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Last Friday I spoke on the phone with Ryan Sheckler. The professional skateboarder and former MTV reality star was in New York City for a Nike SB Street League Skateboarding competition at Newark’s Prudential Center. Towards the end of the interview, I asked Sheckler about the photo Justin Bieber tweeted of the skater to promote Bieber’s new single, “What Do You Mean?” Sheckler noted that he counts the pop star as a good friend of his.

“We did like two music videos yesterday,” he revealed. “We skated a mini-ramp for… damn, it was probably like two hours and we just got to rap out by ourselves.

“He’s a really cool kid. A lot of people have their opinions about the dude but he’s a solid guy and yeah, he’s one of my homies.”

Both of the clips they filmed last week have seen the light of day: Sheckler is featured prominently in the new lyric video for Bieber’s new single, which hit iTunes Friday. The music video also contains a Sheckler cameo.

“What Do You Mean?” does not pick up where singles like “As Long As You Love Me” and “Beauty And A Beat” left off. The track does have a flavor of electronic dance music in the synths but with a ticking-clock and piano, the vibe is much more “on the beach” than South Beach. While it’s not a complete departure, the 21 year-old does deserve some credit for taking a chance with a different vibe as opposed to simply hiring a well-known producer and song-writer to help craft the perfect pop hit.

Bieber performed his new single Sunday at the MTV Video Music Awards.

The cross-section between sports and music has never been as cool as it is now: Jay Z represents athletes, the Toronto Raptors signed Drake to consult on marketing matters and Carrie Underwood is back as the face and voice of NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.”

But the relationship between artists and athletes extends past the major American sports; action sports like skateboarding also enjoy a solid rapport with some of the biggest names in music.

Case-in-point: professional skateboarder Ryan Sheckler. The 25 year-old grew up in the spotlight alongside music artists on MTV with his reality show “Life Of Ryan.” In that sense, he can relate to musicians like Justin Bieber a little better than your average athlete. The two spent last Thursday skateboarding and filming two music videos. Earlier this month, Bieber tweeted a photo of Sheckler to promote his new single, “What Do You Mean?”
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“He’s a really cool kid,” Sheckler said of Bieber. “A lot of people have their opinions about the dude but he’s a solid guy and yeah, he’s one of my homies.”

Another hitmaker with an appreciation for ollies and flip tricks is Lil Wayne. The hip hop artist’s passion for the sport led him to create his own fashion line of apparel, Trukfit.

“Wayne and Bieber, they just have the heart for it. They’re not doing it as some gimmick,” Sheckler explained; he called in to “Ralphie Tonight” to promote last weekend’s Nike SB Street League Skateboarding stop in Newark, N.J. “They actually really love skateboarding and they’re getting a lot better, day-by-day. Practice makes perfect.”

It certainly is not uncommon to see Wayne out-and-about with his board; the rapper was even spotted a few years ago skating around the parking lot of The Woodlands ahead of his concert at Montage Mountain.

“I think they realize that skateboarding is fun,” Sheckler continued. “To learn at your own pace, to do what you want to do… you can just be an individual and it’s freedom.

“I back Wayne and Bieber skating so hard man. It’s cool.”

The artists’ affection for the sport may also be a reflection of the times; as every league competes for television money and ad revenue online, skateboarding has seen an expansion past ESPN’s “X-Games.” Fox Sports 1 broadcasted Sunday’s event live from the Prudential Center.

These and possibly other reasons lead Sheckler to believe that skateboarding’s future is bright.

“I see skateboarding eventually in the Olympics,” he predicted. “People are actually realizing that skateboarding is a sport.”

And for pros like Sheckler, that might end up being the coolest cross-section of all.

“The Diary of a Teenage Girl” was a breakout hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Based on a novel, the plot alone raises eyebrows and piques curiosity: a 35 year-old man takes the virginity of his girlfriend’s 15 year-old daughter. The movie is set in 1970’s San Francisco.

Predatory? Sure. But director Marielle Heller and the cast – starring Bel Powley as 15 year-old Minnie and Alexander Skarsgård as 35 year-old Monroe – knew that in order for the film to work, there would need to be a balance of both maturity and innocence.

“We wanted to make it interesting and layered and find moments where, you almost not root for them to be together but it was important that you didn’t hate (Monroe) from the first to last scene,” Skarsgård explained to me during a press junket for the film at the Crosby Street Hotel in Manhattan. “We wanted to make it more uncomfortable for the audience, where they have to (ask themselves), ‘Oh, I don’t know how I feel about this.’”
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Skarsgård places a lot of credit with Heller, who worked on this movie as writer and director for 8 years, and Powley, who he says the film couldn’t have worked without. The British actress turned 23 this past March.

“We had about two weeks of rehearsals in San Francisco before we started shooting,” Skarsgård explained as to how he and Powley developed their on-camera rapport. “To have that much time was such a luxury.”

The actor, known for “True Blood” and “Zoolander” along with the starring role in next year’s “Tarzan” film, said the rehearsals were more like a hangout. The director and two co-stars sat around a table, drank coffee and just talked about the relationship between Monroe and Minnie.

“Diary” also stars Kristen Wiig as Monroe’s girlfriend and Chris Meloni as Minnie’s father. It received a limited release in New York and Los Angeles but will expand showings throughout the month.

Heller’s objective with the film was to help people have a better understanding of teenage girls. Skarsgård, who doesn’t have any kids, still finds himself a bit in the dark on that subject.

“And I don’t understand teenage boys either!” he continued. “If I met myself when I was 15, I would not understand myself at all.”

On September 4, 2014, Leona Lewis wrote a letter to her fans. Posted via a snapshot on Twitter, the singer talked about a “rollercoaster year” and “taking the huge step away from Syco and Sony.” Syco Entertainment is Simon Cowell’s record label; Lewis landed with Cowell after winning “The X-Factor” in the UK over eight years ago.

But after four albums, including one of the holiday variety, Lewis felt it was time for a change. She left Cowell for Island Records, and a year and a week to the date of dropping that open letter, Lewis will release her new LP I Am.

She does not find the timing too significant though.

“I didn’t even realize it would be a year,” she told me. “It wasn’t planned like that. Naturally it just happened that the album was kind of done around then and it was time to release it.”

Lewis later clarified that she had been working on this material for much longer than six or seven months; rather almost two years.

“Before (the letter) I had gone out on my own and started creating the album,” Lewis noted. “I was making it but I didn’t know what label I was going to sign to or what was going to happen.”
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This album started by Lewis simply creating music with no other purpose or plan besides the creation itself. She collaborated with super-producer Toby Gad (“All Of Me,” “If I Were a Boy”) and their work led to I Am.

Outside of a track penned by Diane Warwick, Lewis and Gad receive writing credits on every song. Other writers who contributed to the LP include Anne Preven and Wayne Wilkins. There are no featured artists on any of the songs outside of Leona.

“I think for this album it was so important to just kind of have it as my own thing because it was so personal,” she explained. “So collaborations as far as producers yeah, but not artist-wise.”

Lewis will drop I Am on September 11. The first single at U.S. radio is called, “Thunder.”

For the second straight year, The John Lennon Songwriting Contest called upon “Ralphie Tonight” to announce the winner of its year-long, international songwriting competition. This year’s “Song Of The Year” winner was “Dysphoric,” a track by Barrington, R.I.-based quartet The Rare Occasions.
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Each year, the contest is divided in to a pair of sessions. Over $300,000 in cash and prizes is awarded, culminating with the “Song Of The Year,” which includes a $20,000 prize.

Brian Rothschild, Execuitve Director of The JLSC and Matthew Reich, Vice President of U.S. Tours and Promotions, along with American Authors’ front man Zac Barnett joined “Ralphie Tonight” for the announcement. Barnett’s band won the contest in 2012. Read more from The JLSC’s press release here, and check out the interview and winning song below.

The conversation has been ongoing. Third Eye Blind’s Steven Jenkins talked about it in his 1998 hit, “Jumper.” The inspiration for the song was a friend of Jenkins’ who committed suicide by jumping off of a bridge. He was gay and a victim of bullying.

“The song is kind of a noir, because it’s really talking to somebody who is already dead,” the lead singer explained. “So this is kind of what you would say (to him).

“When I wrote it, there was this kind of darkness to it. But now when I sing it, it feels exalted, and you see the audience… they sing most of it, I kind of let them sing it… and you can see this release. So I find a lot of joy in that song now. Maybe that’s bouncing back and reflecting the times.”

Perhaps it is – fast forward to 2015 and indie-rock outfit Walk The Moon is releasing, “Different Colors,” a song about acceptance and unity, to radio.

“It feels really relevant to be playing it right now, and really cool,” guitarist Eli Maiman.

“It’s incredible,” lead singer Nick Petricca added. “We’re just all on the same team out here and it’s cool to feel a part of a movement.”

Maiman noted that the song started as a “rallying cry,” but feels more like a “victory march” when it’s played these days. Again, it’s a reflection of the times – the fact that the movement is deemed “cool” is a step in itself. When you add in the Supreme Court ruling and the light that Caitlyn Jenner is shining on the LGBT community, specifically for Trans people, it is easy to see why the momentum behind equality is stronger than ever.

But as Jenner reminded us Wednesday night at The ESPY Awards, there is plenty of work to still be done. She mentioned Sam Taub, a 15 year-old Transgender boy from Bloomfield, Mich. who committed suicide in April.

“Sam’s story haunts me in particular because his death came just a few days before ABC aired my interview with Diane Sawyer,” Jenner said to the audience. The former Olympian was honored by ESPN with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. “Every time something like this happens, people wonder, ‘Could it have been different, if spotlighting this issue with more attention could have changed the way things happen?’ We’ll never know.”

Jenner admitted that she contemplated taking her own life as well. Now she’s hoping that her actions can help others, if by nothing else, keeping the conversation alive.

Photo: instagram.com/espn

Photo: instagram.com/espn

The buzz continues to build, the schedule continues to fill up and the guys that comprise Walk The Moon continue to find themselves in an album cycle that admittedly they want to see stretch out for as long as possible. When you look at what has happened in 2015 to the group, you really can’t blame them.

“Shut Up and Dance” is in serious contention for “Song of the Summer.” The band’s next single from its sophomore album Talking Is Hard will be “Different Colors,” an anthem of different gravitas but near-equal jubilation. And the Cincinnati-quartet is playing all types of stages: as headliners, as supporters for The Rolling Stones and as performers on “Good Morning America” and at MLB’s Home Run Derby in their home city. At this point (or at least the day after their date in Detroit with Mick, Keith and the boys), lead singer Nick Petricca credited “caffeine and adrenaline” with fueling the band, but downplayed any changes of seismic proportions in the group.

“We’ve always kept ourselves working around the clock, so in a way not much has changed,” he told me on “Ralphie Tonight.” “I think we’re going to see the results (of the single’s success) the next time we tour.”

Walk The Moon has already noticed a change in the crowd at shows, especially when those opening notes of “Shut Up” hit the speakers. But their last headlining tour sold out before the song became inescapable.

That’s not to say the single’s success hasn’t brought about other change.
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“I get a whole lot more texts now saying, ‘Hey, I heard “Shut Up and Dance” in X-Y-Z bizarre situation,” noted guitarist Eli Maiman. “So like – ‘I heard it at Cardinals Stadium in St. Louis, or I heard it in Victoria’s Secret this morning.’

“And I’m like, ‘Mom, why are you telling me this?’”

When the laughter subsided, WTM told me that they also want to collaborate with other artists they enjoy; Petricca said the band hasn’t “sold a song” to anyone yet but they have written with other musicians, and Maiman teased a possible Walk The Moon-feature for another singer could be released soon.

The lead singer also mentioned that there’s a chance fans could hear some new material from the group later this year. At the moment the focus is on “Different Colors,” a song that started as a rallying cry but with recent news events such as the Supreme Court’s lifting of same-sex marriage bans, has turned in to more of a “victory march.” The single celebrates diversity and aims to unite.

“It feels really relevant to be playing it right now, and really cool,” said Maiman.

“It’s incredible,” Petricca added. “We’re just all on the same team out here and it’s cool to feel a part of a movement.”

That idea of community is something that the band can easily be reminded of every night, as they perform in front of thousands of face-painted fans whose sole objective is to have fun. No wonder they don’t want this to end.

As chronicled in the new documentary Amy, almost anyone who came in contact with the late Amy Winehouse experienced some type of very intense, dark time with her, especially later part of her 27 years alive. Yet it takes almost no effort for her first manager Nick Shymansky to recollect brighter moments he spent with the gifted singer.

“Because we were flown out by the label, we decided to make the most of it,” Shymansky, the nephew of Universal Music Group’s Lucian Grainge and current Senior A&R at Island Records was telling me on “Ralphie Tonight” during a story about how he and Winehouse were in New York City. They had a meeting with her label that didn’t go as planned; due to the lack of “heat” around the artist at that particular moment, label execs were pumping the breaks on releasing Winehouse’s first album Frank in the States.

“Amy just made her first bit of money. She wasn’t really famous but she was getting a lot of acclaim. We ended up going to Tower Records and she got a massive trolley. She was like a kid in a candy store.”

Winehouse went to town in the once-booming store (Shymansky believes they were at the former Upper West Side location), not taking in to account anything – whether it be the price of the records nor the tax and shipping cost to send them all back to the UK.

“I remember she bought all this music and we paid a huge fine for taking it back (overseas),” he recalled with a smile. “It was amazing seeing her just realize, ‘I can have whatever music I want. I’ve got money.’”
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Shymansky contributed over 12 hours of footage he taped to the piece, which was directed by Asif Kapadia. He, along with rapper Mos Def, producer Mark Ronson and many other friends and family of Winehouse’s, sat down with Kapadia for audio-only interviews that are woven throughout the two-hour-plus film. The singer’s former manager cooperated with the filmmaker in part to help show different sides to Winehouse’s personality and artistry; perhaps those neglected and/or ignored by the media that maligned her until she died of alcohol poisoning in July 2011.

But the film is honest and comes with its share of cringe-worthy moments: watching Winehouse stumble in front of tens-of-thousands on stage, the singer’s mother admitting that she missed early signs of bulimia and Winehouse’s father Mitch showing up to Sr. Lucia, where his daughter was supposed to be recovering on while avoiding the media… with a reality-show camera crew in tow.

“I think one of the most powerful things about this film is that you’re not really told what to think of people,” Shymansky explained. “Opinions aren’t flying. You can’t ignore there were certain decisions, certain things that were handled badly. But I think you come away from this film… it’s two hours and 10 minutes of you being close to the artist.”

From that proximity, it is hard not to see why after viewing Kapadia’s final cut, Winehouse’s father decided to disassociate the family from its release. In addition to the aforementioned incident on the island, Mr. Winehouse also plays an integral role in the creation of his daughter’s breakout hit, “Rehab.” Shymansky actually tried to admit Winehouse; the singer responded by deferring the decision of whether she should go or not to her father.

Despite working out a plan ahead of time with her manager, Mr. Winehouse told his daughter that she didn’t need rehab. Of course, you know this by simply listening to the song, which is almost a verbatim play-by-play of the entire situation.
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“Popular music, up-tempo music, hit music, whatever you want to call it… is very often, when you really look in to the context of what that song’s saying, it can be quite deep,” Shymansky noted, citing hits from Motown as an example. “For me, I can never listen to ‘Rehab.’ Although, I appreciate why a lot of people get it, dance to it, love it… but I knew what was behind it, and I always found it a bit of a ridicule in to my belief that Amy needed help.”

Shymansky could have easily forgotten about Winehouse altogether after his refusal to leave the company he worked for, 19 Entertainment, led to the singer switching managers prior to the release of Back To Black. But Shymansky still cares very much about the singer and her lasting legacy, knowing full well that his discovery of Winehouse helped cement his own credibility in the industry.

Lioness record came out, and I always felt very strange about that record coming out because it wasn’t a record that Amy said, ‘This is my body of work. I’ve finished it. I’ve done it,” he responded when I inquired about the possibility of any unreleased demos seeing the light of day. Keep in mind who Shymansky’s uncle is and what label he now works for, and this is an obvious example of the former point regarding his interest in the singer’s legacy. “Amy took her music very seriously…I hope that if music does emerge, it’s not put out there.”

The “Boys Of Zummer” Tour starring Fall Out Boy, Wiz Khalifa and Hoodie Allen took over The Pavilion at Montage Mountain in Scranton, Pa. on Saturday. I was in attendance at the show, and here is what I noticed from my perspective.

– I attended the meet-and-greets for both Fall Out Boy and Wiz Khalifa, hopping between lines because both were off to a bit of a late start (I believe sound check ran late, thus pushing everything back). I just wanted to say a quick hello to the fellas of FOB; my presence was actually necessary at the Wiz meeting because his label required the radio station to have a representative on hand snapping photos.

– Although I don’t frequent them as much as I used to, I have attended my fair share of meet-and-greets. Fall Out Boy and Wiz Khalifa do a great job of making time to actually converse with each fan. It’s always nice to see artists that still don’t take such things as people wanting to meet them for granted.
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– Wiz was about a dressed down as you would expect when he strolled in to the tent we waited in backstage: flip flops, track pants and a green hoodie pulled up. His demeanor was pretty laid back, even when my camera stuttered before taking the first photo of our winners (thankfully I figured out the issue quickly. The photos are up now at 97bht.com).

– Fall Out Boy’s team runs its meet-and-greet a bit different. First, everybody is lined up just outside the venue’s entrance. A person from the band’s camp checks everyone in on a list one-by-one. Then we’re all lined up again, in the venue. From there, we proceeded to the VIP deck. A security guard stands by to hold any bags or phones; none were permitted as FOB has a staff photographer handle all photos. The shots are then uploaded to a website for download. They also offer props for the picture – sunglasses, boas, etc. Very photo booth-like.

– Of course, the guys from FOB are familiar faces now, especially lead singer Patrick Stump and bassist Pete Wentz. All or part of the band has been on “Ralphie Tonight” four times in the past nine months. We exchanged quick salutations and I told them how excited I was to hear the newer stuff live.
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– I also had a chance to chop it up backstage with DJ Bonics, a radio personality who is also Khalifa’s tour DJ. He was telling me how well the tour has gone for Wiz. Some still don’t understand how the two-acts can co-exist on the same bill. After seeing the Pittsburgh-emcee’s set, which included all of Wiz’s hits from “Black and Yellow” to “Young, Wild and Free” and of course “See You Again,” it became much easier to understand. The crowd was engaged from start to finish, and if they didn’t initially show up to see Khalifa, they more-than-likely left the venue a fan.

– And Fall Out Boy gets better every time I see them live; the last prior to this being on the 2013 “Save Rock and Roll” arena tour. It’s a seamless string of hit-after-hit with some fan favorites sprinkled in. As expected, a highlight of the evening was the band playing “Fourth of July,” a track from “American Beauty/American Psycho,” on of course July 4th.

I’ve ran in Central Park for almost three years now. I love running; it’s one of the few things I do that improves every aspect of my life: physical, professional, psychological.

Despite my frequent runs not just in the park, but around the famed Reservoir, I’ve never seen a celebrity. That changed on Friday, when I ran in to not just any public figure, but the lead singer of my all-time favorite band.

Of course, I almost didn’t go for a run Friday afternoon. About two weeks ago I hurt my knees, again. The initial injury occurred in 2011. I suffered “dashboard knee” and ended up in rehab for a few weeks and on the sidelines for almost 10 months. Plainly, it sucked. I’ve spent the time since building strength in the knees and the muscles that surround them, and things were pretty solid until my latest mishap; I lost my footing while stepping around an open door to get in a cab and both knees smacked against the sidewalk. It was as painful as it sounds.

After about two weeks of going easy, taking the occasional Advil and icing my knees, I felt I was ready to test the waters. I went through my normal stretch routine, grabbed my Bluetooth earbuds and iPod Nano and headed out in to the concrete jungle. I decided that I would lightly jog my normal three-mile route, which takes me in to the park and around the shorter Bridle Path that circles the Reservoir.

About six minutes in, my run was going about as well as expected when I made it on to the path. I always travel on the path counter-clockwise; technically that’s the way you’re supposed to run or walk but if you’ve been you know that maybe half of the people actually pay attention. Anyways, I don’t think I was circling the Reservoir more than five minutes when two people, one who I definitely recognized, were walking in the opposite direction.
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The guy was wearing a white shirt and a black hat somewhat pulled down low. I recognized his face immediately though. I just jogged by Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin.

At this point I have a quick decision to make: do I keep going in the opposite direction or go over to him just to tell him what a big fan I am? First, I look to see if a lot of people are around. I want to respect the man’s space and do not want to cause a scene. But our stretch of the path is rather desolate. It is as this moment I decide that if I don’t approach him, I’ll be second-guessing myself for a while. So, I remove one of my earbuds, pull a U-turn and head in Martin’s direction.

Again, my plan is to be inconspicuous and not make a big scene. So I gently run up behind Martin and the person he’s with, and then duck to Chris’s right side.

“Hey, don’t want to get all crazy on ya – just here…”

“OH MY GOD! HOLY SH–!”

Well, I was a bit too inconspicuous and scared the bejesus out of the person he was with.

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry. Chris – just want to say I’m a huge fan! Sorry, bye!”

Martin, realizing I meant no harm and posed no threat, immediately thanked me for my support and high-fived me. Yes, high-fived me. I think he was trying to smooth over what had become an unnecessarily-awkward situation, because he thanked me for being a fan of the band’s about three more times in the 10 seconds that passed before we parted ways.

And as his friend did their best to get their bearings back, a security guard (who came out of nowhere!) was hot on my tail.

I waved goodbye and completed my normal three-mile route, albeit a little quicker than I had initially planned to thanks to an added dose of adrenaline.

I’m already getting asked this question a lot so let me answer it now: I think I know who he was with but I’m not speculating or confirming any names. I was going for a run, he was enjoying a Friday afternoon in the park. We can leave it at that.

When I got home – three thoughts surrounding the chance encounter prevailed: I really hope no paparazzi caught that, boy do I have a great story to one day start off a Chris Martin interview with and most importantly, I wish I would’ve acted a little cooler (although for the record, I never really lost my cool per se, but whatever).

However above all else, the running itself was a success as thankfully my knees are not sore at all.