Music Features

INTERVIEW: Cristina Rae "Emptied Herself" to Portray Effie White

The America's Got Talent finalist will portray the character for a Clubhouse production of DreamGirls

Cristina Rae

Chris Haston - NBC

When Cristina Rae auditioned to be Effie White in the upcoming Clubhouse rendition of DreamGirls, she burst into tears.

The warm and boisterous Tennessean, whose powerful voice snagged her third place on America's Got Talent's 15th season, is no stranger to the character. She's portrayed the role four different times throughout her life. But the difference this time around was that she was reentering the role as a mother. When she originally auditioned for AGT, Cristina and her son were broke and living in her car. She gravitated towards AGT with the hopes of buying a home.

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TV News

Spoken Word Poet Brandon Leake Just Won "America's Got Talent"—Does America Love Poetry?

Brandon Leake is a powerful ambassador for an art form that has never had such a mainstream platform

When you think of poetry, what comes to mind?

Maybe it's Robert Frost making trivial choices sound important, or Emily Dickinson giving voice to alienation, or Edgar Allan Poe writing his creepy love to his so-much-younger cousin/wife.

Generally speaking—to the extent we think about poetry at all—Americans tend to think of it as something a handful of dead people did in order to make our high school English classes slightly more dull and confusing. But there is another strain of poetry that doesn't feel so buried in the past–a form that was pioneered by people who are still alive and that's still thriving.

Golden Buzzer: Brandon Leake Makes AGT History With Powerful Poetry - America's Got Talent 2020 www.youtube.com

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Cats are polarizing. Non-cat people vehemently despise the entire species, readily listing the wrongs done to them and loved ones by felines. Meanwhile, cat people feel just as strongly, and are ready to tell you all the ways their cat is smarter, better, prettier, and more fun to be around than you'll ever be. But whether you love them or hate them, you have to admit there isn't anything much better than a funny cat video. So you don't have to waste your time filtering all the non-cat content out of your newsfeed, we've compiled a list of our favorite funny cat videos.

Cat Jump Fail with Music: Sail by AWOLNATION

First of all, "Sail" by AWOLNATION is an absolute banger under any circumstances. Second of all, this sneaky boi looks like he'll set your house on fire and laugh while it burns. Third, and finally, what an incredibly bad jump.

Cats vs Zombies

We love a high budget production, talented feline actors, and tasteful machine gun use. Most of all, we love cats in funny little vests committing graphic acts of violence. We hope the creator of this video has found the help he needs.

Official Video: Cat Bath Freak Out -Tigger the cat says 'NO!' to bath

This cat is not happy about bath time, and eerily screams "NO!" over and over again. Inexplicably, instead of calling an exorcist, the owners of the cat continue to laugh, ignoring the fact that Lucifer himself is emerging from the mouth of their furry friend.

Surprised Kitty (Original)

This video of a small kitten throwing it's paws up in surprise has gained almost 80 million views on Youtube. We have to wonder if the person to post this now famous 30 second clip had any idea of the cultural impact their kitten would have.

Boxing cat

While this boxing cat's behavior almost certainly indicates a feline neurological disorder and not an understanding of human sports concrete enough to generate imitation, it's pretty funny anyway. We're pretty sure he'd lose a boxing match though, he's pretty small.

The Savitsky Cats: Super Trained Cats Perform Exciting Routine - America's Got Talent 2018

We aren't sure if these talented cats are funny or just disturbing, but either way they're undeniably entertaining. And fluffy. Look at their little paws. We'd like to believe that the cats actually trained the two women, not the other way around.

CULTURE

Americans Are Shocked At Terry Crews' Seemingly Pro-China Posts on Instagram

Whether the post was really intended to be pro-China remains unclear, but it wouldn't really be that shocking

Instagram

Americans love to have a villain.

Someone they can really sneer at and come together to root against. But Terry Crews is usually the furthest thing from the bad guy. He's a gifted painter, a former NFL player, and a fountain of positive energy and open communication whom we loved for his role in Brooklyn Nine-Nine even before he became a hero of progressive cultural change.

In 2017, when Crews shared his personal experience with sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood, he made himself vulnerable in a way that a lot of men—particularly men who are perceived as strong and masculine—would shy away from. His story became as clear an illustration of the toxic power dynamics in the entertainment industry as most of us could imagine—showing that even someone with the strength and confidence of a literal superhero could be taken advantage of and violated by the powerful figures in a system with such pervasive problems.

How could a man who has done so much to win our love provoke American society to suddenly turn against him? By siding—or at least seeming to side—with America's favorite villain du jour: China.

Crews is currently in Shanghai with his family and apparently having a great time. Some people would probably take issue with that alone—with an Instagram post asserting that China's largest city is "INCREDIBLE!!!" and "Truly a wonder to see in person!" Many American's have so thoroughly written off China as a force of pure evil that even innocuous positivity like this, delivered with a message of "WORLDWIDE LOVE," would be unacceptable, but it's not really surprising or out of character.

What really surprised people was when Crews posted a picture of himself, earlier this week, posing in front of the flag of the People's Republic of China, with the phase "POWER TO THE PEOPLES." This is the post that opened the floodgates on a torrent of negative responses, with thousands posting messages expressing their shock.

Most of the commenters seemed particularly concerned with the protesters in Hong Kong and with the perception that Crews was aligning himself with the mainland government, against the people who have occupied Hong Kong's streets for the past seven months fighting for autonomous democracy in their city. While it seems like a stretch to assume that Crews intended the post as an endorsement of Xi Jinping's government, the image was certainly suggestive of pro-China propaganda, with Crews looking buff and tough, with the red and gold flag framing his head. It's reminiscent of Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, posing in front of the flag of the USSR. And just like Ivan, Terry's post could not be more perfectly calculated to inflame American patriotism against him.

Ivan Drago "Rocky IV" 1985

It may be that Crews is not particularly familiar with the issues in Hong Kong—he's a busy man, with a lot on his plate. Or maybe, seeing the way people live in Shanghai, he doesn't think that Hong Kong has a great deal to fear in losing their autonomy. That's debatable, but there are other, more pressing reasons to maintain a strong critical stance when it comes to China. In particular, the "Vocational Training" that is being provided to Uyghur Muslims against their will in the Xinjiang re-education camps. There are reports about various atrocities—everything from rape to organ harvesting—that may be taking place in those camps. Without a free press in China, it's difficult to say for certain what's going on there—which is a problem in and of itself.

But if Crews had instead appeared in front of an American flag—or wrapped in a flag suit like his character in Idiocracy—would people have taken that as an endorsement of Donald Trump? Does the fact that he hosts America's Got Talent mean he must deny that America also has police violence? Does it mean he should ignore the sexual assault that takes place in our concentration camps at the southern border? Maybe flags in general just make for cool backdrops. Or maybe a person can express appreciation for a nation and its people without endorsing everything the government does there.

President Camacho "Idiocracy" (2006)

Meanwhile, Flint Michigan, where Terry Crews grew up, still has poison flowing from many of its taps. The NFL, where Terry Crews used to play, has—at the behest of President Trump—banned kneeling on the sidelines during the national anthem to protest police violence. Los Angeles, where Terry Crews lives, is suffering from a housing crisis, with 1% of the population living on the streets or in shelters. And the United States is still officially home to the largest population of imprisoned people on earth.

It's easy to attack China's crimes, because China is far away and their political problems seemingly have little in common with our own—and there is absolutely a lot to be critical of. Their problems allow even a divided country like ours a moment of unity—with everyone from Elizabeth Warren (who penned an article titled "It Is Time for the United States to Stand Up to China in Hong Kong") to the Trump family jumping on board. It may yet turn out that Terry Crews was unaware of some of these problems, or he didn't want to take the risk of expressing his own criticisms while his family is still within the country's borders.

Colin Kaepernick John G Mabanglo

That would be understandable. It could even turn out that "POWER TO THE PEOPLES," was meant as a subtle, pro-democracy message of solidarity—we can't really know right now. But if it's not, would it be that shocking to learn that, as a black man in the United States, Terry Crews knows better than to judge a nation simply by its worst crimes or its greatest achievements. Crews has achieved tremendous success for himself and his family, but he has also seen how badly his home country tends to treat people who look like him. Maybe he can celebrate the best of what he's seen in China—e.g. the hundreds of millions there who have been lifted out of poverty—without endorsing the worst of that government's evils.

Maybe Terry Crews is more capable of nuance than the people who break everything into heroes and villains—who praise Hong Kong protesters for throwing bricks and attack American protesters for throwing milkshakes or distracting us from football.

MUSIC

AT&T's Fake Boy Band Accidentally Created a Total Bop

AT&T needs to drop the full "Summertime Lover" track immediately.

AT&T/ Kory Brocious

There's no doubt about it—"Summertime Lover" from AT&T's new commercial is an absolute banger. The only problem: It's not a real song.*

*UPDATE 09/20/2019: SUMMERTIME LOVER HAS OFFICIALLY DROPPED.

"Summertime Lover" is a fictional number performed by a fictional boy band in an AT&T commercial. The commercial hinges on the premise that a boy band without dancing is "just okay." Except the song they seem to have created solely to be used as a "just okay" boy band sample is accidentally a total bop. It's been stuck in my head for days, and I've watched the commercial like 80 times already just to hear the 30-second clip.

Just listen to that. Like, damn. I can't be alone in demanding that AT&T drop the full track immediately. And based off the YouTube comments, I'm definitely not.

at&t boy band

Obviously "Summertime Lover" is a major throwback to '90s heyday boy bands. The main hook, "Summertime love / With my summertime lover," could have been ripped straight from NSYNC. But when lead singer, Kory, uses his falsetto to sing, "Gimme one chance / I'll treat you like a princess," he carries enough passion and vocal talent to drive the band straight into the modern era. And that wink. Swoon.

So you know what, AT&T. Let's go a step further. On top of dropping "Summertime Lover" as a single (it's honestly a travesty this hasn't been done already), it's time to make this boy band a real thing. I know this is just a silly commercial, but I don't even care. Call up Kory and the boys, hire a choreographer, and make this happen. I swear to G-d, I would buy a ticket to see these guys in concert.

You thought "Summertime Lover" was a big joke, but you were wrong. "Summertime Lover" is a big hit. Time to take it global. #DropSummertimeLover

TV

Kodi Lee Is Amazing—The Media's Coverage of Him Is Not

Kodi Lee's appearance on AGT is wonderful, but his talent is not indicative of every autistic person's experience.

Kodi Lee on America's Got Talent

Singer/musician Kodi Lee is America's Got Talent's latest breakout star—and the media's latest subject of terrible autism-related news coverage.

Golden Buzzer: Kodi Lee Wows You With A Historical Music Moment! - America's Got Talent 2019 www.youtube.com


Make no mistake, Kodi Lee is an incredibly talented musician and performer who deserves every ounce of fame and fortune he'll inevitably receive. He also "happen[s] to be blind and autistic too," as he mentions in his Twitter bio. We've written about Hollywood's autism fetishization trend before, so it's important to emphasize the fact that, overall, it's wonderful Kodi is being featured so prominently this season on AGT––the problem lies entirely with the surrounding press coverage.

America's Got Talent has never been a show that shies away from exploiting people's individual hardships and personal tragedies for ratings, so it's no surprise they would go that route for a talented musician with autism. That being said, aside from the audience's collective "AWWW" at the first mention of Kodi's autism, AGT actually handled the topic pretty well, at least within the framework of their baseline exploitative model. Giving Kodi the Golden Buzzer felt deserved, given his excellent performance, and the hosts seemed to treat him with respect when they congratulated him afterwards.

The same can't be said for Newsweek's coverage of the contestant: "WHO IS KODI LEE? 'AGT' CONTESTANT OVERCOMES ALL ODDS, RECEIVES FIRST GOLDEN BUZZER OF THE SEASON." Kodi Lee is a self-described "musical prodigious savant," one of roughly 25 people in the world with a combination of perfect pitch, audio photographic memory, and a hyper-focused attunement for musical expression. This means that he has a natural inclination towards musical talent that's significantly greater than the average population. Newsweek's booming assessment that Kodi has "overcome all odds" to receive the Golden Buzzer is, quite frankly, inane. As mentioned on his official website, Kodi has been performing music for years. Music is not only his passion but something he is uniquely equipped to excel at. If anything, the odds he'd be great were strongly in his favor.

That's not to say Kodi hasn't overcome struggles related to autism––he surely has. But it's important to separate the inevitable struggles Kodi has faced due to autism from his musical talent. Kodi is a wonderful musician and a musical savant, who also happens to be blind and have autism. Conflating these elements only serves to "other" the majority of people with autism, most of whom are not savants and don't necessarily have the type of incredible talents that Hollywood loves to fetishize. This is the main problem with NBC affiliate News 3 Las Vegas's take: "AGT's singing sensation Kodi Lee inspires families living with autism."

The news segment included an interview with Dr. Erin Honke, a clinical neuropsychologist who works with children on the autism spectrum who said, "There's always hope as far as hidden strengths." This is likely true, but the doctor's point was that people with autism can often excel in certain areas, especially when those areas relate to their specific interests. She goes on to talk about how parents focusing on their child's interests can help with development, which is also true. The host, Renee Santos, takes this to mean something entirely different. "All children on the spectrum have strengths just like Kodi's," she says. No, Renee. No, that is not true. Kodi is a savant. Most children with autism are not savants––less than 10% of children with autism display any signs of savant syndrome at all, and 50% of savants don't even have autism. This is a dangerous myth to propagate because, at best, it misinforms the general population about autism. At worst, it completely erases the vast majority of autistic experiences.

Ultimately, Kodi Lee's appearance on AGT is wonderful. He's a skilled, hardworking musician whose appearance on the show displays how diverse people with autism can be. But it's important for the media and viewers to realize that Kodi isn't indicative of every autistic person's experience. He's simply one voice among many—albeit a very nice one to listen to.