Saturday, June 27, 2009

good friends and a good time

Last night, Mac and I had some friends over for dinner because I got it into my head to try some new recipes, and when I described my menu idea to Mac we decided it was too much food for just two people, so we got on the horn and invited some friends over. Also: inviting people over is a great incentive to clean your house, just in case you’re not one of those people who keeps the house spotless all the time. And we’re not.

The Party:
Me, Mac, Anna, Ted, Dre

The Menu:
Crostini with caramelized shallots and a garlic-white bean spread
Bibb salad
Linguine with heirloom tomatoes and goat cheese
Lemon Parmesan Chicken
Raspberries & Chocolate on vanilla bean ice cream
White wine and sparkling water (I think serving a non-alcoholic option that’s a little fancier, like sparkling water or Italian soda, is a nice, thoughtful touch for your friends who don’t or can’t drink alcohol.)

The Inspiration:
The menu was inspired by the June/July issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray, a recent episode of Giada at Home, a recent meal at Pizzeria Mozza, and my friend Alison who is a phenomenal cook. I picked up the magazine because it boasted 422 recipes & tips, including recipes for burgers and ice cream—great for someone who hosts a lot of barbecues and just discovered the joys of her fabulous homemade ice cream maker. As I was reading it, I kept coming back to this gorgeous picture of this linguine pasta dish, and it reminded me that I have TONS of whole wheat pasta in the cupboard that I can cook up. I enjoy all things Giada de Laurentiis anyway, and her Bibb Salad recipe looked super easy, refreshing and delicious, and I thought the fresh herbs in the salad and the fresh herbs in the pasta would pair together really well.

The chicken dish falls under the heading of “recipes I’ve had FOREVER and just wanted to try.” Probably the meal could have been fine with just the pasta and salad, but when I initially designed the menu I thought our friend Allistair would be joining us as well, in which case I knew that the three man-sized men at my table would need some protein on their plates. I thought chicken would go well with the pasta and salad, and I wanted something EASY, as in “chuck it in the oven and forget about it til the buzzer rings.” As soon as I remembered “Alison’s Chicken!!” I knew my menu was done.

As for dessert, I have learned the hard way that sometimes over-achievers like me have a tendency to bite off way more than we can chew (so to speak), and looking at the rest of the menu I already suspected it was all maybe a bit much. But like most humans I like sweet bite at the end of the meal. So I needed something I could just put in a bowl and serve, and couldn’t think of anything more delicious or simple than fresh, in-season raspberries accompanied with some dark chocolate. I added the ice cream at the last minute while at the store, because I didn’t want to risk having a pregnant friend at my house who needed ice cream and no ice cream in the freezer. Quelle horreur.

The results:
The crostini turned out delicious! I’m so pleased at my success at caramelizing the shallots (and onions I threw in the pan when I decided the shallots weren’t enough). My chef friend Glen had given me excellent advice on how to caramelize, and then I found a video on YouTube to remind me how it’s done. I decided to add a little bit of balsamic vinegar to my pan when they were done softening up & browning because I wanted a darker color, and the resulting flavor was AWESOME. The number one thing to know about caramelizing onions or shallots, is Low and Slow. You get the best results on medium-low heat over about 30 – 40 minutes—it’s not a quicky endeavor.

As for the rest of the crostini, here’s what I did: I sliced half of one of those long, skinny baguettes, arranged the ½ inch slices on a baking sheet and drizzled with olive oil before popping into a 375 degree oven for about 12 minutes to toast up. I then followed the directions for the white bean dip/spread in this recipe, which takes about 10 minutes from start to finish, then set the finished spread aside while I worked on my chicken, salad & pasta. About 15 minutes before people were expected to show up, I stopped what I was doing with my other dishes to assemble the crostini, which went: toast, a small pile of caramelized shallots, and a healthy shmear of white bean spread. I gave the first one to Mac to make sure it tasted okay, and after an enthusiastic thumbs up, went on to assemble the rest of them and put them out. That way, if my friends showed up and I was still cooking (which always happens) they’d have something to snack on while waiting for the main course. (Lesson learned for next time: use all shallots instead of shallots & onions, and a better bread for the toast.)

The salad was refreshing and amazing! I wasn’t sure what bits of fennel bulb to use or how big/small to slice it, so I think I need to see it done a few more times. I also only used HALF of Giada’s dressing. It turns out, a head of butter/bibb lettuce is not actually that much lettuce, so if I were doing this salad again for 4 – 6 people, I would use twice as much lettuce, same amount of fennel & herbs, and maybe still just half the dressing, or just enough to coat everything lightly. You just don’t need that much with all that basil, mint & fennel in your salad. Overall, this is a fantastic summer salad.

The chicken was PERFECT. ALISON. You are a culinary genius! We will be eating this again and again and again in this house. I wouldn't change a thing.

The pasta was also yummy, although I ended up making all kinds of changes as I went along. I used a 13 oz box of whole wheat linguine instead of a whole pound of pasta. I also couldn’t find heirloom tomatoes, but I did find smaller orange & yellow tomatoes to go with the red ones I found, so I still had all the fun colors I wanted. I also only used half the amount of goat cheese because I discovered at the last minute that’s all I had on hand, and you know what? Totally enough! Any more would be overpowering, I think. And all the herbs in the butter/white wine sauce were amazingly delicious, but you should know that they were kind of a pain to wash, prep, chop, etc. I ended up chopping herbs and tomatoes with my friends in the kitchen, which wasn’t the worst thing ever, but now that I know how time-consuming it is, I’ll do a bit more prep work in advance next time.

Dessert was divine, of course—fresh raspberries on vanilla bean ice cream with a little chocolate sauce—there’s no bad there. We ended up splitting a pint between five people, so it was just enough sweetness for everyone.

I think the timing of this evening worked out pretty well. I started caramelizing shallots around 5:45, our friends arrived around 7:20, and we sat down to eat around 7:45ish? I think? Once they showed up I lost track of time, which is the sign of good friends and a good time, I think. So we’ll say it was about two hours of prepping and cooking for a long, relaxed evening of good food and fun. Totally worth it. Also, I did not do all the preparations alone: Mac tidied up the kitchen, living room and dining room, and he also set the table, which was lovely.

For tunes I used my iTunes Genius to make a playlist for me, which is a super fast, easy way to create some ambiance without having to sweat over a playlist or selecting CDs, if you have the option. We’re fairly hi-tech in this joint, so we have the laptops connected to the stereo via airport, which means I can play my iTunes through the living room speakers. Last night I selected The Puppini Sisters’ cover of “Walk Like an Egyptian” as a starting point to generate a fun, jazzy and ultimately totally random playlist. At one point the iTunes Genius decided to go with Herbie Hancock, another it came up with Harry Belafonte—it was all over the map and totally fun.

I wouldn’t classify the whole evening as “easy entertaining,” though. More like “mostly easy” entertaining. A few changes and you’d have a much easier evening. Like, skip the chicken dish, and shred some lump crab from the deli or some pre-cooked (rotisserie?) chicken into the pasta to create a heartier entrée, serve the white bean dip with crackers & veggies, and do the salad with a bag of the lettuce of your choice as well—voila, you’ve just shaved an hour off your prep time. For a different menu, I would also serve the lemon parmesan chicken with my sister Matti’s Caesar Salad recipe, which is super easy and amazing, serve some bread with a little olive oil & vinegar as an appetizer, and again, you’re looking at about an hour of total prep/cooking time, and a totally delicious meal.

So.... my first dinner party recap. Feedback, questions?

fun host = fun party

As you may or may not know, Mac and I entertain A LOT. Big parties for the Oscars, Cinco de Mayo and Halloween, small BBQs and "Tiki Theater" nights all summer long, and the occasional small dinner party. As such, we've kind of become the “Party Experts” within our circle of friends.

Dinah chopping limes for beer & cocktails
Chopping limes at the 2009 Oscar Party

In fact, just in the last couple months I've had a lot of people come to me for my advice on entertaining, specifically: two themed birthday parties, one backyard barbecue baby shower bash, and even a couple weddings. So, with the encouragement of my friends, I've decided to start blogging my advice and tips, and tagging it with "easy entertaining" so it's all very easy to find.

Disclaimer 1: As a busy girl, I have no idea how long this idea will last, but I already have a long list of ideas to write about. So cross your fingers. This could be really fun if I stay at it.

Disclaimer 2: Despite my experience with entertaining in my home, and my enjoyment of it, I honestly don't think of myself as particularly original or awesome at throwing parties. Like, I’m an okay cook, but two of my friends are professional chefs--one runs a restaurant and the other a catering company--and a third just got her pastry chef degree. I also watch a LOT of Food Network and read a lot of magazines (including Martha Stewart) all of which adds up to a lot of information and inspiration. The crazy multi-tab spreadsheet I developed for wedding planning evolved from one my friend Gretchen designed for her wedding—I just turned it up about 12 notches. I guess what I am offering with these blog entries is simply a map through the maze of all this information. Complete with shortcuts, of course.

The Spread
The shortcut-galore spread at Amanda's Valley Girl-themed bridal shower.

Disclaimer 3: When it comes to entertaining, the best successes come when the host and/or hostess approach any endeavor with their own style. By that I don’t just mean décor or menu. I also mean planning and organizational style. For example, I’ve shared my crazy planning spreadsheet with some people who have FREAKED OUT over it and thought it was the MOST USEFUL TOOL EVER. I have also sent it to people who just do not use Excel for anything, took one look at it and decided “not for me,” and went on to throw a fantastic wedding/party without it. Which is a long way of saying: if you read some advice and it seems like it’s not for you, then don’t follow it. I can hear you all saying “DUH!” from here, but believe me when I say that throwing parties can be stressful enough without trying to be something you’re not. A relaxed, comfortable host is a happy and FUN host, and fun host = fun party.

That’s all the disclaimers I can think of for now (could I BE any more nervous about giving out advice?). We’ll see how this goes…

A lattice-top apple pie from scratch, Thanksgiving 2008

Thursday, June 25, 2009

help heal their sad hearts a little

I wasn't going to blog tonight's results show, as I'm tired and have a 4-hour-old headache and it's been a hell of a long day, and I just wanted to watch the dancing and enjoy myself.

But then I saw what Cat Deeley was wearing, and couldn't help myself. You may now take your pick from the following jokes/blog-openers:

A) It's just so nice of Cat to squeeze in her hosting duties before that swingin' key party she's clearly going to later.

B) The show opens in 1975, where Cat is delighted to find herself at the height of fashion.

C) Cat is trying hard to endear herself to women who don't possess her lean, leggy frame by wearing the world's most hideous and unflattering black and white jumpsuit ever.


Okay I'm done. (And yes, I realize the hair & outfit were probably an homage, but that doesn't make a jumpsuit okay. An homage with a dress would have been much better.) We now return to our regularly scheduled spicy Latin group dance number, complete with... Wet. Wet? There are women dancing in puddles on tables, or something. It's a little over the top, y'all.

We immediately move from the group number to an announcement from Nigel and I already know what's coming, and so do you. Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson. Nigel does a nice classy job of remembering all three of them, especially Michael Jackson. And everyone in the world (especially on Twitter) is saying all there is to say about these losses and I have nothing astute to add, except that I'm already blogging so I'll just say this: Regardless of the jokes about the surgery and Neverland and whatever else we've all said or thought about MJ at some point, at the end of a man's life you find you look at the whole of it, and the fact is, that Michael Jackson irrefutably changed pop music and the world of dance for the better in his lifetime. His contributions and inspiration to fans, musicians, and dancers everywhere should indeed be celebrated, and I'm glad they're taking a moment here to do that.

Also: I was going to do this anyway this year, but now I'm more committed than ever. Who's with me?

Moving on with the show, it's results time. I predicted Karla & Jonathan, Asuka & Vitolio, and Caitlin & Jason. I also tried to vote, I honestly did, but the lines were busy, and after 10 calls I'd exhausted my inner tween girl's dialing stamina and decided to just hope for the best. As Cat reads the results, which are exactly as I predicted, I find myself smiling at her kindness again, some more, as she encourages the bottom three couples to dance their little asses off in their solos and wishes them luck. She's just the best, isn't she? Being all sweet, and then just DYING over the guest dancers? And how she says THE RAGE BOYS CREW? Love her.

Also, there is really nothing cuter than little little b-boys breaking. There just isn't. Oh, my god, y'all. So freaking rad. Super cute Cat Deeley + Super cute Rage Boys Crew is exactly what the world of dance needed tonight to help heal their sad hearts a little bit, and I just love it.

After all that it's solo time, and Asuka prances around and reminds me that I'd love it so much if the girls of the dance world could stop ending their dances with that "sexy hand sweep over the hair" bit they do. You know the one I mean. OVER IT, LADIES.

Vitolio, on the other hand, truly looks like he's dancing for his life and is amazing. A.Maz.Ing. Karla's solo is inventive and kind of fun, and I get the impression again that we're just getting to know her, and the extent of her talent.

Jonathan, I'm over. His solo is Asuka's prancing plus some acrobatics. Caitlin also pulls the acrobatic tricks out of her hat, as well as a touch of delicacy that I did not know she possessed, which is nice. And Jason's choreography impresses me again, as well as his technique. By the end of the solos, I feel like I'm still intrigued by Karla and Vitolio, I feel like Caitlin and Jason still have some growing to do, and like Asuka and Jonathan are just doing the same old same old.

While the judges deliberate, I wonder if The Veronicas used the same time machine Cat used to get her jumpsuit from 1975 to get their act from 1985. Didn't they play the prom in Valley Girl? No, wait, that was the far superior Josie Cotton. Risky move, ladies, trying pull that off with Toni Basil in the house.

A few clicks of the remote forward and it's results time. Asuka is gone, with Nigel basically saying exactly what I just said, that she's no longer growing as a dancer on the show. With the boys Nigel draws it out, and it breaks my heart to watch Jason take his critique, because all I can remember is how much he LOVES Michael Jackson--remember the little bit of him dancing to him as a cute little boy??--and how devastated he must be today, maybe even more than the other guys. But Nigel finally tells him that he's safe, tells Vitolio that he's safe, and tells Jonathan that he's leaving.

Wow. Spot-on predictions and exactly what I wanted as well. Surely they're not just pandering this week after pissing us off last week, hmm? Like I can stay mad at this show that I love anyway.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Well said, Crazy Toni

Tonight's festivities kick off with my future BFF Cat wearing an extremely fetching orange Greek toga-esque frock that looks way better than it sounds, complimented with her trademark Perfect Hair.

Toni Basil, rocking the latest in kooky hats and plastic surgery, is tonight's guest judge. She's back to blather about "street dance," so I'm already bored and ready for dancing. Let's get to it.

1. Karla & Jonathan, Hip Hop - These two have a Dave Scott routine, which I'm pretty excited for since I really like his stuff. And I don't like these two much more in their bio package, but I like the dance when it starts. Karla is growing on me in this number. She's in character, she's relaxed, and I'm really enjoying myself. The song is also great ("By My Side" by Jadakiss featuring Ne-Yo), which might be helping my enjoyment along. Jonathan, on the other hand, is totally blah, and bringing the whole thing down. The judges bash the hell out of them as unfairly as they lavished praise on them last week--maybe making up for last week's decision? I'm suspicious of these super-harsh critiques, although I actually did appreciate Toni's assessment of what a dancer needs to bring to be good at hip hop: "Street has to have a groove and a funk. And if you're gangsters and you don't have a ghetto groove, then it's going to feel store-bought." AHEM Tabitha & Napoleon COUGH.

2. Asuka & Vitolio, Jazz - Or, as choreographer Mandy Moore calls it, "Thrash-rocker-jazz. Yeah." (In other news, Mandy is my new favorite person on this show that I want to be friends with and gossip with over pink drinks. Call me!) The bio package showcases more crying designed to generate sympathy & affection that these two can't generate on stage. Grumble. But with Mz Moore and Pat Benatar's "Heartbreaker," which is one of my all-time faves, I should be totally prepped to love the hell out of this right? Wrong. It's danced amazingly well, but there's no emotion from these two at all. Asuka is like a little plastic Barbie doll, and Vitolio's concentrating SO HARD, and the whole thing is kind of perfect, but also emotionless. Like, rocker robots, or something. SIGH. It could have been so much more. And again, Crazy Toni nails it when she tells them, "Don't let your technique get in the way of your emotions." Well said, Crazy Toni.

3. Melissa & Ade, Rhumba - My favorite couple are working with Tony Meredith this week and dancing to Destiny's Child's "Emotion." And straight up, I can't tell how good their technique is here because the chemistry (and, if I'm being honest, Melissa's smokin' hot bod) is totally distracting me. The judges claim the technique was fantastic, and I'm still so hung up on the HOT that I just believe them. Fine, good, technique, whatever. HOT, honey. Hot hot hot.

4. Janette & Brandon, Hip Hop - These two also get a Dave Scott routine, as well as another great song (Common's "What a World"). The costumes help their characters a lot right from the get go, so I start off thinking a bit that they're kind of cheating. And then they start dancing. And, WOW. I mean, I'm not crazy about these two as people, but this routine was freaking phenomenal. Character, steps, performance, fun, the whole thing wrapped up in one rock-meets-hip-hop dance treat. I paused the DVR just as it finished to type this up, and the attitude from both of them in this still shot is freaking genius. Very, very well done!

5. Kayla & Kupono, Viennese Waltz - The new couple is working with Jean Marc Generaux is this week, with Jewel's "Sweet Dreams for You" (as long as I'm mentioning all the songs, evidently). The whole thing is luminous. Kayla is radiant, and Kupono is masculine and strong. There's a sweetness throughout the whole thing that just makes me sigh. I mean, it's hard for a dance not to be all dreamy when you've got Jean Marc's choreography and a wind machine working for you, on the one hand. On the other, I thought these two really sold it. It was beautiful.

6. Randi & Evan, Contemporary - They've got a Mia Michaels number set to the fantastic "Koop Island Blues" by Koop featuring Ane Brun, and the key word is supposedly "booty." I'm intrigued by the choreography just from rehearsal, and I'm riveted by their performance. There's a LOT of technique and attitude crammed into an otherwise simple, unique, and sexy number, and I like it. Based on the choreography and the song, I feel like Mia's original intention was probably a lot earthier than what was delivered here. I think the couple dig in a little, but that overall their performance is a little cuter than what was maybe intended. That said, I liked it anyway. (I also liked Cat's first comment: "Cheeky." Oh, you punny, adorable girl.)

7. Caitlin & Jason, Paso Doble - Jean Marc Generaux is back with a number set to "O Fortuna" from Carmina Burana, and right off the bat I know that they're going to have to work hard if they want their dancing to stand up to their crazy costumes and this POWERHOUSE of a song (look it up if you don't know it already and you'll be like, oh right, THAT song). And the dancing is good. I have chills at the end, but I know for a fact it's from the song 'cause it gives me chills every time. As for the dancing, I think it was just good.

8. Jeanine & Phillip, Broadway - Tasty Oreo has done up a little number to "Moses" from Singin' in the Rain, complete with a sofa (which is a cute nod to the movie, where Gene, Donald & Debbie sail over the sofa in "Good Mornin'"). The costumes, hair, makeup, and dancing are all adorable. This style is PERFECT for Jeanine, who traipses across the stage like she was born on Broadway. And I like Phillip pretty well here too, so much that I A) forget for a second that he's a crazy popper and B) it takes almost the whole song before I notice he has totally split open the back of his pants. OMG. The silent pleading in his eyes for Cat to allow him to stay seated on the couch for their critique KILLS me. Poor guy. Nigel: "Like so many Vaudeville dancers before him, Phillip now knows what it's like to dance with his ass hanging out of his trousers." Their critique otherwise is totally fair. Phillip's lack of technique is starting to fight a bit with his winning personality, and could prove to be problematic down the road. Or tomorrow, depending on how the votes go.

Which leaves me with the following predictions:
Fantastic couples that I have about 30 more minutes to vote for: Melissa & Ade, Janette & Brandon, Kayla & Kupono, Randi & Evan

Couples I wouldn't totally cry over if/when they land in the Bottom Three: Karla & Jonathan, Asuka & Vitolio, Caitlin & Jason, Jeanine & Phillip. Which is hedging my bets, so I'm going to guess that Jeanine & Phillip are safe just 'cause they're so darn adorable.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

cow gargoyles playing the guitar

Los Angeles is just full of surprises.

You know how sometimes, no matter how clean you get your home and no matter how hard you try & de-clutter and organize and have just the things you need in exactly the place they belong, you always end up with that drawer or shelf or closet or entire garage just full of .... stuff? And, like, you have a vague idea of what's in the Junk Drawer, but you haven't really looked through it in awhile? So when you do, it's full of surprises?

LA to me is like a disorganized house filled to the brim with Junk Drawers and Surprise Closets and Overflowing Garages. You never know what it will reveal to you next.

Today, on my bike ride down the Chandler Bike Path, LA revealed the following treasures:
Cow Gargoyle With Guitar
There are four of these cow gargoyles playing the guitar on the side of a music production warehouse along the Chandler Bike Path. They are labeled "Vini, Vidi, Vici, Vaca," which, if you know your Latin, means "I came, I saw, I conquered. Cow."

Murals on the walls
In the NoHo Arts District, they paint murals on the back of industrial buildings.

And a few more treats on my totally outdated Flickr. I wonder what LA will reveal to me next? I'm rather excited to find out.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Are you voting?

After writing up my opinions on last night's show, I decided to battle a bit of insomnia by watching all 9 dances again without any biography packages or any of the judges critique. What I discovered is that some dances weren't maybe as good as I thought they were, and others were better. Which leads me to believe that I just like some people better than others. I bring it up simply because as this fairly unpredictable results show begins, I find myself feeling SO CURIOUS as to how things will play out.

The show kicks off with Cat Deeley in a white pant suit and the World's Greatest Hair, followed by a Mia Michaels routine that blends traditional Maori dancing, complete with the face paint and the bug eyes and the tongues, with sequined tuxedos, stadium lights, and Stevie Wonder. Just to prove that there are, in fact, still original ideas in the world, I guess.

This is followed by a send up of Lil C and his use of Big Words. Which is admittedly highly humorous, despite the fact that ultimately they're just making fun of the fact that he has an awesome vocabulary and a fairly artful way with an analogy. God forbid they encourage their audience to understand what he's saying or, you know, read or something.

Next up we have Melissa & Ade, Caitlin & Jason, and Jeanine (WHAT is she WEARING) and Phillip. Of this group, I thought it should be Jeanine & Phillip in the Bottom Three for their weak-ass tango, but predicted it would be Caitlin & Jason. I was madly in love with Melissa & Ade, and so was "America," so they are safe. And right about Caitlin & Jason, so we get to see their solos later. Which I'm kind of excited about.

Our second group includes Janette & Brandon, Karla & Jonathan, and Ashley & Kupono. Considering that I predicted that Karla & Jonathan and Ashley & Kupono would be out of luck this week, I'm already wrong about one prediction. Janette & Brandon have really begun to annoy me, but they are, of course, safe. And my friend Chip's empirical data suggesting that High Praise from the judges can keep you safe has proved correct here, and Karla & Jonathan are safe. Meh. Unsatisfying.

The third group contains Randi & Evan, Asuka & Vitolio and Kayla & Max. Randi & Evan could be in danger if only because the judges weren't super crazy about them, but they did super love Asuka & Vitolio, whom I thought were boring and a bit rough. Randi & Evan are safe; Asuka & Vitolio are safe (an event that they celebrate WAY overmuch). Kayla & Max, whom I thought were fairly fabulous, are in the Bottom Three.

Um. What?

Again, this supports the "High Praise from Judges = Safe" data. It also supports my general theory that sometimes people are really stupid.

So now our bottom three includes Caitlin & Jason, Ashley & Kupono, and Kayla & Max. Of that mix, I'll feel disappointed if they lose anyone, but I guess I'd be disappointed the least by Ashley & Kupono? I mean. Sigh. You guys. Clearly, the people who watch this show and vote can no longer be trusted. Am I going to have to start clearing my Crazy Schedule to be home on Wednesday nights so I can hang out and vote on the phone now?

Watching the solos, I feel like Caitlin, Jason, Kayla & Max cram so much dance into their time, and Ashley & Kupono cram a lot of style into theirs. While the judges deliberate some chick lip syncs, so I fast-forward my DVR and worry. And think about Helen Hunt in Girls Just Want to Have Fun: "Whatever I lack in substance I make up in style." Maybe whoever goes home tonight can spray their hair up all crazy and ride into the season finale on a chariot.

And considering the girl leaving turns out to be Ashley, who is darling, maybe that would be super fun. They also split a couple for the first time this season--and maybe for the first time so early in a season--and decide to lose Max.

Overall, I find this result to be unsatisfying. I mean, I'm not super attached to anyone but Melissa & Ade at this point--maybe Kayla, maybe Jason? But it still just feels like things happened in the wrong order this week.

So here's my question for all of you. I have Crazy Schedule and often have to watch the show after voting has completed on my DVR. What about you? Are you voting? Who are you voting for? And how do you feel about tonight's results?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

officially RE-ADDICTED

I didn't blog about last week's results so I'll just start this off by saying that Shane Sparks routine was BADASS and I've already watched it a zillion times. Also, I was satisfied with Paris and Tony leaving. I was actually getting used to her chin (implant), but ultimately felt like the two of them were giving us more Cute and Attitude as opposed to Amazing Dancing. And on a show with this many Amazing Dancers, that just doesn't cut it. So, fair choice.

That was last week. Since then, all week long I've been waiting for this show, and then the night when it airs I have dinner plans. Delightful dinner plans--I just had a lovely spicy Thai duck salad with some fabulous people--but I was still all "Grumble, why wasn't dinner on Tuesday? Grumble" because y'all, I am officially RE-ADDICTED to this show.

So anyway, I fired up tonight's episode and there's Cat Deeley wearing a Christmas tree skirt as a dress, so I know we're off to a great start. When "interviewing" the jidges Cat makes a throwaway comment about her girl friends, and I have a brief stalker moment where I wonder why I'm still not one of them yet. Because a good girl friend would maybe tell her that dress, while a good color, is kind of dumb. I'm just saying. I wouldn't let one of MY friends onto national television in that thing.

(BTW totally random, have y'all seen the new Fame trailer yet? Eeee!)

1. Randi & Evan, Jive - According to the 14+ times they say Fun, this should be entertaining. And it is! These two are like a couple of professionals. They make this jive routine look completely effortless and energetic and awesome, and their chemistry is still excellent. And that leap! Was amazing! Mary & Nigel nitpick the hell out of Evan because they expected more from him, but I thought this whole thing was great. (Watch, they'll congratulate someone else later for just getting through something. Phillip.)

2. Melissa & Ade, Jazz - Crazy Sonya is the choreographer so of course they start off all on top of each other, with Melissa in some hot neon pink stretch pants. The choreography is super modern and weird and I don't know if I love it, but I DO love how precise and amazing these two are as dancers. I don't know if any other couple on this show has ever been this synchronized. I don't know if they pulled off the story Stonya* was looking for, and the chemistry wasn't as lovely as last week, but I'm so impressed with their technique I totally don't care. (*This was initially a typo, but I think a new nickname was just born, so I'm leaving it.)

3. Caitlin & Jason, Hip Hop - Shane Sparks in the house, y'all! And these two have won me over and convinced me they're a couple to beat, so I'm all stoked for a winning combination here. However, while this is good, it's not as good as I expected. I can't tell if the choreography isn't what I wanted from Shane, or if the dancing isn't selling it, but overall the routine is just too cute. In a weird way, I'm kind of hoping that they end up in the bottom 3 so we can see their solos tomorrow night. We'll see.

4. Janette & Brandon, Disco - For whatever reason, these disco numbers are always such a tough sell, and I'm having a weird time with this one. They're clearly excellent dancers and their lifts are so precise and flawless. But the whole open-mouth-smiley thing kind of puts me off? Maybe? It's possible that I, like many, just don't care for disco. And yet Lil C thought it was great, and loved Brandon, so what do I know? And Mary even dipped into her extra store of Crazy, as well as the vernacular of the early 1990s, to deliver some truly reserved, insightful critique.... NOT!

5. Asuka & Vitolio, Waltz - Okay, I think Vitolio gets last-minute nerves, or something. Because you can tell, when he's in his own head this lovely emotion and technique comes out. When he's trying hard to get it right, it comes across as stiff. There was some rise & fall action that was downright clunky, and then some other moves that were sublime. They're both pretty good, and the emotion is okay, but I feel like the producers & judges tried to manipulate us with Vitolio's biography package to make us think it was more beautiful and emotional than it actually was. Not that I don't care about his history--he's a remarkable young man--but if I'm just looking at the dancing, it was a bit rough for me. And Asuka is just fine for me. Everyone's praising the hell out of it, but I'd challenge you to watch it without the bio package and without the judges' critique--not as good.

6. Kayla & Max, Pop Jazz - With Brian Friedman choreography--hi Brian! Welcome back! The choreography feels a lot like we're watching a live music video, if that makes sense. There's a couch and a coffee table and some crazy costumes and it's all very theatrical. Max is super coming across like a Russian ballroom dancer here, and I don't know if it's just so inherent to him that he can't help it, or if he didn't commit enough to the new style. Kayla, on the other hand, is what's selling this whole music video vibe to me, and I feel like you could pick her up and put her on stage with Brit Brit right now. Which, in my world, is a total compliment. She's amazing.

7. Karla & Jonathan, Contemporary - With a new choreographer, Stacey Tookey, of whom I know nothing except that her name is fun to say: Stacey Tookey Stacey Tookey Stacey Tookey. (And now I know what Google rabbit hole I'm going down tomorrow--evidently she works on SYTYCD Canada). The choreography is nice, and the dancing is too. But I find myself wishing I could watch a couple with more strength and/or maturity dance it, like Melissa & Ade. It's possible that I'm just over these two and just don't like them as much as some of the others. They're great dancers, I'm just not crazy about them for some reason. Plus, I think some couples just get marked for the bottom 3, and I think that's already happened for this couple.

8. Jeanine & Phillip, Tango - This girl, y'all--was any contestant on this show ever prettier? Her dancing is sometimes aggressive and sharp, sometimes clunky. Phillip gets through the routine with a fair amount of strength, and he's lucky to have such a gorgeous sex kitten on his hip. Because his technique was, as Mary said, sloppy. I know everybody LOVES Phillip and the judges really want to see him stick around and grow throughout the competition, but this is a little weak for me.

9. Ashley & Kupono, Hip Hop - First half was pretty strong, but then they lost it a bit in the second half. In the end, I feel like it was perfectly rehearsed, but missing heart. The synchronization is sometimes perfect and sometimes off. Ashley shone through a lot in moments, but not enough. The song was also not great, which is no one's fault but the Black Eyed Peas', but it doesn't help matters.

Overall, I remain impressed with the superior talent of this group as a whole, which makes it hard to ping anyone. On the flip side, very few dancers really stood out for me tonight, and the only routine I really want to watch again is Stonya, Melissa & Ade's.

I also think we could see some surprises in the Bottom 3 tomorrow night because I think there's a pretty big gap between what the judges praised or criticized and what America actually likes, doesn't like, and will vote for. Like, I think the Bottom Three should be Asuka & Vitolio, Karla & Jonathan and Jeanine & Phillip. I think the judges would go with Randi & Evan, Caitlin & Jason and Ashley & Kupono. And I think what we'll actually see will mix that up a bit, so I'm going to predict the following:

Safe: Randi & Evan, Melissa & Ade, Janette & Brandon, Asuka & Vitolio, Kayla & Max, Jeanine & Phillip

Not So Much: Caitlin & Jason, Karla & Jonathan, Ashley & Kupono, with Karla & Jonathan going home. I know the judges love their routine tonight, but of all the amazing couples here, I just kind of think they deserve another chance to win me over the least.

Tough call. What do you think?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

some mighty fine ass work

Top 20! Are you ready? As Cat introduces them all, the initial reaction on this couch is that the guys look particularly awesome this year. Their intro-solos are exciting, strong, and fun.

And after a quick plug for Step Up 3D (which I’m fine with, it’s one of my client’s movies), we get a little “Road to Top 20” package, which I am also fine with because it showcases some of the solos that got these people this far.

As Cat introduces our first couple to do the first dance, I can’t help but think back to Season 2’s Benji and Donyelle doing Shane Sparks’ routine to “Too Much Booty.” It was the moment that sold me on this show forever, and so far the last two season’s haven’t kicked off as strong.

I’m also wondering why Jeanine is ALREADY CRYING. For heaven’s sake, girl, pull it together!!

1. Jeanine & Phillip, Hip Hop: The ballet dancer and the popper have a Tabitha & Napoleon routine to kick off the competition. There are moments where it is clearly well-executed, but I’m not blown away by it. Phillip’s really trying to act the feelings of the piece here, but the results are more “making faces” and it’s distracting. Jeanine is fine, I guess. I guess I don’t believe in passing out such high praise for someone simply keeping up or holding her own. Overall, I feel like the number could have been so much better with a more sincere commitment from both dancers, and I’m left wanting more.

2. Asuka & Vitolio, Broadway: Wow, Vitolio impresses the hell out of me here. Such precision and finesse! He is helped not at all by his partner, however, who is just okay for me. As a couple the chemistry is not there at all. Again, not the commitment I’m looking for.

3. Karla & Jonathan, Cha Cha: For technical feedback, I’ll defer to Mary—I thought it was pretty good, maybe a little stiff? But these two had a lot of fun with their routine and it’s clearly coming through. I think they’re helped by a modern, sexy song (“Poker Face,” Lady Gaga), but their smiles are genuine and infectious, and they’ve got fun chemistry.

Mary: “I like my cha cha rough!”
Me: “Damn, Mary!”
Mary: “And like Lady Gaga says, if it’s not rough, it’s not fun!”
Me: “Damn some MORE, Mary!!”

4. Randi & Evan, Jazz: Well, it’s a good thing Evan apologized to Randi’s husband in advance, because these two have CHEMISTRY. So fun to watch! The steps are amazing, the performance is divine, they’re both totally committed and IN IT. This is exactly what I’ve been looking for all night. It’s hot and awesome and the first routine I want to watch again. HELL YES.

5. Paris & Tony, Hip Hop: Yes, her chin still bothers me. But I have to admit Paris’s attitude here is fun. Tony’s good, but he should be—it’s his style. As soon as it speeds up Paris loses it a little, but they finish reasonably strong. It’s good, it’s not great.

6. Caitlin & Jason, Bollywood: Well, with “Jai Ho” as your song, you’re kind of guaranteed a crowd pleaser, and these two deliver. The energy is high, the chemistry is good, and even though they’re given a lot of hard work to do, they kind of nail it. They’re fantastic, and I understand why the judges were all sprung on Jason—he’s excellent. Caitlin really GOES FOR IT in this, too, which I super appreciate. Exciting stuff, I’m looking forward to more from this couple.

7. Janette & Brandon, Foxtrot: Am I the only one that hates these dated ballroom costume dresses? Ugh. That said, these two make a fairly complicated routine look totally easy and lovely. As for personality, it’s weird—sometimes it’s totally on, and sometimes it seems faked. But once Brandon starts throwing her around with the big lifts at the end, I’m sold. It’s hard to win people over with a foxtrot, but I think these two may have just done it.

Cat: “Mary give us an eyebrow.”
Mary: “I can’t anymore because of Botox.”
Cat: “Mary, I LOVE YOU.”
Adam and me: “WHAT. THE F.”

8. Ashley & Kupono, Jazz: Well, it’s Wade Robson choreography, so it’s more like “jazz.” Wade: “Conceptually, the number is about two crash test dummies.” Me: “Um, okay.” The costumes and props and chairs for this number are OVER THE TOP, HONEY. But the two dancers manage to shine through them. The dancing is precise, their characters are really fun, and the pair is totally committed and into it, and suck me in as well. That Ashley is charming, y’all.

9. Melissa & Ade, Contemporary: They have a Mandy Moore routine and a Richard Marx song (I love her commitment to cheesy 80’s songs), and it’s just sensational. They’re playful, sexy, and totally in sync. Their steps and lifts are perfect, their performance is sincere and joyful, and the whole thing just makes me HAPPY. It was so beautiful, and powerful and I just loved it. Fabulous.

10. Kayla & Max, Samba: HOT. The number starts out hot, and stays smokin’ the whole way through. Kayla is vibrant and delightful, Max is sexy and strong and so into her. And, if I may say, that’s some mighty fine ass work by Max. The chemistry is sizzling, and Kayla just wins me over on every level. Mary is so way obnoxious about this, but she’s not wrong—they are on the Hot Tamale Train, they just are.

Predictions: Wow, this is tough to call. I thought the judges were a bit more generous with some couples than I would have been, but overall this was a really strong night. With the second half being so much better, however, I think some of our earlier couples are in more danger of going home than I might have originally suspected.

Staying for another week: Jeanine & Phillip (I was “meh” about them, but the judges loved them, plus I’m guessing Phillip has a voting base going into this), Randi & Evan, Caitlin & Jason, Janette & Brandon, Ashley & Kupono, Melissa & Ade, Kayla & Max

In danger of going home: Asuka & Vitolio, Karla & Jonathan, Paris & Tony

What did YOU think of our Top 20?

Friday, June 05, 2009


Many thanks to Alison, who found this. Check this out if you want to see why we all lost our minds when Alex Wong kicked off Vegas Week, and why we were so disappointed that he won't be able to compete in this Season's Top 20.


Less crying, more cutting!


Why this show needs a whole damn hour to show us which 20 people they chose is beyond me.

Janette is first and she’s going through. From everything I’ve seen, she’s an excellent salsa dancer and should be good for the competition.

Diana is next and I’m not interested in her at all, and she’s cut.

And if they’re going to do a whole weepy package for all 32 dancers, now I don’t know how they’re going to get through them all in one hour. Less crying, more cutting!

Vitolio is next, and we haven’t seen much of his dancing so far, but the clips they show us here are amazing, as is his life story. So of course he’s in the Top 20.

The next guys who get cut, evidently, do not deserve names. Bad dancer! No name for you!

Kayla is a tiny blond contemporary dancer—Nigel’s favorite—and she has adorable grandparents, so of course she’s in. I haven’t seen enough to know if she deserves the tongue bath Mia just gave her, though.

Kupono is next and the judges give him a bunch of notes, joke about his name and put him in the Top 20.

Paris, aka Chin Implant, is put in the Top 20. Ugh. I have no idea how I’m going to look at that chin week after week.

Jeanine, from whom we haven’t seen …anything? Gets in. She must not have a dramatic story OR cute grandparents. Stupid boring plain ol’ good dancers. Others who get in who we may or may not have seen who you may or may not remember include Ade, Karla, and Jonathan.

Brandon, and all the drama that comes with him, is next. Mia says, for some reason, “I can’t take you, as an artist, for what you bring to the floor. It annoys the shit out of me.” Mia: I can’t take what you’re bringing to the table, right now, as a judge, and don’t understand why you can’t articulate why you don’t like him more specifically or constructively. It annoys the shit out of me. Same with Lil C, he doesn’t like Brandon and can’t explain why. Mary goes nuts and actually says she can’t listen to their crap anymore. I’m SO CONFUSED. Is he being a giant dick off camera? Is there a question of his sincerity, or something? We have at least one week to figure it out, because he’s in the Top 20. And he handles Mia & Lil C with humor and grace, so good for him.

Tony, who for me is all personality and not enough dance, tells us a story about his brother in Afghanistan, and is put through. Nigel holds up a giant sign that says “We’re casting a TV show here, people, we need personalities and underdogs!” Not really, but he might as well. He admits that they’re going out on a limb for him. I’ll say.

(At this point, my laptop informs me that it is almost out of power and needs to be plugged in asap, and I find myself hunting around my bedroom for an outlet at 2:00 a.m. because that’s how crazy I have become. I decide a little bit of juice is better than none and opt to plug it into the power strip behind the TV, hoping to get it just enough juice to get me through the show… and accidentally turn off the power strip. Which turns off the TV and the TiVO. So I’m basically sitting on the floor typing this, waiting for it to boot up again. Hi, I’m a winner.)

Back to the other winners this week. Some guy named Maxim is in, despite wearing a leather vest over a bare chest: honey, no. Caitlin-the-mouth-breather’s-sister is in. Melissa, a ballerina we haven’t seen much from, is in even though she’s wearing the Worst Tutu Ever. Jason, whom I haven’t seen dance much but who seems to have impressed all the judges, is in. I was psyched to see more from him until his dumb victory dance in the hallway.

Ashley has auditioned for this show FOUR TIMES. That’s some serious determination, yo. She’s in the Top 20. Randi, on the other hand, succeeds in getting Mia to say “unitards” no less than FOUR TIMES. And in getting in the Top 20.

Alex, of the amazing first dance of Vegas, is next, and he walks with his feel turned out and absently rolls his foot on and off point while he waits. He even fidgets with grace and strength. Love! However, he is also under contract with a company in Miami and they won’t allow him out of it to do the competition. Weak. I love this guy. I love how hard he wants to try all these other styles, and he would have been such a strong competitor this season. “You have the appetite of a true artist,” Lil C says. Beautiful. I hope he comes back in a future season, ‘cause I don’t see myself getting to Miami anytime soon and I want to see him dance some more!

After all that, four more dancers you may or may not remember who evidently don’t deserve names are cut. I recognize one of the crybaby girls from the group choreography bit, and the hot Asian salsa dancer guy.

Phillip is next and is in the Top 20—duh. Which brings us to the final four, where they have left the two Broadway brothers for Maximum! Dramatic! Effect.

Deena (Deanna? They pronounce it both ways, which is annoying) and Asuka go first, however, and Asuka gets in. Deena is devastated. And between Evan and Ryan, the brothers who can’t stop hugging or crying, the judges choose Evan. Considering the talent of both, I’m going to assume it’s because he’s slightly younger and has more hair?

And with that, we have a Top 20: Ade, Ashley, Asuka, Brandon, Caitlin, Evan, Janette, Jason, Jeanine, Jonathan, Karla, Kayla, Kupono, Max, Melissa, Paris/Chin Implant, Phillip, Randi, Tony, and Vitolio.

Let the games begin!



I LOVE Vegas Week on So You Think You Can Dance. It’s like the whole season boiled down to 2 hours of hardcore, intense dancing and choreography, and RUTHLESS cutting. Ideally, by the time the judges arrive at a Top 20 they’ve got a crème de la crème of dancers, and if there’s any erroneous picks (ahem, Susie), then we the viewers can just vote ‘em away next week. It’s all about Excellence and there’s no room for any shenanigans whatsoever.

Or at least, that’s what I was thinking when this episode started.

About halfway through I was calling shenanigans all over the damn place, but we’ll get to that in a bit. The show kicks off with Alex Wong, who is HOLY BUCKETS OF AMAZING. Strong, precise, musical and those push-up/splits thingies he did at the end blew my mind, and the judges’. The next guy is all comedy and no dance. Yawn. Then, after a montage of Amazing! Dancing! (Yay!!!) the judges get right to the ruthless cutting. YES. DO IT. EXCELLENCE ONLY PLEASE.

Next it’s hip hop to the Black Eyed Peas “Boom Boom Pow” which was promptly purchased by me and dropped into my workout playlist because this show is how I get all my fun summer dance music. That Gaby Rojas the judges are all sprung over is a MESS. It’s so awful and hard to watch. But because Nigel doesn’t like to be wrong, she gets to stay.

Then the dancers try to get through the jazz round with Sonya, and we’re treated to clips from Brandon and Natalie’s solos from Denver. The two of them also perform as Sonya’s examples during rehearsal. The two BFFs are clearly extremely comfortable dancing together, and they attack the number with precision and style and it’s awesome. But then, when Natalie dances with a different partner during the audition, it’s lackluster and stiff. Whether because of nerves or switching partners or whatever, she just lost it, and is cut. Sad, but fair.

Brandon’s jazz audition is, I think, fantastic. Mia & Lil C are not at all impressed and they rip him a new one, but Nigel sticks up for him so he gets to stay.

But then Gaby Rojas does her jazz audition and it sucks almost as much as her hip hop. It’s also worth noting at this point that it is also MUCH WORSE than Natalie’s jazz audition. But they let her dance for her life, so of course her pre-prepared solo that she’s had however many months or whatever to rehearse is wonderful. And while I’m sitting on my couch going, “Yeah, but isn’t learning a variety of different kinds of choreography quickly—which she clearly can’t do at all—kind of, I don’t know, INHERENT TO THE VERY PREMISE OF THE SHOW?!?”, they let her stay.


Now it’s time for the group choreography project. This endeavor is a disaster every year, and a great way to identify Drama Queen jackasses and eliminate people en masse. At this point I’m hoping that pageant girl with the ginormous chin is finally cut. You know the one I mean. I’ve just started calling her Chin Implant.

And the crappy dancing and ruthless cutting begins. Like, there’s a montage of what I’m sure the judges were just thinking was total bullshit. The “Nerdography” bit was admittedly extremely cute, well rehearsed, and well-performed.

When Mia’s choreography starts, we’re supposed to care about some girl who dances with her mouth open, and she’s allowed to stay but her sister is cut because she can’t dance with her group/to the music or do a solo better than your average football cheerleader. Psych. They let both sisters through and I call shenanigans.

At this point, Mac notes how he loves how gleefully the judges drag out the verdicts and just torture the dancers. I note that just want Day 3 to be over so these fools will get some sleep and stop freaking crying.

Tasty Oreo shows up and I appreciate him just so much more as a choreographer than as a catty judge. We see a snip of him dancing and it makes me want to see more. Instead we see all the girls try & keep up with “America” from West Side Story, some more successfully than others. Gaby is finally cut, as well as that Priscilla girl I didn’t love and the mouth breather. Chin Implant is still around, however, which doesn’t bode well. The guys dance to “Cool” next, which is just fast and crazy. Again, some successfully, others way not, and the judges ruthlessly cut them. They’re down to 16 each girls and guys, with 12 more cuts before we get a Top 20. The montage of the best of the best 32’s solos is, of course, amazing, and now I’m going to have to stay up even later to see the results. Damn.