THE FATE OF THE U.S. ‘IDOL’ FRANCHISE

Another season of American Idol is now past us, and – as usual – it didn’t come and go without its own sense of controversy. If anything, what this past season can boast of in all its apparent glory is the fantastic singing that was heard week after week. I had dropped-off the Idol bandwagon after many questionable decisions made by the judges (or the network, as many a conspiracy theorist tends to believe) for their final list of 10-12 singers. It was only after a chance night at home watching the very first performance of this season’s top 10 that I got re-hooked.

Early on, it was quite apparent that this season’s top finalists were pretty significant. Each one could carry his or her weight through a song every week; some slightly better than others. But after stripping the experience down to its bare bones, we were left with a simple and excellent mix of über talented vocalists & artists all vying for the attention of AI’s voting demographic.

(Same old, same old.)

Now that we’re at the end of the season, I feel like there’s nothing left to do BUT beg to question: Is AI’s voting demographic the expert in choosing America’s next big singer? If the success levels of our last four winners (Phillip Phillips is now #5) are any indication, then the answer is a resounding “no.”

You have to examine the make-up of this “demographic” in order to understand this. We’re unsure if there is actually data out there which would suggest any true determinations on this so-called “demo,” but in taking a look at the four winners prior to Phillips (David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze, and Scotty McCreery), it is probably safe to make an assumption on who this group of people may be. *COUGH*Tween Girls*COUGH*Housewives*COUGH*Grandmothers*COUGH*

This in mind, you can easily make some solid comparisons to help understand what these past five winners have in common:

a)      White males

b)      Musically talented (can sing & play instruments)

c)       Easy on the eyes

To this demographic, these are the makings of a true matinee idol. But are these the true makings of what an ‘American Idol’ ‘ought to be? That’s up for debate, for sure.

One thing holds true – each of these winners (well, most of them, at least) have experienced well-deserved wins. Phillip Phillips is no different. Personally, I think that he choose a business-savvier path to choose his finals night playlist than his much younger, and inexperienced, competitor – Jessica Sanchez. One might even argue that Jessica’s phenomenal abilities only warrant her being a true vocalist as opposed to an all-around artist. (But there is nothing wrong with being a gifted vocalist.) But she’s still young, and has a lot to come away with and learn from. She is not one to be counted out, especially after she tore down walls and held her own alongside the incomparable Jennifer Holliday. Damn, j.San sang this shit out of that song!!!

Many argue that it was Jessica’s final song choice (at the end of the finals competition) that did her in, and I can probably agree. I must say, though, that I don’t think the song was horrible by any means. Was it the best for her to choose as her “1st single?” Not at all. That would be like Beyonce starting out her career with ‘Halo’ as her first song ever. ‘Halo’ is a good “mid-way thru a singer’s career” song.  ‘Change Nothing’ could work as a regular track on j.San’s eventual CD (because I think it’s obvious that she will be a recording phenom as there are already producers who have expressed their desire to work with her), but it truly wasn’t meant to be a carrier single. And shame on the judges for touting Phillip’s song choice, ‘Home,’ as being completely original. First off, it had hints of Mumford and Sons & even Coldplay written all over it. Secondly, it’s a song that has already been recorded previously –not that this should hinder anyone from re-releasing an old track, but this just doesn’t justify some of the judges’ b.s. comments on finals night.

On Extra (the NBC entertainment news outlet), a poll was taken on who would possibly win this year’s contest. A whopping 87% chose Jennifer Sanchez. Apparently, that 87% was not (likely) part of AI’s loyal voting base, which proves that different demographics seek out different things naturally.

But an even further question could (and should) be asked: Should the fate of the U.S. Idol franchise be left in the hands of this demographic of squealing girls and homely mothers and grandmothers who choose the talented “super cute” guy to win year after year? One thing is for sure… This demographic hasn’t helped to catapult previous winners to the higher echelons of superstardom. Whether we will ever see the presence of an Idol with Kelly-esque or Carrie-esque marketability again is uncertain.

I feel that now is the time to end the franchise. While Simon’s absence has been refreshing, and j.Lo has surely brought more in terms of “advice giving” than Paula had in years (or even Ellen in one season), the credibility of the show has been thrown to the throngs of squealing tweens and their mothers/grandmothers who are giving FOX every reason imaginable to reign supreme in the genre. But unless these tweens & moms can pick and choose next year’s winner through the lenses of a record executive, then I think we can expect another cute-faced, talented white guy with a guitar to win season 12. Oh, and he will likely not be the next Steven Tyler either.

Predictable. Fun to watch, still, but completely predictable.

AI11’s Top 2: Phillip Phillips (winner) & Jessica Sanchez (Runner-Up). Photo courtesy of aceshowbiz.com (http://www.aceshowbiz.com/news/view/00050808.html)

ROCK YOUR PERSONAL THEME SONG

Every now and then we sort of find ourselves marching to the beat of a song that mirrors the exact experience we are going through at that moment. At times of triumph, I’m sure that inspiration-filled anthems swarm around our heads. When we’ve fallen and are on the path to “rising back up,” there are fight-themed songs to energize our efforts. And when we’re down, of course, we wrap our heads around heart-wrenching ballads.

Whatever the case may be, there really is a song for everyone.

Right now, I’m stepping out to Oasis’ “Stop Crying Your Heart Out.” To spare you any long-winded explanations, I’ll just say that the lyrics pretty much sum up a recurring theme that plays in my life. Right now, I’m focused less on self-fear & self-pity, and more on moving forward… strong. We all know that we’ve got to grab the bull by the horns, but we also know that doing so is much easier said than done.

What’s life without it’s challenges though, yes?

So… What’s your personal theme song? Whatever it is –rock it… well.

Stop Crying Your Heart Out (Oasis)

OH, TO BE A PEOPLE-WATCHING PERSON

As humans, we can’t help but engage in the naturalistic observation of the people around us. What I mean, in layman’s terms, is that we are some people-watchin’ mofos. Yes, we are.

Taking part in people-watching is something so inevitably natural that you can’t really help it when you do it. As you go about your business, no matter what you’re doing, you sometimes can’t help but notice what the next person is doing, or saying, etc. And as much as you try to ignore the noise and distractions around you, there is just no escaping the lame guy at the airport talking about how stupid all people are who get to board the plane in zone 1, or the woman who keeps going on and on about how she thinks this guy likes her (because she’s obviously got more personality than anything else), or the irate mother with the most annoying & unruly kids ever. Sometimes, you just can’t get past any of this stuff… all senseless, yet enigmatic… weird, albeit awesome… Truth be told: we love people watching.

When I was in L.A. at the latter part of last week, I found myself smack in the middle of what is possibly the best place to people-watch in the world. Yes, friends, only in L.A. will you find it most interesting to people-watch. There’s just so much to see: the tourists who board those embarrassing topless tour buses going down Rodeo Drive… the giggly school girls wearing Uggs in warm-ish 60-degree weather… the beach bums wearing short shorts and flip-flops in cool-ish 60-degree weather… the Hollywood types sporting sunglasses and fedoras –after the sun has set… the wanna-be college girls from Orange County who try to pass themselves off as “L.A.” (when we really see thru those super fake tans & Tory Burch wedges bought from a random mall)… the pasty Europeans in the hotel pool… or even the barista at The Coffee Bean practicing lines in his head as he prepares for an audition. In L.A., you see it all.

But the most intriguing people to watch are those doing the people-watching with such style and finesse that you can’t help but watch them back as they’re watching you. (I think I may have confused you there, reader.) They sit back at tables in outdoor cafes with their sunglasses on… sometimes sipping lemonade or coffee. They look almost statue-like, and rarely move around as they pass the time away watching you watching them. They almost beg you to ask them: “What the eff do you do with your lives that you’re able to sit and people-watch on a Thursday afternoon at 1:37PM?” “Do you have a job?” “Where did you get those cool jeans?” But instead, we watch them as they watch us pass them by… as we go on about our lives – business as usual.

To all those people-watchers, please know that I am watching you, too. And I am oddly inspired by your uncanny way of being voyeur-able voyeurs.

I want in.

JE ME SOUVIENS DE PARIS

Growing up, I have always had a desire to travel and see the world. I remember playing “airplane” as a kid, and having my brother, sister and cousins (and maybe a stuffed animal, or 5) sit on the stairs as if they were in first class. I was the inevitable choice for the all-in-one pilot-flight attendant, making the flight go as I wanted it to, and where I wanted it to go. So from Washington, DC to New York, and to London, Madrid, and even to Kuala Lumpur (I think I liked being able to say “Kuala Lumpur” as a kid), my make-believe plane took my brood of passengers around the world and back again.

It’s no wonder that I hold a desire for travel. And luckily, I’ve had my share of travels in the last couple of years.

It just so happens that the biggest surprise of them all was: 1) my least desired city to visit, and 2) the place I was in for the shortest time ever — less than 20 hours. Yes, Paris has never really been high on my list… yet I can’t really pin point why. Perhaps it’s because everyone else wanted to go to Paris when I was growing up. Because of television, movies, and fashion magazines, Paris was always on this pedestal. The City of Lights. To me, it was more like the city of I-want-to-go-someplace-else.

But I guess I’ve always been the odd man out. While everyone wanted to go to Paris, I had my eyes set on Copenhagen. While everyone was so hung up on needing to visit Rome or Italy in general, I had (and still do!) held Spain and Portugal in a higher esteem. Call it a matter of preference or what have you. I just like to move to the beat of my own drum.

Visiting Paris on what has been the longest layover I’ve ever had (long enough to warrant an overnight stay in the city proper, and NOT by the airport) was truly one of the biggest surprises I’ve had in travel.

What I knew about Paris, before actually setting foot there, was much, to be honest. I had always known that the lay of the land had similarities to DC, because Pierre L’Enfant, who made the original layout and plans for DC, was heavily influenced by Paris. I’ve known that Parisian culture is one that is heavily centered on an intricate mix of history, society, fashion, and food. And Paris is simply one of the most iconic cities in both history and pop culture. All that said, I still don’t understand why it never really made it to the top of my “it” list, until now.

The few hours that I was there were purely magical… an indelible jolt of sensory overload coupled with the sheer mix of classic and chic. I expected to be in awe of the famous landmarks: La Tour Eiffel, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, La Louvre… but what I didn’t expect was to be haunted by the wow-factor of each of these places to this day. I’m haunted in a good way, of course… in a way that beckons me to go back for more.

Back at home, as I drive through DC, I am often reminded of Paris. The facade of certain buildings, or the way that the sun sets against the Lincoln Memorial, or the view of the Kennedy Center from the top of Key Bridge –all of these things bear some kind of similarity to Paris: the sun setting against the Eiffel Tower, or the view of the Grand Palais from the banks of the river Seine for example. The site of these things brings back memories of that one night in Paris.

I know I”ll make it back there sooner than later, but for now – I’ll hold on to those mental pictures of the city I fell in love with. À la prochaine fois!

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Arc de Triomphe

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Sunset along the Seine

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FOR THE LOVE OF GOD (AND LACK OF PERSONALITY)

Another Oscars telecast came, and swiftly passed us by. One can argue that the years-old institution is crumbling as a major television event. But many an American were glued to their sofas on Sunday night reveling in all that is “red carpet” and “awards.” (In other words, the same old shit from the year before… and the year before that… and eons before that show, too.)

Billy Crystal did as good as Billy Crystal can. He is definitely a lot better than the hosts of late, but I couldn’t help but think that I was watching a past telecast. Seems that Billy Crystal is still sporting the “Billy Crystal Oscar Formula.” I still can’t decide whether I think it’s a dated formula or not, but I did laugh nevertheless.

The red carpet appeared to lack in “pomp and circumstance” as compared to past years. But in this recession, it probably made sense to down-play the line of Casadei and Jimmy Choo stilettos that made their way into the Kodak. Even so, we were still in the presence of Dior, Armani Prive, and all the likes. Even the male actors made (or missed) their mark in the various designer penguin suits dotting the red C.

One of the biggest red carpet misses, for me, wasn’t so much an actual gown or suit or pair of shoes… It was the hot mess that we’ve come to know as Rooney Mara. While she was a stunner in Givenchy (minus the stupid action she had going on with her bangs), she was an absolute flop in her red carpet interview with Robin Roberts. Now Robin Roberts is a well-respected television broadcaster. While she may not be your typical type of “entertainment”-style interviewer, she was full of personality. And when you’re being interviewed by the likes of Robin Roberts, you should shoot back with just as much personality. Rooney Mara, unfortunately, was uber-lacking in the personality department as she seemed to painfully respond to Roberts’ questions. At one point during their “banter,” Roberts made a comparison of the red carpet madness to the craziness at a professional football game.. which was probably not the best analogy, however if you really think about it creatively, you could come up with a witty answer. Rooney Mara was as non-witty as they come; absolutely cringe-worthy.

Rooney Mara in Givenchy, 2012 Oscars Red Carpet (Photo by PacificCoastNews.com)

One might argue that she was probably just being herself. But I’m sorry, as a person coming into the public eye, you would think she’d know how to play up to the cameras and interviewers in a way that is more poised and polished. On the contrary, she came off as limp as a dead trout. Perhaps it’s her age and lack of experience, but whatever the case may be, she should learn a thing of two from her peers.

I give her Oscar nod an A+, but in contrast, her personality on the red carpet deserves nothing more than a flat F.

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ASIANS & CHINESE BUFFETS: A CASESTUDY IN WTF

It’s no secret that Asians are food-loving people. And like other cultures of the world, the Asian culture places a strong emphasis on the role that food plays in celebrations, times of mourning, and in day-to-day business. Chinese wedding banquets are legendary, and the spreads of tables in any South Asian and/or Southeast Asian household are always plentiful and colorful.

Asian immigrants to the United States (and elsewhere) brought their penchant for elaborate meals along with them. And with the creation of extended families, there is always a reason to celebrate, to come together, and to share in laughter, engage in deep conversation, and play “catch up” over food.

Chinese immigrants, being the savvy business people that they are, capitalized on the importance of food by creating the food phenomenon that is the Chinese buffet. And these buffets are almost always packed. No matter how unappetizing the concept can be, it is a pot of gold for Asians who cling to the belief that you get the best bang for your buck at these food establishments.

Personally, I abhor the idea. Yet I always seem to find myself smack in the middle of a bustling buffet whenever there’s a family gathering or celebration. Each and every time I go to one, I totally witness the same three things:

  • People swarming over sub-standard king crab legs
  • People salivating over D-grade “sushi”
  • People piling up plates as high as Mt. Effing Rushmore

Let’s tackle these things now, shall we?

CRAB LEGS: This is a prime example of  the Chinese buffet’s use of “smoke & mirrors.” For some reason, people equate crab legs with fine dining. Sure, seafood tends to land in the higher echelon of the food stratosphere. But in all honesty, just how amazing are these crab legs at the Chinese buffet? So great that you have to stand around like vultures waiting for the tray of crab legs to arrive? Well, here’s something to think about: they’re cheap. Not only in price, but all-in-all. I, personally, call a spade a spade, and am fine with a plate of freakin’ fries, chicken nuggets, and steamed dumplings. Swarming around the crab legs tray = lame. Piling your plate with so many that there isn’t any left for the next guy = pathetic.

SUSHI: OK, the sushi at these places are usually so far beyond despair that it’s sad. Maki rolls are probably the best way to go (and are what most people deem as “sushi” anyway, even though it’s technically not). But the raw fish on rice? Skip it, and save yourself a parasite or five.

PILED-UP PLATES: I just have one thing to say on this… There is an endless supply of plates. There is no need to pile it on when you can keep going back for more. I mean, seriously?

No matter how much I try to convince my parents that the food at a Chinese buffet is far from carefully-prepared, they just can’t seem to get it. And unfortunately, it’s has become one of those things that I’ve had to learn to accept & acquiesce to.

At the end of the day, however, it all comes down to the company you keep, and the conversations and time spent together –yes, even at the Chinese buffet. It may not always be enough to turn your “WTF” into gold, but at least you can look back at each and every experience with laughter. (Lots of it.)

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COUGH-COUGH, SNIFF-SNIFF

‘Tis the season for cold weather, cold weather outfits, and – ultimately – cold weather sicknesses. That latter piece is definitely the worst of the bunch, and unfortunately, I’ve finally succumbed to the trappings of a major head cold. I say “finally” because I’ve been fighting head colds off for the past few months. From August to October, and even through December, I have been one victorious M.F. when it came to battling the common cold. But this time, even my usual ritual of dousing myself with Emergen-C couldn’t save my bum.

I was off on my first business trip for 2012 last Friday. Destination: Park City, UT. Event: Sundance Film Festival. (Not a bad gig, yeah? It sure beats sitting around a cube all day, that’s for sure.) I was sent to cover an event that we were sponsoring, and I was excited to be in snow-covered Park City, especially since DC has been lacking in the white, powdery substance this season. (Incidentally, while I was away, DC welcomed a dusting. Go figure.) And snow-covered it was, but apparently not snow-covered enough. In fact, Utah’s ski resorts have suffered immensely due to the lack of snow for the past few months. They’ve definitely seen much better times.

For me, though, the view of snow-covered mountains was amazing… especially when set against clear, blue skies. That Saturday, however, wasn’t so clear and blue. In fact, I had awaken to gray skies, and snow falling down. Lots of snow. And this went on all day. After taking care of business that morning (including running into Mario Lopez at the hotel’s fitness center), I had some time to enjoy “Sundance” for what it was. There was much revelry in downtown Park City, and Main Street was bustling with activity, even with the snow coming down swiftly. My old pair of Uggs didn’t even stand a chance as I got them soaked from stepping into puddles of slush. And sure enough, the next day I began to feel the weather slowly seeping its way into my blood… any trace of strength within my body was breaking down.

My plane ride back to DC was just as germ-filled, and apparently, I was nestled between several members of the Sneezy McSneezerton family. Walking through the jet way and into the concourse at DCA was comfortable, but inevitably my body had already given in to the head cold. I drove  home hoping to jump into bed, only to realize later that my new bed had arrived. So I weakly put my new bed together, and eventually hopped in bed hoping to sleep off any trace of head cold that was in my body.

Three days later, I’m still with head cold. I did manage to make it into the office, but with head cold nonetheless. Thankfully, I have enough of a handle on it so that I’m not spreading my germs across the room. But I can’t wait to end the day, and prepare for another NyQuil-induced sleep.

One more night should do the trick.

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IN MY WORLD, YOU CAN NEVER HAVE ENOUGH COATS

If you know me well, you know that I’m a sucker for jackets, coats, and everything in-between. Where fall and winter reign supreme, you’ve got to be armed and ready. But having just one is never enough. While versatility and function are important factors when it comes to choosing a coat, you can’t deny the style factor. Everyone deserves a jacket or coat with a little more character.

Right now, I’ve got my eyes set on this:

The Oates Bracken Jacket by Barbour (Courtesy of Barbour.com)

Slap this one on with a messy button-up shirt, a thin scarf, straight-cut jeans tucked into a pair of brown rugged boots — and you’re golden.

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NEW YEAR, NEW HOME, NEW GROCERY STORE ADVENTURES

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

So 2011 is now a distant memory, and 2012 is off and running… no stopping ahead.

Lots of “new” going on! After crashing at the parentals’ pad for a little over two years, I have packed my bags and moved into the city. Sure, it’s only 30 minutes away from them, but I’m now out of suburban Maryland, and living right on the cusp of downtown/uptown in DC. I’m furniture-less (for now), but I’m alive. And my closets are packed and full. That’s all I could ask for.

With the new place comes a lot of new-ish responsibility, and so that means making some sacrifices (*cough*no shopping*cough*no restaurant week*cough*) for a bit as I adjust to my new surroundings, figure out my finances, and work through a new schedule which would include prepping and cooking my own food. –Hello, kitchen! You’ve been missed!

One of the funner things that I’ve done in recent days was go grocery shopping with the roomie. We went to an “ethnic” grocery store, which was the norm for me back in L.A. While the stores on the East Coast may not have as huge a selection as they do out West, it’s still too funny to see some of the items that they sell there… especially the items I’m used to seeing in my mom’s kitchen.

I walked past this, and I laughed as I took the picture:

Century Light Tuna with Calamansi

Straight from General Santos City in Mindanao (Philippines)! Also available at this store: banana “ketchup,” seasoning packets for sinigang, adobo & pinapaitan, “exotic” fruits and veggies, fish, frozen pork buns, eggrolls, yada-yada. There were a ton of other things, too, and even though being in stores like this seems sketch at times, you can’t help but mumble “yum” under your breath as you walk past the aisle with your favorite childhood, non-American food. Ha.

It really is the little things that make you smile. With this new year and new home in my back pocket, I’m looking forward to more of these new “grocery store adventures” in the days to come.

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Flex Spending Awesomeness

The holidays definitely keep you busy. And just when you think it’s over and done with, you’re faced with yet another deadline (of sorts) to work through: the December 31st cut-off date to use up any funds still left in your annual Flex Spending Account. Oh, the joy.

I pulled an idiot move late last year when I decided that I wanted to set-aside a flex account of $2K. I know — “What the hell were you thinking, Wen?” And I’ve been getting that from all sides. But whatev. It was a dumb move, and I’m paying for it now… especially since I only used up barely $200.00 of this faux pot o’gold on contacts over the summer. So in a mad-dash to make use of the left-over funds, I headed into the challenging world of the “post-Christmas shopping black hole.” And what an effin’ black hole it was. Traffic on the freeway was intense, and all because everyone and their family trees decided that the best thing to do after Christmas was to go “hang out” at Tysons Corner Center. And yes, the traffic was backed-up for miles, and I can only imagine how intense the parking situation was at that mall. Thankfully, I was headed to the less-intense (aka “boring”) Tysons Galleria, or Tysons II — one of the DC area venues where Rodeo Drive and 5th Avenue decided to leave their spawn (ie, the likes of Burberry, LV, Bally, and Tahari). This usually barren space was perked-up today with more movement than it may have seen in weeks, or even months… but it still didn’t come close to the ridiculousness of its sister mall across the way.

I made my way to Georgetown Opticians, where I decided it would be best to make use of my sitting flex dollars. Who came out with two pairs of eyeglasses?! THIS GUY. Victory was mine… well, just about. So my first pair came out to just over $740, and then I decided that a second pair would make sense as a spare; that set me back another $600 or so. In the end, I netted out with an expense of just under $1,400.00 — still leaving me with another $400 or so to blow before the 31st.

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My new specs by Anne et Valentin (albeit in a different color scheme)

My next stop was to RiteAid to stock-up on contacts solution, eye enzymes, and new contacts cases… but as the cashier rang up my purchase, my flex spend card wouldn’t go through. I figure that the card’s sudden break from dormancy probably ignited some kind of flagging of my account, and so the additional $100-or so that I intended to spend today was unfortunately NOT spent. This only means that I still have a few more days to figure out how to spend about $400 on appropriate items covered by this flex spend account.

It’s time to get creative. Bandages, anyone?!

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