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.