Before this week, the five most embarrassing words you could ever utter were: I have Blake Lewis' album. Scratch that — the five most embarrassing words you could ever utter were: I love Blake Lewis' album.
Still, I found myself defending the American Idol Season 6 alum's debut effort, A.D.D. (Audio Daydream), on a daily basis back in 2007. "Break Anotha," "Gots to Get Her," and "Know My Name" — tracks off of the album were catchy gems, embarrassing spelling be damned. To fans of Lewis — who has never been given the credit he's deserved for revolutionizing Idol by transforming into an artistry-based competition — there was little reason why the beat-boxing musician couldn't top the charts alongside the buzziest acts besides a very uncool association with the worst season worst of Idol of all time. (Sorry, Season 9 — you're still the winning loser.)
But Lewis is now getting the opportunity to have the last laugh. The Idol alum has not only scored a contract with Republic Records five years after getting dropped by Arista Records, but he's landed the soundtrack to Microsoft Internet Explorer's "Explore Touch" ad campaign. (Also known as the same company that forced Alex Clare's "Too Close" into your head for months straight.)
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The musician, however, isn't the only Idol alum to experience a career rebound years after their appearance on our television screens. Here are some other singers from the reality series who found surprising success after they missed out on a confetti shower.
Kimberly CaldwellSeason: 2 (2003)Post-Idol Struggles: Caldwell parlayed her Idol experience into various hosting gigs for FOX Sports and MTV's P. Diddy's Starmaker. In fact, the singer seemed to abandon singing altogether, instead making bit appearances on TV programs.When It Turned Around: In 20011, eight years after she was eliminated on Idol, Caldwell released a record uner Vanguard/Capitol Records. Unfortunately, even after being given a chance to rebound, Caldwell failed to impress, selling just 3,000 records, and returned to television to host Oxygen's Best Ink.
Jennifer HudsonSeason: 3 (2004)Post-Idol Struggles: The poster woman for post-elimination success failed to make a splash with her first first singles, "Over It" and "Stand Up"... When It Turned Around: ...which is exactly why Idol fans were shocked to hear the singer scored the role as Effie in the big-screen Dreamgirls adaptation. One Oscar and a successful acting career later, and we're starting to think that Elton John is freakishly prescient.
Constantine MaroulisSeason: 4 (2005)Post-Idol Struggles: The sixth place finisher became more well-known post-Idol for his performances of the National Anthem at sports games than his self-titled album released in 2007. When It Turned Around: But, O say, we didn't see his massive Broadway success coming. After a turn in the short-lived Wedding Singer Broadway show, Maroulis appeared off-Broadway before scoring a role in Rock of Ages in 2008. And the Rock of Ages stint came complete with something even better than a confetti shower: a Tony nomination.
RELATED: 'American Idol': Have We Found Season 12's Winner?
Kevin CovaisSeason: 5 (2006)Post-Idol Struggles: Really, did you expect Chicken Little do to anything after placed 11th in the reality competition series?When It Turned Around: Though he never scored a record contract, Covais', ahem, interesting looks caught Hollywood's attention two years later in 2008. The Idol alum scored roles in Drake Bell's College, Lindsay Lohan's Labor Pains, and, most recently, Identity Thief. And Chicken Little, against all odds, continues to act to this day.
Katharine McPheeSeason: 5 (2006)Post-Idol Struggles: The singer, who some found to be as unlikeable as she was talented, found only modest success as a singer. Singles off of her first album, Katharine McPhee, didn't quite hit as hard as "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and other Idol performances. One year later, she was dropped by RCA Records and in 2010, released Unbroken, which sold just 15,000 copies.When It Turned Around: Turns out audiences liked McPhee... just not as a singer. After acting alongside Anna Faris and Emma Stone in The House Bunny, McPhee scored the starring role on every musical theater's favorite hot mess, Smash. Though ratings for the series are still leaving something to be desired, McPhee has managed to at least make herself more likeable than Ellis.
Chris SlighSeason: 6 (2007)Post-Idol Struggles: Season 6's David Hasselhoff-loving funny man had everything going against him. Sligh finished in the unenviable 10th place, poised for little more than a footnote in American Idol's history of memorable auditions. After his season wrapped, Sligh recorded a solo album, but failed to gain attention outside of the Christian charts.When It Turned Around: The contestant, whose sense of humor clearly proved he had a talent for words, scored a No. 1 hit on the country charts with 2009's "Here Comes Goodbye," written for Rascal Flatts. Surely, that was enough to help him fulfill his goal to make Hasselhoff cry.
[Image Credit: Brian Dowling/PictureGroup/AP Images, Will Hart/NBC, Joseph Marzullo/WENN]
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A comedy featuring Steve Martin Jack Black and Owen Wilson creates certain expectations not the least of which is well laughter. But David Frankel’s (Marley & Me The Devil Wears Prada) anodyne feather-light film The Big Year in which the three actors star is less concerned with eliciting big laughs than offering earnest insights on the meaning of success and the value of friendship.
Delving into the subculture of hard-core birders (don’t call them bird-watchers) the film follows three men semi-retired industrialist Stu (Martin) schlubby corporate drone Brad (Black) and suburban contractor Kenny (Wilson) as they vie in a year-long competition known as the Big Year. The goal of the competition is simple: to spot as many different bird species in North America as possible. As current Big Year record-holder Kenny is something of a rock star in the birding world. His cocky carefree manner masks a stark determination to defend his hard-won celebrity – and his fragile ego – against the likes of upstarts Stu and Brad both of whom are Big Year rookies. None of the three leads stray far from type but they do offer slight tweaks to their usual screen personas: Wilson is sly and Machiavellian; Black tones down the buffoonery limiting himself to two (by my rough count) pratfalls; Martin’s sardonicism is tempered with humility.
There’s no prize for winning a Big Year; the sole reward is the adulation of fellow members of the birding community. Competition is surprisingly fierce. The three men frantically criss-cross the continent darting from one remote location to another in search of the next rare find. At first wary of each other Stu and Brad eventually unite over a mutual desire to defeat Kenny whose crafty gamesmanship has frustrated them both. Their strategic pact gradually evolves into a genuine friendship leading both men to discover that there are more important things in life than winning an amateur birding competition.
Shot on location in British Columbia the Canadian Yukon Upstate New York Joshua Tree and the Florida Everglades The Big Year is a visually striking film showcasing one breathtaking panorama after another. At times director Frankel appears more interested in the scenery than his characters who despite the script's copious exposition aren't particularly well-developed. The story at times seem aimless and unfocused and its relaxed pace may prove vexing for some. Indeed it did for me at first. But once I adjusted to its easygoing rhythm the film’s modest charms began to reveal themselves.
As devourers of pop culture we're quick to categorize our entertainment for our own safety. Comedy drama thriller sci-fi horror—everything we have the chance to consume has a label to ensure that we know exactly what we're getting.
Occasionally a movie defies classification. While not a revolutionary piece of cinema 50/50 is especially gratifying simply because of its abandonment of genre and the baggage that comes with owning one. The movie starts with a simple inciting incident: one day 27-year-old Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) learns that he has a life-threatening tumor growing on his spine. Of course the news doesn't sit well with the public radio producer who's in the middle of work on an exciting piece for his station just adjusting to living with his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) and sees his life as a lengthy exciting prospect. Adam never smokes he waits to cross the street he always tucks his shirts in and keeps his sweater vests tidy—what did he do to deserve this?
But Adam doesn't go on a quest to find his true self or spend days writing a bucket list. He lives his life—and its friends and family who feel the tremors of his disease. Rachael quickly finds herself off balance and unable to cope with Adam's situation while his mother Diane (Anjelica Huston) tries to coddle him finding a new opportunity she never found with her Alzheimer's-stricken husband. His co-workers throw him a guilt-induced party.
At a total loss Adam finds comfort in his pal Kyle (Seth Rogen essentially playing himself) who uplifts his spirits through dedication marijuana and loose women. Nothing seems to out-weigh the punch-in-the-gut feeling of losing his hair to chemotherapy or barely being able to walk around his house without feeling winded but Adam stays afloat thanks to Kyle's incessant goofiness and a newfound friendship in his therapist Katherine (Anna Kendrick). Equally out of water in her new job the two bond over their discovery of humanism in the scientific process of beating cancer and while the growth of their relationship is one of the few things in the film that feels remotely contrived it gives Adam hope in the face of his possibly-fatal surgery.
50/50 isn't sugar sweet nor is it stone cold serious. Director Jonathan Levine allows the events to unfold in a unique and reserved realism allowing the movie to bounce from laugh-out-loud funny (thanks in a large part to Rogen's star talent in a supporting role) to tearjerker drama without any broad segues. Gordon-Levitt has established himself as one of modern cinema's best watchers the type of actor who can float through a picture without making too much a ruckus but who's identifiable and helps us understand his surroundings. But he fits right in to the Apatow-style comedy Rogen and Levine conjure up throughout the movie. In one scene Adam chows down on some pot brownies courtesy of his elderly chemo-mates (Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer) leading him to groove around the hospital hall spaced out and loving it. It's an uproarious moment but poignant too—finally Adam can let go of a bit of his grief.
Providing a foundation for 50/50's minimalist tactics are the supporting cast. Howard once again proves her versatility turning an unsympathetic character into a dimensionalized presence. What Rachael does in the film isn't admirable but thanks to Howard's performance not entirely unreasonable. Huston and Kendrick are strong and grounded enough that when Adam begins to check out of life as surgery looms they don't disappear from the film. But it's Rogen who really steals the show perhaps because his friend and 50/50 writer Will Reiser based the movie on their real life experiences but the comedy-first actor steps up later in the film when the weight of reality starts to bring everyone down.
50/50 isn't a comedy or a drama but a portrait of real people surviving real hardships. Shedding a few tears over the course of the film is perfectly acceptable—the jokes are that funny and the emotion that powerful.
As Love Actually begins we are told that perhaps the world isn't such a dire and hateful place that "love actually is all around." Around London anyway. The film explores no less than seven different romantic scenarios within the bustling British capital--all of which interconnect and eventually resolve on Christmas Eve. There's the newly elected dashing Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) who is smitten with his secretary the earthy Natalie (Martine McCutcheon); Karen (Emma Thompson) whose husband Harry (Alan Rickman) has strayed with his seductive secretary Mia (Heike Makatsch); Sarah (Laura Linney) the American wallflower who has a crush on her colleague Carl (Rodrigo Santoro); Jamie (Colin Firth) who falls for his pretty Portuguese housekeeper Aurelia (Lucia Moniz)…there are lots more but you get the gist. As love goes things may not get tied up neatly in brightly colored packages for everyone but there's still enough good cheer to spread around.
Showcasing some of Britain's finest actors Love Actually doesn't have a bad banana in the bunch. Floppy-haired Hugh Grant turns in an endearing performance and proves there isn't a romantic comedy he can't handle. He has an uncanny knack for connecting with any actress he happens to be romancing; in this case it's the adorable McCutcheon best known for the hit British TV drama EastEnders. Rickman and Thompson are quite good as the couple whose long-term marriage is beginning to crack; Thompson especially does a nice job trying to hide her pain while being a happy mom. Linney too shines as Sarah who glows with excitement when she finally gets what she so ardently wished for. Veteran stage and film actor Bill Nighy (Underworld) however steals the show as a carefree aging rock star desperate for a comeback. His Billy Mack smacks of Mick Jagger Keith Richards and Rod Stewart all rolled into one.
"I'm worried that we don't have the word 'massacre' in the title " writer/director Richard Curtis fretted to Entertainment Weekly referring to how horror-loving American audiences might not take to his new romantic comedy that is already a huge hit in Britain. True perhaps a romantic comedy starring a multitude of A-list British actors might not bring in the required masses. But who cares about the money (did I just say that)? Curtis who has written some of the best romantic comedies of the last decade including Four Weddings and a Funeral Notting Hill and Bridget Jones' Diary steps behind the camera for the first time here and is able to give each story a unique point of view from the lovesick to the wacky. There actually may be too many stories in Love Actually but it's a small gaffe. Love Actually is a refreshing good old fashioned warm and gushy movie that takes your mind off the bad things for the holiday season and Curtis should feel confident about his directing debut.