For TV, this weekend was a fascinating blur. It started with the royal wedding, ended with the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. We were suddenly reminded that the royals -- interesting, attractive folks -- are still just make-believe.
The transition even caught some of the top anchors mid-Atlantic, unavailable to cover the biggest story so far in 2011. They'll be on it tonight (Monday), however. ABC and CBS quickly announced that their newscasts will be expanded to an hour, giving Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric a chance to anchor full coverage; CNN will have Anderson Cooper and Pier Morgan back to the serious stuff.
Lost in all this real news was the semi-real world of reality TV. "America's Next Great Restaurant" -- an exceptionally good NBC show -- named its winner Sunday and reporters interviewed him this noon. Here's the story I sent to papers:
By MIKE HUGHES
As jobs come and go in Detroit,
flexibility is required. Jamawn Woods – who has just won the
“America's Next Great Restaurant” reality show – can tell you
He's been a football player, even
playing some pro ball in Finland. He's been an autoworker … then an
unemployed guy starting a catering business … then an autoworker
AND a caterer. And beginning this week, he's an entrepreneur with
three restaurants and four big-time investors.
“Detroit is definitely coming back ….
I hope I can inspire people,” Wood said Monday – the day his
restaurants were set to open, one day after the finale aired on NBC.
That flexibility was key, said Lorena
Garcia, one of the four judges. “What I saw in Jamawn is true
growth. (And) he's a team player; he really has his people working
He started with a concept called W3,
for Woods' wings and waffles. Judges frowned. “I thought, 'How long
can I continue to make the wings and the waffles, before they throw
me off?'” Woods said.
So he switched to gumbo and drew
praise. He soon went to baked chicken instead of fried and to
healthier side dishes. “I want to show that you can eat soul food
every day,” he said.
This is the flexibility that's part of
a changing life.
First was football – at Cooley High
in Detroit, at Lincoln University (a Division II school) in Missouri
and as a middle linebacker in Finland. “I try to keep my football
shape,” said Woods, 34, who is 6-foot-1 and 255 pounds. “This
will be the first year I don't play semi-pro.”
In 2009, he was laid off from an auto
job. That's when he started the catering business out of his home; as
Detroit bounced back, he became a forklift operator at the Chrysler
plant in Sterling Heights.
He was still working there until
mid-April, keeping a secret: “America's Next Great Restaurant”
had already been taped last summer and he knew he'd finished in the
Two weeks ago, Woods flew back for the
taping of the finale. On one side were the three final concepts –
his renamed Soul Daddy, plus Brooklyn Meatball Company and the
India-influence Spice Coast.
The judges announced that Soul Daddy
had won. During the 10-month gap, they had secretly started creating
the three restaurants – in New York, Hollywood and Minneapolis'
Mall of America.
Those judges are also the investors
Steve Ells is the founder of Chipotle and the others – Bobby Flay,
Curtis Stone and Garcia – are chefs and restaurateurs. They've
juggled the concept a bit; there are fewer references to Motown music
and the food choices have grown.
“I'd say 70 percent of the menu is
mine,” Woods said. “They've added some healthier sides.”
He said that with a tone of amiable
flexibility. When you're a middle linebacker, an autoworker and a
caterer, you know how to change directions.