Thursday, August 28, 2008


Bonnie Hunt, one of my favorite actresses/comedians/talk-show-guests, is starting a talk show of her own in a couple of weeks. She's brought her down-to-earth personality and blue-collar, self-deprecating, Chicago-Catholic wit to numerous TV shows and movies in the past (Jerry Maguire, Cheaper by the Dozen). She also wrote, directed and co-starred in one of the most underappreciated romantic comedies of recent years, "Return To Me." Bonnie is a real gem so I hope she succeeds in this latest endeavor.

You can find out more about the new show here. Also, here's an excerpt from a recent L.A. Times story about her:

If Hunt's personality can be captured in the way McLoughlin describes, the new show stands a good chance. By nature, Hunt is about as approachable and down-to-earth as someone with her name on a marquee can be. During our interview she addressed me, diner-waitress-style, as "honey," though we'd never met or spoken before. When one of her producers poked his head in her office to pass along a message, she looked up and deadpanned: "Are you still with the production?" After our talk wrapped up, Hunt walked me down the hall, past an office where executive producer Don Lake was meeting with other top staffers. She introduced me with this line: "He already says we're going to fail."

But for all her gentle wit and affability, she does have strong views, views that have yielded an interesting career, if not always a secure one. She was trained as an oncology nurse (an occupation she returned to after her first sitcom was canceled) and blossomed as a star at Chicago's Second City comedy troupe. But she turned down a shot at instant stardom when producer Lorne Michaels offered her a gig on "Saturday Night Live." Hunt felt the show would have been confining.
But it's just possible that Hunt was never really meant to thrive in prime time or late night. It may just be that daytime will turn out to be the appropriate venue for her considerable talents. Certainly that's what Telepictures is hoping.

And if it doesn't work out? "That could very well happen," Hunt said. "But I'll be OK.

"If you can maintain your standards and your integrity and you fail, it's OK. It's when you sell out and you fail that you feel pretty sick inside."

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Though I try not to be, I know I can be full of myself occasionally. That's why this quote from a book I picked up today by Fulton Sheen jumped out at me. It's good advice for people of all faiths:

"Pride is the child of ignorance; humility the offspring of knowledge.

Pround people think themselves to be better than they are, and when criticized, always believe their neighbor is jealous or has a grudge against them. The humble know themselves as they really are for they judge themselves as they judge time - by a standard outside themselves, namely God and His moral law. The psychological reason for the modern fondness for news which deflates others or brings out the evil in their lives is to solace uneasy consciences which are already laden with guilt. By finding others who apparently are (worse) than we, we falsely believe that we are somehow better 'than the rest of men' (Lk 18:11)...

Humble people are not rigid exacters of things to which they have no undoubted right; they are always ready to overlook the faults of others knowing that they have so many themselves. Neither are they greatly provoked at those slights which put vain persons out of patience, knowing that as we show mercy to others so shall we receive mercy from God. Before undertaking a task great or small, before making decisions, before beginning a journey, the humble will acknowledge their dependence on God and will invoke His guidance and His blessing on all their enterprises. Even though they be placed above others by vocation or by the will of the people, they will never cease to recognize that God has made of one blood all the nations that dwell on earth."

Monday, August 18, 2008


Inspired by musicians like Chris Daughtry and Kelly Clarkson, former "American Idol" contestant Brooke Barrettsmith today releases her powerhouse self-titled debut album. While the songs' themes are definitely Christian (a few more overtly than others), Brooke doesn't hit you over the head with her Bible. Instead, her songwriting skills allow her to share stories and experiences that anyone can relate to. Most of these songs could - and hopefully will - be played on mainstream rock stations.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Brooke on "Christopher Closeup" (full interview here). She has an infectious enthusiasm for her faith that made me smile and that undoubtedly allows people to see a loving God reflected through her. Here are a few excerpts from our chat:

TR: One of the great things about your new CD is that it’s definitely an authentic rock album. And on some of your songs like “Anymore,” you’re not afraid to convey feelings of anger, fear and hurt. Why do you think it’s just as important to acknowledge those darker emotions as it is to convey the healing and redemption brought about by your faith in Jesus?

Brooke Barrettsmith: I think it’s important for everyone to know that keeping that kind of anger, bitterness, and hurt inside is more dangerous than anything...You have to share it in a healthy way. Sometimes…singing a really loud song at the top of your lungs, which is really what I did with “Anymore,” (gets out those) feelings...You can’t let that get unbearable. It’s unhealthy and that’s not what the Lord gave us brothers and sisters in Christ for. He gave us those people in our lives to be able to share, ‘Hey, I’m human, I’m hurting right now, I don’t have my act together all the time.’ I think that vulnerability connects everyone because everyone’s been there.

TR: Well one song I particularly related to myself was “Quiet My Heart” because my brain is always jumping ahead to what I have to do tomorrow or the next day. You’re a performer so your life has got to be a lot busier than mine. How do you find the time to quiet your heart?

Brooke Barrettsmith: It has to be a purposeful thing, definitely, with how busy life’s gotten in the last year. I have to make a point every day when I wake up to spend time with the Lord no matter where I’m at because, if not, my relationship with God - and my quiet time just for my own sanity - gets lost in the bustle. So it has to be a purposeful thing, it has to be a commitment you make to the Lord every day to meet him in that secret place, wherever it is, and just give Him that time, quiet your heart before Him, then face your day and all the worries of the day. Then it won’t seem so bad because God’s already calmed your spirit.

TR: In spite of the efforts you make to stay connected with your faith and with God, do you ever go through spiritually dry periods where, even when you’re trying, it just doesn’t feel like it’s there?

Brooke Barrettsmith: Oh absolutely! I think that it happens to every believer more often than we’d like to admit. There’s a song called “Breakthrough” on my album where I talked about that valley and how I hate being there...No one enjoys feeling distant from God. For me, the way the Lord always brings me back around is just Him pressing on my heart to press into Him and to really dive into His word and just kind of get desperate for Him...Sometimes He allows us to be in that valley so we cherish the times we’re not, and we value that closeness to the Lord when we have it.

TR: Brooke, you mentioned that you had a period in your life when you were not close to the Lord. What happened to get you close?

Brooke Barrettsmith: For me it was an anxiety problem. In high school, I wasn’t really interested in knowing God and having a relationship with Him...I had been a Christian my whole life because my Dad’s my pastor...but I hadn’t really owned Christianity for myself, made myself have my own relationship with God. So He allowed an anxiety problem to creep in and...allowed fear to become more real than I knew God to be. Sometimes he allows those things to happen to get our attention...For me it was anxiety...It manifested as panic attacks and feelings of hopelessness and not making it to tomorrow. That was a crossroad. I could either choose to be on the fence and never fully embrace...a relationship with God – or I could try and see what He has to offer...So I chose the latter because I have wonderful parents who pointed me in the direction of having that relationship with God. And I’ve never been more fulfilled in my whole life since that point. And through…the anxiety, God was able to teach me dependence on Him and slowly take that problem away from me.

(To hear Brooke's full interview - which includes comments about her "American Idol" experience and the message she tries to convey to girls and young women when talking at church groups and conferences - visit

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


The Anchoress is holding an online retreat at her web site all this week which includes reflections, prayers, and even a great essay on canning your own preserves (which for this born-and-bred, buy-my-jam-in-a-jar city boy holds a certain appealing charm). If you need a spiritual break in your day, be sure to visit the site for daily updates and inspiration. Here are a few excerpts to whet your appetite:

The notion of “God’s will” or “God’s love” is an invitation to surrender. Surrender is not passivity. It is not simply looking at the cards you’ve drawn and announcing, “I got nothing, I’m out.” It’s looking at the cards and saying, like Hamlet, “I will this brother’s wager frankly play” even if the outcome does not look like it can be remotely satisfying from your perspective.
When we look back on our lives we can see how we planned some things rather early, but due to timing, unexpected roadblocks and the repercussions from other choices we may have made (either without thinking, or because we were caught by surprise, or we’d simply run out of options) those first early plans got pushed aside into the pile of “somedays” where we thrust our dreams and wishes; we don’t forget about the early plans, we simply let them gather dust and languish, until we start believing that they were “silly” ideas, after all - unreasonable plans, best left untouched and unvisited - and we just allow ourselves to be sad about it...I think when we reach that point - when we come to think of time and opportunity as having fully “passed,” and options being “over” - we begin to fade away, because we are no longer using time, but simply existing within it...We live in this illusion called time - and every day within it brings us opportunities, and we make choices about those chances - do we stay or go, do we read or stare, do we pursue a dream or let it lie untried, simply because the chance to pursue it didn’t come when we wanted it to, when we thought it should?
It’s a lot of work, canning jam. The fruit won’t wait. It will rot if we don’t get to it right away. It’s hot work in a hot summer. It is patiently washing and cutting, boiling and cooking, timing and adding ingredients and constant stirring. Sterile jars, sterile lids, long hours on your feet getting everything immaculately clean, timing everything just right... It would be so much easier not to do this, wouldn’t it?...Impatience fills me, time passes me by. Planning? My whole life is lived out of the daily planner. But what have I done? How exactly have I enjoyed the moments of my own existence? Can I honestly say I am satisfied with its fruit?

Sunday, August 10, 2008


When Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy was getting ready to leave his parents’ Patchogue, NY home after celebrating Easter with them, his Mom Maureen and Dad Dan asked him to send a text message when he arrived at his base in Hawaii assuring them he got there safe. Maureen and Dan didn’t hear anything for two days so they got worried, especially since Michael often went on dangerous missions in his work as a NAVY SEAL. They called him and discovered he had sent the text but it must not have gone through because of a technical glitch. Dan and Maureen Murphy breathed a sigh of relief, but also learned their son would be deploying on a new mission shortly.

Unfortunately, that mission was Michael’s last.

A few months later, on June 28, 2005, Lt. Michael Murphy was killed in Afghanistan during a fierce gunfight with the Taliban. He died a hero trying to save his men and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery.

Lt. Michael Murphy’s body was recovered on July 4th and soonafter returned to the United States. Though his parents were devastated, they relied on their faith to get them through.

During an interview on the radio program “Personally Speaking,” Dan Murphy tearfully recalled the experience of the return of his son’s body - “The Navy and everyone was there, they had a beautiful ceremony. But…for anyone who may question faith, let me just tell you what happened. Maureen and I were sitting on the tarmac waiting and they brought Michael out on a scissor lift…As it touched the ground, there was a peace and a calm that came over Maureen and I, almost like Michael walked up to us and said, ‘Everything’s okay. I’m fine.’ Maureen and I looked at each other and we both felt the same thing. The chaplain that was there with us said, ‘Is everything okay?’ We told him, ‘We have this peacefulness that came over us almost like Michael walked up to us.’ He said that’s not uncommon for families that come to meet their loved ones when they’re returned - which was just amazing!”

On July 13th, the day of Michael’s funeral, the Murphys would receive one more bit of comfort that they view through the eyes of faith. Maureen’s cell phone rang. When she looked at it, she saw it was a text message. Not just any text message but the one Michael had sent 4 months earlier.

It read simply, “Mama, home safe and sound.”

Friday, August 8, 2008


In light of the Olympics starting today, I thought I'd post this suprising story on human nature from The Christophers' "3 Minutes a Day" book:

If you had a choice, would you rather win a silver or a bronze Olympic medal? A study of Olympic medal winners might surprise you.
According to writer Kent Crockett, “Most people would assume the silver medal winners would be happier than the bronze medalists since they received a higher honor, but that wasn’t the case. The bronze medalists were found to be happier than the silver medalists.
“The former Olympians explained how they felt about their medals. The third-place winners were thrilled just to have won a medal. The silver medalists, on the other hand, felt like losers because they didn’t come in first.
“What happens to you is not nearly as important as how you perceive what happens to you.”
Our attitudes make such a difference to our lives. Remember that keeping a positive approach to ourselves and our world can work wonders.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Yesterday, Brooke White told me to “get my snap on.”

Okay, she didn’t just say it to me but also to the approximately 17,000 other people who filled the Nassau Coliseum to near-capacity status to enjoy the American Idols concert featuring this year’s top 10. But before I get to that, here's a recap of the concert.

The show started with Chikezie’s rousing three-song set of Donny Hathaway’s “I Believe To My Soul,” Usher’s “Caught Up,” and John Legend’s “So High.” Chikezie worked the stage and the crowd like a seasoned performer and demonstrated a ton of natural charisma. Completely comfortable as a live performer, he got the audience going and demonstrated his serious musical chops.

Next up was Ramiele Malubay who was entertaining and showed off some power vocals on The Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back,” Taylor Dayne’s “Love Will Lead You Back,” and Maroon 5’s “If I Never See Your Face Again.” Though she’s definitely got talent, Ramiele would seem to benefit most from a little more experience. She seemed a little uncomfortable on stage and could benefit from a boost in confidence.

When Aussie-transplant Michael Johns came out singing “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions,” the crowd exploded and the show reached a new level. Johns’ soulful delivery on all his songs - which also included the re-imagined Dolly Parton classic “It’s All Wrong But It’s All Right” and the song that, as he reminded everyone, got him booted off Idol, “Dream On” – reminded me that this guy is radio ready and should have a successful career ahead of him.

Cowgirl sweetheart Kristy Lee Cook, who’s already got a record deal and a single which comes out on August 11, showed off her country sass during a set that included a couple of lesser known songs that she put her own stamp on – “Squeezin’ the Love Outta You” by Carolyn Dawn Johnson and “Cowgirls” by Kerry Harvick. The livelier numbers were separated by one of Kristy Lee’s favorite songs, “God Bless the USA.” While the song can seem hokey depending on who’s singing it, Kristy Lee’s performance was a sincere tribute to the United States and those who fought and are still fighting on its behalf. Kristy Lee bore what I felt was a lot of unfair criticism during her time on Idol. Her concert performance proved she deserves to be a part of this tour and to have a record deal that will hopefully help her follow in the footsteps of other successful Idol country artists like Kellie Pickler and Carrie Underwood.

Carly Smithson is America’s best Irish import since Guinness. Though she knows how to caress a ballad, she stuck with numbers to show off her powerhouse vocals – Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life,” Heart’s “Crazy On You” and Cyndi Lauper’s “I Drove All Night.” While Carly sometimes seemed a little serious during Idol, she appears to have reached a point where she now completely enjoys herself onstage thereby making her already impressive voice and performances even better.

My favorite performance on Idol all season was Brooke White’s rendition of The Beatles “Let It Be.” There was something about the feeling she put into that song that made it, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, a transcendent moment. Happily, Brooke recreated that moment at the start of her set as she rose out of the stage playing a grand piano (barefoot of course) and singing this beloved classic. After “Let It Be,” Brooke picked up her guitar and headed to center-stage while mentioning that there was an “incident” with the microphone stand the night before which resulted in her getting smacked in the face with the stand. There were no mishaps this time so Brooke told all of us to “get your snap on” before Feist’s catchy “1, 2, 3, 4.” Though I’d never gotten my snap on before, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. Brooke’s final song, Coldplay’s “Yellow,” was the capper on a fun set. Other than David Cook, I’d say Brooke has the best rapport with the audience probably because she’s got such a joyful spirit that you can’t help but smile when she’s talking and singing.

That didn’t end Brooke’s time onstage however. As someone who is sincerely socially conscious and would no doubt use her celebrity to help the less fortunate, Brooke made her pitch as spokesperson for Malaria No More’s “Save the World Summer” campaign which aims to raise awareness and money to prevent and end the spread of malaria. This led into a performance of U2’s “Pride in the Name of Love” by the six performers we’d already seen. While group numbers didn’t always work well on TV, this one – accompanied by video of the people in Africa the campaign would help – was both entertaining and effective.

Post-intermission was when screaming young girls (and probably older women too) pushed their vocal chords to the limit. Accompanied by constant squeals of delight from the audience, Jason Castro opened his set playing ukulele and singing the Israel Kamakawiwo'ole version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” He followed with Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream.” I admit that I wasn’t a big fan of Jason’s while he was on Idol but he won me over with his performances here. He demonstrated a newfound confidence and even some power-vocal ability that I didn’t know he had.

The crowd next erupted for Syesha Mercado who, besides throwing a free Idol T-shirt into the crowd, sang Rihanna’s “Umbrella” followed by Alicia Keys “If I Ain’t Got You” and Beyonce’s “Listen.” Though the Idol judges often criticized Syesha for not being distinct enough or knowing her niche, she seems to have found it here. Freed from the constraints of theme weeks, she found songs she felt comfortable singing and the audience was totally impressed.

Next of course was the moment every girl in the audience was waiting for – the emergence of David Archuleta behind a piano singing and playing Robbie Williams’ “Angels.” Archuleta could have stood onstage for 15 minutes doing nothing but smile and he would have earned a constant stream of applause and screams from the crowd. The fact that he’s got actual musical talent to back up his popularity is a welcome fact. After singing One Republic’s “Apologize” and Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” he finished up with Josh Groban’s “When You Say You Love Me.” Groban is the artist Archuleta most reminds me of so if he follows in his footsteps, he’ll be okay.

Appropriately enough, the loudest cheers and stomps of the evening (yes, there was stomping) greeted American Idol winner David Cook who opened with the killer version of Lionel Richie’s “Hello” that first put him on many people’s radars during the course of Idol. Be it through his first post-Idol hit “Time of My Life,” Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” or the Foo Fighters’ “My Hero,” no one seemed more at home onstage in front of thousands of people than Cook. He’s got a swagger that some people interpret as cocky but I think it’s simply confidence because he loves what he’s doing and knows he’s good at it. Nothing wrong with that. In addition to throwing several guitar picks into the audience to the glee of a few fans near the front, Cook also mentioned that he usually dedicates “My Hero” to his brother Adam who’s suffering from brain cancer. This night, however, he said he was changing his dedication to a nameless girl who also faced a heroic struggle. He didn’t share any more of the story so I don’t know if the dedication was for someone he met that day or for the young cancer patient named Lindsey Rose who he’s mentioned before in interviews. Either way, it was a nice gesture. Cook closed his set with his popular version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”

Before the evening ended, the top 10 performed Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” together to give everyone a final opportunity to say good-night to the crowd. It was a fine way to end nearly three hours of pure, unadulterated fun. If you get the chance to see the Idols tour, you should definitely do it. All ages from kids to seniors were represented in the audience so it’s a night out that really can be a family affair.

(Note: Photos above are generic, not from the actual concert)