Monday, April 30, 2007

Comfort Food

After a pretty depressing week I spent Sunday at my two-year-old niece Charlotte's birthday party. Because kids love macaroni and cheese, my sister requested I prepare this recipe which has become something of a specialty for me. Macaroni and cheese, cupcakes, Mylar balloons and the laughter of two-year-olds is good for what ails you. I highly recommend it.

My recipe is based on the Chat 'n' Chew Macaroni and Cheese recipe which I first saw on the Food Network a few years ago. The Chat 'n Chew is a well known, no-frills eatery near Union Square which has been serving up comfort food to New Yorkers for years. I've modified the proportions and lightened the original recipe a bit since all that heavy cream will incite a gall bladder attack in even the most hearty of eaters. After all, you don't want to kill your guests--that would defeat the purpose of comfort food. Anyway, here's the recipe--it's pretty fabulous if I do say so myself.

Uncle Michael's Mac and Cheese

3/4 cup butter, (1 and 1/2 sticks) plus extra for the baking dish and topping.
1 to 1 1/4 pounds elbow macaroni (I sometimes use shells)
2 cups half and half
1 cup milk
1 medium onion, diced small
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup flour
4 cups (1 pound) shredded sharp cheddar
8 slices Munster cheese, broken into small pieces (I sometimes use Gruyere when I'm feeling fancy.)
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided
3 tablespoons green chile sauce (Such as Green Tabasco) <---secret ingredient!
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup bread crumbs seasoned with salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9 by 13 by 4-inch baking dish.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat and cook the macaroni until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain.

In a small bowl, combine the half and half and milk.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and cook the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent, about 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the flour to create a roux, stirring constantly for 3 minutes. Add the milk mixture in a steady stream and whisk until smooth. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, allow to thicken.

Stir in the 4 cups of cheddar, the Munster cheese, 1 cup of the grated Parmesan, the green pepper sauce, and cumin. Stir until all the cheese has melted; the sauce will be very thick and creamy. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the pasta. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the the Parmesan and bread crumbs, dot with a few pats of butter.

Bake uncovered on the middle shelf for about 30 minutes, until bubbling and golden brown on top.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

City Snapshot

Yesterday Scott and I took a walk down 125th Street and snapped a photo of Harlem's famed Apollo Theater. Although the famous Amateur Night bears the Apollo name, it is actually taped in L.A. and edited with exterior shots of the New York theater. The real Apollo was the venue that housed James Brown's body for his funeral last December. You can read more about the Apollo's storied past by clicking here and visit the official website here.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Plan B

I've been sitting on this news for about a week now, and it's not good. Despite some promising auditions, callbacks and interviews, all of my applications for graduate school have been unsuccessful with the exception of one school where I made the waiting list. I knew this was a possibility, but never seriously considered the reality.

I've spent the last week mulling the situation over in my mind. Most MFA Acting programs are highly competitive choosing a company of 10 to 12 actors who must work well together in terms of type and talent. They are usually designed for people who have never acted before. In a sense, I've already achieved what most of the students in these programs hope to once they graduate. I have both the training and experience. Also, I think my age was a factor. Being at least a full decade older than most of the other applicants would make it difficult for me to blend into one of these companies. My age came up in the interviews more than once. Questions like "With all your experience, what do you hope to get from this program?" and "How would you feel being in classes with students who are fresh out of undergraduate school?" and the most direct "This program is tough for older actors."

Perhaps I was naive only applying to 4 schools. Perhaps I shouldn't have limited my choices to schools within commuting distance from New York. I want my degree so I can teach acting on the university level someday. But maybe an MFA Acting is not the degree I should be going after since I already have a BFA in Musical Theatre.

It's disheartening, and I'm left to figure out my Plan B. So next year I'll apply for the URTA Auditions (University/Resident Theatre Assoc.). It's a way to audition for many programs around the country at the same time. And it could mean leaving New York for a while at least. Many of the URTA participating programs are affiliated with a resident professional theatre which may be more appropriate for me. I'll also look into other degrees, too, perhaps MA Theatre Arts or Theatre Education programs. I'll use the upcoming year to make up the academics I'll need to be eligible for them. It's easy to systematically plan an alternative route, but it still sucks that everything is still another year away and that everything I've been working toward for the last six months isn't going to happen in September. It feels like starting from square one again. But at least I'm not giving up.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Questions? Comments?

I've had reports from readers lately that they've had trouble posting comments on my blog. I lifted the word verification hoping that would make it easier, but apparently that hasn't made a difference. Anyway, if you've had a problem, email me at I'll see what I can do about it. Thanks.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Me Talk Pretty

I love this crap. Click the link below and take the quiz. Here are my results:

What American accent do you have? (Best version so far)


Most people don't know it but this is actually what dictionaries are based on. If you don't believe me, pick up any American dictionary and look up "source" and "sauce" and you'll see they are written with the same vowel pronunciation.

Personality Test Results

Click Here to Take This Quiz
Brought to you by quizzes and personality tests.

City Snapshot

And so begins another regular feature on my blog: City Snapshots. It will include snapshots that I take in the city. Pretty self-explanatory. And if it seems like I'm ripping the idea off from JoeMyGod's "Morning View" series, I am. But we're buds--it's cool. Probably. Anyway, this is the German-Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Paul at 315 W. 22nd Street in Chelsea. After a trip to the dentist for a check-up and cleaning (and no cavities, Mom!) I took a little walk around the neighborhood and spotted this lovely old church. Enjoy.
UPDATE: Joe's repsonse: "sweetie, i don't OWN the city! :) Snap away!" And so, I shall.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Idol Chat (Part 7)

Okay, so this week is the big "Idol gives back" bru-ha-ha. Very nice. Touching. Of course Ryan could have shaved for the occasion, but that's just me. We went to Africa, New Orleans and even had a case of the warm fuzzies with Simon feeding the hungry in downtown LA. This meant that the song choices for the contestants this week were inspirational in sentiment. For the most part all the contestants did pretty well, and as Simon said, the competition has begun in earnest. Of course he didn't say so, but I think he was implying that with you-know-who behind us, the show has regained its credibility. So, on with tonight's performances.

Chris Richardson--Sang "Change the World"--beautifully! When he started there was a nice, quiet, easy confidence to him. He sang with honesty and conviction. And then like the Chris of old, he kicked it up vocally on the refrain for a really first rate performance.

Melinda--Sang Faith Hill's "There Will Come a Day." Beautiful, strong, pure, original. Melinda is a star.

Blake--Sang John Lennon's "Imagine." With a theme like tonight's, "Imagine" is a bit of a cliche. It is too familiar and almost impossible to divorce from the John Lennon version. Also, while the lyrics may be appropriate for the theme, musically the song is one level. It's just a little too simple and easy, especially when your competition is going to be pulling out all the vocal stops. That said, Blake gave a very honest, lovely performance of the song, albeit a bit dull.

LaKisha--Once again Lakisha suffers from an appalling lack of originality choosing to sing the signature song of yet another winning American Idol for the second week in a row. This time she chose Fantasia's "I Believe." The arrangement was left in Fantasia's key and therefore too low for LaKisha, she was sharp in the beginning verses. Once again comparisons are inevitable, if there is one audience NOT to sing past Idol winner songs for, it's the Idol audience! We're all too familiar with Fantasia's version which was better, frankly. The judges said as much as well. LaKisha has a great voice, but really lacks the instincts to be a great, original performer.

Phil Stacey--I missed the title of his song because Scott called just then. Anyway, it was a Garth Brooks tune that he sang very well. I did think he sounded a bit throaty and pushed in places, but he did well with it overall. He's got a great voice. It's just a matter of whether his look gets in the way for you. It does for me. So there you go.

Jordin--Sang "You'll Never Walk Alone." When I simply heard the song choice I got verklempt and I was a mess from that point on. Taking a HUGE risk by singing a traditional showtune, Jordin committed emotionally to the song and delivered an extremely powerful, spectacularly moving vocal. This girl never misses now. She is so exciting to watch. Love her!

Best Performance--Melinda and Jordin.

Worst Performance--LaKisha.

Bottom Three --Blake, Phil, LaKisha.

Who Will be Voted Off--LaKisha, too many missed steps in a row. But it could be Phil, too.

RESULTS UPDATE: No one goes home. It was charity night. Either that or they were so happy that Sanjaya is gone they let everyone else stay another week.


Claremont Riding Academy

A fixture on the Upper West Side, the Claremont Riding Academy and stables is closing this Sunday after 115 years. It was built in 1892 and is the longest continuously operating horse stable in the country. The West 89th street stables were added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1980 and the New York Landmarks Preservation Foundation in 1992, so the building will remain, but its purpose will change. The owners site decreased membership and increased development in the neighborhood as the reason for the closure.

When I first moved to New York I lived around the corner from Claremont on West 90th street. Because of the one-way streets and the entrance to Central Park at 90th Street, it was not unusual for me to hear the clip-clop of horses outside my window, perhaps the last sound I expected to hear when I moved to the city. But along with the elegant horses came their unmistakable smell, causing me to wonder on particularly hot days just how "fragrant" the city must have been 100 years earlier when horses were the main form of transportation.

At the time I moved to 90th Street, Claremont bordered a community garden that spanned the length of the city block along Amsterdam Avenue from 89th to 90th Street. It was not an unhappy relationship between the gardeners and the stable which produced a lot of organic matter. Residents from nearby projects grew their own vegetables there, everything from greens and beans to corn and tomatoes, and interestingly, almost every plot included flowers. As the gentrification of the Upper West Side expanded north past 86th Street on gritty Amsterdam Avenue it wasn't long before developers bought up the garden and put up a high-rise apartment building in its place. At the time I wondered how the residents of the new building enjoying their balconies would peacefully coexist with the fragrant stables below. I guess that will no longer be a concern.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Musical Moments--Into the Woods

For this week's Musical Moment's I've chosen "Into the Woods" by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but this show has a lot to say, particularly now. It is the favorite Sondheim musical of many and the most often produced having, already enjoyed a successful revival just 15 years after it premiered on Broadway in 1987. One of the things that makes "Into the Woods" appeal to so many is that the play is written as an allegory for any of society's ills. This is precisely the reason I chose it this week. I think you'll find that "Into the Woods" has wisdom, relevance and answers to offer us in a world that sometimes seems to have gone mad.

The play employs the use of traditional fairy tale characters, each with his own wish, who set out in pursuit of those wishes; Cinderella to go the Ball, Red Riding Hood to Grandmother's house, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, and an invented fairy tale of the Baker and his Wife who wish to have a child. In order to make each of these wishes come true, the characters must journey "into the woods" to achieve them. This leads each to interact with characters from other tales and different story lines. Despite the confusion and with each other's help, by the end of the first act each character has reached his or her own desired Happy Ever After ending.

In the opening of the second act we find our familiar characters enjoying the happiness that their wishes have brought. It's then that an angry giant, from Jack's pursuit of the goose that lays golden eggs, descends upon the woods and its inhabitants wreaking havoc, causing mayhem and leaving a path of death and destruction. The people of the woods are traumatized and turn to the Royal family for help who have fled the woods themselves offering no help to their subjects. Following this, the giant strikes again this time killing the Baker's Wife, a new mother of the child she so desperately wished for, making the loss all the more tragic. It's at this point the characters begin to assign blame, each pointing the finger at the other and his perceived selfishness. In the end, they come to the realization that they must all be mindful of their own wishes and understand that their actions come with consequence to others.

At the time it was written in the late 80s, "Into the Woods" might have been an allegory for the AIDS epidemic, today it could be terrorism, or a war that no one wants to fight. It could be Hurricane Katrina, or it could be a mad gunman in a society with lax gun laws and a mental healthcare system that has failed him who decides to kill 30 of his peers. In the clip I've chosen, Cinderella and the Baker try to make sense of their losses and the tragic situation to young Jack and Riding Hood so that they all may heal and learn from the experience. In the song "No One is Alone" they offer more than the sentiment that none of them is alone going through the tragedy, but also, no one is alone in society. That while we pursue each of our wishes, our actions inevitably affect others around us, sometimes for good but other times with tragic results. As you watch this scene, think of the conversations that parents might have had with their children last week following the Virginia Tech shootings.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Daffodil Project

In honor of Earth Day, I got out to Riverside Park this morning to take some pictures of the daffodils that dot the park. A testament to how cold it's been and the nor'easter of last weekend, the daffodils are usually finished blooming by now so I was delighted to find them still in full flower. They were a welcome sight in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings and a week that included the solemn anniversaries of Columbine and the Oklahoma City bombing. But even the daffodils do not come without their own reminder of another tragic event: September 11th.

The Daffodil Project was started as a living memorial in New York City parks to honor the victims that died in the attacks that day. Thanks to the generosity of a Dutch bulb grower, Hans van Waardenburg, who donated 500,000 of his own bulbs and organized the donations of other Dutch bulb growers, he was able to present the city with over a million daffodil bulbs to be planted in all New York City parks in all boroughs. Over 10,000 volunteers turned out to plant the bulbs in the Fall of 2001, the largest community planting in city history. The following Spring, as a symbol of renewal and new life, the bulbs began sprouting up in clusters on hillsides, fields and flowerbeds and have been every Spring since.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007


College. I couldn't wait for it. Suffering through high school I was promised that, don't worry, you'll love college. They'll "get" you there. Oh, how I was counting on that to be true. I would be going away from home to a big university with a great drama department and devoting 15 credits a semester to pursuing my passion. My PASSION! Musical Theatre. And there would be others there, too, for the very same reasons. Those were the people I was told would be the friendships that would last my lifetime. It was supposed to be the best time of your life.

The year I went away to school, we showed up from all over the country. All of us eager and anxious, awkward and nervous, looking to find in one of these other kids a kindred spirit, for a sign that, yes, we were in the right place. The signs came quickly. Through the process of going from a bunch of kids who liked to sing and dance to becoming artists with a craft we got to know each other very intimately. We had to. We spent every day together in the theater building from 8:30 in the morning sometimes till 11 at night. We worked together in practice rooms, rehearsal studios, or sometimes even a hallway if that was all that was available. We grew. We learned. And we became family. We lived together, ate together, partied together--all in our little bubble of the Drama Department. There were no big lecture halls for us. No need to put a social security number on a paper. We knew everyone by first name in all the classes, freshmen to senior. There was only one Nicole, only one Miriam, only one Turhan, one Theo...etc.

As if this bliss wasn't enough, our school offered us the opportunity to travel to London for a semester in either our junior or senior year. Although students from the university at large went, for the drama students it meant we'd get to study acting with faculty from RADA and LAMDA and members of the RSC. We'd see everything we possibly could in the West End, at the National Theatre or the Barbicon. We'd go to Stratford and walk the hallowed ground of William Shakespeare and see his plays performed at the Old Globe. We'd study voice and classical texts, learn period movement and dialects. We'd have art history classes that took us to Paris for a long weekend and which also provided us with an intimate knowledge of the exhibits at the National Gallery or the Tate. And each week they would cart us around on day trips to make sure we got to Windsor or Canterbury or Bath or Brighton. Just as everyone promised that college would be the best time of our life, the students who had been to London promised it would be the best semester ever.

My sophomore year many of my closest friends in the class ahead of me opted to go to London their first semester, junior year. It was always weird when people were away in London. Part of our family was missing back home. But we were glad they were having the opportunity. So we wrote copious letters about the casting of this show or that, made cassette tapes of us rambling on about all the Drama Department gossip and sent them across the ocean to the kids in London so they would feel close. As that semester drew to a close I was looking forward to seeing my returning friends. We wouldn't even wait for the next semester. We'd get together over Christmas break. I think Janie was planning a New Year's Eve party that year.

My last final that semester was December 21st. As soon as it was over I was planning to hop in my car and head home to Jersey for the holidays. A four hour drive spent singing along to Christmas music by myself. It was about 6 PM when I arrived and walked through the door of my childhood home. Expecting to walk into the vibrancy that is my mother's kitchen the week before Christmas and be met with a warm, happy embrace, instead my mother was very quiet and asked "Michael, when is Hank coming home from London?" Hank was one of my best friends from school and had spent Thanksgiving with us the year before.

"Not till the 26th," I said. "His parents are flying over to London to spend Christmas with him before heading home."

"Oh, thank God." was her response.

There had been a plane crash, she explained. The story was still breaking on the evening news. It was Pan-Am flight 103 out of Heathrow which exploded in mid flight over Lockerbie, Scotland killing all 243 passengers, 16 crew members on board and 11 people in the town below. Among the dead were 35 college students from Syracuse University returning from a semester abroad. THIRTY-FIVE.

Then the phone started ringing. Frantic calls from friends still at school, others who were already home. Do you know when Tom is coming home? What about Julia and Mike? Or Annie and Theo? Turhan, Miriam, Nicole. Each of us trying to piece together what we knew from letters from our friends or calls to parents who might know who was coming home when. By the end of the night I had compiled a list in a notebook of dead friends, friends who were safe, and ones we didn't know about yet. It turned out that of the 35 students on board, six were from the Drama Department. I had only just turned 20.

It was not long before a Libyan terrorist group claimed responsibility for the explosion. Somebody actually did it on purpose. My friends had been murdered. Plastic explosives. It was timed to explode over the Atlantic Ocean so recovering bodies and evidence would be virtually impossible. But the explosives went off early raining down humanity and debris onto the hills of Scotland, killing innocents below. The flight was specifically chosen because of the number of Americans who would be on board. The 35 college students were a nice touch, too.

Memories between that day and when I returned to school are fuzzy. I remember the news coverage. I remember the images of family members who had gone to the airport to pick up loved ones. A mother who could have been Nicole's, lying flat on the floor of JFK wailing to heaven. Pictures in a magazine of Lockerbie where one could make out the images of people still strapped to airplane seats, a girl with long black hair like Theo's. Descriptions of how the explosion happened, and what the victims would have experienced. They should have died instantly, their lungs exploding from the change in cabin pressure, but later forensic evidence revealed that victims were found clutching babies, crucifixes and hands. I remember memorials being planned. Meeting Turhan's brother who bore a uncanny resemblance to him, now a walking reminder of his dead sibling to all who knew him. I remember going to Port Jervis to Theo's memorial and the outrage her parents felt when the remains of their only daughter were sent home and they were informed they could come to the airport to pick up their "parcel."

I remember returning to school and the memorial the Drama department had to honor our own. It was in the theater--our temple. We lit candles and sang songs and people read poems, shared memories, played recordings and showed pictures. We cried, we prayed, we held each other. And we will never be the same.

There has not been a single time since December 21st, 1988 when I didn't wish someone a "safe" flight rather than a good one. There is not a single time I fasten the seat belt on an airplane that I am not consciously aware of the possibility of being blown out of the sky. On days when I know loved ones are flying, my father on a business trip, my sister going to Italy, my parents on vacation, that I don't listen to the news for reports of plane crashes. I can't put the thought out of my mind until I know they've landed. Hell, I can't even watch Lost! Yet when some other heinous and senseless act of violence is committed against innocent people, I still feel the same sense of shock and helplessness as I did that December 21st. It doesn't get easier.

At some point after the crash someone in our group dubbed December 21st "Dead Friends Day." Not out of disrespect or flippancy, it was just our way of dealing with it. We didn't want to call it Pan Am 103, that was a flight number. This was the day our friends died. And so, "Dead Friends Day." And every single December 21st that has come and gone since, I have remembered them, these beautiful, smart, funny, talented, promising kids and thought "Dead Friends Day." And I probably will for a lifetime.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

In Memoriam--Kitty Carlisle Hart

Kitty Carlisle Hart, (1910-2007) actress, singer, game show regular and tireless advocate for the arts, died yesterday at the age of 96. Ms. Hart, widow of legendary playwright Moss Hart, appeared on Broadway, television and cabaret venues all over the country, her last appearance as recent as last fall. Known for her impeccable sense of style, Kitty Carlisle to my mind has always been the embodiment of the classic, New York sophisticate. To Tell the Truth, Kitty, we'll miss you.

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Idol Chat (Part 6)

In light of the Virginia Tech tragedy it may seem absurd to discuss things like American Idol. I do plan to address the Virginia Tech situation in a forthcoming post but it's taken a few days for me to process. Stay tuned. On the other hand, shows like American Idol provide a very necessary distraction at times like this. Besides being an hour of music and variety entertainment, it's about young people the same age as those Virginia Tech students pursuing their dreams and on the brink of what could be a very positive life-changing opportunity for them. We should celebrate that. It's easy to write AI off as a silly reality show, except that it actually produces real results having started many promising careers for its young contestants. Now, on to last night's show.

It was country week this week. The celebrity coach was Martina McBride, an excellent Coutnry singer who proved to be a rather unimpressive coach. Country is an important style for the contestants to sing since many of the American Idol alumni have gone on to have pretty successful country music careers, even if they didn't win the competition. Take Kellie Pickler for example, whose first album debuted at number 9 on the Billboard charts and topped the Country charts. The album went gold in four months. However, Country is a very specific style and not everyone can or should sing it. The reason for Kellie's success is not that she has such a fabulous voice, it's nice enough, but it comes from a real emotional place. That kind of connection is essential to the style and can often trump what otherwise might be a mediocre song. It must come from the singer's soul. It's sort of like Soul music for White Trash, if you will. (I'm probably going to catch hell for that, but oh, well. Sorry.)

Here's my review of the contestants:

Phil Stacey--Well, Phil has finally found his genre. He sounded fabulous start to finish singing Keith Urban's "Where the Blacktop Ends." He truly has the best voice of the men left but continues to struggle against an awkward appearance and stage presence. At least he spared us another silly hat this week. It also did not help that someone must have suggested he go into the audience during his performance which he was obviously was extremely uncomfortable with. As a performer, allow me to let you in on a little secret: EVERY PERFORMER IN THE WORLD DREADS GOING INTO THE AUDIENCE! And you can't do that kind of thing if you don't commit to it 100%. Someone needs to be telling these kids that. Also, it distracted him from really being able to connect emotionally and physically to the song wearing an expression of terror on his face the entire time. The judges didn't seem to notice this, and their praise may have earned him another week on the show. Also, the Country music industry will snap this kid up. He's got the military connection going for him, too, and you know how they love that.

Jordin Sparks--She certainly does! She continues to spark week after week. At first I found the way she handled Martina McBride's "A Broken Wing" was with more of a soul style than country. But by the end of it I didn't care. She sounded fabulous. Looked beautiful and unlike LaKisha, took the very wise advice of the coach, struck a strong stance and delivered the song. Jordin has excellent instincts and is obviously a smart kid. She is quickly becoming my underdog favorite. The way things are shaping up, it could come down to Jordin and Melinda in the final two.

Sanjaya--Appropriately singing Bonnie Raitt's "Let's Give Em Something to Talk About" but in Sanjaya's case, no one was talking about love. This was his worst performance to date. Absolutely painful to watch and listen to on every level. He sang the entire song out of tune and his attempts at flirting with the female back-up singers and Paula were pathetic and embarrassing. What I also noticed this week is that Sanjaya seems to have lost his spark. I think the strain of all the negative attention on him is starting to show. I don't know how much longer this kid can continue to smile in the face of adversity and public humiliation. I worry about him, I really do.

LaKisha--sang Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel" and God help the audience that had to listen to it! Once again she proved that talent is about more than just having a good voice. It involves good instincts, which LaKisha has not, and the wisdom to listen and learn from those who know more than you, which LaKisha also has not, disregarding the coach's comments week after week. This song was an odd choice given the fact that it's the signature tune of one of the most successful Idol winners, besides the fact that it also happens to be the worst kind of saccharine, Hallmark card, manipulative song writing out there. I hate it! LaKisha floundered through it, not knowing how to approach Country style, and even struggling with pitch. She was jarringly off when she went into the chorus. If LaKisha was smart--which she's not--she should have treated the song as a complete Gospel number and she could have gotten away with it. But then she would have been criticized for not getting the style. But who cares? Black girls don't need to sing Country.

Chris Richardson--More whiny unsupported singing from my adorable Chris who chose to sing "Mayberry." The song was too big for him. It's full of strong, homespun images that you can't sing in a thin nasal voice. It's got to come from your gut. He struggled with pitch through the whole song as he did in his coaching, which Martina McBride was unable to help him with. The kid has no breath support when he sings--teach him how to do it! Watching that made me crazy. All in a all a pretty lousy performance which could mean the end of the road for Chris, in which case my heart will die a little. Sigh.

Melinda Doolittle--SO SMART! When I heard she chose to sing "Trouble is a Woman" I thought BRILLIANT. It gave Melinda a chance to show off a really fun, sassy side of herself. She even understood the country style and was able to approximate it vocally. But then as a back-up singer you have to be able to understand, recognize and duplicate a wide range of musical styles. She's a pro. Another impeccable performance by Miss Doolittle. LOVE HER!

Blake--Oy! Country music is just NOT his style. Looking painfully out of place wearing an argyle sweater singing Tim McGraw's "When the Stars go Blue" he couldn't even approach the vocal style required for the song. Blake also struggles with support issues, so in a country tune which is about scooping up to the pitches for stylistic affect, you're just going to sing flat if you don't have the right support. This was his worst performance so far, but thankfully Blake has many other talents that will see him through the competition.

Best Performance--Melinda of course, but that's getting boring to say. So I'll also say Jordin.

Worst Performance--Sanjaya. Heaven help us.

Who Should Go--Once again Sanjaya. Could it be any clearer after this week?

Who Will Go--Sadly it could be Chris Richardson. Phil may have saved himself with a pretty good showing this week. I think we're still doomed to suffer through another week of Sanjaya, however.
RESULTS UPDATE--At last, SANJAYA GOES HOME! I don't mean to seem mean-spirited when I say that Sanjaya got as far as he did in the competition for reasons other than his talent or charisma. The fact that he made the top 24, then the top 12 are achievements he should be able to be proud of. But instead, the growing negative attention that his presence drew week after week from people with questionable and cruel motives, who are not even associated with the show, turned that achievement into something ugly and demeaning. Just yesterday Sanjaya suffered the ultimate humiliation of being name "Girl of the Day" by Maxim magazine, a notoriously sexist, trashy men's magazine. I, for one, am glad Sanjaya can finally go home and try to make sense of this whole experience and begin to process and heal from it.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I thought I'd give credit where it's due for the inspiration for the new Musical Moments feature on my blog. Last week my friend David, a Broadway conductor and pianist, sent me a link to a new website called The site houses a growing video archive of musical theatre performances, many with the original stars, from the late '4os to the present day. The clips were saved from Ed Sullivan Show appearances, television specials, B-roll footage , Tony Awards shows and the like. In many cases these clips are all we have left of the original performances. Performances that made careers, created stars and live on as legend: Julie Andrews in My Fair Lady, Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner in The King and I, Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam, Patti LuPone in Evita. I could go on. There is even rare footage of some infamous Broadway flops such as Rodgers and Hammerstein's Allegro, Charles Strouse's Rags and a show from 1997 called Side Show, a musical about a set of Siamese twins.

Unfortunately there doesn't appear to be a way to post to a blog from BlueGobo yet so I'll have to go through YouTube for now. They also have decent collection though not as organized and conveniently archived as BlueGobo.

In his email messge to me all David said was "This is life-changing." Indeed. Go check it out.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Musical Moments--The Light in the Piazza

Musical Theater has always figured prominently in my life. After all, I started performing in it as a little kid, studied it in college, earned my BFA, then pursued it as my livelihood yet I rarely mention it on my blog. So I'm starting now. I'll be writing a regular feature on here called "Musical Moments." (I haven't decided yet how regular it will be, so stay tuned.) But in it I plan to post numbers from Broadway musicals past and present and provide some commentary that hopefully you'll find interesting or informative.

My first featured selection is from one of my favorite Broadway musicals in recent years: "The Light in the Piazza." The show is about an American mother and daughter, two women with a complex, loving yet sometimes stressful and co-dependent relationship, on vacation in Italy. It plays up the societal and cultural differences as well as the role of women in both countries beautifully. The score borrows from traditional Broadway music, Italian opera (some songs sung completely in Italian) and is handled with the subtle nuance of some of the masters of modern musical theatre, such as Stephen Sondheim for example, who manage to capture the many layers of the sometimes complicated issues addressed in the genre today.

Both women in the play are swept up in the romance of Italy where the daughter finds her first love and the mother makes the difficult and painful yet not entirely unselfish decision to allow her only daughter to stay behind and marry the young man. In this opening scene we find mother and daughter (played by Victoria Clark and Kelly O'Hara) in a Florentine piazza, guidebook in hand as the magic of Italy comes to life before them and they begin their adventure.

(This clip taken from the 2005 Tony Awards.)


Friday, April 13, 2007

Speak No Evil

As you may have noticed I've remained mum on the subject of Don Imus' racist and sexist remarks aimed at the Rutgers Women's Basketball team. I don't need to rehash the incident, what was said, or the team's response here. I assume you've all seen the news and the reports ad nauseum on the subject. His remarks have landed Mr. Imus out of a job having been dropped from both CBS radio and MSNBC.

While I applaud these major news outlets for taking a stand, I can't help but wonder if their decisions are based on true anti-hate speech principles or the loss of sponsorships for Mr. Imus' show. Call me cynical, but as a gay American who has to filter out homophobic remarks from the media on a daily basis even from some of my favorite programs (See red7Eric's comment on yesterday's post), the swift and immediate response to Imus' remarks have left me scratching my head. Why start having principles now? Why over these particular remarks? Why Don Imus?

Don't get me wrong, I think what Imus said was despicable, inexcusable and a painful reminder that no matter how much women or minorities achieve they are still reduced to the basest name-calling and insults by old, white men. But what's different this time? It's been a bad year for hate speech, so is Don Imus simply a victim of bad timing? Why the call from the black community (and others) for the immediate dismissal of Mr. Imus from his media outlets, yet when Isaiah Washington uses an ugly gay epithet he is not only allowed to keep his job on one of the top rated TV shows, he is then awarded an NAACP Image award of all things!

I guess I was waiting to hear the whole Imus debacle discussed from a gay point of view before I commented. Surely I'm not the only one to be confused and disappointed by the duplicitous behavior on the part of the American public and the media over this particular hate speech. Thankfully, leave it to Harvey Fierstein in today's New York Times Op Ed piece to sum up not only his own feelings on the subject in a most eloquent and succinct manner, but mine as well. Here's a quote:
The real point is that you cannot harbor malice toward others and then cry foul when someone displays intolerance against you. Prejudice tolerated is intolerance encouraged. Rise up in righteousness when you witness the words and deeds of hate, but only if you are willing to rise up against them all, including your own. Otherwise suffer the slings and arrows of disrespect silently.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Gayest Show on Earth

Okay, I'll admit, I was just looking for an excuse to post this picture of American Idol contestants Chris Richardson and Blake Lewis. Apparently I'm one of the last people in the blogosphere to have discovered it being only an occasional reader of Towleroad, who posted it last week. The picture is photoshopped to death but I don't care. It makes me happy. AND it happens to tie in perfectly with an article I read this morning in the April 25th issue of Advocate magazine titled "American Idol's Big Gay Closet." (Not available online yet.)

Anyone who has been a regular viewer of Idol knows that the show can sometimes have homophobic overtones yet appeals to a huge gay audience. Last season it led to a reprimand from GLAAD of the show's producers after particularly homophobic remarks were spewed by Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson regarding a couple of effeminate auditionees. This season my biggest issue is with host Ryan Seacrest's desperate attempts to deflect rumors about his own sexuality which amounts to Seacrest and Cowell exchanging insults about the other's supposed gayness. It boils down to the locker room mentality of attacking another man's masculinity by implying that he's gay. (Because we all know there is no bigger insult to a straight man than insinuating he's gay and gays are never masculine. Right?) But frankly, Ryan, I'm not buying it. Methinks thou doth protest too much. But that's another story.

As a viewer, I would advise the Idol producers (like they'll listen to me) not to bite the hand that feeds. Everyone knows that the biggest market for American Idol is gay men and 13 year-old girls. (Incidentally, these two demographics are often the same market--I ask you, who else is buying Hello Kitty stuff?) Last night I happened to watch the results show with my 13 year-old niece, Katie who, unlike me, knew unequivocally that Sanjaya would not be in the bottom three but also remarked that she is turned off by Seacrest's constant insults hurled at Simon.

But back to the Advocate article. In it they comment on the show's large gay appeal, gay (but closeted) contestants and the frequent appearance of gay icons like last night's J-Lo and Diana Ross a few weeks ago. The show has also given rise to a whole new crop of gay icons, Kimberly Locke, Fantasia and Jennifer Hudson among them. Yet there seems to be an unspoken rule on Idol that gay contestants remain in the closet at least while they are competing on the show. Season 1's Jim Varraros confirmed as much in the article saying that when he confided to Idol producers that he is gay, he was advised to keep the fact to himself.

But some argue that delving into contestants' sexuality--strike that--GAY sexuality, would be detrimental to the show's clean-cut image. Last year when a 40-something, anonymous, online hook-up of Clay Aiken's outed Aiken with "evidence" of their liaison in order to jump start a porn career for himself (aim high!), legions of wholesome Aiken fans, known as Claymates, threatened to sue Aiken for fraud and misrepresentation for claiming to be straight.

Unfortunately, that's the climate in America today while finalists and winners of both Britain's Pop Idol and Australian Idol have come out as gay and have been virtually unscathed by the news. The UK's Will Young (Pop Idol season 1) came out immediately after winning the competition and still managed to sell over a million copies of his first single in the first week. Australian Idol's runner-up, Anthony Callea who confirmed he is gay after being accidentally outed by a radio DJ, has the highest-selling single in Australian history. As usual, the US lags shamefully behind the rest of the world where progressive social issues are concerned.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Idol Chat (Part 5)

I was generally underwhelmed by the performances on this week's American Idol. The theme was Latin music and the celebrity guest was Jennifer Lopez. J-Lo proved to be a pretty insightful coach which didn't surprise me because even if she's not the greatest singer, she understands showmanship and what makes an exciting performance. Unfortunately though, it wasn't enough to inspire great performances in the contestants.

About halfway through the evening Simon remarked that he didn't see a progression in the singers from last week to this week. I think the reason for that was due to the style of the music. Latin music is rhythmic and percussive, it's about movement and feeling and not necessarily about great vocals. It simply doesn't demand it. Consequently, some of the better singers in the competition were at a loss with this genre not being able to rely on brilliant vocals to see them through. That said, here are my thoughts on the contestants for this week:

Melinda: Chose to sing "Sway." A great old standard that Michael Buble has re-popularized recently. Melinda sang with her usual polish and style, but her hairdo made her look old and she seemed uncomfortable letting her body feel the music. But even Melinda's so-so performance is head and shoulders above the other contestants.

Lakisha: Sang "Conga." It should have been a great number for her. She looked good and sounded good but once again, failed to understand what the song was about. She didn't crack a smile once through the entire song which is supposed to inspire its listener to "Come on baby, do the Conga." To which I would respond to Lakisha "Why? Because you look like you're having so much fun? No thanks."

Chris Richardson: Sang Santana's "Smooth." He started off rough vocally but one thing Chris is able to do week after week is find his groove with a song, let go, and really make it his own. He got there about halfway through the song for a pretty respectable showing this week. Plus, he's damn cute.

Haley: Sang "Turn the Beat Around." She looked great, allowed herself physical freedom but vocally she can only do so much given her talent. She did her best with the number which is only average compared to the other contestants. I felt sorry for her after Simon's insulting and sexist remarks on her performance, though. He basically accused her of being a bimbo which I think was uncalled for. It's one thing to criticize her performance, it's quite another to infer things about her character.

Phil Stacey: Sang "Maria, Maria." Once again, it's his look that gets in the way. It doesn't help that he doesn't seem to connect with the lyrics enough when he sings, either. I'm not sure if the cracks toward the end of the song were a deliberate choice judging from where they fell in the music, or simply from vocal fatigue. He's a capable singer, but not an American Idol. Plus, as Scott says, he looks like he's recovering from some kind of medical treatment.

Jordin Sparks: Sang "Rhythm is Gonna Get You." She gave a youthful, vibrant performance and worked in enough riffs to show off her vocal range. However, she seemed physically uncomfortable in the middle of the song where she should have let go physically which was a problem that plagued many of the contestants this week.

Blake: Sang "I Need to Know." He was good but not great this week. However, he was one of the few contestants who did not shy away from the sexy side of Latin music and therefore turned in a pretty respectable performance.

Sanjaya: Sang the old crooner standard "Besame Mucho" and surprisingly, didn't suck. He looked great and chose to simply sit and sing unlike the other contestants who felt obligated to move around whether they looked good doing it or not. It made him the most original performance of the night. The vocals were thin and watery, but his stage presence made up for it.

Best performances this week: Melinda and Blake, but only by default. No one wowed me this time.

Worst Performance: Haley

Who will and should be voted off: Haley or Phil Stacey. Ironically, I think Sanjaya deserves to go on to next week after this last performance.
RESULTS UPDATE 4/11: Haley is sent home. No surprises there. She did as well as she possibly could in the competition given her talent, but it was time. Total upset that Chris Richardson was in the bottom 3 tho! I'm putting his call in number on speed dial next week.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Paper Mill Update

I'm pleased to report that the Paper Mill Playhouse will be able to finish out its season which includes a production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers opening this Friday and Pirates! scheduled for June. It seems two local real estate companies have decided to back a bank loan for the theatre thus rescuing them from financial ruin. The Paper Mill Playhouse is still in need of donations for their upcoming season, however. Once again, help if you can. Thanks!

More news: NJ lawmakers are proposing a bail out to save Paper Mill Playhouse by sponsoring grants to the tune of $300,000 to $400,000. The grants won't come through till August, so the bank loans are still needed to finish out the remainder of the 2006/2007 season.

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End of an Era

Even though I no longer live there, I will always have a place in my heart for the West Village. In fact, I continue to patronize certain businesses like my barber shop and drug store just to have excuses to visit my old neighborhood on a regular basis. My drugstore is catty corner across from Condomania, a sex shop of sorts that sells every kind of condom under the sun. Mostly it attracts tourists and giggly teenagers these days, but I was surprised to see that they were still open for business last week when I walked by. These kinds of business, ones that mark the history of the gay community and were born out of a particular need from the AIDS epidemic are quickly becoming relics of the neighborhood which was once the home of Stonewall and the modern gay rights movement. The particular stretch of Bleecker Street where Condomania is located has recently become one of the most exclusive shopping districts in Manhattan with stores like Ralph Lauren and Marc Jacobs taking up residence where old book and antique shops or neighborhood eateries used to be.

I figured it was only a matter of time before Condomania was next on the chopping block, and I was right. The store has closed citing "sky rocketing rents" as the reason. They hope to find a new location soon, but in the meantime their online store is still open for business.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Crazy Cat People

A retired couple moving from Queens, NY to Sedona, AZ have decided to travel to their new home in true New York fashion: by taxi. That's right. Apparently, like many native New Yorkers, the couple does not drive and so have hired a taxi and negotiated a flat rate of $3,000 to take them all the way to Arizona. This is a bargain as compared to the metered fair which would come out to something like $5,000--each way. The couple will also pay for the cabbie's food and lodging along the way.

The reason for this marathon cab ride? The couple's cats. They did not want to subject their little kitties to a plane ride and so have decided to go by car. Of course, one has to wonder which the cats would prefer, a few hours in a carrying cage on a plane or days spent in the back of a New York City taxi.

No word yet on how the couple plans to live in Sedona, AZ without knowing how to drive. Good luck, folks!


Sunday, April 08, 2007

Cookie Mania

Well, it's April and Easter has made its appearance. Despite the unseasonable cold, the daffodils are blooming on the hillside in Riverside Park and according to the old song this month's showers will bring May flowers. But before we get to May there is still plenty of time to partake in one of April's most beloved traditions: Girl Scout Cookies!

Living in New York City I don't exactly get uniformed members of the Girls Scout organization ringing my bell. You'd think that the buying and selling of Girl Scout cookies is something that is restricted to the suburbs. But like many things in New York, it's just a matter of knowing where to look and all the Girl Scout Cookies you want can be yours. But hurry before the nanny state decides that little girls shouldn't be selling cookies what with the childhood obesity epidemic and all.

If you live in any of the five boroughs of New York City, you can visit one of five Cookie Cupboards and stock up on the delicious Girl Scout confections. You don't have to even know an actual Girl Scout. Click here for locations and hours. If you don't live in the Big Apple, fear not. You can click here and enter your zip code to find to find your nearest Girl Scout cookie selling Council.

So what are your favorites? Trefoils? Thin Mints? Do Si Dos? Somoas? Tagalongs? Cartwheels? or the new fangled Lemonades? Mine are Thin Mints--especially if they've been in the freezer for a while. By the way, this is the last year the cookies will be made with those delicious trans fats. Enjoy them while you can!


Friday, April 06, 2007

Crisis at The Paper Mill Playhouse

Growing up in New Jersey, the Paper Mill Playhouse, one of the country's best regional theatres and The State Theatre of New Jersey, was the closest thing we had to Broadway on our side of the Hudson. And indeed the productions were and still are beautiful, lavish, star-studded musicals the likes of which even Broadway is hard pressed to produce these days. After being bitten by the theatre bug at around 10 or 11 years old, I hoped to someday perform on the Paper Mill stage. But then in 1980 I remember hearing the news that the theater had burned down. It was a big story in New Jersey at the time and massive fundraising efforts were made to rebuild the theater. In 1982 the theatre was able to re-open its doors and by 1985 season subscriptions were at an all time high. This was about the time I convinced my parents that we should have season tickets to Paper Mill as well. I also remember one of my high school history teachers who worked as a carpenter during the Summer months being proud to tell me he helped lay the special flooring required for an Equity stage during the rebuilding--a memory that did not escape me when I finally got to perform on the Paper Mill stage in 1999.

Now, 27 years after the fire, the Paper Mill Playhouse is in financial dire straits and in danger of closing as early as this weekend. There is a campaign to save the theatre and a rally scheduled for Monday night at 7 PM at the theatre in Millburn, NJ. The preservation of this theatre is vitally important to musical theatre history as Paper Mill draws from the rich repertoire of American classics to produce every season. Being so close to New York, they are able to attract Broadway stars for their productions, names like Betty Buckley, Kristen Chenoweth, Christine Ebersole among them in recent years. The shows are done as they were meant to be done, with a full-sized cast, orchestra and beautifully designed sets, costumes and production values. The theater serves the community with educational classes for children through senior citizens and each summer presents scholarships to their intensive Musical Theatre Conservatory program.

As both an actor and a kid from New Jersey, it's hard for me to imagine a world without the Paper Mill Playhouse in it. It has given so much to so many so I'm putting this out there. Help if you can. Thanks.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Idol Chat (Part 4)

First, let me apologize for both the length and tardiness of this post and the fact that if you don't follow American Idol, this long, late post will mean nothing to you. But you might enjoy reading it if you're at all interested in the great standards of American music as this week's theme was the music of Tony Bennett. More accurately, it was the music Tony Bennett made popular and was written by the likes of George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen and many other legendary composers. I happen to know a lot about this kind of music so I plan to say a lot--which is why this post is so long. Be prepared. Second after taking almost two hours to write this post yesterday, Blogger decided it didn't feel like publishing anything--for hours. Finally I abandoned it but luckily was able to save it as a draft and planned to post after the results show. So here it is.

This week the American Idol contestants had to choose a song for the competition from among the recordings of Tony Bennett. During Bennett's heyday as a popular singer the "singer/songwriter" had not yet come into vogue. Songwriters wrote and singers sang and all was right with the world. Consequently we were left with a great generation of popular singers and a wonderful repertoire of artfully crafted songs from those songwriters. The songs have become timeless classics allowing new generations to apply their own meanings and interpretations to them. Important to note is that these songs were written at a time when popular music was not about vocal embellishments and acrobatics or fancy sound engineering tricks done in the studio. There was just the words and the music to rely on to sell a song. Understanding and trusting those two things is the key to interpreting this music. And with those ominous words we begin our rundown of this week's contestants.

Blake--Chose to sing "Mac the Knife" which initially I thought was a good choice for him. I like Blake a lot but I found this performance pretty average at best. The judges were very kind to him, probably because he was the first to perform and had no one to compare him to also he's still one of the front runners in the competition. Simon's 7 out of 10 assessment seemed about right to me, though. In his coaching with Tony Bennett Blake was advised to understand and know the meaning of the song. This is good common sense for any singer but this may have also led to Blake's problem. In the case of Mac the Knife, the meaning of the song is the depressing tale of Mac Heath, the murderous villain in The Threepenny Opera. In the show the song is performed with hurdy-girdy sounding German oom-pah-pah band. The effect is haunting and creepy which sets the right tone for the play. However in most popular recordings, the Bobby Darrin recording being the most notable, there is a complete and deliberate departure from the dark meaning. Instead it is treated as a sheer style piece and set to a boppy swing beat thus downplaying the morbid undertones. Blake seemed caught in the middle of these two interpretations and therefore gave a pretty non-committal performance. Also, I was disappointed that he never seemed to find the vocal energy needed at the end of the song. He was not helped by a rather lackluster arrangement either.

Phil Stacey--Chose to sing Cole Porter's Night and Day. Unfortunately Phil fell into both traps this song can present. First, his pitch! Porter uses a lot of repeated notes on a descending scale through the phrases to symbolize the drone of days and hours with no relief from a haunting, unrequited love. If you don't have proper vocal technique these repeated notes can go flat very quickly making it sound just awful. Second, the song is about unrequited love, bordering on the obsessive. He was criticized for giving a gloomy performance but in his defense, the song is about a man in torment. The lyric says: "this torment won't be through till you let me spend my life making love to you." It's very hard to play torment without seemingly gloomy. I think he understood the song but was inexperienced at how to play the emotion appropriately for this kind of setting.

Melinda--Chose to sing Gershwin's "I've Got Rhythm." PERFECTION! An absolutely first rate, polished, professional performance. This girl never misses. And in a week when she could have easily chosen another mature ballad, she chose instead an energetic, up-tempo song with a fun and youthful arrangement. It was great. GREAT!

Chris Richardson--Chose to sing Duke Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." At first I thought, "well, he doesn't sound terrific but he sure is charming and he's selling the heck out of the song." He completely committed to the style and unlike Blake, found the vocal energy needed in the bridge and used that energy to propel him through the end of the song, doing a few of his trademark embellishments which made it his own but without compromising the style of the song. He struck exactly the right balance which is the mark of a good artist.

Jordin--Chose to sing "On a Clear Day" by Lerner and Lane. When I heard her song choice I thought PERFECT! There is something about her sunniness and youth that is exactly the right flavor for the song. Ms. Sparks did not disappoint. She managed to hold her own vocally through some of those very long phrases, understood and committed to the meaning of the song and gave an impressive and mature performance for her 17 years. She should be very proud of herself.

Let me also just say that people like Jordin Sparks are the reason I love this show. It's so exciting to me to watch the progress of talented young singers like Jordin. Each week she comes back better than the last. She is obviously using this opportunity to really grow and learn as a singer. I'm moved by that kind of passion and committment for one's talent. I don't think she's going to win this competition, but she will do very well for herself from the exposure and her considerable talent.

Gina--Chose to sing "Smile" written by Charlie Chaplin. Gina gave a beautiful, simple, elegant, performance. This sensitive side is exactly what this "rocker girl" needed to show at this point in the competition. She kept the vocals understated and pure and managed to find the exact right emotional honesty for the song. She'll never have the vocal chops that some of the other girls have but it takes more than a good voice to be a great singer. You have to know how to use your voice effectively to connect to the song emotionally which Gina manages to do week after week.

Sanjaya--Chose to sing the Irving Berlin classic "Cheek to Cheek." Where to begin. Ironically, Sanjaya chose probably the most vocally demanding of any of the songs this week. The song has lots of long phrases, many of which should ideally be done on one breath. It changes mood and style jumping around from the jaunty "oh I love to go out fishing in a river or a creek" to the very dramatic "Dance with me! I want my arms about you..." Also, it's extremely rangy with the highest note in the song in the middle of the first phrase ("And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak") so right out of the gate you have to be ready for it. With Sanjaya's limited vocal ability, this song presents more of a challenge than usual for him. Once again his performance was pathetic compared to the other singers. He was dressed up in what looked like an ill-fitting costume from a high school play. His pitch was all over the place. He sang to some little girl in the first row which I found alarmingly creepy. He then danced with Paula at which point I had to avert my eyes it was so painful and schmaltzy to watch. The whole thing felt like somebody's cousin who was hired to sing at a Bar Mitzvah. It was awful.

Haley--Chose to sing Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'" Poor, sweet, beautiful Haley. She fell victim to a god-awful, cheesy arrangment. When she started the song I thought "okay, good, she's going to do it as a torch song" but I didn't feel she was connecting with the lyric at all. Then the arrangement changed to a jazzy up-tempo which is how the song is usually done so therefore, rather uninspired. She walked through the audience and played to them which is never a good idea and a sure fire way to make your performance seem like the amature hour. Finally she hit the stage where the arrangement changed again for a big, bluesy, powerhouse ending. Three styles in thirty-two bars, ladies and gentlemen! The whole thing was reminiscent of the the kind of acts pageant girls do to show the judges "look how many styles I can sing" in under 90 seconds. She was criticized by the judges for not understanding the meaning of the song, which was true, but in her defense, it's hard to come up with an emotional through line with such a schizophrenic arrangement.

Lakisha--chose to sing Harold Arlen's "Stormy Weather." When I heard her song choice I couldn't wait to hear her sing it. It's a perfect choice. I was HORRIFIED by this performance. HORRIFIED! I'm not talking about her vocals. The vocals were fine. It was her interpreation that was off. She obviously has absolutely NO IDEA what this song is about. It was all WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG which is what I kept yelling at the tv set. She came out all glammed up and gave this superficial, sassy performance in which she flipped her hair, kicked up the hem of her skirt and even gave the "attitude" head bob complete with the finger wagging. This is hardly the behavior of a shattered woman! The song is about a woman who is bordering on suicidal "since my man and I ain't together--keeps raining all the time--ALL THE TIME" The lyric "keeps raining/so weary/so lonesome all the time" is repeated at the end of every phrase. If it was raining in Lakisha's interpretation apparently it was raining men. The lyrics really couldn't be any clearer. "Can't go on, everything I had is gone." Does it get simpler than that? Lakisha not only could go on, but she got a makeover and a new dress!

Lakisha had the advantage of choosing the song with the most emotional meat of any of the singers this week--an opportunity that was squandered for a cheap, artificial, Vegas-style performance. With most standards there is lots of room for interpretation in terms of how to treat the arrangement. But you will notice that when this song is sung by all the greats--Lena Horn, Ethel Waters, Judy Garland--it's done exactly as written which is how it should be in my opinion. This is one of those rare songs where the composer gives you absolutely everything you need. The melody so perfectly, perfectly captures the sentiment and despair of the song that all you need to do is stand there and sing it. Trust it. It will do the work for you. If you have a glorious voice, as Lakisha does, all you have to do is "tell the story," as Tony Bennett said, and believe it and you will bring down the house every time. This should have been the best performance of the evening but instead was the biggest disappointment--to me anyway.

Sadly, Lakisha will learn nothing from this performance because the judges, who obviously are also idiots, praised her for it, each and every one. Lakisha twice now has gone against good advice in favor of her own instincts which are questionable. Knowing how to accurately and honestly interpret a song is the mark of an artist as opposed to just a singer. Lakisha still has a lot to learn in that respect.

Who should go: Sanjaya--who else?
Who will go: Haley--because of Howard Stern and votefortheworst. She's been scraping by week after week and after this last performance, it's time.

The Results: Gina leaves the competition. She probably would have gone home in the next three weeks anyway but she deserves to have been there longer than Haley and maybe even Phil Stacey especially after her last beautiful performance.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Don't Be Cruel

Tonight another episode of American Idol will air featuring Sanjaya Malakar, the young man who has been the subject of almost as much media attention as Britney's Haircut. He manages to be voted on to the next round of the competition week after week despite his limited vocal abilities as compared to the other competitors. As you all know by now there is a campaign by (whose link I refuse to supply) and Howard Stern, notorious shock jock, to keep him on for the sheer amusement of exploiting a 17 year-old boy and spoiling the legitimate competition for the other deserving singers.

It seems to me that at the heart of Stern's motivation is to ride the coat tails of American Idol's ratings since his own ratings have been in the toilet sincee he moved to Sirius satellite radio, a medium that may be doomed to oblivian despite a desperate merger with XM Satellite radio recently. Howard Stern has proven himself to be a man of little character over the years, but the blatant cruelty of using this boy, this high school kid, plucked from obscurity to be the court jester to this multi-millionaire egotist for his own ratings, is a new low even for Howard Stern. It's like some big school yard bully spoiling a game of marbles for a bunch of kindergartners.

But in all of the media coverage what no one seems to be discussing is that at the heart of this circus is a sweet, inexperienced 17 year-old boy who could not possibly be mentally equipped to handle this level of public humiliation. In an early interview on Idol, Sanjaya said that he took the GED test a year early so he would not have to go back to High School for another year. Immediately I suspected that Sanjaya hated high school, where he was known to do the hair styling for all the girls in the choir, probably because he is mercilessly teased for his effeminacy and for being of Indian descent. This kid has enough on his plate without being picked on by the likes of media-giant Howard Stern. He has no publicist, no managers, no one to speak for him and his parents are probably naive to the ways of show business. When Sanjaya crashes and burns from this experience I wonder if Howard Stern will pay for the rehab.

I genuinely feel sorry for Sanjaya now and can't imagine how his parents must feel having their son be the subject of such ridicule on every media outlet. If I were them I would probably pull him out of the competition just like at the end of "Little Miss Sunshine" when the brother jumps onstage at the pageant to shield his little sister from humiliation screaming "I DON'T WANT THEM JUDGING YOU!"

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