Thursday, May 22, 2008

Off To Disney

My nephew in Arizona graduated high school last night and today they're leaving for a drive to Disneyland where the park will be open all night for them and thousands of other graduating seniors in the Southwestern U.S. Then they drive back. I've been invited to go, I think it'll be an amazing experience with my nephew and, more than likely, a really good travel essay. So I'm outta here till Friday. Bye bye.

Show is UP: What Rimes With Badu

This week's show is now available. The link on TheStripPodcast.Com will be fixed later today, but this is correct:

May 22: Leann Rimes and Erykah Badu

We’re getting a little bit country, a little bit soul this week with interviews with two very different artists. First, former teen prodigy LeAnn Rimes is all grown up and writing her own music these days, some of it offering a window into what it was like to transition from teen phenom to married lady. Then, Erykah Badu, the R&B star often likened to Billie Holliday, is back after a five-year break with three – yes, three – new albums this year. She’ll explain how Apple’s Garageband kicked off that spate. Also, the winner of our Jersey Boys tickets giveaway is revealed!

In Banter: Playing the Criss Angel Red Carpet audio, a weird country song, Aria is named, Jubilee is old and a peek at Fontainbleau.


Leann Rimes’ site is here
Erykah Badu’s site is here
Get tickets to Rimes’ concert at the MGM Grand here
Get tickets to Badu’s 6/13 concert at the House of Blues here
Hollyscoop is here
Read about Criss Angel’s threat to Norm Clarke here
Sharmian, who wrote that weird country song, is here
The YouTube video of the notable Taylor Swift can be seen here
Steve’s blog posts about the naming of Aria is here
Get tickets to Jubilee! here
The website for the Fontainebleau is here
An image of the Vegas Fontainebleau is here
The Jersey Boys Podcast can be found here

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

R-J Bafflingly Sucks Up To Criss Angel

Yesterday, tickets for Criss Angel's new Cirque show went on sale. That, evidently, is considered important news to the local media. I can't figure out on what journalistic planet that ought to be the case, but whatever.

The trouble is, Criss Angel stands accused by Norm Clarke of the R-J of having shoved and threatened him over his coverage. Several very credible eyewitnesses saw the incident. Angel has refused to answer questions about it, then whined to me on the carpet at the ACMAs the other day that people don't know the whole story.

Imagine, then, my surprise when the normally excellent Mike Weatherford ran this embarrassing puff piece on Angel and his ticket sales in yesterday's newspaper. There is nary a question, comment or no-comment in it about the most significant, most newsworthy relevance of Criss Angel at this point in time, his alleged threat to a journalist.

I asked Mike about this omission and here is his response, which was also sent to Richard Abowitz of the L.A. Times' Vegas blog when he, too, asked:

"This hasn't been actively discussed, but I think it has gone unsaid that since Norm and I mostly work independently already, I need to keep doing my thing (cover this show all the way through its opening) and let him do his. Besides, the interviews weren't one-on-one and there was a sense of the meter running in the presence of Kats and the AP on my side of the table, and the show's director and choreographer on the other, none of whom would probably appreciate the limited window of time sidetracked by Norm talk."

Wow. There are so many things wrong with this I can't get my head wrapped around them all. First, all journalists at all times are responsible for asking the most newsworthy questions. It doesn't matter if others are covering it and it doesn't matter if you're sharing access with other people.

And particular in this circumstance, why does Mike, Kats and the AP think they were invited to sit down with these people? Oh! That's right! To promote their forthcoming $100 million show. Something tells me they were going to sit right where they were as long as it took to give the journalists the promotional bits they wanted to get out there in the ether. They were using the journalists in no uncertain terms, but the journalists owe it to the public to ask the hard, uncomfortable questions and not just go along for the ride.

Think of the case of Martha Stewart thinking she'd get a free pass at the height of her tax-evasion scandals when she went on the CBS morning show and got badgered by the anchor during a food segment. Martha didn't get to decide what sorts of questions she answered or to merely focus on her salad just because she thinks that she picked a softball forum. And if she wouldn't answer the questions, then she didn't get to do her little self-promotional thing.

That this hasn't been "actively discussed" within the halls of the Review-Journal is even more shocking, although not surprising given the famous contempt for Clarke possessed by R-J Editor Thomas Mitchell. Violence and threats of violence against reporters are not small matters. They weren't back in the day when journalists were being threatened for covering the Mafia and they're not today when a star with thousands of rabid goth-crazed followers can cause serious harm that even the star himself doesn't intend.

It also does not matter if the subject matter is celebrity gossip nor the regard with which anyone holds journalist involved. (In this case, I happen to hold Norm Clarke in quite high regard because he's pretty much the only journalist in Las Vegas who actually credits others for stories they break. That's a level of uncommon integrity and generosity that deserves a great deal of respect.)

I do wonder, too, how such excellent reporters as Greenspun's John Katsilometes and whomever was sent by the Associated Press similarly fail to understand the gravity of the matter. Threats against journalists can cause a chilling impact on their comfort level in covering someone in the appropriate manner. It's a serious situation.

No self-respecting journalist ought to be asking Angel anything else until he at least responds to this situation and disavows any violence, suggested or otherwise, against journalists.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Strip is LIVE at 7 pm PT!

Join us at 7 pm for the live version of "The Strip" featuring LeAnn Rimes and Erykah Badu tonight! Plus, the winner of our Jersey Boys tickets giveaway and, finally, a new trivia question!

Come to LVRocks.Com and chat with fellow listeners! As always, if you can't make it, hooray! Be that way. Grab the podcast on Thursday.

Here's the video of LeAnn's great new tune "Nothin' Better To Do" and then the video of Badu's "On & On," Miles' favorite of hers. Both are terrific videos and will get y'all in the mood.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Serve Us Up Some Fresh ARIA!

This is why you read this blog.

Way, way back on December 17, you read here the first inkling that the central 4,000-room hotel-casino of CityCenter might come to be known as ARIA. At the time, MGM Mirage Chief of Design and Construction Bobby Baldwin disclosed to me that it was a name the brass loved but that they couldn't wrestle free the trademarks.

Evidently, that logjam was broken sometime in the past seven weeks. As recently as late March, MGM Mirage Chairman and CEO Terry Lanni told me in an interview for The New York Times that we aired on "The Strip" on April 17 that naming the hotel was "one of the most frustrating things" he'd dealt with in his career.

I guess in the three weeks between when I spoke to Lanni and when we posted that interview, the matter was resolved. It's not unprecedented; Steve Wynn bought the name "Mirage" from more than one proprietor in Vegas including from what then became known as the Glass Pool Inn.

As the screenshot of the trademark filing above shows, they got their wish on April 11. Some further digging showed that as of April 15, MGM Mirage took ownership of the Internet domain name and AriaLV.Com. On May 1, they grabbed AriaHotelCasino.Com. I spoke today with the owner of, a Las Vegas man who bought the domain on Sept. 29, 2007. That's pretty prescient timing. He wouldn't discuss it his negotiations right now or how he might have known that it was a name under consideration.

I don't know if that logo above is in any way related to the resort's logo. I doubt it.

I asked Alan Feldman, the MGM spokesman, about the process. Why Aria?

"Interestingly enough, Aria was one of those names that came up early in the process. For a little while, we were focused on creating a new name, a new word. But the thing about Aria was, we kept coming back to it."

Like anything else in Vegas, it'll take some getting used to but is certainly workable. Remember how we scratched our heads at "Love"? Now it fits. Or THEhotel? Oh, wait. That one's still stupid.

My favorite Vegas name? Zumanity. I don't even like the show. I just like the name. What's yours?

No More Capn Crunch or Twinkies?

I just caught a TV ad for the Blue Man Group at Venetian. The image above startled me. As any good BMG fan knows, they don't use generic products. They use Cap'n Crunch cereal and Twinkies, not Junk N Puffs and Kreamy Kakes. What gives?

I suspect there's a licensing issue here, but if Cap'n Crunch and Twinkies are happy being used in the show itself, why would they possible object to the free TV exposure they'd get from being in Blue Man ads?

I've got an e-mail out to find out.

Criss Angel: I Didn't Threaten Norm

It's hard to believe that it's been more than a month since Norm Clarke of the Review-Journal wrote that he was threatened by Cirque du Soleil star Criss Angel at the Miss USA contest and, so far as I can tell, nobody has directly asked Angel for comment. I mean, the guy goes to more openings than a can opener.

So I did it last night while on the carpet at the ACMAs for USA Today, right after Dippy from HollyScoop (see earlier post) asked him what "country" is to him and let him pimp some trick he's planning to do on TV where he walks on Lake Mead. Has it dried up even sooner than predicted?

Here's how it went:

Friess: Are you planning to apologize for the threat you made against Norm Clarke of the Review-Journal?

Angel: The problem is, some people got their lines crossed. And if some people got the whole story, they would see that what he wrote is actually not what really happened. So there’s nothing to apologize for.

Friess: What really happened?

Angel: I’d need a while to explain that to you and now is not the appropriate time.

That's odd. For a full month, this story's been out there. Richard Abowitz of the L.A. Times' Vegas blog put in some unreturned calls and emails and heard nothing. Sherman Frederick, Norm's boss as publisher of the Review-Journal, finally peeled himself away a full week after the alleged threat from misleading his Sunday readers about a circulation increase that was actually a decrease to stand up on behalf of his journalist.

And yet in the face of such a PR nightmare, Mr. Angel -- neither of his own volition nor encouraged firmly by the companies that have tethered $100 million+ to his mercurial persona in Vegas -- bothered to issue a statement, do an interview, write a letter to the editor. Not only that, but he's scolding "people" for not having the whole story when ample opportunities have been provided him to give it?

Hey, Criss. Here's yet another chance. I've got all the time in the world. Whatcha waiting for?

Another Busy Day

In addition to the USA Today pieces I referenced from the ACMAs, I also had a front-page piece in today's newspaper and a longer story inside both looking at the notion that some schools are trying to institute policies that would make a 50 the lowest grade a student can receive. I got the idea from a terrific piece by my Petcast co-host and Las Vegas Sun scribe Emily Richmond, who did a story in February on the controversy surrounding new grading policies. Her version is here.

In addition, I've also got a piece in Newsweek this week, online today, about why many podcasters hate the word "podcast."

Star-gazing at the ACMAs

[Click on any photos to enlarge them]

I had to go for USA Today on Sunday to the Academy of Country Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden and stand in triple-digit heat along that journalist trough known as a red carpet. In this case, it was an orange carpet, but nobody could/would say why and one colleague's suggestion that it's because Home Depot is a major sponsor was incorrect.

Anyhow, all of us journos were pretty set on doing sleepy little tales of Vegas-gone-country, lifetime-achiever Garth Brooks worship and pretty new young things winning big when Entertainer of the Year Kenny Chesney forced a total rewrite by complaining backstage at the end of the program about a change in how the award he won is decided. For the first time, it was purely determined by online public voting, making it harder for him to compare his fourth-in-a-row triumph to the four-straights of Garth Brooks of the five-straights of Alabama. He started by pausing to say he had to "choose his words carefully," but then he unloaded pretty spectacularly.

Since he won, it wasn't just sour grapes. And that explains why my piece ended up being written as it was. Read the main piece here. I also grabbed Dr. Phil McGraw and put him on the spot about those racy Vanity Fair photos. Read that item here.

I didn't bother to interview LeAnn Rimes on the carpet since I profiled her here for last week's L.A. Times. The conversation for that piece will air on this week's episode of "The Strip," too. Oh, and she also didn't give a fig about talking to print reporters, which may explain why this shot came out so unflattering as she virtually sprinted past us after charming the TV cameras.

Now, you can tell that I'm not modern country fan -- I was probably 15 years too late to catch my fave, Collin Raye, here -- since in our haste I screwed up the name of one of the Brooks & Dunn guys in my piece. But in my prep I fell in total love with Sugarland, which won Song of the Year and Single of the Year for the wrenching ballad "Stay." I challenge you to go watch this Sinead O'Connoresque video and come back unimpressed. Here they are, with Jennifer Nettles also showing off her backless dress.

Aside from Dr. Phil, there were others with tenuous ties to country music showing up including American Gladiator's Wolf and some Victoria's Secret model with the longest, barest legs I've ever seen.

The model is being asked by some dippy woman from some Web video thing called HollyScoop to answer the same inane question Dippy asked every single person who came by: "What's country to you?" Yes, folks, Dippy got a better spot on the carpet than USA Today, People, the Associated Press and several other major print/online outlets. In fact, everyone with a video camera did, leaving us with only the stars so early, so patient or so desperate for attention to be bothered to speak to print scribes by the time they got past the 100 or so TV softball tossers.

Speaking of which, I didn't have any questions for Jewel and, besides, I couldn't stop thinking of lemon meringue pie for some reason as she stopped by...

We could've gotten out of the heat sooner if we hadn't had to stand around waiting for Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban to race by us minutes before the awards show started. You can't see it, but the reason why Kidman is holding down her YSL maternity frock as though it might blow away -- there was no wind -- was because there was evidently some sort of ironing disaster that left a huge region of wrinkles to our left of her bump. There's a story there, but nobody had the guts to ask her. Or the time.

Backstage, we heard from award-winners including the awful cute Brad Paisley...

...the awful cute (and young!) Taylor Swift...

...and the awful thinner Garth Brooks.

This was before Chesney came along with his bombshell, so I actually was able to pay attention to Garth. He seemed really nice. I've always been a fan. He should really think about playing Vegas. Maybe even the Colosseum. Now there's an idea...

And that was that. Yee-haw.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Silence on Dead Baby At Excalibur

Catching up on the local papers that accumulated while I was in Florida, I was stunned to find a shocking little story buried inside the local section of the R-J several days ago.

Hotel workers at Excalibur found a dead newborn boy -- placenta and umbilical cord intact -- in the trash in a public bathroom. The corpse was wrapped in a pillowcase and stuffed in an Excalibur gift bag.

The baby was found on Mother's Day, May 11. The news seems to have broken about it on Monday evening on the Las Vegas Sun's website with this piece. There was that short, obligatory piece in the Review-Journal the next day. The Associated Press picked up the tale, too, giving it a little more attention.

And that's it. Nobody in the local media has followed up since even though, according to the AP story, "police say their best hope may be the public."

I'm not sure why this bothers me so much. It just seems like a bigger deal than has been made of it, especially considering I've lived in cities where abandoned baby corpses have become front-page news for days. Here's one in perhaps the most popular tourist corridor in the world, and nobody seems to much care.