Tag Archives: american idol

Updated::Former AI Contestant Alexis Cohen Killed in Hit-and-Run Accident

26 Jul
AP photo

AP photo

One of my favorite “American Idol” contestants–Alexis Cohen–passed away Saturday morning after being hit by a car in Seaside Heights, NJ (full story).  The 24 year-old Allentown native was known for her, uh, rambunctious behavior during her “Season 7” audition.  Those of us living in the Lehigh Valley were just proud that Alexis was all ours.  She also auditioned in “Season 8”–much calmer and much more polite (but not nearly as fun). I’m going to miss Alexis Cohen, not only because she was a hoot on “American Idol,” but also because her death reminds me of the fragility of life.  Alexis chased her dream, and did something most of us would never dare–she tried out for “American Idol” twice!  Even after being rejected by the judges the first time, she came back a second time to try again.  I love that about Alexis Cohen, and that’s what I’ll remember about her (plus, giving  Simon a double middle finger salute–can’t forget that).  Rest in peace, Alexis.  Be at peace.

Update: Twenty-three year-old Daniel Bark of Toms River, NJ has been arrested for reckless driving and leaving the scene of the accident that took the life of Alexis Cohen. (Full story)  It’s hard for me to fathom hitting a person with my car and then driving away…unless you’re too high or drunk to notice.

Tuned Out:: Don’t Let People Stop Stopping You From Not Following Your Dreams

23 May

Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks the new “American Idol” song is silly.  The song called “No Boundaries” was co-written by the fouth judge Kara DioGuardi, which really makes me question her talent-telling abilities, you know what I’m saying?  Anyway, jokester Brant Hansen put together his own rendition of the song called “Don’t Let People Stop Stopping You From Not Following Your Dreams (Unless You Want To, I Mean).”  HT to my pal Tracy for posting this wonderful video on her blog, UltraSpy.  Happy Memorial Day, kids!  Check back in with you on Tuesday!  Until then, don’t let people stop stopping you…oh, nevermind…

P.S. Personally, I think more people should sing, “Yeah, yeah, yup.” Brilliant!

Review:: It’s Christmas – Mandisa

8 Dec

By Sarah Merkel The artist simply known as Mandisa became a household name as she entered the final rounds of “American Idol’s” fifth season.  After her debut album, fans were craving more and Mandisa decided to expand on her four song EP to produce a new holiday album called It’s Christmas.  Soulful and original, It’s Christmas is a rip roarin’ good time… if you’re into gospel music.

Creativity:: 4 Although this album is comprised of mainly traditional songs, they are performed with a black gospel feel that adds in some great horn parts.  Vocally, Mandisa takes the songs to new heights, even though her vocals don’t seem to reach as high as she would like.

Original Songs:: 7 There are two original songs on this album, “Christmas Day” featuring Michael W. Smith and “Christmas Makes Me Cry” with Matthew West.  Both songs have great lyrics and a warm feel.  The addition of male vocalists adds to the dynamics of this project.

Classic Covers:: 4 Comprised mostly of covers, Mandisa does a nice job on songs like “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” and on Stevie Wonder’s “What Christmas Means to Me”.  However, Mandisa’s renditions of “Little Drummer Boy,” “O Holy Night,” and “Feliz Navidad” are overdone and poorly executed.

Musical Score:: 8 The background music was full and lively, offering the listener the sounds of a Christmas concert.  The horn players on this album did an exceptional job with near-perfect intonation and pitch.

Overall Holly Jolliness:: 6 Fans of the gospel genre will be sure to find themselves in the Christmas spirit after listening to It’s Christmas.

Total Score= 29
.  This is a great stocking stuffer for that hard-to-buy-for-gospel-loving-person on your Christmas list.

Print copy of review.

To read our review guide lines, go here.

You can find It’s Christmas and the rest of our great “12 Days of Christmas Music” reviewed albums in Backseat Writer’s online store, Drive-By Shopping, under the “12 Days of Christmas Music” category!

Sarah Merkel is a social worker specializing in adoptions, even though she though has a degree in music. When she’s not rockin’ out to Guitar Hero or getting into trouble with Amy (Sondova), she’s playing trombone with Grace Notes Gospel Big Band. Sarah has the tedious responsibility of editing Amy’s first drafts, and if Backseat Writer ever makes any money, Sarah will manage the finances. Plus, in the event that Amy becomes incapacitated Sarah will assume site responsibilities, sort of like the vice-president.

Transformers 2 in the Valley

5 Jun

A scene from the set taken by Michael Kubel of The Morning Call.

Welp, there’s been a lot of excitement in the city of Bethlehem and the greater Lehigh Valley over the past week or so. Movie crews rolled in late last week to begin assembling sets at the old Bethlehem Steel Plant to prepare for the filming of Transformers 2. Yup, the opening scene to the Transformers sequel features Bethlehem, which has been transformed to look like a Chinese city. Still, it’s pretty cool (full Morning Call story).

Filming was scheduled Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 4 PM-7AM. Unwilling to fight rush hour traffic or burn the midnight oil to see the spectacular pyrotechnic explosions, I stayed home and read about it in the paper. I mean, maybe if I could have pushed a few buttons to actually blow stuff up or share an Egg McMuffin with Michael Bay…yeah, I would have show up for that.

Filming was a bit hindered by rain and thunderstorms. Despite the weather, Bay and his crew got all the footage needed and are now moving on to their next location. Still, it was an exciting event for the Lehigh Valley and a bit more positive than Billy Joel’s song, “Allentown” and Alexis Cohen’s “American Idol” audition.

Voting:: American Idol vs. American President

4 Jun

By Andrew J. Wilhelm Congratulations to the latest “American Idol” David Cook, who received the majority of the 99.7 million votes cast. While the inconvenience of college cut into my T.V. viewing, , I am a big fan of the show. The overall premise of the show, to give an amateur singer the chance of a lifetime, is a good one. It is also one that the American public can buy into–who doesn’t want dreams to come true? Still, 99.7 million is a daunting number! Since fans of the show can vote mutliple times, it doesn’t accurately reflect the actual number of viewers. Yet “American Idol” finales typically garner around 30 million viewers. Having 10% percent of the country captivated by a single television show is pretty impressive. Props to Simon, Paula, and Randy!

Although the 2004 presidential election garnered 40% of eligible voter turnout, “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell almost always gets more Americans to vote than political candidates. Primaries, even in this extra-thrilling campaign season, often struggle to reach double digits. Most people just don’t care enough to drive to the polling station and hit a button. Why are people more willing to vote for the nation’s next rock star, but seem lackadaisical about picking the next leader of the country? While his good looks and throaty vocals may make David Cook the next big thing; he’s not attempting to rule the free world (by political force anyway). Why do American citizens have more interest in pop stars than presidents?

I decided to ask a few of my friends, mostly college students like myself, about this issue and have elicited several interesting answers to my inquiry.

The most popular answer was that politics is “boring.” A vague expression, but one I’ll try to uncover more fully. Most people fall into three categories of “political boredom”: they believe their single vote couldn’t possibly make a difference; they simply don’t understand government workings and don’t care to learn; or they have been disenchanted because of corruption, scandals, etc. In fact, among those who choose not to vote, I would conjecture that all three possibilities would apply.

I have heard an enormous amount of people say that they are unhappy with our current options–John McCain, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton, who’s hanging on by the skin of her teeth. Their remedy to such disdain is to simply not vote. I’d urge everyone to at least limit the damage by voting for whoever they deem the lesser of the two (or three) “evils”.

The weather also has a lot to do with whether or not people show up to the polls. A sunny, pleasant day can yield up to twice the voters as a cold, rainy day. Lame? I sure think so. Unfortunately, Americans have become uncontrollably lazy. They are used to being able to do everything from the comfort of their own La-Z-Boy. What if voting could be done via the Internet or even text messiaging, as in “American Idol”? These are possibilities that would dramatically change the voting landscape, but must be explored to keep up with this generation’s demands. Can you imagine Hillary standing on stage urging viewers to vote for her by calling 1-888-PREZ-001?

The level of disengagement from politics is being felt as severely as ever. Some everyday Americans–the ones who who go to work, pick up the kids from school, go to bed, only to repeat the process don’t have a clue what’s happening in Washington. But the politicians don’t seem to know what’s going on in middle America either. Like the a monarchy, the wealthiest tend to rule (and make the rules for) big-time politics It seems our government will be ruled by older, wealthy, white men in the foreseeable future, which doesn’t bode well for the “American Idol” voting crowd. In fact, many might want to replace the President, Congress, and Supreme Court with the checks-and-balances of Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson, with AI host Ryan Seacrest as press secretary naturally.

In fact, the start-up of “American Idol” is arguably the best part of the show, and a lot more exciting than the primaries. The show’s preliminary auditions present viewers with freaks and tone deaf contestants that give us all a chuckle. After that, a few contestants who can actually sing make it through to the voting stages. Each contestants has his or her unique personality, hair style, vocal range, personal story, and connection with viewers. Not so in politics. While there has been some diversity in this year’s presidential election, politics is sill mostly wealthy white men who enjoy listening and arguing with other wealthy white men. Those who push the envelope threaten this hierarchy of power and can rarely penetrate the deep layers of aged power in Washington.

When it comes down to “American Idol” versus the American President, it seems we choose entertainment over politics, unless of course there’s a political scandal brewing. Nothing shoots up ratings like an old-fashioned affair or deep-seeded corruption. I enjoy “American Idol” as much as anyone else. In fact, I’ve for more AI contestants than politicians. In all fairness, I’m 19 and have only been eligible to vote a couple of times. I have voted every time since registering to vote and was proud to do so.

Though it’s a little more time-consuming to research and uncover the candidates’ positions, policies, and experiences, it is of the utmost importance. “American Idol” simply feeds its audience with stories, songs, flashing lights, and snarky judges; your vote only makes a super star. Despite dissatisfaction with politics and awe at “American Idol”, it is essential for Americans to get off their couches, put down their remotes, and head to the polls. As the United States continues to be the dominant force in the world; your vote will not only impact you, but millions around the globe. If you have the power to turn an obscure rocker into an “American Idol”, you have the chance to turn a candidate of your voice into the next American President.

Andrew Wilhelm is a sophomore at Wheaton College majoring in political science with a minor in economics. His two main passions are playing piano and golf. He also enjoys learning about and analyzing trends in culture, economics, and politics. For some strange reason, he consistently refuses to send his Nintendo Wii to Amy.

Print copy of Scribble.

Andrew Wilhelm a sophomore at Wheaton College majoring in political science with a minor in economics. His two main passions are playing piano and golf. He also enjoys learning about and analyzing trends in culture, economics, and politics.

Switchfoot Permeates Airwaves

19 May

Photos: Switchfoot behind-the-scenes images from the set of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. (Photos by Andy Barron.)

Rick over at Hoganson Media Relations sent this over the “wire”:

The multi-Platinum selling rock band Switchfoot was not only featured performing its new song, “This Is Home,” on NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” last week, but the band’s song, “Dare You To Move,” was sung Tuesday by American Idol® finalist David Cook on the highly rated FOX program.

“This Is Home” was written and recorded by Switchfoot for the Walt Disney Studios and Walden Media theatrical release, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, which released Friday and became the No. 1 movie at the box office over the weekend. The song is heard over the end title credits of the film, and appears on the Original Walt Disney Records Soundtrack CD, the current No. 1-selling soundtrack at iTunes. The band’s “Tonight Show” performance can be viewed here.

“Dare You To Move” is from Switchfoot’s RIAA certified double-Platinum recording, The Beautiful Letdown, and was a top-five single at both pop and alternative radio, as well as was named one of the Top 50 Most Performed Songs of 2005 by ASCAP. David Cook’s performance of the song, as well as Switchfoot’s “This Is Home” concept video, can be seen at www.switchfoot.com.

This summer Switchfoot will be performing at festivals nationwide followed by the “Music Builds” tour that hits major markets across the country beginning Aug. 21 in Detroit, MI. The “Music Builds” tour benefits Habitat for Humanity and also features Third Day, Robert Randolph & the Family Band and Jars of Clay. Tickets are on sale through www.LiveNation.com.

With an ever-growing fan base, Switchfoot has also been actively involved in a number of humanitarian causes since its inception, including DATA, Bono’s THE ONE Campaign, Invisible Children and Habitat for Humanity. The band further founded the Switchfoot Bro-Am, a surfing and music benefit-event, and the online magazine, lowercase people, a daring new endeavor to revolutionize the way beauty, truth and humanity is viewed.

American Idol…finally!!!

7 May

“American Idol” lost much of its sparkle this week without Brooke White (watch her exit interview)…however, the show was full of laughs. Choosing songs from the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, the Top 4 sang two classic hits. Except for Jason Castro. I’m not sure what he was doing. Why on earth couldn’t the show have picked this theme earlier and replaced Mariah Carey week? We could have all done without that disaster of a show.

David C. looks like he’s growling like THE wolf.

David Cook, the resident rocker was in his element, singing “Hungry Like the Wolf” (Duran Duran) and “Baba O’Riley” by The Who. The latter was the stronger of the two performances. Being a big Duran Duran, I loved Cook’s cover of “Hungry Like the Wolf”. Although I thought it was called “Hungry Like A Wolf”… Paula cheerfully said that she was left with a big appetite for more David Cook, to which most human females cheerfully agree.

America just loves him tender. Isn’t that shirt great?

Then there’s 17 year-old cutie pie David Archuleta who regaled the audience with his own spin on “Stand By Me” and “Love Me Tender.” Teen girls everywhere went wild, fainting and swooning. I just happened to like his black and white bird shirt. It came as no surprise that neither of the Davids were in the Bottom Two.

Syesha’s got great stage presence. Unfortunately, I doubt she’ll make the finals. It’s going to be a battle of the Davids.

Syesha rocked out to “Proud Mary” (Credence Clearwater Revival did the best cover of this song) and “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. I had never hear the second song before, but apparently it was written during the CIvil Rights movement. And since Brooke wasn’t there to cry this week, Syesha took over when Paula complimented her graciously.

At least Castro didn’t further degrade the songs by actually playing the guitar he was holding.

Then there was Jason Castro, who should have gone home weeks ago. Not only did he murder Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff,” he also ruined one of my fave Dylan songs, “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Both performances were so painful I thought about sticking a popsicle stick into my ear canal to puncture my ear drums (I couldn’t turned off the T.V. or walked out of the room, but that would be far less dramatic). And, uh, what was with Castro holding a random guitar that he didn’t appear to play? Simon was horrified saying, “That was like a first round audition massacre. I don’t know what you’re thinking.”

To which Jason, who in all fairness was probably stoned, replied, “I was thinking, ‘Bob Marley!'” Right.

After mucking up and FORGETTING THE WORDS TO “Mr. Tambourine Man” (how can you forget a great like “on that jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you”?), Simon told Jason to pack his suitcase. Seriously, it’s sad when Bob Dylan sounds better singing his songs than a Top 4 “American Idol” contestant…that’s saying something.

Finally on tonight’s elimination show, JASON CASTRO WAS SENT HOME!!! The best part was that he didn’t look like he cared…at all. While he was being eliminated he said that someone told him that he “shot the tambourine man. I thought that was pretty funny.” Yeah, it was stinkin’ hilarious. As if he couldn’t act any stupider, he then says, “Three songs next week. I don’t know what I would’ve have done.” Me neither. There aren’t enough popsicle sticks in the world.

Not only did were we subjected to Castro’s swan song, we also had to hear Maroon 5 playing their latest radio single. It sounded like the lead singer was sucking on a helium balloon while he was waiting in the green room. During the band’s performance, Sarah says to me, “I thought Maroon 5 was supposed to be good.” The lead singer did redeem himself offering the remaining contestants this advice, “You’re gonna get jaded and say, ‘I hate this’, but you really love it.” For a balloon sucker, he seems like a nice guy.

Review: Running Back to You–Chris Sligh

2 May

Album Release: May 6

By Amy Sondova
From his wild curly hair to his off-the-beaten-path look, Chris Sligh seemed an unlikely candidate for “American Idol” Season 6, yet he managed to slip by thousands even making the show’s Top 10. Less than a year later, Sligh releases Running Back to You on indie label Brash Music, with his mug adorning the album cover reminding us all why America loved him.

The title track, “Running Back to You,” is a catchy tune sure to make worship leaders everywhere sing its praise…figuratively and literally. “Cry Tonight” starts out strong, and then falls into the same tempo and mood as the other 12 tracks on Running Back to You.

The album itself is less than dynamic. Tired lyrics, repetitive melodies, and lack of interesting vocals make Running Back to You another CD on the shelf. In fact, Sligh’s vocals are often drowning under guitar hooks and drum beats, so one has to pay careful attention to catch each word. It’s not that the album is terrible; it’s not. However, it lacks creativity as each song runs into the next. While there are a few interesting orchestrations here and there, they can’t save this album.

Running Back to You makes great background noise or as a starter CD for a youth worship band. If you’re looking for something unique, the album doesn’t hit the mark. Or as “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell would say, “Come back and wow us next year.”

Print copy of review.

Brooke’s Time To Go

1 May

Haha! I wrote this last night and instead of publishing it just saved it in my drafts!

She looks so cute with that guitar, even though her rendition of “Daydream Believer” was kind of off.

I yelled, “No!”, threw my notebook in the general direction of the television set, and buried my face into a pillow. Yes, folks, that was my reaction to the horribleness that occured on “American Idol’s” elimination show this evening…and it wasn’t just because of the medley of Neil Diamond songs the Top 5 butchered at the start of the show.

Send this kid home already!

It was bound to happen–Brooke White got voted off this evening. I was genuinely surprised that Jason Castro who was absolutely horrendous the past two weeks didn’t make it into the Bottom 2. I understand that some misguided teen girls probably used up all their cell phone minutes voting for the kid, but seriously, what is going on? Then again, during one of the breaks there was a commercial advertising the new movie Baby Mama as the #1 movie in America–no wonder Castro is in the Top 3.

Gotta love a guy who can rock an acoustic and an electric!

What wasn’t shocking was the the Davids–Archie and Cookie were safe or that Syesha was (once gain) in the Bottom 2. I truly was not expecting a Brooke send-off, and burst into tears (like Brooke, who also burst into tears). Brooke was also the victim of the website Vote For The Worst the past few weeks. VFTW acts like they sway the “Idol” vote so much, but if that’s true, how is that their pick (Brooke) went home? VFTW let me down.

The highlight of the gloomy show, as always, was the view call-in. Simon’s first girlfriend called in and asked if she was a better kisser than Paula (the kiss happened when Simon was 9). Simon turned a lovely shade of pink and stammered, “This literally was my first kiss. This was my first crush.” It was pretty endearing.

Brooke in her natural environment, behind a piano.

Then, of course, Neil Diamond performed a song from his new album called, “Pretty Amazing Grace,” which sounded a lot like a worship song with a cha-cha beat. I had no idea that Diamond played guitar (a sweet acoustic guitar) and he does some decent finger picking. Rock on, Neil! He also left all his shiny shirts at home and instead chose to wear a nice black ensemble.

David Cook rockin’ a sweet white electric!

Now that Brooke is gone, I’m giving David Cook my entire support. While I loved Brooke’s heart, I do think that Mr. Cook is the clear choice to win the competition. And, people, that Castro kid NEEDS TO GO!

And here’s Brooke one last time…

American Idol Does Neil Diamond

29 Apr

The one and only Neil Diamond.

Simon hit the nail on the head when he said, “This is officially the strangest show we’ve ever done.” Indeed it was a strange night on “American Idol” with Neil Diamond being this week’s mentor. I know; it sounds like the subject of an “American Idol” sketch on “Sunday Night Live”. But it wasn’t…it actually happened.

The Top 5 sang not one, but two Neil Diamond songs…it was, uh, interesting.

Look at this kid! He cracks me up!

First up was Jason “I’m Not Sure What’s Going On” Castro, who started off strumming his guitar to “Forever in Blue Jeans”. It was just hilarious–there’s no other way to put it. It was so cheesy I couldn’t help but erupt into laughter. ‘Tween girls everywhere ate it up I’m sure. His second song was a miserable rendition of “September Morn” which lacked passion, enthusiasm…it pretty much lacked everything. As I listened to Castro sing, I wondered, “Do the hair dressers get grossed out doing his hair for the show?” If this kid makes it through another week, it’s only because America is as clueless as he is.

Sigh. Swoon.

Next was resident resident David “Too Hot For Words” Cook who chose to sing “I’m Alive and “All I Ever Needed”. While the first song was OK, I mean, it was David Cook singing; he nailed the second one. I think he was totally playing on his sexual appeal during “All I Ever Needed”, but then again, it was kind of a sexy performance. Cook used a white electric guitar during the first song and an acoustic on the second, which was weird when he totally rocked out. I still think he’s going to go all the way; Paula apparently agrees.

I love Brooke’s expression in this photo!

Brooke White decided to play two instruments this week–guitar and piano. She started out playing “I’m A Believer”, which was a poor choice of song. Not only did it sound like “girls night out at the karaoke bar” as Simon so delicately put it, but it was just so “unBrooke”. However, Brooke seemed to regain the confidence she’s been lacking the past few weeks. Her second song, “I Am I Said” was wonderful. She took her place at the piano and belted out a passionate song with Brooke-like sincerity. That’s our girl, Brooke!

Seriously, who dressed this kid?

Even though David Archuleta received acclaim from the judges, I didn’t think he was that great. I suppose his vocals were on, but the musical arrangements sounded hooky to me. “Sweet Caroline”, Archie’s first choice, seemed like a happy bubblegum song as opposed to a passionate love song and “America” seemed to lose intensity with the jovial background music. Neither song really seemed to fit David’s age bracket, but I knew he’d pick “America”. I just knew it. He’s a cute kid, but seriously, who’s gonna buy his album (should be make one) at this point?

Syesha’s steamy performance from last week.

Simon thinks it’s Syesha Mercado’s week to go home and I agree. While she is a talented vocalist, her voice is better suited for Broadway, not pop music. Her version of “Hello” again was all over the place, which made the vocals messy and unappealing. Showing excellent stage presence on “Thank the Lord for the Nighttime”, her vocals weren’t stunning. In fact, I felt like I was watching a nightmarish version of “High School Musical: Neil Diamond Edition”.

Neil Diamond’s releasing his 26th album on May 6, so obviously he’s on the show for publicity. But, my goodness, what are the producers thinking? I say this week after week and it just keeps getting worse. I’m glad there are only a handful of contestants left. What’s next? Marilyn Manson night? Anyway, adding to the strangeness of the night were the goofy psychedelic stage lights, which just made everything seem surreal. The only thing worse than watching it on T.V. would have been being there LIVE…GO BROOKE!

Another blogger brings up a good point, how *did* Paula have her notes on Castro’s second song ready to go when he hadn’t sung it yet?  Read it here.

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