Monday, May 21, 2007

The Finale and the Finalists

Tomorrow night, on the stage of the Kodak Theatre, Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis will each sing three songs: One picked from the American Idol song-writing contest; one new song of their choice; and one they've previously performed.

The Kodak Theatre is part of the Hollywood and Highland entertainment complex on Hollywood Boulevard and North Highland Avenue in Los Angeles. It is a daunting venue for the two finalists to perform in especially after the smaller stage they've inhabited for the past 10 since the finals began. Opened on November 9, 2001, the theater was built at a cost of $94 million and was designed specifical-
ly to house the Academy Awards ceremonies, which have made it their home since 2002. It has a seating capacity of up to 3,400 people and the stage is one of the largest in the United States, measuring 113 feet wide by 60 feet deep. The theatre was sponsored by the Kodak company, which paid $75 million to have its name associated with the building.

The entrance hall to the theater is flanked by columns displaying winners of the Academy Awards for Best Picture since 1927-1928, with blank spaces left for future Best Picture winners well into the 21st century.



In a conference call with the press on Friday, Jordin Sparks said viewers can antincipate seeing her with straight hair and lots of "really nice dresses" at the finale. She said her favorite celebrity judge was Martina McBride, because she's been listening to her music for so long, and that Jennifer Lopez gave the best advice. "She was talking about how it doesn’t matter if you sell like a million records or 500,000 records, if you touch someone with your music you're doing well … not to mention she was FA-BU-LOUS."

Late last week, Jordin spoke with People magazine about their Idol experience, winning the competition and what their futures hold.

How have you changed since being on American Idol?
I feel like this whole experience has made me stronger and a better person. I can handle so much more than I thought I could.

Why should you win?
I'm not really sure! I came into this competition and I do want to win but at the same time it's not going to be the end of the world. I would be happy if I won and I would be happy if Blake won. I'm happy I got to be a part of it and that I made it this far.

You're making some money now. What can't you wait to splurge on?
I think I might save it and I might put it towards a really nice [sound] system in the car I drive. And I'll give my brother [P.J.] a couple bucks and let him buy some shoes.

How do you do to deal with stress?
When I get stressed I love to read. Reading is one of my favorite things. I love pickles! That's my comfort food. I could eat a whole jar.

Did growing up with a famous father [NFL player Phillippi Sparks] help you deal with your own burgeoning fame?
We took pictures a lot; my dad did interviews all the time. I was constantly watching him and he actually told me the other day when he would sign autographs I would just be watching so intently and he said it was really weird because he was watching me do it the other day and how it's all turned around. I think it has helped me, so thanks, Dad!

What's your advice to aspiring singers out there?
Don't give up. I didn't think that I would make it at all. Trying out? You'll never know if you don't try. Now I'm here and I can't believe it. I was too scared [during auditions]. If you want something, just work hard at it. It's been amazing to take my own advice.

What's your strategy going into the finale?
Blake and I are two totally different singers. He's an amazing performer and he's so entertaining. I feel really honored to be in the finale with him. I don't have any strategy. I know it sounds so cliché, but give all that I can give. I'm going to try and do my best and hopefully people like the songs that I pick and whatever happens on Wednesday happens. I'm just going to give it my all and leave it all out there.


In his press conference call, Blake Lewis said for his own album, his dream producers include "Father of Trance" music BT ('N Sync, Tori Amos), Darkchild (Beyonce, Mary J Blige), Will.I.Am (Black Eyed Peas, Fergie) and Pro J (Robin Thicke). He says he wants his album to have a pop/electronic/jazzy hip-hop feel to it with lots of beat-boxing.

As for his unique fashion sense, Lewis says, "It's more of a mix between hip-hop fashion and chic stuff." He called his bold plaid slacks his "grandpa pants" and said his hair and clothes are influenced by his environment and mood. "I just like to have fun with whatever I wear depending on what mood I'm in."

Late last week, Blake spoke with People magazine about their Idol experience, winning the competition and what their futures hold.

Now that you've been on American Idol you're no longer Shorty from Bothell.
I will forever be Shorty from Bothell! I'm now Blake Lewis to the world, but I'm still Shorty from Bothell.

Why should you win American Idol?
I've never looked at it as a competition. I've tried to represent myself, be true to myself the whole time. The support on the show and the fans have seen that. I've never looked at it as a competition so I think I've won regardless. I won when I got into the top ten. Win or lose I think I'm a winner on this show already.

Win or lose, it sounds like we've only just begun with Blake Lewis. What kind of album do you want to put out?
It would definitely have more of a dance vibe to it. I love electronic music. It's going to have a dance flair and then I have a softer, jazzy side. I have been writing music for the past seven years so it will have kind of a pop-electro feel to it.

You have been arguably the most fashion conscious male contestant ever on the show. How do you describe your style?
I am really into bright colors mixed with chic stuff. My old roommate was a stylist. I guess people think I have some style because I don't wear jeans. I like to wear the grandpa slacks with cool patterns.

What do you think of Jordin?
Jordin and Gina were my picks in the beginning to win this whole thing. She's 17 and she's already a woman. She performs, she's good looking, she's got a fantastic personality. It reads really well on camera. Regardless of the finale she's already won it in my mind.

So what's your strategy for the finale?
I never thought I'd be on the show in the first place. For the finale I don't know about an edge. I'm going to stay true to myself.


The gossip site Perez Hilton says "This is totally unconfirmed and completely unsubstantiated, but she's crazy and anything can happen!

Just in case it turns out to be true......

There are very loud rumblings that Britney Spears will be performing lipsynching on the finale of American Idol this week, which is set to easily draw more than 40 million viewers.

Uh huh.

We'll believe it when we see it!"

So will we.


In a not-so-surprising move, but probably a relief to ticketholder fans of Phil Stacey, the U.S. Navy has given its consent for the Idol finalist to take part in this year's Idols Live Tour.

People magazine reports that Petty Officer Third Class Phil Stacey has been given the aye-aye by the U.S. Navy to join his castmates on this summer's "American Idol" tour.

"It is absolutely true," said U.S. Navy spokesman Bob Anderson. "They're working on the logistics right now: What he'll be paid, wear, stuff like that."

The nationwide concert tour kicks off July 6 in Sunrise, Fla. – not far from Stacey's Jacksonville home – and wraps up on September 22 in Manchester, N.H.


Learning that her journey on "American Idol" had ended Wednesday night was "the first time that I had taken a breath in a really long time," Melinda Doolittle reports People magazine.

"Knowing that I had made it this far and knowing that I was going to be able to sing from here on out without being judged and voted ... it was just like this sigh of relief," she told Ryan Seacrest on his morning radio show. "Now I'm getting ready to sing just because I love it."

The former backup singer called Seacrest's 102.7 KIIS FM show and told the host that she didn't feel any resentment after being voted off – despite receiving immense and consistent praise from all three Idol judges.

"Two amazing people are in the finale right now and I couldn't be more proud of them," Doolittle, 29, said, referring to finalists Jordin Sparks, 17, and Blake Lewis, 25, who will compete in the finale next week. "Those are still my babies. I'm still their mama. I'm so proud about it and don't feel cheated at all. There are always opportunities out there to grab onto and to take a hold of so I'm just ready for that."

And, according to Doolittle, Simon Cowell may be prepared to help her find the right opportunity. "Simon was especially supportive and said, 'I want to see you succeed,' " she told Seacrest. That means the world to me so it was great to hear last night."

The ousted Idol also admitted that the rigorous process of rehearsals, performances and getting judged on live television week after week was difficult. "I felt like I was working so hard and when [the judges] would say good things I was so excited to hear it, it would just put this look of shock on my face."

That isn't the only thing that shocked Doolittle, who said that the level of fame and recognition she has achieved so far also surprised her. "Nothing could have prepared me for this. I knew that the show was huge. I did not know that it was this huge," she said. "The fact that it has awarded such a big opportunity to me is just the most amazing thing ever."


According to World Entertainment News Networkm country superstar Carrie Underwood has gone public about her romance with NFL star Tony Romo after asking him to be her date at the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas this past Tuesday.

The couple has been romantically linked ever since Underwood gave up her Christmas plans to spend a special day with Romo as he played for the Dallas Cowboys -- but both stars have refused to talk about their relationship.

Questioned about her date at the country music awards ceremony, the former American Idol winner gushed, "We're really good friends and we hang out and we support each other and everything that we do and it's great to have somebody here who's got your back."

Meanwhile, Romo confessed, "We're just getting to know each other a little better and we'll see where everything goes, but it's just nice to have somebody at the end of the day to talk to who is going through similar things."

"She's got a great personality, so she's really easy to talk to... [and] she loves to talk on the phone."

Underwood revealed backstage that her awards show performance would be the first time Romo has seen her sing live.


This week, Enter-
tainment Weekly had former Idols Kimberley Locke, Anthony Fedorov, Ace Young and Amy Adams review last week's judges' critiques of Melinda Doolittle, Blake Lewis and Jordin Sparks.

RANDY JACKSON -- The Dawg felt Melinda met the challenge of his choice for her: "Whitney Houston's "I Believe in You and Me." Did she? Was it a good choice?

Kimberley Locke: I liked the choice, but I didn’t like her rendition of it. I thought the key was too low. Technically she sang it well, but as far as what I’d like to have heard, I didn’t like her interpretation. She didn’t sing it better than Whitney Houston.

Ace Young: That song was definitely a challenging one. You’re talking about one of the greatest singers of all time. I mean, Whitney is an icon. And it was a challenge for Melinda, but she pulled it off. I think she did a great job. And Randy did, too. Randy knows the ins and outs of that song better than anyone. I think it was a good choice for her.

Anthony Fedorov: I thought that was an excellent choice. If anybody’s going to pull off Whitney, she can do it. She doesn’t have that Whitney kind of voice, but she’s so unique in the way she sings that I see why Randy challenged Melinda with that song.

Amy Adams: No, I didn't [like the song]. I understood [Randy’s idea] of the challenge, but I didn't like the way it sat in her voice. It was almost uncomfortable. It didn't sound bad or anything, obviously, but it wasn't my favorite.

What song would you choose for Melinda to sing?

Kimberley Locke: Probably something a little more bluesy for her. I don’t know what song that would be because she did such a great job on "I'm a Woman." Maybe something like "Dr. Feelgood" by Aretha Franklin.

Ace Young: If I had to choose a song for her, I would also go with someone legendary like Whitney.

Anthony Fedorov: Believe it or not, I would choose a Whitney song, or maybe even a Mariah Carey song. I would definitely choose a song that would challenge her vocally, just to see how she can twist it up even more.

Amy Adams: "Midnight Train to Georgia," something like that. I love her voice for that. She has a way of doing things that are not copycat, and I'd love to hear her own take on something that is so well known.

PAULA ABDUL -- Ms. Abdul enjoyed Blake's back-phrasing on "Roxanne," her choice for the beat-boxer. Did the song work? Isn't Paula contradicting her earlier criticisms that singers were "behind the beat"?

Kimberley Locke: I did like that choice because I like that song, but Blake didn't do anything with it. He became a little bit redundant for me. And he kept looking over at the band for his cue. Because he changed the phrasing, he was not sure of himself, so he was looking to the band for direction and reassurance. That's not good. I think [Paula] recognized that he did [the back-phrasing] on purpose.

Ace Young: Blake stayed pretty true to the original, I thought. Sometimes you make that decision, not to mess with the arrangement too much, to let the song stand on its own, and that's what Blake did. Then, with the Robin Thicke song, he did add his own twist to it and pulled it off.

Anthony Fedorov: Pretty good choice. I was very, very happy with this week. One of the best weeks, if not the best week, that we've had so far. Back-phrasing: Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It depends on the song, on the mood. It worked for Blake that time. That's why she didn't criticize it.

Amy Adams: Like Simon says, that song always looks like you're trying to do an impersonation [of Sting], but yeah, I liked the choice. There were times I thought he was behind [the beat], and then I thought he was trying to overcompensate and got ahead. I think [Paula] probably just wanted to hear how that song sounded on his voice. I could get the sex appeal that she may have being going after.

What song would you choose for Blake to sing?

Kimberley Locke: I was going to say a Beastie Boys song, but they're rappers. I just don't think that Blake is such a dynamic singer. He hasn't wowed me. I would've given him something a little more challenging. How 'bout this: Maybe a Josh Groban song to see if he can actually sing. We've heard him just in a monotone way go through the motions of the music, but can the boy sing? I don’t know.

Ace Young: I'd have him go more in the rock direction. He's done some pop-rock with the 311 song and Maroon 5, but I think it would be interesting to see how he does with a true rock song.

Anthony Fedorov: I see Blake like a Maroon 5 kinda guy. He has that kind of a voice. Maybe something from James Blunt? I don't know.

Amy Adams: Oh, this is going to be awesome. Probably something old-school, like Tears for Fears-y. "Shout" or something like that. I think he has that capacity to take something and put a different spin on it, like when he did the Cure. And, I mean, I love that song, so I'd love to hear it.

SIMON COWELL -- Simon picked "Wishing on a Star" for Jordin, then trashed the song's arrangement. He also called "I Who Have Nothing" far too old for Jordin. Fair? And how'd "Star" measure up?

Kimberley Locke: I thought ["Star"] was a great choice because that's not an easy song to sing, and she killed it. I really enjoyed her performance. She connects with the music so well; she's like an old soul. I think that's why she’s drawn to those older songs. I think Simon is constantly reminding her about how old she is because he knows if she wins, they're going to turn her into a teeny-bopper pop star. She's not going to be singing to that mature audience. He wants to remind her to keep it young.

Ace Young: The thing about Jordin's last song—it's like, Christina Aguilera just made a record of flapper songs that are retro but she makes it hip. You can say the same thing about Jordin. I think she did a great job. And I really liked the arrangement on "Star," the way she sped it up. She also made it sound young and hip, not old.

Anthony Fedorov: Simon has a knack of picking the right songs for whoever he's picking for. It was a very good song choice for her. I thought the arrangement was good. There's only so many ways you can go with that song.

Amy Adams: I liked it a bit. It wasn't like "Oh, I love that, it's fantastic!" Yeah, but it's fine. I don't see her as having that strong input on the actual arrangement, like Blake. I don't see her going in and saying, "Hey guys, let's jazz it up!" I think she rolls with the punches more or less, so her getting those comments [about] the jazzy arrangement, she probably doesn't quite know how to take them.

What song would you choose for Jordin to sing?

Kimberley Locke: "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion.

Ace Young: I'd have her try some Chaka Khan.

Anthony Fedorov: With Jordin, it’s a little bit easier, because you can give her Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston. I’d probably give her "I Will Always Love You" or "Hero," see how'd she pull that off and where she'd really fit with that.

Amy Adams: Do you know who Lara Fabian is? She’s from the U.K. and she’s an incredible artist, a Celine Dion-esque type performer. She has this amazing power, and her placement of her high notes is a lot like Jordin's. So I’d love to see a song Jordin could wail on, and Lara Fabian's songs — either "To Love Again" or "Adagio" — are really, really pretty.

After Melinda's "I'm a Woman," Simon said she deserved to be in the finals for being the most consistently excellent contestant.Who Do you think should be in the final two?

Kimberley Locke: Melinda and Jordin. Vocally, what has Blake done to wow us? Nothing. I mean, he does the beat-boxing thing — that’s his niche and we all love it — but those girls sing circles around him. It's a better competition with Melinda and Jordin singing against each other. They're going to pull out their guns.

Ace Young: Again, you have to remember that America chooses the final two, not the judges. But I think the people who are there deserve to be there. Melinda will have no trouble getting a record deal, as will several others from this season. And Blake, whether he wins or not, will be fine too.

Anthony Fedorov: I would choose Jordin and Melinda. I hope Melinda wins. But just market-wise and what they have to offer, I think those two would have more longevity than Blake. He needs to find the right path. I like what he's doing, but with him I don't think it's that easy. Say he wins. I don't know if he's going to be thrown into that machine right off that bat and make the right record.

Amy Adams: I would probably have to say Jordin and Blake. I’m a fan of Blake's, so that's why I want to see him there, and then Jordin 'cause I want to see what she's going to rip us. I think we'll be hearing a lot from Melinda regardless. I don't think she needs to be in the final. She will be a great success on her own.

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