Thursday, April 09, 2009

Idol Thoughts - Blind Scott edition

This entire week at American Idol was pretty lousy ... and I really cannot muster the energy to recap it again. I failed to take notes during the lackluster performances, and we were more interested in the return of Fringe than the fact that Idol was on.

But really there were no surprises - Lil was mediocre but the judges made sure to praise her copiously while criticizing; Danny Gokey sang a remake of a 60's song and nobody called him on it; Matt was really pretty lousy but got universal praise; Anoop was quite good but got lukewarm praise. The only one that made sense was Adam - he was really good and the only question is whether or not he should WANT to win the competition. The Daughtry comparison always comes out - he was upset about not winning but has outsold the rest of his season 5 rivals combined.

The results show was the usual waste of time with hokey lip-syncing, cheesy Ford commercial with a 'behind the scenes' time-waster for extra cheese, a decent performance by Flo Rida, a pretty lousy one by Kelly Pickler who seemed to struggle moving around in too-high heels and a too-tight dress.

The bottom three were Anoop, Lil and Scott. Anoop seemed quite annoyed, and I think the fact that he is quite smart is making the whole phony pretense of the show unbearable for him. I feel his pain and annoyance.

Lil, of course, is safe, and Anoop is certain he is doomed. But Scott is sent packing, with no save from the judges.

Theer has been talk about how he was 'inspirational', and of course that is the story Idol has been pushing. He has certainly had challenges to overcome, but at this point it is time to put that aside and deal with the reality that Scott has been having some lousy singing moments recently.

I'm not even sure what they're doing next week ...

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Idol Thoughts - Top Downloads?

Welcome back to another week of dreary singing, illiterate judges, and blatant pandering. Favorites are pampered while undesirables are trashed. Because this ... is American Idol.

We got a quick glance at Alexis Grace in the audience, but I never caught Sarver. Alexis - who said she couldn't wait to get home to her daughter, was apparently pulled back for whatever marketing reasons ... although to my kids she might as well have been from last season already.

The listings indicated the show would be one hour long, which made my heart leap ... but alas the show was actually 85 minutes (yep, it went until 9:25). Oh well, it is better than two full dreadful hours.

But not much, after Seacrest asked Kara for a definition of 'artistry' based on last week's quote, Kara channeled Paula in an incoherent and rambling litany of 'relevant ... make it your own ...'. Blah. Blah. Blah.

Anyway, this week was 'top downloads' week, apparently an attempt to even further push iTunes on audiences. The songs make no sense - we have stuff from before the cassette came out, let alone the CD and MP3 ... anyway, it is all a ruse to push iTunes anyway. Here is a thought, Apple - how about offer new releases for a day on severe discount like Amazon does? iTunes has lost loads of my family's MP3 $$ over the last 6 months due to this.

Let's get right to the show:


Anoop Dasai - "Caught Up"
Anoop remains our fave, but he is no Usher-style dancer. And, despite the fact that he sings pretty well, the song choice allows the producers to put him in the roadkill slot and for the judges to trash him. Which they do.

Megan Joy - "Turn Your Lights Down"
She is glorious ... awesome ... a complete spectacle of terrible singing and dancing. Sadly, this is likely the last we'll see of her.

Danny Gokey - "What Hurts The Most"
My wife likes Rascal Flatts, but largely because they are sentimental pop that isn't much like the country music her father listened to. It is sentimental, schmaltzy and generally a copy of the original.

Allison Irehata - "Don't Speak"
Allison pretty much shouts the song, but the judges are worried about her funky outfit. She might be in trouble ...

Scott MacIntyre - "Just The Way You Are"
Scott is a pretty bland singer, but the judges are all over him with adjectives that really don't fit. Apparently his blind sob-story is working the demographics ...

Matt Giraud - "You Found Me"
My kids like the Fray, but are not too keen of that song. Matt butchers it.

Lil Rounds - "I Surrender"
She is just not as good as the judges seem to think - when we had other big-voice singers in past years they brought some actual polish - Lil just has potential. But to take away from the fact that she was crap, they bring out the kids and have Randy hugging the toddler. Could they have just said 'Vote for Lil or the baby dies'? She is safe for no good reason.

Adam Lambert - "Play That Funky Music"
I didn't like anything he did with the song, but the sheer spectacle of what he does is always entertaining. I hope he doesn't win so we can see him get to be creative.

Kris Allen - "Ain't No Sunshine"
The judges talk about it being fresh and relevant ... which is strange for a song that was released nearly 40 years ago and has seen more remakes than ... well, I dunno. Kris is 'hot' as my wife says, and that will keep him safe.

In fact, here is a list of some folks who have covered this song, according to Wikipedia:
* Bobby Blue Bland
* Fall Out Boy
* Will Hoge
* BB King
* Nikki Webster
* James Taylor
* Freddie King
* Betty Wright
* Adam Again
* Buddy Guy
* Ted Levine
* Tracy Chapman
* Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
* Paul McCartney
* Tom Jones
* Joe Cocker
* Kenny Rogers
* Mark Knopfler & Al Jarreau
* Andy Abraham
* Sina
* Harlem Underground Band
* The Blues Buddahs
* BoA
* Justin Timberlake & Robyn Troup
* Rockmelons & Deni Hines
* Lyn Collins
* Ziggy Marley
* Rahsaan Roland Kirk
* Lighthouse Family
* Horace Andy
* Johnny Clarke
* Joan Osborne
* Maroon 5
* Ben Harper
* Sting
* Lenny Kravitz
* Soul For Real
* The Temptations
* Eva Cassidy
* Tori Amos
* Al Jarreau
* Roy Ayers
* Max Mutzke
* Maynard Ferguson
* D'Angelo
* Michael Jackson[3]
* Will Young
* Woven Hand
* Hanson
* Emily King
* Me First and the Gimme Gimmes
* Slavi Trifonov
* Ladysmith Black Mambazo
* Justin Nozuka
* Kashmere Stage Band
* Matt Andersen
* Ken Boothe
* Budka Suflera
* Ivan "Boogaloo Joe" Jones
* Ja Rule
* Junior Murvin
* Wynonna Judd
* Christina Christian
* Sydney Youngblood
* Rachel Z
* Finger Eleven
* Augustus Pablo
* Jose Feliciano
* Maysa
* Akon
* Jeff Beck
* Michael Bolton
* Boney James
* Elvis Costello
* Isaac Hayes
* Leonard Cohen
* Marvin Gaye
* Percy Sledge
* The Police
* Boris Gardiner
* Savoy Brown
* Daphne's Flight
* Sacred Miracle Cave
* Al Green
* Randy Crawford & Ladysmith Black Mambazo
* David Sanborn
* UB40
* Van Morrison
* Buddy Guy & Tracy Chapman
* Everlast & DMX
* Giorgia
* Subsonica
* Paul Brown
* Rodney Jones
* Sivuca
* Aaron Neville
* Fable
* Grover Washington, Jr.
* Victor Wooten
* Scott Walker
* Merrill Osmond
* Ysabella Brave
* Sakis Rouvas
* Cat Stevens
* Groove Effect
* Dave McPherson
* Kris Allen

My prediction for the bottom three:
- Matt
- Anoop
- Megan

And from that, Matt is safe and the other two sit for a while before Megan is sent home.

On the 'Judge's Save' - no chance of it coming into play.

A non-sequitur here ... we saw a little bit of the new Osbornes show just because the TV was still on as we were getting the kids to bed and getting the dogs taking care of and wrapping up ourselves. It was excruciating. The whole fake-wedding drama was awful and these people have gone from being quirky to just dreadfully annoying.

Another boring hour with a former Idol, some lousy pop singer, cheesy lip-syncing and indulgent Ford commercials. Oh, and about one minute of results spread over ten minutes of Seacrest talking like he is on downers.

Here is how it went:
- After all the introductions, which took about ten minutes, they finally get into things.
- Group night is Journey's 'Don't Stop Believin', which is a nice song they don't mess with too much. The production is the usual stuff.
- Next we get a Ford commercial with all of the usual phoniness.
- There is an 'up close and personal', which shows Matt doing a cool and fun impersonation of Gokey. On stage Gokey returns the favor with a mocking and mean impersonation of Matt which is met with awkward silence. Ever the stage-master, Seacrest brings in Anoop and Kris and Allison to play the game in a fun way, showing that some of the Idols have a real connection. Seacrest talks about this as the 'nicest set of Idols ever', but in reality we just saw the true Gokey on display.
- Then David Cook comes out and shows how the winner gets stuck doing smarmy power ballads ...
- Ryan splits the groups into sets of three - are they actually doing it as one of them as the bottom three? Not likely - I don't see Kris in the bottom three.
- The 'top artist' of the week is Lady Gaga ... who has an energetic stage show, but she can't sing worth crap and the song is terrible. My wife claimed it was memorable when brushing her teeth, but couldn't recall even the name when we were in bed watching the news. I thought it was crap from the get-go. When does this season end?
- Ryan sends a bunch of folks home, playing around with the 'have a seat' thing to pretend they are in the bottom three when they are actually safe.
- Bottom three? Anoop, Megan and Allison.
- Allison is safe, and we all think Megan is going home - but it is clear the judges have successfully fired a warning shot across Anoop's bow: we own the vote.
- Megan is out, and Simon makes it clear in a rude way they wouldn't consider saving her. He mis-heard what she said earlier and was pissy every since. He and Gokey should get a room.
- Megan sings better than last night, and she and Allison exchange 'Caw' sounds ... it is good stuff that sends a bit of a flip-off to the judges and producers. Wonder if Allison is now marked or if they will pursue Anoop again next week.

Another three hours I can never get back that consisted of ~20 minutes of singing, 5 minutes of results, and 2 hours and 35 minutes of worthless blather. My kids are only watching for the same reason my wife and I watch - to do it together. Which, I remind myself, isn't the worst reason to do something. Far from it.

We're told that next week will be 'Songs from the year you were born'. Should be dreadful!

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Digital Download Divide

I have been a big proponent of digital downloads from the very beginning. Back in the early Newton PDA days it was a novelty to download a trial of a game like Deja Vu's 'Right of Way' (basically Milles Borne) and then purchase a registration code to enter. By the time I bought Call of Duty 2 for the Pocket PC ... it was standard practice.

But things started to change in 2004 with the release of Valve's Steam service along with the game 'Half-Life 2'. You could now download a digital version of a game that would install on your PC so you wouldn't have to run a separate installer or ever use a DVD to play. Get a new PC? No problem, just log in and reinstall!

However, like everything else, there is a dark side ... once you buy a game on Steam register a game with the service, you tie it inexorably to your account - unlike other retail games you cannot sell your used copy of Half-Life 2 on eBay. Or, more recently, trade it on Goozex.

This is a major issue for those who see the second-hand market as a big part of the value-proposition of gaming. For example, if I buy a Nintendo DS game for $30 that I know I'll play but not necessarily keep, I am pretty sure I can trade it on Goozex for enough points to buy another fairly new game. Heck, I just traded away a ten-year old GameBoy Advance game for enough points to pick up a copy of a PC strategy game I missed when it was first released.

All of that breaks down when you buy a game in a store, install it and find out that it *demands* that you also have Steam installed ... even if you just want to play the single player campaign! That happened to me very recently with Empire: Total War, which requires accounts on both Games for Windows Live and Steam to play.

All of this got me thinking ... I cannot remember where I got half the PDA games and apps from a decade ago, so I wonder in five more years how I'll do remembering where I got all the digital games I own now. Here is a estimate of how many games I have from various services.

DRM-limited 'Full-Sized' Games
Steam ~50 games
GamersGate ~8
GameAgent ~6
EA Store ~6
Direct2Drive ~3
Impulse ~4
StarDock ~3
GameTreeOnline ~2
GameStop ~2

DRM-limited 'Add-ons' to Games
Games for Windows Live ~2
Bioware Store ~6

DRM-limited 'Casual' Games
Amazon ~10
Apple ~50
PopCap ~3
PDA games (AtraWare, HandMark, etc) ~100?

Non-DRM 'Full-Sized' Games
Good Old Games ~15

Of these, only Good Old Games doesn't make me nervous - I have backed up the install filed in two places, and since they are DRM-free I don't have to worry about remembering my account details or hoping that the servers are still operating, or that I failed to pay 'download insurance' and therefore can't download the game again.

How about you? How invested are you in digital downloads? How do you feel about the trade-off between convenience and lack of full-ownership? What other thoughts?
Idol Thoughts - Motown Weak

Well, if you are new here ... welcome! If you have been reading these previously at GamingWithChildren, double welcome! Another week has come and gone, and with it another contestant has also departed. More shenanigans occurred, more embarrassing moments, and of course ... more cognitive dissonance. Because this ... is American Idol.

Have you gotten over the loss of Alexis Grace yet? Do you still remember who she is? She is the one who could actually sing but listened to the judges enough that fans got bored with her and bumped in place Megan Joy Corkrey Jingleheimerschmidt ...

Since Motown is full of big-voice R&B songs that allow folks to show off with 'glory-notes' and screams and falsetto ... the catalog is already way overplayed. But that didn't stop the Idol from carting out a nearly 70 year old Smokey Robinson to give a few minutes of so-called advice to the singers. So

We remember the quote of the week from a few weeks ago: "It’s fine being artistic, just not on this show." - Simon. Well, this week Kara said: "It isn't about singing, it's about artistry!"

Let's get right to the show:


Matt Giraud - "Let's Get It On"
Pretty average - nothing special and more than a couple of clunkers ... yet the judges don't call him on it. My wife says he looks like Justin Timberlake meets Mr. Rogers. I see him making it a few more weeks but being someone no one remembers next year. Oh ... and Kara looked like she was about to jump the table and 'get it on'...

Kris Allen - "How Sweet It Is"
I really think of this as a James Taylor song, and that is closer to how Kris does it ... he is very likeable and sings well, and the judges are all over him. He is quite safe.

Scott MacIntyre - "You Can't Hurry Love"
I know it is insensitive, but we all wondered WHO dressed him today? It was like a bad joke. And the singing wasn't much better. And to pile on my insensitivity, I said that the only reason he's here is because he's blind.

Megan Joy - "For Once In My Life"
She gained a middle name a few weeks ago, and now drops the last name. She looks like a Hawaiian tour guide, and sings and dances like a drunk on holiday. My wife says she *has* to go, I say she will be bottom three but safe because she's the lone pretty blond girl.

Anoop Dasai - "Ooh, Baby Baby"
Anoop sings pretty well after a somewhat rough start, and is better in the verse than the chorus. Regardless, he'll be safe again, which makes my crew happy!

Michael Sarver - "Ain't Too Proud To Beg"
Just weird - he talks up how he's adding dimension, yet sings it straight like every other of the millions of times we've heard it on the show. And the funky over-smiling while pretending to emote? Not working for me dawg.

Lil Rounds - "Heatwave"
For someone who can supposedly sing very well, this is pretty awful. This causes Kara to break out her quote of the week since she can't praise the singing. Could be in trouble, but the judges heap enough praise that she'll be safe.

Adam Lambert - "Track of My Tears"
Changes up his look, does nearly the whole thing in falsetto, and shows that he is really a talented guy. The boys commented how they hope he doesn't win, like Daughtry, so he can do his own thing. I agree,

Danny Gokey - "Get Ready"
He sang for Smokey, who offered suggestions Danny said he'd take, then within 30 seconds he is doing it the original way, as if to say FU Smokey! This arrogance from being so pimped by the Idol judges is going to blow up in his face if he doesn't watch it.

Allison Irehata "Papa Was A Rolling Stone"
I had predicted she'd go before Jasmine, and I was wrong - fortunately. Now I hope she outlasts the other girls, because SHE is the one who belongs in the final three with Gokey and (g)Lambert. Oh, did I mention she did really well?

My prediction for the bottom three:
- Michael
- Scott
- Megan

And from that, Scott is safe and the other two sit for a while before Sarver is sent home.

On the 'Judge's Save' - if it is Sarver, no way will they save him. Nor will they save Megan ... but they might save Scott. They're trying to hold the save to protect Adam, Danny & Lil.

One final thing - with ten singers doing two minute song snippets ... that is twenty minutes of singing in a two hour show ... that is just excruciating. The pacing was dreadful.

So now we're into the typical cycle - talk about the night, recap the previous night, group song, get into some results, guest singer, more results, another guest, and then the final results. Yeah ... I didn't even have to edit that from last time.

Here is how it went:
- After all the introductions, which took about ten minutes, they finally get into things.
- Group night is a Motown medley, which was not only lip-synced, it looked pretty obviously taped in an empty studio - none of the reflections hinted at life, and they carefully avoided filming off-stage.
- Next we get a Ford commercial with all of the usual phoniness.
- Then Ruben Stoddard comes out and sings nicely a song that has a small but solid niche audience. Everyone else would find it competent but dreadfully boring ... but better than anything else so far.
- Ryan works through the top row, making Alison and Adam safe and then playing games with Kris, Michael and Lil, in the end sending Michael to the first Bottom Three spot.
- Ryan works on the bottom row a bit, making it seem Megan will join the bottom three (she was prepared) but sending Matt instead - and he was NOT prepared!
- Next we get a duet between Smokey and Joss Stone. It is pretty lousy - they are totally not singing together, with him trying to actually do a duet where they build chemistry through eye contact, and her pretending she is on stage alone. It was uncomfortable to watch them edge across the stage - he would get a bit closer and she would edge back ... for about 3 feet over a 3 minute song. As my younger son said "Awkward!"
- Ryan finishes off the bottom row, sending Scott to the bottom three.
- Stevie Wonder is next, singing some classics of his own and a throwaway song of his from a recent CD. He is still amazing even if his voice has lost some edge over the years.
- Finally, Sarver is sent home ... and after singing the judges mess around like they are thinking about the save before Simon says 'no ... you're going home' to helping him out. Sarver is OK - he knew he was about done, and since he makes the tour (and gets the associated money and exposure)he was pretty much happy to get home to the family.

Another three hours I can never get back that consisted of ~20 minutes of singing, 5 minutes of results, and 2 hours and 35 minutes of worthless blather. My kids are only watching for the same reason my wife and I watch - to do it together. Which, I remind myself, isn't the worst reason to do something. Far from it.

I've heard a rumor that next week could be 'iTunes Top 100' week. Who will mentor - Steve Jobs? Perhaps Woz ... he's doing well on Dancing With the Stars in spite of a nearly total inability to dance!