Friday, May 26, 2006

Cheating is OK?

-While listening to Bernie Miklasz and his merry gang of cohorts on 1380ESPN this morning, I was treated to the comments of one Charlie "Tuna" Edwards who regularly contributes his thoughts to the Miklasz presentation. I assume he is there to give the show a minority presence, because racial issues seem to be all he wants to talk about. Tuna is one of the few remaining media types who has enough nerve to defend Barry Bonds. He generally does it from the angle that Bonds is black, and therefore everything that has been said or written about him has more to do with the fact that he is hated by non-blacks, than the enormous mountain of evidence that he juiced himself up with steroids to enhance his career.

During this morning's discussion of Bonds, Edwards made the statement...and I'm paraphrasing here...that everybody has cheated at one time in their lives, so we shouldn't come down on Bonds if he has cheated. He went on to say that he doesn't mind if his own daughters cheat. The problem comes when you get caught.

I will not try to argue that most of us have not cheated at something at one time or another. What I will argue is the premise that cheating is OK as long as you don't get yourself in trouble doing it. If that's what we've come to in this society, Heaven help us. If Mr. Edwards actually teaches such a philosophy to his offspring, and he is typical of today's matter the skin color... then we have fallen off the wagon of decency and honor in a big way. He should be ashamed to admit it, if it's true. But, lack of personal shame is the problem with a lot of things these days. That sort of mentality you might expect to exist in prisons, street gangs, poker games, and maybe corporate board rooms. But for all of us to be walking around thinking that it takes cheating, or it's OK to cheat in order to get ahead, is just not right. America, and its people have to be better than that. And certainly a good majority of us are. Condoning the notion that cheating is OK would be the first step toward societal chaos and the breakdown of all that we hold dear. True satisfaction in any achievement comes at reaching a goal with hard work and dedication. I think Mr. Edwards, deep down in his soul, knows this to be true.

As far as whether Tuna's argument holds any water...When did Barry Bonds become just another person like you and me and worthy of a free pass on cheating? He is a sports icon. And, whether he likes it or not...or anybody else likes it or not...sets examples for young people with his behavior. This is a man who is the son of a famous athlete and has had priveleges most of us can only dream of since the day he drew his first breath. He has been in the spotlight of the sports world since the first time he walked to the plate as a Pittsburgh Pirate those many years ago. So his reality.. (check out his ESPN tv show if you need proof).. is far different than that of most of the rest of us. He is truly living the "surreal life". So, he should expect to be held to a higher standard than someone who may cheat on his taxes, or an algebra test. True achievement in any field of endeavor will have no value if everyone is always suspected of having cheated.

The fact that people may be inclined to think negatively of Barry Bonds has much more to do with the way he treats others around him than it does the color of his skin. If Bonds were anything but a pro athlete, he couldn't get away with such behavior. If anybody ever gets away with it, we all should be spanked for not holding them accountable. Mr. Bonds would be fired in corporate America. If he tried to run his own business, it would fail from lack of customers. If he was working on a highway crew, he'd last about an hour until the rest of the gang walked off the job. The kind of person he is would have landed him in prison by now, if not for his enormous baseball talent that causes his employers look the other way.

Tuna Edwards is not doing himself, or anyone else he might claim to speak for, a favor by trying to make such an argument. Cheating is not OK for anyone, at any time. Particularly not Barry Bonds and the others who have injected themselves to enhance their bodies, careers, and incomes. By doing so, they deny the game of baseball, and the fans who love it, the honor, and stature in our society, it deserves. Bonds has already cheated himself out of the honor and respect he could have had without cheating. That should be lesson enough for Tuna's daughters.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Thursday Thoughts

-Now that American Idol is over for another season, it's up to the contestants who have garnered enormous notoriety, and created a fan base, to capitalize on their new-found the person to the right, Kelly Clarkson, was able to do. For some, (Taylor, Katharine, Elliot and Chris) the initial job will be fairly easy.. if they trust their career path to the right type of management person, or persons. The others (Kellie, Ace, Paris, Mandisa, Lisa) will have to act quickly because they haven't been on the gigantic national AI stage with its millions of viewers for a while. (Kevin, Bucky and Melissa..the remaining three in the top 12...I don't think have much hope of going anywhere) Yes, they all will tour for three months and have that exposure. But, that's nothing compared to what they've enjoyed for the last couple of months. Even the top four or five will soon be forgotten, (a la Justin Guarini) unless they have bona fide talent with staying power...are marketed well...and make smart career decisions. The opportunity is now theirs, they must jump on it. We'll see.

-I wrote about this last week when it began, and now it bears some more attention. What is Albert Pujols doing? Why on God's green earth would he be inclined to go out of his way to support the likes of Barry Bonds? His agent, or somebody, should have pulled him aside after his first venture into bonding with Bonds and asked what the hell was he thinking? I can't understand what would make him go out of his way to cozy up to the man who is so cancerous to baseball that nobody really cares about his current accomplishments outside of San Francisco. Then Albert does a shot with Bonds on his pathetic "unreality" TV show on ESPN...and once again speaks out in support of the guy. Is Albert so soft-hearted that he feels the necessity to soften Bonds' current catastrophic situation? Or is he just so out-of-touch with the reality of Bonds' public perception that he doesn't understand the damage he's doing to himself, and all the other former and current stars of the game? Albert seems to need a course in public relations. Some fans will now, undoubtedly, question any accomplishment by Pujols because of the waters in which he has chosen to swim...and the other big fish in those waters.

-Belleville's Art On the Square continues to make enormous progress every year. The effervescent and unbelievably energetic Patty Gregory has put together an art show that is rated by just about everybody in the art world as one of the best of its size in the nation. They reported over 1 million dollars in sales at this year's show. And many of the artists who came said afterward that it is by far the best show for them...moneywise...and every otherwise. Many thanks and kudos to my friend Patty and her fantastic organization for bringing such a positive experience to all of us who live in the Belleville area. Bravo!

-The Grizzlies opened their season with a 5-4 loss to River City last night. I hope that's not the start of another difficult early season for Danny Cox's team. They struggled out of the gate last year and couldn't recover. This year's team has much more potential for early success...but, you still have to go out and do the job. The Grizzlies open their home schedule next Wednesday (5/31) at GCS Ballpark in Sauget. Joe Pott calls the rest of their season-opening road trip on 1380 ESPN radio. Check the link to the Grizzlies website on this page for times.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Idol Finale

--Results Update- Is anybody surprised? Taylor, as expected, proved to be the most likeable contestant among this year's crop. Whether he is able to turn that into a music/entertainment career of any significance is the big question. I think the other thing people have to wonder about going forward is if rockers like Chris Daughtry, or last year's Bo Bice and Constantine Maroulis will ever be able to win this competition. I tend to doubt it, because a rocker has a tough line to walk. Does he stay a rocker and not perform the obligatory ballads with any conviction? Or does he stray from his rocker tendencies and piss off his rocker following by embracing the pop stuff? Either way, it's tough to do...and still be able to please enough people to win. Pop and ballad singers seem to have a decided advantage, one that will be very tough to overcome. At least the good rockers, even if they don't win, get the exposure that they need to launch a career.

-I will make this as short and sweet as possible, because I know everybody else (almost) in the world is talking about it too.

Here's my take on last night's American Idol finale. The wrong people were in it.

If it had to boil down to a man and a woman, it probably should have been Katharine McPhee and Chris Daughtry. If it was the top two singers of the competition, it probably should have been Chris and Elliott Yamin.

I'm sorry, but for all of his enthusiastic and charismatic stage presence, the man who will undoubtedly win tonight, Taylor Hicks, is not a singer. He's a performer. I've said it before. He's more of a Wayne Newton, Louis Armstrong, or Danny Kaye type. These guys are/were entertainers first, singers second. Hicks is the kind of guy who will do a good show, but you'll never be impressed with his voice.

Katharine, for all the talent that she posesses, is just the opposite. Her voice is great, but she seems distracted and confused, and unable to complete a song without glancing into the audience, or smiling at the wrong time, or something that makes you wonder if she really understands the lyrics she's spitting out.

I boycotted the voting process. Didn't vote. I figured that's the only way I had to protest how this year's season has gone. Taylor will win, but watch for Chris, maybe Elliott, and perhaps Paris Bennett to have the best professional careers.

I have scoured the internet for stories about the Idol finale and am finding, almost without fail, that every story written about it, and comment made by fans about it, contains a reference to Chris Daughtry not being in it, and regret that the final came down to Taylor and Katharine. If the Idol producers are smart, and so far they've been very smart, they will revamp the voting process to make it more open to public scrutiny, and ensure the best talent advances.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Good, Bad, and.....

-First the ugly, I'm driving and listening to the radio of the St. Louis sports stations. Some guy who normally isn't even on the air...(and you're about to hear why)...was asked by a usual host of the show if he watched American Idol the night before. He says..(as though his very manhood would come into question if he said yes) ..."No....are you kidding?...I hate American Idol, and everybody associated with it...I wish that that Al Qaida would come in with a dirty bomb and blow everybody connected with it away...In fact, I would volunteer to do it myself."

What kind of moron would say anything like that on the air of a broadcast station? This mental midget sounded like he was overly concerned with whether somebody would think he had hair in certain places...than brains in his head. I hope the people that run his station send him back to pre-school where he can learn a few social skills. What's the old saying...I think Lincoln gets credit..."Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt."

The Bad-I'll bet Albert Pujols wishes he had remained silent about Barry Bonds.

What possible good could he be doing for baseball by saying people are being too hard on Bonds? What possible good could he have done for himself, for that matter? Albert is a caring guy, and probably empathises with Bonds to some degree. But, to say that people should respect his numbers...and you have to prove he's done wrong before you can say or write anything negative about the guy. Come on Albert. How much proof does anyone need? Building up Bonds does nothing for guys like Pujols who have done what they've done without cheating. That's the first major error Albert has made all season.

Good-You may not believe this actually happened, but I swear it's true.

I accompanied Barb on a grocery shopping mission earlier this week. After spending the usual hour, or so, rounding up all that we needed, we proceed to the check-out counter. We unload all of our goodies onto the conveyer belt and are carrying on a conversation as we do so. Neither of us really is paying much attention to what's going on right in front of us.

A young lady...accompanied by her young (maybe 3 year-old) son... has unloaded a large amount of stuff from her grocery cart. She runs her debit/credit card through the swiper thing and the clerk tells her that it didn't take. So, she tries it again. Still not working. Frustrated, she leaves the checkout counter and walks a short distance to an ATM machine. She swipes another card... nothing. As I said, we're not paying a whole lot of attention but I did see most of this out of the corner of my eye as I was chatting with Barb. The woman comes back to the check-out counter and shrugs her shoulders as if to say..."I guess I can't pay".

Suddenly, the woman in line behind us leans over to the clerk and asks what the amount is that the lady in front of us owes. The clerk tells her 117 dollars and some change. The tall, rather attractive, woman writes out a check for the amount and begins to hand it to the clerk. The lady whose card wouldn't work begins to protest..."No, no, I couldn't accept that... no, I couldn't". It's about this time that Barb and I focus in on what's going on...and realize something special is taking place.

The lady behind us insists on paying for the other woman's groceries...and says that she recently came into some money unexpectedly and wants to do it. She said to the woman in distress..."As long as you remember to do something similar for someone else when you get the chance."

At that, the woman and her son take the groceries that have been loaded back into her cart...and with some embarassment...she thanks the generous benefactor and leaves.

Well, there wasn't a dry eye around. The clerk, Barb, and I are all amazed at what we'd just seen. Before I left, I told the lady who wrote the check that I wished I had thought of it first. But, thinking of it...and actually doing what makes some of those around us very special. Think of the life lesson that the little boy learned from that act of kindness. He will always know that there are some people who really care about others...and are willing to show it in a very concrete way.

I hope many good things come to Ms. Checkwriter...wherever she may be.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Real Top Three?

-Results Update-When all is said and done, Elliott Yamin will be remembered for being the tough little singer from Richmond. I will remember him (and so will Chris Daughtry) as the kid who engineered the biggest upset in Idol history with his amazing, out-of-nowhere, grand-slam performance on Elvis Week. Elliott may still become a star and make me eat my words. There's something awfully likeable about him. As I said, he doessn't strike you as a star...but then look how far he went in this competition. It would be wrong to count him out before he really gets started.

As for Taylor and Katharine, from the closeness of this week's voting, I'd say it's anybody's game to win....or lose. I'm guessing America is waiting to hear the songs next Tuesday at The Kodak.

Ace and Kellie were in the audience tonight. I'm hoping Chris is back for an encore...or some kind of recognition next week. The producers of the show should be that smart.
-In the aftermath of the AI performance show for this week, I couldn't help but think how fantastic the show might have been...had the real top three been singing. As I knew he would, Ryan Seacrest opened the show with a reference to the "national bummer" that everyone has been going through, and talking about...last week's exit of Chris Daughtry...and pleaded for everyone to vote for their favorite if they expect them to stick around. Daughtry's presence tonight could have made for one of the most exciting and enjoyable Idol shows ever. But, Chris is off making the talk-show rounds and beginning the decision process as to his future.

In case you missed it, Elliott, Katharine, and Taylor (in that order) performed three songs each. The first selected by the legendary recording industry executive Clive Davis, the second chosen for them by one of the judges, and the third of their own choosing.

Elliott seemed bent on "out-souling" Taylor...who has become known as the leader of the "soul patrol" for his smoky, soulful perfomances. Elliott's three songs were all ones that he could put some "white man soul" into and, as usual, he performed admirably but not spectacularly. While Elliott is capable of taking a song and doing it well, he didn't hit any home runs, and didn't perform at a level anywhere close to last week's Elvis show... in which he was probably responsible for sending Daughtry home as much as anything. And, as I've said before, Elliott can sing...but has zero charisma or star quality. If his future turns into one of recording contracts, hit records, and stardom, I'll be amazed, and will happily say I was wrong. But, in my estimation, he really had no business being in the final three.

Katharine, on the brink of elimination last week, made a strong comeback this week. She may have executed the finest single performance of the season with her second song of the night...Over the Rainbow...the Judy Garland classic from the Wizard of Oz selected for her by Simon Cowell. Her beauty, her voice, and... maybe for the first time...showing an ability to interpret a song and "bring it home", combined to make the song breathtaking. Of course, her daddy was shown crying in the audience again. I'm not her dad, and I was too. Overall, I'd say she was just short of spectacular. (The judges were not quite that impressed for some reason)

Taylor is still an enigma to me. He performed three songs well tonight. He didn't necessarily sing them well...he performed them well. Taylor might very well win the whole competition. But, it won't be because he's the best will be because he's the best performer. He understands how to take a song...put as much of himself into it as possible...and please an audience. Tonight Randy Jackson chose You Are So Joe Cocker for him. It was perfect because Joe Cocker's gravelly, scratchy, squeaky, rendition that sold a buh-jillion copies was full of passion and soul...right up Taylor's alley. His last song was the upbeat version of Try a Little Tenderness... again a song that requires more physical and emotional interpretation than vocal command. Taylor manages to take songs, make them his own...and leave you satisfied. He was very, very good tonight.

So, who's going to show up on stage next week in the "sing-off" finale? I'm counting on Taylor and Katharine. Elliott is no match for Taylor...and Katharine has more actual singing talent than either of them. It will be the likeability and performing ability of Taylor, vs. the raw talent and beauty of Katharine.

One can only imagine what might have been without last week's unpredictable, unexpected, and unfortunate (for us) outcome.

Monday, May 15, 2006


-No particular subject. Just a thought or two about a thing or two.

-6,000 National Guard troops to aid the border patrol guarding the Mexico border? Hmmm...who's going to guard the Canadian border?

-With the new NHL, anyone can win The Cup. Just like the NFL, where anyone can win the Super Bowl in any given year. The salary cap has done its job.

-Last Wednesday I was thrilled to be invited to see the exhibit Bob Heil(right) is sending to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at his office in Fairview Heights. Bob is truly one of the behind-the-scenes superstars in rock history. Some of his technological contributions to the business of presenting live rock concerts are worthy of a spot in the hall...if there was a category for that. Bob is a fine gentleman and has brought much notoriety to this area with his microphone and audio expertise. Congratulations Bob!

-The Steelers' Joey Porter must think his hind end is the center of the universe. He says...quote..."Yeah, I have a bone to pick with Bush,, I'm going to have a swagger when I walk in there too." The Steelers visit the White House on June 2nd. Apparently, Joey's not too happy about his tax bill. Uh, Joey...that's President Bush to you, and everyone else lucky enough to live in this country. Especially, spoiled athletes.

-These idiots on Deal or No Deal who keep on believing the odds won't work against them. Sheesh. They probably have the state lottery in their plans for retirement too.

-I'm not nearly as wound up about American Idol this week. If you've been visiting here regularly, you know why.

-So, the judge reduces the bond on Sam Shelton (The teacher charged with attempted murder of 17-year-old former student Ashley Reeves) from a million to 800-thousand dollars. The guy's mother puts up 80-thousand cash and whisks him out of jail to sit at home with an ankle bracelet until the trial. I guess somebody told the judge that mom could raise 80-thousand, but not 100-thousand. Otherwise, it seems silly to knock down the bond by just 200-thousand....right? I'm confused about how those things work.

-Poor Barry Bonds...sitting on 713 for so long...don't you just feel awful for him? tee-hee.

-I had some business at the Savvis Center the other day...and as I was leaving the building I passed former Blues coach Bob Berry(right), and said hello. He's been scouting for the Blues. I'm wondering if he's accepted some position with the Dave Checketts ownership group. Or, is he just working for the current owners until his deal runs out? It's got to be a tough transition for some of those guys...not knowing for sure if you'll be working for the new guys.

-We think we've had a lot of cool, rainy weather. How about our poor friends in New England?

-Alligators are killing people in Florida. I'm guessing someone has already blamed global warming.

I always feel bad when I hit an animal with the car. Today it was a quail that ran out in front of me.

-So, in Thailand, they will censor the last 10 minutes of the movie The Da Vinci Code after numerous Christian protests. A. It's just a movie! B. Would you go to a movie if you knew you weren't going to see the end? I guess that's the government's point.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Hello and Goodbye

-As I put another weekend behind me, I am both happy and sad for some of it's entertainment experiences. During these two days, I've been as giddy as a schoolboy on the last day of classes, and melancholy and introspective at the loss of an old friend.

Saturday night I was bouncing around the concourses and soaking in the new baseball environment in downtown St. Louis. Wife Barb, sister Bonnie, brother-in-law Mark, and I all took in the Cards-Diamondbacks game Saturday night. With the beautiful new stadium just about finished, the space where the old stadium stood being cleared for the planned Ballpark Village, and the new vibrancy all around the neighborhood, it's easy to be giddy if you care at all about Cardinals baseball, and the city.

I didn't see everything, but from what I did, I'm totally impressed with the new Busch. The sight lines, the brick and steel beam motif, the wide concourses, the open areas in which to stand, are all pretty darn impressive. Of course, you can't do anything of that magnitude without a few gliches, and I'm sure there are some. But I'd have to say they have been kept pretty well hidden. We experienced a long line at a men's restroom, and certain items being sold out at the concession stand. But, for the most part, the entire night was a blast. Particularly the 9-1 blowout of the Arizona club.

Unless I come into some unexpected windfall, I don't think regular attendance will be in the picture. But, it's nice to know when we do get the chance to see a game, that we will have one of the outstanding facilities in all of professional sports to attend. From this keyboard, a big "well done" to the Cardinal owners, management, and their builders.

The sadness of the weekend comes at the loss of an old friend, NBC's West Wing.

The transition from the administration of President Bartlett to that of President Santos was completed with the Santos inauguration in tonight's final episode. Santos, played by Jimmy Smits, would be a fascinating President to follow if the network and producers had decided to continue the show. Alan Alda, as his Secretary of State would be a great character to enjoy too. Many of the current regulars could have continued in a Santos administration. But, NBC bailed out on West Wing back in December shortly after the death of show stalwart John Spencer, allowing the producers to plan for tonight's inspiring, "sense of history" finale.

I can't imagine a program bringing as much intelligence, emotion, strong production values, top-flight acting, and pride for the American system of government as Aaron Sorkin's creation of 6 years ago. Sorkin left the show in 2003 causing it to begin to falter. But, in the last few years, it found new energy and creativity with interesting characters and well conceived plot lines. Whether you agreed with the lightly-veiled political agenda of the producers, or not, it was always a television presentation of high integrity and production values. Of course, that's something sadly lacking in the current state of broadcast TV. How much time do you think a producer of the show would get to pitch his idea to a network executive right now? Likely not much.

As ex-President Jed Bartlett looked out the window of Air Force One on his way back to his New England home after concluding 8 years in the White House, wife Abby (Stockard Channing) asks,

"What are you thinking about?"


was (Martin Sheen)'s last word, of the last episode, of a great American television endeavor. And the just-retired President's jet soared off into the sunset.

When the names of the producers came onto the screen for the final time, and I began to imagine the fictional futures of all of the many interesting characters, Barb looked at me, and I at her, with emotionally glistening eyes. She said, not knowing where the same type of television enjoyment will come from, "Now what?"

"Now what?"... indeed.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Serious Idol Problem

-Yeah...I'm still talking about it. The elimination of Chris Daughtry on Wednesday's American Idol show has apparently gotten to disastrous proportions in the minds of "Idol Nation", and set the show, and it's producers, up for some serious problems. The outrage after Chris was sent home is like nothing Fox, or Executive Producer Nigel Lythgoe (right), have ever dealt with before, based on various reports I'm reading from around the country. This is causing the viewing public...the people the producers should be anxious to call for some answers.

Internet traffic, and newspaper columnists who regularly cover television, are calling for changes to Idol's voting system and disclosure by the producers of just how they A) arrive at the announced result, B) have set up the voting system, and C) why it seems to not be working. Obviously, this situation is not going to change the course of human history. It's not the end of the world to Chris Daughtry. He's obviously going to be more than fine with all the offers that are already rolling in. But, many Idol fans feel hurt and disappointed that their favorite show's basic selecting who stays alive by flawed.

Some are screaming for Daughtry to be let back into the show as a "wild card" because many Chris supporters claim to have either, not been able to get through during the two hours of voting this week, or when they did get through, their vote was credited to one of the other contestants. When someone calls in to vote, the call is normally answered by a recording from that contestant thanking you for voting for them. Some Daughtry voters claim that Katharine, or Elliott's voice thanked them for voting for them...not Chris. You'll remember there was a screw-up in the numbers that were super-imposed on the screen one week last season...and the producers had to throw out the results and "re-do" that show. The Daughtry supporters are asking for a "re-do" for Chris. Don't expect that.

Those who didn't get through during the voting period are saying...if you didn't get through for Chris...but you could get through to vote for another contestant, the show's system is either rigged to guarantee a certain outcome...or it is flawed to the point where the results are not ever going to accurately reflect America's true feelings. If anyone can't get through during an allotted time period while trying to vote for any of the contestants, there's no chance of it being a fair result.

It's probably time for the Idol people to re-think their whole system. Even they probably didn't expect the show to be as popular as it is when they put together the voting system 5 years ago. They are probably at the point where they need to offer other ways of voting ...i.e. internet, e-mail, allowing the lines to stay open longer, etc.

They should also consider changing the voting to either allow one vote...where the caller could vote for their favorite three contestants. Or, they should allow one vote where the caller votes for who they would like to see eliminated. That way, it's a referendum on who should go...not a race to see how many times someone can vote for their favorite in two hours.

Of course, as I said in my post yesteday, one of the show's major sponsors is Cingular Wireless. And, I'm sure, they have a sweet deal with Fox that the network doesn't want to mess up. It's probably a huge money-maker for Cingular as long as Fox keeps those phonelines burning with voters and text messages every Tuesday night. The producers would have a hard time altering that deal with, nothing is likely to least not this season.

I'm sure when the show comes on next Tuesday, young Mr. Seacrest will say something about the overwhelming response that the show has gotten to Chris being sent home. And, he'll say that you have to be sure to vote for your favorite...or they might suffer the same fate as Daughtry. That's his keep those phone lines hot. But, it should be the job of the show's least now that people are taking the whole thing so make sure it's a fair competition for the show's talent. They would be better off in the long run to make the voting system clear to the public...and ensure that the real fan favorites don't go home early.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Daughtry Downer

Chris Update 2--4:45pm Thursday--Internet traffic now says two members of the band Fuel will appear on the TV show Extra to officially ask Chris to front their band. Apparently he's talked to them before about the possibility...and is interested...but published comments today indicate he's not committed to anything at this point. Apparently, he's said there are a number of offers that have been floated...and he wants to take his time to consider them. He also says because he writes music...he likely would prefer a solo career. No matter what he decides, it's apparent that, more so than most previous Idol contestants, Chris has already built up a great fan base and will have a number of lucrative options to choose from.

Also--Apparently the American Idol producers have been flooded with angry fans who claim they couldn't get through on the toll-free numbers assigned to Chris last night to vote for him. Many are screaming for a re-vote..and are angry at Chris's demise. It does seem funny that there isn't a better system set up for voting. When one person can speed-dial for two hours to vote for their favorite as many times as they doesn't make for a fair process. A better idea would be to allow one call per person...and allow them to vote for their top three favorites. Of course, Cingular is one of the sponsors of the show and probably hauls in tons of loot by keeping the phone lines, don't expect that to happen.

Chris Update--1:45pm Thursday-- Rumor making the internet rounds this afternoon. Chris will be officially offered the lead singer job with the band Fuel. A radio station in Fresno is reporting that it will be announced by a member of the group on Access Hollywood tonight.
-First, let me apologize to those of you who aren't really into American Idol. I'll admit I'm much more into it than any guy in his mid-50's should be. The fact that I'm watching these shows in lieu of Cardinal games, or doing something productive, is scaring me. But, hey, from what I read, I'm in the company of about 35 to 40 million other Americans every week. So, I guess the straight-jacket can wait.

So, I get up this morning and I have this "mud in my belly" feeling that you get when something terrible (like we all had on 9/11) has happened. As soon as I clear the sleep from my eyes, and cobwebs from my head, I realize I can't get over the fact that Chris Daughtry got eliminated on last night's show. Daughtry, for those who don't know, was favored by most to win the competition because of his powerful, clear and versatile voice, and stage presence...particularly with rock songs.

Here's why I'm taking this so personally. Chris (top photo) bears a striking resemblance, or vice versa, to my oldest son Ian (bottom photo). All of our family, including his mother, agrees there's a likeness. Ian, like Chris, shaves his head as part of his personna. They are similar in build. Ian also is musically gifted, plays the guitar, loves rock music, and is almost exactly the same age as Chris. Ian moved away from our home last fall to start a life in Colorado...and I miss my first-born buddy very much. Chris's performances have been as close to seeing Ian as I've been able to get for the last 8 months. Obviously, because of the Ian "connection", I invested more emotion in Chris's success on the show than the average viewer. So, when Ryan Seacrest made last night's shocking announcement, it was almost like a death in the family. Almost.

Analysis--I gave the "Daughtry surprise" a little bit of thought after the show...and here's my bottom line again this year. AI is not a singing or performing contest...(I wrote something exactly like this last season)'s a popularity contest. It's also becoming obvious (i.e.- Bo Bice last year) that if you are a rock performer, you had better show more "softness" in your personality because people who perform more generic material will appeal to a larger voting base. If you are seen by the millions of fans of this show as tough, strong, and confident, (exactly what good rock performers do) you will not get the "likeability factor" votes that you will need to win.

This was all painfully obvious with last night's result. Elliott is the little underdog that everybody likes. Taylor is the somewhat goofy and self-deprecating, "I'll-do-anything-to-appeal" type that everybody likes. And, Katharine is the beautiful, smiling, girl-next-door type that everybody also likes. They're all good performers. They're just not on the level of Chris...the way I see it. Obviously, being someone on stage that is likable is the key factor in this whole competition. Chris was, but not at the level he needed to win. I'm guessing he really lacked support from the over-40 population, the non-rock oriented population, and those who thought he had it sewn up.

Chris was inspired to try out for the American Idol competition by two things. He wanted to make it big to support his wife and step-child. And, he saw Bo Bice have success as a rock performer on last year's show. He could have learned more from Bo's experience and tried a little harder to show a softer and huggable side. I thought one key early for Chris was the bio that showed his wife and step-child adoring him and his effort to provide a life better than what they had. That put him in the category of "real person". As the competition went on, I think many viewers lost sight of that and just saw the "hard edge" rocker on stage.

In looking around on the net after the show last night, I learned that Chris has already...according to a Randy Jackson statement from over two months ago...been offered a chance to be the new lead singer for the group Fuel (photo at right). This group has had two platinum-selling CD's, and since it's birth in Harrisburg PA in the late 90's has been extremely successful. Their website does acknowledge that they are looking for a new lead singer, and that they have been impressed with Chris, particularly his performance of one of their songs, Hemorrhage, on an earlier AI show.

So, it appears that Chris, and his family, will be just fine, if not fabulously successful, whichever direction he decides to go with his music. And, even though Ian doesn't care one bit about American Idol, (He reminded me of that on the phone last night), he is enjoying life tremendously in Colorado. So, I'll be all right too....eventually.

But, this year's American Idol will once again not be the most talented of the group.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Idol Upset?

Results Update- Shock and disappointment!! The air went out of the competition for me tonight...Chris Daughtry was sent home. I knew he would be in jeopardy...but I honestly didn't think he would be voted off. Wow!

Katharine...rightly so...was predicted to go off by Simon. Underdog Elliott...and high energy Taylor were the top two...and I think were the beneficiaries of the votes by people who thought they needed votes. Chris's supporters were probably too complacent...thinking he was guaranteed a spot in the final. But, we've seen it before, top talent has a so-so week and goes bye-bye. On the positive side for Chris... he won't be known as the guy who won American Idol. For someone who leans toward rock music...that's not the worst thing in the world. I think a lot of people would be happy with his future.
I'm going to make this short and sweet this week. The would-be Idols went to Graceland..picked out two Elvis songs coaching from Tommy Mottola the famed record producer..and came back to Hollywood to sing.

Quality of performance in order:

1. Elliott (I wouldn't buy his CD...but the little guy stepped up...and sang his butt off)
2. Taylor (There's much more to him than jumping around...his In the Ghetto was amazing)
3. Chris (Not a bad week...easily the best male voice...but not great performances)
4. Katharine (She was Randy would say...aaaaiiight)

If the rest of the country saw it the same way I did, and they vote that way, Elliott probably saved himself from elimination. I expected he would be the next to leave going into tonight's show. Now, I don't think so.

What's going to be interesting is to see if Katharine...being the only woman left...gets the female vote and the "she's hot" vote to be saved from elimination. If she does, it puts my early favorite Chris in jeopardy. As great as I think Chris's potential is, he hasn't picked the right songs to separate himself from the others the last two weeks in a row. And, Chris is going way out of his way to appeal to his rocker fan base. Frankly, I don't think Taylor has a chance of being eliminated...he's been rock solid and easily has the most charisma of the final four.

So, even though I think this could go just about any way...Despite her amazing voice...and her no-doubt, can't miss future stardom...Katharine was definitely the weakest performer this week and will be sent home.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Flip Side

-In my last post, I examined what I believe are potential factors in the revolving door phenomenon and lack of top-flight talent at radio stations...not just locally...but industry-wide. One reader took my thoughts as a an apology for shoddy management practices at KTRS. Not true. In fact, I started the column with a comment about KTRS's new morning show...and it's just-concluded morning effort, but was actually attempting to speak in more general terms about the industry and how developments in the last twenty years have piled up to mean there are less of what we would consider to be truly professional broadcasters with classical training and experience in the available work force.

This time, let's take a look at what factors might combine to produce poor station management. Having been in the programming work force of a radio station most of the last 35 years, this should be a cathartic exercise. I present the following in no particular order.

-Different Strokes

There's one basic truth about most radio stations that sets them up for problems. A sales person runs the place, and it's programming is what meets the public. In my day, people who came through the pipeline on the talent end of the business went through some sort of formal broadcast training. With me, it was a four-year Mass Comm degree at SIU. Most on-air and production people have at least some similar could be a vocational school, college, or junior college. Even newspaper people who wind up on the air have journalism school in their past. For the most part, on-air types still need to come into the business with some kind of MassComm/Speech/Journalism background to be taken seriously.

On the other hand, general managers tend to be sales people who have risen through the ranks, or made the jump from a sales manager position at another station, or in some cases another field altogether. Somehow owners think it's a good idea to bring in people with a successful sales track record in real estate, at auto dealerships, and you name it, to work for, and eventually run, radio stations. These people know sales, but have a limited understanding of the actual on-air product, and how to make it better. They have their opinions about it. But, they are likely flawed, simply because they are numbers people. Their careers have been about making bigger numbers....not better programs and radio formats.

As we all know, sales people tend to be agressive of personality, and impatient with anything perceived as underperformance. So, they attack management with an "It's broke, I need to fix it" mentality. This mindset, in my experience, tends to be at odds with the creative, and product-focused nature of the on-air staff, the Program Director, Production Director, News Director and anyone else close to the control room operation. The GMs, GSMs, and LSMs of the world often run roughshod over the would-be policies of the PD who may actually have a clue about how the station should sound. The "20-minute-per-hour inventory" policy, and "we can run an info-mercial there" thinking will always outweigh the PD's preference for 12 minutes and more music, or talk because there are numbers attached to it. In the long run, you might actually have a better, more profitable, station with the PD's strategy. But, sales people want the numbers, and want them now, seemingly without regard to what it takes to attract an audience. It's the Yin and Yang of radio...but unfortunately it's not that balanced.

-Pressure from Above

Corporate pressure to achieve a certain a profit margin. 'nuff said.

-Spend more to make more?

An off-shoot of the entry above is often station management's lack of understanding of how to promote. Managers are told to improve sales, and invariably ownership doesn't give them the tools, or budget, to do it. "Promotion and advertising aren't necessary, they say. We have a radio station. We are our own promotion." Ha!

Everyone outside the GM's office, sales and programming, grumble about this one all the time. You're asked to do a great job...get great ratings...but there's little, or no, outside promotion to help make that happen. The great irony is that they have a sales force out there trying to induce clients to sell products and services on their station. But, the station doesn't believe in advertising enough to do any of its own. Talent on the station is in effect "preaching to the choir" every day because there are no billboards, TV ads, program ads at The Muny or The Fox, or whatever, to help attract potential new listeners to the frequency. How can such basic marketing be lost on people in the ad business?

-Office Politics

As in many other industries, radio programming decisions are sometimes made based on who someone in the office likes, or dislikes. Radio people tend to be more into gossip, heresay and inuendo in off-the-air settings than anybody. Often, a GM's or PD's decision about an on-air person has as much to do with popularity around the office, as it does effectiveness in the studio. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face!

-Poor Communication

There's a saying in radio...'We're in the communications why are we such poor communicators?" Communication between upper management and department heads...department heads and employees...employees and the public...tends to be as bad, or worse, in radio as it is anywhere. Somehow, radio people are taught to communicate...but not with one another. People at the botoom end of the totem pole often are victims of poorly communicated policies and ideas. We all know who usually pays for failed policy and misguided concepts. Certainly not the person reporting the company's malfunctions in the board room. He/she always has the opportunity to explain, and assess blame. Don't get it....never will.

Again, there likely are many more potential explanations for your favorite poorly-run station's failures. But these are a few that seemed obvious to me. Additions are welcome.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Talent Shortage

-During the drive to my studio this morning, I was, as usual, punching the pre-sets on the radio dial to sample the airwaves. My erstwhile employer, KTRS, was presenting it's new morning show with George Woods...apparently being co-hosted or guest co-hosted?? Victoria Babu. I must say this is a much more palatable presentation than the struggling, screaching, angst-overloaded, and painfully small-market modulations of the jetisoned Scott and Casey. While Woods has little recognition in this market, he certainly has a better shot at success than his predecessors. Whether he'll have any more than the last 20 morning hosts on that frequency... he'll likely need to prove within ninety days.

Anyway, the whole "merry-go-round-don't-let-the-door-hit-you" thing at 550 got me to wondering why it is such a struggle for managers to recognize, hire, and keep good talent these days. I think the simple answer is, there just isn't as much really good talent available in the industry as there once was. If this is true, I've come up with a few possible explanations that I think hold some water. See if you agree.
  • Satellite Outage

The world of daily radio show hosting has never been as lucrative a career choice as the general public seems to think it is. But the opportunity to forge a career, while actually being able to eat, has gotten even worse in the last 15 to 20 years when owners and managers were presented with the largely cost-free option of presenting syndicated, satellite-delivered programming. In most cases, the tantalization of presenting what's perceived as high-quality programming, at little or no expense other than the cost of a board-op or automation computer, is too much for local programmers to argue against. So, upper management and ownership frequently spurn employment of real, flesh-and-blood, local talent in favor of whatever is available "on the bird". I say what's "perceived" as quality programming...but that's an argument for another day.

This, of course, limits the amount of real quality jobs...and on-the-job training opportunities...for anybody interested in the talent end of the business. People with the "radio bug" almost have to be willing to volunteer their time in order to get comfortable behind the microphone. And "mic time" is severely limited when all you do is board-op a syndicated show. The evolution of local radio jobs into "button pushers running the board", means talented people are not coming into the business, or staying in the business, in the numbers they once did.

  • No Chance

Those of us who trained ourselves to be broadcasters thirty-plus years ago, understood that after college, or wherever we received our professional education, we would have to go to BFE to get our first job and "pay our dues". Many of those type of jobs don't even exist anymore. FCC deregulation is a major culprit here. Station operators used to have to employ at least a few "real broadcasters" who knew the ropes of radio to do public affairs programming and host shows that actually served the community, a one-time requirement in keeping a station license. Those jobs have pretty much gone away, and with them another potential training ground. No effort required of ownership by the effort positions to get experience and put on a resume'...nobody moving up the radio ladder.

Along that same line, the local AM station that once competed with the community newspaper as a source of information, and hired a considerable news and sports staff to do so, these days has usually faded into a weak step-sister of the owner's music-driven FM station. Full-service local radio rarely exists any more. Again, fewer jobs in the small market, fewer opportunities, fewer well-seasoned professionals moving up from below.

  • Smart People

The world of radio...and now including talk radio...seems to be overrun with people who espouse the notion that real, quality programming is a waste of time.. and you have to out gimmick the competition. To be relevant in the current climate, it's believed you need to be silly and risque' with "Stern-esque" topics and guests to acquire an audience. In this environment, smart, educated, issues-oriented broadcasters, particularly ones with any experience, will find other things to do and not waste their time.

  • Union Weakness

I'm not the world's biggest fan of unions. But, AFTRA, the only radio performer union that I know of, has never been as major a factor in the world of radio as they might like to be. For whatever reason, unionization has never taken a strong hold on even major-market stations...let alone medium to small markets. But, if there were some actual monetary and union grievance consequences to the willy-nilly decisions by managers, they actually might be forced to put more effort and thought into the original hiring process. And they may be more inclined to hire people with a track record as opposed to gambling on borderline talent. This doesn't speak specifically to the lack of talent...more the eagerness to give up on developing it.

  • The Tube

Young people interested in a broadcasting career, and who've grown to adulthood not knowing that radio was once all the broadcasting there was, are gravitating toward television careers. Who can blame them? That's where most of the money and sexiness has gone.

Some of the best radio broadcasters I've ever known, or heard, have nothing to do with radio any more. Unless something changes to bring real opportunity back to the talent end of the industry, few will even try to chase the radio dream. Without those dreamers, the degeneration of local radio primarily into an outlet for syndicated programming, seems to be it's destiny.

Undoubtedly, there are other contributing factors to the current state, aside from what I've put forth here. Feel free to add your ideas.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Tough Call

Results Update-While I did predict Paris would be the one leaving the show this week, when the bottom two were standing there (Paris and Elliott) I wouldn't have been surprised at either name being announced. Now things start to get really interesting...but I think it should be fairly predictable. The top four...I think most people believe really the top two and the bottom two. It's going to take a miracle for either Taylor or Elliott to be in the finale. It will take a huge "botch job" by Chris or Katharine to keep them from the final show on the 24th.
-OK...yo,yo, so hey, check it out. Who was the best performer on AI this week? I don't think anybody hit a grand slam with both of their performances. (Everybody sang twice this week, one song from the year of their birth..and a second from the current Billboard charts) So, in the case of nobody really stinking up the joint, I'm thinking it will come down to the usual two questions..."Who's the most popular among their own fans?" and..."Who's fans are most likely to pick up the phone to vote?"

Elliott Yamin led off and was OK with the George Benson version of On Broadway then came back and did a nice job with Home by Michael Bublet.

Paris Bennett did Prince and Mary J. Blige in her two songs. Both were energetic and well done...but not great. The good thing for her is that those choices should rally her troops considering that she's the only minority performer left in the group.

Chris Daughtry, IMHO, went a little too far with his appeal to the rockers of America tonight. His first performance was amazing. But, then he came back with a screamer that his voice wasn't quite up for. Too bad... because he's shown that he can sing about anything. As you can tell, I've never been a big hard rock guy...and really don't know the names or performers of either of his songs.

Katharine McPhee went for Phil Collins' Against All Odds with her first song. And came back with a cute song on the current Adult charts. Name...?? Sorry. But she was off key and struggled with her first song...the second was teriffic.

Taylor Hicks came out with Play That Funky Music while jumping, writhing, and sliding all over the place. I kind of agreed with Simon's put down. He looked like a bad wedding performer on that one. But, he came back with a nice version of Something by the Beatles and redeemed himself.

Looking back at last week, Taylor and Elliott were the bottom two in the voting. I think the fact that Taylor went last helps him...and Elliott went first hurts him. I am going to stick with my belief that America recognizes Katharine and Chris as the cream of this year's crop and will go to the phones again to make that statement. So, I'm saying that Elliott and Paris will form the bottom two this week... and, (drum roll please) Paris Bennett will be asked to leave.