Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ron Santo: A Picture of Courage

Pictured: Ron Santo (on the left) at Nationals Park, August 2010.

What can someone who never saw Ron Santo play third base actually say about his playing? The truth is I can't speak true justice of the man's time spent around the horn of Wrigley Field and America's other Major League ballparks. What I can shed some light on is the effect Santo had on Chicago, Cubs fans, the Cubs, and Major League Baseball.

When Santo's passing was announced on Friday morning it came as a shock to all. Santo, of course, has not been in the best of health over the past few years (this past year especially) due to complications with bladder cancer and diabetes. But here's the thing about Ron Santo -- he might have been sick but nothing ever stood in between him and his beloved Cubbies.

Wrigley Field die-hards know that stand-fan Ronnie Woo-Woo may make a run for the number one spot on the Cubs Fan list but Santo was different. Santo saw the Cubs from all possible angles. Santo was and still is the ultimate Cubs fan.

The last broadcast I ever heard Santo make was Lou Pinella's final game as Cubs manager against Bobby Cox and the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field on August 21, 2010. My family friends shared their tickets with me for that day but I was forced to leave after the seventh inning (against my will ... I have never left a Cubs game early before then and never will again ... that's just something Cubs fans do not do ... we do NOT leave baseball games early whether our team is winning, losing, or playing ... that's just a fact). Since I left early in order to take the 1.5 hour trip to Michigan City, In. to visit my grandpa, my mom and I turned on WGN Radio in the car.

The Cubs went on to win the game (I think) and Ron Santo gave his usual commentary. At times it sounded as if he was losing hope, at other's he was as positive as ever. One thing was obvious -- his emotional ups and downs were defined by the Cubs play at any given moment.

The morning Santo passed away, floods of Twitter messages and memory-filled editorials consumed the online newspapers of Chicago and blog streams of Major League Baseball. Sports writers of every American quadrant shed a tear for baseball's loss. Why? Because Ron Santo was a unique character whose personality has yet to be matched by any player of the modern era.

Photo from Chicago Now

It's impossible to count how many articles since Santo's passing have referenced the infamous "heel click" that turned into the Cubs' "victory dance" that the Mets seemed to hate so much.

That heel click always reminded me of Bert Lahr's interpretation of the Cowardly Lion in the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz.

Ronnie had all the courage in the world even in the face of impending death and medical difficulties. The Cubs and baseball is what kept him alive all these years. His devotion was as undying and immortal as any incarnation of an all mighty religious god.

Friday night I found it necessary to commemorate this man's memory with drinks along side the only other Cubs fan of a friend I have in Washington, D.C. We sipped scotch in his honor all while talking about how Jim Hendry needs to go if the Cubs want to start at a shot for a World Series and how the Rickett's asking the Illinois government for money to "improve Wrigley" is a shameful act of greed.

[Side Note: Dear Rickett's family, If you can't pay for the work you want done then you shouldn't have bought the team in the first place. Maybe if you paid more attention to the product on the field as opposed to adding macaroni art to the streets of Chicago the people buying tickets might fill their seats instead of leaving them empty.]

There has been some talk of whether or not Santo should have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. While the fan inside me wants to say, "Send the man to the Hall," the baseball writer in me says:
"He's right where he belongs -- he's got a retired number by the Cubs at Wrigley Field and will always be remembered as the perfect combination of Harry Caray, Ernie Banks, and Ronnie Woo-Woo. He's got the announcer's spirit and antics like Caray, the player's devotion and understanding like Banks, and the fan's perspective like Woo-Woo. He doesn't need the Hall. He's already in a Hall class all his own."
Santo didn't want to be inducted into the Hall after passing away if he wasn't "good enough" to be inducted while he was alive. As weird as it sounds, I hope his wishes are held as sacred.

On a personal note, I was only ever in the same place as Ron Santo within a few feet of each other one time in my entire life (as far as I know). This past summer was my first on the Major League Baseball beat as the Nats writer for The Cubs came to town for a three-game series in August and Ron Santo was there with them.

I made it a point to be on the field for batting practice just to catch a glimpse of the Cubs legend in passing. The final game of the series he stood on the warning track during batting practice at Nationals Park chatting to buddies he's made throughout the years including the Cubs beat writers, Cubs players, Cubs players turned Nats players, and Nats coaching staff he knew from back in the day. He walked slowly atop his two prosthetic legs but what I saw was a man who never let himself be defeated. Instead, he defeated the odds by staying alive all these years.

So here's to the Chicago Cubs for keeping a legend's heart strong enough through the good and the bad because of a little unconditional love.

Rest in Peace, Ron Santo. May Cubs fans and players for decades to come know the passion you felt for this team and the wonderful feeling baseball can create in the hearts of the average person. Your courage is and always will be an inspiration.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rachel Levitin Music: A Rock Star Moment

There are very few moments in my life that I've felt like a true rock star ... even if just for a little while.

Those moments include: the first time I ever played a song I wrote in front of an audience of people my own age (at age 14), when I recorded my first album of original music (at age 18), when I played a VIP reception for a D.C. film festival in which Rider Strong aka Shawn Hunter from Boy Meets World was an attendee (at age 21), when I opened for my high school friends Filligar at a D.C. rock club (at age 22), when I played on stage with Big Sam's Funky Nation live on trumpet (at age 23), when I auditioned for American Idol (at age 23), and then tonight ... at age 23.

What happened tonight? Well earlier today I was working on my review of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's concert last Thursday at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. at a Starbucks near my apartment. When I was placing my coffee order I perused the limited C.D.'s for sale at the counter and found the new compilation record of Norah Jones' top collaborations between the years of 2001 and 2010.

Now me and Norah, we go way back. I was once a skeptic of her talents. I didn't like her much. I thought "Don't Know Why" was a boring version of "Yellow" by Coldplay but with a girl singing instead of a guy. Then I wised up and listened to the Grammy's. Jones earned five Grammy Awards in 2003 including Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Best New Artist.

Needless to say, I bought her debut album "Come Away With Me." Upon further review I deemed it worthy of all of the Grammy's love and adoration.

Later that summer I spent eight weeks at the world-renowned Interlochen Center for the Arts studying Jazz Trumpet. Interlochen also hosted multiple touring concert series' throughout the summer with big-name acts like Hootie and the Blow Fish, Josh Groban (an Interlochen summer alumni) and fellow Interlochen summer alumni Ms. Norah Jones.

The summer of 2003 was Jones' stopped at her music alma mater -- she was also a Jazz student there -- to perform during her summer tour. Since she was an alumni, Jones offered to do a question and answer session with a select group of interested students before the evening's public ticketed event (which meant outsiders, not just students and summer faculty could attend).

I, being the big fan and music nerd I was ( the way, I still am, but that's besides the point), drafted a thoughtful and insightful question asking what it was like as a woman songwriter and performer in a male-dominated genre of the music industry. My question was selected and I got to ask it at the Q&A.

Just hours before that Q&A, I ran into Jones after my rehearsal and her sound check. Lucky for me I had my guitar strap with me. She signed it after answering a question about being a songwriter and making music theory jokes that including talk about mixolydian mode.

Rachel Levitin and Norah Jones - 2003

Long story short -- my appreciation for Norah Jones was born in 2003 and still exists today. When I bought the "...Featuring Norah Jones" compilation album today I did the first thing I always do when I buy a physical C.D. -- open the C.D. jacket and read the song details.

I love knowing who wrote the song, when it was first performed if it's not an original, who's playing what instrument, how many vocalists are there, what sort of instrumentation is being played, and any other detail that's provided. So I read through the listing on this album (see picture below).

Rachel Levitin and Big Sammie Williams of Big Sam's Funky Nation - 2010

That's when I saw Big Sam's name on track six "Ruler Of My Heart." He was the trombone player for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band before starting his own band. He's performed with Norah Jones. I've performed with him. Therefore -- thanks to the transitive property -- I just had a mini-rock star moment.

...Not a bad way to end the weekend.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Little Laughter Makes Everything Better: The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

When I decided to attend American University for college over six years ago, one of the first things my dad said to me was, "You'll get to see a Presidential Inauguration! How cool!"

As an individual who has never been too into politics and sees our democracy more as something that tears people apart than brings them together, the whole "seeing a Presidential Inauguration" didn't seem too cool at the time. The history nerd dwelling deep inside my cerebral cortex, however, was running rampant with eager excitement.

"A chance to see living history," my inner-self proclaimed, "sign me up!"

Unfortunately, my father passed away days before President Obama's inauguration during my senior year of college and his funeral was on Inauguration Day. I never saw the inauguration live like my dad said I would. Instead, I spent that special day in Chicago with the man who told me how cool my first presidential inauguration in DC was going to be -- while at his funeral.

The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was my first foray into attending a major event on the National Mall. For several of my friends, this was far more fun than the historic inauguration due to miserably frigid winter temperatures during Obama's speech. For me, it was the perfect introduction to how many people in this country actually know how to chill out and have a good time.

And to think I almost didn't go because I was tired. That seems so silly in retrospect:

It took nearly an hour and a half to commute from Tenleytown in NW DC to reach the site of the rally. After three packed-to-capacity rail cars passed the hundreds of people impatiently waiting to step foot onto a train, my friends and I hopped on a train headed toward Maryland, got off four stops later, and then waited about another 20 minutes for a train back into the city. Along the way, we made a few “friends” from out of town. One even over heard me asking my friends for a piece of gum and a complete stranger asked me if I would like a piece. Everyone was in such high spirits. I think Jon Stewart’s goal of getting America to chill out a little was the tone set for all in attendance. I’ve never seen more people in one place in my entire life. The National Mall was a sea of people that felt like a never-ending mosh pit. There was an overall jolly atmosphere surrounding Washington. Everyone, as far as I could tell, was having fun. I think that’s the most important thing to take away from the rally itself — that we really can all get along sometimes if we just take a minute to chill out and have a good laugh.
-- Excerpt from "We Love Rallies: We Love DC Reactions to the Rally To Restore Sanity" on We Love DC.

After trying to push our way through the crowd for over an hour, my friends and I fled the mall and walked through the streets of Washington with wonder while people-watching for the rest of the day.

Thanks Comedy Central for entertaining District residents and the country this weekend, it was a nice reminder to relax and enjoy the fact that we can even host such rallies. The fact that our country and government allows for such a farce of a rally to even occur is living proof that we're pretty awesome here in America.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

On Idina Menzel...

I had the privaledge of attending Tony award winner Idina Menzel's opening show of a three-day set worth of Pops performances with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall Thursday night.

For both Menzel and myself, it was our second time ever setting foot in the Kennedy Center ... well my second time as a patron and Menzel's second time as a performer. Her first time was to pay homage to her idol Barbra Stresisand when she was honored for her for lifetime achievement in the performing arts. My first time was for an opera during college as part of my music minor.

I've taken the liberty of reveiwing the evening on We Love DC and my full column can be found there, however, I wanted to take a moment to mention Ms. Menzel's greatest attribute -- her gratitude.

Her voice and stage presence speak for themselves. She is a musical force to be reckoned with and is one talented fire-cracker of a woman. She's funny. She seems slightly scattered brained but in a good way. And even with all of her professional success and good family life, she still manages to not only stay grounded but express her gratitude with sheer sincerity.

Musical performance aside, one memory I will always associate with the evening is her extending her deepest gratitude for showing up and supporting a girl whose life long dream was to sing.

She thanked her mom for playing babysitter for her while on this trip to D.C. Menzel and husband Taye Diggs have a 13-month-old son named Walker who accompanied mommy and grandma to the District this week. She even dedicated her encore performance of "Tomorrow" from Annie to dear old mom. If that's not saying "Thanks" then I don't know what else could.

She sang some of the songs written with Diggs while taking care of the baby as an "I love you" to Walker.

She credited her successful career to the late Jonathan Larson who wrote Rent (which was Menzel's professional debut on Broadway).

She spoke more than highly of her husband. It sounds like those two have something really special and she knows how lucky she is to have him in her life.

And she sang a rendition of "For Good" (from Wicked) that brought tears to my eyes:
The evening’s finest moment wasn’t an expected show-ending rendition of Wicked’s “Defying Gravity” or an encore performance of Annie’s “Tomorrow.” Both were fantastic routines with a genuine voice backing up the song’s sentiments, but Menzel took it upon herself to garnish the night with a spine-tingling surprise gift for her audience.

Before the orchestra started “Defying Gravity,” Menzel removed her in-ear monitors. “I think I can do this without these in,” she mumbled. Then she put her microphone down.

No one knew what she was trying to do. Conductor Marvin Hamlisch looked confused. Menzel appeared to be nervous. It looked like she was ready to exit the stage. Then, she opened her mouth and started singing.

“I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason,” she began. Those are the opening lines to a song from Wicked titled “For Good.” It is a heart-wrenching song describing the relationship between the witches of Oz.

Never in my life have I heard such an organic performance from a singer of her caliber. Menzel, in that moment, was mesmerizing. Her voice filled the room without any assistance from a microphone. She’s that powerful of a musical force.

Some people say “Thank You” by filling out generic cards they bought at a CVS Pharmacy. Idina Menzel says “Thank You” by singing a song that means the world to her a Capaella at the Kennedy Center.

For that, Ms. Menzel, this singer/writer would like to say just one word: thanks.
-- Excerpt from "We Love Music: A Date with Idina Menzel & The NSO Pops" seen on We Love DC.
Idina Menzel strikes me as the kind of person I have always striven to be. Grateful, happy, stressed by work but all the better for it because hard work is always worth it, in love with what I do for a living, singing, surrounded by music, and always working on making myself a better person.

Based on her presence at the Kennedy Center Thursday I feel confident in saying Idina Menzel is a treasure in the musical community because she means every word she sings and is a model human being. I'm sure she's flawed, as are we all, but there's really just something special about Idina Menzel.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

NEW SHOW ANNOUNCED: Rachel Levitin Live at Ebenezers Coffeehouse

Rachel Levitin Live

Ebenezers Coffeehouse, Thurs. 10/21

201 F Street NE, Washington D.C.

A couple blocks from the Union Station Red Line Metro Station

The Singer-Songwriter-Showdown

4 acts, 1 stage, 1 winner, all ages

Doors open at 7 p.m. Show starts at 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

No iPod, No Problem: In Honor of Rich Cronin

The desk in my bedroom from High School. I wrote my of my songs from 2001-2005 that seat.

Last week I missed the 90s so much that I bought a portable Compact Disc player online. I fielded a few comments from friends about my choice. “Don’t you have an iPod?” they asked, “What’s a CD?” some joked, but hard-knocks aside I stand firmly beside my decision.

What music consumers aka the public-at-large forget is if you buy a physical CD and not the digital iTunes version of the album, then that CD is meant to be listened to on a CD player. That’s the only way to gain the optimal listening experience, since the CD was made for a CD player and not an MP3 player.

I haven’t wanted to grow up, hence my desperate attempts to rekindle what once made me tick a decade ago. At the age of 13, I was going into my final year at the Anshe Emet Day School, I was in the 8th grade, and had just told the other kids in my class that I started writing songs. That’s how I spent the summer of 2000.

They looked at me with prodding eyes. I felt defaced and demoralized. My mental strength was weakened by their disapproval, but that didn’t stop me. I kept writing, I kept singing, I took the stage and belted my heart out for all of them to hear. They’re disapproval shattered. They were embarrassed. I rested my case.

Fast-forward a decade later, I’ve recorded three albums with new music in the works. I’ve received a B.A. in Journalism and a minor in music theory and history. What are those kids from my 8th grade class doing? Well, I can’t say for sure. I know a lot of them are looking for jobs, have jobs, are in law school, or still trying to get a B.A. from a city college somewhere around Chicago.

Washington, D.C. has treated my lyrical soul well enough. In fact, after the horrible nightmare that was 2009 for myself and my family, 2010 is shaping up to be that of a whirlwind fantasy come to life.

It’s times like these, when I know how lucky I am to be where I am in life, that we must remember where we came from and why we’re here.

A decade ago I would bop my head to whatever pop track MTV’s Total Request Live shoved in my face. Quite frankly, they didn’t have to shove it in my face though. I loved it. I breathed it. 90s pop was my lifeline. After all, it was a weekend spent watching a Backstreet Boys special on Fox Family Channel that spawned my love for songwriting. That was twelve years ago.

In honor of 90s pop music and those who fed my creative mind with material to take and improve upon, this post is dedicated to Rich Cronin of LFO who passed away overnight due to complications with Leukemia.

To commemorate Rich and my childhood, I’m going to use my Compact Disc player every day for a week. No iPod.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ron Santo at Nationals Park (8/24/2010)

Pictured (left to right): Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano, WGN 720 AM sportscaster and former Cubs third baseman Ron Santo, Nationals left fielder Josh Willingham, Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein, and Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo.

The Cubs Come to Washington: August 2010 Edition (in pictures)

The team gets ready for batting practice.

3B Aramis Ramirez loosens up before hitting the cage.

Former battery-mate's Jason Marquis and Geovany Soto catch-up before game time.

Ramirez prepping for BP.

Pre-game w/ coverage of Lou Pinella.

Former Nat and current Cub Alfonso Soriano speaks with Nats broadcaster Charlie Slowes.

Team prepping for game time.

Rookie SS Starlin Castro mentally preparing for BP.

Cubs catchers Geovany Soto and Koyie Hill stretching.

Soto and Marquis part ways after a pleasant catch-up session.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Google Makes My Day: Wizard of Oz Edition

This morning I received a text from a friend of mine telling me to go to as soon as possible. I didn't understand why she was so specific. Usually when people tell me to "google" something, I go to the search engine and type in some text. Not this time.

My friend was specific. She said go to, not "google (insert random mundane word here).

Much to my pleasant surprise the following photo appeared:

Today in 1939, "The Wizard of Oz" premiered in Oconomowoc, WI. -- the same town in which my dad attended camp as a kid.

For those of you who don't know why the Wizard of Oz has a special place in my heart, let me explain. My dad was one of the biggest Oz collectors around. He restored all of L. Frank Baum's first edition books in the Oz series and was known throughout the Oz collecting world by many.

After his passing in January 2009, he received high praise not only from those who bought his "Oz Artifacts" off Ebay but from fellow collectors in general.

Our house is filled with first edition children's books, Oz memorabilia and more copies of the Wizard of Oz on VHS or DVD then anyone should really have. My mom also made sure to have the canter sing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" at my dad's funeral -- which he ended up singing at the graveside service as the lowered him to eternal rest at Chicago's Rosehill Cemetery.

I could get sad and upset, allowing the sight of this photo to numb my senses all day long but instead I'll relish it and smile and whistle "If I Only Had Brain" to myself.

Sounds like a good day to me.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Now THAT'S Funny: How I'd Like To Commemorate My Summer As A Cub Reporter Following The Nats

As you might have noticed, I'm in my rookie season as a cub reporter on the Nats beat for We Love DC. It's pretty much the baseball equivalent of being the kid in Almost Famous, at least in my eyes. So I thought I'd have a little fun.

No -- I'm not actually going to BUY the jersey or t-shirt, but I did find it quite ironic that my attempt to commemorate my season as a cub reporter with the Nationals could make for quite a funny screen shot:

In either case, this Cubs fan turned MLB beat writer for the Nats has certainly enjoyed the humor produced from the pictures above.

Monday, August 2, 2010

What I Did This Summer

The Glover Park Co-Ed Softball League has been a mainstay of fun times, social activity, and athletic prowess for longer than I've been alive. Some of the players on my team might not enjoy that fact since, at the age of 23, I was by far the baby of the team by quite a few years.

What started out as the brain child of the Michael "Crash" Crescenzo, quickly solidified itself as the Summer spot in people's lives on Sunday.

I signed up after the season already started up not knowing what I was getting myself into. At the time, I was looking for an excuse to get out of my studio apartment on Sunday and an excuse to get in a little athletic time while I'm at it.

It didn't take long to learn that no matter how competative you are, this league is about one thing -- fun. I assure you, it is more than fun.

The characters I met on the sidelines and in the dugout are a treasured bunch thrown together all looking to make memories based around one of their favorite past-times. Yeah it does suck when your team loses, because nobody really LIKES to lose, but winning and losing isn't the point.

I might sound like a kindergarden teacher trying to moviate kids after a big championship loss, which is pretty close to what happened to my team the Near Misses yesterday, but it's true nontheless.

Baseball -- or softball in this case -- is supposed to be fun. The punch of a loss can be quickly masked by a few cold beers, a round of corn hole with your league-mates, and watching a couple other teams square off on the diamond.

Glover Park Softball is that place and I'm lucky to have just completed my rookie season. Was I skeptical of how I would fit in at first? You bet I was. Like I said, some players on my team have been playing on this team longer than I've been alive. The league started in 1982 and I'm pretty sure that since my team's "owner" started that league that we've been around since then. I was born in 1987. I rest my case.

It wasn't until our season celebratory party a night before the final day of the season that I knew I'd found new summer family, even if we do only see each other once a week. My rookie hazing included singing a song in front of the team and their families. Lucky for me, I can sing. It's been said I sang the best song in Near Misses history, so I'll take the compliment ... since my playing is as you might say a bit not so good? Ha. I was better in high school, but it's of no consequence.

2010 was a great rookie season with a fantastic team of ragtag characters and beyond memorable moments. Here's to next year!

Adam Dunn Stays with the Washington Nationals After Crazy Trade Rumors

This had to be shared somewhere on the internet. Credit to WLDC Author & Photographer Max Cook for this lovely shot from the Saturday July, 31 Nationals-Phillies game (click photo to enlarge it):

Check out that gum action. Seriously. Either way, Washington is happy to have Dunn on their side.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rachel Levitin live - Saturday 7/24 - Tonic Lounge DC

Please note: This show is 18+.

The drought is over. New music, new merch, new performances:

Join Rachel for her second Jam Sessions performance live from the Tonic Lounge (in the heart of GW's campus) along side R&B vocalist Shelita Vaughns and other rockin' local DC acts on Saturday 7/24!

Need more info as to why you should come?

A new compilation album/EP entitled "The Bourbon Taster EP" will be on sale in limited quantities (for the time being). The taster features a sampling of brand-new songs produced by Paul Derlunas and four tracks from previous recording sessions, including two from my 2005 debut album "Come As You Are".

Prices of the albums range between $5-$15 and the proceeds made off the taster and "Come As You Are" will be donating in my late-father's memory to support organ donation awareness.

Also -- if you are currently a DC, Maryland, or Virginia resident and are NOT an organ donor, you will be able to sign up to become one at all of my upcoming performances.

So come out and be a part of something good with Rachel Levitin live at the Tonic Lounge Jam Session!

Again -- A portion of all album proceeds will be donated to the National Kidney Foundation and the Donate Life campaign.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Rachel gets a Canjo at Dollywood

American Idol: Making Dreams Come True For Those Who Never Thought It Was Possible

One of the last things the American Idol producers tell their prospective contestants before auditioning in a collective group of 10,000+ in a giant arena nearly filled to capacity is to not get yourselves down if you're not selected. It doesn't mean you can't sing, it just means you're not what the show is looking for -- that's it.

The hardest part is shoving all your hopes and dreams into a once-in-a-lifetime, seat-of-your-pants, whirlwind weekend of fulfilling your loftiest personal goals and then being shot down.

It took me until 26 hours after the fact to realize why being denied a spot on American Idol was quite easily the biggest compliment the show's producers could have ever issued me upon being cut from the first round of auditions. Sure, the initial blow stung my body, brain, and heart with the force of a million knives prodding every orifice of my being, but the pain subsided. The numb feeling led to a few shed tears while listening to one of many Glee tracks off the CD's my friend had created for our 11-13 hour road trip from DC to Nashville as we drove off in the sunset toward Sonic to drown our sorrows in greasy, heartburn inducing comfort food.

For whatever reason, I left Bridgestone Arena after being in or around it from 5 a.m. until 7 p.m. heartbroken and pained. I shouldn't have, but at least I knew I cared.

I could choose to go on tirade and trash everything American Idol stands for, but that wouldn't be doing the show justice. At first, I almost went as far as to say that the show's place in popular culture could be a detrimental to the hopes and dreams of the individuals the show seeks as contestants. That isn't the case.

I now believe I know the truth -- American Idol is the best makeover show that isn't marketed as such -- or at least, not in an obvious fashion.

Think about the faces you've seen over the past nine season of American Idol. Often times, if not every time, the final two contestants are people no one would have ever imagined being on the cover of a magazine or staring in their own music video, let alone end up with a major record deal. That's the point of the show.

American Idol takes the underdog, the unlikely candidate, and allows them the opportunity to seek a future greater than their wildest dreams could have ever imagined. They let thousands of people audition in order to have them feel like they have a place in all of the pomp and circumstance of it all, but it's really just a show allotting a dream to someone who wouldn't have been offered a chance by modern social and entertainment standards.

Try to remember all the faces the on the American Idol stage since 2000 -- Kelly Clarkson, Justin Guarini, Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken, Diana DeGarmo, Fantasia Barrino, Bo Bice, Carrie Underwood, Katharine McPhee, Taylor Hicks, Blake Lewis, Jordin Sparks, David Archuleta, David Cook, Adam Lambert, Kris Allen, Crystal Bowersox, and Lee DeWyze. These aren't your everyday pop stars. Each individual grew immensely during the process and were by no means the "text book" definition of a pop star when they started out, no matter how much talent (or lack thereof) they portrayed.

That's why singers who took the time out of their busy and routine driven lives can't get too down on themselves for having auditioned and not making it past the preliminary round of American Idol auditions. Those young performers with years of practice, natural talent, or anywhere in between have to know it's not that they can't sing. It's just the opposite. You have what it takes to pursue the music industry on your own, unassisted by FOX or American Idol. That's why the producer's cut you. You can make your dream come true on your own, it's just about the timing and execution.

If you want your dream bad enough, you can achieve it. American Idol isn't for people who know they have exactly what it takes to make it big. American Idol is for the people who never thought being a musical superstar could ever happen. American Idol is an outlet to keep what's good about America alive, it keeps that hard-work ethic and the whole "happy endings DO come true" ideal alive in our imaginations.

So if you've ever been cut from the show like I have and feel like you weren't given your fair shot at fulfilling your dreams, know that it's the opposite. American Idol just handed you your dreams and said, "Take your talent, stage presence, and passion and use it the way you know how. Carve your own path. You know how to do it. Why are you here? You don't need us to write your story, you can do it on your own."

For those of you who have made it through to the additional rounds of auditions and will be on the tenth season of American Idol, I hope all your wildest dreams come true. You deserve it. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a tad bit jealous.

I hope to cross paths with you one day. If we both keep it up, I'm sure we will.

So thanks American Idol, for proving to me that I have what it takes to make my dreams come true and thanks for giving those who never thought they had a chance an opportunity to succeed. That's pretty gosh darn nice if you ask me.


A personal aside: I really have to take a moment to say how grateful I am for the amazing and incredibly touching amount of support you all shared with me since announcing my decision to audition for American Idol. It's something I honestly never thought I would do and if it weren't for this experience I wouldn't have found this additional source of inspiration to continue doing what I love to do (all of you really showed me that my love for music does more than inspire myself but it inspires all of you as well, so thank you) plus a new found confidence in performing. If I can belt out the best performance of my life in a 60 second period in front of the American Idol producers then nothing can stop me. You all know who you are so I don't need to name names, just know you've all touched me more than you could have thought possible. So for that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Much Love,

Rachel Levitin


There are also two photo albums of my journey /// one /// two

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Road to Nashville

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This time last year I was sitting on my couch, staring at Craig's List on the daily, unemployed, bored out of my mind, and border-line broke.

What a difference 12 months makes.

Tonight my friend Shea and I will depart from the Nation's capital for a close to 11 hour drive toward Nashville to audition for the tenth season of American Idol. The show's changed a lot in a decade but so have I. My dad's heart transplant was still something my family was getting used to back in 2000. Grammy award winner Kelly Clarkson would go on to become American Idol's first winner. I hadn't even entered high school yet.

My younger self had a bedroom plastered with Justin Timberlake and Drew Lachey posters (most of which still lay in pile on a bookshelf). I had more CD's then I knew what to do with. A strong obsession with pop music and a desire to fit in encouraged this shy young'n to start pursuing what really made her tick -- music.

I still remember the day I was home alone with my dog watching a Backstreet Boys special on what was then called ABC Family Channel. That's what inspired me to take my love for music, teeny bopper tuneage, and pop culture and apply it to my life. My goal in life quickly transformed into being a pop star.

Hell, when I was 12 I wrote a short story for English class about how Will Smith would present the Grammy for Best New Artist to me by the age of 16. A girl can dream, right?

Well here I am on the cusp of a life changing event. Will the producers at American Idol find me marketable and talented enough to receive the illusive yellow sheet of paper sending me to Hollywood or will I be shot down for "not having what it takes?"

If I get shot down, that's their loss. I've been at this for far too long and I happen to know the show would be lucky to have me, if not for my "talent" and hard work put in to maintain that talent then for the wonderful story behind my inspiration.

You see, the doctors told my parents I would be lucky to survive being born back in the day. I was premature by five weeks, 3 pounds 5.5 ounces at birth, and in dire need of immediate surgery upon being born a blue baby.

This has really been a long time coming and let me tell you, the timing is everything. I can almost guarantee the producers will ask me why I haven't auditioned before if I have all this musical background. The answer is simple: the timing wasn't right yet. Sure, dreams are great and all but if I hadn't gotten a college degree those dreams wouldn't have meant much to me.

My love for music started early and undoubtedly stem from my dad and my Uncle Tim. My Uncle Tim was a music teacher and bought me my first coronet (a smaller version of a trumpet). My grandma (my mom's mom) on the other hand bought me my first "guitar" before the age of five. It was a red ukulele that I legitimately thought WAS a guitar. My dad and I proceed to start writing songs shortly after, the only title I remember is "Pink Flamingo" but it was a good time for what I remember of the experience.

Dad was a singer throughout high school and college, often landing lead roles in musicals like Guys and Dolls (he played Nathan Detroit) and Fiddler on the Roof (he played Perchick). He was a singer/songwriter/guitar player himself ... guess the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree.

What got me through my dad's heart transplant? Music. What kept my hopes up during middle school and high school for feeling out of place in a social scene that revolved around who was invited to so-and-so's party on the weekend? Music. What makes me smile when I'm having a bad day? Music.

Music got me through three funerals in one summer (last summer that is) -- my dad's, my grandma's, and my bubbe's. I played "You've Got a Friend" in honor of dad because he absolutely LOVED James Taylor. I played "New York, New York" for bubbe because nobody loved old Blue Eyes more (plus she was from Brooklyn). I played taps on my coronet at my grandma's funeral at Fort Snelling in Minnesota. Music is the light in the darkness shed from life's curve balls.

Lord knows my family has had horrendous and occasionally uplifting curve balls thrown at us throughout the years. That's why this trip to Nashville is more than something to make me happy about my own life. This trip is about my family and all that we stand for. What do we stand for? I'm not entirely sure I have an answer to that. What I do know is nothing would make them happier than to see me doing what I love, sharing it with others, and telling our family's uplifting story that it is possible to overcome even the harshest of blows.

So thank you to all who have supported me in this adventure. I hope to make you proud.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Filligar: The Voice of Rock's Next Generation

Filligar's Stray Dogs Tour, live from The Red &The Black Bar in Washington, D.C., October 2009.
Pictured (left to right): Teddy Mathias, Johnny Mathias, Pete Mathias, Rachel Levitin, Casey Gibson.

It's nice to know I wasn't alone in having to contain myself upon receiving an advanced copy of Filligar's 2010 release "The Nerve." I popped the record into my television/DVD combo (it has stellar speakers, I kid you not) and blasted the volume to a decibel that wouldn't get me kicked out of my apartment complex. It was then it dawned on me -- Filligar has the potential to be the Rolling Stones and Beatles of our generation just as long as people start to take notice of their evolving sound after nearly a decade of song-crafting.

Instead of rambling on about why I love these guys (we did go to high school together and have shared a stage together more times than we can count), I'll share my initial takes on some of the standout tracks of their new album.

Please note, these are all simply my opinion. You're left to your own devices if you disagree:
Guilty Good Intentions – Gentlemen, I present you with your break-out single. If it’s not then please feel free to call my bluff at our Five Year High School Reunion. Can’t you hear it now? “Would you believe me if I say the boy who cried is innocent,” being sung by every down and low fella out with the guys to get back from a soured romance at the top of his lungs? How about those mid-20’s dudes out at Happy Hour after a long day at the office busting a tune to this latest jam on The Mix and Kiss FM. And those high school girls who are looking for the next young man on the charts to obsess over? Oh they’re ALL over this. Can you blame them? 3 brothers and a pianist who sings with a keyboard? You better believe there’s a Teen People cover story spread in Filligar's future. This song gets everyone on their side. It convinces the listener that they couldn’t possibly NOT like all of you. You’re the good guys.

Robbery (Shocking Love) – Catchy, happy, great way to start off a record. Seal of approval granted in this case. Which reminds me, Slow Night at the Red Sea end’s this baby right where it should, on an uplifting note that highlights more is to come from the fine lovable goofs that comprise Filligar at its best.

Mumbling Girl – Catchy, has the potential to be heard as one of those “songs of summer” guys get excited about when rocking out with friends in the car. I can totally see a guy hearing the opening lick and be like “Sweet, Filligar’s on the radio dial” and then start serenading his buddies piano bar style.

Early Riser - Johnny's vocals and acoustic playing on this track are beautiful, haunting, and pure. I could see this being used in a film, can't you? I see it set to black and white, completely classic in every way.

New & Old – Who thought of adding harmonica to this? Whoever it is, can I have your babies? But no really, awesome touch that I wasn’t expecting AT ALL. It makes me feel like I’m the female version of whatever a combination of Bob Dylan and Jack Keroac would be if the main character in a song. Definitely a nod to that slight cowboy, folk mentality of hitting the road by foot with the sole intention of just moving on. Love it. Well said.

Ticket Line - Won’t lie. Love this track. It goes way back to our high school days. The melody is memorable, the heavy guitar is a tribute to rock, which differs from the rest of this album (in a good way). Which leads to my next point …

Why I Love This Album - The reason this album works is two-fold: Filligar knows how to craft an undeniably good song after years and years of practice (it shows) and they continue to highlight one of their band’s greatest strengths – Casey’s classical piano training (boy, you’ve got mad chops, never stop playing). Filligar goes from college rock to classic rock, from grunged out to classy in what feels like a zero to sixty fashion giving fans what they want to hear while leaving them unable to guess what’s coming next. Each record, but this one in particular, is a musical riddle waiting to be solved and is worth every moment spent trying to figure it out.

All in all, my summary is simple: If I could request who would be the next memorable name in Rock History text books, I would pray on bended knee that Filligar become The Rolling Stones of the next generation.

Filligar is now on a U.S. summer tour to support "The Nerve" and has numerous stops in all sorts of major cities and small towns across the country. For the latest Filligar updates visit their website.

"The Nerve" is available on iTunes and in hard-copy form.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Life Lessons From Matt Capps

[Portions of this post were mentioned in "Matt Capps: An All-Around All-Star" for We Love DC.]

Photo by Cheryl Nichols/Nationals News Network

It's easy to forget that professional athletes are regular people in disguise. In some ways, they get to have all the fun all for signing a contract stating: "You are now the best of the best in a particular crop of others who we've deemed worthy. For this we will provide you with a hefty salary. In return, all we ask is that you accept the fact that you are now, and forever, a public figure no matter if that is what you want or not."

Until this week, Lebron James was among the crop of individuals American's have deemed worthy of calling "the best" and worth spotlighting via every news outlet imaginable. Others before him include Michael Jordan, Ernie Banks, Nolan Ryan, Michael Phelps, Reggie Jackson, Kobe Bryant, Brett Favre, Walter Peyton, and many more.

There are lessons to be learned from the laundry list of professional athletes who make more money than most of us will ever accumulate in our lifetime all for being really really good at a sport that for the majority of American's remains something we did with our time after school as a kid. Extra curricular activities aside, the men (and women for that matter) who put themselves out there into the public sphere for the love of the game are still just as human as any one of us.

Matt Capps is a man we could all learn a lesson from.

And to think, just one year ago Capps was regarded by his team at the time as being on the outs of his favorite game to play.

Adam Kilgore's article in the Washington Post regarding Capps and his father.

There was a revealing piece, compliments of Nationals beat writer Adam Kilgore, in Sunday's Washington Post shedding light on the importance of Capps making his first All-Star Game appearance of his career this Tuesday.

Before this piece, it was a known fact that Capps lost his father whom he was very close with last October. To gloss over this part of Capps' life when thinking about the context in which it lies would be a mistake.

Capps continues to post stellar numbers as the Washington Nationals' closer, but it's the rough outings in which the game's outcome doesn't go his way where fans could easily get upset and begin raining on his parade.

A professional athlete's career depends on performance, but what happens when occurrences in one's personal life begin to take a slight toll on a players performance level.

For Matt Capps this is not the case. His personal life is at the core of his personal motivation no matter the outcome of the game on a daily basis.

This is why there are lessons to be learned from Capps.

So what's the lesson? As someone who lost their father a year and a half ago I can attest to the fact that all you want to do is break down. Your life feels stunted. To continue living your life without your go-to person available on the other end of a phone call leaves a hole in your heart. But no matter how big that hole is, you don't let it defeat you. In essence, you have to do that person's work for them now that they're no longer with you.

my dad and me...yeah yeah
My father and myself, June 2005 at RFK Staidum for my first Nationals game.

I still hear my father's voice in my head on the daily even though we haven't had an actual conversation since about January 15, 2009. I didn't let his death defeat me, I utilized it as a tool and source of further motivation. So does Matt Capps.

Capps spoke to his father every day over the phone, often times more than once according to Kilgore's article "All that's missing is his father". His father's absence hits him the most at his most joyful moments Kilgore wrote. All Capps wanted to do after being named to the the first All-Star team in his professional career was call his dad, but he couldn't.

Capps will join baseballs biggest names of the modern era Tuesday for the mid-summer classic in Anaheim, California.

"You learn a lot about yourself as a person, as an athlete, through your failures," Capps told Kilgore. "It's easy to play this game when you're good, you're pitching well, you're playing well. You really learn about how much you love the game, how much it means to you, when you're fighting through those hard times."

"It's part of life," Capps said. "I'm moving forward and doing what I want to do. That would make him proud to know. By going out and playing and working hard off the field, preparing every day, that's the best way of remembering and representing the name that I carry."

Imagine going into a work each day with thousands of people watching, coaches breathing down your neck, and media outlets digging for quotes. None of these things are necessarily bad, but it sure doesn't make life much of a cake walk.

Matt Capps continues to go into work everyday, despite his heartbreak, and hones his pitching as best as he can. That's all he can do. He, like all of us, is human after all.

In this era of human self-involvement and narcissism seen in sports (cough cough ... LeBron James ... cough cough), a lot of these "feel-good" human interest life lessons get lost in the world of sports.

Here's to Matt Capps and his touching story behind why he plays the way he does for the Washington Nationals. Here, here.

Pictured: Matt Capps, myself, and Craig Stammen at Nats FanFest 2010 at Nationals Park.