Peanuts and Popcorn

Peanuts and Popcorn

‘Rising Star’: Did You Watch the Premiere?

posted by jtotey
Josh Grobin and contestant Macy Kate  on last night's "Rising Star." (ABC)

Josh Grobin and contestant Macy Kate on last night’s “Rising Star.” (ABC)

For months, ABC has been touting that its latest singing competition show, Rising Star would be unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Last night, we finally got a chance to see what all of the hub bub was about.

ABC boasted proudly this morning that Rising Star is the network’s top-rated summer series debut in two years. They also boasted that the show was Sunday’s No. 1 “most-social” broadcast series delivering 290% more “tweets” than NBC’s America’s Got Talent. That sounds pretty impressive at first, but Entertainment Weekly was quick to point out that the new show actually delivered less than Duets, the network’s last try of a singing competition show and that while ABC had 5.1 million viewers while NBC’s America’s Got Talent held strong with 8 million. And about that “most social” claim, it only makes sense that the show should receive that title given that voting on an app specially designed for the show is part of that show’s gimmick.

If you were not one of the 5.1 million viewers to watch the over-hyped show, you can catch the episode online at ABC.com, but you may not want to. Unlike American Idol, the contestants have already been pre-screened. Each are randomly selected to perform a 1.5 minute song in front of a wall with an eager audience waiting on the other side. Each singer has to win over about 75% of the total votes before the wall will come up and allow them to continue through the competition. Each celebrity’s votes counts for 7% each, so if the singer impresses the judges, their score can help launch them forward. Viewers at home must register to vote for each contestant. If a viewer fails to register, their vote will not count. This whole process is supposed to make the show exciting, instead, it doesn’t really add anything.

Star is awkwardly hosted by Josh Groban. He isn’t terrible, but hosting is not his strong suit. Groban was well-prepared for last night’s show, but you would have thought that the network would have picked someone who is better suited for a live show like Tom Bergeron or Ryan Seacrest. You know, someone who actually has experience as a host. Groban is a talented singer but he isn’t witty, interesting and not particularly good with on-the-spot humor.

Brad Paisley, Kesha and Ludacris doing their best to look excited to be a part of the show. (ABC)

Brad Paisley, Kesha and Ludacris doing their best to look excited to be a part of the show. (ABC)

Groban wasn’t the only flaw with the show though. The guest stars, Kesha, Brad Paisley and Ludacris did their best to act like they were very excited for the competition, but only Paisley appeared to be genuine. The three would tease each other trying to act as fun and friendly as the judges on America’s Got Talent. They would pretend to swipe each other’s touch screens, but it looked like someone told them to do that. Other than giving each singer an edge with their 7% vote, it’s difficult to understand what their role is with the show.  After each performance, they gave quick critiques to the singers, but they don’t really serve as judges. Each singer knows at the end of their performance how they did and if they will be allowed to continue through the competition.

Unlike America’s Got Talent and American Idol, there is a lot more talk than there is music and the show’s slow pace just drags. First we meet the contestant via a video. Then we get to see the contestant meet Groban “behind-the-scenes.”  Then, the contestant is brought on stage where Groban greets them again and asks how they are doing and/or if they are nervous to perform, etc. After their performance, whether they passed or failed, they are brought back to the front of the stage to answer more of Groban’s pithy questions. It’s really quite dull.

During last night’s premiere, 16-year-old singer Macy Kate received the highest number of votes (93% East Coast viewers and 91% for the west coast) allowing her to advance in the competition. The show continues with another batch of singers next Sunday from 9:00-11:00 p.m. on ABC.

Amy Grant: Out with the Old, in with the New…with the Old

posted by jtotey
Sparrow Records

Sparrow Records

Amy Grant was one of the first Christian music artists to create a “crossover” album with “Unguarded” which came out in 1985. Some viewed the event as a way of reaching out to the “unsaved” with mainstream music. Others thought she “sold out” her faith for fame. She got the same response in 1991 when she released her hit, “Baby Baby,” so, it will be interesting to see what happens with the news of Grant’s next release – a dance remix album.

“In Motion: The Remixes” is set to release on August 19 of this year and will feature over 10 of her hit songs reinvented as dance mixes. “I never could have anticipated that these songs from an earlier chapter in my life could be filled with such renewed energy and fresh production,” remarked Grant in a recent press release. “I am humbled and honored that these amazingly talented producers have leant their gifts to my songs. They have given me reason to want to get up and dance again!” Producers on board for the project include Chris Cox, Tony Moran, Moto Blanco, 7th Heaven and Dave Audé.

This will be Grant’s first remix album which features a new version of “Baby Baby.” When the original came out it topped the Billboard Hot 100 Chart for two consecutive weeks. The new version is remixed by GRAMMY®-nominated producer, DJ and remixer, Dave Audé , will be available on July 22 with album pre-order.

“Remixing ‘Baby, Baby’ has definitely been one of the highlights of my career,” Audé said. “I loved this song when it was released in 1991, and I still love hearing it today; you can’t say that about many records 23 years later. ‘Baby, Baby’ has crossed genres, and I’m hoping my remix will add yet another genre to this timeless classic.” To hear a sample, click here.

And in case you are wondering, the new album doesn’t only feature Grant’s more popular “secular-sounding” hits, but also the decidedly more inclusive “Christian” songs as well. “In Motion: The Remixes” will feature the following:

  • That’s What Love Is For (Featuring Chris Cox)
  • Stay For Awhile (Featuring Tony Moran and Warren Rigg)
  • You’re Not Alone (Featuring Guy Scheiman)
  • Every Heartbeat (Featuring Moto Blanco)
  • Better Than A Hallelujah (Featuring Mark Picchiotti)
  • Love Will Find A Way (Featuring Ralphi Rosario)
  • Baby, Baby (Featuring Dave Aude)
  • Say Once More (Featuring Hex Hector)
  • Out In The Open (Featuring 7th Heaven)
  • BONUS MIX: Stay For A While (Featuring Tony Moran)
  • BONUS MIX: Mega Mix (Featuring DJ Andy 7th Heaven)

Of course, “In Motion: The Remixes” follows the success of last year’s “How Mercy Looks From Here,” which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Christian chart, making it a record-setting 16th #1 album for Amy in the Christian genre. The album also shot up the Billboard Top 200 Chart, debuting at #12. As Amy’s first new studio record in more than a decade, the album featured guests James Taylor, Carole King, Sheryl Crow, Eric Paslay, Will Hoge and Grant’s husband Vince Gill.

2nd ‘Dragon’ is Better than the First

posted by jtotey
The cast of "How to Train Your Dragon 2." (Dreamworks)

The cast of “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” (Dreamworks)

In DreamWorks’ 2010 movie, How to Train Your Dragon, dragons and men were enemies. That all changed when Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), the son of the Viking king Stoick (Gerard Butler) became friends with Toothless. Both are handicapped, but as the two learned to work together, they realized how much stronger they were together than they were apart. Toothless needed Hiccup as much as Hiccup needed Toothless.

Five years later, and just about everyone on the island of Berk has their own dragon. Each is unique and different. Hiccup is now 20 and is considered a leader in dragon training, but while the others are racing with their dragons, he and his black buddy are exploring new worlds and territories. Everything is peaceful until the two fumble their way into a secret cave and discover hundreds of dragons that they have never seen. As you already know from the trailers, the person who watches over this sanctuary is Valka (Cate Blanchett), Hiccup’s long lost mother. Hiccup is already facing pressure as his father wants him to become the new leader and if that weren’t enough, there is a mysterious trapper looking to snatch up a bunch of dragons for himself and if he succeeds, it could change the relationship between man and beast forever.

There is a lot crammed in this movie, but the pacing never slows. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is everything you’d ever want in a family movie and probably a lot more than many kids will appreciate. Like the first movie, this one will surprise many viewers in that it is a lot deeper than your typical animated fare. To judge the movie by the commercials, it would appear that it is full of silly hijinks throughout. Well, the film does have plenty of silliness, but that is not the bulk of the movie. The silliness is mainly there for the younger viewers and can easily be ignored. For the older ones, there is a message that is very similar to the biblical parable of the prodigal son.

Hiccup and Toothless - together again.

Hiccup and Toothless – together again.

The first Dragon was a good film, but Dragon 2 is a great film giving everyone who sees it, a lot to think about. It is funny, witty and yes, there are a few sad parts, but good movies are made to move you from laughter to tears and back again. It is storytelling at its best.

Dragon 2 also features the voice talents of Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill and Kristen Wiig.

Dragon 2 features an unlikely friendship, themes of forgiveness, restoration, teamwork, fighting for what you believe in and the importance of family. More than one scene brought tears to my eyes. It’s a beautiful film.

Riot Studios Presents New Christian Comedy

posted by jtotey
"Believe Me" comes to theaters on September 26, 2014. (Riot Studios)

“Believe Me” comes to theaters on September 26, 2014. (Riot Studios)

Okay, so with the release of Moms’ Night Out and the less-viewed, Blue Like Jazz from a couple of years ago, we now know that Christians can be funny. For some of us, the arrival of the Christian comedy film is an answer to prayer. Until recently, faith-based films have had a reputation of being Hollywood’s ugly stepsister. Numerous times this title has not been deserved and even now critics are leery of giving out too many compliments on faith-based films. Still, the “year of the Christian film” marches on. More studios are presenting stories hoping to grab an audience and share the gospel if possible including Believe Me which will arrive in theaters this fall.

Riot Studios, a fairly new film company known for two documentaries, Beware of Christians and One Nation Under God, will present its first comedy, Believe Me on September 26. Described as “not your father’s ‘Christian’ film,” Believe Me centers on four college friends who come up with a scheme of creating a fake charity. Believing that Christians are suckers for any charity, they prey upon the church. A story that may be “too close to home” for some people.

Believe Me stars Alex Russell (Chronicle), Zach Knighton (Happy Endings), Johanna Braddy (Easy A), Miles Fisher (Final Destination 5), Sinqua Walls (TV’s Teen Wolf) and Max Adler (Glee), Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) and Christopher McDonald (Boardwalk Empire). Grammy Award-winning rapper LeCrae makes his acting debut here as well.

The mission statement for Riot Studios says that their company “exists to tell stories that compel viewers to challenge their beliefs, weigh the alternatives, and laugh while doing so. They aspire to make transparent and thoughtful art through film.” A worthy goal indeed. Still, some are already skeptical of this new project including Charisma News who wonders aloud what the studio’s “agenda” might be in a story published this week. The article refers to the film as a “secular movie” and asks readers if they think the film will help or hinder the church. Take a short glance at the comments section and you’ll see that Christians are already boarding the bandwagon against this film, judging the film and its motives before it even comes out.

Riot answered the “why” July 15 of last year on the company’s blog stating, “Both of our documentaries, Beware of Christians and One Nation Under God, are explicitly Christian. The reason being? They’re films about us – about us trying to find answers to life’s biggest questions while trekking around Europe and the U.S. seeking truth from outside our customary social circles. Jesus is central to who we are as people: that’s our truth, and it’s what helps us make sense of this life.”

Believe Me is a parody on religious scandals,” says co-producer and co-writer Michael B. Allen in a recent press release. “It holds up a mirror for viewers to see themselves and their assumptions from a new perspective.”

It will be interesting to see if believers will be willing to do just that in September. Will we be able to laugh at ourselves? Stay tuned. Until then, watch the trailer here or pre-order tickets here.

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