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Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

One Journey Ends…Another Begins

In Family, Life, Life Lessons, Pursuit of Happiness on May 30, 2011 at 8:12 am

In the summer of 2009, we decided to relocate from the only place that we had ever called home (New York) to try a different way of life in Texas.  When we first arrived, everything was new and exciting.  And though we missed the family and friends that we left behind, we did our best to embrace the change.

By the time that the holidays came around, my wife and I both started to miss New York.  The honeymoon phase of living in Texas was over, and we had settled into the usual routine of life, which only intensified the homesickness.  We had our reasons for the move, but we both started to question if we had made the right decision.

The thought of moving back to New York was already on our minds when we went back to visit last summer.  After three weeks of traveling back and forth to squeeze in as much time as possible with everyone before returning to Texas, we knew that we would be moving back to New York.  The only question at that point was whether to leave in the middle of the year, or to wait and let the kids finish school to minimize the disruption in their lives.  We chose to wait for the sake of the kids, but it made leaving Texas that much more difficult.

My daughter, who started out the year screaming, crying and clinging on to me as I dropped her off at pre-school ended the year loving school and making a lot of friends.  Her first pre-school was a terrible fit for her personality, but the one where she spent most of the year was absolutely perfect for her.  Even though she was hesitant to give the new pre-school a chance at first, she quickly made great strides under the caring and compassionate teachers at the new pre-school.

At the end-of-the-year picnic, my little one ran around laughing and playing as if it were just another day at the playground.  Thankfully, she couldn’t fully grasp the concept that saying goodbye to her friends at the end of the day was actually vastly different than any other goodbye that she had ever said to them.  As she hugged her best friend, my wife and I got choked up, but she seemed none the worse for wear.  And though she has had her moments of hesitation about leaving Texas, she is easily swayed when we point out things that are waiting for her on our trip back and upon our arrival back in New York.

My son was old enough to understand what was going on when we left New York, and he was not happy with us at all for uprooting his life.  On the trip down to Texas, we made a number of fun stops along the way, and by the time we got to Texas, he was doing fine.

We stayed with family for over a month when we got to Texas, which made the transition for my son much easier.  He and his cousin are almost the same age, and have many of the same interests.  Having a friend to play with on a daily basis helped my son adapt to life in Texas very quickly.  Once he made a number of friends in school, he really never looked back to New York.  He was prepared to stay in Texas, even if it meant missing out on a lot of time with his grandparents and family back in New York.

Day to day life in Texas wasn’t all that much different than day to day life in New York.  However, my wife and I were both affected by the things that we were all missing out on:  holiday traditions, milestone birthdays, family gatherings and the culture that made us who we are today.

Kids are much more resilient and adaptable to being in new situations.  Because my son was enjoying his life in Texas, he didn’t give much thought to the things that he was missing out on.  And even though he will make new friends when we get settled in New York, the thought of leaving the life that he has built in Texas was very upsetting to him.

Leaving Texas is bittersweet for all of us for various reasons.

My wife got to spend time with her sister who moved to Texas several years ago.  She became friends with my sister-in-law’s friends and became close with the people that she worked with.

My daughter made a lot of friends and fell in love with pre-school.  Because she was so young when we left New York, she doesn’t really remember our house, and only associates New York with the family that is there and the beaches that she loves.

Personally, I enjoyed various aspects of Texas, but it would have been much easier for me to leave had things gone according to plan this football season.  I had all but guaranteed that my son would end up playing for one of the coaches that I knew from previous seasons, but when my son excelled in tryouts, he was drafted by another team.  At first, I was disappointed, but after speaking to his new coach for a few minutes, I realized that we were going to have a great time in his final season of Texas football.

I’ve been an assistant football coach for years.  I’ve enjoyed my time on almost every team that we’ve been a part of, but this year was different.  When our practices were over, we would all hang out at one of the houses near the practice field.  The boys would all play together as we discussed the team over a few beers.  Before long, I became good friends with the head coach and his group of friends.

If we had ended up on the team that I thought that we were going to end up on, it would have been much different for me.  The coach of that team is a nice guy, but I would not have formed the kind of friendship with him that I did with the head coach of this team.  Ultimately, I would have left Texas with a number of casual friends, and leaving would have been fairly easy for me.

Life often times throws you a curve ball.

Before this football season started, it would have been very easy for me to leave Texas and go back home to New York.  Even though I am looking forward to going home, it is not without any regrets.

I knew how hard this was going to be on my son, so I purposely planned things to do on our trip back to New York to replace his sadness with happy memories that will last a lifetime.

Our first stop along the way is in Oklahoma.  I’ll be writing about our Oklahoma experiences in the next day or so…stay tuned!

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American Idol Finale: Predicting the Season 10 Winner

In Music, Television on May 25, 2011 at 6:54 am

The chances of correctly predicting the winner of American Idol this season are truly 50/50.  Will the better performer from last night win it all, or will the other contestant’s fan base help to seal the victory?  In all honesty, the outcome doesn’t really matter.  Both young country artists will get record deals, and most likely each will record the original song that was written for them for the finale.

Perhaps last night’s finale was entertaining for country music fans.  But for the rest of the country, this finale just fell flat.  Despite the judges attempts to create excitement around the performances, there were no memorable moments from the show.  Actually, there was one, but it had nothing to do with the show.  The most exciting part of the show came when Fox broke in with a severe tornado warning in my area, forcing us to pause American Idol on the DVR and seek refuge in a closet.

Thankfully, we were able to fast-forward through most of the show, including parts of some of the performances, which surely would have had Simon rolling his eyes if he was still a judge.

Scotty McCreery won the coin toss, but elected to defer to Lauren Alaina, making the coin toss an exercise in futility.  Alaina obviously chose to go second.  This act of chivalry shows that the finale was not really a competition, but rather a country music television show which would have been more at home on CMT.

For their first song, the contestants got to choose their favorite performances of the season.

McCreery started the show off with “Gone” by Montgomery Gentry.  No offense to McCreery, who is adored by millions, but I thought that he’d be “gone” long before most of the others in the Top 13.  Those who love him probably loved the performance.  Those who don’t were probably as bored as I was.

Alaina, fighting through a damaged vocal cord which caused rumors to spread that she would be replaced by Haley Reinhart, did a decent job with Carrie Underwood’s “Flat on the Floor.”  Despite the setback, she looked very confident on stage, but it was evident that she was having difficulty hitting the big notes.

The second song was chosen by the Idols of the Idol contestants.

George Strait chose one of his own songs for McCreery to perform.  His rendition of “Check Yes or No” was a snoozefest.  Of course, I don’t know the original version, so it might have been great.  Given the choice, I will check “no” for this performance.

Carrie Underwood chose “Maybe It Was Memphis” by Pam Tillis for Alaina.  She did a decent job with it, straining to overcome her injured vocal cord at times, but overall, it was better than McCreery.

Why the judges didn’t comment until each contestant performed twice is beyond me.  I’d like to think that the producers made a wise decision in not forcing the viewing audience to listen to the same generic comments twice.

Jennifer Lopez told Scotty that she couldn’t think of a more explosive way to start the show.  Really?  Explosive?  Was she watching the same show as the rest of us?

Randy Jackson, wearing the dumbest outfit that he has ever worn on the show, proclaimed that they were both “in it to win it.”  You have to wonder at this point if he is somehow cashing in every time that he utters that idiotic catch phrase.

Steven Tyler, who has gone steadily downhill as a judge from the beginning of the season to the finale, spewed some gibberish before stating that Alaina won the first two rounds because “she’s prettier than Scotty.”  When Tyler talks about how pretty these girls are, he always sounds like a dirty old man.

For their third and final song, each contestant performed an original song that was written specifically for them.  It would be surprising if either song gets much airplay on pop radio as both songs are made for country radio.

McCreery performed a song called “I Love You This Big.”  Clearly, many voters feel this way about Scotty.  Anyone who has been reading my reviews of American Idol this season knows that I don’t feel this way.  I think that he is good for what he is, but I am still shocked that he became this unstoppable force on the show.

Alaina performed a song called “Like My Mother Does.”  It was a typical formulaic country song.  Alaina did a decent job with the song, as she always does.  Personally, I was just happy when the song ended, putting a cap on a very disappointing season of American Idol.

Actually, there was one more performance to end the evening.  For reasons that no one but the American Idol producers will understand, David Cook ended the show with a cover version of “Don’t You Forget About Me.”  The song was originally made popular in the 80’s by the band Simple Minds.  The irony of the band name and this decision by the Idol producers was not lost on me.

Even the most diehard Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina fans will admit that this was the most boring finale ever if they are honest with themselves.  There was not one standout performance, and no excitement.  A season that once had great potential, went out in such boring fashion, that you have to wonder if the audience will shrink next year as better shows like The Voice and X-Factor threaten the American Idol empire.

This finale could have been the best ever if the voting during the season had gone a different way.

Pia Toscano had plenty of detractors, but she would have been a much better finale contestant.  James Durbin would have walked away with this victory if he replaced either of the finale contestants because he would have made the show exciting.  Since I don’t have the luxury of choosing the winner between the two best contestants, I have no choice but to pick who the winner of Country American Idol will be.

And the next American Idol is…

Scotty McCreery.

It defies all logic that a one-trick pony who has never delivered an over-the-top singing performance will win a singing competition.  But the voters love him, and that is what matters most on American Idol.  He and Alaina will probably both go on to have careers in country music.  Alaina is the more deserving of the two, but that hasn’t mattered all season, so there is no reason for it to matter when crowing this season’s champion.

Perhaps the most telling moment of the finale was having someone other than the two finalists close the show with a song called “Don’t You Forget About Me.”  Personally, I cannot make that promise to David Cook, Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina or American Idol for that matter.  This show may not have run its course for many, but for me, there is no reason to return.

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American Idol: Top 3 Reviews and Predictions

In Music, Television on May 19, 2011 at 6:55 am

Season 10 of American Idol is finally coming to an end, and thanks to the surprise elimination of James Durbin last week, it is doing so with a whimper rather than with a bang.  Without Durbin’s theatrics, this may very well end up being the most boring finale in the show’s history.  If this week’s show is any indication of what’s to come in the finale, this once-promising season hit its peak much too soon.

This week, the remaining contestants were given the opportunity to perform three songs each.  The first song was the contestant’s choice, the second was Jimmy Iovine’s choice and the final song was the judges’ choice.  The order in which these songs were performed will probably be more important in determining the finalists than the quality of each performance because the last song is what will be on the voters’ minds as they start dialing.

Regardless of which contestants advance to the finale, the end of this season couldn’t come soon enough.  There is very little excitement or intrigue with the remaining contestants, and even the judges’ families must be getting tired of listening to the same recycled comments after each performance.  Is there anyone on the planet (aside from the irritating Ryan Seacrest) who can stand to hear Randy Jackson proclaim which contestants are “in it to win it?”

As usual, this week’s show had its moments, but overall, it was one of the more boring late-season performances in the show’s history.

Here is this week’s breakdown (in reverse order):

 

[3]          Scotty McCreery  – Consistency is never an issue for McCreery.  He is always solid, but never spectacular.  Even though the judges tried to give him songs to force him to show his range, McCreery only goes so far before reverting back to his comfort zone.

For his song choice, McCreery chose Lonestar’s “Amazed.”  This seems like an appropriate song given the fact that the voting nation seems to be amazed by McCreery.  However, it was not amazing.  It was typical of his weekly performances.  And though he has gained confidence in his stage presence since the beginning of the season, somehow the “leaning tower of Scotty” returned in full force for this song.

Jimmy Iovine chose “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not?” by Thompson Square.  It was about the same as all of his other performances, only this time he was leaning awkwardly with a guitar instead of doing it over the piano.

The judges chose “She Believes in Me” by Kenny Rogers.  It was an obvious attempt to get McCreery to shoot for a big note.  He did, but overall the song was too mature for him, and his performance lacked the character of the original, but it won’t matter.

McCreery is adored by the voters and the judges and should easily cruise into the finale.  Of course, that seemed to be the case with James Durbin last week, so there’s always a chance that there is another surprise this week.

[2]          Haley Reinhart – At the beginning of the season, no one could have predicted that Reinhart would have made it this far.  She is defying the odds on a weekly basis by surviving while more highly-regarded contestants go home.  Those with an open mind will realize that she has earned it, but those who focus on her early-season performances, will surely be shocked if she survives yet another week.

While her competition was choosing safe songs, Reinhart took a huge risk by tackling Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be.”  But the risk paid off.  It was the best overall performance of the night, in spite of the slight interruption caused by an embarrassing trip on the steps.  To her credit, Reinhart didn’t miss a beat.  She regained her composure and continued to deliver one of the best performances of the season.  Unfortunately for Reinhart, she peaked early in the evening.

Jimmy Iovine chose “Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac for Reinhart.  It started off brilliantly as Reinhart captured the essence of Stevie Nicks while adding her own signature sound to the song.  As the song progressed, her singing transitioned from special to light, airy and kind of moody.  It was still one of the better songs of the night, but it wasn’t as impressive as her first song.

The judges inexplicably chose “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette for Reinhart’s final performance.  She did a decent job with the choruses, but the verses were very weak.  It seemed as though she didn’t have enough breath to squeeze in the multitude of lyrics in the song.  She would have been better off if this was her first song of the night rather than her last.  If the judges really wanted to showcase her talent, they would have been better off choosing “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles.

               

[1]          Lauren Alaina – Can Alaina become the next Carrie Underwood?  She certainly has the talent to do so if she is provided with the right songs and packaged the right way.  As one of the early favorites in the competition, it is not at all shocking that she has made it this far, and would not be a surprise to see her in the finale.

Unlike Reinhart, Alaina got better as the night went on.  The song that she chose for herself is one that she claims to have been singing since she was a kid, but it wasn’t evident from her performance.  Her rendition of “Wild One” by Faith Hill was decent, but nothing special.  It sounded more like Dolly Parton than Faith Hill, and it wasn’t very impressive.  Even though the judges liked watching her have fun, this performance didn’t measure up to most of her performances in recent weeks.

Jimmy Iovine chose “If I Die Young” by Perry, largely for the lyrics.  It was a good fit for Alaina’s voice, but she did get caught up in the emotion of the song for a brief moment.  Like Reinhart, she quickly regained her composure without missing a beat.  While her singing was very good on this song, she was very statue-like on stage.  This was Pia Toscano’s downfall, but Alaina’s likability will most likely inspire the voters to pick up the phone for her.

The judges’ choice for Alaina was perfect.  Her performance of Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance” was a great way to end the show for Alaina.  Aside from Reinhart’s inspired performance of “What Is and What Should Never Be,” this song was the best of the night.

Overall, Alaina has delivered performances worthy of landing her in the finale for most of the season.  The order of the songs definitely helped her this week, as she got to save her best song for last.

WHO GOES HOME?

Haley Reinhart delivered arguably the best and worst performances of the evening.  Unfortunately for Reinhart, her best performance was very early in the show, and her worst came at the very end.  This season has been nothing if not unpredictable, so there is always a chance that she upsets one of the remaining favorites and squeaks into the finale, but it doesn’t seem likely.

Country music is alive and well in America, and it seems that this year’s finale is destined to be a battle of the young country music performers.

It hardly matters which two contestants make it to the finale.  Without James Durbin’s electrifying performances, this finale is destined to fail to live up to expectations.

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American Idol: Top 4 Reviews and Predictions

In Music, Television on May 12, 2011 at 7:05 am

The final four contestants each performed two songs this week.  The first theme: “Songs That Inspire” smartly offered a wide array of choices.  The theme for the second song, however, did not.  No disrespect to Lieber & Stoller intended, but having the final four contestants choose from their catalog was an uninspired decision by the American Idol producers.

Was there truly any purpose to offer such a narrow song selection when the supposed best singers are still left standing? When you take into account that this season’s votes have shown that the American Idol audience is dominated by young girls, and most of them won’t know any songs by Lieber & Stoller (who both turned 78 years old recently), the choice was even more puzzling.

The producers of American Idol seem too smug to make smart decisions about the direction of the show, which may ultimately lead to them losing their stranglehold on ratings dominance.  But then again, these are the same people who think that Ryan Seacrest is worth $15 million per year, so no one will ever accuse them of having impeccable judgment.

This week’s show had its memorable moments, but there were also some very questionable ones as well.

Here is this week’s breakdown (in reverse order):

[4]          Scotty McCreery  – In light of the killing of Osama Bin Laden, McCreery’s choice for the “Songs That Inspire” was very timely and appropriate.  McCreery’s performance of “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning” by Alan Jackson was typical of his usual offerings, but because the lyrics are so poignant and timely, it ended up being one of his best moments on the show.

Unfortunately, his second song, while applauded by the judges and his fans, was not very good.  His goofy version of “Youngblood” by The Coasters showed his lighthearted side, and left the judges impressed with his ability to deliver a humorous performance, but if not for the fact that he is one of the favorites, it most likely would have been more heavily critiqued.

Based on his body of work and his performances this week, McCreery should be concerned about being sent packing, but it seems that he is destined to appear in the finale.  He is a good performer, but he has yet to deliver a vocal performance that blows you away.  To quote Steven Tyler’s lyrics, McCreery’s weekly performances are “the same old story, the same old song and dance,” but it doesn’t seem to matter to the voters or the judges.

[3]          Lauren Alaina – She seemed inspired while performing “Anyway” by Martina McBride, but Alaina took a big step backwards with her second song (“Trouble” by Elvis Presley).  During both songs there are moments where you can see the amazing potential that Alaina has to be at least as popular as Carrie Underwood.  But there are also moments where you can see why she was in the bottom two last week.

“Anyway” was a good song choice for Alaina, and she made the most of it by showing off her sweet tone and her pure power.  If this were the only song that she performed tonight, she would undoubtedly make it into the Top Three next week.  However, her performance of “Trouble” may be the very reason that she is in “trouble” this week.

After appearing in the bottom two last week, Alaina cannot feel safe when this week’s voting results are announced.  Her concern is certainly warranted.

[2]          Haley Reinhart – Last week, Reinhart received some harsh criticism for choosing a Lady Gaga song that wasn’t known by the masses.  Even though the judges didn’t like the song, the truth of the matter is that she did a good job with it.  However, her decision to choose “The Earth Song” by Michael Jackson as an inspirational song was ill-conceived.  Out of all of the songs that she could have chosen in the category, this was not the one that will inspire voters to pick up the phone to support her.

However, Reinhart stepped up once again when it was time to perform her second song of the night.  Her rendition of “I Who Have Nothing” by Tom Jones (or Jordin Sparks) was very good, perhaps the best of the evening overall.  But it did not compare to the incredible version that Sparks delivered when she performed it on Idol.  It may very well have been the song that helped launch Sparks to victory.

Reinhart certainly earned her place in the Top Three with her performances this week, but she still may be the one on the outside looking in based on her popularity.

[1]          James Durbin – The one thing that Durbin has going for him is that he consistently picks songs that will resonate with the audience.  Tonight’s first song was definitely one that inspires but it has lost some of its magic quality due to its overuse.  “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey is a song that defines a generation, but it has become too closely associated with the TV show “Glee.”

Durbin is a very good singer, but he is not Steve Perry good.  He did some nice things with “Don’t Stop Believin’,” but it sounded more like something out of the Broadway show “Rock of Ages” than a Journey performance, but it doesn’t matter.  Durbin’s stage presence is so good, that the crowd can’t help but love him.

His second song choice seemed truly bizarre, but he actually pulled it off nicely.  It’s safe to say that this is probably the first time that “Love Potion Number 9” by The Searchers was performed like an 80’s metal song.  And though it seemed a bit odd, in the end, it turned out to be one of the better moments on the show tonight.

Unless there is a very shocking vote, it looks like Durbin should cruise into the finale.

WHO GOES HOME?

If it were up to me, this would be the time for Scotty McCreery to leave.  He will most likely be a successful country singer, but if people really take the time to evaluate him in this competition, it is painfully obvious that he has yet to blow anyone away with his vocals.  In the real world, he may have the most success out of any of the contestants, but that doesn’t mean that he should beat them in a singing competition.

Scotty McCreery’s career will be defined by what he does once American Idol is over.  He doesn’t deserve to beat out any of the others purely based on his vocals, but his popularity may push him over the edge.

At first blush, it would seem that Lauren Alaina is more popular than Haley Reinhart, but she did end up in the bottom two last week.  Even though Alaina may have been the best singer with her first song, her second song was average at best.

On the other hand, Haley Reinhart saved her best for last, and that may help sway votes in her favor.

It would only be truly shocking if James Durbin was eliminated this week, but it’s doubtful that he’s at any risk of that happening.

Even though it would not be my pick, I predict that Lauren Alaina will go home this week because her strongest performance was at the beginning of the show, and Haley Reinhart’s was at the end.

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American Idol: Top 5 Reviews and Predictions

In Music, Television on May 5, 2011 at 10:32 am

With only five contestants remaining, each one was given the opportunity to perform two songs.  The theme for this week was “Now and Then” (a current song and a song from the 60’s).  With such a young cast, you would think that the current songs would be much better than the songs from the past, but that was not the case this week for any of the contestants.

Before the show started, Ryan Seacrest turned to Randy Jackson for their usual useless banter.  Seacrest asked Jackson what the contestants needed to do now that they’re in the top five, and Jackson gave his stock answer about wanting to see “who’s in it to win it” (as if some of them were there trying to lose at this point).

As the weeks go by, this judging panel which seemed to breathe new life into the show early on is becoming a drag.  Their comments, for the most part, do nothing to add to the show.  This is a stark contrast to The Voice, where all of the judges are entertaining and more informative.

Thankfully, this season is coming to an end in the next couple of weeks.  At which point, I guess we will all get to see who was “in it to win it.”

Here is this week’s breakdown (in reverse order):

[5]          Jacob Lusk – In a baffling move, Lusk chose to sing both parts of a duet for his current song (“No Air” by Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown).  Clearly, he has no problem tapping into his feminine side, but trying to sing the male and the female parts was awkward and he didn’t do a very good job with either part.  As usual, Lusk was overly dramatic with this performance, which was one of his worst of the season.  The only good part of the song was the back-up singers.

Lusk reluctantly took Jimmy Iovine’s advice and took a chance by doing a song that most wouldn’t expect from him (“Love Hurts” by Nazareth).  He did a much better job with this song than his first song of the night.  He was on key, less dramatic and stayed true to the song while making it his own.

[4]          Scotty McCreery –  To his credit, McCreery stepped out of his comfort zone and moved beyond his usual safe, deep voice country sound.  His performance of “Gone” by Montgomery Gentry was lively and energetic, and he has clearly gotten much more comfortable being on stage.

McCreery stepped back into his comfort zone with his second song as he performed “Always on My Mind” by Elvis Presley.  While it was a safe choice, he did a nice job with the song and did as much as he could to make it his own.

Overall, McCreery did a good job (as he usually does), but still has yet to deliver a performance that will be remembered by the time he takes the stage again the following week.

[3]          James Durbin – For many weeks, Durbin has simply dominated this competition.  Because of that, he seems to have built up such goodwill that he is almost immune from being critiqued by the judges.  Based on his body of work, Durbin is still the one to beat, but this was far from his best week.  His first song “Closer to the Edge” by 30 Seconds to Mars was decent, but certainly nothing close to what we’ve come to expect from him.  As usual, his stage presence was spot-on, and you got the feeling that you were watching a James Durbin concert.  However, this song was not a great choice for him (despite what the judges and Iovine said about this being his niche).

 His second song of the night was much better, even though it wasn’t on par with his usual vocal performance.  Singing “Without You” by Harry Nilsson was a good choice, but because of the lyrics and the vibe of the song, it was very emotional.  Durbin deserves a lot of credit for getting through the song (albeit with tears filling in his eyes).  Even though it wasn’t his best performance vocally, it will be one that will be remembered for a long time because of the emotional value.

[2]          Lauren Alaina – Before the top 24 were ever chosen, Alaina seemed to be one of the favorites to win it all.  She lost her way for a while, but she has come back so strongly that you have to think that she might be the only one who can defeat Durbin in the finale.  Her first song, “Flat on the Floor” by Carrie Underwood proved that she has the makings of a star.  She is much better than Underwood was at this point in her career.  And at only 16 years of age, the sky seems to be the limit for Alaina.  She has clearly found her niche, and if she has the right songwriters, she should be selling millions of albums whether she wins this competition or not.

For her second song, Alaina chose to perform her parents’ song “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers.  Because this song has been done so many times on Idol already, it is challenging to make it resonate with the audience.  Fortunately for Alaina, she was up to the challenge.  Her version of the song was sweet and powerful and she showed off the beautiful tone to her voice.  If she keeps delivering performances like this, she has a good chance of winning it all.

[1]          Haley Reinhart – When the competition first began, I have to admit that I didn’t see much in Reinhart, but the judges did.  Now that she has come into her own, it seems that the judges have started to abandon her at times with unfair criticism.  Her first song of the night was suggested by Jimmy Iovine.  It is a Lady Gaga song called “You and I” that is unreleased, and has only been performed live to date.  Reinhart has not only grown as a singer throughout the competition, her stage presence and choice of wardrobe has also improved greatly.  She now looks the part, and her confidence seems to be growing by the week.

Despite what the judges said, this was a good song choice for her.  Panning her for choosing a song that is not well known by the public was laughable.  How many times has almost every contestant been guilty of that through the years?  The fact of the matter is that choosing a song that everyone knows is helpful, but only if it is performed well.  A good, unknown song that is performed well can be just as impressive, and sometimes more so.  This was the case this week.  Even though I never heard the song before, I thought that Reinhart did a great job with it, as it was a natural fit for her voice.  Randy Jackson saying that he didn’t love the song is irrelevant because she didn’t write it.  Even though it wasn’t a favorite of the judges, the song showcased Reinhart’s raspy, edgy voice.

Her second song of the night was also chosen by Iovine.  I have to admit that I didn’t know what to expect when Reinhart started performing “House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals.  She started off singing it acapella, and then transitioned into singing it with the accompaniment of the band and back-up singers.  The suggestion to start of acapella by Sheryl Crow was an inspired one because it really made Reinhart stand out from the crowd.  When she finished her very unique and cool version of the song, she deservedly received a standing ovation, and was told by the judges that it was the best performance of the night.  This time, the judges got it right.

Reinhart is still a long shot to make it into the finale, or even the top 3 for that matter, but she has certainly earned her right to compete next week with the fan favorites.

WHO GOES HOME?

Unless the voting audience totally ignores how good Haley Reinhart was this week, it would be a shock to see anyone aside from Jacob Lusk going home this week.  He has been a mainstay in the bottom three, has received the harshest criticism by the judges and quite frankly, he is just not as good as the others.

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Proud to be an American

In Family, Life on May 4, 2011 at 2:39 pm

For several weeks, my little one has been walking around the house practicing the songs for her pre-school program.  The theme this year was patriotic songs.  In my wildest dreams, I never would have imagined that she would be singing these songs two days after the announcement of the killing of Osama Bin Laden.  Truth be told, I never thought that we would find him, so the announcement that Navy SEAL Team 6 had finally killed Bin Laden made last night’s performance that much more meaningful.

Each of the three-year old classes sang two songs on their own, followed by the four-year old classes doing the same.  You couldn’t help but marvel at how cute they were as they acted out the songs.  Everyone in the audience was smiling…until the final two songs.

Once my little one’s class finished their two songs, they were joined on stage by every other class to perform “God Bless America” and “God Bless the U.S.A.”  Seeing and hearing all of these innocent children singing (especially in light of the Bin Laden news) created a very emotional atmosphere in the room.

The lyrics to “God Bless the U.S.A.” were altered slightly so that they made sense coming from children…

If tomorrow all I had was gone…all I hoped to see.

And I had to start again…with just my friends and family.

I’d thank my lucky stars…to be living here today.

‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom…and they can’t take that away.

I’m proud to be an American…where at least I know I’m free.

And I won’t forget the men who died…who gave that right to me.

And I gladly stand up next to you…and defend her still today.

‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land…

God Bless the U.S.A.

I’m not ashamed to admit that it choked me up every time that she sang the song in the house or in the car.  In light of this week’s news, I wasn’t the only one with tears in my eyes watching these beautiful children singing such a poignant song.  Of course, they have no idea how meaningful it was to the adults, and that is part of the beauty of being so innocent.

On 9/11/01 our nation was robbed of its innocence, and it is not likely to return anytime in the foreseeable future.  Even though no major terrorist attacks have been committed on U.S. soil since that day, the threat of another attack is always looming.  The death of Bin Laden gave Americans justice but did nothing to bring back the innocence to our nation.

The way that these kids sang their hearts out last night made every parent in the audience beam with pride.  It is a moment that I would like to freeze in time because I know that it won’t be long before my little one starts to realize that the world can be an evil place.  And though they may look at our generation’s childhood as boring because we lived without the things that they are accustomed to, the sad fact is that they have missed out on growing up at a time when children were sheltered from evil.

In today’s economic times, it isn’t always easy to appreciate what being an American means.  This week has renewed my appreciation.  And though I may not say it often enough, in my heart, I always have been and always will be…proud to be an American!

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A Surprising Amount of Traffic on the “High Road”

In Life, Life Lessons on May 3, 2011 at 7:54 am

On Sunday night, I fell asleep early on the couch.  As is often the case, I woke up in the middle of the night unable to fall back to sleep.  Bleary-eyed, I flipped to ESPN to check out scores and highlights.  A flash of red caught my eye on the scroll as it passed by and I saw a mention of President Obama.  I immediately went back to see what it was.  I was shocked to see that we actually got Bin Laden.

Like many others, I was happy to see that Bin Laden was dead.

I quickly flipped to the various news channels to get more details about what happened.  Just like 9/11 and the days following it, I found myself glued to the coverage.  The only difference this time was that I was experiencing more than just news coverage.  I was also reading peoples’ reactions on Facebook.  As the day progressed, I saw more and more people posting a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. (which it turns out was only partially his words, the rest were added by someone else to make their point).  The quote intimates that it is wrong to celebrate anyone’s death.

Ironically, the 9/11 attacks brought us all together as a country, but the killing of Bin Laden seems to have created a divide how we view his demise.

So many people are disgusted with the Americans who celebrated at the White House and at Ground Zero.  Somehow, they have twisted these celebrations to be on par with the celebrations of the fanatics and zealots who danced in the streets on 9/11 after the attacks.  How they arrived at this comparison is beyond me.  The two celebrations are nothing alike.  And while I wasn’t out in the streets celebrating, I have no problem with those who were.  Maybe I would have been a part of it if I were in the area.  Maybe I wouldn’t have.  There’s no way to know for sure.

For those who believe that we as Americans should take the “high road” and not celebrate the death of Bin Laden, I simply ask….why not?

This evil monster has forever changed our way of life and our way of thinking.

I can still remember the morning of 9/11 as if it were yesterday.

The sky was so blue and so perfect that it looked more like a painting than reality.  It was the kind of day that put a smile on your face and made you happy to be alive.  It was peaceful…until the first plane hit the Twin Towers.  And then…it was mayhem!

Most people did not have a front row seat to the 9/11 attacks.  I did!  And my front row seat lasted for much longer than it did for most, so maybe my perspective is a little different. (Click here to read “My 9/11 Experience…”)

I did not lose anyone close to me on 9/11, although I thought that I did for a while when I was unable to reach my wife who was working in the area.  I cannot imagine the pain of those who lost loved ones on that day.  The “lucky” families actually got to bury their loved ones.

Most were not so “lucky.”  Most had memorial services with no burial afterwards, because their loved ones were vaporized, and their final resting place is known to the world simply as “Ground Zero.”

When that coward Bin Laden planned these attacks against innocent people, he never gave any consideration to the families who would never get to have a proper burial.  And yet, his brother requested his body back so that they could give him one.  For those who like the high road, you should be pleased to know that our government disposed of Bin Laden’s body in a respectful way, in a way that followed the laws of Islam.  They cleansed his body and made sure that he was buried at sea within the 24-hour timeframe that his religion mandates.

By way of comparison, most families of 9/11 victims held off on having any kind of funeral or memorial service in hopes that they would have something…anything…to bury.  Imagine waiting to honor your lost loved one because you are holding out hope that you will get back a finger, a toe or a small bone fragment.  That’s all that I could think about yesterday when the news showed how we disposed of Bin Laden’s body.  He didn’t deserve the proper burial that he got.

As Americans, our government left us no choice but to take the high road in disposing of Bin Laden’s remains.  Personally, I would have liked to have seen them vaporize him on television for the world to see.  At the very least, I would have waited more than 24 hours to bury him at sea, and I wouldn’t have prepared his body for the burial.  I would have dumped him in the sea like the piece of garbage that he was.

My happiness to see Bin Laden dead quickly turned to rage about what he did and how he was treated with respect after we killed him.  It made me angry to see so many people taking the high road and saying that this was not a time for celebration.

One of the things that makes this country great is freedom of speech, so I have no problem with people voicing their opinions.  I guess I’m just a little bit surprised to see more disdain for the celebrations of Bin Laden’s demise than joy over the fact that the world is a better place without him.

This isn’t about closure for me, and based on the interviews that I’ve seen with family members of 9/11 victims, it isn’t for them either.  I realize that there will be others to step up in his place and carry on the hatred of America.  This is about justice.

Celebrating Bin Laden’s death is about justice finally being served.  It is about showing the rest of the world that if you attack us, we will stop at nothing to eliminate you.  It is about showing supposed allies that we will do whatever it takes to achieve our goal, even if it means stepping on your toes.  It is about showing the rest of the world that we are a force to be reckoned with even if we lose our grip on being the world’s biggest financial superpower.

Celebrating Bin Laden’s death is about American Pride.  It is not barbaric bloodlust.  And it certainly does not mean that we are reducing ourselves to the level of those who danced in the streets on 9/11 when thousands of innocent people were killed.  The celebrations are nothing more than a visceral response to the deserved killing of an evil coward who is responsible for the most tragic day in American history.

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My 9/11 Experience…

In Family, Life, Life Lessons on May 3, 2011 at 7:30 am

I didn’t personally lose any loved ones on 9/11, but it did have an effect on me because I was as close as you can get to it without actually being a part of it.

For those of you around the country that watched this all unfold as if it were a tragic movie, trust me, it was more real that any of us would like to believe.

At the time of this tragedy, I was living in Jersey City, NJ in a condo on the water. The view from my balcony was the Twin Towers. In fact, I could even sit on my couch and see the towers hovering above the whole city. Below is a recap of what the day was like for me, and the aftermath, which changed my life forever.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

Around 8:50am, I got in the shower to get ready for work. I worked in the music industry at the time, so my hours were later than most commuters. While in the shower the phone kept ringing. I knew that it was probably my wife who was already at work in lower Manhattan. Usually she would just leave me a message for me to call her, but this time she kept calling and calling.

When I answered the phone, I said “Why do you keep calling, why didn’t you just leave me a message and wait for me to call back?” She replied, “Look out the window.” I stepped out onto my balcony to take a look and was shocked to see a hole in one of the Towers. We spoke for a little while and we both thought, as others did, that a small plane probably hit the tower. It didn’t look good, but at the time, we had no idea of what was to follow.

We hung up the phone, and I continued to get ready for work, not realizing that the Path Train that I was planning on taking had already been stopped, as it ran directly under the World Trade Center. I watched the news from a vantage point that allowed me to see the TV and the Towers at the same time.

On TV, I saw the 2nd Tower get hit live. I immediately called my wife (whose office was about 10 blocks away) and told her to get home now. She asked why. I told her that terrorists were attacking NYC. Not realizing the gravity of the situation, or maybe overwhelmed by shock, she responded, “but it’s not my building.” At that time, she and other co-workers were watching the events out of their office windows. I said to her “Just leave. Quit your fucking job if you have to, but get home now!” Fortunately, she was the first one out of her office. Others that waited ended up covered in soot and had to be hosed off when reaching their destination. To this day no one knows what health effects these people may suffer down the road as a result of the exposure.

My wife got to the ferry which took her directly back to our condo complex. Normally, it was a 10-minute ride, and ran basically every 10 minutes during rush hour. She should have been home no later than 9:30am. However, the ferry was packed, and they were told to move much slower than usual to avoid creating underwater currents that could contribute to the possible structural problems that the Towers were facing. By my wife’s recollection, there were papers and debris flying all over the docks, which were about a half mile away. I kept trying to call her on her cell phone, but all lines were busy and remained that way for most of the day. I had the helpless feeling of just waiting for her arrival.

Sitting in shock on the couch, watching the towers burn at a little after 10am, I felt a rumble (like a small earthquake) and then Tower 1 collapsed. With only the Hudson River separating my condo from the Towers, there was nothing to block the tremors that were felt when the tower collapsed. When Tower 1 went down, and my wife was still not home, and unable to be reached by cell phone, I feared the worst and lost it. Already in a terrible state-of-mind after suddenly losing my father less than 2 months earlier, I thought that my world had ended. Fortunately, my wife walked in a few minutes after Tower 1 went down and explained what had happened, and why it took so long to get home.

Along with all of our neighbors, we both sat and watched in shock and horror as Tower 2 went down right before our eyes. Words can’t describe the feelings we had. After all, one of the appeals of this condo was the view of the Towers, and now it was gone, replaced by a cloud of smoke that would hover literally for months, with a burning smell that cannot be described by words. During this time, we couldn’t open our windows because the smell would be in our home.

To make matters worse, our condo complex was also a ferry destination. Most of the people that took the ferry worked in lower Manhattan, and the cars were parked outside the gate of our community all day long. When September 12th came, there were still a number of cars sitting parked outside of the gate. The only cars to park there were commuters, as nothing else was close by. These cars were a constant reminder of those that didn’t make it out of the Towers. Slowly over the following months, the cars started to disappear, but it took a long time before the final car was picked up by a loved one.

After returning to work a few days later, the Empire State Building was evacuated due to a terror threat. I left my office, along with many others, and my wife did the same. It took hours to get home as there was a mad rush out of NYC. When we got home, I told my wife that we had to get out of town for a while, or I was going to lose it. It was all too much to take. The pain of my father’s passing was only made worse by the cloud of smoke, the constant burning smell, the cars that still lingered outside of our community and the terror threats still coming. We retreated to upstate NY to visit her parents for a few days. A place that is usually a little too slow-paced for me (not much to do in this small upstate town) became a temporary haven, as I was finally able to get away from the chaos and into a peaceful place. The sights and sounds, and even the smell of the country air provided us with a great respite from the turmoil that we were living through.

After 9/11, there was a truly eerie silence blanketing NYC. A cloud of shock and despair hung over our grieving city. Suddenly, New Yorkers that were always in a rush and usually fairly impatient with each other, became quiet and polite. Horns weren’t honking at each street corner. Hopefully, most of you can’t relate to this, but it had a feeling similar to that of a high school after a student dies. It’s a silence, a mood, that is so thick that you feel like you can touch it, or cut it with a knife. It was so surreal, and it lasted for about 3-4 weeks, and seemed to end overnight. The process of getting back to “normal” was not at all gradual. It seemed that there was a grieving process and then it was time for New Yorkers to be New Yorkers (for better or worse).

I kept commuting to NYC, but hated being there. I had always been interested in real estate, so I started reading self-help books and real estate books to make the commute more tolerable. I was in the sales profession for years before becoming a real estate agent, but always resisted it because I didn’t want to work weekends. When I finally made the decision, it was the best one that I could have ever made. I wish that I had done it sooner, but I guess it just wasn’t the right time. Ultimately, that day may have actually sped up my entry into the real estate profession.

Although there have been good times and bad times as a real estate agent, the flexibility has allowed me to spend a lot of quality time with my family. After 9/11, and my father’s sudden passing, I realize that tomorrow is not guaranteed. Life is far too short and fragile to be spending it commuting on a train to jobs that I didn’t find fulfilling.

As Americans, this day should have had a tremendous impact on us all. It should truly be a day of remembrance and a national holiday, but unfortunately, people would eventually use it as a chance for a barbecue or getaway so it’s better not to declare it a holiday. For those of us that were touched by this tragedy directly by losing a loved one or friend or even surviving, but being close to the action, this day will never be about “business as usual.”

ALWAYS REMEMBER…AND DON’T EVER FORGET:

The Victims of September 11, 2001

http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2001/memorial/lists/by-name/index.html

The above website lists all of the victims of 9/11, each one featuring a profile about the person and a place for comments by friends and loved ones. It’s more than a list of names, which may be hard to relate to. It’s a list of people, people that were parents, people that were someone’s child, people that had friends and careers and lived until their lives were taken from them by evil cowards that deserve to suffer until the end of time. Please take a moment and read about some of these people. If you never felt connected to the situation, you will now.

ALWAYS REMEMBER…AND DON’T EVER FORGET…

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