Sunday, March 30, 2008

Make like it's 1958

Last night, I, along with 115,299 other people, watched the Dodgers play baseball at the Los Angeles Coliseum for the first time in 47 years. As part of their season-long celebration of 50 years of Los Angeles Dodgers baseball, the organization held a one-night-only exhibition game versus the World Champion Boston Red Sox.

Both teams during pregame introductions.

I’m not exaggerating at all to say it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

In 1958, when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, they were the first team to foray into California. However, they had no stadium. So, from 1958-1962 (while Dodger Stadium was being built in Chavez Ravine) the Dodgers played baseball at the Los Angeles Coliseum…a venue designed for football. Squeezing a baseball diamond into a football field created some interesting dimensions, to say the least. A standard baseball field is about 375 feet down the left-and-right field lines and about 400 feet to straightaway center. The left field foul pole inside the LA Coliseum was a mere 251 feet from home plate, which they compensated for by erecting a 42-foot high fence (hoping to discourage easy home runs). Centerfield and right field were also a bit further away. Righties salivated, while lefties like Dodger legend Duke Snider saw their productivity decline. Dodger lefty Wally Moon so perfected pulling homers to left that they dubbed balls that cleared that fence "moon shots."

It was definitely an odd place to play, but the Dodgers made it work for their first four seasons in Los Angeles, before their current home opened on April 10, 1962. Late in 2007, I heard a rumor that the Dodgers would be returning to their first LA home for one night only. Immediately, I promised myself I’d do anything (selling a kidney, performing a hit, etcetera) to get my hands on a pair of tickets.

I don’t know that I can adequately describe what it was like to sit through that game. My late father grew up in Los Angeles and undoubtedly saw at least a couple games in the Coliseum with his two brothers and my grandfather. When I was a small child, he taught me to love the Dodgers and, more importantly, the game. Playing baseball and going to games bonded us throughout my childhood and up until his death two years ago (indeed, the last thing we did together was go see Japan face Mexico in the World Baseball Classic at Angel Stadium in Anaheim).

Being there was absolutely overwhelming for me as a daughter, a lifelong (and incredibly die hard) Dodger fan and as a lover of the game of baseball. Before the game, the Coliseum commission dedicated a plaque to legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully. Vin has been the voice of the Dodgers since 1950, when they were still in Brooklyn. His is one of the most beloved, enduring voices in all of sports. The roar of the crowd in mere anticipation of his introduction was deafening. When he stepped to the podium the applause and cheering died down and picked back up again three times. After the first of such resurgences, Scully, ever the humble man, said, “Aw c’mon, it’s just me.” He then rededicated his award to each of the 138 million fans who have come to see the Dodgers over the last 50 years, because he sees himself in the same boat as us: a man, standing on the curb who was lucky enough to watch all of the “heroes” pass by.

Because of Coliseum renovations, the left field foul pole was a mere 201 feet away.

Center and right field during pregame warmups.

It’s hard to get an idea of how ridiculous the dimensions really are without seeing them in person. The Dodgers essentially employed a five-man infield (at one point, CF Andruw Jones took a putout at second). A shallow pop fly was halfway to a home run. Balls that hit the net in left field dropped like rocks. It wasn’t the prettiest of games: the Dodgers went down 7-1 before coming back late to score one in the eighth. Boston brought Jonathan Papelbon on in the bottom of the ninth and the Dodgers mounted one of their trademark mini-comebacks that fell a bit short: Papelbon gave up a two-run shot to Double-A player (and probable Opening Day third baseman) Blake DeWitt to bring the Dodgers within three…but that was it. The Dodgers lost, 7-4.

I could’ve cared less. I mean, I got to be there. I got to see it and imagine what it must have felt like to be a fan 50 years ago, when baseball was brand new to Southern California and many people were seeing a game for the very first time. The Dodgers came to Brooklyn three years removed from their very first World Championship and won their second in their second year at the Coliseum. I don’t know that there’s anything that can top what I saw last night for the sheer joy that it brought me.

Me, pretty much the happiest girl alive.

Go Blue!

Oh, I almost forgot. One of my favorite moments of the night: someone started the wave, and it went around the massive stadium six times…and every time it passed the Boston and Los Angeles dugouts, the players themselves stood up and joined in. It was just that kind of night.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Four more in the "Dollhouse"

Joss Whedon is infamous for casting relative unknowns in his television shows. Most of the central casts of "Buffy," "Angel" and "Firefly" had very few credits to their name before being welcomed into the Whedonverse (yes, that is what we call it). Joss has a knack for picking ridiculously good-looking, talented actors that work well together as a team and embody their characters so well and so fully that you wonder how they hadn’t been discovered before he plucked them from relative obscurity.

I know, it sounds like I’m giving one man an awful lot of credit, but all you have to do is watch a few episodes of any one of his shows to see just how well his ensembles mesh and work seamlessly as a team. No one is above anyone else; in fact, Whedonverse cast members often comment on how their costars continually forced them to “step up their game” onscreen.

I mention this, of course, because four new actors have been cast in “Dollhouse,” Whedon’s latest television venture (which received a seven episode order from Fox just before the WGA strike last year).

Tahmoh Penikett, best known as Helo on "Battlestar Galactica," has been cast as Paul Smith, an FBI agent (and romantic foil to Eliza Dushku’s Echo) trying to unravel the mystery of the Dollhouse.

Fran Kranz (“Welcome to the Captain”) will play Topher Brink, a young genius responsible for “imprinting” the dolls.

Dichen Lachman, an Australian actress, will fill the role of Sierra, a doll who tries to befriend Echo.

Enver Gjokaj is Victor, a male doll and friend of Echo’s with a gift for impersonations.

I’ll follow Whedon anywhere he goes, and I can’t wait for the first look at “Dollhouse.” Maybe Comic Con? *rubs hands together in eager anticipation*

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Idol's Top 10: Elimination

Chikezie just knew his time was up. You could see it in his face the moment he stepped on stage to have one of those painful, drawn out center stage conversations with Seacrest. His face fell even further when Syesha Mercado joined him, and by the time Jason Castro (somewhat surprisingly) rounded out the bottom three, all hope was gone.

I'll miss you, Chikezie. No one's name is as fun to say.

Jason’s presence in the bottom three was akin to a slap on the wrist for his uninspired, lazy take on “Fragile.” Syesha, despite continuing to come off as uninteresting and slightly false, was coming off one of her strongest performances. With those two as company, there was just no saving Chikezie…and he knew it.

With the elimination of Chikezie (at least two weeks too early in my opinion), season seven lost one of its richest, most beautiful voices. After David Cook, Chikezie was easily my favorite Idol. I loved his infectious energy, the way he worked a stage, his brilliant smile and…the kid can sing. I’m really disappointed that I won’t get to see him take the Idol stage anymore, because you never knew what to expect.

Case in point:

Top 16 Week = the softer, beautiful ballad side of Chikezie

Top 12 Week = the stage-stompin’, rockin’ side of Chikezie

He was arguably the most versatile performer left in the Top 10. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to console myself with the knowledge that he’ll be on the tour this summer and I’ll get to see him again.

So, who dodged a bullet (because if I had my way, that’s not what the bottom three would’ve looked like)?

How on earth Ramiele Malubay didn’t go home last night is absolutely beyond me. I can’t remember a single performance of hers that was more than “just pretty good.” The judges have called her “karaoke” more times than I can count. Her song choices are boring and overdone, and she’s shown me absolutely nothing that proves she belongs on that big stage. I know she was sick this week and she’s a good singer, but if you haven’t wowed us at least once by now…

Kristy Lee Cook is on borrowed time. She knows it, we know it. As such, she responded with the shrewdest song choice I’ve seen all year. Who’s going to vote out someone singing “God Bless the USA”? I rolled my eyes skyward when I found out what she was performing and was instantly annoyed that I’d have to listen to her sing another week…but it was a freakin’ brilliant move on her part. And, as much as I hate to admit it, it didn’t suck. Definitely her strongest performance on the big stage. Idol is turning into Dollywood next week, and Kristy Lee’s country twang would suggest that she’ll coast through next week as well. Will no one put me out of my misery? Please? I will give you a cookie.

I was only wowed by two people last night: Michael Johns and my rocker boy David Cook (who is now the desktop background on my work computer, by the way).

Welcome to the big stage, Michael! You finally made it. After starting on a suicide slide way back in the semis (and, let’s face it, pretty much coasting through on your dreaminess) you busted out a “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions” medley that brought your plummet to a screeching halt. The song choice was perfect, the performance was busting with charisma (I don’t find him particularly attractive and I have to admit, he made me a little weak in the knees) and your vocals were strong and clear with just a hint of roughness around the edges. Awesome, awesome, AWESOME. If you can keep this momentum going into next week, you might climb back in to my Top 5.

When Simon Cowell calls your performance “amazing,” I don’t honestly know what else there is to say…but I’ll do my best.

I’ve said it before and I will continue to say it: David Cook is the smartest Idol contestant this year by far. He knows what he’s capable of and he obviously has musical intelligence in spades. As a result, his arrangements - borrowed or not, he knows where to find them and how to make them work - are fantastic, often surprising, and yet still work comfortably with his slightly raw, emo-rock voice. His song choices, though not always what you’d expect (I was worried when I found out he’d be doing “Billie Jean”) are spot on and his voice, though it sometimes takes him a line or two to really get going, is strong and absolutely gorgeous.

Woo gratuitous shot of the pretty!

He’s a bit of a smug bastard, but not so much that it makes him unappealing. Indeed, if you want to be a rock star I think you have to be a bit cocky…it’s part of the persona. Overall, I think he’s the strongest “complete package” in the Idol crop this year. With this performance of “Billie Jean,” (on top of “Hello” in the semis) and his two Beatles Week songs, he’s made himself the singer to beat.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Starting at Third for the Los Angeles Dodgers...

Not that they ever really had one to begin with, but the Dodgers have lost both of their potential starting third basemen to injury over the past couple weeks.

Andy LaRoche tore a ligament in his right thumb during a Spring Training game on March 7. The injury required surgery and will keep him out of the lineup until at least mid-May. He and Nomar Garciaparra were expected to battle it out for the starting spot in the hot corner, but Garciaparra was hit on the wrist by a pitch later in the same game.

Garciaparra continued playing in Spring Training, but the pain in his wrist worsened over the course of this week. An MRI on Wednesday revealed a microfracture, akin to a bad bone bruise, on his right wrist. It’s possible that he won’t be ready for Opening Day.

Blake Dewitt, a 22-year-old who has never played above Double A (though that was the case with Matt Kemp as well and look how he turned out) and Tony Abreu (still not 100% after abdominal surgery) are the leading candidates to start at third if Nomar isn’t ready by the 31st.

Nomar: more wrist woes (is this 1999? Or 2001?)

Because the injuries to LaRoche and Garciaparra are short term, General Manager Ned Colletti resisted any suggestion of looking for outside help to fill the hole at third. Here’s the thing, though: I’m not convinced that either one will be what the team needs at the hot corner. The Dodgers haven’t had a truly permanent third baseman since Adrian Beltre left in 2004. Even then, Beltre was an above average fielder and a solid (but not spectacular save for his 2004 breakout season) hitter. Over the past three seasons, countless forgettable players have drifted in and out of the five spot, always failing to impress enough to stick around.

LaRoche: Future master of the LA hot corner?

Garciaparra is a shortstop-converted-into-a-first-baseman-then-shuffled-to-third-by-default when James Loney stepped up his game and became a minor phenomenon in the second half of 2007. LaRoche is a third baseman, but a very young one who failed to impress in his limited time in The Show in 2007. Now, fingers crossed that one of them will step up this year and bring back some pride to the position at Dodger Stadium. If not…well I’ll be sighing a lot during the season wondering why we didn’t go after Miguel Cabrera harder when he had the chance.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Idol's Top 11

Kristy Lee Cook murdered my absolute favorite Beatles song.

I’m having a hard time thinking anything beyond that. I was slack-jawed in disbelief the entire time, from the strangely building 80s-esque techno build up of the background sound (I really expected there to be a musical crescendo followed by lasers…and I’m kind of disappointed that none of that actually happened) to the odd choice of power notes. I should’ve seen it coming: after her “hoedown in Hell” performance of “Eight Days A Week” last Tuesday, how could anyone think she’d do better with “You’ve Got To Hide Yourself Away”? I suppose it was partly my own fault, but my morbid curiosity got the best of me. Now I have to play the real version over and over and over again until the memory of Kristy Lee dulls a little. It’s going to take a while.

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen (wow, that's hard to spell)

I’ll focus on something else. I did spend some time wondering why the shoulder pads were missing from her hideous sheer-sleeved monstrosity of a prom dress from 1989. I also spent a few seconds hoping there was a (possibly malfunctioning) trap door in the floor of the stage (I imagined it was somewhere to the left of her and tried to use my mind powers to get her to take just a few steps). But none of that was enough to stop her from tainting the memory of “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” for me forever. Thankfully, she was so absolutely horrendous and dull that there’s no way she’ll be back next week…right, America? RIGHT?!

That’s out of the way *huge sigh of relief*. Now I can move on to everyone else.

Does anyone else think that Amanda Overmyer sometimes gets drowned out by the band? I’m not sure if it’s because she sings in such a low register (and thus not as loudly) or if she just sings notes so close to what the band is actually playing that they blend together, but I can’t hear half of what she’s singing any given week. I should also possibly explore the possibility that I just plain can’t hear certain notes, but…I’d rather not depress myself, so I’m going to pretend that’s not a possibility. Anyway, I actually liked Amanda a lot better this week than I have the past few weeks. Her voice, which normally grates on me after about 10 seconds, never did while she was covering “Back in the USSR.” Plus, I had a lot of fun watching here. Whatever it was that turned her into a sourpuss (to borrow a word from my grandma) has thankfully disappeared and she turned in one of the most engaging, entertaining and charismatic performances of the evening. Obviously, she had technical problems, but I think she’ll stick around until next week. Despite Simon’s comment that she’s in danger of becoming “boring,” I think the “anti-Idol Idol” niche she inhabits is still novel enough to keep her around a couple more weeks.

David Archuleta remembered all the words to his song this week! To quote Chikezie’s mom “Praise Jesus!” (or the diety of your choice, in interest of religious equality). Archie’s starting to freak me out because I can’t, for the life of me, figure the kid out. He’s a 17-year-old cartoon character. Dude, he’s the human incarnation Snuggle from the old Downey ads…with a slightly deeper voice. He’s so humble an inoffensive that he offends me. I just don’t believe that he’s real, and it’s really off-putting. His version of “The Long and Winding Road” was technically superior to any of the other performers last night (though I thought he overdid the melisma) and those sparkling eyes and adorable smile pretty much win the whole world over in 3.2 seconds. But will he ever pick songs and sing them in a manner that is age-appropriate? You can’t be big, cuddly stuffed animal and a 40-year-old crooner at the same time. My brain can’t handle it. Still, he’s got a beautiful voice that I love to listen to and he rebounded nicely from his major blunder last week.

I’m starting to think that Michael Johns just really isn’t all that smart. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together wouldn’t have even fathomed trying to condense a long, complex song like “A Day In The Life” into 90 seconds. Even if he sang it beautifully (which he didn’t) it still would’ve been a bit of a patchwork mess. The funny thing is, like with Amanda, I really enjoyed listening to him sing this week…though their performances were technically subpar (I think I may be a bit “off” myself). I’m not a big fan of Michael’s voice in general – something about it turns me off – but I liked it a lot last night. Random aside: the guy walks like one of his legs is shorter than the other. Seriously, he has a strange lean to the right thing going on…what’s that about? He’s crap at choosing the right songs and is still on the fast track to booting himself out of the competition…just not this week.

Everyone took acid during the break between Michael and Brooke White. And I include Little Miss Vanilla in that accusation as well. It is the only way I can even begin to explain away what happened next. She got up and did a wobbly 360 (with a “Woo!” thrown in for good measure) exactly like that one aunt in your family who gets drunk at all the family gatherings and decides to dance when there’s no music. Then she approached the microphone stand and did what I can only assume was part of a choreographed dance routine she learned while on the drill team in junior high. Hand gestures and offbeat swaying and shoulder rolls and…I can’t possibly go on. Through it all, she looked ridiculously bright and shiny and happy and…yellow. Fugly dress on top of everything, Brooke. Shame. To top it all off, apparently Brooke is quite the chatterbox. She hasn’t really been criticized across the board before (that I can recall) and wow…thank goodness because the girls never shuts up. I wanted Seacrest to go over and clamp a hand over her mouth to stop all of the word vomit. Just no, Brooke. I’m annoyed that even Simon couldn’t bring himself to tell you to be quiet (which he would’ve done to any of the other contestants who tries to pull the same thing). He did, however, decide to describe her performance as “wet”…whatever that means. Nobody made any sense at all.

Watching this sober is scary. Seriously.

I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that I’ve said nary a thing about her singing anywhere in the giant paragraph above…it was passable. The end.

David Cook is definitely a bit of a smug, cocky little mofo (at least on stage)…and I love it. I’m not gonna lie. His performances are often a bit weird for me because they’re so dichotomous: he’s magnetic and he knows how to work a stage and have a good time, but he often seems disconnected from the audience and/or the song he’s singing. It’s incredibly strange and I have a hard time trying to explain it. I honestly believe (despite my obvious bias) that he and Archie have been the two consistently good performers going all the way back to Hollywood Week. His “Daytripper” was easily one of the Top 3 of the night, and hopefully he quieted some nitpicky haters by declaring in his package that he borrowed most of the arrangement from Whitesnake. The performance was fantastic, from vocals to instruments to his stage presence (I personally had no problem with the vocoder). The thing with Rocker Boy is, during almost all of his songs, I can actually picture him singing them to a sold out arena. Out of all of the Idols, he’s the only one I can picture (right now, at least) actually finding success outside the Idol bubble. Also, his segment was responsible for the most hilarious part of the show (second best – Ryan very obviously shilling the iPhone and then the camera cutting to the judges holding out their Coke cups in mock salute):

*Ryan nearly knocks David in the head with the mic stand and David mock falls over*

Ryan: Sorry about that…here let me grab you.

David: *gets up* I’m good, thanks.

My roommate and I had to pause the Tivo because we were in hysterics.

I just re-watched Carly Smithson’s performance of “Blackbird” and man, was Simon extra cranky and harsh last night. Usually, underneath the surliness he actually does have good, solid advice to offer…but last night he was just awful (and gave slightly nonsensical critique) to most of the performers. “Blackbird” is one of the most redone and overdone songs ever in life, but she did a beautiful job with it. It wasn’t anything groundbreaking, arrangement-wise, but vocally it was strong and clear and really just gorgeous. Carly has an amazing voice and I hope she continues to display her range, vocally and musically. I think I underrated her in the semis; she grows on me more every week.

I need to break here for a sec and talk about Simon. His insistence last night that certain people were becoming “boring” and “predictable” mystified me. People like David Cook and Amanda have very specific singing styles. If they were to deviate from them too much, they’d sound horribly out of place (and probably get torn apart by Simon for sounding “a mess”). This isn’t to say that they’re two-dimensional and one-note, rather that they should know their limitations as a singer and put on a performance that stretches the bounds of their abilities but doesn’t break them. Why is it a bad thing that Amanda knows better than to try and sing a ballad? Why would you want David Cook to do something to make him sound more like, say, David Archuleta? Someone please explain this to (admittedly) a music novice because I just don’t get it.

We need to have a talk, Jason Castro. It’s “Mih-chelle,” not “Mee-chelle.” That drove me NUTS. Also, you dialed your stoner persona up to 11 last night and that was just a wee bit too much. You looked sort of silly throughout that entire song, almost like you were going, “Hee, lookit me I’m singing in French…oh, now back to English. Singing in different languages sure is neat!” I think you get lost in your own little world when you sing, which is fine because you’re so charismatic that the audience is drawn in anyway, but this was just…weird. I’ll give you this: I really, really dislike “Michelle” but, in the vein of Michael and Amanda, I really enjoyed listening to you sing it. People love you so much that you’ll be fine for next week, but…get yourself under control, dude. Either smoke a little more pot or a little less, but find that balance or people are going to start to notice that serial killer smile and run away from their TV sets in terror.

What a loveable, goofy mofo. I'll have what he's having.

Holy pleasant surprise Batman! Syesha Mercado, way to rebound. She did a really nice, understated job with “Yesterday.” She couldn’t resist throwing in a few power notes (and we know that she can hit them and hit them well) that rang a little false for me, but overall it was a really solid performance. I think it’s telling, however, that while I managed to write huge paragraphs on almost everyone else…I’ve run out of things to say about Syesha four sentences in. I don’t think she has much staying power because she doesn’t have that much of a presence. Of everyone that Simon has ever called “forgettable,” I agree with him most about Syesha. I just don’t care that much about her.

I really, really want everyone to stop hatin’ on Chikezie. Next to David Cook, he has my favorite voice in the competition – smooth and velvety and just a joy to listen to. He always looks like he’s having fun and he’s almost completely fearless when it comes to trying a semi-“out there” song or an unusual arrangement. As a result he’s been really hit or miss, but there’s something about him that I really, really love. He gave two separate performances last night, which was rather weird. “I’ve Just Seen A Face” is another of my favorite Beatles songs, and when he started out by turning it into a ballad, my brain rebelled. But as I listened, the “nononononono” mantra in my head quieted and I fell in love with the slowed-down version. And then came the harmonica (which he’d only learned a couple days before), which led into part two of the hoedown that Kristy Lee Cook started last week. Possibly the most awkward musical transition that I have ever seen. Here’s the thing, though: the up tempo second half of the song was pretty freakin’ good as well. I enjoyed it a lot. However, he should’ve picked one or the other (finite decisions are your friend, Chikezie).

I love Chikezie...join me on the bandwagon.

I’m sad that I have to write about Ramiele Malubay last…because I was told the last spot is the “pimp spot,” reserved for a top performance. I don’t have many positive things to say about her performance (or her appearance, but that’s of lesser importance). Ramiele just can’t seem to help sounding like she belongs in a karaoke bar. I do karaoke a lot, and I’ve met several “karaoke professionals” who literally spend their evenings going from bar to bar singing. They’re (comparatively) very good singers in the karaoke universe…but they don’t belong on a stage with paying customers. Ramiele lacks “that certain something” that you need to be a good performer. Her voice just isn’t powerful or mesmerizing enough to really enrapture a crowd. She sings well, don’t get me wrong, but she’s uninspired. I think she’ll make it through this week (barely) but not much longer.

Overall, this was an incredibly strange night. Everyone seemed just a bit off kilter…was there a full moon last night? So odd. If Kristy Lee Cook doesn’t get kicked off…I may do something drastic.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Two ideas from opposite ends of the awesome spectrum

When I finally kowtowed to American Idol back in January, I mentioned my general distaste for reality television. I try to avoid most of it on principle, but considering I work for a company that has an alternative (read: the fancy industry word for "reality") department, it's kind of difficult. What I do love, shamelessly, is hearing which alternative pitches have been picked up by various networks. I heard about two such pickups this weekend while at dinner with some friends.

Welcome to the March edition of "Good Idea, Bad Idea."

Good Idea

While I'm not a huge horror movie fan, I absolutely love the strange, scary and supernatural. MTV's Fear is one of the best shows they've ever produced. I heart Ghost Hunters. Anything with vampires brings me great joy. I love it when my pulse races and my heart pounds and something threatens, just out of sight, to jump out and scare the bejesus out of me.

The CW recently picked up eight episodes of 13, a horror-themed reality show that uses freaky, fear-inducing challenges (no doubt, many will be homages to scenes from scary movies of yore) to weed out the scaredy cats one by one. Though EP Sam Raimi and company have yet to decide on a locale - a creepy small town, an eerie lakeside retreat and a dilapidated cabin in the woods are all under consideration - expect lots of screaming, heavy breathing and bleeped out curses from the contestants staying there.

Might I suggest this lovely abode?

I love this concept. I think it's fresh (well, as much as you can be in an increasingly tired and contrived reality universe) and absolutely bursting with potential. If done well, not only will the audience be titillated and thrilled watching other people freak out on camera, it will actually force the contestants to confront their own fears and anxieties (thus adding depth to the show and making it more fun to watch).

Bad Idea

WTF MTV?! I Wanna Be Paris' New Best Friend? Really?!?!?!?!

I had no words (beyond a horrified "NO WAY!") for this when I first heard about it. A reality show where people actually compete for the right (misfortune?) to be Paris Hilton's new best friend? How did this get green lit? Who thought this was a good idea?

This is a classic example of the reality genre being abused and reduced to the least common denominator. People are actually auditioning via videoblog entry to participate in the show. Hopefuls are supposed to convince America, vie blog posts and vlogs, why they "deserve" the "privilege" of being the newest member of Paris' entourage. Net users are asked to view these online pleas for attention and free "fame" and vote for their favorite(s). The top vote getters make it on to the show.

You'd actually compete for this?

I shudder to think of the challenges...or the degree of empty-headed, vain, desperate wannabes that will end up actually allowed to be on television. I admit, the huge online element is the only interesting part of the concept. The posting of vlogs and blogs as "auditions" and the fact that the casting process is actually being done by participants/potential viewers is an intriguing twist on the reality concept. I think that using the Internet effectively is the next frontier for reality programming...and it has yet to be harnessed really effectively.

I'll keep an eye on the development of this otherwise completely inane and useless show for that reason alone. I'm seriously ashamed that it exists at all, however.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Idol's Top 12

Idol fanatics have been telling me for two months that the big stage changes everything. I reacted the same way a guy who's trying to get in your pants does when you ask him if a dress looks good on you: "oh of course, uh-huh, sure it does." Right words, entire lack of conviction.

Last night I got smacked in the face with how wrong I was, because the new Idol stage sent 32 million people Through the Looking Glass, to a land where Chikezie blew the roof off the place and Archie missed music cues and forgot the words to 'We Can Work It Out" three times. Because I've been ill for the past few days, I still don't completely believe what I saw. Thankfully, YouTube is there to remind me.

Wow. I'm still lacking the proper words to describe Chikezie's "She's a Woman." It gave me chills and made my jaw hit the floor. Phenomenal. The arrangement was inspired, his energy was infectious and it was easily the best performance of the night. What a way to introduce yourself to the big stage, Chikezie. I hope this performance silences all of the haters who have been clamoring for him to get booted the past two weeks.

Big win, Chikezie. BIG.

David Archuleta, on the other hand, fell flat on his face on the big stage. And, I'll say it, I'm not entirely convinced the timing of his meltdown wasn't a bit too perfect. The semifinals set him on the flight path of Icarus: he seemed to be in danger of peaking too early and coming crashing back down to earth. His performance was an absolute mess, but I'm not surprised that he was still grinning like an idiot after it was all over.

He missed notes. Forgot the lyrics. Finally looked 17 and vulnerable. All of that, and he still probably got the most votes last night. Because his failure last night brought him firmly back to Earth in the best way possible: it proved he wasn't superhuman. By floundering his way through Stevie Wonder's (I'm sorry, I thought this was Beatles night, my mistake) version of "We Can Work it Out" showed people that he was normal after all. And everyone ate it up. Yes, Paula (!!) took him to task for forgetting the lyrics and Simon rightfully called it "a mess," but they said it all with a smile and a pat on the back and a "We still love you, you little cutie pie!" tacked onto the end.

I don't know if he was genuinely so nervous on the big stage that he choked or if it was a cleverly-concocted stunt, but either way, Archie wins. I'm both fascinated and appalled; I can't wait to see how far this schtick takes him.

If God has ears (and was listening last night instead of, I dunno, working on that world hunger thing) Kristy Lee Cook's version of "Eight Days a Week" will take her no further than tomorrow. I cannot think of a strong enough word for how completely horrendous, horrifying and completely awful her performance was (though those are three good adjectives to start with). I think she should be forced to hand write apology letters to Paul and Ringo for turning the song into what they force country music haters to listen to on the way down to Hell.

Seriously, it kind of sounded like the music they play in the freaky boat tunnel in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The banjos and fiddles and country twang just kept getting faster and faster and Kristy Lee stood in the middle of it all looking slightly lost and slightly maniacal at the same time. What a ridiculously misguided decision...I cannot describe how much I hated it. Worst thing I've seen all year (and considering I saw Amanda sing "Carry On My Wayward Son," that's saying something).

The other Cook in the competition, however, translated nicely to the big stage. David Cook, looking like someone rubbed a balloon on the back of his head right before he went onstage (I generally have no problem with his hair, but last night it was just badbadBAD), tore it up with an uptempo rock take on "Eleanor Rigby."

David's charisma levels wax and wane from week to week, which is something he'll have to work on. But I'm glad he proved that he could still give a command performance without his guitar in front of him. He continues to prove that he's one of the most talented people in the Top 12, and it brings me great joy.

Hey David..."Why Don't We Do it In The Road?" Heh, get it?

Chikezie, Rocker Boy, Archie and Kristy Lee got extreme reactions from me. Everyone else fell somewhere in the middle.

"Jason Castro is for people who find Jack Johnson too edgy." In one sentence my friend Mike perfectly summed up the dreadlocked folk singer. I actually enjoyed his rendition of "If I Fell." It was a little too breathy for me, but I liked that he tweaked the song here and there to make it his own but not so much as to suck the soul out of it (pay attention, Kristy Lee!). He continues to show every note when he sings on his face (when reaching for the high notes the eyebrows shoot up and the shoulders tense) which is incredibly distracting and annoying. Jason has a good vibe and a nice tone to his singing voice...I kind of wish he'd do something a little more uptempo though.

Carly Smithson screamed and stomped around a lot in a bright blue mini dress. Next to Chikezie, she was the performer who brought the most to the stage: charisma, energy and the powerful voice. I thought it was a bit overdone, though. It felt like she was trying just a little bit too hard. In fact, I went back and re listened to her performance with my eyes closed, just so I could listen. The vocals, which were just fantastic, got sort of lost in her performance and that's a shame. I felt like she got drowned out by her backup singers a couple times as well. The performance, while strong, was just a bit off balance for me.

I really didn't like Brooke White last night. I understand that many amazing singers have imperfect voices, and that often those imperfections elevate a certain song to another level (please see Jeff Buckley's version of "Hallelujah" for reference). However, I thought Brooke butchered "Let It Be." She was cute sitting at the piano and I understand the vibe she was going for...I just think she fell flat. The imperfect notes and inflections made me wince, to the point that I wondered if she was recovering from laryngitis. It wasn't horrible, but I really, really didn't enjoy listening to it. Just no.

At least Brooke was interesting, which is more than I can say for Ramiele Malubay and Syesha Mercado. I can't really remember what either of them sang, just that it was dull and completely unremarkable. They're both in trouble, especially since this isn't the first time they've been accused of such.
I have nothing more to say about Amanda Overmyer that I haven't already said. Except to second my roommate's suggestion that she should've performed "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?" Heh.

I can't decide whether Michael Johns or David Hernandez is more likely to join the two girls in the bottom three. Michael's "Across the Universe" halted his semifinals downward spiral...a bit. I thought he ave a stronger performance here than anywhere in the last three weeks, but his voice still really doesn't impress me. Perhaps it's a case of not being able to find the right song, but at this point, dude, I'm not willing to cut you that much slack. David, on the other hand, way over performed. He was trying too hard and it was painfully obvious. He's got IT (the vocals and the charisma and *ahem* the dancing ability) but he's overselling it. Pull back a notch, dude.

I'll forget you as soon as you're gone. Sorry.

I think Syesha's going home tonight. Though it should be KristyLee (damn you, country fans!)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Idol's Top 16: The Girls

When something is amazing, you can gush about it (or you know, if you want to be professional, praise it in a controlled manner). When something is absolutely awful, I find it fun to gleefully rip it to shreds (the evil part of me has lot of fun). But when something is just middling and unremarkable and middle-of-the-road…it’s hard to know what to say about it. Welcome to the dilemma of trying to analyze and critique last night’s American Idol.

I always try to support people (and characters) fortunate enough to be named Amanda. Historically, this has been hit or miss for me. Amanda Bynes is a good physical comedian, but (with the possible exception of her role in Hairspray) her career is entirely forgettable and unremarkable. I love Mandy Moore, but she loses huge points for going by “Mandy” (if you are not a blonde cheerleader or a dog, you should not allow anyone to call you this). Amanda from Can’t Hardly Wait was played by Jennifer Love-Hewitt. Enough said. Amanda from Melrose Place was a bad girl bitch who slept with anything with a Y chromosome (I suppose some people would find that awesome…). Amanda from Ugly Betty does indeed have layers (and she’s hysterical), but she’s an empty-headed Barbie doll.

Then along came Amanda Overmyer on Idol. She made it this far because she’s actually different: her voice (whiskey-soaked and raw as it is) is far and away the most unique in the competition. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it fun to listen to. I’m really disappointed; I tried valiantly to learn to love her over the past three weeks. I just can’t get behind her, though.

Represent our name better. Seriously.

“I Hate Myself For Loving You” is the absolute perfect song for her (and happens to be my karaoke song of choice) and she did a technically proficient, rockin’ job of it. But I still didn’t like it very much. I think she’s got enough support to make the Top 12, but I can’t bring myself to care either way. Especially when she doesn’t seem to care all that much herself. I have a sneaking suspicion that she doesn’t really want to be there anymore. The fire in her earlier performances is gone, she never looks comfortable in the Idol universe and, when Simon tries to coax a smile out of you, you know there’s something wrong. I’m sad to say that she’s the latest in a line of like-named girls who falls far short of earning my adoration and solidarity.

On a happier note, Carly Smithson is slowly but surely winning me over. Once again, she and Brooke White delivered the strongest performances of the evening and are definitely through to the Top 12. Carly gave me goose bumps during the chorus of “I Drove All Night”: the strength of her voice and her ability to hit every single one of those notes (and it’s not an easy song) really got to me. Brooke White earned props for completely reinventing Pat Benetar’s “Love is a Battlefield” (though it’s one of my favorite Benetar songs and I’m not convinced it should ever be reinvented). Brooke has a very solid identity as a performer and she’s smart enough to remain true to it. She turned in a really good performance for the second week in a row and I’m curious to see how the big stage will treat her.

Is that Amy Winehouse on her arm?

Covering the divas (Whitney, Mariah, Celine) is a huge no-no on this show. I get it, I’ve heard it countless times before. Simon will automatically hate it because there’s no way anyone could do it better. I don’t understand why, six seasons in, contestants haven’t learned to just stay away from their songbooks. Are they really big-headed enough to think that they, of all people, will be able to take it on?

Asia’h Epperson and Syesha Mercado both ignored that cardinal rule and sang “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “Saving All My Love For You,” respectively. I thought they both did a great job. Neither did anything new with their songs (and really, what could you do?) but they delivered strong, tuneful Whitney-wannabe performances. Asia’h continues to show fantastic stage presence; I just love watching her perform. And, unlike many other bloggers, I actually like the slight rasp in her voice (though that is perhaps the best argument as to why she should avoid diva songs). Syesha continues to be the male equivalent of David Hernandez for me: I love her voice, but I feel like she’s holding something back…and because of that, she doesn’t hold my interest for very long. Also, it was really unfortunate that she sang last on a night where Idol ran short on time because it meant she got really short-changed on feedback. I hope they both make it into the Top 12 (and I think they probably will).

Ramiele Malubay has lost her mojo. Her ''Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now),” while solid and in tune, was lacking any sort of emotional impact. Randy’s right: she seems to be over thinking and way too caught up in singing the right thing in the right way at the right time. Her performances look like they’re an awful lot of effort and as a result, she’s incredibly boring to watch. I want her to stick around, though. I think if she can rediscover her confidence she’ll be great fun to watch.

What the heck happened here?

That leaves Kristy Lee Cook, who is the female equivalent of Luke Menard: she’s been getting better each week but she’s just not good enough. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to her other than curly blonde hair and skinny girl cleavage. I appreciate that she took Simon’s advice and played to her strengths, infusing Journey’s “Faithfully” (awesome song, BTW) with a bit of a country tinge. I don’t think she has the potential to get any better than she already is, so I’m hoping she’s the second girl to go tonight.

Kady and Kristy get my vote to be ousted. However, this week was so strong (for the men) and so mundane (for the women) that the results show is probably going to be incredibly unpredictable.

A short coda to this entry: who the hell dressed the girls last night? High-waisted pants look good on no one. Tiny Ramiele looked dumpy in her shapeless skirt and zip up hoodie. Surprisingly, Amanda was the only one who looked nice and normal last night. I felt like I was having a fashion nightmare (and I feel like Idol knows it too, seeing as there still aren't pictures of the Top 8 girls up for me to point to and mock). Not cool on all counts.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Idol's Top 16: The Guys

Now that we’re in the final week of Idol semifinals, the obvious question is: who will make that Top 12? The men of Idol, called out in the first week for not “bringing it” as much as the women, have stepped it up the past two weeks and rocked some amazing performances. I have no doubt that they’re a stronger group overall than the women…which makes choosing the Top 6 guys a ridiculously difficult task.

I kind of like that it’s so hard, though (even if it means that likely my first minor heartbreak will come on Thursday). Last night’s performances were full of surprising song choices and strong vocals. I heart the ‘80s. With a fiery passion. So here’s the breakdown:

David Cook, I will tell you how to win my heart (even though you claim that you haven’t got a clue): sing “Hello” by Lionel Richie exactly like that. It’s no secret that Rocker Boy won my heart way back in the audition round, but his performance last night was the first one that proved to everyone that, without a doubt, he’s one of the Top 3 male performers in the competition.

Last night he out sang every single one of the guys, Archie included. He got a haircut, shaved that soul patch, avoided the minor pitch problems that have colored his past performances and upped his charisma factor by a power of 10.

Hello to you too, Rocker Boy.

What I’ve really been impressed with, however, is how successfully David Cook has arranged the songs that he’s chosen. He’s been able to bring the songs into the “now” without overdoing it, and tweak them to fit his own vocal style. I think he’s one of the contestants with the most solid grip on what his strengths and weaknesses are as a singer, which is a huge plus. Hopefully I’ll never hear Randy tell him that “that wasn’t the song for you, dawg.”

Simon is right: Rocker Boy isn’t afraid to take some risks, and when they pay off, they pay off big. My jaw dropped watching him last night: he turned a syrupy ballad into a powerful, electric guitar-backed emo rock song.

David Cook secured himself a place in the Top 12, and I agree with my friend Dave: he stole some thunder from Archie.

Paula, in one of the only coherent comments she made all night, commented that David Archuleta’s performance of “Another Day in Paradise” proved that he wasn’t a hologram. I thought his performance was great when has he not been great, let’s be honest) but seemed a touch choreographed and superficial. He was also *shockgasp* a bit pitchy on a few of the notes. He’s still one of the only performers however, to give me chills when he hits those power notes. His voice is so clear and strong and pointed (seriously, it cuts right through your heart) that I’m wondering if the docs who fixed his vocal chords didn’t work some magical voodoo on him while he was anesthetized.

Archie continues to be confident and polished beyond his years, which is actually starting to weird me out a little. Precociousness has always seemed mildly creepy to me, and while he’s not on the level of the “I Am Sam” era Dakota Fanning, it’s still mildly unsettling. He was definitely dethroned this week. I hope this Rocker Boy – Little Pop Phenom throwdown continues well into the Top 12.

Jason Castro will also get through, though I’m still not completely sold on him. Simon said that Jason got better every week, whereas I think the exact opposite is true. I’ve liked his performances less and less every week. That’s not to say that I’ve ever disliked them – he’s enjoyable to listen to (please note that I said listen) and he’s definitely got his own angle on the contest (very chill and folksy).

He’s never wowed me, though. Everything he does is sort of blandly good. His stoner persona doesn’t help with that, and the goofy, slightly worrying faces he makes while he performs doesn’t either (it makes him less bland but not in a good way at all). I just don’t get why everyone is falling all over themselves to praise him. Still, because everyone who’s not me is, I’m pretty sure that he’s safe.

So that’s Archie, Rocker Boy and Jason Castro who are through to next week. There’s only one guy who definitely WON’T get through – Luke Menard.

I honestly don’t know how Luke Menard, with his fashionably floppy hair and piercing eyes and chiseled jaw and manly stubble and beautiful smile, made it this…oh wait. I do. Please re-read that first sentence. I feel bad for Luke, because I actually think he’s gotten better every week. He’s just not good enough. Also, he’s boring and forgettable. Because of all that, he’s history.

Why are you still here?

Three of the other four guys will also make the Top 12 – Chikezie, Michael Johns, David Hernandez and Danny Noriega – will go on to the big stage. I’m finding it nearly impossible to predict which one of them will go home.

Because I know what an Australian accent and pretty smile can do to a girl (hang on, trying not to swoon at the thought), I’m going to bet that Michael Johns is staying, despite the fact that he falls apart vocally a little more each week. I was never a huge fan of his, but last night he lost me for good. Horrible song choice. Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” is one of my favorite ‘80s songs. Michael Johns butchered the hell out of it. His voice was just one thousand kinds of wrong for it. He couldn’t hit the important notes and just made it sound awkward and disjointed. Also, I think he was doing his best impression of a “real rock and roll star”: stumbling around the stage in a faux drunken stupor, wondering why the lights were so bright and how it came to be that all of these people were staring at him. None of my criticism matters, however, because America loves him.

I’m going to go against the general consensus of the blogging world and say that I think Chikezie is also safe. Yes, he went back to his Hollywood Week song (“All The Woman I Need”) for last night’s performance. I would’ve liked to see something different. Still, I thought he gave a very solid performance. I like his voice a lot; it could use a bit more polish, but he’s so much more fun for me to listen to than, say, Jason Castro.

Listening to Simon critique him, however, made me realize that I don’t understand where the Brit is coming from most of the time. I mean, I do: he’s judging the commercial viability of the performer more than anything else. Simon judges whether the performance he just saw would sell records. It’s a very impersonal judgment, but it’s also a judgment that’s hard to relate to if you’re the average person watching at home. I trust his opinion but it often bewilders me. It’s the fact that I think most of America views performances like Randy and Paula (more personally) that makes me think that Chikezie will go through to next week.

Simon Cowell doesn't care what you think. Really, he doesn't.

That leaves me to choose between Danny Noriega and David Hernandez. Has Danny Noriega’s larger-than-life personality, which I think helps overshadow the fact that he’s one of the weaker singers left, finally worn thin? Has America finally realized that, despite being a really good singer, David Hernandez is kind of forgettable? I’m having a hard time deciding which scenario is more likely to be true.

I wasn’t a huge fan of David Hernandez’s song choice. He’s so much better on up tempo songs. However, his voice is beautiful and I love listening to him sing. I wish there wasn’t a question that he’d make it through, because he’s more than earned a spot in the Top 12. I could care less that he used to be a male stripper. That has less than zero to do with his vocal ability. I wonder how much America will care, though. I want to have faith that, as a whole, we’re bigger people than that, but…

Danny Noriega has more personality than the other seven men combined. He’s snarky and sassy and gives the greatest reaction shots I’ve ever seen on a reality show…but how has this blinded America to the fact that he’s given three middling performances in a row? “Tainted Love” is the sort of song that would seem to fit his personality and style perfectly. But the performance was not good at all. It was uneven and didn’t do a good job of showcasing his voice.

So, Luke is definitely out. I’m hoping that Danny will go with him, because I think Chikezie and David Hernandez have far greater potential to wow me on the big stage.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Brett Favre retires

I wrote all about my love for Brett Favre back in January, right after the Packers' overtime loss to the Giants in the NFC title game.

I hate to repeat myself, so I'll keep this short. Late last night, Favre told the Packers (and this morning, they told the world) that after 17 seasons, he was retiring.

Excuse me, my heart is still a little busy breaking. The last of my childhood sports idols has hung 'em up.

Unarguably one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, Favre leaves behind a young Packers team absolutely primed to do big time things (which they proved over and over again during the 2007 season). Without him...who knows? Their QB spot is a huge question mark.

I'm going to try not to focus on that right now. I'm going to focus instead on all of the things I love about Favre that I'm going to miss not getting to see...ever again. Like how much fun he always seemed to be having trudging back and forth across that field, even in snow and subzero temperatures. His love of the long ball (and how he could still throw it better than anyone else at 38). His flair for the dramatic and the unexpected. How infallible he is: playing through countless injuries, 275 consecutive starts, having that magical Monday Night Football game right after his father unexpectedly passed away. Favre is a steady, dependable constant: a rock of a player on whose shoulders Green Bay built their team. On top of all of that...he's actually a nice guy to boot. He has a presence, an intangible thing that he brings to the game of football. I'm going to miss it.

No. 4 retires, this blogger cries.

EDIT: Wright Thompson at ESPN puts it better than I ever could: Favre Retires

Monday, March 3, 2008

Heroes Aren't Born...They're Built.

I love superheroes. My heart was stolen by the X-Men when I was eight years old. Fox debuted the X-Men animated series in their Saturday morning cartoon lineup in 1992. That same year, they also launched the Batman animated series. I fell in love with them both and watched them every weekend before I did anything else.

I learned the ropes of both universes through those television programs. Intricacies, backs stories, friends and foes, dirty little secrets, hookups, powers, etc. Eventually, I started expanding into Superman, Spiderman and the various other minor (comparatively) superheroes and super villains that existed in those universes. I picked up comics “late in life”: I didn’t read my first one until I was a sophomore in high school. However, I quickly devoured those too…mostly Batman and the X-Men with bits of Spiderman here and there.

And then the movie universe exploded with superheroes. The big screen had already seen Superman and Batman before. So studios started with Spiderman and the X-Men, making huge, special effects-laden films in groups of three. Some of them were good, some not so much. Then they rebooted both the Batman and Superman movie universes. Once they’d tackled the “Big 4,” studios moved on to more minor superheroes: Daredevil, The Hulk, Fantastic Four, Hellboy…the list is nearly endless.

I knew at least a little bit about almost all of them. But somehow, in my years and years of superhero admiration, I never heard about Iron Man. I mean sure, I knew his alter ego was Tony Stark, billionaire, and he was a self-made superhero…but beyond that? Nada. However, once I found out that Robert Downey Jr. was going to be Stark and Jon Favreau would be directing, I got a lot more excited. The teaser elevated that excitement.
The full trailer, released at the end of last week, completely did me in. I. Can’t. WAIT. May 2 needs to hurry up and get here. Like, now. I need to expand my superhero worship.

Robert and Jon, you are my heroes.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

My Love Letter to Los Angeles

The latest issue of Los Angeles Magazine has a feature story on “The 64 Greatest Things About LA.”

I love Los Angeles. With the exception of a semester spent abroad in college, I’ve lived in Los Angeles County my whole life (and in LA proper for five-and-a-half years). I’m fairly well-traveled, both in the States and abroad, and while I’ve fallen in love with other cities (Boston, London and Venice among them) I can’t picture myself ever calling anywhere else “home.”

Yes, the traffic is horrendous. The 405 was built by Satan. The number of bottle blondes, rich assholes, and pairs of fake breasts are higher per capita here than anywhere else (I’m fairly certain, anyway). The good parts of town are often a half-block from the bad (drive the length of 3rd Street if you want to see what I mean). And I’ve heard it all. LA people are shallow, they’re stupid, they only care about material things, there aren’t real seasons, you don’t belong unless you’re in “the industry.” I’m not so na├»ve that I don’t understand that all stereotypes spring from at least a little bit of truth.

However, there’s so much more to this city that people don’t understand unless they immerse themselves in it. LA has a mix of people, trends, cultures, and industries that you can’t find anywhere else. I never cease to be amazed by how this city never stops surprising me. I don’t think I could get bored by this place if I tried. It has almost a mythical quality to it; without fail, every time I talked to people when I was abroad and they found out where I was from, I got sucked into an awed, 20-minute conversation about the “amazing city of Los Angeles.”

Enough of my love letter. I’ve lived here more than 20 years and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what this city has to offer me. Still, I think Los Angeles Magazine left a few things off of their list. So, what follows is my list of a few of my favorite things about Los Angeles, plus my commentary on a few of the things LA Mag did get right.


Dodger Stadium

This is my favorite place in the whole world, without a doubt. Nothing beats a summer evening Dodger game, sitting in the top deck (I’m poor, but there isn’t a bad seat in the house so it doesn’t matter) watching the boys in blue battle it out. I get my Dodger dog, garlic fries and Russell Martin t-shirt and enjoy three hours of pure bliss (listening to the legendary Vin Scully on the radio while you watch only makes it that much sweeter). New stadiums are soulless, corporate boxes without a bit of history or personality. Dodger Stadium has an aura about it; you walk in and you just feel it. The atmosphere is beyond description, but in my opinion it represents Los Angeles better than anything else.

The Venice (California) canals.

Venice Beach

Venice Beach is for the artists, the hippies, the hobos and the misfits. A stretch of sand and sea with actual “canals,” and beautiful beachfront properties that sit mere feet from a ragtag band of street performers, Jesus freaks, aspiring musicians and local artists. You can buy everything from a surfboard clock to a little glass pipe (for tobacco use only, of course). No other beach in Los Angeles is as full of dichotomous fun. It’s about as casual a place as you’ll find in a city renowned for being laid back and chill. Everyone’s welcome, everyone’s having a good time. Oh…and there’s the whole beach thing happening. I hear that’s fun.

Main Street (Santa Monica)

A few blocks of street just South of the Santa Monica Pier, Main Street in Santa Monica is home to some of the coolest pubs, bars and restaurants on the Westside. Finn McCool’s and O’Brien’s are two of my favorite Irish pubs, home to great pints (including cider!), live bands and trivia. The Library Alehouse is a great little bar with a huge variety of beers from around the world on tap (and not just the ones you’d expect). I’m not going to give away all its secrets…there’s even a Yankees bar where the head bartender sports a Dodgers cap (LOVE him). Plus, if you get that urge, the beach is only a few blocks away…and at night, it’s fabulous.

Back in the day, the center of the LA theatre world.

Pantages Theatre

Los Angeles used to have more theatres per capita than New York City. I’m not sure if that’s still true, since (sadly) many of them have fallen out of use and into disrepair…or have been turned into something else altogether. Still, my favorite of all the theatres left standing is the Pantages Theatre in the heart of Hollywood. The Art Deco architecture inside and out is gorgeous (especially since it was refurbished about 10 years ago) and it always manages to attract top shows: The Lion King, Wicked, Rent. The recent announcement by the Nederlander Group that they will add an additional 10 floors of condos, shops and restaurants to the two-story structure worries me; I’m afraid it will lose it’s Depression Era, Old Hollywood glamour. But it still remains, to me, the greatest place to see a live show in the city.

Diddy Riese

Three giant, delicious cookies for one dollar. In Los Angeles, where you’ll often pay 4 dollars for a small blueberry muffin, that’s damn near ridiculous. Lines form out the door and down the street for an ice cream cookie sandwich from the little shop in Westwood. In college at USC, I used to make specific trips out in to UCLA territory (the shop is mere blocks from the Bruin campus) just to get one.

Sprinkles Cupcakes

I’ve been to Magnolia Bakery in NYC. The cupcakes are indeed delicious. But they’re nothing compared to Sprinkles. The red velvet cupcakes alone are good enough to make you willing to pay nearly twice the $3.25-a-cupcake fee. The surprisingly unpretentious Beverly Hills bakery has a daily rotating list of specialty cupcakes to compliment their everyday staples…and every single one makes you believe in a higher baking power. My personal favorite is the peanut butter chocolate.

I’ll second the tip-of-the-hat Los Angeles Magazine gave to the following testaments to LA’s awesomeness:

Grauman’s Chinese: One of the greatest places to see a movie in the entire city. I dare you to try and walk through the outside entrance without sticking your hands or feet in at least one star’s cement prints.

Studio Back Lots: Tours are fun, but wandering around the fake New York streets by yourself or into buildings that used to house Marilyn Monroe and I Love Lucy is just plain surreal. Wandering past a backlot and almost running into Eddie Murphy (and almost getting run over by Kelsey Grammar in a golf cart) isn’t half-bad either. Come to Los Angeles! Get a job in entertainment! J Watching movies and television get made isn’t half as exciting as it sounds, but it’s still pretty darn cool.

Vin Scully: The epitome of sports broadcasters. There is absolutely no one better in baseball and possibly in sports. The voice of the Dodgers since 1950 (when they were still in Brooklyn), Scully is a throwback to a time where sports was pure (well, purer). Some call him old-fashioned, but no one can call a ballgame and weave anecdotes of times and players both past and present as effortlessly or engagingly as he can.

Farmer’s Market: Despite watching the city build up around it (and the ubermodern Grove crop up right next door) the Farmer’s Market at 3rd and Fairfax has remained remarkably untouched. Selling fresh fruit at surprisingly good prices and offering food from just about every country you can think of, no one (old or young, white or black, etc.) can resist its pull. Go have a meal at Monsieur Marcel’s…you can thank me later.

You can even see them from Dodger Stadium.

Palm Trees: Yes, I know, they were brought here. Nothing screams Los Angeles quite like they do, though. I love driving down wide, sunny streets lined on both sides with huge palm trees on a sunny day (preferably with my sunroof open). Awesome.

USC Football: There’s nothing better, baby. Deal with it. Petey Carroll and the Trojans own the heart of this city. We’ve got the history, we’ve got the hardware, we’ve got the superstars…and we’ll kick your ass. Go ahead, test us.

PCH: The drive up the PCH is perhaps one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever taken. You can almost always see the ocean. The air is crisp, fresh and salty. It lifts the spirits and melts your troubles away (and in a city as mad as this one, sometimes that’s very, very necessary).

The Weather: Do I really need to explain this one? It’s the end of February and I wore my sunglasses out in 77 degree weather yesterday. Don’t pretend you aren’t jealous.