Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Another new blog - Star Wars in Limerick

I started another project I've wanted to do for a loooooong time. I'm retelling the entire Star Wars saga in limerick format. I started doing this on a forum a few years ago, and now looking back...those limericks were horrible. So I'm starting from scratch. Follow on http://starwarslimerick.blogspot.com/ if you want to track my progress. 

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Note To Self

The anonymity of being in a bathroom stall goes right out the window the moment you drop your pants and notice (at the same time as the person in the next stall) that your security ID badge which was hanging at your waist is now down around your ankles.

"Ah...good morning Mr. Talbott. I thought I recognized those shoes."

*plop* "...um....good morning?"

At this point, why even bother closing the door?

Friday, 18 March 2011

My new blog...

Check out my new blog...

But continue to check out this blog...we might post again sometime this year. :P

Friday, 11 February 2011

What Makes a Blog Good?

Maybe the key ingredient to a good blog is focus. You have to focus on a subject and cover it again and again from every different angle. That is why this blog sucks. It's all over the place. The last 3 posts on this blog are about completely different topics. The last 3 posts were posted in 3 different years too. That's great for continuity. :P

Monday, 13 December 2010

The Sing Off: Season One

I don’t have cable television at home, so I don’t always catch the latest shows when they come out. So it was a year after the fact that I discovered a “new” program on tv called “The Sing Off”, a contest show featuring a cappella acts from around the country with a judging panel including two people who I find very interesting. I don’t remember exactly where I first heard of the show but I think I was reading something online about Ben Folds, one of my favorite songwriter/performers. He would be one of the celebrity judges. The other person of interest was another one on the judging panel, Shawn Stockman, aka “Slim” of the supergroup Boyz II Men. I’m a fan of Folds. I’m a fan of Boyz II Men. Heck, I’m even a fan of a cappella. Since the show “Persons Unknown” met its untimely demise, there hasn’t been anything on tv, until now, that has captured my attention.

That dry streak is now over, from the opening minutes, an ensemble of all the contestants singing an arrangement of “Under Pressure” by Queen/David Bowie, I knew I was going to like it. Over the next hour and a half I thoroughly enjoyed what I saw...act after act coming up on stage, doing their thing and then waiting to see what the judges had to say about their efforts. After the first round of performances, I already had the top two acts pegged. But more about that next time...

First, let’s talk about the host of the show. To my dismay it was Nick Lachey making the introductions. I had a bad feeling about this. But he ended up surprising me. While I can’t say he was outstanding, I will say that he didn’t suck. He just does his thing, introduces the acts and then goes to the judges. He doesn’t detract from the important parts of the show, in fact sometimes you forget he’s there...which is a good thing, in my opinion. When it came time to eliminate one of the contesting groups, he delivered a suspenseful revealing. I was really expecting to find him as annoying as Ryan Seacrest or Joe Rogan, but he wasn’t. Who knew?

The judging panel was comprised of Ben Folds, Sean Stockman, and Pussycat Dolls frontman..err...woman, Nicole Scherzinger. For the most part, I think the show’s producers picked a pretty good panel:

Ben Folds
As I already stated, Folds is one of my favorite songwriter/performers of all time. While his singing voice is not...good, his musical talent in both performing and writing are off the charts spectacular. His songs, while not typically performed a cappella, have the element of harmonizing and blending which is so important in the context of a cappella. His live performances are emotional and full of heart, with great attention paid to detail and nuance. Add to that his witty sense of humor and you have a perfect panelist for this type of show.

Shawn Stockman
My guilty pleasure has always been Boyz II Men. Some of my most heartfelt “performances” are when “End of the Road” or “On Bended Knee” comes on the radio. While this is usually unwitnessed by human ears, on occasion I have horrified my wife with my efforts as the fifth man in the group. But regardless of my contributions to their music, Boyz II Men is great. Any one person in that group has the talent to take the lead of a song and it sounds beautiful. But when all four (now three) voices blend together, it goes to a whole...’nother...level. Shawn’s experience in arranging and performing with the supergroup of the ‘90s, a lot of which actually was a cappella, makes him a very qualified panelist at the judges’ table.

Nicole Scherzinger
And then there’s Nicole...well, two out of three ain’t bad. Going into the first season, I had my doubts. Her claim to fame is as the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls, a group “created for Hollywood” with a revolving door cast of performers who’s talents mainly consisted of “things other than singing”. The group began as a burleque danse troupe with singing later added as an afterthought. All of that aside, Nicole actually is a talented singer, which is probably why they made her the lead singer, but in my opinion, PCD is basically Nicole with some stage dancers, not really a true vocal group. So I wasn’t really convinced that Nicole has the qualifications necessary to be a judge in a contest where blending voices and singing as a group is so key. But I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

An important skill to have when judging in a talent show is the ability to provide constructive criticism sandwiched in between some encouraging words. Of the three panelists, Ben Folds provides the most thoughtful advice to the contestants. He has the knack for putting an overall positive spin on his comments while at the same time giving a pointer or two that can be helpful to the group. His sense of humor shines in these moments which is good because laughter is just what the doctor ordered when a group has just given their all and is awaiting a verdict in front of a national audience. Ben’s words take the tension out and allows the contestants...and the viewers...to just enjoy the show.

Shawn also puts effort into giving helpful comments. Although I don’t personally always agree with the advice he gives, I can appreciate that he puts thought into it and doesn’t just whitewash the contestants with gushing praise. It’s easy to pour out compliments, people do it all the time even when it isn’t sincere. The thing that take skill is to listen to a performance that was done very well, acknowledge that it was done very well and then still have a point or two that can help the performer improve. All of the contestants on the show are very good, so the judges really have to dig deep sometimes to make a productive critique. Very rarely through the first season of “The Sing Off” does Shawn come up empty when it comes time to help the contestant.

As the season went on, I became more and more frustrated with Nicole’s contribution to the critiquing part of the show. I don’t know if it’s a lack of confidence on her part and not trusting in her own opinion or if she really doesn’t have a clue as to what makes a good performance. I find the latter hard to believe as she is a talented singer and performer, so obviously somewhere inside that silly head lies an opinion or two. However instead of communicating those opinions, she follows the lead of the other two judges. You will hear a lot of “I agree with...” or “I feel the same way as...” or “I was right there with...” True, maybe it is possible that she really does agree with whichever panelist just finished talking, but there are two things about this that I find fishy:

  • Shawn and Ben sometimes have differing opinions. Something that Shawn might touch on is no big deal to Ben. And something that Ben likes, might be a pet peeve for Shawn. But no matter who goes before Nicole...she ALWAYS agrees with them. Case and point, when Voices of Lee performed their rendition of Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror, they sang the lines “If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change” in a soft almost whispery voice, a stark contrast to the original where the lines are almost shouted. Shawn’s opinion was that Michael Jackson did it the one way it should be done, because this was the most important message in the song and it should be shouted! This was one of the only times in the show where I strongly disagreed with Shawn, and judging from the boos from the audience, I don’t think I was the only one. Here was the best chance in the series for Nicole to show that she does in fact have her own opinions. However, just like I knew she would, she backed up Shawn’s opinion to a ‘t’ agreeing 100% with the previous comments. Later, Ben put beautifully into words the opinion I was thinking, "I'm not married to the original." Something I learned from studying Ronald Reagan's speeches, sometimes you can draw people into listening more attentively when you speak softly. I’m getting sidetracked, but the point was that Nicole always agrees.

  • The other thing I find curious about Nicole’s critiquing is noticeable every third performance. Nick Lachey rotates the order that he lets the judges give their comments so that every third time, a panelist will get the first turn to speak. I now have seen the entire first season and came to an astonishing realization. When Nicole has been the first to judge a performance...not one single time has she had any helpful advice for the performers. She has her repetitious one size fits all phrases...”wow, you were doing your thing...”, “I was feeling it and I think everyone felt it...”, “thank you for sharing that with us...” etc. Nice sayings, and I think it’s good to give encouragement to the performers but not one time has she ever led off with “I think you could have done this better if you....(fill in the blank)” The only time she ever tells the contestants how to improve is if Ben or Shawn addresses it first.

  • I know she has talent but either she doesn’t trust her musical instincts or she is too afraid of being brutally honest with the people she is being paid well to critique. Either way, I’m still waiting to hear what Nicole really thinks.

    Now I’ve covered the judges and the announcer, next time I’ll cover the a cappella groups themselves as well as the special performances in the finale, including appearances by Natasha Bedingfield and Smokey Robinson, on stage participation by all three of the judges, and an amazing series highlight...an improv session with Bobby McFerrin!

    Wednesday, 13 May 2009

    Lyric of the day

    Well my Daddy left home when I was three,

    and he did'nt leave much for Ma and me,

    Just this ol' guitar and a empty bottle of booze.

    Johnny Cash - A Boy Named Sue

    Sunday, 16 November 2008

    I'm not a country music guy...

    ...but this song puts a smile on my face.