Pop culture from Southern California and beyond.

Free wi-fi coming to Starbucks

Not that Starbucks doesn't already have a lot of business, but they're reaching out to the growing mobile crowd. Starbucks will be offering free, unlimited wi-fi in almost 7,000 locations starting July 1.

Starbucks is also going to be offering more free content to customers on their network, including access to the paid area of the Wall Street Journal and free downloads.

Starbucks has pursued an aggressive online strategy, using social networking to make their brand even bigger than it is currently. For example, they've been offering users of social location tool Foursquare discounts if they're frequent visitors.

The free wi-fi is going to be provided by AT&T, and it's actually a win-win for them as it will free up bandwidth on their 3G network, used by more and more devices (notably the Apple iPhone and iPad). AT&T has an interest in making wi-fi more widely available, as it will keep users happier since they won't have to deal with network connection over 3G.


Comics legend Stan Lee at the Pasadena Rock'n Comic Con

Stan "The Man" Lee headlined the Pasadena Rock'n Comic Con this weekend. As a lifelong comic book geek, I enjoyed finally getting the chance to meet Stan.

(My friend Dave noted that he thinks this is the happiest he's ever seen me, which is quite possible.)

For the uninitiated, Stan created (along with a number of legendary artists) such characters as Spider-Man, Iron Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Thor and the Avengers.

Lee's been an expert promoter over the years, dating back to his days writing the Bullpen Bulletins column in Marvel comics. He talked about the massive fan base even before it existed, and that helped create the sense for readers that they were part of something bigger. He still does cameos in all the Marvel movies, most recently playing Larry King in "Iron Man 2."


Lee DeWyze wins American Idol, adults go 'huh?!'

Underdog Lee DeWyze won the season 9 finale of American Idol last night. Many critics were left puzzled, as Crystal had been acknowledged by many to be the vocal superstar this year from the beginning.

Retiring judge Simon Cowell made a strong case for Lee on the final performance show, pointing out that this was the type of performer the show was all about – someone who needed a break, going from shy paint salesman to singing superstar. However, the judges seemed far more enthusiastic when praising his adversary, Janis Joplin-esque rocker Crystal Bowersox.

There have been a variety of explanations going around for Lee's win. Perhaps it was the power of teenage girls voting for the last cute boy left.

Richard Rushfield at the Daily Beast pointed out two changes in the history of Idol that have shifted the competition in the direction that puts a Lee over a Crystal. First, they began allowing singers to use musical instruments at the beginning of season 7. The show became less about vocal gymnastics and more about overall musicality, with arrangements becoming more important than ever and contestants expected to be able to come up with striking new arrangements of classic pop songs. The winners the past three years have all played guitar; this season in particular seemed to be the most guitar-heavy season to date, with almost all the contestants strumming guitars in most of their performances.


American Idol season finale tonight; Simon Cowell says goodbye

Another season of American Idol is coming to a close. It's been a strange one with the absence of Paula Abdul, the addition of Ellen DeGeneres, and most of all, the last season for Simon Cowell.

After nine seasons, the show will have to set off next year without Simon Cowell. Remember that when the show started, it was a summer show when summer original programming was even less the norm than it is today, and Cowell's cutting remarks are what made the show an American institution. I remember first hearing someone talk about the show while interning for a commercial radio station, as the music director was intrigued by the possibility. Little did she or the rest of America know where the show would go from there.

Will Kara, Randy or Ellen step into that position? Kara seems the most likely to make her attempt at being the new Simon, and it will be interesting to see if she makes her move once Simon leaves and stops taking up all the air in the room. Ellen seems to have moved into Paula's position, often unwilling to be overly critical of the contestants, while also bringing her own schtick with a steady string of one liners. Randy is, well, Randy, and anyone expecting him to significantly change hasn't been watching for the last nine years.