Wednesday, April 30, 2008

2008 WSOP Main Event Final Table Delay Confirmed

Rumors have been circulating around the poker world for months now that Harrah's Caesar's Entertainment was working with ESPN on a plan to suspend play in the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event once the final nine players were reached and take a months-long break before a new world champion was crowned, allowing for a "near-live" broadcast of the final table. After plenty of whispers, speculation, exclamations of "holy shit, they can't do THAT" and this elegant pro-delay editorial from B.J. Nemeth, news leaked tonight that Yes, Virginia-- the final table of this year's Main Event will play out for the cameras 117 days after the last card is dealt at the Rio.

117 days. That's November 9th. The final table will hit the airwaves less than 48 hours later, on November 11th.

Tomorrow morning at 11 a.m. PDT there's a media conference call scheduled with Harrah's Caesar's executives including WSOP commissioner Jeffrey Pollack, where they'll provide more details and hopefully answer some questions. I'll be there.

Here's the USA Today piece that leaked out tonight, confirming the deal.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Vacances de Hollywood

We almost killed a Frenchman this weekend.

We really didn't mean to.

So crispy and heat-stricken was Benjo when he finally walked off Zuma beach on Sunday afternoon that he lost his peripheral vision, had difficulty reading, and at times babbled in a mixture of English and French, sufficiently freaking himself out as we perused the menus at Maggiano's after a long day out in Malibu. The ninety-four degree heat had completely parched him, leaving him exhausted and sunstroked. The three of us indulged in a long Italian meal, rehydrating ourselves and marveling at how much "color" I had gotten in a mere three hours on the sand. Benjo rubbed his brow nervously as he tried to see past the dark spots in the forefront of his plane of vision, wondering if he was going to die and I reassured him that he'd feel fine tomorrow morning, if not in a few hours' time. The food definitely perked him up, but we decided to postpone our plans to see 21, the film about the MIT blackjack team. We all knew it was going to suck, but our gamblers' hearts and our individual love-hate relationships with Las Vegas demanded that we check it out.

Benjo had flown in to L.A. from Las Vegas on Friday afternoon. He'd gone straight from doing the French commentary on EPT Live on that long, late-night final table in Monte Carlo to jumping on a plane to Las Vegas where he had to cover the WPT World Championships at Bellagio. Once the players he needed to follow had been eliminated, he was free to pay Pauly and I a visit. He also became our first guest to use our new IKEA sofa-bed. Benjo claimed stellar sleep on all three nights.

On Friday night, we showed him old-school Hollywood with dinner at Musso & Frank's followed by drinks at Boardner's. Both establishments were frequented by writers like Charles Bukowski, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald and stars like Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin. Boardner's is one of the last few mellow neighborhood bars in L.A. and I like going there on the early side, when it's easy to snag a booth along the wall. We all drank Stellas and ogled at the twin blonde hookers that were holding court at a back table with a couple of hipster douchebags.

"I'm going to write a screenplay called L.A. Douchebags. I don't know what it's about yet though." said Benjo.

On Saturday we slept in and had an early lunch at In-N-Out Burger. I hadn't been there in what seemed like an eternity. Pauly went the secret menu route and ordered a 3x3. That's meat, cheese, meat, cheese, meat cheese. Only a bun and onions filled out my beloved's entree after the offending vegetables were removed. Once we were sated, we returned home to play in Saturdays with Dr. Pauly. Benjo roared out to a huge chiplead on his way to the final table, but endured two brutal suckouts and ended up finishing fourth. Which, coincidentally, is what I finished that Full Tilt Bracelet race that I played after busting from SWDr.P. I was on complete mega-tilt and barely held my shit together as I navigated L.A. traffic and drove the three of us up Beechwood Canyon so Benjo could get a picture of the Hollywood sign and take in the view. It turned out to be quite a good tilt-cure as I stood high above the city, breathing in the brown cloud that hung like a sagging hammock beneath us. Even soaking in pollution, my city is still something to behold.

Sunday morning brought the drive out to Zuma Beach, at the north end of Malibu. We kicked things off with a meal at Nick's, where Benjo fell in love with American breakfasts.

" I want to open a chain of Nick's in France. We'll serve this for breakfast, and In-N-Out Burger at lunch" he quipped, as he polished off his green onion, ham, and tomato omelet.

It was the first truly warm weekend of the season, so the beach was predictably packed. Benjo jumped out of the car to smoke cigarettes and explore while we waited in what turned out to be a thirty-minute queue to get into the beach parking lot. Only one person was there collecting the parking fees and a van had caught on fire near the entrance, necessitating a visit from Malibu's finest. By the time we got in, Benjo had walked nearly the length of the beach and back.

I roasted in the sand for several hours, ironically reading a book called Heat about a writer who apprentices in the kitchen of Mario Batali's NYC restaurant Babbo. I was craving Italian food after reading about braised meats and home-made pasta all afternoon. I got my wish when we hit up Maggiano's-- even if it is Italian-American food and a chain, it's still very high on my dollar value-for-flavor scale.

This morning we finally caught 21. It was definitely cheesy, and bore visible Act One screenwriting scars of the film's six years in "development hell" (The former exec in me could read the notes plain as day--"Let's give Ben more of a clear-cut motivation to join the Blackjack Team...Let's see more of Ben's moral dilemma over his choice...Let's add an extra beat to establish Jill as Ben's love interest." Good Lord, I used to get paid to write shit like that.) Still, there was a wish-fulfillment element about the whole thing that the Vegas junkie in me kind of enjoyed. We all cringed, though the moment Kate Bosworth's character started telling a blackjack bad-beat story while riding the T.

Extra special bonus? I won $10 off of Pauly for correctly choosing that there would be less than 8.5 total patrons sitting in the theatre by the end of the film. Ship it!

I could definitely see the sadness in Benjo's eyes as we dropped him off at LAX for his flight back to London. I think he fell a little bit in love with Los Angeles during his stay, though he admitted all the driving would make him crazy. It's not a long goodbye, we'll see him again in four weeks when the WSOP starts.

Yup. Only four more weeks until I leave for Las Vegas to cover my third World Series of Poker.

Where the fuck does the time go?

Saturday, April 26, 2008


click to enlarge my stupid art

Winner take all for a $2K WSOP Bracelet Race Package.

43 runners... holy shit that's almost a $1K overlay.

Hit the final table as the chip leader. Busted out in fourth.

Consider this Perez Hilton-esque piece of pre-school art therapy for my black, rage-filled soul.

Carry on...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Domestication by IKEA

Boy meets Girl.

Boy and Girl date for two years while living out of hotels, casinos, internationally located short-term rentals and her L.A. apartment.

Boy and Girl enjoy this a lot.

Girl's dog-walking roommate moves to West Hollywood.

Boy kinda sorta moves into Girl's apartment while still remaining non-committal in regards to the location of his so-called "permanent" dwelling because he's a dark, restless soul that cannot be pinned down.

Boy's stuff consists of a laptop, about a dozen shirts, a few pairs of pants, a stick of deodorant, and some boxer shorts.

Boy's household needs consist of one clear plastic set of drawers in which to store the boxer shorts and a tray that makes ice cubes small enough to fit into the bong.

Girl's household needs, given roommate's departure and newfound urges to... let's not use the word "redecorate"... spruce up certain areas of the apartment, contribute to a much longer list.

This list includes a toaster oven, various bath textiles, a kitchen shelving unit, water glasses, dinner plates, placemats, pillar candles, a small wall-mounted shelf, maybe a new armchair, a large gold Buddha, two rugs, and at least three sets of curtains.

Boy really just wants to be left alone. He just wants a room with a door that closes so he can listen to his hippie music and write.

Girl would rather he do that in an attractive-looking environment.

Boy and Girl get high and go to IKEA.

While Girl looks at all the cute shelving units with names like "Billy" and "Expedit" and loves that they come in that ebonized black-brown wood color, Boy looks at a living room set and imagines Theo Jorgensen and Stig Top Rasmussen, reclining on their IKEA couches while they play online pot-limit Omaha during a depressing Scandinavian winter.

Boy finds all his shit in 15 minutes.

Girl continues to take in the Swedish superstore at a more leisurely crawl, casually testing out armchairs and ogling new dining sets.

Boy begins to grow suicidal as Girl continues loading dinnerware, a new pasta pot, and "hippie candle shit" into the shopping cart.

Boy and Girl reach the curtain section.

Curtains require intense scrutiny, as they frame the entire room.

Girl looks through racks of fabric. Boy wanders away.

Boy ends up in pillow section and personally tries out every single model out of sheer boredom and growing desperation.

Girl discovers that all the curtains she liked online look like crap in real life. Girl makes another pass through curtain section to see if there is anything she missed.

Girl begins to wonder if boy has hung himself from ceiling with the "Felicia" drape.

Girl decides to give up on curtains and go shopping on her own later because she knows wherever Boy is, his patience has surely left him by now.

Girl finds boy in pillow section . Tone in Boy's voice has evolved from "I'm humoring you" to "I want to get the fuck out of this fucking Swedish hellhole right now."

Boy rants about corporations and consumerism and Stuff White People Like on the ride home.

Girl humors him because she doesn't really care and she got all the stuff she wanted.

Except the curtains.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

American Idol Wednesdays: Castro Mangles "Memory," Smithson Soars on "Superstar"

"Touch me! It's so easy to leave me!"

American Idol Wednesdays are back! I apologize for my absence last week-- Monaco television unfortunately did not carry Idol and I only caught up on my missed episodes over the last couple of days (the guys rock Mariah songs! Bye-bye Kristy Lee Cook!) Anyway, moving on to performances by the Top 6...

The music theatre lover's heart that beats inside this stoner's body went pitter-patter when I learned that it was Andrew Lloyd Webber week on American Idol. Granted, my taste in musicals runs more toward Sondheim than Webber, but nevertheless, I was excited at the prospect of this diverse spate of contestants taking on songs made famous by Broadway and the West End's best. Would there be a whole lotta' re-arranging? (yup) Girls picking guys' songs and vice versa? (uh-huh) Total nuclear trainwreck disaster performances? (absolutely)

Here's how our six remaining contestants fared:

Syesha Mercado “One Rock ‘N Roll Too Many” Syesha dug into the far reaches of the Starlight Express score to come up with this choice (yup, that's the musical where everyone's on roller skates), and an incredibly shrewd one it was. This might as well have been Syesha’s Broadway general audition, because that’s likely where she’ll end up post-Idol and find much success. It was a fantastic vocal if a bit “old-fashioned” with the performance elements... but isn’t that... Broadway? This was a great night for her, and her performance should get her into the Top 5.

Jason Castro “Memory” “I never thought I’d see a man... with dreadlocks... sing 'Memory'.”-- Andrew Lloyd Webber

“I didn’t know a cat was singin’ it.” --Jason Castro

Wow. Total. Nuclear. Disaster. What possessed Dreadlock Boy to take on perhaps the ultimate Andrew Lloyd Webber female power ballad? Betty Buckley, Elaine Paige, Laurie Beechman, Liz Callaway and countless of other Broadway greats have put their stamp on this song. And they have... what in common with a 20-year old Jack Johnson wannabe? There were countless other song choices that Castro could have made that wouldn't have resulted in this train wreck– how about "Everything's Alright" or "Could We Start Again, Please?" for instance– that could have propelled him to a standout night. Instead, it was just kind of weird and puts him in serious danger.

Brooke White “You Must Love Me” WHOOA, she started over. WHOAA she forgot the lyrics! But she did recover admirably. Unfortunately, Brooke didn't deliver a great vocal this week and didn’t seem comfortable at all with the song. It didn’t sit well in her range-- she was popping up into head voice for half of it which is really not her strong suit. Again... with all the world-class power ballads she had to choose from and she comes up with this one? Did she think doing “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” with her guitar was just too obvious? Well if not that, than why not something like “Unexpected Song” accompanying herself on piano? Bad, bad song choices this week, kids. Goddammit, I have the sinking feeling she’ll go home for this one. Booooooo.

David Archuleta “Think of Me” It was not a bad arrangement of the song, if a little cheesy. Still don’t get what it is with him– I was totally bored. Over the last few weeks, David Archuleta's turn on Idol has become the "Change takes a piss/goes to the fridge/checks her email song." God he's just so clean and Radio Disney, isn’t it? This kid is totally going to be opening for Miley Cyrus’ tour next summer and subsequently falling from Middle America's grace the first time TMZ's cameras catch him sneaking into a gay club. I also wonder where he and crazy stage daddy got the arrangement-- anyone ever heard this version before?

Carly Smithson “Jesus Christ Superstar” Yeaaaahhhhh. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about! This was a spot-on song choice, full of drama, and enhanced by perfect styling (love the dress!). It was also perhaps her gutsiest vocal. The spirit moved Carly on this one and the audience was along for the ride. Talk about the right performance from her at the right time. Viva la Carly!

David Cook “Music of the Night” Another fucking bizarro choice! This is the first serious misstep we’ve seen from Cook in the entire competition. I mean, seriously, the rocker guy picks one of the most legit compositions in the Webber catalog? Cook's vocal wasn’t strong enough to save the song choice, despite the judges' praise. Sorry, it just didn't cut it for me. This is a full-throated tenor ballad and despite his solid money note at the end, left to fester in the public's mind... there was a lot of pitchiness in the verses. Could Cook find nothing else palatable, say from Joseph or Evita to put his rocker stamp on? Could he not get his mind around "Close Every Door" or "Oh, What a Circus" which could have adapted so easily to a rock aesthetic? Fuck, what about "Gethsemane" from Jesus Christ Superstar? With the right arrangement he could have blown the doors off the place with that one! I didn’t get this choice at all.

My (almost always incorrect) predition for the week:
It's gonna be a horse race between Brooke and Jason. I think Dreadlock Boy wins by a nose, and survives to the Top 5.

Current Bodog odds on the remaining contestants:

David Archuleta 21-20
Carly Smithson 30-1
Brooke White 40-1
Jason Castro 25-1
David Cook 11-10
Syesha Mercado 20-1

The only contestant Dial Idol is predicting to be safe this week: David Cook

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

To Monaco and Back

I made the journey to Monte Carlo without incident. PokerRoad and PokerNews' video hostess, Amanda Leatherman was on my flight, though we didn't have seats together. I read a couple of trashy magazines, watched the pilot of Breaking Bad on my iPod, popped a couple of Xannies, and fell asleep for most of the ride to Frankfurt. No crying babies or odorous seatmates, just a quiet older man who read the Bible in Italian in between naps.

In Frankfurt, we ran into Josh Arieh, who was on our flight to Nice. The three of us shared a cab to Monte Carlo and he was nice enough to pick up the tab. Though there had been talk of renting some sort of balla beach house for the week, the PNews crew ended up in the Novotel, a super-modern three-star joint with ocean views. My room was huge by European standards and boasted a couch, a plasma TV, and a balcony big enough for a table and chairs. It's absolutely the perfect setting for an afternoon drink and a game of Chinese Poker, but unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate for most of the trip. It was chilly and overcast the first two days and rained on the third. Unfortunately, the bed was hard and the pillows large and oddly shaped, which, combined with the jet-lag that never really left me, resulted in only about 5 hours of sleep a night. The strangest thing about the room, though, was that it had two half-bathrooms instead of one whole bathroom. One was basically a closet with a toilet in it next to the door. The other contained the sink, shower and bathtub. I walked into the wrong room in the middle of the night needing to pee almost 100% of the time. Good thing Pauly and his pharmies weren't here, otherwise there might have been a puddle of urine under the sink.

Monte Carlo is a very vertical city. It hugs the cliffs of the Southern Alps, spilling down to the Mediterranean. Every street is twisty and hilly and the 1.5 km walk from the hotel to the Monte Carlo Bay Resort (tourney venue) involves descending at least two staircases. I got terribly lost on the first day and practically walked to Italy (it is possible). I ended up on some sort of cliff above the resort and couldn't figure out how the fuck to get down. And getting directions from the snotty locals when I can't speak a word of French? Yeah, not so much.

Anyone who tells you how expensive it is here is not exaggerating in the least. I got a pretty good per diem on this gig, but one meal and two short cab rides a day pretty much ate it all up. There are pretty much two choices in terms of meals one can get at the tournament venue-- the 20 euro cheeseburger or the 20 euro pizza. At one point I went to and did the conversion since I was curious. 20 euros= $31. $31 for a below-average pizza I could only finish half of! It made me not want to eat at all. Every time I'd walk up and order something, I thought about all the bills I could be paying with the money I was pissing away on bad food. One morning, Blonde Poker's Jen Mason brought in baguettes and cheese from a local market and was sweet enough to give me one. I think it was the best meal I had in Monaco.

Unlike the near-bankrupt World Poker Tour, the EPT is still growing at an exponential rate. When Mad Harper put out her infamous pie chart at the end of Day 1B, I wasn't surprised at all to discover that in a field of 842, 138 Americans and 40 Canadians had made the journey across the pond to play, including many of online poker's absurdly talented wunderkinds, who are still too young to play in the U.S. and will be notably absent from this summer's WSOP. Guys like Matt "AllInAt420" Stout, Isaac "westmenloAA" Baron, Mike "Timex" McDonald, and Jeff "ActionJeff" Garza all made the trip over, many of them having won satellites on Poker Stars.

Despite the luxurious surroundings, this was very much a no-nonsense gig for me. No side trips. No staying an extra day to check out more of the city. Just fly in, report a tournament, and fly out. I was basically at the venue from noon until 2 a.m. or so which left very little time for seeing things. What I did see was from the backseat of the taxis I took to the tournament every day following Day 1's disastrous attempt at walking. A glimpse of the Casino Monte Carlo here, a glance at the Lanvin boutique there. Some days the taxi ride cost 10 euros. Other days it was 12 or 13. By the last night it was up to 15 euros-- $23 US for about a mile or so ride. There are no meters in the cabs in Monte Carlo. I guess they just charge you however much they feel like charging that day. One morning Humberto Brenes cruised past me in a gleaming Saab convertible as I was heading to an ATM. He honked the horn and gave me a wave. For a split second I thought about sticking out my thumb and hitching with the Costa Rican Chark.

A few more close encounters of the pro kind:

--On Day 2 Antonio Esfandiari pulled me over as I was passing his table and asked me to point out where Gus Hansen was sitting. After indicating that it was clear across the room, Antonio asked if I'd do him a favor and tell Gus that he wanted his iPod back. Sure, why not. I go over to Gus' table, where he's surrounded by reporters and a video crew from his new training site, ThePlayr. Once he had folded his hand, I tapped him on the shoulder.
"Hey, Gus. Antonio wanted me to ask you if I could get his iPod back."

"Oh, really?"


"Can you tell Antonio I said to go fuck himself?"

All of the Playr guys cracked up. I was about to say "sure" and go deliver the message, when Gus stood up and asked me to point out his table so he could go and do the deed himself.

-- Daniel Negreanu was hanging out in the media room as Day 4 drew to a close and was using Amanda's computer check out some forum threads about the "High Stakes Living" episode he had just shot in his hotel room. I'm not sure what he was looking at to inspire this comment, but at one point, he popped out of his chair and addressed the entire media room.

"Who here in the media is a pothead?" Daniel asked.

Snoopy and I looked at each other before sheepishly raising our hands. All the Dutch guys, a bunch of the Scandis and maybe half the Brits had their hands in the air. Maybe half the room in total.

"No wonder you all get everything wrong!" he laughed.

* * * * *

The final table lasted 274 hands and finished past 3 a.m. To put some perspective on that number, the 2007 WSOP final table lasted 205 hands, the 2007 WSOP-Europe final table went for 211, and the 2007 WPT Championships final table took a mere 182. We all had early flights, so most of us did our best to stay up all night before grabbing our airport transportation. Amanda and I were again on the same flight and we decided to split another cab. We met down in the lobby just after 8 a.m., both of us looking like total zombies after only about an hour's sleep apiece. She had already asked the guy at the front desk to call us a cab. Usually, it wasn't more than a 10 minute wait. After 25 minutes went by, I went up to him again.

"Bonjour. Do you know how long it will be before our taxi arrives?"

"There are no taxis in Monaco today. The Congress is in town."

"But you called us a taxi almost half an hour ago?"

"I am sorry madame. No taxi."

"Well, we have a flight to catch. How are we supposed to get to the airport?"

"I don't know."

(You don't know! 400 euro a night gets you "I don't know" at this joint? WTF?)

"O.K. Let's think about this. It's too late to catch the bus. How about a car service?"

"Car service?"

"Yes, private car?"

"Oui, madame. But it will be at least 100 Euros."

"Call them, sil vous plait, all right? And tell them their driver will get a nice American-sized tip if he's here in 10 minutes."

The Congress? Yeah right. More like a conspiracy between the hotel and the car service if you ask me. Even so, it was only about 20 Euros more than if we took a cab. They indeed were there in 10 minutes and the young Italian driver made that Mercedes fly like the wind on the highway, giving us an on-time arrival at Nice airport and more than earning his U.S. American sized tip.

16 hours later, I opened the door to my apartment. The first thing I noticed was a huge bouquet of gorgeous yellow sunflowers. And the next thing I noticed was that everything was clean. Beautifully, sparkling clean. No dishes in the sink. No trash piling up in the kitchen. Pauly had done an outstanding job taking care of the place and was sweet enough to bring me flowers. That's the side of him you guys don't get a chance to see. The Pauly you all know is the perpetually restless soul jacked up on pharmies whose blood flows through his keyboard and whose dollars end up tucked into strippers' g-strings. I get to be with the Pauly whose thoughtfulness and generosity knows no bounds. I'm a very lucky girl.

And that was just the living room. Then there were the seven paintings he did for my empty walls!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

OMG Like, Wow I Won a Tournament!

C'mon... it's only fitting that I took down the 420 day tournament! I had my hands full when it got three-handed with two very tough MTT players in Lucko and LJ still in it and all of us very deep-stacked. I think watching great aggressive internet players like Isaac "westmenloAA" Baron and Michael Martin all week in Monte Carlo must have rubbed off on me because I managed to come out on top despite that I was undoubtedly the highest player at the table.

Pauly had one of the larger stacks going into the first break, but he donked it all off, deciding that he'd rather concentrate on eating the Thai food we'd just had delivered. I, too ordered food, but despite my inebriated state, was able to simultaneously eat my steamed shrimp dumplings and click the mouse at the same time.

Thanks to the guys at Uncle Chuck's for organizing the tourney. It was a lovely way to spend the holiday.

Happy 4/20!

Happy 4/20, dear readers. I'm home from Europe just in time to celebrate my favorite holiday. I hit up my favorite dispensary this afternoon for some supplies and the gray-haired, Eastern European budtender welcomed me back to town and set me up with some excellent strains for the occasion: Headband x OG Kush, G-13, L.A. Confidential, Maui Wowie x Afghooey, and Green Crack Extreme. I'll certainly be celebrating in style with Pauly tomorrow and will also try and hit up some of the local dispensaires' celebrations. Free meds, hourly raffles for Volcano vaporizers, complimentary edibles? Did I mention how much I love my home state?

I'll also be playing in this with some of my similarly inclined friends:

Also, hit up Coventry for a collection of our favorite weed-themed videos including Snoop Dogg's appearance on Weeds, the infamous "Tootie's Bong" scene from The Facts of Life and the wonder joint scene from Revenge of the Nerds. Look around and download yourself some tunes while you're there, too.

Smoke 'em up kids and have a heady day!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

R.I.P Brandi Hawbaker

In a statement released on Neverwin Poker, it was confirmed that Brandi Hawbaker committed suicide this past Sunday. She was only 26.

Brandi was a magnetic yet ultimately tragic figure in the poker world. She rose to fame after coming out of nowhere to cash at the 2006 Festa al Lago WPT event at Bellagio and subsequently became embroiled in numerous scandals, including the infamous "Captain Tom's Penis" incident which she detailed on the Two Plus Two forums, inspiring one of the most-viewed threads in the site's history. More recently, her ex-boyfriend Brandon took to the forums to spill details of their relationship. Brandi was last known to be living in the Los Angeles area and playing cash games at the Commerce Casino.

Brandi attracted drama wherever she went, whether it was playing in the World Series and drawing every lens in the room to her table or sticking a Full Tilt patch on her nipple. It's no secret that she had severe emotional problems and had self-harmed before. She will be sorely missed by many, and the poker world won't be the same without her. My heart goes out to her family.

Rest in peace, Brandi.

I'll write more when I get home, but for now, I have to get out of Monte Carlo and catch an early-morning flight to Frankfurt.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Return to the Cote d'Azur

Wow. Am I glad I'm not flying in American or Delta today. From his Twitter updates, I gather that Otis was not so fortunate.

I'm off to Monte Carlo this afternoon to cover the EPT Grand Final for PokerNews. 13 hours in the air will get me to Nice, France, interrupted by a three-hour layover in Frankfurt. My father is so thrilled that I'll finally get a German stamp on my increasingly decorated passport. Grandma was from Munich before immigrating to the U.S. in her early twenties, and neither Mandy nor I have yet to set foot in the Motherland.

Pauly won't be covering this one with us, since he's all semi-retired now and instead will be working on his magnum opus in the solitude of my empty apartment while I'm away. He's totally freaked out about driving in L.A. traffic (I almost always drive when he's here) so I gave him some quick pointers about what to to in the event of an accident and assured him that that's what car insurance is for. I also earned $100 at breakfast when I bet Pauly on the release date of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. He said 1968, I knew 1967 was a total lock. I couldn't even believe he took the action. Taking a prop like that with me is like thinking your top pair is good against the old lady in the 1 seat who just shoved all in.

I've been to the South of France before, but never to Monaco. I took a trip to Nice with Charlie, his wife, and a group of other friends 6 years ago and loved it, especially since Mrs. Charlie was fluent in French and could translate for all us mono-lingual dumbasses. I suppose I'll have to have Benjo help me order my $60 cheeseburgers this time. I'm psyched to see him and the rest of my European media pals.

It only took me 15 minutes to pack this morning. I'm getting good at this.

Catch you all from the Cote.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

American Idol Wednesdays: Inspiration Point

Previously, on A-MER-ican Idol...

Pint-sized Ramiele Mulabay was finally booted from the competition, after a flat, uninspired rendition of "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?" during Dolly Parton week. America was left thinking "Sheesh, that Dolly Parton's a good songwriter! I had no idea she wrote that song from The Bodyguard!" Kristy Lee Cook was again spared and she comforted a distraught Ramiele by pressing her teary face into her cleavage.

Now, it's "Inspiration Week"-- that feel-good run-up to the reality juggernaut's star-studded charity climax, Idol Gives Back that airs tonight. The contestants were tasked with performing songs that inspire them and judging by their choices, some of these kids are in dire need of a CD collection makeover. I just hope to God they actually eliminate someone this week and don't pull that "everyone stays because it's for charity" B.S. that they did last season. I seem to recall screeching at the television set in a Las Vegas hotel room this time last year when Timber-lite and the chrome-domed Phil Stacey were both spared.

Anyhow, on with the show...

Michael Johns "Dream On" Uhhhhh... why is he dressed like a pirate? Seriously, all that get-up is missing is an earring and an eye patch. The tight white short-sleeved shrit is gay, the tight black vest is gayer and the kerchef just takes the whole outift to the point of no return. Oh yeah, the song. There was something inauthentic about his performance. It was like, a watered-down, Vegas version of what an Aerosmith song should sound like, and ultimately the piece was just way too much for him to handle. This vibe doesn't work for him at all as an artist. Wait a minute... why is Sinbad in the audience? Why is the machine from the movie Contact spinning in the background? I am so confused. My drugs really can't be that good.

Syesha Mercado "I Believe" Last week Syesha handicapped herself by choosing a song made famous by Whitney Houston of all people. Now she does it again by singing Season 3 champion Fantasia's winner's single of all things. Of all the songs... of all the songs... of ALL THE SONGS OUT THERE, she picks this? Seriously, she deserves to get voted off after this completely brain-dead choice. I don't give a rat's ass about what your connection to the song is. Get inspired by something else! Get inspired by Gladys Knight or Aretha or Corinne Bailey Rae, or Jill Scott or pretty much anyone else besides a past Idol winner. And the thing is, technically, Syesha sang parts of it better than Fantasia did, but no one's ever going to remember that since her rendition was completely devoid of that straight-from-the-gut emotion that is Fantasia's hallmark.

David Archuleta "Angels" Boy Wonder got back on the piano and completely put me to sleep during the first verse. It perked up a bit in the chorus, but the adult contemporary hour starring David Archuleta is never going to do much for me. I actually didn't think it was that great of a vocal either, but what does that matter since he's going to get an avalanche of votes and more praise from the judges anyway. Seriously, this kid could walk out, drop his pants and take a dump on the stage and Cowell would think it's brilliant. Next!

Jason Castro "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" Dreadlock boy was perched back up on his stool, lapsing into falsetto and straddling the line between hippie and wookie as he delivered Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's arrangement of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," all while accompanying himself on ukelele. It was a smart song choice for him and he did an OK cover-of-a-cover, but in the spectrum of his competition on the show, it was still very dormitory coffeehouse. Pauly wasn't a fan either. "It sounds like the soundtrack of a Lifetime Movie of the Week" he quipped. It' s probably enough to get him through another week, but I still don't see him cracking the Top 5.

Kristy Lee Cook "Anyway" How many times is this girl going to wear a silver sparkly tank top and denim? It's pretty, but I'm just sayin'. Well, the song had a couple of mentions of Jesus and praying in it, so that red state voting bloc that lapped up her version of "God Bless the U.S.A." is going to love this too. And that's good news for Kristy Lee, who has been a fixture in the bottom two over the last several weeks. On the final chorus, she actually reminded me a bit of Carrie Underwood-- full of those belty country straight-tones and absolutely nothing behind the eyes. Pretty shrewd song choice, though. I also couldn't help but notice that Paula's pharmies totally kicked in during this performance, prompting her to stand up and start dancing... even though this was a ballad.

David Cook "Innocent" Cook's song choice was written by his favorite band Our Lady of Peace. OK, that's nice for him, but does his target voting audience of 14-year olds know who the fuck they are? So Cook shot himself in the foot a little bit there by picking a song that the audience will have no connection to. Then he lets someone dress him in a really gay white military jacket that, though sequinless, was very Elton John circa 1975, and writes "Give Back" in marker on his hand to cheesily flash at the camera. I don't get it either, dawg. This was by far Cook's weakes performance on the show. Wait... is that Ivanka Trump in the audience? Her boobs look way fake.

Carly Smithson "The Show Must Go On" You all know I love Carly, but she was pitchy and lacking power on the belty sections. I liked what she did on the choruses, but the performance lost focus during the verses. Why take on Queen when she had such an opportunity here to perform something more in her wheelhouse? How many hundreds of other songs could her voice have sounded better on? I agree with Simon when he said she lost control of the song, and that it seemed a bit "angry." God, I hope she got enough votes to slip through because this effort is right on the border. It really would be a shame to lose her this early.

Brooke White "You've Got a Friend" I kind of would have like to see her on the piano on this one because it might have brought out a bit more emotion in her delivery. Simon described it as "Sort of a pleasant walk in the park" which I think is apt. It was pretty and pleasant to listen to, but it didn't knock my socks off. Brooke needs to be careful and not play it safe another week, or she might be in real danger.

My prediction for the week: I hope it isn't Carly but it really might be. Otherwise I think Syesha might be in trouble.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Showcase Must Go On

I was in Byron Bay, Australia when I got the email. My entire body ran hot and seized with panic as my eyes ran over the text. I'd felt this coming for months now, but still, I slipped into instant denial of the situation. Had I done something to provoke this decision? Would this adversely affect our friendship? And why decide to drop the bomb on me when I was 8,000 miles away on vacation?

Showcase was moving out.

As I walked from the internet cafe to the beach bar where Pauly was waiting for me so we could commence our afternoon of drinking and watching the Australian Open, a dozen scenarios ran through my head. Do I keep the apartment? Get another roommate? Move somewhere else in L.A. by myself? Should I even bother to stay in L.A.? Could I afford to? What was really keeping me there? Do I take this as a sign and just say "fuck it" and move to Vegas or New York? Or sell all my furniture, cash out my 401(k) and hit the road full-time?

Life was suddenly influx. It took three pints of Toohey's and about twenty utterances of "everything's gonna be OK" from Pauly for me to stop shaking. For the sake of our trip, I made my best efforts to put the whole thing out of my head until we got back to the States.

By the time we did get home, I was completely fine with the whole thing. Showcase's decision had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the fact that we're in our thirties now and our lives have both dramatically changed since we started living together four years ago. We both went from humping 9-5 jobs to living more unstructured lives as we worked from home. He started his pet care business. I started writing. Back then I was a single D-girl that went out almost every night. Now I'm in a two-year old relationship, abhor the thought of spending time in nightclubs, and travel about a third of the year. The times, they are a-changin' and our living situation would have to adjust with it.

Showcase wanted to find a house with male roommates, where he'd also have more space for the dogs than our 700 square feet allowed. I certainly couldn't argue with that. I decided pretty quickly that I would just keep the apartment. Since the WSOP was looming and I had two gigs in Europe in between, I knew I didn't have time to move. That, and the rent on this place--a rent-stablized two bedroom-- was pretty much what I'd have to pay to get a decent one bedroom in the current L.A. housing market. So I'd be staying put,
and Pauly would no longer have to worry about imposing on Showcase on his frequent visits out west.

The olive-green walls of Showcase's room are bare now, and the room all but empty. Over the next few months it will evolve into an office. He's ensconced in his new place now, a West Hollywood bungalow only two blocks from where I lived when I first moved back here from college. He has two new roommates, one gay and one straight. It's a cable sitcom waiting to happen. The pooches love their new backyard.

And now, my apartment boasts only one karaoke machine.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

American Idol Wednesdays: Welcome to Dollywood

Tonight, the tiny lady with the huuuuuge titties played mentor to the Idols... none other than the queen of country, Miss Dolly Parton! Now, you might think I'd be cringing in horror at the thought of a bunch of twangy, banjo-laden songs. And I kind of was. But lest we forget, Dolly is a helluva pop songwriter and some of these kids managed to break out and put their own stamp on her material. All 9 remaining contestants had to perform in only one hour of airtime, so let's get cracking!

Brooke White “Jolene” A fiddle player, a background singer, and another dude playing some redneck instrument surrounded Brooke onstage tonight. Perched up on a stool with her guitar in her lap I thought, hey, maybe this is what it might be like to see one of her shows... that's kind of a cool vibe. Vibes aside, this was maybe a "B" effort from her. She stuck close to the original arrangement, maybe throwing in some slightly thicker strumming and percussion and the result was definitely in her wheelhouse. However, the emotion and the connection to the lyrics that she usually displays just wasn't there this time. Compared to some of her previous work on the show, it wasn't a standout effort, but I don’t see her in any danger this week.

David Cook “Little Sparrow" “You, over the last few weeks, have taken some risks and they’ve paid off-- how have you chosen the arrangements?” asked Seacrest in his little pre-performance mini-interview with Cook about about the song arrangements he has been choosing. Cook acknowledged that he pores through iTunes for inspiration and cited Doxology, Neil Zaza, Whitesnake, and Chris Cornell for their versions that he's used. He then quickly followed that bit of face-saving with the announcement that he was doing his OWN arrangement of Parton’s song tonight. Well, I'm glad we cleared that all up and can go back to choosing a new manufactured pop star. Phew! This wasn't my favorite thing from him, but he pulled off a cool version of a song that is nowhere near his genre and made it work. I also dug his new haircut. It's no longer plastered against the side of his face and is instead more spiky and vertical. I think Simon said it the best-- "Well, if you can make a song about a sparrow work, more power to you."

Ramiele Malubay "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind" Dude, she is so done this week. The song didn’t suit her at all. The country lilt and bounce to the melody absolutely nothing to show off her voice and her delivery was all but emotionless. It looked like she didn't know the music well and she was just trying to get through her minute forty-five. Sorry, kid it's just not good enough. Time to go home and get a cruise ship job!

Jason Castro “Travelin’ Through” Everyone’s favorite dreadlocked Jack Johnson wannabe actually kind of engaged me this week! It was emotional! It looked like he was trying! And it was definitely his best effort since "Halleluljah." Jason will finish outside of the Top 5, that's almost a given, but it was nice to see him give a good effort in one of the remaining shots he has at performing in front of 30 million people.

David Archuleta "Smokey Mountain Memories" Oh, look. It’s Archuleta singing another ballad. With another patterned sweater under a trendy blazer. And yeah, his voice sounds like totally perfect. If you dig the Adult Contemporary vibe, you’re gonna buy this kid’s albums. If you’re a Clay Aiken fan, you’ll probably enjoy him as well. But he’s just, too goddamned precocious and coached for me. I’d listen to Ruben Studdard's Greatest Hits for 6 hours on repeat before buying an Archuleta disc. What do I know anyway. America loves him. Week after week he gets over 5x the votes of his closest competitor and he's a shoo-in to make the top two. Even on Bodog he's only slightly better than even money to win! Yawn. I guess it's 8 more weeks of the Wonder Child for me.

Carly Smithson “Here You Come Again” Smithson delivered graceful, pared-down version of the song with a near-perfect high E at the end. It wasn't spine-shiveringly amazing, but it was one of the better efforts of the night. But then Simon goes and insults her clothes and everyone boos him. But look, I think he was actually trying to help her. Cowell's not saying she’s ugly or out of shape or anything, he just made the point that she needs to polish up her onstage look a bit. And it’s true—the red corduroys and the sort of wrinkly satin top—I mean, she didn’t look like ass but it wasn’t doing her any favors. Glam it up a little, Carly but don't go ball gown on us or anything.

Kristy Lee Cook “The Coat of Many Colors” “Your mama is gonna be so proud of you!” squealed Dolly. Yeah, just like if you’d won Miss Oklahoma or whatever. Seriously, why the hell did she start the song seated at the foot of the stage? And what’s with the dangly earrings, the gown, and the junior prom hairstyle during an upbeat country tune? All the styling was totally wrong. The song suited her and she sounded recordable on it but again—unemotional, robotic, forgettable. But hey, 4 million albums later, that worked for Carrie Underwood I suppose. And right at the end Seacrest compliments her French pedicure—I mean, how fucking gay can you get?

Syesha Mercado “I Will Always Love You” I called this song at dinner. This could be her moment if she can pull it off. But wait... whaaaat? Why is she sitting on the fucking piano?!?! I mean, if any move says "cabaret," that's it. Why would you ever sing this song from up there when it is so obviously a "stand there and sing" power ballad. I don't even know how you breathe properly for those end notes without staning. It just MAKES NO SENSE! OK... onto the performance. The front half wasn't bad, even though she lost the phrasing a little on the first chorus. The second half? I mean come on, you’re always gonna have the Whitney version in your head whenever you hear it and Syesha went for it anyway. And of course it totally paled to Whitney, who doesn't? I think this might have made a few more people notice Syesha, but it was really a blown opportunity for her to really turn out something memorable.

Michael Johns “It’s All Wrong but it’s All Right” I think this performance might be my favorite thing Johns has done on the show. It was also the first time I was able to watch him and not think of him as just a very good bar singer or a guy who could cover the lead in one of those Queen tribute shows. Seriously, my only problem with Johns tonight was that really ghey scarf he wore under what would have otherwise been a cool-looking shirt. Still, right song at the right time, done the right way. Well done, mate.

My prediction for the week: If Ramiele doesn't go home this week, I don't know what you people are smoking. But it's not as good as my stuff.

Current Bodog Odds on who will win:

David Archuleta 21-20
Michael Johns 19-2
Carly Smithson 10-1
Ramiele Malubay 60-1
Brooke White 13-1
Jason Castro 35-1
Kristy Lee Cook 100-1
David Cook 19-10
Syesha Mercado 20-1