Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Idol night

Tonight was Gwen Stefani as the master class instructor. I really like Gwen; her body of work isn't exactly up there with past "master class" invitees, but she had dead-on advice for each of the contestants.

LaKisha was amazing as usual! Last Dance was a very good choice. Definitely top three, and if America has any sense, top two.

Tonight we learned that Chris Sligh can't keep a beat. Hello, Chris, your career is calling...and it's about to get a busy signal.

Gina Glocksen - fabulous rendition of I'll Stand By You. The clothes, the vocal, the emotion...it was all there tonight.

Sanjaya - come on, you can't even remember the words!!! Trademark weak vocal. Lousy timing. And that hair was freaking ridiculous. It wasn't a hairdo, it was a hairdon't. He should be voted off just for that. Pi-tee-ful.

Hayley - Gwen was right; you shouldn't have been wandering from the melody. You aren't big enough or good enough to pull that off. But you looked the best you have since the start of the show. However, the voice just isn't good enough for top three or top six.

Phil Stacey – Again, I don’t like this guy; he’s hard to watch…but I thought his vocal on I’ll Be Watching Youwas really good. I love that song and he performed it well. Even Simon liked it. He’s continues to show top six potential. I hated the backup singers, though; they ruined it for me.

Melinda - Heaven Knows was phenomenal!! Girl had it going on! And you knew she would. She's the winner in my opinion, and I have said it since the beginning, before there was a top 24. And even if she doesn't win, you know Clive is going to give her a contract. She is dynamite. But the flip ‘do and the leotards under the long top…those were a fizzle-out.

Blake is another one I don’t like much. However, his vocal was good, surprisingly. This was one of his better vocals over the course of the show. For one of those who goes out of his way to change up the original, it was a nice change this time…this time. Simon called him the best guy in the competition, but I don’t think his voice is as strong as Phil’s.

Jordin’s vocal was too low for her range. In the low points, you could hardly hear her. And she was pitchy, all over the map. That outfit reminded me of a bad carhop. Why Randy deemed it “brilliant” is beyond me. No, no, no. In fact, they all fawned over her. Puhleez.

Chris Richardson – Don’t Speak wasn’t his best performance. It was okay. But all his performances sound pretty much the same to me, which is what I think Gwen was trying to say nicely. Randy liked it, so did Paula. I don’t get it. Simon was more on my page – he’s not paying enough attention to the vocals.

Top three projection at this point: Melinda; LaKisha; Gina.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Idol: Judges on drugs

Tonight's Idol was downright ridiculous. For most of the show, the judges needed hearing aids.

Haley Scarnato's lethargic performance of Tell Him was overrated by the judges. "Your best performance to date," said Simon, who is usually right on the money. Are you kidding?! My very favorite version of this song is covered by Linda Ronstadt. She kicked ass with this song on Mad Love. Haley's version didn't even begin to approach Linda's...or the original by Billie Davis.

Chris Richardson's version of Don't Let the Sun Catch You Cryin' was lame, but wow, the judges liked it.

Stephanie's You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, was fair, but the judges thought it was pretty good.

Blake did a fair performance of his tune, which the judges all raved about. Again, it was okay...not great...just okay. I've heard better karaoke.

But then they trashed LaKisha, whose Diamonds are Forever was actually quite good. Not Shirley Bassey-fabulous, but better than any of the others who sang before her. And I loved the million dollars' worth of Harry Winston she was wearing.

Phil Stacey's Tobacco Road number was good, but the judges didn't really like it. I don't like Phil, but he didn't deserve what they handed him.

Jordin's I Who Have Nothing (they were on a Shirley Bassey run tonight) was also very good. I was pleased with this performance; I thought it was her best ever. Randy and Paula liked it, Simon wasn't crazy about it. It wasn't Shirley Bassey, but... Yeah, I know that a lot of people covered this besides Shirley, and Tom Jones was the first to record it, if I'm not mistaken; but Shirley's version is the best.

Sanjaya...omg! What the hell?! He finally pulled it out. His performance of You Really Got Me was actually his best performance since his audition, and was surprisingly guttural, earthy, and likable. And I do not like Sanjaya. Even his hair looked good-and-not-girlish tonight.

Gina looked great tonight, but her bobbed hair makes her face look pudgy. She should let it grow longer. Too bad she didn't sound as good as she looked with Paint it Black; c'mon...it's a trademark Jagger vocal...I wasn't crazy about it. The original just oozes with evil...her version didn't do it for me. I think this was about the only number I agreed with the judges on. They didn't like it, either.

I couldn't stand Chris Sligh's version of She's Not There. I thought it was awful. But the judges thought it was good, that it was "the right song for him." I'd hate to hear the wrong song for him.

Melinda was, as usual, stunning. Now I don't like the song she chose, but I thought it was a solid performance. Fortunately, the judges agreed with me. Melinda wins again tonight, with LaKisha in second, and Jordin in third.

UPDATE: I am surprised and annoyed that Stephanie wound up being offed tonight. People are ridiculous. The girl has been far better than Sanjaya, Hayley, and Jordin every week except this one and she's the loser?! But Chris' departure is imminent. Last night's performance was a loser in spite of the judges' opinions.

I met John Tesh today

Today, I met John Tesh at a local radio station my place of work advertises with. It was a "thank you" for doing business with them.

I have to say that he was...tall...very tall...and extremely charming and witty. He was definitely not what I expected. He was very much a regular guy and very warm. I know, that's his persona on his syndicated radio show, but I didn't expect it to be the real persona, for some reason. I was wrong, and that's a nice thing to be mistaken about. He stayed and chatted for about 30-40 minutes, and he was very humorous.

Before he left, he gave us a copy of a compilation CD and autographed it for us.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Baking beast

When I awoke this morning, I was ready to do some cooking. I made a quiche for brunch and then (oh God, how gay did that just sound?!) and then turned my attention to one of my favorite breads...challah.

I'm not Jewish, but my partner is. And if you've read my blog for long, you know that I have a big appreciation for kosher foods: pastrami, corned beef, stuffed derma, stuffed cabbage, brisket, matzo ball soup, and above all, challah.

Shiny, braided, golden, with a texture that's nicely dense and slightly sweet, challah is terrific plain or studded with golden raisins. Served warm and slathered with butter, or used as the base for french toast, it's heaven.

It's a pain to make, but the payoff is that it's really delicious. And it looks great:

Click to enlarge and check out the sparkle of the Blue Pearl granite countertop! (photo by Jess - thanks, hon!)

By the way, if you're wondering how to pronounce it, you don't say the "ch" like the ch in "chat". Instead, it's a hard and guttural c, which is almost silent when pronounced in combination with the h.

Source: The Jewish Holiday Kitchen by Joan Nathan; Schocken Books
Yield: 2 loaves

* 5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (maybe more)
* 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
* 1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)
* 1/2 cup sugar
* 1 heaping Tbsp. (2 packages) yeast
* 3 Tbsps pareve margarine, melted
* additional margarine for greasing utensils
* 1 1/4 cups warm (not hot) water
* 5 eggs at room temperature
* Sesame or poppy seeds (optional)

Preheat oven to warm (140 degrees F).

Mix flour, salt, (raisins), in a large mixing bowl, making a well in the center. Add 1/4 cup sugar to well cover with yeast and top with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Using a dough hook, mix the yeast and sugar in the well until just mixed.

In a separate container, add the margarine to the warm water, mixing well, until liquefied. Add margarine mixture to the yeast mixture in the mixing bowl and mix well. Set aside 1 egg plus the yolk of another. Add remaining eggs plus the extra white individually into the dough, kneading well after each addition until all the flour is absorbed. As you knead, you may have to add more flour so have some handy, but don't overdo the flour; the dough should still be a little sticky. Rub a large ovenproof bowl with margarine and drop the dough into it. Cover the bowl with waxed paper smeared with margarine, then with a towel; put in warm oven for 1/2 hour. Clean and dry your mixing bowl.

When dough is almost doubled in size, punch it down, return it to the mixing bowl and knead for 2 minutes with mixer (or you may knead it by hand). Put bread back into ovenproof bowl for rising and cover with greased paper and towel again and let rise for 15-20 minutes more in warm oven. Remove and punch down; knead. Re-cover and let rise for 15-20 minutes more in the warm oven. Turn dough onto a pastry board and knead thoroughly. Using a knife, cut dough in half. Then divide each half into 6 pieces - three smaller pieces and three larger. Dust with just a little flour and knead each portion. Dough should be slightly tacky but should not stick to hands. Roll each portion into ropes; the shorter pieces about 6" in length, the longer about 9".

Put the 3 long ropes side by side touching at one end. Pinch that end to seal. Braid the ropes. When no more can be braided, pinch the ends to seal together. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper and place bread on sheet. Brush entire exposed braid surface with the egg+yolk, making sure you get in all the cracks. Now braid the shorter ropes in the same fashion and place the shorter braid on top of the longer braid, centering it. Coat the top braid with the egg wash.

Braid the remaining loaf in the same fashion as the first.

Sprinkle loaves with the sesame seeds or poppy seeds if desired (neither is used if raisins are used). Place in the warm oven for 20 minutes. Raise oven temp to 200 degrees F and continue baking for 15 minutes. Raise oven temp to 275 degrees F continue baking for 15 more minutes. Finally, raise the oven temp to 375 degrees F and bake for 10-15 minutes until bread is golden brown. During the last phase of baking, you may wish to use convection to brown the bread. Do not remove the bread from the oven during the phased baking process; simply increase the heat for each phase and leave the bread in.

This bread freezes well.

Even though it's a pain to manage, the phased baking approach used in this recipe is the secret to its moist denseness. If you skip the steps and just go for a single temperature, you won't get the same results.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Tidal Idol Wave

So it was Diana Ross week on Idol this week.

Problem #1 - Diana does not translate well for boys. So the boys were in trouble before the show ever started, and then of course this year the boys have less talent than the girls from the get-go, so my prediction is that this week, the bottom three will all be in the male camp. Speaking of male camp, can you say Sanjaya Malakar? With his Sarah Jessica Parker hairdo, and his hoop earrings, gurrrrrrl was a lot prettier than Boy George...but...

Problem #2 - New stage + more audience = more nerves than usual. It was a night of forgotten lyrics and forgotten melodies.

Brandon was horrible. Gina Glocksen's performance of Love Child was good, but she's not a top-three contender. Maybe top six. Chris Sligh was trying to make an impression by losing his glasses and giving the song Endless Love a Coldplay-kind of makeover that just did not work. I give him credit for trying to put an original spin on it, but the pitch was all over the map and just didn't work. He is a top six contender.

Sanjaya's super-lame rendition of Ain't No Mountain High Enough was hard to watch. The song was way too big for him. If he isn't voted off this week, then there is no justice. He should never have made it into the top twelve.

Melinda Doolittle was her usual flawless self, and her version of "Home" even topped my favorite version of that song, which wasn't sung by Miss Ross, but by Stephanie Mills. Standing ovation from the audience. She is my choice for the winner. She'll at least be in the top three.

"Sad" can describe Hayley's dress and her butchering of Missing You. She was pitchy. She forgot the words. Even the audience knew she was bad. The applause was very light, and for good reason. Simon tried to cheer her up telling her that she had "moments" of star appeal but, in total, the performance was awful.

Phil Stacey's I'm Gonna Make You Love Me failed to make me love him. He couldn't follow the melody line cleanly enough to make this song terrific. The audience cheered in spots, but it didn't move me. He's had better performances.

LaKisha Jones was predictably powerful. She's trying very hard to make us forget that Melinda and Stephanie exist. She pulled a new vocal style out of her hat tonight, and it did not fail to impress. She got a standing ovation from the audience. She's great, but she knows she's great, and that makes her just a tad less attractive to me...but she's one of the top three, regardless.

Like Chris, Blake Lewis tried to change You Keep Me Hanging On, but he fell behind the music and his voice was too weak to make a good performance. And his falsetto was just bad. Sorry, I prefer Kylie. If he doesn't shape up, he's going to be gone within three weeks.

Stephanie's Love Hangover needed an injection of energy. It was lifeless and disappointing, and even she forgot her words. Probably her worst performance since she hit the Idol stage. Her outfit was all wrong for the song, too, and I am surprised no one mentioned it.

I have to wonder why Chris Richardson chose The Boss, which wasn't one of Diana's mega-hits, and it certainly wasn't his. It was kind of like a bad Dan Hartman rendition. His pitch was often flat, he ran out of breath on his runs, and it wasn't a song for a guy.

Jordin Sparks went up a notch in my book tonight. She made a step toward improvement with If We Hold On Together. It was fairly good. The judges liked it a lot more than I did. It was more powerful than prior numbers she has done, but not top three material as the judges alluded to.

At this point, my guess for top six: Melinda; LaKisha; Stephanie; Chris Sligh; Gina; Phil.

Who gets voted off this week? If America has any sense, Sanjaya. But Brandon or Chris Richardson should also be ready to step down.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

It's Raining Martha

Martha Wash: Gay icon. Underdog. Success story. Still fabulous at 53, Martha can still belt out her repertoire like it was 1985.

Last night, Martha performed at a benefit event for LIGALY and she was amazing. Beginning in the late 70s Martha, and her Weather Girls partner Izora Rhodes, backed up Sylvester on the wildy successful dance hit You Make Me Feel Mighty Real, and a career was launched.

Jess and I got to meet her after her short set, which included Gonna Make You Sweat, Everybody, Everybody, and the inimitable trademark song of her Weather Girls career, It's Raining Men.

It was perfect. As you may remember, Martha didn't get the credit for her rousing vocals on Sweat and Everybody; these songs took C + C Music Factory and Black Box to the top of the charts. It was Martha who made these songs memorable. So I loved the way she came out and performed those two songs first, and saved Men for last. It raised the roof.

After the show, Jess and I got to meet Martha and Georgie Porgie, who opened for her and was no slouch himself. It was a fun albeit brief show, and one I will never forget.