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The Voice: My embarrassing personal awakening

- December 16th, 2012

Christina Aguilera 4

Judge not lest you be judged? Hardly.

Perhaps the best way to gauge what reality-competition television shows do for the careers of their hosts is to analyze it on a really personal level.

The hottest reality-competition series right now is The Voice (NBC, CTV), and I’ll be 100%, embarrassingly honest about it.

The background: I’m a big music person historically, but because my job focus these days is TV rather than music, my musical world is limited to the music I prefer – like any average fan – rather than keeping up on the entire industry. So …

1) I had never heard of Blake Shelton before he was a judge on The Voice. Recently during the Grammy Nominations Concert Live broadcast (CBS, Global), Shelton got nominated for something, and I was like, “Hey, the guy from The Voice.”

2) While I had heard of the band Maroon 5, I did not know Adam Levine’s name, and I could not have picked him out of a police lineup before he was a judge on The Voice. Now, when I see him performing, as I did on the Grammy noms show, or in a recurring role on American Horror Story: Asylum (FX Canada), I think, “Hey, it’s that Moves Like Jagger guy from The Voice.”

3) I vaguely was aware of Ce Lo Green before The Voice, but I initially thought his performing name was Gnarls Barkley. Turns out that was a musical duo, of which Green was one-half (the shorter half, I presume). But I knew the 2006 song Crazy, which was everywhere.

4) Of course, I was well aware of Christina Aguilera (pictured above) long before The Voice. But admittedly, that had more to do with her, um, “assets” than her music. To this day, I don’t think I could name one of her songs. Nothing against her, it’s just not my genre.

The wider point being, with the music business essentially in the toilet, there is definite value for Shelton, Levine, Green and Aguilera – and their cohorts on other reality shows – to appear on these projects, at least for a year or two.

It keeps their names “out there.”

There isn’t a direct impact on CDs any more, with sales of actual physical CDs dwindling every day. But when you’re talking about touring, or appearances on other TV shows or in movies, either as themselves or as actors, any added “face time” with the public provides a leg up on the competition for a piece of an ever-shrinking pie.

Being on a high-profile reality show sends the message that you’re “relevant” – not necessarily to people who keenly follow modern music, but more to the vast majority of the population that follows music only casually or peripherally.

You know, people like me.

I know who Blake Shelton and Adam Levine and Ce Lo Green are now. And Christina Aguilera, you just keep doin’ whatever it is you do.

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

Jessica Lange doesn’t think her American Horror Story characters are creepy. Huh?

- December 7th, 2012

FX-AHS-Jessica-Gallery1170_F10

In a conference call with American Horror Story’s Jessica Lange today, I asked her if she could recall the “a-ha moment” when she realized she could play creepy really, really well.

“I don’t think of any of my characters as creepy,” Lange said.

Say what?

“They might be misguided. They might be crazy. But definitely not creepy.”

Lange, of course, currently is playing Sister Jude in the second season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story, the full title of which is American Horror Story: Asylum (FX, FX Canada).

In season one, which told an entirely different self-contained story, Lange played – I’m sorry, Jessica, it’s true – a creepy neighbour named Constance. Lange also will be back for season three, whatever that might entail.

“There’s nothing that appeals to me more than playing madness,” Lange continued. “And that I do know how to dip into. But that’s quite different than creepy.

“I’m sorry,” Lange added with a chuckle. “I don’t find anything creepy about these characters.”

Uh, you really need to go back and watch them, Jessica Lange.

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

Sarah Paulson seeks “Asylum” from cop procedurals in American Horror Story

- November 16th, 2012

Sarah Paulson - cover

As one of the main characters in American Horror Story, Sarah Paulson is about as far away from a police procedural as an actress can get.

“I’ve very grateful I’m not walking around a police department saying, ‘Hey, the perp escaped,’ ” Paulson said.

“Not that those shows aren’t great in their own way. But for me as an actress, they’re not stimulating in the same way. I love watching them, but doing them, I don’t know if that would be fulfilling.

“With this – because it’s Ryan (Murphy, creator) – I’m not just playing your typical television woman.”

There’s nothing typical about American Horror Story, which airs Wednesday nights on FX Canada. In season two – the full title of which is American Horror Story: Asylum – Paulson plays Lana Winters, a newspaper reporter in 1964 for whom things have gone horribly wrong. (SPOILER ALERT: Plot points are about to be discussed.)

If you’ve been watching, you know that Lana has been held against her will at a mental-health facility for the criminally insane, run by Sister Jude (Jessica Lange). Lana’s “official” crime was being a lesbian – it’s 1964, remember – but it actually was her desire to snoop around the institution that put her in harm’s way.

And now Lana is being held against her will again, a victim of the duplicitous Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto).

“There’s nothing more terrifying than a person being held somewhere against their will, having done absolutely nothing wrong,” said Paulson, who earlier this year was nominated for an Emmy Award for her role in the HBO made-for-TV movie Game Change.

“To me, that’s the terror of this season (of American Horror Story). There’s nothing they can do, because one person has all the power.

“There was a time in this country when that was the reality of these institutions. But I’m not saying all of them were run by sadistic nuns.”

Of course, American Horror Story has tossed just about anything it can get its hands on into the mix this season, from exorcisms to aliens and everything in between. It’s that combination of realism and the possibility of other worlds and other existences that keeps viewers simultaneously intrigued and, to be blunt, uncomfortable.

Season one of American Horror Story – in which Paulson played a psychic – largely was about ghosts. But as Paulson astutely pointed out, the basic setup allowed viewers an “out” if they were looking for one, because they could say, “Sure, this is scary, but I don’t believe in ghosts.”

In season two, however, even if you don’t believe in spaceships or possessed souls, you still can accept and lament Lana’s life-threatening predicament. (My initial review when season two debuted can be found here.)

You know the old cliche that “anything can happen?” Well, this is one of the few shows for which it literally is true.

And even better, Sarah Paulson doesn’t have to respond to, “Detective, get in here!” For her, that might be the scariest plot of all.

“Exactly, although that may be in my future someday,” Paulson said. “But I’m grateful it’s not what I’m doing right now.

“You know, I got to start (this season) in those great ’60s outfits, and by the time it’s over, it’s going to be a whole other situation.

“The great thing I can say with confidence is, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Gulp.

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv