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American Idol is Back

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After the last couple of years of uninspiring winners and runners-up (Adam Lambert excepted), American Idol has begun its 10th season with a bang, showcasing 13 very talented young people. Watching the winnowing down of 24 to 13 was tough, however, as all 24 had talent. When the proverbial smoke cleared, the show was left with 10 of the 24, plus two wild card choices from the judges–except the judges decided to shake things up by adding a 13th, Naima Adedapo. Based on Naima’s first two performances–an appropriately referred to “lounge version” of “Summertime” and a Donny Hathaway tune–one might think the judges were drinking from former judge Paula’s cup. Naima put that notion to rest on Wednesday night. A quick recap, from my perspective, is how we’ll get things started.

First up on Wednesday, 16-year-old Lauren Alaina sang Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine.” While the judges were lukewarm to Lauren’s performance, all I could think of was: “She’s 16? Really? Really?” Lauren has a lot of talent balled up in that 16-year-old body, and I think we’ve only seen a bit of what she has to offer.

Casey Abrams is a man I’ve yet to understand. He chose Joe Cocker as his personal Idol and sang “With A Little Help From My Friends.” I don’t get Casey or the attraction to him. I’m trying, folks, I’m trying. He doesn’t suck, and that’s about the best I can say about him at this stage.

I so wanted Ashthon Jones to do well, but I should have shelled peas (you know, wish in one hand, shell peas in the other). Ashthon chose Diana Ross’ “When You Tell Me That You Love Me” as her song for the evening. My problem with this song choice is that just last week, Jennifer and Randy said that they see Ashthon more as Diana Ross than Monica. So, what does Ashthon do? She chooses Diana Ross. I think the object of this experiment is for the artists to show us who they are, not who the judges want them to be. That choice does not bode well for Ashthon, as it leads one to believe she has no idea who she is as an artist. Do I hear the death knell?

Paul McDonald is the other contestant I completely don’t get (yes, even more than Casey). Paul chose Ryan Adams’ “Come Pick Me Up.” I know Ryan Adams, but I don’t know that song, leaving me with no comparison to make. I doubt the comparison would have mattered. I personally thought Paul rather off-key on the opening, but that could be a product of me not “getting” him.

Pia Toscano appears to be the “judge’s favorite” this time around. To them, she can do no wrong; to me, she’s all right. Pia chose “All By Myself,” made famous by Celine Dion. From my perspective, Pia is just loud. Don’t get me wrong: Pia can sing, but so far, Ive only been bored by her. Hopefully, she will lend that big voice to something less “sleepy” (to borrow from Randy) the next time around, as I doubt very seriously that Pia is going anywhere this week.

Following Pia was one of my personal favorites, James Durbin. Yes, I’m allowed to have favorites, folks. James chose a surprise of sorts, “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney. After hearing James scream out the Judas Priest number, both his choice and his performance were pleasant surprises. As a friend of mine at Facebook said, “The boy not only can scream, he can really sing!” Yes, he can. James has one of the back stories that fans of Idol sometimes link up with, but I don’t think James is going to need it.

Like Randy, I did not like Haley Reinhart channeling Alicia Keys. “Growling” is not attractive, and it does not a good singer make. This week, she made a better choice with LeeAnn Rime’s “Blue,” which is actually a song rejected by Patsy Cline. One of the things I didn’t like about Haley during the top 24 was her tendency to “talk back” to the judges when they gave constructive criticism. If I could speak to Haley, I would explain to her that the judges are supposed to do that; they’re there to help you, honey. She sort of blew me away with her response to them last night that she chose a song “like you guys wanted.” Wrong. The judges and America want you to be yourself. Find out who that is, and bring her out next week.

Jacob, Jacob, Jacob (Lusk, that is). This young man seriously has the most ridiculous vocal range I have ever heard in my life. He chose R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.” Prepared to be bored because this song has been done so many times, Jacob showed me a thing or two. At times, he has the bass of Melvin Franklin and, at others, the falsetto of Eddie Kendrick (both of the Temptations for you youngsters). In essence, this man could be a one-man group. Jacob is, without a doubt, the best pure vocalist in this competition. I mean, he can hold a note for 10 freaking minutes. Unbelievable.

Thia Megia (what was her mother thinking with the rhyming name) is the competition’s only 15-year-old. I think they should have raised the age on the other end. Don’t get me wrong: Thia is a good singer, but she’s not ready for this. She is another who does not yet know who she is. I suspect she chose Michael Jackson’s version of “Smile” because Randy likened her tone to Michael’s. That’s fine, but could you have chosen another one of his thousands of songs? Like the judges, I was put off by the “lounge” (they said jazz, I say lounge) ending to the song. Thia has, so far, given us ballads. She should mix it up, lest she be left in the dust.

Another beneficiary of the wild card picks, Stefano Langone sang Stevie Wonder’s “Lately.” I have heard comments on both sides about the pumped up version, but I personally enjoyed Stefano’s performance. He has mad vocal skills, and he knows how to lend emotion to the lyric. America, Stefano’s a keeper; don’t let him be eliminated (again) too early. I’m anxious to see what else he can do.

Karen Rodriguez continues her attempts to impress Jennifer Lopez by channeling Selena with her choice of “I Could Fall In Love.” It wasn’t good. She did a much better job with “No Me Queda Mas” in Hollywood week. Personally, I love Spanish language singers. You want to talk emotion in a song? That’s the place where you will find it. Karen sounded like a completely different artist. She got into the Top 10 by singing “Hero” in both English and Spanish. Here’s a hint for you, Karen: Stick with what worked to get you there.

Scotty McCreery is likely the biggest dichotomy to ever grace the Idol stage. He chose Garth Brooks’ “The River” and did a better than fine job with it. At the risk of sounding like the judges, he had some “pitchy” moments, but overall, Scotty is the real deal. The dichotomy comes in that uber baritone of his and that “all American” 17-year old face. If this kid is this good at 17, I shudder to think what he’s going to sound like in a couple of years. At least he won’t have the problem with his voice changing, right? A writer in USA Today once made a comment that he is not a country music fan, but Scotty is changing his mind. I’m right there with him. I love the “throw back” sound of Scotty’s voice, and he definitely knows who he is musically. Some of the others can learn from him

Finally, Naima Adedapo channeled Rhianna with “Umbrella.” I was floored. As I said earlier, Naima pretty much bored me with her earlier performances, even though I wanted to like her. Her performance wasn’t perfect, but it was very, very good (and entertaining). No, “Umbrella” is not a song that shows off a big vocal range, but when you mix it up like Naima did, who cares? She had a bit of Reggae rap and managed to do a bit of crumping while performing, two firsts for Idol. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was impressed as hell. Is this who Naima is? Time will tell–if she stays on long enough. She is another who had to be added by the judges.

So, who goes home tonight? I think at least three are in danger: Ashthon, Karen, and Paul. Die-hard Idol fans are going to understand what I’m about to say: Paul is the Vote for the Worst pick, which means he’ll get help from the people over there who think he sucks. I don’t think any of this group sucks. While I don’t yet “get” Paul and Casey, I believe they are talented nonetheless. No matter how you look at this crop of kids, I think we’re in for one hell of a ride this season. It should more than make up for the Lee DeWyze/Crystal Bowersox finale, which was just sad. I’m sorry if I insult fans of those two, but hey, to each his own. Get your own column and espouse their virtues there. I ain’t buying it.

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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