Archive for the ‘TV’ Category

BACKSTAGE AT ACM PRESENTS LIONEL RICHIE & FRIENDS IN CONCERT

April 13, 2012

NOTE: I’ve placed a list of the performers and their songs at the end of the article for those that are looking for that information!

Usually each year I write an article called “Backstage At The ACM’s,” but I didn’t this year because while I was backstage at the show, I didn’t really pay much attention to it. That’s because I was so entertained by the rehearsals for the show the Academy of Country Music and Dick Clark Productions were taping the following night.

Like most music fans, I’ve always liked the music of Lionel Richie, through his time with the Commodores and during his solo career. I even saw him in concert once in Philadelphia during his tour supporting “Dancing On The Ceiling.” I’ll always remember the bungee jumpers featured during “Dancing” as back then, seeing people bouncing around on huge rubber bands was something new.

But I wasn’t sure basing a show around Lionel’s music in 2012 was the path to big ratings. If you listen to a recent Richie album, you’ll find he’s kept up with the times with a bit of house here and some silky R&B there but very little of his classic piano based ballads and no sign of the country stylings of songs like “Easy” and “Stuck On You.” But there’s no doubt Lionel’s new “Tuskegee” album brings it all back home, enlisting some of country’s biggest stars to join him on his greatest hits.

I was hired to work on “ACM Presents: Lionel Richie & Friends In Concert” as the researcher, and after last year’s “Girls’ Night Out” featured tributes to a long list of country divas, a show where we just featured the music of one star was like a vacation. Fortunately Lionel’s record company, Universal Nashville, had filmed an excellent interview with Lionel as well as lots of footage of Lionel recording with the various country stars, giving me a big head start on the job by the time we got to Las Vegas.

As in past years, while the rehearsals for the ACM Awards take place on the big stage in the MGM Grand Garden Arena, a band of Nashville pros led by Music Director Edgar Struble gathers in one of the large rooms in the arena hallway and one by one (and in this case, sometimes two by two when there was a duet with Lionel that needed to be rehearsed) the stars come in and work on their song.

Luke Bryan was first in on Thursday, performing one of Lionel’s more rocking tunes. Friday brought the first appearance of Mr. Richie, who sat in with some of country’s biggest stars like Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, who both appear on “Tuskegee.” You could immediately see what a great entertainer Lionel is, as he told stories about his career (including how he once performed with Eric Clapton and Clapton’s crew pranked him by pretending that Eric was mad Lionel had walked in front of him onstage) and sang directly to the various staff members watching to make sure everyone was having a good time.

As always, I was amazed by the vocals of Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts. He may sound great on records and on stage, but there’s nothing like hearing him sing in a small studio.

Saturday included the rehearsal of one of the numbers that brought down the house at the show, as Marc Anthony and Sara Evans worked out their duet on Lionel’s classic, “Endless Love.” Marc made us laugh when he walked in and saw the staff seated at a long table that reminded him of the judges table in the audition room of a certain TV show. He faced us and said, “I’m Marc, 15, from the Bronx.” Then the vocal fireworks began between him and Sara…

Afterward, I saw that Sara had left her lyric sheet that she had written notes on of where she should sing. I was going to keep it as a souvenir, but I thought she might need it and so I gave it to her talent escort. Sure enough, she was holding it during her rehearsal in the arena, so I’m glad I gave it up!

Sunday was probably the most fun rehearsal. It started with Lionel playing the songs he’s performing solo on the show. No matter how many times he’s performed a song like “Three Times A Lady,” he still brings emotion and heart to it. We were then joined by another powerhouse vocalist, Jennifer Nettles, who will duet with Lionel on one of his number one hits, “Hello.” Next up was Kenny Rogers, who immediately started ragging on Lionel. It was like watching a great comedy team with Lionel the straight man. Kenny even stayed through the remaining rehearsals, just so he could offer complaints about the big hits that Lionel promised him that he never got to record, like “Endless Love” that he said Lionel played for him once and then somehow he could never get him back on the phone! You’ll get a taste of Kenny’s sense of humor on the show, as he gave a no holds barred commentary on the origin of his platinum hit, “Lady.”

The final rehearsal featured Big & Rich performing one of the Commodores biggest dance hits. The band got the soulful sound just right and the singers proved they could front any bar band in the U.S.

Monday, we moved to the big stage in the Grand Garden Arena for the dress rehearsal. I was busy working on getting materials for a montage in the show and stayed in the production office for most of it. Besides, I knew I would be watching the show that night!

While the ACM Presents concerts have been a big success in the past three years they did them, this year was something special, as the audience had a lot more energy, getting up to dance at every opportunity and handing out standing ovations whenever they could. I was especially pleased to see Kenny Rogers get such a warm welcome as he’s been under the radar a bit the past few years (although he is working on a new album).

I didn’t even mention such great performers as Martina McBride, Jason Aldean, Lady Antebellum and Darius Rucker. It was a terrific show to see in person and I know you’ll enjoy it if you watch it tonight at 9:00 on CBS… even if Lionel didn’t sing my favorite of his songs, “Oh No.” Oh well, there’s always “Tuskegee 2”!

List Of Performers:

Big & Rich: “Brick House”

Blake Shelton (with Lionel): “You Are”

Darius Rucker (with Lionel): “Stuck On You”

Jason Aldean: “Say You, Say Me”

Jennifer Nettles (with Lionel): “Hello”

Kenny Chesney (with Lionel): “My Love”

Kenny Rogers (with Lionel): “Lady”

Lionel Richie: “All Night Long (All Night),” “Three Times A Lady, “Easy”

Lady Antebellum: “Truly”

Luke Bryan: “Running With The Night”

Martina McBride: “Still”

Rascal Flatts (with Lionel): “Dancing On The Ceiling”

Sara Evans & Marc Anthony: “Endless Love”

The Band Perry: “Penny Lover”

Tim McGraw (with Lionel): “Sail On”

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!

POP CULTURE HIGHLIGHTS OF 2010

December 25, 2010

Here’s my year end wrap-up of what I really enjoyed this year:

1.  “NCIS”:  Back in March, I helped out my friend Chuck The Movie Guy by filming a few of his interviews on the red carpet at the Paley Television Festival. I joined him to cover “Flash Forward,” “Cougar Town” and “NCIS,” and I never would have imagined that a few months later the latter show would become my biggest pop culture obsession of 2010 (which is another way of saying my biggest obsession).

My friend Brad had gotten obsessed with the show a few months before me and had soon seen every episode, a goal made easy by the fact they constantly show old episodes on USA Network. Based on Brad’s recommendation, I caught a few shows while visiting my hometown, and just like Brad, I soon devoted my free time to seeing every episode. Well, almost every episode. I have two more to see. I should have known this would happen. From “Magnum P.I.” to “Quantum Leap” to “JAG,” there hasn’t been one long running show created by Donald Bellisario that I haven’t loved.

2.  “LOST”:  Many were disappointed at the way the show wrapped up, but I liked it just fine all the way to the end. Maybe “Lost” was never as complicated as we viewers thought while trying to puzzle out it’s mysteries through the years, but the revelation of the meaning of the alternate universe still packed a punch. I never thought there would be another show as important to me as “The X-Files,” but this was it.

3.  “BROOKS & DUNN: THE LAST RODEO”:  So many reasons this is on the list. My annual week in Las Vegas working on the show that tapes the night after the Academy Of Country Music Awards is always a joy. The week included such highlights as sitting in on an interview with Carrie Underwood, my first look at City Center and hanging out just a few feet away from great performers like Keith Urban and Jennifer Hudson as they ran through their songs. Then there was the ACMA show itself, the always fun after-party where act after act goes onstage and does a song or two (I loved Laura Bell Bundy singing Tina Turner’s version of “Proud Mary” exactly like Tina Turner, complete with choreography and backup dancers) and “The Last Rodeo” itself, enlivened considerably by the hilarious Kix Brooks.

4.  COMIC-CON:  I only decided to go the week of the show and I’m glad I did, as I got to meet some of my favorite stars, including Pauley Perrette of “NCIS” and Elizabeth Mitchell of “V,” which allowed me to add another signature to my “Lost” DVD box.  Sure, I had to wait in some long lines, but it was totally worth it. And then there was the moment Saturday night as I was packing to leave and suddenly fireworks started lighting up the sky across the street over the convention center. Magic…

5.  The “American Idol” Finale:  While I have to admit I wasn’t too excited by Lee DeWyze’s win, I did enjoy the parade of guest stars like the Bee Gees, Chicago and Hall & Oates and was amazed by Bret Michaels’ appearance so soon after his hospital stay. The show was followed by the always enjoyable after-party, highlighted by Siobahn Magnus’ joy at meeting her idols, the brothers Hanson, as well as catching up with some of my Idol favorites from past seasons.

6.  “Mad Men”:  This was the year I finally really got into the show. “The Suitcase” was the best hour of TV I saw this year.

7.  “The King’s Speech”:  My favorite movie of the year. I was into it right from the very beginning. Funny and touching in equal measure.

8.  Gary Oldman:  My favorite interview of the year came during the junket for “The Book Of Eli,” as Gary admitted he chooses his roles these days around his life as a single father, explained how he turns on the emotion for his angry scenes and admitted he was having such a good time, he didn’t want to leave the room.  We didn’t want him to leave either.

9.  “Inception”:  The only movie this year I couldn’t wait to see. I vote the top keeps spinning!

10. “Sherlock”:  A superb BBC miniseries shown on public TV here in America. Not that I didn’t enjoy the Robert Downey, Jr. version, but this was the Sherlock I grew up knowing.

11.  “Heartbreaker”:  The French show the Americans how it’s done. A great premise and likable leads remind us that a great romantic comedy need not be just a flick for chicks.

COMIC-CON 2010

July 30, 2010

With the demise of “Lost” and the lack of a “Lost” panel at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, my interest in attending hit a new low. For me, the question is how much is it worth to get a few free sketches and autographs? Wouldn’t I be better off putting that money towards a Vegas vacation? It’s not like Comic-Con is my one chance a year to run elbows with the stars. But when a friend offered me a free credential and my usual hotel mates extended a bargain basement offer to sleep on their floor for $ 50 a night, I decided what could a few days of nerdy fun hurt?

After the traditional stop at Irvine’s Chik-Fil-A for lunch, I hit San Diego Thursday afternoon around 1:30 and dropped my stuff off in the room before heading over to the Convention Center. This year, it actually seemed more crowded outside the building than inside, thanks to an outdoor display of the Green Hornet’s Black Beauty automobile and plenty of scantily-clad models hawking TV shows, movies and comics, which made for a traffic jam in front of the Hard Rock Hotel.

The highlight of the first day was adding the signature of Marvel Comics writer and fellow Chik-Fil-A fan Brian Michael Bendis to my Marvel book. Over the years, I’ve been given many books as gifts and have turned them into autograph books, starting with “The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told,” which I’ve gotten signed by anyone who’s worked on the Batman comics, movies and cartoons. I also have a book for DC Comics, Marvel Comics and still another one devoted to TV stars and producers. The DC book has the most autographs, with 122. It’s so crowded with signatures, it looks like a high school yearbook owned by the most popular kid in school.

Brian, writer of one of my favorite comics, “Powers,” as well as such current hits as “The Avengers” and “Ultimate Spider-Man,” had his signing scheduled for 6:00, with the convention closing at 7:00 for the evening. Unfortunately by 7:00, I still hadn’t reached Brian, and while he announced that he was prepared to stay until we all had our autographs, the security on hand didn’t exactly agree to that. But I did make it to Brian around 7:14, got my book signed and told him that a few years ago I had inquired about the option on one of his books, “Fire.” He said he was keeping it for himself and sure enough, this year the book was optioned by Universal as a vehicle for Zac Efron, so I congratulated him for his success in selling the property.

The next day I spied a line at the Warner Brothers booth for a signing by the producers and voice talent of “Batman: The Brave And The Bold,” where I had Diedrich Bader, the voice of Batman on the show, sign my Batman book (and if you had told me the guy that played Os on “The Drew Carey Show” would have made a great Batman, I would have laughed in you r face, but he certainly does!). I was also pleased to have my book signed by Andrea Romano, the executive in charge of voice casting on all of Warner’s superhero series in recent years.

I later returned in the afternoon to the WB booth to get in line for the signing for “V” featuring stars Elizabeth Mitchell and Morena Baccarin. Morena’s face was embossed on my hotel key card, which I showed the ladies when it was my turn to approach them. Elizabeth said, “You should have her sign that!” A good idea, but I stuck to having them both sign my TV book and most importantly for Elizabeth to sign my “Lost” DVD box. Of course, it was a surprise to see Morena rocking a new hair color, a whitish blond look. Already one of the world’s most beautiful women, did she suddenly wake up one day and say, “You know, not enough people notice me? I better change my hair so I’m even more stunning!” Well, it worked!

Besides Elizabeth Mitchell, there was one other actress I dearly wanted to meet, and that was Pauley Perrette, who plays forensic expert Abby on “NCIS,” a show I’m currently spending many hours catching up on, so it’s fortunate as I told Pauley that it’s on all the time in reruns. Pauley was part of the autograph line for the participants in the “Tech On TV” panel. Also signing was Anthony Zuiker, creator of “CSI.” Anthony has turned to writing what he calls digi-novels under the title “Level 26.” I had read the first one and he informed me he has another coming out soon, which will include a companion DVD. I guess I won’t be borrowing that one from the library then…

Fortunately, I didn’t have to stand in line every time I wanted to see a star at Comic-Con. It seemed like a number of them were staying in our hotel, as I rode the elevator at various times with the new Green Lantern, Ryan Reynolds, and the new Steve McGarrett of “Hawaii 5-0,” Alex O’Loughlin. The cast of “True Blood” must have been staying there too, as my roommates reported seeing such cast members as Anna Paquin and Evan Rachel Wood around.

When I wasn’t stalking the stars, I was hanging around the Marvel and DC Comics booths adding autographs to my books and standing in line for free sketches. When I get a sketch, I usually tell the artist to draw whatever they want, which in the case of Pop Mhan got me a drawing of a character he said he draws at every convention sooner or later: Ghost Rider. “Green Lantern Corps” artist Patrick Gleason drew me a fan favorite character that’s also a favorite of his, BZZD, an insect-like Green Lantern. I also talked to Cully Hamner, who was the artist on the mini-series “Red,” which has been made into a movie starring Bruce Willis. Cully drew a sketch of main character Paul Moses for me and said he’s writing and drawing a prequel to the “Red” comic.

I left the Con Saturday night after dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory with friends in the Gaslamp District. As I packed, suddenly a fireworks display began over the Convention Center, the perfect capper to a perfect convention!

IDOLPALOOZA 2010

June 4, 2010

Last week was pretty much all “American Idol” all the time, starting with an interview with Bo Bice on Monday. Bo was appearing on Game Show Network’s “GSN Live,” so Fred Bronson and I headed out to the GSN Studios in nearby Glendale to meet with Bo in his dressing room. Half of the interview was devoted to Bo’s new album and can be seen on Fred’s Idols Now app for the Iphone, while the non-video portion centered on Bo’s run on “American Idol,” one of many interviews we’ve been doing for a secret project that’s due out next year. As always, Bo was the consummate Southern gentleman, and certainly one of the most charismatic Idols I’ve ever met. The big revelation of the interview was that in Bo’s justifiably praised acapella version of “In A Dream” on “Idol,” he hit a bum note that has bothered him ever since. I checked out the performance on You Tube, and if you didn’t know it was there, you’d think it was something Bo tried to do!

The next day, Fred and I headed downtown for the final performance night of Season 9. We got a late start and arrived not too long before the show started. Fortunately, Fred had a parking pass that got us in a garage right across from the theater. Our seats were in Row NN, which was pretty far back although we still had a great view of the stage. I thought Crystal won the night, although given the screams for Lee, I wasn’t at all surprised when he was crowned the winner the following night.

Wednesday, we got downtown quite a bit earlier, enabling us to have lunch at The Farm restaurant, followed by a few hours on the red carpet before the show. I took a spot near the TV Guide Network booth where Justin Guarini and Brooke White were greeting the Idols. I got a chance to say hello to Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young, using their weekly break from “Hair” on Broadway to attend the finale, as well as play the game of “Spot The Idol,” seeing such past contestants as Kristy Lee Cook, Melinda Doolittle and Michael Johns on the Red Carpet. I also got a sneak preview of the evening’s special guests with Daryl Hall & John Oates as well as Alice Cooper being interviewed. But the biggest surprise was when a limo pulled up and out stepped Raquel Welch! Here I had traveled to Pasadena to attend one of her book signings recently and there she was right in front of me.

Of course, the show itself was another triumph for the producers. For me, the highlight was seeing Bret Michaels take the stage so soon after his recent health problems. I’ve always had a fondness for Bret, as he’s from Pennsylvania and played the same bars I went to as a college student.

After the show, Fred and I stopped off at the KISS FM Viewing Party at the nearby Regal Cinemas, then got in my car and headed for the Mondrian Hotel on the Sunset Strip for the 19 Entertainment party. After getting to the party late one year and missing out on all the food, Fred and I have not made the same mistake again. In addition to chowing down, there was plenty of hobnobbing with my favorite Idols. I said hello to Kris Allen. I complimented Casey James on his amazing duet with Bret Michaels and learned that their team-up had been in the works long before Bret’s recent health problems. I congratulated David Archuleta on what a great job he does keeping in touch with his fans, thanks to his constant video blogging. In typical Archuleta fashion, he laughed off his efforts.

I told Carly Smithson how I couldn’t get “With Or Without You” out of my head after seeing her band’s acoustic version on Billboard.com. But the most enjoyable moment of the night came in two parts. Early on, we came upon Siobhan Magnus in the lobby. Someone had told her that the members of her absolute favorite music group of all time, Hanson, were at the party. Siobhan couldn’t have been more excited, but when I checked with the keepers of the guest list, they said that Issac, Taylor and Zac weren’t on the list, so I figured that Siobhan was not about to meet her heroes. But later when we were leaving the hotel, we saw her again and she told us that the Hanson brothers had been at the party and she got to talk to them for a long time. There’s photos of them together on the internet if you need the proof.

Other Idols that attended were the rest of the Season 9 crew, including Lee and Crystal, plus  Bo Bice, Scott MacIntyre and Brooke White and Justin Guarini, fresh from their TV Guide duties. I spent a little time with Brooke’s husband, Dave, who was patiently waiting to go home as he had to get up at six in the morning for work. I’d be more sympathetic, except he had tickets to the Laker game the following evening, where he was planning on rooting for Phoenix. I also spotted Randy Jackson, Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell, producer ken Warwick, former Idol producer and “So You Think You Can Dance” mastermind Nigel Lythgoe and Idol creator Simon Fuller, who didn’t step into the VIP area once.

A truly exciting night, but there was more Idol on the way on Friday, with interviews with LaToya London and Nick Mitchell, the real life alias of wacky Norman Gentle. I actually drove Nick down to the airport Friday night, bringing Idolpalooza 2010 officially to a close!

LIVE BLOGGING THE ACMA’S

April 18, 2010

Here’s something I’ve never tried… a live blog! Let’s try it… and there’s no better day to do it than here behind the scenes at the Academy of Country Music Awards!

11:00 – Right now the Production Office is pretty calm and quiet. They’re in the midst of the final dress rehearsal for the show. It’s an interesting mix of the real acts (Laura Bell Bundy drew a crowd to the TV’s here in the office to watch her high energy dance number) and stand-ins standing beside the mikes and pretending to play invisible instruments.

The real action is outside the building, where fans have already taken their place behind a small fence at the Orange Carpet (orange thanks to sponsor Home Depot) and talent escorts are getting their final instructions. There’s also an interesting sight at the stage entrance, where wheeled platforms with the drum kits and instruments for each band on the show sit waiting.

11:30 – Taylor Swift just rehearsed what should be a pretty cool moment on the show. I’m proud to say I added something to her performance in a small way by gathering the photos that will be seen on the screens behind her. Lady Antebellum are onstage now, running through “American Honey.”

12:00 – Miranda Lambert onstage with more photos I gathered on the screens behind her.

12:01 – I highly recommend Whitney’s hilarious blogs about the ACMA rehearsals from the past few days at ew.com.

12:30 – Brad Paisley is rehearsing his new ode to summertime, “Water.” Originally Brad wanted to be in a tank of H2O onstage, but the heaviness of water made the producers rule out the idea. Of course, Brad’s guitar solo is all the magic you need.

12:40 – Off to a Jennifer Hudson rehearsal for the Brooks & Dunn show.

2:00 – Back from the Jennifer Hudson rehearsal. When the background singers applaud, you know you have something special. Of course, then Jennifer and her entourage walked outside the rehearsal room and hundreds of country fans walked right by them without a look.

3:00 – Back from lunch. Not much happening on the red carpet just yet. Time to change for the Awards!

3:20 – Just scored a ticket to the All Star Jam, the incredible party that follows the ACMA’s. Star after star comes over to the Marquee Ballroom across from the Arena to jam with an all star band. Last year, I made the foolish mistake of going to dinner after the show and missed Kenny Chesney, but did see John Rich, Randy Houser and best of all, Carrie Underwood after she won Entertainer of the Year.

4:20 – The crowds leading into the arena are huge! Fortunately I had a pass that helped me push through the crowds! Off to my seat! Have fun watching the Awards! I know I will…

9:15 – Turned out I had a terrible seat, but was able to move and sit next to my friend, Dick Clark Productions’ ace archivist Jeff James. The show was full of highlights. I especially liked Brooks & Dunn, Keith Urban and Laura Bell Bundy. Now I’m off to the All Star Jam! Goodnight internet!

REHEARSAL DAY FOR “THE LAST RODEO”

April 18, 2010

So for the past two days, I’ve been hanging out in the MGM Grand Garden’s Studio 2, watching the cream of country music rehearse for “ACM Presents Brooks & Dunn: The Last Rodeo.” There’s nothing like being in a small room and hearing great singers like Faith Hill and Rascal Flatt’s Gary LeVox wailing away just a few steps away from where you’re seated. And while I can’t reveal who’s performing what Brooks & Dunn song on the show, I will say that I was walking around singing some of B&D’s lesser known hits after hearing them done in powerhouse rehearsal performances.

Of course, I got some face time with the stars. Kenny Chesney was first on the schedule, and while Kenny joked he was suffering from a wild night, he still sounded great and was nice enough to sign a CD cover from his live album for me. I got a laugh from him when I said that while I hoped he would finally get that vacation he keeps announcing he’s going to take, I was glad he was making a new album first. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill came in together and you can tell they’re still romantic with each other, kissing a few times during their rehearsal. I got a chance to tell Faith how much I love her song “Paris” off her “Fireflies” album, even though I’ve never quite understood what it’s about. She thanked me and said she didn’t understand it either!

While most of the acts are backed up by Brooks & Dunn’s touring band, a few of the performers were playing in a more stripped down way. Sugarland for instance have a very dramatic performance planned. Their take on a Brooks & Dunn classic reminded me a bit of Bruce Springsteen, with some beautiful piano and harmonica playing. They’re doing one of my favorite B&D songs, and I also got to hear the original version by Kix and Ronnie, as they rehearsed a few of their classics on the main stage. For the ACMA’s, the fans are voting on which song Brooks & Dunn will do in their final ACMA performance together, so they have to be ready with a few of them. And yes, while they know all their own songs, they still have to rehearse so the director and cameramen know how to shoot each performance.

As always, the sheer niceness of the country artists was on display. Brad Paisley clapped me on the back as he walked by, and when Taylor Swift came in for the last rehearsal of the day, she started off by giving a hug to everyone in the band and just about everyone else standing around the room. And of course, it’s always fun watching great singers work on a song. Every artist took just two tries to get things exactly the way they wanted it. And you’ll see what that is when “The Last Rodeo” hits the air in May.

Tomorrow, it’s the ACMA’s!

AMERICAN IDOL SEASON 9: TOP 24 ANALYSIS (LADIES FIRST!)

February 24, 2010

After all the advance word that a woman would win “Idol” this year, ladies’ night was a bit underwhelming. One contestant, Crystal Bowersox, does stand head and shoulders above the rest, although I’m not sure such a rough edged performer can win the whole thing. Let’s see what we got…

PAIGE MILES – “All Right Now”

Came on like a blues mama, but it was strange that she didn’t change the gender of the song. Maybe she was fishing for the Ellen vote?

ASHLEY RODRIGUEZ – “Happy”

Good energy and a Mariah style voice, but she seems to be popping her P’s in the microphone.

JANELL WHEELER – “What About Love”

I had high hopes for Janell based on her audition, but those hopes are fading fast. I still like the mixture of gravel and sweet in her voice, but her voice wasn’t powerful enough for the song.

LILY SCOTT – “Fixing A Hole”

One of the most left field song choices ever. I did like the way she controlled her vocal dynamics from soft to loud. She’ll have to pick songs that will connect with the audience if she hopes to stick around.

KATELYN EPPPERLY – “Oh Darling”

A strong voice and she’s sexy without overplaying the role. Certainly in the top three best of the night, even though the song has never been a favorite of mine.

HAELEY VAUGHAN – “I Want To Hold Your Hand”

While I’ve never been one to worry about what the contestants are wearing, I thought Haeley’s little girl outfit didn’t do her any favors. And while the song was unusually arranged, it was a bit screechy at times.

LACEY BROWN – “Landslide”

A weird vocal that didn’t do anything for the song.

MICHELLE DELAMOR – “Fallen”

A very grown-up professional performance, if a little bit Broadway in her movements.  Still Syesha Mercado did well a few seasons ago, so Michelle may stick around a bit.

DIDI BENAMI – “The Way I Am”

A very ornate vocal that didn’t match the smooth delivery of the original recording.

SIOBHAN MAGNUS – “Wicked Game”

An interesting choice of song and a great vocal tone. Could she bring even bigger emotions to the stage a la my beloved Maria McKee. We’ll see.

CRYSTAL BOWERSOX – “Hand In My Pocket”

A great voice that lifts her way above all those subway singers Simon referred to. Is talent enough for her to triumph in the competition? It worked for Fantasia and Taylor Hicks, didn’t it?

KATIE STEVENS – “Feeling Good”

I bet the producers were surprised when the judges thought she hadn’t hit it out of the park, having gifted her with the last spot and intricate camerawork. I myself find it hard to judge her based on a jazz song, so I’ll just say she has a good voice with room for growth.

MY BIG “LOST” DISCOVERY!

February 10, 2010

Season 6 of “Lost” has just begun, and fans everywhere are trying to get a handle on this year’s new story-telling device, referred to the producers as the “Flash Sideways.” How will the Flash Sideways world intersect with the timeline we’ve come to know? Well, I think I’ve made a discovery that holds the key to this season…

Like a lot of fans, I enjoy reading the recaps posted by such “Lost” experts as Jeff “Doc” Jensen at Ew.com, Jo Garfein at Jopionated and fishbiscuit of fishbiscuitland and docartz.com. In his latest column,  Doc Jensen mentioned a supporting character from Season One, a psychic named Richard Malkin, who lived in Australia. That reminded me that many fans have always thought that Australia was the key to “Lost.” And it well may be, because look what I found when I looked up the definition of “Dreamtime,” an important component of Australian Aboriginal mythology, on Wikipedia:

“Aboriginals believe in two forms of time; two parallel streams of activity. One is the daily objective activity, the other is an infinite spiritual cycle called the ‘dreamtime’, more real than reality itself. Whatever happens in the dreamtime establishes the values, symbols, and laws of Aboriginal society. It was believed that some people of unusual spiritual powers had contact with the dreamtime.”‘

If that doesn’t describe the relationship of the two worlds, I don’t know what does…

MY LIFE AS A RESEARCHER

December 30, 2009

I’m working out of my home this week, as I fulfill my duties as the researcher on ABC’s “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.” While the three writers of the show are freezing in New York City, I’m handling their research requests right here in my bedroom. I thought I’d give you a rundown of the kind of things I have to do for the job.

When I first started work on the show a few weeks ago, the first order of business was to put together some montages with such themes as the biggest music hits of the past year and the biggest films at the box office of 2009. Of course, thanks to the huge holiday movie attendance this past week, I can tell you that our original pick for number five has changed places with the former number four biggest hit of the year. Since we knew there was a chance of that happening, the editors put together two versions of the movie montage. Let’s just hope “Avatar” doesn’t make it to number five before New Year’s Eve. Keep your fingers crossed!

Anyway, after tracking down trailers for the movie montage (not too hard to do thanks to the free trailer section of Itunes) and music videos for the music hits montage (many of which were already in house from the American Music Awards), I just had to obtain some photos for a third montage that I won’t name but that you can see during the 10:00 hour of “Rockin’ Eve.” The theme of the montage actually changed four times on the last day we had to complete it. Some of the ideas you won’t be seeing: the most searched for celebrities on the internet and the greatest gadgets of the past decade. Fortunately, we went back to our original idea, for which I already had collected most of the photos we needed, but not all. Thanks to the Christmas holidays, some of the stars I needed photos of were either on hiatus and had closed their offices or were too busy taping their final shows of the year to okay photos, which is why two hours before the deadline, I was driving around Hollywood visiting photo shops to buy what I needed. Fortunately, Hollywood Book & Poster came through and I was able to drop off the photos with the editor in time to get to a screening of “Sherlock Holmes” afterward.

Although I breathed a sigh of relief thinking the hard work was done, it didn’t take long for me to realize it had hardly begun. Since the writers arrived in New York late last week, I’ve been bombarded with questions about things they wanted to include in the script. First I gathered some fun trivia and updates about guest stars Jennifer Lopez and Daughtry that could be included in their introductions and dialogue with host Ryan Seacrest. Next up was the updating of facts about New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Things like changes to the Famous Ball (288 of the  Waterford Crystals covering the Ball have been replaced with newly designed ones) and how much confetti is dropped (over a ton). The writers also wanted to know things like who were some of the honorees who in the past helped push the button that starts the Ball on it’s downward journey (Christopher Reeve, Muhammad Ali and last year Bill and Hillary Clinton) and how big is the cleanup crew that tidies up Times Square after the big event. Well, I’m still waiting for the New York Department of Sanitation to call me back with the answer to that one, but for the most part, I’ve found the answers on the internet or by asking the very helpful staff at the Times Square Alliance, the organization which is responsible for promoting Times Square.

My deal with the show says I have to be available for questions right up until midnight New Year’s Eve. That’s East Coast Time of course, so I have time to go out and celebrate if I want to. But I’ll probably stay in and watch the show and clap when my name shows up in the credits.

To you and yours, have a Happy New Year!