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AI Week Two – Separating the Chaff from the Wheat

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When the show began last night, I was excited–because Jacob had the “pimp” spot. As the show progressed, however, my excitement waned a bit. The artists are beginning to separate themselves, some from the pack and some, well, just separated. Let’s begin with Naima, who so impressed me last week.

This week, Naima was not good. She performed “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” While she put her on spin on the song, making it a bit different, her vocals were not good. They were really all over the place, and Jennifer’s assessment was right on target. I like Naima’s voice, as it has some very unique qualities, off-key not being one of those I like. If she makes it to next week, and I think there’s a good chance she won’t, Naima should leave the dancing alone and focus on her vocals.

Oh, Paul. I’ve tried to get you, and I give up. I’m crying “uncle.” Paul butch–I mean, sang “I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues.” While he has a somewhat unique, raspy quality to his voice, last night it came to me what I hear when Paul sings: A cartoon character who sucked on a helium balloon prior to taking the stage. Again, this was not a good performance for me. He is another who should leave out the dancing (if you can call it that). It just makes him look silly. Paul should be in the bottom three tonight, but he gets help from the site people love to hate, Vote for the Worst. He may well be safe again (much to my chagrin).

Next up last night was Thia, whose rendition of “Colors of the Wind” sounded exactly like Vanessa Williams’ original version. I have to agree with “the Dawg:” Thia is BOR-ing. Every week, she sounds exactly the same–no colors to her vocals, no inflections, no nothing. Randy hit the proverbial nail on the head with this one: She doesn’t know who she is musically. Didn’t I say that last week? Is Randy reading my articles or am I just that good? Probably, neither. The problem here is that while Thia has a nice vocal talent, she’s 15 years old.  How many 15-year-olds truly know who they are at that point? And knowing who you are as an artist is even tougher. Again, they should have made Thia wait a couple of years. She is reminding me of Lisa and Paris in Season 5, both great singers but both clueless as to their artistic identities.

Speaking of artistic identities, James is very clear on his. James’ offering last night was Bon Jovi’s “I’ll Be There For You.” While Steven warned him not to “get too poppy,” I think it’s good that James shows a bit of versatility. Bon Jovi has plenty of fans for their brand of rock, and James is wise to experiment while staying true to his genre. Everyone’s not into screaming, and I like that he can do more. James has great stage presence, and he’s a natural. I see him in this competition for weeks to come.

Like the other piece of bread on a sandwich, Haley is the other contestant who very obviously seems to be fishing for an identity. This week, she went back to R&B with Whitney Houston’s “I’m Your Baby Tonight.” Haley does not have an R&B voice, and it just doesn’t work. Someone, please help Haley find herself (though I’m glad Ryan helped her find the lipstick on her chin; I couldn’t stop staring at it). Haley needs to do a bit of soul searching to see if she can find what type of artist she can best be. Just because you can sing does not mean you’re an artist. Find something you’re passionate about, and pursue that. I like Steven’s suggestion of following in her parents’ footsteps in blues. But, blues is a “niche” genre, and these kids want to be known worldwide. Good luck with that.

While everyone went crazy over Stefano’s rendition of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” I thought it was just okay. Don’t get me wrong: Stefano can sing, but I think he should have done the song an octave lower. He was borderline screaming the song. Thanks to Randy for pointing out who this song belongs to, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes and the late, great Teddy Pendergrass, but I digress. The good thing about Stefano is that he is a very emotional singer, but his rendition would have been much better in a lower register.

Contary to the judges’ opinions, I find Pia just as boring as Thia. What a surprise that she chose yet another power ballad, “Where Do Broken Hearts Go,” another Whitney number. In a sense, Pia is lacking identity as well if she thinks Whitney, Celine, and Chrissy are all the same artist. I’m bored with her, and the jumpsuit she had on was just as bad. Are the stylists working yet? If not, after seeing this number, I think it’s time.

Scott kept his country thing going with “Can I Trust You With My Heart.” At 17 years old, Scotty is one of the best of the bunch. He’s always consistent, and his big note at the end revealed that he can do even more. Scotty has a huge future ahead of him in country music. In a way, it’s sad that a 17-year-old has such a clear identity of himself musicially while some of the older contestants flounder. But, know himself Scotty does, and that’s why he’s so damned good.

Another contestant who seems to be losing steam is Karen. She sang “Love Will Lead You Back.” While this was a BIG improvement over last week, I am “on the fence” about Karen. She’s a good singer, but something seems to be missing. Perhaps with a bit of time, I will put my finger on that “something.” I suspect, however, that Karen will, once again, be in danger tonight and may beat Naima out of the door.

Finally, I’m starting to get Casey, who had an “Idol first” by performing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I’m not familiar with the group or the song, but I saw a real artist in Casey last night. He’s smart to choose songs that are a bit on the obscure side (for the bulk of this viewing audience), as that makes it easier to make them his own. While Casey sometimes appears to be “losing control” while he’s on stage, I see him more as losing himself in his performance. That’s a good thing. In the world of art, that art must take precedence over everything else. Casey has that, but it’s hard to tell how that will translate to the Idol viewing audience.

Lauren, like Scotty, continues to show us that 17 is merely a number when it comes to being a talented artist. While Laren made a good showing last night, I think there is a whole lot more there than what’s she shown us so far. I suspect she’ll be around to show us. She has a great voice, she’s animated on stage, and she’s very, very likable. That is a winning formula for Idol contestants.

Last but not least, Jacob continues to astound me. I was very happy that Jacob did not do another R&B song, as I don’t want to see him and that big old voice of his pigenholed. He showed us last night that he can sing a rock song too by choosing Heart’s “Alone.” Good for Jacob. His vocals are, without a doubt, some of the best I’ve ever heard on this show in 9 years of watching. Everyone who knows me knows how much I love Elliott Yamin’s voice because of his ability to lend emotion to the lyric. Jacob takes that a step farther: He sings with his entire being. It’s a beautiful thing. I worry that Idol audiences won’t see Jacob’s potential, and he will be eliminated far earlier than he deserves. Even if that happens, he won’t be going back to the spa anytime soon–other than as a customer.

So, who goes home tonight? I will never make that prediction, as it is just too difficult to call. While Jacob owns the best vocal chops, Idol audiences tend to vote on other things besides singing ability, so there is no way I’m going there. Based on performances alone, however, there are four contestants who I believe all equally deserve to be in the bottom three (yes, I said four): Haley, Karen, Paul, and Naima. Sorry, Naima. I think you’re fabulous, but you’re not showing it right now. Karen and Haley are being hurt by their inability to choose who they are artistically, and sorry folks–Paul isn’t good. While Thia also fails to recognize her artistic niche, I believe she will be safe this week. I suspect, however, that her days are numbered. I know fans of Paul are going to hate me, but I’m used to it. Remember Taylor Hicks? I LOVED the hate mail from his fans, so bring it on. Until next time…

Art

Rain and Fire in Sedona

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Ange Alex

A rainy day in Sedona? What are we going to do. Everything we have planned is outdoors. I am pretty sure that is why people come to Sedona, for the beautiful OUTDOOR activities, like hiking, biking, Jeep tours, viewing the red rocks and photography. 

What to do, what to do.

Oh, I know. I had the privilege of meeting some great artists that work in fire and glass! The perfect indoor activity when your outdoor plans are washed away!

The Melting Point in Sedona, conveniently located across the street for the Whole Foods (two birds with one stone, yeah!), is a group of artist focusing on creating and teaching others how to create as well.

When we entered the facilities, it was like entering a fine arts gallery. So many beautiful works of glass art. Jordan Ford is the general manager and one of the Artists. He came out of the workshop and told us the rules, then brought us into the fold. 

We were about to become glass blowers! 

Jordan had a love for the natural world from a very early age. He went on to study geology in college but that is when he discovered glass. He currently has Bachelor’s Degrees in both Earth Science/Geology and Visual Arts/Glassblowing.

Jordan says , “It’s the process of blowing glass that drives me. I find the physical act of making glass so overwhelmingly fascinating. I approach most of my work with a consideration for the more classical techniques – it’s the framework that I use as a jumping point for experimentation.”

Not only is Jordan incredibly talented, he is really personable and extremely funny. He made everyone in the room feel at ease and we all often irrupted in bouts of laughter.

Another artist that was helping us is Austin Littenberg. Austin became interested in the art of glass blowing at age 16 after watching a documentary. He spent over 12 years developing his craft and learning the technical precision needed to work at this level.

Austin views the many ways Art presents itself and is in tune with it all, and it shows.

Clearly these two artist love what they do, and I for one am grateful for their expertise and their willingness to show the world their art.

They worked with us to create a beautiful cactus, complete with three flowers, one for each kid, and a Sedona rock like base. We loved the patience they showed and the skill to make us feel at ease. We never felt like  we were about to do something we just couldn’t. It felt like we had been doing this before. That is the measure of a true instructor. 

Our work of art was complete and we left there feeling accomplished and quite honestly, amazing! 

Both Austin and Jordan have remarkable skills but also wonderful comedic timing. They were a absolutely pleasure to meet and I look forward to keeping up with their art in the future.

If you find yourself in Sedona and want to meet some really wonderful people, stop by The Melting Point and say hello! While you’re there, blow some glass!

How could I forget one of them most important things; They have a studio dog! Austin brings his sweet baby girl to work with him and she is an angel! We loved her! Make sure you give her some love when you visit!

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Artists to Watch

Cry With Us! Puddles Pity Party in Orlando

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Ange Alex

I owe him a poem:

Here’s a story of a sad clown who one night in February was traveling through O-town. 

He brought a suitcase and a lot of gum, he brought music and videos and tons of fun.

He sang high but mostly he sang low, and he put of one hell of a good show.

He gave a bearded guy a cupcake and danced with a lady, a wolf he would make

There is no doubt he is a boss sir, he even got love from Kevin Costner.

Fans filled the plaza for a night of delight as the 7 foot clown gave us some real insight.

He sang Bowie and Queen and even some Who, also Cash, Lorde and “Let it go” too

Videos played of pets and babies crying, also beautiful artwork and people smiling.

Last night Orlando was anything but mad as we showed much love for a clown that is sad.

Ok, I’d cry too after that poem. Here’s some more info:

If you haven’t been to see a Puddles Pity Party show, you are missing out. 

The show had me smiling and laughing so hard my stomach hurt, but I was also moved so many times by the range of Puddles voice. True entertainment never gets old and I have a feeling he is going to last forever.

I loved the interaction he had with the crowd. He pulled numerous people up to help him on stage and all of them were good sports, one man even singing the entire song, “All by myself” karaoke style! The show was so well thought out and planned but with room for some hilarious improv. Especially at the end when he pulled the 3 fans from the audience dressed like clowns. At the end of them performing together, Puddles suddenly remembers that he is scared of clowns! Genius! 

Hands down one of the best performances I’ve seen in years.

 

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Dance

“20/20:Visionary”: Looking Back, Looking Forward

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Photograph by Charlie McCullers, courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

Last weekend (March 18-20) the Atlanta Ballet gifted the city with “20/20: Visionary,” three pieces, including a world premiere, presented at the Cobb Energy Center.

The world premiere, “Playground,” by British choreographer Douglas Lee, belied its name by being a shadowy piece danced between upright, rolling chalkboard set pieces. Prepared for a lighthearted, joyful expression of childhood, I was surprised that the work instead exposed the darker side of childhood memories. There were some light moments, such as the towering billboard inscribed with multiple lines reading, “Jackie must remember the steps” – clearly a humorous aside about Jackie Nash, one of the most capable company members and perhaps the quickest study in rehearsal. There were some easily-seen choreographic devices–a lot of theme and variation, even more pushing around of set pieces–but there were a few exceptional moments as well, including intricate, slow-motion manipulation of a dancer’s body by another dancer.

Pen-Yu Chen & Tara Lee in “Boiling Point.” Photo by C McCullers, courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

The opening work, “Boiling Point,” by Darrell Grand Moultrie, was playfully performed at breakneck speed. Dancers are often told to “make it look easy,” and the company took that concept to heart. Highlighted against the men in black costumes, the women wore bits of metallic fabric, providing splashes of intense color and exposing powerful bodies with long muscles. The piece began with the stage space open almost to its fullest, and the dancers running across like a rushing river. They rolled, twisted, turned, and slid like water itself. The choreography juxtaposed synchronicity with counterpoint, traditional with innovation. There was a gargouillade, rarely seen even in classical ballets. The lines of the bodies were critical to the piece, and often layers deep. The flow was almost nonstop, with only an occasional flick of a wrist or toss of a head to provide momentary stasis. The standout was Christian Clark, who sometimes nearly managed to integrate himself into the group but then something distinctive and powerful in his dancing drew the eye to him again.

“Red Clay” from “Home in 7.” Photo by C McCullers, courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

“Home in 7,” a work by Amy Siewert, closed the concert. A portrait of Atlanta, the ballet was a rich tapestry woven from music, spoken word, and movement. Performed in 7 segments to a libretto written and performed by Marc Bamuthi Joseph and an intriguing, haunting string score composed and performed by Daniel Bernard Roumain, the dance, too, was a poem, shimmering like summer moonlight on the Chattahoochee. John Welker opened the ballet with tiny explosions of movement “Secrets.” Perhaps the most enchanting segment was “Home of the Braves:” 5 men using baseball imagery, holding their formation as they slid precisely between pitches and catches. “Red Clay” evoked August nights, intolerance, and redemption—Atlanta history, a story familiar to many. I first saw this ballet in 2011, and it has grown in depth as the dancers have matured technically and emotionally. Atlanta loves its ballet company, and never more than when it showcases its home city.

John McFall is ending his tenure with the company at the end of this season. For newcomers to Atlanta Ballet offerings, this will have been a dynamic performance. For long-time supporters, it will have been an opportunity to reflect on his legacy. There are a couple more opportunities to see the company under his watch, and then he will pass the torch to Gennadi Nedvigin, the company’s fourth artistic director. Stay tuned!

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