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.”