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.
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.
“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.’”
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.
“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.”
If you thought that Demi Lovato and Iggy Azalea were unlikely to be best friends, then you thought wrong. The two artists met briefly in mid-October, and now Lovato will stand with Azalea as a bridesmaid for her upcoming nuptials to NBA star Nick Young.
On October 10, Lovato posted a photo with Azalea on Twitter along with the text, “Being a super fan at @Vevo’s #VCSFF w @IGGYAZALEA… Next time our butts will take a picture with each other.”
“It was like, quick in passing,” Lovato told me a few weeks later of the encounter before adding, “but she was cool, and I want to do a collaboration for sure.”
When I brought this up last week to the “Really Don’t Care” singer and asked how less than a year later she was “suddenly” a bridesmaid, Lovato started laughing.
“(Azalea’s) so cool and down-to-earth,” she gushed. “I don’t like hanging out with people that are ‘Hollywood.’ Yunno what I mean? You don’t see me hanging around too many people that are ‘scene-y’ or ‘Hollywood’ or whatever.
“She’s just real as f—. The first time we hung out, we went to Target and got gingerbread houses to make and we made gingerbread houses. That’s how chill she is.”
The Garden of Dreams Foundation held its annual Talent Show at Radio City Music Hall on Thursday. Children from across the tri-state area who are facing obstacles were chosen with the help of partner organizations to perform on the Great Stage at Radio City.
“People need to see the beauty in each person, no matter what situation they’re in,” Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels, one of the celebrity mentors to the kids, told “Ralphie Tonight before the show. “That’s what we do here at the Garden of Dreams.”
In addition to the celebrity mentors from across the entertainment industry that helped the performers prepare, a number of other stars showed up on Thursday to lend their support – including “Sopranos” actor Steve Schirripa, Kevin Jonas and Chef Anne Burrell.
“If you have found your path, hopefully much earlier than I did, you know what? Stick to it, and love it,” Burrell said of the advice she usually gives kids. “And if you love it, you’ll be good at it.”
Other mentors for the show included model Damaris Lewis, The Rockettes and “Today” host Hoda Kotb. The event was hosted by MSG Networks’ Al Trautwig and Jill Martin.
There certainly was no shortage of star power, or inspiring stories. Braeden Hahn is a 14 year-old from Fredon, N.J. He was treated for severe aplastic anemia, but on Thursday when I asked him how he was feeling, that seemed to be the furthest thing from his mind. The singer and guitarist told me he was a little nervous, but excited to perform at Radio City – the largest stage he had yet to grace. Hahn chose to sing John Mayer’s “Gravity.”
“When I was in the hospital, I first heard the song and it just got to me because my sickness was trying to bring me down, just like the gravity, and I wouldn’t let it.”
Damaris Lewis is a celebrity mentor for Thursday’s Garden of Dreams Talent Show at Radio City Music Hall. The Brooklyn-born star brings a diverse resume to the table: Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model, backup dancer for Prince and cameo in Kanye West’s music video for “Monster” are just a few of the things found on her Wikipedia (of course, we confirmed). Not surprisingly, Lewis was able to answer a question about what kids participating in the show could learn from the aforementioned musicians with relative ease.
“Listen,” she responded when asked what “The Purple One” could teach others. “I think that working with Prince, the one that I notice is that he hears everything. He’s very observant, and that’s important if you’re going to go in to a career in entertainment. You need to know what’s happening all around you, at all times.”
Perhaps his public persona would prevent others from linking Kanye West to a mentorship role at a kids’ talent show, but GRAMMY Awards and chart-topping albums don’t come without hard work and talent.
“Be yourself,” Lewis said of what Mr. West could teach those performing at Radio City Thursday. “Never be afraid, just like Hoda (Kotb), to be the same person you are when you wake up when you’re on that stage. If you carry that energy that you have on the stage in to your real life, your confidence levels will be the same in both areas.”
The “Today” host, along with stars from Broadway and The Rockettes, also serve as mentors to those participating Thursday.
“I love Garden of Dreams because they bring you people who are the same on the camera and off the camera,” Lewis noted of her colleagues. “I think it’s really important for the kids to see that as well because they’re going to meet Hoda, and then they’re going to watch her and say, ‘Wow! That’s the same woman I met!’
“It’s really great energy for the kids to have, on-and-off the clock.”
The Garden of Dreams Talent Show will feature children found through its 25 partner organizations that are facing difficulties, such as extreme poverty or homelessness. The event takes place on Thursday at Radio City Music Hall, and is free to the public. It kicks off at 7 p.m.
Former “American Idol” executive producer Nigel Lythgoe is interested in contributing to the show’s final season, set for next year.
“I feel like it’s my baby; I brought it over here (from England),” he told “Ralphie Tonight” on Sunday at the Tony Awards red carpet. “But I don’t know what egos are involved right now.”
Lythgoe produced “Idol” for 11 years, from its start in 2002 to 2013 when both he and fellow EP Ken Warwick were replaced. In a statement following his departure, the TV vet said that he was looking forward to focusing more on his other baby – “So You Think You Can Dance.” That show is currently in its 12th season with a pair of new judges alongside Lythgoe: Jason Derulo and former “Idol” panelist Paula Abdul.
“A panel of judges isn’t about the individual,” he explained. “It’s about how you sit together. You know, looking at something like ‘The Voice’; it’s fantastic how Blake (Sheldon) and Adam (Levine) really made that work, and anyone that comes in to it now feels very comfortable.
“We’ve three have just got to make it work for ourselves now, and I think over the series we’ll certainly do that.”
It’s big business – billion dollar business, to be exact. Perhaps that explains why so many big stars from across entertainment continue to flock to Broadway for producing and/or starring roles. But as evidenced in last Sunday night’s “Tony Awards” broadcast, there is obviously more to the boom than just dollars and cents.
“I think people love live theater,” James Monroe Iglehart told me outside of Radio City Music Hall in New York City on the red carpet. Iglehart took home a “Tony” last year for his current role as “The Genie” in “Aladdin: The Musical.” “There’s something about watching people doing it right in front of you… they are not lip-syncing, there are no special effects, they are just singing and acting and dancing in front of you. There’s an energy to it that cannot be matched.”
That was Iglehart’s way of not only explaining Broadway’s identity, but also its success. Box office revenues climbed to over $1.3 billion this past season.
The earnest seen on stage is clearly admired by all entertainers, including multi-platinum recording artist Josh Groban.
“To me this is such a pinnacle, to be in this theater world, to be up there on the Tony’s stage,” he remarked prior to the show. The American Theater Wing and The Broadway League tapped Groban to perform during the “In Memoriam” portion of the broadcast. “Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be in the theatrical world.”
Others, like TV producer and “So You Think You Can Dance” creator/judge Nigel Lythgoe actually began their careers on the stage.
“I started off as a West End Dancer,” Lythgoe responded when I asked him why he became involved in the revival of “On The Town.” The production earned four nominations, including “Best Revival Of A Musical,” but lost to “The King and I.” “So just being a part of Broadway feels like I’ve sort of come full circle.”
Speaking of full circle, when the topic of “American Idol” was mentioned, Lythgoe reiterated that he would like to take part in the show’s final season next year. The producer, who brought the competition to the States from across the pond, added that he doesn’t know, “what egos are involved.”
And that is another interesting thing about the red carpet of “The Tony Awards”: egos seem to be checked at the door. Kelsey Grammer, who performed on Broadway long before he came known as “Frasier,” told me that he was lured back to the stage because in his opinion, “Finding Neverland” is “the best show I’ve ever seen in my life.”
“It’s just one of my favorite stories,” said Grammer, who performed on the telecast as his character, Captain Hook. “I was invited to come and seen the out-of-town tryout basically, and I just thought it was breathtaking.”
“Neverland” did not receive a “Tony” nomination, but at least the snub isn’t reflected in the box office numbers; in the week leading up to the award show, the musical tallied over a million dollars in ticket sales. With an influx of theatergoers on the horizon thanks to warmer weather and tourist season, “The Tony’s” may have come and gone, but for the foreseeable future the business is here to stay.
She is no stranger to entertaining millions, whether it is on “TODAY” with Kathie Lee Gifford and a glass of wine or while jamming out to “Uptown Funk” on “Lip Sync Battle.” But on June 18 Hoda Kotb will focus on a small, figuratively and literally, portion of her audience. The TV host is one of a handful of celebrity mentors for the annual Garden of Dreams Talent Show at Radio City Music Hall.
“When I was younger, you come and you walk by Radio City and you look up and you go, ‘Oh my God, it’s Radio City,” recalled Kotb to “Ralphie Tonight” before a rehearsal for the performance. “And then you see The Rockettes, and you see the rest of it… I just think that there’s something about this place.
“But more than that, a lot of great things happen in great buildings and great stages. These kids, who have overcome all kinds of tough things in their life, are standing proud, singing out and it just turns me on.”
The Garden of Dreams Foundation works with The Madison Square Garden Company to bring once-in-a-life time opportunities like the talent show to children facing obstacles. Joining Kotb to mentor the kids will be model and dancer Damaris Lewis, New York Liberty Forward Essence Carson, The Rockettes, Broadway performer Chrisitna Sajous and Jarod Grimes, who stars in the “New York Spring Specatcular.” The group brings a diversified skill set to the table; however Kotb believes that despite this being a talent show, it is not their talent per se that will takes these participants to the stage at Radio City and beyond.
“I don’t think the successful people are necessarily the most talented or the most educated, or any of those things because I wasn’t either,” the TV personality opined. “I think it’s really the kids who don’t stop. If you have a will and you love it, I think that’s three-fourths of it. Talent doesn’t win. Persistence wins. Perseverance wins.”
The second day of Red Carpet Radio at the 2015 Billboard Music Awards was hectic, as many BBMA finalists, presenters and performers stopped by to chat with “Ralphie Tonight.” Check out some of the photos and conversations below with Hozier, Tori Kelly, Fall Out Boy and more.
Special thanks to BBMA co-host Ludacris, who also made some time for the show. We chatted with him while he waited for a car to pick him up… in the back of the MGM Grand Arena… on a curb. In Vegas, there is a first time for everything.