By Dan Shanoff
Special to Page 3
After taking a week off to get married -- to the Couch Judge's own Couch Judge, let's say -- I'm back and more ornery than ever. Not just because I missed my chance to bounce overmatched Valerie last week, but because this week's episode is sure to create havoc:
"On the Fly," where the seven remaining finalists haven't seen the video beforehand. On top of that, they are given the info for their second highlight DURING their first highlight. On top of THAT, their teleprompter will fail during the mid-highlight segue. On top of THAT, they will get breaking news at the end of the segment that they will have to deliver cold. Oh yeah: And on top of THAT? None of 'em know what's coming.
Our usual panel of judges -- Woody Paige, Kit Hoover, Stephen A. Smith (SAS) and My Man, Al Jaffe -- will critique them on improvisation, pacing, delivery and creativity. I, however, will enjoy their stumbling and fumbling.
First up: JASON A.
Good: His energy is growing on me.
Bad: Went into the breaking news a little abruptly.
Ugly: Wait a second... he did pretty well!
Judges: Woody was "impressed." Kit liked his new hair ("less boy band"). SAS is falling for him: "I kind of like you. I just do." Al noted he stumbled a little, but got it back together.
Overall: It's going to be one boring episode if we don't see some stumbling soon. Jason will survive for another week.
Good: When the prompter failed, he actually sounded the least fake.
Bad: Why? Because when he's reading from the prompter, it FEELS like he's reading from the prompter.
Ugly: He finished his second highlight on a jocular note, which is unfortunate, because his breaking news was... Ken Caminiti's death. Whoops.
Judges: Kit smacked him for the intro to the breaking news (you and me, Kit!) SAS called his lead "bland" and his closing "horrible." Al noted that Grant didn't give the final score of his second highlight before rushing into the breaking news. Woody nicely summed it up: "There were highlights, but serious lowlights."
Overall: Is it possible that Grant has replaced Jason A as my least likeable contestant? He's done nothing to stand out, but nothing to wreck his chances either. There have been worse winning strategies.
Intro: He's playing the "underdog" card, simply because he's the "Wild Card" entry and didn't get here the same way as the others. Leave the "I don't get no respect" cliche for the athletes, man.
Good: Solid on the highlights, very solid on the breaking news. As if he'd written the copy himself.
Bad: When the prompter went down, he looked down at his copy a little too much.
Ugly: When he gets nervous, he rushes through his teleprompter reading like he was trying out for Dream Job, sponsored by Ritalin.
Judges: SAS had no complaints (and considering David called SAS his least favorite ESPN voice, that's saying something. SAS will have his day, however, I predict). Al had the Line of the Night: "Thought you were auditioning for the Cliché Channel." Brilliant! Woody said he liked the clichés, but nicked him for looking down at his script too long when the prompter went down. Kit complimented his fluidity during the transition.
Overall: David may not win, but he's certainly in the Top 4.
Good: Still has the best voice of the group.
Bad: Unraveled when the teleprompter failed; managed to mangle the Dolphins QB as "Fielder" (like Cecil) not "Fiedler" (like Jay).
Ugly: When it was over, as he did his sign-off, he literally looked like he was going to cry. Wonder if anyone noticed?
Judges: Al drubbed it "shaky." Woody "would like to say some nice things, but it's very difficult." Kit said it "started rocky," then he "got flustered," then it was "hard for you to recover." Leave it to SAS to say it plain: "The worst part of it all -- When you closed, you looked defeated. That's a problem."
Overall: It sure is, Stephen A. Unless someone completely goes in tank (Winston?), Brian's in a world of hurt.
Next: JASON H.
Intro: For someone so bland, he sure smiles a lot. Does "Jason" rhyme with "Vacant?" Almost.
Good: Fabulous transition when the teleprompter failed; best of the night, by far.
Bad: The lead-in was poorly written; he's no wordsmith.
Ugly: Nothing really. I'll let the judges explain:
Judges: Woody called it "another professional-like job," but gave him the best advice he'll ever get: "Think about how you're going to be unique." Kit said he "came up big tonight" and liked how he finished with a big smile. SAS brought him down to earth: "You're beginning to bore me," but complimented him with "You're never less than thorough." Al couldn't find any issues (a great sign); "you were just very solid."
Overall: Jason H. is another guy who has the skills to be in the Top 4, but lacks the originality to go further.
Good: He finished with a smile.
Bad: Stumbled a bit when the prompter failed, and didn't give the score of the second highlight.
Ugly: Seems to have a verbal tic when he's improvising where he precedes everything with "Of course..."
Judges: Kit said he started strong, then got flustered. SAS called him out for not improvising well enough. Al had the line of the panel for the guy: "When the prompter went down, you went down." Woody crushed him on factual errors; "You made mistakes that had nothing to do with the curves they throw you."
Overall: Well, he didn't do as badly as Brian, so he's got that going for himself.
Good: Still has a great voice and the best pacing.
Bad: Kept calling Oklahoma "Nebraska" (no judges caught this but me).
Ugly: When the prompter went down, he looked down at his script way too much. Not that it was bad, it's just that other contestants were able to manage; why not him?
Judges: Overwhelmingly positive. SAS said "Welcome back." Al: "You sound so professional, so real, just like a real SportsCenter anchor." Woody was less good: "Fair, that's the best I can do," noting his troubles when he went off the prompter. Kit said, "I thought you were money."
Overall: Still has the most potential in the group, if that potential doesn't crush him first.
Clean sweep, dumping Brian. And it looks like he's going to cry, which makes me a little sad for him, in an uncynical way. No, really, I mean it. The only one who's probably happy is his wife, who can now drop the second job supporting him.
Rankings of the Remaining Contenders:
Next week: Will the Winston Dream be over?