Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

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Lee DeWyze Takes First; Crystal Bowersox 2nd on “American Idol” on Wed., May 26, 2010

american-idol-season-9-promo-pic1“American Idol” ended its run with Lee DeWyze of Mt. Prospect, Illinois being crowned King of the Mountain, despite a very lackluster finale performance, when compared to the always-reliable Crystal Bowersox. Still, both finalists were worthy and both should do well. In fact, other also-rans like Mike Lynche and Aaron Kelly and Siobhan Magnus should do well, also.

After 14 weeks and 500 million votes, the show played out with Randy (in a wild floral shirt), Ellen (white suit), Kara (toga-style dress) and Simon (white shirt/black suit) watching the two remaining finalists who had survived 18 cuts celebrate. Crowds were pictured in Toledo, Ohio’s Huntington Center and on The Village Green in Mt. Prospect, Illinois.

The Top Ten finalists came out attired in school girl and school boy burgundy uniforms (plaid skirt, for the girls) and after that it was a pot-pourri of talent: Alice Cooper (“School’s Out For Summer’), Chris Allen (“The Truth”), Siobhan Magnus and Aaron Kelly singing “How Deep Is Your Love” with the two surviving Bee Gees, Mike Lynche singing “Takin’ It to the Streets” in a duet with a very white-haired Michael McDonald, Ricky Gervais putting in a funny bit, Christina Aguilara, Hall & Oates singing “Man Eater,” “Alanis Morissette doing “Ironic” from her “Jagged Little Pill” album in an duet with Crystal, Carrie Underwood performing a song she had co-written with Kara DioGuardi, Casey James singing “Guns ‘n Roses’” song “”Every Rose Has Its Thorns,” Bret Michaels singing and alive, Janet Jackson performing and, last but not least, Paula Abdul.

Paula came out in a short pink dress and said, “I’ve loved all the fun we’ve shared. I’ve loved all the laughter we’ve shared.  But, as only I can tell you, the show will go on.”

Simon was called to the stage and, among other comments, said, “You’ve got to know when to leave the party.” He added, “Thank you. I’m gonna’ miss you.”

A bevy of former winners, including Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Stoddard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, Jordan Sparks, Taylor Hicks and Chris Allen sang a song with the lyrics, “See what we’ve all become, Together we are one.” With them were a variety of also-rans, including Justin Guarini and David Archuletta, as well as many from this year’s contestants. (Beat Box Guy was in there, too).  Simon said, “The truth is you guys are the judges of this show. Thank you, everyone.  The production team.  I’m not going to name names. It’s been a blast. Thank you very much.”

Since the August 31, 2009 auditions in Chicago, both Lee and Crystal have blossomed as performers. He seemed genuinely overcome at his win and kept saying, “This is amazing. I appreciate everything everyone has done,” before he sang “A Beautiful Day,” the song by U2 that he performed on Tuesday night

There were fireworks outside and inside. Some former contestants who had been cut during try-outs came on briefly, but there seemed to be a battle going on for the microphone when the camera cut away.

Watching Lee and Crystal sing “I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends” with Joe Cocker was great, but trying to figure out why Janet Jackson thought the skin-baring cut-outs on the sides of her cat suit were attractive was more puzzling.
At any rate, it’s over for this year, Lee has been crowned, and, without Simon, “American Idol” will never be the same.  Dane Cook, the comic and actor, took some of Simon’s more outrageous comments while judging the show and put them to music.  For instance, he reminded the audience of the remark that one female contestant sounded like “cats being dropped off the top of the Empire State Building.” There was the remark, “You look like Shrek’s wife,” or the “You must be deaf” comment. My personal favorite: “You have the honesty of Abraham Lincoln and all the charm of the guy who shot him.” (John Wilkes Booth) I’m not sure that Simon really said all those things, but the bit was funny.

So, it’s over, both for Simon Cowell and for “American Idol’s season, and we can all move along now. Nothing to see here any more, Folks.

Crystal Bowersox Surges on Final Night of “American Idol” (May 25, 2010)

american-idol-season-9-promo-picThe momentum tonight, May 25th, Tuesday, may have swung in the direction of Crystal Bowersox on “American Idol’s “ last performance night. I felt it going in Lee’s direction last week, but, tonight, the comments on Lee’s singing were just “ho hum” and Crystal brought it.

The two 24-year-olds sang in front of 7,000 people and there were 3 rounds of songs: One that represented their favorite previous song of the season; one that was chosen for each by “American Idol” founder Simon Fuller; and one that would be the song each would release, if chosen. I misunderstood and thought the final song was going to be an original song, but it turned out that Lee sang U-2’s “It’s A Beautiful Day” and Crystal sang “Up to the Mountain.”

Judge Randy Jackson had on a particularly flamboyant outfit tonight, even for him. It was a pink jacket with floral-trimmed cuffs. Simon, however, was very buttoned-down, wearing a white shirt open at the collar with a black-on-black striped jacket for his final night of judging on this show.

My overall comment on the vibe from the two singers was that Lee seemed curiously lethargic and lacking in energy this night. Crystal, as usual, was on her game.  Lee’s first song was “The Boxer” from inspirational week and, afterwards, Randy said that the song was “A great way to start it off” and that the song was “nice” but that Lee needed to “get more energy.”  Ellen said, “I couldn’t be prouder of you if I’d birthed you myself.”  Kara said, “I loved that you were connected to it, “ while remarking on some pitch issues. Simon put it this way:  “You need to bring a lot more passion and excitement.  We need a kiss on the lips, not a kiss on the cheek.”

Crystal came out and sang “Me and Bobby McGee,” a Kris Kristofferson song that I will always associated with Janis Joplin. That is the kind of material that thoroughly suits Crystal and she did a great job. Randy called it “Dope” and Ellen said, “You are so compelling onstage…you and that guitar.”  Kara commented that Crystal, “Really have the fire in your belly tonight.”  Simon said, “The last 3 or 4 times, your song selections were not great, but this is you, back on your best behavior.”

Second, Lee DeWyze sang “Everybody Hurts.” Randy said, “That was definitely better.” He did, however, call the out-of-tune parts “pitchy” while commenting, “You were the Lee that I love by the end. A lot better.”  Ellen talked about how the performance was all about “pulling it back,” and Kara commented that the song was “not perfect” but that Lee appeared “emotionally accessible.”  Simon said, “That was a brilliant choice of songs for you.  You were off-melody a bit, and I understand that you’re nervous.  You need to really understand the important of tonight. I want a 10 out of 10.”

Crystal, for her second selection, did a rousing rendition of “Black Velvet” and Randy said, “This is what I fell in love with. Mama Sox is in it to win it!”  Ellen said that it was “Fantastic!” and made a joke about a Cher concert.  Kara said, “Tonight is the night to give it your all. You want it.  You can tell.”  Simon said, “I’m almost allergic to that song, but you too that song and you absolutely nailed it.  I’m very impressed.”

Lee then stepped it up with U2’s “It’s A Beautiful Day.” It was okay. Randy said, “That’s the Lee that I remember,” and Kara said he was “finally present.”  Kara felt he had “swallowed up a bit,” but added, “You’ve grown the most and have one of the most commercial voices of the contestants.”  Simon said that Lee had “made the most of it.  This is what this competition was designed for. To take a normal guy who works in a paint store and give him a chance. I genuinely wish the best for you.”

There was some talking to Lee (by Ryan Seacrest) at this point, and he said that the experience on the show had been “amazing” and, “I will be doing this for the rest of my life, one way or another.”

When Crystal finished her third song, “Up to the Mountain,” Randy said, “Yo! Culminating. This is what this show is about.  An amazing performance by an amazing artist.  That was incredible.”  Ellen said, “You have a beautiful voice.  You’re just so, so good.  I feel privileged to be witness to the rise of your career.”  Kara said, “At times your walls have been up, but you really blossomed tonight.”  Simon was thanked, by Crystal, just before he critiqued her singing, and he said, “Good luck on you.  By far the best performance and the song of the night.  That was outstanding!”

When Crystal was interviewed by Ryan Seacrest about her time on “Idol” she said, “I’m beside myself. I’m entirely grateful.”

Advantage: Crystal.

Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox Will Be in “American Idol” Finals

images41“American Idol” on Wednesday, May 19, 2010, gave Casey James his walking papers and promoted the class of 2010: Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze. The strike-out took 47 million votes, a season record. Watching the strike-out from seats in the front row of the audience were the other contestants, including Andrew Garcia, Big Mike Lynche, Tim Urban and Katie Stevens.

Contestants, in pre-results interviews, pronounced the experience of visiting their hometowns “surreal,” Lee said the experience had “made me a better person.” Crystal (who was hospitalized once during the show’s run with problems from her diabetes) thanked the program for medical monitoring that had made her the healthiest  she’s ever been. “Thank the Lord for this show.  I would never have the kind of care that I have now,” without her participation on “American Idol.” Crystal also said,  “It’s being pushed to work harder than you ever have in your life.” All three contestants bemoaned the loss of a private life in the non-stop madcap rush that is “American Idol.”

Crystal said, “I’m cool with whatever happens, but I would love to win.”  Casey commented on the 150 text messages daily that he cannot respond to because of the busy schedule on “Idol.” Words like “awesome” and “helpful” were bandied about.

There was film from the visits to the contestants’ hometowns. Casey revisited Millsap High School in Cool, Texas and said, “It’s a dream come true for me. For my hometown, to be able to share it with me is unbelievable.” Casey also visited Texas Health Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, including Dr. Correye Culligan, the orthopedic surgeon who, he said, saved his life after he was in an accident. Richardson, Texas, with mother Debra James in tow was next.

Blogger celebrity wannabe Perez Hilton talked to Ryan Seacrest and introduced a performer named Travis Garland, someone he found on the Internet,  who subsequently performed and was underwhelming.

Following Casey’s visit home, Crystal visited northwest Ohio, an area that has had unemployment as high as 19%.  We didn’t get to see the new sign that her hometown of 80 has put up, which proclaims “Home of Crystal Bowersox,” but we saw her father, clad in a leather vest with multiple buttons. Crystal was shown driving down the highway to Toledo, where she performed.

Lee’s visit to Mt. Prospect, Illinois showed a doting middle-class Mom and Dad as he revisited the paint store where he used to work and teared up a lot. At one point, Lee said, “This is the best day of my life.  This is the absolute best day of my life.” He also said, in an almost Rocky-esque tone of voice, “I’m gonna’ try to win this thing, all right.” He proclaimed the experience of going home, “It’s amazing. Insane. Crazy. Awesome.”

Justin Bieber, the YouTube-driven sensation from Canada, performed next (“You smile/I smile”) and took over the drums at one point. Bieber is not much of a drummer. His almost-feminine look (especially the hair) is probably no different than the androgynous days of the young (pre nose jobs) Michael Jackson and Leif Garrett. Young girls like singers who present no overt sexual threat. A young Elvis was sexy. A young Justin Bieber is not. He is just “cute” and non-threatening and seems to have a very high opinion of himself, buoyed by adoring female fans. It will be interesting to see what happens when he outgrows the haircut.

Following the performance by new teen sensation Justin Bieber, the announcement was made that Lee was safe, and then that Crystal was safe, as well. (She kept asking Ryan Seacrest, “Am I safe?” to the point of reminding me of that old movie “Marathon Man.”) After the two best singers were promoted to the Finale we all hoped would emerge, Crystal jumped on Lee in happiness, while Casey reprised his performance of the John Mayer song with the refrain “Fathers be good to your daughters.” Film followed of Casey’s journey through “American Idol,” complete with his early removal of his shirt at Kara’s suggestion during try-outs, Simon’s calling him “Goldilocks” and the appellations “eye candy and ear candy” during judging.

America did the right thing on “American Idol” this year. The two best singers, Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox, compete for the “American Idol” crown next week. Momentum seems to be swinging Lee’s way, but Crystal (like Melinda Dolittle before her) has been reliable, dependable and downright outstanding every time she steps onstage, so stay tuned for further developments.

“American Idol:” May 18, 2010 with Three Left

images4Tuesday night’s “American Idol” show highlighted what most discerning viewers have known for some time: the 2 best contestants are Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox. This does not come as a News Flash for anyone who has been reading my opinions since January. (At one point, I suggested a cage match with the 5 best singers locked together in mortal combat).

I have said for some time that Casey James was (probably) going to make it to the top three, which he has, but not because he’s such a great singer. He’s not. He’s cute. He plays a mean guitar. He’s tall, blonde and handsome. He’s charming. The best singer? You have your favorite; I have mine. But there’s little dispute that it’s either Lee or Crystal and most of us have known it for months.

So, how did tonight’s hometown visits go? There was precious little film to really know, but it’s safe to say that the best singing this night was still by the 2 leaders. The judges seemed to think that Lee had bested Crystal as the contestants sang one song they had chosen and one that had been chosen for them by one of the judges.

Casey started off the night and the reaction to his choice, “It’s All Right By Me” was lukewarm. Randy said it best, “That song was just kind of all right.  It didn’t quite work for me.” Ellen agreed with Randy, pointing out that tonight was “Do or die” and saying, “I wish you would have brought it.”  Kara felt that picking a song no one knew was a mistake. By the time they got to Simon, at the end of the judges’ table, he said, “This isn’t going great, is it, Casey?” Simon went on to say, “That song will leave no lasting impression.  I think that was a dud song choice.” He also compared the performance to busking on a subway platform.

Contestant number two was Crystal Bowersox, who chose “Come to My Window” by Melissa Etheridge.  Randy said, “I did not love the arrangement. What I did like was your vocal.  It all worked in the end.”  Ellen said, “Good song choice.  Melissa would be very proud of you.   Kara, while hoping for “a moment” that she hadn’t heard said, “It was still a good vocal.”  Simon said, “From the very first, you haven’t compromised yourself as an artist, and I think you probably made the right choice (with that song.).”

Lee’s first song selection, singing third, was “A Simple Man.” Randy found it to be a brilliant song choice, saying that he had been waiting for one of the contestants to “throw it down.”  Ellen said, “You took this thing seriously,” and commented that he had gone from a lamb to a gazelle throughout the competition.  Kara said, “You showed us everything you’ve got.  Round one goes to Lee.”  Simon, after asking why Lee had selected the song, said, “You were absolutely on the money with that song choice.  You just crushed the other two.”

The second song the contestants sang was picked for them and Casey was assigned to sing John Mayer’s “Daughters.” Randy said, “This fits you like a glove.”  Ellen said, “I thought that was beautiful for you.”  Kara said, “This showed the more artistic side of you.”  Simon, while acknowledging that it was ‘a much, much better song choice” than the first one that Casey had selected for himself thought that it was “ a bit of a limp arrangement.  You sounded very very good on it.  That song didn’t have the ‘wow’ factor.”  There was a bit of a discussion, at this point, amongst Simon, Kara and Randy about the sort of song that Casey had been assigned, with Randy and Kara pointing out that the song is a quiet sort of song.

Crystal sang next, singing “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney, which was selected for her by Ellen.  Her rendition was Janis Joplin-ish, as she looked the best she has all season in black boots and a cleverly designed black outfit with a silver slimming design at the waist. She did a great job.  I agreed with the sign that said, “Crystal:  You Shine.”  Randy said, “Great song. Great vocals.” Ellen said, “I couldn’t have asked for more.  You did it.”  Kara said, “You really pushed.  You did a lot of risky things and I think it paid off.”  Simon thought that Crystal had shown “soul” and said, “You may be thanking Ellen next week for putting you in the finals.”

Last up was Lee DeWyze singing “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, a song that was song earlier in the season by Tim Urban.  The song was picked for Lee by Simon.  Randy said, “I’ve been waiting all season to see who’s in it to win it.” He called the song, “Your biggest moment,” saying “That was unbelievable, dude.”  Ellen said, “That was stunning.”   Kara said, “You are what this show is all about.  You just owned the entire night.”  Simon said he was, “Very, very very proud of you.  Most important, tonight, with that performance, you proved that you are a fantastic singer and a great person.”

Stay tuned for the final two to be announced on tomorrow night’s show.

Siobhan Magnus, the “Quirky” One, Exits on “American Idol” on April 28, 2010

The elimination show of Wednesday, April 28, 2010, eliminated the only other female contestant still in the competition. This seems particularly odd, since, at the beginning of this year’s season of “American Idol,” the girls definitely seemed to be stronger than the boys. Siobhan Magnus was the voters’ victim this week, and the other two in the bottom three were Mike Lynche and, surprisingly, Casey James.

Siobhan has been one of the consistently most unusual contestants. Her singing style, her dress, her seeming indifference to Simon’s constant criticism of her final high notes—Siobhan just did not seem to care. She marched to a different drummer, and even her father said, in a quick video clip, that she was a very “different” girl. Simon said to her, early on, “You’re a funny little thing, aren’t you?” He was right, and it may have been this edginess that doomed Siobhan amongst mainstream America. After all, if you had to vote between a 17-year-old cutie who had just sung a hymn of praise to his Mom or for Siobhan, who hit a high note that made Simon say it “sounded as though someone were giving birth up there,” which would you pick?

I expressed concern for Big Mike and Siobhan in my Tuesday night comments, indicating that it was anybody’s guess who might go home on Wednesday. Unfortunately for the extremely talented tattooed lady, it was Siobhan of the big voice who bit the dust. Thirty-three million votes were cast, and Siobhan did not get enough of them.

The biggest surprise, to me, was that Casey James placed in the bottom three. He did his best job of the competition on Tuesday, and he seems to have the rock star persona and good looks that young girls would vote for. I was much more worried that Mike Lynche (who was already the lowest vote-getter on another night) would be sent home this time, with no judges’ “save” to rescue him.

The remaining contestants are Crystal Bowersox, Lee DeWyze, Casey James, Aaron Kelly and Mike Lynche, and that is the order I see them leaving in, more or less. It was gratifying that America did not penalize Crystal for her mediocre song choice, and Ellen DeGeneres, when asked, predicted that voters would forgive her the only “OK” choice she sang during country and western night.

Other performers on the show this night were Sons of Sylvia, who tour with Carrie Underwood and were introduced by her. The Sons of Sylvia (“Love Left to Lose”) were a group of dark-haired, think-faced, small, ferret-like young men, some with teased hair. Carrie Underwood has been touring with them since leaving “Idol” 5 years ago.

Also performing twice were Rascal Flatts, who performed solo once and then sang a song with Shakira, which seemed an odd pairing. The song Shakira sang and played harmonica on was her new one, “Gypsy.” She wore a long dress with a gold bodice and a long red skirt. Behind her, two shapely dancer/singers danced barefoot in form-fitting black dresses. Her advice for the “American Idol” contestants? “Keep your eyes on the stars, but remember to keep your feet on the ground.” (A presidential quote, she said).

Another performer this night with a big hit was Lady Antebellum singing their big hit ‘Need You Now.” They scored big on April 18 at the Country Music Awards

Notable quotes:  From Siobhan, before she delivered a spot-on rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “You Better Think:” “My baby sisters are my whole world.”(Odd, that. Siobhan’s of an age where you would think she would be thinking boyfriend or career or any of a number of other subjects as being “her whole world.”)  Randy said to her, as she exited the competition, “I think you have an amazing career in front of you. Do it!” Siobhan even hugged her nemesis, Simon, at the urging of Ryan Seacrest.

Some interesting bits in the show that didn’t involve singing were a behind-the-scenes tour of the recording studio where the new (and final) “Shrek” movie is being shot and the in-person appearances of two voices from that film series, Antonio Banderas and Cameron Diaz. (Ryan Seacrest has a small part in the latest film.)

Also, the obligatory commercial took the 6 remaining contestants into the woods and cast 5 of the 6 as vampires, with Big Mike Lynche their intended victim, who fends them off with a pizza that has “extra garlic.” The best vampire of the bunch was Siobhan, and now she’s gone.

Somehow, with that voice and her quirkiness, I think we’ll be hearing more from Siobhan Magnus in the years to come.

Next week, Aaron, Big Mike and Casey will be holding their breath, and I’m sure that neither Lee DeWyze nor Crystal Bowersox is feeling all that “safe.” The guest host next week for the songs of Sinatra is Harry Connick, Jr. With the remaining contestants, the best “fit” for Sinatra might be Lee DeWyze, but all will give his songs a shot.
Stay tuned for the final weeks of American Idol, with only 5 remaining contestants.

April 27, 2010 “American Idol” Reveals A Close Contest

images42“American Idol” night, Tuesday, April 27, 2010:  The show opens with Ryan Seacrest labeling the 6 remaining contestants as (variously) “a paint salesman,” “a glass blower,” “a high school student,” “a mother,” “a father,” and “a construction worker.” I wondered, as he branded Big Mike and Crystal as the father and mother, respectively, “Didn’t these people have jobs before this?” I’m pretty sure that Big Mike was referenced as being “a trainer” and one would think that Crystal also worked to support her son.

Seacrest next shared the amount raised by “Idol Gives Back” in its last show: “more than $45 million.” Some of you may remember that I decried the use of video footage of a dying pregnant woman (malaria) to elicit those donations. I guess the Powers-that-Be know their marketing ploys. Still bothers me, but whatever.

The mentor this night was Shania Twain and she was identified as, “She’s the one who made country pop” and “the biggest cross-over artist in history.” The additional nugget of information shared was that Shania’s song “Come On Over” was “the biggest seller by a woman in history.”  One of the Idol contestants was seen saying, “Shania’s the Queen of country music. She’s an icon.”

Shania Twain (whose birth name was Eilleen Regina Edwards, and who only changed her name to Shania in 1993-1994 after the Ojibwa word for “on my way”) also helped judge Idol auditions in Chicago, so she had met both Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox at that time.

The problem with tonight’s program was that everyone did a great job. The least well-received song was probably Crystal Bowersox’s, but Crystal has consistently been one of the two best performers. There was also a criticism (by Simon) of Big Mike Lynche’s rendering of the song he selected as “too feminine,” but I noticed what Ellen DeGeneres commented on. I’d left the room to get something from the refrigerator. When Michael Lynche sang “It Only Hurts When I’m Breathing,” at first I thought I was listening to Luther Vandross, which is a huge compliment.

First performer of the night was Lee DeWyze and he sang “You’re Still the One.” It was the perfect song for Lee, as Simon noted during his remarks (“Absolutely the perfect song out of Shania’s catalogue.”) and Lee did well with it. Ellen also commented, “Every song you take, you make it your own. You couldn’t look cuter.”  Randy called the song, “One of my favorite songs of all time. Midway through, you found a way to make it your own.”  Ellen said, “Every song you take, you make it your own.”  So, Lee did quite well and looked as good as I’ve seen him look at any time, wearing a suit jacket and eschewing the “woodsman-fell-that-tree” look he sometimes adopts. His decision to sing quietly at the beginning with only piano back up was lauded by both Shania Twain and, the judges and the audience. For one, he didn’t seem to be hiding behind his guitar.

Second up was Michael Lynche and he, too, did a great job. Randy said, “You’re one of those guys who could sign the phone book and everybody would melt, but don’t take it for granted.” I was struck (as I mentioned above) at how much he sounded like Luther Vandross, if you were not looking at the screen while he sang. Randy said, “I think you’ve really found your zone.  You are really in the zone of who you are.  Very good,” Ellen said, “I felt like Luther Vandross was singing that song.  I thought it was beautiful.”  Kara felt that Mike had “connected” with the lyrics and called it a “great job.”  Simon was the only naysayer, commenting that it felt “a little bit girly for you,” and calling it “wet” and, “As though you were in a musical.” I understand Simon’s “girly” comment, but it is a comment that has applied throughout Big Mike’s time in the competition. I mean: come on…”Eleanor Rigby”?  Mike has primarily focused on singing sensitive songs that do display a softer, more feminine side. He can get away with this because…well, because he’s Big Mike. I really liked his performance this night, but I fear that, ultimately, Big Mike may lose out in this competition because he is not physically what the show seems to want to package. However, having said that, let’s not forget Reuben Stoddard. Only time (and America’s votes) will tell. It is a fact that, were it not for the judges’ save, Big Mike would have been gone a couple weeks back, so keep that in mind when trying to figure out who America is not voting for.

Next up was Casey James, who sang “Don’t”, which he described as “a singing song.”  All were unanimous in their praise of his efforts to give the audience something different.  Randy called it, “For me, this was one of the best Casey James performances ever.”  Ellen said, “You sang that like that’s really where you belong.  Your best to date.”  Kara said, “Good artists show it all. They show it all.  Vulnerable. Raw.  If you keep doing this, you’ll be at the front of this competition.”  Simon said, “I think this is probably your best performance to date.”  No way is the cute Casey going home. He should make it to at least the final three, especially if he continues to display this new sensitive Casey.

Crystal Bowersox followed Casey and sang a very country sounding song (“No One Needs to Know”) that had Randy comment, “I love you, and I’m happy someone is doing more of a country version of a song.”  Ellen said, “There’s nothin’ you can’t do.  It wasn’t my favorite performance.” (Translation: bad song choice.)  Kara said, “It’s impossible for you not to be good.  Bigger isn’t always better.” This caused some sly cracks by Simon to the effect, “Oh, I could get in so much trouble.”  What Simon did say was, “I thought it was limp.  It’s like when you’re in a coffee shop where they pay someone to sing to you and you don’t particularly want them to sing to you.  I didn’t feel any connection to the song.” And, with apologies to Shania sitting behind him in the audience, he said, “A forgettable song.” Unfortunately, all were right. I’m reminded of the season when, week after week, Melinda Dolittle delivered, but, ultimately, she did not win. Is Crystal the best-looking contestant? No. Is Crystal the most talented contestant? Arguably, yes. Was Melinda Dolittle the most talented and the most consistent during her year of competition? Again, arguably yes, but she did not win. I’m hoping that America remembers all the great weeks that Crystal has given us and doesn’t penalize her for one mediocre song choice.

Aaron Kelly came out and sang ‘You Got A Way.” Shania advised,” Aaron to “end where you know you feel safe and good.” She said, “It’s almost as though he is preoccupied,” which may well be attributable to Aaron’s extreme youth.  Shania said, “I wanted him (Aaron) to know that he’s here already.  We already love him.  Now just give us what you love.” Aaron is fond of “big finishes” and no time did he give a bigger one than tonight.  Randy said, “You’re our country artist and dude, I think you really did a great job.”  Ellen commented on Aaron’s emotional depth for a sixteen-year-old and was quickly corrected by Aaron, who said he was now 17.  She ended, “Good job.”  Kara said, “I completely agree with those words.”  Simon said, “I think the last 2 or 3 weeks you’ve really struggled.   You were a totally different artist tonight.  You didn’t get it at all.  For the first time in weeks, you were believable.  I think you did really well tonight.”

The final performer of the night, Siobhan Magnus, sang “Any Man of Mine.” This song was Shania’s first top 10 song and her first Number One Hit Single.  As always, Siobhan was attired in a mysterious garment from another galaxy.  It consisted of a very short skirt with a flouncy thing going on at the hip, bared arms to reveal black tattoos on her left shoulder, and weird white boots. Randy commented, “I loved it” and the outfit was part of his “I loved it.” (Of course, we’ve all seen how Randy dresses.)  Ellen said, “Way to pull the Shania Twain into the station.  Way to end the show.”  Kara said, “Guess who’s back!”  Simon said, “It was fun. It was good. I really like that song,” but, once again, commented on her really high powerful notes at the end, saying it sounded like someone was “giving birth.”

So, who is going home out of this group on Wednesday?

I’ve said for weeks that the best 2 were Lee and Crystal, and I think that Casey has the “overall package” of looks and talent that the show wants to promote as their next “American Idol.” I fear for Aaron because he’s so young, and for Mike because his song choices are (always) so “girly” and for Siobhan because she’s so weird. (And I mean that in a good way.)
Your guess is as good as mine. I’m still betting on the top 3 mentioned above to hang around the longest.

“American Idol” Performance Night of April 20, 2010

Alicia Keys was the mentor on Tuesday night’s “American Idol” performance night. With 12 Grammies, 30 million CDs sold and an award as Billboard’s Top Selling Artist of the Decade, this seemed an improvement over some previous weeks. She gave good advice to the 7 remaining contestants, including the information, “I really want to find a way to make them be part of something bigger than themselves.” This last comment was by way of leading into the “Idol Gives Back” program that is upcoming.

First performer of the night was Casey James who sang Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.” For a moment, I thought I was back on the campaign trail with Bill and Hillary Clinton. Casey wore a blue jacket, blue jeans and a white top. He played a mean guitar and had 3 soul sisters backing him up, but despite his proficient guitar licks, the judges were not kind. Simon said, “Zero emotion. No originality.  I actually thought it was a lazy song choice.” Randy said, “Every week we kind of see the same thing from you.  Give me something a little different.” Ellen pointed out that, at this level of the competition, the contestants have to be “great. Not good.” Kara said his performance was like some sort of “jam band” and didn’t “show us what makes you different.”

Second performer was Lee DeWyze, wearing a brown shirt and a black tie and the beginning of a scruffy goatee. He sang Simon and Garfunkle’s “The Boxer.” Prior to his performance, mentor Alicia Keys, working with a Lee who was wearing a sort of red snood (stocking cap) said, “If Lee can really bring people into that song, then he will make them feel something.” The judges’ verdict was unanimous in Lee’s favor, after he completed his performance.  Randy said, “It’s really about artists this year.  I think you’re going to have a big career.” Ellen said, “It was your best performance by far, I think.”  Kara commented on how Lee seemed “connected” to the material and that he had had “a moment” this night.

Third performer was the always-dubious Tim Urban. Simon called the difference between Lee’s performance, just before, and Tim’s song, “Staggeringly different,” calling Lee’s performance “Inspirational. Absolutely brilliant. Good for you” and saying, of Tim, “That may have been a step too high for you. Although you’ve improved, it’s a little big of a let-down.” When Tim sang the “oh oh oh oh” section (right before the lyric “Tonight’s the night the world begins”) he was off-key. Not a total shocker.  Randy said of Tim’s performance, “It just kind of laid there. It was just okay for me.”  Ellen called Tim the “soup of the day.” She commented that sometimes she liked the soup of the day and sometimes she didn’t. “Today,” said Ellen, “I didn’t like the soup.”  Kara said, of Tim’s singing, “It was not the best execution.  It wasn’t your best performance.”

Fourth performer this night was Aaron Kelly, who tried to power the ballad “I Believe I Can Fly.” Randy said, “You definitely have pure vocal talent.  Good job.”  Ellen said, “There was a brief time in the seventies that I thought I could fly,” getting a laugh.  Kara commenting on the rough opening portions of the song (which were all too obvious) said, “By the end, all right, you got there.”  Simon was, as usual, the most tactless and cruel, commenting, “If I had turned that one on on the radio, I would have turned it right off, because it wasn’t very good.” The thing that I have noticed about Aaron’s performances is this: he, like Siobhan, likes to have the Big Ending. It seems that he is always performing a Power Ballad with a Big Ending. I like young Aaron, and he certainly was and is better than Tim Urban, so I vote for sending Tim packing, not Aaron. Besides, I really liked his performance during Elvis week, even if the judges did not.

The fifth performer was the quirky Siobhan Magnus. Something has happened to the love affair between Siobhan and the judges. She is the new Whipping Girl of the remaining contestants, supplanting the far less vocally talented Tim Urban for the past few weeks. Siobhan was attired in a butterfly dress and rig (butterfly on shoulder, etc.) and Simon commented that he “found the leaves distracting,” which was funny, since the “leaves” weren’t leaves, at all, but butterflies. Randy said, “It was just okay for me, Babe.”  Ellen said, “I disagree.” Kara had a problem with the fact that her song was somewhat “dramatic” saying, “It’s mot a musical.” Simon agreed with Randy, calling Siobhan’s vocal stylings this night “old-fashioned.” He went on to say, “Too much happened too fast. A bit odd. A little all over the place.” I found this “a bit odd” comment to be “a bit odd,” since Siobhan has been “a bit odd” since Day One. I really liked Siobhan’s vocal stylings. She is extremely talented and her “quirkiness,” which the judges once loved, is now bringing her down. If only one person is going home, that person should be Tim Urban.

Sixth up this night was “Big Daddy” Mike Lynche.  He sang “Hero” on this night devoted to inspirational songs and was criticized for it by Simon, who pointed out that the song was used in the film “Spiderman.” Simon felt the song was “artificial” and ended by saying, “It kind of just didn’t quite gel for me.” Randy said he had been “a little worried” that the song might be too big for Mike’s voice, but ended up saying, “You held your own with it, Dog.”  Ellen said, “I thought you did a great job.”  Kara said it was “not my favorite performance.” Even though Simon did not like the song selection he did concede, before the Spiderman segue, that “I thought you sang it pretty well.”

images41The show saved the best for last, as Crystal Bowersox came out and sang without a guitar or a harmonica for the first time. Her rendition of “People Get Ready” not only moved her to tears at the end but also received the remark, “Standing O” from Randy, and, from Ellen, “You have never looked more beautiful.”  Kara said, “Thank you so much for taking a risk.” Simon has said, for weeks, that the competition is Crystal’s to lose. This night, she proved that, indeed, that might well be true.

Person who should go home this week? Tim Urban.

Andrew Garcia & Katie Stevens Cut on “American Idol” April 14, 2010

April 14, 2010 and “American Idol” eliminates 2 of the remaining 9 finalists.  Adam Lambert, this week’s mentor, as the show opens says, “You have to believe in yourself.  You have to trust your instincts.” Thirty-four million voters picked the losers this week, and, as far as I’m concerned, they got it right, culling Andrew Garcia and the often tone-deaf Katie Stevens from the pack.

I’ve not understood how Andrew Garcia survived this long. His personality was non-existent onstage. As for Katie Stevens, she was off-key at least as often as she was pitch perfect, although her most recent performances admittedly have been among her best. It was with bewildering speed that Ryan Seacrest summoned Andrew Garcia, Aaron Kelly and Casey James to one side of the stage and quickly let the axe fall on Andrew, who sang one last time and thanked all in a fairly classy display of magnanimous behavior.

At the beginning of the show, there was a medley of Elvis classics sung by the 9 remaining contestants (“Teddy Bear,” “Return to Sender,” Viva Las Vegas,” etc.).  When that was over, Andrew was out. Gone, till tour time.

There was a quick bit of film shot in Africa featuring Kara DioGuardi and Elliott Yasmin as a build-up to Idol Gives Back, which is a program coming up soon, I am happy to report, with Will I am, Fergie & the Black-eyed Peas and Sir Elton John involved.

Then, Ryan couldn’t wait to get to the dream-crushing, this time declaring Crystal Bowersox, Siobhan Magnus and Lee DeWyze  safe. Left standing on the stage at the very end were Katie Stevens and Big Mike Lynche, with Katie ultimately being told to sing her final song (“Let It Be”) and Mike going to the safe section with the comment that he wasn’t among the bottom three this week.

The highlight of the night, for me, was the return of Adam Lambert to perform. He came out enveloped in a green misty cloud of lasers and fog and sang his hit song, “Waddaya Want From Me?” It was always such a thrill waiting to see what Adam would think up to do each week on “American Idol.” That thrill remains.  He owned the stage, striding it amid the fake fog and clouds in a gray sharkskin suit that reflected the green laser lights and generously saying, “I owe the show everything.”  [It was nice of Adam to give credit to “American Idol” for ultimately putting him over the top, but a performer as vocally talented  as he is, who has already been cast in Broadway productions, probably doesn’t “owe it all” to “American Idol.”

Nevertheless, this night, the losers left with grace and class. Katie’s finale song (appropriately “Let It Be”) was a little rough, but who can blame her? (Frankly, a lot of her early performances were equally rough.) Crystal and Siobhan were seen watching in tears from the sidelines.

It is now down to only 2 female performers amongst the 7 finalists. Considering that, at the outset of this “American Idol” season, nearly everyone proclaimed the girls to be far stronger vocally than the boys (and this includes the judges), it is remarkable that a middling talent like Tim Urban has supplanted a Lilly Scott, an Angela Martin (who never even made it to the final 24) and/or a Katelyn Epperly.

But now we’re down to Seven Little Indians and they are (in no particular order) Crystal Bowersox, Lee DeWyze, Siobhan Magnus, Tim Urban, Aaron Kelly, Michael Lynche, and Casey James.

Now, THAT’s what I’m talking about!

Bring it on!

Ten Tips to Try to Save the Titanic that “American Idol” is Fast Becoming

I’ve already posted an article that describes how Didi Benami was eliminated on Wednesday night’s “American Idol” but now, following in the steps of other news sources, most notably the April 2 issue of  “Entertainment Weekly,” I’m going to sound off on the ejection of Didi (et. al.) and what’s happening to drag “American Idol” down the tubes in this, the worst season it has ever experienced.

The show premiered in June of 2002. It has been a rating blockbuster every year since. However, this year, the ratings have plummeted, dropping from 25.8 and 25.5 million to 22.9 and 20.5 million (www.entertainmentweekly.com, p. 38, “Why Can’t the New Idols Sing” by Michael Slezak). At first, I thought the low number of hits on Associated Content for “American Idol” articles could be blamed on competition from the winter Olympics. Then, the winter Olympics ended and the truth emerged.

There were many mistakes made this year, from letting Paula go as a judge, (when audiences apparently loved her particular brand of ditz), to letting it be known that this is Simon’s Swan Song Season. I’m not sure that “American Idol” audiences have ever really taken to Kara. She seemed like “the fifth wheel” last year, and that feeling continues. On top of which, as one critic put it, her constant game of “touchy feely” with Simon becomes distracting to the judging of the contestants and doesn’t seem very mature or professional to be showcased, week after week, on a major television show.

For whatever reason, this year’s crop of  “American Idol” contestants is just not that good. There are perhaps 2 to 4 contestants left singing at the end of March with major star potential (Crystal Bowersox, Siobhan Magnus, Lee DeWyze and Casey James), but there are more still singing that are just plain pitiful.

Point Number One:

The refrain heard over and over again (said to the contestants by the judges) is, “You picked the wrong song.” I would like to offer this comment: why don’t the Powers That Be help the contestants pick the song(s) a bit more? If you were planning a party…say a wedding…the DJ would have the songs picked and would mix them up: some slow, some fast. There seems to be no one telling the current crop of lesser talents that it is probably not a good idea to have 10 very gloomy acoustic songs in a row. Why not help the singers out a bit? Require that ½ of the contestants sing something upbeat one week (while the other half can sing slow things) and then switch it around the next week? There seems to be no rhyme or reason for the gloomy, slow ballads that we are subjected to, week after week, song after song. If the show drags, it is because the song selections are admittedly not that great, but they could be, with a little help from the brass at the top. Who’s in that control booth, anyway, and why don’t they step in and give the poor kids some guidance here?

Point Number 2

So many of the songs being sung have been done to death over the years. It is rumored that Katie Stevens wants to sing “Over the Rainbow.” The pitch-challenged contestant, a perennial cellar dweller in the bottom three for the past several weeks, would only be about the umpteenth person to do this song. It was suggested in the “E.W.” article that perhaps a song could be “banned” from the competition once it has been sung by another artist in another year. I mean, come on: Kimberley Locke, Katharine McPhee, Jason Castro sang “Over the Rainbow” in seasons 2, 5 and 7. Do we really want to hear the pitch-challenged Katie sing it this year, too? As Michael Slezak put it, “Ask yourself if you really want to hear Rendition Number 147 of ‘Feeling Good.’” Other “Idol” contestants have already covered twenty-four of the sixty songs performed during the season 9 semi-finals on live shows. That’s a lot of hearing the same song(s) over and over and over.

Point Number Three:

Simon is always hugely critical of “cheesy” treatments of songs on the show, so what’s with the cheesy “group” numbers? Tonight’s (3/31) was “Kung Fu Fighting” and it wasn’t pretty. Why not eliminate the group singing, as the contestants often seem to be struggling with the choreography and nobody likes a bunch of amateurs bumping into one another doing lip-synched poorly chosen songs. As Slezak referred to them in his article in “E.W.”, the “never enjoyable for the audience or the contestants group numbers. So which sadist insists on keeping this cheeseball tradition alive?”

Point Number Four:

This year, the judges seem particularly indifferent. Randy takes forever to mumble an opinion and, tonight, Kara made a particularly catty remark about Simon right to his face (“I know who Simon’s in love with: himself.”) At times, the arrangement of the 4 has changed, with Ellen starting out near Simon and then removing herself to the far right, near Randy. Makes you wonder.  Ellen always tries to say something pleasant, but telling one contestant that it’s nice she didn’t fall down is, for sure, the lamest of compliments after a particularly horrific vocal performance (Paige Miles’). My favorite night to illustrate this was March 30th, when Simon actually said, to Tim Urban, the least-gifted of all the contestants vocally:  “I don’t think it makes any difference what we say…You’re not gonna’ win. You’re gonna’ smile. The audience is gonna’ vote for you. Nobody cares. You’re gonna’ be here next week. So, well done.” That’s about as indifferent and desperate a statement of the show’s situation as we’ve heard. And the show’s Number One Judge and one of the originators of the program articulated it.

Point Number Five:

This year’s Mentors. What is the deal this year with the inability to find any really talented and noteworthy mentors? Has everyone heard that the show is going down the tubes, so the Celine Dions and the veterans like Barry Manilow and Rod Stewart have said, “Don’t call me; I’ll call you”? Tonight’s musical mentor was Usher. Last week, the show was reduced to using Miley Cyrus, all of 17, to mentor the likes of a really talented singer of 28 (Crystal Bowersox). I remember the year that a hologram of Elvis sang with Celine Dion, which was a spectacular special effect. Why nothing of that caliber this year? And, as another writer suggested, why not get a REAL mentor who is a producer of today’s music and would come in and work with the contestants for the entire week, rather than just someone who drops by, hugs each of them, and then sits in the audience beaming and/or plugging his or her new release.

Point Number Six:

Idol Gives Back. What happened to the idea of “American Idol” being a force for good in a troubled world?  We’re more troubled now than the years when the show used its clout to try to relieve suffering around the world, and yet the show has done less of this philanthropic humanitarian sort of thing than ever before. It’s a shadow of its former self in every sense of the word. Oh, yes, there were some token moments, but nothing like the year the show dedicated itself to really making a difference in a world of disasters, natural and other. And this year, the word is suffering perhaps more than ever and the show is doing less than ever to address noble causes.

Point Number Seven:

I’ve written about this before, so please don’t think it’s a new theme for me. I think my first article was called “Some Ideas for Songs That Don’t Suck on ‘American Idol.’” The well has gone dry for theme nights like Country & Western or Rhythm & Blues. There was Beatles night this year, and that was okay, but perhaps the show needs to dig into the catalogues of some other artists of that caliber, in order to avoid the boring offerings we’ve been presented with this year. It seems as though, most nights, there is one ballad after another, usually from someone clutching a guitar, many of them off-key. It’s about as exciting as watching paint dry. When it comes down to reggae versions of “Under My Thumb” by Tim Urban and Judge Kara Dio Guardi says, “I’ve got to applaud you for doing something so incredibly different with the song,” there are those, like Michael Slezak and me who say, “No, you don’t have to applaud mediocrity.” I think my comment after that night, in the subtitle was, “Reggae, Tim…Really?”

Point Number Eight:

The contestants who either didn’t make it on when they should have (Angela Martin, Jermaine Purefoy) or made it, but were kicked off when others who are far, far less talented remain are epidemic this year. Lilly Scott, Kristen Epperly, Todrick Hall are, unfortunately, in the majority this year of contestants gone too soon who could sing rings around Tim Urban on his best day. Contestant Crystal Bowersox was even quoted as saying of Epperly and Scott, “I really did not expect them to go home at all.” Supposedly 18,000 fans of Alex Lambert have been collecting petition signatures to put him back on the show. I suspect that Angela Martin was not allowed to advance because of her brush with the law, and I have an issue with putting contestants on the air in the first place, (like the young man who held up a bank with a b. b gun and served time for it), and then making them disappear because it would be a bad thing to have a felon as an “idol” to American youth. Why let the poor guy even think he was going to get a fair shake? Not to mention the fact (although I will) that the people who put this show on need to get their standards for “amateur versus professional” straight. I heard that the curly-haired young man (Chris Golightly) who was cut (thereby allowing Tim Urban to be called back) was cut because he did not reveal a previous recording contract. There was also a talented Irish contestant in Chicago who was not allowed through because of a fear of visa problems, yet, in other years, we had the tattooed lady of Ireland, as some of you may remember, and she had had a previous recording contract. The rules seem to be very flexible, as indicated by the fact that Michael Lynche is still on the show and in the top ten, even though his mother, who worked for the Orlando “Sentinel” somehow let it slip that he was going to be a finalist in the top twelve, and then his father confirmed it. Both were big “no nos”, but the “rules” that are in place seem to be only selectively enforced. To this viewer at home, recording contracts aside, I fail to see how you are an “amateur” if you have been performing on Broadway in “The Color Purple” (Todrick Hall) or, as with Adam Lambert last year, in a number of other Broadway shows. Mind you: I’m not saying keep the Adam Lamberts OFF. Far from it. I truly miss the caliber of an Adam Lambert or a David Cook or a David Archuleta. I’m just saying that the standards are very strange, not well explained, and very selectively enforced. The rules don’t seem to apply to all contestants. It reminds me of the novel Animal Farm where all animals are equal, but “some animals are more equal than other animals.” All contestants are equal, but some contestants seem to be more equal than other contestants. That just seems unfair.

Point Number Nine:

Too much style over substance.  The worst offender, this year, was Tyler Grady, the Lizard King wannabe, who, thankfully, was gone early. His posing as Jim Morrison was hopelessly jejeune, but, to be fair, he was given a lot of mixed signals from judges like Kara DioGuardia early on. You can’t encourage a guy to become a clone of seventies singers like Morrison and tell him how “cool” he is and then turn around the next week and severely criticize him for doing what you just praised in him the week before. The film of Tyler showing up to sing in a bathrobe and cowboy boots shows what happens when you tell an amateur that he is so “cool” and he starts to believe his own press, when it’s premature.

Point Number Ten:

Don’t make the losers sing again. I’ve always found this hideously cruel. Where is the humanity in saying, “You’re gone. We don’t want you. You’re a loser. Now go out there and smile and sing well.” Come on, Folks. Let’s show a little compassion here. Just go with the clips and performances from happier days and let the poor reject slip out a side door and drown his or her sorrows. This year’s Lambert boy was in tears. Katelyn Epperly didn’t hold up that well, either. Only Todrick Hall, the Broadway veteran, seemed to have the attitude, “I know I’m good, and it’s too bad you couch potatoes out there can’t empathize with my obvious talent. Screw you!” And Todrick left us with a great performance, while most have not.

This year, I feel like the entire “American Idol” season is being decided by teeny-boppers who are twelve and wouldn’t know whether the boy they swoon over and vote for, is flat or sharp and could care less about anything more than the extremely superficial issue of his “cuteness.

But, then, given the fact that the professional singers who performed this night (3/31), P. Diddy Sean Combs and Usher gave us  “style over substance” performances, what did I expect?

Didi Benami Eliminated from “American Idol” on March 31, 2010

On Wednesday, March 31, 2010’s version of “American Idol,” Didi Benami bit the dust. She had endured a horrific critical drubbing at the judges’ hands on Tuesday, March 30th.

For her “save” moment, Didi chose to sing a different song (“Riannha”) than the one that had hung her out to dry on Tuesday night. It didn’t matter. The judges were unmoved, as Didi’s appearances had been up-and-down throughout the competition.

At the beginning of the program Reuben Stoddard, who won the title 7 years ago (in a fight to the death with Clay Aiken) and promptly sank from sight, sang. We were also subjected to a song by Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, which showed the rest of the world America’s image of what an “American Idol” would be:  half-clad girls in black bustiers dancing with the white-clad Diddy, who was sweating bullets by the end of the number and admitted he had stage fright. (“I haven’t done this in a while.”)

At the beginning of the night, promos for Clash of the Titans (a remake) obscured the screen. The ensemble number that featured Kung Fu Fighting was lame and cheesy. A shot of purple-pink hair glued to the back of Michael Lynche’s bald pate was just about as classy. (Later Michael picked Ryan Seacrest up, physically, when he tried one of his “This is surprising” announcement moves on the large crooner/trainer.

Ryan Seacrest seemed to be more annoying for Simon Cowell than normal this night.  Simon actually said to Ryan, “You are really getting on my nerves tonight” and, at one point, said, “This is not the Oprah Winfrey Show.”

The lowest three vote getters this night were Tim Urban, Didi Benami and Katie Stevens. With Didi gone, Tim and the almost-always-off-key Katie Stevens.

And the snake that is “American Idol” continues to swallow its victims while slogging towards the end of this worst-of-all seasons.

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