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The Amazing Race: Season 29, Italy, 4/27/17

May 1st, 2017 · No Comments

by Lyn Jensen

Sometimes, in place of a non-elimination leg, The Amazing Race runs two legs as one. Teams get to to the pit stop mat, and host Phil Keoghan tells them to keep racing. During the season 29 race, the seven remaining teams arrive at the mat on a mountaintop in Norway, and Phil tells them to keep racing.

As the sixth leg begins, immediately after the fifth, product placement begins, too. Teams are given phones with Travelocity phone apps, which are to be used only to book flights from Norway to Milan, Italy. Once teams book their flights, they take a train to the airport.

All the teams get the same flight:

  • Vanck/Ashton (the race’s odd couple, he’s a glasses-wearing Asian-American math genius, she’s an attractive blonde saleswoman)
  • Joey/Tara (policeman and military woman)
  • Becca/Floyd (Team Fun, she’s a vivacious pro rock climber, he’s an African-American college student)
  • Liz/Mike (working-class people)
  • Matt/Redmond (champion snowboarder and disabled vet)
  • Brooke/Scott (Team Will and Grace)
  • London/Logan (Team LoLo, she’s an artist, he’s a salesman)

Along the way Scott hatches a scheme he thinks will keep him and Brooke in the race longer (as opposed to actually performing well in the race). He persuades five teams to form an alliance against Vanck/Ashton at the next U-turn opportunity. Whoever makes it to the U-turn board first will U-turn Vanck/Ashton. Then a second team, knowing the first team has already been by the board, will deliberately U-turn that first team. This only works on a back-of-the-pack team, of course.

It’s a scheme more appropriate to Survivor: an alliance forms, and outsiders are forced out. If all goes according to plan, the targeted team has no defense except to do both U-turns quickly and hope another trailing team flounders.

Why Vanck/Ashton are targeted is vague. There’s something about the other teams don’t like them and they’re a non-social team, but we haven’t seen any evidence of that. It’s more like the race’s cool kids are ganging up on the outsiders.

Back to the actual race course: when teams get to Milan, they take taxis to a clue box near a tram stop in a downtown city square. The clues found here are for a roadblock:  “Who’s hungry for the next clue?”

A tram that loops around downtown Milan is a mobile Italian restaurant where riders dine as they travel and watch the streets outside the tram windows. The racers that perform the RB have to ride the loop while eating a serving of lasagna and pasta. While dining, they watch for signs in the streets outside the windows, trying to spot three words marked with yellow-and-red race colors. When they complete the loop, they tell a man the three words they’ve spotted. If they’re correct, they get the next clue. If not, they have to ride the loop, try to spot the words, and eat the Italian food again.

Tara, who speaks some Italian, and Mike get on the first tram. They agree to work together. They get all three words on their first try. That puts Tara/Joey in first place and Liz/Michael in 2nd place.

Vanck, Scott, Redmond, and Floyd get on the second tram. Scott, who’s gay, flirts with the guys and asks college student Floyd if he’s old enough to drink wine. (He is.) Floyd says the challenge is hard because yellow and red are a very popular color combination. Logan has to go on a third tram, putting him and London in last place.

Scott, Floyd, Redmond, and Vanck all have to ride the tram a second time. So does Logan. Scott, Floyd, and Logan spotted several different words, so they share their lists of possibilities with each other, but deliberately refuse to share them with Vanck. The five trailing teams all get the correct three words on their second try.

As teams finish the RB, they take taxis to a cruise terminal, where they are to take an overnight cruise to the town of Varenna on the shore of Lake Cuomo. It’s about 60 kilometers or 37 miles from Milan. As each team embarks, they get a time to disembark the next day.

Teams disembark the next morning in the following order:  Tara/Joey (7 a.m.), Liz/Mike (7:05), Becca/Floyd (7:10), Matt/Redmond (7:15), Vanck/Ashton (7:20), Brooke/Scott (7:25), LoLo (7:30). With teams being spaced five min. apart, their chances of encountering each other near the U-turn board are good.

Tara/Joey are first to find the U-turn board and the next clue box. (They used the U-turn option before. There used to be a rule a team couldn’t use a U-turn more than once, but apparently not this season.) Sometimes when teams form an alliance to use the U-turn board, a team doesn’t do what it’s told. Tara/Joey decide they’ll tell the next team what to do instead of doing it themselves. As they depart with the next clue, they encounter Liz/Mike arriving, and tell them what to do.

Liz/Mike sheepishly do what they’re told and U-turn Vanck/Ashton. Liz/Mike in turn encounter Becca/Floyd and tell them what to do. Becca/Floyd sheepishly do what they’re told, too. They deliberately U-turn Liz/Mike, whose pictures on the board offer evidence they’ve been by the board already (even if nothing else did). The alliance holds.

As TAR fans know, a U-turn is accompanied by clues for a detour, so the U-turned team has to complete both detour challenges. As teams open their clue envelopes they find the following detour choices:

(1) A physical challenge–one person rock-climbs the face of a nearby ninety-foot embankment and fetches down the next clue envelope, while the other person steadies their rope.

(2) An artistic challenge–contribute to a local art display. Go to a nearby castle and make sculptures of ghosts from plaster-soaked white sheets. One person gets to be the model, wearing a wire form over which the sheets are draped. The other person gets to be the artist, draping and drying the sheets. Once the sculpture is complete, a supervising artist hands over the next clue.

Tara/Joey choose to make the art. Liz/Michael, Becca/Floyd, and Matt/Redmond choose the rock climbing. Scott frets about the U-turn despite his scheme against Vanck/Ashton, but when he and Brooke reach the U-turn board, he finds he needn’t have worried. He gloats at length about how perfectly his plan worked.

Team LoLo were last to leave the boat but they get to the U-turn board and start the detour ahead of Vanck/Ashton. London’s an artist, so they choose to make a ghost sculpture. They arrive at the castle and begin just as Joey/Tara are finishing.

Vanck/Ashton have trouble finding the clue box–they slip to last place even before they learn they’ve been U-turned. They can’t even mount a defense because another team deliberately U-turned an ally (an accomplice?) who was already safely by the board. When is TAR going to institute a rule, thou shalt not U-turn a team you know has already been by the U-turn board? Maybe one day a team that’s on the wrong end of this stunt will put up another team’s picture anyway. What’s the consequences of that? Elimination? That’s happening anyway, right?

At the rock climb, Matt/Redmond and Becca/Floyd arrive at almost the same time. Becca and Matt are both very experienced rock climbers and they race each other to the top and back down–Matt wins by perhaps ten feet. (Many TAR fans probably hoped these two would have to rock-climb against each other.)

Once teams finish the rock climb (or the art), they’re to ride in Italian speedboats to the pit stop at a waterfront park. The male team’s boat is ahead until docking maneuvers. A slight difference in the angle of approach enables Becca/Floyd to take the lead by inches.

Redmond’s got an artificial leg but competes in para-athletic runs, so he and Matt can win a foot race, but not this time. Becca/Floyd beat them to the mat by perhaps ten feet. “Team Fun” wins a trip to Argentina. Matt complains they’re in second place because, “Our guy needs some parking lessons.”

Scott/Brooke are next to go rock-climbing, followed closely by Liz/Mike. Scott has a history of talking Brooke into physical tasks, even though she’s not physically strong, but he also has a history of helping her out, even when the task involves heights, which he’s afraid of. This time, however, he talks her into climbing up a ninety-foot rock face while he steadies her rope. She’s very frightened, and complains all the way up–and back down–about how much trouble she has finding handholds and toeholds. He yells at her, “It’s like pushing a baby out.” What makes him an expert at that?

Tara/Joey, Scott/Brooke, Liz/Mike finish their detours and start for the pit stop at about the same time. When Tara/Joey are the third team to reach the pit stop, Phil points out the other two teams’ speedboats are arriving. Liz/Mike take 4th place, Brooke/Scott, 5th. They (Brooke, mostly) gloat about how they wanted to keep their “favorites around” and how they’re so proud of how their scheme worked.

Vanck/Ashton decide to start with the rock climb, since she’s done some rock climbing and boxing, giving her some upper-body strength, and they may be able to finish it quickly. She climbs while he steadies her rope. About the time LoLo finish their ghost sculpture and head for the pit stop, Vanck/Ashton finish their rock climb and head for the castle to make a ghost sculpture. He models while she drapes.

LoLo place 6th. Thanks to an alliance hatching a U-turn conspiracy, Vanck/Ashton are the last team to arrive at the mat, and they’re eliminated. Given how CBS cross-markets its reality shows, perhaps on some season of TAR, Survivor host Jeff Probst will appear to snuff the U-turned team’s torch(es). Now the alliance of six teams must turn on each other.







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The Voice: Season 12, Top 12, 4/24/17

April 25th, 2017 · No Comments

As the countdown to the twelfth Voice champion began with the top twelve contestants singing for votes on Monday night, Shania Twain made an appearance as a celeb guest judge/advisor. I’m not sure if she was just for the top twelve, or if she’s going to be a fifth judge for the remainder of the season. Maybe she’s in line to replace Blake when the country judge takes a break?

Seeing/hearing the top twelve singers provided an overview of their strengths and weaknesses:

1.  Jesse Larson (Team Adam): Bob Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love” is performed so often on these TV talent shows, it’s tempting to ask, “Didn’t Bob Dylan ever write anything else?” Maybe getting clearance for it is easy, or something. Larson tries to copy Adele’s light romantic singing when he probably should have aimed for Garth Brooks (or even Dylan’s half-squeak). Adam calls Larson “the best pure singer in this competition” but I’d say his weaknesses showed.

2.  Mark Isaiah (Team Adam): Shania thinks Isaiah’s adorable and has a natural star quality. This season’s aspiring teen idol brings a semi-acoustic flavor to the Drake hit, “One Dance.” Teen idol types don’t tend to do well with TV voting demographics, however.

3.  Stephanie Rice (Team Alicia):  So far tonight we’ve seen singers showcasing their weaknesses, and Rice continues the trend. She needs a dark and haunting song, and “White Flag” just doesn’t bring out her dark and haunting quality. The judges talk afterward about crying and emotion and the “purest singer on this show” but I didn’t hear it.

4.  Troy Ramey (Team Gwen):  With Tom Petty’s “Free Falling,” Ramey is the fourth singer tonight who showcases his weaknesses. He just doesn’t bring out the heartbreak in this heartbreak song–he needs some Eagles or CS&N instead.

5.  Aliyah Moulden (Team Blake): So far the best performances tonight have been from the teens–Isaiah and now Moulden. Blake’s assignment: Linda Ronstadt’s “Heat Wave.” It’s a fun song with country, soul, and rock overtones. What a difference a song choice makes! Now it’s a matter of how much of a teen demographic will show up in the vote.

6. Chris Blue (Team Alicia):  At last, a front-runner that sings like it!  Blue sings Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” as a soft soulful story.

7.  Lauren Duski (Team Blake):  Of course Blake’s one remaining country singer is going to do well. That’s especially true when she cultivates the Heartland Christian voting demographic, wringing every bit of spirituality from Lee Ann Womack’s “Lord, I Hope this Day is Good.”

8.  Lilly Passero (Team Adam):  Shania should know how to advise someone to sing “Man, I Feel Like a Woman.” She advises Passero to combine soulful sultry verses with pure pop choruses. As a real-life La-La Land singer-actress-waitress, Passero has one of the better backstories in this competition, and one of the better voices. She isn’t a brassy, showy singer–but she’s charming and understated and full of grace, and can act the song as well as sing it. The one drawback is–she’s not Shania. However, Shania approves of the result, “You really do have the sass.” If Adam coaches Passero as well as he coached Tessanne Chin, she’ll be a star long after the show’s over.

9.  Brennley Brown (Team Gwen):  Linda Ronstadt’s “A Long Long Time” would appear to be a good song for country teen Brown–but in performance, it turns into a showcase for her weaknesses. Her thin young voice just isn’t up to the melody. Gwen thinks it was perfect and says she’s been listening to country music to try and find songs for Brown. You don’t have to get very far into country to get to Ronstadt, so maybe Gwen should go deeper.

10.  TSoul (Team Blake):  Being a You Tube star, TSoul has a ready-made base of TSouldiers that should keep him in the competition for a while, but the R&B field this season is especially stiff. He sings “Always on my Mind,” and it showcases his strengths–something several other contestants failed to do this evening. Blake likes it, saying, “No matter what song it is, he makes it his own” and “I’ve never seen anybody get lost in a song like you do.”

11.  Hunter Plake (Team Gwen):  It’s possible to see where this season is going. Plake fits the mold of so many winners of The Voice and American Idol. Nice decent Heartland just-plain folks–some a little quirky–who get the majority of mid-America’s vote (and downloads) and then, more often than not, vanish from the cultural radar. (Sometimes they even vanish from the Internet.) Tonight Plake sings “Now You’re Just Somebody That I Used to Know,” a staple of these singing contests. I’ve heard it done better, but he hits high notes and shows some angst and probably captivated his target demographic.

12.  Vanessa Ferguson (Team Alicia): Some of the top contestants this season are from the teen demographic, then there are the more mature and experienced singers like Ferguson. She shows her strengths with the classic R&B soul hit, Donny Hathaway’s “A Song for You.” Shania compares her to Gladys Knight. Once again we see a little of Tessanne Chin’s type of appeal.

Without peeking at the iTunes charts, I’m guessing Troy Ramey’s in the most trouble. Tonight one singer will be eliminated, and next week we’ll hear the top eleven sing.

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The Amazing Race: Season 29, Africa (4th Leg) and Norway (5th Leg), 4/21/17

April 23rd, 2017 · No Comments

by Lyn Jensen

Although strangers being formed into teams has led some viewers to describe the latest Amazing Race as a “blind date” season, it’s more like a “make new friends” season. The teams appear to be primarily bonding over friendship, not romance–but there are a few that do resemble disastrous blind dates. Relationship troubles are becoming more apparent as the teams run the fourth and fifth legs in back-to-back episodes.

Africa (Leg 4)

Teams open the first clue envelope as they depart from the pit stop on the island of Zanzibar, in the following order:  Liz/Mike, Joey/Tara, Vanck/Ashton, Matt/Redmond, London/Logan (Team LoLo), Scott/Brooke, Sara/Shamir, Becca/Floyd (Team Fun). They have to find rock star Freddie Mercury’s boyhood home in the old colonial-era community of Stonetown, where many streets are too narrow for cars.

At the Mercury house, they get clue envelopes containing choices for a detour:  “Knock” or “Lock.”

Knock:  Teams walk (or run) around Stonetown in search of three doors that once signified royalty. We’re told–but the teams aren’t–the doors bear the insignia of a cobra and a lion. When they knock at each royal door, they receive a carved plaque, and they’re to deliver the three plaques to a vendor for their next clue.

Lock:  Teams find a door marked with red-and-gold race colors, and inside are rooms full of hundreds of ornate Zanzibar chests. They’re to find keys in the chests, then use the keys to open locked chests and get the next clue envelope. We’re told–but the teams aren’t–that all Zanzibar chests contain hidden compartments, and that’s where the keys are.

Liz/Mike, Brooke/Scott, Tara/Joey, Matt/Redmond, and LoLo are practically on top of each other trying to find the keys at the same time. Teams are toiling and sweating going through hundreds of chests, some of which are very heavy. Liz/Mike were misdirected on the way to Mercury’s house, but they’re still the first team to find a key and the next clue. It tells them to take a ferry to the mainland–Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

Tara/Joey were also delayed because they first tried to find the royal doors, then switched to the chests. She insists they switch back. Being in the military, she’s adept at running, and she insists they can just run through Stonetown and knock on random doors. They find one door through sheer luck, then find a man who tells them where the second door is.

Vanck/Ashton are searching for the royal doors. They can’t find the doors or anyone who knows where they are. They argue about switching detours–he wants to, she doesn’t. They eventually find someone who tells them where all three doors are, and to look for the royal insignia.

Becca/Floyd and Sara/Shamir are at the back of the pack, the last teams to find the Mercury home. Becca/Floyd join the crowd searching through the chests. Sara/Shamir start searching for the doors. They find someone who tells them where two places are, but not the third one.

Except for Liz/Mike, no one’s found any keys in hundreds of chests. One racer wonders where you look when you’ve already looked everywhere. Then Brooke notices how some drawers are shorter than others. She figures out there must be something behind those short drawers. She shows Scott, and other teams pick up on it.

Scott finds a scorpion key, but it doesn’t match a scorpion lock. At least he can’t get it to open. He and Brooke search for and find a second scorpion key and second scorpion lock.

Matt/Redmond find a fish key and match it to a fish lock. They’re the second team to get the next clue, directing them to take the ferry back to mainland Africa.

Scott gets one scorpion key to open one scorpion lock, putting him and Brooke in 3rd place. He gives the other key to Becca. Brooke objects, but later the two teams agree to return the favor at some point.

Becca gets a scorpion lock to open, putting her and Floyd in 4th place. LoLo are the last team left who can’t find any keys in any chests. They decide to switch detours. Almost immediately they encounter a woman on the street who tells them where all three doors are.

About this time Vanck/Ashton finish knocking on all three royal doors. They take their plaques to the vendor and get the clue for the ferry. Tara/Joey find the third door, and turn in their plaques. The six leading teams board the ferry, and wonder where LoLo and Sara/Shamir are.

Sara/Shamir have knocked on two royal doors and collected two plaques. They spend the next two hours (Shamir says) fruitlessly searching for the third door. They never do find it. He keeps telling her to switch detours. She keeps saying, we just have to find one more door.

LoLo finishes the “Knock” detour and board the ferry just before the gangplank goes up. Now seven of eight teams are on one ferry going to the mainland. One team’s left on the island of Zanzibar. Shamir finally persuades Sara to switch to hunting for a key, but they’re hours behind.

When teams disembark at Dar Es Salaam, they take taxis to a metalworking shop. For this leg’s roadblock, a member of each team must handcraft an aluminum ladle-strainer.

Most of the racers doing the metalwork (which requires strength) are the men, except for Becca and Brooke. Scott persuades Brooke to perform the task because he says she’s the artistic one.

Brooke has a very frustrating time with every step, and she lets everyone know she doesn’t think she has the strength for it. Even Joey’s complaining the cutters are too dull to cut the aluminum. Becca (who’s a rock climber, so she’s strong) says the task needs grip strength–but it’s fun. She sympathetically finishes cutting Brooke’s metal for her, repaying the favor owed for the keys and chests.

Joey’s first to finish making his kitchen ladle. Becca is 2nd. The foreman approves their work, then hands over the next clue, for the pit stop on nearby Coco Beach. Tara/Joey win the leg and $5,000 each. Becca/Floyd are in 2nd place, right behind.

Redmond goes to get his ladle-strainer approved, but he has to work on it some more. That gives him the opportunity to give Brooke some pointers about how to punch the holes. He keeps telling her to calm down, which she doesn’t like hearing.

Mike’s 3rd to finish the RB. Brooke’s still struggling with pounding the metal, so he gives her some advice before he leaves. He and Liz get to the pit stop in 3rd place.

Three more teams finish the RB and check in at the pit stop:  Redmond/Matt, Vanck/Ashton, Logan/London. About this time Sara/Shamir disembark from the ferry and head for the metalworking shop.

Brooke’s work has failed two inspections. She’s convinced she and Scott are going to have to take a penalty. However, the third time is different. She gets her ladle-strainer approved, in gathering darkness. She and Scott reach the pit stop, and take 6th place, under artificial light.

As Shamir starts making his kitchen ladle, darkness is falling, lights are on, and the shop’s closing up. Phil comes to the last-place team, at the shop, and tells them, the other teams have checked in, and they’re eliminated. This may be only the fourth or fifth time in TAR history the host has gone to a team instead of the team coming to him.

Norway (Leg 5)

Seven teams all catch the same flight from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, to Alesund, a harbor city on the coast of Norway:  Joey/Tara, Liz/Michael, Brooke/Scott, Becca/Floyd (Team Fun), Matt/Redmond (The Boys), Vanck/Ashton, and London/Logan (Team LoLo).

Once off the plane, everyone drives their rental cars to a white lighthouse, where a man serves all the racers a local delicacy:  fermented and salted raw fish. He has the next clue, which contains the option of a fast forward. It starts with a helicopter ride from the field next to the lighthouse.

Vanck/Ashton consider taking the FF, but decide not to. Becca/Floyd have this season’s express pass, but they haven’t had to use it yet, and it expires on this leg. They decide to take the FF instead. Brooke/Scott try for it, too, but Becca/Floyd get to the helicopter 1st.

Everyone else drives to a nearby village where the world’s tallest bonfire is being built from wooden pallets. This leg’s roadblock requires rope-climbing several stories up the side of the pallets, helping to nail one pallet of the next layer in place, and then climbing back down again. The stacked pallets do make handy handholds and toeholds.

Tara/Joey are 1st to the RB, and Joey starts the climb even though he doesn’t like heights. Matt/Redmond are 2nd, and Matt the pro snowboarder goes up the structure–and comes back down–fast as an American Ninja competitor. He tells Redmond, “Becca’s going to be bummed” when she learns she missed this RB, her being a rock climber. “The Boys” pull into 1st place and get the next clue.

By now other teams are climbing. Ashton climbs and so does Scott, despite his fear of heights. London and Liz climb for their teams. As teams complete the RB, they open their next clue envelopes and learn what the choices are for this leg’s detour:  either “Trolls” as in fairy tales, or “Troll” as in fishing.

Teams that choose “Trolls” get to channel their inner Harry Potter. They start at an auditorium, where a woman gives them tools to conjure up trolls. One is a map that shows where six “fire trolls” are trapped in the city’s architecture. The other is a Norwegian magic spell to “free” the trolls. When the costumed “trolls” appear, they reward the teams with fire in the form of skyrockets that are at least ten feet long.

Matt/Redmond and Joey/Tara pick the fishing. Teams go kayaking along a city canal, checking fishing lines, searching for a lure that’s marked with race colors and the word “Aksla.” Neither team fully understands the task–but after they meet while kayaking and compare notes, they agree the word on the lure is the next clue. They both find lures with the word, “Aksla” and go to find someone who can tell them what that is.

Ashton/Vanck, LoLo, and Brooke/Scott choose to search for trolls. LoLo and Brooke/Scott work together, walking along the route and conjuring up trolls together. Vanck/Ashton find two troll carvings, conjure up two trolls and get two huge skyrockets. They decide to take the skyrockets back to the auditorium, then drive to the other four locations on the map, so they can put all four skyrockets in their car.

Mike wants to kayak but Liz insists they do the troll hunt. They have a “difference of opinion” as Mike puts it, about how to read their map. Even when he gets his compass out and points it north, she still insists the map goes north in a different direction.

Tara/Joey and Matt/Redmond find someone who points out Mt. Aksla to them. It overlooks the town, and 421 steps lead up the side of the mountain to the overlook at the top. There’s also a drive that goes up the back way, but it’s a less direct route, and the stairs only take about ten minutes (if you’re in top condition). With Redmond having an artificial leg, climbing stairs isn’t really his thing, so Tara/Joey beat the boys in this footrace. Phil and the mat are at the top. The first-place and second-place teams even beat Becca/Floyd who took the FF.

Becca/Floyd’s helicopter ride ends with a skydive back to the field where they started from. They get the pit stop clue and directions to drive to Mt. Aksla. When they arrive at the mat, Phil tells them they’re in 3rd place. At first they don’t believe it. (This may be the 1st time a team took the FF and didn’t win the leg.)

On the great troll hunt, Vanck/Ashton collect their final four skyrockets. They can only fit three of them in their rental car. They solve the problem with Vanck holding the fourth skyrocket on the roof while Ashton drives. They pass LoLo and Scott/Brooke, who are trying to carry three and four skyrockets at once. Then LoLo and Brooke/Scott move ahead while Vanck/Ashton are parking and getting the skyrockets out of their car. All three teams get their pit stop clues. LoLo and Brooke/Scott take the direct route up the stairs. Vanck/Ashton drive the less direct route up the back of the mountain.

Liz/Michael also collect all six skyrockets and find out about Mt. Aksla, but they argue about whether to walk or drive and what route to take. While they’re arguing, he pulls out of a parking space and dings a van. They stop and discuss it with the other driver. He tells them they hit a place that was already dented. How amazing is that?

They keep driving and arguing. He says just drive up the road, she says just park the car and walk. They see a parking garage and he tells her they can probably take the elevator in the garage and get to the top of the mountain that way. They can’t. He says, “If you’d just stayed on the damn road” when he’s the one who told her to park in the parking garage.

Vanck/Ashton look exhausted when they reach Phil and the mat, even though they drove. He tells them they’re 4th. LoLo beat Brooke/Scott in their footrace up the stairs, so that makes LoLo 5th and Scott/Brooke 6th.

Liz basically drags Mike up the stairs. He’s having a much tougher time than she is, and she’s not giving him any sympathy. When they reach the mat, Phil has a surprise, “You’re still racing.” This turns out to be the first of two legs that are run as one. To be continued!





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The Voice: Season 12, Team Gwen and Team Adam, 4/18/17

April 19th, 2017 · No Comments

by Lyn Jensen

Let the voting begin–but only if you’ve got an app!  Live rounds of The Voice continued Tuesday, with viewers getting their first chance to vote for Team Gwen and Team Adam, but new voting procedures are disenfranchising voters. You have to download an app from the NBC website and then re-tweet tweets while the show’s in progress. You don’t belong to a demographic that’s download-crazy and tweet-obsessed? Too bad!

Obviously confining the voting audience to who’s got an app and likes to tweet, and only during the live broadcast–restricting the vote to mostly the i-Phone gen, east of the Mississippi–is going to skew the results. With the voting window only open for about an hour per team, that also means people will be inclined to vote before hearing all performances.

It’s a singing contest, though, so it’s not like you can just ignore the performances. Six singers from Team Gwen, six singers from Team Adam, and viewers’ re-tweets determine two contestants to advance from each team. Then one more person from each team is advanced by the judge’s decision.

Team Gwen

1. Johnny Gates is who Gwen cut and then called back, like an on-again-off-again date. Having him sing for viewers’ votes almost justifies the callback, but the fact remains only two people of six can be voted through, and Gwen’s already got Troy Ramey rep’in’ rock. Plus Gates picks a song (Selena Gomez’ “Hands to Myself”) that doesn’t really work for him, and his voice sounds a little thin.

2.  Troy Ramey chooses to show a romantic side, turning Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” into a power ballad. Adam likes the way “you so came into it” and Gwen says, “I could see you at your own show.”

3.  Quizz Swanigan (“Quizz” is short for Jacques) and Gwen talk about how she got into ska when she was his age, and he’s into Motown. He sings “My Girl” for his school crush. Maybe Gwen knew what she was doing when she put him on her team, because he’s one of the most entertaining contestants this season. He sounds more mature than some of the adults do, and the one strike against him is that he’s so young. He’ll have other chances.

4.  Brennley Brown, originally one of Blake’s surplus country singers, now allows Team Gwen to woo the country audience. Gwen coaches her to adopt a seventies’ flowers-in-the-hair look, with a sound to match. She picks a current country song, “Fly,” that’s probably not familiar to anybody outside the download-app crowd, but that’s this season’s voting demographic. I’ve heard her sing better but Blake still comments afterward how he made a mistake when he let her go. I’d say he had so many female country vocalists, they were somewhat interchangeable.

5.  J Chosen sings the H*ll out of “Nothing Compares to U (You).” R&B singers won the first couple of seasons, but they’ve had a hard time since.

6.  Hunter Plake fits perfectly with the type of singers that commonly won American Idol (and then faded). He’s a church singer and his spiritual-tinged “I Want to Know What Love is” has already hit top thirty on iTunes–so he’s got the Heartland church vote. When he sings Sia’s “Elastic Heart,” moreover, he shows he has a fine pop-chart voice, with some flavor resembling George Michael, or Adam Lambert. Adam Levine admits he could win. I think I know where this season’s going.

Team Adam

1.  Johnny Hayes, Adam’s callback, is still rock ‘n’ roll to me, even though Carson Daly calls him a soul artist. He does show a James Brown style on “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.”

2.  Hanna Erye says she wants to be an “R&B pop artist.” She strikes me as more the flowers-in-her-hair type that Gwen coached Brennley Brown to be. Adam says she has the most powerful voice of anyone on the show (“the beast you have inside”) but that’s got to be an exaggeration. She does have a mature voice, with the kind of range that can be soft and subtle for one measure and powerful the next. Unfortunately I found her song choice, Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper,” dubious, although the i-Phone set may disagree. Against tonight’s competition, she may have faltered.

3.  Josh West goes back to seventies’ classic rock with Boston’s “More Than a Feeling.” (It’s fun to hear Adam sing it during rehearsal, too.) Adam tells Josh that he can go on tour with “one of those old bands that needs a young singer.” Josh calls the song “anthemic.” Adam calls it “operatic,” and says it’s one of the “hardest, scariest songs for a male singer.” The “straight-up rock ‘n’ roll scream at the end” (according to Carson Daly) helps makes this the straight-up rock performance of the night.

4.  Mark Isaiah is this season’s teen idol, already getting fan mail, and his name’s in Teen Vogue. Adam assigns him “All Time Low,” a dark contemporary adult-rock song, instead of a romantic pop-chart teen-friendly hit, because, Adam says, he doesn’t want a generic performance here. It does provide some diversity–but it may not excite teens with their phone apps. Amazingly, Adam shows his hand when he comments, “Everybody voting, give me more time with this guy.”

5.  Lilly Passero, who waitresses about a mile from The Voice soundstage in Universal City, gets to sing for votes. She sings Carole King’s “It’s Too Late” and she’s a far better singer than King. Alicia–who shockingly let her go–says, “Lilly has the ability to draw people in.” Adam says, “She’s a world-class singer … She can win.”

6.  Jesse Larson, the oldest and most experienced of Adam’s three rockers, says, “I’m exploring being a frontman.” However, he may have miscalculated by singing Stevie Wonder’s tribute to Duke Ellington, “Sir Duke” (although it’s fun to hear Adam sing it in rehearsal, too). The risk is that he won’t woo fans of any particular genre. He sings a good song well, but it’s off-target somewhere between soul, rock and jazz. Adam likes it, though, Alicia likes it, the other coaches/judges like it–and the audience likes it. Adam proclaims it the best vocal of the night, adding, “The white Cee Lo!”


Team Gwen:  Maybe Blake’s fans voted for Gwen’s team, because the top two votes are for her country-flavored singers, Hunter Plake and Brennley Brown. Before Carson Daly read the votes, he asked Alicia who she’d pick, and she answered, Hunter Plake and Troy Ramey. Perhaps Gwen took Alicia’s advice, because Troy Ramey is who she chooses as her third team member to advance.

Adam always goes last, and it’s always after the judge next to him is asked to select one final singer, and that judge has taken five minutes of talking about how wonderful every single team member is and how hard the decision is, before finally answering the question. That means Adam never has time to say much except blurt out a name.

Team Adam:  The votes are for Jesse Larson and Lilly Passero. (Take that, Alicia!) Adam then names Mark Isaiah as the third member of his team to advance. So he will get to coach him some more.

Next week:  the top twelve live–and I hope online voting returns as an option.   

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The Voice: Season 12, Team Blake and Team Alicia, 4/17/17

April 18th, 2017 · No Comments

by Lyn Jensen

Each season The Voice has semi-finals according to the following format:  the members of all teams sing, and the audience votes to select the top two from each team. Then each judge (or coach, if you prefer) selects one more singer to keep. In this way the field is reduced to twelve singers, who will spend the next several weeks competing to be the season’s winner.

In recent seasons the judges have been able to call back one additional singer–after they’ve cut their teams to five. That means six singers from each team sing for votes, but only three can advance. I see no reason why calling back eliminated singers makes sense–at least for this format. It was bad enough when the coaches had keep one singer out of three. Now they have to keep one singer out of four. Maybe if they could only call back a singer from another team instead?

Also this season votes are now taken as the show is in progress and the results are announced at the end, instead of on a results show. Carson Daly said something about tweeting and re-tweeting, and maybe texting and online voting is still being used–but that means half the country can’t vote, because the show only airs live in eastern time zones.

Team Blake

1.  Casi Joy, who’s a Nashville girl looking for her big break, sings a current country hit, “Parachute.” During rehearsal Blake compares her to Gretchen Wilson and Martina McBride, about how you think their claws are out–then they bring their claws out. Being one of only three country singers left this season, she should do well.

2.  Felicia Temple is who Blake called back. (The episode shows the coaches/judges coming backstage to singers they’ve just cut, telling them they’re being called back, like a relationship that’s on-and-off again. There’s got to be a better way.) She shows her Broadway style, singing “Defying Gravity” from Wicked.

3.  Aaliyah Rose with her nasal voice, sings “Brass in Pocket (I’m Special)” that was a big hit for the Pretenders in the eighties. Maybe because Blake’s her coach, she brings some country flavor to it. She’s got the kind of freaky quirky personality that may get a lot of votes–or not. She had to give her best performance to have a chance, and she does. It’s possible that if she’s not voted through, Blake’ll keep her anyway.

4.  TSoul re-imagines “Knock on Wood,” bringing a contemporary sound to vintage music. He may give the most entertaining performance so far. Given tonight’s voting, however, the results may skew to the i-phone generation, putting singers such as him, with a more classic sound, at a disadvantage.

5.  Aliyah Moulden chooses a song that many outside the i-phone generation don’t know–Duffy’s “Mercy.” It’s not a good song choice–she sounds off, maybe overly raspy, or overly sharp, and doesn’t show much range. Is she trying to blues-shout it or sing more subtly? It’s hard to tell. Blake tells her, “Best I’ve seen you sing” but I thought it was her worst performance.

6. Lauren Duski, Blake’s other Nashville girl, is friends with his season 4 winner, Danielle Bradbery. Blake notes that (like Bradbery) she’s not a belter. Her song, “Someone Else’s Star,” shows her softness and subtlety, which is more than can be said for Moulden.

Team Alicia

1.  Chris Blue sings Rhianna’s “Love on the Brain” in the same key Rhianna did, and he doesn’t sound like he’s overly dependent on falsetto either. He shows a Sam Cooke-like delivery here.

2.  Anatalia Villaranda overreaches on “Stand by Me.” She’s a powerhouse but she’s a tiny young powerhouse and this song is just too big for her at this time. She comes off as too inexperienced to survive this night of brutal cuts.

3.  Jack Cassidy is the eliminated singer Alicia called back. If he wasn’t impressive enough to make it through the brackets, he probably isn’t going to be impressive enough to win the most or second-most votes. He sings “Don’t Let the Sun go Down on me” but Elton John–and George Michael, and Clay Aiken–sang it better.

4.  Vanessa Ferguson does a song only the i-phone gen is going to know (“Lean On,” Major Lazer, or something–yeah, kids, somebody must know what and who). However, she does show how she resembles her coach Alicia Keys, as a singer, pianist, and entertainer. It looks like she and Chris Blue are the most likely top two.

5.  Ashley Levine may lure country fans. She sings a swamp-flavored version of “I Can’t Stand the Rain.” Will she sneak into the top two, and if she does, who will she displace?

6. Stephanie Rice sounds very shaky while attempting “Every Breath You Take.” Wrong song, wrong delivery, like she’s trying to power her way though a melody she just doesn’t get. It’s a very bad misstep when she had to be perfect.

Results for Team Blake are announced:  Lauren Duski (which makes sense) and Aliyah Moulden (which doesn’t). Moulden’s votes may have been based on her previous performances, because she was the weakest member of Team Blake tonight. Blake has to decide which of the remaining four is going to advance. Blake keeps TSoul.

Results for Team Alicia are announced:  Chris Blue and Vanessa Ferguson!  Of the remaining singers, Alicia keeps Stephanie Rice, probably based on her past performances.

We’ll see Team Adam and Team Gwen tonight.

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The Amazing Race: Season 29, 3rd Leg, 4/13/17

April 18th, 2017 · No Comments

by Lyn Jensen

Warning:  double blind U-turn ahead!  On the third leg of The Amazing Race, Season 29, the first opportunity for teams to U-turn other teams comes into play. It’s usually used by one team who’s unhappy with another, or else by a team that needs to avoid being in last place. Sometimes the team that gets U-turned stays out of last place, sometimes not.

Viewers get a lesson in world geography thanks to the complicated route this leg follows:  the nine teams receive clues in Sao Paulo, Brazil, instructing them to fly to Dar Es Salaam, a coastal city in the east African nation of Tanzania. Everyone gets the same flight. When teams arrive in Africa, they take taxis to a war memorial, and pick up a newspaper from a nearby stand. The newspaper contains an ad that will provide the next clue. The ad says to take a ferry to Zanzibar, an island some distance off the coast.

As the nine teams get to the ferry, no running order has transpired yet:  Vanck/Ashton, Tara/Joey, Olive/Seth, Matt/Redmond, Floyd/Becca, Sara/Shamir, Liz/Michael, Scott/Brooke, and London/Logan are all bunched up.

Matt/Redmond cut in the ferry ticket line. Vanck/Ashton are already considering U-turning the male team because they reneged on an agreement during the previous leg. Now the other teams aren’t happy with them, either.

Everyone gets the same ferry, but once teams disembark, they catch taxis to a marketplace, and everyone knows a double blind U-turn board is waiting. Ashton/Vanck already want to U-turn Matt/Redmond. Tara/Joey and Liz/Michael discuss U-turning someone, too.

As teams reach the U-turn board they pick up the clues for the detour:  after taking a traditional African sailboat to another location, they can weave two baskets from palm fronds, or they can build two desks and deliver them to a school. Tara/Joey reach the U-turn board first. They U-turn Seth/Olive, the policeman-firefighter team. Joey says he wants to give them a taste of what it’s like to be at the back of the pack for a change.

Ashton/Vanck are 2nd and take their chance to U-turn Matt/Redmond. U-turned teams must perform both detours.

The front-running teams are running to the sailboats as several more teams arrive. Matt/Redmond–in 6th place–discover they’ve been U-turned. The U-turn is blind but Matt/Redmond easily guess who U-turned them. Redmond yells some unsportsmanlike trash-talk at Vanck/Ashton.

Since Matt/Redmond have to do both detours, they decide to weave the baskets first. London/Logan (in 7th place) are the only other team that initially tries the basket-weaving. London reasons since she’s a crochet artist, she should be able to weave the baskets quickly. She quickly gets frustrated–too quickly, I think–and persuades her teammate to switch to the desks.

Everyone else starts the desks immediately, including Seth/Olive, who were at the back of the pack–ahead of only Sara/Shamir–when they discovered they were U-turned. Teams have to put together the type of school desks that have benches attached, using pegs and dowels instead of nails or screws, and then carry them into a nearby classroom.

Seth/Olive beat Liz/Michael by a peg. However, that makes Liz/Michael first, since Olive/Seth still have to go weave baskets. At the classroom teams try out the desks and learn a few words of Swahili, then get the next clue, which directs them to a marketplace, the site of this leg’s roadblock.

Tara/Joey are 2nd to finish the detour and move on to the RB. Brooke/Scott are 3rd, Ashton/Vanck are 4th. By this time Matt/Redmond have finished their baskets and joined the remaining teams building desks.

Tara/Joey are 1st to reach the RB, Liz/Michael, 2nd, Vanck/Ashton, 3rd. Each team gets a shopping basket and a shopping list that’s in both English and Swahili. Once they’ve done the shopping for one of the local women, she gives them the next clue, which is for this leg’s pit stop. Racers must use the money they’ve got–what they’re given at the start of each leg–for the shopping.

Mike has an advantage for this RB. He’s a butcher, and he recognizes that the word “halah” on his list means he has to get a live chicken and have it slaughtered. Joey, on the other hand, takes a while to understand. That enables Liz/Mike to move into 1st place. They get the clue for this leg’s pit stop.

Four more teams finish building the desks and start for the RB:  Becca/Floyd, Brooke/Scott, London/Logan, and Matt/Redmond. That leaves Sara/Shamir building desks and Olive/Seth weaving baskets.

Liz/Michael take a taxi to the pit stop, which is at the rooftop plaza of a local hotel. Teams have to run up several flights of stairs to reach the mat and host Phil Keoghan. Liz/Michael are 1st and they win a trip to Amsterdam. Joey/Tara are 2nd.

Vanck was able to get most of his shopping list in one place, so he completes the RB quickly. He and Ashton come to the mat, and Phil tells them they’re in 3rd place.

Although Matt/Redmond were 7th to arrive at the RB, Matt’s able to get most of his list in one place, too. The male team jumps into 4th place and head for the pit stop. Scott, who’s waiting for Brooke, comments to some of the other racers, “They did two detours and a roadblock before all of us did one each.”

Matt/Redmond come up the stairs to the mat within two minutes of Vanck/Ashton. Redmond and Ashton (two of this season’s more aggressive personalities) talk more smack until they agree they’re even. Becca/Floyd, who’ve also finished the RB, join the other two teams on the mat. That puts them in 5th place–for now.

About this time Sara/Shamir finish their desks, putting them in 8th place, and Olive/Seth finish their baskets.  When they reach the RB most of the other teams are gone. London/Logan and Brooke/Scott finish the RB, and arrive at the mat almost at the same time.

Wait!  Floyd can’t find his passport and a team can’t be checked in without their passports. That moves London/Logan into 5th place and Brooke/Scott into 6th place.

Phil tells Becca/Floyd they need to find Floyd’s passport or they can’t continue. They go downstairs and ask at the front desk if it was turned in. It wasn’t, so they use a hotel phone to call their cabbie. (He gave them his phone number.) He has the passport and returns it–but did he bring it in time?

Sara/Shamir and Seth/Olive are struggling at the RB. Sara has run out of money–several teams were complaining they thought they were being overcharged. She has the nerve to go back to some vendors and argue with them about how she wants some money back. She finally persuades them to give her a few dollars back, and that covers the remainder of her list.

Olive has money problems, too. She runs out of US dollars, so she pays with some Brazilian money left from the Sao Paulo leg. The vendors don’t know if it’s the correct amount or not. They follow her and argue with her and Seth, but he’s finally able to persuade them to accept it.

Sara/Shamir get a taxi to the pit stop but it looks like it didn’t take them very far because they still have to run a long way. Seth/Olive run the entire distance to the pit stop.

Sara/Shamir climb the stairs to the pit stop, and Phil checks them in, putting them in 7th place. Another team’s coming up the stairs–it’s Becca/Floyd, with Floyd’s passport. They take 8th place.

So a missing passport almost saved Olive/Seth, but not quite. When they come to the mat, Phil tells them they’re eliminated and says, “The U-turn took you down.” Now one of this season’s more dominant teams is out, and two teams can’t use a U-turn when the next one happens. How will this affect the rest of the race?





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The Voice: Season 12, Final Knockouts, 4/10/17

April 11th, 2017 · No Comments

by Lyn Jensen

Sometimes on The Voice, how popular a contestant may be could be as much of a factor as their voice. So when we’re wondering about why the judges (coaches) make some of the decisions they do, maybe that’s why. The final seven knockouts were performed Monday, and Alicia was the only judge who could make a steal from another judge. Of course she used it on the final knockout, at least as the edit showed.

Results–who’s in:  Lauren Judd, Vanessa Ferguson, Jesse Larson, Mark Isaiah, J Chosen, Aliyah Moulden, Troy Ramey.

Eliminated:  Andrea Thomas, Jack Cassidy, Davina Leone, Brandon Royal, Malik Devage, Caroline Sky.

Who Alicia stole:  Stephanie Rice.

Now for a knockout-by-knockout description:

1.  Team Blake, Andrea Thomas vs. Lauren Judd:  Blake’s got more country girls than he knows what to do with. Thomas sings Faith Hill’s “Cry” but she gives it what Blake calls “that Mariah Carey thing.” Judd goes for a more subtle emotional delivery with Alison Krause’s “When You Say Nothing at all.” Adam says Judd doesn’t fit the mold very well, and maybe that’s what Blake’s looking for, because he keeps Lauren Judd.

2.  Team Alicia, Jack Cassidy vs. Vanessa Ferguson:  This knockout features dueling pianists. Cassidy is from the musical Cassidy family, and originally looked like a front-runner, but Ferguson shows how much she’s influenced by her coach Alicia Keys. Cassidy’s “Unsteady” is lackluster while Ferguson sings “If I Were Your Woman,” a better and more difficult song. Viewers who remember Tessanne Chin’s challenging rendition in Season 5 probably agree Ferguson was worthy of the challenge. Alicia may may have revealed her thinking when she rooted for Ferguson even before the song started–and she keeps Vanessa Ferguson.

3.  Team Adam, Davina Leone vs. Jesse Larson:  We’ve seen the pianists, now it’s time for this season’ rock-shredding guitarist. Adam’s mismatching of his own team continues. He may be thinking that Davina Leone, being a You Tube star, has an x-factor–but Larson’s still plainly the voice. Leone can go from a bird-like chirp to a big crazy range, but Larson has a big crazy range, too. Leone sings a slow and sultry version of Britany Spears’ “Toxic.” Larson blues-shouts through some classic blues-rock, “The Letter” (the one about “my baby just wrote me a letter”). Adam calls him a wizard. Gwen says she’s never seen anyone with such command of their voice and guitar. Adam keeps Jesse Larson.

4.  Team Adam, Malik Devage vs. Mark Isaiah:  Not quite a montage, since only one knockout is covered, but we don’t see more than a few soundbytes, either. Adam keeps Mark Isaiah. Devage was probably Adam’s weakest link in these knockout rounds.

5.  Team Gwen, J Chosen vs. Brandon Royal:  Gwen probably could’ve found a way to keep both her R&B male vocalists if she wanted to, but apparently she doesn’t (or else she’s targeting one for a wildcard callback). J Chosen sings a more urban style, selecting “Without You” (not the seventies’ Nilsson hit, something else). Royal takes everyone on a trip to the Caribbean with “Redemption Song.” (Once again, longtime viewers may have fondly remembered Tessanne Chin’s performance.) Somebody probably should have used a steal here, but Gwen keeps J Chosen.

6.  Team Blake, Caroline Sky vs. Aliyah Moulden:  Sky shows off a Disney princess voice on Etta James’ “At Last” while Moulden’s still trying to find her genre:  she blues-shouted Elvis at her audition, soul’ed out during her battle, and now tries out Carrie Underwood’s hardcore country with “Before He Cheats.” (To be fair all three performances showed some rock ‘n’ roll heart.) Adam declares Moulden can sing anything. Blake keeps Aliyah Moulden.

7.  Team Gwen, Stephanie Rice vs. Troy Ramey:  Gwen’s mismatches continue, because Ramey and Rice are two of the best voices this season. We know one of these people is going to Team Alicia, though. Rice sings Taylor Swift’s “Safe and Sound” in a Kelly Clarkson style. Ramey sings Sia’s “Chandelier” in a classic rock style. Although Rice may be a better choice from a coaching perspective, Gwen keeps Troy Ramey.

Blake and Adam probably would’ve liked to recruit either Ramey or Rice, but Alicia is who gets the leftovers here. Stephanie Rice moves to Team Alicia.

Heading into the live performances are:

Team Adam:  Hollywood cocktail-jazz vocalist Lilly Passero, classic rocker Jesse Larson, contemporary rocker Josh West, teen idol type Mark Isaiah, and ingenue Hanna Erye.

Team Alicia: R&B vocalists Chris Blue and Vanessa Ferguson, ingenue powerhouse Anatalia Villaranda, alternative Stephanie Rice, and country singer Ashley Levin who may be a defense against Team Blake.

Team Blake:  R&B vocalist TSoul, country vocalists Casi Joy and Lauren Duski, versatile Aliyah Moulden and teenage Aataliyah Rose whom Harry Connick, Jr. might call a kiwi among oranges and apples.

Team Gwen:  R&B vocalists J Chosen and Quizz Swanigan, classic rocker Troy Ramey, country singer Brennley Brown, and church singer Hunter Plake. 




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The Amazing Race: Season 29, 2nd Leg, 4/6/17

April 9th, 2017 · No Comments

by Lyn Jensen

Leg two of The Amazing Race almost always means one team down, ten to go, and that’s the situation on Season 29. The ten remaining teams leave the pit stop in Panama City with their next clue telling them to fly to Sao Paulo, Brazil. The teams are scattered between six flights:

  • 1st–Vanck/Ashton, Matt/Redmond
  • 2nd–Brooke/Scott, Seth/Olive, Sara/Shamir
  • 3rd–Liz/Mike
  • 4th–London/Logan (Team LoLo)
  • 5th–Tara/Joey, Becca/Floyd (Team Fun)
  • 6th–Jessie/Francesca

Once teams get to Sao Paulo, teams are to take taxis to a heliport and sign up for helicopter rides to (theoretically) avoid traffic congestion. Front-runners Matt/Redmond and Vanck/Ashton make a deal–when they get to the heliport, they’ll flip a coin to see who gets the first helicopter ride. Matt/Redmond are the 1st to arrive by a considerable margin, however, so they go ahead and sign up. When Ashton/Vanck show up, they’re not happy to find the guys didn’t wait. (Watch and see if this’ll be a factor when a U-turn comes up.)

When teams take their helicopter ride, they’re dropped off at a rooftop helipad near the plaza where the next clue box is. The top nine teams take the ride in the following order:  Matt/Redmond, Vanck/Ashton, Shamir/Sara, Seth/Olive, Brooke/Scott, Liz/Mike, Team LoLo, Becca/Floyd, and Tara/Joey. The final team, Jessie/Francesca, are stuck in traffic trying to get to the heliport.

Matt/Redmond are first to the plaza, and find the clue is for this leg’s detour. The choices are “Keep the Beat” or “Work Your Feet.” Despite Redmond’s one leg, they choose “Work Your Feet.”

Since “Keep the Beat” is about playing samba music, it would make sense if “Work Your Feet” were about dancing, but it’s not. Teams that choose this detour must go to a street gym and assemble gym equipment out of junk.

Sara/Shamir are 2nd to arrive at the detour clue box, and choose to play the samba. One person plays a drum for a street band, the other plays some other kind of percussion instrument.

Ashton/Vanck, in 3rd place, and Olive/Seth, in 4th place, choose to go to the gym. Matt/Redmond are delayed because they didn’t get everything right on the 1st try, but they’re still first to finish either detour. Their next clue instructs them to make their way to Avenida Paulista to where a bike path intersects with a plaza (Plaza de Bicyclista, I think), and find a woman who’s wearing red and yellow race colors and riding a bicycle.

Back at the clue box for the detour, Liz/Mike are 5th and, since they’re both former band geeks, choose to play the samba. Brooke/Scott, in 6th place, go to the gym. On the way Brooke falls and injures her elbow. It’s not serious but it’s painful enough to affect what happens on the rest of the leg.

Matt/Redmond have trouble finding the bike path and plaza, so Vanck/Ashton, who finished 2nd at the gym, get there 1st. The clue they get from the bicyclist is for this leg’s roadblock. It’s window washing. One team member must strap into a harness, rappel down the side of a skyscraper, and clean a window that’s been marked with yellow-and-red race colors. Once the window is clean, someone (who looks like a maintenance worker) will hand over the next clue envelope. However, if the window isn’t properly cleaned, the racer has to rappel clear down the building and then take the elevator back to the roof and start again. Ashton starts.

Several trailing teams are starting or finishing the detour. Team Lolo is the seventh team to start the detour, and they chose the music. Becca/Floyd are eighth, and they pick the music, too. Floyd played drums in high school and is now his college’s drum major.

Four teams finish playing the samba:  Sara/Shamir (4th), Liz/Mike (5th), Team LoLo (6th), and Becca/Floyd (7th). Brooke/Scott complete the gym detour, making them eighth.

Liz/Mike must’ve had a fast taxi, because they were 5th to complete the detour but are 2nd to get to the RB. Liz starts the window-washing. Matt/Redmond finally find the plaza, so they’re third to pick up their RB clue. Redmond’s one leg isn’t a problem on this task, so he starts the RB. Olive/Seth are 4th, and Seth has experience rappelling, so he does the window-washing.

Shamir/Sara are 5th to reach the RB. Shamir starts the task but he’s having a very, very bad day. First he bloodied his hands playing the drum for the samba band. Then he finds the window-washing is busting–something else. He complains his harness is too tight, and the crew adjusts it, but he’s still in so much pain he breaks a window trying to get down and see a medic. The medical crew examines him behind closed ambulance doors and ensure him there’s nothing wrong and he can continue the task.

“Every male that had to get into a harness was gonna hurt,” says one of other guys. Shamir can’t get a window washed properly, either. He has to start over several times, prolonging his agony.

Brooke/Scott reach the RB in 6th place. Her arm still hurts, so he does the RB even though he’s afraid of heights. He’s never rappelled either, not even when he was in the Boy Scouts. Becca/Floyd, arriving in 7th place, have no such problems. She’s a rock climber, after all, so she does the RB.

About the time Tara/Joey are completing the gym detour (in 9th place), Jessie/Francesca finally reach the clue box for the detour. They pick the music.

Liz is 1st to finish the RB. She and Mike get their pit stop clue, to Trianon Park, an eleven-acre urban rainforest. It’s close enough to the RB that teams may either take a taxi or travel on foot. Liz/Mike take a taxi. Ashton/Vanck are right behind but make their way on foot. Liz/Mike, who barely got tenth place last leg, win leg two. They win a trip to Barbados. They’re still on the pit stop mat when Ashton/Vanck arrive and take 2nd place. Vanck says he’s with his teammate 120% even though that’s a mathematical impossibility.

Redmond had to start over, but he and Matt still finish the RB and reach the mat in 3rd place. Seth/Olive are 4th, and Seth notes they’ve been 4th since the helicopter ride that started the visit to Sao Paulo.

Tara/Joey are 8th to start the RB, Team LoLo, 9th. Four teams finish the RB in a cluster and reach the pit stop in the following order:  Brooke/Scott, 5th, Becca/Floyd 6th, Tara/Joey, 7th, and LoLo 8th. (Lolo gained a slot on Tara/Joey at the RB but lost it on the way to the pit stop.)

Last-place Jessie/Francesca finally reach the RB where Shamir is still having problems and Sara isn’t offering much sympathy. The female team complains they can’t find the bicyclist. We can see they keep missing her as she’s riding by–they’re just not seeing her, their backs are turned or they’re looking elsewhere. Sara misdirects them down the block (“she’s around and around”) and yells at Shamir to hurry up.

The women finally do find the bicyclist, and Francesca starts the RB. Shamir finally catches a break when he’s able to finish a window ahead of her.

Shamir/Sara arrive at the pit stop, and Phil’s so busy offering sympathy for Shamir, we never do hear, “You are team number nine!” (He probably said it but this episode’s editing is confusing.) He does explain that even men who have much experience with a window-washing harness can have –problems.

Francesca finishes the RB, and she and Jessie are the tenth and last team to reach the pit stop. This season’s only female team was promising, but they’re eliminated.







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The Voice: Season 12, 2 Nights of Knockouts, 4/3/17 and 4/4/17

April 5th, 2017 · No Comments

by Lyn Jensen

What are the coaches (judges) thinking? Season 12 of The Voice has now seen two nights featuring nine knockout rounds between singers, and on Monday night alone we saw at least five bad decisions, starting with the very first pairing:

1.  Team Alicia, Chris Blue vs. Quizz Swanigan:  Alicia says she’s pairing big bro against little bro, but I say pitting Swanigan, her 13-year-old Michael Jackson type, against 27-year-old Blue, is like sending a boy to do a man’s job. She’d have been wiser to pit Swanigan against another teen–Dawson Coyle or Anatalia Villaranda. Blue should’ve been matched against Vanessa Ferguson, Jack Cassidy, or even Coyle. Now for the performance: Blue sings Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and Swanigan sings Nick Jonas’ “Chains.” Alicia keeps Chris Blue.

In the second bad coaching decision of the night, Gwen uses (wastes) her one and only steal on Quizz Swanigan, giving her three R&B vocalists. Now she can’t steal anybody else, no matter who becomes available.

2.  Team Adam, Autumn Turner vs. Hannah Erye:  In the third bad coaching decision of the night, Adam Levine matches powerful R&B singer Autumn Turner against the sparrow-like Hannah Erye, who appears to be the disposable person here. Turner’s big soulful voice adeptly handles the R&B classic, “Respect,” giving it a contemporary vibe. Eyre chirps out “Bleeding Love,” which is mostly meaningless to the over-30 portion of the audience. In perhaps the most bizarre decision of a night filled with them, Adam keeps Hannah Erye and nobody steals Autumn Turner. Maybe–it’s because Erye better fits the young ingenue type that’s popular on this show?

Hey, Gwen, if you hadn’t been so determined to steal Quizz Swanigan, you could’ve had Autumn Turner, who would’ve given your team more balance come the live rounds.  

3.  Team Gwen, Hunter Plake vs. Johnny Gates:  “They’re both alt,” says Gwen Stefani, although she could just as easily say they both wear skinny jeans. Gates has a classic blues-rock voice and knows who he is musically. Plake has a soft voice and is still finding his genre–country, pop, rock, he’s in there somewhere. Both contestants pick songs with spiritual overtones:  Plake sings “I Want to Know What Love is” and Gates sings Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons.” Plake appears to be the disposable person here–but all the judges prefer him, for inexplicable reasons. Gwen keeps Hunter Plake, maybe because she thinks he needs coaching. He is the kind of artist American Idol tends to favor but this isn’t American Idol.

Adam, Blake, and Alicia all decline to steal Johnny Gates.

4.  Team Blake, Casi Joy vs. Felicia Temple:  Blake Sheldon isn’t going to let his front-running country vocalist go, is he? It’s a strange pairing but–pairing two strong female vocalists of different genres is one of the least bizarre events of this evening. Casi sings “My Church,” a recent country hit for Maren Morris, and sounds typical country, nothing more or less. Felicia shows the bigness of her voice on the theme song from The Titanic. After Alicia hears the women sing, (even) she asks Blake, what in the world made him pair them? He comes back with, “All my pairings are that dynamic!” As expected Blake keeps his front-runner Casi Joy, who could win the season. Blake babbles about how he’s looking forward to the “old school” country Casi could do.

Nobody steals Felicia Temple, although she might have won a different pairing–say, against Aliyah Moulden or Caroline Sky.

5.  Team Adam, Johnny Hayes vs. Josh West:  Two of Adam’s best rockers enter this knockout, and one will be cut. Gates shows off his classic blues-shoutin’ voice on the Allman Brothers’ “Statesboro Blues.” West represents a more contemporary “rock nerd” type, as Adam puts it. However, West goes back to a classic rock sound, too, showing off a pure but biting tone on “Carry on, my Wayward Son,” the hit song for Kansas back in the seventies. Blake says he prefers West. So does Gwen, who calls his voice operatic. Adam keeps West, who in the past he’s compared to himself.

Nobody steals Johnny Hayes. Gwen had an interest in him originally, and if she hadn’t been so hot on Quizz Swanigan, maybe she could’ve grabbed up Hayes here. But she can’t, and neither Blake nor Alicia are interested.

6.  Team Alicia, Lilly Passero vs. Ashley Levin:  Bad coaching decisions just keep on comin’ when Alicia pairs Passero, who may be her best female vocalist, against Levin, a country singer Blake rejected. There’s some good TV storyline here–Passero’s chasing her Hollywood dream and Levin’s chasing her Nashville one–but the voice is what we’re supposed to focus on. It’s country vs. cocktail, with a twist both ways, but Passero’s plainly the better voice. Alicia wants Ashley to do some country soul (there is such a genre) so the country singer performs “Fancy,” copying Bobbie Gentry’s pop-country instead of Reba McEntire’s hardcore. Passero sings Amy Winehouse’s “Tears Dry on Their Own,” bringing out the song’s boozy (“drunk” sez Alicia) cocktail-jazz side, and appears ready to host a one-woman show. Alicia keeps–Ashley Levin! Good grief, that’s enough to make Passero fans kick the TV!

Alicia babbles on about how much she wants continue to coach Levin and do more country soul but–thankfully Blake and Adam swoop in like superheros to save Lilly Passero. They have one of their most passionate arguments ever, but Lilly Passero chooses to go to Team Adam, where she gives him an advantage in the live rounds. Alicia perhaps figured her team was deep enough she didn’t need Passero–but she doesn’t need Levin either.

So that was Monday. How many missteps did the coaches/judges make Tuesday?  Let’s find out! See below:

A.  Team Alicia, Anatalia Villaranda vs. Dawson Coyle:  One bad pairing can screw up a whole team, and Alicia’s now made three of them. She pairs two of her teens–but one is plainly the stronger vocalist. Villaranda is a tiny powerhouse whose vocals belie her years. Coyle hasn’t shown us much yet, and he’s still here only because Alicia–perhaps unwisely–put him on her team early in the battle rounds. Both singers make bizarre song choices–Villaranda goes Southern-Gothic with Carrie Underwood’s “Two Black Cadillacs,” a song that would appear to make more sense for Coyle. He rocks out with the Imagine Dragons hit, “Demons,” showing a bigger voice than he’s ever shown before, along with a Southern-Gothic side. (Think Nine Inch Nails or REM.) Blake suggests this may be the best performance of “Demons” The Voice has ever heard. Suddenly the outcome doesn’t look so obvious. Alicia keeps Anatalia Villaranda, though, despite Coyle finally showing us what he’s capable of.

Nobody steals Dawson Coyle, and Gwen’s hasty use of her steal looms larger.

B.  Team Blake, TSoul vs. Enid Ortiz: If Blake doesn’t keep TSoul he’s crazy, but Ortiz is an intriguing singer who could go far if a bracket opened up. The match-up is basically Adele vs. Otis Redding: Ortiz sings Adele’s “When we were Young” and TSoul sings a half-forgotten Redding song, “These Arms of Mine.” Alicia comments afterward that she likes TSoul’s vibratto–but she prefers Ortiz. Adam offers rare criticism: TSoul sounded like Otis, Ortiz sounded like Adele but “I would’ve liked to hear you.” TSoul was a four-chair turn but only Blake was interested in Ortiz to begin with. Blake does the most sensible thing and keeps TSoul. 

Nobody steals Enid Ortiz. Gwen and Adam have used their steals, Adam wisely, Gwen not so much. Blake can’t steal his own singer. That leaves Alicia, who passes.

C.  Team Gwen, Aaliyah Rose vs. Brennley Brown:  Gwen says she’s matching up two of her teens, two ingenues. Brennley’s 15 and country, but Blake cut her from his deep bench of female country vocalists. Aaliyah’s 14 and quirky, with Broadway/jazz/R&B flavors. (She reminds me of quirky Joey Cook, American Idol, season 14.) Pitting these two against each other might make more sense if Gwen hadn’t let Johnny Gates walk already. Aaliyah sings the contemporary hit, “Like I’m Gonna Lose You.” Gwen compares her to Rihanna (even though the song isn’t a Rihanna song). Brennley sings “Up the Mountain,” a Kelly Clarkson song, as a spiritual, and shows her youth, her purity, and her promise. Adam suggests, despite Brennley’s youth and inexperience, the year she holds over Aaliyah should be the deciding factor here. Gwen says, based only on what she heard in this knockout round, she’s keeping Brennley Brown.

Blake steals Aaliayah Rose. He didn’t use his steal for Johnny Gates, Dawson Coyle, Autumn Turner, or Johnny Hayes, but he’ll use it for this junior high kid.

So now Alicia’s the only coach left who can steal anybody, and there are by my count seven knockout rounds to go. We know she’ll steal from the last featured pairing, so we can tune in next week and watch six singers leave the competition, no matter what. This may be why recent years have included callbacks–but they should be handled differently. Perhaps a rule can be instigated that callbacks have to come from a pool where the judges have placed one (or two) discarded singers when the steals are almost exhausted, or something like that.


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The Amazing Race: Season 29 Premiere, 3/30/17

April 1st, 2017 · No Comments

by Lyn Jensen

Let’s enjoy Season 29 of The Amazing Race while we can, since we’re not likely to see Season 30 for another year or more. I don’t know if I can post recaps of every episode, but I’m posting my recap of the premiere and then I’ll see how the rest of the season unfolds.

As has been heavily publicized, this season is not being raced by teams that applied to be on the show together. Instead 22 individual contestants–eleven men, eleven women–are assembled at the starting line and host Phil Keogh tells them they’re going to be paired up into eleven teams.

Season 29 starts at a gated park in downtown Los Angeles, where Phil assigns the 22 contestants their first task. He gives them verbal directions about walking (or running) to a luggage store several blocks away. At the luggage store are at least 22 bags tagged with small Panama flags. Each racer is to bring one bag back to the park. The order in which the racers return with a proper bag will determine what order they get to choose a teammate.

Some racers introduce themselves on the way to the store, two women bicker about the directions. It’s up to the racers to recognize the Panamanian flag tags at the store, because some bags are tagged with different flags. Policeman Joey is the only racer that picks the wrong flag, however, and has to return to the store. That puts him last in line.

Once the racers are all back at the park, lined up in the order they returned from the store, Phil instructs policeman Seth, first in line, to pick his partner. As the teams form, it appears most people are picking an attractive member of the opposite sex. (Why not?) There are a few exceptions:

  • 1st–Policeman Seth picks firefighter Olive, the top-finishing woman.
  • 2nd–Pro snowboarder Matt picks one-legged vet Redmond. (Their team handle is “the boys” as they turn out to be this season’s only male team.)
  • 3rd–Black wall street banker Shamir (who admits he wants to be teamed with a “hot chick”) picks pretty brunette real estate agent Sara.
  • 4th–Redheaded Harvard grad Scott picks young lawyer Brooke. (He later tells her he’s gay, and she suggests they be “Team Will and Grace.” Interestingly, Seth also tells Olive he’s gay.)
  • 5th–Rock climber Becca, with braided hair, and a “fun meter” pinned on her shirt, picks black CU student Floyd.
  • 6th–Vanck, a brainy, nerdy Asian-American stock analyst, picks pretty blonde real estate agent Brooke. (They’re candidates for this season’s oddest couple–she notes he’s a math person and she’s a people person, so they constantly struggle to communicate smoothly, as we see.)
  • 7th–US army officer Tara picks policeman Joey, despite his last-place finish.
  • 8th–Team LoLo results when pretty blonde artist London picks handsome salesman Logan.
  • 9th–Jenn, a swimsuit model, picks long-haired surfer Kevin. (She earlier remarked how they’re both Asians.)
  • 10th–Red-bearded butcher Mike picks farm girl Liz.
  • 11th–Six-foot-three policewoman Jesse and army sgt. Francesca are left. They’re the ones that had an argument on the way to the store. They’re the only female team this season.

Phil next tells them their first clue is in the bags they just fetched from the store, and the only express pass of the season is in one. He continues, “When I say go, run out of the park, grab a taxi to Los Angeles International Airport. There are two flights to your destination. The first flight gets there sooner.” Except he’ll drive Jesse/Francesca to the airport, as compensation for them being the last team to be paired up. (On the way to the airport, he tells them that at least they’ve had their first fight already.)

Phil’s got the signal to “Go!” down to a fine art after 29 seasons. Ten teams run out of the park, hail taxis, and search their bags.  They find their destination is the Mira Flores locks on the Panama canal in Panama City. Floyd/Becca find the express pass.

(Side note:  typically racers pick up their backpacks as they leave the starting line, and the first clue is with those. This time racers start out carrying the pushcart-style luggage they picked up at the store. Racers must have switched to their backpacks off-camera, because some are shown with backpacks at LAX and when teams check in at the first pit stop.)

First flight to Panama, which arrives at 7 a.m.:  Becca/Floyd, Seth/Olive, Matt/Redmond, Team LoLo, Brooke/Scott.

In Panama everyone picks up rental cars but promptly gets stuck in traffic for hours. Teams try to get directions and encounter a language barrier. One racer complains, “No one knows where the Panama canal is!”

Seth/Olive are the 1st team to get to the canal locks. The clue they get here directs them to drive to a nature resort and climb to the top of an observation tower, where they’ll find the next clue.

Becca/Floyd arrive in 2nd place. They encounter Scott/Brooke, arriving in 3rd place, and Brooke practically becomes hysterical, asking if they’re in last place, because they’ve been lost for three hours (an indication of the time teams have spent driving in Panama). Becca/Floyd assure them they’re not because there are still plenty of clue envelopes left. Team LoLo is the 4th team, and Matt/Redmond the 5th team, to find the locks.

About the time Olive/Seth, still in 1st place, are climbing the observation tower, the second flight arrives at about 9:35 a.m. Now it’s the six trailing teams’ turn to spend hours navigating Panama City traffic.

At the observation tower, Seth/Olive find the next clue is for a detour. Both choices involve dugout canoes. One (“shoot”) requires archery. The other (“scoot”) requires competitive-level rowing.

Seth/Olive pick “scoot.” The challenge is to win a 400-meter rowing race against a competition-level team. For the first attempt, the canoes start at the same line. For the second attempt, TAR teams get a 50-meter head start. For the third attempt, they get a 100-meter head start. They need three attempts, but as Seth notes, each time their rowing and teamwork improve. They’re the first team to finish either detour. They get the clue for this leg’s pit stop.

Becca/Floyd reach the detour in 2nd place, pick “shoot.” They must, from a dugout canoe, shoot two targets with a bow and arrow. The targets are shaped like fish (some silver, some gold, but only silver targets count). After much trying, they hit two silver fish, putting them in 2nd place. They’re the only team that completes this challenge.

Scott/Brooke are 3rd to reach the detour, and pick “shoot” but they soon give up and switch. Team LoLo, in 4th place, do the same thing. Matt/Redmond are 5th to reach the detour, but they muscle through the canoe race on their first try, enabling them to jump to 3rd place.

Via pre-taped clip Phil explains the location of this leg’s pit stop. A big bridge wraps around Panama City from one end to the other. (Seeing it reminded me of the Coronado Bridge in San Diego.) Near one end is a park with a large flagpole. If teams can find the flag, they can find Phil and the pit stop mat.

Olive/Seth reach the pit stop 1st and win the leg, but there’s no extra prize. Becca/Floyd are 2nd, Matt/Redmond, 3rd. Scott/Brooke finish the canoe-race detour and arrive at the mat in 4th place.

Front-running teams from the 2nd flight are by now attempting the detour. Several of them get dunked trying to row the canoes. Sara/Shamir finish the canoe race and arrive at the pit stop in 5th place. Ashton/Vanck try rowing, switch to shooting, switch back to the canoe race. Four teams finish the canoe race in a cluster–Team LoLo, Tara/Joey, Ashton/Vanck, and Jesse/Francesca.

At the back of the pack, Jenn/Kevin are having trouble finding the observation tower at the nature resort. Liz/Mike are having trouble completing the canoe race.

By now the sun is setting. Four middle-of-the-pack teams check in at the pit stop:  Tara/Joey in 6th place, Ashton/Vanck, 7th, LoLo are 8th (they lost several slots), and the female team is 9th.

When Jenn/Kevin arrive at the detour, they and Liz/Mike are both heartened to see another team is still on course. Liz/Mike finish the canoe race and get their pit stop clue, putting them in 10th place. Jenn/Kevin attempt the canoe race, only to be told that the detour is being called off on account of darkness. They’re given their pit stop clue, but they’re in 11th place.

Liz/Mike get lost trying to find the bridge and the flagpole. At the mat, Jenn/Kevin arrive and Phil informs them they’re the 10th team to arrive, “However, for not completing the detour, you have incurred a two-hour penalty.”

Before the two hours are up, Liz/Mike arrive at the pit stop. (The show doesn’t indicate just how much time elapses here.) Phil checks them in, putting them in 10th place. Jenn/Kevin slip to 11th place and are eliminated. If this season continues to feature twists like this, it’ll be an amazing race.







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