The Fall of the American Idol Empire

I’ve got some good news and some bad news. First the good news- American Idol’s Tuesday (Feb.23rd) FOX broadcast scored more viewers over NBC’s Winter Olympics. Now the bad news- everything else about American Idol.

In a season that started with Paula Abdul calling it quits and Simon Cowell announcing that this season may very well be his last, the 2010 Idol campaign is off to a very shaky start. Newcomer, Ellen Degeneres  doesn’t have a whole lot of musical background, unless you count her dancing on her own show, and she isn’t really adding that ‘comic flare’ that producers had hoped. I liken it to when ABC Monday Night Football added comedian Dennis Miller to its broadcast team…and you know how that worked out after only one season. Randy Jackson is getting old with his “Yo Dawg”, though he often seems to be the only true voice of reason on the judges panel. Kara Dioguardi continues to try to find her place in the show. I would have thought this year would have been her year to shine without Abdul grabbing the spotlight and headlines, but with several weeks under her 2010 belt, not yet. And then there’s Simon Cowell. Not much else can be written that already hasn’t been. The auditions seemed to find a kinder, gentler Simon this year, but in his first week of Top 24 eliminations he seems to be at a loss of words by repeating himself quite often. The phrase ‘self-indulgent’ does not need to be used more than once a week (make that once a month), yet in the first two nights (Feb.23 & 24) Simon dropped it over and over in describing Idol wannabes. The big question is- has American Idol begun to lose its uniqueness and flare? Will Season 9 be its final curtain call?

As for this year’s batch of American Idol contestants- there are about three or four “Yays!” and about 20 “na-na-na-Nays!” Stop the madness now. Please. Tell the 20 to go home early, and bring us the Final 4 to battle it out for just one week, crown a winner, and show reruns of The Family Guy for the rest of the season. After watching this week I really wonder how they got to this point? Tuesday and Wednesday night weren’t bad, they were horribly difficult to watch (than goodness for DVR). I mean poor Alex Lambert. He’s the 19-year old from Texas that looked like he was waiting for an anvil to fall on him Wednesday night. Then there was 16-year old Haeley Vaughn from Colorado Tuesday night who took to the stage in what appeared to be a nurse’s Halloween costume, and proceeded to make John Lennon flip in his grave with her demolition of the Beatles’  ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’. And so it went. On and on and on, endless ‘self-indulgent’, 1 o’clock in the morning karaoke renditions of what used to be good songs. I swear I have heard better at the Two Friends Patio karaoke bar in Key West. I know it may be early, but I see no signs of a Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry, or Carrie Underwood emerging from this year’s crop.

So where does Idol go from here? Bottom line, the contestants have got to get better- if that’s possible. Forbid them to sing Whitney, Mariah, or songs that are older than half their ages. If things begin to turn really ugly on the pitch-scale, tell Rickey Minor’s band to just crank up the volume and drown out the contestant. Judges Cowell, Jackson, Dioguardi, and Degeneres also have got to offer better constructive criticism than their standard ‘I think you picked the wrong song’ or ‘It wasn’t quite the song for you’. I’ve always wondered why they don’t pick the songs for the contestants if they seem to know what’s best for them.

To end on a positive note, some contestants to watch with star-power potential are 24-year old Andrew Garcia who wowed the audience with his version of Abdul’s ‘Straight Up’, 24-year old Casey James with his good looks and down to earth demeanor, 22-year old Michelle Delamor from Miami, and Crystal Bowersox. This 24-year old from Ohio is the new millenium’s version Dylan, Joplin, and Morrisette all rolled into one. With her folk guitar, harmonica, and unique tone Bowersox may be the early favorite. Let’s just hope she doesn’t become too ‘self-indulgent’ (I’m growing to like that phrase) or pick the ‘wrong song’.

Weekend getaway to Boston

Though there are still flurries in the air and the temperatures struggle to climb into the thirties. I have a great idea for your next weekend getaway. About five hours west on the NY State Thruway and the Mass Pike sits the historic city of Boston, Massachusetts. Perhaps there is no city in America that offers so much cultural diversity and historic significance. If there were ever a city that I would want to live in, hands down it would be Boston…and that, from a Yankee fan!

My wife and I recently spent a weekend in Beantown, home of the Redsox Nation. Staying across the street from Boston Commons put us right in the heart of this bustling city. We were one block from the architecturally rich Beacon Hill; a half-block from the city’s Theatre District, one block from the open air market known as Downtown Crossing; and only a five minute stroll from the wonderful Faneuil Hall district. We stayed at the elegant Boston Hyatt and enjoyed one of their 498 rooms that perhaps possess the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in on the road. Their restaurant, Avenue One, is pure dining elegance, with live entertainment often performing throughout the week. The check in and check out process was simple and hassle-free, while their concierge offered great ideas and suggestions to a few of our sightseeing questions.

 After we got settled into our hotel room we strolled a few blocks to the BankNorth Center (home of the basketball Celtics and hockey Bruins). I, like many, still refer to it as The Boston Garden. While there we experienced what a Friday rush-hour is like for those that work in the city. It was just passed five-o’clock and thousands were making their way to catch their train out of town. The atmosphere was like that of a beehive full of honey. On our first night in Boston we had dinner at a neat restaurant known as Zuma Grill. The Tex-Mex restaurant had a great atmosphere and an inviting, authentic menu. Topping off our first evening was a trip to the Purple Shamrock pub near Quincy Market for a late-night pint. I think there’s some rule that says when visiting Boston you must visit a pub.

On Saturday we walked Boston’s Freedom Trail; a two and a half mile walking tour through the two hundred thirty year-old city. The tour took us to the Old North Church, the Paul Revere House, Bunker Hill, and history-rich Boston Harbor. We enjoyed a mid-day lunch and beverage atop the Prudential Building. Fifty-three stories up is a ‘must-see stop’ known as the Top of the Hub restaurant. The view was spectacular as we overlooked the wonderful city and Charles River. My sandwich was excellent, and my wife enjoyed a well-presented salmon entree. While in the area we also shopped around the high-end Copley Mall and the impressive Stores at the Prudential. An evening stop at Cheers allowed us to take in a little more charm of the city and its people, while enjoying a nice meal.

 Sunday was another beautiful day, and we visited the city’s North End for a taste of Italy. The neighborhood overflowed with the sights, sounds, and smells one would expect from an Italian village. As we visited the attractions of the community, we enjoyed a great afternoon lunch at a quaint Italian restaurant named Il Villagio. Before leaving the North End we were told to be sure to visit Mike’s Pastry. With three to four lines deep it was easy to see why we were directed there. Their authentic Italian cookies and pastries were absolutely out of this world! You can visit their website and even place your order at: www.mikespastry.com

So this spring, if you find the urge to experience a fun-filled, big city weekend getaway, Boston should be at the top of your short list. There is a lot of truth in the Dave Loggins classic song, “Please Come to Boston (for the springtime)”, and a lot of history to take in during your stay.

The fact that you could be eating at the very same table that Ben Franklin had once dined at, standing on the very same cobblestones that Paul Revere once rode on, or leaning against the very same outfield wall at Fenway Park that Carl Yastrzemski once made great catches against is a pretty impressive series of thoughts, all of which can be done during a weekend in Boston.

The city is Boston, and its slogan says it all: “Boston- The city where you’d want to live.”

A Gentelman’s (Survival) Guide to Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that is typically difficult for most men.  It’s not that we don’t care for the women in our lives; it’s more that we just don’t get the whole pink hearts and chocolate thing. I blame Hallmark.

Nonetheless, let me take this time to pass along some helpful ideas to assist in this year’s preparations. And oh, Rule 1- regardless of your feelings of the day, do not forget it, or deliberately ignore it. Remember the saying that goes something like, ‘…nothing worse than a woman scorn…’. 

So let’s tackle this Valentine’s thing head on, and keep in mind, this year is going to be different. Women love the ‘original’ stuff. Dinner out, a heart-shaped box of chocolates, and a two-dollar card are a thing of the past. Not to mention, our better halves really don’t buy the idea that getting lingerie is truly for ‘them’. My Valentine’s Day idea has been created by using, appropriately enough, the KISS-method (Keep It Simple Stupid).

 First, organize your plan at least one day ahead of time. Some shopping is going to be needed. The evening will include music, a home-made dinner (yes, by you…), a bottle of wine, and a movie at home. Creating a ‘Mix CD’ has never been easier. Go to I-tunes, or your favorite music download site, and put together a catalog of twenty meaningful songs. I highly recommend Prince’s “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” and “Anniversary” by TonyToniTone to lead off your selections. Even some soft jazz is a nice change up. And please promise you’ll stay away from songs created by head-bangers and rappers.

 For dinner I’ve got two easy and impressive possibilities. First, an entrée of pork tenderloin, cooked either on the grill or under the broiler. You can marinade or season it to your liking. The key to great taste, sear it on the outside to bring out the flavors of the seasoning and seal in the juiciness. Serve it with shrimp cocktail as an appetizer and a side of sweet potato and vegetables. A perfect wine to complement this meal would be Hazlitt’s Cabin Fever. A second entrée possibility would be to serve tilapia with brown rice and broccoli, with a drizzle of honey mustard dressing. Tilapia is a farm-fish and is extremely light and not fishy at all. Whether you purchase it fresh or frozen, it’s always easy prep and ready to cook. It can be purchased fresh at most markets, and after some seasoning and light breading, fry it up or broil it. It doesn’t take long, 3-7 minutes at the most, so keep your eyes on it. We don’t want to have to be making a last minute call to Domino’s. I love a Niagara wine with my seafood; and few glasses in, she will too.

 End her special dinner (notice I said ‘her’, not ‘your’…remember, make this evening all about her) with a simple, yet elegant dessert. Brownies are easy to make, and even easier to buy at a bakery. Warm the brownie in the microwave for 15 seconds, then drizzle it lightly with her favorite yogurt. Side it with fresh fruit (same as the yogurt) and sprinkle the top with confectionary sugar. I like using red raspberry yogurt and setting the berries around the plate. The raspberries and the chocolate have a great taste together.

 Of course, to make this whole dinner event a smashing success, be sure to plate her food away from the table and serve it to her. Having a hand towel over your shoulder when you serve it will only enhance the personalized touch. One candle is all that is really needed on the table, and go ahead break out the ‘good plates’.

 Following dinner pop in one of these three ‘guaranteed success’ movies: The Lake House, Chocolate, or Serendipity. Romantic, yes. Sappy, no. All three are easily watchable, though nothing blows up in any of them. The Lake House takes place in a serene, country retreat, Chocolate’s setting is in a small European town, and Serendipity is set in NY City. So take your pick. You can’t go wrong with any of them, and all are available to rent or buy at Blockbuster.

 If all of this sounds a little overwhelming, remember a two-day getaway is always a great idea. Road trips to Geneva’s Belhurst Castle, Dundee’s The Inn at Glenora, or Cooperstown’s The White House Inn are all fabulous and elegant retreat destinations.

 Regardless of how you celebrate this year’s Valentine’s Day, be sure to not forget the card and some kind of token gift, on top of what you have already planned. A certificate to a spa or jewelry is always sure to be a hit. But then again, a Victoria’s Secret gift card would also be nice. Hey, I always love a ‘win-win’ situation.

Disney’s Best-Kept Secret

Imagine strolling along Main Street USA one day, followed the next day by a Kilimanjaro safari. On your third day you could be rocketing into space on the Space Shuttle in the morning, then soaring through the Napa Valley on a hang glider at sunset. To top everything off, picture yourself taking a 4-day cruise to a private Caribbean island. And doing all of this with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Sounds like a wild dream, or the aftermath of one of your college weekends? Nope; it’s not. It’s a possible week using the power of the Disney Vacation Club.

The Disney Vacation Club offers its members the luxury of guaranteed, quality vacations each year, at the finest resorts on the planet. Quite often, depending on membership, vacationers can enjoy vacations and weekend getaways many times throughout a year. The DVC allows its members to visit the Disney resorts or choose from nearly six hundred other locations around the world when planning their next vacation.

The beauty of the DVC is that the one-time membership is good for fifty years, and can be passed on in a will, or even sold at a later date. When I became a Vacation Club member in 2004 I selected the 200 points a year membership. My membership coordinator, Maribella Quinones, guided me through the process with clear explanations and sample planning years. And though memberships start at 150 points per year, to fully take advantage of the membership I moved up to the 200 point level. Of course greater memberships are available, but I was comfortable where I was. My tour of the Saratoga Resort & Spa at Disney World grounds and facilities was breath-taking. Rooms range from studios to three-bedroom villas. The three-bedroom is actually a two-story home! Many of the rooms at Saratoga overlook Downtown Disney or the Lake Buena Vista championship golf course. Just a five minute walk to Downtown Disney, everything else that Disney World has to offer is within minutes of the Saratoga Resort using their incomparable transit system. However, while at the Saratoga you may never want to leave their grounds. With beautiful pools and hot tubs, a state-of-the-art fitness center, world-class spa, general store, and two restaurants everything that would make a memorable vacation is at your fingertips. Since joining DVC has added the new Animal Kingdom Villas and Bay Lake Villas at the Contemporary as Disney’s latest Vacation Club resorts.

An example of how I could use my membership might go something like this. In January I could choose a studio room at the Disney Wilderness Villas with my wife for a 4-day, 3-night weekend stay for around 50 points. Then in July I could take the family for a 7-day vacation at the Saratoga Resort for around 150 points. Having used up my allotment for the year, I could then “borrow” from next year’s points and enjoy a 3-night weekend getaway in September at the Disney Boardwalk for around 50 points. The following year I could plan to take a week-long cruise to the Bahamas on the Disney Cruise Line by using my points and borrowing from the next year’s allotment if necessary. Keep in mind that additional points can always be purchased and added to a membership. If a cruise isn’t for you, how about five days in the Bahamas, a weekend at Boston Harbor, or wine-tasting in Tuscany, Italy? You name it, the DVC can likely make your dreams come true….it’s a ‘Disney thing’. From California to Hilton Head, Disney World to Vero Beach, the Disney Vacation Club has the map covered with incredible places to stay. One of the nicest aspects of a Disney vacation is that when I arrive at Orlando International airport I am greeted by Disney Express employees who load me on a shuttle and take me directly to my resort. My baggage is collected for me and delivered to my room a couple hours later. To me, that’s a vacation! No baggage claims, no rental car, …no hassles. Once I’m checked in at the Saratoga Resort & Spa I can play 18-holes of golf at one of Disney’s five premiere golf courses, take in Happy Hour at the pool, enjoy a magnificent dining experience, and enjoy the nightlife of Pleasure Island, all within five minutes of my room!

The Disney Vacation Club may seem similar to time-shares that you have seen, but it is truly so much more. It is an opportunity to vacation throughout the world, while at the same time knowing that Disney quality is a guarantee everywhere you go. Known as ‘Disney’s Best Kept Secret’, the DVC is quickly becoming Disney’s ‘best vacation value’. For more information regarding the Disney Vacation Club, or to order your own informational DVD, call Maribella Quinones at  1-800-341-4074  and mention this AS I SEE IT column.

Welcome to ‘As I See It’

As I See It

 
Welcome to my travel and entertainment site with stories, reviews, and experiences I have documented along the way. I have written for newspapers and internet news sites;  and now I am excited to share even more with the luxury of writing something as soon as I think of it.      

I look forward to sharing with you my travel and entertainment stories, and am just as excited to hearing yours!     

 AS I SEE IT articles can be found published at www.destinationstravelmagazine.com ,  www.associatedcontent.com (Yahoo- Associated Content),  www.yahoo.com and with various websites and newspapers.   

Enjoy. Let me know what you think.
-Ed

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