January 8, 2012

What Is A 5-Million Dollar Song Made Of?



The American franchise of the Brit's X-Factor was concluded with a Latina, Melanie Amaro, winning the most coveted 5-M$ recording contract and a cool Pepsi endorsement!
I stopped watching singing competition for quite a while now, 'coz my appetite for all its "drama" has gone bland.  But The X-Factor USA offered something new - an extravagant, concert-like format in every elimination round, as if it's already "The Finale." 

Like any other reality TV shows, I always wonder how much truth is attached to its storylines. But I' m not saying I don't dig 'em at all.  Take Melanie's case. She was eliminated in the preliminary screening but Simon Cowell suddenly felt stomach-sick with his decision to kick Melanie out. So, he set aside his pride, admitted his mistake and literally fetched her back to the Top 12 bunch and the rest, as they say, is history. Maybe that kind of story sells.  It provides a richer plot in what could have been a sappy saga. Its predictability somehow added to its charm because it gives us a reason to stick around just to prove our theories were right in the first place. Maybe that's the fun part?!

So whenever time permits, I would check how it turns out. I've pretty much covered the audition and few parts of the actual competition.

So, here are my favorite contenders in their memorable performances:

Drew Ryniewicz
Drew is fresh.  In a competition where most contestants showcase their awesome but, oftentimes, acoustic-wrecking vocal range, Drew is a welcome change. She has that folk-y aura, calm but with a rock flavor in it. Her voice is a combination of soulful and soothing sound of  Sarah Mclachlan, pleasantly raucous, rock tone of  Alanis Morissette and  whimsical vibe of Dolores O'Riordan (of Cranberries). And to top it all, she's only 14. It's the kind of raw talent that you would want to see flourishing. She's  definitely to watch out for.

Chris Rene
 
Chris Rene exudes the X-Factor.  If I am to solely base it on the competition's title, it will be a definite home-run win for him. He came in the audition with a touching story to tell - an ex-junkie who hopes for a second chance. And he came prepared - performed his own song, "Young Homie," which featured his triumphant emancipation from his previous doped life. He evokes a certain charm, that you would want to see him through-and-through in hopes that he'll never stumble again.  This might be his real ticket to stardom. So far, it's working. He actually finished third, a significant feat for a not-so-technical singer.  

Josh Krajcik
 
It is not Josh's strongest performance... but it's the most memorable because he sang with one of my most favorite singers of all time, Alanis Morissette, and performed one of my most favorite songs of all time, Uninvited. Need I say more? I like Josh because he truly believes in his talent.  It may come across as arrogance but, for me, it is simply a genuine confidence in himself and his fierce singing prowess. When he sings, he roars - just like Simba roaring atop the Pride Rock to assume his Lion King stature in the Pride Lands. It's a kind of roar that soars and trembles in a good, affecting way! 

Melanie Amaro
 
This is a very predictable win. Strip aside all the drama and all of Simon's hullabaloos, Melanie can still win the competition because she is really good. When I saw this performance, I had goosebumps. My only concern is that she embodies the stereotypical image of a contender in any singing competition- a belter, the kind who would really belt out the highest octave every chance she gets to prove she's exceptional. And I always end up muttering, "Tsk, tsk,  just 'coz you could doesn't not mean you should!" Sometimes, it gets boring already.  I grew up believing that the only credible singers were Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston.  So, my younger years were pretty much spent appreciating the mind-boggling, eardrum-breaking voices of the divas.  I got tired of it, so I sought refuge from the "alternatives" or any genre that  would soothe my tired, dilapidated eardrums.  But to be fair, Melanie has what it takes and Paula couldn't be more right in putting it like so, "Melanie, you and your voice is like a fine china, just bring it out in the most special occasions. It's amazing!"

Well, since the competition is over, we'll just have to wait and see who will emerge triumphant in the real world. I still have my fingers crossed for Drew.

Do you agree with me? Or you have other roster of favorites? Com'on, I'd like to hear your picks!  You may post a comment below.

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January 2, 2012

Hong Kong, Big Kid's Wonderland!

Because of the cold weather (and my growing frustration brought by a cancelled travel plan to South Korea due to "some budget constraints") , I'm peculiarly feeling nostalgic of my first "semi-winter" experience, so I'm re-posting one of my first blogs about my travel in a foreign land... which I aptly called the Big Kid's wonderland! Here goes...

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My first out-of-the-country destination is Hong Kong. So it will always have a soft spot in me. It was the first time I got the feel of what living in a first (or a second) world country might be like. I went there during the winter month of January with my sister. Although it does not really snow in HK, it felt like it when I arrived. Temp scale: read 4°C! That's a lot of chill for a person who has lived in a tropical, highly-humid country all his life! But it was a welcome, chillaxin' change.
At The Peak
Day 1: After checking my stuff in at The City View Hotel in Kowloon (my sister arrived from Japan a little bit later, so my first day was spent pretty much alone), I was off exploring the busy streets of Nathan Road. My first impression? Hmmm... it looks like an upscale Binondo Street by day. But by nighttime, it transforms into rich juxtapositions of colors from billboards, to beaming neon streetlights, to fashionable locals. It almost looks like daytime at night. 


Street Foods Galore
There's a very distinct scent in every street corner. It smells like burnt fish with a hint of vanilla. Yeah, it's weird! But good weird. This peculiar aroma comes from different street foods in every corner. The gastronomic sight was as scrumptious as its scent. They're all stacked in grills and steamboat-style casseroles. All the exotic ones were there too... grilled octopus tentacles on stick, meatballs of all animal origins (smothered in their own greases and broths), sausages of different forms and sizes, exotic mushrooms wrapped in bacon or squid, air-puffed waffles… the lists are endless! And for someone who has a flair for the exotics (edible or not), it is a sight to behold - a heightened gastronomical indulgence indeed! And so I tried all the cheap treats I could fancy, one stick at a time!

MTR Subway
Day 2: Hong Kong is a very compact city. All destinations are at every tourist's disposal through the highly-efficient MTR... unlimited access for 3 days (including Airport Express) if you get HK$300 Octopus Card.  It can't get any better than that! First destination: The Peak at Central HK.  The best way to get there is through the infamous City Tram.  The ride's fun but it took us more than an hour to get on top of the hill. The line was excruciatingly long but delightfully varied… read popping eye-candies - Brazilian, Japanese, European tourists! Did I not mention I have a flair for the exotics (edible or not)? Wicked! A friendly, innocent conversations with fellow travellers won’t hurt (if you’re lucky).  But mostly, they are just minding their own business! So much for the exotic fantasy trick! hehe The long wait is worth it, when you get to the peak.  ‘Coz the view of the city down under is breathtaking.  It’s like a mini-New York City!  And then there's Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and The Peak Galleria shopping mall when you’re done “peaking.”

Top view of the Peak Galleria Shopping Mall
View of HK from The Peak
Image courtesy of http://the-peak-hong-kong.blogspot.com/
After The PEAK, we headed to the Avenue of the Stars  at  Tsim Sha Tsui back in Kowloon in time for the Symphony of Lights display.  The entire city was reduced into a giant lantern show at the other end of Central Bay.  It was amazing!  And then we strolled down the avenue, checking out the “stars” of the famous Hong Kong movie stars (just like their Hollywood counterparts).

Kowloon Cityscape Backdrop
Before heading back to the hotel, we went for midnight bargain shopping in Mongkok. We headed to the Lady’s Market. Don't fret, dudes, this shopping mecca is not just for the ladies. The experience is similar to midnight sale madness in Greenhills and Divisoria during the holidays… only 7°C colder. Shopping was a breeze despite the high-traffic situation in almost all lanes of the bargain shops. It’s funny how some store owners enticed you to check out their stuff through a very personalized invite - “Mula lang!” (Tagalog transalation: “Anu iyong hanap! Bili na! Mura lang!”). Evidence of many Pinoy travelers who already visited the market.  

Lady's Market @ Mong Kok
Day 3: Time to get whimsical.  Destination: Disneyland!  It is located in Lantau Island. From Kowloon, we took the MTR… two short interchanges later, we were at the Sunny Bay station.  The magic starts upon embarking the Disney-themed train.  It felt like going  to Hogwarts! A merry-go-round melody welcomed us at the entrance.  For HK$320, we got the whole day treat to, read this, “a spirit of fantasy and  youthful sense of adventures as we immersed in the classic Disney attractions and the magic of four themed lands: Main Street USA, Fantasyland, Adventureland, and Tomorrowland.” That’s what the brochure says.  And always true to its claim!  By late afternoon, we headed to Ngong Ping.  The home of the Giant Buddha.  One distinct characteristic of going to HK is that, in many occasions, we are brought to a heightened state. And I mean that literally.  Yesterday’s the Peak, today’s the cable car! Those who have fear of heights have to seriously consider the odds of traveling to HK.  But for me, it’s fierce!  I love the sensation of being on top! No pun intended! (winks!)
 
In a cable car heading on top of Ngong Ping (Giant Buddha)
My 3-day adventure in HK was sensational! But it’s never enough!  My appetite for this miniature country is insatiable… so I keep coming back for more!

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