Wednesday, April 30, 2008

American Idol Recap: Top 6

TROY: I think I am Hot Mess of the week due to my lack of inspiration (in fairness to me, I had tech issues, so I couldn't get this out sooner). Next week I will bring my A game. :)

TRACY: I will expect it to be broughten! Although you are funnier this go-round than you think, dear brother.

So. Broadway night.

TROY: Correction: Andrew Lloyd Webber night. It would have been a lot cooler if they opened it up to all Broadway shows. Jason Castro would have been able to sing something from "Reefer Madness!"

TRACY: Ooooh, too bad! Anyway, Paula, Randy, and Simon each have their signature critique chestnuts that they haul out, dust off, and slap on a contestant whenever the judges have gotten a bad case of the mehs over their performances. For Randy, it's "pitchy." Everything's freaking "pitchy," even when multiple rewinds of the Tivo prove otherwise. For Paula, it's "Hey, you LOOK great!"

TROY: (Or something like "The butterfly is bright and on your forehead with the shine of your smile.")

TRACY: And for Simon, it's a toss-up between "That was Broadway." and "That was Cabaret."

Which leaves me questioning the producers' choice of bringing on Andrew Lloyd Weber as the guest mentor, despite his in-your-face British honesty, coated with a dash of lordly stiff-upper-lip-itude. Because you're just ASKING for the most influential judge on the show (that would be Simon) to hate everything.

TROY: Well, this WAS after Mariah Carey week. It's contradiction year on Idol!

TRACY: At least ALW didn't write "Cabaret," or the contestants really might have been in trouble.

But Llord Lloyd Weber was indeed the mentor, and I thought he was rather sweet. I appreciated that he was frank about the contestants, although generally rather pleasantly frank. Except in the case of his critique of Brooke White, which, had I been in the room after his critique, would have caused me to go charging over for a major high five. (Do British Llords do high fives?)

"I don't think that girl had a clue what she was singing." Heh.

TROY: I LOVED that. I also loved his critique of Jason Castro, but we'll get to that later. Weren't you at least a little sketched out by his permanently arched eyebrows and lack of blinking? I thought he was a great guest, but I was having Bobby "Creepy Cabana" Bennett flashbacks (Google him if you can't remember).

TRACY: You'd better get yourself a really good plastic surgeon, Troy, because you're going to have no patience with your aging self otherwise! I didn't get Creepy Cabana vibes, maybe because the British accent automatically adds a sense of highbrow for me.

Anyway, I don't think most of them had a clue what to do with ALW's comprehensive and varied catalog, which is sad. David Cook totally should have rocked something from Jesus Christ Superstar, Jason probably should have done "Everything's All Right," and Brooke should have put a paper bag over her head and apologized to the free world.

TROY: Don't deny Brooke "The Gift" White.

TRACY: Like I said last week, take that gift back to Wal-Mart and demand your money back.

TROY: Didn't you totally think David Archuelta would have done something from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat?

TRACY: Seriously. Oh, and I think they should have all walked in and asked ALW what to sing, because the dude totally made Carly's night. But before she came on stage, we had ....

SYESHA MERCADO, who quite possibly delivered the performance of her life, given that she was the night's standout in front of millions of viewers. I think she came in to early, but the always-professional Ricky Minor and his Fabuloso Band covered her mistake brilliantly. The rest was well sung and delivered with a sass we haven't really seen from her before. Obviously, her real talent lies in musicals, so I think she should probably be voted off with that lovely rendition of "One Rock and Roll Too Many" so she can start her musical stage career and we can think of her fondly when she says goodbye and forget all about all of those bad Whitney imitations. Loved the hair, too, even though it wasn't curly.

TROY: I thought Syesha did a fantastic job, but I really , REALLY hated the song. It was a colossal bore with a monotonous chorus. Oh well. For once, Syesha didn't try to oversing (and we had no one to really compare her to). She was able to showcase not only her voice, but her personality which has been severely lacking. I don't really want her to win because it's definitely a case of "too little, too late," but I think Broadway will definitely suit her well. I actually would have loved to see her get the boot this week, just so she could go out on a high note (and she'll probably go back to being boring next week).

TRACY: Next up was JASON CASTRO, who was a tone-deaf trainwreck of colossal proportions. First of all, it's just odd to see a 20-something singing about withered leaves and how he was beautiful once back in the day and all he has is a memory of what it was like to be young and enjoying life. NO! Just no.

TROY: Do you honestly think Jason picked the song based on lyrics or melody? He probably was busy toking up (it WAS 4/20 this weekend after all), missed the song choice deadline, and then just randomly picked a song on the list. Ugh.

TRACY: Second, Memory is a belter's song, and anything but is going to sound like a pale and slightly unhinged imitation. It suffered in comparison so much, I could hear the sheet music screaming. Or maybe that was ALW in the audience. He was such a ghastly shade of pale when the camera focused on him later, I figured he was still trying to recover from what Jason did to his poor, unsuspecting song.

TROY: I thought Jason was a passive person until this performance. He took "Memory" into a back alley, beat it senseless, and demanded it tell its friends that it "fell down the stairs" (all with a doped out grin on his face).

TRACY: (HA! Troy's A-game is suddenly back. ::::high-five:::)

TROY: I thought this was the worst performance of the season and also one of the most creeptastic. BLECH.

TRACY: Third, he didn't know it was sung by a cat? If it's a musical called Cats, guess what it's probably all about?

Yes, that would be cats.

And if it's about cats, guess who is probably going to be singing the song?

Once again, that would be a cat.


TROY: However, Webby's reaction toward Jason's idiocracy was fantastic. It was akin to Gwen Stefani's reaction to Sanjaya picking "Bathwater": Something like, "Well he picked it. It's a hard song. Good luck."

TRACY: That's LLORD Webby.

I am STILL playing "I Don't Wanna Cry," Jason's song from Mariah week, so I'm a fan of his unique, oddball voice. But "Memory" was a hot mess. (Not to be confused with the Hot Mess of the Week, though.)

TROY: It was TOTALLY in contention for "Hot Mess of the Week."

TRACY: Someone really needs to take away that boy's bong. His remaining brain cells are crying out for a reprieve. ("Save us! Somebody save us!")

Then we had the trainwreckiest trainwreck of all seven seasons of the show put together, BROOKE WHITE, who cemented my wish for her to take a flying leap off my TV screen with her catastrophic "You Must Love Me."

No. I must not.

TROY: Again don't speak ill of the Idol Gift (not to be confused with Paula, who calls herself "the gift" as well). Brooke was perfection this week.

TRACY: In an alternate universe where everything sucks, maybe! Brooke, the gift that keeps on figuratively kicking you in the face....

First of all, Paula was SO right (I can't believe I just typed that) when she told Brooke you don't stop and start again. You don't. Maybe you do at the Sheboygan County High School Music Competition, but not on a stage in front of millions of viewers. It's insulting to the band and embarrassing/unprofessional for you.

And what was up with the whole bit afterward with Ryan, Simon, and Randy yammering on about how courageous she was? Courageous? Did she go on stage and beat leukemia when I wasn't looking?

TROY: Seriously.

TRACY: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think she flubbed a song, unprofessionally shrilled at the band to stop playing and let her start again, and then croaked her way through it and utterly destroyed any love I had left for "Evita" after Madonna killed most of its song catalog.

TROY: That was just ridiculous. I guess they, heaven forbid, don't want to hurt Princess Brooke's feelings. What Brooke did is not what a professional would do on stage. You brush yourself off and keep going. This is the SECOND time she's done this.

And I thought Madonna totally outsang Brooke, and THAT is scary alone.


I was hoping Patti LuPone was in the audience and would come out on stage, bitchslap her, and sing the rest of the song the way it was supposed to be done, but alas, it was not meant to be.

I expected Simon to just ROAST Babbling Brooke, but he was uncharacteristically benign--which lends some credence to my whole leukemia theory. Or maybe she had to beat off some of those swaying zombies in the Idol "mosh pit" with her microphone during a commercial break. Swaying zombies have to eat, too.

Hot Mess of the Century award, right here.

TROY: Amazing gift of the year.

TRACY: And then we had DAVID ARCHULETA, who I think didn't get enough credit from Simon for his major reworking of "Think of Me." Like ALW pointed out, that song from Phantom was written for a diva soprano, and for him to make it a believable pop song took a lot of talent. Plus, he actually took ALW's advice (unlike Dr. Dreadlocks) and kept his eyes open during most of his performance, which I think did help him connect more with the camera.

I liked it. That is all. (Sorry, Virginia.)

TROY: I really liked David's cover as well. David is pretty much the King of Schmaltz and this song is pretty schmaltzy, so no surprise that he pulled it off. I didn't love the performance as I think David brings no real personality to his performances (other than always being so happy).

TRACY: But he's So! Cute! I! Could! Just! Squeeze! Him!

CARLY SMITHSON followed through on her potential and delivered another "Come Together" in the form of a brilliant, bombastic "Jesus Christ Superstar." Loved her hippy-chick dress, loved her attitude, loved her singing. Which means she's probably going to get voted off tonight and Syesha and Babbling Brooke will remain to plague us next week. Sigh.

TROY: Carly OWNED the stage. I loved her performance (but hated her dress--it looked like a tablecloth vomited).

TRACY: (The dress was awesome.)

TROY: She finally went out, had fun, and rocked her powerhouse vocals. Plus, how cool was it to see this totally tatted "rocker" chick get out there and belt "Jesus Christ Superstar." I loved it and, to me, it was performance of the night.

TRACY: I think I finally got a taste of the creepy factor you've said DAVID COOK has. "All I Ask of You" is a basically a crazed stalker song, and I was somewhat skeeved out by his version. Is it just me, or did he have the male version of Runaway Bride eyes during that performance?

TROY: He totally had Runaway Bride eyes, but I think Brooke White was rocking the exact same look.

TRACY: She just had Runaway Bride eyes: The Pasty Version.

Back to David.... I have to say, he really did pull it off vocally. I was fetching some juice for Marin while listening (because my entire life is fetching juice for my preschoolers right now), and I realized that when I just paid attention to the singing, it was really good! He could have gone on stage as the Phantom with that one, and I would have totally believed it. It's hard to compete with Michael Crawford, so I have to give him credit for stepping up. It was a bad theme week for David C., and he still pulled it off.

TROY: You know how much I like David Cook

TRACY: Jealous? You want his hair. You know it.

TROY: Anyway, I thought he did a nice, straightforward version of "Music of the Night." It was nice that he just sang the song, rather than have us judge him on a new David Cook-ified version. At the very least, he sounded MUCH better than Gerard Butler's abysmal bass take on the Phantom for the movie version.

TRACY: But Gerard Butler distracted much of his audience from his abysmal bass with sheer hotness. Gotta give him that.

TROY: David Cook is still a capital A Asshat though.

......................RESULTS SHOW.......................

TROY: And your prediction came true. The RESULTS SHOW was a horrifying disaster as we bid adieu to my pick, Carly Smithson. PEOPLE, WHY ARE YOU VOTING FOR JASON CASTRO? HE IS PAINFUL. At least Brooke White is a hilarious disaster.

TRACY: I find nothing hilarious about a woman who sounds like a traffic jam when she speaks.

TROY: Well, next week IS Neil Diamond week. Imagine the possibilities!

TRACY: Trombone fanfares! Hand-claps! Chest hair! This could be fun! Or it could be a whole new level of suckitude....

Sunday, April 27, 2008

When Galaxies Collide (or Random Worry #3)

You all probably already noticed that the Hubble telescope just took some amazing photos of two galaxies colliding. I thought I'd share the intellectually riveting conversation Jose and I had about them. (As an excuse, let me just say that we were both checking email at the time--he on our ancient desktop PC, and I on my laptop. Our conversations usually go a little better than this....)

TRACY: Did you see these Hubble photos?

JOSE: Of what?

TRACY: The two galaxies colliding?


TRACY: There are two galaxies colliding.

JOSE: Cool.

TRACY: What if there are aliens living in one of those galaxies?

JOSE: Poor aliens.

TRACY: That would suck, to just be milling about, minding your own business, and this galaxy comes and collides with yours.

JOSE: Mmmm. Yeah.

TRACY: You know, that's really scary!

JOSE: Why?

TRACY: Um, because it's a GALAXY!!! Colliding with one that looks a LOT like ours.

JOSE: Huh.

TRACY: The offending galaxy is just this lumpy little mess, but the other one that's just sitting there is all swirly, like ours.


TRACY: SOOOO, what if a galaxy came and collided with us!?

JOSE: I think we'd know if a galaxy was going to collide with us!

TRACY: Yeah, but it's not like we could do anything about it. At least with a meteor, we kind of have a chance. But you can't send the Shuttle up to divert an entire freaking galaxy.

JOSE: Oh. Yeah. ... Guess not.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Freaky Friday

(cross-posted at the Intrigue Authors blog)

I did a past-life regression a few years ago. I pretty much just relegate the whole past-life theory to the Weird Things I Can't Prove or Explain pile in my head. But I was at an RWA conference and had previously met the woman who was offering past-life sessions (that would be the lovely Melinda Rucker Haynes, an author and creativity coach, in case you're curious), so I thought it might be an adventure.

So during the session, which Melinda calls "personal time travel," I lay down on a hotel room bed, and she led me through some relaxation exercises. Once she started talking me toward the past, I could clearly see an outline of a mass of people, shoulder to shoulder. It was dark, but there was enough light filtered from above that their outlines were all strangely illuminated. Somehow, I knew this was a benign mob, so I wasn't scared at all. But I did spend the better part of our session trying to figure out what the heck they were, which I'm sure was really exciting for Melinda.

Once she finally talked my stubborn self into moving away from that particular conundrum, I mentally ended up in a wheat field, staring at an ex-boyfriend in some kind of medieval warrior getup. It was all very Gladiator-like, except this was pre-Gladiator. Anyway, I wasn't having that, so I started laughing and moved on myself. Because there's a reason he's my ex-boyfriend, and though I don't wish him ill, one lifetime with him in it was quite enough, thankyouverymuch.

So then, I moved on to England, around the end of the eighteenth century. "I" was an extremely spoiled French noblewoman married to an older, ugly but very rich Englishman who had whisked me to England during the early days of the Reign of Terror. Though he probably saved my pampered booty, given what happened to the noble classes during the Terror, I was pretty much too bratty to appreciate it. It was like being an 18th century Lindsay Lohan with Marie Antoinette hair. I hated him and hated England, but I loved the horses he bought me and spent every moment I could riding them AWAY from him. Funny thing--today, I love my husband to pieces, but the much-loathed ed Englishman looked a lot like a bloated, wonky version of him. (Melinda told me that perhaps my husband tried for a do-over in this life, and so attempted to come back attractive to me. I'm not sure my Lindsay Lohan self deserved all that effort, but whatever he did, it worked!)

I don't do well with horses now--they don't steer right for me. And I would hope there's no trace left of this spoiled girl in me now. But I have to say, when I listened to the tape afterward, I found I delivered this entire portion in a flawless (and extremely pouty) French accent. It's pretty hilarious--wish I could share it with you!

Once we moved on, "I" ended up as a man in his late 70s during WWII in Boston. This time, I adopted a flawless Irish accent, and I was quite the flirt. I lived very simply, was a widower who deeply missed my wife Mary, and I considered it my mission in life to lift people's spirits at home during the war. So I would go down to the nursing homes or the park and play cards or chess with "the old people," or I'd head down to the park and juggle and do magic tricks for the kids. I think I even flirted with Melinda at some point in the process--not one of "my" finer moments, although I am happy to say that I wasn't pervy about it.

Today, I can't do magic and I'm hopeless at juggling. I do have a pretty sarcastic sense of humor that I don't often shut off in conversation, but I'm not quite as extroverted as this dude was.

So, all in all, it was a pretty fun way to spend an hour, and it REALLY fired up my imagination. I don't know if these two were really past lives, or if we somehow tapped into some weird frequency from the past. Or, I guess it could simply be that my writer's brain combined with my college acting experience just went into overdrive during hypnosis. I just chalk it up to a fun experience and relegate the rest to Weird Things I Can't Prove or Explain. They ARE fun to ponder when one is waxing philosophical, though.

Oh, and I did figure out what the strangely illuminated mob was. Again, that session was at an RWA conference, and it took place prior to the Rita awards ceremony, which is always held in a large theater auditorium. On the night of the Ritas, I took my seat somewhere in the middle, and as soon as the main lights went down, I noticed that everyone around me was barely illuminated by the stage lights, giving them a faint, halo-like outline all around their upper bodies. I swiveled in my chair, so I could see the crowd behind me, facing me ...

And it was exactly what I'd seen in my session.

I like to think that that was my opera diva life. Might have to find Melinda again sometime and capture more of it!

Have you ever been hypnotized, even if it wasn't for a past life regression? Or, if you've ever pondered past lives, what do you think yours would have been?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

American Idol: Top 7 Recap

TRACY: So Mariah Carey was surprisingly coherent and not the megalomaniacal crazy I thought she'd be--at least on the first night. The second night was a bit of a different matter entirely, but we'll get there....

TROY: Wouldn't it have been great if she came out in an oversized graffiti t-shirt with a popsicle cart, ala her "Glitter" meltdown?

TRACY: OMG, totally.

TROY: Oh, well.

TRACY: For all the reasons that everyone else was against Mariah Carey night, I was against Mariah Carey night. But I actually enjoyed much of it--probably because my favorite contestants left are men and having men sing Mariah Carey is "unexpected" and "a risk" rather than a horrible wannabe yet pale imitation (*cough*SyeshadoingFantasia*cough*).

TROY: Well, it seemed like a trap from the "Saw" series. Each season, the judges have to tell a contestant (Hi, Syesha!) that they will never, ever be Whitney/Mariah/Celine, despite said contestant's protests. To have every contestant sing songs from an artist they will never live up to just seemed sick and wrong. However, there were quite a few surprises (both good and bad).

TRACY: We started off with DAVID ARCHULETA singing (SURPRISE!) a ballad from a Disney film

TROY: (Er…Dreamworks film, actually.)

TRACY: Whatever. If anyone was put on this earth to sing Disney ballads ...

TROY: (Er…Dreamworks ballads.)

TRACY: (Whatever.) ... it was David the human plush toy. If anyone was NOT put on this earth to wear leather pants, it was David the human plush toy.

BLAAAAAAAARGH! What the hell were you thinking, Idol Stylist? It's like slapping vinyl chaps and a spiked collar on Teddy Ruxpin. The operative phrase is SICK AND WRONG, people.

TROY: At least they were baggy leather pants?

TRACY: I was so squicked out by the leather pants, I barely registered the song. I'm sure he was smashing as always. But leather pants? GAH!!!!!!!!

TROY: Ohhhh-kay. First off, Syesha must have been PISSED that she didn't get to sing this song. Since it was originally a duet between Mariah and Whitney Houston, Syesha would have had DOUBLE THE OVERREACHING! Anyway … I didn't think David was that great this week. Of COURSE he chose the "Prince of Egypt" song, but I didn't feel like he added anything new to it. It was just sort of a bland version of the Mariah/Whitney sing-off." Not like it matters … David is essentially the 4th Jonas Brother now and pretty much unstoppable. Evil stage parent, be damned.

TRACY: Next up was CARLY SMITHSON singing "Without You." She actually covered up the tats and looked rather elegant in her pretty dress, and she didn't seem to be as rage-filled as she did last week. I thought she did a solid job with the song. Unfortunately, solid just isn't going to be the Davids, but I hope she hangs on. She is, after all, the best female vocalist we have left, and I know she has another "Come Together" in her.

TROY: Carly definitely toned down the Runaway Bride eyes this week and stopped screaming at us. I just thought she was totally meh. Wouldn't it have been cool if she did an acoustic version of "Heartbreaker?" In fact, why didn't anyone sing one of Mariah's fun songs. Funsucking contestants.

TRACY: Mariah has fun songs?

SYESHA MERCADO sang "Vanishing." Yawn. Still done with her.

TROY: Agreed. I don't even want to write about her anymore. She makes obnoxious song choices, is rumored to be a betch, and doesn't even provide the trainwreck factor that manic Mary Poppins has. Speaking of ….

TRACY: I thought BROOKE WHITE was unspeakably atrocious. She delivered "Hero" with all the nuance and subtlety of a live hand grenade. It was like having your mother nag you for a solid two-and-a-half minutes while accompanying herself on the piano. Ugh. Just ... ugh.

And I don't know why NO ONE has mentioned this on any AI blogs that I visit (OK, that's all of two. But still.), but did you notice how when Simon was delivering her critique, Brooke interrupted him to shrill, "Mariah Carey PRAISED me."

Honey, Mariah Carey praised EVERYONE. She admitted herself that she's not comfortable criticizing people, and she probably would have praised Sanjaya with a bad case of strep. Get. Over. Yourself. RIGHTNOW!

I want her to go. Now. Get her off my TV screen, America. Seriously.

TROY: America, keep Brooke in for ATLEAST another couple of weeks. What will I do without my AI trainwreck to look forward to? Be honest, you LOVE seeing what crazy shizz she's going to pull off every week, inching closer to the brink of insanity.

The wide, bat-crap crazy eyes! The extending pouty lip of bewilderment that the judges would critique Princess Brooke! The unstable shaking! Brooke White, you are the gift that keeps giving.

TRACY: Somehow, I just can't bring myself to be amused by excessive annoyance. Take that gift back to Wal-Mart and leave it there with the cheap sweatshop towels and fake organic fruit. Moving on ... I thought KRISTY LEE COOK did a solid and quite pretty version of "Forever." I liked the country take on it, and I could actually see myself listening to that more than once.

My husband Jose liked Kristy's performance so much, that it coupled with the aforementioned denouement to Brooke's month-long whine-a-thon caused him to take a flying leap off the Brooke train onto Kristy Lee's haywagon. Unfortunately, Kristy Lee's haywagon drove on for exactly 24 hours beyond that performance, so now Jose is wagon-less and quite grumpy about it. He's been muttering "Brooke totally should have went." every time someone so much as considers saying the words "American Idol" around him.

SEE what you did, America! MY POOR, TRAUMATIZED HUSBAND!

Long story short, I thought Kristy deserved another week for improving yet again and for being a million light years better and more likeable than Pasty McWhinypants.

TROY: I HATE that I'm about to say this, but I actually started to like Kristy in the last couple of weeks. She's proven herself to be self-deprecating while having a sense of humor. Her voice has also grown so much. Her "Forever" was actually really good in my opinion. It was just a slightly country twinged version that would be pleasant enough to hear on the radio. Damn you, Kristy Lee Cook! You were my trainwreck! I must be growing soft, Tracy.

TRACY: Yeah, but she deserved us to go soft on her--she improved!

DAVID COOK was once again genius. I've always hated "Always Be My Baby." Mariah may write her own songs, but they are largely sentimental crap. However, David is so good, he can even make sentimental crap sound wonderful, and so I bow to his amazingness. As well as to his once again amazing hair.

TROY: Genius? He turned "Always Be My Baby" to "Always Be My Baby or I Will Stalk You, Kill Your Friends, and Skin You Alive."

TRACY: In your alternate universe of hatred, maybe.

TROY: It was soooo creepy.

TRACY: Hater.

TROY: I can appreciate that he did something completely different with this song, but I'm just not a fan. There is something about Mr. Cook that is just unsettling. The serial killer stare perhaps?

TRACY: You really have to stop ragging on him, because the poor boy's brother has cancer, and he has been quiet about it, refusing to capitalize on that sad fact to garner sympathy votes. You KNOW the musical Kaavya Viswanathan would have been performing in a sandwich board with her unfortunate brother's cancerous photo slapped all over it had she been in poor David's shoes.

Poor David. My heart really goes out to him. Don't ever get cancer, Troy. I mean it. And that goes for Tommy and everyone else in our extended family, too.

TROY: To quote Cordelia Chase: "Morbid, much?"

TRACY: I'm just saying.

I'm not sure why, but I went completely bonkers for JASON CASTRO's "I Don't Want to Cry." Maybe it was the Spanish guitars. Maybe it was because it was a sensitive beta male singing about crying. Maybe it was the fact that Jason actually displayed a confidence I haven't seen in him since he started the show, and for the first time looked like he wanted to win this instead of looking like he'd just been beamed up on stage by Bill and Ted's excellent time machine. But I loved it. Loved, loved, loved it. Wanted to marry it and have its children. I even downloaded it.

TROY: What….?

TRACY: Seriously. I'm listening to it right now and still loving it. And, I have to admit, I started having a wee bit of an inappropriate crush on Mr. Castro. Until I imagined getting my hand irretrievably tangled in his dreadlocks, ripping one out, and dropping it into an unsuspecting bowl of soup. Which quite spoiled the fantasy and killed my inappropriate crush. But for half a minute there, he was kinda hot.

TROY: I'm going to be sick. JASON CASTRO? Jason Castro is dead behind the eyes and can barely form a sentence!

TRACY: I'm sure he's a scintillating wit when he's not smoking courage-in-a-bong.

TROY: Maybe I have to re-watch because I just thought it was aiight. The studio version sounds nice, but I didn't think it was anything remarkable.

TRACY: It was amazing!

TROY: Dread soup, man.



TRACY: The results are in, and after weeks of wanting Kristy Lee to go home, I totally wanted her to stay and could have happily sheepcrooked Syesha or Brooke off the stage myself. Sadly, that was not meant to be, and she was not meant to get her horse back. Both of which suck.

TROY: You're going soft too! Remember all of the horse jokes you used to make!? I did feel bad for Kristy, but, c'mon, did you actually think she'd win? I think if she finds the right song, she could do well in the country industry. If BUCKY COVINGTON and JOSH GRACIN can find moderately successful singing careers, Kristy should be fine.

One last horse joke for the road?

TRACY: We could tell Kristy Lee "Screw you and the horse you rode in on," but she SOLD it.

OK, it's a repeat, but still funny.

And BTW, why didn't she just put her plane ticket on her AMEX instead of selling the horse if she loved it so? I mean, she lives in OREGON, it's not like tickets to L.A. are going to be the expense equivalent of adopting a kid or buying a penthouse condo in NYC.

Sympathy slowly draining away....

I guess every reality show needs a train wreck and a soporific disaster, and Brooke and Syesha are filling those roles until next week. If any of the other top 6 survivors go before those two, I seriously might just burst something.

TROY: Brooke White: Final Two, America. Don't take her away from me!


Oh, and before I go, what a SHOCKER to see Mariah Carey in a bandage dress. With cutouts--how elegant. I know she's lost weight and all, but those dresses are still NOT FLATTERING, unless you're a hooker hanging out at the 7-11 truck stop on I-95 north of Toledo. We all know you like bandage dresses. Now maybe one of these days you can show a little bit of imagination and wear something that you can safely bend over in without doing a Britney. I'm just sayin'.

TROY: Mariah will be 80, playing Bingo at the VFW and still wearing the hootchie dresses. I think it's just who she is and the fact that she totally lives in Mariah land.

TRACY: And what is up with the stage hogging and the yammering while pretty much ignoring everything Seacrest is saying to you in a desperate attempt to extend your few seconds of Idol stage time? Note to future guest stars--leave off the drugs before you go on stage, people. No one wants to buy an album from a hot, self-centered mess.

TROY: Apparently they do. Mariah is on track to sell 500,000 copies of her new CD. I don't think Mariah is on drugs…I think she's just naturally high. Afterall, she's all about unicorns, rainbows, and calling people "dahling" or "lamb." She seems pretty intent on pretending to be 25 for the rest of her life. Anyway, I thought she was a good mentor and a decent musical guest. Plus her "Touch My Body" video makes me laugh.

Until next time!

Friday, April 18, 2008

On Books and Booty-Kicking

(cross-posted at
My house is a pit, and I am ignoring it. Not looking. Totally not looking....

So I've been reading Donald Maass's book Writing the Breakout Novel lately. Not because I'm planning to defect from Intrigue and write the Great American Masterpiece. I love Intrigue and plan to write for them until they drag me away kicking and screaming. But I think as writers, we can always get better, and after a friend emphatically recommended Maass's book, I figured couldn't hurt, might help.

As a reader, I found this idea from Maass particularly interesting: He says that what's hot in fiction (and, by extension, romance fiction) often roughly corresponds to the times that we're living in. For example, and I quote:

Judith Krantz ruled the bestseller lists in the 1980s with glitzy fantasies that set female protagonists squarely in positions of wealth and power. Nowadays, women do not feel as empowered. The have-it-all lifestyle has become overwhelming. The gains won by the feminist movement today can seem somewhat hollow.

So who is now on top of the bestseller lists? Mary Higgins Clark. Her portrayal of women as prey (though not, it must be said, as helpless victims) clearly strike women readers as resonant. Clark has caught the mood of our times.

Maass published his book in 2001, but since then, Judith Krantz and similar glitz authors haven't rocketed back to the bestseller lists. Suspense authors and romantic suspense authors are still up there with their heroines-in-jeopardy, along with powerful (and often heartbreakingly sad) fiction from the likes of Jodi Picoult, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Khaled Hosseini. There's a whole mess of self-help and self-improvement books, and heavy memoirs as well. In the romance world, paranormal and erotica rule at the moment.

What does this all mean? In a post-9/11 world, where we in America are fighting two wars and trying not to think too hard about the possibility of another Twin Towers catastrophe, it's interesting that we're reading so much in mainstream fiction and non-fiction that's grounded in a frightening or depressing reality. Maybe we want to be inspired by people overcoming terrible odds or abusive parents or other horrible circumstances to ultimately survive and even triumph.

And while the grimness of some of these books doesn't extend to the romance world, that need for inspiration may also extend to current romance trends. The current popularity of paranormal and erotica definitely speak to our need for escape. But much of that paranormal has a huge helping of danger and suspense added to it, as does the straight-up romantic suspense the Intrigue authors specialize in. So how are women-in-jeopardy books that we all end up writing/reading in some form or another speaking to the mood of our times?

Our heroines definitely do not start out having it all, especially in suspense. In both paranormal and straight suspense, there's a huge set of obstacles to overcome, although thanks to the genre conventions, we're assured of that happy ending that means the obstacle will be overcome. And in the end, women do have it all, and they balance it all beautifully, of course.

I know how these books speak to me. I'm deeply grateful for the gains of the feminist movement (and still gaining!), but I agree with Maass that it's sometimes difficult to have it all. I'm the mother of two preschoolers with a full-time job, AND I'm trying to keep a fiction writing career going. Most days, I feel like my head is going to explode. But I try not to let that happen, because YOU KNOW who would end up cleaning that mess up....

So I keep on, and I keep making changes to my crazy balancing act to maximize time with my daughters and carve out a little writing time, too. In light of what Maass has to say, it's interesting that what I gravitate to again and again are stories with heroines who kick some major booty. The hardship is there, but the heroine in my favorite stories always kicks, punches, shoots, and verbally decimates her way out. Or, as is often the case in my Intrigues, she may not start out being able to do so, but in the end, she's more than a match for whatever gets in her way.

Lately, I've been loving Jeffrey Deaver's latest books, both his Lincoln Rhyme series, and his new Kathryn Dance series. Both feature women in law enforcement--one with an amazing eye for crime scene details that others miss, the other with an almost preternatural ability to read people's microexpressions and gestures so she can tell when they're lying to her. I adored Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells, featuring two sisters with what their Southern small town tries to dismiss as peculiar quirks: One can influence people's moods and behavior through her cooking, and the other can cut hair so well, it makes the person look twice as pretty as she had before. And Christi Phillip's The Rossetti Letter pulled me into 17th century and modern-day Venice, where I watched a brilliant literature student piece together a story of 17th century Venetian intrigue that had eluded many scholars before her with her sharp mind and a few well-chosen books.

So what does that say about me? I think it's obvious: Heck, yes, I want to be Superwoman!

What have you read lately that you've loved (every Intrigue ever written aside, of course!)? And what do you think your reading habits say about you?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

American Idol: Top 8 Recap

TRACY: This week, American Idol was all about songs that inspire. And I so wasn't. Were you inspired, Troy?

TROY: Ridiculously inspired.… only not. And how does one pick a song that truly INSPIRES them? I'd pick "Umbrella." Just 'cause.

TRACY: MICHAEL JOHNS kicked off the show (or, at least, I think he did. It's all a horrible, uninspiring jumble) with Aerosmith's "Dream On." It started out really nice, but judging from past performances, I knew we were in trouble as soon as he got to the higher notes. And yes, Mr. Johns turned a lovely shade of purple and started really straining for those notes, before launching into a disastrous falsetto that I am convinced probably shattered every windshield in the American Idol parking lot. He has been so fabulous for the past couple of weeks, but this week, I was left with a big ol' case of the mehs again.

TROY: Well "Dream On" was the death sentence for another music reality show contestant (Hi, Jordis!) and it looks like it claimed another. Dude, Michael … what was that travesty? I've been really impressed with him the last few weeks. Remember when we couldn't even be bothered to write about him? He went from unmemorable to one of my favorites. What happened this week? I feel inspired to give him a Tyra-induced ass kicking.

And the tantrum about how "Dream On" is about dreaaams and that you dreaaammeed about making it in America was ridiculous, Mr. Johns. Shape up.

TRACY: Oh, and here's some more advice, dude: If you're going to try to rock out to Aerosmith, you really must not wear a jaunty little cravat. Aerosmith + jaunty little cravat = hot mess of the week.

TROY: I'm saving my hot mess award, thank you.

TRACY: Someone else who has been fabulous for the past couple of weeks and just TANKED this week was CARLY SMITHSON. First of all, the only thing a song like "The Show Must Go On" could inspire me to do is throw myself under a bus. Depressing much?

TROY: In case you forget, the SHOW MUST GO ON. To make sure of it, Carly will bug out her eyes and start shrieking, scaring animals and small children. Whose idea was it to pick this song? Carly might has well come out singing "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" while the last 10 minutes of Old Yeller played in the background. Definitely one of the strangest song choices of the season.

TRACY: Second, could someone please soften up homegirl's makeup? Those goth, heavily-lined eyes and that severe, pale lipstick don't really help when her expressions while she sings invariably fall somewhere between furious and ready-to-jump-in-the-mosh-pit-and-kill-someone-with-an-icepick.

TROY: Word.

TRACY: So, not-so-inspiring song choice and female-serial-killer stage presence. And while I am convinced that Randy Jackson falls asleep during most of the performances and then wakes up only to declare the majority "pitchy" on a mere whim, she was totally pitchy. In fact, she pitchied the hell out of that song. What happened to solid-as-a-rock Carly?

And will she ever put on a pair of sleeves? Just once, I would like to not hear my husband Jose complaining about her, quote, "butt-ugly tattoo" the entire time.

TROY: She has to show how "edgy" she is. Whatever.

TRACY: Was it just me, or did JASON CASTRO look muy bizarro sitting on that stool hunched over his Very Tiny Ukelele? But if you got over that (and the dreadlocks--always the dreadlocks), the song was a'ight. I like Israel Kamawakawhatever's version of "Over the Rainbow"--so much so that when I discovered it wasn't on the "50 First Dates" soundtrack, I downloaded it separately from iTunes and burned them together the way it SHOULD have been. Like Michael Johns and his Queen medley, Jason didn't color outside the lines either with this one, but it was sweet and suited his voice. I have NO idea why the judges went nuts for him this week and not last week. Perhaps it's inversely proportional to the amount of weed he's smoked prior to the performance? And whether he's shared said weed with Paula or not?

TROY: I heard an audio only version of this performance and I thought it was lame. All of the judges must have been sharing what Jason was smoking. I feel that, once you get past the guitar, his voice is really thin and quite nasally. Plus, the kid has ZERO stage presence (Vacant stare! Social Awkwardness! The dreads!). I'm not quite getting the appeal (outside of the obvious 420).

TRACY: What is 420? I feel suddenly old and unhip.

Speaking of unhip, I can barely bring myself to type about the catastrophe that was DAVID COOK. Seven straight weeks of pure vocal brilliance, and he sings like THAT for inspiration week? Does he have something against Africa? What the heck?

TROY: What was that mess on his hand? "Give back." HORK! We all know I'm not a big David Cook supporter and so this week really set me off. And again with the talking back to the judges. Sigh.

TRACY: I didn't hear any talking back to the judges! The hair looked fab, though. (Bless you, Idol Stylist.) And unlike Simon, I was totally down with the white jacket. I am just going to remember the hair and jacket and pretend the song didn't happen while I wait for him to be great again next week.

TROY: Unless America wakes up and sends him packing!

TRACY: Shhhhhh!

OK, what was up with SYESHA MERCADO singing Fantasia's "I Believe?" That song is suckTASTic, and the ONLY reason it ever worked was because Fantasia sang the snot out of it. Does Syesha really think she can compete with Fantasia, the woman who was born to show the world how to testify to the Lord in song?

First it's Whitney, Whitney, Whitney, and then Fantasia. I can't work with this anymore, Troy. I'm done. I'm totally done with this girl, fabulous hair or no fabulous hair. I think she needs to go. Because as Entertainment Weekly pointed out, it's either a HUGE case of hubris or a horrifying lack of imagination that's driving her song choices, and I don't think it's ever going to stop.

I think Syesha has Whittasia Careyitis. She clearly has an addiction for going for songs that are way beyond her current level of talent and vocal gravitas. The judges tell her every week that she needs to stop trying to be Whitney Houston, but it's just not getting through that head of hers (great hair or not). This girl needs to be sent to musical rehab to cure her of this illness that she clearly cannot rid herself of. Be gone, imposter!

TRACY: Jose and I gave KRISTY LEE COOK some huge props last Tuesday night. Her "Anyway" was pretty AND pretty much on key (Randy's dumbass "pitchy" proclamation notwithstanding.) I finally saw the talent that made the judges put her through to the semi-finals. Good for her! She's a (cage) fighter, and I'm starting to really respect that. She deserves another week, if only because SHE didn't try to sing Fantasia.

TROY: I shockingly agree. Krusty is really turning things around for herself and starting to be likeable. She's pretty humble, takes her criticism like a champ, and smartly chooses her songs (the horrifying "Eight Days a Week" aside). I'm not lobbying for a Kristy win, but I'd rather see her succeed than other contestants with a fake sunny disposition and manic grin (Hi, Brooke White!).

TRACY: I liked DAVID ARCHULETA's "Angels" well enough, but it wasn't exactly the most memorable performance he's given. I'm not sure why the judges went so nuts for it--on a David scale, it was a solid 6 rainbow gummy bears out of 10.

TROY: And I'll give him 7 happy star unicorns. It was another "look at me – I'm so EARNEST" David Archuleta performance, but it was a'ight. His vocals were good, but I'm just increasingly bored by him each week. He has the votes, so I'd like to see him try something different one week. This could have been the perfect week for "Umbrella" ella.

TRACY: You know, THAT would have been interesting! Although I'm not sure what you find so inspiring about standing under someone's umbrella (ella, ella, hey, hey, hey).

Oh, and we closed the show with BROOKE WHITE, and I can't figure out for the life of me why. The song choice was cloying, the performance just shy of terrible. And she must've been reading the blogs that called her out for the manic grin in the middle of "Jolene," because she really went overboard trying to look Very, Very Serious all throughout her song. There she was, forehead all wrinkled with concern, eyes slightly squiinted, body hunched over the mike. It looked like she was singing "You've Got a Friend ... with Cancer."

TROY: I just realized that Brooke's version of "Jolene" would have been a lot more interesting had she switched the name "Jolene" for "Jolie." Just imagine it – it makes the song 10x much more enjoyable.

TRACY: Ha! And switched out Jennifer Aniston for Brooke. That is totally evil.

TROY: Anyway … I really don't want Brooke White as a friend after this performance. I'm terrified that she would just passive aggressively scold me and manically wave her hands. There is something so incredibly unhinged about her. I hope she continues to be put in the bottom two each week, just so my cold little heart can be warmed with the joy of seeing a new Brooke White meltdown. Okay? OkayOkayOkayOkay!?

TRACY: :::snort::: Cute dress, though.

TROY: (Here comes the sun…)

TRACY: (Doo-doot-doo-doot.)

TROY: Before I forget, I'd like to award HOT MESS OF THE WEEK to….Teri Hatcher! Didn't this woman used to do Broadway? Her shaky performance of "Before He Cheats" was just…bizarre. I know it's for charity, but I feel like people would have paid more to NOT hear that voice.

TRACY: WHAT?!?!?! That wasn't a JOKE? She actually believes she can sing? I thought she was just being cute. If she was on Broadway, then she really was the Hot Mess of the Week. Wow. I'm ... I'm totally speechless.

Since I wrote most of this last Wednesday morning and SOMEONE wasn't able to fulfill his end of the snark bargain before I left for a work thing in Seattle on Friday morning, I'm going to have to talk about the results show in the past tense, since it's waaaaaay in the past. Last week as I wrote this, I predicted Syesha would go, though I figured there would be at least one person in the bottom three whom we loved.

TROY: I also thought Syesha would go with her boring performance that would never compare to the original Fantasia song. I also thought the bottom 3 would have everybody's favorite manic and David Cook for shock value.

TRACY: I was hoping for Brooke White, but I figured she wouldn't be there. The musical Kaavya Viswanathan is still riding on her Pat Benatar acoustic mimicry.

TROY: Instead, my favorite, most improved contestant left: Michael Johns. THE CURSE OF "DREAM ON" LIVES! Beware all ye who attempt to hit those high falsettos. Ye shall enter the depths of thy reality show obscurity.

I'm pretty devastated by this development. I finally pick a contestant to root for and he is kicked off. Bleak. Well, if I am cursed and the person I root for is kicked off then I say….gooooo Brooke!

TRACY: Yaaarrrgggghh! Please, no. Anyone but that.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Independent Women (Throw Your Hands Up At Me)

So my car and I limped into the dealership this morning with two nearly flat tires and an alleged transmission fluid leak, and I spent half the day waiting for repairs and getting nothing done. Ugh.

Long story short, during my last oil change, the dudes at a Certain Oil Change Chain (*cough*Texaco*cough*) tried to get me to pay $100 or so because my transmission fluid was low. I'm not the greatest with cars, but I tend to have a decent idea about what's going on with mine, and I thought that sounded crazy. So I politely declined and decided to take it to the dealer. It's still under warranty, so the dealer wasn't going to try to sell me a transmission repair if one wasn't needed, because it would have been free. Anyhoo, the transmission was fine, and the oil change guys were just trying to squeeze another bit of cash out of a gullible woman driver.


Women are often socialized to always be polite, to trust authority figures or experts, to never shout or get REALLY angry in public. And sometimes, particularly at unscrupulous Oil Change Chains (*cough*Texaco*cough*), the mere idea that women are less likely to challenge authority or get all up in one's face backfires on us. (Which may be why I love writing for Intrigue so much--you can't push an Intrigue heroine around.)

Fortunately, I didn't fall for the chain's dastardly schemes. And if I ever go back to that accursed Oil Change Chain, I am totally going all ajuma on them. What's an ajuma? Let me explain....

Not too long ago, I lived in Seoul, Korea for two years with my Naval officer husband (or former Naval officer--he just retired after 20 years on March 1--WHOO!). I loved the experience (although I hated the fact that I was a complete brick about learning the language), and what I found really fascinating were the cultural differences. (Lest you think I'm stereotyping, these were all corroborated by Korean friends AND by a book I read by a Korean called Culture Shock Korea):

It's rude in Korea to use your left hand to give something to someone else. Rather like Regency-period Europe, it's rude to just start talking to someone (who is not providing customer service) unless you have been properly introduced by a third party. (This is not an iron-clad rule, especially among young people. But it is present.) It's not really considered rude to stare.

And it's rude to be really loud or overtly emotional in public. Of course, it happens--remember when those two men in the Korean Senate were in the news because they started WRESTLING in the middle of the Senate floor? But I could go on the subway or sit in a coffee shop or go to a store, and I rarely ran into someone who was yakking so loud on their cell phone, they seemed to be shouting inside my head.

This was particularly true with the women--younger women were especially soft-spoken and generally extremely polite. They are extremely careful with their diets--the average Korean woman is a size two, I read in a local Seoul magazine. My beautiful and toned hairdresser in Seoul told me her friends tell her she's fat--and she's all of a size six. On Korean Air, we noticed that this was all carried to an extreme: the female flight attendants had their hair pulled back the same way, were roughly the same (size two) weight, and wore heeled shoes of varying heights, so they all ended up being roughly the same height, with very similar makeup. It was like riding on Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" plane, but in Korea.

But then, around age 50 or 60, many Korean women apparently say to heck with all that and become what is known as an "ajuma" (ah-juh-ma). Technically, the word means elder or married woman. But according to several Seoul residents I met, it's gotten a slightly pejorative connotation in Korea that unfortunately makes it more akin to "crazy old bag." Once a woman has decided she's entered the age of the ajuma, she often cuts her hair short and perms it (A phenomenon one Korean website describes as sending the message that "I am married; please don't try to pick me up."), dresses in horrible polyester pants, gains weight. And then comes the attitude--ajumas will bust in front of you in line without a backward glance. They will literally shove you out of their way. They will get in your face if they think you have an opinion or a mannerism that needs changing. They are not quiet and soft-spoken, and they are not gentle and nurturing. They are women, hear them roar.

They're fabulous. I loved the gentle, soft-spoken women I befriended in Korea, but I also secretly loved that in a few years, they'd go all ajuma and become strong, outspoken, and magnificent. (And yes, I met some younger women who were already strong and outspoken, but were perm-free. I'm talking patterns here--not absolutes.)

That's not to say that I never ended up on the wrong end of an ajuma. We had one as a landlady our first year there, and she would literally peer into my windows to see how high I'd turned up the thermostat in the winter. If it was too high, she'd barge in and turn it down--or lecture me about turning it down, complete with grand gestures because my Korean sucked. And occasionally, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and would end up shoved against a wall while an ajuma barreled by.

But all in all, the ajumas gave me great joy. My grandmother on my dad's side has always had a bit of ajuma about her. A couple of years ago, she got a speeding ticket, and instead of just mailing in the payment, she showed up at the police station and told her to just put her in jail until they considered her debt to society paid. The police officer on duty ended up spending the better part of his day begging her to just pay the thing, because he really didn't want to put a nearly 90-year-old woman in jail. She tells this story often and with a considerable amount of glee. I have no doubt that she didn't intend to spend one minute in jail--she just wanted to see if she could get out of paying the ticket. And, I think, she might have been a little bored that day and just wanted to mess with someone.

OK, it's not about writing or reading Intrigues, really, but this all has been on my mind lately. Hope you don't mind the randomness.

Anyone get in touch with their inner ajuma lately?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

We're baaaaack! American Idol--Top 10 and 9

TRACY: My brother Troy and I took a couple of weeks off our American Idol recaps, because Troy and our parents came to visit us, and we spent too much time at Disneyworld with my two little chicas to blog. (Life is hard.) We decided that we hated the second Beatles week so much, we're just not going to even go there.

TROY: Yet again, whose brilliant idea was it to do two weeks of Beatles songs in a row? The first week was fine, but overkill much? Especially since it lead to…

TRACY: CURSE YOU, BROOKE WHITE! After watching her insipid performance of the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" during the second Beatles night, Troy and I couldn't stop singing it for the entire week, generally when we were in some sort of trance state, like while standing in line in the sun for too long, or shortly after waking up. Troy would knock into me in a zombified sway and start droning, "Here comes the sun, doo-doot-doo-doot. Here comes the suuuuunnnnn." Then I'd absentmindedly join in until someone started screaming because they thought we were going to lurch over and eat their brains.

TROY: After reading that, I have yet again broken out into the "doo-doot-doo-doot."

TRACY: I think if the government ever wants to brainwash the masses, they should just replay that horrible, horrible performance while flashing subliminal messages periodically across the screen. "Here comes the suuuuuunnnn, doo-doot-doo-doot," (YOU WILL PAY YOUR TAXES IN FULL AND ON TIME.) "Here comes the suuuuuunnnn, doo-doot-doo-doot," (ENLIST NOW. BE AN ARMY OF ONE! CALL YOUR FRIENDLY RECRUITER TODAY!) "It's all right." (SPYING ON YOUR EMAIL KEEPS YOU SAFE!)

TROY: Here comes the sun…. ACK!

TRACY: And here's a note to all future Idol contestants: If a song has so much as one "doo-doot" in it, run away. Far, far away.

Anyway, here's a rundown of our thoughts from the past two weeks--songs from the contestants' birth years, and Dolly Parton week:

I thought CARLY SMITHSON got completely and utterly shafted when she stripped down "Here You Come Again" and did something totally new and lovely with it, only to have Simon go, "Meh." I fully expect her to start shrieking "WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME, PEOPLE?" next time, after which I predict her head will explode. Her song was beautiful, and she deserved more credit than she got.

TROY: I totally agree. If the judges keep giving her the Trenyce shaft (who, I must mention yet again, was amazing and was totally screwed over. She even developed an eating disorder because of the trauma the judges inflicted on her…but I digress) ...

TRACY: (Agreed.)

TROY: ...she might melt down right there on the shiny blue stage. Her "Here You Come Again" was gorgeous and reminded me a little bit of something Kelly Clarkson would have done during her Idol run. I actually thought that this would have been in the top 15 Idol Performances Evah! Stupid judges…

TRACY: I haven't really been in love with her outfits either, but I don't think so much of Simon's focus should have gone there--she sang beautifully! Critique the singing, man! That said, I think she's been raiding the American Idol snack table a little more than she should, because she doesn't look like the same woman who rocked the high-waisted sailor pants a few weeks back. Not that she looks fat--she doesn't. But perhaps if she has gained weight, she's getting used to her new curves and doesn't quite know how to dress them. That's the only thing that can explain the horrible sleeveless flour-sack shirt (Yes, we know you have a tattoo. We're also over it.) and radioactive red pants ensemble. Yuck.

LAST WEEK: TRACY: I was totally "meh" about her "Total Eclipse of the Heart." I thought she was going to do the key change at the end and really belt some wicked high notes, but she kept it in the same key and totally underwhelmed me. I still love her voice, but it was no "Come Together."

TROY: I actually thought it was a bit of a mess (not enough to earn "hot mess of the week" though). You know you're in trouble when NIKKI MCKIBBIN outsings you on a song. The biggest problem with the tattooed wonder is that she isn't consistent enough. I really like Carly (in fact, she might be my favorite contestant left), but she needs pick better songs and challenge herself. If she doesn't, then she might have to face the wrath of my inner Tyra.

TRACY: Carly, you've been warned.

I can only surmise that RAMIELE MALUBAY isn't getting the same sartorial advice because the judges are so busy trying to stay awake, they can't shake off the Ramiele torpor to offer cogent critiques. Who the HELL is dressing this woman? I wouldn't even let them dress my daughters' Barbies. Horrible.

TROY: I thought her oversized 80s t-shirt and leggings were perfectly fashion forward?

TRACY: For a pajama party, maybe. As for Ramiele's performance, I don't even remember what she sang, or why. She has a nice voice, but as plenty of people have pointed out, she doesn't really pop on stage--which may be something that will come as she gains more experience. The only thing about her that stands out is that she's little and her facial expressions range from a wide, squinty, stretched out smile worthy of my four-year-old when she says "Cheese!" for the camera, and an "Hi-I'm-little-and-cute!" pout and nose scrunch.

TROY: Ramiele is like Diana DiGarmo, minus the "personality." Her voice is fine, but she doesn't really sell anything she is singing. Right now, the only song I think she is really capapble of being believable with is "The Wheels on the Bus." At least if this Idol thing doesn't pan out, she can always have a career with Kidz Bop!

TRACY: Here's some advice, short stuff: Some day soon, you are going to be little and OLD, and that cutesy pout is just going to look desperate and horrible. Stop it. Stop it now. Show some dignity! You are woman! You need to roar, not squeak adorably.

TROY: Word.

LAST WEEK: TRACY: I have no idea why Ramiele chose to cover "Alone," after Carrie Underwood dominated it, wrestled it to the ground, and declared herself its champion in season five. Ramiele's voice--which I HAD thought was pretty powerful--came off sounding thin and shaky in comparison with Carrie or the great Ann Wilson. Bad choice. Bad, bad choice.

TROY: Exactly my thoughts. She might as well have came out and tried to tackle "Summertime." Carrie's "Alone" is remembered as probably one of the best Idol performances and Ramiele is one of the most forgettable and sleep-inducing contestants. At least she provides a good 5 minute nap every week.

TRACY: Another person who deserved more credit from the judges is JASON CASTRO. I thought his version of "Travelin' Thru" was lovely and perfectly suited to his slightly frightened hippie vibe. He has a sweet, unusual voice, and I think that cover would have fit perfectly on a Jason Castro album. Simon and company put him through, and I just don't really know what they want from the boy. He has a limited selection of songs to choose from--in this case, country songs written and performed by a woman--and he chose the perfect one for him and did it well. I didn't think he deserved to get slammed.

TROY: I actually really liked Jason this week, mainly because "Travelin' Thru" is one of my favorite Dolly Parton songs. My issue this week is with the studio version of this song on iTunes. Who the heck are the producers on these songs? The arrangement is horrifying and does absolutely nothing for Jason's voice. I think I could have better recorded a version with a Casio and my laptop. Sheesh.

LAST WEEK: TRACY: I really liked his version of "Fragile," and you KNOW how I am about Sting/Police covers (see Brooke White's crime against humanity, below). I think it suited his funky little voice, and I loved that he threw in some Spanish. (Which Sting himself did on his album Nada Como el Sol, which I also have.) I thought the judges blasted him unjustly. It wasn't pure greatness, but it was nice.

TROY: Really? I thought it was incredibly boring. And how STONED was Jason afterward? The boy could barely string together a full sentence and made Paula look a little coherent.

TRACY: And Jason being stoned is a surprise? Dread soup, dude.

I liked DAVID COOK's "Little Sparrow," though it didn't have the vocal wow of his arrangements of "Billie Jean," "Hello," and "Eleanor Rigby," which we have now learned weren't really his arrangements at all. Sigh. I really wanted to believe he was that talented that he could knock out all-new interpretations of well-known songs within a week, but that is not to be. I still think he has an amazing voice, though. And I think this whole debacle has shown that it's fairly unrealistic to think the contestants are going to be able to reinterpret everything thrown at them in new and exciting ways. He did do his own version of "Little Sparrow," and it was great.

TROY: He's a fraud! Anyway, I thought his "Little Sparrow" was okay, but definitely not as impressive as the past arrangements he … "borrowed." I guess I simply do not like Skeezey McCrazy. And although he is trying to be more humble, there is something completely unsettling about him. I think he is on edge every week and I'm just waiting for him to totally snap (or have a heart attack).

TRACY: MEAN! Also great was his new haircut, which looked both hip and Not Oily. Unfortunately, whoever did his hair for the performance show obviously didn't get to him soon enough before the results show, because David apparently was able to find his bottle of product and slick down the new haircut against his lightbulb-shaped skull once again. I'm hoping the stylist stages a Hair Intervention before the next episode--or at least conducts a search-and-destroy mission for that accursed bottle of Dippity Do--because he looked really good Tuesday night!

TROY: His hair did look great during the performance. It actually made me forget for a moment that he was Skeezey McCrazy.

LAST WEEK: TRACY: Already noted that I loved his "Billie Jean," even though it wasn't his.

TROY: Thief.

TRACY: MICHAEL JOHNS surprised me by being AMAZING. When I'm performing (that would be for my audience members Loofah, Shampoo Bottle, and Shower Gel), I tend to like to do songs written and sung by men, because then my singing them is a little unexpected. I think Michael Johns should now always take songs made famous by women singers and change them up, because he was seven kinds of awesome doing Dolly Parton. FINALLY we see why this guy got through to the finals, other than that whole charisma thing. Good for him--I think he's a nice guy and would love to see this streak continue.

TROY: I was incredibly impressed by Michael this week. I agree that he really showed why he is in this competition. He left nothing to snark about after the tore up the Dolly Parton song. It was brilliant and I think you pretty much said it all.

TRACY: Wow, look at us. We're getting soft.

LAST WEEK: TRACY: Michael didn't exactly color outside the lines with his Queen medley (and what was WITH the seizure-inducing arena-rock lighting? DUDE.), but he actually SOUNDED like the rock god he was trying to be. Not many people can pull off Freddie Mercury, and he did it, so kudos to Michael for displaying the voice to back up all that charisma.

TROY: Michael Johns did something that he hasn't done yet in the competition--he made me remember him. Seriously…each week I forget completely about him. It wasn't anything too out of the box, but I LOVED his Queen medley. He totally sold it and actually made me a fan, just as I was about to write him off completely. Well played, Mr Johns.

TRACY: Indeed. Human plush toy DAVID ARCHULETA also chalked up yet another fabulous performance with "Smoky Mountain Memories." It's starting to get a little boring, how great he is. I have nothing to say except ... So! Cute! I! Just! Want! To! Squeeze! Him!

TROY: Can't he sing something fun for once? Every week he is singing an "issue" song--no more war! Being homeless is sad! I just want one week of fluff.

LAST WEEK: TRACY: I agreed with Simon that the cloying song his stage dad chose for him was awful. Little Mister Sunshine did a lovely job with it, but dad should step off and let the poor boy pick something that doesn't feel like it just stepped out of a time machine made of cheese.

TROY: And David, probably afraid to be beaten if he says otherwise, kept trying to pound into the judges' heads that HE chose the song. It's one of his favorites because it's just so great! And he chose it because it's so great! And it he totally loves it because it is just. So. GREAT! Whatever. Get this boy away from creepy stage dad.

TRACY: Totally. Here's what I love about SYESHA MERCADO: I love her hair. I mean, I love, love, LOVE her hair. It's like a force of nature, with a separate personality all of its own. I would not only love to have had crazy, curly, effervescent hair like hers, but I'd love to be able to carry it off (it would look seven kinds of stupid on my big Mayan melon). So why, then, are the AI stylists constantly straightening it? Her hair is cut in odd layers to flatter her natural curls, and when someone flatirons the hell out of it, it just looks like someone took a pizza cutter and a razor blade to her head. Syesha, you need to get in touch with your inner diva and tell them hands off the hair. Seriously. It's awesome just the way it is.

TROY: Word?

TRACY: Her performances have been really nice lately. I wish she'd stayed true to the Dolly Parton version of "I Will Always Love You" instead of trying to channel Whitney at the end. Number one, Dolly's rendition has always been more melodic and heartfelt, while Whitney just belts her way through and relies on her powerful voice to carry her through. As we've discussed previously, no one to date has been able to equal Whitney's power (other than the unjustly underrated Trenyce), so it's idiotic to even try. I don't think Syesha will be with us for much longer, but I do hope she outlasts Kristy Lee.

TROY: She couldn't do it, could she? Syesha just couldn't step away from doing the Whitney Houston version of "I Will Always Love You." Has she never seen an episode of Idol before? YOU DON'T SING WHITNEY OR MARIAH (unless you are Trenyce). I wish I could muster up enough snark for Syesha, but she's just dreadfully disappointing for me every week. Bleh.

LAST WEEK: TRACY: The blogosphere has been rife with speculation over her song choices tending to focus on love triangles. So if her choice of "If I Was Your Woman" reflects something going on in her personal life ... :::ascending soapbox:::: He is not going to leave his wife for you, and even if he does, he will cheat on you at the first dimpled harbinger of the cottage cheese that will one day take over your thighs, no matter how many lunges you do (unless your name happens to be Tina Turner, which it is not). You're a lovely girl, and you can certainly do better. Stop singing to this fool, unless the song selection happens to be "Independent Woman" or "Leave (Get Out)."

TROY: There was blogosphere speculation? Where have I been? Is Syesha a mistress? Scandalous! Anyway, lame song, decent vocals. Syesha is the new "meh" contestant to me. I'd love to see her rock out to "Proud Mary" or something she could really let loose on. Who listens to big ballads anymore?

TRACY: KRISTY LEE COOK gets an award for Dorkiest Song of the Night with her insipid choice of "Coat of Many Colors." Really, people, Dolly's the only one who can pull off that dated, oddball tune anymore. Yes, I know it's a Bible story, but I don't think the author meant for his or her Divine inspirations to be accompanied by a banjo. I do have to say, though, that Kristy did stay on key most of the time, which is pretty much the highest praise one can give her.

TROY: Terrible song choice, but what else would you expect from Krusty? I can't think of another song choice that would have worked for her. God, she sucks.

LAST WEEK: TRACY: Jose and I totally CRACKED UP when Kristy Lee came out swinging like the cage fighter she is with Lee Greenwood's "Proud to Be an American." I once remarked on a military base that I loathed that song, and I thought the people around me were going to suddenly yank a bunch of pitchforks and torches from their pockets and run me off federal property. So let me just say that I am, indeed, proud to be an American, but I am not proud of simplistic melodies, subtle-as-a-hippo-in-a-birdbath lyrics, and boneheaded, unnuanced singing. But Kristy's decision to haul out that jingoistic chestnut was pure strategic genius. A vote against Kristy is a vote for the terrorists, y'all!

TROY: You're incredibly unpatriotic. I thought Kristy was so incredibly BRAVE when she chose "Proud to be an American." Picture it: her first CD will hopefully have an uplifting duet with Toby Keith about stomping boots up the asses of those who oppose America's policies and a mash-up of "You're a Grand Old Flag."

I'm going to hell for all of my sarcasm, aren't I? I'm sarcastic because of how manipulative and calculated Kristy's choice was with this song. She knew which nerve to hit, and I'm sure if she continues the same streak of music she will go far in the competition.

TRACY: And that leaves us with BROOKE WHITE, whom I can't stand for some unfathomable reason. I'm not sure why, but she totally rubs me the wrong way, and I'd rather scrape a chalkboard with a jagged piece of metal for ten minutes than listen to her sing. I think, other than her passing off Pat Benatar's acoustic version of "Love is a Battlefield" as her own a few weeks back, it's because she reminds me so much of Nancy Travis, whom I have never liked as an actress. Which is somewhat unfair to Brooke "Kaavya Viswanathan" White, but there it is.

TROY: Two words: David Cook. He begrudgingly has to admit that his renditions of songs like "Billie Jean" are not his. Anyway, the reason I can't stand Brooke is because she is certifiable. Her need to assure the audience and the judges that her critiques are "okayokayokay" (done in a manic way) creeps me out.

TRACY: There's that, too. Anyway, she did a decent version of "Jolene" (which Marin has decided she LOVES and makes me play Dolly's rendition on iTunes over and over so she can "DANCE, Mommy!,"), but what was with the giant, dopey smile in the middle? She's singing about a woman who's going to steal away the only man she has ever and could ever love, and there she is, grinning away? WTF?

TROY: I think Brooke did a decent job with "Jolene." That asinine grin that I just painted on her face is ridiculous though. It's quite catchy, but not to the point of "Here Comes the Sun…"


TRACY: (And can I just say that no man who would run off with some floozy redhead just because she looked at him is worth a life of celibacy and mental self-flagellation? I mean, honestly, put on your big-girl panties and go shopping! If he cheated on you, he's so totally NOT WORTH IT! ... Idiotic song.)

TROY: Not as bad as Rihanna threatening to kill her boyfriend because SHE cheated on him. Get over yourself.

TRACY: That one sucks, too.

LAST WEEK: TRACY: I swear, if this girl so much as hums the lyrics to a Police classic in the shower, I'm heading to California and will yank out all her phone lines so no one may vote for her again. That god-grindingly awful version of "Every Breath You Take" didn't belong inside the elevator at my local Belks, much less on a national stage in front of millions. For the love of humanity, LEAVE STING ALONE!!!!! No artist deserves to have THAT done to their creations, much less a musical genius like Gordon Sumner. You are not Tori Amos. Back away slowly from the piano and knock it off.

TROY: I thought Brooke's cover was BRILLIANT, maybe even better than The Police's version. It was fresh, gorgeous, and just perfection. Performance of the competition.

TRACY: I'm seriously going to hurt you next time I see you.

TROY: I'm kidding! It was awful. Didn't you love when she screwed up at the beginning and had to restart? I knew that you would despise it as soon as Seacrest announced what song she'd be singing. I didn't hate it, but Crazed Pollyanna didn't do anything special to it.

TRACY: Maggie is still in mourning over Amanda Overmyer--I have to answer a million, "Where's Amanda Overmyer? Did Amanda Overmyer get kicked off? Where did Amanda Overmyer go? Will Amanda Overmyer come back?" questions EVERY TIME American Idol starts now, curse you all, voting audience. Go ahead, break a four-year-old's heart, why don't you?

TROY: Poor Maggie. At least she'll always have "Back in the USSR" to replay over and over.

TRACY: Ahem. Anyway, like I said, I was totally fine with America's choice this week to send Ramiele packing, even though I did feel sorry for her when she cried. Here's hoping she'll have a long and illustrious career doing Very Tiny Musical Theater.

TROY: Or Kidz Bop!

(Here comes the sun…)

TRACY: (Doo-doot-doo-doot.)

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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