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American Idol: And Then There Were Nine

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Last night, the Idol hopefuls sang songs to honor the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The show started out well, with Steven Tyler explaining to us what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is all about. Interestingly, not all things “rock” have been inducted, as evidenced by the inclusion of James Brown and Michael Jackson, but I guess when you’re talking music, anything goes. Surely, they’re not saying that rock is the grandfather of all music. That would be blues. But, on with the show. As last week’s installment wound to a close, I felt that I and the contestants were losing our verve. Last night, they made me once again sit up and pay attention.

If nothing else, Jacob made things interesting by changing his song choice from “Let’s Get it On” to “Man in the Mirror” by the proclaimed King of Pop, Michael Jackson. While I personally would have found “Let’s Get it On” hard to take from Jacob (who comes across as a “man child”), I thought it might be a more interesting choice. (Honestly, I think Jimmy creeped him out with the population expansion comment.) Just as I was thinking he should have stayed with his initial choice, Jacob, once again, proved me wrong. This was a good song choice for him, and the duet with Siedah Garrett was to die for. Jacob is a very talented young man. I hope America proves me wrong and again keeps him in the competition. As unexpected as Jacob’s change-up was, the next contender’s choice was predictable.

Having had Janis Joplin thrown up in her face several times, Haley—the girl still searching for her musical identity—decided to take her on by performing “Piece of My Heart.” Once again, Haley chose a song that works for the “growl” she can’t let go of, and the song worked for her. Haley needs badly to work on her stage presence. Squatting and stomping do not stage presence make. She performed the song well, though, at least until she tried to make the standard rocker move of dropping the arm to coincide with the ending of the song. Most artists wait until the song has actually reached the end. But, I think that’s more of a musician’s thing.

Speaking of musicians, Casey finally pulled out the upright to accompany his choice of “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” by Creedance Clearwater Revival. If this isn’t the “real” Casey Abrams, it should be. He seemed quite comfortable with his bass, and his song choice really suits his vocal style. As I’ve said before, Casey is more musician than singer, and he showed that last night. Steven agreed with me. It’s actually nice to see some of the contestants show another side of themselves besides just belting out a song. It takes a lot of hard work, timing, and natural ability to sing while playing an instrument. The voice wants to do one thing, the hands another. It’s hard to pull off, and it’s nice when they show no fear, as Lauren did with her song choice.

Choosing Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman” is not an easy choice, but Lauren made it. Randy didn’t seem too enamored of her performance by sharing that “several” contestants before her have “slayed” the song. Really? Funny, I don’t remember who did it before, so those performances must not have been that memorable. As has been the norm for me for the past couple of weeks, Lauren is the only contestant who gives me Goosebumps. I think Lauren did the song justice. She has a great voice, and she has decent stage presence. What’s not to like?

One contestant who wants to make sure everyone has something to like is James. He performed George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Once again, James reminds us that he can do more than just scream. Though he did give us a bit of the scream with that incredibly long note at the end of his performance, it was a good note and a good way to end the song. I think that no matter how this thing pans out, James has a career. If he can keep the cheese to a minimum and stick with performing, he will do well.

Another contestant who clearly has a career in music is Scotty McCreery. He chose his childhood idol Elvis and performed one of his songs with which I wasn’t familiar, “That’s All Right Mama” (which I would spell “Momma,” for reasons only my good friend would understand). This boy is off the chain, or as my sister said last night, “That boy is sick!” His vocals are just incredible. He goes from that double baritone to his chest voice without even thinking about it. The only thing keeping Scotty from scoring a perfect 10 is his movements. That needs a bit of work, but I recall that he was only 16 years old when he auditioned, so it’s not like he’s had a lot of experience at this, making him a true natural talent. If I were running this thing, I would give him the title and call it a day. Let’s put it this way: I don’t like country, yet I love this kid. Enough said.

One I can’t wrap my head around is Pia. I don’t know what it is about her, but she’s just not likable. As a result, no matter who or how well she sings, I’m always ready for her time to end. Pia decided to go upbeat with “River Deep, Mountain High,” by Tina Turner. She needs to take a page from Tina’s book and give us a performance rather than always showing the inner regions of her mouth. Adding to my declaration of Pia as Ballard Barbie, she’s also Power Note Barbie. If there’s a power note to be had, she will perform the song, regardless of tempo. I suspect it’s that plastic-like aura about Pia that I don’t care for, not to mention her outfits. Of course, the blame for this one is Gwen Stefani’s, but it looked a lot like the last bad jumpsuit Pia wore.

Another contestant who inexplicably works my nerves is Stefano, who chose Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Stefano is another contestant who, for some unexplained reason, rubs me the wrong way. He’s Pia’s alter ego, or Power Note Ken, if you will. Stefano seems to always sing the entire song in one long power note. Yes, he can sing, but so what? There’s not a whole lot else going on with him. Sorry, Jennifer, I have to disagree with you on Stefano. The only thing I felt was relief when he finished.

Last but not least, Paul performed “Folsom Prison Blues” by the legendary Johnny Cash. Again, I understand why Vote for the Worst chose Paul. While he didn’t sing in his signature creepy whisper last night, there’s something about him that makes his performances come off as gaffs. For what it’s worth, this was one of his best performances to date. The problem with Paul is the same problem they keep talking to Stefano about: He doesn’t connect. He smiles at the most inappropriate times—like the part about killing a man just to see him die—which makes him appear to not take his own performance seriously (unless he’s really a serial killer; then, I can understand the smile). In all fairness, however, I find it hard to take his performances seriously as well.

By the time the show ended, I found myself wondering which of the contestants would make up the bottom three tonight. Overall, the show was entertaining, and most of the contestants did well. While I do think some of them are better than others, I can’t honestly say that any of them “crashed and burned.” I will stick my neck out on this one and say the bottom three will be all male this week: Stefano, Jacob, and Paul. I believe Jacob hurt himself with his declaration that if he lands in the bottom three, it will be from America’s inability to look at ourselves in the mirror. Huh? No, I think it more likely you’ll be there for saying such an off-the-wall thing and because not everyone appreciates what you do. Even if you’re talented, on this show likability is a huge factor; I doubt that such a statement endeared him to anyone last night. I believe Stefano will be in the bottom simply because it’s his time, and Paul needs to be in the bottom, period. Now, whether this pans out remains to be seen, as we never know how voters of this show are affected by the performances, not to mention issues besides the performances.

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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