Phillip Phillips: American Idol’s Next Great Thing

American Idol’s 11th season kicked off on Wednesday night with auditions from Savannah, Georgia. Randy Jackson, Steven Tyler, and Jennifer Lopez went about their prelim business of saying ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the hopefuls’ trip to Hollywood. Ryan Seacrest carried the show in his typical professional manner, though this year a ‘wannabe’ Seacrest showed up and delivered the famous line, “Thisssss is AMERICAN Idol!” in impressive style.

There was the 15- year old daughter of former Cardinal pitcher, Joe Magrane, that stood six-foot tall and belted out an eight-foot tall bluesy number. Then there was the 24- year old girl who couldn’t afford a hotel room, and had been camping outside in a tent during the week-long auditions. And for the male-demographic, we were introduced to the NFL cheerleader, who not only had the “it” look, but sang pretty well too, not that the men listened that much.

Of course no first week of Idol would be complete without the absolute performance disasters. Yes, we had the young man from Africa who could barely speak English, but wanted to be the first African Country music star…really? Where are your friends and parents when you are thinking about this? And yes, we had our over-confident young men and women, that were apparently tone-deaf as well, that acted like they were heading to the electric chair when they weren’t given the famous ‘Golden Ticket’. Note to the American Idol viewer- if the pre-performance interview segment of the next contestant shows an over-the-top, diva-like person, you will likely see them bomb in the next few minutes.

Then came the last contestant of the Savannah auditions. The 20-year old son of a pawn shop owner, Phillip Phillips. Yes, so nice, they named him twice. Phillips casually walked onto the platform, wearing jeans, a plaid shirt, and sandals and shyly introduced himself with his charming southern accent. However from that point on there was nothing shy or ordinary about Phillip Phillips. He started by singing Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” with the flailing, electric energy of Joe Cocker, James Brown, and Dave Matthews all rolled into one. Though the song’s melody was still there, the arrangement was completely different and fresh. After his performance Jennifer Lopez stated that he appeared to perform with electricity running through his body. Steven Tyler just shook his head in awe, while Randy Jackson told Phillips to pick up his guitar and “give us more”. It was at this point that most of America knew that we were watching a star being born right before our very eyes. Phillips strapped on his guitar and jumped into his acoustic version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. It was one of those ‘goosebump moments’ when you knew you were experiencing something special. His sound was again very Dave Matthews-like, his confidence years ahead of his time. Phillip Phillips had performed his amazing rendition of “Thriller” in pure superstar fashion.

Obviously it’s far too early to tell if Phillips will win this season of American Idol, but there is no doubt that his father should be looking for more help down at the family pawn shop, because his son Phillip is going to be to busy in recording studios and concert venues to work there anymore.

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Food Network ‘Unwraps’ Summer Fun TV

So it’s a summer night, you’ve just finished watching the nightly news or a rerun of Seinfeld or Friends, and you ask yourself, ‘Is there anything worth watching that is fun, and maybe even educational at the same time?’ Well, try turning to the Food Network for a surprising change of pace.

Throughout the week Unwrapped airs in half-hour segments. Hosted by Marc Summers, Unwrapped takes you for a behind-the-scenes look at the wonderful world of food. From snack foods to gourmet restaurants, each episode takes a look at one niche of the food world, in three or four video segments.

In recent shows Unwrapped explored the world of soda pop, cookies, amusement parks, and fast food. Watch to see how Mountain Dew got its start, and how it’s manufactured and distributed around the world. View another episode and learn about national conventions that are held annually for amusement park owners to test and buy new food products, such as deep-fried Oreos or the latest line of Dip-n-Dots.

Quite often the show will be theme-based, depending on the season of the year. At Halloween time you can see how those childhood-favorite wax fangs are made on Halloween Unwrapped. During Easter season you can watch Easter Unwrapped to see how those always-popular marshmallow Peeps are made. And most recently the show examined the history of the hotdog.

Unwrapped is guided by Summers from segment to segment, usually from an old-fashioned 50’s soda parlor. He is quite personable and always quick-witted; not afraid to toss out predictably corny puns at the drop of a hat.

So if you’re tired of watching Grey’s Anatomy reruns, and not interested in the latest faux jewelry on the Shopping Network, channel-surf your way to the Food Network or foodnetwork.com and take in the latest Unwrapped episode. You may end up making it a weekly or even nightly part of your viewing or DVR-ing schedule. Currently, Unwrapped airs on Monday nights at 8pm, with reruns airing all over the schedule.

Jagger Steals 53rd Grammys

On Sunday night (Febraury 13, 2011) the best of the best in the music biz gathered in Los Angeles for the 53rd Grammy Awards. The night started with a diva-studded tribute to the “Queen of Soul”, Aretha Franklin, who was recovering from an illness back at home in Detroit. As the evening continued the show was filled with great performances. In fact, viewers often had to remind themselves that they were watching an awards show, and not a ‘Grammy-palooza’. Three cheers for this year’s producers of the show for giving us more ‘substance’ than ‘style’. However if you wanted style, there was Lady Gaga and CeeLo. We’ll get to them in a bit.

Acts such as Lady Antebellum, Muse, and Bruno Mars all performed their hits to near perfect form, while Usher and Justin Bieber got the crowd to their feet with an inspiring duet. Their performance began with a video clip of Bieber performing for Usher a few years ago, then moving into Bieber’s acoustic version of “Baby, Baby” .

Without a doubt the night was a celebration of Lady Antebellum winning for their smash hit “Need You Now” and the Grammy organizers turning the show into more performances and less ‘blah, blah talk’. Lady Gaga and Katy Perry turned in what would have been the performances of the evening on any other Grammy night, but it was first-time performer, Mick Jagger, (that’s right, I said, “FIRST-time performer”) that took the designer dresses and tuxes by storm. His tribute to the late “King of Rock ‘n Roll”, Solomon Burke, was a masterpiece! His rendition of Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” got the entire audience on their feet, and then at the end, with a 10-second pause, he and the band continued for another minute or two to the crowd’s delight!

Though the 53rd Grammy’s may go down as one of the most memorable in quite some time, the evening did have a few surprises and slip ups. In the surprise of the night, Justin Bieber did not win the New Artist of the Year award, That went to Esperanza Spalding. However, to all you ‘Bieber Fever-ites”, don’t worry too much about Justin. The opening weekend of his concert/movie, “Never Say Never”, raked in over $30 million! Lady Gaga and CeeLo had the most flamboyant performances of the night, with Gaga hatching from an egg, and CeeLo “G-rating” up his “R-rated” hit “Forget You” in an outfit that could only be described as a new millenium version of Sir Elton John. In the ‘Ooops” category the nominees were Bob Dylan and the low-mic volume during his performance (however after they turned it up, maybe there was a reason for it being down), Christina Aguilera’s near plunge off the stage after the show’s opening performance (she has Jennifer Hudson, and her smokin’ hot Weight Watchers body, to thank for catching her), and Glee stand-out, Lea Michele, who flubbed up her lines during her presentation with Super Bowl stand-out, Clay Matthews.

And though Katy Perry was outstanding in her six-minute performance of a Valentine’s Day themed “Teenage Dream”, there is no doubt that the buzz around Monday’s watercoolers will be Mick Jagger and the stellar performance he pulled off at this year’s 53rd Grammy’s.

Super Bowl XLV Sim has Steelers as Champs

Every year since the Madden video game has been in existence, I’ve always run a simulated game of the upcoming Super Bowl. Having never been exceptional at playing the game, as my son or the computer would always win at least 75% of the time, I figured going the sim route would be the most realistic. For the years in the 80s and 90s, I would run through the sim-results on my weekly radio show. However during the past decade I’ve kept the results relatively quiet, sharing them only as conversation pieces amongst friends. PS- the sim that I run has picked the last five Super Bowl winners.

So now, after a 10 year reprieve, I’m prepared to share with the world, or those that care, my sim-results of the upcoming Super Bowl XLV between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers. For the simulated game I used the Madden ’11 video game for the Nintendo Wii gaming platform. I also set the host stadium of Dallas Stadium as the backdrop for the big game. I programmed the game to have all typical NFL rules apply, and away things went!

The opening coin flip was won by the Packers. As QB- Aaron Rodgers led the Pack in their first possession, it appeared that Green Bay would move the ball fairly well, until a catch by WR- Donald Driver and subsequent fumble at the 20 yard line gave the ball to the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger quaterbacked the Steelers in their first possession but after a half-dozen plays they were forced to punt. The first score of the game came with about 5 minutes to go in the first quarter when the Packers’ Rodgers connected with WR- Greg Jennings for an 18 yard TD pass. The Steelers answered that score with a field goal of their own by Place kicker, Shaun Suisham. At the end of the 1st quarter it was the Packers 7- Steelers 3.

The second quarter saw Roethlisberger start to catch fire with a balanced running attack from RBs- Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore.  The Steelers scored twice in the quarter with a 8 yard TD run from Mendenhall and 32 yard hook up between Roethlisberger and TE- Heath Miller. Before the Packers knew it, it was Steelers 17 – Packers 7. The Green Bay offense seemed to struggle most of the first half, but with under a minute to go before half, Rodgers connected with Driver for a 25 yard touchdown, making the halftime score: Pittsburgh 17 – Green Bay 14.

Now if I really wanted to add to the real life experience of America’s special day, I could have logged onto YouTube and played a Black-eyed Peas video during halftime. But instead I got a fresh Diet Pepsi, and settled back in to view the final half.

The Steelers opened the second half by scoring on the fourth play of the half on a Mendenhall 54 yard run. The play put the Steelers up 24 -14. After a couple punts the Packers had the ball and seemed to be driving until Steeler defensive specialist Troy Polamalu picked off a Rodgers pass and returned it for another Steeler TD. Score: Pittsburgh 31 – Green Bay 14. The Pack did get a 45 yard Mason Crosby FG in the third quarter, but after three the Steelers held a commanding 31- 17 lead.

With a lot of running by the Steelers’ Rashard Mendenhall, the black and gold controlled the clock for much of the fourth quarter. With only seven minutes to play in Super Bowl XLV, the Steelers seemed to ice yet another Super Bowl ring for the historic franchise when Mendenhall found the end zone again giving the Steelers a 38 – 17 lead. The Packers  converted on a couple fourth downs and managed a Rodgers to Jordy Nelson TD just before the 2-minute warning, making the score 38 – 24. After not recovering an onside kick, the Steelers ran down the clock and punted with under a minute to play. Green Bay’s last play of the game was a completion to the 5 yard line, as the clock hit 0:00. Final score: the Pittsburgh Steelers 38 – the Green Bay Packers 24.

The Player of the Game was awarded to Steeler RB- Rashard Mendenhall. He rushed for 134 yards and 3 touchdowns. Roethlisberger ended the day passing for 215 yards and 1 TD. On the Packers stat sheet, Aaron Rodgers passed for 160 yards and 2 touchdowns, with the green and gold running backs rushing for only 78 yards.

In the end, the EA Sports Madden ’11 sim game has the Steelers collecting their NFL-record 7th Lombardi Trophy, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger solidifying himself as one of the game’s most succesful QBs to ever suit up.

Four and a Half Stars for Two and a Half Men

When you think of CBS primetime television, you probably think of its CSI team of dramas or Survivor. But sitting in their Monday 9pm timeslot is the comedy-monster-sitcom, Two and a Half Men

Starring Charlie Sheen, as Charlie, Two and a Half Men continues to entertain its current and new viewers with its growing popularity. Its writers are extremely witty and funny. But think about it, how much fun could you have with a divorced father of a teenager living with his older, playboy brother? Add to the mix a demanding mother and overbearing ex-wife and you’ve got the recipe for a successfully funny sitcom. 

Sheen plays a free-living songwriter who has taken in his younger brother, Alan (Jon Cryer), who is recovering from a messy divorce from Judith, played by Marin Hinkle. The ex-couple remain in contact through their son, Jake (Angus T. Jones), whose humor just about always steals the show. Both brothers live with the ever-present shadow of their powerful realtor-mom, played by Holland Taylor, lurking over their every move.

 Whether it’s Charlie trying to juggle two dates in one night or Alan agonizing over if he’ll ever get his life straightened out, the storyline of Two and a Half Men is thirty minutes of non-stop dry one-liners and sharp, witty humor. Sheen proves that he can deliver the funniest of lines without cracking a smirk, while his nephew in the show, Jake, comes up with ‘tell it like it is’ comments that will leave the viewers’ sides splitting in laughter.

 If I can’t watch Two and a Half Men at its regularly scheduled time, I absolutely make sure it’s ready to record on my DVR to watch at a later time. That’s how good Two and a Half Men is. From its male chauvinistic, womanizing angle with Charlie, to its portrayal that today’s families come in different shapes and sizes, Two and a Half Men is smart, fun, and just a plain old good time. In fact, Two and a Half Men is so good you can now also watch reruns on many cable channels.  

If five-stars is the top of the bar, then I have to give Two and a Half Men four and a half stars. It continues to hit the mark for CBS, even with Sheen’s off-screen troubles. As far as I’m concerned, I hope Sheen and the cast of  Two and a Half Men continue to show up to the set, sober or not, and keep producing he funniest show on primetime television.

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’.