Thursday, January 18, 2007

JANUARY 18, 2007

Another two hours of auditions last night, and here's the good news... those who were good were better... the bad news, those who were bad were worse!

Three people I'd keep my eye on heading to the next round... First the brother and sister combo Shyamali Malakar and Sanjaya Malakar... She (Shyamali) went first and sang "Summertime"-- a risky choice because Fantasia did that song so well three seasons ago. I thought her voice was good, but she didn't have a whole lot of personality... Her brother (Sanjaya), though, seemed more likeable, and had a good voice too... The judges even said he was better! (Could you see the sobling rivalry there?) Singing Stevie Wonder very well, he's one to watch in Hollywood. Also, I thought Thomas Daniels (the first person they passed) was good too, but he was a little too cocky while performing "Arms of a Woman"... that will get him eliminated early if he's not careful.

14 people of 9000 made it to Hollywood from Seattle. In two hours, we saw seven of them, just like the night before. Tuesday, the journey continues in Memphis, Tennessee.

This year, ALL of us can get a free $30, $40, $50 or $60 added to our tax return. . . you just gotta know how to ask.

The reason: We're getting a refund from the federal excise tax. That's the tax that's been on our phone bills for, basically, as long as phones have existed. In fact, Congress passed it in 1898. . . to help fund the SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR. Last year, the IRS conceded that, yeah, we don't need to fund the Spanish-American War anymore. . . so the tax stopped on August 30th. And now. . . we all get a refund.

There's a line on your 1040 (--it's line 71, if you can remember that) where you can claim your federal excise tax credit.

If you're single with no dependents, you get $30. Single with one dependent, you get $40. Married with no kids, you get $40. Married with one kid, $50. Married with two kids, $60.

You CAN get more than that back. . . if you've saved all your phone bills from February 28th, 2003, through July 31st, 2006, add up the federal excise tax on all of them. . . and you can claim that amount.

Yesterday, the American Kennel Club released its annual list of the most popular dogs in America. . . and, for the SIXTEENTH straight year, the purebred dog that the most Americans registered is. . . the LABRADOR RETRIEVER.

The big surprise was the dog that came in second place. . . the Yorkshire terrier. It's a tiny dog, and, since we Americans like our beers cold, our cars fast and our dogs big. . . tiny dogs rarely EVER crack the top two.

Maybe celebrities get the credit for the Yorkies' jump. Tara Reid, Naomi Watts, Kirsten Dunst, Kelly Clarkson, Mariah Carey, Venus Williams and Gisele Bundchen all own Yorkies.

After Labradors and Yorkies, the rest of the top 10 most popular dogs are: German shepherd, golden retriever, beagle, dachshund, boxer, poodle, Shih Tzu and miniature schnauzer.

How young is too young for a kid to have a cell phone? Eight? Ten? Maybe 12? Apparently, if you ask a decent number of American parents. . . the answer is ONE.

According to a new study by NPD Group, about 15% of kids ages two to five have cell phones. . . and use them. Not only that, but kids as young as two know how to download ringtones and games to their cell phones.

62% of 11- to 14-year-olds now have cell phones. . . and by age 14, more than 50% have downloaded some content onto their phone.

So, tell me, does anyone use pay phones anymore?

A group of customer service experts put together the list of the 10 best and worst companies for call-in service. . . and Dell gets the prize for being THE WORST company there is.

It's followed on the "worst" list by: Comcast, AOL, Vonage, Dish Network, Macy's, eBay, AT&T, Home Depot and Compaq.

Almost all of those companies made the list because of HUGE wait times, huge automated voice mazes that make it almost impossible to talk to a human. . . and customer service reps who are completely unhelpful when you DO get the privilege of talking to them.

The company named BEST for call-in customer service is. . . 1-800-Flowers. According to all reports, they have call centers around the country, will always replace flowers if you complain, and even hire extra employees during busy times, like Valentine's Day.

They're followed on the "best" list by: General Electric, Citibank, IBM, Southwest Airlines, DirecTV, Verizon, Apple, American Express and Accenture.