Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Product of a Broken Home - Sort of

Early on in the season, I caught an episode of Oprah on TV - okay, I didn't catch the episode per se, I actually watch religiously. This particular show was about adult children from divorced homes. I'm talking 40 something year old men and women crying on stage about how their parents getting a divorce - decades ago - continues to plague their life.

My first thought? How pitiful. I wanted to throw my "Oprah Show Snack" at the television and yell, "grow up and get a life!" I simply couldn't believe these grown ass men and women were sobbing about how daddy left mommy for his secretary 25 years ago and how the nightmare of it all still wakes them up at night. Perhaps I'm numb to it all having grown up in a single parent household. There was no daddy to leave mommy, and if mommy left, I was up Shits Creek.

Flash forward to November when my mom announced she was separating from my step-father. I was devastated! I immediately began to worry about the both of them. Who would help mom bring in the groceries or fix a leaky pipe under the sink? Where would my step father get a home cooked meal from and how would he wash his clothes? Better yet, how could I begin to see them as two separate people and not as one?

Eventually, things fell into place. Mom makes me pick her up from the grocery store and help her bring in those heavy bags; which of course I don't mind. When there is a leak under the sink, she calls the plumber. Not too long ago, I had to use my step-father's car when my battery died, and I found an empty carton of popcorn chicken from Popeyes in the trash. Was that his home cooked meal? Hey, at least he was eating something, right? I even heard he was in the laundry room of his building, washing his own clothes. Who knew? The last time I spoke to him, he told me he was playing around on the computer - something I almost never saw him do pre-seperation.

I guess it goes to show that under insinuating circumstances, strong people can step up to do what they need to do, and it feels good to know that I have strong people in my life. Although if it were up to me they'd still be together, maybe the separation needed to happen for them to rediscover who they really are outside the confinements that marriage can impose.

Boy, I sure can relate to those big 'ol cry babies on Oprah now. But will this divorce make me resentful or develop feelings of abandonment 20 years from now? I doubt it. However, I do understand that feeling of wanting things to stay the same, but usually that's to benefit me, and not the people involved.

My parents get a divorce and I grow up and learn something about myself in the process. I guess every cloud does have its hard to find, heavily veiled, silver lining afterall.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Keeping it Real

The Real Thing is confident, feminine and strong. The Real Thing is comical, vulnerable and unpredictable. The Real Thing is talented. The Real Thing is: Jill Scott.

Scott brought her “The Real Thing” tour to the Prudential Hall Theatre at The New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ on March 5 and 6.

R&B crooner and Newark native, Raheem DaVaughn, opened for Scott. He got the ladies to their feet with songs about how they should be put first and loved all night long. His frequent falsettos sent shivers up their spines as he took to the aisles of the theatre while singing his Grammy nominated hit, “Woman.” After a five-song set, it was time to make way for the main attraction…and an attraction she was.

Supported by an eight-piece band and three back up singers, Scott took to the stage in a low-cut LBD, silver pumps, a burnt orange pinned up hairdo, and looking sexier than ever. She opened the show singing “The Real Thing,” the title track to her tour and her third studio album, The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3.

As if that spectacular opening wasn’t introduction enough, Scott took the time to welcome and thank everyone for coming out to see her and reintroduced herself to the Jill Scott concert virgins - there weren’t many. That’s when the Real show began.

After singing “Cross My Mind,” the hit song from her second studio album, Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 2, Scott confessed to the audience, “it’s a scientific fact that good dick can cause problems,” referring to the confessional lyrics in “Mind” which tells the story of her reminiscing about a former lover who rocked her world in the bedroom and the temptation to call him. Of course, by the end of the song she remembers she was never good for him and he was never good for her. “He still lived in his mother’s basement and had bad credit,” she amusingly added.

It’s comedic undertones like that, which give Scott’s show a layered, authentic feel. She doesn’t take herself or every song so serious, but doesn’t hide from the songs or issues that strike an emotional chord. “I never thought I’d be standing in front of yall - a divorced woman,” she admitted after nearly breaking down on stage from singing the track, “Whenever You’re Around.” The song is about a woman who has taken up conversation with another man because she feels lonely whenever her lover is around. A clue as to what ended her marriage perhaps?

But don’t cry for Jilly from Philly. “The divorce is old for me. New to yall, but old for me,” said the three-time Grammy winner. “I’m alright. I picked up another Grammy this year, I sold a few records and I’ve got a show on HBO coming out. And its not a reality show either. Success is the best revenge,” she playfully gloated.

As this show of reality steadily continued on, Scott sung fan favorites from her 2000 debut, Who is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1, and a few of her favorite tracks from both her current album and 2001’s live double-disc set, Experience: Jill Scott 826+. But she hit a nerve with the ladies when she took on her current single, “My Love.”

The song was inspired by a cheating relationship. “I’ve been the woman and I’ve been the other woman, “ admitted Scott to gasps from the audience. “Yep, I know what yall thinking, ‘oh no she didn’t.’ Well, yes I did. Life’s not a straight path - it bends. And you’ve got to take the ups with the downs,” she preached. While performing the ode to her love, she navigated away from the scripted lyrics to a poetic freestyle of how she really felt: “You came to me all messed up/And I gave you all of my love and fixed you up/And then you left me for her/It was almost like you planned it,” a hurt Scott frustratingly spoke. The women went wild.

By the end of the show, Scott brought the audience to its feet with her Grammy nominated smash hits, “Hate on Me” and “Whatever.” Just when the packed house thought they had seen it all; Scott had a trick up her sleeve. She took everyone to the opera by putting a Luciano Pavorotti-esque twist to her hit "He Loves Me (Lyzel In E Flat)” and then sighed as if the vocal brilliance just displayed were a walk in the park. For her, it probably was.

After introducing her band and back up singers to the audience, the lights came up and everyone started to file out. Only then did Scott run back on stage to the microphone asking to share a piece she jotted down on a napkin in her hotel room the night before. Of course, the audience stopped in their tracks and gladly obliged.

For the first time that evening Scott seemed shy - nervous even - to share her new work. By the second verse, the band joined in and the audience was singing the chorus as if it had been a hit on the radio for years. As the audience sang the chorus, Scott, her band mates and back up singers all did a two-step off stage; Scott being last, took a final bow and blew a kiss goodnight to everyone.

In a time when music lovers are inundated with pretty young things gyrating across the stage - lip-syncing - while performing complex choreographed numbers, you want something different. Something refreshing. Something simple. A band, some back up singers, a microphone and a voice. You want, The Real Thing.

Check out Jill Scott’s tour dates at:

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Call Heard Round the World...Or Maybe Just My Livingroom...

On February 22, a new film called, Be Kind Rewind, hit theaters. It's a fanciful, comedy about two guys who are forced to reshoot movies requested by their movie rental customers, when every videotape in their shop is erased due to a power plant's electromagnetic field. It stars Jack Black, Mos Def and Danny Glover. Entertainment Weekly gave it a B- and said, "there's nothing not to like about the movie, a teensy, hand-crocheted, trifle, fitted with embroidered pockets of guest stardom."

Do I agree with Entertainment Weekly? Ummm, I don't know. Did I even see the film? Eh, no. But I did have a conversation with Mos Def while he was shooting the movie.

It was a dreary, early fall Saturday afternoon in October of 06. I was chatting away on Yahoo Messenger when suddenly, my cell phone went off. It was my coworker calling me from the set of Be Kind Rewind. She works as a contract revenue administrator, negotiating deals with producers to use certain areas of New Jersey to shoot films. On this day, she was in Passaic, NJ rubbing elbows with Mos Def. She knew how big a fan I was of his (see: the bio section of so she called me and asked if I wanted to speak to him. Before I could succumb to my sudden heart palpitations and sweaty palms, Mos Def was on the phone saying hello.

Me: Mos Def, what's up man?
Mos Def: What's up? Who is this?
Me: This is Shydel James (as if he would know who I am) I'm an actor.
Mos Def: Oh OK, what's up Shydel?
Me: Nothing much, I just wanted to tell you that I'm a big big fan. I really like what you're doing out there. And I think you should have gotten an Oscar nomination for your work in The Woodsman. You killed that part.
Mos Def: Awl man, thanks man. I really appreciate that. Thank you.
Me: No problem man, and make sure you remember my name-Shydel James, 'cause we're going to do a movie together one day.
Mos Def: Oh OK, (laughing-hopefully, not at me) I'll remember that.
Me: Cool man, it was nice speaking with you.
Mos Def: OK, man take care. Thanks again.
Me: No problem.

Sixty seconds of pure bliss. I was on Cloud Nine for about two weeks after that phone call. I quickly changed my away message on Yahoo Messenger from what probably was some comment about my being depressed and confused-a emotional mainstay of mine-to, "thinking about my conversation with Mos Def" along with some emoticon that represented the groupie that I was.

Don't get me wrong, I've been able to hold my own around celebs without creaming on myself. There was the time I met Will Smith and Jada Pinkett at the premiere of Hitch and not a flinch. Or the time I egged on Pras from The Fugees to kick Omarion's ass as an extra in the film, Feel The Noise and I played it coy. But never have I made contact with anyone on my "Who'd I Love to Work With" list. Which if we're using that roll call as any indication of who I'm in store to meet next, let's make room for Oscar winner Morgan Freeman, four time Oscar nominee Julianne Moore and my other favorite rapper turned actor, Queen Latifah.

Sure, Be Kind Rewind is no hit, having grossed a mere $4.05 million its opening weekend, it won't go down in any history books; however, the film will always recall for me: The Day I Spoke to Mos Def on the Telephone.

Will he remember that phone call? Probably not. Will I ever do a movie with him?

Mos Definitely!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Toast of New York

On Tuesday, members of the 2008 World Champion NY Giants football team, rode floats headed up The Canyon of Heroes (Broadway) to the cheers and admiration of thousands of their most die-hard fans. There were painted faces, babies with miniature football helmets on; even a woman spray painted her hair red and blue for the occasion. And of course, there was the gear. For every Umenyiora jersey, you saw two matching fitted caps. For every vintage sweater or leather coat, you saw three long sleeve Super Bowl Champion tees underneath.

For some, it was less about the memorabilia and the hooping and hollering as coach Tom Coughlin rolled by holding the Vince Lombardi trophy, and more about the emotional spell the winning team has cast on the city. "I stayed up and watched the Super Bowl again last night" said one spectator to his buddy. "I have every game this season tivoed, and I will burn copies of them all and give them out to my friends." "I just cant believe they won" his buddy replies back. "Every time I watch the fourth quarter over again, tears come to my eyes" he said as he choked up right then and there.

He wasn't alone. Once the parade came to an end, the masses flocked to the gates of City Hall where there was a Jumbo Tron replaying all the best plays from Super Bowl XLII. The crowd ooohed at every completed pass by Manning and aaaahed every time Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was sacked by the defensive line. Then everyone stood in the rain to watch Mayor Bloomberg present the team with keys to the city. After a rousing speech by defensive end, Michael Strahan and MVP quarterback, Eli Manning, the crowd ripped and roared again-never minding the rain.

For some, it was an excuse to take off from work and get drunk before noon. For others, it was a chance to celebrate a team they've stood behind for years. Either way you slice it, the NY Giants returned home, to a hero's welcome. New York City may be surrounded by water, but yesterday, it was the streets of downtown Manhattan, covered in a sea of blue.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Cinderella Team

"We shocked the world, not ourselves!"
-Antonio Pierce, New York Giants Linebacker

You'll be able to crack open your laptop, flick on the TV or flip through the pages of any newspaper and find tons of coverage on yesterday's Super Bowl - and with good reason. The game was an incredible display of how faith and hard work can persevere and translate into some good football.

The Giants were not supposed to win. They were a 12-point underdog entering the game against the undefeated 18-0 New England Patriots. Needless to say, the New York Giants have gone on to become the second wild-card team in league history to win the Super Bowl and the first from the NFC.

I find myself speechless yet proud of a team that defied the odds, silenced the critics and inspired a city. I'll turn to the words of David Tyree, who after making five catches for 43 yards and one touchdown, became the most unlikely go-to-guy of the night, having only totaled five catches, 40 yards and zero touchdowns all season. "You can't stand in the way of destiny."

'Nuff Said. Now let the ticker tape fall.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Inhuman Resources

BS Statement #1
"We appreciate your interest in employment with us; however we have chosen a candidate whose qualifications more closely match our needs."

BS Statement #2
"It was a pleasure to talk with you about your career plans during our recent discussion. We sincerely appreciate your interest and the time you devoted to the recruitment process.

Thank you very much for your patience in allowing us the time to review your credentials. After reviewing your qualifications and experience as it relates to our specific needs, we regret that we do not have a suitable position for you at this time. We extend our best wishes for success in your search for a rewarding career."

BS Statement #3
"Due to the over whelming response to the talent search announcement, only those candidates whose background more closely matches the position will be interviewed. As such, at this time we are unable to give your resume further consideration. We encourage you to pursue future job opportunities for which you meet the minimum qualifications."

What does any of that mean? I'm seriously lost in translation here. Is it some sort of refined, alien, HR English-Jargon they teach in school? Or does one pick up the language on the job? Personally, I think it's all code for: "Yo, your resume was wack," or "By law, we're obligated to post each and every job, but we already knew who we were going to hire before we even posted this position," or "the job you applied for has been open for five years now. We have no real intention to fill the position. We simply like sorting through resumes during our down time for a good laugh." Say anything besides the proverbial, "We're going with someone who more closely meets our qualifications." Comments like that can leave the insecure job hunter second guessing his capabilities.

Sorry if I come off bitter, but I've been looking for a job for close to three months and I haven't been called in for one interview. I can't catch a break. My cover letter and resume are flawless. I've been at my present job for over eight years. My references are waiting by the phone to gush about how fabulous I am. "I'd recommend you in a New York minute," said my Communication professor from college.

I did come close to a real live interview in early January. I had a phone screening with a very reputable accounting firm. Some nerve of them to think I wasn't worthy enough for a face-to-face interview. Was I that bad? Perhaps I was. During the Q & A, I did feel like a used car dealer trying to pull a fast-one on an unsuspecting customer. That can't be good. Everyone says interviewing is a skill. The more interviews you go on, the better you get at interviewing. I don't dispute that; however, how can you master a skill you never get the chance to practice?

I won't front, in the beginning I was applying for all kinds of jobs, but as the weeks progressed and I saw my phone wasn't ringing, I began to streamline my search for jobs I was truly qualified for. Turns out, that only made the rejection harder to deal with. In December, there was this great job that I was perfect for. My coursework mirrored the job requirements, the position was in an exciting department with the company I currently work for and most importantly; it was a job I could see myself getting up every morning to do, without feeling guilty about loosing my flexibility to go on auditions, go-sees and the like. Over the course of seven days, I put together an eye-popping resume, crafted the perfect cover letter and not only sent it to Inhuman Resources (IHR) but sent a copy of my paperwork to both hiring managers to prevent any over site on their part.

Last Thursday, I got a letter in the mail with the salutation Ms. in front of my name no less, telling me (please insert BS Statement #3 here). I was devastated. As I wallowed in self-pity, nursing battle scars and a bruised ego from fighting in this War on Job Hunting; I caught a second wind, stood up and proclaimed, "I refuse to take this lying down! I need answers!" So I attacked back.

My Arsenal/Return Fire: Ask questions and highlight their incompetence.

Good Morning,

I received a letter from you letting me know that I will no longer be considered for the Communications Coordinator position.

I wanted to know why I wasn’t chosen to move on to the interview process. I'm asking just so I am better equipped to deal with other positions for which I may apply.

Also, I wanted to let Human Resources know that there is some confusion with my gender. I'm a male. I've received a couple of letters from Human Resources--yours included-- that read: Ms. Shydale James. Just want to clear that up.

I look forward to your reply. I'd really like to progress here and welcome any advice or constructive criticism.



IHR's Arsenal/Return Fire: Pass the blame and answer question indirectly.


I want to apologize for the error in addressing you as Ms. I didn't type the letters but certainly I did sign. Again, please excuse this mistake.

We had a significant number of employees submit for this position. I reviewed along with the department eligible candidates. We selected the top candidates who were considered better job fits based on experience.

Please continue to pursue job opportunities in the future.


Human Resources

What they could have said back in the first place:

"By law, we're obligated to post each and every job, but we already knew who we were going to hire before we even posted this position."

Case Closed.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

"You know you don't want to sit behind a desk for the rest of your life, so, you're not going to be put in that situation."

That was the Blackberry message from a very close friend that has completely changed my outlook on my short-term goals. The funny thing is she wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know. I’m an actor for God’s sake. Ask any clear-headed thespian whether he’d prefer sitting behind a desk crunching numbers in some fluorescent lit office or stomping the boards in some rat-infested theatre praying not to melt under the heat of a color gel filtered light and you’re liable to be smacked upside the head with a monologue book.

Am I not clear-headed? It’s a question to which I really want no answer, but I ask because over the past 2 months, I’ve been actively looking for a legit full-time job. What gives?

Let’s face it. For most actors, times are hard on the Boulevard unless you’ve got a star on it. And many don’t. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “fewer than 5 percent of all actors actually make a living at their trade alone.” Most actors are forced to use their creative prowess on and off the camera as they attempt to maintain a job that pays the bills.

Technically, I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve been able to hold down the same job for eight years and still make every audition without the fear of being fired looming over me. However, that’s not the case for everyone. George Jordan, an actor in NYC, is sometimes forced to choose between keeping a job and attending an audition. “Many times, folks hire me knowing that I’m an actor and that I need lots of flexibility, but when its time for me to take off, it’s a problem,” says Jordan. “I’ve lost plenty of jobs because I chose to attend an audition instead of working my shift. The sucky part is that most of those auditions, I didn’t book!” Jordan looks down, chuckles and shrugs, “but hey that’s the nature of the business and I’m used to it.”

Though, I’ve never had that problem, as I get older, the need for stability seems to be more important and my part-time job, while steady, is not going to make these stable dreams come to fruition. Julie Schwartz knows this story all to well. A hometown girl from the suburbs of Colorado; Julie moved to NYC to study acting almost ten years ago. “My parents paid for me to go to school but said I was on my own after that,” says Julie. “Three years after graduating from acting school, I found myself broke, jobless and questioning if I could continue living like that. I ended up packing up and going back to Colorado.” Julie currently works as a city social worker and is married with 2 children. Asked if she misses acting and she says, “Are you kidding me? All the time! I’m always playing the ‘What If’ game in my head. Wondering if things may have turned around had I stuck it out one more year or so.”

The question remains: How do you know when it’s time to throw in the towel? When you’re broke? Haven’t booked a job in a week? A month? A year? Or when you’re just plain old tired of the instability? I wish I had the answers, but as I sit here dizzy from the confusion that is my life, I can’t help but think about that Blackberry message from my friend. She’s right; I don’t want to sit behind a desk for the rest of my life. So now what?