Jennifer Hudson's tribute to Whitney Houston at the Grammys on Sunday night was a heartbreaking showstopper. And it's easy to see why.
The producers of the 54th Annual Grammy Awards had to scramble to find a way to revamp the awards show to honor Whitney Houston just hours after the singer was declared dead under mysterious circumstances in her Beverly Hilton room in Beverly Hills. The 48-year-old pop legend had long struggled with drug addiction.
Houston's memory loomed large over the awards, with host L.L. Cool J. starting the show by addressing the challenge of celebrating music on a night tinged with such heartache. "There is no way around this. We had a death in our family," he said before leading the audience at Staples Center in a prayer for "our sister Whitney."
But all agreed — including Houston's mentor, Clive Davis — that Houston would have wanted the show to go on. So it did.
Hudson's emotional rendition of "I Will Always Love You" did not try to compete with Houston's version of the song. Instead, it paid homage and deference to a voice for the ages, a voice that influenced so many other performers, Hudson among them.
Wearing a somber yet elegant black dress and backlighted, Hudson's hair and makeup (particularly those glossy, nude lips) recalled Houston in her heyday. Still, Hudson nonetheless put her own twist on the song, finishing it this way: "Whitney, we love, we love you."
Westboro Baptist Church is backing off -- and claiming victory.
Church members, who have gained notoriety for protesting outside military funerals and for their extreme anti-gay agenda, have canceled plans to gather outside Saturday's double funeral in Tacoma, Wash., for brothers Charles Powell, 7, and Braden, 5.
But that doesn't mean Westboro Baptist Church is going away. Members agreed to cancel their protest only after a Tacoma, Wash.-based morning talk radio show promised them air time to preach their beliefs. “The Bobby D Show” interviewed the founder of the Kansas-based church, Fred Phelps Jr.
"Just finished interview with @bobbydshow. Bobby D. Was a real gentleman. Washington trip now canceled," Phelps tweeted just moments ago. Westboro spokeswoman Margie Phelps, who is also Phelps' daughter, also took to Twitter a moment ago to crow about the turn of events, calling the radio time "icing on the cake."
The no-protest-for-air-time transaction is not new, and may signal Westboro's new, shrewder strategy to reach more potential converts, notes the Washington Post.
Charlie and Braden Powell died Sunday when their father, Josh Powell, took an ax to them before setting a gasoline-fueled inferno that engulfed the boys and himself -- the final tragic twist in a long, drawn out family saga.
Westboro congregants see the boys' death in Graham, Wash., as divine retribution for a same-sex marriage bill pending in that state. They target military funerals for the same reason, saying soldiers' deaths are punishment for the country's increasing acceptance of homosexuality.
News of the canceled protest will no doubt be a relief to the maternal grandparents of the boys. They pleaded for Westboro protesters -- and the well-meaning counter-protesters -- to stay away so that the boys could be laid to rest in peace.
[Updated at 11:07 p.m.: An earlier version of this story misidentified the radio host who interviewed Fred Phelps Jr. as a Catholic talk radio host who has the Twitter account @bobbydshow. In fact, Phelps was interviewed by a morning drive-time radio show in Tacoma, Wash., that has the Twitter account @thebobbydshow.]
Photo: Members of the Westboro Baptist Church picket outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., in October 2010, where they successfully argued that their protests are protected by the 1st Amendment. Credit: Shawn Thew / Associated Press
Madonna broke her silence Friday morning on the uproar that followed her Super Bowl XLVI halftime show, which was upstaged when fellow performer M.I.A. appeared to curse and gave the middle finger to the more than 110 million viewers watching.
Madonna said that she only learned of the antics after the fact -- and was none too pleased.
"I was really surprised," she told Ryan Seacrest during a call-in interview to "On Air With Ryan Seacrest." "I didn’t know anything about it. I wasn’t happy about it. I understand it’s punk rock and everything, but to me there was such a feeling of love and good energy and positivity, it seemed negative."
She added: "It’s such a teenager … irrelevant thing to do … there was such a feeling of love and unity there, what was the point? It was just out of place."
We'll pause while you recall the days when Madonna was the anti-establishment icon causing controversy ...
Back to the news:
Madonna, 53, was poised to go down in Super Bowl history for a glamorous, star-studded performance that many say ranked as one of the best Super Bowl halftime shows ever. Now the performance also goes into the history books as being marred by the vulgarity and rude gesture -- which happened so quickly they escaped many audiences. The word and gesture also slipped by NBC, which was too slow to catch them.
The fallout over M.I.A.'s actions pales in comparison to the uproar -- and record fine -- that followed Nipplegate. (You remember, the now-infamous 2004 halftime show featuring Justin Timberlake, Janet Jackson and Janet Jackson's nipple.)
Still, there seems to be an awful lot of radio silence about this "bird" flipping incident.
The Federal Communications Commission, which cracked down on CBS after Nipplegate, has declined to comment on whether it's conducting any sort of inquiry in the wake of the national flipping off, or whether it's even received any complaints. The NFL and NBC, which carried Super Bowl XLVI, have apologized. But they haven't answered questions -- such as those from the Los Angeles-based Parents Television Council -- or offered assurances about how they'll prevent this from happening again.
And M.I.A. herself? She appears to be, well, M.I.A.
She hasn't been seen from or heard from since Sunday, although her Twitter feed shows that she -- or someone with access to her account -- retweeted a post from Benjamin Bronfman. He's the son of Seagram heir Edgar Bronfman, father to M.I.A.'s child, Ikhyd, and if the New York Daily News is to be believed, main caretaker of the boy.
Bronfman's Tweet said: "its sad to see our media in such a state of unfounded gossipy nonsense when there are real problems in the world".
In recent hours, he has also Tweeted much support to M.I.A., including repeatedly calling her a "great" mom.
"This town sucks, and thank God I was not born here or raised here 'cause I would probably be dead by now."
That was the opening salvo from Sara Wells' roughly 8-minute video, "Why Sara hates Laredo," posted earlier this month on YouTube. The video, which appears to have been shot at home with Walls speaking directly to the camera, did not go unnoticed.
Walls, a Colorado native, explains at the start of the video that she moved to the Texas border city of about 230,000 people a year and a half ago, after her husband was transferred there for work. She then begins to rail against Laredo's Latino drivers, crime and life on the border.
"Half the people driving around have Mexican plates and don't know American laws," the young mother says. In the video, Walls wears a hoodie and dangling earrings -- her brown hair pulled back -- with what appears to be a wall of windows and family photos in the background.
Walls, who is white, says in the video that she's encountered "illegal Mexicans" in her backyard three times since moving to Laredo and that half the people in town don't speak English. She bases the statement, she says, on interactions she's had while driving to, among other places, Wal-Mart.
"The Mexican men here are disgusting," she says, and goes on to complain about being hit on. She also has a few things to say about Mexican moms covering their children's cavities with gold caps and feeding babies Pepsi. She even condemns menudo, a traditional Mexican soup, and the annual Laredo menudo festival.
"I have a list of bad stuff I hate about Laredo, that's how much I hate it," Walls says, glancing down to consult the list. "The whole town is really ghetto, sketchy, scary, unsafe."
"I pray to God that my husband can transfer out of here."
The video ends with Walls casually mentioning that she anticipates negative comments from "haters," but promising to read their comments nonetheless.
"I'm a white girl. How do they say it? They call me guera, gringo," she says. "I was never prejudiced against Mexicans until I moved to this town. So thank you, Laredo, for giving good Mexicans a bad name."
Walls grossly underestimated the potential effect of her video rant.
Overwhelmed by hundreds of negative comments and threats, she removed the video only to later see it posted again by critics, garnering more than 24,000 views and nearly 500 comments as of Friday. Viewers vented their anger on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, prompting a CNN ireport that fanned the flames.
"Get a life. Get a job and stop leeching off our Laredo economy and go back to Colorado," one critic wrote, adding, "By the way Colorado is a Spanish word that means red."
"I have blonde hair, green eyes and im not from here either but i love it here. This chick is stupid!" wrote another.
"Everyone should gather a ton of menudo and dump it on her garden at night," someone suggested.
Earlier this week, Walls' husband came forward to apologize on her behalf, but that failed to contain the controversy.
Michael Walls told Laredo's Pro8 News that his wife struggled with being away from her hometown and adjusting to a very different culture. After she posted the video, he said, he and his kids saw the community turn not just on her, but on them too.
"I'm just sincerely sorry and if there is anything I can do to make it right I mean I would but I didn't do it. So I'm apologizing for my family," Walls said on Monday. He added that the family has moved away from Laredo and has no plans to return.
The outraged included Laredo's mayor, who spoke out against the video the same days Walls' husband apologized.
"The city of Laredo has been offended," Mayor Raul G. Salinas told KGNS TV.
The mayor made a suggestion of what might help, besides apologizing: He invited Sara Walls to come see him at his office "to talk about the city of Laredo."
He said the video was "not fair to the people of Laredo" and claimed "the monster of racism has awoken."
"On YouTube, Facebook you can say whatever you want, but it does not give you the right to be destroying a great city and speaking ill of our culture and our people," he said, "Just because we happen to be bilingual is not a bad thing. It's a good thing."
The mayor went on to praise the local university and schools, tout the upcoming baseball stadium, golf course and the fact that local unemployment is at 7.2%.
"She's totally wrong," he said, "Laredo is numero uno."
Josh Powell may have tried to end it all when he killed his two young sons and himself in a gasoline-fueled inferno Sunday in Washington state. But his actions have unleashed a new round of investigations, allegations and recriminations as authorities try to unravel a family saga that began long before Powell's wife, Susan, disappeared in Utah in 2009.
With law enforcement officials and the court system facing allegations that they failed to recognize the danger that Powell posed to his children, Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, the case continues to unfold on several fronts:
--Disturbing new details have emerged about "incestuous" sexual drawings discovered on Powell's computer, dating back to when he still lived in Utah, before moving to Washington state, according to the Associated Press.
The images led a court-appointed psychologist to call for Powell to submit to a psycho-sexual evaluation and a polygraph test, tests that a judge approved last week when denying Powell's request to regain full custody of his children. Powell was said to be devastated by the judge's ruling, and it may have been the trigger for his deadly actions.
The discovery of the disturbing images, however, was not made known to all the parties in the case, including the attorney for the children's maternal grandparents, who could have used the images as grounds to bar Powell from having any access to the boys.
--The investigation into Susan Powell's disappearance is taking on new urgency and led authorities this week to rope off a portion of a recycling center in Graham, Wash. They were following up on a tip that Josh Powell had discarded some paper there shortly before he set his home on fire, the News Tribune of Tacoma reported.
Authorities in Utah have also reported a new flood of tips coming in about Susan Powell's disappearance.
--Washington state Sen. Pam Roach told the Salt Lake City Tribune it was "outrageous" for a judge to give Powell visitation with his sons, and wants to know precisely what the Washington agency in charge of child welfare knew and when officials knew it. She has sent a public records request to Washington's Department of Social and Health Services.
"This material should be made public," she told the newspaper. Her district includes the Graham, Wash., home where Powell killed the children.
--The case worker who was escorting the children for a court-mandated supervised visit with their father said that Powell coaxed the children into the house on Sunday by saying "I've got a big surprise for you!" and then slammed the door on her to keep her from entering.
The worker, Elizabeth Griffin-Hall, told ABC News about those final, frightening moments -- and her realization that Powell was setting the house on fire with all inside. "How this happened is that Josh Powell was really, really evil. I couldn't have stopped him," she said.
--In a bid to understand what may have been driving Josh Powell long before Sunday's inferno, the Salt Lake City Tribune unearthed Washington state records relating to the bitter divorce of Powell's parents. The documents portray a dysfunctional family ruled by father Stephen Powell, who allegedly abused his wife and children -- emotionally, physically and verbally -- and whose penchant for porn contributed to his divorce. The documents also portray Josh Powell as an emotionally disturbed teen who killed family pets, threatened his mother with a butcher knife and attempted suicide.
--Finally, Chuck and Judy Cox, the parents of Susan Powell and the grandparents of the boys killed in the fire, are pleading with protesters and counter-protesters to stay away from Saturday's scheduled funeral for the boys.
The Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas, known for its extremist views, announced plans to protest at the funeral as a way of targeting Washington state's pending bill to allow same-sex marriages. Several other groups, including Occupy Seattle, said they plan to counter-protest. But a pastor speaking on behalf of the Coxes told the News Tribune that they want all protesters to stay away.
"They want this to be about the kids," Rev. Dean Curry said, and free of protests and counter-protests, "even if on the surface, the aims are more noble."
Photo: Alex Ramirez, 17, brings a balloon to a memorial to Charlie and Braden Powell, erected outside the Carson Elementary School in Puyallup, Wash., where Charlie attended school. Credit: Ted S. Warren / Associated Press
Westboro Baptist Church, which has gained widespread notoriety for publicly opposing homosexuality -- most notably by picketing military funerals, has a new target. Its members will protest outside Saturday's funeral services for the two young sons of Josh Powell, who struck the boys with a hatchet before killing them and himself in a gasoline-fueled inferno.
That announcement was immediately met with howls of outrage and plans for counterprotests.
A new Facebook campaign, "Keep Westboro Church away from Powell Memorial," was launched to encourage the public to "go out in full force to help create a buffer so this memorial can take place peacefully” in Tacoma, Wash. Occupy Seattle also plans a counterprotest to protect the boys' grief-stricken relatives from Westboro's hate-filled message.
Margie Phelps, the daughter of the founder of the Kansas-based church reviled by many for its extremist views, took to Twitter to confirm the funeral protest plans, calling the area where the deaths happened "God's cursed WA-serial-killer-capitol of world" and labeling "beautiful" the headline "Westboro BaptChurch to protest Powell boys' funeral."
Phelps also suggests that blame for the boys' deaths lies with Gov. Christine Gregoire, who is poised to sign a bill approving same-sex marriage: "This is why God's cursed you w Josh Powells blowing up kids," she tweeted, and then pointed to a headline about the pending legal action.
News of the church plans were immediately followed by Occupy Seattle's plans to counterprotest: "Westboro Baptist Church will B picketing a tragic funeral #OccupySeattle will B gathering 2 shield mourners from them," the movement tweeted.
A memorial service for the boys is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Life Center Church in Tacoma, according to the News Tribune of Tacoma.
Josh Powell, believed to be the main suspect in the 2009 disappearance of his wife, Susan, locked himself in his Graham, Wash., home Sunday with his two young sons during what was supposed to be a court-mandated, supervised visit. He took an ax to the boys and then killed them all in a gasoline-fueled explosion.
The Kansas church has made plenty of headlines over the years with its protests, but this latest endeavor seems to have resonated -- and not in a way likely to garner support.
Photo: Members of Westboro Baptist Church routinely picket military funerals because they say U.S. soldiers are dying because the country is too tolerant of homosexuality. Credit: Jed Kirschbaum / Baltimore Sun
The Parents Television Council, an advocacy group concerned about what kids see on TV, has launched an on-line petition targeting NBC for M.I.A.'s apparent curse word and vulgar gesture; both came during the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show featuring Madonna and other performers.
The advocacy group's petition demands, among other things, that: "NBC put all future live broadcasts on an adequate tape delay and to hold on-air talent accountable for their actions during live broadcasts."
Melissa Henson, the council's spokeswoman, told The Times that she wants other broadcasters to abide by the rules too. But she noted that both ABC and CBS have gone to great lengths to create safeguards -- such as a time delay -- to help prevent such vulgarities from reaching home audiences, especially young viewers.
About eight minutes into Madonna's half-time act at Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI, British sensation M.I.A. appeared to curse, saying, "I don't give a … ." It's difficult to hear her clearly on the video. But what came next was much clearer: She flipped her middle finger to the more than 110 million American viewers.
The L.A.-based Parents Television Council says sports leagues and networks can no longer pretend they've been caught off guard by vulgarities or that they're ill-prepared for misbehaving celebrities. That grace period expired long ago with Nipplegate -- the now-infamous 2004 halftime show featuring Justin Timberlake, Janet Jackson and Janet Jackson's nipple.
Given that history, the group says, NBC should have been ready. "If NBC had procedures in place, adequately trained staff, a reasonable time delay, and a commitment to preventing inappropriate content from airing during live broadcasts, the entire incident could have been avoided," the group says in an e-mail blast via its newsletter.
Henson said the Parents Television Council is particularly irritated with NBC given that the network has found itself in this situation before. (Examples: Bono dropping the F-bomb during the 2003 Golden Globes, and -- do not click the following links if you are easily offended -- both Tiki Barber and Jane Fonda dropping the C-word on audiences.)
In the years since Nipplegate, the Super Bowl has tried to play it safe with artists unlikely to run afoul of good taste. But Henson said that "it was a bit naïve on the part of the NFL to believe that this particular slate of artists would deliver a squeaky clean halftime show. But ultimately NBC is the one that licenses the airways."
Henson said the blast went to subscribers, which number between 80,000-100,000. She said the missive went out last night, and that it isn't yet known how many on-line signatures have been collected. The petition, and signatures, will be presented to NBC.
A spokesman for NBC could not be reached before this story was posted.
NBC and the NFL have apologized for the Super Bowl fallout. But the Parents Television Council says that isn't good enough; it wants those responsible to be held "accountable." The Federal Communications Commission, which stepped in after Nipplegate and fined CBS, said this week that it has no comment at this time about on Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI halftime show.
You've heard of skydiving, right? How about space-diving?
Felix Baumgartner is an Austrian skydiver, BASE jumper and adrenaline junkie who hopes to set the record this summer for the highest skydive ever.
If all goes well, Baumgartner will use a pressurized capsule attached to a high-altitude helium balloon for a "stratospheric flight" to more than 120,000 feet. "He will then exit the capsule and jump -- protected only by a pressurized 'space' suit and helmet supplied with oxygen -- in an attempt to become the first person to break the speed of sound and reach supersonic speeds in free-fall before parachuting to the ground," according to jump plans.
The only thing not surprising about this endeavor? Extreme sports elixir Red Bull is sponsoring the whole thing.
The jump is slated for later this summer, above Roswell, N.M. Given the complexities of the effort, no exact date is scheduled. Experts will start by looking for a perfect three-day weather window -- clear skies, perfect temperatures, no winds -- and then choose a jump time.
Clear skies are a must, spokeswoman Trish Medalen told The Times, explaining that Baumgartner will need all the visibility he can get to reorient himself on the way down.
Followers of Baumgartner's career know he has a passion for doing the unthinkable. (He flew across the English channel in 2003 using a carbon wing, hitting 220 miles per hour. You can watch that jaw-dropping video here.)
The upcoming mission, called Red Bull Stratos, is being documented online. The mission is also being chronicled by both the BBC and the National Geographic Channel for a feature-length TV film. The project has been underway for quite some time, but has been gaining momentum in recent days with its formal announcement.
If successful -- and really, what could go wrong? -- the jump aims to set several world records. Baumgartner hopes to become the first person to break the speed of sound and achieve Mach 1 in free-fall, estimated at 690 mph; to set the record for a free-fall from highest altitude (120,000 feet); to set the record for longest free-fall time (five minutes 35 seconds or more) and to set the record for highest manned balloon flight.
The Red Bull Stratos team includes international experts in medicine, science, engineering, aviation, and design, as well as a former NASA crew surgeon. But there are two centerpieces.
One is ice-water-in-his-veins Baumgartner. The other is a man who is little-known to the masses, but is a legend in the aviation community: Joe Kittinger.
Kittinger, who might be the reason the word "daredevil" was invented, holds a variety of aviation records, including longest, highest and fastest skydive, from about 19 miles up. A fighter pilot in Vietnam, he was shot down and spent nearly a year in the notorious "Hanoi Hilton"; he was later inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
Kittinger's experience is crucial to the success of the jump, folks associated with the effort say, and he's helping to train Baumgartner every step of the way. He is also slated to be the primary point of contact with Baumgartner during his ascent.
The jump's mission statement takes great pains to point out the jump's contributions to the scientific community, including aiding in the development of protocols for exposure to high altitude and high acceleration.
Of all that and more, we have no doubt. But the real reason we're interested and why all the world's eyes will be trained on Baumgartner's planned jump? It's just stinkin' cool.
Unless you were taking a Super Bowl beer break at the time, you saw the ad -- the only Super Bowl ad, it seems that mattered: Gravely voiced, squinty-eyed Clint Eastwood giving Americans the pep talk of their lives. Since then, politicians on both sides of the aisle have been howling or crowing about subliminal political messages they believe to be embedded in the Chrysler ad and what they might mean for the November election.
Well, Eastwood himself is now weighing in, telling both sides to give it a rest. There was "no spin" or selling intended in that ad, no politics, no subliminal message, no endorsements. It was simply meant to inspire Americans to do what they do best -- get back in the game, no excuses, just get back in the game.
"This country can't be knocked out with one punch," Eastwood says in the ad. "We get right back up again and, when we do, the world is gonna hear the roar of our engines. Yeah, it's halftime America, and the second half is about to begin."
Eastwood, a well-known Republican, Fox TV watcher and acquaintance of Bill O'Reilly, issued an exclusive statement to Fox's "O’Reilly Factor" producer Ron Mitchell. Here is the statement:
"I just want to say that the spin stops with you guys, and there is no spin in that ad. On this I am certain. I am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama. It was meant to be a message just about job growth and the spirit of America. I think all politicians will agree with it. I thought the spirit was OK. I am not supporting any politician at this time. Chrysler to their credit didn’t even have cars in the ad. Anything they gave me for it went for charity. If any Obama or any other politician wants to run with the spirit of that ad, go for it."
Now, far be it from us to argue with Dirty Harry. We'll take him at his word, especially since he seems to be inviting both sides to invoke the ad if it suits their political needs -- that's about as bipartisan as you can get in an election year.
Still, it's fascinating to see how both sides are parsing the imagery, the timing, the sponsor and, of course, Eastwood's language for hints of partisanship or even whether this is a big "Thank You" ad from Chrysler to American people, and, of course, President Obama, for the tax-funded bailout.
If you were indeed taking a beer break during the Super Bowl and missed the ad, watch it for yourself, above. And then watch the O'Reilly's segment, below, which includes interesting takes on why both sides are eager to dissect the ad's subliminal symbolism.
M.I.A.'s bad behavior during the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show is dominating online chatter Monday, overshadowing what many say is Kelly Clarkson's stellar rendition of the national anthem.
The ensuing fallout has upstaged Clarkson's performance and Madonna's pageantry with a barrage of questions, among them: Who is to blame? Why didn't NBC catch it in time? Did the NFL try to head off controversy by requiring the artists to sign a decency contract? And if not, why didn't it? Will the vulgarity result in a fine?
Madonna is sure to reap publicity out of the controversy for her new single. Snippets of her halftime performance featuring "Give Me All Your Luvin'" and the flipped bird are getting nonstop attention.
But it's Clarkson who appears to have earned overwhelming kudos.
Clarkson, who was barely recognizable in her new Cleopatra-style hairdo, delivered a pitch-perfect performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" to kick off Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
According to a CBS news poll, more than 88% of respondents said she "rocked it!"
The reviews on Twitter were near-universal in their praise: "Hands down best ever." "OUTSTANDING! Man, that girl can SING!!" "@Kelly_Clarkson nails National Anthem." "THE best national anthem of all time."
And like any good performer, she left the audience wanting more.
Clarkson managed to put her own unique spin on a song that is notoriously difficult to sing. In doing so, the first "American Idol" winner set a new standard that has bedeviled so many artists over the years. (Most recently, Steven Tyler.)
"The Star-Spangled Banner" requires a dramatic range of a full octave and a half, which can be a feat for even the most accomplished singers.
Then, there's the tricky wording courtesy of the fact that the anthem didn't start out as a song. It began life as a poem written by Francis Scott Key in 1814 titled "Defense of Fort McHenry." It was turned into a song by adding the somewhat modified tune of John Stafford Smith's "The Anacreontic Song," and then retitled. Congress proclaimed it the national anthem in 1931.
And it has been tripping up artists ever since.
Clarkson acknowledged being nervous beforehand. "Just finished rehearsing the anthem in Indy ... wow, I'm actually really nervous about singing at the Super Bowl ha!" she posted online. "Here's hoping I nail it and don't screw it up!"