For more than a decade, the world, even beyond the sport of tennis, has been captivated by the intriguing and supremely talented Williams Sisters - Venus and Serena.
Now, an engrossing new film documentary delves into the lives and careers of the two world-class tennis greats, who have defied the odds to become, arguably, the best female athletes ever to play the sport.
Directed by Maiken Baird and Michelle Major, the film begins with the meteoric rise of Venus Williams, a teenage tennis phenom from Compton, Calif., competing in a sport in which non-whites were clearly not welcome.
The situation became even more interesting when her younger sister, Serena, proved to be equally talented. “What do you want to be when you grown up?” the girls are asked in an early interview, and simultaneously they respond, “I want to be a tennis player!”
As you might expect, much of the focus is on Venus and Serena’s father, Richard Williams, the “visionary” who also served as their coach, and there is very early footage of Richard, who expressed his desire for both girls to be “number one in the world,” working with his daughters and begging country clubs for their used tennis balls, which he loaded into a shopping cart.
With the young athletes clearly outcasts in their sport, Richard is also shown to be fiercely protective, shutting down an interview when he determines the line of questioning to be unreasonable.
“Venus and Serena” puts their career triumphs in bold relief, with the sisters having won 13 Grand Slam and three Olympic doubles titles together. Their on-court rivalry is also placed firmly in the spotlight. Venus was first to win an Olympic singles title, taking the gold in Sydney in 2000, while Serena triumphed in London last summer.
However, while they admit to being extremely competitive, particularly against each other, it is the love and closeness between the sisters that is most evident.
“What didn’t I do to copy Venus when I was young?” Serena asked. “Her favorite color was my favorite color. He favorite animal was my favorite animal. She wanted to win Wimbledon, I wanted to win Wimbledon.”
The sisters, who purhased an opulent home together, are seen going about their daily lives — dealing with business, training and family — and not even their parents, definite outsiders on the pro tennis circuit, are off limits.
The film briefly touches on the divorce of their mother, Oracene Price, from Richard, and shows him escorting the new woman in his life to various tournaments. When questioned about her ex-husband, Oracene is quite candid.
“Venus and Serena” also explores the struggle of these two aging superstars during the 2011 tennis season as they battle life and career-threatening health problems.
Among the challenges is Serena being hospitalized for a blood clot, and Venus battling back from a devastating auto-immune disease.
With personal observations by tennis legends Billie Jean King and John McEnroe, as well as Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of American Vogue, “Venus and Serena” is a riveting true tale of tragedy, triumph and determination.
The Billboard Music Awards, airing live from the MGM Garden Arena in Las Vegas at 8 p.m., Sunday on ABC, will take a definite walk on the wild side this year, enlisting the services of outrageous funnyman Tracy Morgan to host the show. The comedic actor, who spent eight seasons on “Saturday Night Live” and seven on “30 Rock,” also starred in a sitcom bearing his name.
“I’m honored to be a part of one of music’s biggest nights,” Morgan said. “When you look at the artists who have come up through Billboard over the years, it’s incredible. And how can you say no when Prince is going to be there?”
Indeed, Prince, a 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, will be honored with the Billboard Icon Award, following the 2012 Icon recipient, Stevie Wonder. Madonna, another Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, will receive the Top Touring Artist Award.
Taylor Swift, fun and Maroon 5 lead the finalists for the 2013 Billboard Music Awards, and after scoring 18 category appearances in 2011 and 13 more in 2012, “Diamonds” superstar Rihanna once again lands double-digit finalist slots by competing in 10 categories this year, including Top Artist.
The star-studded event will include performances by Ne-Yo, Miguel, Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, Justin Bieber, Pitbull, Christina Aguilera, Selena Gomez, the Band Perry, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Kacey Musgraves, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Jennifer Lopez, Chris Brown, Ed Sheeran, Akon, David Guetta and Icona Pop.
The dazzling list of presenters includes Kelly Rowland, Kid Rock, Cee-Lo Green, Carly Rae Jepsen, Ke$ha, Hayden Penettiere, Shania Twain, Celine Dion, Miley Cyrus, PSY, Jennifer Nettles, Sky Blu, Alanis Morisette, Wiz Khalifa, Florida Georgia Line, Chloe Grace Moretz, Alyssa Milano, Jennifer Morrison, Gabriel Mann, Stana Katic and Emmy Rossum.
The awards reflect Billboard’s chart rankings based on key fan interactions with music, including album sales and downloads, track downloads, radio airplay and touring as well as streaming and social interactions on Facebook, Twitter, Vevo, YouTube, Spotify and other popular online destinations for music. These measurements are tracked year-round by Billboard and its data partners, including Nielsen Entertaninment and Next Big Sound. The awards will be based on the reporting period of Feb. 27, 2012 through Feb. 24, 2013. Tops artists will be recognized in a variety of genres, including R&B, rap, pop, country, rock, Latin and alternative.
Okay. So Billy Chambers has been exposed as the mole, the shrewd and desperate Mellie still has not named Liv as the “whore” that is sleeping with her husband, and President Grant has told the media that his marriage is none of their business, before announcing that he will definitely run for re-election. That is just enough fuel to light the fuse for an explosive season finale of “Scandal,” airing Thursday at 10 p.m. on ABC.
According to the network, in the season’s final episode titled “White Hat’s Back On,” Olivia and her team are in very real danger, now that the mole has been identified as Billy Chambers (Matt Letscher), Vice President Sally Langston’s (Kate Burton) former chief of staff, who was assumed dead after setting up the president to take the fall for Amanda Tanner’s pregnancy. Reportedly, we will find out much more about how it all unfolded, and meanwhile, the latest White House scandal pushes Cyrus (Jeff Perry) to his limits.
Guillermo Diaz plays Huck, a hitman who is strangely popular with fans. He calls his tragic, yet sympathetic character “the role of a lifetime,” and while Diaz didn’t give up any secrets about the finale, he is looking ahead to even more high drama, courtesy of “Scandal” creator, Shonda Rhimes.
“I just came back from Israel a few days ago,” he said during an interview with Bobby Holiday of WDAS-AM. “I went there with Katie Lowes, who plays Quinn on the show, and Bellamy Young, who plays the first lady. We all took a trip to Israel for a week. I’m just relaxing. I’m just taking it easy until the show gets picked up. Then we start shooting again in July, and it’s a pretty grueling schedule once we get shooting, so I’m just trying to chill right now and enjoy life. I’m kind of filling up the well so I can have something to give when we start shooting the show — trying to live life, so I can have something to draw on when I start acting.”
Versatile entertainer Wayne Brady, winner of both Daytime and Primetime Emmy Awards, will be among the celebrated guest judges when “So You Think You Can Dance,” (SYTYCD) returns to Fox for its tenth season with a two-part premiere airing at 8 p.m., Tuesday, May 14 and at 9 p.m., Wednesday, May 15.
Other guests joining resident judges Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy at auditions in Austin, Boston, Detroit, Memphis and Los Angeles will be Minnie Driver, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Adam Shankman, as well as “SYTYCD” “All-Star” Stephen “tWitch” Boss, whose career has enjoyed a metoric rise since he competed and placed second in the fourth season of the Emmy-nominated dance competition.
Hosted by Cat Deeley, this search for “America’s Favorite Dancer” (not “best,” but “favorite”) showcases a potpourri of gifted dancers skilled in a variety of dance styles, including krumping, jazz, ballet, tap, hip hop and contemporary - each competing for a prized spot on the live shows in Los Angeles.
As the nationwide auditions begin, each two-hour show will feature breathtaking performances as well as suspenseful eliminations as the aspiring artists dance their way to a chance at the $250,000.00 grand prize. In recent years, several of the stand-out contestants on “STTYCD,” including Lacey Schwimmer, Chelsie Hightower and Dmitry Chaplin have been recruited to join the professional roster of another wildly popular dance competition, ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”
I can’t think of a better way to end the work week than a Motown showcase featuring the Temptations and the Four Tops, and if last Friday’s sold-out concert at the Keswick Theatre is any indication, everyone else is in complete agreement.
Billed “The Temps and the Tops,” this popular evening of Motown melodies has served both groups quite well for a number of years.
“That’s been ongoing since 1983 - since ‘Motown 25,’” Abdul “Duke” Fakir, the last remaining original member of the Four Tops, said during an exclusive interview. “That was so successful, and people like competition, and they like comparing and all of that. So we put that show together, and we noticed right away that it had a great appeal to it. We put that show together in ‘83, and ever since then, at least 50 percent of both our dates every year is ‘Tops and Temps!’ People keep calling and we keep coming!”
I had the opportunity to meet Fakir, a 1990 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, as he prepared to take the stage, and he explained how the good-natured rivalry between the Temps and the Tops still exists after more than 40 years.
“We have a lot of fun together, and it’s good for the audience, because it’s like they get two for one for the price,” he said. “What’s good about it is that you can’t go to sleep any night. You have to have your ‘A’ game every night. If not, you will be laughed at in the dressing room, talked about…we kid each other like that! It keeps us both inspired to do our best show every night. We go out and have dinner together afterward and laugh about it - after whoever went to sleep gets talked about a little bit! So we have a lot of fun with it.”
First up was the Temptations, currently comprised of Terry Weeks, Joe Herndon, Bruce Williamson, Philadelphia native Ron Tyson and of course Otis Williams, the last remaining original member of the group, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.
Looking polished and professional in the Temps tradition, their lively set began with “Hello Young Lovers,” from the “In a Mellow Mood” album. I have to say that during the first few songs there was a problem with the sound system and their vocals were rather distorted, but the situation eventually righted itself.
The group performed with a strong rhythm section featuring Victor Carstarphen, who has strong ties to The Sound of Philadelphia (TSOP), and a solid brass section added to the evening of Motown magic.
The Temps’ set included such timeless classics as “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “Get Ready,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and “Can’t Get Next to You” as well as the break out hits “Glasshouse” and the Otis Williams composition, “Treat Her Like a Lady.”
Bruce Williamson, a rotund Romeo of sorts, emerged as the comedian of the group, and with a bit of encouragement from the audience to “Go Sesy! Go Sexy! Go!” he would put his best dance stops out on the floor.
Commenting on the only job that he has ever known, Otis Williams said, “I’ve been having fun for 53 years!” Their soul-satifying set ended with “My Girl” and “Losing You.”
After a brief intermission, the Four Tops took the stage, bringing a mellow vibe and a somewhat different approach to the Motown Sound.
With the passing of original members Renaldo “Obie” Benson, Lawrence Payton and Levi Stubbs, their dynamic lead vocalist, the Tops now consists of Fakir, Lawrence Payton, Jr., Ronnie McNeir and lead vocalist Harold “Spike” Bonhart
“He’s a great lead singer!” said Fakir, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his fallen brothers in 1990. “He sounds probably as close to Levi as you can get, without it being Levi, so this present group of the Four Tops is as close to original Four Tops in sound, in action, in movement and in presentation as the original Tops. So I’m very pleased with it, the audience is extremely pleased, and I think that’s why we keep getting calls.”
I personally found Bonhart’s voice, while very similar in range to Stubbs’, did not have the weight or passion that was the hallmark of the Tops’ inimitable hits.
Their smooth set began with the Holland-Dozier-Holland hits “Baby, I Need Your Lovin’” and “Bernadette,” which got folks up on their feet, and pretty much kept them there of the rest of the show. With an energy that was contagious, the Tops delivered “Same Old Song” (my personal favorite), “Shake Me, Wake Me,” “That’s the Way Nature Planned It,” “There’s Something About You,” “Still Water (Love),” “Keeper of the Castle,” “Ain’t No Woman Like the One I Got” and “When She Was My Girl.”
A particuarly poignant portion of the show came when Lawrence Payton, Jr. stood centerstage to sing “Dance with My Father,” followed by a rare solo from Fakir, who delivered an emotional rendition of “My Way.”
While the Motown Sound was initially introduced as “The Sound of Young America” so many years ago, those teens, who are now age 50 and beyond, clearly are still captivated. In parting, Fakir had a heartfelt message for them.
“Thank you!” he said. “Thank you for all that they did for the Tops! Obie, Levi, Lawerence…these guys have passed and didn’t get a chance, so I’ll say this for all of them. Thank you for coming, thank you for buying records, thank you for loving the music! Thank you for allowing us to entertain you. It’s been our joy!”