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American Idol Takes on Sir Elton John

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Contrary to what many thought, the songs of Sir Elton John did not create a “snoozefest” on Idol last night. I think that’s because this is the best group of competitors the show has put together to date. Sure, there have been some really talented singers and performers on the show in the past but not all at one time. In the past, each year had a few standouts and a few “duds” who somehow slipped into the competition for reasons other than talent, but this year marks the first time that each competitor is as good as the next. For fans of American Idol, this makes it very difficult to choose a favorite or to find one whom you wish would, well, leave already. Personally speaking, my favorite changes from week to week, though one does stand out for me as always consistently grabbing my attention, making me smile, and making me really root for him: Scotty McCreery. I know. What a shock, right? I’m definitely no country music fan, but I am a fan of a good artist. Scotty McCreery is a very good artist.

He performed “Country Comfort,” and I found much humor in the song as his choice because it had the word “country” in it. He had not even heard the song yet, but because it contained that word, Scotty knew it was meant for him. He’s very astute for a 17-year-old. What I really like about him, however, is his obvious comfort on stage. He’s a natural. Have you ever heard people say that someone is “born” to do something? That would be Scotty McCreery and country music. He was born for this purpose, and that is very obvious in his performance. As the judges pointed out, he came across as a professional performer, with the “shout out” to grandma and never missing a beat. A star might just be born.

Another artist in this group that I really like is Naima. I’m not Reggae fan either; she seems to like it, and I like watching her do it. She turned “I’m Still Standing” into a Reggae song, similarly using the technique she used with “Umbrella,” except the entire song was put to a Reggae beat this time around. Naima wins the award for most colorful artist of this season. She is really special and unique, and more important, she’s a real artist. She’s very creative with complimenting her performances with instrumentation and dance. I disagree that her performance was “corny.” I think it was “different.” I like different, but that’s just me. Most of the artists I like in “real life” tend to be male. Very few female artists make it to my CD player. For me to like Naima says a lot about her. The one with whom I least connect of this group is Paul.

I have heard Paul compared to Ray LaMontagne. I’ll maybe agree with the beard and the acoustic guitar. For me, the comparison ends there. Paul seems to lurk just outside of the right key on his performances. Previously, I credited that to me not liking the “raspy” voice, but that’s not it. Ray LaMontagne and Rod Stewart (another erroneous comparison) both have “raspy” voices, but I don’t hear them being off key. Again, this is my interpretation of Paul; you are free to choose your own. Last night Paul performed one of my favorite Elton John tunes, “Rocket Man.” The producers advised him to treat it like an encore performance. It fell flat in that respect. Most artists don’t put me to sleep with their encores; they leave me wanting more. In Paul’s case, I had all I could take. Speaking of having all I can take, Paul was followed by Pia.

Not only does Pia bore me to tears with her power ballads, but there’s something “plastic” about her. Surprisingly (not), Pia chose “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” For the umpteenth time, yes, Pia can sing, but I feel like Simon: “So what?” There’s absolutely nothing interesting about her, and she sounds exactly the same every week, regardless of her song choice. BOR-ing. I take back my characterization of Haley as “Karaoke Barbie” (for reasons I’ll later reveal) and now dub Pia “Ballad Barbie.” When Pia gets eliminated, and, eventually, she will, party at my house. I can’t take much more of her; it won’t be long before she becomes my bathroom break. Another contestant that is wearing thin with me is Stefano.

Like Pia, Stefano can sing, and also like Pia, I find myself thinking: “So what.” He was better last night on “Tiny Dancer,” but you could tell he was struggling to keep his eyes open, which affected his performance. I do like that he stayed in a lower range and saved the power notes for effect. That’s exactly how power notes should be treated. I will say that this performance was better than his last two and that I liked the “soft” parts. Take note from your own performance, Stefano: Power notes make that portion of the performance more important, more powerful. Use them sparingly, and they will enhance rather than take away.

As opposed to “taking away,” Lauren is running her way to the top of the pack with each performance. She chose “Candle in the Wind,” another personal favorite of mine. Lauren used her both her soft voice and her power voice at appropriate times. Like Scotty, Lauren is very astute about her talent. She was the only contestant to induce Goosebumps for me last night. She is quite poised for her age, and I love when she shows her age during the judging process. She’s like a split personality, but that’s not a bad thing. With respect to Lauren, it’s quite endearing. I have enjoyed Lauren’s performances virtually every week, but I find that with some of the contestants, my enjoyment is waning. James falls into the latter category for me.

Choosing “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” James is quickly getting into a rut. Don’t get me wrong: James is very talented, and he belongs on a stage. After a while, though, I would like to see him do something different from screaming out a song and running through the audience. Been there, done that. I would like to see him go “soft” again, as he did with “Maybe I’m Amazed.” Scotty is a one trick pony? What does that make James?  You’re brimming with talent, James. Show us the variations to that talent every now and then.

We now know that Thia’s breakout last week was a fluke, as she returned to her ballad-based, boring performances last night. “Daniel” is another of my favorites (okay, so I like most of Elton John’s songs), but Thia failed to do it justice. The judges told Thia her performance was “safe,” but is she really being any more “safe” than Pia or James? I think the judges are judging Thia more harshly than the others, and she’s the youngster with more to learn. Hey, you chose her. I wouldn’t have. She’s not ready yet.

The judges also chose to save Casey last week, and it appears they made the right decision. I was frankly surprised when I found out that Casey chose “Your Song.” Never before portraying himself as a balladeer, I sat on the edge of my seat in anticipation, wondering how Casey would fare. I liked the softer side of Casey. Casey is a performer, plain and simple. He can rise to the challenge, and he has a lot to offer. I still wish he had taken off a bit more of the beard, but less hair didn’t affect his performance.

Yet another classic balladeer, Jacob sang “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.” Jacob is a stellar vocalist that I suspect most viewers of this show don’t “get.” I do, and I love it; however, Jacob is also becoming a one-trick pony, and if he’s not careful, that pony is going to ride him right off of this show. The final note of his song was pretty incredible, but again, I’m feeling like saying, “So What.” If he makes it to next week, Jacob really needs to change things up.

This week, Haley got the “pimp” spot, as Idol viewers call the last performance. This spot and the performance redeemed Haley with me. She was a real performer last night, using her signature “growl” to full advantage and making full use of the stage. This was the best I’ve heard Haley to date, and I found myself agreeing with Randy and Jennifer that it was the top performance of the night. The singing was good, the performance interesting and exciting. Haley needed this performance badly.

Because of the talent of these 11 performers and the fickleness of music audiences, it is very hard to tell who will be in the bottom three tonight. I believe there are several from whom America might choose: Thia, Stefano, Naima, and Jacob for starters. Jacob is a cross between R&B and gospel, and I don’t see this audience latching onto him for long. Naima is an acquired taste, and likewise, I don’t see the voters on this show hanging onto her for much longer. Thia has visited bottom three before, and I’m sorry, she’s boring as hell. I won’t at all be surprised to see her there tonight. Casey will survive because of all the drama surrounding his elimination last week, though Stefano may also be in real trouble. Though I find Pia completely boring, the voters on this show apparently don’t. More power to them. Again, musical tastes run the gamut, and the tastes that can dial the most, text the most, or vote online the most will determine these competitors’ fate. Either way the audience votes, they can’t go wrong with who they keep, as, again, all 11 are quite talented. American Idol has reinvented itself this year by choosing real talent for the stage and judges who entertain as much as the contestants. Steven is “out there” but is very likable and fun. Jennifer actually gives very useful criticism while displaying her genuine warmth toward the contestants. Randy, who now holds Simon’s seat, has also become a real critic rather than boring us with his former, “Dude, that wasn’t good” comments. Overall, the show is a good source of entertainment and should continue to prove interesting each week.

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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