“American Idol” Episode Recap: The Top 6 Perform

American Idol’s top six contestants performed this week, and it should now be clear to everyone (EVERYONE!) that Candice Glover is the best singer and the best person and will win this season, and will be crowned the real winner of the past four seasons as well, because she is a goddess who can also time travel through the power of song.

Despite Candice’s divinely ordained presence, AI‘s ratings haven’t been doing too hot this season. So, what theme did the producers choose to liven up this sinking ship? Why, a night of songs written by Bacharach/Hall of course. What’s that? You’re not 40 years old and therefore have no knowledge of said mid-20th century songwriting duo? Congratulations, neither did anyone else watching! Idol didn’t even try to make this theme relevant by forcing the top six to monologue about how influential Bacharach/Hall was. That was actually a moment I was kind of looking forward to, considering Lazaro knows exactly NO songs in Idol’s catalogue.

Want to read more? Head to Crushable.com, where this article was originally published!

Advertisements

X-Factor

Originally published in the Brandeis University Justice

May 22, 2012

Britney Spears and Demi Lovato have been named "X Factor's" newest judges.

Britney Spears and Demi Lovato have been named “X Factor’s” newest judges.

Reality show singing competitions may have originated back in the late ’90s (anyone else remember Say What? Karaoke and Making the Band?), but they have never been bigger than right now. American Idol crowned Kelly Clarkson its first winner 10 years ago, and the show’s Wednesday and Thursday episodes are still the second- and fourth-highest-rated hours on TV today, respectively. Idol’s biggest rival, The Voice comes in only slightly behind.

Seeing how popular these programs are, it only makes sense that other entertainment figures are trying to cash in. Jennifer Lopez revitalized her entire career when she became an Idol judge last season. Maroon 5’s Adam Levine saw similarly increased album sales when he became a judge on The Voice, and even Christina Aguilera, who hasn’t released any music of her own since starting on that show, scored a top-10 single as a featured vocalist on Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger.” It was her first hit in four years.

Becoming a reality TV judge used to be a career move for older stars like Paula Abdul or Lopez, who were looking to reach a younger audience. More recently, however, it has become a viable path for pop singers who are at the peaks of their careers.

On May 14, X Factor creator and judge Simon Cowell announced that Britney Spears and Demi Lovato would replace season one judges Nicole Scherzinger (of The Pussycat Dolls) and Abdul. Cowell and the other continuing judge, music mogul L.A. Reid, brought Spears and Lovato onto the show on May 14 to introduce them as the new judges.

We know these women can sell albums, but how will Spears and Lovato do as judges? Spears is now known more for her wild behavior than for her music, which has become more and more auto-tuned and overproduced with each album she releases. She has appeared on reality TV once before, in 2005’s Britney and Kevin: Chaotic. The show documented Spears and then-husband Kevin Federline’s bizarro and short-lived marriage. It was critically panned and lasted for less than a full month on UPN, so no great vote of confidence there.

Much less is known about Lovato, the 19-year-old former Disney Channel star. She has released three albums in the last four years, all of which reached the top four or higher on the Billboard charts. Though she hasn’t come close to Spears in terms of an image crisis, she has had a few public problems of her own. In 2010, she entered a rehab program for an eating disorder and self-harm. These issues, however, are obviously serious, and should not be fodder for public judgement the way Spears’ antics have been.

Auditions for X Factor’s second season have already begun. The season will air in September. Until then, well, let’s just hope that Lovato and Spears can stay out of trouble long enough to prove they can be as successful as the stars who have judged before them.

Asian Pacific Heritage Month celebration

Originally published in the Brandeis University Justice

March 6, 2012

Image

A young woman stands perfectly still, arms tilted inwards, the pink fan clutched in her hand fluttering faintly.

Suddenly she jumps forward on beat with the traditional guitar plucking in the background. The fan flies open, revealing a long, rose-colored trail of fabric flowing from its curved folds. As the woman dances about the stage, striking traditional Chinese poses, the crowd responds with cheers, calling her name. This is Asian Pacific Asian Heritage Month at Brandeis.

APAHM is always a fun time on campus, full of colorful cultural events and engaging speakers. This year’s APAHM is particularly significant, as it marks the 40th anniversary of the Brandeis Asian American Student Association, which sponsors APAHM, as well as the 20th anniversary of the Intercultural Center. BAASA co-presidents Stephanie Lee ’13 and Vicky Lee ’13, event coordinator Karen Hu ’12 and treasurer Adam Chow ’12 began the opening performance by praising all 23 members of the executive board for their hard work in creating this year’s events.

Image

All three of Rooftop Pursuit’s members share the surname Lee.

The ceremony took place on Saturday night in Levin Ballroom. The theme, “Making Our Mark,” underscores BAASA’s emphasis this year on modern Asian accomplishments. Two musical groups that have gained popularity on YouTube, Ben Clement and Rooftop Pursuit, performed. Clement, who opened the show, is currently studying music at Biola University in California. He created a calm peaceful atmosphere with his romantic songs and acoustic guitar, accompanied by a band member playing rhythms on a wooden box. Clement, who considers himself a “hopeless romantic” told the crowd that many of his songs were written about previous relationships, eliciting awws from the audience. Though many of his original songs had a singer-songwriter, John Mayer-type sound, it was his last number, Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” that was most popular with the audience. Though Clement didn’t quite have the vocal ability to make the song as strong as it could have been, the song’s message of social change was clearly appreciated.

After Clement’s performance, Ayan Sanyal ’14 came on stage to sing Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” a nod to “kids who grew up in the ’90s.” Then the newest student group under the BAASA umbrella, the Taiwanese Student Association, begins its performance with a loud, striking drum solo by Aaron Yang ’14. As the drum was rolled off stage eight female dancers took their places, standing like posed statues in traditional Taiwanese dress. One by one they moved to the front of the stage, demonstrating cultural fan, ribbon, handkerchief, sword, martial arts, umbrella and peacock dances. While each performer moved with clarity and purpose, it would have been more entertaining to see the dancers interact with one another. Instead, each demonstration ended before the next began, leaving seven dancers still as one moved.

After the formal grace of TSA’s performance, the ceremony’s mood changed abruptly as the Southeast Asian Club began their skit, “The Crystal Heart,” based on a traditional Vietnamese story. The skit, which imparts the story of a fisherman’s unrequited love for a snooty princess, was intentionally silly, and put the audience in a celebratory mood leading into a song by the Korean Student Association’s band. Seven KSA members took the stage to play a Korean pop song complete with impressive trumpet solos and heartfelt singing.

Rooftop Pursuit, the other professional group to perform, opened the ceremony’s second act with several original songs and covers, including Christina Perri’s “1000 Years.” Lead singer and keyboardist Phil Lee made a few humorous remarks about the three-man outfit of Korean-Americans, saying, “Our last names are all ‘Lee.’ … We didn’t do it on purpose.” Like Clement, many of Rooftop Pursuit’s songs were about romantic love, though guitarist Paul Lee’s wailing guitar riffs added some heat to the ballads.

Dan Ding takes a break from his MC duties to perform an original piece.

Dan Ding takes a break from his MC duties to perform an original piece.

Dan Ding ’12, the ceremony’s deep-voiced announcer took a moment away from the mic to perform an original classical song called “Piano Impromptu,” inspired by a swift change in weather Ding experienced while practicing with his high school sailing team. The audience was riveted by Ding’s obvious skill, and the reverent silence was broken only by applause as he concluded his piece.

The Brandeis Chinese Cultural Connection was next to perform, as seven members showed off their dance skills, combining hip-hop moves with traditional Chinese dances as they swayed, kicked and spun to Chinese artist Show Lo’s “Show of Love.” The dancers, outfitted in red and black and decked out in sunglasses, certainly looked the part of a professional hip hop group.

Siddhi Krishna ’12, representing the South Asian Student Association brought another serious moment to the ceremony as she played a piece of Carnatic music, the classical music of South India. Krishna plucked notes and melodies on her violin, playing an ode to Lord Ganesha, Hinduism’s remover of obstacles. Krishna struck an interesting silhouette, kneeling on the stage rather than standing of sitting in a chair, as most Western musicians would have.

The APAHM opening ceremony concluded with a group number combining several popular Asian songs into one high-energy dance number called Project BAASA: PANDAmonium. The entire BAASA e-board plus other dancers were clearly having fun with the performance, which, according to the program, “shows how Asians got more than smarts. They also got SWAG.” After watching this year’s opening performance, I’d have to say I agree.

APAHM continues throughout March, including the SKINS Fashion Show on March 16 and theTemptasian 40th Anniversary Party on March 23.

Student Coordinator: Dillon Morris interview

Originally published in the Brandeis University Justice

Feb. 7, 2012

Araabmuzik will bring his electronics-enhanced music to campus.

Araabmuzik will bring his electronics-enhanced music to campus.

JustArts spoke with Student Events’ Concert Coordinator Dillon Morris ’14 about Thursday’s AraabMUZIK concert. Morris explained how Student Events picked its headliner, what students can expect at the show and why you should get all your friends to pack Levin Ballroom

The concert takes place this Thursday at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 at the Brandeis Box Office and $8 at the door.

JustArts: What do you normally look for when planning a big concert like this?

Dillon Morris: Generally when planning a concert, I’d say there are a lot of different elements that go into it concerning the kind of talent that we’re going for [and] the level of exposure that the talent has received. Essentially, it’s finding that good balance, … especially for the February concert, which is kind of an opportunity for us I suppose to bring people who are more under the radar but who have the propensity to break out in the near future. It’s finding that balance between somebody who’s got a catalog large enough that they can provide a good show, but also somebody that not everybody knows but that, given the opportunity to listen to them, they’ll definitely find something that they like. Obviously, the desire to appeal to as large an audience as we can also goes into it. But we also want to be able to give to the people that we find up-and-coming a chance to expose themselves, and the February concert plays a very integral role in allowing us to do that, as opposed to, say, looking at the fall concert or SpringFest, when we get to extend ourselves farther.

JA: How did you specifically choose AraabMUZIK and Basic Physics?

DM: Initially, going into looking for our headlining group (which ended up being AraabMUZIK), the planning process basically goes, “If you had all the money, who would you want to bring?” And so it definitely gives us a way where we introduce unrealistic choices, but it kind of helps all of us gage what kind of genre or musical ideas that we want to go for in this concert. And so for AraabMUZIK, it was one of those things where traditionally you’ve seen at the February concert DJs and mash-up groups. We didn’t want to bring in a new mash-up group, but we did want to cater [the] dance scene that’s very popular right now, and give something that was I guess a bit more alternative. So if you look at somebody like AraabMUZIK, who uses a drum pad to simulate all his music, it’s actually something that’s very, very impressive. And so we were impressed with his talent, we all liked his music. We thought it was a performer that, if you’ve heard of him, you’re excited that he’s coming, and if you haven’t heard of him but somebody shows him to you, you get excited about it.

Once we selected AraabMUZIK, we then move on to the opener, who is Basic Physics. For that, we essentially look at what complements the lead artist the best; something that’s complementary but also differentiates itself enough from that artist that it provides a well-rounded show but still grounds things specifically in that genre that we’ve chosen to pursue. I think that Basic Physics fits that very well.

DJ Basic Physics will open the concert.

DJ Basic Physics will open the concert.

JA: What would you say are the unique aspects of these groups that are going to be fun for Brandeis students? Have you seen shows of theirs, either live or online?

DM: In the selection process a lot of it is watching online or live stuff to gauge how it is. I’ve never actually had the opportunity to see them live, so I’m very excited to now. I think it brings something very unique because it fills that void that, say, Pachanga’s leaving out. It gives you a really, really fun dance party that you’re able to go to, you’re able to enjoy. Even if the artist isn’t the reason you’re going, you’re going because you want to have fun. And I think AraabMUZIK’s musical style and the way that he performs is very lively, it’s very upbeat, and it’s just good music to enjoy yourself to. I think it fills that void that Brandeis has. We don’t really have a ton of fun on-campus activities that people can go to and consume and really enjoy.

Really, if you haven’t heard it, get a ticket and go. Because the thing about this artist is that the musical experience he provides is so heavily contingent on an amazing crowd experience. And so the thing is, if we can pack Levin Ballroom, this is going to be a fantastic show. But it’s all contingent on getting there, getting to the show. Student Events knows that they’re going to enjoy it.

JA: What happens to the profits from the February concert?

DM: All of the profits from the AraabMUZIKshow will go towards SpringFest. So, I guess one way I could put it is, if you’re not interested in seeing AraabMuzik, consider it paying $5 a couple months ahead for someone really, really good at SpringFest.

Jackie Theoharis

Originally published in the Brandeis University Justice

Jan. 24, 2012

Theoharis (bottom, center) in the Woodland Theater Company’s “Cabaret.”

College is a time to explore interests, pick a major and prepare for a career. For most of us, the subject we thought we would choose to study at the beginning of our college career is not the one we end up picking in the end. For Jackie Theoharis ’14, however, theater was a passion that she never thought twice about.

“I love sharing things with the audience. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to perform, to bring such enjoyment to all these different people,” said Theoharis in an interview with justArts. She has been performing all her life, and although she is only a sophomore, Theoharis is already branching out into professional theater companies in addition to performing on the Brandeis stage.

In a few days, Theoharis will be appearing in the Woodland Theater Company’s production of Cabaret. The musical takes place during the early days of Nazi Germany and centers around the Kit Kat Klub, a sleazy Berlin nightclub, and its performers and patrons. Theoharis plays Fräulein Kost, a prostitute who lives in a boarding house along with the Klub’s performers.

“She is … [an] interesting one,” said Theoharis of her character. “She’s supposed to be a lot older, so I was surprised and a little nervous when I was cast, because normally she’s played by a 30- or 35-year-old woman, but the director [Doug Hodge] had a different take on it. She’s a prostitute, and she loves sailors. She’s so funny; … there are so many scenes where you see me coming out of a man’s room with three sailors at a time, it’s ridiculous.” Kost is a German character and has some ties to the Nazi party, though this connection is rather understated in the play. Theoharis says that knowing some of her character’s subtler motivations made Kost more interesting, both to her and, she thinks, to the play’s audience.

Acting professionally and going to school full-time is not an easy task. “It’s busy,” says Theoharis. “It’s been crazy. Specifically for Cabaret, we’ve been rehearsing every day, so it’s a lot. I have classes all day and then rehearsal at night. I’ve been exhausted from dancing and everything. But it’s all definitely worth it, I think. You just get such a great experience.”

Theoharis has been involved in professional theater before. This summer, she performed with ReagalPlayers, a company located in Waltham, and she appeared in Turtle Lane Playhouse’s The Drowsy Chaperone. And this past fall, Theoharis sang and acted her way to a Best Supporting Actress Nomination for F.U.D.G.E. Theater Company’s Spring Awakening.The nomination comes from MyTheatre, a subset of My Entertainment WORLD, a website that covers arts performances and programs in Toronto, New York, Boston and occasionally other cities. In Awakening Theoharis played Ilse, a sexually abused student who runs away from home in late 19th-century Germany. My Theatre named 40 nominees in four divisions—National, Regional, Student and Other. Theoharis was nominated in the Regional category on Jan. 12.

Theoharis plays a Nazi prostitute in the production.

Theoharis has also performed at Brandeis. Her most recent role was Hope Cladwell inTympanium Euphorium’s Urinetown: the Musical. Fräulein Kost is quite a departure from the overly cheerful Cladwell, but Theoharis is prepared to encounter all types of roles in her theater experience. “Obviously [acting is] something that I’m so passionate about and something that I’ve been doing forever,” said Theoharis. “I definitely want to at least try to make it a career, but I know that it’s very difficult. In the theater business, … it’s all very emotionally intense, if you live your life auditioning and constantly getting rejected. It’s basically a career you have to go into knowing that you’re going to be rejected. But really it’s something that I would at least want to try to do.”

Theoharis has already proven herself to be a competent and committed performer, both at Brandeis and in the Boston theater scene. It will be exciting to see what she ends up doing in the future. Maybe someday we’ll even see her name in lights.

Cabaret is playing at the Lowell Mason Auditorium on 88 R South, Medfield, Mass. Jan. 27 and 28 at 8p.m. and Jan. 29 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $30.

Jenin Freedom Theater

Originally published in the Brandeis University Justice

Oct. 18, 2011

An outer wall of the Jenin Freedom Theater in

An outer wall of the Jenin Freedom Theater in the West Bank

A refugee camp isn’t the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of creative or nurturing environments. And it’s not. But the performers of the Jenin Freedom Theater, located in the Jenin Refugee Camp in the West Bank, have created a space where art flourishes amid strife and squalor.

Last Tuesday evening, four performers from the Jenin Freedom Theater came to the atrium of Mandel Center for the Humanities. They had each been personally affected by the violence that they have seen as refugees living in the camp, which covers an area of two square miles and houses about 16,000 people. The performers were angry with the Israeli Army for its brutal treatment of the inhabitants of Jenin. They hoped to create positive change through their art.

Josh Perlstein ’79, one of the organizers of the event, shared his view of the goal of the Freedom Theater in a phone interview with justArts. “The goal of the theater is to use theater as a means of liberation, for Palestinians and for all people. If people could focus their fear through a process of creation, it would move people in a positive direction. They are trying to humanize the people in the theater and anyone who they interact with. If you act as a liberator, you liberate all people, not justyourself.”

The theater’s first incarnation was known as the Stone Theater. An Israeli woman named Arna Mer came to the Jenin Refugee Camp originally as the founder of the relief organization Defense of Children under Occupation. One of the Jenin actors, Mustapha, recounted the story of Mer’s first days in the camp: “Arna showed up one day, an Israeli woman in the middle of the West Bank. She just came with papers and other arts supplies and started engaging with the young children in the street. At first, people thought she was a spy. Then, a woman named Samira decided, ‘I will host this woman. She will live in my house.’ She could see that Arna was just [trying to help the children]. From that day on, everyone trusted Arna.”

Established in 1992 during the first Intifada, a guerilla war between Israel and its Palestinian inhabitants, the Stone Theater was the first public theater to be built in the West Bank. The theater,  along with much of the camp, was destroyed by Israeli soldiers in 2000, during the second Intifada. Most of the theater students died in the attack.

Members of the Jenin Freedom Theater hope to provide an artistic outlet for their people’s fear and anger.

Members of the Jenin Freedom Theater hope to provide an artistic outlet for their people’s fear and anger.

Mer’s son, Juliano Mer-Khamis, rebuilt the theater in 2006 and renamed it the Jenin Freedom Theater. (Mer-Khamis was an established Israeli actor and director. In 2002, he was nominated for an Ophir Award (the Israeli version of an Oscar) for Best Actor in the film Kedma, which was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.)

After the death of his mother in 1995, Mer-Khamis became personally involved in the Stone Theater’s work. After rebuilding the theater, he moved to Jenin to become more involved. The performers couldn’t speak highly enough of their mentor on Tuesday night. “Juliano was creating individual freedom in the Jenin Refugee Camp. That can be very dangerous,” said one speaker. The others agreed that they would still be “street punks” or small-time criminals if it wasn’t for Mer-Khamis. These comments were overshadowed by a depressed spirit among the Jenin representatives: Mer-Khamis was assassinated by an unknown gunman on April 4 this year. The theater community is still recovering from the shocking murder.

As part of the talk, the performers showed clips from some of their recent performances, including a retelling of Alice in Wonderland and an original production called Fragments of Palestine. These clips did not show dialogue from the plays (which are written in or translated into Arabic) but rather dances, fight scenes or scenes set to music.

“The performers chose material that fits with the theme of liberation,” Perlstein clarified. “They assigned different characters in the play that are analogous to characters from their lives. They translate or adapt various works to fit with their own experiences.”

Some of the members of the audience at the event (mostly older people from outside of Brandeis) criticized the clips for containing too much violence. One woman asked if the theater was trying to end the violence in the camp or if they were just promoting it in a different medium.

“I don’t think you understood the clips if you think we are promoting violence,” Mustapha responded. “The actors in the theater take what they see in their daily lives and put it on stage.” Another performer agreed, “Theater becomes a refugee for … the people of Jenin. It’s therapy. When people come to the theater, they see what is in their heads.”

The Jenin Freedom Theater staged their adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland.”

The four performers themselves have all been “saved” by the theater. One performer recalled that he was a petty criminal, stealing cars and selling drugs, but that he really wanted to be an actor. So he went to Mer-Khamis for a part in the theater. Since then, the young man has immersed his life entirely in acting. He recounted that he would go about his day and “go to parties in costume and in-character.” It became a part of his daily life.

Perlstein added his own view of the work the theater has accomplished in Jenin: “You can tell just from the people who came to speak how much the Theater has affected them. Their options were very limited. They were all headed down a negative path, and the Theater gave them options to see different ways to live their lives. In a community-based theater, it becomes inspirational. In the largest sense for the people involved but also for the audience. If they keep going the way they are they could have a huge impact on the neighborhood.”

The talk on Tuesday was part of a tour the company is doing to promote their work overseas. They will next be performing Waiting for Godot at Columbia University and will be appearing at a benefit at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater in New York, hosted by the celebrated playwright Tony Kushner.