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No Train Wrecks for Idol

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I had earlier heard (and hoped) that Idol was “ditching” the theme nights this time around. When I found out last week that they were doing “Motown,” I was prepared for a proverbial train wreck of epic proportions. Fortunately, I was wrong, and it’s a pretty close competition right now.

Casey kicked off the show with his rendition of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” Casey is no soul singer, but I knew if he chose Marvin Gaye, he’d be fine. Marvin was so much more than a soul singer, and I’m not at all surprised that Casey could do him justice. The thing I like most about Casey is that he knows who he is musically, and no one is going to change that. Like Casey or not, you’ve got to admit the importance of knowing who you are musically if you’re going to be successful at this. I appreciate that quality so very much.

Following Casey was Thia, who finally chose an upbeat number, “Heatwave,” originally sung by Martha and the Vandellas. Like the judges, I knew Thia had that in her. This was her best performance to date. I do agree with the judges that she has more to give, and I’m ready to hear more. She changed the song up a bit and made it her own. Good job! She even had on a short dress for a change, looking more young, playful, and fun. That look and sound both worked for Thia. I hope she keeps what she did last night going.

Just when I think Jacob is verging on becoming the “boring ballad boy,” he blows me out of the water. He sang “You’re All I Need to Get By,” another hit by the great Marvin Gave with a little help from Tammy Terrell. Again, Jacob sings everyone’s vocals. This performance showed, once and for all, that Jacob has incredible control when it comes to his vocals (though he couldn’t resist the scream at the end—that’s just Jacob; I’ve accepted it). Jacob is so very talented, and what’s scary about his talent is that it’s raw, completely raw. Anyone who doesn’t like Jacob doesn’t know talent, period. Style and genre aside, that young man can “sang.” Jennifer is right—Jacob moves us. I loved the hugging too. That was so fun.

Lauren seems to be maturing before our eyes on this show. She chose “You Keep Me Hanging On,” originally sung by Diana Ross and the Supremes (and yes, I remember the original version). I love Lauren. She’s very mature but more important, she knows who she is, and she revels in it. You’ve got to love a show of confidence, especially in a 17-year-old. She may be only 17, but she owns that stage like she’s been doing this for 20 years. She really did have the right attitude for the song, which is what helped her to carry it. She has a ridiculous amount of talent for her age. Again, I shudder to think what she’s going to be as she continues to mature. She also has great vocal control and a very strong, melodic voice.

Stefano chose “Hello” by Lionel Richie. I wasn’t that impressed with Stefano (again) this week. As with last week, he’s an octave too high for us to really experience the flavor of his vocals. Just sing the damned song, man. Power notes are better when they are few and far between, and a song performed completely in power notes is just a bit much and tends to go over the top. Jennifer Lopez is one of the best things that happened to this show. She really knows the right things to say to the kids, and she is always right on. It’s as if she knew what I was thinking but articulated it better. Stefano can sing, but he’s not “feeling” the songs. That feeling is everything. Hopefully, he will learn before the season is over, though I think he has a chance at being in the bottom three tonight.

Haley, who has struggled mightily to this point, sang “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” by Smokey Robinson. I’m sorry, but I’m in disagreement with the judges about Haley. She’s my Karaoke Barbie. Don’t get me wrong: ALL of the kids this year are talented, but some are better than others. I put Haley in the “others” category. Like Stefano, she doesn’t appear to really feel what she singing but instead attempts to play a role. That’s not what’s going to get her there. The Motown songs came from the gut, and to really put those songs out there, you’ve got to sing them from the gut.

Of all the contestants tonight, I felt most for Scotty being forced to do a Motown song. Scotty is pretty savvy for his age and chose “For Once in my Life,” the Stevie Wonder version. He managed to keep his country flavor while paying homage to the night’s theme. You’ve got to love this kid. Talk about being out of your element; talk about making lemonade from the lemons life dealt you. Scotty is pretty amazing. I look forward to whatever he does every week, and again, I am NOT a country music fan.

Like Jacob, I have been concerned that Pia would be “boring ballad girl.” In this case, she is very much just that. Choosing another Stevie Wonder tune, Pia performed “All In Love is Fair.” Pia is boring me to tears. I’m tired of “SOS” from her (same old sh*t). She’s a good singer, but there’s a whole lot more to being successful in this business besides being a good singer. Look at Jennifer Lopez. Her vocals are fairly mediocre, but she has a number one hit with “On the Floor.” That’s because she sings, she dances, she looks hot, she has what people in the music biz call “the whole package.” That package is more than just a beautiful voice, but that’s all Pia has shown us so far. For me, she’s not “going for it,” though she has the talent to do just that.

I said last week that Paul sounded like a cartoon character who has sucked on helium prior to taking the stage. Later, I thought I wasn’t giving Paul the benefit of the doubt because of his illness. Nope. I was right. The judges keep comparing Paul to Rod Stewart, but I don’t hear that beyond the rasp. Paul sang “The Tracks of My Tears,” another hit by Smokey Robison. While I tried my best not to cringe and really give Paul another listen, I still hear nothing different than I heard last week except this time, his background singers out sang him. I just don’t like Paul’s singing, and I have no shame in admitting that. His vocals just are not pleasing to my ears (and he forgot some of the lyrics).

Each week, I worry about Naima. She’s not the strongest vocalist of the bunch by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s just something about her. She chose “Dancing in the Street,” which was a huge hit for Martha and the Vandellas back in the day. Whether you think Naima is the best singer in the world is completely irrelevant; she is an artist. Again, I point to judge Jennifer Lopez as an example—somewhat of a weak singer, a killer body that she knows how to dress to maximum effect, dances her butt off. Those things help her to be successful with her music. Naima is that type of artist. As they pointed out, she brought in the drums, the African dance, the whole nine. I was quite impressed. I just hope America “gets” it. Otherwise, Naima may return to the bottom three.

James closed the night with “Living for the City.” For me, James was far and away the best of the night. James is another guy in this competition that is so freaking talented. 22 years old. Just wow. James seems very astute musically. He’s a natural performer, his vocals are good, and he is personality plus on stage. When he began, I was afraid he started out too high in his range. Silly me. This boy can “sang” too. I very much appreciate his style, the way he attacks a song, and the way he delivers. His dancing added to his performance and made it appear that he was really getting into the song. That’s the way you do it. I might be ready to put money on him for the finale.

The way things are going, this season promises to be a great “comeback” year for Idol, as the show fights its way back to the lofty position it held in prior years. Even though I’m not crazy about Paul, he’s entertaining. All of these kids are talented. So, how do you choose who goes? Do you punish Scotty for being a country singer who was forced to do Motown? Please. Scotty likely has a huge fan base of female “tweens,” so he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Believe it or not, I’m pretty speechless on the bottom three. My bottom three are Stefano, Pia and, of course, Paul. But, that’s who I would choose if I made the final decision. Who do YOU choose, and more important, who will America choose to eliminate by withholding votes? That’s an idea—maybe Idol should allow us to vote for who we don’t want on the show, but that’s another debate for another time. The “problem”—if you can call it that—is that all eleven of these singers are so very talented in their own ways. I will, however, go out on a limb and say this will be another “boy” year. The guys, as a group, are more charismatic than the girls and are out-performing them overall. Of course, I could be dead wrong here. Because all eleven contestants are so talented, I have a feeling it’s going to get very interesting this year.

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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