Wow, what a run.

My alma mater, Syracuse University, gave us fans quite a March to remember. Entering “Selection Sunday,” me and other members of Orange Nation weren’t quite sure if the team would make the field of 64 or not. Would we play in a “First Four” game? Would we be one of the first four out of the tourney, relegated to the NIT?

The NCAA Selection Committee gifted Syracuse a 10-seed and a first round match-up against a team that had beat us in tournament a few years ago, Dayton. That game took place in 2014 at Buffalo’s First Niagara Center. Coincidentally this year, due to circumstances beyond my control, I would be watching the game with my friends back in Western New York.

#TBT: #MarchMadness Wardrobe Edition. #BeatDayton #BeatEveryone #CuseMode #OrangeNation

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SU took care of Dayton with ease and hung around for a second game in St. Louis, against 15-seed Middle Tennessee State. This team had for sure busted brackets across the country with its upset of Michigan State, a two-seed.

Lighting did not strike twice. The ‘Cuse manhandled the Blue Raiders and moved on to the Sweet 16. I caught the game with my buddy Ryan on the Upper West Side. In the process, I found out that there is a Syracuse-supporters bar blocks away from my apartment!

This was the beauty of the run for me. I had little to no expectations for the Orange this March. The team’s march to the Final Four served not only a pleasant surprise but also as a wonderful opportunity to create memories with family and friends.

Easy wardrobe selection for #NationalOrangeDay. #BeatGonzaga #BeatEveryone #MarchMadness #Sweet16 @syracuseu

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And for that matter, former March legends who continued on to have successful NBA careers. Syracuse’s Sweet 16 matchup pitted the Orange against Gonzaga in Chicago. The game was on a Friday night and tipped around 9:40 pm, meaning I would have to watch the first-half in studio and then hustle to that neighborhood bar for the second.

I arrived at Firehouse to a room full of ‘Cuse faithful, an empty spot at the bar and former UNLV and Knicks standout Larry Johnson… cheering on SU.

Of course, we overcame a second-half deficit to beat the Bulldogs and move on to the Elite 8. I was elated… and as I write this, I still can’t believe I was telling “L.J.” that yes, Trevor Cooney was in-bounds and that the ref blew the call. After he saw the replay, Johnson agreed with me.

Start spreading the news. #Elite8 #OrangeNation #CuseMode #BeatEveryone #BeatGonzaga

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Syracuse’s victory over Gonzaga meant that we would play top-seeded Virginia on Easter Sunday. I had 6:30 reservations for Easter Dinner with my family… in Hollywood, Florida. I immediately alerted my Mom that we’d have to eat early or I would probably not be at the restaurant.

Our 4:30 dinner was excellent and afterwards, my Mom and sister dropped me and my Dad off at a sports bar in Fort Lauderdale to watch the game. At first, it wasn’t fun; Syracuse trailed by double-digits at the half and at one point after halftime, the lead swelled to 16. My Dad, who for the record didn’t give us a chance from the tip, was ready to call it an evening and move along.

#HappyEaster #BeatVirginia #BeatEveryone #Elite8

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And for the record, my Dad as a witness, I can state that I never lost faith. I knew Syracuse had one more big run in them and figured that a number of players the team relied on were due for a hot streak. Thank goodness I was right, and the game turned in to an instant classic. Down went the number-one seed Cavaliers and off went the Orange to another Final Four.


Fittingly, I watched the semifinal game against North Carolina back at Syracuse. The trip was pre-planned; our annual WJPZ Alumni Birthday Banquet was pushed back a month this year to April. So I sat (stood) in the Sheraton on campus with classmates and other alumni, along with my professor Dr. Rick Wright, and watched SU’s season end.

What a time to be on campus. What a time to #BeatUNC. What a time to be alive. #FinalFour #BeatEveryone #CuseMode

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For the record, I expected Syracuse to upend the Tar Heels and had requested Monday off from work to fly to Houston for the National Championship. But as Saturday night wound down, instead of sulking over a change of plans, I grabbed Pita Pit on Marshall Street and reflected back on all of the great times the Orange gave me this March.

All I could think was simply, “Wow. What a run.”

As the final field of contestants was narrowed to three ahead of this week’s American Idol series finale, a specific statistic probably came in to focus for Nick Fradiani: the Connecticut-native has a 33 percent chance of being the final man to win the singing competition.

It would have been quite the coincidence considering he was also the first winner from the Northeast.

“I remember when I first got on the show, I found that out,” Fradiani told me earlier this year. “I was like, ‘I’m doomed! I’m never going to win.’”

The Wheaton College graduate never allowed this to affect his performance as he sang his way to the title. A whirlwind of events followed for Fradiani.

“The single was released back in May,” he recalled of the track, “Beautiful Life.” “I did the radio promotion from about May right up until the tour ended.”

Fradiani essentially worked two jobs: promoting his single at radio stations during the day and performing with his fellow Top 5 finalists on the 37 city tour at night. He continued this until September, and then returned to the studio to finish up his album. Now, he’s back at radio with a new single, “Get You Home.”

“It’s the most up-tempo, funkiest song on the whole album,” Fradiani described. “Figures that’s what the label liked! But I loved it, I loved writing it. And there’s a sample in it from Young M.C.”

Fradiani intertwined “If you want it, you got it,” from the 1989 hit “Bust A Move.” The “Idol” winner was 3 and a half years old when the song was released, and busted a move or three this week on the show’s finale.

Also gracing the “Idol” stage one more time: previous winners Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jordin Sparks, David Cook and Kris Allen. They and other winners from yesteryear were joined by a slew of finalists who have found success in their own right: from “Daughtry” front man Chris Daughtry and Adam Lambert to Broadway star Constantine Maroulis, actress Katherine McPhee and country star Kellie Pickler.

Some stars are so far removed from their time on the show that you might even forget they once competed. But for at least one winner, who will also return to “Idol” this week, that might be an accomplishment in itself.

“The hardest thing about coming off of ‘American Idol,’” Lee DeWyze told me a few years ago, “is coming off of ‘American Idol.’ Everyone’s got a different path.”

And for the show’s second-to-last winner, that statement certainly holds true… literally.

Jamie Lynn Macchia, the current title holder of “Miss New York,” lists her visit to the White House as one of the coolest things she’s done since taking the crown.

“I got to go there after ‘Miss America’ to attend the Childhood Cancer Month Awareness briefing,” she said via telephone from her native Staten Island. “I was actually there, and it’s pretty awesome.”

Macchia’s White House visit came after months of preparation and a two-week stint in Atlantic City to vie for the “Miss America” crown on ABC. Her visit to the President’s home is symbolic for multiple reasons. The distance from Staten Island to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is 213 miles, and that number is the catalyst for the title holder’s current campaign: Run For The White House. The national program works like a marathon in that donors pledge a dollar amount for participants to travel. The difference is that the miles can be traveled in any manner – from running outside to using a stationary bike.

Money raised from the campaign will aid in pediatric cancer research. Run For The White House was started in 2012; Macchia joined it in January and aims to work out her 213 miles by September.

“It culminates with CureFest,” she explained, “which is a big pediatric cancer rally in the middle of September.”

This year’s event will be held in our nation’s capitol on September 17 and 18. The two-day fundraiser includes live entertainment and a candle-light vigil. Last year’s headliners were The Plain White T’s. For more information and to pledge money for Macchia’s miles, click here.

In the time between Parachute releasing its third and fourth albums, the band shrunk from a quintet to a trio. And the fact of the matter is, a lot can happen in two-and-a-half years.

“They got married and had kids,” lead singer Will Anderson responded when I asked what happened to former members Alex Hargrave and Nate McFarland. “It’s been a bit of a transition but it was just time, and the three of us have been friends since high school so we were obviously going to keep going.

“It was a very un-dramatic, sort-of exit. We’re still friends with them.”

When I inquired if this meant that no wedding bells would ring in the near-future for the band mates, I was quickly alerted to keyboardist Kit French’s nuptials, which apparently happened a while ago.

“It’s not for everyone,” French said of the balance between marriage and band life, before Anderson jokingly added, “Kit’s a very mature guy.”

Along with drummer Johnny Stubblefield, Parachute is currently touring behind “Wide Awake,” its fourth LP and first on Vanguard Records. While the label is independent, it’s owned by Concord Bicycle Group, which counts Paul McCartney and the catalog of Frank Sinatra amongst its roster.

Anderson revealed that the band worked primarily with Nathan Chapman on its latest release. Chapman is perhaps best known for his work with Taylor Swift, counting three GRAMMY wins to his credit for “Fearless” and “1989.”

“He was my main go-to,” explained the lead singer. “We talked a lot about this stuff.”

It makes sense given Anderson’s relationship with Swift; back in 2013 he told me the two were “great friends.”

“It’s also fun because she can give me advice on anything our band can possibly be going through; she’s already done it. Even though she’s a little bit younger than us, she’s the biggest artist in the world right now,” Anderson told me during Parachute’s promo run for the band’s third album, “Overnight.”

Do they still keep in touch?

“Distance separates us,” the lead singer said, noting Swift’s New York City apartment and Parachute’s roots in Nashville (although Swift owns property there, along with a slew of other locations). “But she’s great. She’s always been supportive of our band and we love getting advice from her.”

Considering Swift is still one of the biggest artists in the world, who wouldn’t?

When you tune in to my show at 7 pm, you usually hear a voice announce, “Ralphie’s here!” That voice is none other than Today Show co-host Hoda Kotb. It was recorded last June when I interviewed her during a Garden of Dreams charity event. Fast forward nine months, and I ran in to Hoda again at the same event. Watch the original clip first, then below it Hoda’s reaction when I tell her that she kicks off my show every evening.

Related: I love Hoda.

Fuse Media Deputy Editor Jason Lipshutz called in to the show to discuss the debut album from Zayn, Mind Of Mine. Lipshutz, who received an advanced copy of the LP, says it’s a departure from the music Malik was associated with as a part of One Direction but thinks Directioners will certainly gravitate to it. He predicts the album will debut at number one.
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The Garden Of Dreams Foundation, Madison Square Garden’s charity that aims to improve the lives of kids facing an array of obstacles across the tri-state area, is preparing for its annual talent show. It is an event that provides children with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform on stage at Radio City Music Hall.

And for that reason, TV personality Hoda Kotb is returning a second time to help out.
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“This is one of those events that you have to do again. You can’t do it once,” Kotb responded when I asked why she reprised her role of “Celebrity Mentor” alongside the likes of gold medalist Nastia Liukin, model Damaris Lewis, The Rockettes, Broadway star Christina Sajous and hip-hop legend Darryl “DMC” McDaniels. “There are so many events and wonderful charities in New York. This particular one does it exactly right.”

Citing what the participants take from the experience, The Today Show co-host elaborated.

“It transforms lives. It changes the trajectory of someone’s path,” she explained. “You actually can physically watch someone change, and how often does that happen in your lifetime, that you get to watch someone transform right in front of you?”

According to the foundation, over 100 children will participate in the talent show, and each child took a different path to the great stage. For Caroline Waters, she battled Acute Myelogenous Leukemia. The 16 year-old Queens native was diagnosed at age two and began chemotherapy before later receiving a bone marrow transplant from her younger sister, who was just four at the time.

Waters has been cancer-free for 13 years, and chose to perform Andra Day’s “Rise Up” at the event.

“I find it very inspiring,” she said of the track. “It’s such an anthem; everything happens for a reason, so whatever happens, it’ll be OK.”

It’s quite a profound comment from a teenager like Waters who has faced so many trials and tribulations. Yet, her disposition reveals not only how this organization benefits children, but how it also reflects back on to the volunteers.

“I learned that these kids, when you look at the hardships that they have to sort of overcome, you learn that at the base of it we’re all just human beings,” Kotb responded when asked what she took from last year’s talent show. “We all just have basic needs. These kids have such incredible talent and I think sometimes they don’t get a fair shot at it because of where they began.

“I just like this because it puts everyone on the starting line together. Here we all are, together. Now 1, 2, 3: go. That’s how it works, and everyone gets their shot.”

In essence, the talent show gives everyone their own opportunity to rise up.

PageSix.com Senior Reporter Andrew Nodell called in to the show on Monday. He had news on Ariana Grande, Mariah Carey and Aaron Carter – who apparently won’t be voting in the upcoming election because of Internet trolls.
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On a normal year I spend the first weekend of the NCAA Basketball Tournament in Las Vegas. I traditionally travel alone but upon landing west, am greeted by a group of guys that I grew up with in Niagara Falls, NY. Now what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but specifics withheld, the three days are usually filled with lots of sports, casino chips and the occasional alcoholic beverage (read: bottle).

However, 2016 would prove to not be a normal year. I’m 30 and most of the fellas in my group are at least a year or two older than me. They also all live back in Western New York. So while I’m still single and relatively care-free, my boys are now proposing, closing on houses, having kids or taking care of their young ones.

And this year, essentially all of those things happened at once, creating the perfect storm to cancel our annual Vegas excursion.

But, I’ve grown so accustomed hanging with the guys for March Madness, and we’re so used to seeing each other that we quickly decided something had to serve as a placeholder for Vegas until 2017. With a founding trip member and their wife was expecting a baby that weekend it was decided that we’d rent out a suite in North Buffalo, set-up three TVs, stock up the kitchen and bar and enjoy all of the Cinderella stories and buzzer beaters we could handle.

Perhaps keeping with the Vegas spirit, not many details of this trip will be publicized either; however I documented a modicum of it on Instagram. The fun began after an all-nighter Wednesday night, with a first-class Delta flight to the 716.


Of course I represented for my Syracuse Orange – who advanced to the Sweet 16 after thumping both Dayton and Middle Tennessee State.

And when in Rome… well, you know. On Thursday’s menu: La Nova pizza and char-grilled barbecue hot chicken wings.


Friday’s menu: Breakfast pizza from La Nova (highly recommend) along with spicy Bloody Marys that lasted until our early dinner: a huge fish fry with the fixings from WNY-staple Wegmans.


On Friday night, the trip’s itinerary took a turn: snow and rain were projected to hit New York on Sunday, the day I was supposed to fly back. I’ve become all-too-familiar with delays in-and-out of the tri-state area. In the interest of not spending all day Sunday at the airport or getting stranded in Niagara Falls, I proactively called Delta to have my flight bumped earlier. The airline was not as accommodating as they should have been but they did switch me to a Saturday flight.

That plane departed at 5:45 am. I found this out at about 1 am. So, I did what anyone else on vacation would do: I called my buddy Shawn who was working downtown at a nightclub, took a cab to meet him with my luggage in tow, hung out, grabbed food at Elmwood Taco and Subs (ETS!) and then Shawn drove me to Buffalo Niagara International Airport.


Sure my weekend wasn’t spent in Vegas, but most importantly it was spent with my friends. And besides, with the eating, drinking and sleeping habits that ensued, I don’t think my body could tell the difference anyways.

Haley Reinhart has traveled an interesting path from “American Idol” finalist to independent solo artist. The Chicago-born songstress signed a deal with Interscope after her top 3 “Idol” finish and recorded her debut album “Listen Up!” That would be her only release under the label. Reinhart eventually joined fellow season 10 alum Casey Abrams in Postmodern Jukebox before stumbling upon the next chapter of her career, all thanks to a gum commercial.

“Wrigley and Extra Gum kind of sought me out and had me record the song kind of overnight and it worked out,” Reinhart explained of her new single, a cover of the Elvis Presley classic “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” “It worked out, they put out the commercial, it blew up and now it’s being played on the radio.”
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For the most part, Reinhart seems to be enjoying the ride.

“I’d rather things take their own course and their own time to completely fall in to the right place,” she said. “I don’t like anything to be forced. So thankfully in this instance and in a lot of other cases, it’s overnight and you don’t expect it, and those are the greatest gifts.”

Reinhart’s gift to her fans will be the sophomore album “Better,” due out in April.

“I actually had to hold back putting out the album because of all the buzz that’s happened around this single,” she revealed. “It’s been a labor of love for about three years or so now.”

But Reinhart isn’t complaining. After all, there are some things you can’t predict and others you simply shouldn’t force.