Saturday, May 27, 2023

Democracy 2024: # 21

On Capitol Hill, this Memorial Day Weekend, the focus has been on negotiations over raising America's debt ceiling. Within the past few minutes, the news seems to be that a deal has been reached in principle. That is of course a positive development because nobody really wanted to see just how disastrous a default would have been for the country.

Details of this deal will be forthcoming but it will seem to some like House Republicans managed to get the best out of a Democrat President. I am more likely than not to agree with that perspective, but many will go the other direction and say that the President got the best deal  If Republicans are seen as "winning" that would be a difference of how similar standoffs played politically between past Democrat Presidents and Republican Speakers. Credit has to be given to Speaker Kevin McCarthy who while he still may have a tenuous hold on his job, have at least on this matter, been more adept than expected. A lot of Democrats, including those in the White House itself, seemed to think they would be able to roll over Republicans over this standoff, but are now said to have been frustrated to how things have transpired. After all, House Republicans were not even expected to pass a bill to raise the debt ceiling. Once they did, they had a huge strategic advantage forcing the President to negotiate with them.

Of course,  ideologues on both sides will be unhappy with any political give and take and some House Republicans and House Democrats will vote no early next year. The bill will pass though on a bipartisan basis and the debt ceiling is expected to be raised for two years. Somehow, despite all the huge political divisions in America, the democratic process seemed to work here, no matter how ugly it might have been. Of course, many people online will bemoan that anybody gave in on any matter.

There will be information to be learned and spin will be delivered as to which side won out on the "work requirement" fight. This particular matter had Democrats in what I believe was a very hard position to defend politically. For one thing, Joe Biden had once supported work requirements for able-bodied welfare recipients. The proposal put forward by Republicans was very limited in scope in terms of work requirements, but the Democrat base was completely opposed to that.

Perhaps the answer as to "who won" will be clearer next week and I can pass a more educated judgment at that time.

The Republican race for President was the other big story of the week. As expected two candidates got into the races, with very different reviews of their "launch."

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott got positive reviews for his announcement speech, despite having to overcome a malfunctioned microphone at one point. Scott is way back in the polls for now and will need other candidates to somehow take each other out in order to emerge as a compromise choice.

I have always respected and admired Scott, although like most other Republicans, I cannot overlook the fact that he stood by Donald Trump over the past six years. Now, he is running against Trump, albeit somewhat gingerly, and the campaign of the former President seems to not be too concerned, as they believe that Scott's presence in the race will only hurt the candidacy of Ron DeSantis and thus help them.

Scott is an intelligent smart Senator with an inspiring life story who is eminently qualified to be President. With that in mind, I found some of his rollout speech to be sort of corny and even cringeworthy in parts. While he is known for his friendly good-natured attitude, the Senator seemed to go out of his way to be sort of a rah-rah cheerleader in the speech. I suppose that is better than than "Midnight in America" message that is part of Trump and DeSantis's appeal but it almost felt like Scott was going out of his way to be the "cool black dude" for a primary electorate that is overwhelmingly white and contains many people who are very much wanting to vote for a black guy to prove to the world that they are not racist. I understand what Scott was trying to do, but I think he is more substantive than that personally and the the Presidency is a more serious endeavor than doing Hulk Hogan "let me hear you" ear gestures to the audience.

The announcement of Ron DeSantis did not go as well, to the delight of his critics on the left and in Trumpworld alike. Indeed, it was a pretty poor rollout, but I doubt the average American voter cares about those sort of things nearly as much as the politically attuned do. I will start off though by questioning the DeSantis campaign image the day before the website of an alligator (definitely a Florida alligator) waiting just below the water's surface. Was he trying to say he is a "swamp figure?" What that symbolism even considered?

A commentator on Fox News noted the irony of DeSantis who is running on how he kept Florida "open" during the pandemic chose to do a peak-shutdown like "conference call" with Elon Musk to formally get into the race. This was a very odd choice that was marred by numerous technical difficulties. Of course, the blame goes to Twitter's tech capacity but it was the choice of the DeSantis campaign to outsource how they first got their message out to the public. Once the glitches were cleaned up, the Florida Governor who was not on camera, read from prepared remarks in the guise of answering questions. The topics of this "Twitter Space" event seemed to focus on tech-related issues that likely do not really mean that much to the average Republican primary voter, who is probably too old to care much about Twitter. The whole thing was roundly panned and Trump of course milked it for all he could. DeSantis has since done a few interviews with very friendly interrogators and apparently has no plans for a formal announcement speech in his hometown or elsewhere.
For now, it looks like a two person race with Trump leading DeSantis, but the latter being the only one seeing having a chance to overtake the former President. Of course, I am not thrilled with that to say the least, but from an entertainment perspective, the battle between the two men might get quite severe. That will delight Democrats of course.
For the first time, DeSantis is answering back to Trump's attacks and his making it clear that he plans to run to Trump's right. He is saying that Trump is not the same guy who was when he first ran and while he did a good job for three years, he eventually "turned the country over to Dr. Fauci" and that millions of lives were destroyed in the process. I do not agree with the substance of that but it be a weakness for Trump among conservatives. DeSantis is also positioning himself to the right of Trump on issues like abortion and the criminal justice reform that Trump signed as President and talked about frequently in an attempt to appeal to black voters. He is also criticizing Trump for not siding with him on his battles with Disney.

Needless to say, Trump thinks DeSantis (or whatever nickname he prefers that day) is a disloyal scumbag. I do not think there is anyway he could ever support him if somehow DeSantis were to win the nomination, which of course should make Democrats feel warm and fuzzy. The specific attacks on DeSantis will be inconsistent to astonishing. Despite all the video tape that exists over the two men praising each other on Covid measures, this will be a big part of the fight. Trump claims that DeSantis "shut everything down" and that more people died from Covid than nearly anywhere else, including New York. Well, for one thing, Florida is the third most populous state. It also is hard to understand why people would believe Trump's assertion than shutdown measures at the height of Covid cause more people to get Covid instead of less. People who are in the Trump cult will go with just about anything he says of course. Today, with Memorial Day Weekend underway,  people associated with Trump's campaign seem to be attacking DeSantis for having served in the military. Go figure.

Right now, it seems very likely that Trump, already under indictment (in a weak case) in New York City, is going to be indicted by the Justice Department over classified documents sometime in June or July, as more details of attempts to cover up the matter are alleged. He also is likely to be indicted in Fulton County in August for trying to overthrow the 2020 Georgia Presidential election results. He will be very busy defending himself leading up to the general election and then possibly afterwards.

Will the disgraced ex-President be held accountable by juries or by the electorate or perhaps both? Will it even matter to him. These are the underlying issues of the 2024 campaign, even as an unpopular incumbent Democrat President seems to stumble along. Today in Texas, something happened to a Republican officeholder than has never happened to Trump. Someone was held accountable by his own party.

The Texas House of Representatives, controlled by Republicans, voted to impeach Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, a controversial figure who has long had ethical clouds surrounding him. Paxton is now suspended from office but could be reinstated if two thirds of the Texas Senate does not vote to convict him. It might be very hard for that to happen, but the underlying message of Republicans standing up to Paxton should not go unnoticed.

Paxton is associated with the Trump wing of the party and both he and the former President are promising retribution against the Texas "RINOS" behind the impeachment. There is a side issues over whether or not the Texas House Speaker was recently drunk when presiding over the body last week.(It seemed like he might have been) and there are clearly major divides within the Lone Star State GOP, but the Republican House members who voters to impeach Paxton are certainly not "RINOS."

For now, I will take heart that actual Republican elected officials assessed a political risk and still went ahead and did what they thought was right.

Monday, May 22, 2023

American Idol Season 21 Finale

Twenty-four hours after the Sunday night episode finished airing, I am here to give my thoughts on what went down on Idol's Finale. There are a lot of details that I will overlook or forget since I have been watching the last several episodes live without "live-blogging"a recording, but I simply do not have time to watch everything all over again to recap my thoughts.

These Idol finales always feel a bit anti-climactic and long. There were some good moments though in this season's version and I was genuinely surprised by the first elimination, though not disappointed. The eventual winner was easy to predict at that point in time and I have to say deserved, even though there seemed to be some manipulation put towards that outcome.

In the first several seasons, the three judges would select songs for the final three contestants. That no longer happens. Instead, former judge Keith Urban, from back in the Fox days, returned to mentor the kids and they sang his songs. Two out of the three are part of the country genre.

1. Megan Danielle- "God Whispered Your Name"

I do not know this song. All of these contestants would be hoping that Seacrest would be announcing their name at the end of three hours. Megan wore a lot of short sparkly dresses throughout the evening always paired with cowboy boots.

Details of this performance escape mea bit but Megan always sounds good vocally, though it seemed like she might have been a bit nervous. Both she and Iam Tongi have relied heavily on slow-tempo ballads throughout the season, while the third Finalist, Colin Stough, has mixed up ballads and uptempo performances.

2. Iam Tongi- "Making Memories Of Us"

I sort of know this song, probably because it has been done on Idol before.

I am talked about how his parents used to dance together at home to this song which will pull on the heartstrings of many. His narrative this season is that his father passed away while Megan's overall narrative seems to be that her beloved "Paw-Paw" died not long ago. (Colin does not have a death to focus on but has played up his blue collar roots.) While Megan's grandfather definitely passed away at too early of an age, I think Iam losing his father as a teenager probably trumps the "sob story" competition for those who are cynically analyzing it.

Anyways, anytime I am prepared to be sort of underwhelmed by Iam doing the same sort of song and performance, I cannot help but truly be impressed by his voice. This was a strong start of the night for him.

3. Colin Stough- "Stupid Boy"

I definitely do not know this song. This was a fairly boring ballad and while Colin has a nice voice, it did not feel like this was any sort of "star performance." Also, it was either in this performance or the next one, but Colin seemed to be visibly trembling. Either he was very nervous or was coming down from too many energy drinks.

Still, at this point, I was resigned to the likelihood of Colin winning due to voting demographics and "country cougars."

Round 1 Rankings:

3. Colin Stough
2. Megan Danielle
1. Iam Tongi
Next, it was time for the hometown visits. None of these three contestants seem to come from money.They truly all needed this opportunity on American Idol. Megan returned to Georgia and Colin to nearby Mississippi. Iam flew to Hawai'i and the High School he would have been graduating from this spring, had his family not been "priced out of paradise" and relocated to Washington. He definitely had the biggest crowds and will probably now have the money to buy a home back on the Island.

4. Megan Danielle- "Faithfully"

This Journey song has now been done a lot on Idol and this is not the the first time a country female has sung it. I guess you cannot go wrong with a classic.

Megan did a great job here. This was clearly her best performance of the night and one of her best ones of the season. The song is about a relationship and not about religious faith but she took it to church and turned it into a "worship song" at the end. This performance could might have appeared to Evangelicals while the dress she was wearing seemed sort of a deliberate rainbow theme. Very interesting duopoly.
Megan's real last name cannot possibly be Danielle, can it?  Apparently, her siblings have the last name Phillips. Over a decade ago, a Georgian named Phillips was crowed American Idol.

5. Iam Tongi- "Cool Down"

I take it that this is a song that is best known in Hawai'i. Iam seemed to be having a lot of fun with it and definitely qualifies as his most uptempo number this season.

While this is not the kind of music I might personally be into, it was nice to see this side of Iam. Typically, I would criticize American Idol singers for affecting an accent when doing a song, but the Tongan-Samoan-American Iam sort of does sound like that with what is called in Hawai'i a "pidgin" accent.

6. Colin Stough- "Either Way"

Ok, I think this is the one where he looked like he was shaking too much. I also do not know this Chris Stapleton song. I think this was also slow and boring if I recall correctly. He should have saved Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Simple Man",which he performed at home for this, or done something more southern rockish.

I will say that unless they are really good at pretending on television, but it does seem like Iam and Colin have become good friends on the show.

Round Two Rankings:

3. Colin Stough
2. Iam Tongi
1. Megan Danielle

Then, it was time for the first elimination. Combining the scores and breaking the tie, on the virtue of her singing Journey, I give the top slot to Megan Danielle over Iam Tongi. Colin Stough should be eliminated at this point.

However, I fully expected Megan Danielle to be the first one to go, hoping I could perhaps be mistaken on this prediction.

Who was eliminated in third place: Colin Stough

Well, how about that? It feels a bit like the 2022 midterms in a way. I was pretty sure the "country vote" would be split enough at this point to eliminate over Colin or Megan but the girl actually beat the guy. This was indeed a surprise for me, but I am glad it happened. I am not sure how else to explain it. Both of them have tattoos.

So, while I would prefer We Ani or Kaeyra was still around, I cannot complain too much about the Final 2 coming down to Megan and Iam. Tradition would favor a white country singer over an Asian-American male, but Iam has been a heavy favorite from the get-go.

I will not get into all the celebrity duets with the other Finalists at this point except to point out that Zachariah Smith actually played guitar on his duet with an unfortunate sounding Kevin Cronin on a great REO Speedwagon song. Had Zachariah actually played guitar, he might have gone to the Finale as a contestant.

At this point, after a lot of filler, the remaining two would take the stage with the original artists of the songs they had just happened to audition with. Had Colin made it, he would have done a different song with judge Luke Bryan. I also noted that they aired his "imitation tribute" from the other contestants just before Colin got cut. The ones for Megan and Iam were clearly going to air later.  That arose suspicion on my part when that happened.
I hope Colin finds success in the music business. Surely, Luke Bryan can find a way to help him in that regard.

7. Iam Tongi- "Monsters"

Well, if there was any doubt he was going to win before now...

This is the song that he auditioned with and went viral with. Dueting with James Blunt on this song about sons saying goodbye to their fathers in their final days, this clearly struck an emotional impact on just about everyone in the studio.

Jelly Roll, some crazy Haystacks Calhoun looking country performer whom I was worried would give me nightmares, had found a seat next to Iam's mother and he was in tears.

Iam sounded good on this performance. James Blunt is always a bit too intense for my liking. However, Iam was definitely breaking down and struggling to get through this very emotional moment

8. Megan Danielle- "Thank God I Do"

My research just informed me that Megan was on "The Voice" in 2020 and selected by Kelly Clarkson before being eliminated somewhere between sixth and ninth place. I have no ability to remember much of what happens on that NBC Show.

Anyways, Lauren Daigle began singing one song on her own, and then Megan joined her to duet on this number, which was the second one for Megan tonight with the word "G-d" in the title. (The third song being "Faithfully.)

I thought it was weird during Megan's audition that Ms. Daigle (who was cut on American Idol before even making it to the semi-finals) had interrupted Megan's audition before the judges to surprise her and sing along with her on this song. Nothing like that had never been done before and it seems blatantly unfair to the contestant at some level. Megan had to have been aware.

Anyway, they had surely rehearsed this time and it was good. I do not remember much else. Iam singing "Monsters" while fighting the urge to weep was more memorable. I am sure that went just as intended for the Idol Powers That Be.

This, I give this round to Iam Tongi.

To close out the night, the contestants would perform their "winner singles" which have been recorded and they will be expected to perform on shows like "Kelly and Whomever Her Current Co-Host/Husband is Named" and also will be aired on the radio.

I learned today that these songs were actually written by some recent former Idol non-winners.

9. Megan Danielle- "Dream Girl"

This song was co-written by country singer Lacy Kaye Booth and it did not really seem like a "hit." Megan has a great voice and for her this was the most uptempo song for her thus far. She needed to do something like that earlier. This particular song almost felt like it had a disco back-beat. It did not play to Megan's strengths.

10. Iam Tongi- "I'll Be Seeing You"

This song definitely played up to Iam's strengths. I can envision it on the radio and to complete a theme, the lyrics relate to his feelings towards his deceased father.

It was co-written by Francisco Martin, whom I thought was someone with a lot of promise when he went fairly far in the ill-fated Idol "Sing From Home" Covid season. Francisco apparently also wrote the song that Colin would have performed called "I Still Talk To Jesus." I do not really know what that would have sounded like, but it is a nice story that Francisco, an Asian-American musician, got to play a part in the victory of fellow Asian-American singer Iam.

Needless to say, Iam sang it well. There seemed to be a clear agenda though in regards to whom was expected to win at this point

I gave this round to Iam Tongi over Megan Danielle
Going into the week, I would have expected to prefer Megan over Iam, and in Round 2 I did, but all production manipulations aside, once they got to the Final Two, I had to call it as I heard it.
Iam Tongi over Megan Danielle
Predicted Idol Winner: Iam Tongi
The 21st Idol Winner:  Iam Tongi

Seacrest wasted no time in announcing the winner. Nobody in the building seemed remotely surprised. Interestingly enough, Iam then sang a different song (which he had done earlier in the season) instead of the Coronation Song, which he had literally performed about seven minutes earlier. Still,that was something that never happened before after Idol crowned a champion. In his generous spirit, Iam put the microphone in the faces of his fellow Finalists so they could sing too. For some reason, he has always been trying to get people to say something into his microphone, even though they are already mic'ed up.

With this win, Iam becomes the the first Asian-American Idol winner (which should have been Jessica Sanchez) and the first non-white male winner since Ruben Studdard twenty years prior.  Of course, one has to put aside the trivial anecdotes that Scotty McCreery was a quarter Puerto Rican and Laine Hardy has an Asian mom. They were basically viewed as "white."

Also, I have just learned that Iam is a member of the LDS faith. The first winner in Idol history, even though that should have been David Archuleta, who might no longer be active in that particular church, and once again just finished second place on a Fox singing show. Of course, Mitt Romney should have won something too.
Ruben was very large back in those days (though not quite the size of Iam) and is now significantly lighter. (Clay Aiken is not as skinny as he once was.) They both sang Don Quixote or something like that on the show. Iam and Megan also appeared with microphones towards the end of that number but I do not think they actually sang anything. In all seriousness, I hope Iam has people on his team and in his life that will look out for his health, both physical and mental. He will already quickly be off on a publicity tour that would be taxing on just about anyone.  I hope he returns to the Idol stage next year having started to lose weight. Clearly, this is not a matter of him just eating too much, but something genetic.

Megan and Iam both should be saluted for very good runs on American Idol. I think Megan definitely has the potential to make it big in country with her distinctive voice and story-telling ability.

Iam is also a very talented story-teller and someone with a great tone. Still, his victory is owed mostly to personal affection that people have for him, which includes a lot of sympathy for what he has been through as well as the novelty of his size coupled with his kind spirit and gentle nature. Time will tell how he might fare on the charts now that his Idol season is ending.

I had expected that Colin might wind up beating Iam and there would be surprise and backlash I think that would have happened for whomever would have beaten Iam. I was a bit surprised to read some hot takes online today from people who think the show was "rigged" for Iam  (maybe to a point but not "stolen') and that Megan or Colin should have been the rightful winner.

The bottom line is that people gravitated towards Iam and liked watching him from the moment he first appeared on television. While he happens to  be a very good singer as well, that personal bond is what "American Idol" has basically always been about.

Mahalo, Iam.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Democracy 2024: # 20

As negotiations continue between President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy in regards to the annual raising of the debt ceiling, the burgeoning contest to be the person to go up against the politically vulnerable Democrat incumbent is starting to look surprisingly crowded.

To be sure, Donald Trump is still the clear frontrunner to capture his third straight Republican Presidential nomination, but an increasing number of Republican men are either jumping into the race or saying they are seriously considering doing so. They are seeing an opportunity to catch fire among primary voters who may fear (accurately so) that Trump is un-electable in November 2024 or that even Republican voters are sick and tired of his brand of petty personal grievances and a focus on the past. Trump also happens to be coming up on 77 years of age and hardly a generational contrast with the 80 year old Biden. Furthermore, he is already under one indictment, and is expected to face other, more serious ones in the months ahead.

The Republican field thus far has consisted of Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina Governor who was also Trump's Ambassador to the United Nations, and is the one female candidate in the race. The other announced candidates who have gotten the most attention are former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, whom I consider my favorite of the field thus far, along with businessman and "anti-woke" activist Vivek Ramaswamy. While potential candidates including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Floridians Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, as well as ex-Maryland Governor Larry Hogan have ruled out primary bids, the field of other announced candidates includes names as varied as Larry Elder, Perry Johnson, Steve Laffey, and Corey Stapleton. It would take a serious political junkie to be able to identify most if not all of those people. The six "Jeopardy Masters" contestants would not stand a chance. Would any of those names make to any theoretical debate stage? There is also someone Ryan Binkley running who has a professional looking website. Before ten minutes ago, even I had never heard of him.
Then, there is former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton, who has for a while made claims that he intends to run, but has not taken very many active steps. Former Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers (not to be confused with the current toupee wearing hot-tempered Alabama Congressman) might also fit into the category.

This coming week, the field is expected to become far more substantial. South Carolina Senator Tim Scott has now officially fired paperwork and will make a formal entrance on Monday. The one Senator in the field, Scott is likely to bring a decent financial warchest to the race as well as the likelihood of considerable GOP establishment support, at least as it relates to his campaign advisors. Scott looking like a very serious contender is a sign that the Haley campaign has just not really taken off at all.

Later in the week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has consistently run second to Trump in national and state polls is also expected to jump directly into the pool. At one point, after the 2022 midterms, it looked like DeSantis was poised to overtake Trump, but that has changed in a big way as the former President has fired away at his former protege and the Governor has generated a lot of headlines, many negative, especially as it relates to what might be a losing campaign in his state against the Disney Corporation over their alleged "wokeness." For all the bad press that DeSantis has gotten in recent weeks, including many accounts of his personal aloofness, he is going to enter the race with a ton of money. He also is seemingly still managing to pick up endorsements, especially in Florida. Some thought it would be wise for DeSantis to sit this cycle out as he is young enough to wait for Trump to truly be gone from the scene, but one reason he may not be waiting might be attributed to the ambition of his wife Casey, believed to be her husband's top advisor. I can envision it now that Trump will get very personal in attacking Casey DeSantis.

Then, there will be others as well who will probably run. Former Vice President Mike Pence is giving signals that he will run as a full Reagan conservative and has pointed out that he is used to debating his old boss Donald Trump in private. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a one-time Trump ally, is telling people privately he is soon to trade in his seat at the ABC Sunday morning news set for a chance to insult Trump across the country. New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu,who would be the most moderate Republican candidate in the field on issues like abortion is saying that he is leaning towards a run. I actually think he will take a pass.
This past week, a lot of people were surprised to hear that Rick Perry, a former Texas Governor, who then served in Trump's Cabinet might want to run for a third time. After all, it took Biden three tries to win his party's nomination. North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, not exactly a nationally known name, is looking like he plans to run. He would be devote personal resources on a campaign but would be very much a long-shot. To the list of long-shot potentials you can also add Miami Mayor Francis Suarez whom as a Latino would truly make this a mutli-cultural GOP field. Also in that conversation is former Texas Congressman Will Hurd, an African-American, who is sort of a personal favorite of mine.

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin recently said he will not run for President "this year" but recently released a flashy campaign video touting himself, so perhaps he might be thinking people could turn to him late in the process, and with all the political craziness of the last several years, that might not be too nutty of a thought. Could Governors Kristi Noem of South Dakota or Greg Abbott of Texas or former Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona wind up having similar thoughts? If this is truly going to become a thing, nobody should forget about Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia, who defied the odds and easily beat back the intra-party opposition of Trump in 2022.

Finally, if former Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney were to get into the race, I would pledge my support on Day One. I mean, unless Senator Mitt Romney of Utah runs.

These are a lot of names. It is a shame that Harold Stassen of Minnesota is no longer with us. If something happens to Trump, we might also have to deal with a Don Jr. or a Tucker Carlson. Maybe Marjorie Taylor-Greene or Matt Gaetz might take their insanity to a larger platform. In George Santos's mind, he has already been President.

The conventional wisdom will remain that this will come down to Trump vs DeSantis and that Trump will prevail. Maybe so but there are a lot of questions regarding what a large field may be. Would the anti-Trump vote so splintered only serve to re-nominate Trump? That will be what DeSantis will likely say as he will be pushing on the electability angle. This past week though showed a late DeSantis endorsement for a Kentucky Gubernatorial candidate wound up meaning nothing as the Trump endorsed candidate won that primary as expected. It has to be noted tough that Attorney General Daniel Cameron, while happy to have had Trump's endorsement in Kentucky, is a Mitch McConnell protege, and Trump truly hates McConnell. In further bad news for DeSantis, a Democrat beat his Republican backed candidate for Mayor of Jacksonville, Florida's largest municipality. That city will no longer have a Republican Mayor for the first time in a long time and neither will Colorado Springs, Colorado.

I could also go on a tangent and talk about how the nomination an African-American woman, considered a more moderate option to be Mayor of Philadelphia proves my theory about how black Democrats these days are voting in these sort of races with skin color very much in mind. So, while the heavily Democrat cities of Chicago and Los Angeles elected black Democrats over more moderate white Democrat opponents, Philadelphia joined New York in electing (or at least nominating thus far) black Democrats who were more moderate over more liberal non-black alternatives. I will chose to be grateful I suppose that Philadelphia will not have the most disastrous Mayor possible. I continue to fear for Chicago.

Back to the national scene though, this past week and the losses of Mayorships show that Republicans are struggling everywhere that might be considered urban or suburban and no matter how strong the party is in rural areas or small towns, that is not going to be a formula for success. Perhaps a non-Trumpist candidate or someone who unlike DeSantis is not focused on exploiting cultural divides might find a way to break through the Presidential primary pack. For now, that seems like a huge ask.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

American Idol- Top 3

I have returned from my annual tradition of watching the Mother's Day American Idol episode at my parents' house. And are they ever upset about the results. I told them though weeks ago and throughout the entire evening that their favorite was unlikely to reach next week's Finale. I wanted We Ani to make it too and even texted a number 10 times to try to affect the outcome. However, my influence on the Idol vote these days is about the same as my influence internally within the Republican Party.

Since ABC has taken over Idol, this has always also been the Disney theme. I wonder how much usual watchers were boycotting tonight's show in solidarity with Ron DeSantis, (or as someone else now calls him."Rob DeSanctimonius.) Usually, they do one round of Disney songs, and then an additional round of non-Disney schmaltzy ballads. Tonight, it was Disney for both rounds, with a whole lot ballads. Due to the Guardians of the Galaxy series (which I know nothing about), they are apparently able to count a lot of old non-Disney songs as being part of the Disney catalogue.

To start off the evening musically, the guest mentor (Sofia Carson I believe) sang a Disney song in a pre-taped segment and the Final Five joined in background towards the end. Thank goodness there were not any solos for that this year or I would have had to rank them.

1. We Ani- "Into The Unknown"

This is not a song I am that familiar with or really would be into, but We was impressive as usual. Her background seems to be sort of in the musical theater genre so she was very comfortable with a song like this. We has been relying heavily on her ballad skills in recent weeks.  So have several of the other contestants and one who has not really sung a solo ballad at all. Of those remaining, Colin has been the one who has mixed it up the most in regards to tempo. I wonder if it might have been better for We to have done something fast in the last few weeks. She has shown before that she is able to do that very well.

2. Zachariah Smith- "I Just Can't Wait To Be King"

This would have been very timely if it took place just after the Coronation.That ship has already sailed though as Zachariah sang this Disney movie song that I hate because it used to play incessantly on the speaker system when I worked at an educational toy store back in High School.

Not long ago on this blog, I predicted that before the season was over, Zachariah would sing "Eye Of the Tiger" while wearing a sparkly tiger stripe jacket. Indeed this week, he sang a song from "The Lion King" wearing a sparkly shirt featuring tigers and various other Big Cats. Did I call that or what?

Zachariah has a powerful voice and also likes to dance on stage.According to my mother, he was doing the "Mashed Potato" this evening. I cannot quite put my finger on my why I disliked this performance as much as I did, but I came away feeling personally offended. There was just far too much cheese on those mashed potatoes.

3. Colin Stough- "Real Gone"

I am just glad he did not pick "You've Got A Friend In Me" like every other country Idol bro has seemingly been doing for Disney Night the last several years.

This was decent enough in a sort of country rock kind of way. Colin chose to wear a black cowboy hat for this performance. I think he has worn a cowboy hat for every performance, joining a select group of Idol males (usually trying to conceal baldness insecurities) who have worn a hat for every performance, but I think Colin is the one to have gone the furthest and the only one to stick with a cowboy hat. There is also always some sort of bandana in his back pocket which has never been explained. Perhaps, that is for the best.

4. Megan Danielle- "You Can't Stop The Girl"

It has been very common for Idol voters to stop the girls before one wins. The last two female (non Zooms season) winners, Candice Glover and Maddie Poppe seem to have benefited only when the males have been relatively weak. So perhaps Megan was trying to send a subliminal message.

I do not know this song and perhaps not many knew this ballad either, but Megan sounded spectacular once again, Most of her performances have definitely had more of a "star singing at an awards show" than that of someone just trying to get a record deal.

5. Iam Tongi- "Lava"

For this performance, Iam chose a Hawaiian related volcano song from some Disney short that probably very few people have seen.

It worked out well though for the ukelele playing Hawaiian singer. He just always has such a nice and pleasant voice. What he does takes true talent. I just cannot envision anyone getting very excited by him musically. That is really all I can say about all of his performances.

Round 1 Rankings:

5. Zachariah Smith
4. Colin Stough
3,  Iam Tongi
2. We Ani
1. Megan Danielle

1. We Ani- "The Climb"
Yes, I suppose Hannah Montana is Disney. This was another ballad selection for We though who like many other talented females singers in Idol history made the decision to sing almost exclusively ballads in sequined gowns in the latter rounds of the show and while they typically pull it off vocally, they wound up not getting rewarded by the voters.

Of course We sounded terrific once again. She could do a song like this in in her sleep. She also the ability to sing the verses in a way that keeps the listeners attention and along with the journey as she builds up to the chorus. The arrangement was a different spin though on this song and she did not really sing it in the overwrought that Miley Cyrus did and might be expected by anyone covering this song. I thought it was very strong vocally but wondered if perhaps people would think she was not demonstrating an emotional connection to the lyrics. Perhaps, she was sanguine about the fact that tonight was probably going to once again be the night she was "going to have to lose."

2. Zachariah Smith- "Life Is A Highway"

I am old enough to remember when this was a song was done by an original artist long before it got covered and put in the movie "Cars." 

Vocally, I thought this was a better fit for Zachariah although it was still cheesy as some Italian restaurants. He really was working hard and selling out vocally on the chorus. You can feel how badly he wanted this. I was afraid he might just stick around too especially after the video piece featuring the letter to his mother and the viewers learning for the first time about how he had to help raise a disabled younger brother. Then, Zachariah was very emotional after the performance. It was already going to be nearly impossible for both females to make it to the Finale, but I was concerned that if Zachariah was in, that would clearly mean neither of them made it.

3. Colin Stough- "Nobody Knows"

This time it was back to the white hat. Does anybody "know" this song? It was from "Pete's Dragon" which I believe is from the 1970s (unless it got remade.) These days a Pete's Dragon reference might have some people thinking about Pete Davidson.

Colin sang it well. Even my parents, who were horrified at my prediction from weeks ago that he would probably win, admit he has "gotten better", but I found it all just a bit boring and run of the mill.

4. Megan Danielle- "Carried Me With You"

Yeah, I do not know this song either, and I was reminded that Megan is another one who is doing nothing but ballads lately. Towards the middle though, this song kicked into a faster sort of bluegrass tempo, so it was at least somewhat different than the first song she sang. 

I am always impressed with Megan's voice. The more countrified part of this number sort of had her reminding me vocally of Reba McEntire. It was another very solid performance, but it did not have the same impact for me as the first ballad she did this evening.
5. Iam Tongi- "Father And Son"

While this was Mothers' Day and Iam's mom was around once again, his narrative this season has remained that he is mourning his recently deceased father, who taught him to love music and singing.
So, Iam was clearly playing to his strengths. He knows he is not someone who is going to do an uptempo song or work the stage physically. The voters certainly have not seemed to mind. Iam's songs all sort of sound the same. You know what you are going to get from him, but once again I cannot help but find what he did to be extremely good.

Round 2 rankings:

5. Colin Stough
4. Zachariah Smith
3. Iam Tongi
2. Megan Danielle
1. We Ani

In this round, I swapped my top two and bottom two, with Iam staying in the middle once again, so with two ties to break I had to make a final cumulative ranking.

5. Zachariah Smith
4. Colin Stough

3. Iam Tongi
2. Megan Danielle
1 We Ani

Who should have been the Top Three seemed quite obvious to me and my parents were in agreement. I thought it was extremely possible though all three guys would advance and both of the vocally superior females would be left on the outside.

Who should have been eliminated: Zachariah Smith and Colin Stough

Who I predicted would be eliminated: Zachariah Smith and We Ani

Ultimately, I decided that both Zachariah and Colin coming from Mississippi (the same town nonetheless) would FINALLY catch up with of them. I thought that Megan would make it into the Finale for that reason and because she is country.

Who was eliminated: Zachariah Smith and We Ani

I did call it correctly in my final prediction before the last commercial break. I suppose I should be somewhat relieved, but still We Ani deserved to go further. It seems more difficult than ever for an African-American performer to make it to the Final Three these days,unless they are from a southern state and have a very compelling backstory and narrative such as the now late Willie Spence did.  He would lose to a white guitar playing country guy too though.

I never thought Zachariah would get this far during the audition rounds. He would probably be very entertaining to see live in a small venue as long as he did enough '80's songs.

We Ani is a great singer who is probably leagues above where she was she finished in third place on "The Voice"as a teenager. Now, on Idol, she was either 4th or 5th. Probably fifth. Being from New Jersey originally and then living in New York City did not do much to help her. So, We Ani joins some of my recent favorite female belters like Grace Kinstler and Nicolina in not winning Idol. Hopefully, she will have other avenues to stardom. I can see her having a lot of potential.

Looking ahead to next week, Megan will probably "win" the night, though I will try to be objective when I watch and compile my rankings. Still, I give her no better than a 10 percent chance of winning and she will probably finish in third place.

I think the conventional wisdom is that it is all set up for Iam to win. That may happen, especially with a very split red-state vote, but I am going to give Colin about a 50 percent chance of winning with Iam having about a 40 percent chance. As I said in conclusion last week, if and when Colin beats Iam, there are going to be a lot of surprised and pissed off people wondering how that could ever happen, but nobody reading these entries can say they were surprised I suppose.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Democracy 2024: # 19

Panic may have been a theme of the week. Panic for Democrats. Panic for sane Republicans. Panic in the media and panic at large for a country that continues to not like the prospect of another year and a half plus of a Biden vs. Trump rematch. All the while,the U.S. remains on the brink in regards to a potential default and with the elimination of Title 42, our southern border seems more wide open than ever. This can lead to panic both for those who fear immigration in general and for those who are tasked with the very real responsibility of providing services in cities and states.

Political junkies woke up last Sunday morning to learn about a new ABC News/Washington Post poll showing Joe Biden's Presidential approval rating at just 36 percent and him trailing Donald Trump by seven points in a general election match-up. Those truly are "brutal" numbers for any incumbent. While other polls have shown Biden with a continued low approval number and in a close race against Trump and also Ron DeSantis, this particular poll seemed to make a lot of Democrats gasp in fear.

What I can see from the internals of the poll are that Biden's support is down among his Democrats and especially lowered suddenly among African-Americans. I have a hard time believing that those groups would not still put all reservations aside and vote heavily for Biden next November against Trump or DeSantis for that matter. Thus, people people should probably not get too exercised, in either direction, about this poll.

Biden has a lot of political problems though as seen in this poll. People simply believe he is too old to serve another four years as President, after his first terms ends in nearly two years. The perception that Biden is not "mentally sharp" enough for the job is becoming quite real and growing. This is not to say that most Americans believe the current President is suffering from dementia. If they did, they would be clamoring for an immediate resignation or removal from office, but the concept that Biden is starting to slip mentally and showing increasing signs of age is snowballing. This is leaving many Democrats to wonder if he truly is their best bet for victory in 2024. Right now though, he is running for reelection and protest votes aside (which will seemingly come more from the left wing of the party), he is not being seriously challenged for re-nomination.
Of course many of the voters who say that Biden is not mentally sharp enough to be President still intend to vote for him. That is pretty astonishing in and of itself but less so than the voters who told the same pollster that they believe Trump should be prosecuted for crimes but yet they will still vote for him.What is that saying about our democracy? Biden would be the obvious choice for many even if he were in a nursing home instead of the White House and Trump would be the obvious choice for many even if were in prison. How about another choice? Speaking for myself, I would want there to be a different Presidential option minus all the concerns about Biden's age and mental sharpness or Trump's seeming lifetime of criminal behavior or just being a sociopath in general. The two men are simply wrong on many, many issues, and are not good leaders.
As the week unfolded, a Manhattan jury voted unanimously to find that Trump was liable for the sexual abuse claims made against him by writer E. Jean Carroll for events that she alleged happened sometime in the mid 1990s. He was also found to have defamed her and ordered to pay her about $5 million. The jury did not find him liable on the specific allegation of rape. This leads to some understandable confusion as to why he was liable for defaming her regarding an allegation that was determined to be unfounded, but it also goes to show that this jury probably was taking their specific instructions seriously and were not just "out to get Trump." Of course, the person who was found by a jury of his peers to be a sexual predator expressed outrage over this verdict and is appealing. The effect this will have on Trump's campaign or political future remains to be seen. The Republican frontrunner definitely has a lot of other legal concerns beyond this civil judgment.
Then on Wednesday, Donald Trump appeared on CNN for the first time since 2016 and took part in a Presidential Town Hall in the First in the Nation Primary state of New Hampshire. It was moderated by Kaitlan Collins, a young anchor, who used to cover the Trump White House. This event became the biggest story of the week, which was not hard to predict.
Many believe that CNN did a disservice to democracy by having Trump on its airwaves and by giving him a platform. I completely disagree. For better or worse (and everyone should know my opinion), he is a major candidate for President and could very well be President. He is not someone that can be totally ignored. People have the right to hear from him so they can vote accordingly. That is what democracy is all about after all. Those who scream about "banning books" just understand the concept of why it was appropriate to have Trump and all other major Presidential candidates appear on the air and watch them face questions from journalists and voters.
Collins and CNN had a tough job that was nearly impossible to "win." I think she did about as well as could be expected. Trump spent about 70 minutes on stage telling one lie or distortion after another from matters such as the 2020 election and the January 6th riot at the Capitol. One could write many paragraphs about all the things he said such as saying he would pardon January 6 prisoners and  attacking E. Jean Carroll and defending his one-time remarks about celebrities being allowed to sexually grab women. He refused to say that he wanted Ukraine to defeat Russia in the war but claimed that if he is President the war would end in 24 hours (only if he cut support for Ukraine and allowed Russia to take it over.) Trump also tried his best to finesse the abortion issue neither saying he would or would not sign a national bill restricting the act, although he took credit for the Supreme Court decision returning it to the states, while also seeming to say it did not need to be returned to the states.

Collins did her best to fact-check Trump on many of the outright lies he told in real time, but there is only so much that could be done in that regard. His hard-core supporters do not care and were actually quite pleased over what became his combative exchanges with her. In simple, Trump was Trump, although I note that he did not get as personal with her as he probably was tempted to. He was actually holding back. He merely called her a "nasty person" instead of his old go-to of "nasty woman", although his remark was deemed to be misogynistic none the less. The whole program did feel like someone was telling Donald Trump he was wrong to his face and his not being able to respond more than anyone ever has on television before, but that kind of got lost in the shuffle. Collins could only push-back so much, but she still did so more effectively than Biden was able to in the 2020 debates. It is also noteworthy that Trump only got one dig in at Ron DeSantis during the appearance. He was said to have wanted to focus on the person seen as his main Republican rival more. Based on the latest Republican polls though, he may not have felt that was as crucial to do.

Much has been made by liberals and especially on MSNBC, an even more left-wing alternative to CNN, about the fact that the cable town hall event featured people in the audience who applauded for Trump and who laughed at some of his outrageous comments. Some said they were very surprised this happened. They should not have been  CNN has been hosting these kinds of events for politicians and candidates for years now and in regards to primary states, they are always filled with the voters who will take part in those primaries.The sad reality is that Trump has support of many New Hampshire Republicans.

In watching this though, based on the volume of the cheers and whatnot, it seemed clear to me that Trump definitely did not "own"the room. This was not the boisterous MAGA rally many Trump haters would want us to believe.  Many of the voters sat quietly. Some asked him questions, that despite their very polite and deferential nature, seemed to convey skepticism or displeasure with Trump. A former Trump Administration official, who was in the room with these New Hampshire voters said that many were quietly bewildered by Trump's behavior and turned off by it. Those voters should not have been surprised either. Trump did what he always did. This attitude seems to reflect the divide in the larger Republican Party as it has existed for years now. So many are turned off by Trump, but sit by quietly as to not rile up the very loud voices who will cheer for him and perhaps shout down the others who would express a contrary view. It has been a hostage situation since early 2016. Those who have the freedom to escape these captors should do so.

After it was over, Trump and his people were said to be happy with how it all went. To be expected, Democrats and many in the media expressed outrage. Personally, I was disgusted by Trump, as I usually am. Those in the Republican Party who have seen the actual political history of his leadership of the party worry that his focus on the past is going to lead them to defeat again, despite the Washington Poll from May 2023. The White House and Democrat professionals were said to be salivating over all the material Trump provided to them that can be used in a general election  
E. Jean Carroll is said to now be contemplating suing him for defamation again. Prosecutors from Georgia to Washington D.C. may have also gathered some important evidence from what Trump was allowed to say on CNN. While Trump looks to be riding high for the Republican Presidential nominations, other candidates, both announced and potential are said to be seeing an opening now over electability concerns. Some have been pretty quiet publicly since Wednesday night with the exception of the unannounced Chris Christie, once the top Trump enabler in the Republican Party, who has now fully turned on him and is signaling that if he does run against his old friend, he will be doing so with rhetorical guns blazing. Announced GOP candidate Asa Hutchinson has been very consistent in calling for the party and the country to move on from Trump.

As the old saying goes, "sunlight is the best disinfectant." The media has the responsibility to cover Trump and do so accurately. If he says something that is demonstrably false, that should be pointed out. If he says something that is in the realm of a policy difference, no matter how outrageous, it should be reported fully and the people will have the final say through their votes.

Needless to say, the same rules should apply to Joe Biden or whomever else seeks to be the leader of the Free World or seek to hold any office of public trust and responsibility.

Monday, May 08, 2023

American Idol- Top 5

A couple more weeks and Idol will be over. Last night, I watched the show live (except for the final 15 minutes which I caught later) and am going to be recollecting my thoughts here on Monday night.

Two guest judges joined Luke Bryan at the Idol table, as he was apparently not invited to sing at Windsor Castle, unlike his fellow lame panel-mates Katy Perry and Lionel Richie. For this week,he was joined by Alanis Morrissette, a Canadian who is technically a subject of King Charles III. The eight remaining contestants would be mentored by her as they were preparing to sing her songs. I only like one of her songs and I was hoping to hear it, but was surprised by the circumstances it was performed under. Alanis also sang a song of her own. Instead of looking at either the studio audience or the camera, she spent the entire song wailing at the right wall of the building. Once again, I must add, isn't it Ironic, don't you think, that Englishman Ed Sheeran, fresh off successfully winning a plagiarism suit against him in an American courtroom also sat in, after having turned down an opportunity to perform at the Coronation concert. Even with the surprise cameo featuring Chuck and Camilla yukking it up with Lionel and Katy, Ed showed no visible reaction. He also brushed off a Seacrest comment about the British knowing how to party. Ed Sheeran must be staunchly anti-monarchy or knows he is Meghan Markle's second favo(u)rite ginger. The kinds did duets to his songs, and Ed also performed, not fixated on the side wall of the studio, but with his eyes closed. I find spelling Sheeran nearly impossible. Should't there be an h in there?

I was surprised to see the newly crowned King and Queen actually appear on an American Idol broadcast. I wonder if the show tried to get William and Kate instead. Frankly, George, Charlotte, and Louis would be the least boring out of any of them. This appearance though did represent the most self-important Brit to be on the show since Simon Cowell's last episode.

1. Warren Peay- "All I Really Want"

I do not know this Alanis Morrissette song. I feel bad for that young girl from last season (and her mother) who was named after the '90s hit-maker. 

Warren sounded alright.I like his voice but you can tell he really may not be that much into this kind of music. The performance was decent but not too exciting. I have forgotten most other details.

2. Zachariah Smith- "Ironic"

It is very ironic that two dudes from tiny Amory, Mississippi are in the Final 8 and may wind up in the Final 5 before night's end (no reason to spoil that here.) If they both advance to the Final Three and get to do a Homecoming, I hope Idol sends them on the same airplane.. for the sake of the planet of course.

Zachariah's outfit was definitely unusual but he continued to perform well vocally. While not a ballad, this was perhaps the lowest tempo song he has done so far and as such, tamped down the campiness a bit.Will that cause him to lose the attention of some of his fans? This song reminds me of my early days in college and the Clinton Administration and I have always sort of hated it.

3. Iam Tongi and Oliver Steele- "Photograph"

Now, we pivot away from the Alanis solos and into the Ed duets. This messes up the order whenever they do so. My standard practice has always been to judge the contestants against each other only based on their first performance each, or second, and so on.

Both gentlemen played guitar and this was a really good duet. Their voices complimented each other well and it seemed very right for them musically. As has been seen by their frequent hugging this season, Iam and Oliver are very close friends now. Oliver referred to Iam,a bit Ironic(ally) as his "little brother" and pretty much endorsed him to become the next American Idol once he was voted off. Oliver was also very happy to have his father in the audience for the first time and pointed out how great Iam has been in reaching out to his father, while Oliver's old man was in the hospital. Oliver would make a great campaign manager. Perhaps he had already been secretly inspired by James Carville earlier in the week.

4. Haven Madison- "You Learn"

It sounded like Haven was channeling how Alanis used to sing this song. In spite of that, I thought she sounded quite good on it. That is basically what I remember perhaps because a "storm warning" popped up on Chicago's local ABC affiliate for the folks well south of where I was at. Hopefully, there was not a lot of rain on anybody's wedding day. The background of the stage during Haven's number featured shades of green and yellow and pink and the graphical depiction of the radar for the storm warning matched the colors of the Idol stage. That was pretty Ironic.

5. We Ani and Warren Peay- "Perfect"

Idol continues to mess with me because We took the stage for the first time while Warren was not singing for the second and final time. We had yet to even hear from Megan and Colin.

Anyway, in spite of all that, this was a fantastic duet. It was close to "Perfect" for two singers whom you might not imagine blending so well together. Warren's countryish take sounded really good and We was amazing as usual. This big hit came out early on as a duet between Ed Sheeran and Beyonce and We has a lot of Beyonce in her singing voice. I learned some additional things about We today that I will talk about later.

6. Colin Stough- "Hand In My Pocket"

This song is so bad yet I would probably find it hard to change the station if it came on the radio. I remember when SNL had Dana Carvey in 1996 singing it as President George H.W. Bush in regards to something about Bob Dole's one good hand and how all it came down to was the delegates on his side.

Colin sang it just fine, just nothing that was going to blow anyone away with it's originality. He has a country voice and maybe should have changed the arrangement of this song a bit more. It seems to me like there are all sorts of country dudes who have decent voices like him performing all over Nashville and all over America.  However, for him all it comes down to in regards to the Idol vote are the Country Cougars on Colin's side.(Just do not spell any of that with a K.)

7. Haven Madison and Zachariah Smith- "Thinking Out Loud"

This was another good duet on an Ed Sheeran song although perhaps the least so of the evening. Haven handled this kind of tempo in the professional way she usually does and Zachariah proved he can pull off a ballad too. 

Considering the headlines of the past week though regarding this song's victory in court,they missed an opportunity to suddenly segue to Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On", but that might have been a bad idea for the two singers for a variety of reasons.

8. Megan Danielle- "Head Over Feet"

The contestant dedicated this appreciative love song to her boyfriend. I am guessing Alanis did not write this particular tune about Dave Coulier.

It seems like Megan never hits a bum note at all. There is not really much more I can say except it was very impressive.

Now, that everyone has sang (at least) once, I can rank them based on the first time they appeared on stage only from worst to best:
8. Colin Stough (solo)
7. Warren Peay (solo)
6. Zachariah Smith (solo)
5. Haven Madison (solo)
4. Oliver Steele (duet)
3. Iam Tongi (duet)
2. Megan Danielle (solo)
1. We Ani (duet)

9. Iam Tongi- "Guardian"

I had never heard this song before. Apparently, Alanis wrote it about her son, but Iam flipped it to make it about his mother. What will he do next week for the Disney/Mother's Day Night?

It cannot be denied just how nice of a voice Iam has. There is something very soothing and resonant about it which is part of the reason why he seems so unbelievably popular among Idol voters and what we can hear with the studio audience chanting his name as if he were the late Jerry Springer, but there are other factors in play as well.

10. We Ani- "Uninvited"

As would be clear, We can basically do no wrong from my perspective this season. Earlier today, I saw and was unaware that she finished third place on "The Voice" back in 2016 when she was 17 and went by the name We McDonald. Only after seeing photos and some clips from her performance, did I sort of remember her.

I have watched "The Voice" since it's first season but needless to say pay far less attention to it than Idol and barely ever remember anyone's name. If an ex-Idol semifinalist or finalist pops up on "The Voice", I will remember them, but the reverse probably happens on Idol a lot and I am not even aware. The season she was on, she lost to older, beaded, hefty guitar player Sundance Head,who I remember as a short-lived Idol semifinalist some time We/Way back, and also finished behind Billy Gilman, a one-time celebrated child country singer,who made a reality tv comeback years later.

We looks a bit different now than she did back in 2016, in a good way. On Sunday, she resembled a current day Jordin Sparks. I was wondering if they were going to have her perform last and sing "You Oughta Know." She is the only contestant (maybe besides Zachariah) who is left that I can picture having the pipes to try that, but I am glad she did not sing that song. I could tell by the way she was dressed that she would not be singing it.  It probably would have hurt her image with the voters. I figured that most ironic of all Alanis songs would remain unsung on the evening and that was a bit Ironic.

Anyway,. We sang the emotional ballad "Uninvited" and it was haunting and ethereal, showing off her dynamic vocal range and phrasing. Another great job by We indeed. It is sad that like her time on "The Voice", she is probably not going to wind up finishing any better than third place.

11. Megan Danielle and Colin Stough- "Dive"

I do not know this Ed Sheeran song. They sounded good though and I was impressed, especially by Megan. Colin also did well, but started cracking up at one point. That has happened on Idol boy/girl duets on live television before or at least almost did.

12. Oliver Steele- "You Oughta Know"

Fresh off being saved by Katy Perry, Oliver tells the interview cameras that he hears the criticism that people find him boring and his song choices sleepy so he decided to really shake things up and take on this crazy ex-girlfriend anthem.

That was a surprise to me to say the least! I have to give him credit for being willing to try something bold and his electric guitar take was not horrible by any means but I cannot pretend this was the best song for him or that he was the best person to sing this song.

This particular number is a bit of a guilty pleasure. The lyrics are so corny in many ways but the anger and aggression that Alanis Morrissette put into the vocals are unforgettable.Also, it makes it extra special that we know that Mr. Duplicity himself is none other than "Joey"from Full House, the legendary (?) comedian Dave Coulier. He dated Alanis when she was pretty young and unknown and after leaving a mess when he went away, she had no choice but to bug him in the middle of dinner about the cross-eyed bear that he gave to her (or something that sounds similar) 

Oliver sang this song, without changing the gender but thankfully skipping over the least family friendly lyric in the song. A male even attempting this song is pretty ballsy but there is no way he could hit the high notes quite the way they needed to be hit. It was like a fun karaoke performance but I could not score it too highly. Afterwards, Oliver pulled off another surprise (that I feel in retrospect that I should have seen coming) by ripping off the beanie he had been wearing all night and showing that he had shaved his previously long hair bald. This might have been in solidarity with his father. Oliver looked a little scary with his new bald head and beard but still seems like a nice guy all around. This would have been a great thing for someone to do if there is ever a Britney Spears Night.

Rankings for second performances:

8. Oliver Steele (solo)
7. Haven Madison (duet)
6. Zachariah Smith (duet)
5. Colin Stough (duet)
4. Warren Peay (duet)
3. Megan Danielle (duet)
2. Iam Tongi (solo)
1. We Ani (solo)

Next, I  combined the two scores to get a cumulative total. Three were clearly the best of the night, but the others were bunched closely together, so I had to break some ties, putting more emphasis on the solos.

8. Colin Stough
7. Oliver Steele
6. Zachariah Smith

5. Haven Madison
4. Warren Peay
3. Iam Tongi
2. Megan Danielle
1. We Ani

Who should have been eliminated: Colin Stough, Oliver Steele, Zachariah Smith
Who I predicted would eliminated during the final commercial break: Oliver Steele, Zachariah Smith. Warren Peay
Who was eliminated: Oliver Steele, Warren Peay, Haven Madison

So, I miscalculated that Haven would have more fans based on her father's Christian music career than all of the senior citizens who must be voting for Zachariah hoping he will one day do Elvis or Chuck Berry. Did perhaps Haven go a bit too pop and got a bit too glamorous for some in the Evangelical crowd?
It was easier to predict that time was running out on Oliver and Warren also was splitting some votes with him.
Last week, I presented my theory about how the red states and blue states both have a male and female favorite and all are still around. The girls continue to be better but the guys probably have the edge.
Will it wind up an all male Final Three though? Zachariah is perhaps the one candidate who is bridging the red/blue divide, though I think he is taking more from the red. It would be beyond political comprehension if he and Colin, both from the same town,make the Finale together, but one of them will be probably get there, to my disappointment. Most likely Colin.
I would be thrilled if both Megan and We make the Finale but probably only one will, if even that. There were two females in the Final Three last year.
Colin is probably the favorite to win, despite being the least talented of the group, but Iam is a force. If he winds up losing to Colin as the Final Two, I could see that being a surprise to many and a national controversy.

Saturday, May 06, 2023

Democracy 2024: # 18

There may not be a pressing major topic to discuss this week. In terms of the Presidential election, things feel like they are in a holding pattern. The front-runners continue to be named Biden and Trump and as it relates to those candidates, so much might sway based upon court cases, criminal and civil, already in process or perhaps still to come. For Donald Trump, the matters relate to things he is alleged to have done, both before, during, and after his Presidency. For Joe Biden, the matters relate to the activities of his son Hunter, both personal and professional. If I may editorialize, I find it very disturbing that Hunter Biden fathered a child four years ago and has shown no interest in even meeting the little girl and who is currently engaged in legal action regarding his child support responsibilities. Of course, this paternity matter is not the responsibility of Joe Biden, even though his 53 year old son is said to be living in the White House and regularly accompanies his father on trips. However, the current President does know he has a young granddaughter that he has never met, and he has deliberately misstated the number of grandchildren he has when asked. For someone who has focused so much throughout his career on "The Biden Family", that sends a very unfortunate message.
Last night,while engaging in a softball interview with MSNBC, Biden, when asked about his son's pending investigation by the Justice Department, said that Hunter has done "nothing wrong." That response can perhaps be forgiven in regards to coming from a loving parent. The President of the United States, the very head of the Executive Branch, which includes the Department of Justice, should have known better than to answer a question in such a way about what is still (years later) an ongoing investigation. Republicans are going to attempt to make political hay over Hunter Biden whether he is charged or not. There have also been stories going back decades now that Joe Biden has used his positions and influence to get Hunter out of messes. There will be a time where he should be unable to do so. The incumbent President really needs to come to terms, if he has not already, what an indictment and possible conviction of his one surviving son would mean to him in regards to his ability to act as President, his reelection campaign, and his own personal health.

Also this week, there is news that House Republicans claim they have evidence from what they say is an FBI whistleblower who claims that the senior Biden was engaged in a criminal scheme with a foreign national during the time he was Vice President of the United States. To use a phrase that sometimes gets uttered, that would be "big if true." We will have to see if there is any evidence presented that could back up such a serious claim.

Maybe I am missing something else that happened this week, but one of the biggest stories was the possibility of the War in Ukraine taking on new dimensions. Russia has claimed that a Ukranian drone attack was foiled and that it was an attempt on the life of Vladmir Putin. Later on, they said the United States was behind it. All of this could lead Russia to give themselves supposed justification to launch attacks on Kyiv. I am pretty confident though that the lying, terrorist Russian government made this all up though as a "false flag"allegation. Democrat Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy has seemed to side with Russia on this matter. Others, on the Republican side agree with him. It is particular funny yet sad that MAGA folks are attacking Biden for not wanting to debate his Democrat primary opponents.Of course,no incumbent President has ever debated primary opponents, including Donald Trump four years ago. They seem to want to skip over that important aspect.Trump is no longer an incumbent, but he is suggesting he does not want to debate his Republican opponents this cycle either. Some partisans really need to get more consistent with their "outrage."

Along those lines, we also await Beltway action on the debt ceiling. The Republican House passed a bill to deal with the situation but the Biden Administration claims that the proposals are unacceptable and they will not even negotiate with Speaker Kevin McCarthy. I believe that any President has an absolute responsibility to talk to the Congressional Leadership, even when it is controlled by another party, and be willing to negotiate. This should be common sense, especially to someone like Biden,who has been around Capitol Hill nearly since dinosaurs roamed the Earth, and who has portrayed himself as a bipartisan "dealmaker."

There was also another mass shooting today. This time at a mall in Texas. Earlier this week, there was a mass shooting in Georgia. A mass stabber was apprehended in California. An incident on a New York subway in which a black man causing a disturbance was choked to death while being restrained by a white passenger is also roiling many in America. Some say the man is a murderer who needs to be prosecuted as such. Others say the man is a hero who should be applauded. I hope the New York City authorities determine all the facts and then act appropriately. Like many things, the truth is probably somewhere in between the extreme judgments. In the meantime, whether the main culprit is mental health, criminal behavior, or unwarranted vigilantism, a lot feels like it is going wrong in America these days.

With all these depressing things in mind, one might not be blamed for having some interest today in the first Coronation of a British Monarch in 70 years. It is all quite an impressive display from a pomp and circumstance perspective, but I am of course glad America is a different place.

A couple months ago, I started watching Netflix's "The Crown", which is an historical depiction (with some embellishments) of the House of Windsor going back to the how Elizabeth II became Queen at a young age. I am on Season Three and have yet to see an episode featuring the adult Charles, but I certainly know enough about the life story of the man who is now King Charles III.

When we look at how we pick our Presidents (ie Heads of State), we can compare just how different the British monarchical system is. Charles was destined to be King since the day he was born. At the age of 74, he finally is. His son and grandson, who were both very much a part of the ceremony today will one day follow suit. Charles did have a shorter wait than Joe Biden in some regards though. Both men look older than they are. Ambition may come with some unwelcome side effects. Of course, the King of the United Kingdom may get to wear a crown, but has less power than a President of the United States ever will.

As portrayed by "The Crown", we can pretty much know that Charles grew up being treated harshly at times by his father and somewhat distantly by his Monarch mother. It is pretty much accepted that the sensitive and unathletic Prince was bullied and tormented as a child at boarding school by schoolmates who had to know that they would one day be his subjects. As an adult, Charles was basically vilified by the press on both sides of the Atlantic mostly due to his role in his failed marriage to Diana, the onetime Princess of Wales. Charles has persisted though, and so has the woman he fell in love with as a young man, whom he was pushed away from marrying. The current King and Queen because the other parties in each others first marriages but Charles and Camilla now sit on the throne of their Kingdom together. Like many American political figures, the King has some issues in his immediate family as well.

The Road to the White House and Buckingham Palace are different but produce leaders in our media obsessed age who people feel like they know, for better or worse. I will probably have some more snarky comments about the Coronation to share tomorrow after I watch the next episode of American Idol.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

American Idol- Top 8

Ok. Here we go again with another American Idol Season 21 recap. In a few weeks, this will be over. I am not getting paid to blog about this and I seriously do not think there is anybody else on the internet who is getting as in-depth. I am not posting photos or video links though because that seems like it would take a lot of extra effort. I am considering researching though as how to put the accent mark over the e in We.

I watched a recording of Monday's show, sort of late on Monday, and formulating my rankings immediately after each performance and before anything could be said by the incredibly annoying judges. Katy Perry is getting a ton of bad press this season and I can definitely understand why. She might currently be a more unpopular judge than Clarence Thomas. It would be far greater if more people were actually watching the show. I happen to hope though that out of the two, Justice Thomas is the one who sticks around for as many more seasons as possible.

Now, it is sort of late on Tuesday and I will be going from memory. The format for last night was the same as what they did for the first time last season. The kids all pick from three songs that they are told the judges picked for them. We can assume perhaps they actually have free reign and are not simply told what to sing. Then, they guess who picked their song. (I tended to be more correct than the contestants were on the guessing), and whichever song they picked earns a point for the judge. At the end of the live coast to coast voting, the Bottom Three are revealed and the "winning" judge gets to save someone.

There were some great performances last night and some so-so ones. Nothing was too bad. Most of the songs chosen were emotional ballad types. Political and geographical divides continue to weigh heavily on my mind, perhaps too much, in formulating predictions for how this season will turn out.

1. Zachariah Smith- "Wanted Dead Or Alive"

It is all the same. Only the names have changed. In this case, Zachariah is the second contestant in consecutive nights to sing something off Bon Jovi's "Slippery When Wet" album.

This is what he does best. Once again, it was a full on '80s Tribute. Zachariah sings very well on stage and knows how to entertain a crowd. Many people in the future might definitely pay to see them. As I have said before, they are unlikely to want to buy any original music by him. I just know he is itching to sing "Eye Of The Tiger" before this season is over, probably in a sparkly tiger jacket.

2. Haven Madison- "The Only Exception"

This show has some very good hair and makeup people. Haven sounded very pleasant (would it be wrong to use a "Safe Haven" pun?) on this Paramore song, that is frankly kind of boring. I do not really recall a ton about this. She sounded good but I do not think people would have been blown away.

3.We Ani- "I Have Nothing"

She says she knows this famous Whitney Houston ballad like the "back of my hand" but questions if she should do it because she smartly knows it has been done to death on television singing competitions. Ultimately though, she made the right decision. If you can score with this song, it would be a reality tv crime not to do it.

I happen to thin that Tessanne Chin, several years back on "The Voice" gave the best version of this song I have ever heard, but We may be right there with her. She really is an amazing singer When people sing this, they sort of cruise through the verses a bit, just to get to the big chorus where they unleash the power. On Monday,.We's take on the verses where she was singing more softly was just superb and then she proved she could nail the big notes as well.

After last night, it is more obvious than ever that there are two singers who are just head and shoulders about the others remaining, and We is one of them.

4. Oliver Steele- "High And Dry"

Oliver was given the choice between this song, which I did not know, and two John Mayer songs, I do not really know either. The joke was they were the same two John Mayer songs, once of which was chosen last year, offered up by Luke Bryant and Lionel Richie. That gave Katy Perry a moment to correct the contestant and say that no,she did not pick John Mayer's song because of their past romantic history that everyone should be aware of.

Oliver studied the show well,because he caught on right away (though it would have been funny if Katy did pick one of those songs) and chose to go with the non-Mayer option. The vocals were ok for me. He did not seem to have any issues staying on key.  I recall it being a bit low-key coffee shop, which I assume is the appeal of Oliver to may of his fans. He pretty much gifted a point to Katy though by picking this song. If she won the judges' contest, she would get a chance to repay the favor.

5. Warren Peay- "Colder Weather"

He had the option of singing "Freebird" and did not do so. When you are a singer or a band and are asked to do "Freebird", I thought it was pretty much mandatory.

Anyways, this was probably the right choice. I do not know this song and cannot recall how it went but I remember that Warren perhaps sounded as he good as he had all season.I cannot understand though why someone who otherwise looks like him is embracing the stupid ripped jeans look.

6. Iam Tongi- "What A Wonderful World"

At first, Iam was going to sing and play "More Than Words" by Exreme and I was interested in how that would work out. Instead though, he was persuaded to sing this Louis Armstrong classic. He pointed out that back home in Hawai'i , this song is best known by the ukelele playing Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (thank you cut and paste), a very large singer who sadly died young, and whom many compare Iam to vocally.
As usual, Iam's voice was in fine form. I do not think it was his best though. He cannot do wrong in terms of his singing, but the performances feel more and more predictable. Iam just comes across though as a fun-loving guy who everyone probably loves being around (though I do with he would wear socks for once) and thus, nobody is ever going to give him any constructive criticism.
7. Marybeth Byrd- "Wasted On You"

Ms. Byrd continued her trend of wearing feathery outfits. I have no doubt the Idol experience is a pressure cooker for these young contestants, and Marybeth really seems to be going through some stuff.

In additional to being an amateur vocal critics, I am also just an amateur psychologist and something seems to be going on with her. It was clear by the lyrics of her original song and the way I have felt she has seemed a bit "off"and disconnected throughout the live performances this season (even going back to Hollywood Week as I recall.) Like all the others, she has a good voice, but I did not think it was on great display on this performance. Either she is a really good actress and was getting into the moody meaning behind the song, or she really is struggling due to something that is going unsaid. For me, it seemed a bit uncomfortable to watch. The judges gave her massive praise for her vocals and vulnerability. What might have been more uncomfortable is how much past winner Chayce Beckham was sweating when he debuted his new song on the stage.

8. Tyson Venegas- "Someone You Loved"
I recall that young Tyson was given the choice between three really good songs that were all similar heartbreak ballads. Maybe he should have gone with Bruno Mars. At the moment, I cannot recall what the third song was.

Tyson has so much potential and I wanted him to do well with this song by Lewis Capaldi. He just happened to veer off key at several point and seemed to be rhetorically hanging on for dear life trying to right the ship. If this were not a competition, one could be more likely to say that he did a great job, but I just cannot favorably compare him to the others who did not have pitch issues.

9. Megan Danielle- "Go Rest High On That Mountain"

This was quite a segment. Megan was given a chance to sing a song she had done at her grandfather's funeral. She said she had been avoiding even listening to it since but felt like it was fate for her to sing it on stage, although she was worried about breaking down.

The contesatnt We has a captivating voice and performance skills. Megan is also very compelling in different ways. She has had a series of very strong performances and this felt like a real "moment." I think that no matter what kind of music might be your favorite, there is no way not to appreciate the way Megan sounds when she sings. She scored major points here.

Afterwards, she was pretty emotional in a way that felt completely genuine and I think she also scored points with may viewers even when incorrectly guessing Lionel Richie chose the song, saying that he had always reminded her of her "Papa."

10. Colin Stough- "It's Been A While"

He is going to be tough to get rid of. On Sunday night, I thought he was a bit ordinary. On Monday, I thought he stepped it up in regards to his voice and his emotional connection. Colin,who is only 18, says this song from 2001 reminded him of getting up early and going off to work. That must have been like a few months ago. He seems to intentionally be positioning himself as a "blue collar champion" this season. Who says kids do not understand politics? That narrative has worked at least a couple times before in Idol history.

I saw today how some anti-Colin people are already bending over backwards going through the Mississippi teenager's social media, to I suppose even when he was 12 or 13 to find examples of him doing or saying something considered "racist" or holding up hunting trophies. This sort of thing cost a contestant named Caleb Kennedy a couple years back and he was forced to quit the show. I thought he got a raw deal at the time, but since then, he was involved in a fatal DUI accident.

(Completely unrelated but cannot go unsaid, it was extremely sad when the very talented Willie Spence died in a car accident during the off-season. He had just taken part on the special duet show last season. Also, it was sad to hear of the passing of former finalist C.J. Harris. I believe Willie is the only deceased past Idol contestant the show has ever made mention of,)
Here are my rankings:
10. Marybeth Byrd
 9. Tyson Venegas
 8. Oliver Steele

 7. Haven Madison
 6. Iam Tongi
 5. Colin Stough
 4. Warren Peay
 3. Zachariah Smith
 2. Megan Danielle
 1. We Ani

Who should have been the Bottom Three: Marybeth Byrd, Tyson Venegas, Oliver Steele
Who I predicted would be the Bottom Three: Marybeth Byrd, Tyson Venegas, Oliver Steele
Who was the Bottom Three: Marybeth Byrd, Tyson Venegas, Oliver Steele

Seriously, I got all of them right. America also agreed with me. That almost never happens.

Katy Perry won the contest though, conveniently by one point, which I seem to think is exactly what happened last season. The whole bit about Luke's unintentional (or maybe intentional) reference to "tying Katy up" when on for too long and parents probably had to find a way to avoid answering questions from their kids about what that was all about (or maybe vice versa.)

So, this was her call. I thought for sure she (or the producers) would save Marybeth Byrd whose performance they practically drooled over. This is in spite of the fact that I had Oliver Steele as the least worst of the three in regards to his vocals on Monday. If anything I thought she would save 17 year old Tyson before mid-twenties Oliver.

Lo and behold, Katy saved Oliver Steele. In theory, I should feel vindicated by that, but it just seemed wrong in some ways. Ms. Perry may have once sung about kissing a girl and liking it, but instead she saved a white guy who plays guitar. He may be gone after the next show, even though his ailing father may be in the audience.

I think Tyson will leave the show grateful for the experience. He is still Canadian though. Maybe they can hold a parade for him there. I really hope Marybeth is ok. Perhaps, she will find peace away from the Idol bubble. If she made it to the Finale, she would have had no choice but to sing Sia's "Bird Set Free."

So, back to politics. There are now eight left. I do not know exactly who the final four will be, but I do know it is far easier for guys to win on Idol than girls. Thus far, the girls are easily more deserving however once again.

We have a very divided country between Red States and Blue States. There is one contestant of each gender that seems most likely to appeal to one portion of the country, both politically and geographically.

Blue States: We and Iam 
Red States: Megan and Colin

Girl power!

Next Sunday,  Canadian Alanis Morrisette will mentor and guest judge as the kids will sing her songs. Joining her at the table will be the very British Ed Sheeran. "Isn't It Ironic, he will be filling in for Lionel, who along with Katy will be in London for the Coronation and the very event that Sheerhan and other British singers said no to. This is quite a well-timed cultural exchange. The only thing that would have made it funnier was if Meghan Markle was the one filling in for Katy.