March 2005
By Steven M. Housman

Baby, What a Big Surprise!

The 47th Annual Grammy Awards aired on February 13, and the fact that it received a 20 share, the show’s lowest ratings in a decade, wasn’t a surprise. The reason for the decline in ratings for the Grammy Awards telecasts of the past several years is due to poor production, bad comedians filling in as hosts, bad production numbers, not enough diversity in the performances, and let’s not forget those endless speeches that go out to their mother’s sister’s niece in Des Moines. Ugh!

Much to my surprise (and to the delight of the viewers who did tune in) this years show was a smashing success.

Let’s start at the beginning. The Grammy’s were telecast live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. It opened with multi-stage performances from such artists as The Black Eyed Peas, Gwen Stefani with Eve, and Maroon 5. There was a song and/or a performer that pleased just about everyone.

Enter Queen Latifah, the Oscar and Grammy-nominated performer that was assigned the dubious position of hosting this year’s show. She was great, spending very little time on stage. She was on and off very quickly, and her monologue was smart, sublime and sexy. Throughout the program, she popped up from time to time to make an announcement, but was never in your face to the point of making a bad joke, or offending some country that was watching six thousand miles away.

The bulk of the show’s content went to the outstanding performances for which they were nominated, and gave a smaller amount of time to the recipients and their speeches. Although this may sound inappropriate, it worked brilliantly and kept the three and one half hour show moving at a brisk pace.

Then there’s the irony. The performances that were highly touted, such as Jennifer Lopez and her husband of eight months, Marc Anthony, came and went without much fanfare. As a matter of fact, I’d say the newlyweds’ performance was probably the most blasé of the evening. And it wasn’t that awful. It just registered a weak pulse. The song they performed was the Spanish-language duet ''Escapémonos'' (''Let's Escape''). Interestingly enough, it was the first time that Lopez sang live for a televised audience, so the anticipation of “will she be able to pull it off” was better than the performance itself. A day after Lopez’ first “live” vocal event and sour reviews, she canceled her upcoming European tour. Hmmm….

Every few years there’s a standout performance that rocks the house. Most recall the night back in 1999 when Ricky Martin brought down the house with his sexy performance of “The Cup of Life” and a star was born. Well, this year’s Grammy’s didn’t have one special performance, not even two - it had several knockout performances.

Alicia Keys took to the stage and performed her R&B nominated song “If I Ain’t Got You.” Her performance was so thrilling, she received a standing ovation and proved that the five Grammy’s she took home a couple of years ago were no fluke. I’m sure she made millions of new fans with this performance. I know she made one out of me. I always admired Keys for her singing, playing and songwriting abilities, but was never quite as taken with her as I was this Grammy evening.

Next up, Alicia Keys’ duet with the Oscar-nominated Jamie Foxx (nominated at press time – by the time you read this, I think it’ll be safe to say Oscar-winning) on the Ray Charles classic “Georgia On My Mind.” Keys’ and Foxx’s vocals were so superb and in synch that they might be nominated for an Emmy for this live TV performance. Hey, stranger things have happened. Billy Crystal has won an Emmy for hosting the Academy Awards, so anything is possible.

Time came for the roster of talent being honored that evening for their lifetime of work, many of whom were in attendance, just about guaranteed that the gathering would be something special. Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards were given to Eddy Arnold, Art Blakey, the Carter Family, Morton Gould, Led Zeppelin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jelly Roll Morton, Pinetop Perkins and the Staple Singers. But the most special portion of this event happened to be the Lifetime Achievement Award for Janis Joplin. For those who were watching, you know where I’m headed. For those who missed it, I’m sure you heard about it.

Kris Kristofferson took the stage to give a little tidbit on the short, but extraordinary life of Janis Joplin. It was Kristofferson who wrote Joplin’s only Number One song “Me and Bobby McGee” which charted posthumously. With that, he introduced 17 year-old British soul sensation Joss Stone who delivered a chilling and thrilling version of Joplin’s “Cry Baby.” But when her singing partner Melissa Etheridge entered the stage, all bets were off for the performance of the night. She emerged bald from her recent chemo treatments for breast cancer, and she glowed, she was absolutely radiant - as if to say, it’s alright, this is who I am now, and I’d like to pay tribute to my idol.

Segueing from Stone’s performance and without missing a beat, Etheridge launched into Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” and exploded into one of the most dynamic and electrifying performances in television history. It was not only the talk of the telecast; it was the talk of the nation. Etheridge headlined every news outlet and news program the following morning and still had tongues wagging several days following. This performance will go down in television history with the Beatles appearance on Ed Sullivan, as well as Michael Jackson’s famous Motown moonwalk over twenty years ago. Yes, it was that special.

Melissa Etheridge’s battle with breast cancer made headlines months ago when it was announced she was battling this horrible disease, but no one was prepared for her brave appearance and her brilliant performance. It was as if to say, I’m here, I’m a survivor and it’s okay to be who you are. She comments “I loved performing at the Grammy’s. It was a great night.”

We’ve all known Etheridge’s bravery when it comes to being who she is, whether it’s dealing with her sexuality or her open relationships with former girlfriend Julie Cypher, followed by her wife Tammy Lynn Michaels. Julie Cypher, gave birth to a daughter, Bailey Jean, in February 1997 and a son, Beckett, in November 1998. They share joint custody.

I hope you were able to catch Etheridge’s interview on Dateline NBC. She is truly an inspiration to the gay community and to cancer victims and survivors everywhere. Our hats are off to Etheridge who came out publicly in 1993, and has been leading the way and opening doors for so many people, young and old. If that’s not enough, breast cancer patients are also tipping their hats and wigs to Etheridge for showing (in the lyrics of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart”) “that a woman can be tough.” Bravo, Melissa. I am happy to say that she is now cancer-free.

About two thirds through the telecast, Bono, Stevie Wonder, Norah Jones, Alicia Keys, Velvet Revolver, Tim McGraw, Brian Wilson and Al Green joined together for a special fund-raising musical performance of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s brilliant composition “Across the Universe” for the victims of December’s Tsunami. The gathering and sentiment were reminiscent of “We Are the World” USA for Africa benefit from twenty years ago.

I got so caught up with the phenomenal performances, the awards themselves seemed secondary. Besides the performers, here’s to the other big winners.

The late, great Ray Charles cleaned up winning eight awards, tying Michael Jackson for the most wins in one year, including Album of the Year and Pop Album of the Year for Genius Loves Company, as well as Record of the Year, his duet with other multi-Grammy recipient Norah Jones on “Here We Go Again.”

Alicia Keys picked up four more Grammy’s to add to her five from 2002, including Best R&B Vocal Female for “I Ain’t Got You” and Best R&B Album The Diary of Alicia Keys.

Other notable winners were Usher, who picked up a trio including Best Contemporary R&B Album Confessions and John Mayer, who picked up a couple of trophies for Song of the Year and Best Male Vocal for his stunning opus “Daughters.”

A hat trick went to Kanye West including his win for Best Rap Album College Dropout, while Brian Wilson picked up a well-deserved trophy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow.” Green Day also picked up three including Best Rock Album American Idiot, and Bruce Springsteen grabbed his eleventh Grammy for Best Solo Rock Performance for the single “Code of Silence.” U2 picked up a deuce for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance for “Vertigo,” while three other veterans picked up a trophy each, Prince won for Best Traditional R&B Vocal for “Call My Name,” Loretta Lynn easily won for Best Country Album with Van Lear Rose, and Rod Stewart finally nabbed his very first Grammy for Best Traditional Vocal Album for The Great American Songbook…III. I guess the third time is a charm! Britney Spears picked up her first Grammy for Best Dance Recording for her infectious James Bondish track “Toxic,” and Maroon 5 won for Best New Artist.

Let’s just hope that the Grammy committee was more pleased with this year’s content, and hope the trend continues to the 48th Annual Grammy Awards next February. If so, the telecast will finally be a winner again, too.

© 2005 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.