Monday, December 5, 2011

Taking on the Jazz challenge –
Submit Jazz music TV performances you’ve seen here

Afro-Blue playfully attacks Sing-Off Judge Ben Folds

The Sing-Off a cappella singing competition TV show was unexpectedly amiss in controversy this year after Afro-Blue, the 9-member a cappella class-turned-performance-group from Howard University in Washington, D.C. was eliminated by the panel of expert judges on the brink of the semi-finals.

To say that viewers at home were disappointed is a bit of an understatement as social media was flooded with comments. Many of my personal friends told me that Afro-Blue was their favorite group, and although Pentatonix was my favorite by a long shot, I honestly could not understand why Afro-Blue was eliminated. America should have been given the opportunity to vote for them, perhaps allowing four groups to move forward as was done last year. They may have won, or at the very least, come in second place.

As it was, Pentatonix came in first, the Dartmouth Aires won second, and Urban Method won third after the public voted on these three choices. The public could not vote for Afro-Blue -- they were knocked out at the eleventh hour by the judges, Sara Bareilles and Ben Folds. Shawn Stockman was the only judge of the three who felt they should move forward instead.

Judge Ben Folds explained his reasoning for choosing the Dartmouth Aires over Afro-Blue in his Nov. 21, 2011 blog posted on NBC’s Sing-Off Website:
    “Afro-Blue stands for excellence in music education and for the great underdog American art form of jazz. Neither of these concepts often leads to lucrative ventures and both are under-represented on TV and radio.”
Essentially, Folds was saying in so many words in his blog that he feels that Afro-Blue is not as marketable as the Dartmouth Aires. Folds confessed that Afro-Blue was his own favorite group as well and that “they were actually great TV, and they could make records. They have a charm and charisma that transcends drama and competition.” However, he felt that they simply wouldn’t make as much money as the Dartmouth Aires could with a Sony Recording contract, the grand prize in the Sing-Off a cappella competition.

I think most of us at home just figured that was a bunch of hooey.

It's not hard to tell that pop, rock, hip-hop, and country are the big money makers today. However, I feel that Folds is incorrect in claiming that jazz won't make money since he feels that by appealing to a small, elite group of intelligent listeners, it won’t sell in the big mainstream market. But, does it need to sell in the mainstream market to make money?

I’m a huge Ben Folds and Ben Folds Five fan, and I have to say, he isn’t all that mainstream himself. Survey a few friends and you’ll find maybe one in ten people, depending on their ages, who have even heard of him (you may have to sing a few bars of Brick or Rockin’ the Suburbs). However, Ben Folds made Sony Records a good deal of money. Why? Because Ben Folds fans tend to be super fans. They will buy all of his CDs and tickets to shows in their area, spend money on T-shirts and other miscellaneous swag, and invest in collectible vinyl record versions of his CDs.

I think the same could be said for jazz lovers. There’s a lot of money to be made in that market, but perhaps, as Folds expains, that market is a bit untapped at the moment. Such a shame!

Folds challenged TV viewers in his latest blog on November 28, 2011, to “Survey the year's prime time network programming and get back to me with a list of live jazz performances you saw - hell, make that ten years.”
  • Live Performances – When Folds says “live,” I assume that he means actual bands playing the music, since nearly all primetime (save sports) is taped these days, and since I could probably meet this challenge in one or two weeks if I were allowed to simply list all of the jazz music tracks played in the background behind serious dramatic scenes on hit TV shows.
  • Network – By network, I assume Folds means the big seven: ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, NBC, PBS and TBS, as opposed to say, BET or the Jazz channel, which would also make this challenge far too easy.
  • Primetime – Folds also asks that we find these performances in prime time, which is defined by as “The evening hours, generally between 7 and 11 P.M., when the largest television audience is available,” as opposed to late night or daytime. That eliminates the obvious: Conan, Kimmel, Letterman, Leno, Fallon, and Ferguson. It also knocks out their counterparts greeting us each morning: the Today Show, Good Morning America, the Early Show, Good Day, and CBS Sunday morning, who coincidentally featured a segment on kids dancing to a jazz band playing in the subway this past Sunday. Unfortunately, it also counts out midday talk shows, such as (The show formerly known as) Live with Regis and Kelly (since Regis “moved on” this past month) and the Ellen DeGeneres show.
Since we are currently in the midst of the Christmas holiday season, I think we can probably find a few jazz performances during prime time on major networks in the next month.

Please keep your ears and eyes peeled and get back to me if you see something worth watching. If you can, please take the time to comment here or email me at

I think one possible hit might be on tonight’s Sing-Off, which will feature a few holiday favorites. If I see a version of Eartha Kitt’s Santa Baby, I’m counting that as one. The show airs tonight between 8 pm and 10 pm on NBC (WESH 2 here in Orlando, on Channel 4 and 1020 on Brighthouse Cable).

So, X-Factor, the Voice, American Idol, I hope you’re listening. Serve me up some jazz, pretty please!

We’ll keep track here in this blog and post updates to Dr. Folds, who adds in his blog:
    “When I say it's a miracle that we got vocal jazz on TV, I'm speaking reality. Further, I'm not commenting on the intelligence of the viewers but instead on the tolerance, systems, research, and paradigm of reality TV… You can hide under a rock and ignore it, or you can roll up your sleeves and get inside it and try to make a change. But expect to take some knocks because reality is more complicated than reality TV.”

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Someone had to wear the Black Hat
on the Sing-Off

The votes are in as of 9 a.m. this morning, the tally is being counted, and we will soon know who the Sing-Off a cappella winner is for Season III. That group, either Pentatonix, Urban Method, or the Dartmouth Aires, will walk home with a $200,000 cash prize and a coveted Sony Music Recording Contract, no small potatoes. The finale, hosted by Nick Lachey, will air on Monday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBC (WESH 2 here in Orlando, Channel 4 or 1020 on Brighthouse Cable) and will feature a guest star appearance performance by Smokey Robinson.

Last Monday’s show was a bit of a shock to many of us who not only assumed that Afro-Blue, a diverse 9-member jazzy-blues a cappella singing class from Howard University in Washington D.C., would be a finalist, we wondered if perhaps they might inevitably walk home with the grand prize. However, in an upset, the judges instead chose the Dartmouth Aires, an all male 15-member a cappella group from Dartmouth University in Hanover, New Hampshire, for the third and final spot.

I myself was amiss – I like the Dartmouth Aires and feel that they are by far the most entertaining group on stage. However, the judges repeatedly pointed out that they were picking a group for the purpose of making a hit record, not putting on a show. And to me, Afro-Blue was a shoo in.

The decision to axe Afro-Blue was placed upon Ben Folds shoulders, although technically, he was one of two judges, the other being Sara Bareilles, who chose the Dartmouth Aires a cappella group over Afro-Blue. Only one judge, Shawn Stockman, felt that Afro-Blue would be a better choice.

Soon after the show aired, the insults began to fly, and Folds’ twitter and facebook walls were bombarded with criticisms, some quite nasty, some attempting to be understanding, but nearly all in disagreement.

It was good that we, the TV viewing public, voiced our unhappiness.

However, as disappointed as I am with Fold’s decision, I would never want to devalue all of the wonderful good he has done for the Sing-Off and the a cappella music genre over the past three years, even longer if you count his work with college a cappella groups featured on his CD, University A Cappella. Folds has been a real asset to the show. In his reviews of each contestant’s performances, he has explained complex musical terms in easy to understand language, pointed out the tiniest of group achievements, and politely suggested improvements for future performances, all of which have earned him the honorary title of Professor Folds. Without Dr. Folds on board, I, quite frankly, simply would not watch the show.

The judges were intentionally chosen by the Sing-Off producers for their diverse backgrounds in the music industry in an effort to offer a balanced appraisal of how successful a group will fair in today’s music market. Shawn Stockman represents the rhythm and blues, and hip hop side of the coin; Ben Folds represents the alternative, anti-folk, pop-rock music industry; and Sara Bareilles, a former a cappella group member herself, represents the pop and country music markets. Each judge brings a different and equally valuable opinion to the table of what will sell and what will not.

Between the three judges, a consensus would be made, since there could be no ties with an odd number of votes.

With so many talented groups on the docket, it’s no wonder there were fewer unanimous decisions this year. For the first time ever, a sing-off was held, where the bottom two groups had to perform another song to make it easier to compare the two competitors side by side. In fact, the final decision between Afro-Blue and the Dartmouth Aires was also made after a sing-off.

The judges made their choices with a great deal of knowledge, careful thought, consideration, and heart, based on their own personal experiences. Their choices were not an issue of favoritism, “selling-out,” or prejudice. They each chose wisely based on what they know personally about making it in the music business.

It’s a shame that someone had to be the “bad guy,” and pick one group over another to proceed to the finals. However, that burden fell on the shoulders of Ben Folds in this final round. I have to admire him for sticking to his guns, not backing down, and believing in his own opinion.

That being said, I would not be at all surprised if all of this negative publicity boosts Afro-Blue cosmically into outer space with their first record deal, which will no doubt be on the horizon, if not announced on tomorrow’s finale show. Everyone loves an underdog, especially one who is believed to have been given an unfair shake. I am and will always be one of their biggest fans and look forward to purchasing their first CD, after it is released.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Adam Carolla Project –
Don’t try this at home!

One of my guilty pleasures is watching home shows – you know the ones, everything from home improvement and renovation to home buying and selling.

If you have ever attempted to renovate a home and run into all sorts of pitfalls and disasters, you will truly enjoy watching the catastrophes that befall poor Adam Carolla, on The Adam Carolla Project, which airs each Saturday night at 10 p.m. on the DIY network (Channel 166 or 1254HD on Brighthouse Cable here in Orlando). A replay of the last week’s episode precedes it at 9:30 p.m. You can also find the show "On Demand" on Brighthouse cable channel 306. The show originally aired in 2005 on TLC.

Carolla is a hilarious comedian – someone who has the gift of seeing humor in everyday real life situations. I’ve listened to him every now and then on his online podcasts, The Adam Carolla Show, where topics range from cars to celebrities. Not coincidentally, he also frequently discusses his own adventures in investing in real estate, obtaining loans, and dealing with the bureaucratic red tape of taxes and permitting. It’s hard to feel sorry for the guy – he’s a millionaire – so, instead, we listeners can feel guiltless laughing at his unconventional creative solutions to his problems.

Carolla is also an ordinary everyday type of guy, not pretentious, not a know-it-all jerk. He’s someone we can all relate to.

In the TV show, Carolla has decided to take on the self-prescribed challenge of buying a run down home in prosperous Orange County, California, renovating it using only his own money, and reselling it for a million dollars. The year is 2005 and the housing market is still peaking. After scouring the Los Angeles area, Carolla purchases his own childhood home where he grew up for about $740K from his father. His goal is to gut it, renovate it, and add on to it, increasing the value enough to resell the house for $1M.

That may sound like a ridiculous amount to get for a home, until you put the price in perspective. Here in central Florida, this could be compared to buying a traditional neighborhood home for about $220K and reselling it for $300K after fixing it up.

Carolla’s hired a bunch of misfits, his “band of unemployable idiots,” consisting of friends from high school, buddies he’s worked with in the construction business, even his nephew. His old friend Ray Oldhafer is the most comical – anal about using a level, while refusing to wear proper shoes, and instead wearing flip flops on the job.

Every episode, there’s some sort of calamity where someone screws up royally, and we get to hear one of Carolla’s seemingly hair-brained, yet somehow practical solutions to his dilemma. It’s very entertaining. I recommend watching with your buddies after a long Saturday tackling a honey-do list, while enjoying a nice refreshing beverage. Hearing Carolla’s problems will make your own seem less monumental, and you’ll rest easy that night, feeling a bit more intelligent and competent.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Don't Assume Your Favorite Sing-Off Finalist is a Shoo-In...

Yesterday, my blog on NBC's The Sing-Off television show featured a reminiscence of that other show, FOX television’s American Idol, where one of my favorite contestants, Jennifer Hudson, was booted off early due to an unfortunate luck of the draw of demographics, but later became one of the most successful former contestants in Idol history. Her story reminded me of Afro-Blue, who was voted off before the finals by the Sing-Off judges. However, in the case of Idol, who stays and who goes was determined solely by the voting public.

After several weeks of competition, you, the voting public, also get to choose the winner of the Sing-Off. Don't assume that your favorite is a shoo-in. You still must pick up the phone and text or call, or your favorite may suffer a similar fate of other American Idol finalists: Clay Aiken, David Archuleta, Chris Daughtry, Adam Lambert, Kelly Pickler, and Elliot Yamin, just to name a few, who were eliminated (some very early on) and didn't walk home with the American Idol prize itself, but have proven themselves to be highly successful out in the real world, sometimes more successful than that season's actual winner.

I want to see my favorite Sing-Off a cappella group win the grand prize: the $200,000 in cash and the Sony Recording Contract. This will give them a boost in the music business and the confidence they need to move forward, keep producing quality music, and not give up. Please take the time and trouble to vote.

You can vote for your favorite of the three groups by going online to the NBC Sing-Off website, calling or texting:

Call: 1-877-674-6401
Text: 1 to 97979

Urban Method:
Call: 1-877-674-6402
Text: 2 to 97979

Dartmouth Aires:
Call: 1-877-674-6403
Text: 3 to 97979

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sing-Off Makes an American Idol Mistake

Last night on NBC's The Sing-Off, Judges Sara Bareilles and Doctor Ben Folds chose to send home Afro-Blue, a jazzy-blues a cappella group from Howard University. I experienced a moment of deja vu, and remembered a similar mistake made in another talent competition show, American Idol.

American Idol Sends Home a Star

In 2004, during the third season of FOX television’s American Idol, an amazingly talented singer who I felt could win the grand prize that year was voted off the show in the sixth round, halfway through the final competition. The decision was so shocking, we TV viewers at home could hear an audible gasp from the live, onstage audience. I was watching that night, and I remember my jaw dropped.

“This can’t be happening. How did this happen?” I asked.

In the case of American Idol Season III, the burden of determining who stays and who goes was placed solely on the shoulders of the TV viewing audience who voted for the contestants by placing multiple phone calls or texts. The judges did not decide themselves – their only power was in giving critiques of each performance, in hopes to sway the voting public at home.

That performer who was sent home prematurely, was none other than Jennifer Hudson. Hudson is now a household name, currently with a big commercial deal promoting Weight Watchers. She starred in the 2006 hit movie, Dream Girls, where she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, a Golden Globe Award, a BAFTA Award, an NAACP Image Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award. She recorded a top ten hit with "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," from the movie Dream Girls; won a Grammy for her first album, “Jennifer Hudson,” released in 2008; reached number 2 on Billboard’s top 200 with her second album, “I Remember Me,” released earlier this year in March; and had a top ten hit with “Where You At,” the single from that album.

She is one of the more highly successful former American Idol competitors, and to think she was sent home so early at week six! It boggles the mind, until you look at the demographics.

Judging Based on Looks, Not Sound

Unfortunately, through the luck of the draw, there were three African American female stars competing against each other during the third season of American Idol: La Toya London, Jennifer Hudson, and the eventual grand prize winner, Fantasia Barrino. All three ended up in the bottom three that day after the viewing public voted in their favorites, who had each performed a Barry Manilow hit. The assumption is that, being similar in style and sound, the three shared many of the same fans, creating an unfair advantage for their competitors. There was only one Asian American in the mix, Jasmine Trias, and despite negative criticism from the judges early on, she proceeded to the final three spot in the competition. The token red headed cutey crooner, John Stevens, made it even one show farther than Hudson, though I think most of us at home were scratching our heads over that one. It was clear that race was the deciding factor with many of the voting public.

It isn’t just race. It’s looks. In more recent years of American Idol, I’ve seen contestants chosen by the judges who I feel had less talent than my little finger, but my oh my, they were gorgeous! The Voice, another of NBC’s singer competition shows, attempted to eliminate “looks” from the judges decision by not allowing the judges to see the performers during the first round. However, they proved themselves fallible by letting the judges turn around afterwards. I’ll never forget when Judge Blake Shelton took one look at a rejected female competitor (the name of whom escapes me, now), commented on her looks, and said something to the effect of, “I wish I’d known, I would have picked you.”

Although I don’t believe Afro-Blue was eliminated by the Sing-Off judges because their group consists of nearly all African Americans, I do wonder if Vocal Point, an all white male group from the conservative Brigham Young University, was eliminated for being too racially homogeneous. Instead, the bells-and-whistles-performance-heavy Dartmouth Aires group, consisting of 15 men of various races and character types was given one of the treasured three spots to compete in the finals. That decision also left me scratching my head. While the Dartmouth Aires will no doubt do quite well on tour, entertaining and amazing audiences, most likely opening for Ben Folds himself, I wonder how many records they’ll sell. Kids don’t buy records. Adults do. Kids pirate records. I would imagine that the more mature-polished sounding Vocal Point will outsell them two to one, and Afro-Blue will do even better, possibly outselling them four to one, by dominating the jazz-blues contemporary music market.

Are the Music Buying Public Being Underestimated?

Sing-Off Judges Sara Bareilles and Ben Folds chose Dartmouth Aires over Afro-Blue on last nights show. Judge Shawn Stockman said he felt Afro-Blue has a better chance of making a hit record, and I agree.

After the show aired, while the “shit hit the fan,” metaphorically speaking, Judge Ben Folds confessed that Afro-Blue was his favorite group from day one, and commending them, said in his blog on NBC’s Sing-Off website, “Afro-Blue stands for excellence in music education and for the great underdog American art form of jazz. Neither of these concepts often leads to lucrative ventures and both are under-represented on TV and radio.”

With all due respect, Dr. Folds, I disagree with your decision to eliminate them on many levels. Music tastes change with the times. Who is to say that Afro-Blue’s particular flavor of bluesy jazz is not the next big thing? I find their sound to be quite refreshing and inventive, with a contemporary sounding solid bass and percussive rhythm supporting a more traditional jazzy interweaving of opposing harmonies, and thick rich bluesy vocals carrying the main bell-like melody. Recent movies, such as the aforementioned Dream Girls and Cadillac Records both generated multiple awards and big record sales from similar music.

Today’s buying public are not getting their music fix on radio, nor TV. Listeners now listen to Spotify and Pandora over radio; view videos on youtube and facebook – not on TV (does MTV even have any music at all anymore?); and buy more music on CD Baby, itunes, and Amazon, than in those wonderfully old-fashioned record stores we love so much.

I think perhaps you are limiting yourself and underestimating a growing jazz-blues-appreciative audience, dear sir.

They say living well is the best revenge. I hope Afro-Blue, the little music-class-from-Howard-University-that-could, gets signed to a killer record deal, makes a hit record, gets a soundtrack deal, and follows in the footsteps of the fabulous Jennifer Hudson, winning a Grammy. I will be one of the first in line to buy their record, when they do!

Time to Vote!

You can vote for your favorite of the three groups by going online to the NBC Sing-Off website, calling or texting:

Call: 1-877-674-6401
Text: 1 to 97979

Urban Method:
Call: 1-877-674-6402
Text: 2 to 97979

Dartmouth Aires:
Call: 1-877-674-6403
Text: 3 to 97979

Monday, November 21, 2011

People, Get Ready!
Sing-Off Voting Starts Tonight

Ahhh, yes! My favorite singing talent show, the Sing-Off is now nearing the finals. After nine weeks of singing their hearts out, only four of the original sixteen a cappella groups remain: Afro Blue, Dartmouth Aires, Pentatonix, and Urban Method. Three are destined to move forward to the finals where they will compete for a $200,000 cash prize plus a Sony Music recording contract.

Judges Shawn Stockman, Sara Bareilles, and Dr. Ben Folds will be making the final decision on the three lucky groups who will still have a chance to win the grand prize. However, the final decision lies in the hands of TV land – you, the viewers.

Beginning after tonight's show, the three finalist groups will be announced. Then, viewers will be given three phone numbers which give them the power to vote for the winning group who will win the whole kit and caboodle grand prize. Voting will continue through Sunday, November 27.

I will be sure to post my own personal critiques and recommendations this week. This has been a close year — each of the sixteen original acts have been phenomenal!

The show airs tonight from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on NBC. (Here in Orlando, you can find it on WESH 2, or channel 4 or 1020HD on Brighthouse Cable.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

NBC gives Community an F,
with chance to earn passing grade

I learned this week that NBC has given up on Community, one of my favorite shows, and is kicking it out of school, giving it’s cherished Thursday night 8 p.m. slot to another show, 30 Rock, wrapped up in shiny midseason foil and tied up with a pretty, bright red bow. The tenth and final episode of Season 3, Regional Holiday Music, will air on December 15th.

Bah humbug!

In television, as in real estate, value is in location location location. Thursday night has been the golden slot ever since Seinfeld first made it the “must watch” night of the week back in 1990. However, 8 p.m. Thursday has become unlucky as of late. Simon Cowell’s X-Factor begins at 8 on Thursdays on FOX. Big Bang Theory (another of my other favorite shows) is also slotted for 8 on Thursday on CBS. It’s no wonder that Community hasn’t been able to make the grade this year. Since I work at night, I usually can't watch it during its regular time slot and end up watching it on cable primetime on demand (Channel 304 here on Brighthouse cable in Orlando).

Although it's a favorite of mine, I’ve never written about Community, a funny and abstract intelligent comedy revolving around the on-campus lives of seven students who attend Greendale Community College. The show stars Joel McHale as Jeff Winger, a successful lawyer who has been forced to go back to school to re-earn his college degree after his original degree is revoked.

I suppose I took the show for granted, assumed it would always be there in some shape or form, and would see some of the more successful students graduate after the typical four years (when an actor decides to leave the show), then see a cast of new characters introduced, before finally graduating gracefully after eight glorious seasons.


Plot in a nutshell

If you've never seen Community, and would like to know what all the fuss is about, here is a quick synopsis:

Our star, Jeff Winger, begrudgingly enrolls in the local community college after being threatened of being exposed for not having a real degree. Once enrolled, Winger joins a study group with an interesting collection of students:
  • Chevy Chase as Pierce, an older student and the son of a wealthy wipes mogul;
  • The sweet and loveable, but gullible Bible-verse-touting Shirley, played by Yvette Nicole Brown;
  • Danny Pudi as Abed, an aspiring film maker who sees the world as if he is behind a camera;
  • Abed’s inseparable best friend, Troy, played by Donald Glover, who in real life is also an aspiring rap artist performing under the name, Childish Gambino;
  • Annie, a highly intelligent young student with a quirky twist who has an innocent romantic relationship with Winger. She is played by Alison Brie, who also starred in Mad Men before it too, was cancelled; and
  • Gillian Jacobs as Britta, a beautiful, seemingly quite normal and ordinary woman who Winger develops a crush on in the first season.
The staff and instructors have proven to be even wackier than the students:
  • Senor Chang played by Ken Jeong, a vengeful Spanish teacher who hands out ridiculous assignments. Chang is now a security officer in the third season.
  • Dean Pelton played by Jim Rash, whose incompetence as manager of the school is somehow overlooked by the powers that be.
  • Vice Dean Laybourne played by John Goodman, who was just introduced this season as the J. Edgar Hoover of the school, is the head of the lucrative Air Conditioning Studies department which brings in vast amounts of corporate donations and "owns" the school.
Plot lines are complex, highly imaginative, and usually quite fantastical in nature. Celebrities, such as Betty White, Malcom Jamal Warner, Jack Black, and Andy Dick have made appearances as guest stars.

Joel McHale

I originally tuned in to watch Community 3 years ago simply because I’m a big fan of Joel McHale. McHale is a Seattle native who cut his comedy teeth on a locally produced Saturday Night Live-like show, Almost Live, where he does a mean Braveheart impression. The word on the street in Seattle is that the show is loosely based on the real life Seattle Community College system, particularly the Capitol Hill campus where students are just as colorfully eccentric as those attending the fictional Greendale, which in true Microsoft-tech-geeky style, also has it's own ridiculously humorous Greendale website.

The multi-talented McHale also hosts The Soup, which airs on Friday nights at 10 p.m. on E TV (channel 65 here in Orlando.)

I was once privileged to see Joel McHale live in the flesh during one of his tapings of Almost Live. He was impersonating the character of William Wallace, originally portrayed by Mel Gibson in the movie Braveheart. In this rare video clip where he is interviewed by news anchor John Keister, McHale has some wise words to say which ironically apply today:

    McHale - "Make no mistake about it. This is war... A television's rating period is a vile, vile, bloody thing. Where the weak are crushed like insects, and only the strong survive. But this is not just about ratings, or being number one, or even about, "Must See TV." It's about, Our Freedom!"

    Keister - "'well, It's just a TV show."

    McHale - "Who's being naive now, John Keister? Just a TV show! Just a TV show, my ass!... And you know who's doing it? NBC! The number one television network in all of Scotland.

    Keister - "That's America..."

    McHale - "Shut up! The network that brings us Seinfeld, and they're taking that from us, too... For while they may take the most popular television show of all time off the air, they can never take, Our Freedom!"

For more information on the cancellation, see this great article by Patrick Munn on Primetime TV, Nov. 17, 2011. If you would like to save Community, you can send NBC a message directly via this webpage. I also urge you to become a fan on their official Community TV show facebook page.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Halloween Lives On,
on Primetime-On-Demand Cable

Officer Nick Burkhardt (David Guintoli) investigates a crime scene along a jogging trail in the pilot episode of Grimm.

Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year. I love having an excuse to dress up in costume, savor chocolate (and not feel guilty about it), watch scary movies, and attend parties with friends, giggling at everyone's outrageously creative get-ups.

In my opinion, Halloween should always fall on a Saturday, similar to Thanksgiving, which is always on a Thursday, or Easter, which is always on a Sunday, in part so that children can go trick-or-treating and not worry about it being a school night. It should occur on the last Saturday of October and be combined with the annual “fall backward” time change from daylight savings to standard time, which gives us one hour extra at 2 a.m. on Sunday morning. That way, bars would be given one additional hour to stay open that night – a great pairing with what is actually the second largest income-producing retail holiday of the year.

The Sing-Off

This year, Halloween fell on a Monday, so regularly scheduled primetime Monday shows took advantage of the timing to really go all out with a Halloween theme. More notably, Tvgrrrrl’s favorite talent competition show, The Sing-Off, which airs every Monday on NBC [channel 4 or 1020 here on Brighthouse Cable in Orlando] from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., produced a really spectacular song and dance number featuring several hit creepy tunes: This Is Halloween, Werewolves of London, and Ghostbusters. It was so very well done, better than even some Broadway musicals I’ve seen. Hats off to these talented a cappella performers for making me forget that there is no orchestra, or band of any sort, no bass or drums, just voices creating all those beautiful sounds. The performance occurs at the beginning of the show, so it only takes five minutes to view, just in case you are short on time and can't watch the entire episode. [channel 307]

The Simpsons

Another of my favorite shows, The Simpsons, produced their annual Halloween show, “Treehouse of Horror XXII,” which features three separate gruesome mini-stories. I’ve seen nearly every one of these, and although this wasn’t my favorite over the years (the Edgar Allen Poe and alien episodes are epic), I still enjoyed one segment in particular, featuring Homer, who becomes paralyzed due to a spider bite and learns that he can fart in order to communicate. In typical Simpson’s style, there’s always a bit of a twist to each story, which adds quite a “chunk” of hilarity. [S23Ep3 airing on 10-30] The Simpsons regularly airs on FOX TV at 8 p.m. each Sunday [channel 3 or 1035 here on Brighthouse Cable in Orlando].

In addition to Halloween themed shows, there are also a slew of series with scary themes throughout their season, perfect for watching on cold, dark and dreary, spooky fall nights by the fire.


One of the newer shows debuting this season is Grimm, on NBC [channel 4 or 1020 here on Brighthouse Cable in Orlando] airing on Friday nights at 8 p.m. Filmed in and around Portland, Oregon in the dark and drippy rainforest of the Pacific Northwest, the show is really no scarier than Eerie, Indiana, a G-rated creep show which used to air on Saturday mornings. The premise of the show is that police officer Nick Burkhardt (played by super hot David Guintoli) is visited by his Aunt Marie, who is dying of cancer and reveals to him on her deathbed that he is actually a “Grimm,” a special person with the unique ability to see past the disguises of supernatural monsters who pose as humans and walk the earth, committing heinous crimes. Each episode begins with a quote from a fairy tale (not always from Grimm’s Fairy Tales) and the crime committed is somehow related. The first is a twist on Little Red Riding Hood [episode 101] and the second [episode 102], a twist on Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Think X-files meets Fringe, complete with Outer Limits theme music.

American Horror Story

The FX network also features a scary new series, American Horror Story, about a family of three who moves into a house which they later discover is the site of multiple murders, haunted by an active collection of ghosts. It’s a complicated show and written like a soap opera, but is extraordinarily dark and creepy and worth the time to watch. Unfortunately, the pilot episodes are no longer being shown on primetime-on-demand. However, you can catch up beginning with episode 2 here online, quickly, before it also expires. The show regularly airs on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX [channel 70 or 1283 here on Brighthouse Cable in Orlando].

The SyFy Network

The SyFy network, though primarily known for science fiction and fantasy, is full of freaky/creep shows as part of their regular season’s lineup this fall, including: Ghost Hunters, Fact or Faked, Paranormal Witness, Urban Legends, and Scare Tactics. [channel 69 or 1286 here on Brighthouse Cable in Orlando]

Each of these shows can be found in rerun on Primetime-On-Demand. Here in Orlando, Florida, these are found on Brighthouse channel 304 on digital cable.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sugarland Spoofs the Sing-Off

Sugarland performed an a cappella version of "Love Song" in Atlanta Saturday night under the name, "Aurora Bareilles."

I suppose that the producers of The Sing-Off, the hit TV show featuring a cappella singing performances, had no idea what goodies were in store when they picked Sara Bareilles as the third judge, replacing Nicole Scherzinger, who left the show to join the X-factor. Sara B has some very sweet friends — specifically the band, Sugarland — who thought it would be a great treat to play a little prank on Sara Bareilles on their last day on tour together, by performing an impromptu surprise a cappella rendition of "Love Song," on stage for all of their delighted fans.

Sara Bareilles began touring with Sugarland in West Virginia on June 16. They ended their tour with the October 22 show in Atlanta, GA, which culminated nearly 30 shows together.

In the world of music, the last show is where the band pulls out all the stops, having that last hurrah together, and bringing guests on stage to join them, performing unusual renditions, then carrying on until all hours of the night in an "end-of-tour" private celebration. However, both Bareilles and Sugarland went the extra mile.

In what must have been a carefully planned prank, the entire 7-member Sugarland tour band entered the stage in matching black and white sweatsuits, then began dancing and snapping in a wonderfully choreographed rendition of Sara Bareilles' hit song, "Love Song" under the alias, "Aurora Bareilles." Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush are extra careful to fully annunciate each and every word, a joke in reference to SaraB's comments as a judge on the Sing-Off. View the video here.

Later that evening, Sara Bareilles' own touring band pranks Sugarland while Jennifer Nettles sings her remix of popular songs, "Everyday America," by coming out on stage impersonating the performers who originally sang the songs featured in the medley. The Sugarland website blog tells the story better than anyone. Read it here.

Be sure to watch Sara Bareilles in action on the Sing-Off on NBC tonight. The eight remaining groups will perform on tonight's show. The show airs on Mondays from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. EDT. Here in Orlando, you can find it on WESH TV 2, Brighthouse cable channels 4 and 1020, and in reruns online and on 304.

Monday, October 17, 2011

And Then There Were 10

Urban Method, an a cappella rap group, brings a certain edginess to the Sing-Off

Season 3 of the Sing-Off hit television show on NBC returns tonight in Round 3 of the competition with the remaining ten singing groups performing their very best a cappella renditions of other artists' hits. The show will air at 8 p.m. EST on NBC. (channel 4 or 1020 on Brighthouse cable here in Orlando.) Don't miss it! It's fun!

This year's groups are phenomenal with not a rotten apple in the barrel. It's such a treat seeing them all compete and gives the viewer a new appreciation for how each song is constructed. Each and every tiny sound in the song, normally made by an instrument, is made by a human voice. There's the bass line, the kick drum, the snare drum, and the hi-hat all being "boom boom boom'd" and "tiss tiss tiss'd" by a singer. There's the orchestra -- in full three part harmony -- created by what sounds no less spectacular than a choir full of angels. Sometimes, when we at home are especially lucky, we get to hear the "wirrrr" of an electric guitar, or the "ba da da" of a trumpet. All of these finely executed sounds are layered underneath incredible lead and background vocals. Super fun! It's Glee for real!

Tonight's topic is "Guilty Pleasure," but I'm not quite sure what exactly that means. I prefer chocolate myself.

I am not pleased that the ten groups are still split into two groups of five. Most of my personal favorites have been pitted against each other in the same preliminary Round, so that the odds are stacked against them that they will all survive until the "Final 4" at the end. Last week, Kinfolk 9 and Sonos were sent home and I had high hopes for them both.

I feel terrible for the three celebrity judges: Ben Folds, Sara Bareilles, and Shawn Stockman, who have the unpleasant job of deciding who will stay and who will go. Sadly, two groups will be forced to go home at the end of this show.

Older episodes can be seen on Channel 304 here in Orlando and also online on the NBC website.

Monday, October 10, 2011

TVGrrrrl LOVES the Playboy Club —
It's all about Grrrrl Power!

The first episode begins with Bunny Maureen (played by Amber Heard) being assaulted by Key Holder Clyde Hill (played by Randy Steinmeyer). Maureen ain't no pussycat. She kills him in self-defense.

After three glorious episodes, NBC announced that The Playboy Club TV show was going to be be axed – the first cancellation of the season.


I know what you’re thinking. The Playboy Club? Really? How incredibly sexist and male chauvinistic of a story-line for a TV show. Isn’t it just soft porn? You watch that show? You, TV Grrrrl? Groan!

Yes, I do. And I love it!

Fifteen minutes in, I was hooked. What a great show! And there’s nothing masculine about it and there’s nothing that racy about it either – this is prime-time network television, after all. It’s all about drama! And, it’s all about girl power! Strong, self-actuating women are the backbone of the club, dominating the storylines, and coming off as the heroes, saving the lost sad poor little men’s butts. It rocks!

It's also an historical fiction, meaning that each storyline is based on actual events and circumstances that occurred at the club during the 1960s, the time period where the show is set.

Unlike Mad Men, which I detest, this isn't about the guys. This show is about the gals, and what gals they are!

If you haven’t seen it yet, please do me a favor and watch at least one episode. Sadly, you will have to watch reruns of the first episodes on 304 or online, here: first pilot episode. The show was originally intended to run after The Sing-Off tonight, but has just been replaced by Prime Suspect. Fortunately, the producers are working hard to negotiate a deal to move the show to cable on the Bravo network, according to a recent article on she-wired.

Unfortunately, this is a soap opera of sorts. To catch you up on the show, here’s is the plot in a nutshell:

The Playboy Club plot to date

The Playboy Club, a swanky members only club in downtown Chicago, is frequented by all the “who’s who’s” of the political, business, and mob world. Famous entertainment acts, such as Ike and Tina Turner and Leslie Gore, play at the club and are portrayed by wonderful real-life impersonators each episode.

Maureen (played by Amber Heard) is a new bunny in training and has been hired to walk around the clientele selling cigarettes, but is asked for a dance by a gruff-looking old male customer (customers are called a Key Holders, for the playboy key they are issued as a symbolic entrance to the club). She agrees, then after he gets a wee bit too fresh, she gently pushes him away and dances with another man who wants his turn as well.

Thinking it all in flirtatious fun, Maureen disappears into the back storage area to refill her nearly empty cigarette tray. However, much to her dismay, the gruff-looking Key Holder follows her into the back and forces himself upon her. Maureen ain’t no pussycat, and she fights off the older man, inevitably stabbing him in the neck with her 5” stiletto heels. The man bleeds to death.

Her boss, Nick Dalton (played by Eddie Cibrian), walks in on the scuffle, and asks her, “Do you have any idea who you just killed?”

Ready to face the music, Maureen says, “He attacked me. It was in self defense.”

Dalton explains that they can’t call the cops in this case, because, "He is known to most people as Clyde Hill, a respectable married business man. But his real name is Bruno Bianchi. And he’s the boss of the outfit, …the mob!”

Dalton, a former “fixer” with the mob himself, tells Maureen that they will have to dispose of the body and she should disappear, take the wad of money in Clyde Hill’s wallet, and high tail it out of town. But, Maureen refuses to leave. They dump the body into the river and Maureen, covered in blood, goes home with Dalton to his nearby flat to take a shower and change.

Dalton’s girlfriend is Carol-Lynne (played by Laura Benanti), a bunny at the club who is the spitting image of All My Children’s Erica Cain, both in speech, dress, and appearance. In episode 1, she is defined as being a veteran bunny with the highest seniority who can do as she pleases, taking advantage of her rank to enjoy a few moments in the spotlight singing on stage. In episode 2, after being unfairly dismissed by Billy Rosen (played by David Krumholtz), a manager/accountant with a gambling problem, she pleads her case to none other than Hugh Heffner, who agrees to promote her into her own newly created position of Bunny Mother, a woman who trains, watches over, and serves as advocate for all of the Playboy bunnies.

Carol-Lynne walks in on Maureen coming out of her shower in her bathrobe and puts two and two together, assuming them to be involved in some sort of hanky panky, and storms out.

Before long, the mob begins looking for Clyde Hill and pressing for answers. Maureen and Dalton find that their perfect alibi to explain their disappearance together after Maureen dances with Hill, is to perpetuate the rumor that they are having an affair. However, Dalton wants Carol-Lynne back, so he tells her nothing happened and he just helped Maureen out of a jam, but gives no details. Likewise, Maureen, feeling the pressure of her new Bunny Mother boss, Carol-Lynne, confesses to her that Dalton helped her by fighting off a homeless street person, which explains not only why she was taking a shower at his home, but also explains why her pretty pale blue bunny costume is now shoved under her bed covered in dried blood.

The story gets more exciting with episode 3 when two men find Clyde Hill’s key, and use it to fraudulently enter the Playboy Club. Maureen snags it back, then hides it in a container of vanishing cream in the top drawer of the sink at the Playboy Mansion, where she and all the other single bunnies reside.

Over the episodes, we learn the individual and personal hardship stories of each of the bunnies, explaining why they are working in such a stereotypically seedy job. There’s Bunny Janie (Jenna Duwan) who is married to a released convict and is in hiding. There’s Bunny Brenda (Naturi Naughton) who wants to earn enough money to buy a prestigious piece of real estate and be somebody. There’s also an interesting sub plot about the Mattachine Society, a group of oppressed homosexuals who are posing as straight, working, and living, and married to each other in order to keep their true identities hidden from society and family members. Bunny Alice, (Leah Renee) is a member, posing as a straight married woman.

The Playboy Club is one of the most interesting, colorful, dynamic, and female empowering shows to debut in several years. I urge you ladies to watch the show and join me in voicing your opinions to NBC and save the show.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Judges talk about the Biz on the Sing-Off

The University of Delaware Deltones

Sixteen groups are competing this third season of the Sing-Off, so many that the preliminary elimination round had to be divided into four one-hour segments with four groups competing in each part. This past Monday, September 26, two more groups were eliminated, Messiah’s Men from Africa and Soul’d Out, a high school group from Wilsonville, Oregon.

The twelve remaining groups will compete in Round 2 beginning tonight, Monday, Oct. 3 on NBC from 8 pm to 10 pm. Here in Orlando, you can find the show on channel 4 or 1020 (digital Brighthouse cable) on WESH 2.

Finding a group who can record a CD

During this stage of the competition, only the judges have the power and control to select which group will move forward and which group will sail off the show whilst singing their swan song. Some fans have been critical of the judge’s decisions, believing that technically superior groups have been sent packing, while less proficient groups have been allowed to move forward. Accusations of favoritism have been flying.

As a completely neutral viewer with the love of music as my most important credential, plus the fact that I am a bit familiar with the world of entertainment, I must say that I do not feel that the cards have been unfairly stacked. In fact, I’ve agreed with all of the judge’s elimination choices thus far. A good friend of mine, who shall not be named, who has worked in a very high position at record labels explained it to me best. She said that when she goes out to a show to see if an artist can “make it” or not, she looks for one and only one thing: “passion.” If the artist grabs you by the nuts when they sing, they will make it. They might be chock full of flaws, sing off key and might not play their instrument that well, but if they reach into your soul and pull on your heartstrings, then they have what it takes.

After a beautifully heart wrenching performance by the Deltones of Randy Newman’s “Feels Like Home,” Judge Shawn Stockman explained the feeling: “A lot of times, it’s not about how perfect a song is, but how good it felt, and it just felt good. I feel like you have a lot of potential.”

Stockman had said earlier in the show how he chooses groups to move forward, “I’m just looking for that constant inspiration...We sit here not only as judges, but fellow artists as well, and fans of the music and fans of the art form. So, we’re just looking to be inspired by how well they do what they do. That’s why they’re on the show. So, that constant energy, that emotion, and that passion.”

Groups also have to be malleable, willing to improve and not allow their egos and pride get in the way of making changes.

Judge Ben Folds said, “We’re trying to keep in mind that they’re taking a musical journey… Some of them might be technically amazing, proficient, but they’ve taken a journey that we think has ended. They’re not the kind of group that is going to be making records. Other times you’ve got some groups that are maybe shaky at times and they’re not really quite on their game, but we see potential, and we think that if we’re doing our job we might get a really nice surprise later on in the season and see someone really come to life on the show.”

Unlike other musical talent shows, one of the true joys of the Sing-Off is the fact that each of the judges, even Host Nick Lachey, are all experienced and qualified group harmony singers in their own right. That's why sending groups home can be personally painful.

The newest addition, Judge Sara Bareilles, who has now settled into her nickname, Sara B, was a member of the a cappella group “Awaken” at UCLA, and said, “I’ve stood where all of you stand on stage and this is obviously my first time as a judge, so I’m feeling really emotional about it all.”

The music business, aka “the biz” is tough. Groups have to really want to be there, have to want to be on stage and be willing to weather all sorts of terrible disappointments, low pay, and uncomfortable touring situations such as sleeping on strangers' sofas and living out of a packed-to-the-roof Winnebago.

Folds spoke from experience, “A music career is a series of humiliating and depressing and desperate moments. That is a music career. And you should totally get used to it. Because even if you make it, then after that, then it gets humiliating and desperate again. So just do what you’re doing and enjoy the music part of it and screw that other stuff.”


Round 1, Parts 3 and 4

Round 1 - Part 3

Messiah’s Men performed a wonderfully soulful rendition of “People Get Ready,” a 1965 gospel song by the Impressions. However, what brought the Fannin family down causing them to be sent home after Round 1, also worked against Messiah’s Men. Although the group is large, they are not diverse, being composed of 9 similar people, in this case all men from Liberia, Africa. A cappella really is one of those genres where having several very different types of voices in your group gives you a fuller richer, well-rounded sound. While the Fannin family lacked the low end, Messiah’s Men lacked the high end, and sadly were also sent home. Both groups perform gospel songs. Perhaps they should consider singing together.

The Dartmouth Aires caught my eye with the coolest outfits of the night, as their brightly colored orange and yellow and green socks flashed at the audience as they ran around the stage.

The Sonos impressed me with their interesting and creative rendition of Chris Isaac's "Wicked Games." Judge Ben Folds singled out one member, Ben Mclain, praising him, “Ben, your beat boxing is choo choo choo choo choo choo the future…”

Pentatonix did not disappoint and proved to be my favorite group of the night, performing ET by Katy Perry and blowing everyone away with their magnificent harmonies.

I was curious how they would sound with the new addition of two more members to their group. Rounding out the core lead singer/harmonizers of Mitch Grassi, Scott Hoying, and Kirstin Maldonado who founded the group in high school are Avi Kaplan on bass and Kevin Olusola on beat boxing. The result is an amazingly smooth, yet powerful, rich and complete mix of their five perfectly diverse voices.

The performance itself was to be commended as each member took center stage soloing on one part of the song. Judge Sara B said, “Top 40 and club songs those are not easy to do with 18 and 20 voices, much less with 1-2-3-4-5. I love that each of you had a moment where each of you got to shine and sparkle…and I feel like an alien.”

Dr. Folds added, ‘’ I thought it was a really great ride and you were all dead on with each other with your plans. It’s all about the groove... Kevin’s effects were wicked awesome… Your low end is impressive. I mean in general, you’ve got the club low end that you’re looking for and that’s a hard thing to find in a cappella… I thought it was really great and it was really fun.”

Judge Stockman also loved the group, “Yo, Kev, I swear ya’ll were cheating… And how you kept up with the riffs Scott, boy, you were a beast!”

Round 1 - Part 4

Soul’d Out, a group from Wilsonville High School in Oregon performed Aquarius / Let the Sun Shine. It’s an incredibly difficult song to perform and they nailed the first part with Aquarius, not an easy task. However, during the second part when they launched into Let the Sun Shine, it became messy with the leads getting out of control, although they brought it all together at the very end and the overall impression was quite good.

Although they show great promise, they were unfortunately sent home, perhaps more because the music industry wouldn’t know what to do with them if they had actually won the competition. With 16 underage teenage members, that’s a lot of managing and expense.

The Collective made beautiful musical, but seemed a bit too much of a group of leads and needed more support in the background. They are a new group and this may not be their year, but it’s too early to tell.

North Shore performed a stellar rendition of Runaround Sue using only bass to carry the grove and “all without a beat box,” noted Dr. Folds.

Stockman noted, “When doo wap is done right, it sounds so crisp and clean and classic and timeless. You gentlemen did it right.”

The Deltones performed a heart-wrenching version of “Feels like Home” by Randy Newman that made me bawl on my couch, it was such a beautiful and emotional rendition of the song. They seem to truly know the secret of not only how to arrange their individual parts in the song, but also how to arrange their personal lives around their group.

Stockmen commended their fraternity, “Friends first, singers second? That’s cool… I really felt the sincerity.”

Sara B noted, “My heart is beating fast. I feel like I got transported.”

Dr. Folds: Such a pretty arrangement… The slow build was really artful … overall it was just moving, and that’s the main thing, and you guys rocked it.”

Friday, September 30, 2011

Ben Folds to co-host
Hoda and Kathy Lee show today

Professor Ben Folds from the Sing-Off will be co-hosting the Hoda and Kathy Lee show today, Friday Sept 30, which airs during the last hour of the Today show. He will be filling in for Kathy Lee Gifford, who is off in Seattle at the 5th Avenue Theater working on a musical she's written called "Saving Aimee." Dr. Folds is following suit of each of the 4 hosts and judges of the Sing-Off: Sara Bareilles co-hosted on Tuesday, Shawn Stockman co-hosted on Wednesday, and Nick Lachey co-hosted on Thursday.

You never know what will happen on the Hoda and Kathy Lee show. On Tuesday, Sara Bareilles hula hooped! She brought along three of her friends from her past a capella group to sit quietly in the audience off camera. However, after singing a small snippet of something in perfect three-part harmony, the friends were invited to sing segment teasers on everything from boots to camera shoots. It was adorable! I think they should get the job of following Sara B around in her every day routine, providing a musical sound track to her life, and perhaps become the B's Knees. Now, wouldn't that be cute?

I suspect that Dr. Folds will get to answer a poll on relationships, view a fall fashion show, mash squash in a cooking segment, and or perhaps sip a microbrew or margarita. I would love it if they let him sing and play something from his new 3-disk Retrospective CD which is due to be released on Oct. 11.

The show will air from 11 am to 12 noon on NBC channel 4, or 1020 HD on Brighthouse Cable in the Orlando, FL area.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Wow! Sing-off better with Bareilles

Afro Blue offered my favorite performance on Monday, Sept. 19, during the first half of Round 1.

Season 3 of the Sing-off, hosted by Nick Lachey, debuted on NBC on Monday night, Sept. 19 at 8 pm without all the pretense and bells and whistles of many other TV talent shows, by launching directly into the first round performances of eight of the phenomenal 16 groups competing this year.

But, more about that later…

The biggest change, a huge improvement over last year, is the changing of the guard: Three-time grammy award nominated singer songwriter Sara Bareilles has taken the place of former judge, Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger. Instead of the sexy and sweet kitty cat purring over every performance, we now have the witty and wonderful songbird, spewing out wise words of wisdom.

I suppose adding Ms. Bareilles to the team of judges has been a bit like discovering that you were missing something that you didn’t know was absent in your life, and now that you’ve experienced the difference, you know you can never ever go back to the way things were before. She fits into place so effortlessly on the panel of judges, like that perfect puzzle piece that truly completes the picture. She offers depth, character, and charm to what had been, well, a little more than fancy window dressing.

And, she's funny! After an accidental poor choice of semi-suggestive words, Bareilles quipped, "Well, you know me, or you don't, but you're getting to," at which point, the crowd burst into laughter and applause. In pure "Sara" style, she thanked the audience for their appreciation, dallied off a pageant wave, then meekly requested, "moving on… please everyone… come with me?"

I liked Nicole Scherzinger. I really did. But, I must admit, she actually provided more feel-good, sympathetic pats on the back than she offered in valuable critical advice to competitors looking for ways to step up their A game in the technical aspects of a cappella. Not many people perhaps are aware of the huge amount of criticism she received for her role. Following social media over the past few months, it seemed no one could bring up the Sing-off without someone else knocking her down. Cruel comments such as: “She’s so dumb,” and “She's feckin' useless! She'd actually make Paula Abdul look incisive...” littered social media.

Perhaps the X-factor truly is a better place for Scherzinger and this will be a win-win for everyone.

Round 1, Parts 1 and 2

Season 3 has proved to be even better than the last two seasons, with all eight groups who competed on Monday, Sept. 19, providing superb a cappella performances. Like any competition show, some of the more experienced groups seemed to have been waiting in the wings to see how the show worked out it's bugs, before stepping into the ring themselves. Now, they're here, and they're ready to win!

Round 1 - Part 1

In the first hour of Round 1, the Fannin Family, 8 brothers and sisters from Hortonville, Wisconsin were eliminated. Because they are related, their voices match perfectly. However, their genetics work against them because no one in the family sings a strong baritone or bass. When the daughters grow up, perhaps they should look for that missing quality in their future husbands, and before going out on a date, ask them, “Tell me, do you sing, and what is your range?”

Moving on are the Yellow Jackets, Delilah, and my favorite of the night, Afro-Blue, who delivered a smooth, rich, full-ranged rendition of Corinne Bailey Rae's "Put Your Records On." Judge Sean Stockman noted that lead singer Christie Dashiell's voice sounded like "warm butter on grits."

I was a bit put on edge by the screaming lead of Amy Whitcomb of Delilah, and I felt the Yellow Jackets were simply not tight enough.

Round 1 - Part 2

In the second hour of Round 1, the Cat’s Pajamas, a five man performance group from Branson, Missouri were eliminated. I was sad – I had strong hopes for them. However, they picked a terrible song to perform: Grand Funk Railroad's "Some Kind of Wonderful;" and they looked ridiculous – dressing in dated matching black polyester (?) suits with hot pink dress shirts, and dance moves reminiscent of the Saturday Night Fever era. I was so disappointed – Their performance was technically perfect, but was boring in that it lacked soul and character. I would have loved to hear their version of “Video Killed the Radio Star,” which I think is stellar in its originality and quirky delivery and would have easily gotten them into Round 2.

Judge Ben Folds gave excellent advice: "Take risks and be a little more vulnerable in the artistry part… you kill the technical part. Your voices are beautiful and amazing. They completely gel… How powerful would that be if you said something about yourself in the song?"

Judge Sara Bareilles added, "You guys are pitch perfect…You're so slick and showy, I want to see a different side of you…"

Moving forward are Kinfolk 9, Urban Method, and Brigham Young University's Vocal Point, who are perhaps the tightest and best arranged all male college a cappella band the show has seen to date.

Two more groups will be eliminated tonight, Monday, September 26. Be sure to tune in at 8 for more witty sarcasm from Ms. Sara Bareilles, more humorous intellectual insights from Dr. Ben Folds, and more cool "current" comments from the smooth Shawn Stockman.

(NOTE: As always, TV grrrrl reads no other articles or blogs before writing and posting her own in order to keep her opinions as fresh and original as possible. Any comparison to other blogs means simply that great minds think alike.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Sing-Off Sixteen
Tonight, Monday at 8 pm on NBC

Pentatonix from Arlington, TX features three members who performed together at Martin High School.

The Sing-Off is back for Season 3 and I am thrilled! This year's groups sound spectacular:

sing-off siteofficial websiteFacebook page
Washington, DC • 10 diverse men and women from Howard University
Live performance of ‪"In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning"‬ in 2011 (fast forward to the 1.36 minute mark)

Afro-Blue rounds out their multiple harmonies, resulting in a pleasing tone which is almost bell-like. Judging from the many videos I listened to online, they seem to be primarily a vocal group who works accompanied by instruments, not an a cappella group. I look forward to hearing them stretch their legs to emulate instruments with their voices.

The Cat's Pajamas
sing-off siteofficial siteFacebook page
Branson, MO • 5 men
Recorded promotional medley video. FFWD to 3:16 for an amazing rendition of "Video Killed the Radio Star."

Professional a cappella group with tons of experience, The Cat's Pajamas are ready to win, and feature an amazing vocally created electric guitarist, Nate Mendl, incredibly smooth vocals, and perfectly matched harmonies. They are an example of how difficult it is to get a good recording contract -- they have already performed on several other TV competition shows, and are scheduled to play five regular shows a week. I look forward to being thoroughly entertained.

The Collective
sing-off siteFacebook page
Nashville, TN • 9 men and women
Group video unavailable. Sam and Ruby performing "The Here and Now" original song.

What an appropriate name for this conglomerate of successful singer/songwriters and performers. Individually, each has made his mark on the music scene. Together, they hope to make an even bigger splash. I was unable to find any videos of the Collective, but did find a video of Sam and Ruby, two of the members of the Collective who are signed to Rykodisc as a duo. I imagine they will be an impressive group combined with other performers. A comprehensive list of each of the performers is listed on the info page of their Facebook page.

Dartmouth Aires
sing-off siteofficial siteFacebook page
Hanover, NH • 16 men from Dartmouth University
Performance of "All the Above"

Fun loving, highly entertaining a cappella group, a real crowd pleaser featuring both singing, rap, and clever choreography. Their real talent seems to be that although they are composed of all males, they seem to be graced with a wide vocal range stretching into the high end… and they can sing! In the past, this type of group has not won first place, but they make the show extremely interesting.

sing-off siteFacebook page
Los Angeles, CA • 8 women

There were no videos to be found on this group which is an assemblage of a cappella performers from other groups, some of whom have performed on the Sing-Off in the past.

University of Delaware Deltones
sing-off siteofficial siteFacebook page
Newark, DE • 15 men and women from the Univ. of Delaware
Performance of "Feels Like Home."

Surprisingly, the Deltones were formed by individuals who tried out for other a cappella groups, were rejected, and decided to form their own group. The Deltones focuses on having fun and making friends and that positive energy is reflected in their performances. Their diverse voices allow them to provide a melodic mix of a ranges and skills, making their arrangements flow effortlessly like water.

Fannin Family
sing-off siteofficial siteFacebook page
Hortonville, WI • 8 brothers and sisters
Performance of "One Day."

Fans of the Van Trapp family will truly enjoy this contemporary a cappella group comprised of 11 brothers and sisters, 8 of whom are performing on the Sing-Off. Like any band who lives together, they have the advantage that they've technically been practicing all their lives, and their extremely tight renditions of songs and perfect timing are the result.

Kinfolk 9
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9 men and women • Performance of "Hallelujah"

Filled with stars… this very diverse group has the advantage that each member can stand alone, as well as work as a member of a team to merge and create a beautifully well-rounded vocal tone. Their arrangements are dynamic, their vocal intensity varies from soft to loud, and the result is bold and powerful, and emotionally stirring.

Messiah's Men
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Minneapolis, MN • 9 men originating from Africa
Performance of "Exekial Saw the Wheel" (end cut off)

The advantage of having 9 full grown men in your group, is you will never be hurting for deep rich vocal sounds. Their melodic blending of their controlled voices exude confidence and their gospel renditions are spiritually uplifting.

North Shore
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Boston, MA • 5 men
Perfomance of "Run Around Sue," with audience participation, cut off.

A group with a lot of training and experience, North Shore is accustomed to providing sidewalk performances on the streets of Boston. Their wide ranges, perfect pitch, phenomenal harmonies and beautiful tonal quality create a sound that is easy on the ears. They are a flashback in time, doo-wop the way doo-wop used to be!

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Arlington, TX • 5 men and women
Performance of "Telephone" by 3 members while in high school last year.

This group seems to have a naturally flawless effortless technique as their voices blend beautifully, while still retaining rich individual characteristics. I'm curious what the two additional members will add, because they seem complete with their three core members, but alas, the rules require a minimum number of members. Their creative arrangements seem to be one of their biggest assets.

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Los Angeles, CA • 5 men and women
Live performance of "Wicked Games."

This group features unique percussive sounds (created by Benjamin Mclain), interesting arrangements, and great harmonies. Their music is artfully and creatively executed, and brings a cappella to a higher level, away from the traditional gospel harmonies and doo wap accents. They are the Picasso's of a cappella.

Soul'd Out
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Wilsonville, OR • 16 men and women from Wilsonville High School
Performance of "Knights of Cydonia."

Soul'd Out is cute! But, they're also quite good, winning the International Championship of High School A Cappella NW regionals this year and going forward to place 2nd place in the nation. As a 16 member male and female performance group, they have the ability to pull from within their ranks to provide a variety of unique talents, highs and low ranges, strong soloists, beat boxers, even a female "trumpet" player. Like most large groups, they also feature uniquely creative choreography, and are therefore very entertaining to the eye as well.

Urban Method
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Denver, CO • 8 men and women
Professional recording of "Love the Way you Lie."

Urban Method is unique in that it features a rapper and a crew of expertise beat boxers. The sound is hip and the beat is driving. In addition, the singing vocals are beautiful and the harmonies well matched. The only video I was able to find it a recording, and I hope the live version does not disappoint.

Vocal Point
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Provo, UT • 8 men from Brigham Young University (BYU)
Live performance of "Just the Way You Are."

I had to double check to make sure that what I was hearing was live and not a recording, since the vocal harmonies are so perfect and the the beatboxing effect is so exact on their version of Bruno Mars' "Just the Way You Are." When everything is so very well matched, the listener forgets that they are hearing to voices only. I imagine this group will come ready to impress.

University of Rochester YellowJackets
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Rochester, NY • 15 men
Live performance

Featuring high energy popish upbeat songs, the Yellow Jackets are a fun group of college men who's primary goal is to entertain. Their arrangements are heavy on percussion and their professional recordings fool the listener into believing that drums are present.

Sing Off launches Season 3
in it's own time slot!

New judge Sara Bareilles of "Love Song" fame.

There are few television shows I've watched where I can honestly say I have watched them from day one, and this is one. The Sing-Off is a brilliantly executed talent competition featuring all singing, perhaps a few fancy dance moves now and then, but absolutely NO instruments. Except for a few snaps here and there, all sounds created – such as drums, percussion, guitar, horns, and organ – must be generated by the singers using only their own vocal chords and mouths. You have to see it and hear it to believe it!

This is one of those shows where as a fan and viewer, I feel ownership "from the beginning." I watched and blogged about the fledgling debut episode in 2009 which aired in the off-season in mid December, watched the second season in it's entirety in 2010, and each year, the show has progressed into something bigger and better. Season 3 in 2011 brings a whole new dimension to the show as the series now has it's very own cherished time slot on Mondays at 8 pm to 10 pm on NBC (channel 4 or 1020 here in Central Florida on Brighthouse networks) and will run for 11 episodes. This year, NBC has pulled out all the stops with aggressive marketing and hopes to glean a large share of viewers with something that is uniquely new and fresh.

Other changes have been made. A whopping 16 groups are competing, double the number over the first season, and the talent is huge! The official website has been expanded to include more information, photos, and a handful of fun preview videos. Former judge Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussy Cat Dolls has changed shows and will now be one of the judges on the X-Factor, Simon Cowell's new venture, which will air on FOX at 8 pm this Wednesday. Replacing her is the beautiful and talented Sara Bareilles, a former member of UCLA's a cappella group "Awaken," and a three-time grammy-nominated singer/songwriter, most noted for her clever "Love Song."

The finer qualities of the show have remained the same. Judges Professor Ben Folds and Smoooth Shawn Stockman (Boyz II Men) are returning. The multi-talented Nick Lachey (of 98 degrees and One Tree Hill fame) will continue to host the show. The contestants still wear quirky color-coded costumes, most of which cause me to chuckle. And, the show is still on NBC, which I must confess is my favorite networks.

This year's groups sound spectacular and are listed in a second post, due to the large number of competitors… Stay tuned…

Thursday, September 15, 2011

TV’s gone to the dogs,
or to Wilfred, at least

One of my favorite brand new TV shows this year is Wilfred, a sweet little show about a boy and his dog. They play ball, snuggle, and spend nearly every waking moment together…


But don’t let this blah description fool you. Wilfred is no ordinary dog. While he looks ordinary to everyone else, to Ryan, an unemployed 30-year old lawyer played by Frodo (Elijah Wood), he looks exactly like a man – a man dressed in an odd curly gray dog suit.

Other than a penchant for smoking pot and cigarettes, Wilfred is amazingly dog-like. He digs holes; romps in his food; pees on trees and fire hydrants; sniffs butts; humps stuffed animals; stares; chases balls, Frisbees, and even the dot generated by a laser pointer. He can talk to other dogs, but is somewhat distrustful, manipulative, and even conniving. He loves any human who dotes on him, no matter how terribly the human functions in “human” society. And he feels anyone who treats him poorly or doesn’t love him to death is somehow sub par, despite how wonderful they may appear to other humans.

Oh yes, and he talks – in perfect English with a distinctive Australian accent, as brilliantly portrayed by "human" actor Jason Gann.

Wilfred is full of advice. Although Ryan, is actually not the “owner” of Wilfred, due to having lost his job, he has a remarkable amount of free time on his hands and has offered to watch Wilfred while his beautiful single neighbor, Jenna (played by Fiona Gubelmann) is at work. Not only does Ryan hang out with Wilfred all day getting high and watching TV, he takes Wilfred on errands with him, including to family functions, parties, the beach, a yard sale, and to visit his mother in the “institution,” where we discover that the apple does not fall far from the tree. In one episode, Ryan even tricks Wilfred into going to the vet.

The show is raw and raucous. It is not even slightly child appropriate and I must admit, I’m shocked it even made it to basic cable TV. Preceding each show is a red seal with the warning: MA (for mature audiences) and additional letters for L (language), V (violence), or S (sexual situations). It’s so adult in nature, you have to enter your birth date in order to view the episodes online.

However, it's also quite intelligent. Each episode begins with a literary quote. And not to promote smoking, a special website has been implemented to assist fellow dog owners with dogs who cannot kick the habit:

Originally airing in Australia in 2007, the show was remade here in the United States and premiered on June 23 this summer, but after completing it’s season last week, only reruns are now being shown.

This is the perfect time to catch up on “Wilfred” since the first episodes will be shown in order beginning on Saturday night (actually Sunday morning) on FX channel 70 on Brighthouse Cable networks:

  • 12:30 am Saturday night -- Episode 1, “Happiness”
  • 1:00 am Saturday night -- Episode 2, “Trust”
  • 3:30 am Sunday morning -- Episode 1, "Happiness"
  • 4:00 am Saturday night -- Episode 2, “Trust”
The following weekend continues with episodes 3 and 4.

Due to my busy work schedule, I have been watching re-airings on my on-demand Brighthouse cable channel 304. Fortunately, this is one show where the viewer does not necessarily need to follow a soap-opera-like, “miss one episode and you’re screwed” story line. With the exception of the season ender, episode 13, “Identity,” If you pick it up in the middle of the season, you’ll enjoy almost as much as if you’ve seen every single episode.

A complete episode guide and character rundown is found online on the official Wilfred website here at the Episode Guide. Videos of the last three episodes are found online here: Videos.

Wilfred is so nutty and full of surprises, there's never a dull moment. Be prepared to be shocked. I was and it takes a lot to shock tvgrrrrl.