Saturday, June 11, 2011

Matt Mason wins 'CMT's Next Superstar'

Matt Mason
'CMT's Next Superstar' wrapped up its first season Friday night with a one-hour finale culminating in the "crowning" of Matt Mason as the winner. The finale was a nice, neat package opening with a mash-up of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash songs sung by Mason and runner-up Steven Clawson. From there, it only got better.

Rather than plump up the finale with filler, 'CMT's Next Superstar' producers Nigel and Simon Lythgoe kept it spare, focusing on the finalists. At one point, the entire Top 10 took to the stage, not for a cheesy group number, but for a little chit-chat with host Thea Andrews. Contestants had a chance to reflect on their favorite moments of the show and offer their thoughts on the finalists.

The only deviation from course came with a performance by Kristin Chenoweth, who it would appear, is intent on a career in country music. Chenoweth's off-key and under-rehearsed performance seemed almost an afterthought.

A highlight of the finale was a video recap of the season featuring a song written by fourth-place finisher, Wynn Varble. Varble, who turned 51 Friday, emerged as one of the more memorable and popular characters of the series. CMT would be wise to keep Varble around, possibly in his own show. Clearly, we've not seen the last of this cowboy!

In the end, 25-year-old Mason was declared the winner. In a flurry of confetti, Mason sang his new single, "After Midnight," which is available on iTunes. As the winner, Mason will be signed with Warner Music Nashville's Elektra imprint. In addition, Mason will open this fall's CMT on Tour show, with headliner Luke Bryan.

'CMT's Next Superstar' has been renewed for a second season. Auditions will take place this summer. For additional information, email

Watch the entire finale here.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Scotty and Lauren - The perfect country couple

Scotty McCreery may have won American Idol 10, but runner-up Lauren Alaina has been by his side every step of the way throughout their two-week post-Idol publicity tour. It seems you don't get one without the other, and while the duo denies allegations that they are a couple, they sure have been joined at the hip.

Last night Scotty and Lauren introduced Sugarland at the CMT Country Music Awards after having walked the red carpet earlier in the evening.

Other Idol winners and runners-up have done the post-show publicity tour together, but Lauren and Scotty may be the first to actually duet together during this run. The twosome sang "I Told You So" on the Today show.

It helps that both teens are country singers. They also shared the entire Idol experience together, including being tutored during the season, an experience that certainly bonds people.

Scotty and Lauren have the summer tour to look forward to. The tour kicks off July 6 in West Valley City, UT and ends in Rochester, NY Sept. 10. The tour stops in Syracuse Sept. 6.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Syracuse NBC affiliate preempts 'The Voice' for baseball

Frenchie Davis performs on 'The Voice'
Tuesday night, NBC’s ‘The Voice’ went live for the first time, and after six weeks of preliminary rounds, viewers were finally able to vote for their favorites. Unfortunately, Syracuse area fans were not able to watch the show as it aired live because WSTM, the local NBC affiliate chose instead to air the Yankees/Red Sox baseball game. A crawl at the bottom of the screen during the game informed that viewers that ‘America’s Got Talent’ would air in its entirety at 10 p.m. and ‘The Voice’ would be broadcast Saturday at 8 p.m. on CW6.

I contacted WSTM Wednesday morning and was told that contracts to broadcast the Yankee games are agreed upon six months in advance. The station cannot anticipate what shows will be preempted by the games and they are contractually obliged to air them. So why not air ‘The Voice’ on an alternate channel as it is broadcast live? Apparently, the powers that be at WSTM feel that showing it on Saturday is adequate.

I asked about the upcoming schedule. There is no Yankee game next Tuesday (6/14), but there will be a game broadcast June 21 that will preempt the semi-final round of ‘The Voice.’

It’s been a while since NBC has had a reasonably successful reality singing competition, so perhaps the WSTM powers-that-be need a little refresher in the viewing habits of fans of this genre. First, viewers tend to become very engaged in these shows, watching from the beginning and connecting to the contestants. ‘The View’ had two weeks of blind auditions and four weeks of “battle rounds,” essentially building up to the first live show where fans could finally vote. Syracuse-area fans have invested six weeks in a show and don’t get the payoff.

Although ‘The Voice’ is nowhere near as popular with viewers as is ‘American Idol,’ not showing the first live performance show locally would be like pre-empting an ‘Idol’ performance show for an in-season hockey or NBA basketball game. I wonder if FOX 68 would dare do that?

Bottom line, we want to see the shows that are advertised when they air, not five days later. I can watch online, but would have much preferred watching from the comfort of my bed on Tuesday night.

We’ll see if WSTM makes any concessions to viewers on June 21. If you want to call, the main phone number is (315) 477-940. Meanwhile, you can watch the complete episode here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

'CMT's Next Superstar' season finale Friday

Steven Clawson and Matt Mason after Friday's performance show
'CMT's Next Superstar' wraps June 10 with a live finale that will name the first season's winner, either Matt Mason or Steven Clawson. Last Friday, the Top 2 performed at Nashville's Ryman Theatre, and for the first time, voting was open to viewers.Voting can be done online or by text (10 votes per day per method). Voting ends at 10 a.m. Friday.

I don't know anyone who's watching this show, and it's a shame, really, because it is a real gem. Produced by Nigel Lythgoe and his son Simon, 'CMT's Next Supersar' is the fulfillment of my personal 'Idol' wish list. There were no tedious audition shows - the Top 10 was presented to viewers in the premiere episode as a fait acompli! There was no upper age limit and the contestants didn't have to pretend to be rank amateurs. Their experience was a plus on this show rather than a hindrance.

The rotating judging panel selected the person to go home each week, and most weeks, I felt it was the right decision. 

'CMT's Next Superstar' moves the performances out of a staid theater and into a variety of venues. The contestants performed original material and even made a music video. They were challenged to sell themselves to a record label, designing their own CD cover.

Of the two remaining contestants, I feel Matt Mason is the strongest and should win it all. Matt is reminiscent of the old "Outlaw" movement in country music, combining the best of Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash. But rather than sounding dated, Matt's music is fresh and different. Properly handled, I believe he can be a real force in country music. 

This show has been delightful from beginning to end, and I'm looking forward to the finale. Hopefully, Nigel can take some of what's been successful with this show and use it on 'Idol.'

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

So what are we watching now?

Matt Mason of  'CMT's Next Superstar'
American Idol is over, and while I'm not all that distraught, I do  have a lot more free time and miss writing this blog! I've also been sick and pretty much vegging on the couch, watching whatever I can find to amuse me on any given night.  There really isn't much going on!

I will confess to having watched the first two episodes of The Bachelorette. I have never watched a complete season of this show, and probably won't watch this either, but initially, this show has all the makings of a complete train wreck! Ashely, who came in fourth on the last season of The Bachelor is back and this time, vows to be open to love and looking for a husband. Really?

I don't particularly care for Ashley and the show is further complicated by the inclusion of the Evil Bentley, a bachelor who admits she isn't his type and he's just sticking around because he is competitive. Ashley was warned about this dude before the show even started, and started out warily, but now, she seems to be falling for him.Of course they haven't even had a one-on-one date yet!  No worries, though. Previews for next week show Ashley weeping about her heart being broken. I think this guy quits, although who knows.

There's also a contestant who is wearing a mask that covers his eyes ala Zorro. He was about to reveal his identity, but was interrupted by another bachelor clamoring for Ashley's attention. Zorro's made it through two rounds, but I think it's time for his unveiling. One guy actually got drunk at the welcome ceremony and had to be carried away. At least he was spared the humiliation of not getting a rose!

The show really bothers me, though! Every time all the guys are together, Ashley tells them she just knows her husband is in the room and then laughs annoyingly. You can almost feel them wincing and checking for the nearest exit. Then she reinforces this by passionately kissing pretty much anyone who comes her way.  We're only two weeks in. Isn't that a bit early for passionate kissing?

I'm digging JP, the construction worker from New York who distinguishes himself from the rest by having shorter hair and a nice NY accent. I kind of like West the Widower too. I'll probably keep watching just to see her blow this completely! Other than Zorro and Bad Bentley, the rest of them all sort of blend together for me.

I'm also watching The Voice. The show started out fairly interesting, with blind auditions and the four coaches - Adam Levine, Christina Aquilera, Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green picking people for their teams based on voice alone. That process took two weeks. Then, the coaches teamed up two members of their teams for a "Battle Round" where the two (or sometimes three since there were a couple of duos in the mix) sang the same song at the same time. The coaches chose one to pass through to the live shows, which start next week.

Some of the "not so attractive" singers did make the live rounds (they keep touting the "live" rounds as though they were the Idol finale), but some of the choices really irked me (like Jeff the big guy getting chosen over the girl with the bright red hair and Idol reject Emily Valentine getting bumped for the country dolt). The teams are not very well balanced, and there are three or four who stand out.

Here's where I get confused. There are 16 people left, and I'm assuming they will all perform next week and one from each team will be eliminated. I figured viewers would vote and the lowest vote getter would be eliminated. But that doesn't quite jibe with NBC's explanation. According to the NBC site:

In this final performance phase of the competition, the top contestants from each team will compete against each other during a live broadcast. The television audience will vote to save one contestant on each team, leaving the coach to decide live who they want to save and who will not move on. At last, each coach will have his/her best contestant left standing to compete in the finale. From these four, one will be named "The Voice" - and will receive the grand prize of a recording contract and $100,000. 

So, who knows how this will shake out. I'm only watching to see the awesome Beverly McClellan again. She's a bald, tattooed lesbian (and proud of it) who is without question the best female performer I've ever seen on any reality singing show. She must win! The Voice runs through June.

Saving the best for last, this week is the finale of CMT's Next Superstar, Nigel Lythgoe's country baby (strange since the winner and runner-up of this year's Idol were both country singers). I have really enjoyed this show and the various challenges the contestants faced. The Top 2 are Steven Clawson (made it to Hollywood on this year's Idol, but got the boot after they caught him with song lyrics written on his hand) and Matt Mason (finished fourth on Nashville Star in 2006 and is a recovering drug addict who uses his life experiences as inspiration for his songs). Matt should win this, although Steven is cuter and we know how that goes.

Simon Cowell's X-Factor debuts in September, so there won't be much of a gap in the singing shows this summer. I am boycotting America's Got Talent. Long story, but a friend of mine who is an excellent singer auditioned last year, blew everyone away, but never got a call back. I also think it's funny Lauren Alaina auditioned for the show twice with the same results.

So there you have it.