Thursday, February 28, 2008

Song choices limited for 'American Idol' contestants

Sometimes I get frustrated listening to "American Idol" judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell.

They tell contestants to have fun with a song, and when they do, they are criticized about not being unique enough or not letting their true personality show.

They tell contestants (often) to pick better songs that fit their voice, and when they do, they are criticized for picking songs that are too "safe."

They tell contestants to be "relevant" as they sing, but many seem to get confused during these "theme nights" as they seem to try harder to appeal to the flavor of the 1960s, 70s, or whatever choice of decade the show wants them to be.

Maybe they should just eliminate the theme nights and have the group experiment with different music genres more relevant to our time — pop music, alternative, R&B, etc. That would make more sense.

In Wednesday night's show, the judges weren't too impressed with a lot of the women's song choices, including Sarasota contestant Syesha Mercado, who performed "Me and Mr. Jones."

I thought it was good arrangement and performance. Maybe too safe of a song choice at best.

Judges want that "wow" factor — someone who can be fun and bold, have a unique personality that shines in their performances and be relevant. Something like what the judges say they found in contestants during their initial auditions.

But sources close to the show tell me that contestants are only able to pick one of three songs out of a list of 50. Whether it's three or 50 songs to choose from, restricting contestants to a limited list seems kind of wrong in a way. The guys and girls shined in their initial auditions because they were free to pick a song from any genre and era to perform that showed off what the judges wanted to see.

I hope "American Idol" gives the group more freedom as the weeks progress so we can see Syesha and the gang thrill us more with their talents. — January Holmes

Friday, February 22, 2008

'American Idol': Syesha's success brings sweet memories

She's moving on.

Sarasota’s Syesha Mercado won enough of the 28 million votes that poured in to "American Idol" this week to continue in the popular television competition — at least until next week.
Four singers — two women and two men — were cut from the competition during Thursday’s results show. Twenty contestants remain.

One of Mercado’s friends from Booker High School, Bruce Merkle, who appeared in the Asolo Repertory Theatre production of "A Tale of Two Cities" last fall, said he voted for her more than 100 times after she performed Wednesday night. The show allows the public to vote as many times as they like.

"It's very exciting, but it’s not surprising," the 20-year-old said of Mercado’s luck on "American Idol."

Before host Ryan Seacrest broke the news of who was going home, the 24 contestants sang and danced a short medley of songs with the men dressed in black suits and the women in 1960s garb. Mercado was decked out in a black dress and white go-go boots.

Roots at Daughtrey
For those who have watched the promising singer grow into a young woman, following her journey on the show has been a nostalgic experience.

Mercado's former elementary school dance instructor, Kathryn Truitt of Blanche H. Daughtrey Elementary in Bradenton, remembers the positive attitude Mercado radiated when she attended the school from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade during the 1990s.

Now 21, Mercado still possesses her positive spirit as evidence of her earlier appearances on "American Idol." In her initial audition, she relied on positive thinking to help get her through the first performance in front of the judges.

Though Truitt recalls Mercado being a talented dancer, it was the would-be star's voice that was her most captivating gift, Truitt said. When she first heard Mercado sing, she was in the hallway belting out a song a capella. She was just a second-grader.

"I thought, 'How did that voice come out of that little child,’ " Truitt said. "She had a powerhouse voice."

Truitt, a registrar at Daughtrey, said several former students of the school have gone on to spectacular things, but she always knew there was something special about Mercado.

"My first impression was 'Wow,’ " she said. " ‘God has given you a talent and you are going to go someplace.’ You just knew it. She was never, 'I can sing, I can dance,' but, 'This is who I am.' She never thought she was better than anyone else. I think truly it's a talent that God gave her, though I like to believe I was a small part of that."

In elementary school, Mercado was one of a few third-graders to make the Daughtrey Pride Dance Team — it was open to third-, fourth- and fifth-graders — and competed in the AA Junior Olympic meets.

"We always came back with gold," Truitt said.

Mercado later served as co-captain of the dance team with her best friend Natasha, Truitt said. The former student made a great leader, she said.

"She never put any of them down," Truitt said. "She always had something positive to say."
Music has always been a huge part of Mercado's life. Her major goals are having a successful music career and winning Grammy and Oscar awards, according to her "American Idol" profile page at

If she's lucky, the show could be her ticket to making those dreams a reality as the winner of the competition is guaranteed a recording contract. Locals are hopeful that Mercado wins it.
"If she doesn't, she's still going to go far," Truitt said. "But something's wrong with their ears if she doesn't." — January Holmes

What's next?
Syesha Mercado's next appearance is 8 p.m. Wednesday on FOX.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Writers' strike nears end but new episodes nowhere in sight

The writers' strike, which has created a television limbo for about three months, is nearly over. And I, for one, could not have been happier, until I read that many television series probably won't be up and running for viewers to see until next season. Or at best, by the end of this season.


But there's good to seen here, and not just in the fact that the writers, who work hard for their money, have received most of what they demanded from the strike in the first place. Though, I've made do without fresh episodes of shows like "Heroes," "Pushing Daises," the ever-popular "Grey's Anatomy," and other favorites, the strike has given me time to concentrate on other things such as:

1. Reading. I was able to finish my copy of "Agnes and the Hitman" and a couple other books that formerly had to compete with TV time.

2. Exercising. No rushing through or skipping an exercise session now that there's fewer shows on TV to keep my attention span. I'll be fit by summer.

3. Catching up on the game shows. Just started getting in the habit of watching "Wheel of Fortune" again. Still trying to figure out why Pat Sajak and Vanna White never seem to age.

4. Finding new shows to watch. NBC's "Gladiator" typically holds my attention span for 5.8 minutes before I flip the station, but I thoroughly enjoyed "Clash of the Choirs." I'm also starting enjoy the CW series "Gossip Girl" and of course Fox's "American Idol" is back on, too.

And if the summer is filled with more re-runs and reality shows, I think I may try my hand at gardening again.

Oh, the possibilities. — January Holmes

Friday, February 8, 2008

'Lost' deepens the mystery

The plane! The plane! What the heck is there a fake Oceanic 815 on the bottom of the ocean and who put it there and why? That's the new big question on "Lost."

In this week's episode we met the four would-rescuers whom I'll call the Fab Four. An archeologist, a ghost hunter, a scientist and a drunken pilot. By the end of the night we know that they are looking for the Dharma Initiative and Ben. Ben says he knows all about them, but how is he communicating with his "man on the boat"? All forms of communication on the island have been blown up by Locke, right?

I thought this was an OK episode, but again the show brings up more questions than answers and at times is a little frustrating.

By the way, where are the other Others?

Best line of the night: "Who are we to argue with taller ghost Walt?" —Sawyer. Ha! — Jana Morreale

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

MCC film students find success

It seems three former Manatee Community College film students are making waves in the movie business, gaining national attention for their professional work.

And that shouldn't too be surprising because MovieMaker, an Independent movie magazine, named MCC one of 25 of the world's best two-year film schools in 2006.

So of course, the school is going to boast when former students such as Ben Piety, Ron VanAlkemade and Christopher Morgan do well. Their notoriety also draws attention to Bradenton, and reiterates the fact that our fair city can generate wonderful talent who go on to do big things.

For instance, Piety's short film "Sunlit Shadows," made this year's Sundance Film Festival. The film is about the nostalgia of a relationship presented as a "visual mix-tape," according to The film has been shown at more than 40 film festivals around the world, winning several awards, MCC stated in a news release. Piety, who also is a graduate of the University of Central Florida, lives in California.

VanAlkemade receives kudos for directing a nationally released film with the catchy title of "What Would Jesus Buy," a docu-comedy about the commercialization of Christmas. This movie, released in January, looks like a treat since it features the street preacher Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir on a mission to "save Christmas from the Shopocalypse," according to

I've seen the Rev. Billy on the news once, he and his choir are the real deal — seriously. The movie was produced by "Super Size Me" producer Morgan Spurlock.

Lastly, there's Morgan, who directed and created a Webisode called "Palmetto." It's a Generation Y story exclusively for the internet that features five teens growing up in a small town and all the angst that follows. I wonder if it is based on anybody from Palmetto? The movie was screened in January by the Sarasota Film Society and was produced by Morgan Films Entertainment, LLC. For more information, check out — January Holmes

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Our favorite Super Bowl ads

I'm not a really a football fan — my eagerness in football comes and goes from season to season. This year, I managed to bypass the Super Bowl altogether, which is slightly unusual. But I did get to catch up on some of the brilliant Super Bowl XXLII commercials during the big game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots.

My top three picks on the best Super Bowl ads were:
1. Coke's Balloon fight — I loved this one! I enjoyed watching the Macy's parade-sized Stewie and Underdog balloons duke it out for the Coke balloon. The "expression" on Stewie's face fit each scene perfectly and I loved some of the "defensive" moves between the two cartoon balloons. The best part was seeing Charlie Brown get the goods in the end though. I had to cheer out loud when I saw him. I'm a huge "Peanuts" fan.

2. Budweiser's "Rocky" ad — Budweiser has come up with some clever commercials over the years, but this was one of the most touching. It features a Dalmatian training a Clydesdale who is sad after not making the cut to be on the Clydesdale team. With "Rocky" theme music in the background, the dog trains the horse to perfection so he can make the next team.

3. Tied for this spot is Pepsi Max's bobblehead commercial — I wasn't sure where this was going at first, but when I heard the music ("What Is Love"), I had flashbacks of all those "Saturday Night Live" skits featuring Chris Kattan. It was sheer delight seeing him appear in the ad telling everybody to stop doing what he made so popular.

And then Bud Light's fire-breathing date guy — This was just too hilarious, especially when he gets out of control with the fire-breathing and burns half of the apartment and his date up. It was so funny that it made me forget what the ad was promoting. — January Holmes

Friday, February 1, 2008

'Lost' returns with more mystery

After an 8-month break "Lost" returned last night for the beginning of eight new episodes. And not a moment too soon. Thankfully, I watched the 8 p.m. "Lost: Past, Present & Future" to catch up on all that's been going on. The one thing about "Lost," is that there is so much hidden detail and character back story, that I often find myself lost. But that's also one of the reasons I love the show — its great amount of depth in the human condition. I'm hoping in this blog on Fridays, we can create a discussion of everyone's thoughts on the program and theories about what's going to happen. No spoilers, please.

Thoughts on last night's program:
— I hope that Charlie keeps returning from the dead. His new dead hair cut looks much better and Hurley needs a friend right now.
— I'm so sick of the Jack/Kate/Sawyer love triangle.
— It's going to be great this season watching the future flashbacks, but if there's only eight episodes, instead of the planned 16, will we just be left hanging?

As usual, the show raising more questions than it answers. Here are some of mine.
— Who are the Oceanic 6? 1. Jack 2. Kate 3. Hurley. Who are the other three? Why are there only six?
— Why do Jack and Hurley regret leaving the island?
— Who was the man questioning Hurley at the mental hospital?
— What is up the scary haunted house and who is in the rocking chair?
— If Naomi was so injured, how did she manage to climb a tree?
— If it's not Penny's ship, whose is it?
— What secret is Hurley keeping that has Jack so worried?
— Am I the only one who believes that Charlie isn't really dead? Because if he was dead, how could the other mental patient see him?
Stay tuned next Friday for another update. — Jana Morreale, sections editor