For the "American Idol" finalists, there's been basement magic


 

The "American Idol" finalists will soon be working to arena audiences. Some of their big moments, however, also came in basements, to audiences of one or so. Here's the story I sent to papers:  

By MIKE HUGHES


Sure, garages are nice for bands or start-up computer companies.
But some of music’s important moments happen in basements; just ask the top two
people in this year’s “American Idol.”


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Jena Irene, 17, the runner-up. Two years ago,
she tried “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” the Elvis Presley song. “I remember
playing it for the first time in my basement for my mother and she cried for
the first time in a while,” she said. “I knew it was powerful, but didn’t know
if that was just because she’s my mother.”


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Caleb Johnson,23, the champion. About six years
ago, he got a call from Josh Sawyer, a rock guitarist in his home town of Asheville,
N.C. “I went to his basement and sang for him,” Johnson recalls. “He literally
loved it. He invited his parents down to hear it.”


That was the start of something big. Johnson promptly sang
in the school talent show, getting a huge reaction after the first moments.
Soon, he was singing with Sawyer’s band, Elijah Hooker.


He was still doing that last year, he says, “playing shows
with the band three or four times a week,” when he auditioned for “Idol” … a
show he had tried twice before, never getting further than the top 24. This
time, he was never in the bottom three.


Now comes the next flurry. On Sunday, he’ll sing the
National Anthem in Washington, D.C., for PBS’ Memorial Day eve concert; three
days later, he’ll take Irene to her high school prom in Farmington Hills, Mich.
“I think I’m going to be up in the air all the time,” he said. Life can be a blur
for them. Just ask:


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Irene why she made the unusual choice of letting
Johnson sing last, in the final performance show. She won the coin flip, but
thought it was about something else. “I wasn’t really listening, because I was
thinking of several different things.”


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Or Johnson about “As Long as You Love Me,” his
first single. He said he was handed it just two days before he recorded it. He
calls it “just a fun song,” but expects his album (out Aug. 12) to be
differtent, with “really heavy, soulful, powerful rock ‘n’ roll.”


Irene also has big ambitions for her album, which she hopes
will include at least one song she’s written. First, she has to worry about her
prom. “I still don’t have a dress and I’m freaking out,” she said.


She calls Johnson “my best friend” and he praises her music
and her soul: “She’s so funny and sweet and full of love for people,” he said.


When she asked him to the prom, weeks ago, they didn’t
realize they would be the final two. But then both kept soaring. Johnson ranged
from the songs of power-rockers Rush and Led Zeppelin to doing the music of
Aretha Franklin, Adele and Lady Gaga.


Irene ranged from singing her own composition to scoring big
on love-song week with that basement song, “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Her
mother, it turns out, isn’t the only one who likes it.


This "Idol" finale was easy to predict ... or maybe not



If you like epic rock -- the sort that digs deep and pushes hard -- this is your week. Caleb Johnson and Jena Irene provide a powerhouse pair on Tuesday and Wednesday; then the winner will sing at the National Memorial Day Concert (see previous blog) on Sunday. Here's the story I sent to papers:


By MIKE HUGHES


As some people see it, this year’s “American Idol” finale
was inevitable.


Surely, Caleb Johnson and Jena Irene would be the final two.
“Their performances are so big,” said Alex Preston, who finished third. “I knew
deep-down it would be them.”


One of the two, at least, always seemed like a sure thing. “Caleb
is a very big, dynamic performer with a big, strong voice,” said Harry Connick
Jr., one of the judges.


Johnson, 23, started strong and has never been in the bottom
three. He fits all patterns, including geographic: He’s from North Carolina,
which has had two previous winners – Scotty McCreery and Fantasia. The 12 “Idol”
winners include nine Southerners plus Oklahoma and Missouri.


And Irene? She’s 17 and a Northerner, from Farmington Hills,
Mich.; and she almost was out early.


Viewers didn’t put her in the show’s top 10; she survived because
judges gave her one of the three wild-card spots. Only one other wild-card
person (Clay Aiken, 11 years ago) has reached the final night.


Early on, viewers plunked her in the bottom three, at the
edge of ouster.  “She just keeps comin’
back and comin’ back,” said Harry Connick Jr., an “Idol” judge who spotted her
potential early. “She just has that mystique,” he said. “I think I called her
the sleeper at the time.”


That mystique seems to involve confidence. Offstage, Preston
said, “Jena is just like one of the guys. She’s just fun to hang out with.” She’s
similar, he said, to Johnson, who’s “a super-cool dude.”


And onstage, Connick said, she keeps that assertiveness.
“Jena has such variety in her song choices and her performances, from ballads
to Benatar (rock belter Pat Benatar). She’s made some great decisions.”


Italian on her father’s side (her full name is Jena Irene
Asciutto) and French on her mother’s, she grew up comfortably in Detroit
suburbia, where both parents are business executives. Early on, she started
writing songs and singing with her band, Infinity Hour.


In Ashville, Johnson was singing with the rock band Elijah
Hooker and took two previous cracks at “Idol,” reaching the top 42 and the top
24. This time, he seemed destined for the top.


Last week, Irene was singing richly emotional songs and
Johnson was delivering furious, mike-stand-smashing rock ‘n’ roll. “It’s television
and people love (that),” Preston said. “It’s awesome, but I can’t do that.” He
knew then that it would be a Caleb-Jena finale.


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“American Idol,” Fox.


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Performances, 8-9 p.m. Tuesday, then viewers
vote; finale, 8-10:07 p.m. Wednesday.


It's a 25-year-old concert with (among others) a 17-year-old star


Each summer, two of TV's best music events are big and outdoors and don't need to hand out any awards. Those are concerts on the Capitol lawn on the 4th of July and on the eve of Memorial Day. Now the latter has its 25th concert ... which makes it eight years older than one of its stars, Danielle Bradbery. Here's the story I sent to papers:


By MIKE HUGHES


Back in 1989, war seemed like the distant past and soldiers
seemed invisible.


“I felt like there was nothing going on in this country on
Memorial Day,” recalled Jerry Colbert, a TV producer known for “A Capitol
Fourth.”  So he launched a new PBS
concert on the Capitol lawn.


Now – in a very different time – the 25th
National Memorial Day Concert is Sunday, mixing emotional stories with music
from Jennifer Nettles, Megan Hilty, Jackie Evancho, Anthony Kearns and two
reality-show winners – the new one from “American Idol” and Danielle Bradbery
from last year’s “The Voice.”


These singers have little in common except strong voices.
“When you get 300,000 people on the lawn, you’d better be able to project,”
Colbert said.


They range from country to classical to Broadway, some of
them much younger than the event itself. Bradbery is 17, Evancho is 14. “These
are little girls who can belt beautifully,” Colbert said.


He means “little.” At 5-foot-3, Bradbery stood in the shadow
of “Voice” coach, Blake Shelton, 6-foot-5. “The first time I saw him, from far
away, I thought, ‘Oh, he’s not that tall,’” she said. “Then I got close.”


This is what reality competitions are about – big-time opportunity
confronting total newcomers. Before entering “The Voice,” Bradbery said, she’d
hadn’t performed anywhere, not even school choirs.


“I’ve always been in love with music and singing,” she said.
“Every time I came home from school, I’d go to my room and sing for hours.”
That was in a Houston suburb; eventually, her parents – a Halliburton executive
and a hairdresser – nudged her to the “Voice” auditions.


On March 25, 2013, the teen who had never sung for a crowd was
singing to four stars. Three of them -- Shelton, Adam Levine and Usher --
pursued her. “I always thought I’d be on Team Blake,” she said. “But then I
started to think, ‘Let’s hear what everyone has to say.’”


Her choice of Shelton turned out well. “On- or off-camera, he’s
always making everyone laugh,” she said. At 16 and a high school sophomore, she
was the show’s fourth champion and Shelton’s third.


The swirl began – the promotional song (“My Day”) for NBC’s
Winter Olympics coverage … an album that reached No. 5 on Billboard’s country
chart, with a single (“Heart of Dixie”) at No. 16 … and two tours, all while
switching her high school studies to Online.


The first tour was with Brad Paisley and Chris Young, the
current one with Hunter Hayes and Dan + Shay, a show ranging in age only from
17 to 26. “We’re all young and the crowd is nothing but screaming.”


At the PBS concert, there will be less screaming. Many of
the songs – including “I Will Never Forget You,” from Bradbery’s album – will be
serious; so will the stories told in between.


Less than two weeks before the 70th anniversary of
D-Day, the show will introduce some of the men (now in their 90s) who scaled an
Omaha Beach cliff, against intense gunfire.


It will also introduce John Peck, a quadruple amputee from
the Iraq war who has found a new life … and Ruth Stonesifer, whose son and his
longtime friend were the first U.S. casualties in Afghanistan. These are
stories and wars never imagined during that first telecast in 1989.


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“National Memorial Day Concert”


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8 p.m. Sunday (actually Memorial Day eve), PBS


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Many stations will rerun it at 9:30; check local
listings


CBS stays the same, makes it look different




By MIKE HUGHES


While other networks scramble, CBS has the opposite task –
making the same seem different.


Most of its shows will be back next year, with only one
major one (“The Crazy Ones”) cancelled. To keep things fresh, the fall line-up
will:


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Make three shows wait until mid-season. There’s
no fall slot for “The Mentalist,” “Undercover Boss” or “Mike & Molly”
(which also waited this season). They’re on the bench with a new cop show (“Battle
Creek”) and an “Odd Couple” reboot with Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon.


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Slide others. “NCIS: Los Angeles” goes to
Mondays, “Amazing Race” to Fridays, “CSI” to Sundays.


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Have some new shows prepare for their exit. This
will be the final season for “Two and a Half Men” and possibly for “CSI” …
which, later in the season loans its slot to “CSI: Cyber,” a spin-off with
Patricia Arquette as a cyber-crime expert.


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Change one tradition: For the first time since 1986,
CBS won’t have four comedies on Mondays; instead, it gives the 9 p.m. slot to “Scorpion,”
about a Homeland Security think tank led by a mega-genius. Nina Tassler, the
programming chief, insists it has “so much humor, so much heart” that comedy
fans will approve.


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And the big change, forced by circumstance.
Beginning Sept. 11, pro football takes over CBS’ Thursdays for seven weeks. “The
Big Bang Theory” will temporarily move to Mondays, then return to Thursdays on
Oct. 30, when its Thursday companions debut.


“It’s really the best of both worlds,” Kelly Kahl, the
network’s scheduling chief, insisted. At the start of the season, “Big Bang” –
a ratings champion – will boost Mondays and football will spark Thursdays. When
things return to normal on Oct. 30, “it will be rolling thunder all the way,”
with few reruns.


Reruns will be scarce everywhere, Tassler said, partly
because of the overload of shows waiting.


Kahl granted that it was a weaker year for comedy
development. Plans for one from the “How I Met Your Mother” producers fell
through, Tassler said, when they disagreed about changes. The sole newcomer is “The
McCarthy’s,” which she said is about “a very loud, very spirited” Boston family.


But drama development was strong, Kahl said. That includes
the expected crime shows – including an NCIS spin-off in New Orleans – plus “Madam
Secretary.” At 8 p.m. Sundays (once the “West Wing” slot), Tea Leoni plays a
secretary of state, with Tim Daly as her husband.


The dramas are strong enough to keep “Battle Creek” waiting,
Tassler said. Set in Battle Creek, Mich., it’s planned as a gritty cop show,
linking the producers of “House” and “Breaking Bad.” The line-up:


Mondays: First, “The Big Bang Theory” at 8, then “2 Broke
Girls”; “Mom,” 8:30; “Scorpion,” 9; “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 10.


Tuesdays: “NCIS,” 8 p.m.; “NCIS: New Orleans,” 9; “Person of
Interest,” 10.


Wednesdays: “Survivor,” 8 p.m.; “Criminal Minds,” 9; “Stalker,”
10.


Thursdays: First, football; starting Oct. 30: “Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m.; “The Millers,” 8:30; “Two and a Half Men,” 9; “The McCarthys,”
9:30; “Elementary,” 10.


Fridays: “The Amazing Race,” 8 p.m.; “Hawaii Five-0,” 9; “Blue
Bloods,” 10.


Saturdays: Reruns, 8 p.m.; “48 Hours,” 10.


Sundays: “60 Minutes,” 7 p.m., CBS; “Madam Secretary,” 8; “The
Good Wife,” 9; “CSI,” 10.


ABC's fall line-up: Now THAT is diverse



By MIKE HUGHES

 

Whatever “diversity” means these days, ABC will have plenty
of it next season.


Often, TV people use that to describe shows with black producers
and stars. ABC has many of those shows, including a full night from producer
Shonda Rhimes; on Thursdays, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” lead into her new
“How to Get Away With Murder.”


Beyond that, it has new shows with Latina and Asian stars.
“We really do think ABC reflects the changing face of America,” said Paul Lee,
the programming chief.


He also has diversity in genres. At the extremes, Lee points
to two new series from movie people:


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“American Crime Story,” from “12 Years a Slave”
scriptwriter John Ridley. “It’s raw, it’s emotional, it’s incredibly
passionate,” he said.


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“Galavant,” a live-action, fairy-tale musical
from several of the people who have fueled Disney cartoon movies. Lee calls it
“’Spamalot’ meets ‘Princess Bride.’”


The catch is that viewers will have to wait for some of this.
Networks often hold their most unusual shows until mid-season, so they won’t
get lost in the fall rush. This year, ABC is doing that with “Galavant,” “American
Crime Story,” Eddie Huang’s “Fresh Off the Boat” and three more – Marvel’s “Agent
Carter,” the science-fiction “Whispers” and an adaptation of the Australian “Secrets
and Lies.”


Scheduling has often been a problem for ABC, with an overload
of shows that critics praise and viewers overlook. Lee is cancelling several
distinctive comedies – “Suburgatory,” “Trophy Wife,” “Neighbors,” “Mixology” –
and the stylish drama “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.”


Thursdays have long been an enigma. “You’ve seen us stumble
at 8 o’clock,” Lee said. So this year he’s moving Rhimes’ two hits (“Anatomy”
and “Scandal”) up an hour, adding her “Murder” (with Viola Davis as a law
professor, probing cases with four of her students) at 10.


Tuesdays were also a problem, when three networks had comedies
collided at 9 and 9:30 p.m. Now Lee is putting new comedies at 8 and 8:30 and moving
“SHIELD” to 9.


That’s a safer approach, but don’t expect things to be
entirely bland. The fall line-up has:


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ABC’s new passion for the undead. “Resurrection”
is back on Sundays; on Tuesdays, “Forever” has Ioan Gruffudd as a doctor trying
to learn why he’s lived for centuries.


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Comedies that eye the balance between assimilation
and ethnic tradition. That’s a theme of “Boat,” “Cristena” (with Cristena
Alonzo as creator and star) and, especially, “Black-ish,” an Anthony
Anderson/Laurence Fishburne comedy that gets the key slot behind “Modern Family.”


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A second chance for “Suburgatory” creator Emily
Kapnek. In her “Selfie,” a social-media queen tries to learn about real life.
It stars Karen Gillan of “Doctor Who”; alongside all its Englishmen (including
Gruffudd and Lee), ABC is adding Englishwomen, including Gillan and Hayley
Atwell, the “Agent Carter” star. That, too, is diversity.


The fall line-up is:


Mondays (unchanged): “Dancing with the Stars,” 8 p.m.;
“Castle,” 10


Tuesdays: “Selfie,” 8 p.m.; “Manhattan Love Story,” 8:30;
“Agents of SHIELD,” 9; “Forever,” 10.


Wednesdays: “The Middle,” 8 p.m.; “The Goldbergs,” 8:30; “Modern
Family,” 9; “Black-ish,” 9:30; “Nashville,” 10.


Thursdays: “Grey’s Anatomy,” 8 p.m.; “Scandal,” 9; “How to
Get Away With Murder,” 10.


Fridays: “Last Man Standing,” 8 p.m.; Cristela,” 8:30;
“Shark Tank,” 9; “20/20,” 10.


Saturdays: College football.


Sundays (unchanged): “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” 7;
“Once Upon a Time,” 8; “Resurrection,” 9; “Revenge,” 10.