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We’re Your Dreamgirls

Theatre Under the Stars celebrated its annual gala in glamorous fashion, with a nod to Dreamgirls. The production  was at the Hobby Center for a limited engagement for about two weeks in April. But the gala also feted  philanthropist Margaret Alkek Williams, a woman some in the community would call a Dreamgirl in her own right for her contributions to the arts. I had the opportunity to cover the event and I felt pretty glam myself in a blush sequin off the shoulder gown by Badgley Mischka. The theme was all about the retro and glamour vibe that spanned the decades of the 60s and 70s. Perhaps most important, the night raised money for TUTS programs. I snapped a few shots at the gala of the decor, food and (of course!) my gown. See those below. You can read the full story here on CultureMap or see it in its entirety under the photo gallery.

From the moment guests stepped out of their cars, they needed to be ready for their close-ups as a photographer captured the red carpet arrivals at the 2017 Theatre Under The Stars Gala at The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. The theme was “One Night Only,” one of the signature songs of the Broadway musical Dreamgirls, which opens next month and inspired the night.

The evening started with cocktails and appetizers in Sarofim Hall, offering the perfect opportunity to do some shopping at a silent and live auction. Everything from autographed sports memorabilia to trips to Saint Lucia, Paris and even Belize was up for grabs.

For those who wanted to get in on the action without placing a bid, $175 would get you a mystery bag from Elaine Turner. Each bag had a purse or clutch inside ranging from $150 to $400 in value. Across the room, Kendra Scott also had a mystery pull for a fixed price of $60.

The lights soon flashed in the lobby signaling the start of the show and the moment for each guest to take their turn in the spotlight. That’s because instead of watching the stage, they were on it. Dinner was served onstage with an entrée of filet mignon in a brandy mushroom sauce, petite carrots glazed with ginger and citrus and vine tomatoes filled with creamed baby spinach, catered by Culinaire.

And if you’d always wanted to feel like a Broadway star, this was your chance. The word “Dreams” hung from the ceiling, a nod to the theme, while décor bathed in purple and centerpieces that looked like chandeliers accented the tables — all created by The Perfect Touch.

You didn’t even have to be in show business to have your own record. CDs with “One Night Only” on the cover were at the seats along with microphones and disco balls. Technically, the CDs were handmade chocolate from The Chocolate Bar and the microphones and disco balls were cookies, but what’s better than something you can eat?

Houston’s Dreamgirl honored

The gala honored Margaret Alkek Williams for her contributions to the arts community in Houston. True to the glitz of the night, Williams sparkled in a purple sequined gown as she accepted her award from TUTS board chair Amy Pierce. “It means the world to have Margaret’s support,” Pierce said. “Her sincere generosity has enabled our arts community to grow and succeed beyond what we thought possible, for arts programming to reach students who desperately need it and most importantly, she is mentoring the next generation to foster a love for the arts.”

Pierce noted that Williams is helping TUTS expand its Humphrey School of Musical Theatre and The River, which serves children with disabilities.

But Houstonians weren’t the only ones recognizing Williams. Original Dreamgirl Sheryl Lee Ralph, who played the role of Deena Jones on Broadway in 1981, delivered a recorded message to her since she couldn’t be there in person (she’s currently starring in Wicked on Broadway). She told Williams the city is fortunate to have her. “No wonder you are dubbed Houston’s Dreamgirl!,” Ralph said.

The gold curtain later opened to reveal the cast of Dreamgirls, who performed numbers from the musical, including “Family,” “When I First Saw You,” “One Night Only,” and of course, the title song, “Dreamgirls.” Zonya Love, who stars as Effie White, brought the house down with “I Am Changing.” Her powerful vocals and range earned her a standing ovation, and I’m pretty sure had we been in church, a few ‘Amens.’ Yes, she was that good.

Seen in the crowd were TUTS executive director Hillary Hart, gala chairs Becky and Bart McAndrews and Paul-David Van Atta, who were thrilled at the nearly $700,000 raised at the gala, Deborah Duncan, Faith and Lee Majors, Phoebe and Bobby Tudor, Jerry Ann and Victor Costa, Sandy and Randy Stilley, Rob Pierce, Dreamgirls director and TUTS artistic advisor Sheldon Epps, Pierce Bush and Sarabeth Morgan, Penny and Paul Loyd, Alicia Smith Maguire, Frank and Demetra Jones, Nick Tran and Vaalerie Tran, Jim Daniel, Steve and Leticia Trauber, Jay Landa and Daniel Turner, John Nau, Roxann and Tim Neumann, and Roselle and Dennis Baldwin.

After party continues

By the time the gala ended, the lobby of Sarofim Hall had undergone its own glamorous makeover as the site of the “Grand Finale” after party. The tables were replaced by a black and white tiled dance floor and a dessert bar, courtesy of Culinaire Catering, now lined the wall with towers of dreamsicle chiffon trifles, red velvet mini cupcakes, gold leaf brownies, banana puddings and other treats.

Chaired by David Peck and Hector Villarreal, the after party was a new feature this year. Guests could also sweeten their evening with fresh purple cotton candy, made in another corner of the room, or could immortalize their trip back to the ’60s and ’70s by snapping a picture at the photo booth, complete with signs that read “Disco Fever” and “Can You Dig It?”

But you can’t have an after party without music and anyone looking to sweat out that disco fever with some dancing could certainly do it thanks to the Richard Brown Orchestra breaking down the chart-topping hits of the era. “Rescue Me,” “Disco Inferno,” and “Car Wash” were on the playlist, along with “Brick House.”

And leave it to the cast of Dreamgirls to really get the party started by doing the electric slide. Guests flooded the dance floor as the orchestra transitioned to “Proud Mary.” It didn’t take long for everyone to start rollin’ on the river as if they were Miss Tina herself.

While the event played up glamour and a retro vibe, the focus was on raising $25,000 for TUTS’ arts and education programs, which Dreamgirls cast member Thomas Hobson (Curtis Taylor, Jr. in the musical), pointed out, doesn’t go out of style, no matter what decade we’re in.

“It’s always great to see communities that understand how important art is and understand how important it is especially for young people to have venues where they can see themselves and have great experiences,” Hobson said.

The Theatre Under the Stars production Dreamgirls runs April 4-16 at the Hobby Center. For more information, visit the TUTS website.

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Alicia Keys Returns to the Rodeo

After a busy last couple of months, I’m doing some much-needed updates to my website. I’m starting with the performances I had the opportunity to cover at this year’s Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

The first show I went to was Alicia Keys. This was her first time back at the Rodeo since 2005 and judging by all the fans singing every word, she was definitely missed. She created a special, intimate moment when she asked everyone to get out their cell phones and light up the stadium.

You can read my full review here on CultureMap, or if you’re nice and cozy on my site, check out the full recap below!

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The power of Alicia Keys could be felt the moment she stepped onto the stage at NRG Stadium. Keys hasn’t performed at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo since 2005 and judging by the attendance of 73,660 at this year’s show, she was sorely missed.

Clad in black leather from head to toe, she owned every song as the headliner on Black Heritage Day, starting with the opening number “Karma.”

Keys had the audience moving to a medley of hits including “28 Thousand Days” and “Unbreakable” to the more recent “Pawn It All” and “Blended Family (What You Do For Love)” from her sixth studio album, Here.

I already knew Keys was talented but hearing her live for the first time reminded me of what I like about her as an artist. She brings raw emotion to every word, and I never realized that more than listening to her live on the piano. Each note flowed beautifully into the other as she made an atmosphere that could potentially feel isolated because of the rotating stage seem like she was playing a show for a small circle of friends.

“We’re having a really intimate basement party tonight. And I feel like, if we were in my basement right now, I would want to play a song that sounded like this,” Keys said as she led into “You Don’t Know My Name.”

Keys weaved upbeat songs into the mix, but let’s face it, fans who are familiar with her know, she’s good at getting into your soul on those ballads.  “If you’re with me tonight, and you’re here for love, I was wondering if you could help me illuminate the sky with your phones,” Keys said. “Put a light in the air because life is precious.”

The stadium instantly glowed and that’s when she started playing “Like You’ll Never See Me Again.” She took her time with it and from the cheering, it sounded like the crowd appreciated the chance to hit those high notes with her. You know those times when you’re really into a song and you have to hold your ear and raise your hand in the air just to reach the note? It was kind of like that.

She followed up with “If I Ain’t Got You” and later, the song that first put her on the map, “Fallin.’”

Keys turned up the energy – and the heat – with one specific observation about the Bayou City. “That’s what I like about Houston. It’s all warm and toasty, kind of sweaty and sticky,” Keys said playfully, using that as a springboard to dive into the tropical and Latin-beat influenced “In Common.”

“Let’s dance. I want everybody to just dance with me. Be free. Let it go,” Keys added with a smile.

Indeed, every move she made reflected the joy that comes from someone who loves what they do. That passion was fed right back to her from the audience as Keys launched into “Girl on Fire” and “No One,” two songs that I even heard people in the packed Press Box belting out.

Keys also worked in “The Gospel,” “Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart,” and “Work on It” before ending on “Empire State of Mind,” giving a nod to Houston where she would normally pay homage to her own hometown, New York City.

Right before Keys left the stage, she had one final thing to say. “I want to thank you for your love. I want to thank you for welcoming me here to your beautiful town.”

And if a full stadium is any indication, fans were happy to have her back.

Set List:
Karma
The Gospel
28 Thousand Days
You Don’t Know My Name
Unbreakable
Pawn It All
Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart
Like You’ll Never See Me Again
If I Ain’t Got You
Work on It
Fallin’
Blended Family (What You Do For Love)
In Common
Girl on Fire
No One
Empire State of Mind

 

A (Rockin’) Night at the Museum

You normally wouldn’t go to the Museum of Fine Arts to stargaze but anything can happen during Super Bowl weekend. The kind of stars I’m talking about also aren’t typically seen in the sky. But they did shine bright at Rolling Stone Live!, the event I covered the Saturday night before the big game.

Once the celebrities hit the red carpet, it felt like the party had already started and that was before headliners DJ Cassidy, Diplo, Big Sean and Nas got there. You can read about the antics that ensued here or check out the full story under the pictures.

Stars clown around and put on a red carpet show at Rolling Stone Super Bowl party

We haven’t even made it through Super Bowl LI yet and already comedian JB Smoove had a suggestion for next year’s half time performer. “JB Smoove, of course. Next question!” Jokes, laughter and antics were just some of what could be heard and spotted on the red carpet at the Rolling Stone Live! party that had the atmosphere feeling more like a comedy club.

From NFL players Eddie Lacy and Brandon Williams dancing to Anthony Anderson breaking up Smoove’s interview (they hugged it out right after that), celebrities from the entertainment and sports world got things rolling early at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston Saturday night.

In fact, former Bachelorette Andi Dorfman called out reporters for being too tame. “Why are you so quiet? Am I going to have to put on some music on my phone?” It might have been a little quiet on media row, but the evening’s performers would more than make up for it.

DJ Cassidy and Diplo were set to take the stage along with Grammy-nominated rapper, Big Sean, who stopped to take pictures and sign autographs for fans waiting outside the red carpet area on Montrose Boulevard, not far from Hotel ZaZa. It turned out to be a prime spot to sight celebs. Entourage’s Adrian Grenier ended up going over to meet fans, as did Houston Rockets star Sam Dekker when he arrived around midnight.

Busta Rhymes showed up later for a surprise performance with Diplo.

To be one of the main acts, multi-platinum artist Nas slipped onto the red carpet quietly, letting his jacket do the talking with the words ‘Unity Is Power’ on the back. He walked in around 10:30 pm and his name came up often when stars like Eddie George were asked who they were excited to see. “I’m ready to see Nas because he’s one of the legends. I’m a big hip-hop fan, so that’s what I’m looking forward to,” George said.

Appearances came early and often with Alyssa Milano, James Ihedigbo, Warren Sapp, NeNe Leakes, Cynthia Bailey, Cameron Jordan, Delanie Walker, Finesse Mitchell, Olivia Culpo, and Odell Beckham Jr. arriving within the same hour.

MFAH as party venue

One thought that crossed my mind was how the Museum of Fine Arts would be turned into the party venue that athletes including Ezekiel Elliott, A.J. Green, Antonio Cromartie, Jaelen Strong, Devon Still, Sterling Shepard, and Victor Cruz would flock to.

I got my answer when a mix-up got me inside about an hour before the event started. A huge DJ booth on the second floor lined a wall showing projection art. The space that normally has only a few seats for museum guests to watch the installation was filled with leather lounges and tables. Across from that, Mercedes-Benz, a sponsor of the event, had a convertible AMG GT C model on display.

White Mercedes-Benz sports cars were also parked outside the museum in contrast to the splashes of color being thrown onto the exterior of the building.

Back on the red carpet

Back out on the red carpet, expected questions surrounding the Super Bowl like “What do you think Lady Gaga is going to do during the half-time show?” or  “Who do you think will win?” dominated the conversation.

But you can’t talk about the big game without talking about the big city hosting it. “Houston is relatively easy to get around, hospitality has been great, the food has been excellent, and it’s been easy for a long week,” George said.

Minnesota Vikings’ Andrew Sendejo also praised the city, calling Houston his second home since he graduated from Rice University. He struck several fun poses on the red carpet.

Celebrities continued pouring into the party with Jerome Bettis, Chanel Iman, Darrelle Revis, Rashad Jennings and Caroline Wozniacki making it in before midnight. Fans who stuck around long after that were also able to see Gordon Ramsay, David Schwimmer and Adrienne Bailon.

 

 

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NFL Goes Green

The Super Bowl has passed through Houston but it didn’t just leave us an historic game. The NFL is hoping its legacy in the Bayou City will extend far beyond the finale between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons.

While the NFL Experience, Super Bowl Live, Club Nomadic and other attractions were being built around the city, the league was also implanting roots here through its Environmental Program. That means some of the materials used to transform Houston into a decked-out host city will go toward local non-profits. For example, banners displayed on NRG Stadium or the security netting used for crowd control at Discovery Green went toward non-profits who could re-use or even upcycle them into new products.

I talked to Jack Groh, the director of the NFL Environmental Program, about how the league worked to leave a little piece of itself and a big impression, throughout Houston.

Check out my article on the effort here or see the whole story below.

Super Bowl LI banners and other leftovers get a new life in NFL recycling program

Even though the reins have officially been handed over to Minnesota to host Super Bowl LII, Houston is still on the mind of NFL officials.

“We want people to be glad we came to the community. Not just because of the football game, but because of the resources we have for the community,” Jack Groh, director of the NFL Environmental Program, says. “So, we do this because it’s the right thing to do.”

That “right thing” Groh is talking about is making sure the league invests in Houston by finding ways to transform the material used around the city to promote and organize the big game.  From the banners displayed at NRG Stadium to the turf laid down for Super Bowl Live at Discovery Green, it will all serve a new purpose in and around Houston, in large part through material recovery, a branch of the NFL’s Environmental Program.

Habitat for Humanity, the Houston Food Bank and Magpies and Peacocks are among the local non-profits who are the direct recipients of these materials.

“We’ll be getting some of the mesh perimeter fencing used for crowd control, the jersey fabric on the inside of the stadium, bike covers, shopping bags, street banners, anything that can be used to make products from and that our designers can upcycle into their art,” Sarah-Jayne Smith, founder of Magpies and Peacocks, says.  The organization has several programs designed to nurture emerging artists and allow them to create new products by increasing the value of old ones.

That’s one of the reasons Ahshia Berry, who works with Smith, says Magpies and Peacocks was the perfect fit for the NFL.

“We told them who we might work with and what kind of projects we do. Once they were comfortable knowing we were doing the right things by it, they needed to know we were a 501c3,” Berry says. “We’re happy we were on their radar. And we let them know how sustainable Houston can grow to be.”

And sustainability is what Groh says the NFL’s Environmental Program is all about. It began 25 years ago when the league implemented a stadium recycling program for Super Bowl XXVIII at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.  According to Groh, the NFL was the first sports league to do this. Prepared food and material recovery programs followed, along with urban forest redevelopment and renewable energy.

This year, 10 projects were completed in Houston, including the Super Kids Super Sharing event, managed by Groh’s wife, Susan, at the Houston Texans YMCA.

“We recruit 100 or more schools in each Super Bowl city to collect supplies. In Houston, the kids brought in 23,000 items to donate,” Jack Groh says. “Then we invite low income schools to shop for the items they need.”

Strong environmental message

Groh believes it gets out a strong environmental idea of letting someone reuse supplies rather than have them sit in the attic or be thrown away. It’s also part of a message that helped Houston make history not only on the field this Super Bowl, but behind the scenes.

“We had the most successful material recovery program in the history of the Super Bowl, and it happened here in Houston,” Groh says. “I attribute that to two things. On the NFL side, we had staff and contractors working hard, and we had a tremendous partnership with the City of Houston’s Reuse Warehouse.”

Groh says Reuse picked up materials and made it available to non-profits. For example, the Houston Food Bank recovered 6,000 pounds of office supplies, which will be given to local teachers in 18 different communities around Houston. Turf carpeting went to local animal shelters. Magnificat Houses, Houston ISD and Keep Houston Beautiful also recovered materials.

Plans are already in the works to partner with Minnesota for projects as it prepares to host the next Super Bowl.

Host cities have participated in the programs since the environmental department’s inception more than two decades ago. It’s a concept that now includes the Pro Bowl and NFL Draft.

“Sports is a great neutral territory when it comes to getting this message across,” Smith says. “It affects all age groups and all nationalities. Sports is a perfect way of getting a short version of our story out to a large amount of people. We’re lucky that the NFL can facilitate that for us.”

And the league says, it’s happy to do it. In fact, Houston’s diversity, cooperation and warm atmosphere is what Groh says he enjoyed most about working with area non-profits.

“I don’t know if it’s a Houston thing, a Texas thing or a Southern thing, but people were always willing to step up and say, ‘I could help you with that,’ ” Groh says. “It just seems an awful lot of people were willing to help out a stranger or a friend.”

Permanent green legacy

For more information about the NFL Environmental Program, Groh admits you might have to do some digging online through the league’s website. Groh says what they do isn’t as widely publicized because he’d rather spend money lightening the environmental load than on advertising.

“We want to leave some type of permanent green legacy in every community we visit. People say, ‘Don’t you wish you got more attention?’,” Groh says. “Well, no. I’m here asking, ‘How much good can we do?’”

Groh hopes to have the final total of recovered materials in Houston within a couple weeks.

 

 

 

Leather and Laces Super Bowl Party

After a year of build up and a historic night, Super Bowl LI has come and now gone in Houston. I remember when it was first announced that the game would be coming to our city and then doing the subsequent countdown to the big day. I was part of the experience over the last two weeks, first as a Super Bowl volunteer and then this past weekend, covering two of the parties happening in town.

The first was Leather and Laces at Hughes Manor on Washington Avenue. The annual event started in Houston back in 2004. It returned to the Bayou City this year with co-hosts (and married couple), Jenny McCarthy and Donnie Wahlberg. Past guests have included Adriana Lima, Joey Fatone and Jeremy Piven. I covered the event for CultureMap. You can check out the story here or read the full article below.

Marriage proposal and Super Bowl predictions take center stage at sexy Leather and Laces party

is In the Air” might sound more like a phrase best saved for Valentine’s Day, but it managed to find a place at the 14th Annual Leather and Laces Super Bowl party Friday night.

Actress Jenny McCarthy and husband Donnie Wahlberg co-hosted the event at Hughes Manor on Washington Avenue, but the couple turned the spotlight over to their friends shortly after the clock struck midnight. Wahlberg, who is the star of CBS’ Blue Bloods, handed the microphone to his friend, Tony, so he could propose to his girlfriend (and for the record, she said, yes).

That was probably the most surprising moment at the party, which is making its return to Houston after being founded here in 2004.

But let’s not forget one of the main reasons bringing partygoers out this weekend: Super Bowl LI. Predictions for who will win leaned more in the New England Patriots’ favor than the Atlanta Falcons, with the most notable push for the Pats coming from Wahlberg, a Boston native.

Special guest and NASCAR driver Kyle Busch also threw his support behind the Bill Belichick-led team, while former Houston Texan Marcus Spears elected to stay neutral saying, “We’ll let the chips fall where they may.”

Even if some fans didn’t outwardly show their love for the Falcons, they did have a chance to take home some memorabilia from the team’s quarterback. A silent auction featured a Matt Ryan autographed jersey, along with signed guitars from Pink Floyd and Paul McCartney, movie posters with cast signatures on them, and other items from NFL teams. But when paying to play in auctions gets too expensive, you can always get the autographs from the athletes and celebrities in the flesh. And there were plenty opportunities to do that.

La’Roi Glover, Roy Williams, B.J. Johnson, Victor Ortiz, Bryan Braman and Ryan Klesko were among the former and current professional athletes to walk the red carpet. Sports Illustrated model and Texas native Hannah Ferguson also made an appearance.

But dancing was the main theme of the night as popular music blared from a room with white cabanas and a lit-up dance floor. Performers with Cirque USA dangled from the ceiling as open bars throughout the venue kept the drinks flowing. DJ Michael Jerome entertained in another area, where guests could feast on macarons, chocolate and strawberries from Dolce Delights, or briefly play dress-up at the photo booth.

For those interested in watching the scene rather than being part of it, covered seating on the deck was an option, complete with a big screen airing NFL Network. One of the lushest rooms was a lounge with a Moulin Rouge flair, including red curtains and velvet ceilings.

Friday was the first of a two-night event. The party continues Saturday with models Emily Ratajkowski and Sara Sampaio expected to headline. Parking seemed limited on the Hughes Manor campus, with valet being the closest option if you plan to navigate the streets yourself on the night before the Super Bowl. Otherwise, you can grab an Uber right outside the club.

A lounge ticket starts at $400 and goes up to $20,000 for a celebrity cabana. You can find more information on the Leather and Laces website.

 

 

 

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The Call of the Wild

I had a run in with an alligator, but I’m happy to say, I walked away from it without a scratch. OK, I was attempting to make it sound more dramatic than it was. Actually, I learned how to properly handle an alligator (should that ever come up) from the folks at Croc Encounters, a reptile park and wildlife center in Tampa, Florida.

Their goal is to help preserve the reptiles they have, provide a safe space for unwanted ones and also educate the public so they know how to better take care of them if they’re pet owners or just want to know more about them.

John Paner, who runs Croc Encounters with his family, filled me in on why it’s important to take care of these reptiles… and helped me become a little less scared of them! If it’s any indication of how positive my experience was, I did get on the back of one of the alligators.

Check out the full story below!

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Exploring Downtown Houston

If you’re headed to Downtown Houston and need to find a good place to eat, want to find the best entertainment or just need to figure out how biking in the area works, you can check out the website Downtown Houston Live.

I had the opportunity to be in a parking tips video. It can help you navigate the area, whether you’re new to the city, or you’ve been here all your life but need a refresher.

You can find more on the Downtown Houston Live website, including tips on walking and biking downtown.  Check it out!

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Derulo’s Debut

Since I didn’t make it out to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo last year, I knew I wanted to check out the show this time around. I reviewed Jason Derulo‘s concert (my first concert review since high school!) on Black Heritage Day. It was his debut at RodeoHouston. He came riding into NRG stadium on the back of a pickup truck and left like a true cowboy  — on horseback. It was a rocky ride (a friend working closer to the stage told me Derulo accidentally kicked the horse, causing it go faster. Hence, a look of shock, or maybe terror?, was spotted on his face as someone helped catch the horse.) Read here or below to find out what other moments left his fans on Twitter talking!

DERULO AT THE RODEO
Shirtless Jason Derulo searches for H-Town’s ‘It Girl’ and gets the party started at sexy Rodeo debut

Jason Derulo made it clear early in his debut at RodeoHouston: If you didn’t come to dance, you were in the wrong place. “We came all the way to Houston to party, and I heard this was the hottest party in Houston, tonight,” he shouted out to an excited crowd of 59,236 on Black Heritage Day at NRG Stadium Friday night.

The sexy 26-year-old singer kicked off the show with “Trumpets”, “Wiggle” and “Get Ugly” before turning the stage over to his dancers.  Fans were on their feet, but it seemed the dancing didn’t really get started until he roared back with “Whatcha Say,” his 2009 debut single.

And for the fans who’ve followed Derulo’s career, he had another treat. “Single ladies that love Jason Derulo make some noise. If you’re not single, I bet by the end of this song, you’ll be riding solo,” he said.

What can I say? The man knows how to work a segue between songs. But it was enough to get a laugh and keep people moving well after his break-up anthem “Ridin’ Solo” was over.

Derulo wasn’t alone for long, though. He hopped off the rotating stage to touch fans’ hands and get one question answered.“All these beautiful ladies over here, and I was wondering if my ‘It Girl’ was in Houston, tonight,” he said.

For the purposes of this segment, she was. The strobe lights, glass-breaking sound effects and dance-offs mid-song all faded into the darkness as the spotlight shined on the fan he pulled from the crowd.

However, it left me thinking, how could I do that? I want to be the “It Girl.” Are these girls vetted?  But I digress.

The chosen fan did exactly right: She milked the moment, sneaking in kisses (on the cheek). At one point, she and Derulo were so close, I began to wonder if I should run out to the floor and offer breath mints. My favorite part of the serenade was how supportive the crowd was, cheering her on the entire time.

On that note, Derulo moved into an acoustic version of “Don’t Wanna Go Home,” but it was brief.

He brought back the dance party and upped the sex appeal in a way that many fans knew had to be coming. He ripped off his shirt. I don’t think you could say his chest was sweating. It was more of a glisten. But the fans didn’t seem to mind as he transitioned into “Talk Dirty.”

Derulo set up his finale in a way I thought was meaningful and believable, despite him being half-naked. “This next song is a celebration, and I want today to be a celebration of life.  Let’s celebrate our health. Let’s celebrate that we can get up and do what we want to do,” he said.

That part made me think. I’d wondered if that celebration of life was a nod to the near-death experience he had four years ago, when a neck-injury sustained from dancing could have left him paralyzed.

Derulo spoke with humility about his journey and success from the moment the show started until the final thank you, when he introduced his hit single,“Want To Want Me.” (He and Luke Bryan did an excellent karaoke version of that song. Maybe Derulo should make a cameo appearance at Bryan’s RodeoHouston concert on March 10. Can we make this happen?)

Derulo ended the show shirtless on horseback and rode off into the sunset – or rather, backstage. Gasps could be heard (or maybe that was just me?) when the horse sped off, catching Derulo off guard. But he laughed it off.

Overall, I found Derulo to be a talented, high-energy performer who mixed the hits fans love (“In My Head,” “The Other Side,” “Cheyenne”) with the vocal range he reminded everyone he has (“Marry Me”). Add in the snippet of “Broke” – a collaboration with Keith Urban and Stevie Wonder – and Derulo may have just danced, glistened, and ridden his way to another Rodeo.

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Letting Off Some Steam

Hours before the AFC Wildcard showdown took place at NRG Stadium, another battle of sorts was going on at the George R. Brown Convention Center. It was a fight between fans of the Houston Texans and a car covered in Kansas City Chiefs decals.

The Bridal Extravaganza may have seemed like an unlikely place to take a sledgehammer to a busted old car, but the show’s organizers say it was a  fitting way to let brides-to-be and their soon-to-be husbands relieve some of the stress that comes along with wedding planning. Fans also say it was payback for the way the Chiefs beat the Texans at the beginning of the season.

Although we know how the story ended (KC shut out Houston 30 to nothing), fans were thrilled to destroy anything Chiefs-related, even before the game that put a wrap on the Texans post-season run.

This story was a lot of fun to do. I admit destroying things (in a somewhat healthy way) can be a great stress reliever. I could barely hold the sledgehammer, but I got a couple hits in! Check out the story above. I wrote and edited it.

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Demo: Deputy Darren Goforth Memorial

Deputy Darren Goforth’s death shook a community and I think you could really say — the nation. I’ve never seen complete strangers rally behind this man’s family the way the public has.

What was it that made everyone respond the way they did? Was it the way he was killed? The community’s outpouring of support has been stunning and it was clearly evidenced at the gas station the day this story was shot.

It was the first time that I’d been on a hard news assignment like this one. Even seeing the blue ribbons on the trees as we approached the gas station where the deputy was killed gave me chills. In that moment, everything that I’d heard about the story in the news (and written about it since I WORK in news) had become reality. The massive memorial was no longer just video or pictures used as broll for VO or SOTVO. It was live, right in front of me, with literally hundreds of people shuffling in and out, to pay their respects, take a picture, or just get a glimpse of it.

The ringing theme that stuck out to me from those interviewed was the deputy’s death was senseless. That was what the people we spoke to said repeatedly, bringing some of them to tears. It was difficult to watch them cry or feel that sadness. But it also gave me a taste of what I may experience as a reporter and further confirmed why I want to be in this profession – to do the stories that have value, give meaning and show we’re all in this together.

Take a look at my demo below. This did not air. I wrote the script.