CONCHITA WURST: FROM STARMANIA TO EUROVISION GLORY

With her Eurovision win Conchita Wurst has been the toast of Europe over the past week.  As I delve into her origins and her journey to glory, I discovered some interesting stories that I just can’t resist expressing my opinion on–it’s interesting how Conchita’s talent and persona evolved over the years.

Conchita first came to the spotlight under her real identity, Tom Neuwirth.  Tom was already an “out” gay teenager back in 2006, but at this point he definitely needed work on charisma as he came off like the way Clay Aiken was when he started out in American Idol Season 2.  The only difference was that Clay was still in the closet (remember in those days gay American Idol contestants don’t disclose their sexuality).  Below was his audition for Starmania (the Austrian equivalent to Idol but Austria did not get a franchise so we could not say it’s officially a counterpart), where he sang “Amazing Grace”, Pink’s “Get the Party Started”, and a German song.

Needless to say, he became a finalist in Starmania. He made a major enough impact to make it all the way to the finale where he was defeated by Nadine Beiler (who four years later represented Austria in Eurovision with the well-regarded “The Secret is Love”).  Two of his performances in this series seem to act as a precursor to his Eurovision destiny.  Below are his performances of Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” and a remake of Anna Vissi’s 9th place Eurovision 2006 entry, “Everything”.  “Goldfinger” seemed like a stage to Tom’s eventual metamorphosis, where Tom was like Clay Aiken starting to channel his inner Adam Lambert–though at around this time, Adam Lambert was still working the musical theater/cabaret circuit.

As a bonus, here is the girl who defeated Tom, Nadine Beiler, performing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in the Starmania finale, then at Eurovision 2011 with her song “The Secret is Love”.

After Starmania the producers of that show felt it might be best to further Tom’s career by putting him in a boyband so he became part of the group Jetzt Anders! (German for “Now, Different!”), but after releasing an album and two singles that performed respectably in Austria, the group disbanded.  I know the late Stephen Gately from Boyzone made a precedent by being an out gay guy within a group of hunky blokes (he came out in 1999), but though Tom’s vocal talents are one of the assets of this group, unfortunately it’s obvious a boyband is not a good fit for Tom.  Still it was obvious he gave his best effort with this.  See their official music video for the song “Immer und Ewig” (“Always and Forever”).

Tom lay low from the public eye for four years after Jetzt Anders! disbanded, and when he re-emerged in 2011, it’s now under the “bearded lady” persona and he assumed a new identity–Conchita Wurst.  “Conchita” was derived from the name of a Cuban friend, while “Wurst” is a play on a German word for sausage and the German phrase “Das ist mir doch alles Wurst” (“It’s all the same to me”, or “I don’t care”).  As Conchita, she joined the talent competition Die große Chance (think something in the lines of America’s Got Talent but this actually was around in Austria way before that franchise between 1980-1990; it was revived in 2011 in a competitive format).  This time, Conchita won.  Check out one of her performances in this contest, a rendition of the daunting Celine Dion hit, “My Heart Will Go On” during the show’s audition, then at the finale where she sang her first single, “Unbreakable”.

That victory fueled her to aim bigger, so in 2012 she competed in the Austrian national selection for Eurovision.  Her number was entitled “That’s What I Am”, and it’s actually a decent song–actually, it sounds like a good empowerment anthem.  But guess who beat her in the Austrian selection that year?  The Trackshittaz silly “Woki Mit Deim Popo”, which then fared in last place in the Eurovision semifinals and failed to quality into the finals.  Wonder how Conchita would’ve fared then if she was chosen instead?  Would she have advanced to the finals?  One thing is for certain–she wouldn’t have won because Loreen’s “Euphoria” was simply unstoppable that year.

Conchita was able to parlay her Die große Chance victory into celebrity-hood in Austria, as besides her attempt at Eurovision in 2012, she also appeared in a couple of reality shows, where she worked in a fish cannery and lived with a Namibian tribe.  An opportunity came when the Austrian broadcaster ORF decided not to hold a new search for their 2014 Eurovision entry and handpicked her instead.  It was controversial then because of the fact she’s a bearded drag queen, but it turns out the rest is history.  And it all boils down to one constant if you look through her journey thus far–Conchita Wurst is a terrifically talented singer.

It’s not always a guarantee that a Eurovision win will bring forth worldwide fame like it did ABBA or Celine Dion, but if an opportunity comes for Conchita to visit the US, one thing I would be looking forward to is her visiting Los Angeles and guesting in E! News.  I observed that Conchita looks like E! News host Giuliana Rancic if a beard is painted on her.  I bet that would be a fun opportunity that should be exploited, if you ask me.

Giuliana Rancic (image courtesy of contactmusic.com)

It dawned on me after exploring Conchita Wurst’s journey to fame that she actually paid her dues, and her ticket to stardom is something simple and old-fashioned–true, bonafide talent.  I also admire her gracious, down-to-earth demeanor and character so far and hope she remains grounded even if she exploits the opportunities that opened up for her.  More power and love for Conchita!

JUST ME!

JOSEPH

(Image courtesy of ORF and Eurovision.tv)

THE VINDICATION OF CANDICE GLOVER (PART 2) AND THE LAZARO DILEMMA

Candice Glover performing “Love Song” (image courtesy of Fox)

Top 6 week on American Idol Season 12 featured two game-changing events:  the emergence of Candice Glover as a viable commercial and artistic entity, and the elimination of the last male remaining in the competition, Lazaro Arbos, making it an all-female Top Five (the first time ever this ever occurred).

Prior to this week, several people acknowledged that Candice has an undeniable vocal ability, but they doubted that outside of this contest, Candice could be a viable, credible artist.  Despite a sterling performance of the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” the previous week, Candice ended up middle-of-the-pack and three of the four judges did not select her as part of their overall Top Three.  Doubt seemed to enter into several peoples’minds about what Candice can offer as an artist besides her vocal ability.

Those doubts seemed to have been erased when Candice finally got to perform for this week’s two themes, songs written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and songs the contestants wish they have written.  For the former, Candice selected Dionne Warwick’s 1962 debut single, “Don’t Make Me Over”.  During this round, the judges tend to label most contestants’ performance “old-fashioned”.  Though Candice still kept the song arranged in a similar slow ballad style (unlike the way Sybil updated the song back in 1989 with a dance beat), the judges praised her performance as modern, as it was more of a timeless bluesy delivery that sounds current (just like, say, both Rose Royce and Mary J. Blige’s versions of “I’m Goin’ Down” still sounds fresh to this day similar to the way Candice delivered it weeks ago).

As stunning as that performance was, that was then overshadowed by the revelatory, astounding performance that was her version of the Cure’s “Lovesong”.  Even if Adele also has a killer version of this tune on her diamond-certified 21 album that inspired Candice’s eventual approach, it was an out-of-left-field choice that seems risky on paper, but generated an abundance of rewards in the end.  Candice gave the tune a jazzy torch song touch and delivered it with her patented vocal virtuosity but with emotional heft that left everyone watching moved and exhilarated.   The ovations and highfalutin praise after that performance was truly well-deserved.  If Simon Cowell was still part of this show, he would likely label it a ”vocal masterclass”.

As TVLine’s Michael Slezak wrote in his review of Candice’s former performance, he had visions of Candice becoming America’s answer to Adele.  When he wrote that it clicked on me that Candice could indeed become that and we have a way how Candice can indeed be commercially viable in this marketplace.  Now, I don’t know if Candice is capable of writing her own songs, but she can use her talent to connect with the audience emotionally with the right songs the way Adele does (and how Adele sold millions and millions and bucked the declining trends in the recording industry).   Like the way Adele has collaborated with rock artists (remember she co-wrote ‘‘Someone Like You’‘ with the frontman of Semisonic), Candice has demonstrated how she can navigate the rock idiom really well with her performances of the Beatles’ ”Come Together’‘ and the aforementioned ”Satisfaction”.  Come to think of it, she even showed how she navigated rock wonderfully last year with that now classic Vegas Round group performance with Jessica Sanchez and DeAndre Brackensick, as it was by rock-n’-roll pioneer Buddy Holly.  Remembering her full home video version of her audition song, Duffy’s ”Syrup and Honey”, I think she can do wonders covering another classic rock artist like, say, Van Morrison (I think she can lend a gospel, spiritual feel to his classic Astral Weeks track ”Sweet Thing”, for instance–someone should send that album for her to listen to, stat!).

Lazaro Arbos (image courtesy of Fox)

Stutterer Lazaro Arbos, the last boy standing in this season of American Idol was eliminated this week.  In my and many people’s reckoning, it’s finally good riddance.  He was supposed to be an ”inspirational” story, especially with his audition as it was a sharp contrast from his stuttering speech to his rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s ”Bridge Over Troubled Water”.  Some assume he could be like American Idol’equivalent of Britain’s Got Talent’s Susan Boyle, who is now a major recording artist.

He seemed to pass muster during Hollywood Week, but then came his first televised full performance during the Vegas Top 40 round, and signs of trouble began with his horrible evisceration of Keith Urban’s ”Tonight I Wanna Cry”.  People over the internet had mentioned that his singing ability is far from remarkable, but I would’ve tolerated it better if he at least keeps on singing on-key.  He redeemed himself somewhat with his performance of Nina Simone’s ”Feeling Good’‘ during the Top 10 Boys’ round, but as the weeks went on, his performances shown no signs of growth or was he proving any convincing case that he performed more strongly than the other finalists out there that him outlasting the other singers is starting to be like a joke–he has turned into this season’s equivalent of Season 6 7th place finalist, Sanjaya Malakar who continuously delivered horrendous performances but had a major fanbase that made him outlast more talented contenders.

I don’t want to join in the numerous chorus of online jeerers for this person, but unfortunately not only are his performances bad, he exacerbates things with his attitude–it seems that he’s actually using his handicap as a means of entitlement, that he deserved preferential treatment and be subjected to a lower standard than what the others have to hurdle because of his condition.  This is displayed with the excuses he makes with his now notorious mangling of the Beatles’ ”In My Life” and how he forgets lyrics in his group number with Devin Velez and Burnell Taylor (to the Four Tops’ ”I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)”).  Worse, over the web there are reports that Lazaro is blaming the brutal internet comments for his poor performances.  It makes me wonder if the reason why he cannot get any job besides being an ice cream scooper was not because people are mean, but it has something to do with Lazaro’s true character?

His less-than-inspirational conduct is almost as if Lazaro’s stuttering is a fraud and we are duped by his condition.  Well, I’d like to give Lazaro the benefit of the doubt and consider his condition real, but what he displays in his attitude and performances nullifies the inspirational goodwill he was supposed to represent.  Somehow, it dawns on me that there is actually a more inspirational story out there–Kree Harrison, who was orphaned young by the passing of both her parents and having to fend for herself and her siblings because of it.  She makes no excuses about it and carries on with life, and she is blessed with a gorgeous voice who consistently delivers warm, flawless performances.  This one is someone we ought to rally around instead of Lazaro, don’t you think?

True inspiration: Kree Harrison (image courtesy of Fox)

On a final parting note, I’m inspired by the Carmen Miranda ditty “Lady in a Tutti-Frutti Hat” to sing a verse about Lazaro:

La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-Lazaro

Ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, what a big no-no

Stuttering with a bowtie but lacking pitch

He is no better than any lowlife bitch.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH

AMERICAN IDOL SEASON 12: THE VINDICATION OF CANDICE GLOVER AND FRUSTRATION OVER PAUL JOLLEY

Candice Glover (image courtesy of Fox)

Despite the low TV ratings, I was extremely pleased with the caliber of talent in Season 11 of American Idol, in my opinion probably the strongest and most talented group of Top 10 contestants ever, arguably even better than the caliber of highly-regarded Seasons 5, 7, 8, and 10.  But this season also featured one of the biggest injustices as the judges (or probably with the hand of Nigel Lythgoe) eliminated Candice Glover in the Las Vegas group round even after delivering an awesome, now-all-time-classic group number covering a hot buttered soul rearrangement of Buddy Holly’s “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” with eventual American Idol runner-up Jessica Sanchez and 8th placer Deandre Brackensick.  She was way better than the wildcards they eventually offered (all boys, and the one who made it eventually was disqualified after making the Top 12).  You wonder what if she was the one who was given the wildcard instead.  Anyway, just as a reminder, here is that fiery, barn-burning soul number:

Candice previously auditioned in Season 9 (made it to Hollywood) and 10 (but did not even pass muster with the producers to be presented to the judges, for some odd reason).  And I was dreaming that when the Idols went on tour near Candice’s hometown, they’ll vary their repertoire a bit to make way for Candice to go onstage with Jessica and Deandre and perform that number (or that Jessica and Deandre perform the song with either Holly Cavanaugh or Joshua Ledeet). But unfortunately they did not vary their setlist for the tour* and it’s the same for all tour dates.  But I discovered that Candice was in the audience in one of those dates and got backstage passes, where she then got to perform that song–not onstage, but more as a fun lark as a document of her backstage reunion with Jessica and Deandre, preserved on YouTube to our delight, below:

* Another wish I had about the Idol tour was that for the Manila date (which I watched at Smart Araneta Coliseum), that Heejun Han perform Psy’s “Gangnam Style” since it was a big, rising trend at the time and was a big hit in Manila then.  They just stuck to “Party Rock Anthem”, unfortunately, even if they could’ve easily segued that LMFAO song with the Psy hit.

It’s a good thing Candice persevered and auditioned again in Season 12 as finally she got a break.  I suppose because of the audience outrage over last year’s early elimination, she is now pimped as one of the “chosen ones”.  But the great thing is, Candice has been delivering sterling vocal performances that made her worthy of going all the way to the finals, even starting from her audition song for the judges, Duffy’s “Syrup & Honey”:

As TVLine’s Michael Slezak raved, her performance was “surgical precision”.  It’s also worth checking her own home video of the full song on her YouTube account:

Another favorite performance of mine was her Hollywood Round group number with eventual Top 40 semifinalists Kamaria Ousley and Melinda Ademi (and also-ran Denise Jackson), perfecting Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops!)” (a number that typically stumps other Hollywood Round contenders).  Of course Candice was given a solo highlight in the group doing all those vocal runs:

My next favorite performance was the victory song she performed when it was announced she made the Top 10, as she covered Rose Royce and Mary J. Blige’s “I’m Goin’ Down”.

She is now assured of going on tour, but we all know she has her eyes on the prize, and she was a major highlight in the Top 10 thus far with her earth-shattering version of Ben E. King’s “I (Who Have Nothing)”, which have also been previously performed (to critical raves) by Season 6 champion Jordin Sparks and Season 10 third placer Haley Reinhart.  May she continue on to her lofty path to the finale.

Now, I don’t want to end my essay in a negative note, but I want to vent my frustration over one of the Top 10 Idol finalists, Paul Jolley.  Of the guys of the Top 10 he has the potential to be a bigger star as he actually has strong vocals, and he is arguably the best looking of the guys.  But why is it that ladies (and gay guys) aren’t swooning over him?  He resembles two of the hunkiest men in showbusiness, actor Dylan McDermott (yes, he’s over 50 but lawd is he so hunky!) and Maroon 5  frontman (and The Voice coach and judge) Adam Levine, but why can’t he seem to capitalize on those looks?

Paul Jolley (image courtesy of Fox)
Dylan McDermott (image sourced from becksmithhollywood.com)
Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine (image sourced from theberry.com)

Part of the problem is that he seems to be so unsure about the kind of artist he wants to be–he may say he wants to be pop-country, but he sounds rather tentative when he declared that.  Worse, when he speaks he lacks any semblance of confidence and he tends to sound wishy-washy, and he has rather effeminate movements and an effete speaking voice that makes my gaydar go “ding-ding-ding” (though I have to note that my gaydar is not 100% accurate).  He lacks the manly confidence that I could see in Idol hunks like Bo Bice, Constantine Maroulis, Chris Daughtry, Ace Young, David Cook, Kris Allen, Matt Giraud, Anoop Desai (yes, he’s a hunk of the alternative sort), Lee Dewyze, Casey James, James Durbin, Paul McDonald, Stefano Langone, Phillip Phillips, and Colton Dixon.  Hell, I can even argue that the out and proud Adam Lambert, the boyishly geeky Anthony Federov, the effete Sanjaya Malakar, and the virginally androgynous Deandre Brackensick seem to exude more masculinity than he does, so this guy is in serious trouble.  I hope he’s not spayed and neutered or aspiring to become a singing Ken doll.

One train of thought that seems to make most sense to me is that he needed to be in the closet because he loves country music and unfortunately the country music industry is still conservative and homophobic.  He has been singing around in the country circuit since his teens, as exhibited by this video at the Kentucky Opry when he was 19, covering Keith Urban’s “Tonight I Wanna Cry”(yes, and doing a better job than La-La-Lazaro A-A-Arbos’s butchery a few weeks ago).

But I want to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s simply an effeminate heterosexual, but if that’s the case he must figure out his real passions and translate that in the way he carries himself and in his performances or otherwise he’ll get the boot very soon.  It might be too late to inject him with swagger and passion, I feel, because at this stage it might seem jarring, unnatural, and abrupt.  He’s such a waste of hunky potential, tsk, tsk.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH