Phyllis Diller is 94. Carol Channing will be 91 at the end of January. Betty White is 90. Carol Burnett and Joan Rivers (the first female comedian admitted to the famous Friar’s Club) are 78. Mary Tyler Moore is 75. Lily Tomlin is 72. It’s hard to imagine that this country’s funniest women have become not only icons, but grand matriarchs of comedy. These women have made us laugh on radio and television, in film, and in concert time and again.
I first remember seeing Phyllis Diller on television in the 1960s. I resonated with her self-deprecating humor, huge ribald laughter, and crabby reflections on her life with imaginary husband, Fang. Little did I know that we shared a birthday of July 17. Not the same year, of course, but the day was enough for me. Then in the early 1970s, I saw Lily Tomlin in concert. What an amazing ride that was as she shared Edith Ann, Ernestine the Telephone Operator, and Mrs. Judith Beasley with us. I was transported with each new character that arrived on stage.
After Ms. Tomlin left the stage, my father dragged my brother, David, and me across the stage to the dressing room door to say hello to Ms. Tomlin. We were first in line because of Dad’s audacity. As Ms. Tomlin opened the door, she smiled at David and me, and said a gracious hello. In a fit of certain insanity, I broke into Ernestine’s voice and said, “A gracious good evening, Miss Tomlin. We truly enjoyed your show. *snort snort*”
Ms. Tomlin roared with laughter. Dad and David were not as amused. They looked simply mortified watching their 11-year-old son and brother putting the fingers of his right hand down his shirt, and the fingers of his left hand to his ear, intermittently puffing his hair mimicking what he had just seen Ms. Tomlin do. We got her autograph and started walking down the hallway in what should have been a walk of shame. The audience members lined up behind us giggled and pointed. Suddenly, they broke out in applause. I knew this would be a moment that would live in my heart forever.
Last year, I wrote to Ms. Tomlin celebrating her birthday to share this memory with her. She wrote back through her manager and invited my husband, David, and I to her show in March as her guests, with full backstage privileges. This invitation came with the caveat that Ms. Tomlin hopes I reprise my performance for her these 40-plus years later. We’re going.
Many people have memories equally as dazzling as mine because these women chose to share their enormous gifts with us. Could trailblazers such as Sophie Tucker (January 13, 1886 – February 9, 1966) , Fannie Brice (October 29, 1891 – May 29, 1951), Moms Mabley (March 19, 1894 – May 23, 1975), Lucille Ball (August 6, 1911 – April 26, 1989) and their ilk have realized what they were starting? They paved the way for our current and upcoming grande dames of delight! Through jokes, skits, and bawdy songs, these women took risks that were less common in that era. They dared to say unladylike things, at least by the standards of the day. They laughed with the big boys, even while remaining vastly outnumbered. Even today, if one looks at any random list of comedians, one finds the ratio of women to men about 1:20.
Now, the Bette Midlers, Whoopi Goldbergs, and Ellen Degenereses are already making room for the Kathy Griffins, Chelsea Handlers, and Wanda Sykeses, and others of the newer generation of funny ladies. They definitely have huge pumps to fill.
The elder stateswomen of giggles perpetuate their legacy of guffaws still in concerts, appearances, and red carpet photos. We have the pleasure of knowing that there are those who are moving ahead of a younger generation as well, learning from the dynamic mothers of comedy. We can securely know that our laughter remains in good hands.
Thank you women of laughter. We value your presence in our lives and celebrate your creativity, daring, and willingness to tell the truth in the funniest ways possible! Brava diva, one and all!
To honor these performers, my company, Sacramento Vocal Music, will produce a show of all comedy music entitled, “Grins, Giggles, and Grace Notes,” at the Woodland Opera House. The show on June 15, 2012, will feature my vocal students performing funny songs and standard pieces created to be funny. I hope that our Matriarchs of Mirth would be proud!
Kelly Clarkson. Ruben Studdard. Fantasia Barrino. Carrie Underwood. Taylor Hicks. Jordin Sparks. David Cook. Kris Allen. These are the winners of the last nine seasons of American Idol.
Unless one has been living in an alternate universe, everyone in the United States of America has heard of American Idol, the television show where people between 16 and 29 vie for a recording contract, automobile, and a variety of other prizes and cash. They sing their little hearts out every week until, finally, one person is selected as that season’s American Idol.
Clarkson, Barrino, and Underwood are the only three winners who have become actual stars. Others contestants, including Clay Aiken, Jennifer Hudson, Chris Daughtry, and Adam Lambert have moved forward in their careers in huge ways; however, the other winners have had moderate to little success along the way.
All this is to say, here we are again. Next week we will see another person crowned as Season 10’s American Idol. The two contestants are Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox. Both are unique and powerful personalities… sort of.
As a vocal director and music instructor, I would like to take a minute to look at each of them as performers and to address their vocal qualities.
Lee DeWyze is an enigma. He seems to have very little self-confidence; yet, there is something I intuitively sense about his ability to manipulate the public with his humble persona. DeWyze never seems to find a comfort zone with his music. It’s almost as though he is afraid we will discover his vocal skills really aren’t that good. His gravely voice clearly will not last beyond two or three more years. He will most likely develop nodes on his vocal cords and require surgery. His inability to stabilize his pitches without sounding like sandpaper on metal makes very little sense for him to win. This is not the end of the story, though.
Crystal Bowersox is a powerhouse, internally and vocally. She has an understanding of her craft that belie her 24 years on this planet. Her self-assured defiance of some of the judges recommendations have served her well. She continues to make the right choices week after week. The clarity of her sound and her understanding of her vocal instrument ensures many years of successful singing ahead of her.
Most importantly, she seems to know exactly who she is as a person. She makes no excuses for her methodical analysis of what is happening around her. She is a thoughtful person focused on growth, manifesting her art, and taking care of her family.
With regard to her presentation, it cannot be understated how important pulling her look together is going to be on a global stage. She must get her teeth repaired and if she is going to continue to maintain her hair in dreadlocks, she should use more colorful elements, such as scarves and jewelry to create a more finished look. This, however, is just dressing because her art is where her strength is. Let there be no misunderstanding – she is an artist. Lee DeWyze – not so much.
The likelihood is that Lee will win American Idol. He is being perceived as a smoldering sex symbol in the mold of James Dean of yesteryear, and it is this alone that is moving him toward winning this competition. If all is right in the Universe, however, Crystal will win. She deserves to be on top.
In this case, I can only hope my view into my crystal ball is wrong and Crystal will win. I know I’m going to vote next week.
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Everyone has that swaggering, loud friend who has an opinion about everything, and then, when you think about it, they’re right on the money. Well, that’s Rick Sanchez.
Rick has the capacity to take a story or opinion and make it his own. His passion for the news and events of the day are both entertaining and informative. His latest take on Fox News’ advertising stating that none of the other channels covered the Tea Party March on Washington reminded me of a mother defending her child.
Rick had some really good points during his rebuttal of that ad. He said that CNN reports news events, they don’t promote them like Fox News does. It’s true. CNN is where I go for the best in depth reporting. Things, however, have changed a lot.
Walter Cronkite had a very different style than the news anchors do today. Mr. Cronkite’s style of even, thoughtful delivery, with a balanced focus and non-combative approach was an open door to the acquisition of information. His presentation made everyone feel welcome into the newsroom. People trusted that information.
Rick Sanchez is clearly more emotional, appealing to the reality show culture of today. As a society, we are having Jerry Springer lives, working in New York Goes to Work jobs, playing in Real Chance at Love entertainment. We love to see people on “the box” get riled up, as we sit on our living room sofas, swilling beer, and allowing our brains to vegetate as much as possible to resolve the agitation we feel by the information overload we experience in our everyday lives.
Rick Sanchez is no Bill O’Reilly. Thank God. But, that same kind of emotionalism can be dynamic and, at the same time, unnerving.
Newscasters are not our friends. They are strangers who are invited into our homes to provide a service… a news service… and not entertainment. Why are we so desparate to have every moment of our lives filled with yelling and frenetic energy at a critical mass? What is wrong with our brains that we cannot allow a few moments peace to enter into our minds?
The Buddhists have been using meditation for centuries as part of their spiritual path toward clarity and unity. Most Americans today could no more meditate than fly from New York City to Brazil on just the power of their arms.
The television has become like a lung or kidney dialysis machine for our minds. We allow those on the flicker box to push information into our brains as we lie in our zombie-like states, sucking in the mix of information and garbage that infuses every day’s menu of programming.
When news reporters become news makers, a boundary is crossed that just doesn’t appeal to me.
I like Rick Sanchez. I watch him regularly. I even enjoy the emotionalism with which he peppers his reporting. This fashion of news is de rigueur in our time. So be it.
Perhaps because I’m getting older, I guess I just miss Mr. Cronkite and the stability I always felt with him. Those days are past, it seems, and, clearly, without a hope of returning to those days of yore, that’s the way it is.
As aggrieved as many people are for the loss of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and Billy Mays, one can understand how the outpouring of sadness and sympathy can turn into a national near-obsession. That being said, one must also find the brake pedal for the intrusion into a celebrity’s private life, especially for the sake of the family. This level of feeding frenzy is reminiscent of vultures on a carcass.
As the national media has covered the death of Michael Jackson, every one of the channels has discussed his will, the custody of his children, the relationship he had with his father, and even the paternity and maternity of his children.
Has his family not one iota of permission to grieve over the loss of their son/brother/father in peace? Is it not enough that we have used Mr. Jackson as fodder for our discussions about his unusual behavior, questionable actions, and ever-changing appearance for the past forty years?
The man is dead. Dead. There is no more Michael Jackson in the assemblage of six billion people on the planet. Certainly his music lives on, as does his family; however, can we simply allow his passing to be handled respectfully and lovingly?
We are culture vultures. We scavange on every morsel of information as though it were our last meal. We tear apart every facet of a celebrity’s private life as though we had a right to it because we spent a few dollars on their albums. We are shameless as a people when it comes to our celebrities.
When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was Commander-in-chief, not one newspaper ever showed a photograph of him in his wheelchair. Not one outlet discussed his polio. Certainly, no one discussed in the newspaper or on the newsreel about the infidelities within his marriage. It was understood that President Roosevelt deserved his privacy and that this level of exposure would be detrimental to our society and standing in the world of the day.
We haven’t one ounce of that sense left. We’re like the fools who shoot guns in the air because we have them and we want to show our power. We don’t give a damn about where the bullets land.
Enough already. Enough!
The news media is making the news, not reporting the news. They have not got a clue as to what is appropriate any more. Between our government and our media, we are a shell of our previous selves.
What a tragic statement about who we’ve become – a bunch of Jerry Springer guest-wannabes who shout at the top of their lungs to make their point and battle on subjects they know nothing about.
Isn’t it time we go back to our trailer parks, have a cool one, do some honest self-reflection about who we’ve become and how we got here rather than dissecting the lives of people we’ve never, ever met?