Sunday, August 21, 2016

Adele - So Nice, I Saw Her Thrice!

During her eight-show run at Staples Center, I saw Adele two nights in a row. Even though the setlist remained the same, both shows were totally enjoyable. And I had seen her already earlier this summer at Glastonbury (I didn't know she would be headlining Glastonbury when I bought the LA tickets last December). Getting tickets wasn't easy - three of us tried right when the tickets went on sale and spent over an hour in the virtual waiting room cursing AXS, but we lucked out in the end. Note: this review contains spoilers.



I first saw Adele at the Greek Theater in 2011. I had just hopped on the “21” bandwagon and decided to go to the show on the spur of the moment, buying a single seat when a few tickets remained on the day of the show. I was really enchanted by her easy-going stage presence and chatter. Picking Wanda Jackson as an opening act solidified Adele as an old soul. Many of us sang along with the songs and all could relate to the tales of heartbreak that made the album such a sensation. Who knew that we’d have to wait five years for the next album and Adele would have surgery, find a soulmate and have a kid in the meantime, all before “25”?

I got the pleasure of seeing Adele at Glastonbury earlier this summer. I’m still working on a story about that festival, but I have to say Adele was one of the highlights. She had said she was afraid to play for such a huge crowd, but she held that crowd of 150,000 in the palm of her hand. She shared stories of her own Glastonbury experiences and her love of the festival. She was self-deprecating yet powerful. There is nothing to compare to being in a reverent crowd that huge, all of whom know the words to all the songs and don’t mind standing in the mud and rain for two hours just to be with her. This collection of her quotes from Glastonbury shows that she manages to be totally herself in front of the crowd, as if she were just out to happy hour with some girlfriends telling stories. 


I don’t think I’ll ever have another Adele experience like Glastonbury, but the Staples Center shows were still great. The first show was Tuesday, August 9, and we had good seats, on the club level with a side view of the stage.  So I was much closer than I’d been at Glastonbury where we stood pretty much in the middle of a huge field.  



Adele began the show ascending from below to a small stage toward the rear of the arena and performed “Hello.” She made her way to the main stage and sang “Hometown Glory,” utilizing the big screens behind her to show footage of London and then footage of LA to elicit the predictable screams of recognition from the crowd. After “One and Only,” she paused to chat a bit and let us know that she only had a couple upbeat songs and she would be playing them fairly quickly. And she reminded us that even though they sound upbeat, they really are just as depressing as her other songs. She then launched into “Rumor Has It.”

Another highlight was “Skyfall,” and she told the story of how she got to fulfill the dream of doing a Bond theme. I love the Bond themes and hers just soars. 


She moved to a smaller stage in front of the main stage with a few band members to perform a country version of “Don’t You Remember” that she said was influenced by her love of Alison Krauss. She also did a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” on that stage, and she asked everyone to turn the flashlights on their cell phones on to light up the room. It was a beautiful effect.



There were many breaks where she told stories and gave us a peek into her stream of consciousness thinking. We learned she loves LA, particularly the Bristol Farms grocery stores where she can find many of her favorite British food imports. She talked about how much she loves America and how she had fantasized about being American: "I always wanted a locker, a prom, and an accent." Seeing her two nights in a row, I heard many of the same stories, but it didn’t feel scripted. Her exuberance and ease with the crowd felt genuine. On the first night, she called up two gay guys who she had noticed were dancing very animatedly, and they invited her to their upcoming nuptials. On the second night, she called up three eleven-year-old girls who nearly fainted with excitement, and she apologized to their mothers for all the swearing she would be doing during the show. 

For the Wednesday show, I sat in the first row of the upper level toward the rear of the arena. While it was less of an immediate experience, I could see the screens better and appreciated the lighting and effects more from this angle.



Probably the most moving song was “Chasing Pavements.” Adele gave a long introduction about how this was the song that allowed her to break through in the US and she invited the audience to sing along. She had moved to the stage in the rear of the floor area and they dropped curtains on all sides of it and projected her image on the curtains which created a neat effect. She then delivered “Someone Like You” before closing the set from that stage with “Set Fire to the Rain,” while rain fell where the curtains had been hanging.  It was quite a dramatic close to the show.  



Of course, she returned for an encore, performing “When We Were Young,” and then giving us one final chance to dance to “Rolling in the Deep.”  Confetti rained down and the nearly two-hour show came to a close. Go see this show if you can. Her albums may be titled and centered on her specific ages, but she's a talent for the ages.  

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Friday, April 08, 2016

I Wanted More from "Everbody Wants Some"

When I saw the trailer for Everybody Wants Some, I couldn't have been more excited - here was a sorta sequel to my favorite Richard Linklater film Dazed and Confused, set in my favorite decade (the 80s) and featuring my favorite sport (baseball).  Perhaps my expectations were just too high because the film really fell flat for me.  I can identify a few issues:

  • Women's roles - There's only one female character in the film who actually gets a name and a little development as a love interest for our hero Jake. Still, she seems more like a muse than a fully developed character
  • Casting - Most of the actors are in their late 20s. With the mustaches, they look more like 30. They just don't seem convincing as college students. I find it hard to believe Linklater couldn't find enough quality actors in the 19-22 range for the roles.
  • Lack of depth - There's some attempt at philosophizing over the bong, led by the likable Willoughby (played by the cute Wyatt Russell, spawn of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn), but it doesn't get deep at all. It seems to be included so the film can pretend to be aspiring to be more than "Porky's."
  • Lack of baseball - There's only one scene where the guys actually play baseball, and there's no game situation. We are shown their competitive spirit in other ways, such as ping pong and knuckles competitions. But baseball as a subject is ripe for philosophizing, as we've seen in films ranging from Bull Durham to Field of Dreams to Moneyball. Linklater, who played baseball himself, really does nothing with it.  The one scene I liked comes in the beginning where the All-American star hitter on the team tells the freshman pitcher, our hero Jake, that they'll never be friends because of his mistrust of pitchers. There could have been a lot more of that.
  • Unrealistic settings - There's a party thrown by the drama students that rivals some of the biggest corporate parties I organized or attended while working at Google, These corporate parties had huge art direction budgets. I just can't believe students would be able to pull that together, especially on the weekend before school actually starts. It just feels like it's thrown in for entertainment value. The party at the Moon Tower in Dazed and Confused was much more realistic.
  • Boring main character - Although cute and likable, Jake is something of a cypher. The title tells us "everybody wants some" but we have no idea what Jake really wants. He seems to want to get laid, but he doesn't obsess over it. He doesn't think about baseball at all. He kinda likes the female character with a name. It's all a bit wishy washy. 
Dazed and Confused was a triumph because even though it only took place on one night, it showed us a range of different characters who were able to find some common ground.  We learned a lot about different cliques, and characters were individualized.  American Graffiti is another film that covered the same ground, and did it well, also with a killer soundtrack. Everybody Wants Some has the great soundtrack, but, by focusing on just the jocks, and not really differentiating them from typical jocks, it fails to take things to the level of low-key profundity that these other films achieved.  

On the positive side, the soundtrack is killer. And there are a couple of outstanding performances: newcomer Temple Baker is hilarious as a freshman catcher who's not the sharpest pencil in the box, and Glen Powell as the smooth-talking Finn is poised to get the Matthew McCoughnahey breakout award. 

The film has some fun moments and some laughs, but I found myself bored and looking at my watch halfway through it. It's getting glowing reviews, but I think if people really think about it, they will have to acknowledge it doesn't live up to its predecessor or the promise of its topic and era.  

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American Idol: The Final Finale, Part II

Wow, that was such a fun finale - a total stroll down memory lane!  

Winner: Trent Harmon

I was really disappointed that La'Porsha Renae didn't win. Her story really moved me this season, and I felt she had the most presence and star quality. She's a true diva who channels Tina Turner and Mary J. Blige.  I'm sure she will have a career.  This felt sort of like when Kris Allen beat Adam Lambert. Somehow America's mainstream tastes prevailed and a talented white male singer beat a unique butterfly.  I don't feel it was a grave miscarriage of justice, because Trent is hella talented, no doubt.  But La'Porsha has that American Dream story and, as Kelly Clarkson pointed out, it would have been cool to have a woman be the first and the final winner.  Idol has had only 5 female winners, and 10 male winners. Yet the two biggest icons of the show (Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood) are both female.

Some highlights from tonight's show...
  • Idols as Angels: I loved the opening number "One Voice" where Idols past and present filled the stage and all were wearing white. This felt like the Ghosts of Idols Past. 
  • Dunkelman is back! It was fun to hear a little repartee between Seacrest and Dunkelman again.
  • Sanjaya's wigs: While he didn't get to speak, we glimpsed Sanjaya in the audience twice - once with a huge Mad Max mohawk and once in a powdered wig.  
  • Simon, Paula and Randy: This was a fun reunion to witness. It wouldn't have been a satisfying finale without seeing these three and especially Simon, and he really did seem moved by it all. He's still looking good. We wrote these love haikus for Simon back in 2002. 
  • The Rocker medley: I loved seeing Bo Bice with short hair (unrecognizable, but he looks good), Constantine Maroulis, Caleb Johnson, James Durbin, and Chris Daughtry perform together. 
  • Idol Gives Back tribute: Harry Connick and Marley Fletcher, a kid from The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music in the 9th ward of New Orleans, sang "What A Wonderful World" together, in a touching segment honoring the Idol Goes Back charity that has raised $185 million for underserved youth in the US and around the world.
  • 3 Divas Reunited: LaToya London, Fantasia Barrino, and Jennifer Hudson sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water" to remind us how much the show had gone downhill since they were The Class of Season 3.
  • J Lo the Showgirl: her segment was basically a commercial for her Vegas show. Well, I'm sold.
  • William Hung: Yes, they needed to go there. 

Old idols I was happy to see again...
  • Tamyra Gray: She looked fierce, singing "Sober" with Jordin Sparks and Kara DioGuardi and singing "Girl Crush" on her own.  She was one of the most memorable contestants from Season 1. We wrote a bunch of haikus about the contestants of Season 1 back in the day.  
  • Justin Guarini: Justin looks pretty handsome with the shorter hair. He can no longer be compared to Sideshow Bob.
  • Carrie Underwood: I have to admit I was too hard on her back when I wrote this screed about her after she won Season 4. She has grown a lot of personality since then. She always had the voice but I found her wooden.  Now her songs are sassy and smart.  And she even did a passable Stevie Nicks tonight, singing "Stop Dragging My Heart Around" with Keith Urban.
  • Constantine Maroulis: He's my all-time favorite Idol. I wrote these haikus about Constantine back in the day. 
  • Kelly Clarkson: Although her performance was taped due to her being unable to attend due to impending childbirth, it was still fun to see a hugely pregnant Kelly sing a medley of her many hits. 
  • Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo: Idol put them on stage together tonight but failed to mention they are married - missed opportunity to showcase a true Idol love connection. Diana is only 28 but something about her face and hair makes her look like she's in her 40s - can't really put my finger on it but she's always had that look. 
  • Taylor Hicks: He's my second-favorite Idol and I wish we'd seen more of him tonight, but how about that stylin' purple velveteen jacket?
I doubt this is really the end, but it's certainly been a great ride, especially those early years when it was all new and some true superstars were found.  

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Wednesday, April 06, 2016

American Idol: The Final Finale, Part I

Tonight we said goodbye to teen dream Dalton Rapattoni. I am sad to see him go as I too found him dreamy, and he was the show's only rocker.  But I think Dalton will be just fine. He would be a great frontman for an indie rock band, or he could have a great solo career ahead of him. He got to sing his Idol song before he left. It was a catchy tune called "Strike a Match." 

  

So, our Final Two are Trent Harmon and La'Porsha Renae, and I don't think anyone would disagree that they were the two strongest singers in the Top Ten. So America got it right. They both sang three songs tonight.

Trent Harmon - Trent's Idol song is called "Falling." It was soulful and showed off his range. I always find these Idol songs somewhat forgettable. Next Simon Fuller chose "If You Don't Know Me By Now" for Trent. He was very confident and delivered the song with soul, feeling the lyrics. Keith said it was a great song for him. J Lo said he's going to give La'Porsha a run for her money and it may be the closest vote ever.  For the song of his own choice, he reprised "Chandelier" by Sia. It was so impressive how he hit the high notes. He was pitch perfect and got a huge ovation, Harry said he's making this the hardest decision in the history of Idol. Keith said his vocal transitions are amazing, J Lo said she knew he would be in the final two and that he deserves to win. 


La'Porsha Renae - La'Porsha's Idol song is "Battles." I preferred it to Trent's song as it was anthemic, and it fit her story. Simon Fuller asked La'Porsha to sing "A House is Not a Home," and she was terrific. It made me miss Season 1 when they did a whole theme week devoted to Bacharach songs. La'Porsha pulled back a bit and delivered it in a Dionne Warwick vein.  She looked terrific in a sparkly gown with jewels. J Lo said it was so beautiful. Harry said it was her most complicated song melodically. Keith said it was smoldering. For the song of her own choosing, she picked "Diamonds" by Rihanna, which she had sung in the Top Ten week. It really showed off her stage presence and the strength of her vocals.  She got a big ovation and the crowd chanted her name. She started to cry. Keith said she and Trent both chose black diamond runs and sailed down the hill. J Lo said she can't wait to go to a La'Porsha concert and cut loose. Harry asked who was the "you and I" she was singing about and she said it was her daughter, thus reminding viewers again of her dramatic backstory.


Prediction - I think La'Porsha is going to win, but the vote might be close. They both gave it their all tonight. I just think La'Porsha connects a bit more with the audience and has the brightest star quality. 

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Monday, April 04, 2016

KISS Unplug for the LA KISS Faithful

I've been a season ticket holder for the LA KISS since the team was founded three years ago, and finally I feel all the suffering with the mediocre team really paid off.  Being a fan of a losing team is nothing new to me - my family were season ticket holders for the football Cardinals when the team was in St. Louis. Plus, I grew up Catholic. So I'm good at suffering. 

In the first season, LA KISS season ticket holders were promised a full KISS concert, and the band delivered. But it took them a long time to figure out a date that worked with the arena and the band's touring schedule, and it ended up being a date when I had to travel for work. The team only won three games that year, but there was a lot of entertainment value, with tribute bands playing pre-game concerts and halftime, BMX stunt bike shows, dancers, and pyro. They had dancing girls in cages suspended from the ceiling. You could call it "the greatest show on turf" without even talking about the game. In the second season, there were management changes and a lack of effort. The owners rarely attended the games (but to be fair, they were on tour most of the season). There was no KISS concert, much less extracurricular entertainment at the games, very little schwag, but the team improved in the second half of the season and made the games competitive. They ended with a record of 4-14.  

In the offseason, management made a lot of moves under new CEO Joe Windham, including hiring a new coach, Omarr Smith, and acquiring many players from last year's champion San Jose Sabercats after that team went out of business (Arena Football is a shaky business).  And they announced some schwag items and the thing we were all hoping for - another KISS concert just for the season ticket holders.  And this time it would be unplugged, sans makeup and pyro! 

I had to skip the last day of the Association of Writing Programs conference to catch this show, but it was really no contest for me.  I had already had two days of the conference to be highbrow and then needed to indulge my lowbrow side.  We arrived at the Honda Center in Anaheim around 12:15pm and there were only about 30 people in line. The first two people in line had arrived at 8:50am.  The first 500 people would be able to watch the concert from the field. We had fun chatting with other fans in line until we were let into the arena around 1:45pm. We headed straight for the field and were able to get a second row centered standing position. The pair who had arrived at 8:50am were against the barrier right in front of us, and I was quite happy because the gal was much shorter than me so I would have a clear view. 

The band took the stage around 3:00pm and they were all wearing sunglasses except for Tommy. Gene and Paul were in jackets and jeans. They kicked off the acoustic show with "Coming Home" and continued with "Calling Dr. Love" and everyone sang along.  It was certainly surreal to be so close to the band, and in such an intimate setting.  Although we were on the football field in a big arena, there were only 500 of us, so it felt like a club show. The fans who came later were sitting in the stands. Paul hyped up what a great season it was going to be and thanked us all for being fans.  




As usual, Paul did the talking, and Gene was stoic.  Tommy sat for more than half the show and Paul made a big deal when he finally stood up. He also pointed out to the crowd that Tommy was single. When a fan complimented Gene's bass, Paul said, "He'll be glad to sell it to you." And Gene nodded that he would.  "How much for that pink pocket square, Gene?" Paul asked.  "One million dollars," Gene deadpanned.  Sure enough, I saw a sales kiosk for Gene's basses when I walked around the arena concourse later that day.  




Paul explained the origins of "Goin' Blind" while musing that they almost were 93 years old like the character in the song (Simmons is 66, Stanley is 64). "Plaster Caster" was a highlight for me, as I have always loved that song.  



The band sounded great, and it was fun to just enjoy the songs without all the theatrics.  We tried in vain to catch one of the many picks they threw. Thankfully a front row fan who caught a bunch gave us one after the show. 

Toward the end of the set, they attempted to cover "Take It Easy" by the Eagles in honor of Glenn Frey but they stumbled through it. Paul admitted they probably should have made sure they knew the words.  It was still fun to watch and a sweet tribute.  Drummer Eric Singer got a chance to sing on the final song "Beth." 



The show was a little over an hour, and I felt like I was in a dream.  I had only been this close to the band during signing events. My KISS fandom began at age 5 when I carried a KISS lunchbox to kindergarten, so this was really an incredible experience. 

The band came back and played two songs at halftime for all the fans in attendance: "Shout It Out Loud" and "Rock and Roll All Night." And the team really did look good and actually won the game!  We picked up our season ticket holder schwag - orange "LA KISS Corps" backpacks, designed by Paul, and the bags included lanyards and pins for each of the seasons we had been season ticket holders. Just like the bobbleheads they gave out the first year, the pins will be collectible, and that's what us KISS fans dig. 

It's a shame that only 6800 people attended the game, even with the KISS performance at halftime which should have been a great incentive. Hopefully it will be a good season and more people will come if they keep winning. I already feel like I got my money's worth.  And lord knows I've given KISS enough cash over the years to buy Gene a lot of pocket squares and probably a few basses! 



Check out all my photos from the concert

Visit the LA KISS website


Setlist

  1. Coming Home
  2. Calling Dr. Love
  3. Hard Luck Woman
  4. C'mon and Love Me
  5. Love 'em and Leave 'em
  6. Mainline
  7. Christine Sixteen
  8. Goin' Blind
  9. Do You Love Me
  10. Nothin' to Lose
  11. Love Her All I Can
  12. Plaster Caster
  13. Got to Choose
  14. Take It Easy
  15. Beth

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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Concert Review: Father John Misty - Opening Night in the OC

I've never seen so much PDA in a concert crowd as I did tonight at the opening show of Father John Misty's new tour at The Observatory in Santa Ana. The guy just exudes so many pheremones that he's like a giant living, breathing bottle of Axe Body Spray. People can't help but respond in kind. 

Tess and Dave opened the show and seemed like a likable and fun duo, although I only saw their last two songs.  They are also in Father John's band.

Misty strutted through most of his catalog to the delight of a crowd that hung on and sang along to his every word.  He had a couple technical problems and said it was due to it being the first night. At one point, he had to stall, so he encouraged fans that this would be the time to take cell phone pics if they must, and he posed like a rock god. He even took one woman's phone and took a selfie and handed it back. Many times he approached the folks in the front row, who must have waited many hours to nab those spots at the sold out show, and he grabbed their hands. Yes, love and lust were in the air. When someone yelled out "I love you" during a break in the action, Misty said he loved us too, but then qualified the statement to say perhaps it was just infatuation. 

The dude has a lot of sex appeal, although the songs are about love and marriage almost as much as boning. I'm not normally into skinny guys with beards, but tonight I made the connection of why I dig him so much. He reminds me of my soft rock heroes of the 70s - Dave Loggins, Harry Nilsson, Herb Alpert, Gordon Lightfoot, Bertie Higgins, Gerry Rafferty. His voice has that richness and perfect tone and the melodies have an easy listening vibe along with a sharp sense of humor. I heard one girl in the crowd describe him as being "like a dreamy Charles Manson." 

We were treated to two killer covers - "Because the Night" by Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith and "Kiss It Better" by Rhianna.



Misty played 90 minutes. He closed the set with a rousing rendition of "I Love You Honeybear" and then returned for a three-song encore. 

You can see the setlist here.  

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Friday, March 25, 2016

American Idol: And Then There Were Four

This compressed American Idol season is flying by, while I wish it would linger a bit. Tonight the Idols were mentored by Steve Van Zandt on classic rock songs and then by Sia on her songs. Sia let them see her eyes but this was blurred out for the TV audience.  

LaPorsha Renae -  LaPorsha's classic rock choice was "Wanted Dead or Alive" by Bon Jovi. Although she doesn't seem like much of a cowboy, she delivered a strong vocal, circled the stage with swagger, and hit the big note at the end. The judges felt it was an odd song for her, but J Lo said she could sing the phone book and it wouldn't matter. It reminded Harry of Tina Turner. They also complimented her braids, which she said took 15 hours to do. She did look awesome and she has such confidence now. It's been a great evolution to watch and if there's any justice she will win the show. Her Sia song was "Elastic Heart" and it was another good performance. J Lo said she is a fully realized artist and they just don't have much to say to her, but I wonder if the lack of effusive praise and the fact that she had to sing first tonight might cause people to forget to vote for her. 


MacKenzie Bourg - His classic rock song was "I Want You to Want Me" by Cheap Trick. He slowed it down a lot and it kind of lost its rock edge, Keith hated the arrangement. Harry thought he could have sung it the same and kept it double time as the original was and would have kept the energy up more.  Mac's Sia song was "Titanium." This was a typical performance but he did stretch for a high note. Harry thought it was nice but it shouldn't all be about one note. Keith liked that he made it a singer/songwriter moment and stripped it down. I feel like Mackenzie is sticking with what he's good at but not stretching enough, and this may be his downfall. 


Trent Harmon - Trent's first song was "Sharp Dressed Man" by ZZ Top. He delivered it as a rock song with a bluesy edge. We got to see a more rocking side of him, and he got the crowd into it. J Lo said it was fungal - dirtied and muddied up.  Harry thought it was brilliant. His Sia song was "Chandelier" and it was impressive, with the high notes. Sia told him he picked her most difficult song. Keith thought it was exquisite. J Lo said he can do anything. Harry gave it 100 out of 100. The judges really laid it on thick for Trent. I think they want a Trent/LaPorsha finale. 


Dalton Rapattoni -  Dalton sang "God Only Knows" by The Beach Boys, and I don't really view this as a classic rock song. However, it's one of my favorite songs and Dalton gave a heartfelt rendition and really connected with the audience. We've seen him rock quite a bit this season, so I won't hold the song choice against him. Harry said it was the most complex song he's sung so far and it showed his vulnerability. His Sia song was "Bird Set Free" and he wore a cool neon spatter paint jacket. He sounded a bit flat to me, but he sang with feeling and got choked up at the end. The crowd went wild. J Lo cried too and said everyone was cheering for Dalton's bravery. Keith said he pushes through his limitations. 


The Bottom Two were Sonika and Dalton and Sonika was sent home. This reinforces my feeling that the judges were wrong to save Sonika two weeks in a row. Now she was in the Bottom Three for three weeks straight and finally was sent home. I think she has a lovely voice but she just didn't connect with the audience well enough to motivate people to vote for her.  

I was definitely surprised to see Dalton in the Bottom Two.  I have been partially basing my prognostications on Twitter. Dalton and Mackenzie both have @ 130,000 followers.  LaPorsha and Trent have about 30,000, and Sonika had about 15,000.  With that huge advantage in Twitter fans, I felt Dalton and Mackenzie would sail through these middle of the competition weeks.  Of course, voters can become complacent. Dalton had a good week last week but he did mention his struggles with bipolar disorder and that may have unfortunately turned off some of his fans.  I also think he and Mackenzie are drawing from the same pool of teen/tween Tiger Beat type voters.  With that being said, I predict Mackenzie and Trent will be the Bottom Two next week and Mackenzie will go home.  It could be Dalton, but I think he will benefit from all of his fans being scared because he was in the Bottom Two this week and they will vote, vote, vote.  


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