Rocky’s TKO on Broadway Undeserved; A Fan’s Experience to Rocky the Musical

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Upon hearing the news that Rocky was closing, I was angry. I hadn’t gone yet, but was hoping to do so around the holiday season. Seeing as it wasn’t going to make it that far into the future, I thought, maybe it’s not worth it. There had to be a reason for its TKO off Broadway. Still, I had a nagging feeling of FOMO – fear of missing out – and I knew I couldn’t live with myself if I hadn’t seen first hand what it was all about and maybe determine why it’s going for good. There was no time to waste, so I bought myself a ticket. I wanted the full luxurious experience, meaning Golden Circle, (sounds good, right?! Very VIP!) but it wasn’t too easy to get seeing as there weren’t many available! Isn’t that ironic? As soon as it’s announced that the show is closing due to low ticket sales, BOOM! The tickets sell like hot cakes. I managed to snag one, and last Friday, it was fight night at the Winter Garden Theatre!

My view was near perfection! The Golden Circle was the first 12 or so rows in the center only. I was technically 3 rows from the stage, but the first row was really not much of one at all because it was separated for the Orchestra Pit. Plus, the seats were comfy with plenty of space all around! Man, I do love sitting up front. Once you spoil yourself with sitting up front or having amazing floor seats, you never want to be anywhere else. When I first started going to concerts, I would have been happy to just be in the building to hear the performer. Now, unless it’s an extreme emergency, I prefer not to be a bleacher creature; I want the elite upfront seat. I’ve worked hard enough to be able to enjoy that little luxury, so if I can, I try to get a good view. It’s a totally different experience watching from the top or far back than it is front and center. Unfortunate but true.

As I took my seat, I grabbed my red lanyard attached to the red and black Golden Circle pass and was super excited already! There was a really nice usher waiting until I and some other people sat down before informing us to wear the pass at all times and at the end of the Second Act, we would be escorted onstage to the bleachers. She also said grab all your stuff because you won’t be able to come back to your seats. I was so jazzed! When I went to Les Miserablés, I had the aisle seat right up against the stage, and I touched it, leaned against it, and sort of sat on it, just so I can say that technically I was on a Broadway stage. Well, that was nothing compared to this. This was a bonafide, standing on, walking across, then sitting onstage in front of a crowded audience and it was too much for my mind to handle! Cross this off my bucket list!

There was a huge black screen/curtain with ROCKY printed on it and a door was ajar letting smoke ooze out. Once it began, the familiar horns blared and the screen went up. There was a boxing ring right there, and Andy Karl as Rocky Balboa was fighting another muscled boxer in the ring! 

Andy Karl, I remembered, was one of the good looking ones from Jersey Boys, another excellent show! He was also the hot delivery guy in the long ago cancelled Legally Blonde musical, which I never saw in person, but did catch an airing on MTV. He’s been in a bunch of other stuff as well, but that’s where I know him from. The guy is handsome, sings beautifully, and let’s not mince words here: I’m biased. The Rocky movie holds a special place in my heart because I grew up with people similar to the fictional legendary boxer. Rocky Balboa was Italian, had street swag, spoke with the accent I greatly enjoy, possessed smooth mannerisms and movements, and beneath it all, had a fighting spirit with a heart of gold. Sly Stallone originated the beloved character on film, and Andy Karl completely embodied Rocky Balboa in this Broadway production. 

The opening fight was soon over and Rocky went from his white boxing shorts to being dressed in the grey sweats and black leather jacket, topped with the iconic black fedora hat. My first impression was ‘this is gonna be gooood!’ There were fit boxers fighting, sparring and exercising all over the stage…and looking damn fine doing so! It was pleasing to the eye, for sure! It didn’t take too long to imagine that Karl was Balboa, and you were rooting for him the whole way. As the musical progressed, my beloved movie came flooding back to my memory. It was a knock-out show. I loved the scenery. It represented the movie setting well. The costumes, the poor torn up apartment, the cute pet shop, the hanging meat in the butcher place, Paulie’s and Adrian’s house, Mickey’s Gym and the boxing ring were all authentic and realistic. 

Five things I missed from the movie were “Take her to the zoo!”, the scene where the priest blesses Rocky in Italian, the criss crossing jump roping, chasing the chicken, and even though the big grand entrance of Apollo Creed was there, I would have loved to have heard James Brown’s “Living in America”. I was unsure how to feel about the three characters added to the show, Paulie’s ex-wife, Gloria, and her two friends, Joanne & Angie; their presence didn’t enhance the storyline, though they had comedic and tender moments. Still, I was left with a feeling of ‘where did they come from?’ Everything else was pretty accurate. Cuff and Link, “I ain’t got no locker,” the corny jokes like “shell shocked”, Rocky in a white tank top, Rocky in his street clothes and hat, Rocky in the tacky holiday sweater, Rocky doing a little snarl here and there, the Thanksgiving turkey throwing, the ice-skating first date, Apollo and his crew in furs, all the boxers with their glorious muscles, and the whole training montage was just unbelievably excellent. Excellent!

There was a bunch of guys in the hooded grey sweats and they all ran across the stage at different times to make it seem like Balboa was everywhere. I loved when the stage was dark and there was an alternating spotlight on a trio of Rockys. The two on either side were doing crunches, chin-ups, sparring or running in place, while the middle guy, Karl as the actual Rocky, was jump roping so well, but like I said, no fancy criss crossing! And the epic moment, besides the ending fight, was when he runs up the famous Philadelphia museum stairs! He does it twice; once only halfway to represent how he’s out of shape. The second time is when he’s in tip top form and all the hooded Rockys appear en masse to create a triangular formation where Andy breaks out and makes the climb all the way up. The gigantic stairway rotated to show him facing the crowd when he raised one arm up in the air at the top. What a triumphant feeling! 

I gotta say, just as important as Rocky’s look, was his delivery of “Yo, Adrian!” I also loved when he leans in with one flexed arm to talk to timid Adrian, played by Margo Seibert, after their first date. I melt at that part in the movie, and the theatre interpretation was pretty darn good, too. 😉 I enjoy when the actors go into the aisles and this show had that feature. The reporters went into the audience and it was ‘telecast’ onto these giant Jumbo-tron tv screens on either side of the stage. They had a mock press conference where Rocky told his derogatory remark to Apollo about him being a great guy. Soon the First Act was done, lights went up and it was getting close to go time.

At intermission, we were reminded that security and ushers will come around about 40 minutes into the Second Act, which was 20 minutes till the end, to bring us up to the stage. No food or drink was allowed up there, and we were warned about not taking pictures during the performance, especially when we were on the bleachers, because security will take the device and delete the photo and/or throw you out, including at the end! This. Was. Devastating. I had amazingly close seats, the actors were rightthere, and I couldn’t snap even a shot of the bows?! Terrible! And how could I remember being onstage if I didn’t have a photo to remind me?! Devastating.

I decided to use the restroom before my “Broadway debut”, and the line was impossibly long. I hung back a little while, debating on going back to my seat, but I decided it was better safe than sorry. I had to push my way through because time was running out. The line for the ladies’ room was horrid. There was a theatre crew member who kept saying, “Relax, you still have time. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of time.” Well, at a certain point he stopped saying it, as the lady behind me observed to her friend, and then the gentle go-back-to-your-seat tones sounded! I finally got a stall, used it, washed my hands, and jogged out. The same theatre staff member said, “Don’t worry, there’s still time,” meanwhile, upon entering back into the seating area, another theatre guy calls loudly, “Take your seats! Especially if you’re in the Golden Circle!” I made it in time, but it was close! Dear Winter Garden Theatre, please make more stalls for the ladies’ room!

Alright, so the Second Act starts and I’m hype. I am having difficulty concentrating on what’s going on onstage because I can’t wait till I get onstage! I settle in, eventually, enjoying the Second Act, and then I lost my head a little bit because when Andy started cracking eggs into a glass, I couldn’t even know it. He really did the egg thing! That’s so gross! But it’s true to the film! Yuck! The lengths an actor will go to for an authentic performance! I read ahead of time how he does the 3 eggs at every show and God knows how many that adds up to. Bleh! 

All of a sudden the big boxing match is about to happen. The boxing ring is center stage. The Announcer is in the middle of the ring with a booming voice and the background opens up to reveal the empty bleachers. It was at that point, I tossed my purse strap over my neck and sat at the edge of my seat, just waiting for the go ahead! The people in the Golden Circle started looking around at each other like, do we go up now? Where are the ushers?! Well, two seconds later, the lights go on over our area, and a flood of people in black, ushers with headsets on and guys in black jackets with white lettered Security on them, came scurrying down the sides toward the Golden Circle, propping up a railing to the stage stairs, and they motion for us to stand up. It was like a S.W.A.T. team came to rescue us from the mere Golden Circle to bring us up where we belong – onstage! They started gesturing and leading us up the steps.

I was taking in every single second, indulging in the momentous occasion. I climbed the stairs and soon enough, I was standing on the Winter Garden Broadway stage of New York. Allow me to repeat myself: I was standing on the Winter Garden Broadway stage of New York! That’s what’s up right there! I was in front of an audience. I can’t tell you how deliriously exuberant I felt! I may never sing and dance in a lead or as part as an ensemble, but in my head, this was just as good! I got to sit high up on the bleachers, second from the top and managed an aisle seat! What luck! The bleachers were more like a cool sturdy stairway behind the boxing ring and the steel announcer ledge. What we couldn’t see was the two commentators at the top steel tier, but it was a small price to pay for the awesomeness about to ensue.

The whole time the Announcer is vamping to the rest of the audience while the VIPs were still filling in the bleacher rows. I don’t even know what he was saying because I was in La-La Land being onstage. The ushers finally were able to get the entire Golden Circle on the stage and while the security lined the sides just offstage, two ushers sat right behind me on the top row. I tried to take it all in. From the back of the theatre, the Italian Stallion was introduced and Andy Karl in the silky blue robe comes down the aisle with his entourage, steps into the ring, removes his robe, (yes, please!) and recognizes the crowd with arms raised on all sides. When he hit us bleacher creatures, so to speak, it was joyous chaos! Apollo gets announced next, and the coming to America-esque intro was almost like the movie! The girls in American flag robes and tasteful bikinis paraded in front of Apollo, portrayed by Terence Archie, in full Uncle Sam garb, and he, too, stepped into the ring. When Apollo acknowledged the crowd, some of us, well me for certain, started cheering and applauding but the cameramen, Rocky’s cornermen, and the ushers behind us, gestured and jeered for the crowd to say boo! So it soon turned into booing and thumbs downing for Mr. Creed. 

Ok, the boxing match was about to begin, we’re all focused on the center of the action and then…the whole stage, bleachers and boxing ring, jolted forward, into the audience below and over the seats we had just vacated! We were all like – WORD?! I had no idea we would be relocating courtesy of the stage! Some of us, me for sure, gasped out loud! The rest of the audience loved it, too. It was a trip! After that little thrilling adventure was done, the fight began and it was like a real boxing match! The people down below on the aisle seats were encouraged to go closer up to the ring. The bikini show girls walked into the action, in between Apollo and Rocky, holding the round number signs up and the choreography to the fighting scene was flawless. I often thought they’d get hit or stumble into one another, but nope! It was pretty smooth transitioning. The commentators up top sounded real, though we couldn’t see their faces at all.

There were several points where the action went slow-motion for dramatic effect. There was also a time where there was this red powder coming from Apollo’s gloves, I suppose to simulate blood. Just like the movie, Rocky had his moments of taking punches and hitting back hard! When those redemption moments occurred, the crowd was cheering, hooting and hollering as if it were a real match. Shouts of “Rocky! Rocky!” filled the air. Somehow, without me noticing it, Rocky’s whole head was soaked, and he looked like he was sweating like he was really exerting athletic heroics, or at least like he was Stallone in the film! In between bouts of punches, Apollo said his ribs were broken and Rocky said another favorite line of mine, “Cut me, Mick!” and Mickey, played by Dakin Matthews, squeezed this bloody thing on Karl’s face, right under his eye and he looked like he had been cut! The positioning of the boxing ring from our point of view was Rocky downstage (farther from us) in the right corner and Apollo upstage (closer to us) in the left corner. After awhile, just the boxing ring rotated so that Apollo was now downstage to the right, and Rocky’s corner was closest to us on the left. 

When it was over, the final bell rang, (Ding! Ding!), the well-known victorious music played, and everyone was standing up, cheering, rooting for the underdog and chanting “Rocky! Rocky!”, fully exhilarated with what had just happened. The goal wasn’t in winning; the goal was in proving he belonged and could last the 15 rounds. He never gave up. Both movie and musical hit that target well. The winner was declared to be Apollo, just like the film, but no one cared because Andy Karl kept going from side to side of that square calling out for Adrian. I swear, it was like I was in the Rocky film. It was such a feeling of nostalgia mashed with I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening-right-now emotion. Adrian came onstage, in her white coat and red beret and the two kissed. It may be my love for the 1976 classic movie and character of Rocky, but I honestly feel this show was one of the sweetest musicals I’ve seen. One of the lines from one of the songs goes, “Rocky, fight from the heart!” Well, this musical was unmistakably all about heart, and Andy Karl was the perfect person to play the iconic role.

The actors took their bows, forming a circle in the ring, with the outer layer going around first, then the next set of people, and finally the stars of the show. They paid respect to all sides of the audience, and it was really touching. When they got offstage, the ushers slowly let the bottom bench exit first, leaving us up top waiting for our turn and watching as the theatre emptied. The ring and bleachers stayed in position, covering the seats we were previously in, so now I totally understood why we couldn’t go back to our original chairs! As we were filing out, some crew members were off to the side and asked “So, how was it?” I said, “AMAZING! Oh my God!” and I was telling the truth. I went down the stairs, thoroughly thrilled with what I had experienced. 

I decided to stop by the Stage Door to pay my respects to the wonderful work they cast had done. I was happy but disappointed when I went outside. It was crowded, but not nearly as much as Of Mice and Men was. I had gone to see the Steinbeck play last month, and was caught in the frenzy afterwards of getting a Franco selfie. Obviously, James Franco and the rest of the cast were bigger names, however, the actors in Rocky did so much more work, physically, vocally, comedy-wise, with the added pressure of living up to an iconic movie, that I felt more people should have stuck around to give them their dues. Despite my annoyance of the lack of a super crowded gaggle of people, it was better for me because though once again snaked out of a spot at the railing, I was in a good position for the signing of my Playbill! 

First out to a wave of cheers was Eric Anderson! He portrayed Gazzo and was super nice in signing and posing for pictures. The next round of applause came for Manager Mick, Mr. Dakin Matthews! He’s been in a bunch of stuff, I know I’ve seen him in, but here’s the most memorable one that I recognize him from. In the show King of Queens, starring Kevin James as Doug Heffernan, his father, Joe, was played by Dakin Matthews! He was such a cutie! I told him he was wonderful as I remembered the sweet song he sang about days gone by. Dakin looked me in the eyes and said “Thank you!” Matthews signature was the most legible of all the signatures, and I thought, my, how time has changed; even penmanship has taken a hit!

The door opened once again for the belle of the ball, Adrian! Margo Seibert is so pretty! She too was gracious and looked people in the eyes, signing and posing for pics. Apollo Creed, skillfully played by Terence Archie, burst out next. He signed in blue across the white Rocky lettering, which at first I thought was pretty brazen of him, and maybe taking his character too far! I mean, Apollo? Signing over Rocky’s name? As if to spite him?! But then again, he probably signed there because his marker was blue, and that’s where it shows up best. The entire time, I, like many others, had been taking pictures of the actors, and half-crazed selfies whether they were looking or not! 

A few minutes afterward, the man of the hour, Andy Karl, walked out to a nice round of applause and cheers and he was so friggin’ adorable. I mean it, Mr. Karl is gorgeous. Really. Truly. Handsome as hell. Especially in person! His hair was dry and smoothed back, and he was in a fitted black t-shirt and black jeans. He came out smiling and embracing the crowd. When he got to my direction, I asked “Can I get a selfie?!” and he said, “Sure!” and I swear to God, if I don’t learn to take a proper selfie quick, like one of those stupid teenagers, in addition to getting a new iPhone, I’m just gonna stop trying altogether. He posed with his arm like he’s giving a punch and I snapped three quickly. For the record, that was his general pose, like a boxer, not because he found me irritating! I said “Thank you so much!” and he went on to take more pictures and sign autographs. 

After snapping out of my star struck haze, it was at that point that I looked at my selfie shots and they were so stupidly blurry, I wanted to cry. I don’t know if it was me trying to snap fast, my nerves that shook the camera, or my phone being an old tattered, needing-to-be-replaced relic, but the results were not good. I decide to wait a bit to see if I could get the opportunity to ask for another. After waiting awhile for the crowd, I did, and he couldn’t have been sweeter! This poor exhausted guy who gives basically a physical and vocal work out every performance night, took the time to meet and greet fans after the show and did so with such a positive energy! 

Standing next to the musical Rocky was a trip! He was much taller than Stallone, but just as handsome as Sly was in his hey day. I thanked him again, and headed for home, glad I made the right decision in seeing this near masterpiece. I couldn’t fall asleep until 3 a.m. due to the strong joy I had running loops in my mind! Seeing a musical that packed quite the punch, in a very VIP way, doing the Stage Door thing, and then getting face to face time with the main star…it was an exceptional night for me. 

The next morning, I was angry. The show is being shut down. Gone for good. I don’t know why the musical is closing. I refuse to believe it’s from lack of interest. After all, this is a classic underdog story of a guy from the streets trying to make it and wasting his life away until he gets his one chance. Where else but NY (or Philly, since the original movie took place there,) would you expect to have such a show represented? People come here to make their dreams come true all the time, and lots of them are left floating as dust in the wind. We need a story such as Rocky to remain on Broadway, if only for a reminder of that.

The low ticket sales were probably due to the competition out there. Lots of other new productions have been forced to close. It’s logical. If you’re going to spend money to see a show, you want insurance that you get your money’s worth. By attending a tried and true long-running musical, you’re sure to be entertained. You know the reviews are good, maybe you even go because some of those shows have celebrities step in to draw in an audience. This leaves a new musical already at a disadvantage. You really have to have something special right off the gate to even have half a chance. 

A perfect example is Wicked. It was once a new show, and it’s still running on Broadway because the songs are amazing and catchy and based on an iconic duo. Although Rocky is also based on an iconic hero, the big problem, I fully believe, was that the lyric book was not strong enough for this show to have a fighting chance. The actors can sing wonderfully, absolutely look the part and were able to take on their character’s persona. Not to mention the incredible great chemistry they had. It’s sort of an injustice to give the musical all the elements of secured success, actors, dialogue, creative technology and staging, and then throw them a bunch of terrible songs to sell to the crowd. You don’t come out of the theatre with a song from the show stuck in your head like you would from Mamma Mia or Les Miserblés

The dialogue was pretty good and took nice bits from the movie. I didn’t think it was necessary to add characters, like Paulie’s ex-wife and two friends, but that wasn’t the main problem. They didn’t enhance the plot, but it didn’t take away from it either. This is an inspirational story of achieving greatness, facing your destiny; it has a beautiful love story between two people who feel like the odd man out. There was so much to work with, it’s almost criminal to not have at least one soaring love ballad like Phantom of the Opera’s “All I Ask of You” or an epic encouraging tune like Jekyll and Hyde’s “This Is The Moment” or Man of La Mancha’s “The Impossible Dream.” Who approved the songbook? It was weak. It just was. The best thing about it was the songs from the Academy Award winning Rocky movie that was interspersed throughout the musical. 

Andy Karl was the perfect choice to represent the Broadway version of Rocky Balboa. Sylvester Stallone should be very proud that Andy fought a good fight, but he alone, even with the help of the other talented actors, could not create a bonafide hit. It’s such a damn shame. With the news of its looming final bell, the actors still came out, put on a brave face, provided an excellent performance and also gave back to their supporters by signing autographs, taking photos, and having conversations afterwards. Overall, I’d definitely say that the autograph signing went much better than the Franco experience. Yes, Franco’s a bigger star, and it’s because of this he came off as jaded from the massive crowds every night. A routine that perhaps grew stale for James, though it was fresh and exciting for fans. To meet someone who truly appreciates the support for incredible hard work was a marvel. They each looked you in the eye, and when they said thank you, they meant it. It wasn’t a brush off to get to the next person. It was unfair to have Rocky’s Stage Door half as crowded as Of Mice and Men’s, especially when these actors were nice, patient and in many ways, deserved it more. Of course, if the cast of the play spent the time to hang out at the Stage Door to meet with everybody, they’d be there for hours on end.

Still, I just want to express my gratitude to the champion cast of this top notch musical. I suppose it’s too late in the game for petitions or campaigning for salvation of this show. I wished it stayed running longer. I would have been thrilled to go back and see it a second, third or fourth time. It’s a story for the ages; kids, women & men can all find something to connect with. It’s unique in that it included audience participation. And though I treated myself to the Golden Circle, I bet I would have had just as great a time in a regular section. The jumbo-trons made you feel like you were at a real sporting event. The movie was brought to life and given more time, I KNOW more people would have been in their corner. It’s a travesty of epic proportions. Hopefully, somebody will rework the songbook and bring it back, perhaps for the film’s 40th or 50th anniversary. Or maybe it can find a residency in some place like Las Vegas. It takes it final blow on Sunday, August 17, 2014. You can’t keep a fighting spirit down. And the tale of Rocky Balboa is the essence of that fighting spirit.

Best wishes to the cast, who never gave up. You deserved far better. Here’s to the Rocky spirit in all of us!

Pancakes, Sugababes & the Illuminati – A Midnight Journey Through YouTube

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YouTube is a time wasting hole.  It captures your attention and entices you to keep watching another video clip.  And another.  Then just one more.  And one more after that.  When you’re able to finally break free, it’s been a good chunk of time later, and most likely, you don’t remember how you wound up watching the last video, which was a completely different topic from the first one!

Case in point:  I was watching television and came across a commercial for IHOP, (International House of Pancakes).  Oh, yummy delicious tv food, how tempting you are!  Too lazy to get up and make myself a snack, and mindful of the midnight hour it was, my mind started thinking about how to make those delectable thick pancakes.  YouTube search!  After checking out a clip of regular pancakes, I looked at blueberry and then banana pancakes.  It was suggested to see a banana Nutella crepe being made.  How am I gonna pass that one up!  I LOVE Nutella!  After making mental notes, background music to one of the videos caught my attention.  I Shazamed it but my poor little amazing app couldn’t read the song, and I knew it was going to drive me crazy so the search was on.  I wrote a line from the song into Google; “About A Girl” by some band called the Sugababes.  A successful British girl band with a totally changed line-up from the original members, the Sugababes have worked with Girls Aloud, another top UK girl group.  One of the Sugababes was from a band called the Atomic Kittens, and naturally, I had to listen to music from all three bands on YouTube.  Most of their music isn’t available on iTunes in America!  I continued listening to their fun pop tracks.  Girls Aloud covered “Jump” by the Pointer Sisters.  That reminded me of “We Are the World”, sung by the gold standard of musicians, and written by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson.  I don’t know how it happened, but I soon was immersed in all these conspiracy videos concerning Jackson’s death and the Illuminati, a group who seek to rule the world through manipulation and big name figures.  Some believe they still exist today and were responsible for his, and other celebrites’ deaths.

This all came from a pancake video.

Exhausted, two hours destroyed, and more informed, for better or worse, than before, I finally went to sleep.

Long story short, this morning I tried making banana pancakes, and added yet another masterful recipe to my collection!

American Idol Finale – 5/23/12: A Winner Is Crowned

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The moment we’ve been waiting all season for has arrived!

The crowning of the new American Idol would take place at the end of what promised to be an entertaining show finale.

The top twelve, minus Phillip and Jessica, energetically sang “Runaway Baby” by Bruno Mars.  Joshua’s small slip in his split was quickly forgotten as professional dancers hit the floor in the middle of the song.

Ryan Seacrest announced that a record setting 132 million votes were cast for the final two!

Phillip played and dueted with classic rocker John Fogerty, frontman of Credence Clearwater Revival.  “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” sounded great with the two of them and the audience was treated to a bonus song, “Bad Moon Rising”.

Seacrest threw to a clip of the rehearsal days, containing the good, the bad, and the oh so ugly!  He also informed the crowd that new auditions for the next American Idol would begin as early as June 7th.  Check AmericanIdol.com for details.

“Take Me To the Pilot” was heard through the pipes of the one and only Joshua Ledet, and his inspiration, former Idol winner, Fantasia!  (Why no Elton John?!)  The two unique voices sounded strong and vibrant and were cut off at the end, for lousy commercials.

A hysterical clip of Jimmy Iovine continually miscalling Jennifer Lopez as Jessica was shown.  The ladies of the top twelve, Hollie Cavanagh, Skylar Laine, Shannon Magrane, Elise Testone, Erika Van Pelt, followed later by Jessica Sanchez, hit the stage to sing a medley of “Ain’t Nobody”, “Through the Fire” and “I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Khan.  They were soon joined by the lady herself, fierce diva Chaka Khan!

Phillip’s musical mentor, Ben Neil, and Jessica’s mentor, Robert Talon, were then presented with their own Ford Escapes, courtesy of Ford and American Idol.  The final two were given Ford Fusions.

“Where Have You Been” by mega-star Rihanna heated the arena.

Country came through with Skylar Laine singing “Turn On the Radio” with look alike legend Reba McEntyre!  Both excellent!

A funny video of Steven Tyler was played.  Only this rocker would have a live sloth, a real monkey, a fake zebra, beautiful playmates, and autographed photos of music legends in his dressing room.  It was a treat to see the actual piano he wrote his masterpiece on, “Dream On”.

Jessica revisited what many considered to be the best of her performances, “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston.  There’s a reason this girl is in the final running.

It was the men’s turn, as Deandre Brackensick, Colton Dixon, HeeJun Han, Joshua Ledet, Jeremy Rosado, and curiously no Phillip Phillips, sang “America”, “Cracklin’ Rosie” and “I’m A Believer” by American treasure, Neil Diamond.  (“I’m A Believer” was written by Neil Diamond and famously recorded by the Monkees.)  When “Sweet Caroline” began, Mr. Diamond came out to show them how it’s done!

An hour had passed and Ryan teased the winner would be revealed next, but anyone who’s ever watched an American Idol finale before knew we had another hour to go.

It was Randi Jackson’s time to be embarrassed by his repetitive critiques, specifically ‘you can sing the phone book’, followed by the eliminated contestants choir singing a parody song with a phone book.  Scotty McCreery presented him with a gift wrapped Yellow Pages.

Jennifer Lopez promoted her upcoming tour by performing two hot dance tracks with reggae ton duo, Wisin and Yandel.  Her songs were “Going In” and new single “Follow the Leader”.

Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo, former contestants and now a couple, returned, saying the Idol stage is like home.  Ryan then handed the mic to Ace and he went on bended knee!  The proposal was a bit shaky in his speech, but I imagine they both were a bit shaky in nerves.  Nonetheless, it worked; they became engaged on American Idol!

“You’ll Never Walk Alone” was sung by Hollie Cavanagh.  Jordin Sparks joined her for an inspired sing along.

Robin Gibb was honored by the guys, again minus Phillip, in a medley that included “How Deep Is Your Love”, “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” and “To Love Somebody”.

Jessica performed with THE Dream Girl herself, Jennifer Holliday.  “And I Am Telling You” Jennifer gave goosebumps!  One hopes Jessica understands what a true honor it was to sing with her.

What could possibly follow the power vocals of J. Holliday?  AEROSMITH!  New song, “Legendary Child” has the old sound Aerosmith fans will love.  It was fantastic to know that despite judging a family competition show, Steven Tyler hasn’t forgotten how to be the true iconic rocker he is.  They followed up with “Walk This Way”.

Jessica and Phillip sang as a duet the Joe Cocker’s tune, “Up Where Belong”.

Hope the DVRs were set for a few minutes after ten, because the show ran late!

But it was finally time for the results.

Who would be the winner?

Phillip Phillips?

Jessica Sanchez?

Final thanks to the band, the crew, the fans, and time to dim the lights…

The Season 11 American Idol Winner is…

PHILLIP PHILLIPS!!!

Awarded the American Idol Trophy, and strapped with his guitar, he was left alone on the stage to perform his new single, “Home”.  Overcome with emotion, the winner, Phillip Phillips, was showered with confetti, joined by the marching band, and played out the rest of the song, until he removed the instrument and went off stage to his awaiting proud family.

Best wishes for a long and successful career!  Congratulations to both finalists, and to all who made season 11 as entertaining as it was!  Until next time…

American Idol Recap – 5/22/12 – The Final Performance!!!

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They’ve shared a dream, and now they’re sharing a stage one last time for the title of American idol.

Ryan Seacrest called out to the audience for an impromptu poll on who they were voting for. Then the battle began; both young finalists, Phillip 21 years old and Jessica only 16 years old, were less than 24 hours from their fate.

Ding, ding, let the singing begin…

They would each sing three songs. Creator and Producer Simon Fuller’s choice, the contestant’s favorite song of season and the potential winning song.

Phillip won the behind the scenes coin toss and elected to go second.

Jessica Sanchez, looking lovely in a long bronzy gown, took on Simon Fuller’s pick for her, “I Have Nothing” by Whitney Houston. A line or two were a tad rushed towards the end, and the lyrics seemed too mature for an inexperienced teenager. The rest of the vocals were nicely done.

“Stand By Me” by Ben E. King was given to Phillip. A typical mellow performance from this professional looking kid ensued. It was as laid back as his attire; an open denim, button-down shirt, white t-shirt and blackjeans.

At the end of round one, we finally heard from the judges. Jennifer said it was difficult because their voices are two distinct ones; the modern day crooner versus Jessica’s big vocals. Upon Ryan’s pressing on who took the first sing off, Randi declared round one probably went to Jessica; Lopez agreed. I think Phillip had the edge. Though singing off melody, he stayed true to his style, and sang while playing an instrument.

“Undefeated” was written and performed by Jason DeRulo, while his girlfriend, former American Idol winner, Jordin Sparks, sung along in the audience. The uptempo dance song is average at best, but the lyrics are inspirational. (Parts of the chorus reminded me of “Wavin’ Flag” by K’naan.) It was good to see Jason without the neck brace, an accessory he was forced to wear after fracturing his neck during dance rehearsals for his since cancelled tour back in January.

Jessica revisited “The Prayer” by Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion. It was the song that earned her the top 24 spot. While I thought she dragged a few unnecessary notes, and it works best as the original duet it is, the song is beautiful and she did well with it. She was pretty in a long, pink chiffon dress.

Strong bias here, as Phillip took on his favorite song from Billy Joel week, (not too mention my all-time favorite artist), “Movin’ Out” by Billy Joel. He appeared sleek, in a black long sleeved shirt and he was all business in his singing. He gave the vocal his all, especially at the final lyrics. My winner of round one & two…Phillip. Tyler said Jessica won again, Randi was convinced it was a dead heat tie and Lopez said Phillip took it.

The last round…

“Change Nothing” would be the song Jessica would release if she takes the title. A song of making it through tough times, it was decent, but not even big soaring notes could help this meek potential single. She did well with the tune, sitting on a piano in a white jacket, green top and black leather pants. Randi also didn’t care for the song, but thought she brought it to life. Lopez and Tyler agreed with the poor choice, saying it was too pop for a soulful singer like her. They wisely advised that future albums, whether winner or not, she choose songs that fit her style better. She’d have to stand with her previous two tries on stage to become champion. Was it enough to get the coveted title?

Phillip’s might-be single was “Home”. Lyrics of not being alone, combined with a rolling melody and pretty easy chorus made this song a home-run for Phillip. Simple as his style, dark grey blazer, dark v-neck shirt and black jeans, he stole the show. He got an enthusiastic standing ovation. Randi proclaimed it as similar to Mumford & Sons, brilliant and genius, while Lopez said he sounded so different than anything out there now. Tyler said he compared to Paul Simon and “you are the man.” He played guitar in all songs, making him a true artist. However, were his performances enough to be the last one standing in victory?

Scotty McCreery, last year’s Idol winner, ended the show with the elimination song of the season, “Please Remember Me”.

And now the fate of these two are in America’s hands.

2012 Billboard Music Awards Recap – 5/20/12

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This year’s Billboard Music Awards was hosted by Modern Family’s Ty Burell and Julie Bowen, funnier on their show, decent jokes throughout the show.

LMFAO kicked off the BBM Awards show with a medley of their hits.  It was an atmosphere of party rockin’ that you wanted to be a part of, complete with a boogying zebra in sparkly underwear, a pink teddy bear, and happy dancing!

Justin Bieber was awarded the Social Artist of the Year Award, and with near 22 million Twitter followers, it was a no brainer.

Robin Gibb, who passed away an hour before the show, was given a moment of silence.  Cancer claimed another disco legend; Gibb was only 62.

Katy Perry won the Spotlight Award, the only other recipient being the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson.  She plugged her new movie out July 4th weekend and teased her upcoming performance as one of her most personal songs.

Kelly Clarkson sang her new single, “Dark Side” in a beautiful red dress.

The Wanted brought the European club vibe in the MGM Grand, by singing “Chasing the Sun” and “Glad You Came”.

Miley Cyrus looked ridiculous in her outfit, a white tuxedo jacket that was trying too hard to be sexy, as she presented Wiz Khalifa with the New Artist Award.

Chris Brown lip-synced to “Turn Up the Music” but displayed a great physique and dance routine.

Natasha Bedingfield came out to pay tribute to Donna Summer by messing up the lyrics to “Last Dance”.  Worse was the network cutting to commercial before it was done.

Woman of the Year went to sweetheart Taylor Swift.

Usher performed his hot dance track, “Scream”, where the woman in a red cape in his intro turned into a man in a tux!  Props for the magician trick and for turning it out.

Hot 100 Song of the Year went to “Party Rockin'” from LMFAO.

The Biebs took to the stage with HEAVY Michael Jackson influence.  He did a great job; nice choreography, black lights with fluorescent costumes and singing live.

Adorable Carly Rae Jepson sang her catchy smash, “Call Me Maybe”.

Top Duo or Group went to LMFAO.

Carrie Underwood sang “Blown Away” with the strong tornado wind machine.

Lil Wayne won Male Artist of the Year.

Linkin Park, an underrated fantastic rock band,  sang “Burn It Down.”

Chris Brown took R&B Artist of the Year.

“Wide Awake” was performed by Katy Perry in a white wedding dress while swinging on a giant rope swing.

John Legend sang “The Greatest Love of All”, while Jordin Sparks took on the monster, “I Will Always Love You” with beautiful results.

Pat Houston and Bobbi Kristina Brown received the Millennium Award on behalf of the Voice, Whitney Houston.

The Goodie Mob & Cee Lo Green join together to sing “Fight to Win” as the one legged dancer in a soldier’s uniform stole the show.  Jean Sok from Michael Jackson:  the Immortal Tour was the talented young dancer.  (Highly recommend, awesome show!)  Then came their tribute to Adam “MCA” Yauch of the Beastie Boys, through the anthem “Fight For Your Right”!

A Long Island band won Billboard and Chevrolet’s Battle of the Bands!  Patent Pending played on probably the biggest stage of their life, “Dance Till We Die”.

Nelly Furtado came out ghetto fabulous with “Big Hoops (Bigger the Better)”.  Dancing in heels?  Ha!  Try dancing in stilts like her performers did!

Stevie Wonder received the Billboard Music Icon Award, after reminding the audience how iconic he is by dueling with Alicia Keys on “Higher Ground” and “Overjoyed”.  Stevie requested an ‘impromptu’ chorus of Alicia’s song, “Empire State of Mind” for his birthday.  After his speech to love one another, he sang “Join Our Love” and played harmonica!  Ending the telecast, he sang “Superstition”.

Music Legend Donna Summer – Remembering the Queen of Disco

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At the young age of 63, Donna Summer, who had been battling cancer, has passed away in her Florida home on Thursday, surrounded by family and friends.  The family released a statement:  “Early this morning, we lost Donna Summer Sudano, a woman of many gifts, the greatest being her faith.  While we grieve her passing, we are at peace celebrating her extraordinary life and her continued legacy. Words truly can’t express how much we appreciate your prayers and love for our family at this sensitive time.”

I was going to write an informational piece on the death of Donna Summer.  I felt it was important for me to write something because like Whitney Houston, in my book, she was also considered to be “the voice”.  Yes, her songs were upbeat, happy, and made you want to dance.  Even the ones about heartache were disco-fied!  However, her notes soared with the best of them, a fact overlooked because of the upbeat tunes she so often sang.  I read of her passing on Facebook, searched frantically for proof of this terrible news, and then gathered articles from across the internet, plugged in my iPod and got my Donna Summer albums playing!  I couldn’t focus.  A majority of her music was among the best, and all I kept thinking was, why did they ever say disco is dead?  These songs are AWESOME!  Hardly any different than the generic beats of a lot of the house music of the 90s, or some of the club music of today.  Newsflash, music snobs, disco never died.  Good music never does.  The fashions, though…well…

Donna Summer had a pretty productive life.  Her birth name was LaDonna Adrian Gaines.  She was born on New Year’s Eve in 1948.  Donna was brought up in a strict Christian household; one of seven kids, raised in Boston.  She was influenced by gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, and sang in the church from an early age.  As she got older, she formed musical groups with her sister and cousin in the style of Motown girl groups at the time, such as the Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas, later going more towards bluesy rock with the emergence of Janis Joplin.  Donna dropped out of school in her teens and joined a psychedelic rock group, the Crow, only to have them disband once they got to New York.  She auditioned for the Broadway musical, Hair, losing it but she was offered the European one.  Off to Germany she went, where she learned the language and began acting in more plays.  While in the Austrian production of Godspell, Donna fell in love with her first husband, actor Helmuth Sommer.  They married in 1972, had a child in 1973, Mimi, and divorced.  Donna kept the name, transforming it to the American version, Summer.  She lived with her boyfriend, artist and super jealous Peter Mühldorfer.  She recorded a song with the Brooklyn Dreams, and fell in love once more with one of the members.  “Heaven Knows” it was a good match, as she married Bruce Sudano in 1980, and had two children, Brooklyn, (named after the group) in 1981, and Amanda in 1982.  She is survived by her three children and husband.

Her first released song was in Europe, a cover of “Sally Go ‘Round the Roses”.  Summer soon met producers, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, signed with Groovy Records and issued her first album, Lady of the Night, to limited European success.  Donna was writing for another artist, when she came up with the lyric, “Love to Love You, Baby”.  Moroder was exploring the new sound of the time, and they recorded a demo track of the now infamous song.  They wisely decided to release it, with the help of Casablanca Records, setting off a career of royal success.  Though several stations, even in the States, refused it airplay due to its orgasmic sounds and sexy whisperings, the single hit the top ten in 1976.  In 1977, “I Feel Love” became her second top ten, followed by 1978’s “MacArthur Park” and “Heaven Knows”.   It was in the movie Thank God It’s Friday, where her epic signature song, “Last Dance” featured and garnered writer Paul Jabara an Academy Award and Donna Summer her first Grammy.  Subsequent success was found with “Bad Girls”, “Hot Stuff”, “Dim All the Lights”, and “On the Radio”.  The first time the Grammys included the category Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, Donna Summer clinched it (“Hot Stuff”).  Overcome with the overwhelming rise of her early success, Summer became depressed and suffered from anxiety attacks in 1977, leading to her addiction to prescription medication.  Donna turned to the church in 1979, becoming a born-again Christian.

Casablanca and Summer parted ways when tension rose due to Donna’s desire to move her music in a different direction.  Signing with new label at the time, Geffen Rocords, Summer went for a more new wave, rock sound.  The rock edge crept in with The Wanderer, and with her second album, I’m A Rainbow, shelved and after seven years of working with Moroder, Geffen recruited Quincy Jones to serve as Summer’s producer on 1982’s Donna Summer.  Polygram Records, the parent company of Casablanca, came calling over failed contract fulfillments.  Donna Summer gave them the last album owed, She Works Hard for the Money, in which the title track hit #3 on the US Hot 100.  Back with Geffen, Cats Without Claws followed in 1984, with little commercial success, becoming the first of her albums to not reach gold status.  The decline continued with 1987’s All Systems Go, and Summer left Geffen for Warner Bros. for the 1989 release of Another Place and Time, which held the top ten hit single “This Time I Know It’s For Real”.  Mistaken Identity in 1991, was followed by Christmas Spirit on Polygram Records in 1994.  After a 17 year hiatus, Donna returned with Sony Records for 2008’s album, Crayons.  Nearly coming full circle, Summer wrote the tracks “The Queen is Back” and “Mr. Music” with J.R. Rotem and Evan Bogart, the son of Casablanca Records founder, Neil Bogart.  Her last single was “To Paris With Love”, in 2010, which reached #1 on the US Billboard Dance Chart.

A statement from the Recording Academy said she “had a dynamic voice and unique musical style that helped define the dance music genre in the ’70s.”  Academy President, Neil Portnow, continued praising Summer, calling her “an artist who crossed many musical genres, as evidenced by her Grammy wins in the R&B, rock, inspirational and dance categories.  Her talent was a true gift to the music industry, and our thoughts and sympathies are with her family, friends and fans throughout the world during this difficult time.”  Donna Summer had said she never liked to be categorized, calling herself an instrument that makes particular sounds for whatever was to come out for that color.  In a statement released by her publicist, duet partner in “No More Tears”, Barbra Streisand said, “I was shocked to hear about Donna.  She was so vital the last time I saw her a few months ago. I loved doing the duet with her. She had an amazing voice and was so talented.”  Twitter, the social medium that has become a platform for unofficial statements, had celebrities expressing their sorrow.  LaToya Jackson wrote “She will be terribly missed. She was truly the #Disco Queen!”  Quincy Jones tweeted, “Rest in Peace dear Donna Summer. Your voice was the heartbeat and soundtrack of a decade.”

The recipient of 5 Grammys, inducted into the Dance Hall of Fame in 2004, nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, Donna Summer leaves behind a musical legacy.

“…If you think that love isn’t found on the radio, then tune right in, you may find the love you lost…”

American Idol Elimination 5/17/12

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“Got to Get You Into My Life” by the Beatles, performed by the monochromatic trio started the show off.  The three displayed their distinctive voices; the diva, the gospel power and the bluesy rock.

Joshua Ledet was called up first for Jimmy’s review.  Iovine felt the judges graded him a little too graciously, and took responsibility for choosing “No More Drama”, a song he felt didn’t have enough melody for Joshua to own.  The ending result was that Iovine absolutely believed that Joshua deserves to be in the final two.

A video package obviously from last week, had the four remaining contestants at the time visit a recording studio with singer/songwriter Ester Dean.  She had them sing the song “We Are” from the summer movie, Ice Age – Continental Drift, out in theaters July 13th.  The movie version has Dean, Jennifer Lopez and Drake on the track.

Lisa Marie Presley’s latest album is entitled “Storm & Grace”, available as of earlier this week.  She visited the Idol stage to sing, “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”.  She’s not her father, the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, but she has a smooth vibe to her music that’s definitely worth a listen.

Jessica Sanchez was up for scrutiny next.  Iovine thought her Mariah Carey wasn’t as great as the judges thought and also took the rap for choosing “I’ll Be There”, saying the song was too short and did lack the back and forth between Michael and Jermaine Jackson’s vocals.  He said she deserved to be in the finals and is worthy to sing on the Grammys already.

A few words were said about the unfortunate passing of the Queen of Disco, the talented voice of a generation, Donna Summer.

Adam Lambert returned to promote his latest album, also released earlier this week, “Trespassing”.  He sang “Never Close Our Eyes”.  The tune is an upbeat pop rock song, and not even the best one on the album.  (The title track is hot!)

Phillip Phillips had his moment in the spotlight.  Jimmy thought his sound is more original and less derivative of other artists, and praised him for taking risks, but didn’t think it worked with “Disease”.  Iovine did declare Phillip the winner of the night, calling it the best performance of Wednesday’s show with Bob Seger’s cover.  The emotions came through, the vocals were beautiful and it was the best he’d seen of Phillip all year.

All three were called up front and center.  The judges unnecessarily said how heartbreaking it is to lose anyone at this point.  And then it was time for the reveal.  Two go through.  One goes home.  But first, we went to commercial.

Dim all the lights, sweet darlin’, ’cause tonight it’s all the way…to the final two.  The first contestant in was…

Jessica Sanchez!

Her competitor would be…

Phillip Phillips!!!

Joshua ended his run with the show stopper performance, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”.  The very best of luck to Joshua Ledet.  He has a wonderful opportunity for a successful career.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are one week away from crowning a new American Idol!!!

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