Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ben Folds should have his own TV music show

Judge Ben Folds has posted his final Sing-Off Season II blog on the finale. The show aired on NBC after Thanksgiving as an off-season filler on five weekday nights (Mondays and Wednesdays), and featured ten a capella groups competing to win a grand prize of cash and a SONY recording contract.

When I read Ben's Sing-Off blog, my first thought was, this fits perfectly sandwiched into the middle of my last blog, right under my second paragraph where I commend the other nine groups who did not win the grand prize. Not only does it explain a bit about what goes on behind the scenes, it also contains links to each group's website, facebook page, and/or twitter account. I was especially glad to read the explanation of why the judges were so in love with the Backbeats, and why pitch was simply not that important in every instance.

Please take the time to read this: On Key with Ben Folds

A lot of fans have suggested that Ben Folds become one of the new replacement judges on American Idol. He does makes a wonderful Sing-Off judge, but I hope he does not end up on American Idol, not because he wouldn't be great at it, but because the show is a sinking ship.

Instead, I would like to hear more from Ben on his thoughts on music in general. He appears to have endless knowledge on just about every music genre, both obscure and popular, and understands what's happening below the auditory surface. He also has excellent taste, is quite articulate on camera and has a huge following: over 330,000 fans on facebook alone. So, why not give Ben his own TV show?

Off camera, Ben Folds mentions that he has actually never seen American Idol due to his very busy schedule and would like to watch some reruns. For anyone who wants to do this, I recommend you go all the way back to Seasons 2 through 4 when the show was in my opinion, at it's peak. Changes in later years have been it's downfall and include everything from tryout footage being cut (the group tryouts were my favorite part of the show); stacking the deck with better singers of one race or sex in an effort to get a winner who's white, female, black, blonde or whatever (yes, we at home were on to you); splitting up competitors into unfair groups; showing favoritism in order to sway the voting public towards a certain winner; and perhaps the worst change of all: adding a fourth judge which cut down the time each judge had to speak.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Congratulations to Committed,
Sing-Off Champs 2010

Last night, true to my predictions, Committed won first place for the second season of the Sing-Off a cappella show which aired over the last three weeks on NBC. I look forward to hearing from them in the future, eagerly await their new CD from SONY Records, and imagine we'll be seeing them perform on tour at festivals around the country next year.

The other three groups, correction, the other nine groups who did not win the grand prize, should be proud of themselves for putting on such an entertaining show for us viewers. It was well worth the time to see each and every TV episode.

The three judges outdid themselves.

I thought Judge Shawn Stockman from Boyz II Men really stepped up to the plate, offering not only interesting critiques, but also attempting to put into words the visualizations of the music he feels. I don't know if Mr. Stockman has ever considered writing books or poetry, but I think he'd be a natural.

Judge Nicole Scherzinger from the Pussycat Dolls was very sweet and always provided positive feedback. I imagine all of the male contestants are in love with her at this moment.

And of course, my favorite from last year, Judge Ben Folds, was even more informative than last year, stepping up the level of correct musical terms to exactly describe what the singers were doing. I suppose in a way, he was like a construction engineer, describing how the song was built from the inside out, much as an architect might describe how to build the structural metal scaffolding buried inside concrete walls and clad in glass, something the common every day building inhabitant is not even cognizant of – they just know that they like their office and the way the sunlight wafts gently into the lobby as they enter for work each day.

I would love to see the show extended in 2011, possibly as a one-hour show airing one night a week, perhaps Fridays when the college kids don't have papers to write. I am also quite curious about how on earth these groups put together a song from start to finish: How do they decide what to sing? Who writes their parts or do they just all jump in and see where it lands, tweaking out the bad parts? How on earth do they stay on time with no beat? And does someone have a pitch pipe out there?

Until next year!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sing-Off winner announced tonight!

Tonight from 8 to 10:30 PM, the winners of the second season of the Sing-Off will air on NBC (Channel 4 or 1020 HD here in Orlando on Brighthouse Cable). It will no doubt be a stellar show and one for the books. The winner will receive $100,000 and a SONY Recording contract.

Each of the three judges, pianist singer/songwriter Ben Folds, singer Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men, and performer Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls will perform with one of the four final groups still in contention for the grand prize: Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town from Oakland, CA (although Jerry himself grew up right here in Apopka, FL); The Backbeats from Los Angeles, CA; Street Corner Symphony from Nashville, TN; and Committed from Huntsville, AL.

The show is hosted by Nick Lachey of 98 Degrees. Since there are now four groups and only three judges, I am curious if he will also perform with one of them.

Who should win? I honestly feel Committed did the best job and is the most marketable.

However, after polling most of my friends, it was clear that there is almost a tie between Street Corner Symphony and Committed. Perhaps six young men is the magic number. However, I must admit that I feel a fondness in my heart for Jerry Lawson, being from right here in Central Florida. Although The Backbeats were great as individuals, they did not seem as cohesive as the other three groups. I don't see them staying together and imagine that shortly after the show, they will dissolve and reform with a more original name (ever try Googling Backbeats?) and with a slightly different cast of characters.

Good luck to all of the groups!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Less than 4 hours to vote!

This is a reminder to vote for your favorite Sing-Off group. Voting closes at 9 AM today! You may also vote online on NBC's Sing-off website. The finale will air on Monday from 8 to 10:30 PM.

Text 1 to number 97979

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Vote for Your Favorite Sing-Off Group!

Wednesday December 15's episode of the Sing-Off was split into two parts. In the first segment, Round 4, each group performed a medley of songs from one artist, utilizing at least two lead vocalists. Although I felt that On the Rocks gave one of the most entertaining performances of an Elton John medley, they were eliminated by the judges. The four remaining groups proceeded to Round 5 and performed a song picked for them by the judges.

In Round 5, rather than eliminate a group as planned, all four groups were pushed through to the public voting round, so that all have the possibility of winning the grand prize: a SONY recording contract plus $100,000. To vote for your favorite band, call the phone number below their name. Voting closes on Sunday morning at 9 AM, EST (Orlando time).

When voting for your favorite, I always use the "would I buy a C.D from this group for $10?" test. If the answer is "yes," then ask yourself, "would I pay $35 to see this group perform?" If you cannot answer yes to both, perhaps the group you're voting for isn't the right group to win the competition. This isn't a popularity contest – its business.

Here's my thoughts on Wednesday night's show.

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Medley: Songs by Usher
Judges review of their performance

Committed performed an extraordinary Usher medley, opening with "DJ Got Us Falling in Love." The lead singer was backed by a mixture of harmonic vocals, a hot emulated "wow-wow-wow" guitar part, and what seemed like a perfectly matched doubling of the lead. However, the backup vocalists made the song in my opinion, with a funky bass beat. Their second song, "You Got It Bad," was intensely romantic and the third, "Love in This Club," which I hear played at the beginning of every Orlando Magic game, added a soft "ch-ch" percussive sound. What I loved the most about their arrangements is that they seemed to improve on the songs. It was ear candy. Judge Ben Folds called it "harmonic badass" and Judge Shawn Stockman said, "The transitions were so sick!"

Judges' Choice: "Let's Stay Together" by Al Green
Judges' review of their performance

Committed utilized each and every member of their six member group by trading leads, showing that "there isn't a weak link amongst them," noted my friend Geoff who watched with me. Each person sang one line while everyone else sang a simple harmonic background rhythm. The transition was seamless and as smooth as silk.

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Medley: Songs by The Beatles
Judges review of their performance

Street Corner Symphony performed a medley of "Eleanor Rigby," "Help," and "Hey Jude" by the Beatles, showcasing their beautifully cascading harmonies, pleasant arrangements, and excellent lead vocals. Each of the first two songs were performed flawlessly, with "Help" being the more phenomenal of the three. However, the arrangements were not as stellar as usual. The transitions between songs seemed rocky, if you could even call them transitions. After singing "Help," they simply stopped singing dead in their 'tracks', and started up again with "Hey Jude." "Hey Jude" was the only song which didn't soar, since the song climaxed in the middle, and sadly petered out on their final notes. To me, their song choice was a little odd. "Eleanor Rigby" is a dark and moody song, while "Help" is upbeat, and "Hey Jude" is a very sad song indeed. "Help" being the best of their performances, should have been combined with two happier bits, and God knows, the Beatles wrote tons of those.

Judges choice: "Down on the Corner" by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Judges review of their performance

Street Corner Symphony's performance of "Down on the Corner" by CCR was brilliantly arranged. The first verse started off beautifully and built slightly, soared into full harmony during the chorus, then quieted down again for the next verse – a dynamic arrangement. Perhaps their most spectacular moment was when they surprised the audience by performing a break down where they incorporated the name of their group: Down on the Street Corner Symphony. The ending finale blew me away – it really rocked.

My only nit picky criticism is that the backup vocals were a wee bit too loud during parts of the verses.

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Medley: Songs by Lady Gaga
Judges review of their performance

It's probably no surprise that TVgrrrrl is a giant Lady Gaga fan. Gaga's got pipes, writes her own songs, and plays an instrument (shock) – very well, I might add. I was extremely disappointed with The Backbeat's performance and I'm not sure what happened. They started off on the wrong foot, singing too fast, and having Kelley, one of their sopranos attempt to sing the lead on "Poker Face." I'm sure she must have been awesome, but we at home could barely hear her as she was drowned out by the male backups until she hit the higher notes in the chorus. Plus, the vocals were slightly out of sync, making it sound a bit messy. I would have liked to have heard the lower parts, the verses, sung by one of the many male leads. Just because Lady Gaga is a woman doesn't mean a guy can't sing the part. The transition was wonderful into the ballad "Paparazzi," sung by their most powerful female lead, Joanna, a contralto. Backed by their rich blend of backup vocalists, it really was the highlight of their performance. Their final song, "Just Dance," was a complete mess and fell apart, was performed too fast, with the backup singers once again singing too loud, not performing in sync, and drowning out the lead in places. One bright spot is their arrangements were good, just poorly executed.

Judges choice: "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac
Judges review of their performance

Ballads are where the Backbeats shine, and the judges thoughtfully chose a song which could be sung best by a female lead with a lower range. The beginning was beautiful with Joanna singing lead while the backups danced vocally behind her, each performing slightly different parts, which when melded together, created a vocal symphony. Judge Shawn Stockman said, "I saw the sound... It was that beautiful." Judge Ben Folds said, "Emotionally, you delivered it."

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Medley: Songs by Otis Redding
Judges review of their performance

When Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town performed a medley of songs by Otis Redding, it was awesome, like watching the pros perform at a concert, or as my friend Geoff noted, "It's like going back to the Apollo in the '60s." Their performance of "Dock of the Bay," was seamless and emotionally heartfelt. They followed with "Try a Little Tenderness," utilizing Paul on lead, to great success as the backup singers' "ba ba ba bop's" climbed perfectly up the scale, occasionally screaming out the words for emphasis, and entertaining everyone's derriere's off. Their third song, "Respect," was well sung and meaningfully portrayed. Judge Nicole Scherzinger noted, "I think that it was very fitting that you all ended with 'Respect,' because I think it kind of represents your journey on this show and in your lives. And I think it's just wonderful to be able to watch you all finally get the respect and the acknowledgement that you deserve."

Judges choice: House of the Rising Sun by the Animals
Judges review of their performance

"House of the Rising Sun" was by far the best and most moving performance of the night, excelling in phenomenal vocal arrangement. The judges told the audience that they had purposely attempted to get Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town out of their comfort zone by assigning something different from what they usually performed. Undaunted, the veteran a cappella group created a uniquely interesting and complex arrangement of this old classic, which can seem monotonous when performed in the traditional way since the melody repeats throughout in consecutive verses with no real chorus.

Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town performed four verses. For the first verse, the backup vocalists ooo'd throughout, slowly introducing a bass beat, then an echo. For the second verse, the backups created an "arpeggio" behind the lead. (I learned this term from Judge Ben Folds and had to look it up -- it means broken chords, where you play the notes in a chord as individual notes). The third verse was the most spectacular. While Jerry vamped the lines, "Mothers, tell your children, Not to do what I have done. Well, well. Don't live your life in sin and in misery in the house of the rise, rising sun," the backups sang each line of "Amazing Grace" behind him, managing to blend into the background, creating a thought provoking arrangement. For the fourth verse, the group brought the arrangement back full circle, with the backups once again singing a vocal wall of sound of "Ahhh's" and echos behind the lead, finally coming together for impact on the last phrase, "And God, I know I'm one."


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Round 3 of the Sing-Off Rocks!

On the Rocks from Oregon rocked the house Monday

Once again, all of the six remaining groups competing on the Sing-Off, an a capella music competition airing on NBC this December, came prepared to impress and I was blown away by all of their stellar performances. On Monday’s episode, each group performed twice: first, a rock song; second, a “guilty pleasure.” The result was a mixture of twelve performances ranging from dark to cheerful, and sexy to silly.

I almost didn’t post any reviews today, because all of the groups did such a wonderful job. Any negative comments are nit picky, so I’m labeling them as such, not to detract from multiple congratulations and kudos all around.

If anything, the judges were in rare form this episode, and I wish I’d written faster and been able to write down all of their extremely colorful comments.

The Backbeats

Rock choice: You Give Love a Bad Name by Bon Jovi
The Backbeats opened the show with their rendition of Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name,” excelling in vocal prowess. Their well orchestrated mix of backup vocals blended richly into the background and lifted up their lead singer without overpowering her. My friend Geoff, who watched with me was also impressed that the percussion vocalists emulated snare reverb, a hallmark of ‘80s music. The judges thought the song was too fast, but both Geoff and I disagreed.

Backbeats performance of You Give Love a Bad Name
Judges review of their performance

Guilty Pleasure choice: Love Shack by the B52’s
For their “guilty pleasure,” the Backbeats chose “Love Shack” by the B-52s. I was thrilled to see the girls dressed in Go-Go dresses and the guys dressed in fun multi-colored casuals. All of the singers, especially the lead, did a wonderful job sing-acting their campy roles. It was a fun and very entertaining performance.

My nit picky criticism: It is difficult to take a well known song such as Love Shack and perform it in a way which is acceptable to the audience. If you cannot mimic it exactly, you should make it your own. Most of the Backbeat’s version of the song was mimicry, which can be a great thing, but the lead’s range was not as low as perhaps necessary to mimic that of B52’s male lead vocalist, Fred Schneider. Perhaps if they had arranged the rest of the song so that it was even more of a departure from the original, I would not have felt that something was missing and would have enjoyed the differences instead of noticing them.

Backbeats performance of Love Shack

Street Corner Symphony

Rock choice: Creep by Radio Head
I never imagined that a cappella could sound “dark,” but Street Corner Symphony managed to pull it off in their rendition of Creep by Radio Head. The vocals were phenomenal at the start of the song, with the lead singing his heart out, and the backups gently oscillating throughout the background. Their version was more eerily disturbing and moving than the original, making it one of my favorite performances of the night.

My nit picky criticism: The chi-ching at the beginning of the chorus was too loud. During some moments in the chorus, it seemed that everyone except the percussionists hit the same vocal range, failing to round out the vocal backdrop.

Street Corner Symphony’s performance of Creep
Judges review of their performance

Guilty Pleasure choice: Come On Eileen by Dexy’s Midnight Runners
Street Corner Symphony’s second performance, “Come On Eileen,” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners was amazingly fun and wacky with wild choreography and a clever vocal arrangement. Once they reached the chorus, the song really rocked. I laughed as they dosey doed around the stage while still managing to sing perfectly matched harmonies. Judge Shawn Stockman echoed my thoughts: The great thing is you guys weren’t afraid to be silly.

Street Corner Symphony’s performance of Come On Eileen

Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town

Rock choice: Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones
The smooth opening notes of “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones melted my heart as Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town made the song sound hot and sexy. The old loose and relaxed, soulful choreography where the singers line up behind the lead was the icing on the cake. I loved the way they surprised us with loud stomps during the “Oh No No No,” portion, something which seems lost on the ‘small screen’ when replayed on the internet. Judge Ben Folds made us all laugh when he said the song reminded him of sitting on the floor as a kid, listening to an old Otis Redding live recording, “In Person at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go.” Ben said he would point the speaker down into the floor so that the sound vibrations would shake his butt. (That image is now forever burned into my brain.)

Jerry Lawson’s performance of Satisfaction
Judges review of their performance of Satisfaction

Guilty Pleasure choice: Easy by the Commodores
Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town’s second performance was “Easy,” by the Commodores, which once again showcased their incredible wide range of vocals.

My nit picky criticism: The song seemed to move too fast for me and my guess was that this was due to the time constraints of being required to perform their entire piece within a set amount of time. It was not the “smooth,” I’d become accustomed to.

Jerry Lawson’s performance of Easy

On the Rocks

Rock choice: Pour Some Sugar On Me by Def Leppard
Determined to make it to the finals against all odds, On the Rocks, the largest member group remaining, performed a dynamic arrangement of “Pour Some Sugar on Me” by Def Leppard. Their instrumentation was absolutely perfect and their vocally synthesized electric guitars were real “wow” moments. They were very tight, despite being such a large group. This is not one of my favorite songs, but they made it cute.

On the Rocks performance of Pour Some Sugar On Me

Guilty Pleasure choice: Kyrie by Mister Mister
On the Rocks’ rendition of Kyrie, by Mister Mister, was another “wow” moment. I was so impressed with how the backup vocalists did not overwhelm the lead – they performed at absolutely perfect levels, and their vocal swells melded together in range like the colors in a rainbow. The lead vocalist, Peter, was incredible and in my opinion, has a shot at being a soloist. It was one of my favorite performances of the night. Judge Shawn Stockman echoed my thoughts, saying “If I can be cheesy for a second, it felt like I sprouted wings, and I just jumped off the Grand Canyon and just flew away and looked at rivers and deer and birds and other birds, and I was saying: Hi.”

On the Rocks performance of Kyrie
Judges review of their performance of Kyrie

Groove for Thought

Rock choice: Changes by David Bowie
Amanda, the youngest member of Groove For Thought, showed off her vocal prowess by singing lead in their rendition of "Changes" by David Bowie. She started off the song in a lilting airy tone, then as the backup singers joined in, the song soared into honey sweet.

My nit picky criticism: Amanda’s vocal mic was turned down too low and I feel it threw her off a bit. At first, I thought the backup female vocal was a bit off key, but my friend Geoff pointed out that the discordant notes are an intentional jazz style. Whatever it was, I felt it didn’t work for this particular song while it has fit well into their other song selections in the past.

Groove for Thought’s performance of Changes
Judges review of their performance of Changes

Guilty Pleasure choice: You Make My Dreams Come True by Hall and Oates
Hall and Oates are not one of my favorite bands, and “You Make My Dreams Come True” is probably my least favorite hit of theirs. However, Groove for Thought’s dynamic arrangement actually made the song sound very cool. The simulated horns were rocking. The doo waps, multiple leads, and dance moves were sure to please. It was such a joyful and pleasant rendition, I played it over and over again, making it one of my favorites of the night.

Sadly, Groove for Thought was eliminated. My guess is that we have not heard the last from them, especially Amanda, who will only get better as her voice ages into a more mature and stronger soulful tone.

Groove for Thought’s performance of You Make My Dreams Come True


Rock choice: Every Breath You Take by the Police
I had to laugh when I heard Committed perform this song, because it was clear that they, along with millions of other fans, do not get the meaning of this song. “Every Breath You Take” by the Police is actually sung in the voice of a stalker who tells his victim he is watching her every move. Despite that, hundreds of happy couples request to have this song sung at their wedding.

At first, the percussion seemed too loud and the song too fast, but once they settled into their groove, it worked, and I realized that Committed was doing what all teenage-to-twenty year olds do, which is that they were creating a more contemporary upbeat rendition, something that would be popular among their peers. At the end, they launched into a remnant of a Seal song, and that made it interesting.

My nit picky criticism: I would have enjoyed a more dynamic vocal arrangement.

Committed’s performance of Every Breath You Take
Judges review of their performance of Every Breath You Take

Guilty Pleasure choice: I Want It That Way by the Backstreet Boys
Committed’s performance of “I Want It That Way” by the Back Street Boys was perhaps the most harmonious performance of the episode, and seemed to improve on the original. It was absolute perfection in range, arrangement, percussion emulation, and vocal execution. I forgot there were no real instruments, which made it seem even more spectacular.

Committed’s performance of I Want It That Way

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sing-Off Now Showing On-Demand

If you missed the Sing-Off when it aired this week on Monday, Dec. 6 and Wednesday, Dec. 8, you will be pleasantly surprised to learn that NBC has just placed the show on their On-Demand channel. Here in Orlando, that's Channel 304 on Brighthouse Cable.

The Sing-Off is a music competition where ten a cappella groups compete to win a SONY recording contract. The show is judged by singer Ben Folds, Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, and Boys II Men singer Shawn Stockman and hosted by 98 Degrees singer Nick Lachey. The show debuted in late fall of 2009 as an after-season filler and was renewed for a second season this year. The show has been enjoying a ratings spurt, ranking in second place for viewership for both episodes.

Happy viewing!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sing-Off Round 2 wow's the crowd

Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town made magic with their wide array of vocals.

Round 2 of the Sing-Off was perhaps the best night in a cappella television history. All eight acts brought their very best game to the table and performed their hearts out. I felt so completely sorry for the poor judges who had the difficult job of having to weed out two of the eight final acts in Round 2, which aired on Wednesday, Dec. 8, from 8 PM to 10 PM on NBC, because all eight groups could easily have been pushed through to Round 3. Perhaps the powers that be should have taken a page from Project Runway, announced a tie and not eliminated one of the performing groups, with the promise that two would go home next time.

All of my evaluations are done by myself and any friends who happen to be watching with me while I view the performance. I make a point to not read any other reviews (not even Judge Ben Folds' own blog) before posting my own because I don't want to cheat a group out of my honest opinion. Here is my take of each group, listed in order of appearance last night.


On the Rocks
Eugene, Oregon
15 members: all male, former and current college students, diverse

The original version of "Live Your Life" by Rihanna is already a vocally interesting and dynamic song. On the Rocks actually improved the sound, giving it a honey smooth texture by emulating the instruments with their voices. What I love about On the Rocks is the way that they trade lead singer roles, entertain with energetic choreography, and know how to make even red sweaters and windbreakers look cool. Judge Nicole Scherzinger was especially impressed with their simulated delays, something I did not pick up on until I watched the replay -- it's very noticeable on their final note.

Clip from the show:
Judges critique after the show

Street Corner Symphony
Nashville, TN
6 members: men, Caucasian, young to middle aged

Incredible is the best word to describe Street Corner Symphony's performance of "Soul Sister" by Train. I was especially impressed by their dynamics, excellent timing, utilization of vocal strengths by switching off lead singers during the coda, sound effects (the rewind made my jaw drop), and nearly perfect pitch. And, they hit the high notes! I wanted to know more about Street Corner Symphony, so I read their website and was thoroughly entertained. Here are a couple of more interesting pages: About us, where you can read the bios of each of the six members and discover all of their eccentric phobias, and their first blog, complete with test comments and directions from their web designer (I can really relate to this).

Street Corner Symphony performing "Soul Sister"
Judges critique after the show

Eleventh Hour
Kettering, Ohio
7 members: 3 men, 4 women, diverse. High school students.

Eleventh Hour covered "Just the Way You Are" by Bruno Mars. The first verse of the song was a wee bit rocky as the backup singers cluttered the background, but the group fell back into perfect sync during the chorus, with the two lead singers and backup blending together in a magnificent harmonious swelling. Unfortunately, the backup lost track of their pitch somewhere near the end of the song. That being said, I was still extremely impressed, but someone had to go home and they were the least amazing of the four acts who competed.

Clip from the show:

Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town
Oakland, CA
6 members: men, African American, older

It was a magical moment when Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town performed "Mercy" by Duffy as their full range of voices: bass, baritone, tenor, countertenor, and falsetto created a vocal wall of sound behind lead singer, Jerry Lawson, who sang with heart and conviction and really brought it! Their dynamic arrangement was exciting. It was tight. It was great!

Clip from the show (please note that this first link has been marked as an infringement of copyright laws and may not work anymore by the time you view it):
Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town perform Mercy

The Backbeats
10 members: 5 women, 5 men, former and current college students, diverse

In a daring move, the Backbeats used three lead singers in the opening quiet lines of their rendition of "Break Even" by the Script. All three singers were strong and melded together flawlessly when they came together in the fourth line of the song. The backup singers swelled in places creating some "wow" moments, but for the most part were not too loud for the lead singers to be heard. The result was an emotionally moving rendition and Judge Shawn Stockman noted, "When you sing, I believe it." I was happy the judges finally noticed the female beat boxer.

Clip from the show:
The Backbeats perform "Break Even"

Huntsville, AL
6 members: male, African American, college students

Once again, Committed amazed and stupefied the audience and the judges as they performed their rendition of "Apologize" by One Republic. It was soooo smooth. Their perfectly blended backup vocals mixed and swelled, reversing highs and lows in round fashion. It was so beautifully executed, there were people tearing up in the audience. After their performance, the audience gave them a sincere standing ovation. Judge Ben Folds said "the first and second violins were beautiful, the celly were perfect..."

Clip from the show:
Committed perform "Apologize"
Groove for Thought
Seattle, WA
6 members: 4 men, 2 women. Caucasian, Various ag

Groove for Thought created their own original jazz rendition of Mike Posner's techno pop song, "Cooler than Me." Their beautiful mix of high and low jazz-style minor key harmonies, rising and lowering in both tone and volume, created a rainbow of sound behind the rich, softly raspy-textured lead vocals. It was phenomenal and it carried me away.

Clip from the show:

The Whiffenpoofs
New Haven, CT
14 members, male, college students, diverse

The Whiffenpoofs performed a beautiful rendition of "Just Haven't Met You Yet," by Michael Bublé, trading leads to give each gorgeous male singer the chance to melt some poor girls heart out there in TV land. The beginning leads were softer and sweeter, and the backup vocalists need to remember to turn it down and not sing so loudly so as not to drown them out. In the end, someone had to go home and all the acts were worthy of staying. However, the Whiffenpoofs were eliminated. They sang a very interesting version of "Home Sweet Home" by Motley Crue, and it was so wonderful, I almost wished they'd sang that instead.

Clip from the show:
Whiffenpoofs perform "Just Haven't Met You Yet"

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sing-Off 2 Round 2 airs tonight!

Tonight at 8 PM, Round 2 of the Sing-Off airs on NBC (Channel 4 or 1020 HD here in Orlando on Brighthouse Cable). I look forward to being thoroughly impressed and entertained. The show is hosted by Nick Lachey and judged by pianist singer/songwriter Ben Folds, singer Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men, and performer Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls.

Judge Ben Fold's blog -- On Key
After I'd already posted my own take after watching Round 1 of the Sing-Off (which aired on NBC on Monday, Dec. 6, 2010), I discovered that my favorite judge, Ben Folds, had also posted his own synopsis in his blog on, titled "On Key." If you have the time, please read it in its entirety. It's an interesting intellectual evaluation of the various acts written in the perspective of someone who is not only experienced, but also well-educated in music theory. I assume that he wrote this after judging Round 1, but before judging Round 2, which of course would have tainted his "first impressions."

Keeping Secrets
It must have been incredibly difficult for the various acts to keep the news about whether or not they had proceeded to the next round or not a secret. After the Round 1 winners were announced, a huge plethora of twitter messages, youtube posts, facebook messages, and other media flooded the internet yesterday. I must applaud all of the competitors for doing such an excellent job keeping this information under wraps. This is just another lesson of show business -- knowing when you can make announcements and having the self-restraint to hold it in. I think I speak for everyone when I say how much we appreciate the competitors for not spoiling the ending.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sing-Off II competitors a diverse bunch

The group Committed was my favorite competitor
of the first night of the Sing-Off.

Last night, the second season of the Sing-Off premiered and did not disappoint—I was quite impressed with this year’s competitors, and also pleased to see a wider and more diverse set of genre’s represented under the catch-all category of a capella, meaning without instrumental accompaniment.

Although the show aired for two hours from 8 PM to 10 PM on Monday Dec. 6, it was presented as two separate episodes run together and airing back-to-back. Each episode was composed of five different a capella singing groups competing with each other, where one of the five groups was eliminated. The other four will compete on Wednesday when the show airs again from 8 PM to 10 PM. I assume the logic in this was to enable the NBC network to split the show into eight individual one-hour episodes instead of the four two-hour episodes which are scheduled. I personally would have preferred seeing the show in one-hour installments. The finale will air at a future date.

Here are the groups, in order of appearance last night.


Eleventh Hour
Kettering, Ohio
7 members: 3 men, 4 women, diverse. High school students.

Being in the difficult position of having to go on first, Eleventh Hour impressed the shucks out of me. I couldn’t find a thing wrong with this diverse group of high schoolers, and neither could the three judges. The group dressed in a fun ensemble of pink, gray, and black, and performed “Baby” by Justin Bieber so effortlessly, I forgot that this was a competition and assumed it was simply an opening number to get the crowd warmed up. Wow! Their backup vocals blended perfectly, their singers were all on key, and their arrangement was magical.

Clip from the show:

On the Rocks
Eugene, Oregon
15 members: all male, former and current college students, diverse

You cannot go wrong covering Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” and this group of both current and former University of Oregon students pulled it off with perhaps the most humorously interesting “monster-ish” choreography of the night. My only criticism of their performance is that by being an all-male group, it’s easy for the backup singers to accidentally overwhelm and drown out the lead when singing live. They should work on perfecting their singing technique so they can blend farther into the background.

Live version:
On the Rocks perform "Bad Romance" live
Judges critique after the performance

Groove for Thought
Seattle, WA
6 members: 4 men, 2 women. Caucasian, Various ages.

Smooth is the word for Groove for Thought, a band consisting of five music instructors in the greater Seattle area and one of the instructor’s daughters. They performed a version of Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish,” which was high tempo, perfectly in pitch, in sync, and due to their diverse ranges, sounded as smooth as a silky Starbucks' mocha latte.

Clip from the show:

Pitch Slapped
Boston, MA
12 members: 5 women, 7 men, college students

My favorite act of the night was the male/female a cappella group from Berklee’s school of Music in Boston. Their strong suit was the dynamic in which they played the female singers off the male singers performing Cobra Starship’s song, “Good Girls Go Bad,” both in choreography and in question/response singing. Their background vocals blended perfectly and floated behind the lead singers – complementing and not overwhelming them.

Sadly, they were eliminated, and at first I thought the judges were prejudiced against them, perhaps due to the fact that they are students at one of the more prestigious music schools in the world, or perhaps due to a lack of racial diversity amongst their members. However, after listening to the original version of the song, it was clear why they were eliminated. The song in itself already had all of the elements I admired: primarily the arrangement of male and female parts. The original, however, has a cool techno synthetic vibe which was not well emulated in their vocals. Perhaps if they had chosen a song which was not already so clearly delineated, they would have excelled.

Live version:
Pitch Slapped perform Good Girls Gone Bad
Cobra Starship’s music video

Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town
Oakland, CA
6 members: men, African American, older

In an unusual twist, Jerry Lawson, the lead singer for the Persuasions, the group who made their mark in the ‘60s singing Carolina Beach music such as “Up on the Roof,” resurfaced as "Jerry Lawson and the Talk of the Town" in order to compete in the Sing-Off. I think the audience was perhaps more stunned than the judges and assumed that Jerry Lawson was simply making a star appearance, not actually competing. However, these are very tough times in the music industry and record contracts, especially one from SONY which is the grand prize awarded to the winner of the Sing-Off, are as rare as blue diamonds. The judges were too in awe to offer any criticism. However, I feel that the backup vocalists were not as tight, nor as in key as perhaps they could be with proper training from a professional vocal coach. Sometimes, when you achieve a certain level of success, you tend to feel you are past training, but there’s always room for improvement. I also felt that the group should experiment with trading lead parts in order to give Jerry Lawson some moments to get his breath.

Interview and performance clip from The Sing-Off:
Jerry Lawson interview and live performances

The Whiffenpoofs
New Haven, CT
14 members, male, college students, diverse

"Cute" is the word I’d use to describe the Whiffenpoofs, a witty camaraderie of Yale University students, who showed up in their penguin suit uniforms of “white ties and tails.” Judge Ben Folds called them ‘sassy’ and admired their arrangement without beat-box vocal parts. They performed an unusual song called '”Grace Kelly,” by Mika which I’d never heard before that I've linked below and is a fantastical video. Judge Shawn Stockman (who is now donning glasses similar to those worn by Ben Folds, perhaps to appear more intellectual) noted that by slowing down the tempo and bringing down and raising the volume into a crescendo, they created interesting dynamics in their execution.

Clip from the show:
Whiffenpoofs perform "Grace Kelly"
Judges critique after the performance
Mika’s "Grace Kelly" video

Men of Note
Cherry Hill, NJ
6 members, high school students, diverse

In the world of music, if you’re going to cover a hit song, either perform it exactly the way the original performer executed it, or make it your own. By choosing Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time,” an a cappella hit from 1983, the band "Men of Note" already had an uphill battle, because the judges had no choice but to compare it to the original. Their lead singer struggled to stay in key with the low notes, but did an excellent job in the higher ranges. This is the perfect opportunity to trade off lead vocal lines with another singer who can sing the low notes perfectly. Men of Note were sadly eliminated.

Video featuring different lead singers:
Men of Note perform "The Longest Time"
Judges critique after the performance

Street Corner Symphony
Nashville, TN
6 members: men, Caucasian, young to middle aged

Members of two southern families join together to form Street Corner Symphony, and the result is pure harmony. Their rendition of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears is stellar. Their voice created instrumentation was flawless. Their arrangement was original and dynamic. In one word, it was awesome!

Clip from the show:
Street Corner Symphony perform "Everybody Wants to Rule the World"
Judges critique after the show

The Backbeats
10 members: 5 women, 5 men, former and current college students, diverse

Another surprise of the night was seeing the return of some of the singers who competed and lost last year, reformed as part of a new ten-member male and female group of some of the best a capella singers in the LA area. I recognized Kelley Jakle, the blonde girl, because last year she sang lead with another group who was eliminated and I’ll never forget the sad disappointed look on her face. All that aside, I was pleasantly surprised to see a prominent female beat boxer in a male/female lineup. The Backbeat’s execution of Beyonce's "If I Were A Boy" was flawless, their lineup diverse, and their talent bottomless.

Clip from the show (Sound kicks in at 6 seconds):
The Backbeats perform "If I Were A Boy"

Huntsville, AL
6 members: male, African American, college students

Wow! Expletive! Expletive! These were the words that we all shouted in amazement as my little viewing party watched the group “Committed” perform “This Love” by Maroon Five. Their strength is in their perfectly matched and orchestrated backup “ooo’s” and “ahhh’s,” their impressive timing, their creative and dynamic arrangement, and their quality lead vocals. The judges were equally amazed. It was like watching seasoned performers, not young contestants.

Clip from the show:
Committed perform "This Love"

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sing-Off Returns Tonight!
Judge Ben Folds gives his take

Be sure to set your TV dials for NBC tonight at 8 PM -- that's channel 4 here in Orlando on Brighthouse Cable. The Sing-Off will air from 8 PM to 10 PM tonight and Wednesday.

The show was actually taped last summer, but the finale will be held live in L.A. Rather than give you my own personal take on the show's premiere, I am doing something different this time: reprinting my favorite judge Ben Folds' blog, "On Key," which I have no doubt that he actually wrote himself. (These days, most celebrities do not write their own blogs or if they do, they are so heavily edited, they might as well have not written them at all.)

Reprinted from NBC's Sing-Off website:

Posted By Ben Folds
November 25, 2010 2:25 AM
The Sing-Off, Part 2

Acoustic Boogaloo: In which the ever advancing army of a cappella groups takes another small step in our second season of The Sing-Off on NBC, with a whole new slew of a cappella groups from around the country.

Last season's success brought many more groups out of the woodwork, and they promise to take the show to a whole other level when we kick it once again starting December 6th. Same cast - my judge friends Nicole Scherzinger (Pussycat Dolls), Shawn Stockman (Boyz II Men), and of course, Nick Lachey as our fearless host.

Sing Off is quickly turning into something that I so very much look forward to each year - it's kinda becoming summer camp for me. Camera dudes and TV crew of all types on our set mentioned all last season that they couldn't help getting chills every time a group sang. In fact, some of them seemed annoyed at their physical response. But this IS in fact why a cappella has always been and will never go away. It's not a fad. It's the essence of music. There's nothing novel about it, although in a world where models shake their asses, are tuned by computers, styled and publicized, and are considered mainstream... Yes, I suppose it becomes novel to make music with no instruments. It becomes novel that singers on The Sing-Off have no safety net, that they're not tuned, and that it's all based on talent and skill. Hell, most people might not be able to afford musical instruments in the near future, but we all have a voice. And more people can sing than you think. So this kind of music is going to be around.

I haven't seen much TV and I've never seen any of the popular vocal competition shows. I came to this because I want to see a cappella continue to advance. If the other two judges and I can provide a good sounding board from our experience as performers and even send the losers home having improved and remaining inspired, then I feel we've done our job. At the end of the day, in the final episodes, the public will decide who they connect most with. But until the last two episodes, the burden is on us judges to decide who stays and who goes. And I actually find that really tough.

My interest began as I realized that nearly every university in the country was covering songs I had written. (Nobody else was covering my music! Ha ha.) I honestly felt their interpretation of my music was often an improvement over what I ever imagined. I weeded out an album's worth of university a cappella groups from about 250 groups performing my music and made a CD called "University A Cappella" in 2008, which featured all singing groups. I drove a van with my engineer around the country and placed mics in their dorm rooms and let them sing. The proceeds went to music education, and as an aside, it seems to have landed me a judge position on The Sing-Off.

So these are my people, and my hope is that this show can document some of the innovations in a growing genre, and that it inspires more people to sing. If you watch the news, you start to think that nobody can work together anymore. You might start to believe that there is no harmony, there is no working in concert. I love a cappella because it reminds me that that's not true. That's why it gives the camera dudes goose bumps. And that's why I'll keep coming back as long they'll have me. Hell yeahs, we all grown up now on Season Twooooooo!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

“Strange Days” debuts in Daytona Beach

If you live in Florida, joining a motorcycle club is as ordinary as joining a baseball team in Peoria, IL or a bowling league in Erie, PA. This is one of the things we do here for recreation, given the beautiful, mild, dry sunny weather, endless stretches of open roads, liberal biker laws, and more importantly, the seemingly out-of-place eclectic and adventuresome frontier-like culture. Florida is not just the place to retire. It is the place to let go, ride like the wind, and live your dreams, perhaps on the wheels of a Harley Davidson.

Each October and March, leather clad bikers from the far reaches of the world descend upon Florida to participate in two festivals: Octoberfest and Bike Week. Last year, actor/comedian Bob Saget joined the swarms of bikers in order to film the first episode of his new documentary series, Strange Days. The pilot will air tonight on A&E at 10 PM. (Channel 42 for those of you who subscribe to Brighthouse Cable in Central Florida.)

Rather than operate the vehicle himself, he hitches a ride in a sidecar with several members of the Iron Order Motorcycle Club, making a trip with them from Nashville, TN to Daytona Beach, FL.

I’ve read the reviews of Strange Days and a few of the writers seem to be rather confused, believing that the biker lifestyle must be outrageously humorous, perhaps composed of bug and gravel-eating backwoods rednecks. They are disappointed that Saget has instead discovered that bikers are a rather intellectual and ordinary bunch of civilized human beings, composed of both men and women, who care strongly for each other’s welfare, and are usually quite gainfully employed (it takes a lot of money to own and operate a Harley).

I watched a wonderful interview of Bob Saget on Conan last Wednesday on Nov. 24. Saget explained that the Strange Days series is actually an exploration of different lifestyles, some of which seemed strange on the surface, but turned out to be rather fun. His goal is to educate, rather than confirm stereotypes. The humor in this case is in the irony.

I hope we can all take the time to watch Strange Days premiere tonight. In the second episode, airing at 10:30 PM, Saget will go on the hunt for Sasquatch in Washington State. Now, that is strange!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Project Runway Debuts Tonight!

I almost missed this one. Ever since Project Runway has changed networks from Bravo to Lifetime, the usual self-promoting affiliate network ads have disappeared. Fortunately, an ad showed up on my yahoo email site. Be sure to tune in tonight, Thursday, September 29 at 9 PM on Lifetime. (Channel 40 on Brighthouse Orlando).

This is the 8th season of Project Runway and will once again feature hosts Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum. The first episode is titled, "And Sew It Begins" and lasts 1-1/2 hours from 9 to 10:30 PM.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"White" Hot in Cleveland

Jane Leeves, Betty White, Valerie Bertinelli, and Wendie Malick are "White" Hot in Cleveland!

What do you get when you take four award winning TV stars – most noticeably the currently hip and trendy Betty White – and put them together in a brand new TV sitcom? I suppose we’ll find out tonight at 10 PM (channel 38 on Brighthouse cable here in Orlando) when TV Land network debuts its very first original sitcom, “Hot in Cleveland,” about three lovely ladies who discover that despite their “over 30” age bracket, they are considered attractive to the opposite sex in the working class city of Cleveland, Ohio. Together, they rent an old home which comes complete with caretaker, Betty "White Hot" White.

The show will be filmed in “real time” with multiple cameras and a LIVE studio audience harkening back to sitcoms of yesteryear (and the current live “Saturday Night Live”). Jokes will have to actually be funny, or the audience simply won’t deliver – a recipe for old school reality TV. True, the audience will most likely be given the typical cues – “Applause” and “Laughter” signs, but even the most well-trained audience will not roll on the floor with laughter unless they are truly moved to do so.

So, who’s that girl?

Betty White:

Her more recently well known role was that of ditsy Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls,” 1985 to 1992. However, I remember her as the spicy Sue Ann Nivens who worked as a TV cook demonstrator (picture, Martha Stewart) from 1973 to 1977 on the “Mary Tyler Moore” show (photo at left). White actually began appearing in movies in 1945 (according to IMDB) and starred in “Life With Elizabeth,” a sitcom which ran from 1952 to 1955. She eventually had her own “Mary Tyler Moore” spin off show, “The Betty White Show”, which ran from 1977 to 1978. She made numerous appearances playing a variety of roles in nearly every popular show, including “The Carol Burnett Show,” “Fame,” “St. Elsewhere,” “Mama’s Family,” “The Love Boat,” “Diagnosis Murder,” “Suddenly Susan,” “Ally McBeal,” “The Ellen Show,” “Providence,” “King of the Hill,” “Everwood,”… and whew! ... the list goes on and on! More recently, Betty White hosted “Saturday Night Live” after a fan campaign on facebook. She did not disappoint and was hilarious. The years have given her a brave new attitude and she will boldy and unabashedly go where few actresses will follow -- making raucous jokes and using foul language no one expects from a sweet little old lady of 88 years of age.

Valerie Bertinelli

Bertinelli began her career as a child actress in 1974 at the tender age of 13 in an episode of “Apple’s Way,” a serious TV drama series created by Earl Hamner Jr. , the creator of “The Waltons” (according to The next year, she landed the role of the sweet, but not so innocent Barbara Cooper in the hit show, “One Day at a Time,” which ran from 1975 to 1984 and also starred Mackenzie Phillips as her sister, Julie (photo at right). In 1997, she joined the cast of “Touched by an Angel” as angel Gloria until 2003 when the show was eventually cancelled. However, I primarily remember her for her famous marriage to Eddie Van Halen at age 21.

Wendie Malick

If you watch cartoons, you have probably heard Malick’s easily distinguishable bossy voice. Though not always listed, she is credited as the voice of Berdeen in “Bratz” and Principal Folsom in “Fillmore!” Her more famous non-animated acting roles include that of Martin Crane’s girlfriend, Ronee during the last season of “Frasier” from 2003 to 2004; and that of retired model, sex pot Nina Van Horn on “Just Shoot Me” 1997 to 2003 (photo at left). She also had a regular role as Judith Tupper Stone in the USA TV series “Dream On” (1990-1996). Malick made her acting debut in 1978 and played Dr. Brigitte Blaine in the serious short-lived 1983 TV show, “Trauma Center.” Typically cast as strong, bold, bossy, and oversexed, Malick made numerous appearances in over 100 TV shows and movies, including “Mike Hammer,” “Scarecrow and Mrs. King,” “Hunter,” “MacGyver,” “LA Law,” “Empty Nest,” “Baywatch,” “Law and Order,” and “Pushing Daisies.” You can find a complete list on

Jane Leeves

I first remember seeing Leeves in an episode of “Seinfeld” in 1992 where she played one of Jerry’s numerous girlfriends, Marla Penny, a virgin. However, she actually made her film debut in 1983 as a dancer in “The Meaning of Life” and even appeared in several episodes of “The Benny Hill Show” as one of Hill’s Angels from 1983 to 1985 (according to IMDB). Making her way across the pond to America, she was eventually cast as an extra in “Murder, She Wrote” in 1987. This helped launch her American career, her thick British accent and gorgeous cute looks helped her land a regular part on “Throb,” which ran from 1986 to 1988. Although she is best known for her recent long running role as Daphne Moon Crane on “Frasier,” 1993 to 2004 (photo at right), Leeves had numerous appearances on popular shows such as, “Mr. Belvedere,” “Red Dwarf,” “Murphy Brown,” and “Desperate Housewives.” She also frequently voiced cartoon characters, such as the ladybug in “James and the Giant Peach,” “Garfield,” and “The Simpsons.”

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Reminded of “What If’s?” in
There's Something About Mary

Ted and Mary awkwardly date after reuniting as adults after 13 years since high school. In the end, the guy gets the girl, and the girl gets her knight in shining armor.

This week, hidden among the complex menu of the “On Demand” TV shows is the movie, “There’s Something About Mary.”

TV On Demand
Channel: 304 Brighthouse Orlando
Network: FX
Movies: About Mary

Originally released in 1998, the movie speaks of the eternal unrequited love it seems we all carry buried within our hearts. While in high school, a dorky young man, Ted, falls for Mary, a radiantly beautiful girl, and though he manages to win her over through his valiant defense of her disabled brother, a romantic relationship never truly comes to fruition. The two go their separate ways until thirteen years later, when Ted bravely decides to hire a private investigator and get in touch with Mary to see where life has taken her and “what if,” by chance, there’s still some spark – and some chance -- between them. Despite believing that she now has four children with different fathers, weighs 250 lbs, and is on her way to get married in Japan, he is still determined to go with his heart and seek her out in Miami. Now, that’s love, baby! Writers Ed Decter and John Strauss’s plot is one that even William Shakespeare would have been proud to have written.

There’s really nothing to pick apart in this movie.

From a girl’s point of view, it’s a winner on the romantic, teary eyed, “that’s so sweet,” point of view. Face it girls, we all want to be Mary. We all want to be “that girl,” the girl who everyone is in love with, from superstar Brett Favre to the pizza delivery man. We all secretly hope for a knight in shining armor: a wonderful guy out there who’s been harboring an obsession over us for a dozen years who’s willing to fight for us.

From a guy’s point of view, the movie offers over-the-top hilarity in every scene – from the zipper incident, to the jail cell, to the mistaken hair gel – to the subtle comedic details, such as the family portrait featuring Mary’s Dad in a giant afro. Men like the idea that Ted is an “average” guy, that he makes mistakes, takes bad advice, is far too trusting, and really isn’t special in any way shape or form other than simply being “a nice guy.” Despite his average appearance and mid career “haven’t-gotten-there-yet” stage in life, he “gets the girl” in the end, anyway.

The cast is thoughtfully chosen and packed to the brim with comedic talent, with Cameron Diaz as Mary; Ben Stiller as Ted; Matt Dillon as sleezy private detective Pat; Lee Evans as the crippled architect; Lin Shaye as golden girl Magda; W. Earl Brown as Mary’s brother Warren; and Chris Elliott as hive-struck Dom. More familiar faces pop up in each scene. Even Magda's dog Fluffy is adorable!

The music score is well derived, and cleverly complemented by a pair of narrating strumming minstrels, guitarist/singer Jonathan Richman and drummer Tommy Larkins, who change instruments throughout each appearance and become an integral part of the plot at the end of the picture.

Directors Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly (the Farrelly Brothers) have carefully staged each scene to be both entertaining and sweet. The movie is set in picturesquely lush and colorful Miami, FL.

The On Demand movie runs roughly 2 hours and is sprinkled with short commercial breaks, mostly trailers for other comedy movies. On Demand has fewer commercials (knock on polyvinyl chloride plastic) and you have the added advantage of watching it when you want, rewinding, and pausing when needed.

Monday, March 1, 2010

NBC could have learned something from Coca-Cola

Leno’s back at 11:30 PM tonight as NBC attempts to “undo” their expensive decision to move Jay Leno to 10 PM and replace him with Conan O’Brien as host of the Tonight Show at 11:30 PM. After only 120 days with their new line up, the NBC network has decided their experiment in shifting time slots did not work. Conan has behaved as a gentleman and voluntarily given up his seat in NBC’s giant game of musical chairs so that his longtime personal friend, Jimmy Fallon, can remain in his new job hosting his old show, Late Night, at 12:30 AM.

It’s a shame the attempt to get “back to normal” had to be so dramatic. Perhaps NBC should have held a trial run and had Leno host some specials at 10 PM on low ratings nights, in order to test the waters to see if their viewing audience would watch him in an earlier time slot. Rather than cancel all the 10 PM dramas to make room for Leno, perhaps NBC might have tried airing him on a sister-network on cable, such as USA. Likewise, Conan could have guest hosted Leno’s show at 11:30 PM over the five years before his departure, just as Leno guest hosted the Tonight Show for Johnny Carson for five years – baby steps. Instead, the changes in programming were made with reckless abandon.

I am reminded of a similar situation several years ago in 1985 when the Coca-Cola corporation decided to revive interest in their products and boost sales by introducing “New Coke.” Not only was “New Coke” a major flop, the company found themselves attempting to win back old consumers by reintroducing their old formula 79 days later as “Coca-Cola Classic.” “New Coke” is now a distant memory as Coke Classic has rightfully regained its position as the only Coke. Although the actual total cost of the fiasco was not made public, it probably would have been cheaper, and definitely far less embarrassing for Coca-Cola to have simply lowered their prices and held a big sale.

Twenty years later in 2005, Coca-Cola was determined to not make the same mistake twice and introduced Coca-Cola Zero as an alternative to Diet Coke rather than attempt to replace it. Coke Zero, featuring a stronger flavor and more caffeine, has gained popularity, particularly among men, and sales are now 1.7% of the entire soda market compared to Diet Coke, which owns 5.2% of the overall soda market. If Coke Zero had not been a hit, it would have been a simple and painless procedure for the Coca-Cola company to take the product off store shelves. At some point in the distant future, it is possible that Diet Coke will slowly become the lesser favorite to Coke Zero, just as TaB, introduced in 1963 slowly has become the lesser favorite to Diet Coke, introduced about twenty years later in 1984.

Corporations need to consider consumer loyalty, which can be nearly impossible to predict, but easy to measure in small bits and pieces. The slow transition from Leno to Carson as Tonight Show host took place over five years from 1987 to 1992. Although Carson himself was unhappy with the change, the audience was used to Leno and the overall move was a success. Sadly, the transition from Leno to Conan was abrupt and jarring and appeared to come out of nowhere during the Spring of 2009.

The jarring movement of Jay Leno to 10 PM in September 2009 occurred within a few short months and was also not well received. The idea of watching Leno every night at 10 PM was too much for loyal viewing audiences to take and they found themselves switching the channel, and in some cases, finding old friends, such as “Medium,” which moved to CBS. The repercussions of having to cancel the TV dramas previously shown in the 10 PM time slot will no doubt be slow scars to heal. NBC is finding itself scrambling in an effort to replenish those time slots with new and exciting shows, such as “Parenthood” and the “Marriage Ref.” To keep old viewers from changing the channel at 10, NBC is also showing two-hour versions of “Law and Order,” “Law and Order SVU,” and “Dateline” this week.

I am hopeful that after the dust settles at NBC, not only will Jay Leno once again be bringing in high ratings at 11:30 PM, but Conan O’Brien will find a revived career in some other television production which utilizes his unique and brilliant comedic talents.

Other corporations should take this opportunity to learn from NBC’s mistake. When considering radical changes in your products, services, locations, hours, or employees, be sure to build in an “undo” button. It’s cheaper to “hit undo” than it is to try and rebuild.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Don’t blame Leno for low News ratings

The dust has finally settled at NBC and only two weeks ago, I found myself finally settling into a routine where I’d watch about five minutes of Jay Leno’s monologue at 10 o’clock before drifting off to sleep. About a year ago at this time, I’d be watching, you guessed it: News.

Local news stations blame Leno’s new time slot for their viewer ratings drop and want Leno moved – again. Ratings drops mean advertising sales drops. The local NBC affiliate stations imagine that if Leno is moved back to 11:35, viewers will once again choose to watch their local broadcast of the 10 o’clock news and all will once again be right with the world.

However, a lot has changed in only one year and I don’t think things will work out quite as these local affiliates hope.

More viewers now have cable

The first major change which occurred roughly one year ago was the switch from analog broadcast to digital broadcast. We viewers all had to suddenly go out and buy a special antenna or cable! Gasp! Many of the diehard “I’ll never get cable” viewers were suddenly out of gas. It was cable or nothing in some cases.

With cable comes all sorts of wonderful channels, including one of my favorites, 24-hour local news. At any time, day or night, if I want to know what is happening in my neck of the woods, I can turn to Channel 13 Brighthouse news (here in Orlando) and find out the weather forecast, traffic jams, crime, sports, and events. There is no longer any need for me to wait for the local 5 o’clock news, the 6 o’clock news, or even the 10 or 11 o’clock news. It’s covered when I want to see it, even at, say, 9 o’clock.

In addition, along with cable, we former cable-less viewers suddenly have any number of television schedule choices available from ESPN, Lifetime, Oxygen, the History Channel, TCM, MTV, FXM, and one of my favorites HGTV. That 10 o’clock news broadcast is looking less and less appealing. Perhaps a rerun of Three’s Company, the Jefferson’s, Friends or Seinfeld would get more viewers on these local stations.

Nothing I want to watch on the news

What else happened one year ago? The presidential election. Everyone was perched on the edges of their easy chairs to see who would win the election and how President Obama would handle his first few days in office – hence the reason I myself watched news every night at 10 o’clock.

The third reason I believe that no one is watching the news is our bad economy. With about 20 percent of the nation unemployed (including all of us who don’t receive unemployment), who wants to be further depressed by watching the news? Are you going to tell me that a big corporation is hiring down the street? I doubt it. You’re going to tell my more bad news – less jobs, higher unemployment, higher gas and food prices, more crime, car accidents, people fighting over healthcare, terrorist attacks, etc. Yep, this is just what I need to watch at 10 o’clock before I go to sleep – not!

Programming mis-match

Finally, look at the lineup on CW in the 7, 8, and 9 o’clock slots before the 10 o’clock news. One Tree Hill, Gossip Girl, Supernatural, 90210, Smallville and Melrose Place have strong followings among teens and young adults. These are not the type of viewers who want to follow up their evenings watching a local news broadcast.

Let’s pretend Leno is moved back to 11:35. If you think I’m watching him at 11:35, you’re mistaken. First off, on nights when I’m actually up that late, I’ll be watching Letterman, who I used to watch before Conan was moved into that slot. That’s right – I like Conan over Letterman. Leno ranks third with me and most of the kids in my generation.

At 10 o’clock, I’ll be watching South Park on the Comedy Channel, King of the Hill on Cartoon Network, Married with Children on TV Land, or an Orlando Magic game on FSN. If something is happening in the world, I’ll watch Nancy Grace on HLN or Keith Olbermann on MSNBC. What I won’t be watching is local news on CW, my local NBC affiliate here in Orlando.

However, at 7 o’clock in the morning on Saturday, I will be watching cartoons on CW. Why not air Winx and Spectacular Spiderman cartoons at 10 o’clock PM? Now, I would watch that!