Monday, April 30, 2007

Idol Finalist Jessica Sierra Arrested

The St. Petersburg Times reports that Season 4 "American Idol" finalist Jessica Sierra was arrested yesterday on felony battery charges after she allegedly hit a man on the head with a heavy glass, police said.

Sierra, 21, the tenth-place finisher on the show in 2005, was booked in the Hillsborough County Jail on a charge of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

She was also charged with possession of cocaine and introduction of contraband into a correctional facility after booking officers found a “small amount of cocaine” while searching her, Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said in a statement.

Davis said the incident happened at a Tampa cafe about 1:52 a.m. Sunday. Police have not yet determined if Sierra knew the victim, Wisam Hadad, 28, of Tampa. Hadad declined medical transport for the cut over his eye.

When Sierra was arrested she was uncooperative with police, who threatened to shackle her legs because she was trying to kick out the window of the police cruiser, the spokesperson said.

After she was transported to the Orient Road Jail, police reportedly found a small bag of cocaine in her purse. She denied the cocaine was hers, according to her arrest report, but when asked, said that no one besides the police had possession of her purse that day.

Sierra, of Tampa, was freed on $11,500 bond Sunday afternoon. It was not immediately known if she had a lawyer. Her family referred comment to Sierra's manager, Nancy Eckert at Verge Management. As of Sunday night, Eckert had not issued any public comments on Sierra's behalf.

The Tampa native started singing in church when she was 3. After her mother died, Sierra was raised by her grandparents and father. She attended Robinson High School for a year before transferring to D.W. Waters Career Center, a public school that offers career training. She studied cosmetology there, graduating at 17.

Sierra had worked as a nanny and performed on "Star Search" before she was picked as an Idol contestant in Las Vegas when she was 19. The show turned her into a minor celebrity.

Last year, Sierra was in the news after she was the target of a persistent stalker. In 2006, Daniel Robert Young, 61, was accused of stalking Sierra. He reportedly had been making harassing phone calls to her, sending her gifts and following her to her grandparents' South Tampa home.

Mental health issues delayed Young's case, and it remains open in Hillsborough County Court. Sierra joined the Stalking Resource Center, a program of the National Center for Victims of Crime, to speak out against stalking.

Sierra recorded some songs in Nashville in 2006, but never released an album. She spent July 4 in Iraq, entertaining the troops.

In February of this year, WTVT-Ch. 13 reported that Sierra was working at Hooters as she waited for her singing career to take off. In the video, she signed autographs and sang for patrons.

To date, her only released recording was her rendition of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" included on the Season 4 "Idol" compilation CD.


We met Peter Noone after a concert this weekend and spoke to him about his Idol stint. He told us he really enjoyed mentoring the male finalists and that he thinks Simon Cowell's not only OK, but that he is right most of the time. He also said that he will be in the audience for the season finale. Check out his blog for his appraisals of Blake Lewis, Chris Richardson, Phil Stacey, Sanjaya Malakar and Chris Sligh.

Noone gives great show. Amazingly, at 59, he's lost neither his looks nor voice. His audience interaction goes above and beyond other performers and not only does he have a great sense of humor, his singing impressions are impressive. He does Tom Jones (the hip grinding is hilarious), Davy Jones and Mick Jagger, among others.

He also gave out some free CDs to the kids and threw some T-shirts into the audience. He generously met with a huge crowd after the show to shake hands and sign autographs. If he tours near you, it's a show worth getting out to see.


According to People magazine online, here are some things that happened on last week's show that you never got to see:

Ellen DeGeneres came out to greet the crowd before the show and showed off some of her signature dance moves as she shook her hips and did some tricks for the roaring audience. The talk-show host got a standing ovation and the audience chanted her name – "Ellen, you rock!" screamed one fan.

As the Idol Top 6 walked to the center of the stage for the show's opening, Jordin Sparks scanned the crowd to find her family. Dad Philippi Sparks caught his daughter's eye and held up his hands in the shape of a heart. She smiled and winked at her proud papa.

An audience member had the opportunity to ask Simon Cowell how his trip to Africa affected him and he sincerely replied, "You don't feel sorry for yourself anymore." The audience responded with polite applause.

When a shiny black Ferrari – just like Simon's – pulled into a parking space outside Idol's studio before the show, all heads were turned. But it wasn't the judge – it was Seal, who was arriving for the show. A fan remarked that she thought it was cool that the singer drove himself instead of taking a limo.

After Josh Groban performed an emotional rendition of "You Raise Me Up" with the The African Children's Choir, they got a two-minute-long standing ovation from the crowd at the Disney Concert Hall. And over at the Idol studio, the Top 6 were equally emotional about the tender song: When the show went to commercial, Jordin Sparks buried her head into her hands and turned away from the audience as she tried to regain her composure while LaKisha Jones rubbed her back. Chris Richardson was also in tears and quickly left the stage to pull himself together. Upon his return, Melinda Doolittle embraced him and patted him on the back.

For a crowd who had been anticipating surprise duet, there was an audible letdown when it was Celine Dion and Elvis Presley (we'll explain how the technology works in tomorrow's blog), who made a "guest appearance" next to her in the form of a 1968 performance. There were grumblings and light boos from the audience, who talked amongst themselves during the performance. Much more well-received was Annie Lennox's showstopping closing performance of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." While Lennox sat down at her piano to prepare for her song, an excited Ellen DeGeneres came over to greet and hug the British singer.

Only a week after being ousted from Idol, Sanjaya Malakar returned to the Idol studio as an audience member. During a commercial break, Simon Cowell summoned Sanjaya to the judges' table, where the he was greeted warmly with hugs from him, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson. During another break, Sanjaya reunited with the Top 6 contestants on the stage. They all embraced him, especially an excited Phil Stacey, who picked Sanjaya up and swung him around before putting him back on his own two feet.


During a recent conference call with the press, Idol executive producer Ken Warwick said that although he'd love to have former Beatle Paul McCartney be a guest mentor on the show, it was unlikely he would appear. Here are some excerpts from the inyerview session:

On doing a Beatles theme night: But we were in dialogue with them this year as part of one of the genres. The problem we found was that, the problem we had was obviously, we need a mentor that is up to the job. And we were after George Martin and his schedule, unfortunately, we tried every which way. We had permission from the record company, but we just couldn't get George. And without a mentor, it's meaningless.

On whether he'd like to have Paul McCartney as a mentor: I'd love to have Paul McCartney as a mentor, yes, absolutely. The problem is I think he early on, I think in the English show, and I don't know whether this is true or not. This is what I've heard, he kind of took exception to Simon's acid comments about the contestants. You know he's a nice guy and he didn't like Simon saying "You're horrible. You're the worst I've ever heard. You shouldn't be singing," or whatever he says. And so the chances of Paul coming on the show were pretty slim.

We were trying to get, as I said earlier, George Martin to mentor that show, and you do need a credible mentor, if you're doing The Beatles. And his schedule, although he was up for, we got a really nice letter saying, "I would love to do it. But unfortunately, I'm France this day. I'm in Switzerland the next day. There's no way I can actually be there on the date that you need me." And, of course, we can't change the day of the show, so it's a very specific date they have to adhere to. And if they can't do it, then they can't do it. And so it was that reason, and that reason only that we went to British Invasion week, which had good stuff in it, too, it was a good week.

On whether Melinda [Doolittle] is too mature for a show that emphasizes young talent: Well, she is more mature, mate, to be honest with you. But the fact of the matter is that it's not my decision, it's the public's. If they think that she's fine and great and they want to see here again and again, then they vote for her, then she's going to be there. It's as easy as that. It's not my — you know I long ago gave up worrying about what my personal favorites were.

Last year I loved Kat McPhee. I thought she was great. I thought she was gorgeous. I thought she had a great singing voice. I knew for a fact she could dance like there's no tomorrow. I knew she could act really well. She was just a really, really talented all-arounder. I would have loved her to have won last year, but it wasn't to be. There was somebody there that was a singer that was a bit quirky, people liked him and he was the winner, end of story. So what I think is immaterial, really. ... Melinda is fine. She's doing very well. The public do love Melinda, so the chances are, she'll be there for awhile to come, hopefully, but you never know.

On whether the judges are favoring Jordin [Sparks]: In truth I have to say where they can, they always pretty much tell the truth, because they've also been pretty supportive of Melinda every week. I don’t think it's any more than anybody else who's good. They call it the way the see it. I mean had they had any kind of agenda towards making Jordin one of the frontrunners, they would have started earlier. It's just that in the past few weeks, she has impressed them. And it was one of those — as always with these shows, you find generally, it’s the person that grows throughout the series that usually reaps the benefit at the end of it.

I think they're realizing that the one contestant that has consistently grown — Melinda has been good every week. LaKisha [Jones] has been pretty good every week, but Jordin has grown. So it gives them something to talk about, because it maybe even a bit, they’re probably getting fed up with saying Melinda is great every week. So Jordin is someone that they can hook into, and say, "You were much better than last week," or whatever. And it just gives them a bit more credibility, really.

On whether they'd consider doing a 50/50 split, like "Dancing With the Stars," where 50% of the vote comes from viewers and 50% from the judges: No, I'll never consider that. It's not a part of our format. As far as we're concerned it's the public at home who pick the idol. There has never been a case where they have been able to sufficiently put the vote one way or the other, skew the vote in any way. The voting numbers, I mean we had, I think, 38 million this week, 38 million votes.

Now with all due respect, even the biggest radio shows on earth are not going to have anything more than maybe 1,000 or 2,000 or even if it’s 10,000 people who actually listen to that radio station and think, "Oh, we're going to do that." Ten thousand is a drop in the ocean and would never influence the outcome, one way or the other.

On how he feels about Ryan [Seacrest] apparently supporting the contestants more than ever this year, as he takes on the judges: I love it. One of the attractions, if you like, people say to me, "Why is this show so popular? Why does it do this and why does it do that?" One of these points, very relevant points is the fact that there is quite curt banter, if you like, between the judges and Ryan. Ryan is always there to support the contestants, no matter what the situation. He's not there as a judge. He's there to champion their song and the way they sing it. So if he thinks that they're being bullied by Simon or any of the judges, it's part of his mandate. You step in there and you defend them if you think that's right, or ask the relevant questions.

On whether the contestants do commercial endorsements immediately after they are off the show, or do they have to wait: Generally I don’t think they — to be absolutely honest, I'm not sure if there's a time. I know with regards to taking up recording contracts or promoting themselves in the music business, that there is a very definite wait. They have to wait until the Idol has released their song. They can't contaminate that market for I think, three months, minimum. But to be absolutely honest, when it comes to things like that, because it's a totally different department that would handle …, I don't know if there'’s a time limit. I hope not to be truthful, because that wouldn't impact the show in any way. I kind of like to think the kids have gone on to do some other tangible way and they’re getting something back out of it.

... As far as I'm concerned, it's fine. But there's a whole legal department, both in Fox and with Fremantle International that handle that. If I got bogged down in the licensing and marketing issues, you could imagine what kind of a nightmare that would be on a show like this. So I tend to step back and I'm given, "This is what we've got to do this week in the show. This is what we're compelled to do." We do that, sometimes I argue that, because I think it's too much.

But generally speaking those things, especially if the contestants have gone, I leave up to the legal people to sort out. And as far as I'm concerned, bless them. They can do it. I would love Haley [Scarnato] to do it; I think she'd be great at it.

On whether this year's group of contestants have as much pizzazz as last year's group: The truth of the matter is that it is a fact that last year was an exceptional year, the kids were just great last year. It was as much in their diversity and personalities as in their voices. So it was a very good year, last year. Are you asking me is this year's contestants as diverse? No. Are they better? Some are; some aren't. And a lot of this is subjective anyway. So you can ask one person and they say, "Yes, I love these people much more than I did last year." And you can ask someone else that says, "I thought last year's were great." I thought last year's were great, personally, I thought they were great. But this year's are pretty good, too.

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© 2007

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Simon Cowell Visits Ellen DeGeneres

As "Ellen"fans already know, during "Idol" season, on Mondays Ellen DeGeneres usually interviews the most recently eliminated candidate. Only this week no one was eliminated. Sitting in instead will be Simon Cowell, who has visited Ellen in the past.

Set yout TiVos, because Ellen surprises Simon with a clip of Cowell competing as a contestant on the British game show "Sale of the Century" in 1990. The tape was saved for posterity by Cowell's co-contestant Barbara Humphreys. Ellen also gets Simon's thoughts on who he thinks can win this year's "American Idol" and asks him what the judges are talking about while the contestants are performing. Here are some excerpts:

Ellen: Who do you think is going to be voted off and who do you think is going to win?

Simon: I think the front-runners at the moment I would say are Jordin [Sparks] and Melinda [Doolittle]. That's my gut feeling although I wouldn’t write off Blake [Lewis] or LaKisha [Jones]. I think the two that are venerable this week are Chris [Richardson] and Phil [Stacey].

Ellen: Really, well Chris has been in the bottom three before and Phil has been in the bottom three so that makes sense.

Simon: I was kind of mildly disappointed that nobody went last week. I look forward to that point. Does that sound bad?

Ellen: Yes, it sounds bad. ... You and Paula and Randy are constantly talking while the contestants are singing. What are you all talking about? These people are signing their hearts out and what are you doing (watch video)?

Simon: I'm taunting Paula throughout the performance ... I'm saying to her try to say something interesting, try not use the words mountain and lakes in your critiques because it's always "You'll climb mountains, You'll swim lakes," whatever, and then I make things up about the song hoping she'll say it like ..."That was the theme song from "Star Wars" you should mention that ... Anything.

Ellen: Well how can you really critique them if you’re not listening to them?

Simon: Well I'll tell you a secret, I actually watch the dress run so I actually hear much, much easier what they really do sound like because when you're in there it is so loud ... and the audience is going nuts. So I kind of know pretty much what they're going to sound like because of that.

Ellen: Well that explains it.


Sounding more like the loopy Paula Abdul we've all grown to know and love, instead of the more recent lucid-sounding one, the Idol judge recently appeared on QVC to sell her jewelry and had trouble coordinating her words and her mouth (watch video)


Every week after a contestant is eliminated from Idol, they participate in a conderence with the press, otherwise known as the exit interview. You can listen, download or read transcripts of a number of the Season 6 interviews (as well as a couple of Season 3 ones) at the e-zine Starry Constellation Magazine. Season 6 interviews include: Sanjaya Malakar, Haley Scarnato, Sabrina Sloan, Gina Glocksen, Chris Sligh, Alaina Alexander, Stephanie Edwards and Brandon Rogers. You can also read transcripts of interviews with Amy Adams and Camile Velasco from Season 3.


If you are a conspiracy-theory lover (and we are), you should be reading the myspace blog of Ricky Hoggard, who claims to have inside information on how Idols producers fix the show (which, by the way is legal. This is a reality show, not a game show and the participants are considered paid actors, not game-show contestants). He claims that Sanjaya Malakar was not the lowest vote getter the week he was eliminated and that the producers are gunning for LaKisha Jones next, even though the actually Top 6 vote getters came out like this:

1. Jordin Sparks
2. Blake Lewis
3. Melinda Doolittle
4. Phil Stacy
5. Lakisha Jones
6. Chris Richardson


And, finally, we couldn't help posting this video from VH1's "Best Week Ever" site:

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© 2007

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Idol's Big Gay Closet

With its sappy songs, flamboyant contestants, and metrosexual host, American Idol is the campiest thing on TV. But could an openly gay singer win? asks the April 24, 2007 issue of The Advocate. Here is an excerpt from the article:

Divas like Fantasia, Kimberley Locke, and Jennifer Hudson attract legions of gay fans. Judge Simon Cowell and host Ryan Seacrest seem to be flirting as they delight in challenging each other's heterosexuality. And each season at least a few finalists—most notably Clay Aiken—seem to set off everybody's gaydar. American Idol is not only the most popular show on network television—averaging over 33 million viewers per episode—it is also clearly one of the gayest. But there seems to be some kind of unwritten rule that contestants should not be out while competing for the title.

Season 1 contestant R.J. Helton, who finished fifth, came out publicly last October but struggled with being in the closet while he was on the show. "I did tell some of the assistant producers because I felt like it was eating me alive," Helton says. "But I was advised to just keep it to myself. The reason they gave me was that it wouldn’t be a good idea for my career. I wasn't prepared to be out then anyway — I wasn'’t comfortable with myself at that point."

Fox spokesman Joe Earley says he was not aware of Helton confiding in anyone on the show about his sexuality, and if someone did indeed encourage Helton to remain closeted, that person was speaking on their own behalf and not for the show. "Since season 1, when it became clear that people's personal lives were going to become public, the gay contestants have usually declared early in the [background check] process how comfortable they were with their own sexuality," says Earley, who is out. "I've been intimate in this process," adds Earley, "and there is no fear coming from producers or the network about a contestant's sexuality as it relates to being gay."

Helton's fellow season 1 finalist Jim Verraros got a lot of attention for coming out shortly after competing on the show (he finished ninth) and appearing on the American Idols Live concert tour. "I was more concerned about how America would perceive me than the producers were," Verraros admits. "Even on tour I definitely toned it down, making sure my voice dropped an octave. Now I don’t give a fuck. But at the time I thought, 'You have to appeal to everybody and be as mainstream as possible.' "

While Verraros, now 24, says he never heard a word from the producers or staff about how to handle his sexuality, he did find out after his run ended that The Advocate had contacted the network for an interview while he was still competing. At the time, he says, "I never heard about it." Earley disputes this and insists that Verraros was made aware of the interview request.

Verraros has had some success as an out gay singer and actor (Eating Out) and says he hears from "a lot of the contestants from past seasons who are gay who have e-mailed me." He was also the first fellow contestant Helton felt he could confide in. "I didn’t tell any of the contestants, although I'm sure a few knew just by living with me," Helton says. "Jim was the first person that I talked to about it all with. We came back for the finale show and were about to go on tour. We were in the front lobby of the hotel, and I said, 'We have to talk.' " By the time Helton, now 25, did an interview on Sirius OutQ Radio last October in support of "American Idol Rewind," a syndicated rerun of the show’s first season, he was far more comfortable with himself and decided to come out publicly.

Some believe the show tries to project an image of wholesomeness in order to preserve its monster ratings and appeal to virtually every demographic and region in the country. Many wonder if preservation of that image was the reason behind the mysterious departure of season 4 finalist Mario Vazquez, who had set off some viewers' gaydar during his journey to the top 12. Vazquez was not voted off the show but made the unprecedented decision to quit after making the finals, citing "family reasons." Vazquez has never discussed his sexuality but is now at the center of one of the bigger scandals in the show’s history. Magdaleno Olmos, a former assistant production accountant for Fremantle Media, which produces the show, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the show in Los Angeles superior court in March accusing Vazquez of sexually harassing him.


The Enquirer in Cincinnati reports that Elliott Yamin was a guest of Whoopi Goldberg's recently when she hosted her four-hour national radio show,"Wake Up with Whoopi," on WVMX-FM (94.1) from the Belle of Cincinnati docked at Newport.

The Season 5 "American Idol" finalist, wearing a Johnny Bench T-shirt he had bought at Great American Ball Park and an old Baltimore Orioles hat, impressed Goldberg by singing "Wait For You," accompanied by guitarist Russell Ali.

"You can sit down and sing a song. That's what singing is supposed to be. Nobody is turning buttons and trying to sweeten the sound," Goldberg told Yamin.

Her national audience agreed. "The phones are swamped with people calling for you. The phones are blowing up," Goldberg said after hearing the feedback received at her New York studio.

Yamin then performed a second vocal, "Moving On."

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© 2007

Friday, April 27, 2007

Cowell Denies His Home Burgled

The British paper Daily Express, under the headline "MR NASTY SUFFERS A BREAK-IN," reports that Simon Cowell’s London home was ransacked while the Idol judge was away in America, claiming that Cowell had handed the keys to his £6million ($11.7 million) Holland Park house to a team of builders who had instruc­­tions to refurbish the property while he was away for a month in the United States. They claim he returned to find that the place had been ransacked, and that the thieves had made off with jewelery, silver and electrical equipment, humorously noting, "Thankfully, the burglars did not feel moved to help themselves to some of Mr Cowell;s vertiginous trousers or any of his collection of hundreds of black polo-neck jumpers."

The paper said that local police who investigated the crime said, "It was an unwise decision to say the least. You wouldn't believe some of the things Mr Cowell had accumulated over the years that the thieves took a fancy to."

A source told the newspaper, "What has happened in similar cases is that someone copied the main key. I’m sure the builders would have been very careful about who had access, but it's not always easy when a number of sub-contractors are coming in and out of the place."

However, Simon Cowell laughed off The Daily Express reports, according to,
insisting that his home is perfectly secure and all his belongings remain intact. "I've spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of the very best security and I can assure you my homes are as safe as the Bank of England," Cowell said.

Meanwhile, in his monologue, Conan O'Brien said that while police said the burglary was the work of professional thieves, Cowell described them as "amateurish and uninspired."


A Reuters story in the London Mirror says that Cowell is the pop world's star riser in the latest Sunday Times Rich List, which is subtitled "5000 of the Wealthiest People in the United Kingdom and Ireland" and which estimates the minimum wealth of Britain's richest people or families. Cowell, who once told a contestant "You remind me of a pet poodle", has an estimated wealth of 100 million pounds -- up from 60 million last year. He has moved from the 944th position on the list last year to 700 this year, overtaking singer Robbie Williams.


According to Peace Journalism magazine , UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Clay Aiken recently concluded a trip to Afghanistan (watch video, second video) and heralds the progress being made in children's education.
"As a former teacher I recognize that spark of hope and excitement all children possess when given the opportunity to learn," said Aiken, who spent five days visiting schools in Kabul and Bamyan in the central region of Afghanistan. "Rebuilding schools, training teachers, providing essential supplies and teaching materials are just some of the advances UNICEF and its partners have made to keep that hope flourishing."

Traveling with Aiken were UNICEF country representative for Afghanistan Catherine Mbengue and his high school teacher Mary Props. "The people here are very strong and they are very proud of their country," Aiken told reporters in Kabul, praising the "strength and conviction of the Afghan people and their ability to make sure that this country returns to its glory after such a long darkness."

While in the capital city of Kabul, Aiken, who was appointed a UNICEF Ambassador in 2004, visited schools that have implemented programs meant to ensure all children regardless of gender receive an education. While in Bamyan, Aiken visited a health clinic and women's literacy center where many women learn how to read and write and experience formal education for the first time. The literacy program is one of UNICEF's priority projects for the empowerment of women in Afghanistan.

Aiken also visited water and sanitation programs as well as a program that reintegrates former child soldiers into mainstream society. You can read more about his trip and an interview with him in his hometown paper.


Season 6 finalist Chris Sligh and his band, Half Past Forever, are doing a mini tour.

Tour Schedule:
Apr 28 2007 Wild Wings Spartanburg Spartanburg, S.C.
Apr 30 2007 The Handlebar Greenville, S.C. Ticket info
May 2 2007 Seacoast Greenville Greenville, S.C.
May 4 2007 Seacoast Church Mt. Pleasant, S.C.
May 5 2007 Seacoast Church Mt. Pleasant, S.C.
May 6 2007 Seacoast Church Mt. Pleasant, S.C.
May 11 2007 Timmons Arena Greenville, S.C. Ticket info
May 27 2007 Freedom Weekend Aloft Simpsonville, S.C.
May 28 2007 Freedom Weekend Aloft Simpsonville, S.C.

Hard-core Sligh fans can download the event poster here.


The National Enquirer and gleefully report that Sanjaya Malakar 's American-born mother, Jillian Blyth, was busted in Pierce County, Wash., in February 2005 after neighbors reported smelling marijuana and noticed a large vent on the garage roof, according to court records.

When sheriff 's deputies arrived to investigate, they discovered 310 marijuana plants and growing lights in the gargage, along with Sanjaya's then 17-year-old sister Shyamali. Power company records also showed the garage was gobbling electricity. Shyamali, who was arrested for possession, told officers that her mom was at another location in nearby Federal Way -- and when the cops got there, they found a second dope-growing operation, where they arrested Blith and her husband, Charles Quist (Sanjaya's stepdad).

Momjaya could have gone to jail for up to five years after pleading guilty to one felony count of unlawful manufacturing of a controlled substance, but got off with a relatively mellow 30-day sentence.


Speaking on Sanjaya, whose father hails from India, according to The Associated Press, Indians were relieved to see him go (was it something his mother said -- or did?). While his goofy hairstyles and lackluster singing might have captivated millions of Americans, his quirky appeal never resonated among Indians. And though the end of his run was front-page news in India, his exit was not mourned. Here are some sample headlines:

"Sanjaya is voted off American Idol - he's the only one weeping" –The Indian Express

"Finally, Sanjaya sings his way out of Idol" - Times of India

Indians never connected with Malakar, said Poonam Saxena, television critic for The Hindustan Times. "He'll be forgotten I'm sure, unless he does something else big. Why would anyone remember him?" she said, dismissing the 17 year-old as "a spunky kid."

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© 2007

Thursday, April 26, 2007

America Gives Back

Celebrities appealed, singers performed, heartrending film clips were shown and no one was eliminated. IdolGivesBackPalooza was filled with tears and compassion, giving and understanding.

  • Ryan Seacrest announced that the show received a record 70 million votes Tuesday night, so NewsCorp donated their maximum $5 million pledge.

  • Ellen DeGeneres co-hosted the show from the Walt Disney Concert Hall, where most the night's musical numbers occurred.

  • Earth Wind and Fire performed a medley of their hits (watch video).

  • There were celebrity appeals by the likes of Forest Whitaker, Dr. Phil McGraw, Hugh Laurie, Eric McCormack and Teri Hatcher.

  • A film clip of Randy Jackson's trip to his home state of Louisiana and his visit to a FEMA park still filled with the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

  • The six finalists, all dressed in white outfits the entire evening, performed "Time to Care" (watch video)written by Quincy Jones, who appeared in a film clip with them.

  • A running joke satellite link up with Ben Stiller, who threatens to continuously sing "Reminiscing" by the Little River Band until $200 billion is raised. The joke dies as soon as he begins to sing and becomes less and less funny as it continues throughout the night.

  • A particularly touching clip of Ryan and Simon Cowell in Africa with Grauman, a 12-year-old orphan raising his sister alone without help. If your heart didn't break, you were made of stone.

  • Melinda Doolittle was the first of all six Idols to be pronounced safe. During the course of the night, we'll learn, in this order, that Blake Lewis, Phil Stacey, LaKisha Jones, Chris Richardson and Jordin Sparks (who is given about 15 seconds to think she's been eliminated) are safe as well.

  • A clip of Paula Abdul visiting a Boys and Girls Club in Hollywood.

  • Il Divo sings "Somewhere" (watch video).

  • Jack Black does a skit as a random person chosen from the audience to come onstage. He demands to sing and be judged, breaking into Seal's "Kiss From a Rose," (watch video) while his partner, Kyle, cries holding a rose in the audience. It wasn't happening for Randy, who tells him maybe the stretchy pants would have helped. Paula says "The School of Rock called, they want their diploma back." And Simon calls him better than Sanjaya (who the camera pans to sitting in the audience and laughing beside his sister). Seal, sitting behind Randy, calls it the best rendition of "Kiss from a Rose" he's ever heard. Not hilarious, but cute.

  • A clip of Carrie Underwood in Africa singing "I'll Stand By You" (watch video) with a group of children.

  • Back at the Disney Concert Hall, Rascal Flatts performs "My Wish" (watch video).

  • A film clip of why education is important to the children of Appalachia.

  • Paula, wearing something from the Kellie Pickler Collection, joins Ryan on stage where he teases her about her height while the home audience stares at her cleavage.

  • The finalists do the Ford commercial to "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" (watch video) going to a drive-in in a Mustang convertible, where they watch a video of "Stayin' Alive" featuring Good Charlotte, Dr. Phil, Keira Knightley, Lebron James, Hugh Grant, Hugh Laurie, Helen Mirren, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Harvey Weinstein, David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow, Blue Man Group, Miss Piggy, Marc Anthony, Shaquille ONeal, and Kevin Bacon, among others.

  • A clip of Ryan and Simon visiting AIDS patients and homes of AIDS orphans in Africa.

  • Back to the Disney Concert Hall, where Ellen DeGeneres donates $100,000 before introducing Josh Groban singing "You Raise Me Up," (watch video), backed by the African Children's Choir.

  • A clip of celebrities discussing how many funerals they've attended, followed by an African who has been to 280 funerals. There is a discussion about how malaria, a treatable disease, is deadly in Africa.

  • Again in the Disney Concert Hall, Kelly Clarkson, the first American Idol, sings Patty Griffin's "Up to the Mountain" (watch video) accompanied by Jeff Beck.

  • A clip of "The Simpsons" has Simon, singing the Pussycat Dolls' "Don'tcha," auditioning for Lisa, Homer and Marge, who keeps saying "dawg." Lisa, as Paula, wants to know, "Where's the dog? I like dogs!" The best part? After Homer tells Simon he's going to Hollywood and drops him through a trap door, Bart says, "Lions haven't eaten this well since Dunkleman" (watch video).

  • Next, the long-awaited (dreaded) duo of Celine Dion performing "If I Can Dream" with a phantom technology-produced Elvis Presley ( watch video).

  • Madonna appears in a filmed message (watch video) from Malawai, where many people are HIV Positive. Honestly, she and Celine Dion look gaunter and deader than Presley.

  • Seacrest announces that they've received $30 million in corporate donations, followed by the "what color is the sky" Idol Trivia Challenge.

  • At the Disney Music Hall, DeGeneres introduces Annie Lennox singing "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (watch video).

  • The Idols "discover" they're all safe. No one seems surprised, though minutes later Jordin's eyes are full of tears ... crocodile tears.

  • In a final brief clip, Bono mentors the finalists, telling them they can end brutal, stupid poverty, before they perform "American Prayer" (watch video).
No one can argue with raising money so that starving children are fed, educated and cared for. Not only in Africa (where the need is probably the greatest) and in the United States (where it hits home the most), but anywhere in the world. Does a country exist where some child does not go hungry or uneducated? And, certainly, most anyone comfortable enough to be watching "American Idol" can afford to give a dollar to the cause.

But on a very un-PC note, it must also be said that IdolGivesBackPalooza was contrived, manipulative and, unfortunately, boring for most of its 2 hours. Americans watch "Idol" for escapism and entertainment, and, for the most part, last night was neither.

It's wonderful that tens of millions of dollars were raised for the right reasons. But our cynical side knows that every dollar of the $5 million that NewsCorp donated was made back last night alone during the Idol's commercial breaks, that AT&T made a small fortune off Tuesday night's text-messaging votes, and that the high ratings won't hurt Fox Television either.

We also don't need to be told by the likes of Teri Hatcher and Madonna and a bunch of other celebrities what we should believe in and contribute to, no more than we'd vote for a candidate they're endorsing. Let's not forget, celebs are not the great thinkers of the world. Most should be visiting the Wizard and asking for a brain.

Finally, the true spirit of giving is selflessness, not self-promotion and endorsements for Ford, AT&T, Coca-Cola, ConAgra and every other Idol corporate sponsor. Give from your heart, not because you expect some form of payback. So forgive us if we seem a bit disillusioned by it all.

For those who do wish to donate for all the right reasons, here is a link you can use.

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© 2007