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American Idol: And Then There Were Seven

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Last week saw the exit of Paul McDonald from the show. I, for one, was glad to see him go. Failing to see the attraction to Paul, I suffered through his performances each week. His “dancing” brought back memories of Taylor Hicks, and much of his singing was off-key and just not very good. I like “raspy” voices like Rod Stewart, but Paul is no Rod Stewart. Talking about Paul reminds me of the website Vote for the Worst, which chose to support Paul. May I digress for a moment and talk about that site?

The people who run Vote for the Worst have issues. They like to think that they are “crushing dreams” by supporting the contestant they believe to be the worst. The funny thing, however, is that they choose people who already have support, so their contention that they are “supporting the worst” is merely a cop-out. Paul had many people who supported him, including friends of mine who I believe have pretty good taste in music. Now, the site is choosing Casey Abrams, who has not been in danger since he was eliminated and saved early on. Nice choice of the “worst.” This choice was made so that they can “claim” they made a difference in the voting. Good luck with that. But, moving along from those very strange, bored people, the final seven performed last night.

First up, Scotty McCreery chose “Swingin’” as made famous to this generation by LeAnn Rimes but originally recorded by John Anderson. Keeping things simple, Scotty was Scotty. I think the judges are getting bored with him, but I still say he’s one of the best of this bunch. He brings a lot of personality to the stage, and he is so very likable. This was a perfect song choice for Scotty. What’s to complain about? Anyone who thinks this isn’t the style of music Scotty will be recording is out of touch. I’d rather hear him do what he does best than to hear him butcher a rock song.

Speaking of rock, James Durbin followed Scotty with Muse’s “Uprising.” Randy tried to impress us by revealing that a member of Muse sent James an email. Again, this is the type of thing I hate about American Idol—trying to set up us to vote for who they want us to vote for. Good try, Randy, but I see right through you. While the judges told Scotty he needs to do something different, James is spared that comment, though he does the same thing every week as well. Personally, I like James a whole lot better when he’s not screaming, but I suppose that’s part of his shtick. At least he has one.

One who does not have a shtick is Haley Reinhart, who sang Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” Being one of the likely very few who has no idea who Adele is, the song was new to me. Haley’s practice session with Jimmy supports my belief that she isn’t a real artist but is merely a girl who can carry a tune. Having to coach her to have “feeling” in the song says a lot. I’m sorry, but there is nothing special about Haley. You can probably find her equivalent in school and church choirs across the nation. Big deal.

With his very strong gospel flavor, Jacob Luck followed Haley by bringing his stylings to Luther Vandross’ “Dance with my Father.” Jacob is a very emotional singer and gives me Goosebumps every time he sings; however, is he marketable for this show? I somehow doubt it, but it’s a real joy watching him perform. I almost cried when he performed, as that song makes me think of my own father. I understand why Jacob chose it, though he’ll have to work on controlling his emotions to perform songs like this. Jacob will have a career, though it won’t be in “pop” music, but there’s room for all of these young folks.

Another who doesn’t really seem suited to pop music is Casey Abrams, the new Vote for the Worst pick. They obviously don’t know talent when they see it—or maybe they do and are simply calling him “worst” to justify supporting one of the better talents on the show. Casey knows himself musically. I love the “Casey spin” he puts on each of his performances. Choosing Maroon 5’s “Harder to Breathe,” we found out last night that Casey plays guitar in addition to bass. Yep, he’s a musician. My sister doesn’t “get” Casey, and I can’t explain it to her other than to say that while musicians can’t always compete vocally with pure vocalists, they bring so much more to the table in terms of their performances, and perform Casey does. It’s nice when these young people perform rather than just sing, and finally, we got a performance from Stefano.

Stefano Langone sang “Closer” by Ne-Yo, and it was his best performance to date. He engaged the audience, he sang well, and he became suddenly interesting. This style of music will best suit Stefano post-Idol, and he really seemed to “come out of his shell” during this performance. It was nice to see instead of his usual standing, eyes closed, belting out power notes. I actually saw an artist last night. It may, however, be too little, too late for Stefano.

Closing out the show was Lauren Alaina, singing “Born to Fly” by Sarah Evans. Like Scotty, Lauren typically chooses a country song, yet she was spared the “you need to do something different” speech that Scotty received from the judges. Lauren is a good singer and a natural talent. She’s quite adorable and likable, which will take her far in this competition. I suspect Lauren will be the “last girl standing” by the time the dust clears.

So, who goes home tonight? As the field narrows, the choice gets harder. All seven have talent, but are any more talented than the others? In my world, Haley is the least talented of this group, mainly because she’s not a real artist. She can sing (when she’s not “growling”), but she really just doesn’t bring anything to the table other than her voice—no stage presence, no identity, no nothing. For that reason, I put Haley in my bottom three this week. Likely, Stefano will join her, and the third is a toss-up for me: It could be either Jacob or Casey. I do believe that Scotty, James, and Lauren will be safe. Dial Idol chose Casey, Stefano, and Haley for the bottom, but Dial Idol hasn’t been reliable since Season 5, so my guess is as good as theirs. The only reason I suspect that Jacob may be in the bottom is that American Idol voters may not “get” Jacob. Being in the bottom certainly takes nothing from Jacob. He is likely one of the most talented vocalists this show has seen to date; however, this show is about much more than vocal talent, and it’s not unusual to see a better vocalist eliminated for a sob story (or some other story). We shall see tonight and move on to the Top 6. We are slowly but surely winding our way to the end of this season toward what I do predict will be one of the best-attended summer tours that Idol has seen in years.

 

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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