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Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Two big things happened on “American Idol” last week. First, the top 24 contestants were chosen. They were a largely bland, unsurprising bunch, selected by one of the most toothless panels of judges on TV, but they’ll still be the ones viewers will vote on for the rest of the season.
More significantly, perhaps, “Idol” was usurped (just barely) as the top show on TV by a fresher-feeling copycat, “The Voice.” There’s actual enthusiasm for the biggest hit on NBC in years and waning excitement around “Idol,” whose tired format in its 11th season is undermined further by judges who have been sweetened into acting all nice, all the time.
Throughout this season and last, the three “Idol” judges loved just about every audition home audiences were allowed to see. Nobody was terrible, or awful, or the worst thing anybody ever heard, to use the phrases of Simon Cowell, whose brutal honesty made the show in the first place.
That left with Cowell, leaving the teddy bear Randy Jackson as the meanest of the three, of all things. And the worst he’ll ever say is, “Dawg, singing is just not for you.” But mostly all he, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler will ever say to the rare reject is “You’re not quite ready, sweetheart” or “Come back next year.”
Cowell was a record producer who didn’t have time for the bad, and no inclination to encourage the mediocre. More than that, he acted as if he had something on the line in considering these voices. The present judges, especially the marquee names, have no such urgency.
This far into the show, every remaining contestant seems a reminder of a past one: DeAndre Brackensick has the flowing curls of a Jason Castro (but a better voice); teary father Adam Brock the bespectacled look of Danny Gokey with blue-eyed gospel voice of Taylor Hicks. Fifteen-year-old Eben Franckewitz has the pre-puberty voice of a David Archuleta or some kid from “America’s Got Talent.”
There’s one guy with an unfortunate Vanilla Ice haircut and another who seems a little unstable until he’s allowed to play drums while singing; a third has just discovered he is the biological son of the lead singer for the truly terrible ’80s band Flotsam and Jetsam – a little flotsam off the old jetsam, if you will. It’s my favorite fun-fact about any contestant and he’s the last offspring of a famous person, since Jim Carrey’s daughter didn’t make it through Hollywood week.
Hollywood week was so hellacious this season, OSHA may want to investigate labor violations, since it pretty much forces newly formed groups to practice into the evening. So when they do perform, they’re sick or falling into the orchestra pit, or both.
If the current season has a voice of conscience it may be Heejun Han, who makes frank comments about the process and other contestants as if he’s not part of it, until it’s time for him to sing.
All of the guys are pretty good singers and already have an edge over the much more generic group of young women. Among them is David Leathers, an adorable round-faced kid with a voice like young Michael Jackson and the nickname “Mr. Steal Your Girl,” who is so obviously right for the show he plays the role Melanie Amaro played on “X Factor.” Her ouster was so glaringly mistaken, she was asked back to the show and won.
To get back on, Leathers will have to beat a giant with a soulful voice and another deep-voiced country kid with too big a cowboy hat (like the one who won Season 10 – can you remember his name now?).
The top 12 women, by contrast, seem too similar in their passable voices and smiley good looks — even their names are ridiculously similar: There’s a Hollie, a Hallie, a Haley and a Baylie. There are a few country belles in there, should audiences hanker for some more Lauren Alaina, who was runner-up last year in the all-country finals.
Among the women, there seems just a single standout: Big-voiced Jennifer Hirsh, who could be held back only because of her normal, healthy and non-traditional (that is to say: non-size zero) look. Unless voters with a long memory won’t mind harkening back to the first “American Idol” winner Kelly Clarkson, who by the way will be serving this season as a mentor … on “The Voice.”
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)