Archive for April, 2008

AMERICAN IDOL 7: TOP 5 ANALYSIS

April 30, 2008

For an artist I wouldn’t name as one of my favorities, I sure have a lot of affection and respect for tonight’s mentor, Neil Diamond. I always put Neil at the top of my list when it comes to the best concert I ever saw (chronicled on his album, “Hot August Night 2”) and often pull out one of the three “Greatest Hits” albums I have. So of course, of the two songs I wanted to hear most tonight, “I’ve Been This Way Before” and “If You Know What I Mean,” neither was performed.

Each contestant got two songs tonight. Let’s see how they did…

JASON CASTRO – “Forever In Blue Jeans”

A nice simple folk based version of this song, and boy, does Jason look like the part of a teen idol. But this isn’t one of Neil’s better songs, and Jason missed out by not doing “Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon” or “Red Red Wine.”

DAVID COOK – “I’m Alive”

David brings a bit of Neil Diamond’s guttural roar to this fun rocker. In fact, I heard David was a bit worried he would sound a little too much like a Neil Diamond impersonator on this one, but it sounded great.

BROOKE WHITE – “I’m A Believer”

Brooke brings her good spirits to this fun song, but it didn’t blow me away. Obviously you have to dig in a bit emotionally to impress the jusges at this point.

DAVID ARCHULETA – “Sweet Caroline”

Nice to hear him do something upbeat again, even if his voice didn’t quite match the song in that balls out Neil Diamond way. Still he gave it his best.

SYESHA MERCADO – “Hello Again”

An impressive reimagining of this song, plus I liked her long haired look.

After the weirdest moment in “Idol” history (what, Paula doesn’t even make up her own inane critiques?), we got…

JASON CASTRO – “September Morn”

Nice enough. No mistakes. Better than I expected, considering how much Jason seems to be struggling with the various theme weeks.

DAVID COOK – “All I Ever Really Need Is You”

David brings a bit of U-2 to this one, which in his version even sounds like “All I Want Is You.” And the girls go wild…

BROOKE WHITE – “I Am…I Said”

Maybe they should give her a harsh critique before every performance, because this was very good (although she could have brought a little more drama to the last line). Brooke picked the best written, most interesting song of the night. The song was the star and should help her stay another week.

DAVID ARCHULETA – “America”

As someone with immigrant roots, this was a perfect choice for David. While it didn’t match the drama of Neil’s version, I liked the way David played around with the melody at times. he also gets points for the rearrangement of the end of the song.

SYESHA MERCADO – “Thank The Lord For The Nighttime”

Straight out of the sixties, you could imagine this being a performance on “Amercian Bandstand” way back when. Perfect vocals too. She certainly deserves another week. Maybe with Simon saying she’s in trouble, her fans will have voted all the more. We’ll find out tonight…

 

THE EZE WAY

April 28, 2008

While I’m usually happy to be a part of Billboard writer Fred Bronson’s projects, I have to admit I’ve been kind of leery about working on his latest. Fred is writing an article about “American Idol” for Billboard for which he’ll be interviewing this year’s Top 10 contestants. In fact, one day this week, Fred will interview all five of the remaining “Idol” hopefuls, one of the few times the producers of the show have allowed an outside writer to interview the contestants while they’re still in the running.

But while I’ll have the chance to tag along and meet all of the current contestants, there is also a downside to the project, at least for me. Fred is planning on doing a one hour interview with each singer, and it’s my job to transcribe every word. Keeping in mind it takes me from three to four hours to type up a one hour interview, that means when all is said and done, I’ll have completed between 30 and 40 hours of typing in just a few days. Oww, my aching fingers!

But at least I’ve already gotten one of the interviews out of the way! Fred interviewed Chikezie Eze on Friday at the Billboard offices (which turned out to be just a few blocks from where Chikezie went to middle school). I was very impressed by Chikezie’s smarts and sense of humor. But how could I not like a guy who lists “House” and “Heroes” as his favorite TV shows?

Right now Chikezie is looking forward to the start of the “American Idol” summertime arena tour. Because he’s the tenth runnerup, he gets to open up each concert. He’s trying to pick some fun high energy songs to do, because he realizes that would not be the time to do a slow sad ballad. I’d be more worried about if he can tear himself away from the new Apple computer he just got to take the stage at all!

Look for more reporting by me on the “Idol” interviews later this week (which should serve as a preview for Fred’s far more extensive article), as well as my usual comments on Tuesday night’s performances. It remains to be seen if I can still be as tough on the contestants after I’ve met them! That is, if my typing fingers hold up…

AMERICAN IDOL 7: TOP 6 ANALYSIS

April 23, 2008

It’s back to Broadway with Andrew Lloyd Webber tonight, and after watching the show, I can’t stop singing “Memory” (but that’s not because of Jason Castro’s performance). On with the show…

SYESHA MERCADO – “One Rock And Roll Too Many”

Well, it wasn’t contemporary, unless you’re Christina Aguilera who did a whole bunch of this stuff on her last album. I liked it, but I thought playing around with music director Ricky Minor (who seemed to be channeling Jerome from The Time all night) and the guitarist took away some of Syesha’s focus on her performance. And I’ll be the one to say she was pitchy here and there, since Randy didn’t.

JASON CASTRO – “Memory”

A thoughtful performance, holding back on the vocal theatrics. But I’ve heard many, many great singers do this song, and Jason didn’t measure up.

BROOKE WHITE – “You Must Love Me”

Brooke should get Lord Webber to help her out every week, because for once she captured the right emotion in the lyrics. She also hit every note, but Carly would have done this one better. Brooke just doesn’t have the proper desperation. Oh, and don’t you think the judges would have crucified her if she had gotten the lyrics wrong? She did the right thing by starting over.

DAVID ARCHULETA – “Think Of Me”

Bravo! David gave this song the most contemporary reading of the night. He didn’t overdo his vocal either, although he payed the price as the orchestra drowned him out at times.

CARLY SMITHSON – “Superstar”

Is she the white Tina Turner? The female Michael Johns? Why did it take Andrew Lloyd Webber week to get Carly to sing something soulful? I enjoyed her performance, and I think R&B is a much better fit for her than the classic rock she often does.

DAVID COOK – “The Music Of The Night”

Wasn’t expecting that. David gave a great technical performance, but I would have liked to have seen even more emotion from him. Still, tonight shows that David could win “American Idol.” Before I figured David Archuleta would take the crown because he’d be most comfortable singing the annual “Idol” ballad, but it looks like David C. could give him a run for his money in the big ballad department. Which means we could be in for years of complaining from the Archuleta fans about a conspiracy. Please, anything but that!

VROOM!

April 21, 2008

A few years ago, I made my first visit to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach when they held the junket for Sylvester Stallone’s racing movie, “Driven,” at the Renaissance Hotel right next to the track. 

Well, this past weekend, Warner Brothers conducted their junket for another car racing movie, “Speed Racer,” at the Long Beach Grand Prix, which meant once again it sounded like the actors we interviewed were surrounded by a horde of angry, buzzing bees, thanks to the very, very loud race cars driving by the Convention Center where we were set up.

Still, the actors were in good spirits. Emile Hirsch, who plays the title character, is on the verge of a huge career breakthrough, but didn’t seem too worried about what’s coming as far as his popularity.

Producer Joel Silver, who produced my two favorite movies, “Die Hard” and “The Matrix,” was after Emile. I asked him if he was keeping one of the Mach 5’s they built for the film for himself. Joel revealed that he wasn’t planning on it, considering that the cars they made for the film lacked a very important component… an engine! So I guess we won’t be seeing anyone driving to the grocery store in a Mach 5 anytime soon.

Joel also defended the length of the movie, which clocks in at over 2 hours. Joel pointed out that when he was a kid, he saw the 8 hour Broadway production of “Nicholas Nickelby” and loved it, so he thought children could easily make it through “Speed Racer.”

Next up were John Goodman and Susan Sarandon, who play Speed’s parents. John seemed very happy when I complimented him on his grunting in the film, which is about all I remember about the character of Pops Racer from the cartoon. John commented that no matter what line he said in the movie, the Wichowski Brothers who directed the film would have him add a grunt or two for emphasis!

Christina Ricci, who plays Speed’s girfriend Trixie, related the problems she had with the chimp that was used in the film. In their very first scene together, the chimp grabbed her breast and refused to let go, creating a very painful memory for Christina!

Of course, I was most excited by the appearance of our final interview subject, Matthew Fox, who just 12 hours before had been on the beach in Oahu filming a scene for “Lost.” The publicists weren’t sure Matthew, who plays Racer X, would be able to make it to Long Beach in time, but I brought my “Lost: Season One” DVD set just in case, and I’m glad I did, because he autographed it for me.

I asked Matthew about his tattoos, which “Lost” devoted a whole episode to explaining. Matthew admitted that his tattoos may not be that esthetically pleasing, but each one has a meaning to him and symbolizes either an important idea or event in his life. He added that he just hopes ten years from now, the ideas they exemplify will still seem as important as they did the day he got them applied!

As Matthew was leaving, I suggested that he check out a character named Jack Reacher, the star of a great series of thriller novels by author Lee Child. I think Matthew would make a great choice to play this character, adding another great Jack portrayal to the one he plays on “Lost”!

After the interviews, I walked around the Grand Prix track, which is actually made up of closed off streets. I was very impressed by the restaurants in that area of Long Beach. By this time, the practice session featuring the open wheel Grand Prix cars had ended, and the contestants in the next day’s celebrity race had taken to the track for a qualifying round. I found a spot beside a curve and was rewarded with the sight of Drew Lachey’s car nudging a pile of tires that were stacked in front of a wall as a safety precaution. I also saw another unidentified celeb trying to drive with the hood of their car standing straight up in the air.

Finally I left as still another class of car took to the streets for a practice session, hearing the vrooms fade into the distance as I headed for the train to go back home. Because who wants to watch a day of racing and then be stuck on the freeway?

 

AMERICAN IDOL 7: TOP 7 ANALYSIS

April 16, 2008

Well, I thought tonight might be a blood bath with the contestants doing Mariah Carey songs. Of course, with as many albums as Mariah has put out, the Idols had plenty to choose from. Alas, Mariah didn’t give advice like suggesting which rappers would be good to collaborate with or telling the ladies to wear less (although I did like the dresses the female contestants were wearing tonight). So let’s see what we got…

DAVID ARCHULETA – “When You Believe”

I didn’t recognize this song until David reached the chorus. I thought the first verse wasn’t that exciting or melodic, but he performed the chorus well. I especially got a kick out of the moment when David went from a low to a high note. But when compared to some of the performances to come, it pales in comparison.

CARLY SMITHSON – “Without You”

Carly wears sleeves for the first time, covering up the tatoos. She did some smart careful singing in the first verse, but then it was all chorus all the time. A song that’s been recorded by many, many artists and she didn’t really make it special. And while you’d think after last week, I’d know better than pick someone to go home, it could well be Carly we’re saying goodbye to tomorrow night.

SYESHA MERCADO – “Vanishing”

Finally Syesha picked a lesser known non-single, and while she turned it into more of a vocal showcase than an emotional song, I liked it. In fact, it was so close to a capella, she could have done it completely without instruments for a real wow moment.

BROOKE WHITE – “Hero”

What, Our Miss Brooke skipped her sister’s wedding? That doesn’t seem very nice of America’s Sweetheart. I didn’t like this performance very much. I think she could have really used the band to add a little excitement midway through, plus I think she had to concentrate so hard on her piano playing, it hurt her vocal. And she really should stop agreeing so readily with the criticisms. If she doesn’t think she was any good, why should we?

KRISTY LEE COOK – “Forever”

I thought she did a good job emotionally connecting to the song in the beginning, although by the end, it didn’t seem like she was singing to one particular person (and remember, this is a love song). Her version had a nice old-fashioned vibe, although someone with a better voice could have killed on the chorus. She really is getting better week to week, but it really doesn’t matter. I think she’s become popular enough that she’ll get signed to a country record label, and if Kellie Pickler can have hits, Kristy Lee certainly will.

DAVID COOK – “Always Be My Baby”

I wasn’t as wild about this as the judges were, mainly because I liked the sound of the song when he sang it for Mariah with his guitar. I thought he was a little off on the verse and I didn’t like the strings sawing away in the background. I do like David’s voice though, and I look forward to his eventual recording debut.

JASON CASTRO – “I Don’t Wanna Cry”

It’s like everybody is Blake Lewis this year, bending the songs to their own style. While a Spanish styled melody like Mariah’s number one hit, “My All,” might have been even stronger, this was fun and well sung. Jason brings sincerity to everything he sings.

WHAT DID NPH DO?

April 13, 2008

This week I attended the press day for “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay.” Unfortunately, Kal Penn who plays Kumar was off filming “House,” so only John Cho (who plays Harold), Neil Patrick Harris (who plays Neil Patrick Harris), Rob Corddry (who plays the comic nemesis of Harold and Kumar) and the writer/directors were there to represent the movie.

Yes, you read that right. Neil Patrick Harris (known as NPH) plays himself in the movie, albeit a warped wildman version of himself. That made me think of all the dumb questions you could ask Neil about the movie, like “Why do you think you were the best actor for this role?” and “What kind of research did you do to prepare for this part?” But when I asked Neil what was the dumbest question he had gotten about the movie, he said, “Someone asked me this morning if I liked unicorns.” See the movie and that will make sense. You’ll also know why Neil showed us a photo of a porn star named Echo Valley on his Iphone…

John Cho was a bit more serious during our interview, but warmed up when we started talking about his role in the new “Star Trek” film, where he’s playing Sulu. He said George Takei’s work meant a lot to him when he was growing up, so he wanted to do the part justice. John seemed very passionate when talking about the plight of Asian actors in Hollywood.

And speaking of Asian actors in Hollywood, this week also brought us an interview with Jackie Chan, who was promoting his new and very fun film, “The Forbidden Kingdom.” Jackie is paired with Jet Li in the movie, and one of the highlights is a fight between the two of them. It was Jackie’s first screen teaming with Jet, and he described making their fight scene, one of the highlights of the film, as being like play. He said their moves were so fast that the director had to ask them to slow things down.

Jackie believes that video games that put the emphasis on killing have made young people forget that there’s an important philosophy behind the martial arts. He hopes that teens and kids will discover some of the older movies that serve up a bit of morality along with the moves. Jackie ended the interview by talking about how he’ll be recording a song for the Olympics and then sang a bit of an earlier song he did for the Games. Of course, all that was just a prequel to Jackie signing my autograph book in both Chinese and English!

 

 

AMERICAN IDOL 7: TOP 8 ANALYSIS

April 9, 2008

The song that I would have loved to hear on tonight’s “Inspirational Songs” show: “Reach” by the band Orleans. It would have been a home run for David Cook. Oh well, at least no one tonight was out and out awful. Let’s see what we got…

MICHAEL JOHNS – “Dream On”

Here’s a song I never thought of as inspirational before, but it was a good choice for Michael. Unfortunately, I think he’s hurt once again trying to cut down an epic rock song to fit the time alloted (Aerosmith’s version is 4:28 long), plus he didn’t bring anything new to it (except for the cravat… why, Michael, why?). Still, even though being first may put him in the bottom three, there’s no way he’s going home.

SYESHA MERCADO – “I Believe”

This sounds like it could be an “American Idol” finale song… oh wait, it was. A good performance, although I didn’t like her big note at the end because it didn’t fit the emotion of the song. Unfortunately, the judges compare her rendition to Fantasia and she pales in comparison (and let’s not forget Diana DeGarmo also did an excellent job on “I Believe” during her final week duel with Fantasia as well). If Syesha had given this same level of performance on a song that wasn’t so identified with another performer, she would have blown the roof off the place. But after trying on Whitney for size last week and Fantasia this week, she’ll be going home.

JASON CASTRO – “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”

I admit it, the ukulele made me laugh. And while every lounge singer in Hawaii is saying, “Why not me?,” Jason was the one who did it and gets points for originality (well, at least as original as copying an arrangement can be…). A good vocal brings it home.

KRISTY LEE COOK – “Anyway”

Martina McBride’s version of this song almost made my Ipod when I listened to her album, and now thanks to Kristy, I may have to reconsider my decision. An excellent song choice and a powerful performance. When she grabbed the mike off the stand, you could hear Syesha’s heart breaking, as a bad night for Kristy Lee was the only thing that would have saved Syesha on results night.

DAVID COOK – “Innocent”

At first I thought he was about to go down the path of Chris Daughtry with a song that only metalheads could appreciate, as this is a song that most viewers wouldn’t recognize (which is the real reason the judges came down on him: they didn’t know the song). But David sounded a lot better once he got to the catchy chorus and got to sing out a bit. I couldn’t help but notice that the lyric mentioned cancer, making the song extra personal to David, although he didn’t bat us over the head with it like other contestants might have. As for the message on his hand, a great idea worthy of Bono.

CARLY SMITHSON – “The Show Must Go On”

This is another example of how smart Simon is, pointing out that the song didn’t have the giving, hopeful quality of the other inspirational songs. I too thought it was a bit too serious and pretentious. Yes, Carly’s good, but I never find myself enjoying her performances or rooting for her.

DAVID ARCHULETA – “Angels”

David’s voice sounded a little too soft in the beginning, but he got stronger as the song went on, and he really brought it home in the end. You know when the judges say that could be a number one hit if it was released tomorrow? Well, here’s one that would be. Somewhere Robbie Williams, who has sold 75 million records worldwide but is barely known in the U.S. and didn’t even manage to get his original version of “Angels” into the U.S. Top 40, is thanking his lucky stars.

BROOKE WHITE – “You Got A Friend”

For once, Brooke picks a song that has a feel good lyric she’s more than capable of conveying the proper emotion for… and she does (check out the moment she sings, “Don’t you let them…”). That said, unfortunately this is a simple song that can be kind of boring. While I’ve seen Carole King sing it live and been spellbound, Brooke’s performance doesn’t get there. I can’t help but think it would have been more impressive if she performed at the piano. But going last means she won’t be going home quite yet.

THE “ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS” DVD COMMENTARY TRACK

April 7, 2008

Last year, I spent a number of months working on the Fox movie “Alvin And The Chipmunks” as the assistant to the animation director. And while that often meant staying in my office and organizing and Xeroxing storyboards, I did manage to visit every set that was used. So when Fox decided not to put a commentary track on the new “Alvin” DVD, I thought I would do one. So start the movie (I bought mine on sale at Borders yesterday) and follow along…

:49 – The second unit spent a few days in the Sierra Mountains of California to get this forest footage.

1:16 – The tree the Chipmunks live in was created on a soundstage at Sunset-Gower Studios in Hollywood. All through the filming of the movie, there was debate going on between the producers, the animation staff and the studio on how the Chipmunks should look. Obviously, they eventually came to an agreement.

Every scene with the Chipmunks was storyboarded. That means artists would draw every action of each Chipmunk scene, doing two drawings on each piece of paper. The storyboards were important to show the filmmakers where the Chipmunks would be inserted and what they would be doing, as they were put in after filming by computer magic. My job was to keep the storyboards in order and make sure they were kept up to date. Every time the script changed, the storyboards had to be re-drawn to fit the new action taking place.

3:04 – This exterior is a real courtyard in Hollywood.

3:10 – There’s my boss’s name, Animation Supervisor Chris Bailey. In addition to supervising the storyboard artists, one of Chris’ jobs was to be on set whenever they were filming a scene that included the Chipmunks to make sure the scene was shot correctly to allow the later insertion of the Chips. They had Chipmunk dolls (called stuffies) attached to poles, so they would run through the scene with the stuffies so the actors and cameramen could see where the animals would eventually be , then take the stuffies away and shoot the scene.

3:16 – Our first look at the interior of Dave’s house. The entire interior and walkway in front of the house was built on a soundstage at Sunset-Gower. The director, Tim Hill, did a great job of mixing the exteriors shot at the apartment complex with the footage shot on stage.

I admit I wasn’t sure if Jason Lee would make a good David Seville when he was first cast because Jason has previously shined in movies where he’s shown a bit of laidback charm, and I knew this role would call for more energy. But he did a great job and was certainly able to yell “Alviiin!” like a pro.

3:42 – There’s the list of executive producers. Let’s give a shout-out to Michele Imperato Stabile, who hired me for the movie.

4:01 – Here’s our first look at the lovely Cameron Richardson, who you may remember from the epiosde of “House” where she played a young fashion model.

5:08 – The scenes at Jett Records were filmed at L.A.’s Gas Company Tower downtown. In fact, this was the location during the first day of filming on March 31, 2007. As it was nowhere near Christmas when the movie was shot, all the Xmas decorations you see were added by the set decorators.

5:25 – Whenever the Chipmunks make an appearance in a scene, their voices on set were provided by three vocal stand-ins, once of whom was Vanessa Bagdasarian, daughter of executive producers Ross Bagdasarian and Janice Karman. Actors Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler and Jesse McCartney recorded their voices for Alvin, Simon and Theordore after the movie was finished with principal photography.

By the way, the voices of the Chipmunks are recorded by speaking very slowly into a tape recorder, then speeding up the tape. The trick is to be able to have emotion in your voice while you’re talking so slowly.

9:46 – See outside the door? That’s on the soundstage.

13:35 – You have to hand it to Jason Lee. He did all this without a Chipmunk in sight!

21:42 – Dave writes “The Chipmunk Song,” which in the original version was a number one hit in December, 1958. It sold more than 2, 500, 000 copies in three weeks and won three Grammys.

22:28 – Notice Spongebob on TV? Director Tim Hill once worked as a writer on the show.

24:15 – The movie is dedicated to Ross Bagdasarian, who created the Chipmunks and was the original David Seville. But his son, executive producer Ross Bagdasarian, Jr., also inserted a few more subtle tributes to his late father, and here’s one of them. The piano used by Jason Lee is the original one that Ross first wrote songs like “Witch Doctor” and “The Chipmunk Song” on.

By the way, Alvin, Simon and Theodore were named after executives at Bagdasarian’s record company, Liberty Records. Alvin was named for Al Bennett, president of the label, Simon for Bennett’s partner, Si Waronker and Theodore for Ted Keep, a recording engineer.

29:42 – One of the storyboard artists stayed late one night to finish the Chipmunks’ “coloring project.” I swear to you that he’s a better artist than that.

34:04 – Notice Dave’s address is 1958, the year that “Witch Doctor” and “The Chipmunk Song” first hit number one. Another tribute from Ross Bagdasarian to his father.

34:50 – In the script, the writers suggested the song should be “Let’s Get It On,” but I guess that didn’t work out.

40:06 – What a house! The mansion was located in Thousand Oaks. I heard it was up for sale at the time… if you had $ 23 million on hand! On the positive side, it did include a lot of land.

43:36 – Amoeba Music in L.A., just blocks away from the production offices at Sunset-Gower Studios.

50:50 – It says Stage 1 and it is. The set decorators and art department did a great job of making this soundstage at Sunset-Gower look impressive. Normally the soundstage is used by the TV show, “Heroes.” In fact, you can’t see it, but one side of the room past the curtains contains the balcony set where so much of the action on “Heroes” takes place.

51:05 – See that “Witch Doctor” wall hanging? Animation supervisor Chris Bailey took it home to use as a decoration. The real trick was fitting the two halves into his car!

51:39 – The Chipmunks perform “Witch Doctor.” The song was inspired by a book Ross Bagdasarian owned called “Duel With The Witch Doctor.”

1:01:27 – More scenes at the mansion. I later recognized this house used as a set for a scene in the pilot of the Fox TV show, “Drive.”

1:02:45 – Unlike the interiors of Dave’s house, all the scenes inside the mansion were actually filmed there.

1:06:07 – See the guy looking in the camera’s viewfinder. That’s a cameo appearance by executive producer Ross Bagdasarian, son of the Chipmunks’ creator.

1:06:14 – One thing has always bothered me about the movie. How could Dave afford such a nice house and yet drive such a crappy car?

1:08:24 – While the movie did film concert scenes at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles, they were only there shooting for a few days. So they built an exact replica of the theater’s stage back at Sunset-Gower for scenes like this.

1:13:14 – The roof scene was shot in front of a screen on a  Sunset-Gower soundstage. They built a small bit of roof just for the scene.

1:14:16 – There’s the exterior of the Orpheum Theater in downtown Los Angeles. You may recognize it from use during Hollywood Week on “American Idol” over the years.

1:20:26 – This scene was a real challenge for the storyboard artists, as they tried to come up with ways for the Chipmunks to cause trouble using what was already on the set.

1:28:26 – I hope you’re still watching, because otherwise you’d miss the highlight of the movie… my name in the credits!

MY LIFE IN THE BACKGROUND

April 4, 2008

During my first year in L.A., I had the idea of getting ahead in Hollywood by becoming an extra. I even had 8 x 10 photos taken, but never did anything with them (except give my parents a nice shot of me to frame and put in their living room). But I did end up working as an extra on two occasions, although you would be hard pressed to spot me in the finished product.

The first time was back in 1996 when I was at a nightclub with some friends. It turned out they were filming a scene for an independent film that evening, and one of the production assistants must have liked my look because they asked me to be an extra in the scene. My job was to stand beside a very pretty girl in the background near the bar.

While at the time I didn’t recognize any of the stars, it turned out they were filming what was to become one of my all-time favorite movies, “Swingers,” starring Jon Favreau and  Vince Vaughn! Unfortunately, when I finally saw the movie, I wasn’t exactly featured prominently in the scene. In fact, all you can see of me is my left shoulder because the director made the choice of focusing on the pretty girl, and really, who could blame him?

That turned out to be a template for my second shot at extra work. When I was working at Universal Studios in 1999, one of my favorite TV shows, “JAG,” rented the European square on the backlot for a scene. In an effort to hang out on the set and see the stars, I asked the production coordinator if I could be an extra and he said yes, provided I didn’t get paid. That was fine with me, so I took a few hours off one afternoon and headed down to the set.

My first disappointment came when I realized that the scene didn’t feature the main stars of the show, David James Elliott and Catherine Bell. It turned out the episode they were filming, “Soul Searching,” spotlighted two of the supporting players, John M. Jackson as Admiral Chegwidden and Steven Culp as Clayton Webb, who in the episode went to Europe to solve a kidnapping.

But at least the assistant director placed me right beside the actors, who in the scene were meeting beside a fountain. But again, I was doomed to disappointment! When I saw the episode, I was there all right… but all you could see of me was my shoes!

I guess next time if I want to be on screen, I’ll hold out for a starring part!

LIVETIME

April 3, 2008

Back when I was in high school, while my friends were heading off to see Peter Frampton or the Rolling Stones at stadium concerts in Philadelphia, I stayed home. In fact, the only times I went to concerts back then were the two times I won tickets in a radio station contest to see Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Chicago.

During college, I went to my first stadium concerts and often attended summer concerts at amphitheaters near Baltimore and Philadelphia.  But after I moved out to Los Angeles and started working for dick clark productions, I really upped my concert going because I was often given free tickets, enabling me to see just about every act I ever wanted to see. So here now is a list of my all-time favorite concerts, followed by my top ten favorite concert moments.

1.  Neil Diamond – The Greek Theater – 1987

In addition to  an amazing list of songs (which you can hear for yourself on the live album, “Hot August Night II”), the thing that impressed me most about Neil’s show was how he gave every single song a special added touch, whether it was a string quartet rising up from under the stage on one song or a laser show to illustrate his “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” medley.

2.  Eagles – The Rose Bowl – 1995

I first saw the Eagles perform back during my college years at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, but this concert beat it, thanks to the inclusion of one of my favorite songs, “One Of These Nights,” in addition to every other hit they ever had.

3.  Bryan Adams – The Forum – 1987

A man, a guitar and one hit after another. Sometimes simple is better.

4.  Bruce Springsteen – L.A. Sports Arena – 2007

There was a time when the closest I got to a Bruce Springsteen concert was a review in Rolling Stone. This was the epic three hour concert I always heard about and towards the end, I was ready to say enough already… until he turned on the lights and brought out the big guns of “Born To Run” and “Rosalita.”

5.  Paul McCartney – The Forum – 1989

An actual Beatle doing Beatles songs, plus the best of Wings. Unforgettable!

6.  Barry Manilow – Astor Theater (Reading, PA) – 1976

My first Barry show, with the set list from “Barry Manilow Live.”

7.  Rick Springfield – Universal Amphitheater – 2004

I saw Rick a few times in his eighties heyday, but the fact he still plays every one of his hits and puts his all into every single one made this more recent concert especially memorable.

8.  The Doobie Brothers – Maui Hawaii – 1981

I went on a post-graduation trip after college to Hawaii. While in Maui, the Doobie Brothers were playing a concert on the neighboring hotel’s tennis court. I don’t think I’ve ever been closer to the stage.

9.  Chicago – Universal Amphitheater – 1986

Bouncing back from the loss of Peter Cetera, Chicago went out on the concert trail without an opening act, doing a three hour “Evening With Chicago” that was terrific.

10.  Simon & Garfunkel – MGM Grand Garden -2003

Perhaps the last chance to see a classic duo reunited doing all their great songs.

THE GREATEST CONCERT MOMENTS:

1.  Maria McKee and Lone Justice singing “Wheels” – The Palace – 1986

Back in the eighties, the alternative papers in L.A. praised the work of cowpunk band Lone Justice. I got on the bandwagon early, catching the band at a local club before they even had a record out and immediately falling in love with the voice and charisma of singer Maria McKee. I’ve never seen an artist give as passionate a performance as Maria, and she was never more emotional than when she sang the ballad “Wheels.” In fact, the only way she could have showed any more emotion is if she had actually ripped her heart out on the stage.

2.  Paul McCartney singing “Hey Jude” – The Forum – 1989

The closest I’ll ever get to seeing The Beatles. I can still hear the entire Forum singing “La la la la la la la”…

3.  The men’s restroom during intermission at a Gloria Estefan concert – The Greek Theater – 1988

So I walk into the men’s room to do my business when a guy inside one of the stalls sings, “Oh eh oh eh” and every guy in the place answered with “Oh eh oh eh ah!”

4.  Paul Young singing “Everything Must Change” – The Wiltern – 1985

A great concert by Paul Young, fresh off “Every Time You Go Away.” The highlight came when Paul climbed up into the lighting equipment. No harness, no ladder, no net.

5.  Utopia’s encore – Merriweather Post Pavilion – 1977

I’ve been a big Todd Rundgren fan since high school, so I attended this concert based around the “Ra” album. The stage set was overwhelming, featuring a huge sphinx and laser lights, but what I’ll always remember is after the last song, the lights came on and some janitors came out to sweep up the stage. Then the janitors peeled off their uniforms and revealed themselves to be the band ready to rock out on the encore! What a great surprise!

6.  Collin Raye singing “Love, Me” – Orange County Fair – 2002

My first chance to see one of my all-time favorite singers. Naturally this was his last song of the evening, and he let the audience do most of the work. A very beautiful moment.

7.  Elton John singing “Empty Garden” – Merriweather Post Pavilion (Columbia, MD) – 1982

The lyrics to this tribute to John Lennon include the words, “Now we pray for rain and with every drop that falls, we hear your name.” Wouldn’t you know that just at the moment Elton sang those words, it started raining?

8.  Lisa Tucker singing “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” at “American Idols Live” – Staples Center – 2006

Every time I’ve attended one of the “American Idols” concerts, I always come away impressed by a singer or two who wasn’t all that good on the show but somehow shines on the concert stage. Lisa’s performance of this Elton John classic is the best example. She left the audience stunned by her talent.

9.  Billy Joel’s introduction to “The Entertainer” – Lehigh University (Allentown, PA) – 1974

I’ll always remember that the audience brought back Billy for so many encores, he was forced to play the instrumental “Root Beer Rag” a second time. But the most memorable moment came when Billy played the intro to Elton John’s “Bennie And The Jets,” muttered how he’d never turn into that kind of star and then played “The Entertainer.” Little did Billy know that someday he’d be just as big as Elton…

10.  Vince Gill – Irvine Meadows Amphitheater – 1994

Both opener Trisha Yearwood and Vince gave great performances, but the highlight was when Vince brought a fan out of the audience to propose to his girlfriend. She said yes, and was rewarded with Vince serenading them.