo!

For photos and an extensive interview with Professional Keno Player Neil Fontenot, check out the Tao of Poker.

To be continued...

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Langerado, Part I

My father picked me up at my apartment at 5 AM and it was still dark as we drove to LAX. He's constantly worried about me, especially now that I'm out of the 9-5 world and he doesn't understand very much about either poker or writing. Not that he understood much about Hollywood either-- just that it came with a steady paycheck. I reassured him the best that I could as we headed down La Cienega, and I sketched out a mini-schedule for him of where I'd be over the next few months. Florida, LA, Las Vegas, LA, Las Vegas, LA, and then maybe Las Vegas again.

"So who are you going to see at this festival? Phish?"

"Phish broke up over 2 years ago, Dad."

"The String Cheese Incident?"

"You're on the right track, but no. And I'm not that into them and their fans are freaky. The girls wear butterfly wings and glitter and travel with hula hoops."

"So who, then?"

"Widspread Panic, Galactic, My Morning Jacket..."

"Your Morning What?"


"What kind of fucked-up name is that?"

"I think you'd like them. Maybe I'll make you a disc."

"Florida sucks. I don't know why the hell you'd want to go to Florida."

"Because festivals are fun. And I've never been there."

"It sucks. It's humid and there are crocodiles."


"Whatever, same thing."

Steve-O from Jackass was on my flight. I didn't even recognize him at first, sitting Indian-style against a pillar at the gate with his iPod on. Then some woman came up to him and gushed about how much she loved the movies and asked for his autograph. Then it clicked. While I squeezed into a window seat in coach next to a rabbi, Steve-O sat in first class and was met at the gate in Ft. Lauderdale by his dad, who greeted him with a huge bear hug.

Pauly was waiting for me just past security.

"Dude, Steve-O from Jackass was on your flight" were the first words out of his mouth. He'd just been at the newsstand and even its Pakistani cashier recognized the MTV star.

We picked up our rental car and after dropping our stuff at the hotel, headed down to Miami Shores to visit Pauly's college buddy Jerry. Jerry and his gorgeous blonde wife are the parents of two adorable fraternal twin daughters. They're only about 15 months old and already have distinctly different personalities. One is blonde and very chill while her brunette sister is clearly the dramatic one, breaking out into a wail the second her father steps out of the room.

Jerry and his girls have a ritual of taking a walk around the block right before dinner, him pulling the two of them in a red wagon. Jerry grabbed one twin and told Pauly to get the other one. Imagine my surprise when I saw Pauly come out the back door gingerly holding a little blonde baby. He looked more petrified than she did.

We had a lovely Italian meal in Jerry's lush backyard. He has an awesome pool and tons of space for entertaining. Pauly and Jerry's fraternity brother Shappy stopped by as well, on his way home from work. Shappy is a riot. He owns a real estate company, loves firing people, and once sued a famous hotel chain for $13. After meeting him, I'm changing the name of one of the characters in my screenplay to "Shappy" because it just... fits.

* * * * *

Thurday afternoon, we picked up the Joker and Professional Keno Player Neil Fontenot from the airport. That night we all had tickets to both the Trey Anastasio Band and Sound Tribe Sector 9 (STS9) shows at Revolution in Ft. Lauderdale and the Joker was concerned that there would be significant overlap with the performances. Lucky for him, three members of STS9 were sitting in our hotel lobby as we walked in. The Joker went right up to one of them and found out that their set would be running from 10 PM-1 AM. Trey went on at 8 so we had a good chance of catching both sets.

We were grabbing a pre-show beer at a bar a block away from Revolution when a crusty hippie kid approached us, looking for an extra STS9 ticket. He had hitched his way down to Florida from North Carolina, where he went to school.

"Yeah, I have a ticket. What do you want to give me for it?" probed the Joker.

"I dunno, like 30 bucks?"

"How about some rolls? You think you could get us a couple of those?"

"Yeahhhh... hang on... lemme talk to my boys."

"Well, you've got until the end of this beer."

The kid took off down the street and returned less than ten minutes later with two pink rolls. My pint of Stella was still half-full.

"Man... you guys like, MADE my weekend!" he practically squealed as he skipped down the street toward the venue.

Trey put on a solid, energetic show. We got a birds-eye view from the stage right side of the balcony. His horn section returned for this tour, and any live show is better with horns! Even shitty tunes like "Shine" sound OK with horns. Highlights of the set for me included the Phish tune "Gotta Jiboo" which closed the first set, an intense, driving "Dragonfly" and "Push on Til the Day" which closed the show. I snagged a bunch of video clips with my little digital camera and I'll throw them up once this blonde figures out how to edit them on my laptop.

After Trey's set finished, we headed to Revolution's outdoor stage where STS9 was well into their second set. Since the Joker had sold his ticket for rolls earlier, he bought another for $20 from some chick, but got denied at the door. Bunk ticket tilt! The Joker decided to listen from outside, while Pauly and I headed in and met up with Sweet Sweet Pablo and his friend Chris, who had driven down from Gainsville for the weekend. The venue was so packed it was a miracle we found them.

We joined the Joker outside just before the encores. In the 15 or so minutes we spent hanging around outside, we saw two people forceably thrown out of the venue by security, including the same guy twice. One dude was seriously fucked up, the other was a filthy-crusty wookie with no shoes. Dozens of hippie kids turned the sidewalk into an impromptu dance party as STS9 sailed through the encores. A lone crocheted purse hung from a nearby tree branch as they flailed their limbs.

There wasn't a huge lot scene after the shows, save for the hiss of a few rogue tanks of nitrous aka hippie crack. Professional Keno Player Neil Fontenot quit his illegal dice game winner, putting him in a rare good mood, so we piled into the Jeep and headed back to our hotel for a little R&R.

We still had three days to go.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

American Idol Results, March Madness, and Truckin'

Backup singer Brandon Rogers was given his walking papers on last night's American Idol, as I expected. Sanjaya will live to whisper-sing another week, though he was thankfully in the bottom three, NOT in the top three as those robo-dialing freaks at Dial Idol predicted.

March Madness games started today and this clueless blonde lit a $20 bill on fire by joining in the Pauly's Pub Pool. If I had no knowledge of NFL football last fall, I have even less knowledge of NCAA basketball. Of course me and my empty head have thus far gone 7-1 10-1 in picks, my only misstep lying with Oral Roberts, whom I naturally picked because of their spiffy name.

My trip to Florida turned this into a very overdue pimp... but I wrote a piece for this month's L.A.-themed issue of Pauly's literary blogizine Truckin'. I get a lot of my road rage out in a piece called "Everything You Ever Needed to Know about Driving in Los Angeles." I'm in sickly talented company in this issue, which has contributions from Wil Wheaton, Joe Speaker, Dan Keston, Pauly and Tim Lavalli. Check it out and if you like what you read, pass it on to your friends.

1. Slices by Paul McGuire
I'd spent most of my time partying hard doing blow with C-List actors while avoiding the daylight and roaming the city late at night during one of the most rowdy benders I'd undertaken in the past few years. We were vampires, sleeping during the days and partying every night until sunrise. I would not crash until 6 AM and by the time I'd wake up, everyone on the East Cast was leaving work for the day... More

2. The Next Block by Joe Speaker
The crowd was a stew of unwashed urchins. My kind of people: musicians, writers and hustlers. Feast or famine in this town; the middle class doesn't pass the velvet rope, or lead the newscasts. Sally from Chatsworth is home making fucking meatloaf... More

3. Killing Independent George by Wil Wheaton
We played on for another few levels, the clatter of shuffling chips frequently interrupted by the TD announcing the exit of famous actor after famous actor. I will admit that it felt good to be outlasting them., though I will also admit that it was the most Pyhrric of Pyhrric victories: where it really counts in Hollywood, they all have their names on call sheets, while I have mine on a blog... More

4. Everything You Need to Know About Driving in LA by Change100
In order to become a true L.A. driving warrior, you will sometimes have to be the asshole. This doesn't mean you're a bad person -- it only contributes to your overall savviness. By understanding that this attitude is just an unfortunately necessary part of your own survival, inner peace will come much easier... More

5. 15 Seconds by Dan Keston
With minimal experience and a microscopic budget, I found a way to make a movie about kids and guns that was not only interesting enough to be one of sixteen selections out of five-thousand entries at the most prestigious festival in the world, but also the topic of a story on NPR and the lovechild of the largest gun lobby in Washington... More

6. Three Strikes and You're In by Dr. Tim Lavalli
It was then that I realized I may have made a mistake trying to have a 'break-up' dinner here. Becca's gastronomic creations always put me at ease but ease was not the best place for easily ending a relationship. Besides the vaunted 'do it in public break-up' was a cowardly way out... More

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

American Idol Wendesdays: Vote for the Worst?

OK guys. It's working. You can pat your oh-so-clever selves on the back now. Once again, you've managed to boost the votes of a disastrous Idol candidate and prolong his/her stay on the show. We get it. You're able to influence the vote. Now can you losers PLEASE stop voting for Sanjaya? Please put this kid out of his misery. Stop stretching out his 15 minutes of national embarrassment. For all of our sakes.

I'm of course talking about Vote for the Worst, one of the most popular Idol sites out there, which focuses on getting people to vote over and over again for whomever they deem to be the worst candidate remaining... just for shits and anti-establishment giggles. Now that Antonella and Sundance have been ousted from the competition, this website's rabid following is focusing their energies on crowning Sanjaya as our new American Idol. Even shock-jock Howard Stern is on board with their shenanigans, inviting his listening audience to jump on the Sanjaya bandwagon.

So, between the voting power of VFTW, millions of tone-deaf teenage girls and the subcontinent of India, it appears Sanjaya is here to torture our eardrums for at least the next few weeks.

With last night's episode, Idol pulled back from three airings a week to two, and the Tuesday show was expanded to two hours to accomodate the performances of all twelve finalists. Results will air tonight, accompanied of course by saccharine production numbers, Idol trivia, Ford commercials and other filler. Thank God for Tivo or I'd never make it through the results shows.

Last night was Diana Ross night and the top 12 belted out some of her greatest hits to varying degrees of success.

Brandon Rogers: "Can't Hurry Love"

Randy was totally right when he said that Brandon had reverted back to his "backup singer" role in this performance of the Supremes' 1963 motown hit. I just don't feel energy and passion leaping out of this guy. He has a pleasant voice, but as we all know that only takes you about 30% of the way on Idol. There's just no "wow" factor with Brandon, no spark of originality, and it's getting to be a bit late in the competition for him to have not displayed it yet. I mean, what is this guy's style? C'mon Brandon, there's a big "money note" in you somewhere.

This performance leaves him very vulnerable for elimination.

Melinda Doolittle: "Home"

If there was one performance I was looking forward to tonight, it was hers. Melinda is quietly emerging into the front-runner in this competition, just knocking it out of the park week after week. She is polish, poise, class, professionalism. At this point, she's just dusting the other contestants, and this week's powerhouse performance was no different. You never see Melinda trying too hard. You don't see the rehearsal and planning behind her choices when she takes the stage. It's simply effortless, and with that quality alone, she's miles ahead of the others.

Chris Sligh: "Endless Love"

OK what's up with the Coldplay riff playing over everything? The song's melody got completely lost in Sligh's odd orchestration and it distracted from his vocal. All I could hear was "Clocks" not "Endless Love." It was a mess for me, too Randy and it's a shame because he's the only guy on this show I actually look forward to hearing from. Better luck next week, Sligh. And I'd keep the glasses on too.

Gina Glocksen: "Love Child"

Gina is the only white girl remaining in the competition who has enough voice and style in her to compete with the black girls. There, I'm being blunt. However, there's something about Gina that I like, though I didn't enjoy this song nearly as much as her rendition of Heart's "Alone" on last week's show. I didn't hear a lot of dynamics and colors in this performance, just a lot of belt & shout. But she's got style, baby and I see her going far.

Sanjaya Malakar: "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"

"Sanjaya to me is... love" said Diana Ross. I guess that's all she can say in that situation since he flat-out sucks. Worst top 12 contestant since Jasmine Trias and Kevin Covais overstayed their welcome. The sweater, the bad-perm curls, the oddly feminine EARRINGS, the whispery, tone-deaf vocal? Appalling. Now I'm like... how did this kid ever get to Hollywood in the first place? But of course, thanks to Vote for the Worst, I guarantee you he'll be back next week.

Haley Scarnato: "Missing You"

The song had a really rough beginning and Scarnato lacked control in her voice. She forgot the words, too. Haley is the kind of developing singer that has only two settings on her volume control-- whispery head voice and full out chest-belt. The best singers can mix the two, but she's not one of them and a song sitting in that vocal range almost requires it. I'd almost completely tuned her out by the halfway point of the song. And then Simon, whom I usually agree with, comes out with compliments? WTF? Did he feel that bad about forgetting her name last week?

This performance leaves her extremely vulnerable.

Phil Stacey: "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me"

Phil delivered an above-average vocal compared to most of the guys this season. Though it had acouple of those chilling high notes, it's still nothing I'll remember tomorrow. this episode really two hours long? I'm getting hungry. And please, get Phil some self tanner (for face and head).

LaKisha Jones: "God Bless the Child"

I was rapt the entire time. It was nice to see a bit more of a subdued vocal from LaKisha after her previous powerhouse song choices like "I Am Telling You" and "Midnight Train to Georgia." Loved the dress, loved the performance, loved the vocal control. Everything was working for her on this. You go on with your bad self, LaKisha!

Blake Lewis: "You Keep Me Hangin' On"

I totally appreciate that Lewis has the musical chops to rearrange a classic song that well. Look, he's not my taste, but I think teenage girls across America were changing their panties after that performance. I disagreed with Randy and Simon-- why NOT Blake-ize every song? Why NOT change up Motown? At least he has a style and I give a lot of credit for that.

Stephanie Edwards: "Love Hangover"

Stephanie is probably the third-best singer in the competition behind Melinda and LaKisha. But something just didn't kick in with this song. I think I like her better when she's in a straight-up R&B Mary J. Blige mode-- that's what sets her apart from Melinda and LaKisha. But on straight up big-ass vocals, she's just outside of their league. Though her vocals were strong, I just wasn't that into her song choice.

Chris Richardson: "The Boss"

Welcome to this week's I-Wanna-Slit-My Wrists moment. The outfit was horrid with the white
jacket and tie and his nasaly Justin Timberlake-lite vocals were pitchy as hell. There was a total lack of vocal control in his runs and they seemed to hit every note except, you know, the right ones. I think I need about three more Motrin.

Jordin Sparks: "If We Hold On Together"

Awesome vocal. I like Jordin a lot and she has sick talent for a 17 year old. But could she have picked a more boring song out of ALL the Diana Ross songs out there? She pulls out some crap from "The Land Before Time?" Huh? Diana Ross did a song for "The Land Before Time?" Seriously? Yes, Simon it was a bit "gooey." Next week, I want to hear something fierce and uptempo from her-- no more shitty ballads from cartoons, m'kay?

Who will be voted off tonight? We all know it should be Sanjaya, but that ain't happening. So I'm going with Brandon Rogers, with Haley Scarnato close behind.

Results air tonight at 9 PM PDT.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

American Idol Wednesdays: Robo-Idols

It is a SINGING competition, people.

But that has never mattered to the unwashed teenage masses that are largely responsible for crowning our "Idols." Well, them and the RoboVoters, the Dial Idolers, the re-dial monkeys, whatever you want to call them. Blocs of voters throw themselves behind a particular contestant for whatever reason (he's cute, he's from my home state, she's a Christian, she's white and blonde).

Last week, the American public made at least two mistakes. While there's no doubt that Leslie Hunt would have bit the dust in the next couple of weeks, she at least deserved a bit more screen time than what she ended up with. I liked her bluesy alto and she was just starting to hit her stride when it came to song choices. At least the public got it right when it came to the ouster of Alania Alexander after shouting her way through that Dixie Chicks song we're all so fucking sick of.

The public also chose to save Antonella Barba, who needed to be thrown out of the competition the second those naughty photos hit the internet. It just goes to show you that... surprise... there are HUGE double standards in play on IDOL (at FOX, in Hollywood itself). When a fat black chick takes off her top to make a few bucks and put herself through college, it's not cool with the network suits, but when a skinny Long Island girl shows her titties with a come hither look and mugs for the camera while holding a dildo... well that's a ratings bonanza AND filthy- sexy.

But it's a SINGING competition, people. In a SINGING competition, Barba would be looking at the ass end of her 15 minutes of fame after butchering that Celine Dion number.

We'll see the girls tonight, but yesterday, the guys took the stage. I hate almost all of them. And they seriously sucked in this episode. Let's start with Sanjaya, who seemingly has the entire sub-continent of India robo-voting their hearts out, making sure he'll be around to torture us with his curry-flavored cabaret even after last week's appallingly gay-even-for-me rendition of Irving Berlin's "Steppin' Out." Tonight he was just as awkward and off-key with his rendition of John Mayer's "Waiting on the World to Change" (another song I could go the rest of my life without hearing again). There was so much product in his hair I could smell the glossing serum from here. And the weird gay hula thing? Mommy. Help. Save me.

Everyone seems to love Blake Lewis, but dawg, I just don't get it. OK, the beatbox gimmick makes him stand out, but it can't his his B- vocals. "Current" doesn't always mean "good," Randy. Sundance Head (not related to the Human Head) gave us an OK version of Pearl Jam's "Jeremy." While I appreciated the vibe and the song choice, I used the Sundance's airtime to take a bong hit with Showcase. Whatever the hell that thing Chris Richardson sang was far too big a song for him and had pitch problems all over the place. That and he sang through his fuckin' nose.

Jared Cotter took on Stevie Wonder somewhat successfully. His vocal was nice enough to buy him another week in competition though I agree with Simon that there was no "wow factor." Showcase took issues with his fashion choices. "A black man should never wear argyle" he deadpanned. Valley Boy backup singer Brandon Rogers? Snooze-fest. He was trying so hard it hurt to look at him, and Simon was of course correct about his song's total lack of a hook.

Next was the Phil Stacy debacle. Of all the song choices out there, why why why LeeAnn Rimes? The only thing worse than his sharp high notes was his blush job. Way more mortician than sun-kissed glow.

Chris Singh closed the show and gave the only halfway decent performance all night. He wins the dubious honor of being the only guy I actually like on this show. He had me from "I want to make David Hasselhoff cry." Those lush, sexy curls mesmerize me and I love his voice.

Tonight, the girls return and hopefully we'll be seeing the last performances from Haley Scarnato and Slutface Barba. Wednesday is the Idol night really worth watching. I can't wait to see what Lakisha Jones, Melinda Doolittle, Stephanie Edwards and Jordin Sparks pull out.

My predictions on which guys will leave us: Sanjaya and Jared.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Ties and Chickens

I took Pauly shopping for a tie on Friday afternoon. He just got a job covering the European Poker Tour Grand Final in Monte Carlo and will have to don a charcoal gray suit from his Wall Street days on several occasions over the course of his stay. He promised me that he had some decent white shirts at home (I'm not quite convinced) but that he didn't have a great pool of ties to choose from.

Look, it doesn't take a whole lot of convincing to get me to go to a mall. He, on the other hand looked like he was on the way to the proctologist's rather than the Macy's mens' department.

We parked the car at 3:55 P.M. and were heading up the escalator into the mall by 4.

"Where are we anyway?" he asked.

"Don't you know?"

"I only know that in L.A. there's the Grove... and not the Grove."

"We're in Century City. Dude, we've seen like 4 movies here." I spat as we pushed through the door to Macy's.

Just as the tie tables entered his sightline, Pauly exclaimed "Oh look, I see a tie. Let's buy it."

"You don't want to look around?"

He gave me a withering look.

"We're gonna look around."

We fundamentally disagreed on tie styling. He preferred dark and striped while I was drawn to light and shiny to contrast the dark gray of the suit jacket. After checking out the DKNY, Calvin Klein and Donald J. Trump Signature Collection tables, he pulled a green Perry Ellis tie out of the pile. It didn't offend me on first glance so I nodded my head in approval. Pauly booked it to the cash register.

We were back in the car by 4:15. I mean seriously, how can you guys make clothing purchases that rapidly? I don't think I've seen Pauly break the 20-minute mark inside a store yet.

We took Olympic Blvd. home and traffic was already a bitch. Sitting in gridlock only three blocks from one's apartment is a serious test of patience. When I finally inched up enough to take my first right off the road, I did and decided to snake around the side streets to get home.

As I pulled up to a stop sign, Pauly pointed straight ahead and asked "uh, is that a chicken?"

Indeed it was a chicken. Picking at the grass in front of a duplex in Beverly Hills. I pulled over so fast I hit the curb. And took these photos, in honor of The Rooster.

Chicken next to telephone pole

Chicken takes one look at my car and says "as if!"

Chicken fleeing across street