Thursday, July 27, 2006

Rock Star: Supernova - Week four

Phil Ritchie is done on Rock Star: Supernova. This is not surprising at all. Most of his performances have been on the bland side, except for the one he gave last week. Maybe he needed a more intense song than the Wallflowers’ “One Headlight” to show his strength. In any case, his blandness returned, and he's on his way back home to Lennex. Tommy Lee said it was a “question of commitment”, because the band felt that Phil didn’t really want to front Supernova. As I said before, I think that’s the case with a number of the contestants.

Before I go any further, I want to commend all three of this week’s bottom three for their cool and unexpected song choices on Wednesday’s show. It made for quite an unusual hour of prime-time network TV. Phil chose a song called “Smoking Umbrellas” by Failure. It failed to save him, but at least he went out with something different. Patrice chose the Radiohead song “My Iron Lung”, and definitely showed us something different than her last four performances. And Zayra showed more depth than ever before (faint praise, perhaps) with the song “Not An Addict” by K’s Choice.

Having said that, it is surprising that Zayra has lasted this long, considering that she is such an obvious wild card in this competition. INXS would have gotten rid of her the first or second week. For better or for worse, she is fascinating to watch, and that is most likely the reason why she has lasted until (at least) week five. There is definite entertainment value in her oddball performances, and I suppose that’s what reality TV is all about. Her vocals on her Tuesday night performance of Blondie’s “Call Me” weren’t awful, but her timing was off. That sexy blue spacesuit was the whole show.

Patrice is a fine singer, but she’s not much of a TV performer; her Tuesday performance of the Black Crowes’ “Remedy” was better if you closed your eyes and listened. She clearly took Dave Navarro’s criticism of her none-too-showy performances to heart, not to mention her showing in the bottom-three. When she did the Radiohead song on Wednesday, she definitely seemed like a different performer.

Speaking of which, good-girl Dana unexpectedly went dark for her commanding performance of Nirvana’s “About a Girl” on Tuesday. Not only can she sing, but she can act, too! She may not go much further in this competition, but she has a bright future somewhere. I’m glad the young lass is learning to defend herself from criticism, and to separate good criticism from the bad. She may need that skill in this business.

Toby did okay with Billy Idol’s “White Wedding”, but he’s looking less like a frontrunner than he did before. I liked Magni’s vocal on the Bowie classic “Heroes”, even if Supernova didn’t like his stage presentation. I’m getting fed up with Lukas. If you close your eyes during Lukas’ performance of the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony”, it becomes apparent that he is nothing without his stage presence. I still agree with Jason Newsted’s criticism of Lukas. Do something about that voice already! And as for Josh: he is lucky he evaded the bottom three, or he may have been sent packing instead of Phil. His performance of Blind Melon’s “No Rain” was a disaster. And the “question of commitment” thing is definitely going to come up with Josh, since he has stated his disagreement with Supernova's musical direction. He’s on borrowed time.

Top honors go to the always-entertaining Storm for her knockout rendition of Dramarama’s “Anything Anything” (cool song choice, too!). Dilana was equally impressive with her warm rendering of the Cyndi Lauper ballad “Time After Time”. There is more to her than presentation after all. Jill belted out the Stones’ “Brown Sugar” with gusto. She was joined by Gilby Clarke on guitar, and Gilby criticized the short-skirted sex-bomb for her suggestive on-stage grinding. (I’ll bet his wife was watching from home – or backstage). Ryan let loose for Live’s “I Alone”, and it was his best performance yet. We’ll see what happens with him.

The online reality episode was interesting this week. The twelve contestants were broken up into three quartets of songwriters. Lukas revealed once again that he is a royal pain to work with; maybe he really is the next J.D. Fortune. And Jill continued to sound like a whiny little girl. Magni’s group – which also consisted of Jill, Dana, and Josh – came up with the best results. Lukas looked jealous.

One more criticism of Jill. While arguing with Gilby on Wednesday about her Tuesday moves, she made the unwise statement that everything has already been done in rock and roll. Uh, no, Jill. Would you want someone who thinks this way in your band? Rock and roll has now officially lasted for more than half a century. Some people like to say that it's dead, but those people can continue to wallow in their repetitive hip-hop world if they wish. The reason that rock and roll has lasted so long is because of the artists who have found new ways to do it. Of course, the rootsier rock musicians also deserve credit for keeping it alive. But rock and roll would not have lasted this long if it was done the same way every time. To paraphrase Little Richard, rock and roll hasn't died because it is continuously reinvented. Did we mention Radiohead earlier? A few years back, Rolling Stone magazine claimed that Radiohead "destroyed rock and roll to find themselves". Wrong! Radiohead expanded the boundaries of rock and roll by finding their own inventive way of doing it, and they have helped to keep it alive in the new millenium.

Jill Gioia, take a lesson: rock and roll would die if everyone had your attitude toward it.

Official website:
http://rockstar.msn.com/

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Rock Star: Supernova - Week three

Jenny Galt was the third contestant to be eliminated on Rock Star: Supernova. This is not surprising at all. She is not a bad performer by any means, but she's definitely not right for Supernova, or even for this show. On Tuesday night, she performed the Incubus song "Drive". She didn't sound bad, but as Gilby Clarke put it, she would fit in better at Lilith Fair than at Ozzfest. Technically, there was nothing wrong with her vocals on her Wednesday night performance of Stone Temple Pilots' "Vasoline", but she just didn't connect on a visceral level. She was the logical one to be let go. Hopefully, she can use the TV exposure as a springboard to future success with her acoustic duo Cherrybomb.

The other two people who landed in the bottom three were Dana and Josh. I like Dana a lot, but Bon Jovi's "It's My Life" proved not to be a good song choice for her Tuesday night performance. But on Wednesday, she chose the Sass Jordan song "High Road Easy" and rocked out like never before, keeping her safe for at least another week. When Josh performed Nirvana's "Come As You Are" on Tuesday, he based it more on the MTV Unplugged acoustic version than the harder-edged studio version, a move that didn't go over very well with Supernova or the viewers. Having learned his lesson, Josh did Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box" on Wednesday and displayed an edge that was lacking from his previous performances. He's staying in the game for now.

Magni got my vote this week. (It bears mentioning that this was the first time this season that I felt compelled to vote for a contestant). His version of STP's "Plush" was spot-on. Supernova evidently agreed, because they asked him for an encore performance. Phil surprised me this week with his gripping rendition of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit". He didn't even seem distracted when Jason Newsted bounced into his personal space. Maybe Phil wasn't kidding when he said he'd been holding back on us.

Patrice continues to be subtly effective. Her performance of the Beatles' "Helter Skelter" was solid without being showy. (It actually meant something when Tommy Lee had kind words for it, considering that Motley Crue have covered the song in the past). Patrice also gets kudos for standing her ground against Jill in the reality episode. Jill created unnecessary drama over Patrice selecting that song before she could. She claimed that Patrice treated her like a five-year-old -- which I saw no evidence of -- but Jill certainly acted like a five-year-old brat. Having said that, Jill's performance of Free's "All Right Now" was alright, if a bit overheated.

Other high points: I enjoyed Storm's performance of the Cars' "Just What I Needed", even though it wasn't the best song choice for her. (By the way, I've already "Googled" Storm, and, um, parental discretion is advised). And that Lukas character did an entertaining metal-edged rendition of the Stones' "Let's Spend The Night Together", although he seems to be all showmanship and no pipes. I think he should take the advice of Newsted and the voice coach, and work on his voice a little. Or maybe even a lot. But he's probably too proud.

On the downside: Toby stumbled badly with his messy performance of Soul Asylum's "Runaway Train". It was like karaoke with a singer who's not on top of the song. That was supposed to display emotion? I wasn't feelin' it. I also wasn't feelin' Zayra's Bjork-like take on REM's "Everybody Hurts", but some viewers must have felt it, since she escaped the bottom three. She's bought herself more time. Dilana's rendition of the Cranberries' "Zombie" is making me think she is also all pomp and no pipes. But Supernova seemed to dig it. I think Ryan is on his way out. He seemed like a fish out of water doing CCR's "Fortunate Son". And what's with him saying he is "embarrassed" by Dana being on the show? Every week, Ryan seems to try a different tactic to help himself stand out -- and it just makes him look bad. Ryan needs to make his singing stand out next time, or else his first time in the bottom three will also be his last.

Overall, I think this season's contestants are growing on me. They are still no match for last season's ensemble, but they probably never will be, so I'll just have to get over it.

The official site:
http://rockstar.msn.com/

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Shine on You crazy Diamond

You've probably heard by now that Syd Barrett, the original Pink Floyd frontman and founder, has died at the age of 60. He died on July 7th, apparently from complications caused by diabetes. Surprisingly enough, the media did not report his death until four days later. I hope that he is resting in peace, now that he is finally safe from stalkers who camped out near his property. Barrett hadn't sung or played a note in over 30 years, but still his fans could not leave him alone. This shows the lasting influence of a man who recorded very little in his short career.

For those who are unfamiliar with Barrett's story, Wikipedia has a wealth of information:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syd_Barrett

Barrett's sister Rosemary speaks about his private life in this UK Times article:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2092-2271741,00.html

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Rock Star: Supernova - Week two

Chris Pierson, the Rock Star: Supernova contestant who seemed destined to be the first one to go, was the second one to go instead. He was given a chance to get back in the game after bombing on opening night, but he wasn't able to redeem himself. On Tuesday's performance show, he did a passable but unimpressive job of singing Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out", and a similar job on Tonic's "If You Could Only See" on Wednesday's elimination show. It would be okay to see performances like those in a bar, but on television Chris just doesn't have a commanding presence, and he is certainly too lightweight as a singer to join a supergroup.

The elimination of Chris means that Zayra Alvarez is safe for another week, but probably not for longer. On Tuesday, she did a strange, sexed-up Latina version of the Kinks classic "You Really Got Me", a song that she says she was not previously familiar with(!). So, why did she do that same song again on elimination night? She did it better on Wednesday, but I'm under the impression that Zayra doesn't know many rock and roll songs. She even got into a row with Gilby Clarke on Tuesday, when he asked her if she had any idea what type of singer Supernova was looking for. She responded that no one told her. Clarke then asked her if she owned a single CD by any of their former bands (Guns 'N Roses, Metallica, Motley Crue). She curtly told him that she was "in diapers when that stuff was out". Ooh!

This all but confirms my suspicion about this year's Rock Star contestants: most, if not all, of them probably had no idea what band they would be competing to join. As I recall, auditions for the show began before a featured artist was announced. At the time the auditions began, there were still rumors that either Van Halen or Alice In Chains would be the featured artist. (None other than David Lee Roth was perpetuating the VH rumors on his now-defunct radio program). Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that this year's Rock Star contestants are VH or AIC wannabes. When auditions were held, I'm guessing that the contestants simply rolled the dice, thinking (quite rightly) that TV exposure on the show would help them no matter who the featured artist was. It seemed to me that poor Chris Pierson thought that INXS was still looking to replace Michael Hutchence. It will be interesting to see which contestant ends up getting the Supernova job, because I am now wondering which ones really want it. Just as it is in the world of politics, not all candidates are running to win.

The other contestant in the bottom three was Jill Gioia, who was criticized for doing more screaming than singing on Tuesday when she performed Hole's "Violet". Screaming is to be expected in a performance of that song, especially when the singer is trying to please heavy metal types. What made her look bad was the white dress she wore and the bouquet of roses she carried, in obvious imitation of Courtney Love. I nearly burst out laughing at the sight of her. When Dave Navarro criticized her for this, Jill denied that her look had anything to do with Courtney Love. Riiiight. As Navarro pointed out, Jill's get-up was reminiscent of the cover photo on Hole's album Live Through This. In any case, Jill redeemed herself with flying colors with a boffo performance of Evanescence's "Bring Me To Life" on Wednesday. She'll be around for a while.

It wasn't surprising that Toby Rand was chosen to do the encore, because his performance of the Killers' "Somebody Told Me" easily helped him stand out among the male contestants. Magni did well this week singing the Who's "My Generation". I hope he sticks around for a while. That Lukas Rossi character stands out for a different reason. Lukas managed to sing a Coldplay song ("Don't Panic") with enough grit to save him from the Matt Hoffer trap. Tommy Lee obviously digs the guy, since he told Jason Newsted to shut up when he offered constructive criticism. The other remaining male contestants -- Josh, Phil, and Ryan -- are only making me shrug my shoulders at this point.

Dilana's spooky take on Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" was nearly as riveting as her performance last week. Her smoky voice reminds me of Marianne Faithfull, who once guested on a Metallica song ("The Memory Remains"). I got a kick out of Dana Andrews' sexed-up performance of Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild". She may be too much of a nice, cute Southern girl to fit into Supernova, but I like her. Storm Large impressed me again with her potent performance of Cheap Trick's "Surrender". (Navarro said he felt like he was watching Cats on Broadway. Which production did he see?). Jenny Galt's rethinking of Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" was creative, but it left no lasting impression. Patrice Pike's performance of Nirvana's "Heart Shaped Box" was well done and unpretentious; she's one to watch.

The show's official site is now much easier to use, and I am thankful to whoever made it that way. I am also thankful that we are being given another season of Rock Star, though I must admit that I still miss last season's contestants.

Official site:
http://rockstar.msn.com/

Saturday, July 08, 2006

What's become of the Rock Star: INXS contestants?

Now that the second season of Rock Star is underway, this question is worth asking: what has happened to the first season's contestants, who competed to become the new INXS singer? Have they gone on to bigger things, or have they gone back to obscurity?

You probably already know that INXS have since released a moderately successful album called Switch , featuring new singer J.D. Fortune, and have been touring the world since the beginning of the year. The reason that came together so fast was because the plans were already set up before the winner was selected last season. Also, runner-up Marty Casey has also released an album with his band the Lovehammers, which has also been a modest success.

Not much has been heard from the other contestants, but it has been less than one year since the first season ended. Deanna Johnston and Mig Ayesa are involved with the new season in behind-the-scenes jobs. Jordis Unga and Wil Seabrook have both apparently signed record deals. (Seabrook was eliminated from the show during the first week; Matt Hoffer can take this as an encouraging sign). Suzie McNeil is now touring as part of P!NK's band, and she recently performed two shows in Ontario, Canada with Ty Taylor, Tara Slone, and Mig Ayesa.

If you'd like to keep tabs on the first season Rock Star contestants, here are some websites that will help:

Suzie - http://www.suziemcneil.ca/index.html

Mig - http://www.mig-music.com/

Jordis - http://www.jordisonline.net

Ty - http://www.myspace.com/thetytaylorband

Tara - http://www.taraslone.com

Deanna - http://www.myspace.com/deannajohnston

Heather Luttrell - http://www.heatherluttrell.com/

Daphna Dove - http://www.myspace.com/daphnadove

Wil Seabrook - http://www.myspace.com/wilseabrook

Jessica Robinson - http://www.covergurlrocks.com

Brandon Calhoon - http://www.brandoncalhoon.com

Neal Carlson - http://www.bonaroba.net/

Can’t help you with Dana Robbins! :)

Friday, July 07, 2006

Rock Star: Supernova - Week one

The second season of Rock Star began this week. This is the TV reality show which INXS used to select their new lead singer J.D. Fortune last summer. This summer, the band searching for a singer is Supernova, a new supergroup made up of Tommy Lee (the drummer from Motley Crue), Jason Newsted (the ex-Metallica bassist), and Gilby Clarke (the early-'90's guitarist for Guns 'N Roses). The show's format is essentially the same: 15 contestants are vying for the job. Each week, the contestants each perform a classic rock song backed by an adept house band. The three contestants who receive the fewest viewer votes are brought up for elimination the following night. This season, the contestants are able to choose a rock and roll song of their choice for their elimination night performance. Based on those three performances, the members of Supernova eliminate at least one contestant from the competition.

When INXS introduced the show last year, it was a matter of which contestant would be best suited to replace a well-known singer (the late Michael Hutchence) in an established band. In this case, the band in question does not yet fully exist, and whoever becomes the band's singer will define their vocal sound. Although the members of Supernova all come from heavy metal bands, they have said that their new band will not necessarily be restricted to that genre. They say it will be rooted in heavy metal, but they intend it to be versatile. However, they have begun to inform the contestants that Supernova is a "dirty rock and roll band", and that they need to take that into consideration immediately.

The 15 contestants are a diverse group of talents, but for my money, they are less interesting than last season's ensemble. Maybe they just need to grow on me. There are eight males and seven females. There are some colorful characters; in fact, two of them look nightmarishly freaky. Of course, that may make them ideal candidates to front a "Tommy Lee project".

Sure enough, the freakiest female was the one who was asked to give an encore performance on the elimination show. Her name is Dilana, and she originally hails from South Africa. During her wild performance(s) of Nirvana's "Lithium", she seemed to be doing an imitation of the Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars episodes 3 and 6. She made the strongest impression this week. We'll soon find out if she has versatility.

As for the freakiest male: he's a bizarre-looking glam-goth creature named Lukas Rossi. His first performance (of Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell") did not impress me vocally, though he displays plenty of attitude. He has now shown himself to be something of a troublemaker as well, putting down some of his fellow contestants on camera, and trying to encourage others to do the same. Can you say "J.D. Fortune"? Lukas may not be the guaranteed winner of the contest, but it will be a long time before he is eliminated. Reality TV viewers just love (or love to hate) his type.

Some other standouts: a woman named Storm Large (her real name) opened the show with a bang with her confident performance of the Who's "Pinball Wizard". An Aussie named Toby Rand did well with Dylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door", the song that was the kiss of death for the first season's first eliminated contestant. One contestant named Magni comes from Iceland, the land of the avant-garde, although his performance of the Stones' "Satisfaction" sounded rather ordinary. We'll see where he goes from here in the competition. Josh Logan seemed to make a good impression with the Black Crowes' "She Talks To Angels", although he sounded somewhat stilted to me. I'm interested in hearing how he does other songs. I was impressed by Jill Gioia's delivery of Janis Joplin's "Piece Of My Heart". We'll see if she can keep that up, or if she's merely this season's Deanna Johnston. I was also impressed by Zayra Alvarez's presentation of the Evanescence song "Bring Me To Life". The guys in Supernova seemed to like her, too, but I don't see her fitting in with them.

And now, for the three guys who landed in the bottom three. Chris Pierson fell flat on his face with his performance of the Police's "Roxanne". To be fair, that's a hard song to cover. If you try to sing it the same way Sting did, you'll sound silly. Chris tried it his own way, but his overheated arrangement had no feeling at all for the song. Phil Ritchie's performance of Living Colour's "Cult Of Personality" lacked the vocal power that the song requires. Matt Hoffer's performance of Coldplay's "Yellow" was actually quite good. He wasn't perfect, but he hit most of the notes right.

So who ended up being the first eliminatee? Matt Hoffer, who seemed to me to be the most talented of the three. His fatal mistake was choosing a Duran Duran song ("Planet Earth") for his elimination night performance. He did fine with it, but come on -- those three Supernova guys surely aren't looking for that. He may still have a future in the business; if not, he's got a degree in Finance to fall back on. I'm not worried about the guy.

Song selection (which Tommy Lee stressed as an important thing) saved the other two guys -- for now. Phil Ritchie was fortunate enough to pick a song (Switchfoot's "Stars") that Tommy liked, but Phil's vocals still failed to impress. Chris Pierson picked a Doors song ("L.A. Woman") to redeem himself. His performance was adequate, but he still has more to prove. Oddly enough, his vocals resembled those of the Cult's Ian Astbury, who replaced Jim Morrison in the 21st century Doors reunion. As far as stage presence, he resembled Michael Hutchence more than he resembled Morrison. Wrong season, Chris!

It will be interesting to see how this season shapes up. One thing I hope will be improved is the official website, which is difficult to use. It seems to give the option to turn off the intrusive background music, but it doesn't work! Fixing that problem would help immensely.

Official site:
http://rockstar.msn.com/