Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Oh, Great, Another 9021...0-kay, I'll Watch It!...

I was never a fan of Aaron Spelling's original Beverly Hills 90210. I can't really explain why I never got into the sappy melodrama about spoiled, wealthy teenagers in the heart of the city in which I one day hoped to live. It wasn't that the farfetched subject matter was too sophomoric for me; I saw parallel plots run through Melrose Place, my Monday night favorite. It wasn't even that I couldn't bring myself to watch a show about the pettiness of teenage life; Saved by the Bell was deep in my life-- on my screen, in my magazines, in both my doll and trading card collection, and plastered on my walls. Something just never clicked, though. In fact, it wasn't until years later that I even started to find Brian Austin Green attractive (though once he buzzed the hair, gained a few pounds of muscle, and got a tattoo, I was hooked!). Needless to say, I was less than thrilled to hear they were redoing it. I thought, if anything, networks should leave the show alone so those who did relate to (or otherwise just idolize and love) it could have unsullied memories. But then this week happened.

Entertainment Weekly was the first to announce the gradual casting of the pilot episode, letting small details slip about who the new cast of characters were set to be. Shenae Grimes (from the new Degrassi) was surprisingly brought on first (surprisingly because she's not a name, and rumor had it that Hilary Duff was being tapped for a role-- something that I knew would keep my remote far, FAR from 90210.5 should it prove to come to fruition), playing one half of the "Brenda and Brandon" for this millenium. Since the show is still currently untitled, I have taken the liberty of affectionately calling it 90210.5, as it will focus on a family's escapades when they move back to Beverly Hills to take care of the paternal grandmother, a boozing and aging has-been actor.

While the other half of the brother-sister duo (ie the brother) is still unknown at press time, earlier this week it was announced that Lori Loughlin signed on to portray the ex-Olympian-turned-personal-trainer mom, and my pop culture radar was piqued. I became a fan of Loughlin's during her Full House run... or okay, more like I wanted to be Loughlin during her Full House run, when I decided that there was no better job in the world than to kiss John Stamos and tote around two adorable mop-haired little boys. I even tuned in to catch her more mature maternal side on Summerland a few years ago... and again decided I wanted to be her just to get close to Mr. Chin Dimple himself, Shawn Christian.

Today, Entertainment Weekly, as well as TV Guide, have announced that the true matriarch of the family-- the woman without whom this family would not have to journey back to the BH and therefore would not have a show-- will be portrayed by none other than the boozing, aging socialite of Arrested Development herself, Ms. Jessica Walter! That's it guys, you got me; I'm in.

Rob Thomas, who is creating 90210.5, and who is better known as the creator of some short-lived shows like Veronica Mars, seems to be most comfortable when writing for a young audience. That is not a dis, but it is not necessarily a positive, either; after all, it usually means he has to write young characters in order to reach his demographic. I sincerely hope that is not the case here; I hope he doesn't turn 90210.5 into just an updated 90210. I hope he remembers the audience for the original and how now they are older and wiser and (hopefully) have more mature taste in television. I hope he utilizes his adult actors and weaves episodes and major (A level) plots around them (unlike how I hear The O.C. handled Mr. Eyebrows and Co., though I can't speak from experience, as that was another teen angst drama I wrote off-- though I won't get into that here!) instead of reducing them to glorified background players offering only mere and meek lines of exposition. It is the names slowly attaching themselves to this project that are bringing many skeptical fans onboard; we won't stand to be let down!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Fight I'd Like To See...

Within the last few days, billboards have gone up (at least around Los Angeles) that simply read "Ashton Vs. Cameron." Now, they are "subtle" advertisements for the duo's new "romantic comedy," What Happens in Vegas, but to me they seem to scream more about a heavyweight fight I'd like to see-- in Vegas or otherwise-- a fight to the death! After all, with opponents like that, it's hard to root for one or the other; they're both pretty despicable. Though I have to say, I'm a betting woman, and I'd have to put my money on Cameron with this one; she looks like a dirty fighter in general-- hair-pulling, scratching, sitting on her opponent to keep him down would not be objectionable to her-- and of course, nowadays pot is often laced with meth, so she's got the tweak factor making her a wildcard, too.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Shape Of Things To Come (For Thursday Nights)...

Last night marked the first post-strike episode of two surreal dramas that, are although very different in their make-up, share the similarity that when they initially debuted, I wrote them both off as being campy and ridiculous. Surprisingly enough, though, I actually started to get into one of them in last year or so, and with the face of television looking quite different in the aftermath of the WGA strike, I may even take up with the other. Times, my friends, they are a'changing!

With the WGA strike lingering as long as it did, shows returning to the 07-08 lineup to finish up already-in-progress seasons have had their orders cut short. Lost, for example, was supposed to have eight episodes to answer questions about which the audience has been theorizing since season one's finale. Unfortunately, they will only get five, and with one down as of 11:01 p.m. last night, there are still a lot of things to wrap up in the short four hours left of season four. Ironically, though, they are on a strong track, and it almost pains me to say this, but it appears the strike did some good for the drama that was pissing more fans off than it was satisfying with its "give a little then take three steps back" approach to suspenseful storylines. By having a smaller number of episodes, the writers are now forced to cram each forty-six minute episode chock full of information; they can no longer afford the daytime soap opera-like dramatic pausing and answering one question with another question.

"The Shape of Things to Come" featured all of the film-like action Lost fans who have been there since day one have come to expect: deaths (though of minor characters) ran rampant in the first episode after the hiatus, as did explosions. However, they also crammed a lot of information into the episode, including character notes about Rousseau, the smoke monster, what happens to the Oceanic Six when they're off the island, and who shot Karl. It was an adrenaline-pumped episode the way in which ABC promos always claim but usually fall short; this time, there was so much going on, audiences were wide-eyed, on the edge of their seats, and practically giddy with anticipation of what will be revealed next. Kudos are well-deserved; they took a shitty situation and spun it into gold (and ratings).

Sadly, though, the opposite seems to be the case for once-timeslot rival Supernatural, whose season opened with the idea that one of the two brothers was set to die in twenty-two episodes. Since the strike stripped them of almost half that time, it has now become a mad dash to save Dean, and some of the individual "cases" they would normally investigate are being forced to take a backseat to the much more emotional arc of the brothers. Though it is their relationship that ties everything together, even the most unbelievable aspects and keeps them grounded, the show is forced to become a bit more one-note for the rest of its third season just to get them to where they need to be emotionally, as well as physically, for the start of the fourth season.

Beyond that, Supernatural's first episode back just proved lackluster and oddly too reminiscent of a previous season's fan favorite "Hell House" co-starring A.J Buckley and Travis Wester as wannabe paranormal investigators. If you remember correctly, at the end of "Hell House," Sam and Dean sent them on a wild goose chase to Los Angeles after prank calling them and posing as a producer interested in making a show around what they do. Unfortunately the joke seems to be on the Winchesters, as Thursday's episode of "Ghostfacers" showcased those boys actually shooting their own show... only to have members of their crew picked off one by one by something in the mansion in which they are filming. The whole episode was a giant callback to the seventeenth episode of the first season-- in fact, when the first stills were released a week prior to the airing, I was convinced the webmaster had accidentally pulled from the older episode—as well as being a testament to the kind of “in the moment” reality style Blair Witch began and Cloverfield and Quarantine are continuing.

For those who were already fans of Supernatural, “Ghostfacers” probably offered a few chuckles and some fist-pumping moments, but the episode certainly did not win over any potential new viewers (unlike Lost’s “The Shape of Things to Come”), as much of the show’s usual wit and snark got lost behind the grainy, shaky infrared. Such technical “style” does not a masterpiece make, nor does it seem "hip" or original in today's "do it yourself" videos of YouTube. For a show that relies on thrills around every corner, sadly, Supernatural came back with not a bang but a whimper (though on a side note, I will admit that it did run circles around the stone mess that was Cloverfield!).

One slightly disappointing episode is not, at this stage in the game, enough for me to give up completely on my Colt-toting, Impala-driving Winchester boys. I am willing to admit that maybe I had built up their return so much in my mind that nothing could have satisfied what I had already concocted in my own imagination. Then again, 30 Rock, Desperate Housewives, even an early 2000s Cold Case didn’t disappoint, so Kripke, consider yourself warned: I’m rooting for you, but my love of Jensen can only transcend so much ho-hum creativity.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

In Odder News: iJeans...

It's still unclear whether this, like many other recent news stories (ie the lights in the sky in Arizona this past weekend), is a hoax, but if it's not I think I made a mistake by purchasing new jeans this week and not picking up a pair of these!

And I thought the pick up lines I get thrown are rough!

Monday, April 21, 2008

"Baby Boom" For A New Generation...

More than a decade after high-powered corporate, suit-wearing J.C. Wiatt inherited a baby that changed her life-- and in many ways how people viewed single, career-driven mothers-- the story has been redone. In Baby Mama, opening Friday, Tina Fey plays a thirty-something, upper middle class woman who wants to have a baby but is told her doctor "doesn't like her uterus" and opts for surrogacy. Enter the blunt and often abrasive Amy Poehler, who Fey hires and then invites to live with her in this female buddy comedy flick. So in honor of the transformation the pregnancy causes not only on these women as individuals but also as friends, here is a look at the Top 5 Best (Though Unlikely) Mothers in Recent Film.

Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman, Where The Heart Is) is the Jamie Lynn Spears her own small town. Her boyfriend leaves her pregnant, underage, and alone at a Walmart, which is where she stays right up until she gives birth-- on the floor in one of the aisles. Deciding to keep and raise the baby alone, Novalee grows up quickly, embracing the unconventional, eccentric, hodgepodge of a family made up of the residents of the new small town to which she moves as her own. While teenage pregnancy is not advocated in this film, Novalee certainly sets a strong example for how one can turn her life around even in the bleakest of circumstances.

Helen Harris (Kate Hudson, Raising Helen) is a free-spirited party girl living the club life in one of the most alive cities in the world, but when her sister gets into a tragic car accident and leaves her three young children to Helen, she is forced to take a good, hard look at her life and reevaluate what's important. Though her older sister (Joan Cusack) seems to be the more obvious choice of surrogate due to her already thriving home life, Helen perseveres and soon comes to realize she needs these kids to teach her about life as much as they need her guidance.

Similarly Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones, No Reservations) inherits her niece after a car accident takes her sister, and the high-strung, high-powered chef is forced to curb her anal retentive ways and loosen up in order to let someone else in—not only to her apartment or her kitchen, but also to her heart.

Nina Banks (Diane Keaton, Father of the Bride Part 2) is already a mother two times over with a large age gap in her children when she learns that she will deliver a third-- right around the same time her daughter (Kimberly Williams) is having her first child. Needless to say, the news is a surprise, but she rises to the occasion and embraces the new pregnancy the way other women her age embrace hot flashes. Bonding through swollen ankles and odd, all-hours-of-the-night cravings, she and her daughter grow even closer as she shares her past experiences and welcomes the new ones with open, though slightly chubby, arms.

Though she stands accused of homicide, Dolores Claiborne (Kathy Bates, Dolores Claiborne) makes all of her decisions with her daughter (Jennifer Jason Leigh)'s best interest in mind. In fact, the event actually brings her estranged daughter home and acts as the catalyst needed to re-examine their bruised relationship. Though Dolores' actions are unconventional and at times the film plays with suspense by making the audience believe she is a sociopath, deep down, her intentions toward her child are pure. When she admits certain abuses from years past, she does it not to acquire sympathy or pity but in an attempt to start her daughter on a path of healing because with one look at her, Dolores can tell she is still haunted and pained by the past and doesn't want her daughter to suffer with living one day just to get to the next in the way in which she has been.

And honorable mention must go to Sonny Koufax (Adam Sandler, Big Daddy). All right, so he isn't technically a woman, so he can't technically be considered a mother, but he certainly fits well into this category as he is someone who just opens the door to find a kid standing on his welcome mat, but he rises to the occasion to take care of the child... even without having any blood relation to him. His relationship with Julian (Dylan and Cole Sprouse) turns him from a prolonging adolescence slacker to a full-fledged adult, learning how to care and provide for someone else, so that when he has his own child later on, he is more than ready and can no longer rightfully be called an "unlikely" parent.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Mariah Mania in LA!...

There are some "private hells" that not even when we claw our way to the top can we shake. Mariah Carey's life seems to be littered with those moments-- from growing up biracial in a time/town that didn't understand to her sister's struggles with addiction to being trapped in an unhealthy marriage to her father's death. Despite the carefree, childlike aura she so desperately wants to emulate now (how else can you explain her past album name choices?), these are things that still attack her subconsciously and can only work their way out through song when she spins the negativity into something positive, lucrative, and spiritual. More than a decade since Carey left that most recent private hell of "Sing Sing," she certainly still has a lot of emotions (pardon the pun) boiling inside of her, and on her twelfth studio release, E=MC2, she still remains strongest when belting them out from her gut.

E=MC2 is the perfect title for this point in Carey's career because of the very simple formula she adopts for success: one part "praise the Lord" ("I Wish You Well"), two parts autobiographical ("Side Effects," "Bye Bye"), two parts wedding/prom themes ("I Stay In Love," "Love Story," "Last Kiss"), and two parts just-for-fun club tracks ("Touch My Body," "Migrate," "O.O.C"). After eighteen years (that's a whole child of legal age!), Carey knows how to work the numbers to top the charts, get airplay, sell out huge arenas, and most importantly, stay relevant, and it is the tracks where she stands... er, sings alone that are the strongest. Jermaine Dupri's influence is well-felt by his beats; it is just superfluous (and kind of annoying) that he feels the need to offer grunts and/or intros on just about every other song. Carey does not need an introduction; everyone knows who she is, and J.D. might only weigh her down from flying (like a bird) back up to the top. That being considered, one might think Carey should have stuck with her original album title, "I'm That Chick (You Like)," taken from the a very Janet Jackson-reminiscent track (in part due to the breathiness of the vocals, and in part because of the "Off The Wall" sampling, and let's face it, Michael always sounded just as feminine as his sister), to drive that point home to critics, haters, and collaborators.

And Mariah gets the numbers when it comes to fans coming out to show their support, as well. While fan listening parties pop up all around the globe (and there was even a fragrance release party in Japan back in November), this past week seems to have been unofficially deemed MC week. First there was her second single dropping on Monday, a day before her full album, and then were days of back to back television appearances, with dozens of people lining up outside the gates of the various studios to get a picture, an autograph, or just a look. Almost one thousand of her "lambs" showed up at the Hard Rock Cafe at Universal Citywalk on Thursday for the chance to see her donate some memorabilia and sign her new CD.

Some fans were old, having been listening to Mariah since her early nineties debut; some fans were new, first discovering her in 2005 during the height of the Emancipation of Mimi press-deemed "comeback" (though those long-time fans know she can't "come back" if she never left in the first place); and some fans were new in the literal sense as the second generation who learned to love Carey when her CD was in the car with mom on the way to or from school. But all shared a genuine love and admiration (and yes, even awe) for the woman who helped get them through some particularly rough times, and none of them seemed to mind braving the heat, the crowds, and the chaos for even the quickest of glimpses at their favorite superstar.

The donation ceremony was set to start at 5:45 with a red carpet to follow and then the CD signing. Fans started lining up at midnight the night before to be at the front of the line, even though CDs were being signed through a wristband system: if you pre-ordered her album at a local FYE store, you'd get a receipt with a number, and if it was under 1000 you redeemed it at the FYE booth set up on site on the day of the event. Her new album pumped through the speakers in the open air courtyard over a loop of her most recent videos on a screen worthy of an arena next to the stage. The carpet (which was actually purple, I must add, to go along with the colors of her album jacket) was rolled out in the heat of the afternoon, but naturally, because Mariah must be exhausted from being shuttled to and from appearances, and because she was doing some sit-downs prior to the donation, things got off to a very late start. The hype man even got booed once or twice and lambs just started chanting her name.

Finally at around eight p.m., the doors to the Hard Rock opened to a fury of lens flashes, as first Mariah's long time friend and collaborator Da Brat (iTunes offered her bonus track "4real4real" to anyone who pre-ordered E=MC2 through them) practically skated down the carpet; she walked so fast. Mariah was ushered out by a swarm of security, publicist, and her manager Benny Medina. She didn't stop to offer interviews, but she did turn and pose in all directions every few feet her so. And though the sun had set, she donned her trademark tinted sunglasses. Perhaps it was because she was tired or perhaps just to go with her ensemble (black on black), but whatever the case, after the week she's had, who could blame her?

The line of fans snaked around the Hard Rock and up to the second floor walkways, but Mariah calmly sat and signed CD after CD. Some fans brought gifts; others brought signs; but all came prepared with a message of how much Mariah means to them, and as they inched closer after hours of waiting, it was blatantly obvious just how many (and how much) she has touched men and women (and girls and boys) all over the world.

Two weeks ago, Mariah stamped her place in history by surpassing Elvis for the amount of Number 1 singles, making her the top selling solo artist, and now she is on track to take the throne as the top selling artist in general from the Beatles, as well. Through the years she has most certainly made her way from the outside, where she used to just look in, to the front and center of music and pop culture. Next Friday, Mariah will make history yet again when the Empire State Building lights up for the weekend in her colors. Who else could influence the city (and in turn generations) in that way?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Scariest Kind Of Attack...

Ever since 9/11 I've been saying that if the terrorists really want to take down our country, all they need to do is destroy our satellites; we rely on them for all of our information, and without them, we'd have no information center but also no communication center. We'd be stranded.

Now that notion has been brought forth into pop culture, though perhaps on a smaller scale.

And okay, I know they were making fun of what a big deal we make of minor crises like this, but sadly, it's not that far off from reality. Our entire society becomes more reliant on technology every day, and if it were to just shut down, we'd be unable to do anything but sit and stare blankly at our just-as-blank screens. Maybe not the older generations who "back in their day" can remember a time where math was done and music spilled out from these round, frisbee-like discs, but if Y2K occurs in ten or twenty years, we may just be screwed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Now That I've Started...

... I kind of can't stop!

Live Blogging American Idol's Top 7 Results

21:00 Ryan announces record voting; ironic considering it was the lowest-rated episode in at least a month. I guess everyone wanted to watch a woman win Biggest Loser but then got on the phone to vote for their faves regardless of actually hearing their faves.

21:01 He also announces they'll be taking calls again. I miss the half-hour results shows. Less useless patter.

21:03 Paula thinks it's Christmas time because she's wearing a corsage bow around her neck. Remember when Phoebe got the hummus on Friends and then covered it with a wreath of a broach? Like that.

21:05 The 7 take the stage to sing "One Sweet Day." God, could you be more cliché, American Idol??? Jason starts; he does something weird in the beginning, and I tune out. Then comes Kristy who's doing that hip-rocking thing until she seems to realize it doesn't fit the song and stops just in time to mess up a note. Brooke doesn't sound right and looks really nervous; she's probably (sadly) going home tonight. David C. does some weird rocking thing that reminds me of the previous night's assessment. David A. Sigh. He gets ridiculous cheers just by stepping forward, but I just want him to go back to school.

21:06 There you are, Carly. Was that so hard? Why couldn't you do that last night?

21:09 Recap that makes my head (and ears) hurt. I switch to ABC for a minute to catch something of importance: the Democratic presidential debate.

21:12 Jason likes the beach but is too high to find it. He has to head to Ryan's left and carefully watches his own feet as he walks across the stage.

21:13 David gets emotional answering Ryan about whether or not he got emotional last night. He heads to the right. Gee, after reading a dozen or so other responses to his rendition of "Always Be My Baby" that left me alone in my thoughts (as per usual) I wonder which is the "safe" group now.

21:14 Simon shares my sentiment about pushing Carly and knowing she could have done better last night. She joins Jason. Oh side note, I'm glad to see her sleeveless again. I think the producers asked her to cover her tattoos because they were "off-putting" to the young audience. LAME! Music is all about self-expression, and body art is a form of that, so it should be celebrated, not hidden. I'm so sick of "suits" making artists into commodities; no wonder they crack under pressure-- they're forced to be something they're not.

21:15 Kristy calls Simon a butt but says she mostly agrees with the judges' assessment (of her? in general? Who knows; I think she's high, too). She joins the other Cook on the right. Heh. I just noticed they have the same last name.

21:15.5 Ryan announces Elliot Yamin will perform after the commercial. 1) I hope he sings a Mariah song. He can rock it. 2) I have a bad feeling they're going to run over, and TiVos all across America will once again cut off Mariah's performance. For those of you who missed last week's "Fly Like A Bird," go out and download it from iTunes immediately! That song makes me want to go to church. In a good way.

21:19 Commercials still going strong. I use the break to listen to MTV's acoustic version of "Love Story." It's hot, dawg.

21:20 Creepy marionettes!

21:21 Elliot Yamin sings "Free," a song with which I don't think I'm familiar. I know his mother just died and all, but he looks haggard-- he missteps when he first comes out and looks into the camera in the awkward "Oh, I forgot you were there" sort of way... but his voice is just as silky as ever, and I suddenly wish he was back on this show so he could win. I like him immensely more than I like any of the remaining contestants.

21:24 He gets so into the song; there's the emotion that's been lacking, and he waves... oh, that's a message to his mom. He's a sweet Kanye. I just want to hug him. And brush his hair.

21:25 Syesha heads left. I'm confused.

21:26 Brooke says "I love you" to the crowd again in an almost snippy way. She looks like she's about to cry as she "promises" she put everything she had into it. Well, if that's all you have, I'm sorry to say I don't think it's good enough. But she heads to the right. Huh. That leaves lil' Davey Archie backstage alone in his red leather jacket. Kid, wearing leather doesn't make you seem more mature; take it from me, the girl who owned not one but two pairs of leather pants (one of which was red) and a leather miniskirt. God were we classy in the BK!

21:28 Ryan announces Mariah will be up after the break. Some girl in the audience cheers really loudly. I think she and I would be good friends.

21:31 Phone calls? Ryan is such a Mariah tease! He says we can go online and ask questions, but I'm on the west coast, so unfortunately they will not hear my "Why the hell do you have this stupid segment? Just let Mariah sing two tonight!"

21:31.5 Kristy says the guy who bought her horse won't sell it back, and Brooke, leaning back on her elbows like she's an angry drunk, boos like... well, like she's an angry drunk (or just upset that she's probably going home tonight).

21:33 A question about the judges' first purchased albums... blah blah blah... joke at Paula's expense.

21:34 "Megan from Paula's show" calls in; Paula has no idea who she is. She says hi to a few contestants and then asks Paula what song of hers best describes her relationship with Simon. Why are we plugging old eighties non-hits tonight?

21:35 Simon, "What is the difference between theme park, karaoke, hamburger without the beef?" I know the answer: they're all variations of saying "shitty," so I hit mute and play "Side Effects" instead.

21:37 I only unmute because I see the big E=MC2 album cover on the curtain. She walks out to cheers but no intro music; the sound guy must have had his playback on mute, too. Actually it's probably better there's no intro 'cause "Bye Bye" starts with sonogram sounds, and while that's probably not really what the FX is, it chokes me up every time just by the idea of it.

21:40 Jesus, her arms look great. I'm going to do the broom exercises. Seriously. I just bought a new one from Target. It's silver. I'm babbling now to keep from crying. I have a hard time hearing about people who have lost their fathers because it's always someone who really loved the man and wishes he was still around, and I just feel so guilty. Maryann chimes in on the power notes; Mariah keeps it together, but she's walking all over the stage and pointing at the crowd like you know she just wants to lose her shit, but she's facing hundreds of fans of AI, not necessarily of hers, so she keeps it in as much as she can, but she can’t hold back everything. I love that gospel side to her. Go download this song.

21:42 Mariah is asked to critique Randy and manages to subtlely plug her album. She's doing some hardcore campaigning, and I don't think it's necessary. She'll pull the big numbers; she has the fan base, even without all the crazy appearances to which she has bounced back and forth. Don't get me wrong, though, I tuned into them all: I love seeing her sing live, even if it's just in subdued forum of a talk show. Okay, back to the show: Mariah tells the contestants to "do you" and keep their heads up 'cause everything will be all right. She seems to be talking to two in particular, which leads me to believe she's seen the results "envelope" 'cause Lord knows she didn't sit in her hotel room, in a bathrobe, eating Bon Bons with JJ in bed and actually watch the performances last night.

21:47 Brooke looks so sad :( David A. gets called out and admits how "comfortable" he's getting. They're setting him up as the star of this show, but I hope they're also setting him up for a shock because this safety thing gets taken forgranted... oh crap, he's safe. The president I want to win never does, and same looks to be the case for American Idol winners.

21:48 "Too many Cooks in the kitchen," Ryan? How long have you been waiting to say that? He makes David and Syesha swap, and now it makes less sense. David A. opts to sit instead of join those he thinks are safe. Does he not understand he's not wishing one to be safe? Stop being so PC and unoffensive!!! I finally understand why Paula wanted to dangle his head from her rearview mirror!

21:49 Somehow through the screams and bustling and shuffling on stage, we learn the Bottom 3 is the 3 girls: KLC, Brooke, Syesha. I feel like I've seen this all before.

21:53 A commercial for the local news shows Simon's chippy interviewing Mariah about which contestants she thought did the best with her songs. Stop making the poor woman lie through gritted teeth; she's tired, and she still has a signing to do tomorrow!

21:54 Syesha is safe. Paula skirts the question about whether or not this is the right bottom. Simon prematurely tells KLC good-bye, and she smarts off that she made it past Top Ten, so yeah, she'll be touring, and... Brooke is staying!!! America got something right! I mean, sure her performance wasn't amazing, but it was steady, and with past performances in mind it would be a great injustice to keep KLC around longer (as if it isn't a big enough one to have her get this far as it is).

21:56 Her exit package showcases her prized horse (natch.) and her jumping into the pool. I wonder if she took her mic off first, and if not, if it shocked her when it got wet, and if it did, if that explains her uneveness. She spars with the camera, montage of her singing (without the sound, thankfully), and then she sings directly to Simon as the show closes. At least she seems to have a good sense of humor.

21:59 Huh; I actually think she sounds remarkably better tonight than she did last night. I still don't like it, but then I just don't like that country twang in general. She's holding her own against the song, though... and then Fox cuts her off mid-note. An appropriate way to say good-bye to someone who's had this a long time coming, I'd say.

In Odder News: I Hate This Society...

This is even worse than Bill Cosby's recent announcement that he's releasing an "inspirational rap album." I would write a real reaction to it, but I can't get my jaw up off the floor.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Live Blogging A Tribute To Mariah Carey...

Err... I mean, American Idol: The Top 7...

Only one thing could bring me out of my post-audition rounds boycott of this season's American Idol, and if you thought that would be Seacrest coming out on live television... well, you'd be half right. That'd be interesting to see, sure, but I don't really need to watch something I already know is true get turned into a "breaking news" story. Lance Bass, I'm leering at you! Anyway, this season has been uncharacteristically dull in my book, especially compared to last year's water cooler moments of Sanjaya's hair and the consistent, knock-your-socks-off performances (KLC, that's the proper term, albeit weeks too late) of Melinda and LaKisha, so I've just settled for reading the recaps and nodding along with the snarky commentary. Really, is there any other way to watch a show that is not even a decade old but has become a joke? And I don't discriminate; I loved Friends more than some of my real life ones, but when Rachel got pregnant, I saw the end. But tonight, after weeks of crazy cross-over promotional city-hopping, Ms. Mariah Carey will be gracing the Idol stage to offer her guidance (and lending her songbook-- something from which the contestants are normally strictly forbidden from cracking open), and I think the only proper write-up would be to go moment by moment and dissect the odd choices you know are forthcoming. Though the media can't seem to agree on just how unique and impressive her octave range is (some articles site five, some seven, and a couple even raised as high as nine), it's clear she is in a class by herself vocally. Tonight is the night I've been waiting for; tonight is the night labels and general audiences alike will wake up to the fact that the infants being pushed through the music industry today can't even hold a candle to some tried and true experienced professionals.

Tonight is going to be a test for everyone, but mostly for the guys. Unless you're pre-pubescent (okay, so I guess David A. will have a shot here), if you're male you're just not going to hit the register Mariah can. Hell, most women can't hit it either. This is going to be fun (...well, for me). Now where's my popcorn?

15:20 (PS All times will be in PST) Official Set List is released... err, leaked... err, released? whatever; TMZ has it, and it doesn't look so good. Supposedly MC's entire songbook was up for grabs, and these are their choices? A bit uninspired, but I guess it's to be expected; very few of them seem like they have personalities. Let's just hope no one forgets the words (the cardinal sin) ala the aforementioned David A.'s two-line solo in "Seasons of Love" during the Idol Gives Back episode.

20:01 Ryan and his faux-hawk are on stage, and why is Teri Hatcher special enough to have tickets? Already I can't believe I'm missing The Biggest Loser for this. Oh crap, it's the finale this week, isn't it? The producers are finally setting it up so a woman can win, and I'm missing it??? Maybe I can just switch over for a minute; he tends to be pretty long-winded...

20:04 Okay, back to Fox. Did I miss the whole Mariah video package? Oops... onto some banter about the irony of choosing a theme week that is usually cautioned against (that's putting it mildly). Pick on Randy night, too, it seems, but why? He proved he actually knows her by getting her on the show. Though, I will say that since we all know AI has become almost as much of a joke recently as the film of the same name (see what I did there?), bringing on such a powerhouse in the music industry now as opposed to six or seven years ago, when the show was in its heyday, must only mean that Randy Jackson threatened to never work with her again if she didn't show up ("Ooh... you nasty!" "What? Wrong Jackson? Oh..."). He's already relegated her to a background singer on his first album, so word to the wise, Mariah: you don't need him.

20:05 First performance of the night: David Archuleta. Gushing like I would have been if Mariah gave me a hug: like a little girl, which means it's time to reminisce about high school *sarcastic YAY* I'm far from an Arch Angel. From his first audition I thought he tried too hard, and I just plain didn't like the tone of his voice. Then I began to suspect that though he works so hard to always be on-pitch and hit all the hard notes, he really never understands the songs he's singing because there's just no connection, no emotion behind his sad little dead eyes (for those of you who went to Stuy 98-02, you know who I'm referencing!). And you Must. Have. Emotion. when singing a Mariah Carey song! That's the one prerequisite, and when you focus so intently on performing it just right, the energy was lacks ("[It] ain't about getting things perfect!"-- Jack Black, School of Rock). But perhaps Joe from TWoP said it best a few weeks ago, though: watching Archie just makes you think you're watching a high school talent show. "When I Believe." A non-surprising, schmaltzy choice for him, and the judges love him, but I still think he's disconnected, and he will most certainly not get a part in my production of The Pajama Game now!

20:13 Carly's up now with some kissing-up to the gone (Michael Johns) and "Without You" with a much deeper and almost angry rendition... no, wait, it's time for the first chorus and now she just looks confused. Did she mess up her newfangled arrangement? What's that weird accent/throaty thing at the end? Oh I just don't like this. Maybe I will always be comparing it to the original, but I actually liked Carly this season... until now. Paula's babbling about vocal restraint: what??? That wasn't restraint; that was all over the place and not in the good way. Perhaps surprisingly, I agree with Simon: if anyone could have done it tonight, it should have been her, but the furrowed brow in the third line set the tone for the rest of the performance: she got lost in the big song because her voice just isn't big enough.

20:20 Commercial break so time for a side note: I really should have live blogged last week's Very Special (but also questionable) episode: Idol Gives Back because Joe R. and I had the same thoughts, only he posted them hours later, so for once it would look like I had the scoop, and maybe they'd offer me a job out of it ;) Besides, this is a lot more fun than I realized it could be!

20:24 Ryan's in the audience, and oh please, Syesha, do your baby cry for Mariah! No? And she's singing "Vanishing." Damn; Syesha said Mariah really "took her time" to show her notes... well, yeah, 'cause you weren't getting it. A little shaky start there, but oddly enough, I don't hate this... yet. It's different, and no one likes change (well, I don't), but this is sweet. Huh.

20:26 Wow. I did not know she could do that. Even my dog woke up at the end there; he tilted his head at the screen and stared hard. Something about screechy sounds always seem to pique animals' interest; I don't know exactly what it is.

20:28 Sure, Randy, pull the pitchy card; that's different. Paula sounds like she's on crack, as per usual... something about power... and... oh, I have no idea, but she did call Mariah incomparable (well, the Paula equivalent because I don't think she could get that word out). Simon: if people don't know this song, hopefully they will now 'cause they should. Hell, I may even download her version on iTunes tomorrow.

20:29 Another commercial... and crap, a commercial on NBC, too. I hate simultaneous ad time; I'm a flipper!

20:33 Brooke White missed her sister's wedding, tried to send a cardboard cutout in her place, and is singing "Hero." And this is the only contestant I liked in the Top 24 or 16 or whenever it was I stopped caring. I'm glad she's back at the piano, though; the acoustic guitar in rehearsal made me nervous for a song like this. Mariah did share she initially wrote the song for Gloria Estefan; that actually explains a lot.

Her version is simple. Nice. Pleasant. Unoffensive. Nothing special. It certainly doesn't give me chills the way Mariah's version does, no matter how sappy I find the lyrics. Maybe she should have done the "Never Too Far/Hero" medley...

20:38 "Every ounce of you is totally authentic to who you are." What the hell, Paula?

20:38.5 Stop booing Simon; I want to hear his hamburger analogy!!

20:39 KLC and "Forever." Oh man. She doesn't hear the sarcasm in Mariah's voice about the "really good job" she did in rehearsal?

20:41 Hmm, it's not the train wreck I thought it would be, but I still don't like it. She picks up and drops pacing/tone/emotion too flippantly. I don't think she's connecting either-- just doing that slightly nasal, whiny, stereotypically "sad" voice ballads like this scream for when the performers can't quite... oh, I'm not going to explain it; I just don't like her. And no, considering she reiterates to the judges that Mariah liked her, I guess she just doesn't "get" a New Yorker's snarky tone.

20:44 We'll be back with David Cook and "Always Be My Baby." I'm concerned. Maybe not as much as his future wife, my friend Amanda, but I am. I want him to go far and do well so he can make the millions off of which she deserves to live... Ooh the Judy Greer Mac commercial! Maybe things are looking up. :)

20:48 Heh. "I didn't know what he would do with it." Neither do I. Neither do I.

20:50 Now I know. And yes, it's haunting. If by haunting you mean "creepy." Think about him singing this by the tire swing while two young campers frolic around the lake. I'm calling Benson and Stabler; they're back on duty tonight, you know.

20:52 Randy, WTF? I think he drank from Paula's cup by mistake. Paula, Little Children was already released, so no soundtrack for David C. with this one. And OMG standing next to Ryan you get a real sense of just how cartoonishly large this man’s head is. Do they market AI contestants’ bobbleheads? ‘Cause his would be to scale!

20:53 I'm sorry, Simon, but you know who else was daring? Dahmer, Gacy, Wurnos, Zodiac. Does that mean they, too, should be celebrated?

20:57 Ryan's in the audience; they have three minutes; who's left? Oh, the stoner. Jason Castro. His name is Jason? There goes my theory that all guys named Jason are hot. Anyway, no way is this show coming in on time, which I don’t get because Ryan does this week after week, so it’s not like he’s out of practice... Back to Jason, I guess. Guitar in rehearsal but not on stage? Hmm... did he forget where he left it? His eyes are so glassy! Interesting arrangment, though...

20:59 Oh, now it's speeding up. It no longer works for me. "I Do Want To Cry" now, sir. Where's the (excuse the redundancy) friggin' emotion!?!?!?

21:00 Randy calls his performance reminiscent of being at "a luau on the beach," and I pump fist in the air in agreement and then promptly turn the channel to watch Curtis lose his shot at the $100,000 Biggest Loser At Home prize to Dan.

So what's the message of the night? Well, other than it being the worst tribute to Mariah Carey since Studio Group, the night has taught us that to be a long-lasting force in this crazy industry called entertainment (whether it's acting or singing)-- even though you don't have to be the best singer to make it as a pop star thanks to today's reliance on Auto Tune (see Britney, J. Lo, and even Madonna)-- you still have to pay your dues. You have to fall on your face sometimes, but if you get back up, "shake it off," and come back swinging stronger, you'll plant yourself firmly in place. Tonight not all of the AI kids fell as I originally predicted; they didn't each get bitch slapped, but let's hope it was at least a humbling experience. The bar has been set and will only be raised tomorrow night when Ms. Carey returns to take the stage herself and show these plebes how it's done. Who can clear it? Remains to be seen, but of course in my bias, I think none of them are worthy. As Allure's Brooke Hauser said, "Only Mariah Carey can get away with being Mariah Carey."

PS 22:01 Ali Sweeney managed to get her show out on time, and she's used to cue cards and second takes. Suck it, Seacrest! And Ali (pink team Ali) won like we all knew she would!!! :)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Not A Victim, Not A Hero, Just A Man...

A few weeks ago, I purchased both Nic Sheff's memoir "Tweak (Growing Up on Methamphetamines)" and his father's counterpoint "Beautiful Boy (A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction)." I set them both aside, going back and forth in my mind about with which one I should start first, but ultimately I put off reading them both until a day I could read them back-to-back, uninterrupted, and just immerse myself in the Sheff family's world. I expected to be a bit biased toward Nic's telling of events, but I never in a million years could have imagined just how much I would find myself nodding along and connecting to the very internal issues that lead to and continue to feed his addiction.

Nic Sheff spent much of his young life hanging out with his writer-father at gallery openings, dinner parties, and VIP events; he spent more time with adults than he did children his own age and therefore was in a rush to grow up, but however he tried to emulate said adults on the outside, on the inside he was trapping himself in a perpetual state of adolescence that would come to haunt him in his later years. Nic's parents divorced when he was young, and both subsequently remarried. His father went on to have two more children, whereas his mother would just have constant fights with her new husband-- fights that got so loud Nic would run into the TV room and blast an old movie, to drown out the sounds of the screams and yelling. By the time we actually meet Nic, he has already been in and out of rehab, though (all of the aforementioned and more comes out as exposition to fill in the holes later in the story), and he is on his way to San Francisco to partake in yet another bender. This time he ends up dealing, too.

Nic describes his descent into drugs with enough detail to make his readers cringe (like when he describes the abscess he develops on his arm due to a dirty needle), but he is never gratuitously graphic. Nic is never preachy, in order to attempt to scare kids off trying drugs, but he doesn't glamorize them either, even when he talks about the famous people (all names have been changed) he meets during such exploits. Instead, he merely lays out the facts of who he was and what he did, and in reality, he could be any one of his readers speaking. While the people he met along his journey and the way in which he started taking his drugs and then spiraled, got sober, and relapsed (lather, rinse, repeat) are specific to him, the mentality with which he approaches his addiction and his life with it is universal. The feelings of alienation, inadequacy, and general discontent could be ripped from the pages of any teenager's diary. He describes his struggles with his appearance, with coming from a tumultuous home life, his obsessive need to put himself in competition with others, and even his misguided belief his mortality could never be tested (in that "it could never happen to be me" oh-so-common way) with refreshing frankness, as if he can look back now and see it was all just an obsession. And it is in that obsession that he is most vulnerable but also ironically most accessible because we can all share in and relate to that personality trait; it is just more severe for some than others. And without naivety, denial, or just bold-faced lying, there is no one who can say he or she does not obsess over something, and if you think you can, then that notion will be more detrimental than crystal meth. I have spoken often in the past about my own obsessions, and I am very aware of just how easily they could (and by all accounts, should) have translated into addictions); do I understand why one person (like Nic) can go down one path and another (like me) can take another? Of course not, nor do I think I will ever solve that enigma, but I do thank him for being so brutally honest and fearless in his tales. "Tweak" is not always easy to read because of the aforementioned connection the reader is inevitably bound to make, but that just makes it all the more powerful.

Nic talks a lot about his outlets: he always had drawing, writing, an interest in movies, his younger brother and sister; hell, he was even on the swim team! But all of that took a backseat to his addiction-- and not just to narcotics. "Tweak" looks at a few of Nic's close relationships-- from his AA sponsor whom he treats as a surrogate father to a woman with whom he had an affair and still carries a torch-- and in each one, Nic attaches himself quickly and spends all of his time with that person. That kind of dependence is an addiction within itself; he feeds off the other person's energy and spirit for the same high he gets from his drugs, and it often blinds him from the person's flaws or problems. He held that woman on such a high pedestal he couldn't even tell she started using again, even though as an addict the signs were all right in front of him (I use the past tense because I hope he has put her and his old life behind him now and for good, but only time will be the real test).

Nic is a beautifully poetic writer, and the honesty with which he opens his life and his soul to strangers in "Tweak" speaks volumes for him as an artist. He doesn't ask for pity or even empathy; he just speaks from the heart. And he may always feel a little lost-- he may always feel a little on the outside of things-- but looking through history, most true artists did. What makes them channel their energy and passion into a form like writing or painting is often the feelings of not fitting in with those around them. Instead of diving down a rabbit hole of despair and trying to make the wrong kinds of people like him (as he has already tried and which were neither particularly successful or healthy), Nic has his stories, and in the end, that's all he needs as salvation.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dueling Divas...

In late 2007 when Rolling Stone and Billboard announced what to expect in the new year music-wise, it appeared that the women would be back on top, with solid projects from a trifecta of one-of-a-kinds: Janet Jackson, Madonna, and Mariah Carey. They would be a tripod of record sales and record "comebacks," if you will, but you know what they say: if you kick out one of the legs of a tripod, the whole thing falls. And after a less than lackluster return from Janet early in the first quarter, the music scene was looking pretty grim for our favorite divas. Mariah Carey's eleventh studio album (if you don't count the compilations-- and if you do, then this is her fifteenth) was set to rival Janet's release but then was pushed back... and then back again. For films that is often the kiss of death-- something for which Madonna most certainly must have been hoping would prove true for music, as well. Rumors have always circled the two in Page Six that they are "dueling divas," even going so far one time as to chuck ice chips at each other from across a room (allegedly), and she has her twelfth studio (twenty-third overall) project due out just two weeks after MC. So with Janet barely hitting the charts, and Whitney still too much of a stone mess for a comeback (even though one has been rumored), it looked like April, and 2008 in general, was going to be all about these two artists-- one known for her voice, one known for her performances, but both known for their headlines-- and it didn't look good.

Then two days ago Leona Lewis finally hit the United States with her debut album Spirit like a harsh wind blowing west from the UK, upsetting the Ms' plans. Already having received critical and popular success overseas after being deemed "the next Mariah Carey" by Simon Cowell, Lewis had a lot to live up to here, where her single "Bleeding Love" had been playing for weeks without much mention of her other material. The full album was only available to pre-order through iTunes about two weeks before the release date, and very few publications had write ups on it. Perhaps that was because the mp3s all had been available through file sharing software for months, after being ripped from the original UK album, or perhaps that was because the American press underestimated a newbie who would be followed by two proven heavyweights.

Lewis' first album is not perfect by any means: there are some songs that feel like the arrangement doesn't match the lyrical tone, and in this fast-paced world, it suffers from a wider variety of ballads than it does more hip-hop inspired, up-tempo tracks. Spirit is a throwback to the old-school style of Carey's debut album in that way (right down to the copycat cover and inevitable tear-jerking gospel choir-backed track "Footprints in the Sand"), and she even has moments where her voice mimics that of diva-in-training Christina Aguilera, but Lewis is at her best when she tries to break away from the comparisons and just sings from her heart. "Bleeding Love" is a strong first single, but the end bars sound a little too perfect in pitch and tone, yet lacking the emotion that needs to be present in such big notes. Her rendition of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" is haunting in its tone, though, and proves that "Bleeding Love" was clearly just the producers' influence to further draw the Carey comparison. Lewis is best when she's flirty and fun, like on "The Best You Never Had," as well as serious and raw, like on "Yesterday," which would be my pick for a second single if she's going to follow the trend of releasing a ballad second.

Carey's first single off E=MC2 (dropping April 15) was "Touch My Body," a fun, sexy, bangin' track perfect for bumping out the speakers in your car or the club. It doesn't take itself too seriously, which appears to be the theme of the whole album in general. While she has her trademark ballads and inspirational songs to showcase her incomparable vocals (one of which is her second single "Bye Bye"), she fills the list with spicy flavor and even a dash of comedy, too (who didn't smile at "I will hunt you down" or the Jamaican accent she adopted for "Cruise Control"?). Carey might want to think about naming her next album "Evolution" because that is truly what her last two have been: she has traveled a long, rocky road to get to where she is today, and those experiences are mirrored in her music. Almost at age forty, Carey seems to have finally come into her own.

Unfortunately Carey's full album (minus the bonus tracks on the imports) was leaked two weeks before its commercial release, but Madonna's camp seems to be doing a much better job to keep Hard Candy wrapped in its cellophane until April 29. "4 Minutes," produced by Timbaland and featuring Justin Timberlake, was released as the first single and set a flurry of discussion on the internet as to the new style she has adopted this time. After western get-up, faux British accents, henna, Kabbalah, neon, and throw-back disco, it's hard to know just what to expect from the Queen of Reinvention, but Madonna would be remiss not to continue to follow Timbaland's lead, as has been proven to be increasingly lucrative and reaches a wider audience than her usual groupies. After all, she has always followed a fad (and you know what they say about those: “once they’re gone, they don’t come back”— dr. dre), but the funky, urban, growling beat of Timbaland is clearly around to stay for quite awhile and has already proven quite successful. If for no other reason that to stay in the ring with these two ladies, she needs to hold onto this trend and ride it as far and wide as she can.

Though it doesn't look like Mimi or Madge will be abdicating anytime soon (nor should they!), they may have to move over a bit because Lewis is creeping up fast, carving a well-deserved place for the next generation of powerhouse women in music. Only time will tell if she can take her place as the third leg, so to speak, or if the two current powerhouses will scorn rather than embrace the new girl, but things are definitely, finally looking up.

Monday, April 7, 2008

OMG I Died...

Amy Poehler is frickin' classic!

RIP "Passions" 1999 - 2008...

In late 2007 when NBC announced they were canceling their sophomore soap opera Passions, I was pretty bummed. It was during the height of my unemployment, and I had come accustomed to flipping on Channel 4 and seeing what kind of witchcraft shenanigans Tabitha and Kay and Endora had gotten the town of Harmony into lately. DirecTV picked up the series, but I wasn’t about to switch providers just for one show I caught on occasion. So I said good-bye to my shirtless hunks and flat-ironed waifs and one who fell somewhere in the middle as both… unfortunately now, only a few months later, it has been announced that Passions will end for good this summer just a month after hitting its ninth year anniversary (the last air date, although unconfirmed at press time, appears to be August 11th).

This past weekend NBC held an estate sale on the CBS-Radford lot where Passions was filmed, sticking price tags on everything from armchairs and bedding to wardrobe and dishware. Driving through the lot, I was saddened to see the walls of the set put out to pasture on the curb, awaiting the morning garbage men, but my spirits were somewhat lifted when I saw the long line of people awaiting entrance to the sale. Just like any fan event, they mingled with those around them, talking about their favorite couples and what storylines they’d be sad to see wrapped up prematurely (or not wrapped up at all). Some who came out in the early morning of the weekend were diehard fans and happy to snag any piece of memorabilia they could, but others were experienced prop masters and art department personnel from rival shows and studios, just hoping for good deals on already aged products they could recycle in a future project. It was nice to see that either way, pieces of the show would live on.

There were few, like me, who showed up to the sale looking for specific items. For me, I wanted something small enough to display proudly on my desk at work, but something that I would easily recognize as being from a specific part of the Crane mansion or underworld in Tabitha’s basement. I didn’t want just any old BCBG shirt (which probably wouldn’t fit anyway) or chatchke; I wanted something that would make a statement like the giant lion paw or book of spells (neither thing was found, assumedly because either they were saved for auction or museum display or some luckier fan had snatched them up before I got there). I wanted something with which would clearly be identified as a part of Passions’ history… but when I walked away with my wallet intact, I realized I wasn’t really leaving empty-handed: I still had the memories of the past eight years of the show, but I also had the shared experiences with all of these other fans. And though the prices at the sale were surprisingly decent, that is really what is priceless.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Embracing My Inner Fangirl...

Living in Los Angeles and working in film and television (and having a few friends who are actors), I like to claim I don't get starstruck. "They're just people too," I scoff, never failing to add that I'd "much prefer to work with them anyway because that amount of one-on-one time where you study them honing their craft is so much more meaningful than the five seconds you spend standing next to them, smiling for a picture." And that's all true, but after attending last weekend's Supernatural convention and then spending the subsequent Monday scouring the internet for similar ones-- and for a camera with a minimum 12x optical zoom to take kick-@$$ pictures at similar events-- the lesson I have learned is that I really do love meeting my favorite celebrities in any setting. As much as I may try to deny my inner fangirl, I cannot do so successfully.

There is nothing wrong with fandom, despite some of the early conditioning we might have faced that it was something of which to be ashamed and therefore keep to ourselves. After all, we are an image-conscious society whose media re-enforces (or at least it used to) that Coke-bottle glasses-wearing, inhaler-sniffing, acne-ridden, downright bony boys are the only ones who enjoy sci-fi, and they are not fit as friends. It used to be that years ago those who were diehard into works of fantastical fiction, like comic books, sci-fi films, or even video games, had to hide their collections in their basements or face mockery at school or work. And isn't that why so they identified with so many masked superheroes in the first place? Because they, too, had to hide their real identity when partaking in such "work?"

Regardless, those days are no more. People are suddenly realizing that fandom is a good thing: getting excited about something and having a passion for something is a positive (though not necessarily lucrative) activity. "Geek" is a label that has been "taken back" and is now worn proudly. "Dungeons & Dragons," "World of Warcraft" and other RPGs-- the very games that the stereotypical "guys who couldn't talk to girls" played-- are now responsible for bringing guys and girls together. Even Comic Con has become mainstream, and major movie studios and networks unveil new projects there every year to a subculture that they know can make or break the popularity (and ultimately the box office) of their project. With the exponential growth of digital technology and the internet over the past few years, fans have become celebrated, not scorned, for their involvement in their favorite programs. It's much easier for fans to find each other now; no longer are the days of buying a ticket to a convention half-way across the country and hoping you'll bump into some like-minded folks there. Now fans attend those conventions already knowing the others in the community and chatting with them on fan sites or forums. And while message boards and fan fiction still run rampant, they are now considered somewhat old-school in the way of showing one's devotion, as more and more from the YouTube generation create mash-up videos, re-cutting scenes, dubbing dialogue and/or music, and adding in their own visual effects. Fandom allows many a chance to explore artistic outlets and then share their creations with a global niche community; talents are discovered; passions beyond the show are found; and careers can be made. And that is lucrative.

A friend of mine who was a screenwriting major in college admitted to me once that she only started writing scripts because she would watch Days of our Lives and think "I can come up with better stuff than that!" She began drafting fan fiction in the early days of AOL, and it got a pretty good response, which prompted her to continue and even branch out into creating her own characters and plot ideas. Her love of writing grew from there. Similarly, I first learned proper script formatting by purchasing an autographed copy of a Days of our Lives script off eBay and creating tabs in Microsoft Word. I then churned out half a dozen feature length scripts while still in high school (only two have survived since then, though).

Now, granted, I was attending last weekend's festivities first and foremost as a member of the press (or so I told myself to keep the giggles down when slipping my arm around Jensen!), but as I stood asking fan after fan how they first got started watching the show and what kept them coming back week after week, I couldn't help but nod along as they gave their answers. In my head I was screaming: "Me, too!" and I just wanted to get into a debate with them about specific details in episodes they singled out, like what they thought the bad thing Dean did in his past was that caused his eyes to bleed in the "Bloody Mary" episode (any theories? leave them in the comments!). I was overwhelmed by a sense of belonging I don't feel too often (none of my friends share enough of a devout interest in the things I do to warrant them paying to attend such an event with me). Every single person I encountered welcomed me with a smile on her face and a happy attitude; they were there to make friends with other fans, and it's comforting to think that I can go back to such a convention in a few months or even a year-- alone-- and find plenty of people with whom to spend the day discussing our favorite episodes and subplots.

Thinking back, this is not a phenomenon unique to the fan culture of Supernatural. I first experienced it years ago when attending Days of our Lives fan club weekends, and I still keep in touch with a handful of people I met at such events. More recently when waiting to meet Mariah Carey at a signing in Glendale, it was easy to fill the two hours with conversation with those around me in line: we already had one very important thing in common, and just this weekend standing online to enter the Passions estate sale I chatted with both fans who had watched from day one and those who were just there to snag some cool stuff at lower prices.

So perhaps it is time for me to embrace the culture even a little bit further; perhaps I need to log into those fan sites and forums and officially join my rightful place in the community: "Hello, fans, here I am!" Because the next time I go-- and there most certainly will be a next time-- even if I am doing a piece, I want to feel free to unleash my inner fangirl and fully "geek out"-- quite possibly including some high-pitched cheering and all. ;D

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Salute to "Supernatural"... Fans, That Is...

A cool, gray weekend in March was warmed by the smiles of hundreds of adoring female fans (oh, okay, and the few token husbands or sons that were dragged along) at the LAX Marriott for the 2008 Creation Entertainment "Salute to Supernatural." While the festivities kicked off on Friday night with pre-registration, special vendors' sales, and a concert by fan favorite Jason Manns, things really didn't get rolling until Saturday afternoon when creator Eric Kripke took the stage to answer some questions that both the strike and the general suspenseful nature of the show previously left hanging. The most prominent things on everyone's mind seemed to be the concept of a "Body Swap" episode, in which Dean and Sam experience their own Freaky Friday moment as well as the return of the show on Thursday (The CW will air a three reruns to get the audience back into the flow of the show until the first post-strike episode is ready to air on April 24). "Body Swap" wasn't confirmed by Kripke, but it wasn't entirely shot down, either, and the fan who seeded his mind with it might want to register the spec so she can collect residuals when it undoubtedly turns up in a season or two, as it proved to be a very popular topic all weekend.

The number of attendees seemed to grow exponentially come Sunday morning-- the day the Winchester boys were scheduled to meet and greet the fans who had come from all walks of life-- and they turned up from all parts of the world to support the stars of their favorite show. Literally. Some drove down from Northern California; a few flew in from Chicago or Texas or Florida; and a couple more traveled from Australia or Israel, all to get their first taste at convention fandom. As one fan pointedly shrugged: "If you have the opportunity to do meet and take a picture with someone you like, why not do it? You may never get that chance again." For a lot of these fans, though, the opportunity presents itself time and time again with a handful of conventions just like this popping up across the country as the cult-like following of similar sci-fi/fantasy programming becomes a bit more mainstream.

First up on Sunday was a breakfast and silent auction to which only Gold Members were privy. Tickets for the convention were sold singlely, by event, or in tiers, but no one seemed to feel like they were missing out: everyone who wanted a Gold ticket seemed to get one, as Creation Entertainment was extremely accommodating to the high demand. Photo ops came next, followed by a Q&A (during which Jensen and Jared indulged the cheering crowd in their impersonations of each other), and then autograph sessions. Around mid-afternoon composer Steve Carlson and recurring guest star Sandra McCoy popped in for Q&As and autograph sessions of their own. What was most fascinating about the event, though, was that the face time with the stars was so minimal-- literally seconds while the professional photographer snapped the photo-- but the time spent on the lines seemed to be just as valuable. Fans mingled, laughed, and made new friends quickly, exchanging email addresses and myspace page IDs to share photos and videos later.

While the majority of the fans loved the show and storylines first (but couldn't help but notice the leads are hot, so that definitely makes tuning in week after week even more enjoyable), a handful admitted they have only seen a few episodes so far. Mary only got into the show the weekend of the convention, in fact, when her friend Tracy flew in from Houston to crash at her house while attending the events. Tracy had Mary's whole family, including her eleven year-old daughter, who subsequently developed a crush on Jared, watching the Season 1 DVDs in preparation, which prompted Mary to buy a last minute ticket and photo op. And that was not unique to those friends: fan after fan interviewed mentioned they started watching the show because of word of mouth, something which seems to be backed up by the show's growing ratings as more and more people make Supernatural appointment television.

And getting the word out has always been the primary goal of Team Winchester, an online community that provides custom, public domain virtual banners, avatars, and other images for fans to embed on their respective websites. With the infamous tag of "Tell your friends to tell their friends," the new management behind Team Winchester was represented at the convention, and all three were eager to meet the fans with whom they had been talking on message boards and forums for months. Explained Danie: "These are wonderful people who are a tight-knit, vocal, but classy group." While some expect the fanbase to be made up of primarily teenage fan girls, that proved not to be the majority, as while the banquet rooms were full of claps, cheers, and whooping, high-pitched squealing and fainting was left for Gossip Girl (also The CW) events. Danie also expressed interest in tying in some charity work with organizations like Kids Need To Read or Linda Blair's WorldHeart Foundation. It's easy to get these fans moving in the name of their favorite show-- after all, during the WGA strike when The CW wasn't showing Supernatural reruns, many fans signed online petitions in support of getting their boys back on the air, as well as sending letters with packets of salt to the network heads. There is no doubt that kind of action will translate to a good cause.

After all, a handful of fans have been following Jensen since his daytime days, and almost everyone first watched Jared on Gilmore Girls. Though these guys have certainly been around for a while, though, the response Supernatural has garnered them appears to have solidified that series as their big break. These fans are hooked, and they are hooked for life! The consensus this weekend was that there was virtually nothing these guys could do next to which these fans wouldn't follow them-- whether that is a charity function or another genre of film (Jared expressed interest in a western, and it was hard to tell if he was kidding, but he didn't seem to realize he is already in this millenium's perfect buddy piece). "The show is much more intelligent than just guys chasing monsters," Samantha explained. "The show is scary and suspenseful, but the relationship between the brothers is what keeps us coming back."

As the events came to a close, one mother-daughter duo proudly showed off their joint photo with Jensen and Jared and talked about that one day a week that has become "Panda Padalecki Thursdays." They pick up their favorite fast food (Panda Express) for dinner and then sit down to watch their favorite show together as a family. And as Corey (the mother) pointed out: "At an age when your sixteen year old doesn't really want to hang out with you, this is a nice thing we can do together."
Jensen, Jared, and Supernatural, bringing people together since 2005.