Friday, April 29, 2011

American Idol: Top 6 Week

The top six contestants remaining on American Idol took on the music of Carole King. Not only did Carole King write most of her music, but she also wrote music for several others. Her writing career began with The Shirelles hit "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," and went on to several others, such as The Drifters "Up On The Roof" to Herman's Hermits "I'm Into Something Good." To be quite honest, I didn't know Carole King was behind several of these hits. I knew about her singing and songwriting career having to do with her own music, but had no idea that her success stretched back as far as the 1960's.

The remaining six contestants each performed a solo and a duet, so they could be able to spread their time slot in order to keep viewers away from watching the new NBC show "The Voice." To me, it wouldn't have made much of a difference, because I have no intentions of staying in front of the TV all night. I have much more to do. As for the performances on tonight's show, we had ourselves a mixed bag. I wasn't a fan of neither Jacob Lusk or Haley Reinhart, and I feel that the two are entering the territory of "it's about time the both of them get shown the door." Don't get me wrong, because both of them have enough talent to make it to this point, but you have much more talent, and the competition is only beginning to heat up. Lauren Alaina's performance was very likable, especially how she brought in someone in the audience to sing to. It turned out he was nineteen. Then you had Casey Abrams, who's performance was just entertaining to watch. He puts a lot of passion into his performances, and when he's not with an instrument, he's moving around. Even with a guitar, he could move around.

After watching the Wednesday night performances, I was reaffirmed by the fact that James Durbin and Scotty McCreery are American Idol 10's biggest talents. Scotty performed James Taylor's "You've Got A Friend," a performance which was so smooth that it was an enjoyment to watch. Other than he mediocre performance of "Swingin'" last week, all of his performances were really good. James performed The Shirelles' "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," which was just an excellent performance. Seeing James take on this song was just incredible to see and he knocked it out of the ball park. For James, I can't say there was a single performance that had anything negative attached to it. All of his performances worked. I could honestly say that a James and Scotty finale would be the best finale that this show has ever had. You will have two artists, metal and country, who come from completely different backgrounds, but have a great deal of talent.

As for the results show, the finalists were called in no particular order, but Casey Abrams was finally sent home after being saved from being eliminated in eleventh place. I guess that sixth place is an appropriate finish for someone who could have been five notches down and unable to perform on tour. I'm going to miss his entertaining performances, because you never knew that Casey was going to do next.

Five remain: James, Scotty, Lauren, Haley, and Jacob. I feel that Haley and Jacob's time should be running thin, but due to the voting ranges, the results could come out very differently. Based on talent alone, we should be seeing a James and Scotty finale, and I can reaffirm over and over the fact that this would be an excellent final showdown. Figuring out who's going to win it all would be the toughest part. Next week is "Songs From Now And Then," meaning the contestants are performing two songs. One song is from recent and another is from the 1960's. I can only wonder what the final five will pick.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

My Ten Favorite Roy Orbison Songs: In Celebration Of Roy's 75th Birthday

I grew up in the 2000's and currently am surrounded by music of the 2010's. However, I grew up listening to music from the earlier decades, and I've been extremely fond of the music of Roy Orbison. I was introduced to Roy Orbison's music when listening to the oldies station to and from school. The first of these hits included "Oh, Pretty Woman" and "Only The Lonely." Then, I began to listen to the cassettes of Roy's greatest hits and have since been lured in to more and more of his music. My favorite that I've ever bought has to be "The Essential Roy Orbison," that includes just the right touches of a great career. I have been a fan and continue to be a fan. While Roy Orbison isn't as big a name as Elvis or The Beatles, he sure made one of the biggest impacts in the history of music. Those who look up to him in the music field include Elvis (who called him "the greatest singer of all-time), The Beatles, Bob Dylan (who said he sang like he was on an Olympian mountaintop), Bruce Springsteen (who gave Roy Orbison's induction speech), the Bee Gees, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne (from the Electric Light Orchestra), Bono (of U2), Elvis Costello, k.d. lang, and the list keeps going on, and on, and on.

I wanted to share ten of my favorite songs from Roy Orbison, and believe me, this is a task. It's like buying a box of a dozen cannoli and picking out the ten that are the best. In this instance, there are so many to choose from. My list is only one list, everybody is going to have a differing opinion, but I'm going to tell you why these songs are my favorites.

#10- California Blue- #10 was the hardest to choose, because it all depends on my mood and how I feel. "California Blue" was the one that won the tiebreaker between several. This song was on Roy Orbison's comeback album, "Mystery Girl," which was released a few months after Roy's tragic death in 1988. The album was released in 1989. This song tells the story of a longing to return to a beautiful California, and the way California is portrayed makes me want to head there right now. If you watch the official video to the song, there's a good chance that you're going to want to join me. "California Blue" just brings you into a peaceful setting when you listen to it, no matter how you're feeling or what's on your mind.

#9- Oh, Pretty Woman- #9 and #8 were extremely tough to rank, because both are just really good songs. For #9, I have what happens to be Roy's most famous song, "Oh, Pretty Woman." This hit was from 1964, when the British Invasion hit America and The Beatles were becoming big. This song still made it into the top five hits of the year, and it surely deserved it. This hit was inspired by a comment from co-writer Bill Dees,"a pretty woman never needs any money," when Roy's wife, Claudette, was heading into town. This hit has a ton of swagger and rightfully took over the charts. It tells the story of an attraction to a pretty woman and how he longs for her to be with him. Just as he's about to head on home, she walks to him. This is the hit that first introduced me to Roy Orbison, and the rest has been history.

#8- Only The Lonely- Roy Orbison's first hit was "Ooby Dooby" back in 1956 with the Teen Kings, but it was "Only The Lonely" from 1960 that gave him the recognition as a solo performer. It's a simple song about how the lonely will understand how he feels, but it also sets a mark for Roy Orbison's personality. Many of Roy's songs were about the pain of breaking up, the loneliness of a lover, or how it truly feels to be in love. It's completely real and that's what Roy demonstrates. "Only The Lonely" starts off with an opening of the backup singers singing the chorus, and then once Roy enters the song, the rest is magic and a really catchy tune that makes for a good hit.

#7- It's Over- "It's Over" compares being dumped to the apocalypse. When the girl breaks up with the guy, his whole world starts to crumble, and this feeling is very common in the event of a breakup. "It's Over" quenches the tragedy that happens when a girl leaves a guy, because she doesn't want him anymore, but instead another guy who she feels is better. This and "Oh, Pretty Woman" were the only songs in 1964 to hit #1 in the United Kingdom, and rightfully so. Roy injects this song with a passion that gives the song a feeling in which it really is over and that a breakup can really hurt this bad.

#6- Blue Bayou- Most people know about the Linda Ronstadt version from the 1970's, but before that came the 1963 version from Roy Orbison. This happens to be on Senator John McCain's list of favorite songs as well, but it has been on my list before that. Like "California Blue," it paints such a picture and brings you to a completely different place. The lines to the song are soothing like a back rub and the chorus just sends shivers down your spine. Roy pulls off such a wonderful tenor when he's performing the song and is backed by such a wonderful backup to make the song even more soothing. If given the choice as to which version I like the best, I would pick this one by a mile. I can't think of very many instances in which the Roy Orbison version was topped. It's just a lot to top.

#5- Crying- This may be one of the biggest weepers of all-time. Some songs give you the situation and leave you to come up with the action. This song gives you the situation and the action. Being inspired by an old flame, the song talks about a break up in which the woman believed it was time to move on and the man was still in love with the woman. This makes the man feel so bad, he starts crying over her. It goes to show you that a man is much more emotional than status quo demonstrates. The original hit was from 1961, but Roy Orbison later did a duet with k.d. lang in the 1980's. The duet version is often considered one of the best duets of all time, and I couldn't agree more. Regardless the version, this song is one of the saddest songs with some of the best execution.

#4- In Dreams- One night, Roy Orbison went to sleep, and woke up the next morning with this song after forgetting about his previous idea. It starts off telling about "a candy-colored clown they call the Sandman," in what has been named one of the best lyrics from It tells the story of a dream and how he dreams about the woman he loves. However, he wakes up and finds that she's gone. It goes to show you how dreams only last for so long, and very often, end just when things are getting good. The lyrics to this song are just fantastic, the arrangement is fantastic, and the notes that Roy hits bring me into the dream with him as I listen to him describe it. I personally prefer the 1963 version best, but the remake for "Blue Velvet" is still a really good remake. A sequel, "In The Real World," was also made for this song. However, the original is a dream in itself.

#3- Running Scared- "Running Scared" describes the fear a man has that someone who's better (however "better" may be defined) than him comes and wants his woman of who he loves. He seems to be an ex, given the fact that he's coming back. We are grown to dislike this guy who wants to take the man's woman back, as he seems to be confident that he's going to get her back. Like many of Roy's songs, the arrangement strays from the two lines and a chorus. It warms up line by line, and then takes a jump as soon as it's crunch time. Ultimately, we find out who the woman decides she wants to be with. This song is basically every man's fear that a woman may leave him for someone that allegedly may be "better" than them. It's not so much a feeling of envy, but more so a feeling of anxiety or being worried. The guy who the man worries about may demonstrate any form of personality, but Roy does a good job making him look arrogant in order to fit the occasion. Sometimes it is the occasion. There is also an 1980's version of this hit, though I like the original from 1961.

#2- Crawling Back- This is a hit from 1965 and it's a very dark, but effective piece of music. After reading a bit of a Roy Orbison biography, I read that his wife, Claudette, had engaged in an affair and the two divorced, but remarried shortly after. After hearing about this and listening to the lyrics of "Crawling Back," I can't see what other form of inspiration could've been injected into this song. This song demonstrates that despite what a spouse (a woman, in this instance) may do, that they, and only they, could keep them crawling back. This song always happens to leave my hair standing. Whether it's the music or how Roy Orbison's voice is so strong and passionate, this is one of those hidden gems that is very often looked over and yet it's about the pain in which a man loves a woman so much, that he would forgive her even after something so heartbreaking, and the true power of love. Regardless the occasion, this song is going to leave an impact.

#1- The Crowd- Picking a single favorite Roy Orbison song... that's very hard to ask. For me, it was easier than most of my other decisions, and my favorite is his 1962 hit "The Crowd." It strays away from the two lines and a chorus, and tells a story about coping. This song tells the story of a man doing what he needs to do to get through life each and every day and how he blends into the crowd. However, he really misses the woman in which he has had so much fun with. Things haven't been the same since she's gone, but he continues to get through life, hoping that some day, she will come back to him. The song brings out a kind of hope and how hope may very well be the cruelest curse of mankind, and how each of us cope with the pain of loss, and rely on the hope in order to give us the emotional strive. Like "Running Scared," "The Crowd" starts out slows, kicks it up a notch, goes full force, and then ends like a free fall. It's just a fantastic arrangements. Then when you put Roy Orbison's voice into the picture, and you've got yourself magic!

Okay, that's my own personal list. These are the ten songs that have spoken to me the most when listening to Roy Orbison's music. It's hard to believe that it's only his 75th birthday and unfortunate that he had to leave so soon, but one thing he left behind was a good legacy. Roy Orbison is one of music's finest gifts, with his tenor voice that puts a touch of opera into rock and roll. He's truly left behind a great legacy! Happy Birthday, Roy Orbison, you're truly missed.

Check This Out: Shark Tank On ABC

"Check This Out" is a little segment on which I name a form of entertainment that I feel that you should check out. It's kind of like "Excellent Reads," only with more variety. In this instance, "Check This Out" is going to be about a TV show, "Shark Tank" in particular. It's an exciting Friday night show, and yes, while Friday is the dead zone for many TV shows, "Shark Tank" is far from a dead show. It's a highly entertaining show that features ideas, business people, and money. If you think "The Apprentice" and Donald Trump are entertaining, then you're really going to enjoy "Shark Tank." If you're not a fan of "The Apprentice" and Donald Trump, then this may be more of your cup of tea.

In the business world, "Sharks" refer to business people looking to make an investment in other companies, products, and brands. On "Shark Tank," five successful business people are presented with an idea (usually a product) and they ask for a certain amount of money for a percentage of the company. Afterward, the sharks decide whether or not they want to invest and give their own deals. If the entrepreneur with the idea accepts the deal, then the deal goes forward, depending on whether or not the deal was completed after we see on the show.

The "sharks," seated from left to right include Kevin Harrington, Daymond John, Kevin O'Leary, Barbara Corcoran, and Robert Herjavec. Each of them comes from a different field. Kevin Harrington is from the field of infomercials, Daymond John from the field of fashion (he started "FUBU" in his basement), Kevin O'Leary from the field of toys (he sold his company to Mattel for over three billion dollars), Barbara Corcoran from the field of real estate, and Robert Herjavec from the field of software. This shows a wide variety of business people from a wide range of backgrounds.

In the second season, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and comedian Jeff Foxworthy (who has sold redneck books, calendars, jerky, and launched several careers) have alternated as guest sharks, sitting in Kevin Harrington's spot. To be quite honest, I don't think the show needs guest sharks in order to achieve success. At the end of the day, Kevin Harrington may stand out the least when it comes to personality, but I feel he brings a lot to the table when it comes to inside knowledge. This is someone who is a pioneer in the field of infomercials, those product promotion commercials that have made Billy Mays and Oxi-Clean a household name. I have also noticed that Cuban and Foxworthy have not made many investments during their time on the show, but we still have more to see from them.

If there's anybody that makes the show, it would definitely have to be Kevin O'Leary. He is the brutally honest businessman on the show who puts the pedal to the medal. He's good at getting the other sharks started up and tells it exactly like it is. He's also not afraid to speak what's on his mind, no matter how brutal it may sound. The other sharks tend to be pretty straight forward, and Robert Herjavec is probably the second most brutally honest on the show, only he's not as "in your face." While the others are a bit more laid back, they still are pretty insightful and straight forward about the world of business.

The ideas on the show have also been really memorable. Some of which are extremely bizarre, like an alarm clock that wakes you up with bacon. Then there are some that are really good ideas, like nasal screens you put on your nose to filter out germs, that the sharks go at one another for. For the latter idea, Robert Herjavec made a four million dollar offer for 100% of the company. This offer was ultimately turned down for another offer that included a few sharks and more control of the business. The most recent episode featured a broom that features a scraper, which was a really intriguing idea. This turned into a war between the same offers and came down to who the stay-at-home dad and product inventor would rather work with. He picked Harrington and John over O'Leary and Herjavec. O'Leary went as far as wanting to talk with the man's wife when he asked to discuss it with her.

If you have nothing to do on Friday nights at eight, check out Shark Tank! You'll have a good time watching successful business people either fight over a good product, take down a bad product, or take down a business person who did a poor job as a business person. No matter what your reason may be, "Shark Tank" is going to make for a fun Friday night.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Say Real Cheese

I always enjoy having myself a nice piece of cheese on the right occasion... a nice piece of real cheese that is. What I mean by real is that it has been through the proper steps in which it is supposed to go through and comes out as a nice and delicious end result. This doesn't mean going through a process in which the cheese is made in order to have a better shelf life. While keeping your cheese fresh is supposed to be a good thing, the most important thing is that the cheese tastes good and you're getting a good experience while eating your cheese. The best way to do this is by buying the cheeses that actually demonstrate and real experience. It may be costly, but it's worth it.

Two of the most commonly used cheeses in America are American and Parmesan in a shaker. They may do their purpose in representing cheese in the household, but they do not represent very well. Let's start with American cheese, which I like to called "processed cheese" or "square cheese." It's the cheese that families use the most in America, but it's far from being the real deal. American cheese does not meet the requirements of being a real cheese and thus has to be considered something along the lines as "processed cheese." Due to the process of being made by cheese by-products, salt, additives, preservatives, and coloring, American cheese can very well be considered the "hot dog of the cheese family." Also, as real cheese begins to mold when it goes bad, American cheese simply shrivels up. Processed cheeses such as this made it big when James L. Kraft began his line of processed cheeses. One of the most famous is Velveeta, which is a block of "cheese" that is easy and convenient and makes for a delicious meal, yum-yum! Well that is if you don't mind eating "cheese" in the place of cheese, then have a ball. Some people don't mind, it's just not my cup of tea.

Parmesan in the shaker... I remember the green shaker and to me, I have no interest in any shaker. I always had the impression that the cheese in the shaker was Parmesan cheese. The cheese tasted like sand, in my opinion, and thus I never bothered having it. I would always have Pecorino Romano on my pasta, which is a sheep's milk cheese that starts an orchestra of tastiness in your mouth as you eat it. I later found out about Parmigiano Reggiano, which is the original Parmesan cheese. It happens to also be the king of all cheese, and it turns out to be a much better treat as opposed to Parmesan in a shaker. It's just like Swiss cheese being an offspring of the Swiss cheese known as Emmentaler.

I would find it to be a ridiculous experience if you went into a cheese shop or a place in which people take their cheeses seriously and ask "would you be able to tell me where you keep the American cheese?" or "where would you happen to keep that grated cheese in the shaker?" If I were the expert, I would be laughing on the inside. I wouldn't tell them to try the local supermarket, because then I would just be hurting my business. The best option would be to open them to a bunch of the other cheeses that are out there. With Parmesan, I would suggest Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is hard, but nice and nutty for a good experience. American would be a bit harder to compare another cheese to, or would want to compare another cheese to. Cheddar is probably the closest thing to it, while it doesn't even belong in that family. I do believe that those who enjoy American cheese would also enjoy a much better Cheddar cheese.

I also find the best place to shop for your cheese is in the imported section or a designated section, as oppose to your dairy section. The dairy section offers cheaper cheese, but the tight wrapping is not good for the cheese. In order to keep the cheese clean, yet still able to breathe (yes, it houses bacteria, so it can very well be considered "living"), it should be wrapped as loosely as possible. When you take it home, it should immediately be unwrapped and placed in a bag or something along those lines.

Eating cheese is meant to be a good experience. It could be considered a hobby, pastime, or a way to eat and be happy. Everybody, or most everybody, likes themselves a good selection of cheese. I know I surely do!

Resolve The Issues: I'm Liking The New York Giants Schedule Setup

At the moment we speak, the NFL is in the middle of a lockout. Nevertheless, they have still managed to go forth with having a 2011 NFL Draft and created a sixteen-game schedule for each of the teams. The NFL had strikes back in 1982 and 1987 due to issues having to do with the higher authorities of the NFL. In 1982, the season was cut to nine games and in 1987, it was cut to fifteen. This season, we have no idea how many games the season will be cut to. No matter how many games the season is cut down to, it will hurt the New York Giants to have so many games cut from their season. It will hurt any team with easy games in the beginning and tougher games in the end, but it happens that the Giants could very well hit the double whammy if the lockout continues into the NFL season.

Not only do the Giants have an easy schedule in their first half of the season, but the Giants have a history of being a team that starts off really well and then falters toward the end of the season. Last season, they were playoff bound before taking their pedal off of the medal. In 2009, they went 5-0 before limping to 8-8 and being out of the playoffs. In 2008, they were 11-1 before giving up three of their final four games, going to 12-4 and being eliminated from the playoffs early. It was in 2007 when they last had an end that was stronger than their beginning. In the NFL, it's always about how you finish. The 2007 season demonstrated that very well. Unfortunately, the fireworks that came from the 2007 season doesn't last forever. We need some new fireworks to keep up. It's just like 1986 and 1990, that vibe only lasts for one season. It's about being a team like the 60's Packers, early-70's Dolphins, 70's Steelers, 80's 49ers, 90's Cowboys, late-90's Broncos, and 2000's Patriots. Every group of fans is looking for that consecutive amount of happiness that makes them feel on top of the world.

As for the Giants schedule, they will open up at FedEx Field, playing their division rival Washington Redskins. I'm currently predicting that the Skins will finish at the bottom of the division, simply because the team has the least amount of fresh talent and the commotion between the veterans and coach Mike Shanahan needs to be resolved before the team is able to progress. Shanahan had a brilliant career as the Denver Broncos head coach, and I'm looking to see what he could do with the Skins, if he could do anything at this point. Other than the Eagles in week three, who they need to beat this season in order to boost the confidence of fans, they play the Rams, Cardinals, Seahawks, and Bills before their bye in week seven. The Rams are the only team of these four who may have a potential of a good season. The team has finally found a foundation that they could lean on with quarterback Sam Bradford. After the bye is when they'll be playing teams such as the Patriots, Saints, and Packers.

The one game that's bound to stand out in the Giants schedule is their week sixteen matchup on Christmas Eve against the New York Jets. The two have not played in the New Meadowlands Stadium against one another in the regular season. When they played in the preseason, the Giants won. It's the regular season that matters most. I can place my wagers on the fact that Jets coach Rex Ryan is going to have a lot to say about this game. However, on my end, the game I will be looking forward to seeing is the November 20th Sunday nighter in which the Eagles will be visiting the Giants. After one of the most painful experiences I ever had to endure last season, it would bring me a whole load of relief to see the Giants achieve redemption.

If the schedule and the strive for victory stays on the Giants side, then there's a good shot that the Giants will be able to achieve victorious results. I am not ready to make 2011 predictions, but I just hope that what's going on with the authorities that keep the NFL going will have a solution to their problems by the beginning of the season.

One more thing, I do not support an eighteen game schedule. I think that the sixteen game schedule with the thirty-two teams that are in eight divisions, four in each, is the perfect setup. Everything is set up perfectly, and an eighteen game schedule will cause a ton of commotion to what we have right now. It also increases the chances of further injuries and further physical aggravation.

Back to the main point, if the Giants can overcome any challenges that lie ahead of them and learn from previous mistakes, then they have a good shot at making a good run.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

American Idol: Top 7 Week

...and then there were seven, singing songs from the new millennium. This theme proved to be flexible, with time being the only limit. The performances could've been better, but none of them were "cringe and walk out of the room" bad. However, this week was extremely memorable for the good and the bizarre. Being memorable is truly what matters most when it comes to having a good show.

On the good end, James Durbin has once again topped the show on my charts. Performing "Uprising" by Muse, James had one of the best arrangements I have seen in the history of the show. He entered with a band of drummers, wearing black clothes covered by a black jacket, and giving a phenomenal performance. I can only imagine how James thought up of such a brilliant arrangement. It goes to show you that music is James' passion and that he can paint a picture of how he imagines a phenomenal performance such as this and then make it into a reality.

Casey Abrams gave us what could be some of the most memorable moments in a long time on Idol. He stormed around the stage with a guitar and then kissed Jennifer Lopez at the end of his performance. He left Steven Tyler swearing and then a riot broke out. It's great to see that Casey is back to being the comfortable and jazzy finalist who we've grown to enjoy in the beginning and started to fade a bit until being saved by the judges after being in jeopardy of an eleventh place finish. Casey is one of the contestants this season that has mixed reviews, but I feel that he's interesting to watch.

I can't say that anybody really did bad, but most of the performances just weren't up in the big leagues. However, I could say that the worst performance was... the eliminated contestants at the beginning of Wednesday's show. It was just a waste of time seeing contestants who are off the show because they failed to garner enough American votes. Those who are going to concert will be seeing four of the six who were performing Pink's "So What."

The results show featured a completely appropriate bottom three, Jacob Lusk, Stefano Langone, and Haley Reinhart. This week, it was Stefano that was eliminated from the competition. My take is that this was his time, and it could've been his time for awhile now. I did, however, believe that he did a decent job on his performance and it was nice to see him move around the stage like he was comfortable. Haley has found her jazzy niche, but I don't know how much more it should serve her.

Next week, the theme is the Carole King songbook. On her own, she sang "It's Too Late" and "I Feel The Earth Move," which sound like dull song choices. However, King has had a massive career in songwriting, with songs such as "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" and "Up On The Roof," which shows a variety for a songwriting career. We'll have to wait and see how the contestants do with picking and performing the right song for the upcoming show.

Friday, April 15, 2011

American Idol: Top 8 Week

This week, American Idol went to the movies, as they almost always do each and every season. Fortunately, you have a variety of songs from a variety of movies. Whether that movie be "Risky Business" or "The Pursuit Of Happyness" and everything in between. I must say that these performances were very interesting, and the term "interesting" could mean a lot. This week, the contestants stuck to their expertise and delivered pretty well.

Right now, the competition is down to two females (compared to six males), and it goes to show you the strength of females left in the competition. Lauren Alaina did a decent job with Miley Cyrus's "The Climb," but Haley Reinhart's rendition of "Call Me" made me swear that they were going to give her the boot. As for the others, there was an interesting range of talent. Casey Abrams returned to his jazz roots and did a really good version of "Nature Boy," showing that he was really in his element. Scotty McCreery and James Durbin also stuck to what they are able to do well, and did well they did. Then, you had Paul McDonald, Jacob Lusk, and Stefano Langone, all of which did a fine job with their performances.

It turns out that I knew more of the songs than I did the movies, and I surely found out for the first time that certain songs were in certain movies. I surely knew about "Call Me" being a Blondie song, but didn't know that it was performed in "American Gigolo." Well, now I know. I do remember watching "The Pursuit Of Happyness," but have to remember whether or not I heard "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Regardless who performs it, it's very tough to top that, because Simon and Garfunkel raised the bar so high that it's one of the best songs of all time.

Now for the elimination. The bottom three of Haley Reinhart, Stefano Langone, and Paul McDonald made for a sensible bottom three. However, the fact that Paul was sent home seemed to be the 110% right decision. Haley's performance didn't really meet the current expectations, and even Stefano did a decent job this week. Either Haley or Stefano should be heading home soon. It's about time that this occurs. As for Paul, I'm going to miss the way he dances. There hasn't been a singer who's dancing was so interesting since Taylor Hicks back in season five. At least I hope Paul comes out with a career. I'm happy that Paul chose not to use the guitar this week, because I feel the guitar takes away from his ability to dance like a reckless machine. It was also smart for him to close with "Maggie May," because that was the performance that built his personality. Well, it'll be exciting to see Paul in concert.

Next week, the theme is music from the 21st Century, meaning anything from the 2000's and on. Speaking of which, I was actually considering a list of my top ten songs from the 21st century, and what better time to do it. Maybe I'll work on it the next chance I get. Let's just hope the singers pick good song choices from this theme. They've got a ton to choose from and are not closed in to one specific genre. Let the games continue!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Excellent Reads: Daniel Keyes' "Flowers For Algernon"

Before receiving this gem for Christmas one year, I didn't know about Daniel Keyes or "Flowers For Algernon." Turns out the novel was great! This is a novel that will be remembered more as a successful novel. While you don't hear much about author Daniel Keyes, who wrote this novel based off of his own experiences as a special needs English teacher, "Flowers For Algernon" goes down in history as being one of the best novels ever to be written.

The book follows Charlie Gordon, who is mentally disabled and has an IQ of 68. After being unable to handle his life with his parents and sister, he is sent to live with his uncle, so he doesn't have to live in an institution. When becoming an adult, he gets a job at the bakery, where everybody loves him for his innocent personality. Then one day, a group of scientists give him the opportunity to participate in an experiment. This experiment has been practiced on a mouse (or a lab rat) named Algernon, and at the moment spoken, this experiment is going well. Algernon successfully completes mazes faster than Charlie, but this only makes him more determined for the future. After conducting surgery, Charlie becomes smarter and smarter, and his life improves. He finds a relationship and becomes smarter than the scientists and doctors who conducted the surgery. However, things aren't as they seem. While Charlie is now intelligent, he is not as lovable to those around him. Then, it turns out the experiment isn't as strong as it seems and Algernon starts to deteriorate (I'm not going to reveal anymore details, but just tell you what you'll find out when reading the summary on the back of the book), which means Charlie may be in jeopardy of not being able to withstand his super intelligence.

I'm going to be straight up, it's a sad book. It's tragic and things aren't always fair, but neither is life in general. Besides, if everybody's life were a novel, they could all be considered tragedies. Everybody always dies in the end of their novel (or their life). What determines the strength to this ending is what legacy somebody leaves, and someone who has done good in their life and has left their life on a high note could somewhat make their ending a bit happier. However, this is an actual novel, showcasing something that happens to those around us. This is a real issue, and whether or not scientists can find a real cure is up in the air at this point. With the major technology and discoveries of this day and age, the answer is a bit more positive than it is negative. Only time will tell.

"Flowers For Algernon" is told in two ways. The first is through journal submissions from Charlie, which begins with misspellings and poor grammar and turns into excellent grammar and an intelligent vocabulary as he grows smarter. The second is through typical narration in which we learn about Charlie's rough childhood and other parts of his life. We see Charlie be able to redeem himself in some ways throughout the novel, though sometimes, you are only on cloud nine for so long.

This novel goes into territory that has not been touched and carves a legacy into this territory. It's a tough, tough world for people like Charlie, but there is also help for people who live with these conditions. "Flowers For Algernon" is a brilliant novel that shows us and makes us feel the pain for people who have mental conditions and are unable to receive the right treatment, and are instead shooed away from society. That was how life was like back in the day, and it's just great to see how people with mental conditions are being accepted by society and receiving treatment and assistance for their problems at this point. This novel gives us such a story that shows true emotion to magnificent events.

"Flowers For Algernon" is something that all high schoolers and college students should be given the opportunity to read. Whether a reader wants to do it on their own time, a science instructor wants to build an assignment around it, or a psychology instructor wants to do the same thing. Any which way is appropriate, because it gives such an insight to the way some human minds operate and whether or not the medicine or surgery they are given is really strong enough. "Flowers For Algernon" succeeds on all accounts.

Primary Debate Season About To Begin

The U.S. Presidential primaries for the 2012 election are just about ready to begin. Several of the front-runner candidates are testing the waters on a presidential run and it seems like they're waiting for just the right time to kick off their campaign. At the moment we speak, the candidates who are confirmed they are either testing the waters or running are Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Buddy Roemer, Herman Cain, Fred Karger, Jimmy McMillan, Andy Martin, and just recently, Ron Paul has been added to this list. Rick Santorum is also in the process of doing the same thing. There are several other small candidates running on the Republican side, but they are not as noticeable. Barack Obama has also announced his candidacy, but looks like he will not face a strong opposition and will almost definitely earn the Democratic nomination in 2012.

The first debate is now going to be held in South Carolina, despite the debate at the Ronald Reagan Library being the traditional starter. The date for that debate has been moved, because they didn't feel enough front-running candidates are in the race for them to hold one. Gingrich, Pawlenty, Roemer, Paul, and Santorum seem to be the candidates that have been invited to the first debate (other front-runners may join later). However, I could see Cain be invited until the race becomes thicker and his poll numbers force him to fall under. Like Donald Trump, who will announce in June whether or not he's going to run, Herman Cain is a successful businessman who became successful with Godfather's pizza. The only difference between him and Trump is that he doesn't have as much recognition or a reality show. I could see McMillan and Karger not being invited to many debates, though they would surely make for some interesting confrontations. McMillan ran on the "Rent Is Too Damn High" platform during the race for Governor of New York in 2010. He's running as a Republican, because he believes it would be easier to defeat Obama in the general election.

Out of all of the candidates, Fred Karger is going to get the most whiplash. Not only is he a one-issue candidate, but the one issue of his is same-sex marriage and other forms of gay rights. Personally, I see nothing wrong with a laid back approach for social conservatism. However, the Republican nominee is generally someone who supports marriage being between a man and a woman, and is pro-"Don't Ask Don't Tell." It's going to be a very tough race for Karger, but we'll just have to see how he performs. One-issue candidates have been common within the last few primaries. Last season, it was Tom Tancredo, a Republican candidate who's key issue was illegal immigration. He was firm on his opposition to illegal immigration, but there wasn't much else he brought to the table. He withdrew before primary season began.

I'm going to have a good time watching Ron Paul during the debates, because he makes sense when he's speaking. His libertarian views are very similar to my own, which means anti-taxes, less government, and pro-Constitution. He was the only Republican candidate in 2008 who was against the War In Iraq and brought something to the table that would really make an impact on the country. I remember watching an ad of the comparison of him and Barack Obama. If something similar comes about, I would surely have to point it out. Right now, Ron Paul's run for the presidency will be the one I look most forward to following.

The 2008 primaries made for debates that brought a variety of political figures, who brought several ideas and one-liners to the table. For 2012, I expect to see this be taken up another notch. We have several topics of interest, such as the economy, the budget, foreign policy, President Obama, and several more things. I'll be keeping up with these debates and analyzing them for my blog. I'll be judging the candidates on what they bring to the podium and how they hold their ground. I expect some excitement this time around.

Friday, April 8, 2011

American Idol: Top 9 Week

This week of Idol started with a bang and ended with a boom. In the "Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Week" on American Idol, we saw a variety of performances that really showed their variety. The majority of the performers nailed their performances really well. For some, it boosted their Idol resume and for some, it was too late.

It was great to see some comeback performances. For instance, Casey Abrams finally brought his bass back, showing his signature talent of playing instruments that are generally not played on American Idol. His vocal performance of "Have You Ever Seen The Rain" by Creedence Clearwater Revival showed why he was worth keeping for another week. It was also great to see Paul McDonald's signature raspy vocals and moving around make a minor comeback. I prefer it when Paul doesn't have the guitar, because it prevents him from dancing around the stage. Nevertheless, he danced around the stage after his performance, and got everyone else to do so in the process. The only issue I have with injecting a positive vibe to Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" is that it's a depressing song with depressing lyrics. He did make it his own in the process.

Then we saw some different bridges be crossed. Pia Toscano finally went upbeat with Ike and Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High," after spending week after week doing ballads. The reason for this may have been the fact her first performance of  The Pretenders song, "I'll Stand By You," was so strong and standing ovation worthy, that she felt she needed to make another moment such as that. She felt she would need a ballad to do such a thing. However, it was refreshing to see her do such a performance. However, like the rest of the females, I wasn't a fan of the wardrobe, and I'm not such a fan of Gwen Stefani's wardrobe either. Stefani helped the females pick out their clothes.

Scotty McCreery has shown that week after week, he can do much more than we thought. In Motown week, he countrified Stevie Wonder, in Elton John week, he found a song called "Country Comfort," and this week, he picked just the right Elvis song, "That's Alright." This song was Elvis's first hit back in 1954, when he was doing more country. Scotty was able to take it higher this week and show that he could do just about anything. Plus he had a group of girls come up and smother him with fan girl love.

After doing heavy, crowd-moving rock songs for three straight weeks, James Durbin took it slower with George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" in what may have not only been the best performance of the night, but also the best performance of the season thus far. I sound like a broken record when I say that James is the best performer each week, but with the exception of the Top 24 week in which Pia blown the audience away with her performance, James has consistently been excellent. His performance of Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed" was as slow as he got, until this week. His vocals were raw, and hitting those notes sent shivers down my spine. The ending put his signature to such a great performance that showed such a passion that words can't explain.

While Lauren Alaina and Haley Reinhart didn't do such a great job, I felt that Stefano Langone was the performer that delivered the least. I did not like the beginning of his performance of "When A Man Loves A Woman" and he didn't do much to make it his own. It sounded like the Michael Bolton version from 1991, when it was Percy Sledge version from 1966 that drove passion and soul into the song. Stefano should very well make it his own, but unfortunately, he didn't.

The results show was a typical results show. Constantine Maroulis and Iggy Pop performed, and the bottom three were Jacob Lusk, Stefano Langone, and Pia Toscano. Pia ended up being shown the door. It was the shock of the competition thus far, and it hasn't been since Siobhan Magnus's elimination last season that we had such a shock in the competition. The only difference being that Siobhan made it to the top six, Pia leaves the competition in ninth place. Steven Tyler said it best when he stated that this was the result of a lack of passion from the fans. This means that if you don't vote for your favorite, then your favorite is not going to stay. While Pia didn't have such big performances between "I'll Stand By You" and "River Deep, Mountain High," she truly deserved to stick around in the competition for awhile more. There were several of the competitors that could and should have gone home before Pia, because this here was talent that was worth sticking around. When I checked next week's theme, I saw that it would be "Songs From The Movies," which has been a recurring theme season in and season out. I was hoping to see some different and interesting themes, but it seems like the stars are making due with what they've got.

At this point, I can't imagine anything other than a James and Scotty finale. With Pia's departure, Lauren and Haley are the only females that remain. While the two ladies remaining are talented, Pia was the female that had the most potential staying power. We found at last night that this wouldn't be the case. Back to my thoughts on a James and Scotty finale, I couldn't think of any other great ending. You have rock and country, both of which would be represented by just the right representatives. This would be the best finale pairing since season seven, and it would very well remind me of season seven, which including a rocker and a cute guy (according to the ladies, that is). We'll just have to see what twist and turns the competition still has in store.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

RIP Former Congressman John Adler (1959-2011)

I was in immediate shock when I heard on the radio yesterday that Former Representative John Adler had died from heart conditions at the age of 51. It was unfortunate for see someone so young, so hardworking, and so committed to his role in politics go so soon. I wish that there were more politicians who held political positions did what Adler did, and that was vote how they believed, and not how their party told them to.

I first heard of Adler when he was running for representative of the third district back in 2008. Someone was handing out brochures for the John Adler campaign. He was a Democrat, but his views were clearly his own. I liked what I saw and felt like he would make a good representative. He would go up against Republican Chris Myers and win by the skin of his teeth. It was the last election to be projected in the 2008 elections. Adler became the first Democrat to represent his area since the late 19th century.

Adler came in during the middle of a brutal economic crisis. This means the people want to see results and see them quick. Unfortunately, the Democrats had it tough between the 2008 and 2010 elections. However, Adler stood his ground. His biggest decision had to have been voting against the health care bill on both occasions, being the only Democratic representative to vote against it.

Unfortunately, 2010 would be a brutal year for the Democrats. Former Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jon Runyan was the Republican nominee. What caused the Adler campaign to be plagued was the situation in which Peter DeStefano was put in as a Tea Party candidate, who's purpose was to take votes away from Runyan. Whether or not this was true, it hurt the Adler campaign. It this was any other election or any other situation, Adler would have had a better chance of winning. Unfortunately, he ended up being a one-term representative.

With all of that aside, we should remember John Adler for his strengths. His strength was clearly that he voted the way he believed. He was a very intelligent individual who knew what he was voting on and voted on it the way he felt it should be voted on. Not the way the party felt, but the way he felt would be right for the people. It would be great to have more politicians who served their districts like Adler did. I remember listening to him on the radio debating Jon Runyan and speaking so passionately about what he believed in, and answering the questions clearly, it feels very strange that its six months later, and now he's gone.

My condolences go out to his wife and sons, and may John Adler rest in peace.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

March Madness 2011: Final Four On The Way

I didn't participate in the March Madness pools this year, and I think that it's a relief and I saved myself a chunk of change. I know that had I participated, I would have surely picked most of the one seeds as I almost usually do. This year, I couldn't find a group or make it into a group, so I skipped it this year. They do say that everything happens for a reason, and in this instance, that reason happens to be a good one.

The final four include #4 seed Kentucky taking on #3 seed Connecticut, and #11 seed Virginia Commonwealth taking on #8 seed Butler. I'm sure that my bracket wouldn't have looked anything like this. Maybe, just maybe I would've picked #2 seed North Carolina to go all the way, but that's only a maybe. Almost every time I filled out a bracket, I picked the #1 seed on the upper right hand corner of the bracket to win it all. The only exception being in 2008, when I picked North Carolina (who was at the upper left hand corner), the overall #1 seed, to win it all.

There were some quick upsets this year. Pittsburgh went down to Butler in round two, like like Kansas shockingly did last year. Let me tell you, that Kansas loss did hurt my bracket last year. Ohio State and Duke were out in the Sweet Sixteen, and Kansas in the Elite Eight. This was the biggest hurt for brackets across the league since 2006, when the twelve seeded George Mason caused some havoc for people who participated. Now, it seems like the only people I could see with VCU or Butler in their final four are those who play for fun, those who like to goof off, those who play randomly, or those who have a connection to either college. Though I was in a pool where somebody picked Niagara (a #16 fill-in seed) to make it to the elite eight, AND HE WON!!! However, the majority of people who win are people who make their picks seriously.

I didn't even fill out a mock pool, so I have no idea on what I would be judging on. Some educated pickers may have Kentucky or Connecticut in their final four, but that's about it. I've seen some very bold picks before, and it are those bold picks that win these contests. My bold picks happen to not do as well, but I've experienced some very bold moments in which I got just the right wins.

When Kentucky and Connecticut play tonight at 8:45 PM, we're going to see contests across the country be decided, that is, if they haven't been decided already. The majority of contests may have probably ended once the elite eight ended. As for the VCU and Butler match at 6:30 PM, we'll be looking to see which underdog will have the shot at being a very memorable Cinderella story.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer: The Book And Film

I'm the kind of person that enjoys reading the book before watching the film, because then you're able to analyze whether or not the film met the expectations of the book. Doing the reverse may very well be easier, but on many occasions, the film does not do the book justice. There are several examples of films that didn't do justice to the book and it'll probably continue to happen unless more directors come in and decide that their intention is going to be "revolve the film around the book, allow what occurred in the book to play the role of creativity, and not add in anything just to satisfy the role of your top paying actor or actress or because you think it's best." However, the length also plays a part. In this case, it's a bit more understandable.

With that being said, I read Michael Connelly's "The Lincoln Lawyer" in order to prepare for the film that came out in March. I previously read "The Poet" by Connelly, which I felt was a whiplash thriller that kept my attention. "The Lincoln Lawyer" is the start of the Mickey Haller series, in which Haller is a defense attorney who's half-brother is Harry Bosch, used in several of Connelly's other novels. Haller is a suave and cocky lawyer who is defending a client named Louis Roulet, who is accused of murder. The "The Lincoln Lawyer" is titled so, because Haller rides around in a Lincoln.

The film features Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Haller, and he fit the role just fine. He brought out Haller's suave and cocky attitude, which was just what needed to be done. Ryan Phillippe played Louis Roulet, who I didn't expect would be casted as the murderer, but still played the part and did it well. William H. Macy plays the role of Frank Levin, named Raul Levin in the book, who is Haller's investigator in the novel. Also in the film are Marisa Tomei, as Haller's ex-wife, Maggie McPherson, and Trace Adkins, as Eddie Vogel, who is a part of a biker gang.

Saying the the film was completely on key with the book would be saying too much, but I can say that the film did do the book justice. The most important points were covered by the film, and that's what matters most. As for the film itself, it was witty in the way in which the cast interacted and the stars were believable in their roles. A key plot point was left off toward the end between Haller and his ex-wife and daughter (which I will not spoil) and there wasn't any open ending for the possibility of any film sequels.

Since "The Lincoln Lawyer," Mickey Haller has been in three sequel novels, starting with "The Brass Verdict." The novel in itself is a good read that shows that Haller is a typical defense lawyer, who's witty and knows his business, and that's what being a lawyer is all about.

American Idol: Top 11 Week (#2)

In the first top eleven week, the judges decided to use their save to keep Casey Abrams on the show. For the second top eleven week, two contestants were to be sent home and the theme was Elton John music. It turns out that Elton John's music was all that was there and not only was there no Elton John performances (by the contestants or Sir Elton John himself), but there was no other mention of his take on the night. Nevertheless, the performances were still good.

My favorites pretty much remain my favorites, but I think that this was the week that Lauren Alaina shined with her performance of "Candle In The Wind." Going into the top thirteen, I thought that Lauren was the second best finalist behind Pia Toscano. At this point, Lauren is on Pia's tail to surpass her, because Lauren has shown a wide range and an ability to keep the crowds attention. As for Pia, she needs to pick songs that allow her to move around and show another side to her. Something that's going to keep the viewers peeled to the television screen.

Scotty McCreery did a good job opening up the show with a song called "Country Comfort," which he was fortunate to be able to nab, because it was a really good performance. As for Casey Abrams, he proved that he was worth saving. He showed a different side by singing "Your Song," and it was an unexpected, but really good treat. He stayed true to himself in the way that he hit the notes and gave his beard and hair a trim, while not giving it a shave. He should keep the beard and hair style, because that's what makes Casey who he is. His hair was much better than last week, looking free as opposed to being condensed.

James Durbin came into the week still being the top of the line, and this week is no different. He's proved that he could keep the interest of the stage with what ever he does. He did Judas Priest, Paul McCartney, Bon Jovi, Stevie Wonder, and with Elton John, he had an extremely exciting performance with "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting." He moved across the stage and set the piano on fire, what more can you do? James may very well be the best rocker that's ever participated on American Idol, and that's very tough considering the rock stars that have participated on the show.

Paul McDonald, Naima Adedapo, and Haley Reinhart were in my mind among the weakest. Even Stefano Langone didn't meet up with the standards. I think that Paul's rendition of "Rocket Man" could've been a whole lot better. Given that this is my Dachshund's namesake and based off of a Ray Bradbury short story, I was looking to see who could do this song well. I like it when Paul moves the stage with his unique dancing. He plays a good guitar, but I think he should go back to just singing. Naima took a risk with a reggae version of "I'm Still Standing," but it didn't really do anything on my end. With Stefano, it was just a typical performance of "Tiny Dancer" that wasn't anything special. Haley, who closed the show with "Bennie And The Jets," was told by Randy Jackson that her performance was the best of the night. I have to totally disagree with that statement. I felt it was more painful than it was pleasure, but that's just me, and I felt she should have been booted a few weeks back.

The results show featured the contestants in smaller groups as opposed to one big group for group performances, Scotty and Lauren's duet of "I Told You So," and James, Paul, Stefano, and Casey's performance of "Band On The Run" were good, as Pia, Thia, and Haley's version of "Teenage Dream" was not. I also felt that Fantasia's performance didn't meet my expectations, and I didn't pay much attention to the Will.I.Am and Jamie Foxx performance. It just went over my head.

Paul McDonald was in the bottom three after a not so strong performance, but it was Naima Adedapo and Thia Megia that were sent home. I wasn't shocked, despite the fact I felt that Thia did a decent job singing "Daniel." Haley could've been sent off, but the praise gave her a bit of a boost. Let's see what next week brings.

Speaking of next week, the theme is going to be "Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame," which could bring a variety of performances if the song selection is strong. If the right songs are chosen, then we are going to have ourselves an exciting week indeed.