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31Mar/11Off

‘American Idol’: Which two contestants are out?

Jacob Lusk performs Wednesday on 'American Idol.' Photo credit: Michael Becker/Fox

“You won’t believe who’s going home,” a card at the start of “American Idol” read tonight.

Actually, I would. They were two logical choices after Wednesday’s performance show.

On tonight’s show, the 11 hopefuls performed in a quartet, a trio and two duos as host Ryan Seacrest dragged out the results.

Fantasia returned, blond and bold in red gown, to sing “Collard Greens & Cornbread” forcefully. Her look suggested she is ready to tackle the role of Mae West. She ended the song by declaring, “Steven, I love you.” (That would be judge Steven Tyler, who looked touched.)

Fantasia, turning bittersweet, advised the hopefuls to love the music in what is a tough business. “You have to keep good people with you,” she said. “You have to keep people with you who are not just going to tell you yes.”

Jamie Foxx and will.i.am presided over a busy production number for “Hot Wings (I Wanna Party)” from the movie “Rio.” Did they seem half-hearted? Oh, well, a commercial for the movie soon followed.

A taped segment revealed how emotional Casey Abrams became after the judges saved him last week. No such problems this week: Seacrest said the votes would have made Abrams proud. (Don’t you wish we could see what they are?)

SPOILER ALERT:  The results were the main business.

Naima Adedapo, Thia Megia and Paul McDonald were in the bottom three. 

Because the judges used their only save last week, two people were out this week. Naima and Thia were the two. In a taped segment, Naima said the show had changed her life.

The next performance show will be at 8 p.m. Wednesday on WOFL-Channel 35.

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31Mar/11Off

Reading Round-Up, 3/30/2011

• Guest-blogging for Jim Fallows last week, friend of the blog Christina Larson posted several interesting pieces about journalism and environmentalism in China today. Read her articles here: “The Plight of the Chinese Newspaper Reporter,” “A Watchtower on the Roof of the World,” “Mount Everest: Then and Now,” and “China’s Nascent Environmentalism.”

• In the Sydney Morning Herald, journalist John Garnaut chronicles the persistence of the Chongqing underworld despite mayor Bo Xilai’s anti-mafia campaign:

”This is the most brutal battle in Chongqing’s business community since liberation,” says a manager at one of Chongqing’s largest and well-connected private companies, who knows both protagonists well.

This, after all, is the thriving Yangtze River metropolis where China’s only maverick leader, Communist Party boss Bo Xilai, has gained nationwide acclaim by reclaiming the streets from the city’s mafia. Bo has thrown thousands of lesser ”black society” gangsters and their Communist Party protectors in jail and executed several, including the vice-president of the Supreme Court.

As well as ”striking black”, Bo Xilai has been “singing red” by leading his city in rousing cultural revolution songs. He has launched an ambitious ”red GDP” campaign to strengthen state ownership, build public housing and accelerate China’s (already breakneck) urbanisation by coaxing and pushing peasants off their land.

And yet, throughout it all, Weng Zhenjie has managed to grow bigger.

The ascendencies of big brother Weng and comrade Bo reveal the alchemy of power in China today and a signal as to where the country may be heading. Both men have spun astonishingly complex webs of loyalty and patronage through the Communist Party and its red-blood aristocracy. They have exploited every lever at their disposal and chosen their targets carefully.

• For an example of Bo’s “singing red” campaigns, check out these photos at Shanghaiist, which were taken at the Chongqing parade celebrating the CCP’s 90th anniversary.

• When the New York Times published a story on March 21 asserting that China had tightened its monitoring and censorship of electronic communications, the following anecdote was used to lead off the article:

If anyone wonders whether the Chinese government has tightened its grip on electronic communications since protests began engulfing the Arab world, Shakespeare may prove instructive.

A Beijing entrepreneur, discussing restaurant choices with his fiancée over their cellphones last week, quoted Queen Gertrude’s response to Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The second time he said the word “protest,” her phone cut off.

He spoke English, but another caller, repeating the same phrase on Monday in Chinese over a different phone, was also cut off in midsentence.

Shanghai Scrap’s Adam Minter (and others) decided to investigate the claim that quoting Shakespeare would result in a shutdown of phone service, conducting a small research study and posting the results—that he was unable to replicate such a communication cut-off—at his site. Responses to the Times’ story were so widespread that the paper eventually added an “Editor’s Note” to the original article, clarifying the context in which the original phone shutoffs took place and admitting that “those examples should not have been given such prominence in the article.” Minter has some additional thoughts on the incident at Shanghai Scrap.

• Josh Chin of the Wall Street Journal’s China Real-Time Report interviews Susan Shirk, editor of Changing Media, Changing China, posing eight questions about the contemporary Chinese media.

• In the latest Sinica podcast, Kaiser Kuo, Gady Epstein, Jonathan Watts, and Kathleen McLaughlin ask, “Where did the Internet/salt go?”

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31Mar/11Off

‘American Idol’: Which singers treated Elton John right?

Lauren Alaina, shown performing last week, was a standout tonight on 'American Idol.' Photo credit: Michael Becker/Fox

It was Elton John night on “American Idol.” And it was a night that I missed Simon Cowell.

The judges were just too complimentary. Sorry may be the hardest word, but we need to hear it more often from the judges: Sorry, that wasn’t good enough.

Scotty McCreery put his country twang on “Country Comfort” and gave a shout-out to grandma in the audience. The judges raved. “I love everything about your voice,” Steven Tyler confided. Jennifer Lopez was wowed by the 17-year-old’s “amazing instincts” about performing. Randy Jackson was thrilled by how fast Scotty has matured on the show. It was a nice performance, but did it rate hosannas?

Naima Adedapo took a big chance by turning “I’m Still Standing” into a reggae anthem to the troubled world. Jackson found it “corny,” and J.Lo liked the concept better than the payoff. Tyler was more complimentary and said she picked a song that was right for her. I think there was a huge payoff; the exciting performance was unusual for “Idol.”

Paul McDonald started by putting a soulful spin on “Rocket Man” and built to intense moments. Jackson and J.Lo — they have a conversation when they critique — encouraged Paul to give more. “You been watering that suit?” Tyler asked about Paul’s rose-covered costume. “It’s a super-quiet tune,” McDonald said of his song. Was he too quiet?

Pia Toscano was determined to make Jackson like “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” She unleashed that big voice on that ballad, and it was oh so familiar. Yet the judges were enchanted. “That’s just about as good as it gets,” Tyler said. “It’s crazy what you do with your voice,” Lopez said. “Unbelievable,” Jackson said. Pia accomplished her mission, I guess. What else can she do?

Stefano Langone went with “Tiny Dancer” in an odd arrangement that still showed off his fine voice. He also played to the judges with amusing results. He held out his hand to J.Lo, but Jackson held out his hand. J.Lo liked that Stefano connected to the audience. Jackson liked that Stefano moved around the stage. “You nailed it,” Tyler said.

Lauren Alaina tenderly delivered “Candle in the Wind” and gave it a becoming country flavor. “Very hot,” Jackson said. “Gorgeous,” said J.Lo. “You keep singing like that and you’ll be able to afford the rest of that dress,” Tyler joked — the line of the night. It was the best performance up to that point.

James Durbin moved through “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” like a rock star. He’s 22, and he looks like he has been doing this a decade. “You enjoy yourself,” Jackson said. “Just don’t wear out your welcome. Don’t be up there too long — you’ll wind up like me,” Tyler advised, gaining laughs.

Thia Megia delivered “Daniel” as a salute to her brother. The results were pleasant but forgettable. “Very beautiful,” Lopez said. Too safe, Jackson said. “You sang a great Elton John song well,”  Tyler ruled.  I think she is definitely in trouble.

Casey Abrams, who was saved by judges last week, delivered the greatest Elton John song: “Your Song.” He was sensitive, sweet and controlled. He looked good, too, after a trip to the barber shop. ”Absolutely brilliant,” Jackson said.

Jacob Lusk met Mary J. Blige in practice as he worked on “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word.” He has a great voice, but he has an overbearing style. It was just too much — he was so dramatic he seemed ready for the opera. Tyler loved the whole thing. Jackson liked it (“brilliant”) but urged Jacob to pick his moments. I especially missed Simon Cowell at this point.

Haley Reinhart closed the show with “Bennie and the Jets” from atop a piano — a pose that made her seem like a lounge singer. When she climbed down, she unleashed a powerful rock voice and awkward moves. It was very odd. The judges were floored. “That was it, Haley,” J.Lo enthused. Performance of the night, Jackson ruled.  Really?

How do I rate them?

Top tier: Lauren Alaina, Casey Abrams, James Durbin.

Overrated: Scotty McCreery, Pia Toscano, Haley Reinhart, Jacob Lusk.

In jeopardy: Thia Megia, Paul McDonald, Stefano Langone, Naima Adedapo ( I loved her, but I doubt viewers did).

Former “Idol” champ Fantasia returns for the results show at 8 p.m. Thursday on WOFL-Channel 35.

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30Mar/11Off

Casey Anthony: George Anthony’s lawyer answers speculation; Marla Weech lands anchor job; more Belvin Perry interview

George Anthony turned emotional at a hearing earlier this month. Photo credit: Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel

New in the Casey Anthony case tonight:

***WKMG-Channel 6 talked to George Anthony’s attorney about speculation that Casey Anthony’s defense might be trying to pin the murder on George. Casey is charged with first-degree murder in the death of her daughter, Caylee.

WKMG’s Tony Pipitone explained that the defense wants to call a psychiatrist and a psychologist “to testify to blunt the state’s claims that her lies to police and family reveal what’s called a consciousness of guilt. They also want to call two women who had an altercation with George outside the family home in 2008.”

A highly speculative report on WFTV-Channel 9 Monday suggested that these witnesses could mean a change in defense strategy.

But Pipitone turned to Mark Lippman, attorney for George Anthony, to answer the speculation. And Lippman said he had information that the defense will not use those witnesses to point the finger at George, Pipitone reported. 

“The state’s never charged my client with anything, and the defense hasn’t come out and said we’re going with a George-did-it defense,” Lippman said.   

Lippman called the speculation “a fantasy … that’s detrimental.” Pipitone took a chance to correct some inaccuracies floating out there. George didn’t last see Caylee in the clothes the child’s remains were found in, and the heart sticker found with the toddler’s remains isn’t like those found in the Anthony home, Pipitone reported.

In the most fascinating part of the report, Lippman acknowledged that a George-did-it defense could come up at trial,  but added he would be “extremely surprised” if it did based on what he knows. Lippman said he learned some of that information in a face-to-face meeting on Friday with Cindy Anthony and defense attorney Jose Baez, Pipitone reported. Lippman said he couldn’t reveal the information because of attorney-client privilege.   

***The Anthony case helped contribute to a job for Marla Weech at Central Florida News 13. Robin Smythe, general manager at News 13, revealed that Weech will replace Adam Longo as a weekend anchor. But Longo isn’t going anywhere. He will be reporting full time on the Anthony case. “That created a place for Marla to land,” Smythe said.

***WESH-Channel 2 will provide more of its recent exclusive interview with Chief Judge Belvin Perry at 6 p.m. Wednesday. “He’ll share with you the guiding principles he uses in complex legal decisions and what he tells each and every jury,” reporter Bob Kealing said.  

***WESH highlighted the hearing Thursday on whether new defense witnesses can be added. “Prosecutors filed a motion asking that the defense show cause why these witnesses should be allowed in to testify after Judge Perry’s deadline,” Kealing reported. “Casey Anthony’s defense team will argue why they should be allowed to use testimony from these two mental health professionals to ‘rebut recent rulings about Casey Anthony’s so-called consciousness of guilt.’ Now prosecutors say that Anthony knowingly tried to block her mother, Cindy, and later detectives from getting to the truth about what happened to her daughter, Caylee.”

***WFTV-Channel 9 quickly touched on new motions filed today by the defense. “Lawyers filed two motions claiming the FBI expert who examined the hair in Casey’s trunk and the doctor who examined plant growth at the scene where Caylee’s remains were found are unreliable witnesses,” anchor Martie Salt said. “The defense wants the FBI expert struck from the witness list and a new hearing on the other expert.”

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29Mar/11Off

China Beat Contest: Win a Book!

By Maura Elizabeth Cunningham

While I commented here last week that Hawaii summons thoughts of an old Nancy Drew mystery in my mind, several China Beat readers have written in to mention that they more readily associate the islands with a classic three-part Brady Bunch episode in which the whole family travels to Hawaii and undergoes a run of bad luck. Now that we know so many China Beatniks are also Brady Bunch fans, we’re linking the two in a small contest open to readers joining us at the bloggers’ breakfast this Saturday morning during the Association for Asian Studies meeting in Honolulu. Write down your answer to this trivia question, bring it to breakfast, and you could win a signed copy of Jeff Wasserstrom’s latest book, China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know.

The question:

Which famous horror film start played Professor Whitehead, the vicious archaeologist who menaced the Brady clan during their Hawaiian vacation?

A reminder: the bloggers’ breakfast will begin at 8am in the Starbucks Coffee at the Ali’i Tower Plaza, across from the Penguin Pond, in the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

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29Mar/11Off

‘Dr. G: Medical Examiner’ renewed

Dr. Jan Garavaglia makes a point during a news conference earlier this month. Photo credit: Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel

Dr. Jan Garavaglia will continue her gig as a television star.

The chief medical examiner for Orange and Osceola counties will be back for the sixth season of “Dr. G: Medical Examiner,” Discovery Fit & Health announced today. Six new episodes will premiere this fall.

What’s ahead? “The next season of this gripping docu-series will give loyal Dr. G groupies exactly what they have been waiting for: high-stakes drama, poignant storytelling, and the irresistible no-nonsense attitude that Dr. G brings to the screen,” Laura Michalchyshyn, president and general manager of Discovery Fit & Health, said in a release.

Michalchyshyn saluted Garavaglia as “the authentic investigator that has inspired a legion of TV series about the fascinating topic of human autopsies.”

What do you say to that?

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28Mar/11Off

Casey Anthony: Did you hear WFTV’s theory about George?

George and Cindy Anthony, Casey's parents, attend a hearing earlier this month. Photo credit: Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel

New witnesses in the Casey Anthony case suggest the defense might be changing its strategy, WFTV-Channel 9 speculated tonight.

“The defense may try to show that [Casey's father] George was abusive — abusive to Casey and that she is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder,” WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer said. “This could mean  that they’re going to attempt to pin the murder on George.”

Does this sound way out?

Casey Anthony is charged with first-degree murder in the death of her daughter, Caylee.

The starting point for the segment was Kathi Belich’s report about several witnesses who crop on the defense list: Two are women who watched George Anthony push one of them during a 2008 protest outside the family home. Another witness  specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder.

Then Belich, with Sheaffer’s expertise, tried to explain what it all might mean. Does it sound like a theory ripped from a prime-time drama?

Belich noted that Casey can’t use abuse as a defense but might cite it as an explanation for her lack of emotion when her father testified earlier this month. Sheaffer pointed to evidence that would support the George-as-suspect approach: He had access to Casey’s car and other materials in the home, such as the duct tape and the laundry bag found with the toddler’s remains.

“Sheaffer says George could even go along with this, even going so far as to take the Fifth if he’s directly asked whether he killed Caylee,” Belich said in ending the segment. “Sheaffer says Casey could also testify that she was abused and traumatized and that she lied to protect George.”

Belich didn’t cite any comment from the defense team, so we have no confirmation this theory has any connection to reality.

What did you make of this report? I usually admire Sheaffer’s analyses, but tonight’s theory was outlandish to me.

What’s the next theory? Martians came and took Caylee?

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28Mar/11Off

Katie Couric: Could Scott Pelley replace her at ‘CBS Evening News’?

Katie Couric enjoyed herself when visiting David Letterman last week. Photo credit: John Paul Filo/CBS

CNN’s “Reliable Sources” this morning turned to the speculation that Katie Couric could leave the “CBS Evening News” later this year.

The CBS broadcast offers fine reporting but languishes in third place in the ratings behind “NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams” and “ABC World News With Diane Sawyer.”

One name floated as a Couic replacement is Scott Pelley of “60 Minutes.” His name came up on “Reliable Sources.”

I’ve always thought Pelley would be a natural for evening anchor. When Pelley recently reported on homeless children in Central Florida, I asked him about the possibility of such an assignment at CBS.

“I have the best job,” Pelley told me. “If I gave this job up, they’d put me in a rubber room.”

What do you think about Couric’s possible departure? And who would be a good replacement?

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27Mar/11Off

Fox News to offer Geraldine Ferraro special Sunday

Geraldine Ferraro answers questions at a news conference in 1998. Photo credit: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

Greta Van Susteren will host “Geraldine Ferraro: A Celebration of Life” at 10 p.m. Sunday on Fox News Channel.

Ferraro died today at age 75. The former New York congresswoman had been Walter Mondale’s running mate in 1984 on the Democrat presidential ticket. She had been a Fox News contributor since 1999.

In comments today on Fox News, Van Susteren said, “Geraldine was extraordinary.”

Van Susteren stressed that Ferraro cared passionately about women and was a huge trailblazer for women as the first female vice-presidential candidate on a major ticket.

The host of “On the Record” said she got to know Ferraro through the years. Van Susteren reminded viewers that Ferraro had supported Hillary Clinton’s run for the presidency in 2008, and that Ferraro was proud when Sarah Palin was named John McCain’s running mate. As “a very strong Democrat,” Ferraro didn’t agree with Palin on the issues, though, Van Susteren added.

“She had very, very strong convictions,” Van Susteren said in remembering Ferraro. “She was tough as could be.” 

Watch the latest video at video.foxnews.com

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26Mar/11Off

CBS wins Friday with NCAA basketball, Kentucky

Brandon Knight helped lead Kentucky to victory over Ohio State. Photo credit: Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader

Early ratings for Friday night show that CBS won the night with NCAA basketball.

CBS had the most viewers in prime time, and the network also won the 18-to-49 age group by a wide margin. CBS aired the North Carolina-Marquette game, then the Ohio State-Kentucky game. Kentucky won in another of the tournaments big upsets, and North Carolina was also the victor.

CBS averaged 8 million viewers in prime time, outdrawing NBC with 7.6 million, Disney-owned ABC with 4.8 million, Fox with nearly 4 million and The CW with 1.3 million for reruns.

NBC offered “Who Do You Think You Are?” (6.6 million viewers) and two hours of “Dateline NBC” (8.1 million).

“Shark Tank,” which featured a Central Florida man rejecting a $4 million business offer, drew 4.8 million viewers. ABC also aired “Primetime: What Would You Do?” (4.5 million) and “20/20″ (5 million).

Fox presented “Kitchen Nightmares” (4.1 million) and “Fringe” (3.9 million). But “Fringe” received the best news earlier Friday: Fox had renewed the sci-fi drama for a fourth season.

In Orlando, “Dateline” was the top show with 105,600 viewers. The other top shows were “Kitchen Nightmares” with 79,600 viewers, the Kentucky-Ohio State game with 73,900, ABC’s “20/20″ with 71,200 and “Shark Tank” with 68,800.

The Florida State-Virginia Commonwealth game, which aired on TBS, averaged 44,900 viewers, according to early ratings. Florida State lost.

The Orlando Magic game on Fox Sports Florida drew nearly 38,000 viewers, according to early ratings. The Magic beat the New Jersey Nets.

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