Friday, May 12, 2006

Down goes Daughtry!

So, America doesn't want to rock, and I grow old ... I grow old ... I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. These are the only conclusions I can draw from the baffling American Idol result on Wednesday. How else to explain the elimination of Chris, who had been roundly praised for weeks by the judges and was the most consistent and confident performer? I am clearly out of touch with the AI voting demographic, but I think I can live with that, just like I can live without fantasy leagues, TiVo and a MySpace profile.

My prediction was about as accurate as my first round NBA playoff picks, but I should have respected history a bit more and my own preferences a bit less. Taylor has yet to sit in the hot seat of the bottom two or three, whereas the other remaining contestants had taken turns recently. Elliott had a very strong night on Tuesday, and Katharine must get some credit for being the only one of the four who would draw a second look if you saw them on the street - assuming Taylor was just walking like a normal human being, not thrashing about like he does on stage.

I've been a Taylor fan since he ambled into the room playing a harmonica in one of the early shows, and I think he should win running away, but I would rather have watched him duke it out with Chris for the next two weeks. Last month, the Washington Post's Lisa de Moraes wrote an interesting item about measuring Taylor's popularity based on eBay sales. It's old news now and maybe the sales figures are skewed because of his kitschy appeal, but it's still worth considering.

With Elliott and Katharine - along with Paris, the top three tear shedders - still in the competition, the only certainty is that there will be a lot of weeping when the final winner is announced.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Everybody Loves Chris

Daughtry, Daughtry, Daughtry. As the pressure mounted on "American Idol" last night, it was all Chris. Over and over, the AI judges tell us it's about song choice and performance, and Chris took two great Elvis songs and showed the other contestants how you win this thing. There's a reason why "Suspicious Minds" has been covered by everyone from Dwight Yoakam to the Fine Young Cannibals, and "A Little Less Conversation," one of the King's most underrated hits, has also aged well. By contrast, Katharine botched a "Hound Dog/All Shook Up" medley and seemed to be in the wrong key for "Can't Help Falling in Love." The low notes were too low and the high notes sounded flat. And her second outfit revealed her belly, at least I think it was her belly, I mean I was hoping it wasn't her belly, but, yep, that's her belly. Not a good look for her, but a good metaphor as her AI run goes belly up tonight (or maybe she exposed her soft underbelly).

Either way, it looks like it's going to be a stag affair for the final two weeks, but my surprising choice for second place right now would be Elliott. Taylor should have done much better on Elvis night. "Jailhouse Rock" was fine, but "In the Ghetto?" Come on, Taylor, that's not the song that's going to bring it home. I mean, good idea to choose a ballad as your second song for contrast, but again, with all the possible choices, I had higher expectations. "Heartbreak Hotel" or "Viva Las Vegas" for your opener and "Love Me Tender" or "It's Now or Never" second would have done it for me. Elliott took a chance and went away from Elvis songs everybody knows with "If I Can Dream" and "Trouble," which Taylor had already performed this season, and I think that risk will pay off. His talent has ever been an issue and, if his confidence carries over for another week, he could be onstage next to Chris in the finals.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Cereal Numbers

Eight boxes of cereal sit atop my dining room table.

Every weekday morning and most weekends, they are pulled from the cabinet by my two children and poured in a ritual of precision and order, each portion carefully measured in a blending process that would impress vintners and distillers of the finest wines and spirits. Neither of my sons will go for all eight in one sitting, although occasionally, in a fit of characteristic whimsy, my younger son will have a whole bowl of just one variety. Generally, but not always, this rare occurence transpires when the box is nearly finished, and he knows that he can enrage his older brother if he leaves the box empty.

How did it come to this? Even in America, the land of the free and the home of overindulgence, eight options of whole-grain goodness for morning nourishment seems excessive to me. But as parents, we fight the war of nutrition with our children, a neverending campaign where we endure challenges inspired by television commercials, peers with mythically permissive parents, and that nefarious, longlived nemesis, the mail-in or "free inside" giveaway. In order to survive this near-constant onslaught, we make small concessions and live to eat another day.

Like most parenting scenarios, the roots of this daily idiosyncratic exercise lie in my childhood. For reasons economical and nutritional, my seven brothers and sisters and I were raised in a sugar cereal free environment. In our household, the flakes were not frosted, the Cap'n was not crunched. My mother recognized that my brother and I would eat huge quantities of cereal as teenagers, and she bought us large plastic Snoopy dog bowls well suited to the occasion, but nothing that changed the color of the milk was allowed in them. Save for a brief period of parental deception known as the Golden Grahams Era, ours was a breakfast menu of Cheerios, Corn Flakes and Wheaties. And I can barely force myself to type the words Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice without gagging.

The only exception to this rule came on your birthday, when you could pick out a box of whatever cereal you wanted. And so you paced the length of the cereal aisle, weighing the merits of peanut butter versus Crunchberries, as leprechauns, rabbits, vampires and frogs beckoned from every shelf. Once you finished breakfast on your birthday, you could either put the box away, resigning yourself to the knowledge that it could not possibly withstand the assaults of your siblings to last until the next morning, or, you could hide it in your room well enough that it would only be found by ants sometime in the next six weeks.

For a time as a young adult, I would occasionally indulge in an act of rebellion against this childhood privation and buy a box of something akin to the Calvin and Hobbes favorite, Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs, only to find that one bowl was enough to keep me off sugar for the rest of the week. So, of course, it turns out that our parents were right, again.

Naturally, none of this matters to my own offspring. There has been much debate on the topic with a variety of proposed legislation and numerous calls for a floor vote (which the Doc and I rejected). After months of experimentation and test marketing, the standard upon which we finally settled is no more than six grams of sugar per serving and no high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners like aspartame. The result has been a flurry of label reading and comparison on every trip to the grocery store. Forget about "Hooked on Phonics," this dietary policy has forced my boys to boost their math and reading skills well beyond grade level. I'm still not sure what riboflavin is, but I think I am going to find out.

There are some exceptions to the rule. Any cereal with fruit, such as Raisin Bran, gets an automatic exemption to the six gram ceiling, although we try to limit bran and dried fruit consumption, for obvious reasons. Meals taken outside the home, either at friends' homes or in restaurant, are also exempt. And, on your birthday, pick a box of whatever you want. Just don't be surprised if your dad polishes off a bowl after he puts you on the school bus.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Wizards Whiff

Well, the Wizards suffered what Bill Simmons would aptly describe as a "stomach-punch" loss last night at Cleveland in Game 5 of their first round playoff series. Actually, LeBron James scored his gamewinning basket shortly after midnight, so the Wiz lost this morning, on the East Coast anyway. I'll get back to gamewinner in a moment, but first I want to salute Washington's effort just to get to overtime.

Trailing by seven points with a little more than a minute to play in regulation, the Wizards sent the game into overtime by playing tough defense and driving the ball hard to the basket, with notable efforts from Caron Butler and Antonio Daniels. Washington forced a JeBron turnover and a bad shot by Eric Snow to gain enough possessions to get the game tied. Once overtime began, James did not take a shot for nearly four minutes and barely touched the ball on the Cavs' first few possessions. But the final 1:17 was all LeBron, as he made four free throws and drove the baseline for the final shot of the game.

So, did he travel on that last shot? I turned the game off in disgust as soon as the clock expired, so I didn't see the replays, and the ESPN coverage I have seen today did not shown a good angle, so I can't say for certain, but it looked like a travel to me from the wide shot. If this were the NFL playoffs, we would have seen this play from 20 different perspectives by now, but instead we get to hear LeBron denying a travel in his postgame interview. It doesn't matter, of course, because he traveled when he made the gamewinner in Game 3 and it wasn't called that time either (yes, he was fouled probably twice on that shot, but nothing was called). Just more grist for the mill of conspiracy theory.

The bottom line here is that the Wiz have lost two very close games and one blowout, but they have played well enough to win since the Game 1 King James coronation ceremony. Now it's about mental fortitude. They have to accept that they played two great games and lost them both, but they need to play two more to advance in the series. I still like their chances, especially with players like Daniels and Butler whose toughness compliments the talent of Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison.

So what's the answer on the court? Even though Cleveland shot 43 free throws last night, I agree with Daniels' and Michael Wilbon's assertions that the Wizards must be more physical on defense and not give up so many layups. Unfortunately James draws so much attention that his teammates get open for high percentage shots or easy putbacsk on the offensive glass. Look for Eddie Jordan to find even more minutes for Michael Ruffin and Etan Thomas and don't be surprised to see at least one ejection for a hard foul in Game 6.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Weedout Wednesday

Finally, American Idol voters have to make a tough choice. Last week's elimination of Kellie left a field of reasonably talented singers capable of putting together decent performances. Jimmy Kimmel had a great bit on Friday about Kellie returning to her job designing nuclear weaponry at Los Alamos. I am just glad that America finally realized that it's a singing competition and when one of the contestants stands on stage and says how bad she was for two straight weeks, maybe it's time for her to go.

Going back to my initial impressions of the Final 12, I find myself deliberately difficult to decode, but I missed badly on Mandisa (I still say she belongs in this group, but I guess she had a bad day, the camera don't lie, she sang a sad song ... no, no, no, stop please, I'm begging you). I also had Elliott and Paris long gone by now and failed to anticipate the impact of Lisa's plummeting confidence and Katharine's plunging necklines.

Last night's two-song format forced the contestants into abbreviated performances, but most of them seemed to cope. What concerned me the most was the repetition of songs. Earlier this season, Elliott sang a song that Bo Bice did last year, and last night we heard two that Scott Savol did ("On Broadway" and "Take a Look at Me Now"). Are there so few good songs? Or did Elliott run an American Idol focus group to see which songs tested well in previous shows? American Idol focus group - that's a room I might set fire to even if I knew I could not escape. Actually, what concerns me most is that my brain contains so much Scott Savol information.

So how did they do and who will be eliminated? Taylor did well, even though he flubbed the lyrics on "Something." Simon is baffled by his appeal in the same way that he doesn't get country music, but America loves a guy who has a great time onstage, although the falling down was a bit much. Taylor does what most of us would try to do if we were on the show, he just does it better. Chris was strong and continues to be the most consistent performer. Much like a presidential candidate, he needs to capture the middle to win. The Doc wants to see him go back to wearing eyeliner, but I think that would undercut his chances.

Katharine had the strangest night, singing poorly in her first number and then performing like some sort of singing mermaid, rooted to the stage, in her second. She showed a lot less skin than last week, but I will give her points for originality on her second song, which, course, I had never heard before. Plus, with Kellie and Ace gone, she will get the "prettiest contestant" vote. I think she is safe.

That leaves Elliott and Paris. As I said at the top, it's a tough call. I think Elliott went the safe route and did it well, and the judges always seem to be reminding us that he is very talented. Paris, on the other hand, chose good songs by Prince and Mary J. Blige that might not have broad appeal. I once watched part of the filming of a Mary J. Blige video in Manhattan. I can't name any of her songs, not even the one they were doing that day, but I would definitely go see her perform live. That is, if I were the kind of person who ever goes to concerts. It's quite possible I have not seen a concert since the turn of the millennium (kiddie outings to the symphony and the Wiggles don't count).

Anyway, tonight, I think we say goodbye to Paris. She's talented, she's as consistently good as anyone except maybe Chris performer, but she never wows you. Of course, I thought she wouldn't make the top 10, so now she'll probably win the whole thing.

FitzFacts, out!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Cliche of the Day

One of the clichés of the blog world is the “sorry I haven’t been blogging lately” post. This is often the last entry in a blog after a once-furious pace of daily posting declines into semiweekly and biweekly halfhearted contributions before the blog is jettisoned completely to float away like space junk in the blogosphere. It is the blogger's equivalent of, “I’ll call you,” except that the jilted blog doesn’t sit by the phone, get angry and bitter, and take solace in the company of similarly treated blogs while going through a temporary period of hating all bloggers.

Now, cliches derive their strength from the overwhelming evidence in support of them, but they would be less powerful without the occasional counterexample. So, to bolster this blog cliché, is back and better than ever! (like it could be worse)

Let’s begin with the temporary demise of the Tony Kornheiser Radio Show. As of last Friday, Mr. Tony is off the air until at least the end of football season. Of course, one never knows what opportunities could arise from MNF, but he says he will return to the radio because he enjoys it so much, and I believe him. I sent him a few emails last week. The last one was a farewell rap, which he acknowledged as very good and very nice, but he didn’t read it because he said it was too long and he didn’t think he would get the cadence. He’s probably right about that, but I don’t think Eminem would get the cadence because it was written by a man possessing the rhythmic skills (not skilz) of a bag of microwave popcorn. So here it is:

Dear Mr. Tony,

The following is a little tribute I penned as a farewell. If you read it on the air, think Run DMC. Better yet, have someone under the age of 50 read it in your stead.

Went to high school in Hewlett, sir
Never won a Pulitzer

Started out as a writer
When Haggar pants used to be tighter

Then came SportsTalk and TV
Guests like Junior and Grevey

And we all think it's funny
When his dog eats his money

Don't try to turn off his mike, please
He will bury you like cheese

Pickin' brackets with aplomb
You know he's rollin' with Phil's Mom

Now he's multimedia
Clicks the Web like Expedia

Rocks his radio old guy
Keeps Johnnie Walker Blue close by

Wants to roadie for Springsteen
But can't lift more than Miss Teen

ESPN made a good call
TK on Monday Night Football

Don't know Mike Adams from Flozell
Could he be the next Cosell?

And if this ain't your thang, huh?
I say, "Cazzata Malanga!"

Phoenix, MD