Archive for the ‘Girls’ Night Out’ Category

POP CULTURE HIGHLIGHTS OF 2011

December 28, 2011

Here’s my annual list of what excited and entertained me in the world of show biz this year:

10. What was my most exciting surprise star sighting of 2011? Was it running into Mark Pellegrino in the hallway of the Convention Center at the San Diego Comic Con and asking him to sign my “Lost” DVD (if I had known then how much I would enjoy his work on “The Closer” this year, I would have embarrassed him with praise!)? Was it standing in the buffet line at the after-screening party for “Take Me Home Tonight” and slowly realizing that the guy in front of me in line was Zac Efron (hey, he had a buzzcut, so he wasn’t that recognizable)? No, the most exciting surprise sighting was exploring the huge ballrooms at the Rio in Las Vegas during the World Series of Poker, walking along aisle after aisle and not spotting anyone famous, only to stop at a table and realize I was staring at Phil Hellmuth, the bad boy of poker! I didn’t see any tantrums though, as Phil seemed to be in a good mood, talking and laughing with his fellow players. Must have been the lack of TV cameras…

9. I have long wished that Barry Manilow would put out one more great album with the kind of varied music of his classic seventies albums. I had to wait through five straight CD’s of covers, but on his latest album, “15 Minutes,” Barry did just that, and included a soaring ballad that belongs with his best called “Bring On Tomorrow.” And let’s give an honorable mention to Richard Marx, who also released some great new songs on his “Stories To Tell” album, “When You Loved Me” and “Loved.”

8. This year I was hired to write a TV show, “The Greatest Duets: It Takes Two,” for PBS. The show was hosted by Kenny Loggins and I got to have lunch with Kenny, an artist whose music I have enjoyed for years.

7. Another artist whose work I have enjoyed for years is that of my friend Ernie Halter. It was great fun this year watching as Ernie added to his fanbase, thanks to Justin Bieber! First Justin covered Ernie’s song, “Come Home To Me,” at a concert and then he attended one of Ernie’s shows and sang it with him. And thanks to the spotlight Justin gave Ernie, Ernie gained a lot of new fans, including just under half a million followers on Twitter. Pay it forward, indeed!

6. I was very happy to see USA bring one of my favorite authors’ books to TV with the movie, “John Sandford’s Certain Prey.” More please!

5. While I always enjoy attending the finale of “American Idol” each year, this year had special significance, even though no one knew it at the time. It was the final performance by saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who was featured on Lady Gaga’s “The Edge Of Glory.” I listen constantly to my Springsteen CD’s and Clarence was a huge part of making Bruce’s music come alive. RIP, Big Man!

4. Another one of my musical heroes is Elton John. While I have never interviewed him, I did get a chance this year to ask him a question at a press conference promoting a film he produced, “Gnomeo And Juliet.” And I was rewarded with a long thoughtful answer about Elton’s influences and his constant search for great new music.

3. Another big Comic-Con highlight came at a panel hosted by Entertainment Weekly’s “Lost” writers Dan Snierson and Jeff Jensen. They were interrupted by a guy in a stormtrooper’s uniform, who was revealed to be “Lost” producer Carlton Cuse, who was soon joined by the second half of the Darlton team, Damon Lindelof. Between a long Q&A and the reveal of a hilarious “lost” “Lost” scene, it was a grand goodbye to a great show.

2. While I may never see another show I love as much as “Lost,” I have to give props to all the great series on FX I discovered this year. First I got into the second season of “Justified,” which was full of great acting and engrossing plots. Then a few months later while on vacation, I was up late and saw a few episodes of “Louie” and instantly loved the show’s surrealistic brand of comedy and drama. Truly amazing. And just a few months ago, I saw “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” for the first time and thanks to reruns on FX, Comedy Central and syndication, I’m already caught up with every episode. “Seinfeld” but with even worst people? I love it! Now if FX would only greenlight “Powers”…

1. I took my annual trip to Las Vegas to work on the Academy Of Country Music Awards as well as the special “Girls Night Out” and was wowed by Carrie Underwood’s one-two punch. First she did a surprise duet with Steven Tyler at the ACMA’s on “Walk This Way” that was the highlight of the show and then turned around and topped that performance the next night with her stunning rendition of “How Great Thou Art.” I also have a few more personal highlights from working on the shows, including meeting the great John Fogerty (okay, he just thanked me when I got him some water, but still!) and getting to speak to another of my favorites, the shockingly tall Vince Gill, when I happened upon him sitting outside the rehearsal room. Do I now have some Vince Gill autographed CD’s? Of course!

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GIRLS’ NIGHT OUT: COUNTDOWN TO THE SHOW!

April 4, 2011

Today rehearsals for tonight’s “Girls’ Night Out” show began at 10:30 AM, with Vince Gill working up his rendition of “Jesus Take The Wheel” with the house band in a rehearsal room. I’m a longtime Vince Gill fan (he was at his peak of popularity about the time I got into country music and his songs of heartache matched my state of mind perfectly back then), so I was very glad he finally participated in the ACMA festivities, as he hadn’t attended since I started working on the show.

In “American Idol” parlance, Vince “made the song his own,” and I realized how important his guitar sound is to his music.

After running through the song a few times, Carrie Underwood arrived and they worked on their duet (from this point on, I won’t mention the songs, as I see the spoilers have been picked up here and there on the web). Around this time, the performers who were scheduled for rehearsal afterward all started to arrive, with Reba, Rascal Flatts, Jennifer Nettles and Ronnie Dunn all adding to the star power and hanging out in the room at the same time. One thing about country music: everyone knows everyone else and they all get along, with the singers not rehearsing all bobbing their heads to the music and singing along. They were especially impressed by Carrie’s singing on her duet with Vince, with everyone clapping at the end.

As the other acts ran through their songs together, I was busy watching for my chance to get Vince’s autograph, but he was busy conversing with the various musicians hanging around. I thought I had lost my chance because I thought he’d left, only to see him a few minutes later sitting in a chair alone in the public hallway, listening to Carrie’s version of “Jesus Take The Wheel” on his phone, still working on his performance. I took my shot and Vince was more than happy to sign a few CD covers I had brought to Las Vegas. I told him how he was one of the artists that got me into country music and he joked how he ruined me for life and thanked me. As super nice as expected, and surprisingly tall. Taller that me anyway!

Rehearsals have now moved to the big stage in the arena. Time to take a look!

ACMA’S 2011: THE COUNTDOWN IS ON!

March 28, 2011

This year’s run-up to my annual trip to Las Vegas to work on the Academy of Country Music Awards has been especially hectic. It seems just when I think I’m getting close to the finish line, they move the end of the race a few miles further!

You’ll remember that the past two years have featured tribute concerts taped the night after the ACMA’s, both of which I’ve been the researcher for. Two years ago, they celebrated George Strait winning the Artist of The Decade accolade, while last year, the concert commemorated the careers of Brooks & Dunn on the occasion of their last hurrah together. This year, one act wasn’t enough. The Academy decided to pay tribute to seven artists at once, with Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland, the Judds, Loretta Lynn, Martina McBride, Miranda Lambert and Reba McEntire all getting the star treatment on “Girls’ Night Out: Superstar Women Of Country.”

“Girls Night Out” is a bit more intricate production wise than the past two tribute concerts. Rather than just have an artist come out and talk a little bit about the honorees before performing one of their hits, we’ve prepared tribute packages about the artists. In some cases, we even sent crews to their hometowns to talk to people that knew them growing up. In fact, one of my first jobs when I started on the show a few weeks ago was to help organize the shoots and get in touch with the people we wanted our crew to interview.

A few of the tribute packages include glimpses of our honorees as children. It turns out that every one of these artists were dynamic performers long before they became superstars. I especially enjoyed the footage of Jennifer Nettles with her high school 4-H group, Clovers & Co., as well as Carrie Underwood performing at an Oklahoma TV station while she was still in seventh grade.

In addition to organizing shoots and gathering footage, I’ve also been pitching in trying to locate photos we can use in the background screens during various performances. You’d think that would be as easy as just entering someone’s name in Google Images, but it’s more complicated than that. First, you need photo files big enough to fill the screens, and then you have to be able to clear the photos. What this means is we need to get permission for every photo and bit of footage we use. Naturally we try to use video from past ACMA shows, but you also get sent material by the different management companies of the artists and every single thing you use, you have to identify where it came from, find out who owns it and get them to sign off on using it. It’s a really big job and Dick Clark Productions has a clearance department to handle it, but as I’m the person who’s getting the stuff in, it’s up to me to keep track of everything!

But don’t cry for me, country music fans! Tomorrow I’m off to Sin City for a week of hanging out with the biggest stars in country music… although I have to admit I’m more excited about some of the non-country performers. No, not presenter Robert Pattinson! I’m eager to try and meet James Taylor, who’s performing with the Zac Brown Band on the ACMA’s, as well as another rock legend who’s not officially booked yet for “Girls’ Night Out,” but I’m keeping my fingers crossed! I’m also psyched to see Vince Gill, who will be singing a Carrie Underwood classic on “Girls’ Night Out.” This will be the first time he’s been on one of the ACM country shows since I’ve been working on them, and he’s one of the first performers I really liked when I started listening to country music.

Keep your eye on my blog for more backstage scoop from Las Vegas later this week!