Saturday, June 30, 2007

Reality TV Convention 2007: Night 1

We rolled into Nashville last night, and for any of you who were driving between Memphis and Nashville, TN, last night, you'll know what I mean when I say that I hope your scuba gear finally dried off. It was raining cats, dogs, and any number of other domesticated animals.

In any case, it was great to finally get into town and hook up with everyone at the convention center. Priscilla and I are having a blast so far. We had dinner last night with quite a group. Tennessee Edwards, who is quite the prolific producer, was at our table. (He produces, among other things, the Ultimate Fighting Championship.) We also ate with The Apprentice's Tana Goertz, Joe Millionaire's Mojo, Marc and Joe who coordinate the convention, two Canadian documentary filmmakers and several other lovely folks. It was a wonderful time and great conversation. Idol's Heather Cox came up and introduced herself to us. She's still as nice as ever. Big Brother 6's Howie Gordon noticed her too, and in his own inimitable style came up and told her what a bangin' bod she has. Howie's never been known for tact, and he had a few beers in him, so his tongue was even looser.

After that, it was on to a private house party in one of the swankier sections of town hosted by the guys and gals at Joker's Updates. By the time we got there, most of the party-goers had already been there for a couple of hours (except for Howie, who had already gotten started on the alcohol at the first site, so it didn't matter) and most of them were already fairly lubricated. Big Brother's Krista Stegall made friends with Priscilla fairly quickly, and she and Rachel Plencner posed for quite a few pictures. Like I said, they were fairly well lubricated, so things got a little interesting, but not terribly out of hand. American Inventor's Mark "the Sackmaster" Martinez introduced himself to us, and he's quite a nice guy. Apparently he's made quite a bit of money from the show.

Also there were Gooner Grosbeck from The Real Gilligan's Island and Jonny Fairplay from Survivor. Jonny was surprisingly sedate, at least as compared to last year, so hopefully he won't have to get thrown out of anything this time around.

It's about an hour till set-up time, so day one of the convention is about to begin. Hopefully I'll be able to tell you more about the events tomorrow, but until then, viva la reality! Pictures to come soon!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Okay, so we know what my Technorati rating is...

...but what would my blog rate if the MPAA were putting a rating on it? Well, I found out.


As it would turn out, I said the word "suck" 3 times. I said "suicide" twice (referring to someone's career suicide and the death of George Reeves.) And I used the word "punch" once (in reference to punching in a pin number.)

So parents, as I move forward into the Reality TV Convention (some of you are also coming, right?) this weekend, please make sure to provide parental guidance as you read my blog.

Convention's this weekend...can't wait to give you all the hot news when I return!

(Disclaimer: The blog rating was provided by some dating site called "Mingle." Musical Ramblings does NOT endorse this site, does not know anything about it, and wouldn't enter any private information if it were you.)

(UPDATE: Within the course of this posting, my blog rating went to a PG-13, only because I repeated all the words it found offensive, and it found the word "hell" which it had apparently missed before.)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Musical Ramblings' Biggest Loser

Alright, guys and girls. It's summer time. It's time to shed those pounds and get in shape. I know there are plenty of you out there who are, shall we say, expanding your horizons via your belt-line, and I know there are a lot of you Ramblers out there who would like to fight the battle of the bulge.

Personally, I'm ready for a change, as I have what doctors call a little bit of a weight problem. So, from here on out, this is the plan:

Five days a week I will do thirty minutes of cardiovascular exercise. That's Monday through Friday. I am taking the weekends off, because I need a reward as well as a relaxation, so my days off from work are also days off from exercise. Meals each day will be limited to a small breakfast, a small lunch, and a satisfying supper.

My wife is joining me in this effort (even though she's much more in shape than I am) so I would like to also get a lot of you guys involved as well. Each week we'll tabulate our progress and share with each other how much we've lost during the week. We can also share diet tips, exercise tips, and (if you wish) photos as we move along.

If you don't wish to post a comment here regarding your participation, you can still email me, let me know you're participating, and let me know your progress.

I'm considering a prize for the biggest loser. Any ideas?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Reality TV Convention 2007: Panel Discussion Schedule

For those of you who have been asking, here is the tentative scheduling of the panel discussions for the Reality TV Convention 2007:

Saturday, June 30
12:00 to 12:45 – Various Shows (TBA)
1:00 to 1:45 – Casting & Production Panel
2:00 to 2:45 – Various Shows (TBA)
3:00 to 3:45 – Ultimate Coyote Ugly Search
4:00 to 4:45 – Big Brother

Sunday, July 1
12:00 to 12:45 – Survivor
1:00 to 1:45 – American Idol
2:00 to 2:45 – The Biggest Loser
3:00 to 3:45 – Various Shows (TBA)

Each of these panel discussions will feature several cast members from each show. To see a list of cast members who will be making appearances, check the convention website. Survivor and American Idol have been scheduled on Sunday to accommodate Rupert Boneham and Jon Peter Lewis.

Also, there's an update to the concert/party with Jokers Updates at the Nashville Palace. Lindsey Cardinale will not be performing that night. Will Makar will take her place. Jewels Hanson and Jennifer Hicks of Nashville Star will also perform.

See you there!

Friday, June 15, 2007

From Kelly To Busted?

I've been following Kelly Clarkson lately with a great deal of interest. I should say from the start that I've been a big fan of Miss C since the first note I heard her belt out on American Idol. So as I watch her latest career moves, I'm watching them with great hope that whatever happens will portend better things to come in her future.

Unfortunately, I'm not feeling so great about it lately.

This all started several weeks ago when "Never Again" debuted on Idol Waves Radio. When I received that single, I was excited to hear the newest thing from Kelly. I enjoyed her first album, even though it had some very clear hits and misses. I thought Breakaway was brilliant. So surely I'd like this new single, right?

Not only did I not particularly like it, I kind of didn't care if I ever heard it again. I'm sure that other die-hard Kelly fans like myself will love it, simply because of who sings it. And there are plenty of Kelly apologists out there who will defend it based on some arbitrary artistic merit. But the fact remains that "Never Again" (or for that matter, the new single "Sober") are both songs that would've never made it onto Thankful or Breakaway. You can argue with me if you want. I'm fully aware that I'll probably get flamed, but please understand, again, I'm a Kelly Clarkson fan too.

I understand Kelly's need to do something different. I really do. Thankful, admittedly, was a mish-mash of way too many different styles and genres, and was a somewhat clumsy effort to put Kelly out there that just happened to have a few hit songs written into it. Breakaway, on the other hand, took hold of one genre--angry chick rock--and ran with it. Each song was scrupulously selected and crafted, and the end result was an album that looks at this point like it just might end up being Kelly's signature work. Still, that album was more Christina Aguilera and Avril Lavigne than it was Kelly. I can sympathize with her for wanting to do her own thing, but the question that will be answered in just a few weeks is this: is Kelly a spectacular singer only, or does she have the chops to go it completely alone?

I will give her credit for this much: the girl has guts. A young upstart with only two successful albums goes up against Clive Davis, a giant in the music world. That's career suicide, in and of itself. I still think the repercussions of that clash are yet to be felt. If Kelly didn't have the juice built up that she does have, she'd have been back to waiting bar in Texas by now. As it stands right now, I wouldn't be surprised if My December flops to see Kelly get dropped. (Naturally, I'm sure another label would be willing to sign her.) Then comes the firing of her manager. That's not an uncommon event in the entertainment world, but I worry that bucking for independence to this extent might be a little premature in Kelly's career. There's a certain sort of attitude and behavior in this industry that will make people unwilling to work with you, and when those doors shut, they rarely ever open again. Kelly said: "There's always this battle, and it's not a bad battle to have. I mean, you obviously don't want `yes' people around you. And, obviously, (Davis) and others at the label have been in the business far longer than I have. So you obviously take their opinions in. In the end, though, I always go with my gut. My gut has obviously done pretty well for me thus far, so I don't see why I shouldn't keep listening to it."

On a side note, I don't think I've ever seen the word "obviously" used that many times in one breath.

And then there's Kelly's protestations about how people don't want women to write songs. This is the one I have to take the most umbrage with. Let's take a look at Kelly's first two albums: On Thankful, 9 of the 12 tracks have women with at least partial songwriting credits. Among these is Diane Warren, and I challenge anyone to name a more respected and prolific songwriter than Diane. On Breakaway, 11 of the 12 songs feature female songwriters. Most tracks feature songwriting credits for Kelly herself. Have women faced an uphill climb in the music industry? Sure. But if Clive had a problem with female songwriters, would Hillary Lindsey be taking home a Grammy for Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel?" Would Nigel and 19E have had a problem with Cathy Dennis writing the Idol theme? Avril Lavigne seems to have little problem being able to write a lot of her own stuff. Likewise, Sarah McLachlan has managed to remain successful. I could sit here all day and name successful female songwriters and artists. Here's the hard truth: after listening to "Never Again" and "Sober," they're just... not that good. It's not that Kelly can't write; "Behind These Hazel Eyes" and "Because of You" were both great songs. These new songs are just...not.

And then comes the news that the concert tour for this summer has been cancelled. Poor ticket sales have been cited as the cause. For a multiplatinum-selling artist, that means something is seriously wrong. A downgrade to smaller venues isn't a good sign. Even worse is the explanation that Kelly's team has put on her website: "I can't tell you how much I've been looking forward to getting out there to perform for y'all. In the craziness of the music business, performing is what I look forward to doing the most, so it really is disappointing for me to have to tell you that I won't be coming out to tour this summer. The fact is that touring is just too much too soon." I realize that Kelly probably didn't write this, or if she did, that it was probably picked over by management, but it's really close to a bald-faced lie to her fans. The insinuation is that Kelly was over-burdened, and that a tour would be just too much to handle. Why the need to come up with a patently false excuse when it's been widely reported that it had to be canceled because people weren't buying tickets? And just how often do you see a major recording artist release an album that isn't supported by a summer tour? Instead of lying to her fans (or if not lying, then at least conspicuously omitting facts) why shouldn't she just come out and say, "look, ticket sales are down." She could use the opportunity to rally up the true believers and get the hardcore Kelly fans to their local Ticketmaster. I mean, let's face it, even the big Kelly Clarkson fans aren't buying tickets. And given the combination of the new lackluster singles and one cancelled tour, I'm not sure they'll have enough faith to buy next time.

The collapse of Kelly's summer tour also means bad news for sales of My December. Without a tour to promote it, a sizable chunk of sales of the CD aren't going to be made, to say nothing of Kelly merchandising. Instead, she is going to have to rely solely on TV appearances, radio airplay, and online marketing campaigns. TV appearances shouldn't be hard to come by, and online marketing is always there to be had, but after sampling a lot of the songs from this album, radio airplay may be a bit of a problem. Already on Idol Waves Radio, where many of the listeners are rabid Kelly fans, ratings for "Never Again" have begun to drop, mere weeks after its introduction to the playlist. How much better can we expect it to fare on terrestrial radio?

Again, I'm a huge fan of Kelly, and it pains me to see these sorts of things happening to her career. The pattern of pop stars is usually three albums and then you stop seeing albums coming out. (Debbie Gibson, Tiffany, Britney Spears, and on and on.) I really don't want to see that happening to Kelly. Here's hoping that she grows from this.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

All Told, I'd Rather Be in Beirut (or "Why I Hate Wal-Mart")

Tonight was actually a good night: a very restful, enjoyable night at home with the wife, free from any encumbrance or responsibility. It was actually...relaxing.


The horror set in. We were out of bread, milk, and eggs. The lifeblood of the American home was running thin in our humble domicile. How could we survive without these three integral elements that I never had on hand while I was a bachelor anyway? Suddenly the ease of relaxation was peeled away quickly and rudely, as though someone had doused us with buckets of icy water in February. You see, since we had relaxed most of the evening, we were forced to...

I can barely say it...

...GO TO WAL-MART! Oh the horror! Oh the humanity! Oh the vast herds of rednecks roaming the isles looking for generic anti-fungal creme!

I hate Wal-Mart on so many different levels. It doesn't really have anything to do with political reasons or anything of the sort. I'm not that high-minded. I realize that they pay their employees poorly, provide little to no benefits, hire illegal immigrants, put every mom and pop store they touch out of business, and basically are complete reprobates and probably Republicans. That's not really what bothers me. I've listed what DOES below. Rant ON.

(1.) I CAN'T FIND SQUAT. Once upon a time, when the Earth was still flat and people went on vacations and left their doors unlocked, Wal-Mart was laid out in a floor plan known as "The Places Where Things Are Supposed To Be." I could go into Wal-Mart during these happy carefree times on any given day at any given time and make a beeline directly to the product that I desired to procure. Entire shopping time: 10 minutes. These were the glory days. However, in the infinite wisdom of the heirs of Walton, every Wal-Mart in my somewhat fair city of Memphis has been completely re-modeled and each department has been moved to an entirely different part of the store. I don't think there's a definite pattern to where the merchandise was moved; the only rule appears to be that it must not be anywhere near the general vicinity of where it was previously. I couldn't swear to it, but I'm pretty sure some of the aisles are actually either outside or in other stores now. Some have just vanished from the face of the Earth altogether. Now it takes me an hour to find everything that I need to get.

(2.) THE LOW PRICE THING IS OVER. Wal-Mart hasn't been the cheapest stuff on the market for a while now. I remember when I was a wee lad, back in the days when gas was cheap because we were propelling our cars with our feet, way back before Al Gore invented the internet, when Wal-Mart was just starting to make it nationwide. Prices in Wal-Mart were significantly cheaper than they were in other locations. Nowadays, I can get the same price in Target, Best Buy, or any comparable merchant. I can actually order online for cheaper. (Also, the product gets to me in the mail in less time than it takes me to wait through a Wal-Mart checkout line.)

(3.) THE ANTI-THEFT SCANNERS AT THE DOORS SUCK PEOPLE'S BRAINS OUT AS THEY COME IN. Never in your life will you come across a more mindless, herd-like group of people than when you're in the magic land of Wally World. I am constantly amazed by the group of people who will walk directly down the middle of the aisle at approximately .00001 miles per hour while staring blankly at products on the shelves, as though it were the first time they were seeing a box of file folders or picture frames. It would not surprise me if they began to emit rivulets of drool and say words like "oooh, shiny!" And it never fails that I will end up standing motionless, waiting increasingly less patiently to get by, while someone stops mid-aisle with their cart parked diagonally across the aisle, so as to allow no traffic to proceed either way, while either rifling through a purse, checking a list, or just simply ceasing to have any thought processes or kinetic motion altogether. And since this is the South, and Wal-Mart is a social mecca for rednecks, it's not uncommon for two long-time friends (likely next-door neighbors, cousins, or both) to park their buggies side-by-side in a major traffic aisle and carry on conversations as though they only got to see each other on Christmas, when in fact they both pretty much left the same yard at the same time to go to Wal-Mart. These are the same people who usually have kids who are being baby-sat by the Toy Department. Speaking of...

(4.) PARENTS, BEAT YOUR KIDS, PLEASE. Oh, there's nothing like being in the store with YOU, when you bring your SCREAMING BRAT KIDS to the Wal-Mart with you. I tell you, it makes my day a whole lot better to be in the same aisle with you when your kid is pitching a fit because he/she wants something. I'm really looking at you and admiring your parenting skills when you ineffectually threaten a child who knows you're not serious, because even though you're a wretched parent, hey, at least you looked tough in front of me! Yes ma'am! Or even better, when you totally ignore the child and nervously smile at those around you while secretly wishing, as are we all, that the earth might open up and swallow your child. But seriously, parents, if you let your kid pitch a righteous fit in the middle of Wal-Mart, you should really do yourself a favor and leave the kid out in the parking lot so that he can be kidnapped and raised by someone more fit as a parent than you, such as Genghis Khan.

(4-A.) COROLLARY: DO THE BEATING BEFORE OR AFTER. Never while you're actually inside the Wal-Mart. Otherwise, see above. And yes, the parking lot wouldn't be any more appropriate, but it's better than the cereal aisle.


(6.) HEY, HOW ABOUT LET'S LEAVE ALL THE PALLETS OF UNPACKED BOXES RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE MERCHANDISE PEOPLE WANT TO BUY! Also, why don't you guys make sure that you can't get from one side of the store to the other by blocking off every aisle but the main ones. Oh, and hey, would it be too much to ask if you wouldn't mind dragging the pallet jacks down the aisles at light speed in such a way that I can't walk past without danger of losing life and limb? That's all part of what I like to call the "Adventure of Wal-Mart," which leads up to thrills and chills in what I like to call a "personal injury lawsuit."

(7.) WAL-MART WORKERS ARE PAID NEITHER TO SMILE NOR KNOW ANYTHING RELEVANT TO THE STORE. The last time I asked a worker in the electronics department where a new CD was, I got a look that was as blank as a Bible Knowledge Quiz given to Paris Hilton. Eventually after approaching several different associates and exchanging various passive aggressive conversations, one went to the back where the box was sitting, release date be hanged. And, of course, when I finally convinced them that I had more shopping to do and didn't wish to pay for it back in electronics, which apparently may only be authorized by a ruling from Congress, I found the same demeanor up at the front cash register. The cashier regarded me with a look that I usually reserve for a person who has just said that they thought Hitler was a pretty reasonable guy. She grunted something that could've either been "hi, how are you" or "I wish you'd suck eggs and die." The little pin pad screen asked me if my cashier had been friendly today, and I think I heard it snickering a little bit under the weight of its own obvious sarcasm. After the transaction was done, and the cashier had sufficiently discarded my item into the bag with enough force to cause the case to break, she ripped it from the carousel and handed it to me as though she were handing me a dirty diaper, looking off into some direction that was opposite to where I was standing, and saying nothing. I'm almost sure that she had to go shower to rid herself of the odiousness of having to actually wait on me.

(8.) SELF CHECK-OUT MY ROSY RED FANNY. Invariably, the self-checkout monstrosity will no longer allow me to scan and start flashing its light plaintively, demanding that an actual Wal-Mart cashier come over and service it, rather than a scrub like myself. Of course, these cashiers are never around. They are invariably sitting in lawn and garden sipping lemonade or on a sailboat in the Bahamas or at some distance which allows them neither to be seen nor to see you. When they finally show up, go through customs, and get a medical release signed by their doctor allowing them to help you, they almost always approach you with a well-thought out plan of action, which unfortunately they can only communicate mono-syllabically, thus they only say "whuhhh?" I then proceed to let them know that I too was held hostage by Wal-Mart in the grocery department for a summer while I was in college, and that I do in fact know what a barcode is and how to scan it, but they are invariably unimpressed, punch in a random code (which I attempt to memorize, but which will never work again if the situation comes up.) Then the cashier stomps off in a huff, because she is friends with the cashier in Point 6, and she has told her about how you so rudely expected to be allowed to pay money in exchange for goods. The nerve, since they were clearly hired only to carry on conversations with their co-workers.

Oh yes. Also, rant number 5 applies heavily to this self check-out line, and perhaps more-so. If you are buying supplies for a major campground (like a children's camp or boot camp or anything of the sort) you should not be using this line. You should be using the firing line.

(9.) THERE ARE MORE CARTS THAN ACTUAL VEHICLES IN THE PARKING LOT. How many times have you seen a parking space up close to the store, gotten all excited about it, and prepared to whip into it, only to find a cluster of forsaken carts taking up the majority of it? If you go into a Wal-Mart parking lot around 10 or 11 PM, it sort of looks like Baghdad, the day after, doesn't it? I realize that the anti-theft scanners suck out your brain on the way in, but I'm not sure that they de-zombify everybody on the way out. Apparently the majority of Wal-Mart shoppers feel that cart receptacles are far beneath them, and that society would be better served if the landscape were littered with shopping buggies. I've often wondered if Earl Scheib had a deal brokered with Wal-Mart, with kickbacks per every hundred auto paint jobs.


I'm sure there are more reasons that I hate Wal-Mart. But I think I've established that Wal-Mart sucks. And I say that knowing that I run the very real risk of drawing traffic to this page from people googling those words. I'll just say this: when Target goes 24 hours around here, Wal-Mart won't be on my list of destinations anymore.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Superman Celebration 2007 - Metropolis, IL

Priscilla and I are just back from a day in Metropolis, IL, self-proclaimed hometown of Superman and host to the annual Superman Celebration. It was a warm day, not a cloud in the sky, but we didn't have to look up to see the superheroes. They were plenty to be found on the ground, wandering around, looking for a damsel in distress or a camera to stand in front of.

Thus this picture of Priscilla with Spider-Man, who had one of the better costumes (even if it did ride waaaaaaay too much in the back.)

Of course the costumes were only a small part of the fun. Jim Hambrick's Super Museum is there, and even though it's open year round, it's still a lot more fun to look at when you're among Superman enthusiasts. Personally, I love it because I see all the old Superman toys that I used to have (and some I used to covet) all kept in pristine condition in glass cases. And of course, there's the movie and television artifacts collection that will keep you ooohing and ahhhing. Kirk Alyn's boots reside here. George Reeves' super-suit and almost complete Daily Planet set are there for you to walk in and be a part of. There are myriad costumes and set pieces from the 1980's Saturday morning live action Superboy show. The Christopher Reeve collection is probably the most interesting, with a complete 1978 screen-worn Superman suit, all the wigs that Chris wore for each movie, Marlon Brando's wig, General Zod's suit, and several props including a breakaway brick wall. Chris Reeve and Helen Slater's flying harnesses are there, as well as George Reeves' flying pan. Speaking of Helen Slater, there's a room devoted to Supergirl. Perhaps the most extensive wardrobe collection belongs to the Lois and Clark room, where there are a couple of Dean Cain super-suits and street suits, and Teri Hatcher's nightclub dress, wedding gown, and superhero costume.

The main reason we chose today to go was so we could meet the celebrity guests. First up, we met Noel Neill, the First Lady of Metropolis. She was the main person that I came to see. Noel, of course, starred opposite George Reeve and Kirk Alyn in the early Superman movies and the 1950's TV show, as well as a myriad of other films and shows. At nearly 87, Noel is still looking sharp, even though she doesn't move as fast as she once did. She is a gentle soul, though, and she treated everybody with great care and respect. At one point, during the celebrity Q & A session, she took great pains to acknowledge a severely disabled person in the audience and smile and wave to them. She spoke several times at length about George Reeves, always with great respect and admiration for the man. She seemed somewhat irksome at a mention of the recent bio-pic Hollywood-land starring Ben Affleck, and denounced (in the most meek and humble way) the falsehoods that it told about George Reeves. She to this day holds that he did not, in fact, commit suicide. She also talked about her recent cameo in Superman Returns, but expressed quite a bit of dismay that Lois Lane was "pregnant and didn't have a husband." Her Lois Lane, she told me later, wouldn't have done such a thing. Of course, her Lois and Mr. Reeves' Clark Kent never became seriously romantically entangled. Noel was a complete doll. Imagine yourself at age 87, signing autographs all day, and then getting up and down repeatedly to take photos with fans. Priscilla commented that she must be having writer's cramp. Instead, Ms. Neill laughed and said no, but rather that she was beginning to have trouble with her eyes.

Helen Slater was a slightly different story. I was interested to see her, because I grew up with a slight crush on her after seeing her in Supergirl. Helen is a bit more refined than most. This was her first time at a festival of this nature, and I think she was put somewhat ill at ease with the convention crowd, or more likely the more geek-intensive set. I seemed to have a bit of a hard time holding a conversation with her, as she seemed to pay more attention to the people who were in her entourage, and she almost missed a few photo ops and autographs because of it. Of course, this was after a long hot day full of interacting with people and fielding who knows what kind of questions, so I can sort of understand her situation. That being said, though, she is an accomplished actress, having appeared in The Secret of My Success, and--more recently--episodes of Law & Order: SVU, Grey's Anatomy, Crossing Jordan, and The New Adventures of Old Christine. Many of her fans wondered if she'd consider playing Supergirl in a sequel to the movie. Her response: "I'm 43!" 'Nuff said.

Jerry Maren was a real treat to see. His list of movie credits include The Great Outdoors, Spaceballs, Tron, Planet of the Apes, and Superman and the Mole Men. You may, perhaps, remember him best as one of the Lollipop Guild, particularly the green Munchkin who offered Dorothy a lollipop on behalf of the Lollipop Guild and welcomed her to Munchkin Land. According to Jerry, there are only 9 cast members of The Wizard of Oz still living. (All of them are munchkins, by the way.) Jerry got paid $50 a day for his work on Wizard and sees absolutely zero in residuals, which is quite a shame. He does, however, earn money through personal appearances. He and his wife were simply a delight to meet. Jerry is advancing in age, but he still has a sharp sense of humor, even if he occasionally needs people to repeat what they say.

I also happened to meet Len Wein, who is an extraordinary comic book writer and artist, and who had a hand in some of my favorite comic books as a child. What a fun and great guy!

Jon Bogdanove, who drew approximately a ton of the Superman: Man of Steel comics, just happened to stand next to me at the Celebrity Q&A session also. I had tried to meet him earlier, but some guy in front of us had brought in like 50 comics to get signed, and some other guy stood there and talked to him for nearly twenty minutes, so I had given up. However, he graciously signed my book there at the Q&A session, and he's a really nice guy.

So it was a great day. I expect that it will only be topped by the upcoming Reality TV Convention. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

American Singer: Dani McCulloch

Each year, a lot of talent comes in and out of the American Idol audition room doors. Some make it all the way to the big show, and some don't. In the wake of the whirlwind, we're introduced to many different talented people. That's part of the blessing of the show: you get to meet and experience people that you might not have had the opportunity or inclination to get to know before.

One of those is Dani McCulloch, a self-proclaimed "Memphis chick" who lives and breathes music on most days. In case you've forgotten Dani, here's her appearance from this year's show:

Dani and I caught up with each other EARLY on a Saturday morning, and we talked about Idol in depth, as well as the upcoming Reality TV Convention 2007 and her new projects!

J.D.: I was just listening to your songs on Myspace right before the interview, and I could barely stop listening to them. You're actually really good.

Dani: Awww, thank you so much! I really appreciate that.

J.D.: A lot of people may not remember you from this year's show, since it's been a little while, so could you remind us a little about your appearance on American Idol?

Dani: Well, I auditioned in the Memphis auditions. And I made it all the way to Paula, Randy and Simon. I was on there for about maybe five to ten seconds, y'know, of the actual audition. They showed my interview and everything. Maybe it was longer than that. It seemed like hours to me, but it was in Memphis, and Randy was the one who said no to me, but Paula and Simon really liked me, so that's where my TV appearance was.

J.D.: When I saw you, something clicked in the back of my mind, and I looked through my Myspace friends list, and I was like, wait a minute, she's already on my friends list! I have a lot of Memphis artists on my Myspace friends list, and it was really interesting to see you there. I was like, "oh, Dani!" I know who that is. okay! But you did audition in our fair city of Memphis. Can you tell us a little about the audition process and what it was like for you?

Dani: Oh yes. Um, well, most people don't realize how long of a process the audition process is. It's like 14 hour days. It's a lot of "hurry up and wait." You go through three rounds. Well, really two before you get to Paula, Randy, and Simon. It's so grueling, and your nerves are going 90 to nothin'. And every audition, you're just hoping for a "yes." You're hoping for that yellow piece of paper. When you get it, you're just like so thrilled, and your emotions are just like very very strung out. So when you do get it, you're just like so overwhelmed, you just don't know how to react. Except for, apparently for me, to cry. It was a really neat process. It's definitely not what people see on TV. Y'know, they actually showed me going on the first day, and I went the second day in Memphis. Yeah, it was like round two, I believe. At the end of the day, I think I was the second to the last person to be picked out of that whole day, after all the auditions in Memphis. And this is after all the cities had been processed. Really I was second to last to be picked to go to Hollywood, period, out of the whole audition process for the cities. They didn't show that on TV, but it's just a very...I can't explain it, unless you go through it. It's just a grueling process, but you learn a lot.

J.D.: How old were you at the time?

Dani: I think I was 18. Woo!

J.D.: How much experience had you had in the music industry before American Idol?

Dani: I was about 15 when I started writing with some people out of Nashville. I was actually doing country at the time. I released my first album at 16, and it was mainstream country, but it was very outside the box for country. I formed a band so I could go and pitch the project to labels. I did go have meetings with labels and everything. A lot of them said, y'know, "you're too young." At that time, a lot of people were really terrified to sign any minors after the whole LeAnn Rimes deal. She had a big lawsuit with Curb Records. She was a minor. It was just a big ordeal in Nashville. So I think all of the labels were pretty scared of signing minors, but it kind of worked out for the best for me, because I ended up realizing that country was not what my heart desired at the end of the day. I love country music, but I'm a Memphis chick, and I like rock n' roll, blues and soul, y'know? (laughs.) I've had a band, professionally, for the last four years now. I've played all over festivals, clubs, and anywhere that I could play. I love playing live. I've been doing a lot of song-writing within that time, for the past three and a half to four years, for the next project as well. I'm hoping to release that by the end of this year, 2007.

J.D.: How fair did you find the auditioning process to be on American Idol, prior to appearing with Paula, Randy, and Simon?

Dani: Y'know, I honestly didn't think... Hmm. They do the best that they can for so many people that audition in each city. I mean, it's incredible amounts. I can't imagine being a judge and saying "yes no yes no" all day. I think they try to make it as fair as they CAN. But a lot of times, it's not. A lot of time they pick some people for just good TV, because first and foremost it IS a TV show. Which is great. I mean, y'know, I love to watch all the bad auditions as well. I think they do cut some really good people. Plus, for your first couple of auditions, you have only so many seconds. You have like 30 seconds, up to a minute, and you really don't get a minute to really wow them. And sometimes that's a really hard thing to do. I think, give and take, they do the best that they can, but it's not always fair.

J.D.: Did you actually see Randy, Paula and Simon in Memphis? How many days later was it?

Dani: I did see them, and it was about 30 days after round two. They were my third audition. So that was really cool.

J.D.: Randy didn't like your initial audition very much, which I can't understand, because I watched it and was completely blown away by it. Did he change his mind later on?

Dani: I think he did. Round 4 in Hollywood, I came out, and I auditioned with a Norah Jones song. Actually, Melinda Doolittle was in my group. It wasn't like the groups you see on TV. It was just a group of people who would individually go out and audition one more time in front of Randy, Paula, and Simon. And Randy, I think he really liked it. The judges, the whole time, they're pushing to see these artists who just really do their best. I think they see potential in some people, and sometimes when they say "I don't know, I don't know if I like it," they're doing that to push you. Because they want these kids to go through with this. So I believe that the judges are looking out for the contestants. When I auditioned the first time in front of Randy, I did kind of a risky thing. Most people don't know this either, but I first chose to sing a different song. I was gonna sing "Oh Darling," which was Paul McCartney's song. I guess they have an approval list, and it wasn't on there, and so I couldn't sing that song, which was the song that I really wanted to sing. So my second song was "Baby I Love You" by Aretha Franklin. I think you do a very very risky thing when you try and pull off an artist such as Aretha Franklin or Mariah Carey. Randy is a musician himself and has worked with those people, so for him, I think it has to be either meet it or beat it. I think that's why he didn't really care for that audition. I think he grew onto me later on.

J.D.: How weird is it for Randy NOT to like you, and then for Simon to be a big fan?

Dani: It was really weird! I was like uh, alright... I honestly thought that if anybody's vote I might be able to get, it would be Randy's. They switched on me, and I was just like well THIS is interesting. It was kind of exciting to have Simon's vote, so that was really cool. I really liked that.

J.D.: How much time elapses between the auditions with Randy, Paula, and Simon and Hollywood week?

Dani: I think it was one month.

J.D.: During Hollywood week, did you interact with any of the finalists from this year? What are your thoughts on them?

Dani: I did! Stephanie Edwards was in my group project. I think it was the third round, or maybe the second round in Hollywood. So she was in my group, and then she was also in Memphis with me. She was actually the last person to be picked in Memphis. I got to be really good friends with Stephanie, and she made it to the Top 12.

J.D.: Did you run across any particularly difficult personalities?

Dani: Y'know, honestly, I didn't. I think mainly it was because I tried to stay away from that. I was there, professionally, to be an artist. I wasn't there to get in the middle of a bunch of drama and stuff like that. A lot of people think that there's just a whole lot of drama and catfights when you go to Hollywood, but there's really not. People were just really stressed out, and if there are any catfights, it's because they're TIRED and they want it so bad. So I was lucky not to run into any kind of conflicts. Somebody was lookin' out for me there.

J.D.: No Brittenum twins this year, then. At what level were you eliminated from the competition?

Dani: The second round, after round one in Hollywood. Round one in Hollywood is where you go and audition in front of Paula, Randy and Simon one more time solo. And then they bring you out and they tell you if you make it through, and I did. Melinda and I both did. We were the only ones out of the six that made it through that first round. Then the second round is when you had to be in a group, and you got to choose from four songs. You pick which song you want to do, and you have to also--people don't know this either--you have to pick your own group. A lot of people think that it's assigned to you, but it's not. You have to pick your own group. And you're up all night. You have to learn the words, and you want to do choreography and do harmonies. By this time, you're really really really really tired. Your nerves are going. Your anxiety is going. You're just hoping and hoping and hoping everything is gonna turn out great. But I got cut that round, so...(laughs) I got up there and I totally forgot my words, which I think didn't really work out either. Because two of the girls in my group already knew the song. It was "Be My Baby." Two of the girls, I believe, knew the song, which is great. I mean, it's a good song. But we were up all night going mainly over harmonies and choreography. You think that that's what you're judging you on in the group projects, and it wasn't. They wanted to see how you're going to do in your SOLO. Because even some people that DID know the words, they still didn't make it through, because they didn't wow the judges. They were just going through the motions on the solo just trying to get the words right. That was a VERY hard process. You only have one night, the whole night, and you are so tired and delirious. And you had to audition early the next morning. So, it was unfortunate, but you do your best.

J.D.: I think a lot of people don't understand, but it really IS hard to remember what seems like absurdly simple lyrics after you've been up all night and practicing and practicing and practicing. Would you agree with that?

Dani: I totally agree with that. Plus, y'know, you also have cameras. There is a camera crew always in the halls in the hotel. They knock on your doors. They want interviews. They're constantly watching you. Not only do you have to learn the words and have to be prepared, but you also have camera crews coming up and bugging you and interrupting the groove. It's hard to stay focused, because they are so many distractions when you're trying to learn all this stuff. It's a lot harder than it looks on TV.

J.D.: As the competition has gone on, who were you pulling for to win the most?

Dani: I've been completely all for both Blake and Jordin. I have said from Day One that I really really like them. I liked most of the contestants up there, but they just seem to have stuck out to me personally.

J.D.: It broke my heart to see Melinda Doolittle go. How did you feel about that?

Dani: It was very hard. Melinda Doolittle is some kind of talent. She WILL have a career. That's the thing most people don't realize. Even though you don't win American Idol. I mean, look at Chris Daughtry. Well, I guess they do realize it now, since it's becoming more known every season, but y'know, I believe last season, the Top 8 or 9 all got record deals, which is really cool. So, Melinda is SET. She's gonna have a career, and I can't wait to see her just really get out there and do what she wants to do. It was really hard to see her go. She's very very very talented.

J.D.: When Blake Lewis and Jordin Sparks were left, who did you pick?

Dani: I picked Jordin. I think she had both the older votes and the younger. She's just a very very sweet girl. You can just see it on TV. She's very genuine and very very talented. She captivates her audience every time she gets on stage. I mean, I love Blake too. I would've been happy for either one to win. But I just personally think that Jordin was the best choice.

J.D.: Now that the competition is over, what have you been up to?

Dani: I've been doing some heavy duty song-writing. I've been getting in the studio quite a bit and recording the originals that I've been writing. I'm trying to release the next project. So hopefully that will be by the end of 2007. I'm just playing shows and festivals, and I'm enjoying this. It's made me appreciate, after doing the American Idol thing, how lucky I am to have a talented band that plays for me. I get to go to some of these festivals, and the people there respond so well. I'm having fun, but at the same time, I'm trying to get my own thumbprint out there in the music industry. I've grown a lot since my first album, so I'm really trying to work on that right now.

J.D.: Have there been any unique opportunities that have presented themselves to you because of your appearance on American Idol?

Dani: Mostly in Memphis. I've been on TV locally. TV shows, morning shows, stuff like that. I've been doing a lot of gigs in Memphis, and some out of Memphis. Nothing that was just "wow, I can't believe it." I mean, but now, I'm talking to YOU, J.D.

J.D.: Well, I wouldn't know if that were a step up or a step down!

Dani: Oh, it's a step up. You know that!

J.D.: I know that you're going to do the Reality TV Convention this year, correct?

Dani: That is correct!

J.D.: Can't wait to see you there! I do see that you have a ton of shows coming up over the summer. Can you tell us about where you'll be appearing?

Dani: Yes! I have a couple of shows here in my hometown, Collierville, TN. It's right outside of Memphis about 30 minutes. I got the fourth of July fireworks show. And then I've got the Sunset on the Square. I mean there's tons of people. Pretty much the town of Collierville comes out for that. It's a really neat thing. I'm playing the Gold Strike Casino in Tunica, which is really exciting. I've played the Horseshoe before, but I've never gotten to play the Gold Strike, so I'm pretty excited about that. I'm going to Hampton, VA in September. I'm opening up for Sammy Kershaw. And then, I'm going to Gulf Shores in October. I'm gonna do the Shrimp Fest. I've been doing that for the past couple of years. I've got some really cool and exciting stuff coming up, and I'm really looking forward to it.

J.D.: Would you say that it's fair to say that your music is sort of a blend of country, rock and blues?

Dani: Honestly, the newer stuff that I have done, no. I would say that for my first album, Outside the Lines, but I've really evolved now to where it's mainly just Memphis roots music. I'm not doing country anymore, oddly enough, because I'm opening up for a lot of country artists. That's really cool, but I'm doing mainly Memphis roots music, which is basically rock, blues, and soul.

J.D.: What kind of message or style do you hope will be on that album that will hopefully be in my hands by the end of the year?

Dani: I think it's gonna be mainly rock, not pop rock, but more of a modern day classic rock sound, which is really exciting, but it also has my Memphis influences, blues and soul, which just comes naturally from just growing up in Memphis. That's pretty much the sound that I'm going for.

J.D.: When you talk about musical inspirations, obviously with Memphis you've got Elvis, B.B. King, and Sun Studios' stable. Who do you draw on the most as a musical inspiration?

Dani: I think recently...well, not really recently, for a good while now, I've really drawn in a lot of influence from the Beatles. I've actually recorded a couple of Beatles covers like "Oh Darling" and "Old Brown Shoe," for a Memphis compilation disc called Fried Glass Onions: Memphis Meets the Beatles. I did the first two albums and hopefully will be on the fourth. So the Beatles are definitely a big influence for me and tons of artists. Bonnie Raitt, of course, oh my gosh... As far as rockers, I've had a lot of respect for people like Zakk Wylde, and people might think that's surprising.

J.D.: I find that surprising, actually.

Dani: Zakk Wylde's Book of Shadows, I think he was just awesome on that album. There's a band called Muse that are mainly popular over in the UK, but they're starting to come out here in the states. I think they've been here for a while, but more people my age are starting to figure out who these guys are. They are so talented. I've always had a huge respect for Gwen Stefani in the No Doubt days. Janis Joplin... I could go on and on. There are so many people that influence me, but those are the ones that really stand out.

J.D.: If you could pick one person in the music industry that is established right now that you would like to work with, who would that be?

Dani: Oh gosh! Man! Just one?? Y'know, honestly, something that I think would be really fun and cool, I would love to work with Gwen Stefani. I think that chick is just the coolest person. I would just want to hang out with her, even if I didn't get to work with her, I would just want to hang out in the same room with her. She's like a really cool and hip chick.

J.D.: Would you recommend Memphis, as a city, as a great place for a musician to begin their career?

Dani: That's really hard to say. I think if you grew up here and that is what you were exposed to. I am so thankful for that, because there is so much history in Memphis, musically. As far as getting your career started, I don't know that I would say that Memphis is the best place. Memphis is not really growing as far as getting music and artists launched into the industry itself. But I think as far as learning, you can learn a lot musically from Memphis, just because there is so much history and influences there.

J.D.: Maybe if you're a burgeoning rap artist or in Three Six Mafia, maybe. Are you eligible to audition for Idol again?

Dani: I am!

J.D.: Do you think you'll do it?

Dani: You know, I'm actually kind of undecided right now. I think I'm kind of keeping my options open right now. I am not really sure. I'm not against auditioning again, because I think it's great for what it does to put artists out there. But I'm just not really promising either. I think I'm just gonna wait and see where I am at that time when the auditions come back up.

J.D.: What advice would you give for those who are auditioning this year, or even people who are just trying to break into the industry?

Dani: Well, okay, if you ARE going to audition for American Idol, be sure and KNOW that that's what you want to do. Don't go in there with any question. I think a lot of people go in there thinking "well I don't know, I don't know," but you have to be all or nothing throughout the whole process of American Idol, because it is a very hard and stressful audition, at least of any audition or competition I've been a part of. You have to be very focused and just serious about it. Completely serious about it. And you also have to be unique. You have to be ready. Be prepared, because if you're not, you'll be wasting time on yourself really. So I would say that would be the best advice for anybody that goes in to audition.

J.D.: So we're going to be seeing you at this year's Reality TV Convention 2007. What are your thoughts on the upcoming convention.

Dani: I'm excited! I can't wait. It's gonna be neat to meet some of the other people there. I just want to have fun. I want to go in there and have a good time and interact with other people and just get to know some people.

J.D.: Is it exciting to you that you're going to be appearing with some of the more famous ones?

Dani: Yeah! I want to them about their experience on American Idol, because I know that it has changed, and it has evolved every season. So I would love to see their take on their auditions and their experience. I'm excited!

J.D.: It's entirely possible we may have other guests from Season 6, and we're looking forward to what might come in the next month.

Dani: Yeah, it's awesome.

J.D.: One more question, and it is this: if you could impart only one word of wisdom to the world, what would that be?

Dani: Love. Just love. Everybody needs it.

J.D.: That's about as simple as it gets, and that's about all you need!

Dani: It's a powerful thing. Love is the most simple, but it's the most powerful.

Thanks so much, Dani. Hopefully many of you will come out to meet her at the Reality TV Convention 2007. And don't forget to check her out on her Myspace profile and on her website at

Monday, June 04, 2007

Ashley the Crying Girl Strikes Again!

Many of you might remember Ashley Ferl from American Idol. She was the girl who absolutely lost it over Sanjaya, crying her way into America's hearts and achieving overnight fame/notoriety. Well, she's BACK.

My buddy Will Makar's mom sent this to me today. Apparently Ashley caught up with Will at the Summerfest in Brea, CA this past Saturday. Will was performing with Kim Caldwell, Kevin Covais, Sabrina Sloan, Chris Richardson, Lisa Tucker, Paris Bennett and Ace Young. (Interestingly enough, 80's legends The Romantics and Tommy Tutone were also performing.)

This picture of Ashley was just too much to pass up.

(photo courtesy of Shirlyn Makar)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Reality TV Convention Update

I took my mandatory week-long blogging break to celebrate this season of American Idol finally being over. A lot of things have happened in the interim.

First, the Convention....

As you know, this year I'm heavily involved in the second annual Reality TV Convention, which will be held at the end of this month in Nashville. The roster has changed slightly. Jessica Sierra has dropped out of the line-up (due to her on-going legal situation, I surmise.) Mikalah Gordon has also cancelled. However, Season 6's Dani McCulloch and Season 3's Heather Piccinini have signed on, so we're still at full steam. Scott Savol, Will Makar, Lindsey Cardinale, Perla Meneses, The Maynard Triplets, Heather Cox and Jon Peter Lewis are still on-board. There are rumors of a surprise special guest, but even I don't know for sure (and I would be the first to know) so I can't speculate on that.

A concert event has also been added. A Big Brother fan group is running the shin-dig. It's a separate event from the convention, but still promises to be a great time. Scott, Lindsey, and the Heathers are performing.

Also, word has it that Canadian filmmakers will be on-site shooting a documentary about reality television. I've been asked to interview on-camera, so I'll let you know more about that when I know more. My motion-picture debut!

All kinds of fun to come here on the blog. In the next couple of days, I'll be publishing interviews with Dani McCulloch and Sarah Mather, so watch out for that.