Tuesday, August 19, 2008

'IDOL' CONTRARIAN -- SITE PROMOTES 'WORST' CONTESTANT

March 26, 2006
By Eugene Tong
Staff Writer

VALENCIA - He's ``American Idol's'' class clown - firing spitballs at the talent competition from the back of the room as if recess never ended.

From his third-floor Valencia apartment, David Della Terza runs one of the more notorious Web sites - votefortheworst.com - that grew out of Fox's top-rated TV singing contest, now in its fifth year. From his virtual pulpit, the 23-year-old rallies viewers to vote for who he believes is the ``worst'' singer on the show.

``I totally lucked into this whole thing,'' Della Terza said in an interview last week. ``We did it as a joke because we like all the bad singers.

``It's such a cheesy show - that's the most interesting part. It's like when people enjoy bad karaoke performances that's fun to watch.''

The 2-year-old site gets about 100,000 visits on show days, and came to public consciousness last year when it took some credit for propping Scott Savol - a goatee-sporting ``regular Joe'' thought to be the weakest link - into the contest's final five.

This year, Della Terza has rallied behind Kevin Covais, a top 12 contender whose glasses and boyish 16-year-old looks have garnered him the nickname ``Chicken Little'' after the Disney animated character. He survived the first week, only to be axed last week.

The Web site now has its sights on Kellie Pickler of North Carolina.

``The worst possible thing that can happen ... is for them to have to sign ANOTHER blonde, country singer,'' Della Terza wrote on the site. ``It would hurt (Season 4 winner Carrie Underwood's) sales or hurt Kellie's sales.''

Asked about the Web site recently, a Fox spokesman said the network had no comment, but it did issue this statement last year:

``While it is unfortunate that a small group of people are so caustic that they believe it would be humorous to attempt to negatively sway the voting on 'American Idol,' the number of purported visits to the Web site would have no impact on voting. Their hateful campaign will have no effect on the selection of the next 'American Idol.'''

Yet the show's producers aren't above having a little fun - witness the string of off-key rejects that open each series, or William Hung, who parlayed a fractured rendition of Ricky Martin's ``She Bangs'' into an entertainment career with ``Idol's'' blessings.

It's just that Della Terza refuses to follow the script when the contest gets serious. He said on the site that the show's more about producing riveting reality TV than being a serious singing competition, and what's good reality without an ``entertaining antagonist?''

``It's not like we hate 'American Idol,''' he said. ``We love 'American Idol.' We're like the counterculture of 'American Idol,' and (the show's producers) don't know where to peg us.''

Jonathan Wilcox, who teaches celebrity and public relations at University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication, said these contrarians aren't new.

``There is always an impulse among the public to gain social power by knowing and understanding the faults of entertainers,'' he said. ``The title (of the site) alone is a dead giveaway of its snarky sense (of humor), which by all accounts is very popular today.''

However, the Internet has empowered people like Della Terza to organize the like-minded and amplify their potential influence over entertainment culture, and the industry actually is paying attention, Wilcox said.

``A generation ago, that was unthinkable,'' he said. ``The established entertainment industry would love to exert continued influence over these mediums that influence the public. But the fact that they can't - it's something the (Web) celebrates and will continue to exploit.''

Della Terza moved to California about a year ago from Chicago to work on reality TV - he logs tapes as a day job. He caught the reality bug in 2000, when the castaway contest ``Survivor'' hit the airwaves.

He studied communications at Northern Illinois University. For his senior thesis, Della Terza said, he created a campus version of ``The Amazing Race,'' from casting to shooting and editing the footage into six 22-minute episodes.

``They would run around campus and go to different buildings,'' he said. ``It was so much fun. I got an A.''

Della Terza said he's pursuing a career in video editing, but detoured to the Internet when Juanita Barber, a contestant on the second season of ``American Idol,'' inspired him and several members of a reality TV Web message board to start their own site.

Barber gained renown for snapping back at her critics - even trading barbs with snippy ``Idol'' judge Simon Cowell. It made great television, Della Terza said.

``She's like the patron saint of the forum,'' he said. ``Why can't we have a Juanita every season?''

The Web site was built gradually, and hit prime time last year when major news outlets pegged it as a culprit in explaining underdog Savol's seemingly improbable good fortune in the audience polls.

That pushed traffic to some 1 million visits, and got the Fox network to denounce the site, Della Terza said.

``I guess it's power,'' he said. ``Fox doesn't like me. Everyone takes it so seriously. It's a funny Web site. Kudos to 'American Idol' for making a show that people live and die by.''

Della Terza now runs the site with about six other volunteers - writing commentary, moderating forums and answering the 20 to 25 e-mails he gets per day (though a news media mention last week generated 400).

And he'll continue to wage this guerrilla campaign from his bedroom.

``Apparently it's uncool to like reality now,'' Della Terza said. ``But 'American Idol' is the No. 1 show on TV. I guess it's not that uncool.''

Friday, August 08, 2008

'BUSTOS BOUNCE' GOOD AS GOLD -- LOCAL ATHLETE PLAYING WELL AT OLYMPICS

August 21, 2004
By Eugene Tong
Staff Writer -- Daily News Los Angeles

ATHENS, Greece - Call it the ``Bustos bounce.''

It's the spring in her step, the enthusiasm for the field and the flurry of home runs unleashed by U.S. Olympic softball mainstay and Canyon Country native Crystl Bustos when she's on her game.

``Once she got that first one off, she's got that Bustos bounce,'' Anthony Castro, a cousin, said after watching the third baseman knock one out of the Olympic Softball Stadium on Thursday in Team USA's final preliminary match against Chinese Taipei.

``(It's) that energy, that big smile when she's running around the field,'' said Castro, 31, of Temecula. ``It's been great.''

The team, 7-0, has steamrollered every opponent since competition began Aug. 14 with round-robin play among the eight qualifying teams. Bustos, who first earned gold at the 2000 Sydney Games and is considered the sport's top slugger, smashed three home runs in the team's perfect preliminary run.

``It takes everything,'' Bustos, 26, said in an interview after the game.
``It takes every aspect of our game to work. We have to have the hitting, the bunting, the phenomenal defense ... and just keep pushing at it.''

But that's all in the past. The semifinals will begin Sunday, with the United States vs. Australia. The winner will play for the gold against either the People's Republic of China or Japan, who also are squaring off for a place at Monday's gold and silver medal match.

``They're going to be hungry and they're going to be wanting us,'' Bustos said. ``The 10 runs that we got (against Australia in the preliminaries), that was already in the past. We can't hold on to that. We just have to keep going.''

But unlike four years ago, when Bustos and her teammates had to play amid thousands of rabid Aussie fans, Athens has been more supportive territory.

``In Sydney, we had a lot of people against us,'' Bustos said. ``When we fell behind, it seemed like a dogfight. It was definitely a hard thing to come through.

``The difference between now and then - we got a lot more people on our side and they help you to get pumped up.''

Michelle Duncan, 37, of Bakersfield traveled thousands of miles with her daughter Stefanie, 12, to cheer on Bustos and Team USA in a stadium built on top of an old Athens airport. It's a place where, in spite of 84-degree heat and 42 percent humidity, the crowd might break into impromptu Greek dancing between innings when the PA system plays the right snippet of traditional music.

``She's very focused - a team player,'' Michelle said. ``She's the one you can count on to get the job done.''

Still, softball has been struggling to find its audience outside a small, die-hard fan base. Making only its third appearance since becoming an Olympic event at the 1996 Atlanta Games, attendance for the Athens matches remained sparse - from about 300 in a game between Italy and Canada to more than 2,300 when the United States played Greece.

While the sport is safe for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, its future as an official event beyond the Chinese capital appeared uncertain.

``It would be a loss to the Olympics - it would be a loss for baseball in general (if softball is dropped),'' said Bustos, who along with such star teammates as pitchers Jennie Finch and Lori Harrigan is trying to promote softball beyond North America.

``We want to get other countries to strive through another sport,'' she said. ``We're helping in that.''

``The girls are so down-to-earth,'' said William Harper, 20, of Warsaw, Va., who caught a match in between volunteering at the games. ``They're trying to save the sport after '08. They're putting on a good show.''

Meanwhile, Bustos and her team are focused on the task at hand.

``I hope to bring back another gold,'' said Bustos, when asked about the fans back home in Canyon Country. ``I appreciate all the e-mails and fan support I got back there. It's going to be a couple games to watch. You won't want to miss them.''

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Arson feared in Langa fire devastation

May 25 2000

By Yunus Kemp and Eugene Tong, Cape Argus (Cape Town, South Africa)

Gladwell Mapisa stands forlorn among the charred remains of the home he once shared with his wife Nolwando and their five-month-old baby boy Asivile, who died in the blaze.

All around him little children sift through blackened remnants in the hope of retrieving something from the fire that razed eight shacks in Zone 25 of the Joe Slovo informal settlement in Langa, Cape Town, on Friday morning.

Neighbours and other residents who gathered at the scene stood silently sombre, all eyes fixed on the destruction by which they could so easily have been affected.

Thirty-two shack fires, including the incident on Friday, have been reported in the settlement since the beginning of the year, said Epping fire control room officer Clarence Sinkfontein.

There have been six deaths, including those of Mapisa and her son.

The community fears an arsonist is operating in the area.

In January, three fires within a week of each other destroyed 165 shacks, left two people dead and hundreds more homeless.

In April, 150 shacks were destroyed, some of which had been rebuilt after other blazes, and again scores of people were left homeless and had to rebuild.

And last week, two Angolan brothers, Mario and Nguije Inacio, burned to death after their shack was set alight in what was believed to be a xenophobic attack.

Mapisa was still at work when the fire, which broke out at about 5.30am on Friday, trapped his wife and baby son inside, and sent them to a fiery death.

No one else was hurt in the incident.

Eleven firefighters from the Epping Fire Station responded to the call at 5.52am and arrived on the scene seven minutes later. They extinguished the fire within an hour.

Although the police have not established the cause of the fire, residents believe that it was the work of an arsonist after a neighbour of the Mapisas, Nonkululeko Jacobs, saw a man running from the scene seconds after the fire started.

"I was woken up by footsteps and looked through my window and saw the fire. I then saw a man at the Mapisas' home and opened my front door and shouted at him, 'What are you doing, why are you lighting the fire?'

"The man just ran away and disappeared," said Jacobs.

She then shouted for people to wake up. "Everyone except the woman and the baby got out. We could hear them screaming and tried to put water on the flames, but the fire was too strong and spread quickly," said Ms Jacobs.

She ruled out the possibility of the fire being started by a candle or a paraffin lamp as the Mapisas used neither because they had electricity.

Mapisa, still distraught from the loss of his family, could only say: "Both of them destroyed in the fire, both of them destroyed in the fire."

For the others affected, the rebuilding process will start almost immediately as they fear losing their small plots to other people.

Nosipho Tuba and her family rummaged through debris for salvageable pottery, spoons and glass plates.

Her house used to stand next to the Mapisa home.

Tuba was awakened by Jacobs' shouting. Seeing her quarters burning, she put on some "light clothes" and woke her 11-year-old son and 19-year-old brother, telling them to escape.

All she managed to save before the house collapsed was a suitcase packed with personal belongings.

The informal settlement sprang up in the early '90s, when people invaded the open land on the corners of Vanguard Drive and Washington Street. It has since mushroomed and today stretches from the Langa Comprehensive School all the way to the Langa exit on the N2.

People still share communal taps and the night bucket system is in use, testimony to the area's sub-economic status and an example of the rudimentary lifestyle of its inhabitants.

Greg Pillay of the Cape Town City Council's disaster management office, said the number of fires in the Joe Slovo settlement was definitely a worry.

Long-term plans by his department to combat the problem included the installation of "panic poles", six of which had been installed in Langa.

The poles have a button which, when depressed, connects the user to the Cape Metropolitan Council's control centre via a two-way radio system, from where rescue personnel can be dispatched to deal with the reported emergency.

Pillay said firefighting was a problem in the informal settlements as there were no water points. There was insufficient space between homes for firebreaks and fire engines had difficulty in navigating the narrow roads.