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
sing-off siteFacebook page
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
sing-off siteFacebook pageofficial site
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
sing-off siteofficial site
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!

sing-off siteFacebook page
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.

sing-off siteofficial siteFacebook page
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
sing-off siteFacebook page
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
sing-off siteofficial siteFacebook page
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
sing-off siteofficial siteFacebook page
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
sing-off siteofficial siteFacebook page
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.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Project Runway online on demand

Contestant Anya Ayoung Chee designs a garment for a stilt walker.

During the summer, while we were all hanging out at the pool and hitting the clubs at night, several wonderful shows got underway. One of my very favorites among my friends is Project Runway.

The show regularly airs on Thursdays at 9 pm on My Lifetime, (channel 40 on Brighthouse digital cable networks here in Orlando), then reruns throughout the week at:
  • 1 am Friday morning on LRW channel 157 and Lifetime channel 40;
  • 11:30 am Saturday morning on Lifetime channel 40;
  • 9 pm Monday night on LRW channel 157;
  • Midnight Tuesday on LRW channel 157;
  • and before the next "new" episode each Thursday at 8 pm on Lifetime channel 40.
Please check listings each week as these may change.

The show is set in NYC at Parsons School of Design and features the beautiful Heidi Klum as celebrity host and judge, introducing a group of designer contestants to a challenge at the beginning of each show, and touting her famous line, “When it comes to fashion, you’re either in, or you’re out.” Klum is also the executive producer of the show.

The designers then rush off to a large workroom to create their magic, taking adventurous trips outside the studio to gain inspiration from the world around them, buying glorious textiles from Mood, and meeting famous designers. They are aided by fashion expert Tim Gunn (currently the chief creative officer at Liz Claiborne) who gives wonderfully honest, yet kind criticisms of their work. Their list of clients over the years has ranged from the everyday housewife, to a poodle, to a famous celebrity. I’m never disappointed with a show, it’s always interesting, and I’m nearly always “wowed,” as Tim Gunn likes to say. When time is up, finished or not, models walk the designs up and down a runway in front of four judges: Nina Garcia, fashion director of Marie Claire magazine, Michael Kors, award winning designer, Heidi Klum, and a guest celebrity judge.

Although Project Runway is currently halfway through the season, through the magic of the internet, you can still see some of the episodes in full online here.

In fact, if I can’t find a show online or via “on demand” on cable, I usually won’t watch it. A lot of my friends have very erratic schedules between work, school, and busy social lives. We’re not likely to set aside an hour at night just to sit and watch a TV show when we could be out clubbing on Church St.

Online airings of shows do have commercials, but I must admit, they seem much hipper, more entertaining, and briefer (although super loud – be ready to pounce on the volume control). You must have a high speed internet connection. I also recommend investing in a great set of computer speakers or running the audio feed through a stereo.

Only the last five episodes are currently available in full, episodes 3 through 7, so if you want to see Episode 3, “Go Big or Go Home,” where the designers worked in pairs to create designs to be worn by models wearing stilts, watch it quick. My guess is it will be replaced each week (such a travesty) so that only the most recent five episodes are airing at any given time.

I am disappointed that I cannot see one of the funnier shows, Episode 2, the “My Pet Project” challenge where the designers were required to use materials from a pet supply store generally intended for Polly, Fluffy, or Fido. I saw the end, and it looked fabulous.