The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
I don’t know if The Kinks ever lip-synced a performance of their song Predictable, but it would have been appropriate considering the reaction any time a high-profile, big-arena performance is done with pre-recorded help.
The latest brouhaha comes following Beyoncé’s rendition of the Star-spangled Banner at Monday’s inauguration of President Barack Obama. The reaction in my house was pretty much the same as everywhere else: Wow! Nailed it! Right up there with Whitney Houston at the Super Bowl! Of course, we know the lifespan of unmitigated praise in 21st-century culture is about a day.
The backlash, it seems, started in earnest about 24 hours after Beyoncé’s final notes faded across the Washington Mall.
The former Destiny’s Child member recorded the performance Sunday night and possibly lip-synced to the track Monday afternoon. (As I get ready to hit “publish” on this post, the story is in flux.)
The news was touted with headlines like E! Online’s “Inauguration Shocker!” Even NPR was covering this in its top-of-the-hour newscasts Tuesday afternoon.
OK. If you have followed this sort of thing for any length of time, you should not be shocked — you do follow these things, don’t you, E!? Big-arena performances like Super Bowls and inaugurations are usually pre-recorded, sometimes with the full intent of performing to the track, sometimes as a backup. These are very high-stakes, high-profile, unpredictable venues, and people are wary of risking a big embarrassment if something goes wrong artistically or technically.
According to available reports, it appears that this was a backup that someone might have decided to go with at the final second. Who knows why? Maybe Beyoncé or someone directing the production listened to James Taylor and Kelly Clarkson struggle with a few bum notes in the massive, open, chilly venue and decided not to risk the finale. Maybe after sitting quiet in the open air for more than an hour, Beyoncé decided she wouldn’t be able to give 100 percent without a warmup. Reports say she never rehearsed with the Marine Band, which appeared to play with her Monday, although she did record her track to the band’s recorded performance.
(Her dramatic removal of her inner-ear monitor does make me wonder whether this was a live performance, because artists usually do that when what they’re getting in the monitor is detracting from their performance.)
If she did lip-sync, forgive me if I don’t get too worked up about this and declare it further evidence of the decay of our culture.
There are times when I will be less forgiving of Memorex performances. Ashlee Simpson’s infamous Saturday Night Live non-performance was ridiculous. If you bill yourself as a live performer, you should be able to go into a venue like SNL’s Studio 8H and sing live — even though artists as big as Paul McCartney and Kanye West have struggled on that stage.
Then there have been moments when artists maybe discovered that a track might have been a good idea. Lexington’s own Laura Bell Bundy found herself out of breath during an aerobic, live performance of her single Giddy On Up during the 2010 Academy of Country Music Awards.
Ideally, every performance we see would be live, because it is certainly most satisfying to watch someone excel while hanging it all out there when everything is on the line. Maybe that’s what Beyoncé will do Feb. 3 as the halftime act for the Super Bowl, along with a reunion of Destiny’s Child.
Live would have been ideal and a bit more impressive, but that still was Beyoncé’s performance Monday. It was not as if someone else recorded the song and she just went out there and looked good mouthing it. This was not Milli Vanilli. And it was a tasteful, beautiful rendition of our national anthem, with just enough ornamentation to make it distinctly hers, not one of those travesties we so often see from pop stars.
So if she lip-ynced, so what?
Political junkies like me have seen two broad narratives about what will happen in tomorrow’s presidential election between Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
The most popular call is that this is a dead heat, a toss-up, and we might not know the winner until Wednesday or even later if ballots in Ohio, Florida or some other electoral disaster state to be named about 10 o’clock Tuesday night come into question.
Then there are the statisticians who don’t see things being quite so tight. Chief among them is Nate Silver, creator of the Five Thirty Eight blog, now part of the New York Times, who called all but one state correctly in 2008 and all of the Senate races that year. He didn’t do quite as well in 2010, correctly calling 34 of 37 U.S. Senate races. This year, Silver has never had President Obama behind and currently (9 a.m. Nov. 5) gives him an 86.3 percent chance of winning and projects he’ll get 307.2 electoral votes, more than the 270 needed to win the election, and 50.6 percent of the popular vote. Silver has become a controversial figure in the political media world, in a large way by frequently debunking some of the popular narratives about the election. Just this morning, he has a post disputing the idea that Hurricane Sandy stopped Romney’s momentum after the first debate, Oct. 3, in Denver.
A third theory being posited this morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe is that there is this groundswell of enthusiasm for Romney that will rise up and flip a number of states, including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, that seem to be in Obama’s column. Even partisans including show host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican U.S. representative from Florida, say there is nothing really to back that up, and others point out that a lot of losing candidates have had throngs of enthusiastic supporters show up to their rallies in the days before the election. They include U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) who lost a narrow election to incumbent George W. Bush in 2004, an election that this year’s contest is being heavily compared to.
Certainly the first and last scenarios are most useful for hyping interest in the election and keeping people from watching Full House or Real Housewives reruns Tuesday night instead of election coverage. Journalists are often accused of harboring political biases, but what they tend to root for is the best story. A close election is inherently more interesting than a blowout.
One thing we can be sure of is that by tomorrow, it will all be over but the counting, and the analysis, and the second-guessing. What will be interesting is the final analysis: Will it be an election we should have seen coming, or the kind of surprise that can make and break media careers?
My Christmas-New Year’s vacation was bookended somewhat by TV critic David Bianculli‘s conversation with Terry Gross on Fresh Air about the best television of 2010.
This primarily occurred because I caught the original airing on Dec. 22 and then it was rerun on Fresh Air Weekend Jan. 1. But both times I heard it, he said a couple things that really struck chords with me, despite the fact he failed to mention FX’s terrific Kentucky-based show, Justified.
The first was about Jon Stewart, whose The Daily Show was on Bianculli’s 10-best list. He talked about, “how valuable his show is and how entertaining it is,” which brought Gross to an ongoing debate about Stewart: is he practicing journalism on the show, or can he claim to just be a comedian. Bianculli said:
” … he is a journalist, by my definition, and asking questions and preparing for interviews and structuring interviews and conducting them not only as a journalist should, but as few journalists on television do. So I don’t give him a free pass by saying he’s a comic. He’s too good for that.”
Few “journalistic” shows on broadcast or cable are as funny as The Daily Show. But while Stewart’s job title is comedian, Bianculli is absolutely right. Over time, he has refined his skills as an interviewer specifically and a commentator in general. As an interviewer, he demonstrates a knowledge and curiosity you usually only see in long-form interviewers like Gross and Charlie Rose spiked with an impoliteness that allows him to to ask pointed questions many other interviewers either shy away from or broach from such a hyper-partisan perspective they are hard to take seriously. It helps that a lot of the show’s humor is centered on exploiting BS politicians and others often spew, so he has no trouble sniffing it out when someone says it to his face, whether it’s CNBC host Jim Cramer or President Barack Obama.
Apr14Filed under: Country music, Laura Bell Bundy, Music, Theater; Tagged as: Academy of Country Music Awards, Achin' and Shakin', April Mullins, Barack Obama, CMT, Dean Alexander, Drop on By, Elle Woods, Giddy On Up, Hamburg Pavilion, Laura Bell Bundy, Legally Blonde -- The Musical, Mercury Records Nashville, Ryan Joseph, Sydney Cubit, Walmart
April Mullins was talking fast on her cell phone.
“They’re lined up like Barack Obama is here, or something,” the 29-year-old Lexington resident said to her friend on the other end of the line.
Mullins had just come in to the Walmart at Hamburg Pavilion for a case of Mountain Dew, but stumbled upon Laura Bell Bundy‘s hometown celebration of her major-label country debut. Achin’ and Shakin’, Bundy’s first effort for Mercury Records Nashville, released Tuesday at terrestrial and cyber outlets everywhere. But Lexington was where she came to give an acoustic performance of four songs from the new CD and sign copies for fans.
“We kind of got stuck in electronics,” Bundy said after making her way to the stage in Walmart’s photo department with sidemen Dean Alexander and Ryan Joseph. She told the crowd a little bit about her upcoming performance on the Academy of Country Music Awards Sunday night — she’ll be on the first hour, and it will be a big production number that could involve flying. Then she delivered four tunes, including Giddy on Up and Drop on By, which have been CMT video hits for her.
After the showcase, she signed CDs for fans, who lined up through photo and back-back-back into men’s clothing, waiting for a chance to meet the hometown girl made good.
“She’s my inspiration,” said Sydney Cubit, an 11-year-old SCAPA student who had Bundy sign her guitar. Cubit has also been to some of Bundy’s music and theater workshops and traveled to see Bundy in New York in her Tony Award-nominated performance as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde – The Musical. Sydney’s mother, Allison Cubit said, “We’re big fans.”
It looks like their club is about to get a lot bigger.
Obviously White House party crashers Michaele and Tareq Salahi became the fun little diversionary story over the holiday weekend, albeit one with some serious implications.
In case you were too busy trying to run down $499 flat screens, the skinny is a Washington couple, Michaele and Tareq Salahi, managed to get into Tuesday night’s state dinner for the Prime Minister for India though they were not invited. (A lawyer for the couple claimed late last week they were cleared to attend the event.) They also got their pictures taken with President Barack Obama and Vice-president Joe Biden and have advanced a goal of transcending the Washington social scene to grab 15 minutes, and maybe more, of national fame. We say maybe more because Michaele is angling to be in the cast of Bravo’s latest “Real Housewives” series, “The Real Housewives of Washington D.C.”
Ha, ha. A social-climbing couple crashes the White House party. It sounds like an amusing story until you consider what it says about the security around a President who has received 400 percent more death threats than any other Commander-in-Chief. What if the party crashers had been people with more sinister intentions than being reality TV stars?
Listening to chatter about the incident on “Morning Joe,” two big questions popped into my mind:
~ They weren’t asked for invitations? I have never attended a state dinner at the White House, but I have been to pretty tightly secured events in this job. When I attended such events, I was asked for tickets, invitations or other credentials to prove I was supposed to be there at every check point: to park my car, to enter the building, to enter the event, and any security stop. So, you’re telling me the Secret Service’s security procedures aren’t as tight as performances and soirees that are fairly mundane compared to state dinners?
~ Seriously? Bravo didn’t know? A Bravo camera crew followed Michaele all day as she prepared for the event, and then reportedly peeled off as the couple’s limo approached the White House. The network claims it thought the Salahi’s were invited guests. But if that were the case, are we supposed to believe Bravo never made an attempt to get a camera crew into the dinner? “Real Housewives” is not journalism, of course. But they are telling a story. If I were covering the story of the Salahi’s, I would have attempted to gain access to the event through the White House press office, at which point I presumably would have been told they were not on the guest list. Though “Real Housewives” probably would have been turned down by the White House, as they should be, it’s hard to believe they didn’t at least inquire about getting a camera crew in there to film them hobnobbing with the President.
There is another question now for Bravo: Obviously having the White House party crashers on “Real Housewives” will raise interest in the show. But should the Salahi’s stunt be rewarded with a spot on the show — we ask this knowing what usually wins in the tug of war between morality and ratings.
We’ll probably find out more about the Salahi’s and this incident, and get answers to some of these nagging questions, as we put the holiday week behind us and everyone gets back to work.
UPDATE: NPR news reports a representative of the White House Social Secretary’s Office will be at the door with a list of invited guests for all future events. If you’re not on the list, you don’t get in. Shocking that this wasn’t already being done.
Yet another evening of kvetching about the health care debate was winding to a close Tuesday night on The Rachel Maddow Show when guest Bill Maher made a great point about President Barack Obama’s inability to get his message across.
“Where are all Obama’s people to help him with this, by the way?” Maher asked. “You know, I mean, he is Michael Jordan on a very, very, very bad team. Where are all the people who were so enthused during the campaign? You know, that was the fun part, the election.
“Now comes the hard part. You know, where’s Oprah? Where are all of the people who were out there on the campaign trail? We need them now. This is the actual hard work of government.”
It’s a valid point.
Could it be the Obama administration just hasn’t stayed in touch?
Remember the summer of 2008? That was the campaign summer, when candidate Obama was the king of all media, particularly new media.
One of his flashiest tricks, though, fizzled: the attempt to alert supporters and anyone else who was interested of his choice for running mate via text message, before traditional media broke the news.
It was surprising to get word through — egads! — this newspaper in my driveway. The traditional media broke the story right before it was time to put the papers to bed and about three hours before the text announcing the choice of Joe Biden.
But it soon became clear what that ploy was all about: mobilizing supporters.
The Obama campaign had succeeded in getting scores of text and e-mail addresses, and they were going to use them.
During the Democratic National Convention, there were messages to make sure to tune in for speeches by Obama’s wife Michelle; Biden; and the man himself speaking in a football stadium. As the campaign went into the fall, there were more text and e-mail appeals to watch, to campaign and, of course, for money. In the final weeks, there were even geographically targeted appeals to get to our neighboring swing states, Indiana and Ohio, to help on the ground.
If you had signed up, whenever your text chime went off, you almost expected it to be the Obama campaign, and it was a safe bet there was something in the in-box, too.
When the campaign was over and Obama won, we were told that the e-mail and text addresses would be kept to help relay information and mobilize people to help support the administration’s initiatives.
But Barack and Joe don’t seem to write anymore.
The campaign that was built on a mastery of new media has taken a traditional approach to getting the message out.
I’m going to take a quick lunch break here to join my fellow entertainment scribes out on a limb and make an American Idol prediction. It is a bit of a limb, because apparently this race is just too close to call. The website Dial Idol even says that, saying only 1.1 percent separates Kris Allen from Adam Lambert in their survey of busy signals for both contestants — a first in the site’s history.
And these are two very different cats, Lambert the flashy SoCal guy with a voice made for Broadway or glam rock and laid-back Midwesterner Kris.
One thing I hate seeing is this being boiled down to a Red State-Blue State thing, the presumption being the more conservative “red staters” will like humble Christian Kris and “blue staters” will like flamboyant Adam. It’s superficial and not fair to either contestant or Americans in general. Need we remind you of Barack Obama’s 2004 Democratic Convention speech. The Red State-Blue State thing is getting old, and it’s a lazy way to think.
Anyway, a matter of musical taste does drive my prediction: Kris Allen will win.
I pick him subscribing to the logic that Danny Gokey voters will naturally gravitate toward Kris. Yes, Gokey was a bit more of a vocal acrobat in an Adam tradition. But his overall vibe tracked much closer to Allen.
And Allen has been building momentum while Lambert has had a fan base for a while. Allen just feels like something of a Mine That Bird of American Idol, coming from the outside to overtake the front-runner at the end. Using that anology, will this be a Kentucky Derby or a Preakness for Allen? Remember, my limb is in the Bluegrass State.
I’d like to see Lambert win, as I have said before. He’s an amazing artist both as a stage presence and a creative force. And in the current pop landscape, Lambert is a true individual. Allen’s growth and artistry — particularly last week’s re-imagining of Kanye West’s Heartless — have been wonderful to watch. Neither of them would be an embarassing winner, but Lambert’s overall talent is still several shades beyond the rest of this year’s competition.
In the grand scheme of things Allen may be better served with the Idol victory, where Adam may do best if he’s a bit more free to chart his own course. And really, considering the Idol will be stuck with that horrendous No Boundaries song Kara DioGuardi co-wrote, the loser may be the real winner.
- For a second opinion, check Phil Stacey’s blog.
After Barack Obama was elected president, we were treated to plenty of stories about presidential security.
The accounts included that the public couldn’t get within blocks of Obama’s Chicago home, that a date for Barack and Michelle Obama involved several dozen Secret Service agents, and that security measures caused hours of delays at the inauguration.
When I was in Washington for the performances of Our Lincoln, a week after the inauguration, we were advised that if the president had announced in advance that he was coming to the show, the Kennedy Center would have been locked down for three days.
Now, with all that real-world information, we watch 24 and have to suspend disbelief as much as if we were watching a show about space aliens.
Some of the first “wait a minute” moments involved First Dude Henry Taylor (Colm Feore), the husband of the new president on the seventh season of 24, Allison Taylor, played by Cherry Jones. Trying to uncover the truth about his son’s death, he was running around Washington, having meetings in wide-open parks while guarded by a total of one Secret Service agent. That agent turned out to be a rogue operative who tried to kill Taylor as part of a conspiracy.
Throughout these scenes, you had to be thinking, there’s a reason the first family has more than one bodyguard.
It was implausible.
But implausibility reached new heights with last Monday’s two-hour episode. Read the rest of this entry »
Folks with a keen ear toward Washington have probably heard the National Endowment for the Arts and the arts in general mentioned in discussions of the stimulus plan currently being debated by the Senate. The initial bill, passed last week by the House, included a controversial $50 million for the NEA. Opponents of arts funding in the stimulus contend it’s pork barrel spending that could be better used for additional spending on roads and other construction projects, while proponents say arts funding creates jobs, just like other projects.
LexArts President and CEO Jim Clark has weighed in on the issue with an open letter to the Lexington Arts Community on the arts umbrella group’s Facebook page urging people to lobby city, state and national lawmakers to favor arts funding. Clark writes:
“We all must participate in dispelling the idea that the arts are a luxury . . .
“The NEA puts it simply by saying ‘The arts and culture industry is a sector of the economy just like any other with workers who pay taxes, mortgages, rent and contribute in other ways to the economy.’ Many major arts service agencies, including Americans for the Arts (AFTA), the NEA and Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) have stressed the importance of focusing on the passage of the Stimulus package prior to this amendment. It is our responsibility as citizens to inform our representatives in Washington, Frankfort and here in Lexington exactly how important the arts are to the social and economic welfare of our community.”
Clark goes on to detail several arts oriented projects contained in a proposal Mayor Jim Newberry’s office submitted to President Barack Obama’s transition team, including renovations to facilities such as ArtsPlace, the Expolorium and the Kentucky Theatre.
Click “read the rest of this entry,” below, or, if you’re a Facebook member, the link above to read Clark’s note in its entirety.
If President Barack Obama comes to Monday night’s Our Lincoln performance at the Kennedy Center, it would be a dream come true for seemingly everyone involved in the production. It would also be a logistical nightmare for a show that has already had its share of logistical nightmares.
Last week’s ice and snow in Lexington scuttled one rehearsal for the show and made getting others together problematic. And those rehearsals were needed because Our Lincoln has changed significantly from its debut last February, with several new works and performers, including a whole new orchestra with the University of Kentucky Symphony stepping in for the Lexington Philharmonic.
Production director James W. Rodgers finally sees an opportunity for a full run-through rehearsal Monday afternoon at 2 at the Kennedy Center. But if Obama comes, the theater has to be cleared at 4. That could mean the show goes off at 7:30 p.m. with no complete run through, and some participants possibly not even rehearsing before the real thing . . . in front of the President.
If that happens though, Rodgers says the crew will make it work.
“This is a once in a lifetime event,” Rodgers says. “We’ll rise to the occassion.”
One person in this production who does know what it’s like to sing for the President is UK graduate Gregory Turay, a tenor at the Metropolitan Opera and on many other stages around the world. In 2006, he sang in the Kennedy Center Honors, attended by President George W. Bush.
“It’s people you see running our country and, yes, it’s intimidating,” Turay said after rehearsing his piece, a musical setting of The Gettysburg Address with the Lexington Singers and UK Symphony. “You go through the nerves you haven’t had in many, many years, maybe since college or high school. It’s an honor, and it’s exciting.”
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich