January 2004

2003: The Year In Review

2003 was year of triumph, tragedy, controversy and comebacks. We saw many faded “stars” from the past shine once again. We watched a few faces fall from grace, and we discovered a whole new batch of talent, as the country still recovers from 9/11. And then there were those we said our final goodbyes to.

2003: WHAT’S NEW?

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK: To all the newcomers and almost newcomers, 2003 has been quite a ride. January started out with a bang for Norah Jones as she was nominated for just about every Grammy award she was eligible for. Come February, Ms. Jones walked off with five Grammy’s, while her debut disc “Come Away With Me” received a total of eight Grammy’s. The stunning success of Norah Jones’ debut continues as 2003 winds up, with the album still holding steady in the Top 40, with eight million copies sold to date domestically, and well into the double digits worldwide.

Beyoncè has had quite a year as well. The stunning lead singer of Destiny’s Child broke out of the trio with her smash solo debut “Dangerously In Love,” which debuted at Number One. The first two singles, “Crazy In Love” and “Baby Boy” spent a total of seventeen weeks atop the charts, while her third single “Me, Myself and I” seems to be headed in the same direction. To top it off, Beyoncè has just received six Grammy nominations and looks to be following in Norah Jones’ footsteps. While we’re on the subject of multiple Grammy wins, the multi-talented Alicia Keys, 2002’s five-time Grammy winner, has a new CD, “The Diary of Alicia Keys” which just debuted at Number One last week with a total of 618,000 copies sold in its first week alone. That makes Keys the biggest selling female debut artist of 2003. Speaking of breaking records, Britney Spears’ fourth opus, “In The Zone,” made her the only female in history to have her first four discs debut in the Number One position. I guess that kiss didn’t hurt. The youngest artist this year to make a huge splash on the music scene is Hilary Duff. The “Lizzie McGuire” Star celebrated sweet 16 just a couple of months after her “Metamorphosis” CD debuted at Number One. Duff’s disc is still holding strong in the top ten after four months.

Another female to pack a punch in 2003 was Lisa Marie Presley. The King’s little princess showed off her musical chops with a strong debut at Number Five with her autobiographical debut “To Whom It May Concern.” Presley’s first single “Lights Out” even made it into many Top 40 video lists of the year. Ashanti’s second disc proved that she’s here to stay with her Number One CD “Chapter II.” Christina Aguilera’s star continues to shine with her latest CD “Stripped” that includes the amazing Grammy nominated single “Beautiful.” Pink had a strong showing with her third album “Try This.” Evanescence made a huge debut while going on to receive a Best New Artist nomination for Grammy 2003.

The original American Idol
Kelly Clarkson seems to be unstoppable. Her debut “Thankful” debuted in the Number One position last spring and she’s up for a Grammy this February for her smash single “Miss Independent” in the category of Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. And how about those American Idol boys? It seems that Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard have been grouped together. The outcome of Ruben’s win as the second American Idol winner was just 1% over Clay’s. Not to be counted out, Clay’s debut album “Measure of a Man” was released ahead of Ruben’s “Soulful” by six weeks. Kelly, Ruben and Clay all have enormous talent, which should see these “Idols” through for a long, long time to come. As for the rest of the guys, Justin Timberlake exploded in 2003 with his CD “Justified” and received several Grammy nominations, including Album of the Year. John Mayer proved his first body of work wasn’t a fluke as his sophomore effort “Heavier Things” made a splashy debut in the pole position. 50 Cent garnered a Number One album and multiple Grammy nods, as did Outkast for their phenomenal CD “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,” along with their year-ending singles “Hey Ya” and “The Way You Move,” which wound up at the Number One and Two positions respectively on the last charted singles of the year.


THOSE OLDIES BUT GOODIES: Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year was Rod Stewart’s one-two punch with last year’s “It Had To Be You…The Great American Songbook” and this year’s “As Time Goes By…The Great American Songbook Volume II.” The British rocker of close to 40 years released two of his most successful albums, which were comprised of standards. Both went platinum in a matter of weeks and both are being recognized by NARAS for a Grammy. Just for the record, Stewart has never won. Another remarkable album of standards came from one of the kookiest and most accomplished and creative singers of the 80’s,
Cyndi Lauper, with “At Last.” The album was Lauper’s highest debuting album in over a decade and really showcased an amazing voice. Who knew?

Bette Midler also delivered a blast from the past, teaming up with her first arranger and producer Barry Manilow. Together they created the wonderful “Bette Midler Sings The Rosemary Clooney Songbook,” which went on to receive critical acclaim and a Grammy nod as well. Not too many people were surprised when
Barbra Streisand became the only artist to have albums debut in the Top Five for a fifth consecutive decade. “The Movie Album” also marked Streisand’s 60th album and 38th Grammy nomination. She currently has 10 Grammy’s, including two special Grammy’s; “The Living Legend Award” and “Lifetime Achievement Award." Ironically, Streisand goes up against Midler and Stewart in the same category this year (February 2004) for Best Album with Traditional Vocal Grammy.

The other two nominees that made a splash this past year, to round out the category, are the late Rosemary Clooney for “The Last Concert,” and Tony Bennett & k.d. lang for “A Wonderful World,” which are two more wonderful albums! My guess as to who will win? You’ll have to wait until I handicap the Grammy’s in a later column. If you glanced at the charts this past year, you may have felt you were in a time warp. The other artists to make an impact with big albums were The Beatles, “Let It Be…Naked,” and Elvis Presley, “2nd To None,” following the enormous success of last year’s “Elv1s 30: #1 Hits.”
Annie Lennox released her brilliant third solo CD “Bare” to critical acclaim, big sales and a Grammy nod, while The Eagles swooped into the Number Three spot with their two CD set of “The Very Best of The Eagles.”

Other notable names of the 60’s, 70’s 80’s and 90’s were represented by
Cher, who went on her six-month farewell tour in 2002, and wrapped up 18 months later still warbling “goodbye.” You thought she was done saying goodbye? Can’t live without her? Well, she’s saying “farewell” one more time with a pair of concerts in Las Vegas on January 2nd and 3rd of 2004. Celine Dion signed a lucrative contract with Caesars Palace for a three year, 300 million dollar deal. To secure the songbird, Caesars even built a coliseum just for her. Not bad. I think her heart will most definitely go on. While she rests her voice, Sir Elton John will take over five weeks a year for the next three years, for a reported 75 million. The “Bitch Is Back” indeed! Speaking of “Sirs,” Mick Jagger was at last knighted by the Queen (no, not Elton) last week to join other rockers Sir Paul McCartney and Elton to become Sir Mick Jagger.


BILLIE JEAN IS NOT MY LOVER: And according to Michael Jackson, neither is the boy he allegedly molested. Just when we thought it was over. It’s been exactly ten years since Jackson was first accused and consequently settled out of court with the first child to come forth with allegations of misconduct. I use the word “alleged” very strongly. I truly believe that given the history of this “victim” and his family, the truth will come out and Jackson will be exonerated. That is my hope and that is my belief. The gloved one has had quite a rough decade and 2003 is ending on a sad note for the superstar. His CD “Michael Jackson Number Ones” and his single, ironically titled “One More Chance,” were released the same day he was arrested and released on three million dollars bail. The CD has sold well so far in the U.S. and has gone through the roof in Europe, debuting in the Number One slot. We hope that 2004 will be much more of a thriller for the artist.

NUMBER ONE WITH A BULLET: On the same day Michael Jackson was arrested, legendary music producer Phil Spector was charged with the murder of actress Lana Clarkson. It seems Ms. Clarkson was found dead of a bullet wound on Mr. Spector’s property with a gun owned by Spector. He was released on one million dollars bail and will face charges in 2004. The release of Spector from jail also came at the release of The Beatles’ last album together, “Let It Be…Naked,” stripped of Spector’s production. This was an album planned long before Phil Spector was accused of murdering Lana Clarkson.

CRACK IS WHACK: Unfortunately, that’s a quote that would go on to haunt the once remarkable Whitney Houston. Am I the only one who watched the interview with Diane Sawyer in disbelief, as the once reigning sweetheart of pop spoke alongside her husband of eleven years Bobby Brown? It was a sad, sad interview. I could only imagine the man that “discovered” the velvet-throated diva, Clive Davis, was just shaking his head in sorrow as most of us were. To add salt to the wound, “Just Whitney,” her trainwreck of an album, was released and disappeared in the wink of a black eye. And to twist the knife a little deeper, Ms. Houston has now made a recording that she probably wishes her last CD had gotten as much airplay as. It was the now infamous 911 tape when she called to report her husband’s domestic abuse. What’s even worse, two days later, Houston, who appeared to be “under the influence” of something, was videotaped in the passenger seat of a vehicle next to Brown singing and shouting “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman” from her car window with a bruised left cheek and a split lip. Can you say Nicole Simpson? If she keeps it up much longer, can you say Judy Garland? Whitney, we hope you get your act together. If not for you, do it for your daughter. Didn’t you almost have it all?

WHERE’S THAT RAINBOW?: As long as I mentioned Garland, that reminds me of someone else. Hmm, who could it be? Oh yes, that mad duo Liza Minnelli and David Gest. Their news story began with a storybook wedding in 2002 and ended sixteen months later with Gest accusing Minnelli of domestic abuse while soused on vodka. He was suing the legend for ten million dollars. Well, turnaround is fair play. Minnelli is countersuing for defamation of her name, and accused her fourth husband of stealing not only the spotlight, but millions of dollars as well. Maybe this time, she’ll get lucky. Maybe this time, she’ll win.

DO YOU REALLY WANT TO HURT ME?: At least that’s the tune former talk show queen Rosie O’Donnell can finally sing again. After a tumultuous year and hideous lawsuit, O’Donnell was vindicated when the judge in her lawsuit dismissed the case with “no winners, just bragging rights.” The day after the O’Donnell case ended, Taboo, the ten million dollar musical starring
Boy George, opened to mixed reviews but a full house on Broadway.


CHECKING IN: The most visible person checking in to Paris Hilton this past year seems to have been Rick Solomon. Judging from the infamous videotape, he had a nice long stay. Unfortunately for the hotel heiress, the accommodations came at a high price. The one good thing to come from Mr. Solomon, besides his DNA, was the overexposure this “party girl” got for doing absolutely nothing, except partying! It certainly didn’t hurt the ratings on the bizarre and nauseatingly bad reality show, The Simple Life, co-starring her spoiled friend, Nicole Richie. Or as we endearingly refer to her, Bitchy Richie. In the end, Paris stands to pocket a few extra bucks for the show. Rumor has it, she’s preparing to record her debut CD. I wonder if they’ll create a new category just for her at next year’s Grammy Awards? If the disc fails, she still has a shot at Best Video of the Year.

TOGETHER WHEREVER WE GO: Who will ever forget 2003 as the year of J.Lo & Ben, Ashton & Demi and Nick Lachey & Jessica Simpson? Probably no one. Therefore that’s all I’d like to say on these overexposed, over-hyped duos.

THE SPERMINATOR: Yes, the man who groped his way to become the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

As far as CBS is concerned, I’d say not. They are responsible for banning the mini-series The Reagans,starring James Brolin and Judy Davis, two weeks before airing in November because of pressure from the right wing. The tiffany network, which is available in 180 million homes, sold the telepic to their sister station Showtime, which is available in 14 million homes, which aired the controversial flick on November 30th.


RAP IT UP: When did you ever think you’d hear the words uttered, “And the Oscar goes to Eminem?” Those are the exact words Barbra Streisand announced with a surprised “woo!” before announcing the rapper’s name at last March’s 75th annual ceremonies. The Oscar for Best Song was “Lose Yourself” from the film 8 Mile.

Oscar was also kind to Nicole Kidman and Adrien Brody. They won the Best Actress and Actor Awards for their roles in The Hours and The Pianist respectively. Best supporting accolades went to Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago and Chris Cooper in Adaptation. Best Picture of the Year went to Chicago.

2003: WHAT’S ON TV?

QUEEN OF THE NIGHT: At least that’s what we could call NBC’s sister station BRAVO for airing the enormous hit series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and the moderate hit show Boy Meets Boy. Gay men have come a long way to see their images on the small screen. Still, some may argue that it’s not enough, but at least this is a start.

WHAT’S NEXT?: An out lesbian hosting a daytime talkfest? Oh, hold on. This brings me to my pick for Entertainer and Comeback of the Year! Thank you Ellen Degeneres for breathing your beautiful humor into Finding Nemo, which I consider to be the Best Film of 2003. Who knew you’d be back on the small screen in a matter of months, following the success of “Nemo” with the biggest success in daytime talk since that other gal pal of ours, Rosie O’Donnell? Welcome back, Ellen. We missed your intelligence and warmth. You feel like an old friend coming home again.


CHECKING OUT: 2003 marked a year for entertainers that gave us smiles and tears and truly great performances. We bid a heartfelt farewell to the following:

Maurice Gibb - January 12; Richard Crenna - January 17; Nell Carter - January 23; Johnny Paycheck - February 19; Fred Rogers - February 27; Hank Ballard - March 2; Lynne Thigpen - March 12; Michael Jeter - March 30; Little Eva - April 11; Nina Simone - April 21; Wendy Hiller - May 14; Robert Stack - May 15; June Carter Cash - May 15; David Brinkley - June 11; Gregory Peck - June 11; Hume Cronyn - June 15; Katharine Hepburn - June 29; Buddy Hackett - June 30; Herbie Mann - July 1; Barry White - July 4; Buddy Ebsen - July 6; Bob Hope - July 27; Sam Phillips - July 30; Gregory Hines - August 8; Charles Bronson - August 30; Larry Hovis - September 9; John Ritter - September 11; Johnny Cash - September 12; George Plimpton - September 26; Robert Palmer - September 26; Donald O'Connor - September 27; Elia Kazan - September 28; Fred Berry - October 21; Bobby Hatfield - November 5; Art Carney - November 9; Hope Lange - December 19; Sir Alan Bates - December 27

Sleep in heavenly peace.

And that’s the way it was for 2003.

Steven M. Housman
West Coast Editor
Genre Magazine

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