- - Wednesday, February 29, 2012

‘American Idol’ kicks off with men’s performances

Jermaine Jones has a second shot at becoming an “American Idol.”

The 25-year-old so-called “gentle giant” of Pine Hill, N.J., was given a last-minute spot among the male semifinalists Tuesday after the Fox singing contest’s judges had dismissed him in Las Vegas. Mr. Jones was lauded for his bass-fueled take on Luther Vandross’ “Dance With My Father” during Tuesday’s performances from the 13 male semifinalists.

“Thank you so much for proving why we asked you to come back,” judge Steven Tyler said.

Many of the guys were praised by the panel after crooning a song of their choice, including 27-year-old new father Adam Brock of Washington, Penn., with Aretha Franklin’s “Think,” 20-year-old musician Colton Dixon of Murfreesboro, Tenn., with Paramore’s “Decode,” and 28-year-old street performer Creighton Fraker of New York, with Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.”

“I don’t want you to go home,” judge Jennifer Lopez told Mr. Fraker. “I want you to stay.”

Several singers soared with vocal acrobatics, including 19-year-old receptionist Jeremy Rosado of Valrico, Fla., with Sara Bareilles’ “Gravity,” 19-year-old crawfish lover Joshua Ledet of Westlake, La., with Jennifer Hudson’s “You Pulled Me Through,” and 17-year-old student Deandre Brackensick of San Jose, Calif., with Earth Wind & Fire’s “Reasons.”

The curvy new “Idol” stage seemed to swallow a couple of contestants. Only 22-year-old vocalist Heejun Han of New York and 15-year-old Eben Franckewitz of Loveland, Ohio, received criticism from the judges. They disapproved of Mr. Han’s song choice of Robbie Williams’ “Angels” and chastised Eben for a rocky start on Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain.”

“It wasn’t all perfect, but at the end, you really brought it home,” judge Randy Jackson told the youngster.

The top 12 female singers were to perform Wednesday, and then all 25 semifinalists will learn Thursday if they received enough votes to be among the viewer-selected top 10 or one of the three “wild-card” finalists to be determined by the show’s judges.

‘Awake’ keeps viewers guessing at reality

NBC’s new drama “Awake” has the kind of intricate, high-concept premise that can test viewers — but that’s nothing compared with what its producers face.

Howard Gordon, a master at juggling challenging plots (“24” and “The X-Files” among them), puts it flatly: “I learned nothing, and nothing I experienced prepared for me this.

“This is a vehicle that no one has driven before and has no operating instructions.”

The series, debuting at 10 p.m. Thursday, stars Jason Isaacs as police Detective Michael Britten, a man living in two worlds. A car accident has claimed a family member’s life: his wife, Hannah (Laura Allen), in one, and his teenage son, Rex (Dylan Minnette), in another.

The duality extends to Britten’s work, where he investigates cases with two partners (Steve Harris, Wilmer Valderrama) and discovers that straddling different realities gives him crime-busting insights.

While other TV shows with parallel universes and outcomes have dabbled in extreme explanations — quick, explain “Lost” again — Mr. Gordon and creator Kyle Killen insist this is a (relatively) simple case of a guy living one life and dreaming another.

Britten and the audience are just not sure which is which. Neither are the therapists who are treating him, with both assuring him that his other life is the dream. He’s unwilling to give up the balancing act that allows him to keep hold of both wife and son.

“At the center of it is the question we all live with as people, which is how do we face loss and how do we live in the face of loss,” Mr. Gordon said.

When the pilot was being developed, Mr. Isaacs said, there was concern the idea was so tricky, his character might need to be bearded in one world and beardless in the other to help viewers distinguish between them.

“But my daughter, who’s 5, told me the story in three sentences,” Mr. Isaacs recalled. “So I told the producers, ‘We don’t need to worry.’ It’s such a powerful and imaginative premise.”

While keeping a grip on his sanity, Britten is trying to prove to his superiors that he’s fit for work and trying to help his grieving wife and son cope with their losses.

“We want him to put his life back together and have his wife and son,” Mr. Killen said. “You and he become invested in those two worlds.”

Elements from one world sometimes cross over to the other, Mr. Killen said. That raises the intriguing notion that the two ultimately may merge, but the producers aren’t saying.

“Awake” employs a classic trick to allow viewers to dip in at any point: It’s what Mr. Gordon calls an “old-school title sequence” that restates the concept before each episode.

“So if you tune in for episode seven, you have the tools to sit down and enjoy that hour of television,” Mr. Gordon said. “For an idea like this, clarity is your friend and you want to make the barrier as low as possible.”

CEO: Netflix will look more like a cable channel

In case there was any doubt that Netflix sees itself as a competing TV channel, CEO Reed Hastings said Tuesday that in the future he might want it to be included as part of a bundled cable package.

Mr. Hastings said it’s getting tougher to convince cable TV to share rights to their shows — “they’re just being good capitalists” — so Netflix has been striking more exclusive deals with content creators and paying cable-TV prices to do so, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Plus, it has been creating more content of its own.

Mr. Hastings was speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco.

Becoming something akin to a cable channel that’s bundled to consumers isn’t something Mr. Hastings envisions in the short term, but it’s the companys “natural direction,” he said.

Eventually, he said, Netflix could look like HBO, with 40 percent of the content its own and 60 percent coming from other sources.

Compiled from Web and wire service reports.