Impossibly voluminousness hair. More neon pink than a Barbie Dream House. Sky high heels. Ever-present pasties. Makeup more flawless than a porcelain doll. These are things we expect from pop star and American Idol judge Nicki Minaj, but these things could soon become nothing more than a memory. Minaj has reportedly let her stylist and hairdresser go according to The Sun, causing us to fear her signature eccentric look will soon be a thing of the past.
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Sure, Minaj has gotten out of control on occasion, wearing ill-fitting outfits and at times eschewing fit or flattery for pomp and insanity, but recently, she's started to rein it in and find the sweet spot between looking like a doll covered in glue and rolled through a kids' playroom and looking like a sleek music industry maven. Her recent appearances on Idol have seen her with sleek hair, flawless stage makeup and unique dresses that blend her signature for over-the-top flair with a side of the real world she used to go so long without.
But, if Minaj does fire her hairdresser and stylist and go for a more serious look, things could get really run of the mill and fast. Sure, Minaj has faced more heated criticism of her eccentricities of late thanks to her vulnerable position as one of the faces of American Idol. Most recently, her commentary garnered heavy booing from the crowd in Las Vegas during Idol's sudden death eliminations, despite the fact that her commentary often matched up to seasoned Idol judge Randy Jackson. The rapper/singer has faced harsh criticisms since she stepped foot onto the Idol set, and perhaps all the backlash has her thinking. Let's just hope it has her thinking of a way to take her signature style and refine it.
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It's one thing to try to get out from under the overwhelming facade of an outrageous wardrobe and attempt to legitmize oneself, it's another to completely chuck it. Nicki has created a style all her own, and while it's not who she is in a nutshell, it's an expression of who she is. Refine it, update it, make it new, but don't let it go all together.
You're weird and wonderful, Miss Minaj. Keep letting that freak flag fly.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: FameFlyNet]
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Be afraid. Be very, very afraid. Because if Thursday’s episode of American Idol is any indication, a large part of the series’ audience has no idea what a good singer sounds like, and next week, those people are going to start determining who goes home.
Throughout Thursday’s episode, during which the final 10 guys sang for their spots in the top 20, the judges were at odds with the audience, who were apparently watching a different show than the rest of us. When Nicki Minaj or Randy Jackson would do their jobs and point out the issues with each singer’s performance, the audience would not only groan, but boo so vehemently that at one point Nicki was forced to fire back at them just so she could finish speaking. This is not good news.
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Next week, half of the performers in our top 20 will be voted off the show, and if the sizable audience in Las Vegas couldn’t tell the difference between a cute guy with little talent and a truly spectacular performer, how can we trust the audience at home? Perhaps we should just hope and pray that the people in Las Vegas were just drunk off the fumes from all the spilled alcohol throughout the streets of the party town.
But complaints aside, the main event of the evening were the performances, because surprise, that’s the point of the show.
First up is the never totally pleasant Mathenee Treco, who continues his trend of wasting the parts of his performance style that are appealing by covering them up with his brand of bro karaoke. He’s got a good voice under it all, but the guy has no idea what to do with it. His rendition of “A Little Less Conversation” is spastic and unpleasant; he allows the song to take him over and it swallows him whole. Randy, Nicki, and Keith dislike the performance, though Nicki’s the only one who points out that it’s the fault of Mathenee’s cheese-factor and not just his poor song choice. Mariah says she likes him, because she’s proved she can offer no other commentary, but it’s not enough to keep him from going home.
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Gupreet Singh Sarin follows Mathenee right out the door, and to be honest, I have no idea how this guy got this far in the first place. Sure, Nicki loves him, but even in his last performance, which all of the judges reminisce about as some great “moment” (and we all know how they love those moments), Gupreet was only mediocre. This week, “Nothing Ever Hurt Like You” is just plain awful. There’s nothing remarkable about any of it. His vocals are boring and off-key. It feels like the last hour at a wedding when your drunk cousin grabs the mic and starts making up words to all the instrumental parts of songs. It’s terrible and even Mariah agrees, though she’s not quite at Nicki’s level of “Hell. No.”
Finally, one of the guys is worth watching. Vincent Powell is someone I could actually imagine voting for. While his look is somewhat stolen from Cee-Lo Green’s closet, his performance of “Because I Love You” is pretty incredible. He’s got an interesting voice, control over his vocals, and a knack for completely organic runs. The guy’s got what everyone in this competition keeps pretending to have: a sense of artistry. Luckily, the judges saw the same thing I did (though I didn’t quite have the panty-throwing urge Nicki was clearly having) and Randy even connected Vincent’s style to Miguel and Frank Ocean, two artists who are owning this moment in music. He’s a real singer and he makes sense in the current scene, so thankfully he’s sticking around for the big vote next week.
Delivering a bit of a disappointing number is Nick Boddington, who tries “Say Something Now.” This guy was so incredible during Hollywood week, but Thursday’s performance is boring. He’s got a nice voice, but there’s little connection to the song. It’s something Keith and Nicki pick up on, but Randy says he knows Nick can do better if he could just get himself one of those moments Randy never stops ranting about. Regardless, Nick was happy in the final moments of the episode, because he managed to eke out a spot in the top 20.
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And from a lack of connection to a lack of touch, the famous pants-ripper Josh Holliday steps onstage to sing an original song he wrote during Hollywood Week. You’d think the guy would want to do a song that’s had a little more time to gestate, but this is the person who didn’t think before doing a split in non-stretch khakis on a stage in front of 20 guys and four industry experts. The performance is alright and almost a little tender when Josh starts at the piano, but as he continues singing his trite lyrics and gets up from the piano to dance around and feign emotion, any potential he had dissipates immediately. He’s showy and cloying, not passionate, and the judges can feel it. Keith gets away with saying Josh needed to be more passionate, but Nicki is booed to death by the audience when she dares to suggest that Josh wasn’t all that great (now, if only she wasn’t totally and completely CORRECT). Randy’s not impressed and even Mariah defers her commentary to the audience, suggesting “Well, at least the audience sure loved it.”
And this is why I’m worried. Josh was not good. If we’re going to sugarcoat it, sure, he lacked passion, but the audience couldn’t even deal with the suggestion that it wasn’t great. These people are going to be the ones sending good singers home next week. Luckily, Josh is sent home, so he won’t be around to cloud their judgement.
The judges aren’t always right though. David Wallis makes a mistake with his song choice, but still manages to prove he’s a good singer who’s ready to take his talent to the next level. He sings “Fever” and it leaves him in a bit of a rut until he gets to the song’s finale and breaks out something a little special. And even though he gets a little too comfortable in his little rocking back and forth groove, it’s a good groove. Randy and Keith like it, but they think he needs a bigger opportunity to show off. Nicki thinks it’s amateur and that he wasn’t current enough, but perhaps that’s because his rendition wasn’t super sexy. Either way, his journey ends, likely so Lazaro Arbos, the heartbreaking so-so singer can stay on a little longer.
Bryant Tadeo of Hawaii takes us into his laid back world, but perhaps we takes it back one too many notches. His performance of “New York State of Mind” shows that he’s clearly got a good voice, but man is it cheesy and boring. You can’t do this song with this arrangement without it feeling dated unless you are the Piano Man, himself. While Keith likes it, Nicki hates everything except for the last couple of notes, earning her some serious anger from the crowd. But Randy agrees, saying the song didn’t go anywhere and as the crowd loses its mind over the truth, Mariah brings them back into “woo-hoo” territory when she simply says he sounded “professional.” That’s not a compliment, Mariah. I have a green shift dress that is very professional, but I never wear it because it’s no fun and I’d much rather wear basically anything else I own. “Professional” is not the mark of a good performer, sweetheart, and it’s not the mark of someone who gets a spot in the top 20.
Thankfully, the bad taste in our mouths is abolished by the sweet, sweet singing of my favorite guy on the show, Burnell Taylor of New Orleans. He wisely and bravely chooses “This Time” by John Legend, which is an excellent song choice because he’s got a voice in Legend’s genre without sounding exactly him. He’s good, a little strange in his movements, but totally genuine. While Burnell doesn’t have a huge range, he’s a great singer and the sort of person whose effortless style ropes an audience in until they're hopelessly devoted to his every last work. He’s got it all. He’s wonderful. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s super cute. While Keith and Randy simply love it, Nicki has to take it up a notch: she would pay to hear him sing RIGHT. NOW. BOO. And while Nicki connects to his story of misfortune (which is exactly what we hate about Idol), it is actually very sweet that she wholeheartedly thinks he deserves it. Mariah pitches in and says a lot of things, but it’s not worth trying to crack that code because no one doubted that Burnell was going to be asked to stay on for another week.
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Now comes the hard part: total sweetheart and chronic stutterer Lazaro Arbos hits the stage looking dapper in his bright pink button-up and little black bowtie to take on Keith’s song “Tonight I Wanna Cry.” He’s a sweet, loveable guy, but he’s simply out of place in the competition. And it’s not for lack of vocal quality: it’s lack of training. Another year, after some training, perhaps Lazaro could be a strong enough performer and confident enough to be a real contender. This year, he’s either going to get swallowed up, or pushed along through the competition with sympathy votes until voters can’t support him any more. But he doesn’t deserve that. This sweet guy deserves to be told the truth, do some work to better his performance, and return triumphantly like the girls’ Candice Glover did this season. Still, the judges can’t send him home and he stays on for another week.
For the finale, the show gives us Cortez Shaw, who’s still a little too cocky for his own good. He does a slow rendition of “Titanium” by David Guetta, which is a song I hate and if I’m being honest, I spent the first half of Cortez’s performance trying desperately to conquer my hatred. Once that subsided enough to hear clearly, it was obvious that Cortez’s vocal range is a thing of beauty; he can hit high notes that most men can’t even dream of. But as Keith points out, his chosen tune exposes all the flaws in his voice and while the good parts are great, the connecting parts are lacking. It’s something that can’t last if this guy is to stick around and become a serious performer. Nicki doesn’t seem to see an issue because she’s blinded but the fact that she finds Cortez sexy. (Hey, let’s give the girl a break. Getting booed for two hours probably does something a little unkind to one’s brain.)
Mariah is impressed (or something, who knows what she was really saying), but it’s Randy’s comment that really seals the deal for Cortez before he’s told he gets to stay: according to Mr. Yo Dawg, Cortez is extremely current and marketable. And to some extent it’s true. He’s handsome and has a smooth voice, but is he one of a kind? So far, no. Still, he’s another crowd favorite and if the applause is any indication, this crooner is going to take one of the few spots available to the Idol finalists at the end of next week. Color me as concerned as can be.
Are you worried that voters will pick the wrong singers next week? Who can’t you live without?
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Michael Becker/Fox]
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Smash sparks a mix of emotions in anyone who watches it: people either love it, hate it, or love to hate it. So to help celebrate all the outrageous, over-the-top, and fantastically far-fetched moments, we'll bring you a weekly recap filled with the best Smash superlatives! What was the best cover song of the night? Who had the best verbal bitch-slap? What was the biggest Season 1 jab? Read on for all the awards and take to the comments with your favorite moments from “The Dramaturg.”
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Karen (Katharine McPhee) spent the majority of this episode trying to convince Derek (Jack Davenport) to meet with Jimmy and Kyle about their cutting-edge new musical Hit List, but the world’s most attractive director had other things on his mind. Determined to get his job back on the revival of “The Wiz,” Derek arranged for Ronnie and a producer to come see a reworked number from Bombshell — which Julia (Debra Messing) then hijacked and debuted a brand new scene between Marilyn and JFK.
Why is Julia adding new scenes you ask? Well, Eileen (Anjelica Houston) decided it was time to take control and hired an uber sexy “dramaturg” to come in and completely overhaul Bombshell. Julia was absolutely appalled that this stranger dared to changed anything in her precious book — but it’s clear to everyone except her that the play is in need of a serious redesign.
After whining and doubting herself for half the episode, Ivy auditioned for the lead in a brand new musical and surprise, surprise: she got it! And in the end, Derek and Karen showed up at Jimmy and Kyle’s apartment to learn all about the premise of “Hit List.” Basically all you need to know is it’s about a down-on-his-luck guy who falls in love with a girl. That girl then steals his songs, and becomes famous, but rather than calling her out, the guy is so in love that he continues to give her all of his work.
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Best Original Song: The episode kicked off with a fun and catchy new number from “Hit List” called, “Good For You.” Karen daydreamed a very elaborate production for this number in which she was seductively singing while crowd surfing. Nice to know she can multi-task.
Best Cover Song: It seems like our character’s daydreams brought out the best songs of this episode. Ivy’s hallucination in the Bombshell rehearsal brought forth a gorgeous, slow-down version of Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own.”
Best Insult: When Tom is trying to help Ivy understand a new character, he describes the girl as a innocent, nice and full of yearning. To which Ivy quipped with a snarky face, “She sounds like Karen Cartwright.”
Best-Backhanded Compliment: When Julia asked the dramaturg if there is absolutely anything that he likes about her book, he replied, “I think Marilyn Monroe is an interesting subject for a musical.” Burn!
Dumbest Line: “Let’s bounce!” — Jimmy when he gets news that Karen and Derek have cancelled on their dinner meeting.
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Biggest WTF Moment: Eileen’s eyebrows. They look like they’re trying to crawl off her face!
Best Bitchslap: Not only did Eileen hire the dramaturg without even consulting Julia, she also was fully away that he wanted to rip her book to shreds. But when Julia confronted her producer, Eileen calmly informed her that she is one hundred percent replaceable.
Most Awkward Moment: When Karen when to grab beers for the three guys, she brushed right past Derek’s outstretched hands and gave the first beer to Jimmy. Not only was it rude, it was awkward as hell.
Best Jab at Season 1: The fact that there is a character that is completely rewriting the musical is a huge knock to last season. However, the lowest blow definitely came from when the dramaturg scoffed at the idea of the Marilyn “shadow-selves.” Agreed!
What did you think of “The Dramaturg”? Which superlatives would you like to add to the list. Sing your heart out in the comments section below!
Follow Leanne on Twitter @LeanneAguilera
[Photo Credit: NBC]
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Shrouded in mystery is Star Wars: The Clone Wars' Season 5 finale arc. Recent episodes have very much delivered on the “Who Will Fall?” tagline that Lucasfilm and Cartoon Network have been using the past few months. But though the deaths of Pre Vizsla, Satine, and Savage Opress have been major—even shocking and moving—there’s been a sense that those have just been a prelude to the emotional devastation to come. Namely, it’s the feeling among fans of the show that these final episodes will answer the all important unanswered question of The Clone Wars: So what happens to Ahsoka? I haven’t seen the three episodes that follow “Sabotage” yet, so I’ve got no inside information for you, I’m afraid. But based on Ashley Eckstein’s responses during the Clone Wars Google Hangout I co-hosted last weekend, it sounds like something major is about to happen to Anakin’s Padawan. Major enough that these episodes were thought to be even more fitting as season cappers than the truly epic Darth Maul arc that just concluded. “Sabotage” feels like only a tiny fraction of the story to come, an overture to an intense emotional journey. What’s fascinating is that it included a number of story beats that were like mirror image reflections of plot points in Revenge of the Sith…further indication that, whereas that film sealed Anakin’s fate, these episodes will in fact have Ahsoka meet her destiny, whatever it may be.
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“Sabotage” began with an air battle over Cato Neimoidia. The Separatists had invaded the planet, which is odd, because I could have sworn that Cato Neimoidia was already a key member of the Confederacy of Independent Systems. Maybe the Republic had conquered it and now the Separatists had launched an invasion to take it back? Either way, it’s becoming clear that we’re heading into the final stages of the war. The fight for the Neimoidian purse world drew Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker’s involvement shortly before the events of Revenge of the Sith, as told in James Luceno’s novel Labyrinth of Evil, and would continue through the events of Order 66. You’ll recall that Plo Koon meets his end when he’s shot down above one of the planet’s famous bridge cities. (How did Plo Koon fanatic Dave Filoni not sneak in an appearance from the respirator-wearing Jedi master during this opening battle?)
This presentation of the Battle of Cato Neimodia was notable for a couple reasons. First, it’s the debut of the fan-winged Eta-2 Actis starfighter on the Clone Wars TV show! Kind of an intermediate design between the old Delta-7 Aethersprite Jedi Starfighter and the Imperial Era Tie Fighter, with a Sienar-style octagonal viewport, it gets my vote as the most beautiful starfighter design to emerge from the entire period of the Clone Wars. It also confirms what we’ve already been saying. The Eta-2 Actis was only introduced in the last year of the year, meaning that this conflict is headed toward its endgame.
Second, and more important, the events that opened “Sabotage” directly mirrored the Battle of Coruscant sequence in Revenge of the Sith. But whereas Anakin found himself in the position of helping save Obi-Wan from the swarm of buzz droids that had overrun his fighter, here it was Anakin who needed to be saved by his Padawan. When the buzz droids that had flocked en masse to the underside of his fighter caused some kind of exhaust leak that rendered Anakin unconscious, Ahsoka made a mid-air jump from her fighter to his to help steer him to safety. (If only she had let him crash, the galaxy may have been spared so much!) It’s the kind of heroics we’ve seen from Anakin himself so many times, and it proves, once again, that Ahsoka is truly her master’s Padawan. Like the opening of Revenge of the Sith, this sequence showed a master and apprentice bonded together by war, seemingly inseparable. And yet by the end of the film, Anakin will have gone from trying to save his master to trying to kill him on a lava planet. Could a similar trajectory await Ahsoka and Anakin’s relationship? That seems like a big leap, but it would be fitting with the moral of this episode: “Sometimes even the smallest doubt can shake the greatest belief.” We shall see…
NEXT: Could a rogue Jedi be capable of bombing the Temple? There is precedent…
No sooner had Ahsoka revived Anakin Master Yoda sent them a message: the Jedi Temple had been bombed. And since the bombing had occurred from within the highly-secure Temple, there is a chance a Jedi could have been responsible for it. Only Jedi who weren’t there when it happened could truly be trusted to investigate the matter. And of course, out of all the Jedi spread out on all of that Galaxy Far, Far Away’s battlefields, Yoda wanted Anakin and Ahsoka to lead the investigation.
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When they got to the Temple, Anakin and Ahsoka met with Russo-ISC, a forensics droid with a haltingly emphatic cadence and a tendency to stoop down and throw back a pair of mechanical goggles on his head. Yup, he’s the robotic answer to David Caruso on CSI: Miami. I mean, his name is “Russo.” And the “ISC” is there just in case you missed the comparison. (According to Dave Filoni in our Google Hangout last weekend, George Lucas is a big CSI fan.) Together they went over the crime scene. Anakin was quick to note that not every Jedi is in favor of the war. There are political idealists among the Order. I love how much contempt Matt Lanter put into Anakin’s delivery of “political idealists,” as if such idealism were tantamount to treason and terrorism. I’m kind of surprised Filoni, a huge fan of The Big Lebowski, didn’t throw in an exchange between Ahsoka and Anakin where the Padawan would say something like “There are Jedi pacifists, and some with emotional problems,” to which Anakin would reply, “You mean…beyond pacifism?”
But to be serious, yes, there had been Jedi who refused to fight in the war, and Jedi who were outright traitors. Other than Dooku and Krell, the Clone Wars TV series hasn’t really addressed them all that much. In the 2003-2006 line of Clone Wars comics, there were many, including Mace Windu’s former lightsaber instructor, Sora Bulq. And Mace Windu’s former Padawan, Depa Billaba, who went all Col. Kurtz while on a mission to Windu’s home planet of Haruun Kal. By the Force, what I would give to see the Clone Wars TV series adapt Matthew Stover’s Shatterpoint for an arc. We can dream, right?
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The evidence at the temple started to point to a flight-deck engineer named Jackar Bowmani. A flight-deck engineer who happened to be an expert at ordinance and explosives. I mean, they couldn’t find Bowmani—they guy had totally disappeared—so he had to have been the trigger man, right? Oh, well, he could also have been totally vaporized in the blast, since so many had been killed, but no one seemed to think of that until Russo-ISC produced a severed hand that belonged to the accused, and obviously deceased, bomber. Nanodroids of a highly volatile nature were found inside the hand, suggesting that Bowmani himself had been the bomb. Did that mean he had been a suicide bomber? When they brought in his wife, Letta, for questioning, she mentioned how rigorous the psychological profiling was for workers at the Temple. It had been her husband’s dream to work there. He would never set off a bomb there.
NEXT: So just what does your average, ordinary Republic citizen think of the Jedi?
Outside the Temple a crowd of protesters had gathered. Initially, from the previews of this episode, I had thought we were seeing a generic anti-war crowd who were specifically objecting to the Jedi’s role in managing the fight. But that didn’t seem to be the case here. These actually were relatives of the Temple support staff who had perished in the bombing. They figured that a Jedi must have been responsible for their loved ones’ deaths. Even though many Jedi had died in the blast as well.
It does point out just how precariously positioned the Order is at this point. Throughout much of the Republic, and certainly on Coruscant, there doesn’t seem to be a draft. The clones are the cannon fodder used to prosecute the war against the Separatists, and the Jedi lead them. In a sense the war has been privatized. And these clones are mostly fighting droids, not flesh-and-blood insurgents. With a few major exceptions, of course. The fact is, it’s probably hard for most of the Republic’s citizens to really feel like they have a stake in this war, that they have some responsibility for it. They haven’t been asked to sacrifice for it. They’ve got the clones to do the bleeding and dying for them. Their biggest involvement in the conflict comes through one-off traumatic events that occur every now and then, like when Coruscant lost power following the Battle of Sarapin and again later when General Grievous ordered a suicide bombing on the planet’s main power grid. Obviously, if you’re on a planet that gets invaded, that’s the ultimate terror. We can only imagine the chaos that must have engulfed Coruscant during General Grievous’ week-long space battle over the planet that opened Revenge of the Sith. After that, no wonder the citizens of the Republic were practically begging to hand over the keys to the galaxy to Palpatine. The fact is, without being asked to sacrifice much for the war, when these traumatic events happen people in the Republic feel doubly helpless, like they have absolutely no control over the chaos swirling around them. Maybe Palpatine could save them, but that’s it. Certainly not the Jedi, who’ve been fighting a three-year-long conflict with little headway and can’t even safeguard their own Temple.
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Anakin and Ahsoka decided to take a plunge into the Coruscant underworld to investigate Jackar’s place of residence. Damn, Ahsoka’s “I would have thought working for the Jedi paid better” at seeing their former employee’s lower-city tenement was about as cluelessly obnoxious as Anne Hathaway saying “Yay for dental!” during her SAG Awards speech. Ahsoka’s had it pretty easy, all things considered. Fighting a war may be tough, but putting in a 9 to 5 job to support your family and carve out a place for yourself in the galaxy? That’s a life-long commitment. The pad was pretty squalid, and I half expected to see the chalk outline of a Gungan on the floor, as was originally planned for Cad Bane’s Coruscant apartment way back in Season 2. Ahsoka found some nanodroids in food that was laying about. (Think of the nanodroids like Star Trek’s nanoprobes, except that instead of getting assimilated into the Borg Collective these just blow you up.) That must have been how Jackar ingested them. But did he eat them willingly or by force? Also think of this like Downton Abbey for a moment. Did Mr. Bates feed his wife the poison, or did she take it herself to frame him for her death?
Which is to say that I think Letta may in fact be getting set up here. I know, I know, it doesn’t look good for her, and she basically admits that she fed the nanodroids to her husband after she returns to the apartment, then uses some nifty parkour moves in a failed attempt to flee from the Jedi. I mean, she confessed! But isn’t this all a bit too convenient? A bombing happens at the Jedi Temple and the primary suspect, who had nanoprobes his bloodstream, appears to have been totally vaporized in the blast…with only his hand left behind to confirm his death. His oddly-accented, proletarian worker-hatted wife then becomes the immediate suspect. Could it be that Jackar pulled a Peter Pettigrew, cut off his hand, drizzled it with nanodroids, then had someone plant it at the scene of the blast to implicate his wife. Winter’s Bone tells us that cutting off your hand is a Meth Country trick for making the Feds think you're dead. For all we know Letta could be in on it, and she’s just agreed to take the fall for whatever reason. And from the preview, we definitely know that Letta is murdered in prison next week and Ahsoka takes the blame in a Hitchcockian “wrong man on the run” kind of scenario. This appears to be a massively orchestrated campaign to discredit the Jedi Order, and we’ve so far only seen the tiniest fraction of it.
NEXT: This episode was named after a 1936 Alfred Hitchcock film that also features a bombing. What’s the connection here to the Master of Suspense?
Speaking of the Master of Suspense, every episode in this four-part arc is a play on an Alfred Hitchcock movie title. After this we’ve got “The Jedi Who Knew Too Much,” “To Catch a Jedi,” and “The Wrong Jedi.” But this episode was “Sabotage,” after Hitch’s 1936 British thriller of the same name. If that film’s most famous scene is any clue to what happened in this episode, it may suggest that Bowmani was in fact innocent, or at least the unwitting triggerman of the explosion. The scene I’m talking about from Sabotage is one in which a young boy is riding a London bus, while carrying with him a package. A package that he doesn’t realize contains a bomb. And it’s ticking down to zero. Hitchcock’s editing ratchets up the suspense to 11. He intercuts shots of the boy, the other passengers, and glimpses of the street, with almost 20 repeated close-up views of the package, just to emphasize the deadliness of what the boy is carrying until the tension is to the breaking point. Here’s the scene I’m talking about:
Hitchcock later said he regretted this scene, because if a sympathetic character is killed so indiscriminately, it results in the audience checking out of the movie. Of course, he would upend that theory altogether with that little matter of Janet Leigh in the shower halfway through Psycho. All this is to say, that if this episode is a true homage to Sabotage, Bowmani probably was a fall guy. I personally would like to think it’s his wife who’s been set-up—hence she’s murdered in the next episode to silence her—but we shall see.
NEXT: What will be Ahsoka’s ultimate fate?
What’s interesting, though, is that Lucasfilm chose Sabotage as the reference point for this episode and not Hitchcock’s later film made during the war, 1942’s Saboteur, which is one of his classic “wrong man on the run movies.” They obviously just wanted this episode to be an inciting incident for what’s to come. Next week, Ahsoka gets her “wrong Jedi on the run” storyline. That brings me back to how I opened this recap: with the suggestion that “Sabotage” intentionally included several story beats from Revenge of the Sith. If it follows the model of that film, then this is the story of how Ahsoka ultimately leaves the Jedi Order. I don’t think she’s going to turn to the Dark Side. I don’t think she’s going to slaughter younglings. But my theory is that—and mind you, I haven’t seen the follow-up episodes, so I’m totally guessing here—when all is said and done, Ahsoka will actually walk away from the Jedi and the war. The fact that her exit from the Order will be more contemplative, and yes, idealistic, shows how fundamentally different in character and temperament she is, in fact, from Anakin.
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It’s something I pointed out in my recap of “The Lawless.” The Clone Wars seems interested in incorporating story beats from the movies every now and then—just as the Expanded Universe has. Last week’s episode was full of them. So was “Sabotage.” It’s almost Star Wars’ variation on Nietzsche’s idea of eternal recurrence, the idea that we’re fated to undergo the same experiences over and over again. The Jedi Temple is ransacked and the Jedi themselves are hunted to extinction following Order 66? Well, that’s just like what happened during the Sack of Coruscant in the Great Galactic War 3,600 years earlier. And just like what will happen 130 years later when Darth Krayt’s Sith shatter the Jedi Order on Ossus and almost break the Skywalker line. This galaxy’s history is cyclical more than linear, or to borrow a phrase from another great space opera: “All this has happened before. And all this will happen again.” You could argue that this is just Lucasfilm regurgitating the same plot points over and over again, because of a lack of ideas. But I strongly disagree. I think it paints a portrait of a galaxy in perpetual flux, in which darkness and light ebb and flow and never entirely eclipse one another. Just like there were two atom bombs dropped on Japan, there were two Death Stars. Just like, as much as we think we have evolved, we wage wars based on fears and ambitions not that different from our ancestors thousands of years ago. Where there is sentience, there will be an eternal battle between order and entropy. In galaxies near and far.
And on that philosophical note, I leave you, Padawan Readers, until next week, when the plot thickens quite a bit more for Little Miss Tano. See you then!
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Lucasfilm]
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Lynn Shelton should feel right at home at Sundance, where her previous efforts Humpday and Your Sister's Sister (one of my favorite movies of last year) found plenty of fans. Shelton was known for a very specific thing, and something that is right up Sundance's snow-packed alley. Both her features are considered "mumblecore," a movement of modern film defined by small casts (and usually smaller budgets), improvised scripts, and real life situations. Her latest movie, Touchy Feely is not that. It's also not as good but, in the long run, that could be a good thing.
This movie, like Your Sister's Sister stars the always amazing Rosemary DeWitt as Abby, a massage therapist who, days after agreeing to move in with her sweet slacker boyfriend Jesse (the dreamy Scoot McNairy) develops an intense aversion to touching anyone. That's like a McDonald's fry cook developing an allergy to whatever it is they put in those fries. Abby then moves in with her brother Paul (Josh Pais) a sad-sack dentist whose daughter (Ellen Page, sporting the world's worst haircut) works with him, is in love with Jesse, and wants to get out of the house but doesn't know how. Oh, and Paul has developed a magic touch, reenergizing his floundering practice by miraculously healing his patients.
As you can see, the cast is much larger than Shelton's usual two to three actors and the script is written rather than made up on the spot. It seems that Ms. Shelton is turning into a "real" filmmaker. It's not without mixed results. While there are many shots that are fantastic (especially the depiction of skin when Abby starts her anxiety) the narrative lacks a bit of form. Strangely enough trying to impose structure over her usual process has made it a bit more scattershot and less focused. It's a little bit all over the place, with several stories fighting for control, but the characters are so winning and the actors are all so good that you enjoy the time you spend with them anyway.
Ultimately this is a story about reiki, the Eastern art of energy manipulation which Paul and Abby learn from Bronwen (an underused Alison Janney), a friend of Abby's who seems to be the only one with her life all together. Each of the characters longs for connection and to heal something that has happened to them: Abby needs to work through her relationship phobias, Paul needs to open up to new experiences, and his daughter, Ellen Paige With a Bad Haircut, needs to get over her crush and move on with her life. Their proximity to other people, whether physically touching or not, altars their energy and the connections they find and sever with other people lead them to be able to connect both to themselves and their loved ones.
This is not the best movie Shelton has presented at Sundance, but it is definitely the most ambitions. With that ambition and her innate humanistic portraits of people in need it makes me a little sad that this isn't her masterpiece but it assures me that, if this movie isn't great, then the next one is bound to be amazing.
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On Friday, the first day of the Sundance Film Festival, I was standing in line for a movie when suddenly, there was a loud, rapid fire string of popping sounds. Smoke erupted from one side of the enclosing tent. Someone yelled, "Run!" The crowd screamed in unison, dropped as low as it could, and stampeded over the line-managing metal gates. People flooded the parking lot. I hid behind a car for safety, hoping whatever was happening had ended. Turns out, it was just a fire extinguisher that had burst.
These days, we're all on edge. Like myself, bystanders in the Sundance tent reacted to the shot-like sounds quickly, memories of news headlines from the last six months triggering survival instincts. That awareness makes the debut of Blue Caprice particularly unsettling. From director Alexandre Moors (who recently co-directed the short film Cruel Summer with Kanye West), the film tracks the year-long lead up to the 2002 Washington D.C. Sniper shootings, a string of murders known for its seemingly random nature. When the duo behind the killing spree,"Nation of Islam" member John Allen Muhammad and the 17-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo, were finally captured, both men remained silent on their motives. Even so, Moors and writer R.F.I Porto seize historical info to fictionalize and fill in the blanks for Muhammad and Malvo. Why would anyone commit such a heinous act? Blue Caprice presents a possible, frightening reason.
Isaiah Washington stars as Muhammad, who meets Malvo (Tequan Richmond) after breaking a restraining order, kidnapping his three young children from their mother, and fleeing to Antigua. Muhammad takes Malvo under his wing, and when time jumps forward five months and the father figure is forced to give up his actual children yet again, he clings to the wayward teenager. Muhammad sees a second-in-command in Malvo, a soldier worthy of his cause. That drive is ambiguous; Muhammad seeks revenge against his ex-wife, but also despises society. Chaos, he believes, his only weapon, and when the two men cross paths with an Muhammad's old, gun-toting buddy, a plan becomes clear and inevitable.
Often clinical and cold, Blue Caprice confidently reflects on a subject that few would voluntarily embrace. Washington gives himself over to Muhammad — we know there's something wrong behind his eyes, that rational thought was replaced by twisted logic long ago. Muhammad is a rambler of grandiose ideas. He's convinced that by shooting men, women, and children at random, that other misfits from around the nation will join him to form an anarchistic army. Malvo believes him too. After months of mental degradation, through Muhammad's inspiring words, the man's rigorous training schedule, or instances of physical torture (at one point, Muhammad binds Malvo to a tree and leaves him there to break his way out), the teen sees eye to eye with Muhammad. Murdering strangers becomes his purpose. And he's good at it.
Moors styles Blue Caprice with a gritty palette, precision angles, and a dissonant soundscape that builds up the pressure. Often, the director strips everything away from the movie, allowing our fear to complicate his character's journey. After picking off their first few victims, Moors follows Muhammad and Malvo's signature vehicle, a shoddy, blue Chevrolet Caprice as it cruises along the Capital Beltway. The car exudes evil — not too far off from the killer truck in Spielberg's Duel or Stephen King's Christine. As they travel from place to place, It becomes quickly apparent that catching the murderous pair (as we know police eventually do) will be a stroke of luck.
Blue Caprice functions independently as a searing drama, but the current climate makes it even more powerful. The film provokes questions: were Muhammad and Malvo ignored by people who could have prevented their rampage? Did the accessibility of firearms enable them to carry out the plan? Would they have eventually found a way to hurt others even if guns weren't part of the equation? In one scene, Washington and Malvo wrestle in the woods, violently pinning each other with rabid fury. This is their preparation, their normal state. In another movie, they might be Batman's diabolical villains. But they're real people, and they're the reason people today continue to watch their backs and run at the slightest popping sound.
Discussions over gun violence and control in the United States is susceptible to sensationalism. It's a big picture conversation born from the actions of individuals. Blue Caprice wisely avoids connecting itself to those grand ideas, instead focusing on the people. We may never fully settle from what's happened in the past decade — as evidenced by the hysteria of the Sundance tent incident — but thanks to Blue Caprice, we can, at the very least, understand the root of the problem.
[Photo Credit: SimonSays Entertainment]
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It's appropriate that Thursday night's Chicago Auditions episode of American Idol opened with a shot of girl losing her mind as her friend exited the audition room. "She made it! Oh my God, she made it!" she screams, jumping up and down as if she's gained a lifetime of energy from her friend's small success. But it all comes crashing down when her friend tells her, the truth is that she didn't make it.
After meeting our judging panel in the season premiere, it seemed we'd learned their ways. They were necessarily ruthless, blunt, but encouraging. But in Chicago, they're unpredictable, crying tears one minute and crying foul the next. We had no idea that when the going got weird, they'd get the cruel giggles - which, in an audition setting is the most soul-wrenching kiss of death. We thought the days of picking a pretty face to go to Hollywood left with Jennifer "Crushalot" Lopez. This panel was on point. It turns out, we had no idea what we were talking about.
We also thought that by adding Keith Urban to the panel, we'd actually have Keith Urban on the panel, but midway through auditions, he's got to fly out for a show minutes after he finally helps us understand why he's there: he's a secret wealth of country music knowledge dating back decades upon decades. Oh, right. He's a country music super star. It's hard to remember that when he's sitting next to the glowing beacon of pop music that is Nicki Minaj.
Before Keith leaves, he gets to witness all the easy auditions... and all the worst of the Nicki and Mariah drama. In fact, they figure out their differences after he leaves. Poor country singer man. Let's hope all that time spent banging your head on your desk didn't leave a bruise.
First up is Mackenzie Wasner from Tennessee, who's got shiny blonde hair and smile like a Welch's Juice kid. The country flower isn't afraid of getting in front of the judges because her papa plays piano for Vince Gill and Gill lets her get up on stage all the time. That's right, she's a pure-bred showboater. Lucky for her, she's got the good to back it up. She belts out a little country song with a mix of strength and vulnerability, and Keith is so enraptured he unconsciously (alright I'm assuming that part because he looked hypnotized) let's out a "yeeeah!" and compares her to Leanne Womack while Mariah's doing everything she can to make and expression that simply says, "Duh (darling)." Just like that, cute little Mackenzie heads off to Hollywood.
After a brief interlude from the first contestant attempting to sing a Mariah song ("Fantasy" "sung" by Austin Earles of Michigan), Nicki finds another opportunity o say she prefers someone awful to Mariah. It was funny and ballsy the first time she did in New York, but now she's just straight-up messing with a lifetime diva, and of all the divas, the one who's invented diva trademarks one through one million. Mariah has earned the right to be the best at what she does, and she's also earned the right to drive Nicki totally bonkers every time an auditioner comes in ready to lay rose petals and Queen Mariah's feet. But to Nicki's credit, some of these girls are a little nuts about it. We were all inspired by Daydream in 1995. Some of us even practiced swishing our hair like Mariah. Let's not all cry about it.
But, the tears keep coming. Especially from Kiara Lanier from Chicago, who's "so grateful" to perform for Mariah that she stops Mariah while the music legend is praising her for her beautiful voice, excellent range, and incredible control to thank her for giving her feedback. It's basically Nicki's nightmare, but the girl's pretty amazing so she concedes when it's time to send her to Hollywood.
Nicki's civility doesn't last long, however, and the fight that leaked to the Internet over the summer is soon instigated over something as silly as a little eye shadow. When Stephanie Schimmel, a pretty, blonde Wisconsinite with a touch of 1950s glam, stops in to sing a gorgeous, jazzy little rendition of "Dream a Little Dream," the judges are all wowed with the exception of Nicki. After the votes are cast and Stephanie's got her golden ticket, Nicki says she likes her and in an explanation that is totally legitimate and not at all complete nonsense, Nicki says she didn't vote for Stephanie because they're wearing the same atomic glitter eyeshadow, so they're in competition. Did I write yesterday that these judges really knew what they were doing? Can I still alter that statement?
This nonsense throws Nicki and Mariah into a verbal duel after Mariah's famous "This is what I deal with at my (forms air quotes) 'job'" quip, leaving poor Keith sitting in the middle with no defense aside from various configurations of cat activities aimed at pointing out that he's literally in the middle of a catfight. "She's been drinking catnip!" he says before his little blonde head is almost lopped off. "I feel like a scratching post!" are the only words he can muster after banging his head on the table for 30 seconds. No wonder he needed a mini escape this episode.
But when the fighting stopped for a mere second, it was because of poor Melissa Bush who decided to perform her song while wearing whatever Elvis would have worn if he was a woman starring in a Saturday Night Fever and Xanadu crossover: a halter-top pink body suit with silver accents and stars everywhere they shouldn't be. Of course she's not a good singer, but it's not her outfit or her lack of talent that the judges (except for Mariah, who broadcast that she was not a part of the joke, so don't even think about it, darling) made fun of. It was her name. It's Bush. Get it? Like that thing that goes over a vagina? See how funny it is? We're definitely not used to hearing that name all the time after having a collected 12 years of history with a man named Bush in the White House. And we didn't hear nearly enough of those jokes for those 12 years.
Keeping with some sort of theme (maybe, kind of, sort of, not at all), we meet Gabe Brown bringer of homemade cookies for the judges and good cheer. (Literally, the guy's got jokes!) He's a hearty gentleman with wild hair, and when he starts singing "Gimme Shelter" like he's rocking out in front of a stadium crowd, you had to know Randy was going to love it. The guy's good, but he runs the risk of pulling a Casey Abrams and running out of places to take that screaming sound. Mariah, who didn't trust his cookies on first sight either, insists on hearing a softer song, but he still ends it his own rocker way. Nonetheless, all four judges send him through to Hollywood.
But clearly, we've enjoyed too much success. Even poor Xanadu girl wasn't spectacularly bad. It's time for the guy who lists what he does as "computer animation, video production, and dancing" and who spends his lead-in video throwing large wooden rods into Lake Michigan and hopping around. I'm not going to lie, I hate "this guy" and the point during every Idol audition circut when he must appear, but the character of "unbelievable weirdo" is an apparent Idol necessity. He sings (or recites like an auctioneer slurring his speech after 10 or so Red Bull Vodkas) "One Week" by Bare Naked Ladies, before moving on to "Sailing" for which he somehow gives his voice the quality of that laser beam that once threatened to saw James Bond in half. It was bad, and luckily Mariah had some resolute advice for the clearly misguidedguy: "It's not for you... probably." I suppose that was her effort to soften the blow, but that could mean he'll come back next year knowing all the words to "One Week" and possessing muscles no larger than his current ones because throwing sticks into lakes is not real exercise.
That's not the last thing poor Keith has to see before he heads out to his very urgent conflicting concert. Luckily, 15-year-old Isabelle Parrell stops in and asks him to sing a few lines of her audition song, "Baby It's Cold Outside," with her, in a move clearly concocted by the same parents who dressed her like Meryl Streep at a luncheon. (She's 15! It's summer! Give the girl a sun dress!) Despite my quarrels with her wardrobe, Isabelle was actually very sweet and she had a great tone with a rather mature sound. Still, she felt a little subdued. Unfortunately, Randy is the only one who agreed with me, and the groupsent her through. She's sweet, but let's face it: she's going to get pummeled during Hollywood week.
As soon as Keith is out the door (or as the editors start splicing in scenes after his departure), Nicki lets her tongue roll out of her head like a horny wolf cartoon. Her series of catcalls ends momentarily with Griffin Peterson from Wisconsin, who is a certifiable babe. When it comes to his voice, he's a dime a dozen singer-songwriter type (we don't need another Tim Urban this season, you guys). But Nicki and Mariah are out of their minds with this guy, leading Nicki to roll out a lecture on how attractive, mildly talented men sell out arenas every day. With Keith gone, Randy is helpless to stop the lust train. And here, we thought these judges were doing so well. That boy is going to get swallowed whole in this competition.
Over the last 14 weeks, we’ve watched a pool of 64 talented artists shrink to only three: Cassadee Pope, Terry McDermott, and Nicholas David. (Little-known fact: Charles Darwin devised his theory of natural selection after watching the 1838 season of The Voice.) Last night each finalist performed three songs: a new cover, a reprise of an earlier “breakout” performance, and duet with his or her coach.
The episode opens with a somber, candlelit rendition of “Hallelujah,” in tribute to those lost in the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut last week. Each member of the chorus — composed of contestants from throughout the season and all four coaches — holds a card with the name and age of a victim. It’s a beautiful gesture, and an uncharacteristically tasteful one.
Team Cee Lo’s Nicholas David — soul man, family man, bearded man — is the first finalist to perform. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that Cee Lo was the only judge to press his button for Nick in the blind auditions.
Nick offers a medley (isn’t that cheating?!) of Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire” into Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” — I guess they limited him to two songs, or the Jonas Brothers’ “Burnin’ Up” would surely have come next.
I love this performance. Nick has metamorphosed into a true showman, with all the “swagger” he once worried that he lacked. He breaks out some Elvis-esque pelvis gyrations, and his leg kicks like it has a mind of his own as he pounds away on his flaming — of course — piano. If this is what we can expect from Nicholas David: Live, I’m setting up a Google Alert for tickets right now.
Cassadee Pope chooses to revisit “Over You,” the single that skyrocketed her to the top of the iTunes charts. Her voice is as gorgeous as ever, and this is arguably an even more nuanced, soulful version than her earlier cover.
She’s apparently trying to appeal to the attention-deficit crowd, decked out in a mirrored dress that must weight at least as much as she does. Adam sums it up best. “So shiny,” he comments, before elaborating a few seconds later: “Really shiny.” Also, there are gems glued to Cassadee’s hair, which I guess is a thing we can do with science now.
In the next pre-recorded segment, Blake has invited Terry and his family over to his home. “It’s pretty big of a house,” Terry’s son Liam astutely notes. Blake reveals that he’s flown in Terry McDermott, Sr. from Scotland as a surprise — Terry hasn’t seen his father in years. Hugs! Tears! Family! God bless us, every one!
Back before the live audience, Terry and Blake team up for “Dude (Looks Like a Lady).” It’s a smart song choice for McDermott, combining high, melodic verses with a grittier chorus — and because no one in their right mind doesn’t love Aerosmith.
I love Terry and Blake’s playful dynamic. At this point, I’d be perfectly happy if all two hours of the finale were devoted to footage of the pair trading friendship bracelets and braiding each other’s hair. The song’s guitar solo is performed by none other than an unnecessarily shirtless Adam Levine, in a long brown costume wig and glasses — he looks like the unholy offspring of Cassadee Pope and Garth from Wayne’s World.
Nicholas David returns with a reinterpretation of “Lean on Me,” the cover that brought Cee Lo to tears a few weeks ago. Tonight’s is a slightly funkier version — less emotional than Nick’s first, but successful nonetheless. Of the finalist’s old-man blazer, Adam jokes, “You look like a principal… principal of the School of Funky Stuff.” Then he pauses, caught up in a rare moment of self-awareness: “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever said.” I’m so glad to have taken this journey with you, Adam.
Terry takes on Mister Mister’s “Broken Wings,” his son’s favorite song. It’s good, not great (and we’ve come to expect no less than great from Terry) — he actually sounds a little flat at the beginning. In fact, it turns out this may have been the result of a technical malfunction beyond his control. Adam argues that Terry’s grace under pressure is the ultimate proof of his performing chops.
After Cassadee’s family sits down with Blake, she and her coach duet on Sheryl Crow’s “Steve McQueen” — like Crow herself, Cassadee deftly navigates the rock-country genre divide. Freshly changed into a plaid overshirt and jeans, she gleefully commandeers a megaphone for the spoken-word bridge. The fun is infectious.
To my initial disappointment, Terry passes over his many classic rock triumphs and instead revisits “I Wanna Know What Love Is.” But after hearing his version a second time, I’ve really come to appreciate it. I also enjoy the brief montage that summarizes Terry’s time on the show — it’s an unintentional time-lapse version of the mysterious de-dorkification of his mullet. The change is subtle but incredibly effective: I think they had someone lighten it? It’s that or witchcraft.
Nicholas’s parents and family join Cee Lo for a visit. Nick’s surprisingly clean-shaven father is named David, which would be delightful if their last name was actually David as well — alas, it’s really Mrozinski.
For their duet, Nick and Cee Lo play the funky music that is “Play That Funky Music.” Even as he shares the stage with caged go-go girls and a break-dancing child (costumed exactly like Cee Lo… don’t ask), Nick manages to remain the center of attention.The last performance of the finals is Cassadee’s. As they rehearse, she reveals to Blake that her long-absent father has recently contacted her in the hopes of reuniting. I’m concerned, as a recent Key & Peele sketch comes to mind—don’t let him hurt you again, baby girl.
Once the frontwoman of pop-punk band Hey Monday, Cassadee still has the unfortunate forearm tattoos to prove it. But once again, she goes full country with Faith Hill’s “Cry.” The song definitely plays to her strengths, giving her ample opportunity to belt with a woman-scorned intensity. Papa Blake says he’s never heard her sound better; I’m inclined to agree.
The Voice is back tomorrow night with a two-hour finale featuring Rihanna, The Killers, Bruno Mars, and Kelly Clarkson. Follow Molly on Twitter at @mollyfitz.
[Image Credit: NBC (2)]
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You learn the story of the Tortoise and the Hare at such an early age, but rarely if ever is its central lesson actually validated in real life. Fast people win the race! Whether it's a business meeting or the Olympics (where fastest literally wins the race), rarely if ever does the notion of slow and steady pay off in any significant way. Certainly not in America, home of the Ford Escape. And yet here we are, finally arrived at the end of a 12-leg, month-long race around the world… and it's the slowest, steadiest team in the pack that emerge as the ultimate winners. Anyway: Congratulations, Beekmans!
But first let's rewind two hours to Mallorca, Spain, where four teams still competed for the top prize. After a little preamble from Phil, giving us everyone's stake in the race (family medical bills, mortgages, jet skis) and a quick preview of the passive-aggressive taunting to follow, we were off and running. Or driving, in the ALL-NEW FORD ESCAPE WHICH EVERYONE LOVED. "Awesome!" said the Twins. "That's crazy cool." "I want one." "Get me one." And that was before everyone found out about the car's hands-free back hatch! In fairness, The Amazing Race does a far better job than most shows at keeping its product placement to a dull roar. No one's peddling REFRESHING PEPSI at a Marrakech Bazaar or struggling through the GO DADDY WHO'S YOUR DADDY? lost kid challenge in Burma, and for that we should be perpetually grateful. If keeping your production costs down means showcasing a car I'm sure my mom wants, along with all the other cool moms? Do your thing, van Munster.
En route to Loire Valley, France, Twins couldn't shut up about how much the Beekman Boys "coasted their way" to the Final Four, "taking up a spot" that belonged to someone else. Okay! Once Trey and Lexi and Chippendales started chiming in, too, the conversation was loud enough to be heard by the nearby Beekmans. They sat down with the rest of the group in what looked like the race's most uncomfortable yearbook photo yet. The high school pettiness continued as teams grabbed their FORD ESCAPES to Chateau de Villandry, the Beekmans removed from the trio's planning. Twins once more intimated how frustrating it is to have a team like them around, by which I think they meant a team they're forced to compete with? Or more specifically a team that knew the local language when no one else did, which had its advantages.
I've got something to say about Speed Bumps, which is: They're stupid. Tie up some lady's corset? Five more minutes of physical activity, tops, and that's factoring in travel time (here a brisk walk from the route marker everyone was at anyway). A real challenge might present more geographical inconvenience, or force a team to actually think in the abstract. But rote physical tasks at a nearby location offer nothing by way of a dramatic impediment. I mean, I get it — you've got a team viewers like that the producers have a vested interest in keeping around. Why offer a challenge that ensures their definite dismissal? But on a show whose reality credibility is so often head and shudders above everyone else's, those more orchestrated moments really stand out.
Anyway, the joys of watching the Chateau's "Lady of the House" get corseted by two screaming Sri Lankan twins in Lululemon gear paled in comparison to those same twins screaming at their alliance not to help Josh and Brent. "Don't let them ride on your coattails!" they called out, literally running next to the non-Speed Bump teams as they made their way toward the Ford fleet. "Don't even talk to them!" This was 30 minutes before they'd be eliminated, and even then I wasn't totally sure what to make of the Twins. On the one hand, I think they're insane? On the other, they seem genuinely able to take whatever craziness they're dishing out. The latter was on display at the Detour they and the Beekmans chose, where teams were tasked with weighing, cutting, and sorting various types of meat for a small army of hunting dogs. "You're the evil gays today!" they threw at Josh and Brent, accusing them of faking a leg injury, too. The Beekmans took it in stride and threw trash-talk right back, getting in the Twins' heads about their dwindling alliance. A Mean Girl detente? "If we lose again to them I'm going to kill myself," Natalie threatened. Then laughed. As the dogs howled and howled.
The Chippendales and Team Texas plowed a field, and did it well. There is not much more to say.
GALLERY: Best and Worst TV Gamechangers Post-Detour, all four teams headed to La Cave des Roches, where dark, musty tunnels provided the perfect growing environment for 10 varieties of mushrooms teams needed to collect. ("ERRYDAY I'M TRUFFLIN'" I sadly muttered at the TV.) Lexi nailed the configuration on round one; Jaymes got it on round two. Meanwhile I pondered how much it would suck to die in a mushroom cave. Twins and Beekmans arrived at practically the same time, the latter I have to imagine on the coattails of the former. And while it was Natalie and Nadiya who snuck out of the cave first — while Brent still struggled to find the exit — that wouldn't be the end of the race. Because for what felt like the first time this whole season, teams actually struggled with directions and translation! Trey and Lexi fumbled their way to the pit stop. Twins actually just went the wrong direction entirely. Where creative editing might in the past have suggested that Beekmans' "will they pull it out?" was phony, that was… not the case tonight. Josh and Brent pulled off something miraculous and, miracle of miracles, earned their way into the Top Three. On elimination, Twins noted that Beekmans "have tricks up their sleeves." But they also acknowledged their own shortcomings, namely needing to "harness our reactions into more positive directions." You're often shrill and circle more than few entries on the DSM-IV, ladies, but dammit if you're not full of life and, surprisingly, honest reflection. We're going to miss you for the next 500 words! …And we're back! A postcard kicks off the FINAL LEG OF THE RACE, featuring a boardwalk scene with the inscription "Wish You Were Here!" Being that teams know they're heading to New York, it can really onlybe Coney Island, but I was pulling for one team to confuse boardwalks and head to Seaside Heights, NJ. THAT would have been a hell of a Speed Bump. But no one blinks, and everyone smoothly makes their way to the Big Apple. How do you feel heading into this last stretch, Trey? "We've been battling the Chippendales these last few legs and… I think this leg is going to be sort of the same." Wiser words, buddy. While the music department worked overtime to provide a score that screamed FASTER AND WITH MORE INTENSITY, the three remaining teams scanned the boardwalk looking for the scene from their clue. The dog in sunglasses some cameraman found along the way basically made the entire race, but before we could learn more about him teams had figured out that they needed to head to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and do something related to Houdini. Could it involve a straitjacket? YES. Race has, and has long had, this weird habit of starting and ending the season with these wickedly terrifying gravity-focused challenges. In between, you sell energy drinks to Japanese businessmen and search caves for friggin' mushrooms, but when money's really on the line? You're dangling 15 stories high trying to get out of a straitjacket before you're let go, plunging toward earth. It's understandable that anyone might freak out a little. Once upon a time, a challenge like this might actively deter a team, presenting a near-insurmountable obstacle, but Trey, Brent, and Jaymes all made it through okay. Next up: pizza at Little Italy's oldest pizzeria, Lombardi's. Could you memorize orders for and deliver 10 pizzas around lower Manhattan? Trey and Lexi could, no problem, but like me, the Beekman Boys had difficulty matching pies and places. To be fair, their itinerary was a list of generic New York settings anyone might confuse: the hair salon! A bike store! Probably a firehouse and taxi dispatcher, too, though we didn't see them. Residences they delivered to were opened by New Yorkers who, not surprisingly, did not look thrilled to be greeted by Amazing Racers. "Whatsamattahyou?" everyone said, I think. When Josh and Brent were forced to revisit some of the locations they screwed up, Chippendales made up more ground. And the Race tightened, and the music quickened and everyone sat up in their chairs except me who had accidentally Googled "Beekman Boys" to see if I was spelling their name correctly and, time delay viewer that I am, had the ending totally spoiled for me. The remaining 15 minutes were just caked in misery. GALLERY: Best and Worst TV Episodes of 2012 A familiar symbol led everybody next to the UN Headquarters, and the trickiest challenge of the leg (and maybe the race): identifying the expressions for "hello" and "goodbye" used at every Pit Stop along the way and matching them to their country of origin. Because NO team had bothered to write down any of these during the race. Thanks to public school language requirements, everyone of course got "hola" and "adios." After that… two-and-a-half hours passed and the sun set before the three teams, pretty much totally even, got down to their final few flags. Josh approached his set like a "math problem," he said, rotating as many word choices through as quickly as possible in an organized trial and error. Lexi, meanwhile, was knocked around by her flags and complained that the challenge was "out of her control." I think you are using that expression incorrectly, Lexi! Josh down to Bangladesh. James down to his last flag. Even match-up! The Beekmans finished. Chippendales finished shortly after. Gotham Hall. Pit Stop. Finish Line. GO BABY GO BABY G-- Without any jerk editing or falsely planted excitement, the outcome was clear before they entered the building (but after they came in second-to-last in nearly every of the preceding legs of the race): Beekman Boys had done it. After a truly great smooch I'd been waiting for all season, Josh and Brent turned to Phil and all their friends/enemies/Twins in the crowd of defeated Racers. "If you just keep going, people will help and at some point you will win." Josh spoke of how their money will help pay off the farm mortgage and allow them to stay closer, longer, than they've been for several years. What they didn't say — but I will! — is how their victory demonstrates the merits of a level head and kind heart. Remember their perpetually sad alliance with Abbie and Ryan? The way they stuck with their partners through to the end? I have to imagine that was cosmically rewarded in some way tonight, just winkedat by some Higher Power. None of which is to say the Chippendales (2nd) or Lexi and Trey didn't deserve it just as much, maybe more, but that good things happen to good people. This season, we've noted, was one of the flat-out NICEST on record. Backstabbing only occurred in the eyes of the slightly delusional (hi Abbie and Ryan!), and most often teams were looking out for one another -- trying to make the racing experience as pleasant for those around them as they could. And hey — Chippendales still got two GREAT FORD ESCAPES out of the deal! While the world, Jaymes suggested, maybe got a "different view of Chippendales. For better or worse." Trey and Lexi didn't have much to say. Twins, who I figured would pipe up and offer some criticism of the way Beekmans conducted themselves on the mat, said nothing. It was Monster Trucker Rob, in his infinite wisdom, who offered his assessment of the race's conclusion: "It's not for me to judge anyone on their lifestyle." Okay! Next Week: Counting down the Mayan Apacolypse [Image Credit: Jonathan Littman/CBS] More: Amazing Race Finale: Who Will Win? — POLL Amazing Race Recap: Beekman Rising Amazing Race Recap: Nice Guys Finish (First Through) Last
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One of the biggest draws for any reality television show is inclusion of audience participation. Whether you’re an A-list celebrity or your typical Average Joe (like myself), these shows allow all fans to be as actively involved in the decision-making process as they see fit. If you like a contestant obsessively badly enough, you have the power (and right) to vote for that person 100 bigillion times (if the show allows it) just to guarantee they’ll make it through to the next round. (Not that I’ve done that myself or anything… )
Yes, there’s no doubt that fans love to be put in charge. So The X Factor higher-ups (aka Simon Cowell and Simon Cowell) really knew what they were doing when they teamed up with their go-to soda God, Pepsi, to create a special challenge for fans. This week, the Top 6 performed not one, but two songs: one at the behest of the judges (completely unplugged) and another that was chosen by the viewers themselves. That means YOU, America! On top of that, fans were also given complete creative control in every aspect of the performance: the make-up, the hair, the wardrobe, the staging — everything. (Does anyone else feel drunk with power?)
So which of the contestants rose to the challenge and which failed to impress? Check out our recap below and see how it all went down:
CeCe Frey (Young Adults — Team Demi Lovato):
CeCe started the night off by singing an acoustic version of Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory.” Normally, this girl has relied heavily on big back-up numbers with eye-catching theatrics to mask her somewhat struggling vocals. But — as it turns out — when she’s stripped of all the distractions, she’s really not half bad. I mean, I agree with Simon about the fact that she’s not worth a $5 million recording contract, but she definitely possesses some talent. My biggest problem with her is that I find her extremely unlikeable. There’s just this air of condescension about her that doesn’t come across well on screen. Granted, this is a singing competition and not a Miss Congeniality pageant, but still. Vocals alone won’t earn you votes. Just sayin'.
CeCe’s second song, however, earned less than thrilling reviews. As part of the Pepsi Challenge, fans voted for CeCe to sing Katy Perry’s “Part of Me,” which, of course, meant a ton of theatrics and a minimal amount of actual vocal talent. Seriously, it was painful. L.A. said it felt more like a big karaoke number (womp, womp), but Britney and Simon at least found it entertaining. Simon still called her a "trier" though, which is basically the equivalent of showing her the door. Sorry, my dear, but I doubt we'll be CeCe-ing you later (I couldn't help myself).
Emblem3 (Groups — Team Simon Cowell):
Emblem3 made every girl’s heart soar by singing Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are.” Like last week, they managed to harmonize together really well, however, their solo vocals still need a bit of work. Alright, a lot of work. In fact, it was downright scary at some points. But they’re good-looking and very charming, which means they’re definitely going to make it into the finals. (The teen girls of America will see to it.) Britney called it their best performance thus far, but Demi remained less than impressed, calling them a downgraded version of the Jonas Brothers five years ago. Burn! (And also kinda true.) Other things were said after that, but the girlish squeals coming from the audience made it pretty much impossible to understand any of it.
For their second song, America voted for them to perform Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.” To me, it felt very much like their first performance: great harmonizing, choppy solos. (Do they sound like they’re developing some weird sort of accent when they sing separately or am I completely alone in this?) They’ve already won over America’s heart, though. So regardless of what they sing or how they sing it, fans will continue to go crazy (and vote) for them.
Carly Rose Sonenclar (Teens — Team Britney Spears):
Carly Rose played to all the Bielbers out there by performing Justin Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me.” It was definitely a risky choice and one that you wouldn’t expect to be sung acoustically, but — much like she does with every song she sings — she completely owned it. The performance was amazing and left everyone floored. (She’s only 13, people! Thirteen!) L.A. called it her best performance to date; Demi claimed she sang it better than Justin did (Gasp! But true!); and Simon referred to her as an emerging star. If she doesn’t make it to the finals, I will lose all respect for America’s taste in music.
In honor of the Pepsi Challenge, fans chose for Carly to sing Beyonce’s “If I Were a Boy” — because, of course, we needed to hear a Beyoncé rendition from her. Really, is there any song she can’t successfully recreate and make her own? The answer is, NO. She’s absolutely phenomenal and so much cooler and confident than any 13-year-old should be allowed to be. The judges loved it; the crowd loved it. That $5 million contract is practically hers already.
Fifth Harmony (Groups — Team Simon Cowell):
Fifth Harmony took on a tall order this week, singing Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain.” Now, singing an Adele song is a challenge in and of itself, but having five girls sing it unplugged seems like an absolutely impossible task. And it turns out… it was. They’re great singers, but, like L.A. has said repeatedly, there’s never any harmonizing. They all sang separately with some “Ooos” and “Ahhs” thrown in. Britney said she isn’t sure what would set them apart from other girl groups, while Demi suggested that some of them should just be solo artists. All in all, it proved to be a less than impressive performance.
For their second number of the night, fans voted for the girl group to sing Demi Lovato’s “Give Your Heart a Break.” And guess what? There was actual harmonizing! L.A. didn’t know what to do with himself he was so shocked. He thought it was their best performance, hands down. Britney thought the performance was fantastic and Demi even said it was better than the original. There may still be hope for these girls yet.
Diamond White (Teens — Team Britney Spears):
Diamond attempted to bounce back into the competition (after coming in sixth place during last week’s results show) by belting out an acoustic version of James Brown’s classic hit “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” And it totally worked! It’s been weeks since we’ve seen such a knockout performance from this girl with great vocals and an even greater stage presence. L.A. told her she brought attitude and showbiz to the show. Simon, however, wished she had chosen a different song since she already sang this song earlier in the competition. Regardless, it was great to see Diamond back in her prime. Let’s hope this keeps up!
For her second performance, viewers voted for Diamond to, ironically, sing “Diamonds” by Rihanna. She even descended from the ceiling in a diamond-shaped cage (because apparently America is not without a sense of humor). Like her first musical number of the night, her vocals were solid and weren’t overshadowed by the beautiful theatrics — something that her fellow contenders have struggled with (I’m looking at you, CeCe Frey). L.A. wasn't a huge fan, but Demi thought it was outstanding (after she name-dropped being good friends with Rihanna, of course). Simon thought the second half of the song was better than the first, but overall thought that she had a really good night.
Tate Stevens (Over 25s — Team L.A. Reid):
Tate wrapped up the unplugged portion of the night by singing Bon Jovi’s “Livin' On a Prayer.” It’s a different song choice from what we’re used to seeing from him and it didn’t completely work in his favor. The vocals were still strong, but it just wasn’t quite up to par with what we’re used to hearing from him. And Demi’s right — he skipped out on the high note, which is the best part of the song. Britney said he’s going to be a huge country star and Simon encouraged him to start choosing his own material because this song didn’t fit with who he is as an artist. We still love you, Tate!
He more than made up for it, though, during his second performance, singing America’s pick, “If Tomorrow Never Comes” by Garth Brooks. This is what this guy should be singing all the time. I’m not even a country fan and I thought it sounded amazing. Britney said he was brilliant and Simon commented that Tate actually reminds him of Garth Brooks (which basically means he’s the Meryl Streep of country music… he just can’t go wrong).
So America, what did you think of Wednesday night’s round of performances? Were you satisfied with your song choices? Who do you think is safe and who’s in danger of being sent packing? Sound off in the comments below and be sure to tune in for Thursday night’s results show where the Top 4 will be crowned after a double elimination.
Next week, the semi-finals!
Follow Kelly on Twitter @KellyBean0415
[Photo credit: Ray Mickshaw/FOX]
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