Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
May 25, 2008
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Indiana Jones and the Talent-Show Judges
I was prepared to be disappointed, going into Indiana Jones and the
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I'd been hearing from people that it just
wasn't as good as the other films. Oh well, thought I. I've already seen Prince
Caspian and there's nothing else remotely interesting in the theaters.
In fact, we made sure our fourteen-year-old was prepared to see it, having
family-room showings of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last
That's right, we completely skipped the repulsive second movie, Indiana Jones
and the Temple of Doom. What was the point?
We all loved seeing Raiders again -- this is where it all began, after all. And we
also agreed that Last Crusade was a better movie. Having a family and a past
made Indiana Jones a better character.
The script was better than Raiders', too. Raiders ends with Indy and Marion
tied up and hiding their faces from the actual climax. Not as satisfying as the
way Indy and his father are actively involved throughout the climax of Last
But ... Temple of Doom proved that Spielberg doesn't understand his own
formula. I bet he still doesn't know why it wasn't as good -- maybe he doesn't
even know how bad it was! So I feared that, because of the lukewarm
responses of my friends, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was as bad as its title.
Because that title does suck, doesn't it? Why did we need "kingdom" in the
title? I'm sure there was some kind of focus group. But it's a title that forces
most of us to call it "the new Indiana Jones movie" because the title doesn't
mean anything to us.
It isn't the title that caused the problems, though.
In fact, at first glance, I didn't see any problems. I had a great time in this
movie. I bought the whole thing from beginning to end. If you had met me
coming out of the theater and asked me how it was, I would have given you a
thumbs-up and said, "It was great."
But some of the people I was with were more skeptical. One of them noticed
that Karen Allen would be wet in one scene, and a moment later she was dry
again, with her clothes nicely pressed. Meanwhile, the male characters stayed
mussed up and wet.
I suspect that was a deliberate choice by Spielberg, a reflection of the way they
made grand adventure movies back in the good old days. But we civilians don't
care about historical references like that. Films have gotten better and smarter
since then, and we expect the Indiana Jones movies to reflect the things we've
learned since those "good old days." If we want history lessons, we can just get
the original old movies on DVD.
However, I didn't notice such problems. That's because I was more caught up
in the story and the characters than some of my friends were.
It's a law of audience-watching. You know you have a boring or unbelievable
or incoherent spot in a play or movie when the audience starts coughing or
Not because boring, unbelievable, or unclear scenes cause you to cough or
chat. It's because when you're totally caught up in the story, you don't notice
that you need to cough, and you don't think of making comments to the person
next to you. You just keep your eyes to the front, your jaw slack, and let the
story take over your mind.
This movie has a terrific cast and they all do well. It's obvious that Shia
LaBeouf is being groomed to take the Indiana Jones series into the next
generation, and I think he's a great choice. He has the quality for it, the
insouciance, the earnestness, the wit, the ability to seem dangerous.
And I loved the fact that this movie brings Karen Allen back to reprise her role
as Marion Ravenwood, Indy's love interest in Raiders. She's still a terrific
actress for the role, and, more important, it ties up a loose end in the story.
Because, as my daughter pointed out after watching Raiders and Last Crusade,
it was a real disappointment that the two of them hadn't stayed together.
Raiders was a great love story; none of the other "love interest" (i.e., sex
partner) characters came close to matching what we had in Raiders. So
resolving that loose end is one of the good things about Crystal Skull.
Do you want to know why I think some people are disappointed in this movie?
The two best movies, Raiders and Last Crusade, both deal with Judeo-Christian elements. Remember when Sean Connery slaps Harrison Ford's face
for taking the name of Christ in vain? There was an element of faith, an
affirmation of the Western religious tradition.
It resonates in the minds and hearts of a lot of the public. At the end of
Raiders and again at the end of Last Crusade, the wrath of God is striking
down the enemies of righteousness. Made-up idolatrous gods just didn't do it
for us westerners in Temple of Doom. And it was not satisfying to see the
second movie show that the idol was just a powerful as the God of Moses and
Now we have something even more outrageous than idolatry -- we have science
fiction. On one level, it's perfectly all right -- in fact, this movie makes a terrific
sci-fi adventure story.
But on another level, I was offended when, just in passing, we see the Ark of
the Covenant from the first movie turn up in this one. It isn't even important;
it seems to have lost all its power during its years in storage. It's nothing.
Belief in the God of Abraham is part of what made western society what it is --
and it's one of the best parts. It's the moral brake and the source of meaning
for our civilization. It doesn't always work, but when it doesn't, we wish it had.
It's disturbing to believers in that God to have extravagant sci-fi coexist with --
indeed, trump -- that religion.
Another problem, admittedly slight, is that, being set in the 1950s, the bad
guys can't be Nazis anymore. In the 1950s, the group that was brutally
enslaving people was the Communists.
Naturally, having Commies as bad guys was really disturbing to the politically
correct liberals making the movie. So they made a really big point of showing
how the anti-Communists got Indiana Jones fired from his university job.
I'd like to know how many tenured professors were fired during that era?
Remember that the blacklist of Communists in Hollywood targeted people who
actually had been Communists; their defense was not that they hadn't been
Communists, but that the government had no right to question them about it.
And this was an era when our own spy service was hopelessly incompetent
because the Communists had deeply penetrated British and American spy
operations everywhere. Treason and espionage really happened -- the anti-Communists didn't make it up.
So for this movie to simultaneously exploit Russian Communists as villains
and slander the anti-Communist efforts of the U.S. government -- however
inept they often were -- is hypocritical in the extreme.
The Communists were around longer than the Nazis, and so they killed,
tortured, imprisoned, enslaved, and oppressed many millions more than Hitler
was ever able to get to. They were a movement that promised equality and
delivered unspeakable oppression by a hypocritical oligarchy. They are
excellent villains for the Indiana Jones movies.
But to paint the FBI as the moral equivalent of the Communists is a slander
against the many law-abiding agents who devoted years of their lives to the
service of our country, however corrupt their boss, J. Edgar Hoover, might have
Yet in spite of these flaws, I enjoyed the movie. I enjoyed the good in the movie
a lot more than I disliked the bad aspects. I liked the chase/fight scenes. I
loved the trips into underground chambers. I loved the way the ending
unfolded. I felt great during the last scene. It was well worth the money, and,
unlike Temple of Doom, I expect to watch Crystal Skull again -- and enjoy it.
But Last Crusade is still the best of the Indiana Jones movies.
Watching River Phoenix in Last Crusade and seeing the previews for Dark
Knight, in which Heath Ledger plays the Joker, made me start listing the people
who had died from drugs. River Phoenix, Heath Ledger, John Belushi, Chris
Farley ... and, if you care to remember, a long list of others.
Heath Ledger is the exception here, because, from all witnesses and all reports,
he was not a drug abuser. The drugs he had were legal prescriptions -- not a
trace of the illegal stuff in his dwelling place, the police have affirmed. His
death seems to have been a genuine accident.
The others, however -- when I hear people say the real solution to the drug
problem is just to legalize drugs, my complete answer is to reel off the names.
Janis Joplin, River Phoenix, John Belushi, Chris Farley. Legalizing drugs
wouldn't have saved their lives -- it would just make it easier for more and
more people to join them on the list of the dead.
All the illegal drugs were once legal. They were banned because their effects on
individuals, on families, and on society were so devastating. Even when the
drugs were legal, they consumed the lives of the people addicted to them long
before they actually died from them.
Drugs are what you do instead of having a life and being part of society. I don't
presume to know why people turn to drugs. I only know that if those drugs
didn't exist or weren't available, the world would be a better place.
Laws against drugs are like stoplights put up at dangerous intersections. They
don't go up until somebody has died. And then people get irritated because
they have to stop at the light all the time "even when there's no cross traffic."
Yeah, well, the light is there because we know what happens when there isn't a
The case for legalizing drugs is, in a word, asinine. Don't blame the law for the
crimes committed by addicts desperate for money to feed their habit. Blame
those subgroups of society that encourage and promote drug use. They are the
killers; they are the life-thieves. And yet somehow they always manage to have
a reputation for "knowing how to have a good time."
Prohibition, which was an attempt to ban alcohol as an illegal drug, did not fail
because it wasn't a good idea, it failed because the people in authority were
corrupt and did not seriously attempt to block the rum runners and
speakeasies. The life-thieves strike again.
Here's a clue: If you need drugs or alcohol to "have a good time," you aren't
having a good time, the drugs are. They're using your body and your brain to
do it, but you and your mind aren't even invited to the party.
American Idol and Dancing with the Stars are over for another season.
Time for a bit of calm retrospective. At least I think so; if you don't, you can
skip this section.
Dancing with the Stars had some excellent performances, by the end. But the
show remains, after all, a stunt: Take non-dancers and try to make them look
good. The stars that have a modicum of grace and work very hard do end up
dancing quite well.
For me, one of the greatest pleasures of the show is seeing how the professional
who is paired with the "star" choreographs around his or her limitations.
Julianne Hough, for instance, performed miracles, making the hulking Adam
Carolla into an entertaining dancer, awful as he was.
Fabian Sanchez was absolutely brilliant with Marlee Matlin, since he had to
feed her the beat with his own movements; when she was standing there by
herself, she had no clue what was happening with the music.
And when Christian de la Fuente injured his arm but decided to stay in, Cheryl
Burke did amazing things with the choreography, devising one-armed lifts and
lots of gorgeous moves that didn't require that his left arm bear any weight.
They both deserve medals.
I was delighted with the ebullient Marissa Jaret Winokur, whose partner, Tony
Dovolani, devised moves that did not apologize for her heaviness, but gave her
a chance to really dance.
My favorite was eliminated well before the finale. I thought Mario Barrett was
wonderful and was disappointed that the judges kept rating him low, while
giving ridiculously high marks to the then-still-clunky Jason Taylor. To his
credit, Taylor did get better in the last few shows, so that it was believable that
he made it to the finale; but by then my hopes and votes were with Christian
de la Fuente.
And not just because of his heroic continuation despite the pain of his injury. I
thought he was the best dancer on the floor at the end -- the one who sold the
dances, who was the most pleasure to watch.
No disrespect to Kristi Yamaguchi, but I had a hard time watching her. Her
face was so unexpressive (not her fault!) that only at the end did I actually
enjoy her dancing. Technically, of course, she was always the best -- but
technique isn't everything.
Besides, Yamaguchi was a ringer. Skating is so close to dancing, especially in
the upper-body movement, that it was a cheat even to have her there in what
was supposed to be a competition of non-dancing stars. It's like having a game
of football played by lifelong amateurs -- but you slip in one rugby player. The
games are just too much alike for it to be fair.
I have to give Yamaguchi credit, though, for warming up considerably during
the progress of the show. By the end, I did like her and didn't resent her
victory. I still don't understand why Taylor finished ahead of de la Fuente. But
the judges, and the voters, apparently didn't see things correctly (i.e., the way I
(And before you write in or call the Beep, that was a joke. It was irony.)
The American Idol finale -- the results show -- was one of the best variety
shows I've ever watched. They did a stunning job of bringing us great
performers and pairing them with contestants. It was a delight to see David
Cook strutting with ZZ Top -- an inspired choice -- and I wish I had a
recording of that version of "Sharp-Dressed Man."
Sitting Brooke White down with Graham Nash was a perfect choice. People
today seem to have forgotten that at the beginning of the 70s, Crosby, Still, and
Nash (with Neil Young added in from time to time) were the monster band. It
was the great day of the singer-songwriter, and Brooke White's voice was
designed to rekindle the flame of that movement.
We also got a chance to see what the tour performances would look like --
though they included David Hernandez and Amanda Overmeyer, who as the
twelfth- and eleventh-place finishers will not be on the top-ten tour.
I've been listening to recordings of the American Idol performances in the week
since the final results were announced. It's amazing how quickly my affection
for particular performers fades enough that I no longer forgive flaws and
weaknesses in the performances.
Now I'm annoyed by Amanda's inability to find and hold a pitch -- when
watching her sing, I didn't care because her performances were so passionate.
Still -- I'd happily pay to see her perform her kind of music. It would be
ludicrous if she were on the tour having to try to sing
Michael Johns has a quaver that only toward the end of his stay on the show
did he begin to control. But his tracks are still listenable.
Stage fright transformed Brooke White's live performances into parodies of
what she did on the studio recordings -- which is why she wasn't in the finale.
However, I'm looking forward to this wonderful voice on many albums in the
future, because her studio recordings absolutely hold up.
Kristy Lee Cook always looked just a little out of her depth -- but in her
recordings, I find she holds up very well, especially her later songs. I think
she'll have a terrific career in country music.
Jason Castro's hyper-mellow performances actually distracted from what he
was doing with his voice. Recorded, he is absolutely wonderful.
The fact that it's a visual performance is actually one of the weaknesses of the
show. As with Star Search before it, American Idol emphasizes a certain kind of
singing precisely because it plays so well on television -- the passionate, full-voice shouting match.
This year, however, it was not all about big voices. The decision to let the
performers use instruments to accompany themselves was long overdue. Put
Brooke White at a piano or give David Cook a guitar, and they were in hog
Putting the band onstage for some numbers really worked for Syesha Mercado
-- she was at her best when she had someone else to relate to. All in all, this
year was the friendliest to performers who are more comfortable with the
intimacy of the studio or the small house than in big arenas -- and, when you
think about it, that's the decisive element in a recording career.
After all, David Cook was not pleasant to look at when he first arrived on the
program. It took a while for him to find the right way to deal with his hair, the
right amount of facial hair, and the right costuming to fit the way he sang. It
was a great help in our ability to hear his voice and understand what he was
actually doing with his music.
Which brings me to David Archuleta. This young man has an amazing vocal
instrument, and his smile is so real, so infectious that almost everyone loved
him instantly. But he's also young, and so far, he hasn't actually discovered
what his own voice is.
All his licks, all his decorations of the melody, are actually standard pop-music
stuff. Behind those decorations is a rich tone and an earnestness, an
understanding of the songs that would still be there if he dropped the
decorations entirely. Which I wish he would do!
Why? Because he had to share a stage with David Cook and the differences
showed. The judges often talked about "making a song your own" and "being
memorable," but there are two ways of doing that.
David Archuleta made every song fundamentally the same. It was his style --
but all the obvious elements of that style were from the standard pop sound.
This was never clearer than in his duet with One Republic. He needed to adapt
in order to sound good with this singer -- and he couldn't. He could only do
that pop sound.
If he had been covering the song alone, Archuleta's version would have been
terrific -- a different take on the music. But singing it with the original
performer, he needed to adapt his style, to work with his partner, and he didn't
know how to do it. Those pop licks are, so far, a crutch that Archuleta hasn't
learned to let go of.
David Cook, on the other hand, had no crutches. He could strip his voice of all
affectation and sing "Music of the Night" exactly as written -- pure voice. Even
when he used pop licks (as on "Eleanor Rigby") he still kept it fairly minimal
and sang the song.
Where David Archuleta decorated almost every sustained note, David Cook
would find one or two moments where he could change a note so that we felt a
powerful surprise that was nevertheless quite satisfying. Archuleta did the
same things to every song; David Cook found the secrets inside the songs and
exposed them to us in a way that was different every time. Think of those final
notes in "Music of the Night," or the unforgettable "Little Sparrow."
Yet even when Cook is at his simplest, his voice is instantly recognizable. He
sounds as if he has been through all the trouble in the world. He sounds wise.
Which is, of course, absurd when you consider how young he is. And how nice
he is, by all reports. But that's the quality he brings to his performances, and
it is transcendent.
David Archuleta will grow as he gets older. While he will never read or care
about my advice, I'm going to give it anyway: What you already do, you have
mastered. To grow, you must do something different. And the first step is to
do song after song in which you never decorate a note. You just sing it straight,
note for note, as written. This is not a permanent change, but it's important
that it be an extended exercise -- that you do it for months. Why? Because
that's the only way you'll start to find new ways to freshen and own the songs.
Here's why this matters: It's fine to decorate familiar songs. But when you do
all those vocal pyrotechnics, it stops mattering what the actual song is. We
found that when Mariah Carey was the "mentor" on the show. Her music
exists only to be decorated. Time after time, there was no song there.
Which should have been a complete killer for David Cook, by the way. Yet he
took a song that is, lyrically and musically, as shallow as can be -- "Always Be
My Baby" -- and, by simplifying it, stripping it, he showed us there were some
bones and meat in the thing after all.
Of course, Archuleta can sell a lot of records doing exactly what he does right
now. But time will change things. He will go out of fashion; then he will do
what Donny Osmond and Ricky Nelson and other young pop singers had to do:
He will find out what his grownup voice is.
Meanwhile, David Cook is, quite simply, the best singer American Idol ever
produced. He is, right now, already so good that I would like to hear him cover
every song that I ever liked, because I think he'd bring something new to it. I
mean, I want to hear the David Cook version of the Cat Stevens catalog "Wild
World," "Tea for the Tillerman"), the Stephen Sondheim songbook ("Being
Alive," "Pretty Women"), everything Carole King wrote that a man can possibly
sing, Chico Buarque's "Traffico," Paul Simon's "Homeless" and "50 Ways to
Leave Your Lover," Marc Cohn's "Walking in Memphis," Bob Seger's "Night
Moves," Martin Page's "House of Stone and Light," and I can imagine amazingly
insightful performances of seeming fluff like "Up, Up and Away in My Beautiful
Balloon," "Muskrat Love" -- even the appalling "Feelin' Groovy" could have a
wonderful David Cook version. He could do it slow, making it ironic and sad;
he could do it as a pounding rock anthem. It would work -- if David Cook was
Meanwhile, though, I know for a fact that there are songwriters out there
yearning to have David Cook be the first singer of their best new songs.
Because his performance will show the real song, not hide it behind production
Proof of this is Cook's pre-Idol cd, Analog Heart. It's a noisy-band rocker -- he
has had much better arrangements on Idol. But the voice is there, with songs
I've never heard before, which he sings with such clarity that I understand
every word, and everything behind those words. He can introduce a new song
and make it work. (And I forgive him for the ear-destroying final instrumental
note on "Let Go." Barely.)
But he has changed on Idol. Working with the arrangers and musicians on the
show has greatly broadened him and he has responded by stretching his voice
into different avenues. Analog Heart is a very good album, but his post-Idol
albums should be better.
Don't think that I'm dissing Archuleta and telling you why Cook needed to win.
I honestly didn't care who won and didn't vote during the finale. What
Archuleta does, he does brilliantly -- he would have been a perfectly credible
winner. The outcome simply didn't matter -- both of them will have recording
contracts, hit records, huge audiences, and will make boatloads of money.
Both will be remembered as having been discovered by American Idol but no
one will care which of them won, just as it hardly matters that Clay Aiken came
With all the good music recorded on Idol this year, it is absurd to try to choose
the single best track, but hey, I'm willing to be absurd. I think the very best
performance of any song, period, was David Cook's "Little Sparrow." It's a
better song, at core, than "Billy Jean" or "Always Be My Baby" (Dolly Parton,
unlike Mariah Carey or Michael Jackson, is a great songwriter).
My second choice for best track would have to be Archuleta singing "You're the
Voice." Remember how Simon criticized his song choice? He was crazy. This
was the song Archuleta decorated least -- an anthem that he sang almost
straight, completely from the heart. It was Archuleta's best, realest
My next choice would have to be Jason Castro singing Sting's "Fragile," which I
thought was an absolutely brilliant reinterpretation of a song I already loved.
Again, he was disparaged a bit for singing part of it in Spanish. Maybe because
I speak Spanish and understood every word, I loved that!
And my final "best-of" pick would have to be from the finale, with songs Cook
and Archuleta didn't choose for themselves. I thought Cook's cover of U2's "I
Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" was moving and beautiful, and
Archuleta's cover of Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" was
Just an aside about the American Idol website. They now run a "Finale Photo
Stream" that stays on every page. You can't close that window. And it's so
demanding of my computer -- which is a very fast, very new Dell machine --
that it makes the mouse movement too jumpy to actually click on anything. I
actually had to use Control-Alt-Delete to close the program in order to get my
That, my friends, is very bad web programming. Just because you can make
my computer do something clever doesn't mean you shouldn't give me the
chance to opt out of it. But because I couldn't get rid of the photo stream, I
couldn't use the American Idol website.
Now So You Think You Can Dance is starting up. Fortunately, they do a lot less
train-wreck footage than Idol does in the early going. The best thing about the
early shows is that you get to see truly amazing dancers who are simply not
versatile enough to make it onto the show.
On So You Think, the dancers have to be able to do everything, and they have to
be able to do it with partners. So break dancers and others who do amazing
solo work of a particular kind simply can't handle doing somebody else's
The judges openly say so: "I hope someone sees you on this show and puts you
in a movie to showcase what you do so brilliantly." The candor of these judges
and the piercing clarity of their comments make them the best critics on any of
these talent competitions.
Yes, that's right. I'm judging the talent-show judges. It's only fair, don't you
I wish that Idol would go back to bringing in guest judges -- only bring in
people like Andrew Lloyd Weber or Stephen Sondheim or others who have to
work with many different voices of many different kinds. When you've seen the
recording of Sondheim working with Elaine Stritch to record "Ladies Who
Lunch," you know that he would be brilliant at offering these singers
suggestions that would actually help them.
Most singers would make lousy judges, just as they usually make lousy
mentors. Neil Diamond's advice to Brooke White practically destroyed her --
"Arizona born and raised"? -- but Weber knew exactly what he was doing.
(Though I thought Jason Castro's "Memories" was the best version I've ever
Dolly Parton also knew what she was doing -- because she has written for
many different singers and has to understand how the music works for all of
The fact is that Randy and Paula are incoherent, almost never offering
intelligible suggestions, and Simon is only slightly better. While I like all three
personalities, Simon is the only indispensable member of the trio; and if the
producers don't want to mess with the formula, then at least bring in
somebody who understands how different voices are produced.
Musical comedy composers and directors are the best at this because they do it
for a living. Studio producers are not (as Randy proves) capable of helping a
contestant who is having problems learn how to overcome them. When "song
choice" and "be yourself" are the only things that anybody can say, the judges
are doing a pretty lousy job.
The second-best judges are the trio on Dancing with the Stars. I like them all,
they make their comments intelligible, and if it was too painfully obvious that
they wanted Yamaguchi to win this year, I suppose they can be forgiven for
I know that there are people who absolutely loathe So You Think You Can
Dance judge Mary Murphy, because of her screaming. For me, the annoyance
became rather endearing after a few episodes. She's somewhat ironic about it
-- and between screams and the "hot tamale train" (whatever that means), she
makes really smart comments.
Nigel Lythgoe is, far more than any other judge on any of these contests, truly
the heart and soul of his show. You get the sense that he really likes dancers
and cares about them, about their feelings. He tries to give them the benefit of
the doubt. But when they act badly, he nails them -- with unfailing grace. In
a way, he's the opposite of Simon Cowell. Where Cowell goes for the cutting
exaggeration, Lythgoe finds the mildest way of making his point -- but makes it
What I love about the So You Think You Can Dance format is that the third
judge position cycles among various choreographers -- these judges actually
get in the room with the dancers and put their own talent on the line. And
when they critique, they know these dancers from having worked with them.
My favorite of the choreographer-judges is Mia Michaels. At first I thought she
was needlessly cruel sometimes, but no -- she is passionate and heartfelt.
When she is harsh, it's because she's angry -- and usually she's right to be
angry. It's never for effect.
One of the best moments in the first episode this year was when Mia Michaels
made a freudian slip and made it plain that she was seeing what all of us were
seeing in a narcissistic young Italian dancer -- that his dancing was a sexual
come-on rather than actual dancing. What I loved about the moment was how
genuinely embarrassed Mia Michaels was. She laughed, of course, but she was
also distressed and ashamed of herself because her slip demeaned the dancer
and might be unfair; I don't think it was, but I loved how generous she wanted
And as long as I'm reviewing talent-show judges, why not emcees? I like Ryan
Seacrest a lot -- people who mock him don't understand just how hard it is to
do the job he does. You have to be totally in-the-moment, aware of everything
going on, yet never giving a sign of distraction.
You have to be able to make smooth segues, deal with live-show emergencies,
and handle mistakes with humor so the audience is never uncomfortable.
Seacrest is smoother than Dick Clark, more genial than Ed McMahon, and if
he's not as funny as Andy Richter (Conan's original sidekick) or as deadpan
ironic as Jimmy Kimmel (in his days as Ben Stein's sidekick on Win Ben Stein's
Money) he does well enough.
Seacrest's only mistake was thinking that making snide remarks about Simon
Cowell would be entertaining. Last year he sniped at Cowell for being
"nonconstructive" in his criticism -- which is absurd, since only Cowell offers
the contestants any substance to work with. And this year Seacrest was often
just nasty to Cowell.
But he stopped it partway through the season and went back to doing a good
job of emceeing. To my great relief.
Tom Bergeron of Dancing with the Stars is, however, a better host -- he never
thinks we tune in to see him, yet he makes us feel as if we're among friends
when he greets the dancers after their performances. In fact, Bergeron is the
best -- but his good work is partly undone by the fact that Samantha Harris,
who interviews the contestants backstage, is one of the most appallingly bad
interviewers I've ever been embarrassed to watch.
We regularly TiVo the show and start watching it fifteen minutes late, precisely
so we can fast-forward through her interviews. It keeps us from screaming at
Cat Deeley, on So You Think You Can Dance, is an interesting mix. On the one
hand, she can come across as being "another pretty face" with a British accent.
But, unlike Samantha Harris, she never comes across as smarmy and
generally avoids the stupid questions.
She's actually doing a brilliant job of little sitting-on-the-staircase chats with
contestants in the audition shows. When they're saying something appalling,
she wears a happily ironic smile that lets us know that she knows she's talking
to an idiot, but is far too polite to give them a hint. She is never mean or nasty
(take note, Ryan!) -- but she is also not a suck-up like Harris.
So even though I'm sometimes impatient with stuff she says -- especially her
scripted bits -- I actually like her as a host.