Thursday, March 31, 2011

And the Geevie Takes On March Giveaway Winner is.....

Drumroll please...


Taking suggestions for the April Giveaway to go along with my novel Comic Squad.

Gift cards, merchandise? You let me know and I'll let viewers choose the next giveaway prize package.

(I don't have another copy of Escape from Halcatraz... not sure if I can get another.)

American Idol Season 10 Top 11 Perform Elton John

You will note that none of the top 11 paid any heed to my kind advice, and though I didn't *forbid* it, the absolute most overplayed, over-hyped EJ song of ALL time was chosen and performed in this overwhelming YAWNER of an episode.

Maybe I came into the whole thing just expecting too much. So much talent and yet with this crop it's proving to be a crapshoot week after week.

Only a handful really understand the concept of a performance, the rest is just nationally televised karaoke that always leaves me yearning to hear the original track (or at least a better version than we were treated tonight.)

It's sad. So sad.

It is, in fact, a sad sad situation.

And it's getting more and more absurd.

With that said, and with Simon gone, this is my Painfully Honest Critique of the Top 11 Redux.

First up was Scotty, which is where I had wanted him on Motown night. He's got a following and there's no way he's not making it to at *least* the top five... but I tire a bit of the judges praising him so much on his steadfastness to his genre while meanwhile skewering the likes of Naima, who at least made "I'm Still Standing" *interesting*.

Taking a country song and making it country... not so interesting. (And am I the only person who had never heard that song before? I would have rather seen him take a more well known song and tried to flip that to country... kind of like what I advised him days ago with "Your Song" but WHATEVER.)

In fact, the judges flip-flopped on so much of their advice (except for Steven, who seems to find the good in anything) that I was the one feeling dizzy. This was especially true for Pia, but we'll get to that in a minute.

But at least the judges were *trying* to find a reason why the first two songs of the night left the audience wanting more.

If Naima had taken my advice with "Circle of Life," who knows? The exotic flavor might have worked.

Again... WHATEVER.

Paul came out and chose "Rocket Man," and I was fairly okay with that. EJ should be his comfort zone since they both have a similar singer/songwriter vibe. And Paul chose a song that he'd performed in the past, so in a way he was "playing it safe" and doing what so many have come to love him to do.

The problem is, at this stage in the game especially, I'm wondering what else is in his repertoire - if indeed anything else is. The judges think that he should push himself a little harder and stretch himself but it's entirely possible what we've seen is really all there is. It could be that he's just a simple singer/musician like the likes of James Taylor and Bob Dylan before him.

Which is *fine.* Not my cup of tea overall... but no one can argue people *can* carve out this niche for themselves if that's their vibe. I don't think, at this point, that we're going to see much more from Paul than he's already given us.

All he can do is follow Scotty's lead until the judges decide that's not good enough anymore because other people actually do listen to their critiques (when given) and attempt to grow.

One of those who has yet to prove to me has this ability is Pia. I very nearly screamed out loud in utter frustration when she opted - ONCE AGAIN - to do an indulgent ballad to - ONCE AGAIN - show us she's the queen diva of the ballads this season.

So been there.

So over it.

Like someone else noted, this is where you lose the wow factor. We've seen you belt out the schmaltz. What else ya got?

And here's the rub... whether it's my utter frustration with her at this point or not... she actually *didn't* do that great of a job. George Michael, probably one of the most amazing voices in pop music, turned out a superior cover (with Elton) that was actually what I yearned to hear after ... scratch that... during her performance.

If I had been scoring these contestants I'd have given her an automatic zero and accuse her of being like Scotty and Paul... just another one trick pony who can do that one trick really well - but it's not something I'm going to shell out money to buy an album for or see a concert of.

At least Scotty and Paul have more than one tempo.

The thing that pisses me off about Pia is that I *know* she can stretch her wings and she just refuses to. This is what the judges were trying to say last week but kind of backed away from this week, which shame on them. They're not helping her by not calling her out on it. She's playing it safe, and every week she does so my tolerance of it slips a notch.

She has promised to do "River Deep Mountain High" next week. As one of my favorite songs, I'm excited to hear it and it may be enough to earn her way back into my good graces.

But I will believe it when I see it.

Stefano is another contestant I just have lost faith can grow any more in the competition. I keep begging that he dig deep and find his inner sex appeal and learn how to connect with what could have been his core audience (i.e., the women.) Instead Scotty, Paul and even Casey have learned what I'm beginning to suspect he never will. He keeps bringing this big, overblown performance to the stage each and every week until they just run together in one big confusing ball of mess. He needed to strip it all away and just sit on a stool or on the steps and *sing* from his heart.

Instead we got "Tiny Dancer" with Broadway indulgence.

He did decide to end his performance by reaching out, literally, to JLo in a pretty suave move that could save his ass if he ever decided to own his own sexual magnetism. Instead he played it safe and sucked up to the judge when he should have been doing that to the audience.

I just don't know if it will be enough.

Lauren sang "Candle in the Wind." I *hate* "Candle in the Wind." My husband brought it up last week when we were tossing around possible tunes and I rejected it out of hand, lumping it up there with "Endless Love" as one of those songs that just should never, ever be sung anywhere in my presence *E*V*E*R.

So I muted her.

I had to. For the safety of my TV.

I didn't even watch the performance - that's how bad an offense I consider choosing that song to be. I read somewhere that she once again smiled her way through what is probably one of the most maudlin songs in the known universe. It was first written to memorialize Marylin Monroe and her tragic demise, then once again to honor Princess Di after HER tragic demise... both of which shocked the world to the core. The sentiment is sad. The words are sad.


These youngsters could benefit much from an acting class. That's all I'm saying. They don't understand if you don't feel the words you sing there is no way you can touch others with the song you sing. This was done wrong by a following contestant, and done right with a contestant beyond that.

But again, I'm getting ahead of myself.

I'm just going to say it - thank God for James Durbin. This kid brings excitement to the table almost every single week. He didn't do "The Bitch is Back" like I had impishly wanted (but knew it wasn't going to happen.) He did do something rock-ish and over the top with "Saturday Night's All Right For Fighting." It wasn't as exciting as his performance last week but his going Hendrix on the grand piano was a neat little effect we've yet to see from Idols past. The kid owns the stage and knows who he is, so Jimmy Iovine needs to just give him the freedom to figure out how and what he's going to do. He's got that innate sense of what works on a creative level; let the boy do his thing. It's not just Idol when he's up there... and that's a good thing, for him and for us.

Earlier in the evening when I saw things going so seriously awry I thought to myself the only way it could get worse was if Thia sang "Daniel."

Me and my big mouth.

Whoever sang the song was up to extra scrutiny with me because I *do* have a very strong emotional connection to this song. My first husband's name was Daniel and I knew fairly early on in our relationship if he ever left or died that would be how I remembered him. We played it at his funeral in 2003. The words have always had a special poignancy to me but even more so after he died. In the hands of Thia, who does *not* have the kind of depth necessary to sell a song like that, it was nothing more than limp karaoke.

I just... I can't even...

Casey took the advice I had saved for Stefano and applied it to his performance, which - unlike Thia - I could connect to and feel emotionally. It was a necessary step back that showed the audience that he could have a little heart in addition to all the craziness. "Your Song" isn't one of my favorite EJ tunes (I can't get past the lyric "if I was a sculptor, but then again.. no...") but he did it justice, especially with that tender high note at the end.

I'm glad to see even with Jimmy's horrible advice (to change everything) Casey stayed true to himself with his performance AND his appearance. The reason he ended up in the bottom three is the reason a lot of season favorites go from never being in the bottom three to being booted off entirely. His audience thought he was safe. He doesn't have to change who he is, he has to GO BACK to who he was before the Nirvana misstep.

(Although my feelings won't be hurt if he ever decides to ditch the beard.)

That being said tonight's performance was much improved over the last couple of weeks, but I think I would have liked to see him play an instrument and show yet another layer of THAT.

Since Pia greedily nabbed "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me," the song I had wanted for last week's superstar Jacob to sing, I was unsure how much he could Jacobfy "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word." What I didn't expect was the way he embodied the song. The man looked absolutely tortured by the heartbreaking lyrics and sold me all over again on this song simply by the emotion he conveyed.

THIS is how it's done, people. That is a master class in connecting the words to the emotion... rather than just hitting some notes in key. And that note at the end? I still have chills. This kid has got it and then some. As last week proved anyone can go home at any time, so I hope that doesn't happen with Jacob. He's a master at what he does and deserves to be on that stage all the way to at LEAST the top 3.

Haley closed the show with "Bennie & the Jets." I don't know much more than the first 30 seconds or so because she's another I just can't connect to and didn't dig the arrangement of that song at ALL. By this time I was fairly over EJ night on Idol as a whole and kinda sorry I didn't choose that time to go make dinner or something, thinking my husband had it easy he could just go back and zip through all the boring performances.

Which were all but maybe three or four.

This is why I don't like theme songs that center on one particular artist. Give me genre night any ol day of the week. Broadway. Disco. Country. ANYTHING.

As for who will go home? It won't be who *needs* to go home by simple math. Stefano's and Thia's fans will likely save them from the bottom three this week since they were there last week, which means people like Naima could end up there instead.

At this point as long as it's not Jacob, James or Casey - who at least bring a little spice to the show - I'm okay.

Here's hoping the voters don't disappoint me as much as EJ night did.

(But again... I'll believe it when I see it.)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

My American Idol Top 11 Elton John Wish List

After a heart-stopping dramatic moment where fan favorite Casey Abrams almost went home and missed out on the tour, we learned not only did he earn the season's one and only "save" but now the top ELEVEN would be able to hit the road this summer when Idols Live rolls across the nation.

It was a pretty epic results show where such emotional highs and lows are generally reserved for when the stakes are a lot higher - like a finale.

Either way I'm happy with the decision. Two go home next week but the tour is set, and I think it's going to be a fun one.

The next theme our Top 11 get to find their way through is Elton John's songbook. This can be a good thing and it can also be another ballad-heavy snoozefest. Since Paul benefited so much from my wisdom *last* week by following my wish list almost to the letter (and having one of his best performances because of it) (go me!) I figured I'd go ahead and get a head start on my next wish list.

I like Elton John, but I like a lot of ballady EJ - this does not bode well for my ballad-hatin' hubby Steven who - with regularity - zips right on past these performances because they bore him silly.

It also doesn't help that the one with the strongest pipes this season can't do a couple of the stronger demonstrations of vocal prowess located in Elton's discography.

(She shoulda listened to me last week but newwwoooo.)

I will say that no matter who sings Daniel they will make me cry. You'll see why when I plug in the video for it below. (And it's his birthday today - which means it's going to be even tougher.)

So.... let's get a'crackin'.

Stefano has a lot to prove after last week's misfortune of picking an iconic tune from Idol Seasons Past. He has to connect to the song, he has to connect to the audience. He has to go past just singing a song and really deliver a heartfelt performance. Since this was his challenge, I think he needs to strip down all the cheesier performance techniques and just sit at a piano (because he can) and sing a song with his heart on his sleeve.

Lucky for him, EJ is the perfect guy for this.

I'm going to keep begging Stefano to reach his female base by singing something to THEM. This one has always been a favorite of mine:

James has a bit harder row to hoe in that Elton is definitely not what you'd consider "metal." He IS, however, over the top. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE for him to sing this:

BUT... I'd be equally okay if he sang something more substantial to demonstrate yet another layer. This ode to John Lennon doesn't offer much room to scream, but it could be a moment to allow the tenderness he showed in Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed" several weeks back. This could also be the time to put him behind a piano (since I read a bio that he does, and that fits this week probably more than any other.)

If I didn't have Pia on a ballad fast for at LEAST two weeks to make up for the three previous ballads we've had to endure, I'd have her sing this EJ/Leann Rimes duet:

Instead she's got to do something more show-stopping. Or at least something that doesn't put us all into a collective coma.

Since "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" will likely be saved for the group number on elimination night, we'll give her:

Thia has already done a tune from a Disney musical - but the Lion King were penned by EJ and have a ton of material that are not only age-appropriate but no doubt songs she must have grown up on.

The trick of course is to find something a little more playful rather than mature.

I'm afraid the only thing that fits would be...

(Which if she actually did perform I'd literally LOL. It'd be a hoot and a half.)

Afraid she's going to have to do a ballad, guys - sorry. For a piece where she can stretch some acting chops AND play piano:

Another youngster in the competition, Scotty is probably going to country-fy anything he gets his little paws on. This would be fairly flexible, and I can see a bit of that Elvis peek out while he makes the young girls he already knows to play to weak in the knees.

Speaking of The Lion King, this may sound cliche but... I can see our girl Naima taking on "Circle of Life" complete with African flavor with backup singers, drummers and dancers.

I don't want to stereotype her, but I am excited to see more of her exotic showmanship spice up what could be a more subtle night of performances.

Lauren is another who is going to be hard to predict because she likes to have fun with her performances, but doesn't always channel the appropriate emotion for some of the more complicated pieces.

She could add a little twang and a whole lotta attitude to:

Jacob is going to have to work REALLY hard to top last week... and there's really only one song that can match that level of potential for greatness. This has the built in crescendo that worked so well for Jacob on Motown night - and is one of the most powerful vocal performances you can have in a EJ song. He can take this one to church with a choir behind him and just nail it.

The temptation is QUITE strong to give "I'm Still Standing" to Casey after his harrowing, emotional roller coaster of last Thursday. Personally I think this fits him better:

But even:

fits and gives him chances to play an instrument.

(Personally I think if you're going to have an EJ night you HAVE to include the instruments.)

As always I'm sort of at a loss for what Haley could do that fits both her personality and the theme. I can definitely hear her growl and see her strut in songs like:

Another option:

If there was anyone who fits the theme of the evening it's Paul, who is still my favorite for taking all my wonderful advice last week. This week I want him behind a piano singing this tune:

Wow I didn't see anyone I wanted to sing "Daniel."

So I guess I'll just have to link it to link it... in honor of my first husband who passed away in 2003... way before I got involved in Idol at all.

That kinda makes me a little sad. I think he would have liked them - and especially our new judges, one of whom shares this special day with him. So happy birthday Daniel and Steven Tyler. <3

Thursday, March 24, 2011

American Idol Season 10 Top 11 Perform Motown

Last night the top 11 performers sang their little funky hearts out for the top 10 spots that make up the summer Idols Live tour. For some, like Jacob, Motown fit just like a glove. Others had to be a little more creative with the genre. I posted my Wish List for Motown night yesterday afternoon and by the gods one of the idols actually took the advice almost down to letter.

That's the first time that has ever happened, and that it was one of his better performances over the past few weeks will forever be a symbol of exactly how right the great and powerful OGWO is.

As if you doubted.

Sadly Casey did not take my advice to sing "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" and all I could think through his performance of "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" was what could have been. Granted I'm not a big fan of the song given I was a kid in the 80s and I was treated to a constant heaping helping of funky dried fruit:

I still love him and he's not going *anywhere* - but ...

Thia was facing the wrath of the judges - no matter how nice they have been - if she dared to sing a ballad again this week. I wanted something a little more Jackson 5 but she opted for that other more overplayed hit "Heatwave." She looked like she had fun and sounded as good as a song like that could let her sound. I just still can't really connect with her the way I did in her audition. I think her material has all been so mature that she, with her limited life experience, can't quite fill out in all three dimensions. That she had a fairly forgettable performance (especially in light of those that followed) early on means that she may just face the bottom three.

(Kudos to J-Lo for using it as a building block for some much-needed constructive criticism.)

I have a confession to make. Though I love him, for the last couple of weeks I haven't been connecting with Jacob. I think a lot of it is that he has all those vocal acrobats each week where the song isn't really "heard." I agreed with Jimmy that he needed to give us a little more depth to the performance and learn how to utilize those subtle, tender moments than can make a song like "You're All I Need to Get By" more than just a testament of love. It can make it a freaking religious experience. With this one performance, last week's performance show became a faint wisp of a memory. Steven hopped from his chair and ran on stage to give Jacob a big ol bear hug - I didn't have my AI handbook but I assumed that he liked it.

This started a love fest that Jacob Lusk rightly deserved. I personally think it was his best performance we've seen thus far. I nearly came up off the couch and danced right along with him... and if you knew the pain I've been in the last week or so you'd know that's sayin' somethin'.

I was *moved.*

In fact, I gotta go watch it again. BRB....

CHILLS, baby. Wow...good stuff.

Next up was Lauren, and I did not envy her following that act. She opted for "You Keep Me Hanging On" - which I had wanted Haley to tackle. Either way both girls have a certain performance style that doesn't necessarily work for all songs. For Lauren to use her sunnier disposition and big smile for a song of this nature is a little tougher sell. Again, sounded good but there was a disconnect to the lyrical content of the least for me. The judges did not agree. (It could be that I was still high from Jacob...)

Remember way back to yesterday when I said the one thing these contestants should never ever ever ever EVER do is to take on a Motown hit immortalized in previous seasons by other Idols? Stefano, sadly, wasn't listening. He tackled Lionel Richie's "Hello" - which David Cook absolutely shattered the mold for back during his season. In fact, it was the defining moment for DC that showed us *exactly* who he was as a performer. There was no karaoke there, he *recreated* it. It was ah-freakin-mazing and no one, ever, should try to take that on again.

Stefano did, and thereby missed his opportunity to a.) establish himself as an artist b.) put his own fingerprint on a classic. Too many others were able to do that this week that he might indeed find himself in the bottom three.

Oh Haley. Haley, Haley, Haley. I don't really know why I don't connect with you. It's not that you're not talented. You obviously are. It's not that you're not attractive and even likable. Check, check. But either something is missing or something is way too present. Granted I'm not the target audience but that sex kitten schtick doesn't really reach me. It doesn't feel quite authentic enough. It's like a caricature... and it's just a little too over the top even for me. Whether or not her growling rendition of "You Really Got a Hold On Me" will save her from the bottom three remains to be seen. If she hasn't connected to the fans by now, will it be enough?

Only time will tell if she'll get to repeat that particular performance on various different stages across the country this summer.

Scotty came next and he sunk his teeth into Motown week. I think the reason he's so likable for so many, he really does approach everything with a level of fun and enthusiasm that comes from knowing exactly who he is even when he's that young. He sang "For Once in My Life" and of course it sounded like a twangy old fashioned country and western song. Not country... he throws back to the days of yore when my parents lived off of Hee Haw. I *hated* this music way back then, but for Scotty it works. I like seeing him grow as a performer - and keep true to who he is. He knows who his fans are (strangely unlike Stefano) and knows to play it up and make them come out of their seats. He ain't goin' nowhere. (imagine that as twangy as it sounded in my head.)

That blood-curdling scream you heard that may have shattered every window in your house and maybe a glass or two of your favorite crystal came from me. I would apologize but I *DID* warn you guys yesterday. You just should have wrapped everything knowing that Pia the Diva would be digging out yet ANOTHER ballad out of the PLETHORA of Motown hits she could have sung.

Here's the thing. She's gorgeous. She's got amazing pipes. But she's a paper doll at this point. There's no depth... there are no facets. It's the same thing week after week. She doesn't take the chances that even Scotty does, and if she doesn't learn to grow and stretch out of this obvious comfort zone, she'll never graduate from torch singer to superstar. All the greats - Celine... Whitney...Mariah... they ALL have a well-rounded song list that does more than just show off one facet.

Even Babs had a disco hit.

Again J-Lo nailed my discontent with a spot-on critique. And she did it without saying, "If I'm going to be honest with you... it was all a bit boring. I want to hear something that isn't run on loop in an elevator somewhere."

(Imagine that with the English accent.)

I just fell in love with Paul last night. He took my advice almost word for word - the only thing missing was a stool and spotlight. He sang the song I wanted to hear him sing (and it worked,) they let him finally use his guitar (which they should never let him put down again... EVER.) He put his own spin on the song that molded it to him rather than the other way around... which is what needs to happen at this level of the competition. That's how we know exactly who these artists are, and after Paul's version of "The Tracks of My Tears" there was no question who that was. In short... it *worked.*

Do not question the OGWO.

Another confession... I didn't want Naima to dance. I love my girl, Naima, from her head to her funky toes. She's crazy unique and fearless and I dig that. When I found out she was doing "Dancing in the Streets," I was scared FOR her. Especially when she decided to do an African dance in the performance. When she began to sing I crossed everything that would cross she would be able to restrain her enthusiasm to keep in pitch. She stalked that stage like a tigress in her funky bell bottoms and sounded *great*. She's not as vocally talented as Pia but strangely I'd rather watch/hear her than Pia any day of the week.

When Naima broke it down with an African dance with a tribal drum beat that actually became a part of the song I was practically dancing in the street myself. That was on FIRE. It was EXCITING! This woman needs to make the tour or the tour will suffer for it. She indeed is the full package in a way no one before her on Idol has ever been.

I love you, girrrrl!

James enjoyed his first night in the pimp spot. I say first because I see this guy really coming into his own each and every week. He did opt for a Stevie Wonder rocker tune but it wasn't "Higher Ground" like I had hoped. I really think that could have been a moment that would have been his alone to own. Since he sang "Living for the City" he has to share the glory with Siobhan Magnus:

And of course Taylor Hicks:

The good news is James still had his own moment and closed the show on a high note. He dug out that soul that true rockers really have and made it work as a rocker anthem more than an R&B classic. This is due mostly because of the swagger and cocksure attitude James has in abundance. Any successful rock star has this, because they convince us they're stars by making sure we know they think they are one.

And people love him. They respond to it. So an excellent way to close the show, which was light years in awesome away from last week's snoozefest.

The winners tonight were Jacob, James and Naima... with a big A+ to Paul for finally hitting his stride.

I think Stefano will join Thia in the bottom three based on the general forgettable quality of their performances. As for the other spot? We'll see if Haley escapes the curse of the bottom three for another consecutive week... but if not her, who?

Only tonight will tell.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My American Idol Top 11 Motown Wish List

Because I am the All Knowing and All Powerful OGWO (Oh Great Wise One) I have decided to give my own lil wish list what I hope our Top 11 pull off on tonight's Mecca of Motown.

Obviously they have a lot to live up to after last week's lackluster suck-fest... so hopefully these predictions will prove a titillating precursor of what's to come rather than a sad lamentation of what could have been.

Poor Scotty has the longest row to hoe given he is so far away from Motown with his ever deepening so-Southern-it-hurts twang. He's fortunate enough to have the fan base he can go first without it really throwing him into jeopardy, plus it'll give him much less time to stress. If it doesn't work... we'll have forgotten about it by night's end.

In his case I'll break my "No Ballad" rule for the week just because I think we should avoid any kind of temptation to dance. So speaking of Temptations...

I've been waiting for Stefano to dig out his inner sex symbol but he's so far been quite resistant to my telepathic words of wisdom. This week?

(If he sings this he should get the Pimp spot... I'm just sayin...)

Haley has the growling, sex kitten thing going so I think she should take on...

Another from the "For God's sake Don't Dance" column... put Paul on a stool and let him pour out his heart with a mellow, acoustic version of...

My girl Naima should be in her element with good ol fashioned R&B. I'm happy with most anything she could sing, and she can spice up a traditional male vocal with her own interpretation. Can you see her getting psychedelic funky with...

Lauren loves to have fun but might be tempted to do a ballad, especially since Thia will probably (and better) rev things up this week and avoid the diva crap she's been indulging in lately. Given what Linda Rondstadt did with this, I think it could work out if Lauren can dump the smiley, cutsy pageant stuff.

Speaking of Thia I think she should once again crack a MJ songbook with some youthful and fun Jackson 5. Dance! Have fun!

Another one not allowed to sing another indulgent ballad is Pia. She's got two options:

Or she can go disco with this for the vocal (which is my own personal preference):

(I swear to God if she sings Endless Love that high pitched scream of aggravation that will shatter your windows will be from me. I apologize in advance.)

Speaking of personal preferences there's only ONE song for Casey, and he should play his own bass. Anything else and I'll just be wondering "what if?"

Jacob should stay true to his gospel roots with something more traditional with something like the Four Tops:

And I think it's time for James to close the show with a Stevie Wonder rock/crossover tune like:

Songs that should definitely be avoided are songs that other previous Idols got a lot of buzz for, including:


And I'm not even CLOSE to kidding about Endless Love. If anyone chooses it I will have to be strained from going through the TV and ripping SOMEONE'S hair out by the root.

In fact, aside from the ballads and exceptions I've made above, I'm going to deduct 10 points for every slow song we have to endure tonight. Unless they are ballads I like... such as:

Another acceptable tune:

Otherwise... It's MOTOWN people. Let's put the FUN in FUNKY!


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

American Idol Season Ten Top 12 Performances

Tonight was the "Year of Your Birth" theme night which never fails to make me feel ANCIENT, especially as the years march on. Back in 2005 I still had some 70s rock love courtesy of Constantine Maroulis taking on "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen. I remember being a bit apprehensive about the song choice because tackling Freddy Mercury when you don't have Freddy Mercury's vocal chops is a risky endeavor at best.

But what Constantine did have was swagger... and he carved out one of the most memorable performances of his tenure on Idol.

It was electrifying. It was sexy. And it was a performance that trumped every single performance that tried to vie for our votes tonight six seasons later.

Now, maybe it's because I've been doing Nyquil shots to combat a lingering flu/fever... maybe I just expected too much... but everyone I normally love disappointed me tonight. Some of it was song choice, some of it was performance... some of it was a bad mix of the two. The flu apparently has run rampant at the Idol mansion affecting Paul and Lauren tonight in ways that were not comfortable to watch or hear.

And the judges, while a bit more "judgy" tonight than they have been in the past - particularly J-Lo - didn't really call them out as much as we were at home. It was the first time this whole season I really missed Simon.

Because I think he would have called the whole thing the hot mess that it was.

And there were two hours of it.

That I'm going to have to watch twice because my husband will want to catch up when he gets home.

Fortunately most of the performances he will zip through. I can't imagine his watching *any* of them all the way through. He has a definite "no ballad" policy, and will only stop and listen if it's really, really good.

I'd be really surprised if he gets through a one.

Naima started us off, and the curse of first will sadly work against her far from pitch-perfect performance of the 1984 Tina Turner hit, "What's Love Got to Do With It." Not a great big fan of the song to begin with, I think I might have liked to see her do something a little edgier - like "When Doves Cry," but at least she didn't sing "I Feel For You" by Chaka Khan, which I will give her a few points for at least. She was missing some notes in a big way, and I think she needs to strip her performances way back to restore the true beauty of her voice and the range of her talent. She wants to get out there and have fun, but she loses her way in her songs and has to find some balance between the two. Naima is my girl, but this was easily one of the bottom performances of the night.

I don't hate Paul but I find it very uncomfortable to watch him sing. I love his voice but I definitely believe that he should get behind an instrument IMMEDIATELY. He sang another tune from 1984, Elton's "I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues" and it was probably the worst performance of the night. Adding all the trappings of his normally manic performances did not help his vocal in the least little bit. Granted he was sick, but his vocal was as painful as his chicken dance. Thinking maybe just having him stand still and sing something simple and straightforward ("Drive" by the Cars maybe) would have been a bit more shrewd.

Thia came next and sang - oh so surprisingly - a ballad. Where's the bubbling personality that gave us "Chasing Pavements" in her audition? All these ballads are becoming quite boring, especially given her young age. She sang the 1995 Vanessa Williams tune "Colors of the Wind," and it was almost one of the best vocals of the night if you overlook some bum note here and there. Performance wise, though, she's just not giving the audience anything to sink their teeth into. Which is a shame. She could have broken out of the mold and had a bit more fun with a more up tempo song ("Fantasy" by Mariah Carey perhaps?) but we were stuck with the same ol, same ol. I think she'll make it another week, hopefully she'll find something more age-appropriate to do next time around.

James, whom I've come to like courtesy of his atypical Judas Priest cover a couple of weeks ago, opted for the 1989 Bon Jovi hit "I'll Be There For You." I like the song, and his performance was aiight... but it wasn't as tough or as edgy as I would have liked, or who I've come to expect this guy to be. I would have loved to see him dig out some Guns n Roses ("Paradise City" or "Patience") or even Aerosmith ("Janie's Got a Gun")... which we know he would have gotten clearance for. Alas it was one of the many many instances of the night I had to go hear the song of my choice rather than the song they chose because that was how lacking I found the performance. Easily in the top 5 performances of the night and a clear fan favorite but next time you go to pick a song I have two words for you... heavy+metal. And if you can pick an older song - Iron+Maiden.

Haley took on Whitney Houston. Do I really need to go on? I have to tell you that if someone chooses to sing a Whitney song they're already fighting an uphill battle with me because I am just NOT a fan of the music (and we got two, count em, TWO Whitney songs tonight.) And in this case I'm not really a fan of Haley's style. It's a little too sex kittenish for my taste, and I agree with Steven she needs to go find that bluesy rock vibe to really sell it to me. All this other stuff is just fluff.

Stefano was another 1989 baby, which incidentally was the year I was pregnant with my 21-year-old. So maybe my disillusionment with the entire show was just how OLD it made me feel... but again with Stefano I fell so short on song selection. It's really hard to beat Melvin and the Blue Notes "If You Don't Know Me by Now," and even Simply Red fell short with me in 1989 when they came out with their cover. As cougar-y as this makes me sound I want to see Stefano go *sexier.* As much as I am not a boy band fan even NKOTB's "I'll Be Loving You Forever" might have been preferable... though having said this I think Stefano had the best - or at least for me, the most palatable - performance of the night.

Pia took on Whitney, but not just any Whitney another freaking BALLAD. Pia runs the risk of boring me with this schtick as well, no matter how much she tried to pep it up with some strange arrangement that didn't endear this song to me in the least little bit. I give her the same advice I give Thia.... show me some range beyond the ballad quick or you will lose me. An Idol is not a one-trick pony, or a one-note wonder... no matter how great the note.

Speaking of a one-trick pony.... Scotty did - surprise surprise - a country song in the same twangy, over-accented country schtick he's become famous for. I found his backstory about his Idol worship with Elvis a lot more eye-opening and entertaining. He needs to bring *that* to his performance and have more fun with it. Likewise he needs to ditch the ballads and slow songs and actually give us a hoe-down. If the boy plays an instrument, for God's sake let him play.

Karen came out looking like she might sing David Bowie's Space Odyssey, though I wasn't sure if it was re-released in 1989. Despite the space go-go dancer look she opted for yet ANOTHER ballad, Taylor Dane's "Love Will Lead You Back." I don't know why J-Lo feels she's the strongest female voice, I think people like Pia have her well beat. How she fell short with this tune is just proof positive of that. Since her voice isn't comparable she'd be better served doing something more fun and dynamic than just a ballad. Madonna released "Like a Prayer" and "Express Yourself" that year... she could have taken a cue from Madge herself and amped up the performance to take the emphasis away from rather mediocre vocals.

These are the tricks of true Idols.

The performance we'll all be talking about for probably weeks to come was the unpredictable Casey pulling "Smells Like Teen Spirit" out of the bottom of the songbook. There's a reason that Nirvana has never been done on Idol before... and Casey proved it by screaming and growling his way through a performance that was painful for even his staunchest fans. He did prove some fearlessness, but like my dear friend Paula so aptly put it... it's fearless to tie yourself to the bumper of a truck but that doesn't mean it will end well.

Casey, I love you and I have no doubt you'll be around for a while yet so please...

Don't do that again.

A flu-ridden Lauren decided to forsake a typical country tune for Melissa Ethridge's "I'm the Only One." Had she been well, she would have really done the song justice. As it was, her vocal was painful in quite a few spots. But she has what Thia has thus far failed to prove she can match... star quality. She knows who she is as a singer, as evidenced by she could sing a rock song and still be true to her country core, and she knows how to sell a performance. She's also quickly becoming one I look forward to seeing each week. She's just fun. And way more talented than her performance tonight... but that's just the nature of the flu.

(I feel your pain, girl.)

Jacob closed the night with the 1987 Heart classic "Alone." Here's my problem with this... It was the 1987 Heart classic "Alone." Like any Whitney song, he lost about 25 points just by singing this song I've hated ever since it was in heavy rotation. So his vocal acrobatics, therefore, became that much more aggravating to me thanks to the overplayed, over-hyped tune they were jumping all over. I'd rather he had sung "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," and since that's Whitney I think you can appreciate the depths of my hatred for this song. I'm kinda done with Jacob's ballads too. Let him diva out on a dance tune and really let his freak flag fly. He could have gone full Aretha and sang "I Knew You Were Waiting" ... anything, ANYTHING other than this stupid, stupid, STUPID song.

So as you can see...

It was not my favorite night of the season. When the judges popped off how great it was I immediately wanted to know what they were sipping out of their little red Coke cups. Whatever it was, I figured a few sips of that and I could not only hear a much different show BUT get over my own stupid, stupid, STUPID flu.

I think Naima, Paul and Karen are in the bottom three, but at this point - they all kinda deserve to be there... except maybe for Stefano and James. (But barely.)

Deep cleansing breath... next week.... next week....

Monday, March 7, 2011

"Under Texas Skies" new ebook romance available on Amazon!

The Double A Ranch was established in the Texas Panhandle in 1886, and run by an Austin for more than a century. Jessica Austin had accepted this mantle with pride when her beloved parents perished in a killer tornado just after her 21st birthday, and worked hard to ensure that her ancestral home was secure. It was the only thing she had left, and the only thing that she trusted.

As a young woman she faced an uphill battle establishing authority over a crew of men. By the time she was almost 30, she thought she had things pretty much in control, including her steadfast single status.

She packed dozens of extra pounds on top of her bad attitude toward the cowboys she'd long since come to loathe, to ensure that she'd neither tempt or be tempted. Everything was going along as planned until one stormy afternoon when a mysterious and arrogant man happened upon her innocently skinny dipping in a secluded creek.

Dalton McBride was the most infuriating and cocky cowboy she'd met yet, especially when he finagled his way onto the payroll. It soon became all too apparent to Jessica that he was the most dangerous kind of man there was.

She wanted him as much as he made it quite plain he wanted her.

When her lawyer confided that she might lose her beloved homestead if she doesn't come up with a groom pronto, Dalton let her know he was all too eager to offer his temporary services as a husband for hire.

Jessica accepted the business proposal but gave away much more than that. For the first time in her life she had fallen in love. She only had twelve months to call Dalton her man, and all she could hope was that by the year's end he'd love her far too much to leave.

Heartache, joy, heat and desire all await Jessica under unpredictable Texas skies.

In addition to being a full-time freelance writer, Ginger Voight is an optioned screenwriter who has completed eight feature length screenplays since 2002. She is also a prolific novelist with several Kindle edition books available through Amazon. Having grown up on Danielle Steel and Stephen King, Ginger both reads and writes a variety of genres from kids books to horror. Romance, however, has a special place in her heart ever since she read her first Harlequin novel when she was only eleven. Today Ginger writes romances of her own, starring women who look more like the average American woman. Her "Real Woman Romance" series was created especially for those romantic heroines with fuller figures...who can still get the man of their dreams if only they believe they can.

"Under Texas Skies" is an homage to the classic romances she read as a teenager and young adult. It stars the headstrong but gentle alpha male, as well as a "real woman" who may not be traditionally "perfect" - but perfectly lovable nonetheless.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

American Idol Top 12 Ladies

The girls face the same looming guillotine that the boys did last night; 12 are riding out but only five will be coming back. Since they were able to pick their own music, one would have hoped they would have avoided any cliche, overplayed tunes that are consistently trotted out year after year by many a contestant before them... but luck would not be with us tonight. We heard Kelly, we heard Alicia and we got to hear Mariah too.

Only not as good as Kelly, Alicia and Mariah... which is the problem.

Ta-tynisa Wilson, however, decided to buck the system and sing a Rihanna tune, and tried her level best to overcome the Hollywood fiasco of her mangled lyrics that - in any other year - would have tossed her out on her fanny.

I still don't see what she had in her voice or performance that would get her to the big stage, but God bless her she sure did try to make an impression. I just don't know if it was a good one - and certainly not memorable enough to overcome the curse of first. (Apparently the producers want to make sure she gets cut as well... they have other blatant favorites - which we will discuss later.)

I have been a fan of Naima Adedapo since we first saw her in Milwaukee.

I love her name, I love her style, and most importantly I love her voice. The only thing she could do wrong at this point is pick the wrong song. Something, oh... I dunno... that had been done before on the show so memorably it is considered one of the best performances of ALL TIME in Idol history.

I'm really not sure what makes these folks try to walk in the footsteps of other idols. Are these the only songs that they can get clearance for? I get that she had a personal connection to the song but she's far too original to try to show up a showstopper when she could have just be eclectic and interesting.

The performance was fine, her voice is good but frankly I was disappointed.

Kendra Chantelle is another semi-new face we hadn't really seen much of before tonight, and this sultry songstress decided to make a very sexy impression indeed.

She sang Christina Aguilera's tune "Impossible" and managed effortlessly what other contestant Haley tries so hard to do. She vamped it up without going over the top, but still managed to remain somewhat forgettable in the slew of singers trotted out for our amusement. That she got a slot closer to the start of the show and Haley more toward the end just proves that producers still control the voting to one degree or another.

Somewhere my friend Hal's head exploded with a blinding pain tonight and he probably didn't know why. It was because Rachel Zevita decided to take one of his favorite artists (Tori Amos) and turn her into a Broadway act.

Granted she marches to the beat of her very own drum, but unlike Brett it's not all that endearing - at least to me. I know she has plenty of fans but I find her a bit ... much. And after her reaction to the unfavorable criticism I'm not sure if she's got the stamina to survive the hairy few months that are to come.

Karen Rodriguez attempted to make her mark and seal her brand with a bilingual version of Mariah Carey's "Hero."

While I like that she included some ethnic flavor into the song (and wish that Jovany had done that yesterday,) the problem was it was Mariah Carey. Boring, overdone ballads are still boring, overdone ballads no matter how many languages you use. But I don't recall anyone using this approach before tonight so I anticipate that she might get scads of votes just because she took an exotic approach that instantly defined her brand.

I've liked Lauren Turner for a couple of weeks now. She's got a strong vibe and I like that she doesn't fit in a cookie cutter pop mold (i.e., she's a "real girl".)

She trotted out a song that helped define her without making her look like a karaoke copy of someone else. She sang "Seven Day Fool" by Etta James, and although I think I would have loved to see her do a more rock-edged song I liked what she did with it.

But it wasn't "special" - and it kinda had to be.

Ashthon Jones, on the other hand, couldn't be anything else BUT special.

She's got the look, the sound AND the attitude. Steven Tyler remarked about how her confidence was that of a queen, and one could hardly argue. Everything about her is effortless and unapologetic. She's sensual and self-possessed and has the voice to back up the whole Diva package. If this girl doesn't make top 10 I'll eat a sock.

Provided it's made of icing and sugar...

Julie Zorrilla is another contestant I just really don't get, nor have I understood the hype since they declared she might be the "one."

I mean, she's talented for sure. I think she's a better singer when she plays an instrument, but she's obviously good at what she does to get this far. And of course she's pretty but so are several other contestants.

Beyond that there's nothing original about her aside from her flared skirts that make her look like she's singing for a school recital.

Taking on the original idol - Kelly Clarkson - only sealed that impression.

I know she's a judge favorite but not sure the audience will warm up to her as well; if not maybe she'll be spared by a Wild Card. (I think there are others who might be better choices, though.)

Haley Reinhart. Sigh. Later on the judges would rave how another (younger) contestant makes it all look so easy. This gal is the opposite of that.

From the first time we saw her she has overdone what others do so effortlessly. Even her much praised version of "God Bless the Child" was practically incoherent as she garbled her vocal acrobatics all over it. Whatever the judges - or even the producers - see, I just don't.

Tonight she growled and strutted her way through Alicia Keys' song of ultimate gut-wrenching heartache with sassy, flirty pageanty overindulgence. She didn't connect with the words at all, she just pranced around like a show pony.

(Personally I'm ready for her to be reined in.)

Thia Megia must be the oldest 15-year old I've ever seen. She has that almost-too-polished air of someone bred to perform but she does it with such finesse it borders annoying without stepping completely over it. (At least not yet.)

She made the very shrewd decision to introduce her ballad a cappella under a single spotlight, demonstrating her amazing voice as well as setting her apart from the pack that were trying so hard to make a good first impression. I loved the performance and the critique and everything about her right up till Ryan attempted to crack a joke about her age and she looked decidedly thrown - like she didn't now how to be a person aside from the performer on the stage. Add that there is a lot of validity to some of the criticism I'm seeing that she didn't connect to her song either, and it could prove problematic.

That worries me a bit, but I have full faith that her performance was enough to get her through whether she gets the votes or not. It still stood out though, and easily the top three of the night.

Not to be undone, fellow teen prodigy Lauren Alaina took the stage and confidently strutted her way through a sassy Reba McEntire tune called "Turn On The Radio."

Despite the fact - or probably because of the fact - Steven Tyler proclaimed her "The One" after her Nashville audition, I've kind of been put off by her even though this Georgia peach in bloom is rather charming in her own way. She actually seems surprised by the lavish praise the judges have no problem at all heaping upon her.

Today she won me over and she showed me that she's already head and shoulders above where Carrie Underwood was at this point in the AI competition by knowing how to have fun and perform, not just sing well.

It was the most fun I'd had all night watching her perform, and that alone makes me want to root for her to make it to tour.

(But I have no doubts whatsoever she'll make it through to the top ten now matter how the votes fall.)

Surprisingly Lauren was bumped from the pimp spot but the previously untested Pia Toscano.

When she sang "I'll Stand By You" I was even more befuddled. Sure she's pretty. Sure she has a rich, powerful voice. But the pimp spot? Really?

Then she brought the roof down and all the judges (and everyone else) to their feet with the power notes she dug out last minute and I kinda understood.

I don't think it was THAT stellar of a performance aside from those notes, but it was certainly set to make a lasting impression on voters as they were released to vote for their favorites.

For me, it fell kinda like this:

1. Thia
2. Lauren A
3. Pia
4. Ashthon
5. Naima

But again, like with the men, it's hard to tell who might make it through and who might be ruthlessly cut. How the voters will respond to each of the very different singers remains to be seen, and unlike seasons before we don't get eased into this voting cycle.

At this point I think Casey, Lauren, Jacob, Pia and Thia are pretty safe bets.

Everything else?

We're just going to have to wait and see.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

American Idol Top 12 Guys

This year Idol is going to make the first voter cut pretty darned deep by shrinking a talented cast of twelve down to five. That meant the guys had to bring their A-game to even stand out among the pack, which in this group can be kinda difficult.

Usually Idol fills a certain "type" quota, but this year our new panel of judges went a bit against type and pushed through those people that we weren't expecting or didn't know very well, while getting rid of immediate fan favorites.

To say that this first performance night on the big stage was a hodge-podge is putting it mildly.

The Karaoke King, Clint Jun Gamboa, went first and sang (typically) a Stevie Wonder tune, "Superstition."

"Superstition" is quite possibly my favorite Stevie tune of all time, but I have an almost instant gag reflex whenever an Idol hopeful digs it out of their songbook. It's become almost cliche.

And I'm not a big fan of June-bug anyway. He's a talented guy, there's no question about it. I just don't find him all that likable. And his over-the-top rendition, while kind of annoying to me, set the crowd on fire and prepared us for a bigger night than we'd ever experienced at this level of the competition.

One thing is for sure, the cream will definitely rise to the top quickly with this new format. This high energy performance probably would have pushed him through in any other year. This year... the curse of first threatens to rear its ugly head because by the end of the night I had completely forgotten about his performance.

As much eye-candy as Jovany Barreto is, and a crooner besides, his kiss of death was picking another overplayed-to-death guy standard with "I'll Be."

This is where our contestants make these decisions based on what they think the audience will like rather than their own strengths. If Jovany had chosen a song that allowed him to flex his Latin Lover crooner ladies man persona, he might have had a chance.

With seven guys due to get cut... it's a serious misstep. He took the one thing that made him stand out and traded it in for generic pop karaoke.

I don't even think singing that song shirtless would have helped.

Controversial Jordan Dorsey chose - or rumor has it, had "chosen for him" - the upbeat Usher tune "OMG."

As much as he had ego and swagger, the fact was he couldn't live up to either in terms of quality. The performance fell flat and of course this is when he, according to certain reports by those who were there when the performance was recorded, admitted he was "offered" the song and implied it wasn't necessarily his choice. After his hissy fit during the Hollywood audition where he justified his dickish behavior as his desire to win when he dissed different singers and then abandoned his own group at the last minute so he could align himself with the most talented, I find that a tad hard to believe. In fact, it sounds more like he didn't want to face up to the fact he couldn't deliver the goods when it counted.

But... whatever.

I'm not really a fan.

One of the virtual strangers we were introduced to last night was Tim Halperin, and after his amazing performance last week of the Beatles song "Something," I was really looking forward to seeing what Tim could do. My heart sank when he decided to go with "Streetcorner Symphony."

It was another poor fit, and that doesn't fly when the contestants can pick their own song to demonstrate their own style, rather than whittle a theme-night choice to fit them. I don't know if none of the contestants were allowed to play instruments, but that definitely hurt this particular guy - whom I fear won't get another chance to show us who he is as an artist.

(And I don't think that's what we saw last night. It just didn't ring true.)

I was pretty psyched to see what Brett Loewenstern could do. This redheaded ray of sunshine has taken me by surprise with his unusual voice and his own unique brand of showmanship throughout the audition process. I was, however, a little nervous to see how that might have translated to the big stage... and it turns out I was right to worry.

He let his freak flag fly with his own version of The Doors "Light My Fire." The Lizard King he is not and it was almost awkwardly, painfully obvious. His performance earned him top honors at That Website That Will Not Be Named, which might save him through another week (I hope so, I'd really like to see him get another shot) but this was a definite let-down for me.

(But I still love you, Brett. Keep being you because that's fabulous.)

I have had some problems with James Durbin, the biggest one is that he's trying to force himself into this Adam Lambert mold that was effectively broken all to pieces when Adam strutted and screamed his way across this stage two years ago.

Another is that he shows off this huge power-voice indiscriminately and there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. At least Adam had layers and understood when to be subtle, and it was this versatility that made him so interesting to watch.

With James' song choice, however, I finally got why James is so over the top. As the first contestant - EVER - to trot out a Judas Priest song, James brought METAL to Idol and his over-the-top voice actually fit. Metal IS over the top and this is a guy who knows that is where he lives. The Adam Lambert comparison flew right out the window and for the first time since we met him, James won me over.

The performance was exciting and unpredictable, and THAT is what gets the votes.

Good on you, dude.

Or should I say... \m/(><)\m/ Robbie Rosen has everything it takes to be a teen dream. He's cute, he sings well, he's got a smile that never quits. But he's also kinda generic. There's nothing that stands out with him and makes him particularly exciting... which could be his downfall in this competition if twelve-year-olds across the country break their texting fingers and aren't able to vote for him until their knuckles bleed.

He hasn't done anything wrong throughout the entire competition and I thought picking a ballad made famous by a woman, "In the Arms of an Angel" by Sarah McLachlan, was actually pretty shrewd. But... it was a ballad that probably wouldn't do much to reach his core fans and, in the midst of all these other performances, didn't do a whole lot to stand out.

Any other year and any other semi-final round that might have been okay. This year... not so much.

Scott McCreery, on the other hand, enjoys distinction no matter what song he sings because of that almost mind-blowing low voice he possesses.

As the only country guy in the competition, singing a country song in one of the most distinctive voices we've heard this season, he stood out by default. I'd be very surprised to see this guy go home. He's got all middle America voting for him, and they're smart to do so. This guy has a future on country radio, no question about it.

Another guy we really don't know that much about beyond the accident he suffered and fought his way back from, Stefano Langone was another big question mark going into this very important round of the competition, and his voice really took me by surprise.

Unlike Robbie, Stefano knew *exactly* who he was singing to impress. He picked "Just The Way You Are" and sang it right to every lady in the house and at home. He painfully blew the big note of the song, which could definitely hurt his chances moving on, but he was the only guy so far who gets it when it comes to connecting with his fan base.

I frankly don't know what to make of Paul McDonald. I like his voice... and his style is growing on me although every he hits the stage I can't help but make the Kenny Loggins connection.

He reprised his version of "Maggie May" by Rod Stewart, which he sang for his original audition. I found that kind of risky. It denotes a one-trick pony, and I really don't think that's what this guy is. He's a likable guy and cute as bug, so I'd definitely like to see more of him, but we should definitely put him behind an instrument ASAP.

I am a Jacob Lusk fan, and I am unabashed and unashamed. I have been since we saw what he could do in Hollywood. I had no doubts he would hit that stage and deliver an amazing performance.

He sang "A House is Not a Home" and established himself solidly as the male diva of Season 10. I can't see that divine performance NOT taking him through to the Top Ten, but if by some chance aliens intercepted every vote for Jacob Lusk and diverted into their mother ship for energy, there would no doubt be a wild card with his name on it.

Not only is he most likely the most talented guy of the group - he's just so darned likable.

Fan favorite (and Geevie-approved) Casey Abrams won the coveted pimp spot and sang another tune that had never been done on the show before... "I Put a Spell on You."

He took what was an outrageous novelty tune I never liked and actually made it crazy, jazzy, sexy good. I think Jacob outsung him, but Casey definitely knows who he is as a performer. He's not afraid to take risks and stand out and - most importantly - be different. He's quickly becoming the one we have to watch each week, and I don't see him going anywhere anytime too soon.

My top five were Jacob, Casey, James, Paul and Scotty, and I'd love to see Brett go through.

But this is one race that is too close for me to even try to call. And the ladies are even tougher.

One thing is undeniably clear...

AI might have been on life support last season, but the new judges and new format is raising it from the dead.

March Giveaway! "Escape from Halcatraz" and more!

Welcome to the Geevie Takes On Monthly Giveaway! Each month I'll be giving away prizes that equal $50 or more, for items I've reviewed and/or written.

The March package includes "Escape from Halcatraz," the comedy DVD by Hal Sparks.

If there was one thing Hal Sparks was born to do, it's stand up comedy. In "Escape from Halcatraz" he takes us on a wild ride through many topics with intelligence, wit and ceaseless energy.

Recorded in front of San Francisco audience at Cobb's Comedy club, the crowd responds enthusiastically to Hal's take on theme songs, baseball, NASCAR and sexually frustrated dinosaurs (a treat you didn't get to see courtesy of his Showtime Special "Charmageddon.")

If you're a Hal Sparks standup virgin, consider what you've seen on his VH1 commentary or Talk Soup, and turn it up. Nothing prepares you for what lays ahead once Hal takes the stage.

Also included on the DVD is an insightful commentary on how he developed his act, as well as some footage of Hal's interaction with the fans, something he's known to do after every show.

If you ever get a chance to see Hal live, you definitely should (his calendar is available on his official website). But in the meantime, you can get your fix of his comedy whenever you want with "Escape from Halcatraz".

Currently this DVD is not available for sale online, so this giveaway offers you a rare treat to get some vintage Hal and a must for any fan old or new.

Special note: it is a Region 1 DVD for USA and Canada only.

Estimated value: $20.00

Along with Hal's DVD you get an autographed copy of my debut novel "Dirty Little Secrets."

Some skeletons in the closet are real. Just ask Grace McKinney, who is haunted, quite literally, by the sins of her past. A boy with wavy brown hair and vacant dark eyes would pop up unannounced to frightfully remind her that no matter where she went in this life, her dirty little secrets always rode shotgun.

This ghost bore gleeful witness to her slow suicide. At nineteen, Grace had already succumbed to alcohol and drug addiction, thanks mostly to her other, more human tormentor, Mike Beyer. Mike, too, was haunted by the past. Instead of turning his abuse inward, he spread it to his wife, their children and of course, to Grace. He was determined to make everyone pay for the things he lost, and who better than a vulnerable teenage girl who would do anything to keep the past secret from her father?

And indeed it was her father that Mike had good reason to hate, and a real desire to punish. Reverend Ezekiel McKinney ruled his home and his church with an iron fist. Any congregant who dared to step out of line would be outed and humiliated and forced to make a public choice - God, or sin. And Zeke knew that choice all too well because he was doing a lifetime penance for his own crimes of passion.

His wife, Olivia, shared the burden of this secret, as well as the penance. She knew her place, and expected her daughter to also tow the line without complaint. That Grace had strayed so far down the wrong path was a source of continual embarrassment for the church and for Olivia herself. She was ready to do anything to set the course straight again.

These fragile houses of cards began to crumble when a strange, exotic beauty named Lauren Olsen came into Grace's life the minute she needed her most – the day she accidentally killed Mike's pregnant wife, Debbie. It will be the first domino to fall that unearths all the dirty little secrets that had haunted them all.

Best selling author Marie D. Jones provides the forward for "Dirty Little Secrets," a story that takes an unflinching look at the shame and self-destruction caused by sexual abuse and religious extremism. Though this 19-year old's dramatic coming of age, we are reminded that we are born with a very strong will to survive despite our darkest circumstances.

This book will be personally autographed by me.

Its value is $12.99.

Along with these two prizes I will include a $20 gift card to Amazon, bringing the total of this prize package to more than $50.00.


For each comment your name will be entered into the drawing. For additional entries, link this blog on your Twitter using the hashtag #geevietakeson #giveaway. For Facebook entries, become a fan on my official fan page and leave a comment on this wall posting.

Your name will be entered for each entry method, and you can enter as many times as you'd like. The entry cutoff date is March 30, 2011.

The drawing will be held live via my Ustream channel on March 31st.

Thanks for playing and good luck!

Raven Walks - Vampire Erotica e-book Available on Amazon

Vampire Raven Crowe stalks balmy New Orleans nights, seeking the prey that will ultimately succumb to his insatiable and lascivious desires. Though disease runs through his veins, his only threat is to the virtue of those who wish to refrain from their baser desires. He journeys through the midnight hour with only a sexual conquest in mind.

With a gaggle of groupies ever willing to offer up their bodies and their necks for his hunger, there was never any real need to take anymore than necessary from the hapless mortals who know nothing of the rigors of immortality.

It's not easy to be a blood sucker with a conscience.

Especially since the game hasn't changed much for Raven over the past few hundred years. In short, Raven Crowe is bored. He wants someone to match his prowess at seduction, one who will challenge him as more of an equal. He's grown tired of the devotees who are easy marks for his dark, powerful stare and the call of his tireless libido.

That was when he saw her – a mysterious redhead who narrowly escapes his grasp at the onset of our story. Somehow he senses she might be the one, and the chase is on to quell his obsession.

Unfortunately when he finally comes face to face with this nameless temptress, she happened to be on the arm of his nemesis – Constantine La Rouche. As the only vampire Raven had ever turned, Constantine never let him forget the intense hatred he harbors for the man who had damned him to an eternity of painful solitude away from his dearest love.

That Raven obviously lusts for the beautiful and mysterious Abigail makes her even more attractive to the vindictive Constantine.

But the stakes are much higher than an age-old grudge from a petulant vampire. Another Creature finds Raven's – and Constantine's – insatiable lust one to not only mirror … but destroy. One by one each of their conquests are targeted by a hideous and grotesque long-dead vampire lord with mysterious power.

Added to the unsettling events, the introduction of Abigail's sister, the even more mysterious Ginger, whose skin causes vampires to burn upon casual contact. The more he gets to know her, the more Raven finds her the most desirable forbidden fruit of all.

Events escalate as Raven, Constantine and Abigail learn their fates lie in Ginger's hands – hands that are sworn to destroy all things vampire.

The love/hate relationship between vampire master and slave, sister and sister take a back seat when they realize that the only real danger worth fighting is that of the vampire/warlock who has vowed to destroy anything and everyone touched by Raven and Constantine. More dangerous than a vampire, more powerful than a witch – this master of evil is hell-bent on destruction can only be defeated by something he's never before confronted.

A huntress who has been trained and equipped to kill vampires from the inside out.

Love and lust, revenge and justice all collide with one human's willingness to risk it all for those whom she longs for but can never have. The hunter voluntarily becomes prey because Ginger finds in Raven something he finds in her: an equal. One to desire... one to fear. One to protect... one to resist at all costs.

Desire comes alive in the darkness where Raven walks.

Who's taking you home tonight?

“Raven Walks” is the debut erotic novel from Ivy Greene, and is an X-rated hedonistic romp through the darkened underbelly of New Orleans. Heat rises from each chapter that will have you turning page after sexy page, toward an exciting and horrific finale you will never see coming.

(As an extra bit of salacious fun, see which sexy celebrities you recognize that were used as prototypes for the sexy vampires in this ultimate fantasy with a bite. This started around the enigmatic hero of our tale, Raven Crowe... whose long dark hair and mesmerizing dark eyes are amplified by his rock god appeal.)

Read the PG-rated sample chapter posted here... "Raven Walks" - Chapter Two