Tuesday, April 29, 2008


I remember doing a "Christopher Closeup" TV shoot in Los Angeles about 5 or 6 years ago when one of our crew members talked about working a show (a rehearsal actually) at which Britney Spears was performing some very sexual song and dance. He then recalled seeing her offstage and was stunned at how different she seemed. Britney came across as sweet, polite, charming and even a little innocent. Regarding the sexual nature of her act, the crew member said Britney was just doing what her handlers and the people around her told her to do. Our crew member concluded that she was being manipulated.

That story came to mind in light of the current controversy about Miley Cyrus (aka Hannah Montana), the idol of millions of tween girls, who did a Vanity Fair photo shoot that seems inappropriate for a 15-year-old. I have no special knowledge of this situation outside of the fact that I met Miley's Dad, Billy Ray Cyrus, a few years ago when he was on "Christopher Closeup" and he struck me as a humble, friendly and gracious man who sincerely cared about his family. That being said, let's indulge in a little speculation.

If there's any real fault here, I'm inclined to lay it at the feet of the Vanity Fair people. Supposedly Miley's parents had left the shoot by the time the controversial picture was taken and photographer Annie Leibowitz talked Miley into doing what she considered a tasteful portrait. Was Miley aware that this photo was of a slightly more adult nature? Probably. But what 15-year-old doesn't want to be seen as more adult? Was she aware that it was somewhat sexually suggestive to pose like that? Probably. But considering how over-sexualized our culture has become for teenage girls (suggestion: read "Girls Gone Mild" by Wendy Shalit), it isn't likely that Miley is completely immune from that influence and may have given into it a little bit.

Never having been a teenage girl myself, I can't speak definitively for Miley's thought process. But I was a young boy at one time who wanted to be like Fonzie so I'm aware of pop culture's effect on kids and teens. (And yes, I had a leather jacket. I was a total nerd but I had a leather jacket.)

Miley Cyrus may be a mega-star but she's also only 15-years-old. That's not an age when your judgment is all it should be. Therefore it's the responsibility of the adults in whose care Miley was at the time to watch out for her. Her parents may have been naive in leaving her unattended before the shoot was finished, but the magazine folks likely knew exactly what they were doing.

Then again, considering how oversexualized our culture has become for young girls, the magazine folks may not have even been deliberately trying to exploit Miley; they were just doing what they see everybody else doing without giving it a second thought. However, exploiting young girls has become the norm so somebody has to say "Enough."

Hopefully, Miley's parents will be more aware of what's going on and realize that, even though their daughter is a huge star, she's still a young woman who needs adult guidance to steer her in the right direction. Otherwise, the sweet, polite teen may follow in the footsteps of the other young star I mentioned at the top of this post. I don't think anybody wants that to happen.


Saturday, April 26, 2008


It began with a challenge.

Jim Caviezel, the actor known for playing Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ,” had been outspoken about his Catholic Christian beliefs. Wondering if he was as committed to his values as his words indicated, a friend said to him, “(Not) unless you adopt a child – and not any child but a disabled child. – will I believe in you.”

Caviezel’s response - “Okay, so when I do, will you become pro-life?”

The friend indicated he would.

That conversation led Caviezel and his wife Kerri on a journey to China where they met a five-year-old boy named Bo living in an orphanage. During an interview on the radio program “Christopher Closeup,” Caviezel recalled that Bo was abandoned on a train as a baby and grew up in the orphanage. At the facility, children were told “that they had no mommy, that they were born out of the dirt.”

Bo had a more significant challenge besides his living circumstances. He had a brain tumor that threatened his life. Caviezel and his wife adopted Bo and supported him through his brain surgery when they didn’t know if he would live or die. Bo remains a beloved member of the Caviezel’s family today.

So what happened with the friend who said that if Jim adopted a sick child, he would become pro-life?

Caviezel says, “He didn’t make good on his word. But it didn’t matter to me because the joy that we had from (Bo) – he’s like our own.”

In fact, Jim and Kerri went on to adopt another orphan – this one a five-year-old girl also with a brain tumor. The couple originally planned to adopt a healthy newborn girl, but when they met the sick child they realized that the healthy baby would find a good home; the sick one wouldn’t. She was then welcomed into their family as well.

Jim confirms that he and Kerri have no regrets about adopting two kids whose health was in question – “We took the harder road...That is what faith is to me; it’s action. It’s the Samaritan. It’s not the one who says he is; it’s the one who does – and does without bringing attention to himself. I’m saying this because I want to encourage other people. Yes, you do feel fear, you do feel scared but you have no idea the blessings that you have coming to you if you just take a chance on faith.”

(To download the free podcast of Jim Caviezel's interview on "Christopher Closeup" during which he also discusses the challenge of being a Christian in the modern world and his latest project - The Word of Promise New Testament Audio Bible - visit www.christophers.org/closeuppodcast.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Here's a press release for a "Christopher Closeup" interview that airs on Sirius radio's The Catholic Channel on Sunday April 27th. A podcast will be avaialable on the show's web page in a few weeks.


NEW YORK, April 15, 2008 – Former “America’s Next Top Model” contestant and cradle-Catholic Leah Darrow candidly discusses faith, fashion and the temptation to compromise one’s standards in chasing after success on Christopher Closeup, airing on Sunday, April 27 at 7 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. EST on The Catholic Channel, Sirius 159.

Darrow, a resident of St. Louis, Missouri, explains how childhood aspirations of being a professional model led her to auditioning and eventually being selected for the third season of the popular reality television series. Though she was eliminated early on, the exposure opened the doors to further modeling opportunities. It was during one of those photo shoots that Darrow found herself questioning her career path, realizing that it would require making choices at odds with the core values of her Catholic upbringing.

“As more shots were being taken, more and more of me – I felt – was being torn away,” she recalls in the interview. “I realized that in grasping for all these hopes and dreams I had for this career, I had fallen so far away from my true ideals.”

Faced with a decision, Darrow walked away from modeling and now dedicates her time to motivational speaking including being the spokesperson for “Pure Fashion,” a character forming program for girls ages 14 to 18 that emphasizes inner beauty over superficial ideas of physical perfection, builds confidence and affirms “authentic femininity” by affirming the inherent dignity of women.

Darrow credits her parents for instilling a strong Catholic faith in her and her five siblings. She also relates how her faith provided comfort to her and her family during the dark days following the murder of her grandfather.

For more information on Leah Darrow, visit www.CMGbooking.com.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Kelly Clarkson did an outstanding job singing "Ave Maria" at the papal youth rally today. She performed it the traditional way yet made it sound fresh and new. Look and listen below:


Thursday, April 17, 2008


This season's American Idol contestants are all wonderfully talented singers and performers. My favorites, however, have been Brooke, Cook and Cook (a great name for a legal firm if singing doesn't work out). Sadly, one of the Cooks left the competition last night. Kristy Lee Cook, after being in the Bottom 3 numerous times, received the lowest number of votes which is a shame because she'd really come into her own as a performer in recent weeks. Plus, the girl has a powerful and engaging voice that should definitely lead some country label to sign her quickly. Kristy Lee also demonstrated class and dignity in taking so much criticism which was often unfair. To hear one of her best performances - Martina McBride's "Anyway" - check out the Youtube video below.

But before that, a tip of the hat also to David Cook. It was all over the news this week that David's brother Adam - critically ill with cancer - would be at the American Idol taping. In fact, there were cutaways to Adam during both the performance show and results show. But unless you knew the story, there was never any identification of Adam or direct mention of him. Idol is known for playing up emotional moments. David Cook singing in front of his cancer-stricken brother certainly qualified as such. But even though David was given the opportunity to talk about what was going on, he held back. It seems that he wants to stay in the competition because of his own merits and not because of a sympathy vote. That shows a lot of class in general, and also a lot of respect for his family's situation. Everyone should offer a prayer for Adam Cook and his family that they find healing and peace in this very difficult time.

Now, as promised, here is Kristy Lee Cook with "Anyway:


Sunday, April 13, 2008


For fellow "American Idol" viewers who are fans of Brooke White, check out her new official fan site at BrookeInsider.com. It's got exclusive videos, music, and photos you won't find anywhere else. It also includes a link to a CNN article about Brooke excerpted below:
Raised in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, White and her three younger siblings were brought up with high moral standards by parents Brad and Kaylene, friends and former teachers say. Drama teacher Gary Helmbold directed White in the school musical and recalls having to break the news to her of a kissing scene.

"When I first talked to her about it, she said 'Oh, but Mr. Helmbold, I've never kissed anyone before except my Mom and Dad,' " Helmbold said. "We handled it very gingerly."

Although a high school musical can be a breeding ground for catty behavior, Helmbold said White could not have been more gracious.

"Often times, the lead separates themselves from the rest of the cast," Helmbold said. "She was everybody's friend. She was always the first to arrive and the last to leave."

About four years ago, White went to study voice at the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, Harris-Torriente said. She has lived there since with her husband, Dave. In 2005, she released an album independently. When "Idol" began, White was working as a nanny to twin baby girls.

For students at her old high school, it's been refreshing to see a hometown girl make it big without compromising herself.

"Seeing people on TV, you think you can't do that. It's a totally different world," said Chiara Spence, 17. "She shows you can do anything that you set your mind to."

Every Tuesday, Rick Dalton, White's former history teacher, who first taught her to play the guitar, reminds all his students to watch the show and vote for White. He even uses her performances as material for giveaway extra credit questions.

"If anybody deserves it, it's her," said Dalton, his voice breaking with emotion. "Whatever she gets, she'll use it to bless others."


Wednesday, April 9, 2008


If, like me, you weren't aware of the Christian side of Eric Clapton, here's a link to an enlightening article from Christianity Today.

In his autobiography, Clapton elaborates on the beginnings of his prayer life — that 1987 rock-bottom moment at the rehab treatment center.

"I was in complete despair," Clapton wrote. "In the privacy of my room, I begged for help. I had no notion who I thought I was talking to, I just knew that I had come to the end of my tether … and, getting down on my knees, I surrendered. Within a few days I realized that … I had found a place to turn to, a place I'd always known was there but never really wanted, or needed, to believe in. From that day until this, I have never failed to pray in the morning, on my knees, asking for help, and at night, to express gratitude for my life and, most of all, for my sobriety. I choose to kneel because I feel I need to humble myself when I pray, and with my ego, this is the most I can do. If you are asking why I do all this, I will tell you … because it works, as simple as that."


Friday, April 4, 2008


Beth Griffin of Catholic News Service reports on who will be singing for Pope Benedict when he comes to New York. I was happily surprised to see one of my "American Idol" favorites on the list:

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Performing for a papal event is not just another gig, even for those whose names are usually rendered in boldface type.

Headline entertainers who will sing for the crowds assembled to greet the pope at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers and at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx spoke of the opportunity as a singular experience and one they are eagerly anticipating.

Kelly Clarkson, 25, a pop singer who gained national attention by winning the inaugural "American Idol" competition in 2002, will sing several of her standards for the youths awaiting the pope in Yonkers April 19.

When the pope arrives, she will sing "Ave Maria" by Franz Schubert. Through her publicist, she said, "I was so excited to be asked to sing for the pope! I grew up singing church music, and it's always been a dream of mine to perform 'Ave Maria.' To have that dream come true on such a special occasion is truly a blessing."

Clarkson, who was raised Baptist, will return from a European performance tour as the pope arrives in the United States.

At Yankee Stadium April 20, guitar virtuoso Jose Feliciano will sing "Lean on Me," "Que Sera, Sera" and "God Bless the USA."

In an interview with Catholic News Service, Feliciano's wife, Susan Feliciano, said: "This is a great gift, the opportunity of a lifetime, to be able to participate in something so special."

She said the family attends the Church of the Assumption in Westport, where Jose is a lector, she is a catechist and eucharistic minister and their three children are altar servers.

Feliciano performed at the Vatican in 1997 with Andre Bocelli.

Metropolitan Opera tenor Marcello Giordani will sing before and during the Mass at Yankee Stadium. In the early afternoon, he will perform the Giacomo Puccini aria "Nessun Dorma" from the opera "Turandot." At Mass, he will sing "Panis Angelicus" by Cesar Franck.

Giordani, who has sung at St. Patrick's Cathedral, was invited to sing by New York Cardinal Edward M. Egan. Giordani told CNS that he, his wife and their two children attend St. Patrick's during the months they live in New York.

"It's a great honor for me to sing for the pope. It's my first experience and I'm real excited. The pope is our icon; he's Jesus on earth," he said.

Giordani said he has performed, without a microphone, at outdoor venues in Italy and France, but never in one as large as Yankee Stadium. Asked if he might be nervous performing for Pope Benedict and 55,000 Massgoers, the tenor said, "I will close my eyes and sing."

The Irish singer Dana will also perform at the stadium. She has sung at papal events in the past, including World Youth Day in 1993, 1997 and 2002. She also sang at the Superdome in New Orleans when Pope John Paul II visited there in 1987.

Jazz singer Harry Connick Jr. will perform two pieces he is composing for the event. Connick attended Jesuit High School in New Orleans.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


I can't think of any time in recent memory when Jesus got as much name recognition on prime-time television (outside of taking-His-name-in-vain, at least) as he did this week on "American Idol." Being that it was Dolly Parton week on Idol and Dolly, like many country artists, is known for singing about faith, the contestants sang several tunes in which Jesus is featured prominently - specifically, "Travelin' Thru" and "Smoky Mountain Memories." Then on tonight's results show, Dolly performed her new single "Jesus and Gravity" which is very much a gospel song about how both Jesus and gravity (but mostly Jesus) keep her grounded in life. It was a fun song with a great message off Dolly's new "Backwoods Barbie" album which I am now inclined to buy. I also like that the title of the song highlights a matter of faith (Jesus) and a matter of science (gravity) showing that we need both these things in our lives. I don't know that the song was looking to make any kind of statement about that; I'm just making that observation on my own. Overall a great week for Idol - especially because my girl Brooke White remains in the competition despite being in the bottom 3 tonight. (I would have posted YouTube clips of the performances but they were poor quality when I just checked so you might have to go to Itunes in case you want to see clips.)