Thursday, May 30, 2013

Pia Toscano: The Queens Queen Of Kings

It's safe to say that 2 years ago there ain't a chance in hell Queens native Pia Toscano would have believed she'd soon become the beloved good luck charm of the Los Angeles Kings. After all, despite growing up in NY Islander country, she wasn't really a hockey fan and had never even attended a hockey game before.

Plus, at that time she was the beautiful starlet competing on American Idol, and by all accounts considered a lock to make the Top 3. Hell, many thought she'd win the whole damn thing. Hockey? Please...she was on the fast track to pop superstardom, with gold records, Grammys, and all the trappings of A-list celebrity.

Well, it just goes to show you how truth really can be stranger than fiction.

Pia, as we all know only too well, was about to suffer from what's known as premature elimination. Instead of Top 3, Pia was sent packing in 9th place in the most stunning elimination in Idol history. Cheeseball douchebag Stefano Langone would advance instead of Pia, and the uproar was so loud that one wondered if they'd even be able to finish the season. I was so pissed off I boycotted the show the next week, and I think many others did, too.

Well, at least the wrong was righted by Interscope. They signed Pia in the summer of 2011 to a recording contract, and all was well with the world again.

Or was it?

Haley Reinhart stormed to the finish line with an extremely strong 3rd, and made such an impact Interscope would sign her, too. This made for a logjam of gorgeous Idol women with big voices, and would shuffle Pia back in the pack since she was left dormant for 6 weeks while Haley garnered huge Idol buzz with some of the most jaw-dropping performances the Idol stage has ever seen.

Now, we all know it didn't end well for either of them, as Interscope just couldn't figure out what the fuck to do and wound up blowing it with both girls.

In Pia's case, she would be handed a pleasant (if nondescript) mid-tempo pop single (This Time), and release a corresponding music video. However, Interscope didn't even release the song to radio for adds, and then permanently shelved her album. They effectively just hung her out to dry, rendering Pia unable to tour or perform the music she'd worked so hard on. All that was left was the waiting game.

It was during this lost period that Pia would begin her redemption in the most unlikely of places: An LA Kings game.

Attending the first hockey game of her life, she was immediately impressed with the exciting atmosphere. Having by now established a reputation for delivering fantastic national anthems, Pia told her manager she'd love to get the chance to do one at a Kings game sometime.

Well, sometime would soon happen, and the world as she knew it would never be the same again.

When the time to perform came, Pia delivered a lights-out SSB, the Kings won and the crowd loved her. She would definitely be invited back again.

And again.

And again.

And again, and again, and again, and again...

You see, not only did Pia slay the NA, the Kings also kept on winning every time she would sing it. Hockey is a VERY superstitious sport, so Pia by playoff time became considered the official good luck charm of the LA Kings. So, what happened next? Oh, she only sang them all the way to winning the Stanley Cup.

This year, she's doing it again. The Kings have won the first two rounds of the playoffs behind Pia's voice, and are set to begin the conference finals vs Chicago. Pia now has an immaculate 16-0 record on the season including playoffs.

Overall, she's an amazing 28-3-1 since her debut last season.

Now, I'm old enough to remember back when Kate Smith was the unbeatable force of the Philadelphia Flyers, who would summon her to guarantee victory back in the 70's. In fact, as a born and raised Buffalo fan, I was myself victimized by her rendition of God Bless America back in the '75 Stanley Cup finals. As much as I wanted my Sabres to get it done, I just knew when Kate was unleashed it was curtains for us.

Fast-forward about 40 years, and Pia Toscano is doing the same thing in LA with the Star Spangled Banner.  The players and fans really believe in her, and opposing teams get that foreboding feeling when she strolls out onto the ice to belt out the Anthem.

Now, Pia is the toast of the town. Newspapers are writing about her, fans are chanting her name, blogs like mine are dedicating posts to her incredible run, celebrities like Tom Cruise and Mathew Perry are personally and publicly singing her's incredible to behold, and nobody is more deserving of the good fortune.

So, cheers to you, Pia. You're truly LA's favorite girl, and if there's a better way to get a new start on a music career than that I don't know what it is.

Below you can check out Pia Toscano's Game 7 winning Star Spangled Banner vs the San Jose Sharks. I recommend playing it when you really need something to go your way...hey, can't hurt!

Go Kings! Kenny Poo out.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Profiles in Jazz: George Benson - Breezin'

Back in 1976, I was all of 9 years old. Little did I know, it would become one of the most influential years in my music life. Some of the best albums of all time topped the charts that year, including Chicago's Greatest Hits, Eagles Greatest Hits, Fleetwood Mac and Frampton Comes Alive.

However, none were more influential than Breezin' by George Benson.

As we get older, we rely on music to vividly transport us back in time to the deeply meaningful and powerful emotions of our childhood. Nothing can trigger the flood of memories, feelings, emotions and sensations quite like it. The long ago sights, smells and tastes are suddenly fresh, present and alive again when the right song comes on. It's magical, irresistible, and it's why we can never stop listening to music from this era of our lives.

So, if my girl Haley Reinhart is kinda sick of me nagging her all the time to make a jazz album, she should redirect her complaints to George Benson, who more than anyone else is responsible for piquing my jazz interest to begin with.

Anyhow, safe to say Breezin' is one of those albums that are transformative. Listening to Benson's gentle guitar licks on Affirmation and Breezin' (the title tack) always brings me back to summertime memories of childhood, with sunny days, beaches, windows down, and just enjoying life. Something about the cool, smooth tone Benson can produce on his guitar I find absolutely captivating and mesmerizing.

Of the six tracks on Breezin', This Masquerade is the song that to this day remains the most representative of Benson's full music repertoire. It's 8:03 of sheer brilliance (forget the horribly cropped, 3:21 version released to radio as a single), as Benson for the first time introduces his gift for guitar scatting and soulful vocals while still fully executing his masterful jazz guitar work.
In this vain, Breezin' represented somewhat of a shift for Benson, who before this time had been a traditional jazz guitar virtuoso in the style of his hero Wes Montgomery. Breezin' would be the same, yet as I've outlined, also very different. Benson would take some heat from the old school jazz crowd for this bow to mainstream music, but his blasphemy was certainly rewarded.

Produced by Tommy LiPuma, this was Benson's debut album for the more pop-oriented Warner Bros Records after spending a decade jazz label hopping with only middling success. Adding R&B/Pop sounds, strings, and a bit of disco to form what would become known as jazz fusion, this blending of contemporary styles would define his career as much as his brilliant jazz guitar work.

What makes Breezin' so special is that they achieved the optimal balance in the fusion. In subsequent albums, Benson would become increasingly pop/R&B oriented until the 90's when he (thankfully) began returning to his jazz roots again.

Obviously, many others agreed with me, as Breezin' to this day remains the top selling jazz album of all time, selling over 3 million copies. It also won 3 Grammys, and revolutionized the jazz fusion genre. In short, GB absolutely nailed the right sound at the right time.

Side note: The record producer for the lovely (OK, gorgeous) and talented Pia Toscano is Harvey Mason Jr. Well, his dad, Harvey Mason Sr., is a longtime drummer for George Benson, and was, in fact, the drummer on Breezin'. I would love to hear Pia and George duet sometime, so if the Masons can make that happen I'd be a most appreciative Poo.

Anyway, the success of Breezin' would pave the way for talented and creative artists like Chuck Mangione and Spyro Gyra to find huge popularity in the late 70's with their own jazz instrumental fusion sound. Unfortunately, a horrible seed would later be spawned from this otherwise wonderful music development: The proliferation of the dreaded Smooth Jazz virus. This nauseating genre would bring us decades of empty elevator music from vomitatious artists like Kenny G, and, sadly, there's no sign of a cure for this plague.

In conclusion, the music on Benson's Breezin' is both period recognizable and timeless at the same time.  In my mind, it's the perfect introductory jazz album for those not ready for the hard stuff. If it's not already in your collection, make sure you add it because if not you're a total loser.

Breezin' track list: 
1. Breezin' - 5:40
2. This Masquerade - 8:03
3. Six To Four- 5:06
4. Affirmation - 7:01
5. So This Is Love - 7:03
6. Lady - 5:49

Kenny Poo out.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Official Kenny Poo Top 25 Idol Performances of All Time

Well, let's try this again. 

After somehow deleting the first draft of my Top 25 All Time Idol Performances, then getting a bloody nose that ruined my shirt and shorts less than a minute later, I have now been blessed with the rare privilege of being able to start all over again from scratch with a new change of clothes and an empty canvas. 

Ain't I fortunate! So happy right now. Feeling almost overwhelmed by a flood of warm, fuzzy, snuggly, kissy, yummy thoughts!!  Want a hug? Oops, hold on... think I'm about to have a giggle attack!  Yep, here it comes!

 "Tee-hee! Tee-hee! Tee-hee!" 

OK, then, moving right along... 

First, knowing that some of you reading this are unbalanced head cases who will fly into a fit of rage after reviewing my list, or at the very least presume I'm fucked in the head (not such a big stretch), I've decided to clarify for everyone the rules of my entirely subjective Top 25.
  1. No artist gets more than 3 songs, even if I like some of their additional songs more than others that made the list. 
  2. It's all about me and what performances I like the most. No other criteria was considered. Some blew me away, others made me cry, others were uber creative, others turned me on, and some were all of the above. Hey, it's my list, damn it!
  3. If a song had multiple BIG moments with different performers I've eliminated it from my list.
  4. My rankings are a loosely based order. If I were to create a new list next week I'd probably rearrange several spots, so don't nitpick me.
So, without further ado, allow me to present to you the "Official Kenny Poo Top 25 Idol Performances of All Time!"

*  *  *

1. Kelly Clarkson - Stuff Like That There

2. Phillip Phillips - Home (coronation)

3. Haley Reinhart (with Tony Bennett) - Steppin' Out With My Baby

4. Candice Glover - You've Changed

5. David Cook - Eleanor Rigby

6. Crystal Bowersox - Saved

7.  Bo Bice - In A Dream

8. Candice Glover - Lovesong

9. Haley Reinhart - Rolling In The Deep

10. Pia Toscano - I'll Stand By You

11. Kris Allen - Heartless

12. Janelle Arthur (with The Band Perry) - Done

13.  Phillip Phillips - We've Got Tonight

14.  Adam Lambert - Mad World

15. Amber Holcomb - What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life

16.  Kimberley Locke - New York State of Mind

17.  Kelly Clarkson - A Moment Like This (coronation)

18.  David Cook - Billy Jean

19. Chikezie - She's A Woman

20. Candice Glover - I'm Going Down

21. Crystal Bowersox/Lee DeWyze - Falling Slowly

22. Phillip Phillips - U Got It Bad

23. Jordin Sparks - On A Clear Day

24. Haley Reinhart - Fallin'

25. Haley Scarnato - Tell Him

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Kenny Poo's Take On The Idol Finale

Candice Glover is without question a very happy and proud girl right now, and she should be. One of the best vocalists in American Idol history, she deserved every last jewel in the Season 12 crown she won last Thursday night over the talented but clearly outgunned runner up, Kree Harrison.

Unfortunately for Candice, her victory came in what undoubtedly was the worst season in American Idol history. With catastrophically bad ratings that saw the once dominant show fall below Spray-On-Hair infomercials in the 18-49 demographic, Idol is now on the precipice of collapse, due in large part to overt gender manipulation, cancerous diva judges, unbearably old and tired music themes, fierce competition from The Voice, and the general aging of a 12 year old show.

On the bright side, at least this disastrous season will produce the much needed, long overdo Idol house cleaning from the top down, starting with axing the out-of-touch and out-of-date Executive Producer Nigel Lythgoe and a full reboot of the judges panel. Idol has much work to do if they hope to regain some of the luster lost in this cluster fuck of a season, and they can't afford another one.

However, I'll leave my full WTF must be done for another time. For now, Kenny Poo's selected highlights of what was otherwise a fittingly lackluster finale.

*  *  *

Janelle. Fucking. Arthur.
Holy shit, girl!! If you told me beforehand that 5th place Janelle Arthur would steal the show on finale night, I'd have spray-spit my Chivas in your face. Yet, that's exactly what happened. She absolutely slayed, killed, crushed, pummeled and destroyed that performance as if it was The Band Arthur.

This just continued the mojo trajectory she had during the Idol season. Any talk of who grew the most during the season should start and end with Janelle. I was NOT a fan of hers at all in the beginning. In fact, I booed my TV when she advanced to the Top 20 over Rachel Hale, but by the time she was eliminated I had actually become a fan.

In fact, by the end I actually preferred her to Kree, who I felt became a bit stale and boring as the show wore on. No, Janelle was no vocal powerhouse like Candice, but who is? I compare her favorably with 3rd place finisher Angie, only in the country direction. Actually, I liked her even better than Angie. A highly entertaining, frisky, polished performer with surprising artistic depth, I was very disappointed the judges chose not to save Janelle when she was voted out in Top 5 week.

Anyway, what she did with The Band Perry on Finale night was OFF THE HOOK! She took it to a fierce new level, showing all the world she damn sure belongs on the big stage - with a record deal to boot.

*  *  *

Candice and Jennifer
These two stood toe to toe and belted out an unreal rendition of "Inseparable", with a unanimous victory going to Candice, who showed better styling, range and finesse than J-Hud. This was one for the ages, peeps. Check it out. Awesome sauce to say the least.

*  *  *

Haley and Casey Duet
Now, there's no doubt in my mind that Season 10 was the best season in Idol history. In addition to tremendous talent depth in multiple genres, it also produced the two HOTTEST women in Idol history: Pia Toscano and Haley Reinhart. There must have been a power outage in LA when these two perfect 10s stood side-by-side as Pia interviewed Haley along with fellow AI10 alum Casey Abrams.

Then, the masterful performance...Oh, you mean you missed this? Shamefully, it was only on the Red Carpet pre-show because they had to fit in some critical lip-synching bullshit from Psy, Mariah, JLo, and Franky Valli on the finale (grrrr). What a dumb-ass decision by Nigel, because the Moanin' performance Haley Reinhart and Casey Abrams delivered here was absolutely jazztastic.

Casey actually looks somewhat civilized again with his wild beard trimmed, and he controlled some of his manic tendencies to deliver a beautiful and refined performance. Meanwhile, my girl Haley was just pure buttah. She's not just eye-popping, jaw-dropping, drool-inducing hot, she's also one of the most gifted jazz vocalists to come along in generations.

In fact, if you've been reading my blog and following my twitter you know it's Kenny Poo's life mission to convince Haley to focus on being a jazz recording artist (See my Open Letter To Haley), so watch the Moanin' video above and if you agree with me that Haley Poo needs to go jazzy poo tweet her so at @HaleyReinhart.

That's it for now. Comments welcome. Poo out.

~Kenny Poo

Friday, May 10, 2013

IDOL SHOCK! Kenny Poo's (gasp) wrong, Angie eliminated

Wow, I sure didn't see that one coming. To be fair to myself, though, who the hell did?

OK, there was one person...congrats to Kenny Poo twitter follower on being the ONLY one I know of who did predict Angie would get the boot (OK, more of a tweet wondering out loud than a true prediction, but being such a generous Poo I'll give it to her).

Anyway, back to me, because isn't the public's reaction to me being wrong what Angie's elimination is really all about? Of course it is.

Look, I could just defensively spew out a bunch of lame excuses and justifications for my erroneous prediction, but the fact is I'm a standup Poo, and as such will admit the cold, hard truth: I, Kenny Poo, of twisted mind and large, middle-aged beer belly, hereby concede that I was absolutely...gulp...WRONG!!

Yes America, last Friday, I went on the record declaring Angela Miller the preordained victor of American Idol's Season 12. I just could not imagine a scenario in which America would vote Hannah Montana meets Snow White off the Island. In fact, I've been actively discussing on twitter and at work who would be Angie's most likely runner-up for weeks now.

So, that begs the question of WTF happened? To answer that, please allow me to place my shiny, tinfoil hat securely on my Poo head and explain my latest, newest conspiracy theory.

OK, so I believe Jimmy Iovine felt from the very beginning that Angie was a pageant bot who wouldn't translate easily into Top 40 radio. She might make a great Miss America, but that doesn't mean she'd sell well in a genre that's not the right fit..

However, what he does see in Angie is a potential superstar in the fast growing Christian Contemporary market, bigger even than Season 11's Colton Dixon, who has charted singles and sold over 110k albums to date. Interscope Records (Jimmy's label) is not the ideal home for a Christian Contemporary artist, even one with potential to cross over to mainstream pop like Angie.

The best fit for Angie is Sparrow Records, the UMG (Interscope's parent company) owned Christian music label which signed Dixon last year. There, Angie would fit in like a glove with her worship-driven, singer/songwriter music, and even add some PG pop songs, as well.

So, the plan was to compliment the hell out of Angie when she performed inspirational songs on the piano, and give her tough criticism about not seeming believable if/when she strayed too far from that path. Much as I loathe any scripted feedback from judges, I do happen to think this was beneficial engineering on the show's part, and only helped Angie in the long run. She needed that direction, as left to her own devices she'd likely have gotten spread out in too many different genres on the show. Idol is a platform where versatility can be both a blessing and a curse. Show none and you bore the audience, show too much and viewers will be confused as to the kind of music you'll make when you leave the show.

Perfect example is my girl Haley Reinhart. Perhaps the most diverse singer in the history of the show, she gave us R&B, country, pop, jazz, rock and blues performances during her run to 3rd place in Season 10. That said, post-Idol there were so many potential paths she could have taken it was hard to know what to expect. While I would have preferred a jazz/blues path for her [AND, YES, I STILL CAMPAIGN FOR IT INCESSANTLY AND WILL NOT STOP UNTIL IT HAPPENS, HALEY POO!!], there are other fans who'd prefer she go pop, rock, R&B or even dance.

Of course, I'm 100% right and they are totally wrong, but that's beside the point.

Anyway, with Angie now gone, Idol will have either an R&B/Soul winner (Candice), or a Country winner (Kree), either of which fit neatly into the Interscope lineup. They may accent with other genres (Candice: jazz, Kree: blues), but we all pretty much know what to expect. That clear "packaging" is something labels love, so if you allow me to use my 20/20 hindsight, I now see how this all went down, and what likely comes next.

At least, that's what I say. What say you?

Kenny Poo out.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Phillip Phillips Falls Ill, Cancels Remainder Of Tour

Ailing Phillips forced to cancel rest of his spring tour

Update #3. Refuah Sh'lema, Phillip.

Update #2: 
Oy, this one's kinda scary, folks. Kidney failure is no joke. From Reality Rocks:
"The word is the dates had to be rescheduled due to exhaustion, dehydration, and kidney failure; there's no confirmation yet regarding whether Phillip will be well enough appear in any way on the Season 12 "American Idol" finale, which takes place next Thursday, May 16."
Twitter Update: 
@Phillips 11m
Hey guys, due to doctor's orders I have to reschedule my last tour dates.They will be rescheduled! Looking forward to seeing you on Mayer!

No humorous snark, sarcasm or satire today folks, just reporting some sad news. Phillip Phillips, the reigning American Idol champion, and multi-platinum artist heralded by critics and fans alike as "The New Boss" for his music style and energetic concert performances, has suddenly fallen ill and has had to cancel the remainder of his spring tour.

There were 9 dates left on Phillips' calendar this month before his scheduled break, culminating with a gig in Dublin, Ireland. That all was scrapped the morning after his spirited May 4th SunFest show in West Palm Beach, FL, where by all accounts he looked healthy, sounded strong, and delivered a typical high energy performance. Still no official word on what the illness is, just a comment from his sound engineer that Phillip needs time and rest to recover.

Recover from what? Well, that's the million dollar question, but one has to wonder if it's related to the kidney problems that plagued him on American Idol last year, requiring multiple minor operations during the season, and a major surgical procedure after the Idol summer tour ended in September, 2012.

Hopefully, whatever it is that KO'd him isn't too serious, and won't have lasting effects he'll have to deal with with in the future. Anytime there's a sudden cancellation of all future dates there is a natural inclination to fear the worst, especially when it's a tough guy like Phillips who has always battled through pain and fatigue with incredible courage and determination.

As we await word from Team Phillips, please feel free to use the comment section below to wish Phillip well, and provide any breaking news on his condition you may find. I will be updating this post with any official news that becomes available, so keep checking back regularly.

Finally, be aware that any nasty, inappropriate comments from Phillip haters WILL NOT BE TOLERATED. Immediate deletion and banning will be the result. Thank you in advance for being respectful.

~Kenny Poo

Friday, May 3, 2013

Your Next American Idol: Angie Miller

OK, let me start out by saying there's almost a zero percent chance I'll ever buy music from American Idol's Angie Miller, and she's definitely not my favorite singer or contestant on Idol this year. That distinction goes to the insanely gifted jazz/blues/soul singer, Miss Candice Glover. That said, I believe Angie Miller deserves to be the next American Idol, and just might become the biggest megastar in Idol franchise history.



Angie has the complete American Idol package executive suits fantasize about. The sweet, young, pretty, "all-American-girl-next-door" with a strong voice, theater skills, acting skills, singer/songwriter skills, sex appeal, sass, and can run the genre gamut from Christian Contemporary to Hot AC to Top 40. She's got a perfect mix of Kelly and Carrie that should prove an unstoppable combination in the music and entertainment industry.

Oh, and her father is a minister and she was active in the choir.

If Idol executives could go into central casting, Angie is the girl they would have chosen. Everyone's Miss America, Disney Princess, Prom Queen and Head Cheerleader all rolled into one, with just enough hot and sexy to tick the rating up to PG .

There have been others who had many of these components. Back in Season 10, the seductive Haley Reinhart had even better looks, vocal talent and versatility than Angie, but she was no Disney Princess. Haley seemed more like the party-girl-next-door who'd get drunk, smoke a joint and make out in the back seat en route to the prom after-party (atta girl!). Also, sultry jazz and classic rock were Haley's primary music interests, and though it made Haley my favorite, it ain't what central casting wants in an Idol.

Then there's my other Season 10 girl, Pia Toscano. Pia was a raven haired knockout who could sing pop ballads with the best of them. She portrayed a certain sophistication, and had a sequined presence and beauty that I loved, but made her seem almost unapproachable to some. Though very down-to-earth and sweet in real life, many saw Pia more as an unattainable diva than the girl-next-door. Wonderful to fantasize about, but hard for insecure young girls to relate.

In Season 11, Jessica Sanchez was more all-Filipino than all-American. Holly was more all-Great Britain. Also, though both were seemingly very nice and talented kids, they were truly just kids, not women. Phillip Phillips, the wildly talented and successful winner last year, was a grown man who knew exactly the kind of artist he was, and these girls were like children next to him. You really should be at least 18 to be an American Idol winner in my not-so-humble opinion.

So, anyway, back to Angie. Can you imagine anyone better to represent Idol as a worldwide ambassador than her?  Whether it's cutting a ribbon, doing weather stand-in on a morning talk show, hosting her own Christmas special, appearing on a sitcom, or landing a starring role on Broadway, who would be better than her? I bet she can do one hell of a mean parade wave, too. Musically, she has a lot of popular directions she could go, and seems to really know who she is as an artist. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see her chart Top 40 on CCM, HAC, AC and CHR radio.

Since she seems to have all the tools to be a star, there is only one noteworthy flaw that could block her path: Authenticity. She seems to be a genuinely nice, likeable, sweet, wonderful girl, but when she performs she has a tendency to become overly melodramatic. If she can bury that tendency, the sky is the limit for her.

So, while I absolutely love Candice, have already bought some her songs on iTunes, and intend to follow her career after the show, I still believe the best choice to represent Idol as the winner is Angie. So, prepare the sash, tierra and rose bouqet and cue the confetti, folks, because...

There she is,  Miss American Idol!

What say you?

Kenny Poo out.