Joey Watches: DWTS Elimination #2

Last night was part 2 of the Hometown Glory theme for Dancing with the Stars. On Monday, the pairs danced to songs representative of the stars hometowns but tonight the focus was on the dance pros. As the judges and the co-hosts noted, it was really nice to learn a little bit more about the dance pros and see a side of them we don’t usually get to see. However, there was also the potential for more drama and errors: firstly because this was the second dance the stars had to learn in only the second week of competition, when everything is still new and the rigorous practicing is still something they have to adapt to; and secondly, many of the pros were emotional and trying to pay respectful homage to places or people in their lives and both the pros and the stars felt the pressure to “do it right.”

First up was Hayes Grier of Vine sensation, performing to the quickstep with dance Pro Emma. I liked this dance much better than the motorcyle, orange jumpsuit number from Monday. He still dances like a teenager, but this was a very earnest and eager teen and I thought he did really well. There is some sophistication lacking in his movements, but he was invested in doing well and it showed.

Next up was Carlos PenaVega and dance pro Witney doing a cowboy version of Elvis Presley’s Hounddog. Did I mention I’m over this couple? I do feel like they are little too buddy-buddy with his wife on stage a few feet away and it just doesn’t work for me.

Gary Busey was next, performing with dance pro (to Russia with love) Anna. Their outfits were over the top, and so was his opinion of how great they danced. We know he’s just there for the trainwreck aspect, and he delivers. I waffle between fear for Anna’s being (as he continues to hug and grope her every chance he gets) and pity that they would put a dementia patient out on the dance floor. His dancing on Monday was relatively sharper. The word that kept running through my mind was “coherence”: he doesn’t have it in his perception or his dance skills and unlike past bad dancers on the show who may be funny – this time the humor is a little one sided as America laughs at him but he’s not in on the joke. I understand he’s good for ratings, but he needs to be put down gently.

Andy “Dancing is Hard” Grammer was next with pro Alison. (You may know Alison’s husband – he’s Twitch from So You Think You Can Dance.) I love Andy’s enthusiasm to do well – but I do think this dance was a little jerky. Still – he did well and I hope he continues to improve.

Next up was dance pro Mark Ballas with star Alexa PenaVega. First thing I have to note – what was up with her dress? It looked like a beautiful gown covered in leftover mummy wraps. One of the pieces was wrapped horribly over one boob and was very unflattering. Nevertheless, I really like Mark as a dance pro – and the video package about his mom and dad was just very emotional. Even though I am over the PenaVega Saga for this season – I do think she danced well and loved the choreography. However, she still has problems moving her hips and I do think Mark looked a little Fleetwood Mac with his hipster bun. His mom was in the audience and they danced to Somewhere in Time, which reminded me of a my romantic teenage self (which you probably couldn’t see with all my snarky wardrobe criticism).

Paula Deen with dance pro Louis was up next and I just don’t really know what to say. I just have this “awkard to watch” thing still. Her hair was less scary, but she reminded me of a vamped up Cruella DeVille in the red grandma gown. She does have great legs, but she just reminds me of a matronly dame from a Marx Bros movie. She still grips Louis too hard with fright which limits the fluidity of their dance. She can’t hear, or doesn’t focus, so she responds out of sync with the others. The judges commented she was light on her feet – I just don’t see it. I really wanted to see her be a comeback kid – but she looks more like Gary Busey’s sister.

Fortunately, Bindi Irwin was next and danced with dance pro Derek. She did a beautiful waltz and even though they got dinged for doing a slight lift (a big dance no-no) she still scored well. I love the polish and courtesy she brings to the show. She is very gracious when accepting compliments (something I struggle with) while still always giving back to her partner and those around her. Someone said she was a “real life Disney Princess” and I agree. I also noticed how her mom and brother stood out from the rest of the crowd when the cameras panned to them – they are like unspoiled goodness in a sea of American selfies. I really want her to stay in the game. (Incidentally, for those of you wondering why Beau Bridges was sitting in the audience with Bindi’s family – Bindi and he did a straight-to-video movie together – Free Willy: Escape from Pirate’s Cove)

Housewife Kim Z was next with dance pro Tony. This was another wardrobe malfunction in my opinion – as a busty woman I can tell you that was not a good look. (It also doesn’t help when judge Bruno equates you to a sofa – he must be focused on her . . . pillows) Just like she needs structure and energy in her wardrobe, she needs structure and energy in her dancing. Once again she danced – but there was a dip in energy from her performance the night before. Granted, this was a slower song, but still – she needs to maintain. Still on the fence about this star, but for the sake of the show I hope she improves.

Alek Skarlatos and pro Lindsay were next and although I could have done without the white tux and gown with the red white and blue accents, he danced incredibly well again. They called him Alek the Great, and I think he was. I look forward to him continuing on in the competition.

Jockey Victor Espinoza was next with dance pro Karina. The continuation of short jokes continued – with scenes of her carrying him and various others treating him like a little doll. Also continuing was the mini Latin lover stereotypical wardrobe – and the awkward ending of him on his knees with his face against the lowest edges of her stomach (aka – right between her legs). He did dance better, but it was obvious that he was the object of much kidding, and not being treated with the respect he deserved. (There was an interesting moment where he kept comparing Karina to taming his horse American Pharaoh – and he just kept repeating it.)

Backstreet Boy Nick Carter was next with aussie Sharna. As you may recall, Nick slipped and fell in his dance number the day before, so he was very concerned about being sent home. But tonight’s dance was about Sharna, and the video package strongly reflected that Nick’s focus was on doing a great dance for her. And he did! It was beautiful, so well done, and it was obvious that when Nick switched his focus from his mistakes to honoring his partner, he just did so well. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere. And with that, Nick as a gentleman, not just a boy band singer, really emerged. I’m rooting for him now as well as Bindi and Alek.

The finale dance was with Tamar Braxton and dance pro Val (last season’s winner). Although Val emigrated to the US, he considers NYC his home and there was a very cute Charleston number done outside a brownstone stoop. Her outfit was a bit much for me when she wasn’t dancing. This was the first night I felt like Tamar could really be a contender. It was cutesy but well danced with Tamar having much more life and less surreality star quality. Although not on my list of favs yet, if she continues this route, she could make it there.

Once the dances were done, we were again given another speedy elimination round. The bottom two were identified as Gary Busey and Triple Crown jockey winner Victor Espinoza. And since America loves insanity over short jokes, Victor was eliminated. At least he can move back to his dignity soon hopefully.

Joey Watches: DWTS 1st Elimination

Tonight on Dancing with the Stars, each dance pair was assigned to dance under the theme of Hometown Glory – where they talked a little about their hometown and what it means to them. There are 2 nights of dance this week, with an elimination each night which means all the celebrities had to learn 2 full numbers their second week in, which is unprecedented and a little cruel.

Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys was the first dancer, and unfortunately, he just looked terrified the entire time. He went from a strong final dance last week to a much tenser dance this time around, further complicated by slippery shoes and an unfortunate fall. Still, he powered through the dance and ended on his feet, even if his score drops.

Paula Deen was next and even though her dance improved, she is definitely still on my awkard to watch list. (Shorty Hulk says she looks like an aged and wasted Britney Spears) I’m not sure what they were thinking with her hair, and she still looks like she is gripping on to her dance pro Luis in an inappropriate manner. She did however seem to impress the judges and her scores went up from last week.

Vine sensation Hayes Grier had a touching week, with lots of tears and touching moments with his mom. He’s also from Mooresville, NC so hometown boy. I don’t see the connection with dance pro Emma that the judges rave about – but I’m glad he improved from last week. I’m sure his fan base will keep him in action.

Chaka Khan was next with dance pro Keo. She told a good story in her video package about wanting to improve every week. However, good intentions not withstanding, Chaka again lost her place and even though she did better, it was still a struggle.

Andy Grammer is a little cutie that reminds me a little of Chris Isaak. He had the best comeback of the night when the judges got on him for losing the beat when he’s a musician: “Dancing is hard.” Based on his effort and charm, I think he will be okay.

Side bar: What was up with judge Bruno’s mouth? I truly think he was having problem with his flipper or denture or something. Every time he talked, he had a hand in front of his mouth. I think that is why he swore and why the camera stopped focusing on him.

What did deserve our focus was Housewife Kim Zolciak (evidently she’s dropped the Zocliak-Bierrman from last week.) Unlike last week where she literally walked through her routine, this week she actually danced! She danced, she smiled, and she got great reviews. I was ready for her to get kicked off last week, but knew she wouldn’t because of her fan base. But after tonight, I might actually root for her.

Alek Skarlatos was great again this week. He is such the everyman hero that middle America (and I) want to root for. And it doesn’t hurt that he has a little hair on his chest! I think co-host Erin Andrews stated it well last week when she pointed out that he is our surrogate celebrity – that we can pretend we are on the show through him. My favorite part? At the end of the judging conversation, Alek turned to host Tom Bergeron and put out his hand to shake it. Total class.

Married couple Alexa and Carlos PenaVega tied for scores and judges responses. I realize they are supposed to add an extra element to the show, but I’m over it. I don’t connect with either star at this point. They said Alexa was great, I found some of her moves jarring and off beat. Same with Carlos.

Triple Crown jockey Victor Espinoza makes me want to do the southern “bless your heart” response. This week he was subject to short jokes, sombrero stereotypes and penis jokes, obscene gestures, and he just smiles and does whatever dance pro Karina tells him to do. I realize he has short term memory issues and that Karina is just fighting for votes, but this is just not giving this man any dignity. The sooner he is voted off, the kinder it will be.

Tamar Braxton and Val turned in a nice performance. Tamar tends to be a little reserved and doesn’t have the emotional connection she needs, even though she has great musicality. It was nice to see big sister Toni in the audience to support her – but I think Tamar still needs to find her way to stand out.

Gary Busey looked so strange with his crazy hair tamed. Is it just me, or does he look like he’s just trying to figure out how to touch, hug, and kiss his dance pro every chance he can get? Not that I blame him – Anna is lovely. But as Shorty Hulk mused, we wonder how many tasers they have on standby at any given time.

Last dance went to bubbly Bindi Irwin, who surprised the crowd by admitting that she loves listening to heavy metal. So she and dance pro Derek danced to “Shook Me All Night Long” and tore up the dance floor. Well, as much as we saw as there were at least 2 camera transition miscues. She did an amazing job – which makes me hope that both she and Alek end up in the semi-finals as I would already be happy seeing either one of them win the famed mirror ball trophy.

Unfortunately, the unfun part had to happen quickly due to running over (does DWTS ever NOT run over?)

We quickly found out that the bottom 2 were Chaka Khan and Gary Busey. Although I would have much rather seen Chaka Khan continue her “gradient upward” – I knew her fan base would not compare to the mesmerizing train wreck that is Gary Busey. And America loves a train wreck so much more.

So first person out? Chaka Khan. This does not bode well for dance pro Keo – who never seems to make it past the first few weeks. It will be interesting to see if they utilize him again next season as a dance pro, or if he will be just a background dancer.

Tomorrow night is the second night of dance this week, and will include another elimination round. Will Gary still be in the bottom? Will Victor Espinoza win out as the comic fodder? As long as Bindi and Alek survive – I’ll be okay.

Until then – keep dancing!

So last night was the season premiere of Dancing with the Stars and the season finale of So You Think You Can Dance. The aired simultaneously, so I had to pick which one to watch first and then go back and watch the other on video (first world problems, I know!)

So let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start)

Dancing with the Stars (Mondays, ABC)
Season 21! Opening night! Lights, music, dancing, glitterballs! And bring on the crazy!

Dancing with the Stars is nothing if not entertaining – either through beauty and grace, or through absolute insanity. Last night was no exception. As the 13 stars each had their turn on the dance floor, I found myself saying things like “bless his heart” to “awkward!” to “hope someone has a taser nearby” to “omg – so adorable.”

Not long for the show will be Victor Espinoza, the jockey who won the Triple Crown in 2015. He has 3 challenges right from the start: he’s shorter than his female partner, he has no musicality, and he has no short-term memory due to multiple sports injuries. Dance pro Katrina Smirnoff tried her best, but his dance was definitely a “bless his heart” moment.

Reality show star and TV host Tamar Braxton did well, and given her viewer fan base, should be safe. So should competing spouses Carlos and Alexa PenaVega, singer Andy Grammer and Vine/Social Media star Hayes Grier.

Chaka Khan should be okay, because she is the Queen of Funk after all. But her first dance was troubled. She was paired with Keo Motepse who is only in his 3rd year and has not had much stage time. He should have known better than to lower his 62-year old celebrity down from the ceiling and then expect her to be able to remember dance steps on her first night. She smiled throughout it though, and her hair was, as always, fabulous. But I hope she gets to dance more.

Bindi Irwin was an absolute delight with her winning smile, eagerness, and pure energy. She did very well for her first week and absolutely lit up the dance room. Her pro, Derek Hough, however, seemed a little less than happy when hero Alek Skarlatos got equal praise for his musicality and dedication to learning. Derek, a 5 time DWTS winner, is known for being competitive and I hope his intensity does not bring Bindi’s naivete and sweetness down. I can totally see Derek being the dark and brooding master this season (and the eventual Phantom of the DWTS if we are not careful).

Crazy train had multiple stops last night. We all expected that Gary Busey would be out of his mind, because c’mon. And he definitely was. In the words of my friend who skyped with me during the show, “The cheese has definitely slid far off his cracker.” I felt bad for his dance pro, Anna Trebunskaya, but maybe in Russia they are used to dealing with crazy. However for me the winner for awkward craziness was definitely Paula Deen. I felt so bad for her dance pro Louis Van Amstel as she was continually forcing his head down to her chest and grabbing and hugging him for dear life. We know she is clawing her way back in to world acceptance, but telling host Tom Bergeron that you have soiled your pants is not the way to go.

The Dialing It In award goes to Kim Zolciak-Biermann of Real Housewives infamy. Her dance had the least amount of enthusiasm, although there was a nice set up in her pre-dance video package where she confessed that she didn’t like taking the chance of not being perfect on live TV vs. her more carefully coiffed persona on her reality shows. Her dance moves reminded me a little more like Kate Gosselin – stiff and formal – although Kim definitely had a little more va-va-voom in her outfit. Her dance pro Tony Dovolani danced around her in a bare-chested frenzy trying to make up for it. I do think her fan base will push her through to the next week, however, so she should be safe.

Final dance was given to Nick Carter of Backstreet Boys fame. Nick definitely brought the fan girls out in his dance partner Sharna Burgess and judge Julianne Hough. However, unlike his fellow bandmate Joey Fatone who has also competed, Nick doesn’t have quite the charisma and charm yet. He reminds me more of his brother Aaron Carter who was so concerned about dancing well that he just looked too desperate and did not last long in the competition. I think Nick can definitely go far, I just think he’s not a sure thing yet.

This season is definitely full of opportunity – I’m intrigued on how America will vote.

So You Think You Can Dance (Fox, Mondays)
I was surprised that the season finale for this show was over 2 hours long since they were just revealing the results from the previous week. In order to fill up the show, everyone got to pick their favorite dance of the season, with some people picking twice. Of course, this is a nice way to remind the audience of the some of the dances that they can see live in the tour that kicks off shortly after the finale. But it was definitely a dance down memory lane kind of evening.

I admit, I did love seeing some of the numbers again. However, it is my personal opinion that once a dance is no longer part of the competition, it never has quite the same spark as the first time you see it. There is a certain electricity and sparkle that just doesn’t allow itself to be recreated.

My favorite number of the evening was a never before seen routine between top ten finalist Jim Nowakowski and all star Alex Wong. It was a powerful dance and had that spark that some of the repeats missed a little bit. I hope it is featured on the tour or that, as suggested, a sequel is done in following years.

Then we had our four finalists: Hailee Payne (jazz) and Gaby Diaz (tap) from Team Stage and Virgil Gadson (Hip Hop) and JaJa Vankova (Animation/Krump) from Team Street. Based on the judges comments from the previous week, I was not surprised when Hailee was the first to be eliminated – leaving Gaby as the winner of Team Stage. Similarly, there was no surprise that Jaja won out over Virgil for Team Street.

This left Gaby and Jaja as the last two standing. Personally, I assumed that Jaja would win because it was clear that part of the inspiration for this Stage vs. Street competition was caused by JaJa in season 11 when she was unable to make the top 20 due to her lack of experience in stage styles. Really, the interesting thing is that both Jaja and Gaby had comeback kid stories. Jaja was rejected in season 11 and was brought back to almost take it all in season 12. Gaby was rejected in the initial auditions and then flew out to the next location and auditioned again rather than giving up.

Surprisingly, Gaby was announced the winner. Although I felt she was very worthy of the prize, really, any of the top 4 would have been deserving. Once the winner was announced, there wasn’t really much to say. There was, however, a lot of confetti on the stage and I remembered thinking how glad I was that I didn’t have to clean that up.

Fox has not yet announced the renewal of the series, but they usually don’t announce this until November or December. What will be interesting is whether they keep this year’s street vs. stage formula, which was actually pretty entertaining, as well as the judges and host Cat Deeley, who recently announced she was pregnant. Until then, I’ll keep my dancing fix in check with Dancing with the Stars.

Until next time, keep those toes tapping!

So the new season of Dancing With The Stars begins on Monday, Sept 14th and with that – they have released the full cast list along with their pro dancer pair-ups. For the complete list, visit the ABC post here.

As usual, there are a lot of “who is that?” going on amongst viewers. Let’s be clear, it is rare that you will find an A or B list actor on the roster. Reality is, the people appearing on this show are hoping to make something happen with their careers – either to improve a tarnished image, or restart a stagnant career, or just to grab the tail of the rising star they find themselves on.

Let’s also point out that there is a bit of a formula of who they pick: reality stars, internet stars, athletes, musical legends, 80s stars, the hearthrobs, the love stories, the survivors/heroes, and the Disney kids.

What makes things different this season? Well, we’ve got a married couple. They actually tick off 2 boxes: Disney Kids & Love Stories. Alexa and Carlos Penavega were on Spy Kids and Big Time Rush respectively. And they are married to each other – awww. This reminds me a little of Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the Olympic ice skaters from season 18. Suddenly this skating duo were pitted against each other and everyone wondered which one was better and who would be voted off first. Of course, Meryl & Charlie weren’t married – so this raises it up a notch.

From what I can tell, this season’s “hero” story does not include any physical limitations. Alek Skarlatos was part of a trio who foiled a terrorist attack in Paris recently, and is now living in Oregon and studying to be a police officer. I think it would be hard to raise the bar after last season’s Noah Galloway, who was a double amputee after serving in Iraq. Prior survivors include Amy Purdy (paralympic snowboarder), deaf actress Marlee Matlin, and leg amputee Heather Mills (ex-wife of Paul McCartney). For the record, I find it crass to describe them by their limitations, but I’m just pointing out that this year we are focusing more on the hero part vs. the survivor part.

I’m not sure how I feel about Paula Deen being on Dancing with the Stars. I know she was vilified in the press for stupid things she has said and done in the past, and I used to adore her before all this, but now I just feel weird having her dance her way back – I feel like she should be focusing on charity efforts, not dancing steps – but that’s just me.

Gary Busey also makes me a little nervous. He’s a great actor gone crazy, and I worry about him dancing with a pro female. Also, I’m trying to figure out if he’s supposed to be the comic relief for this season. In the past we’ve had Tommy Chong, Andy Dyck, and Bill Engvall. I’m just worried he’s going to be adding to our level of idiocracy.

I’m excited about Chaka Khan, as she, like last season’s Patti LaBelle, is a musical legend. But she definitely has some great moves to live up to with Miss Patti – and I hope she’s up for the challenge.

Nick Carter seems to be the 80s heartthrob this season – but he’s too young for me to be excited about. I loved the seasons with Joey Fatone, Alfonso Ribiero, Mario Lopez and Joey Lawrence. When Nick’s brother Aaron was on, he just tried to hard and I felt sad for him. I hope things are different for Nick – but I’m not going to cry if he goes Bye, Bye, Bye (see what I did there?)

The rest of the cast are more “wait to be seen” opinions for me. I always wonder if I’m going to find someone to root for, and inevitably someone always grabs my heart so the formula is working. And yes, even as I write this, the theme music has been dancing its way through my head. So let the season begin!

Drawing Fat People

“Why do you always draw fat people?” Marli asked me. I looked down at my doodle, surprised. It was a few minutes before chapel at our small Christian boarding school. The girl I was sketching didn’t look fat to me – I thought she looked pretty and curvy in all the right ways. She looked like who I wanted to be, especially the curly hair.
“Let me see,” Marli demanded, and she took my pencil and notebook from me. She erased the edges of the girl’s face and drew them thinner, along with the chin. She added cheekbones and contouring. To me she looked gaunt. But Marli looked very satisfied with what she had done to my drawing and gave it back to me with a nod.

Marli and I had known each other for years. Our parents were friends, and therefore we had hung out at events and gatherings. But we weren’t exactly what I would call close, and so even though now we were assigned to sit next to each other every day for 45 minutes, I had no idea what went on her head. She had never been fat, but growing up she was a little rounder, and her mom had always been heavy, so I know she was conscious of her weight. And when she hit high school, suddenly she become less sturdy and more willowy.

I never really thought of myself as fat growing up, until other people told me I was. My mom always wanted me to go on diets with her, and I remember one of my brothers joking about the ground shaking when I walked. But when I look back at pictures from when I was a kid at those times, I don’t feel grossly obese. I look normal to me.
I did get fat. Some of it was due to diet and lifestyle, some of it was due to chemicals and surgeries, some of it was just laziness. Sometimes I think I got so used to thinking of myself as fat, that I just said to heck with it and ate what I wanted and did what I wanted and became the fat person I felt other people saw. I don’t know.

I think about that little snippet of time – that day the girl next to me told me my perception of beauty was different than hers. I often wonder which one of us had the body dysmorphia. Not that public opinion should matter, but it does. If we are honest, if I am honest, I want to be liked and thought of as beautiful.

Do you remember picture day? The lines for the photograph, the excitement about the little plastic combs, the different photo packages with the “Reflections” options and other things? I remember the third grade, when I had short hair and my mom dressed me in a pink leisure suit. I remember the buzz in the classroom when the picture envelopes were handed out and we all got to see how it came out. I looked at my portrait and was surprised. I looked like a boy, and my teeth were all crooked. I remember going to my bedroom mirror and comparing the picture I held in my hand and person I saw in the glass. I turned my head to count the freckles and brown spots on my face to see if they matched. I looked at this person every day, yet all my unique facial markers just blended in and I saw the whole, not the parts.

My mom immediately scheduled me for “make-up photo day” and in the next picture my short hair was now a more becoming Dorothy Hamill bob, with a very flowery blouse and burgundy jumper with her favorite rose necklace around my neck. No one was going to think I was a boy this time. Except of course, in the class picture, where I was standing oblivious in the back row, happy and laughing.

So who are we really? Which view is right? Should we go off of what we see in the mirror? What we see in print? What other people tell us? From a mathematical perspective, we might seek the average or the median perception – not as good as we think we are, not as bad as others do. But I’m not really sure I agree with that either. Even if someone else’s opinion is 100% wrong, than the average would make them up to 50% right, wouldn’t it?

And does it matter? Does it matter how others see us or just how we see ourselves? You can comment and tell me that it doesn’t matter what others say – but then when you try to tell someone their perception is wrong, does your statement matter? Because you are not them, are you?
So then, I wonder, do we just strip out the adjectives? Are only nouns truth? That day in chapel, I wasn’t drawing a fat girl, or a skinny girl. I was drawing a girl. But if I can’t use an adjective, I can’t tell you she was a happy girl with curly hair. I can just say she was a girl with hair. So adjectives matter, opinions matter. Good gracious, how do we figure this out?

There doesn’t seem to be an easy answer. We may never know – it’s like being a ship adrift on the sea of other people’s opinions. Having your face judged on Facebook. I’m sitting here, a thousand thoughts running through my head. There’s no pithy solution. No trope to draw this whole thing to a fitting conclusion.

I do think, however, that just like Marli and I saw 2 different things when we looked at my drawing, so do we all see different things when we look at each situation. We ask other people if what they see is the same thing, and if enough people seem to agree, we assume this means we are right. Is the dress blue or gold, though? Does majority win? What if all we are looking at, and agree upon, is nothing more than the Emperor’s new clothes? What if we have been told it is so, and rather than fight the tide, we all just agree to see what we think we should.
Ultimately, it becomes a philosophical vs. factual debate in my head. Either way, I would rather see a happy girl with curly hair vs. a fat girl who needs to lose weight.

So maybe when she asked me “Why do you always draw fat people?” I should have asked “Why do the people I draw look fat to you?”

So if you have listened to the past several episodes of Guardians of the Geekery, you may know that I have a love of dance. I used to dance as a little geeker and although I’m not as light on my feet as I would like, I can still watch dancing shows and dream. So it’s no surprise that I love Dancing with the Stars. And season twenty one debuts on September 14th with a few changes and announcements.

For starters, the full cast will be revealed on Good Morning America on September 2nd. I’ll be headed to DragonCon that day, so I most likely will not be posting about it until later. But they did confirm their first dancer, Bindi Irwin. You may remember her father Steve Irwin, who was known for his Australian accent, and his love of crocodiles before his tragic death.

Some other changes this year include the departure of Len Goodman as the head judge. We kind of knew that was coming – he hosts several shows and the transcontinental flying back and forth was starting to take a toll. So Carrie Ann Inaba, Bruno Tonioli and Julianne Hough will be the regulars and then there will be guest judges, with Len surely being among them. Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews are back. Although Erin got some flack for comments last season, she has a personality which is more than I can say for some of the previous co-hosts. So glad to see them both back as well!

Derek Hough will be returning – which reminds me of the Godfather III line, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” Personally, his antics were starting to wear thin on me last season when he got injured and still managed to insert himself in to every dance rather than backing off and letting other dancers step up. But he does some amazing choreography, so I guess we can give him a pass. Other returning professionals include Derek’s best friend Mark Ballas, Karina Smirnoff, Witney Carson, Valentin Chmerkovskiy, Allison Holker, Artem Chigvintsev, Peta Murgatroyd and Sharna Burgess.

I love Dancing with the Stars and especially enjoyed getting to see Rumer Willis win last season. I admit, I wasn’t sure about her when I first heard it announced – but she was amazing. I hope to be amazed again this season.

Joey’s Thoughts: Can’t wait until the Sep 2 for the full announcement!

Last night I finally sat down and watched the Food Network Star Finale. I was kind of reluctant to watch it, as I often am with all finales. It’s the true meaning of bittersweet, as you hope that your favorite wins, but you are sad that you won’t be seeing this cast of characters again in this format.

We got down to the 3 finalists: Jay Ducote – radio host from Baton Rouge, Eddie Jackson – former NFL player turned food truck owner, and Dom Tesoriero – mac and cheese truck owner from New York.

The Final 3

As I mentioned last time – Jay has been pretty consistent throughout the show – food always pretty spot on, on air personality very natural and relaxed. Dom has consistently struggled on camera until he was eliminated and then brought back through Star Salvation where something finally took and he started improving dramatcially. And then there is Eddie – easy on the eyes, conversational, the ladies like him – the men want to be him, yada yada. As I have also mentioned, I’ve just not been in his corner.

The finale is part recap, part reunion as all the contestants join together. They showed mostly the negative parts of other guests – like when mentor/judge Giada changed her mind and eliminated contestant Matthew Grunwald when he got this smug smile on his face. Also, when Emilia Cirker made fun of her fellow competitors in a very painfully awkward improv round and when Michelle Karam became the final female contestant and then quit the show.

In addition, they did a “road to the finals” recap for each of the final 3 – highlighting some of their successes and struggles throughout the season and then showing their “pilot” – a short 3-minute segment where they meet with a local NY restaurant and talk with the owners about their cooking style and history.

As usual, Jay was on point with lots of helpful hints and charm at a chicken and waffle place. Dom did suprisingly well interacting with the restaurant and customers of a Little Italy restaurant. And Eddie did a huge 180 from his “healthy cooking” to a barbecue segment where he chatted with the owner/chef about his Texas background.


All 3 segments were great – and the judges commented in their deliberations that Jay was on point as always – and could have been handed a show at episode one and done well. Which I absolutely agree with and you think that would make him the automatic winner. But no.

Dom has made huge improvements and his pilot was really solid. You can definitely see a few parts where his interactions with some of the customers was a little awkward – and there was a little fear in his eyes. But that’s after watching a season with him and really knowing it and looking for it. In spite of his great pilot, you know that there would be a concern about his ability to sustain his on-camera presence without wasting a lot of film trying to capture it. And so even though everyone loves an underdog, the fact that he wasn’t a winner is not a huge surprise.

Which leaves us with Eddie. Did he do a good pilot? Yes, he did. Is he cute? Well, yes – he’s a former NFL player. We’ve been over this part, remember? But his food has often been a downfall, and his Point of View (POV) went from “cheat day” to Texas Barbecue. The thing that has stuck in my craw just a little bit is a reaction that mentor/judge Giada had during the deliberations. The group was talking about how he could make food look good but still keep you healthy – I mean, look at him. Giada said a little too exuberantly – “YES.”

And then they announced Eddie as the winner.
Eddie Jackson
I’m happy for Eddie – but honestly, I feel that Jay should have won. If you are the number one contestant throughout the competition and have good tasting food AND good on air presence consistently – you should win. But Jay is a big guy and when it comes to the “pretty” contest – Eddie wins that.

Do I think it’s fair? No. Do I understand why they did it? Unfortunately, yes. But it still makes me sad. Sad enough that I went to find out what happened to the Season 10 winner – Lenny McNab – who was a big guy with a big personality. I had not seen any pilots or series featuring him and wondered why. Evidently, after he won it was found out that he had made a lot of inappropriate and offensive posts on social media in the past and they decided not to move forward with him. Several of them included posts about Ree Drummond, the host of Pioneer Woman. Way to ruin it for yourself, Lenny!

So that’s it – the contest is over for another season. I hope that Jay goes on to great things and that Eddie proves me wrong. Next time, I’ll catch up on So You Think You Can Dance and Project Runway.

Until then – keep smiling!

Welcome to Joey Watches – another new segment of the blog! Here is where I talk about the TV and Movie shows that I have been viewing and some of my opinions about them. (Partly because on the “Guardians of the Geekery” podcast I always get shot down when I try to talk about it.)

I used to say that I watch some reality tv, but I’ve recently learned that the type of “reality” that I enjoy watching best are competition shows. This week I got to watch 3 of my favorites: So You Think You Can Dance, Food Network Star, and Project Runway.

So You Think You Can Dance (Fox, Monday Nights)

sytycd So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) pits 20 dancers against each other in a weekly competition. Dancers are grouped together in twos and threes and paired with choreographers to interpret different dance styles. For Season 12, they divided the dancers in to 2 teams: Team Stage and Team Street. After each routine, dancers get critiqued by the 3 judges (Nigel Lythgoe, Paula Abdul, Jason DeRulo) and then told whether they are “safe” or in the bottom based on viewer’s votes. Once all the contestants in the bottom are announced, viewers then get 5 minutes to tweet which 2 dancers they want to save (one from each team) and after the 2 teams perform group dances, the eliminations are announced. Viewers then can vote online or by phone for their favorites for the next week.

I just love dancing. Sit me down in front of an old Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie or Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, and I’ll just watch it for hours. I took dance as a kid (there’s a pic of me in a bumblebee costume floating around their somewhere) but what these dancers do on stage is amazing.

Jim Nowakowski in his audition for Season 12

Jim Nowakowski in his audition for Season 12

One of my favorite dancers on Team Stage is Jim Nowakowski. This dancer has the most amazing muscle tone and technical skills. His back story includes multiple facial surgeries as a child to fix a cleft palate, but what I love most is his amazing positive attitude. He captured my attention at auditions because of the way his happiness just radiated while he was dancing. This week I was worried when I didn’t see him in the opening group number – then they explained that he had been injured and would be competing but not performing in any of the team dances.

This week they eliminated 4 contestants, making the remaining dancers the Top Ten. The Team Street dancer saved on Twitter was Neptune, who did an amazing dance with Stage dancer Gaby earlier in the evening and was a great choice. The Stage dancer saved was Derek, which was disappointing. Derek had been injured last week and his performance this week was not up to par at all. I had hoped they would save Alexia, who although she also danced poorly, has had a better body of work overall and really has some talent. I also felt she was handed some terrible choreography (fish burlesque? really?) and deserved another chance.

Other Stage Dancers I root for: Gaby (tapper) and Hailee (jazz) – both have been strong contenders. Gaby has been a chameleon, making each style appear like it was her proficiency. Crazy since she had to try out twice in the cattle call before they would originally consider her. Hailee comes off as flashy, but she’s really goofy backstage. She has been paired twice with street dancer Virgil, and done some amazing routines.

Street Dancers I’m rooting for: Along with Neptune (freestyle) I’m also a huge fan of Jaja (Krump) from back when she tried out for season 11 and was eliminated right before the final 20. She’s been able to pick up a lot of the stage styles well, although a little of her krumping seems to leak in to every routine. Finally, Virgil (hip hop) is another ball of happy. Although this week Virgil was paired with Hailee and did a very stunning and creepy modern dance number that was just great. Although shorter than many of the female dancers, Virgil just has a huge personality and is definitely an entertainer.

Food Network Star (Food Network, Sundays)
fns logo Food Network Star selects 12 culinary hopefuls to compete in a weekly competition with the promise of their own Food Network show development project to the winner.

This is the 11th season for Food Network Star, and I love it. The 2 judge-mentors are Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis, who both are active hosts or their own shows with the network. Previous seasons also included Alton Brown but he’s moved on to other things.

Each show typically features two competitive rounds with the first challenge round often provideing the winner with an advantage during the second elimination round. Each week, the judges determine a winner and then eliminate one hopeful. But not all is lost, as the eliminated contestant gets sent off to Star Salvation, a secondary web competition where they can compete with the other losing contestants for a chance to compete once again to be in the top 4.

Jay, Eddie, Arnold and Dom stand waiting to hear who will go on to film their mini-pilot

Jay, Eddie, Arnold and Dom stand waiting to hear who will go on to film their mini-pilot

This week was the second-to-last episode for this season. The final 3 had been selected: Jay Ducote – radio host from Baton Rouge who has a passion for tailgating and fried foods, Arnold Myint – a restaurant owner from Nashville with a flair for entertaining and all things fabulous, and Eddie Jackson – former NFL player turned food truck owner with an emphasis on making healthy taste good. In comes Dom Tesoriero as the winner of Star Salvation. He’s a pure New Yorker, an international competition winner and owner of a mac and cheese truck.

The key to the Food Network Star competition is that you have to be both a great cook AND good on camera. Jay Ducote has been both throughout the competition – his radio background includes culinary media and he just seems born for it. Both Eddie and Arnold have both been riding the see saw between good food and good camera presence. They have great personalities, but either miss the mark with their food or get lost on camera.

But the biggest gamble has consistently been Dom. Hands down he has been the best cook each week, with really never any issues being mentioned about his food (except his risotto – as Shorty Hulk points out after any Gordon Ramsey show – why don’t people just not make risotto?? It’s way too finicky for competition). However Dom struggles with on-air all the time – he overthink things then stumbles and then just freezes. When he doesn’t hamper himself, he’s great. His camera asides are always conversational and great, so we all suspected that eventually he gets over this. But in prior competitions he has just been struggling.

However this week – Dom makes it through it, even recovering when he stumbles. Arnold has another stumble on air, and he is eliminated from the final round. This leaves Eddie, Dom and Jay with the opportunity for each of them to make a mini-pilot for a show they would like to do on Food Network – so they fly to New York and meet Rachel Ray, who coaches each of them through the filming.

Next week, the mini-pilots will be shown and the winner will be revealed. I’m torn between Jay, who has been consistent week to week, and Dom, because who doesn’t love an underdog? Sorry Eddie, I’m just not in your corner for this one, although you are a very nice guy I’m sure.

Project Runway (Lifetime, Thursdays)
ProjectRunwayCasting Project Runway is in its 14th season! Heidi Klum returns with Tim Gunn as well as judges Nina Garcia and Zac Posen. Gone is Michael Kors (he left after season 10 due to scheduling issues).

I’ll be honest, I used to watch Project Runway fiercely, and then when it moved from Bravo to Lifetime I couldn’t keep up with the schedule, and then life just got in the way. But now with the wonderful addition of a DVR in my life, I can watch it at will and this is awesome.

This season started with 15 designers, and their first challenge was to grab fabric that had been spread all around the inside of Madison Square Garden to make an outfit that represents “who they are.” There is a mad dash and people pushing and shoving and all the usual crazy before the designers head back to Parsons School of Design to start creating their clothing.

Shockingly, 3 designers did not bring any of their sewing stuff with them. One person says it was because her bags were too heavy for the plane, so she just left it behind. LEFT IT BEHIND? ARE YOU INSANE?? Evidently, they just assumed the competition would provide them with all new stuff. Instead they had to borrow things like scissors and measuring tapes from other designers so they could compete.

Project Runway Season 14 Cast

Project Runway Season 14 Cast

Typically each episode will focus on 2-3 designers, with more of a person’s story being told usually being a red flag that they might go home. Also, there is always a bit of work room drama – this week it was definitely all the talking and singing Merline was doing, either in her excitement or just as a strategy to annoy the other competitors. Definitely under the radar was Gabrielle – I don’t think they focused on her once – which reminds me a little of Leanne Marshall, the winner of Season 5. She has that sort of wispy, lost little girl look as well.

The winner of this week’s challenge was Ashley Nell Tipton. She is a plus-sized girl who designs plus-sized clothes and to be honest, I want to buy almost all the outfits they showed from her portfolio. Of course, in this competition she will be designing for models most of the time – so she’s having to adjust. And since she was heavier, she was not dashing all around Madison Square Garden grabbing fabrics – so the fact that her winning design was so stunning is awesome.

We are only at episode one and I’m excited for the future episodes. Maybe it will even find me pulling out my sewing machine and pretending I’m a designer too.

That’s it for this week – I’ll keep watching – hope you keep reading! Feel free to voice your opinions or discussions in the comments!


So, as you may have noticed, I’m relaunching the website. Part of this is because many of the things that I used to write about just aren’t part of my day-to-day life. They say that writing is cathartic, and indeed it is. Without my friends and my various outlets, I know that I wouldn’t be at the good place in my life that I find myself now.

The beginning of this year was just a crazy blur. I changed jobs, got engaged, then Shorty Hulk got a new job, then we moved, and there were changes in so many things. There was a flood and fury of emotions and anxiety and concerns and excitement and just . . . things.

But all that has passed and now we are on a new phase of our journey. Our new home is great, and we’ve been decorating it with gusto. The home is definitely “ours” – not “his” or “mine.” We’ve had fun filming little videos and photos of our latest finds. Shorty Hulk is great at giving tours to our guests – he’s even invited in the pizza delivery guys and random neighbors! :-)

The changes, although not without stress, have been very cathartic. The move has allowed us to switch gears and make changes. I’ve found myself letting go of situations and relationships that just weren’t worth the effort anymore. I’ve taken the time to embrace those who accept me as I am, not who they think I should be. The other day we had over a group of friends and we were sitting at the table playing a game and I looked around the room as everyone at the table was laughing and smiling and just having a good time – and I thought, “this – this is what I want.”

Along with the release has been renewal. I’m cooking more, I’m making changes to some of my bad habits, I’m trying to start some new ones. I’m not perfect, nor will I ever be. But I’m happy about a lot of the things that have happened in the last several months, and I’m very excited about the things to come.

Joey Cooks: Maple Bacon

“This whole office smells like a Cracker Barrel” my co-worker said after I brought in some of this maple bacon for us this morning. It’s one of the simplest things to make and yet it is so sinfully good.

Harris Teeter had a sale on Smithfield Bacon (buy 2, get 3 free) so I found myself with 5 packages of bacon without much arm twisting. For this recipe from Ina Garten, I used the package marked “Butcher’s Cut.”

foil rackHeat your oven to 400F. If you have a metal rack that fits securely inside a cooking sheet, you can use that. I do not. Instead, I took one sheet of aluminum foil and laid it on the bottom of the cookie sheet, wrapping the extra over the edges. I then took a second sheet of aluminum foil (longer than the first) and pinched little accordion folds every inch or so to make a grooved pattern and laid that on top of the cookie sheet. This will help the grease to drip away from the bacon and get trapped in the foil folds.(see pic)

uncooked baconSecondly, lay the pieces of bacon across the foil – if not all of it fits, put the rest in sideways. Cook in the oven for 15 minutes.

brushing on syrupRemove bacon from the oven – it should be starting to brown. Be Careful! The grease is very hot and bubbling and can burn you! Using a kitchen brush, brush 2-3 tablespoons of your favorite syrup across the bacon. (I used Trader Joe’s agave maple syrup) Return the cookie sheet to the oven and cook for 5-8 more minutes (I did it for 8 because the bacon was thicker and needed a little more cooking time).

Remove the cookie sheet from the oven. Place 2-3 paper towels on a plate or platter. Use tongs to transfer the bacon from the cookie sheet on to the paper towels to cool. (The paper towels will absorb additional grease – feel free to also turn the bacon to make sure it gets both sides).

baconServe warm. Store any additional bacon in a airtight container or storage bag. Crumbled maple bacon is a great addition to salads, omelets, grits, or my own personal favorite – butter pecan ice cream!

Joey’s Ruling: Love it! Will definitely be doing it again. May or may not share with coworkers!