Shakira & Jennifer Lopez shined bright at NFL Super Bowl 2020 in Miami

Feb. 3, 2020 –Shakira and Jennifer Lopez were hotter than the summer heat in Vegas at The NFL’s Super Bowl LIV Halftime show. The two Latinas made headlines today with their saucy, sexy and salacious performance at Super Bowl LIV in Miami, Florida. Normally, I would not pick two pop stars to write about in a punk, metal, rock n roll zine like Rank & Revue – but our Editor is a huge football fan – and I’m a Latina, Lebanese girl and an artist that’s a huge fan of these two ladies. For decades, I’ve been following Shakira and J.Lo’s careers and mimicking their moves when I dance. I was addicted to watching Jennifer Lopez’s music videos before school in 8th grade. [I also danced to Michael Jackson, Lauryn Hill and Ace of Base in the mornings.]

At the end of the show, I really smiled from the heart when Shakira was in gold and J.Lo was wearing silver, and they were holding hands, uplifting and complimenting each other, looking incredibly happy and vivacious. Clearly living out their dreams to the fullest. Silver and gold were colors of royalty, and I liked the way the girls ended the show together, hand in hand, rather than looking like a subtle competition for time and publicity. Each woman had a unique time to shine and relive the classic songs that made them famous. They showcased their unique dance styles. Then, the two passed the baton onto a younger generation as Jennifer Lopez’s daughter, Emme Maribel Muñiz, sang at the end while her mother danced and Shakira played the drums. There was a wide range of ages and generations performing on stage, which made me happy: to see beauty thriving at any age and how all women can be beautiful and powerful, especially in numbers, no matter your age. [Beyonce does an excellent job of showcasing black girl magic when she performs in masses, too!] So often, society is so shallow, and we idolize the youth like Greek gods and demonize women past a certain age. Seeing these women excelling and rocking it at ages 43 and 50 gives hope to all ladies that we aren’t just getting older, we’re getting better and stronger with age, like scotch. Although I doubt either of these women imbibe alcohol with abs like that. Dios mio!

Most of the coverage has been positive, but there has been quite the uproar amongst viewers and alike regarding their provocative dancing and clothing. Some of those NFL cheerleaders are wearing uniforms with a lot less coverage and a lot more makeup than what Shakira and J.Lo had on. And I’ve seen some of the cheerleaders’ dance routines, which can be pretty risqué, even at college games. Honestly, I don’t know why anyone that’s seen an NFL game is shocked by what they saw at Super Bowl 2020. Do you have to like it? No. But please don’t act surprised that sexuality has made its way into men’s professional football. We aren’t at church. Plus, male artists have performed shirtless at the Super Bowl, so, why the inequality and scrutiny towards female artists? Secondly, the NFL asked two Latina entertainers to perform the show. They didn’t ask a balloon artist, a magician, or a group of older jazz players in suits. They asked Shakira and Jennifer Lopez to perform. And these two ladies brought live entertainment. 

At our best, Latinas are a passionate, sexual, tantalizing and evocative group of females with mystical powers. No one should be surprised that two superstars like Jennifer Lopez and Shakira turned heads and seduced the crowd with their beauty, style, athleticism and artistic talent. The photo provided by Pepsi promoting the show was a bombshell of sex appeal, clearly letting the audience know: this will be provocative, times two.

Furthermore, belly dancing is hard. I would know because I am a belly dancer and have performed on stage at nightclubs. What Shakira is doing is hard work, and it’s more than just a few sexy hip thrusts: she’s showcasing cultural art, dance and music. She isolates parts of her body and her muscles to move each section, sometimes in a fluid and constant motion. I remembered years ago, one of my gay guy friends sent me a video of Shakira coming down the pole in her video “Rabiosa” with Pitbull and said, “this reminds me of you”. An ex of mine got jealous about it, which was absurd. True, the pole dancing by J.Lo in Super Bowl 2020 was pushing it a bit, considering kids were watching this event, but that is also a challenging dance form that requires strength. It’s not just for strippers, pole dancing is a great core exercise and can really make someone feel sexy and empowered. Even if you pole dance in private at home.

Ultimately, no matter where you stand on sexuality, it shouldn’t be a shock, especially since J.Lo was nominated for her role in the film “Hustlers”. Which featured a dance routine with her on the pole wearing not very much at all. Believe me, when I say, she toned it down for the Super Bowl. Mind you, I did notice there were a lot of spread-eagles and close-ups of intimate lady parts and was rather graphic. [Remember in the film “Chicago”? Catherine Zeta-Jones caught her husband and her sister doing the spread-eagle?] Either way, I noticed that Shakira and J.Lo’s dance routines and their performances were dripping with sexuality, perhaps many didn’t appreciate the sex factor. Again, why are so many people shocked? This isn’t anything new for either entertainer or The National Football League.

Today, my boyfriend played sports radio, and three men talked about the Super Bowl Halftime show. Listening to three straight Southern men speak about the performance was amusing, cringe-worthy, depressing and cliché. I love men’s sports talk! But this was quite silly to waste this much air-time on gossip. Instead of talking about the costumes, hair, makeup, and fantastic dancing or their successful careers; the focus was on the women’s sexiness, appearances, and ages. The men talked about how Shakira had an outer belly button, and “usually” that’s not sexy, but she pulled it off. One guy talked about how Jennifer was too old to be dancing like that, and so was Shakira. Other men defended the ladies right to entertain, which I appreciated.

Although I did understand some concerns from one man, speaking as a parent, because little girls are looking up to these women and we’re already under so much pressure to be sex objects. Sadly, us ladies are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. We get treated like sex objects, no matter what. We are too sexy, not sexy enough, too young or too old, too skinny, or too fat. Too confident or too submissive. It’s always something. Aesthetically, we can’t please every man, and it’s not our job to do so. It’s exhausting how women are still expected to smile and ‘be ladylike’ and never be too pushy or look like a bitch. It’s merely impossible for girls to please everyone. So, I think the message is clear, and just like Rihanna and Madonna said, we should “shine bright like a diamond!” and be “unapologetically ourselves.” J.Lo and Shakira give so much back to the community. Why didn’t the men talk about the fact Jennifer Lopez has an estimated net worth of $400 million, and Shakira has an estimated net worth of $300 million? Hips don’t lie. How about numbers don’t lie. These women are two fiery powerhouses that know how to make money, create a brand, and flourish in a man’s world.

The first thing I said to my boyfriend, Steven Mark, after we saw the Halftime show, “I loved their costumes! I want every single one for me!” Because anyone that adores fashion knows that J.Lo’s handmade Versace and Swarovski clothes were to die for! I wanted to do a photoshoot in it and I can just imagine all the people around the world about to mimic these iconic looks. Already, a local dance studio here in town is offering Super Bowl Half Time classes for dancers to replicate the routines. All in all, it was an unforgettable performance that reminded me of Las Vegas.

¡Gracias chicas! Your hard work has paid off. ¡Viva Latinas!

“There is a rose in Spanish Harlem
A red rose up in Spanish Harlem
It is a special one, it’s never seen the sun
It only comes out when the moon is on the run
And all the stars are gleaming
It’s growing in the street right up through the concrete
But soft and sweet and dreamin
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There is a rose in Spanish Harlem
A red rose up in Spanish Harlem
With eyes as black as coal
That look down in my soul
And starts a fire there
And then I lose control
I have to beg your pardon
. I’m going to pick that rose
And watch her as she grows in my garden.”

– Ben E. King

Note: This story was originally published in Rank & Revue, 2020 issue

Pt 2. Interview: James White & the Broken Spoke

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George Strait. Photography by the Broken Spoke. 

On May 1, 2019 —For the second year in a row, I interviewed James White at the Broken Spoke sitting at table B2 next to a replica of Willie Nelson’s guitar, Trigger. The same booth where Willie Nelson and his wife, Annie, used to dine in decades past. Coincidentally, one year ago I interviewed him on the exact same day. This was not planned and I just so happen to notice this coincidence whilst uploading the audio files post-interview. Last year, the story was published in a local rock-n-roll zine in ATX and I titled it “James White talks 54 years at the Broken Spoke“. The first interview was a bird’s eye view of the last 54 years. Audio from the interview in 2018 can be found online, too. Mr. White talked to me about his quest, the dream of opening a honky tonk and meeting his wife and falling in love with Annetta. He told me about the volunteers who made the building by hand, one of which was a man so drunk he fell off the roof. The first time they booked Willie Nelson back in 1967. Back when Willie wore short hair, clean shaven and wore either a turtle neck, a vest or a sports coat. White told me about the time Dolly Parton came to film “Wild Texas Nights” in the eighties. He told me about the film “Broken Arrow” featuring Jimmy Stewart and how it inspired him to name the Broken Spoke after it. The time Rowdy almost got shot by a police officer when someone stole his father’s silver saddle that is now kept in a glass case.

“A lot of people, you know, they ask me, why did you go into this kind of business? All the way down to my childhood, my parents would take me to different dance halls in this area, and that’s where I got the love of country music in my veins… When I was in the Army, I didn’t know what I was gonna do when I got out of the Army. So I thought it would be kind of neat to open up a place of my own, similar to the places when I was growing up in Austin. It just became like a quest of mine the day I left the Army. And when I came out under the big ole oak tree out front (on South Lamar), I just kind of visualized a place like no other and when I got it built: I named it the Broken Spoke. The reason I thought up that name, I wanted something original. I wanted something country, I wanted something western. Texas style”. – James White

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Over the decades, Mr. White has become friends with the likes of Willie Nelson, Alvin Crow, George Strait, Garth Brooks and the list goes on and on like a jukebox with endless vinyl’s to play. Thankfully, the Broken Spoke isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. In fact, their business is booming right now! This recent kaboom is due to a delightful visit from one of Texas’ most adored and esteemed country western musicians: George Strait.

Last winter, during a daytime walk I noticed an entourage outside of the Broken Spoke and became very curious. True, I see photo shoots and video crews outside the building all the time. People travel from all over to photograph and film this beloved Texas classic. However, this was a larger than usual crew of people. A few nights later, Steven Mark and I trailed in for a few libations. At which point, Mr. White informed my boyfriend and I that the infamous King of Country, the one and only, George Strait was at the Broken Spoke for his latest album Honky Tonk Time Machine.

Universal Records and Spotify came out to film and photograph George Strait at the Spoke, as well as interview Mr. White. On the one hand, I was stunned that George Strait came back to the Broken Spoke for a photoshoot — the sheer idea George Strait was in my hometown at a local bar right around the corner was mystifying. I’ve never seen him in person. Strait is a cowboy I’ve heard singing to me all my life through radios, stereos and televisions. All my life, his face has been all over Texas and the south, and yet, he has no bloody clue who I am. And yet, here Mr. White is just hanging out casually with a long time friend. So, on the other hand—I was not stunned or shocked—it’s just another sunny day in the colorful story of Mr. White, his family and life at the Broken Spoke.

“You can find a chisel, I can find a stone. Folks will be reading these words, long after we’re gone. Baby, write this down, take a little note, to remind you in case you didn’t know. Tell yourself I love you and I don’t want you to go, write this down. Take my words, read ’em every day, keep ’em close by, don’t you let ’em fade away. So you’ll remember what I forgot to say, write this down.” – George Strait

Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, James White booked George Strait for seven years. At the time, Strait was a part of band near San Marcos called Ace in the Hole. Once he became more and more famous, the booking fees outgrew the Broken Spoke. Decades later, true to Texas form, Mr. Strait never forgot his roots and came back to the honky tonk dance hall in Austin. George Strait also brought his wife, Norma, and his driver, Leroy. Weeks later, Broken Spoke was featured on the front cover of George Strait’s latest album “Honky Tonk Time Machine”. The album was released on Feb. 11, 2019. Later on, when George Strait performed at the 2019 Academy of Country Music Awards in April. The backdrop featured a photo of the Broken Spoke and by the graphic effects, it almost looked as if they were playing outside the building. The bright colors of the Texas flag blowing in the wind against the woodwork, the wagon wheels and the honky tonk dance hall. This is outstanding publicity for the Broken Spoke! Ever since, more visitors, from all over are flocking to the Broken Spoke. Which is fantastic news because the city of Austin treasures the local hotspots and it’s comforting to know business is alive and well at the Spoke. I liked hearing James White tell the story about when he finally informed George Strait about the ladies bathroom Annetta adorned with his cowboy pictures. Apparently, Strait was very flattered and had a real good sense of humor about it. I was told he even gave Annetta a kiss on the cheek!

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With only five cases of beer to sell, James White opened the Broken Spoke in 1964. After he was released from the U.S. Army at the age of 25 – Mr. White decided to pursue the quest, his dream, of opening a honky tonk in Austin, Texas to feature live country music and a dance hall. In the beginning, Broken Spoke was a local roadhouse where beer cost .25 cents a bottle and customers could get ice and a soft drink for .30 cents to chase down their liquor. Back in those days, before the peak of craft cocktails, people could bring their own liquor bottles to the bar in Texas. Now in 2019, over 55 years later, Broken Spoke has become a worldwide famous dance hall with a full bar and restaurant. By the late 80’s the Broken Spoke started to gain more and more fame. Featured in Texas Highways magazine, The Food Network, The New York Times, Nat Geo Traveler, CBS News, Texas Monthly, The Smithsonian and more; Broken Spoke is a historical landmark. The Broken Spoke is owned and operated by James and Annetta White. The two met at a dance hall in 1961 when she caught his eye and have been married 52 years. Annetta and her husband have worked together for decades to keep the Broken Spoke running successfully. Amongst her many contributions to the Broken Spoke, I discovered that Annetta is the one responsible for the George Strait photographs covering the women’s bathroom, giving the ladies room some cowboy vibes. For which, I am grateful.

“I ain’t got a dime, but what I got is mine. I ain’t rich, but Lord I’m free. Amarillo by mornin’. Amarillo’s where I’ll be”. – George Strait

Days prior to meeting Mr. White for a second interview, I felt anxious. Over the last 14 years, I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews. But I still got intimidated before interviewing James White. Even though the first interview went very well and the story was appreciated – even though I had no reason to feel anxiety because Mr. White and his entire family have been so friendly to me. Secretly, I still felt intimidated like, “What in the world am I going to ask this man that another writer hasn’t already inquired about? Is my story going to be any good at all? Where do I even start the second interview? How do I condense so much history into a few pages?” Instead of delving into my self-doubt as a Texan, I chose to chase the story. And I am glad I did.

Mr. James White is one of the kindest and most down-to-earth individuals I’ve ever interviewed. Out of all the celebrities, artists and entrepreneurs I’ve interviewed over the last 14 years – the White family will always linger fondly in my memory for making me feel welcomed. Not everyone I interview is so kind or humble, and the kindness is forever permeated into my brain. In a way, the Broken Spoke now feels like it’s become part of my own Texas history, too. I can understand wholeheartedly why people have coined the Broken Spoke as “the country western version of Cheers“.

During the second interview, late that morning, there was some commotion in the background. People looking for a key to the walk-in freezer. Beer shipments had arrived and the freezer was locked. Throughout the interview, you can hear people coming and going, including one of his daughters, Terri White. She teaches dance lessons at the Broken Spoke. Terri was kind enough to bring me some fried okra she’d just cooked in the kitchen. Walking over to table B2, she asked me if I wanted a bite, I said yes and took only one piece, as to not feel greedy. I guess she read my mind, because she reached into the basket and placed a handful of okra onto the table and left me with a napkin. It made me smile and I thanked her, again. It was a very sweet moment and reminded me that one of the many reasons why I’m grateful to be a Texas girl: southern hospitality and the love of sharing food and drinks together.

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Artwork by Kevin Geil.

Mr. White has another daughter, Ginny White Peacock. There is a fundraiser for Ginny on May 17, 2019 starting at 8 P.M. CST. Last year, I met her at the previous interview, and she was also very lovely and polite to me. She talked to me about the buildings electrical oddities and asked about my artwork. Recently, after many serious, life-changing health concerns that caused Ginny to lose both her feet and legs, below the knee, and nine fingers—as well as undergo a lot of painful surgeries she’s still recovering from—the Broken Spoke is hosting a silent and live auction to raise money for Ginny to obtain prosthetic legs. A wife and mother to two young boys, the fundraiser is a chance “to celebrate and come together to raise money so Ginny can get back on her feet”. Two Tons of Steel, Derailers, The Wagoneers w/ Monte Warden and other special guests will play music for the benefit. The auction entails over 100 items and collectibles. Including an autographed Limited Edition George Strait guitar (and an autographed cowboy hat) donated by George Strait & Tom Foote. A round of golf foursome with celebrity Ray Benson at Barton Creek Country Club. Ginny’s artwork will also be featured at the benefit. Please come on out to support the White family! If unable to attend the event, there is also a GoFundMe campaign where donations can be made to help Ginny on her road to robot legs.

Music and drinks aren’t all the Broken Spoke has to offer. Their barbecue is quite delicious and they are notorious for their chicken fried steak. On occasion, Mr. White still chops wood for the kitchen. Out at his ranch, there are some gullies and ravines that he uses a tractor to find wood for the fire. Live oak, Spanish oak and Heritage oak are the kinds of firewood he and his crew brings to the Broken Spoke to smoke meats. “It helps zap the taste in there and it’s sort of a flame-kissed smoked process”, stated White. The Spoke has had a BBQ pit from day one and way back in the day, James White and Bobby Flay used to cook together.

It would take several books to document all the history of the Broken Spoke. There is simply no way to condense it all for a literary journalism piece for the web. I hope to compile all my recordings into a short story and get it published elsewhere. Meantime, if you’d like to hear James White talk about the time Garth Brooks played a surprise show at the Broken Spoke in 2017. Booking George Strait back in the 70’s and how White was contacted for the cover of his latest album. Please stay tuned for the interview to go live!

“It’s a heart thing you feel good about. At the end of the day, I take more pictures now than I ever took in my life before now. Hell, no one wanted my picture in 1964 but now everyone does and I’ll make up for lost time. There were fun times in the 1960’s and everything was new. I just had so much fun here at the Spoke. But I think the one (press) thing we did with Texas Highways stood out the most. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving. Now we’re on every roadside park in Texas at the rest stops. I mean you come in and there’s a picture of the Broken Spoke and the Cadillac outside. And then on the left there at the state Capitol, it’s right there you know. You got music, you got Texas and then you got the Broken Spoke. It’s a very good compliment to us. Since then we’ve been voted the Best Country Dance Hall in the nation, home of the best chicken fried steak in town, a lot of metropolitan awards. We’ve won a lot of awards. I’m in the Texas Hall of Fame and the Smithsonian. I’m in the Country Music Hall of Fame… I never expected it. All I really wanted was a honky tonk dance hall. So I got what I wanted, but then I got a lot more. Which is fine, it’s fun, a hell a lot more fun to have people brag about you than bitch about you. It’s always more fun to get compliments”. – James White

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Sebastian Evans: Composer of Nickelodeon’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” series

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Donatello) and April. Photography used with permission from Nickelodeon.

Composer Sebastian Evans is scoring the music for Nickelodeon Animation Studio’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” TV series. Based in California, Sebastian Evans learned music theory as a kid and began to play piano when he was 10 years old. Evans’ mission to pursue music began after watching “Return of the Jedi” when he was seven. After participating in various musical entities until he reached college: a jazz band, concert orchestra, drum line and musical theater. Over the course of time Sebastian Evans also taught himself how to score music as a working professional.

“Sebastian Evans is one of the only black Composers in the industry, and he’s quickly rising in the competitive world of TV and film music. Evans is a creative type who is rapidly gaining accolades within the industry. Invigorating several hit animated television shows with his unique style, Sebastian has received considerable acclaim from fans and critics alike. Most recently, Sebastian’s distinct sound has helped reinvent the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” franchise starring Seth Green and Sean Astin. From his head-bob inducing main title theme to his seamless blend of Far East and Western musical styles, Sebastian provides a lively score that’s helped reinvent Nickelodeon’s Emmy-winning series for a whole new generation. Sebastian has also created scores for other hugely popular shows including “Cartoon Network’s Ben 10: Omniverse”, starring Yuri Lowenthal and Joe DiMaggio, “Transformers: Animated”, starring David Kaye and Tara Strong as well as “Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go”, starring Greg Cipes and Mark Hamill for Disney. He has also worked on various projects for “Warner Brothers” and “Adult Swim”. Also, in case you were wondering, his favorite Ninja Turtle is Donatello.”

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Earlier this week in June 2016, a phone interview was booked between Sebastian Evans and Writer for Examiner, Nicolette Mallow.

Nicolette Mallow: When was the moment you realized the power of music and that you wanted to make music? How did you know that you were meant to be a composer?

Sebastian Evans: The day I saw “Return of the Jedi” for the first time when I was 7. That was when I really remember feeling something from the music and I wanted to replicate it myself. Specifically it was the moment when Admiral Ackbar says “It’s a trap!”… Right then and there I wanted to learn music. I wanted to know how to make the audience feel a certain way just by hearing the sounds. That scene in “Star Wars” stuck with me and I started taking music lessons soon after. By the time I was 10, I could play the piano and as time went by. I learned all kinds of musical styles. Eventually I moved out to L.A. with my band, but that didn’t work out. So then I got a job after sending demos to various studios. Warner Bros. hired me for “Cartoon Monsoon” which was an animated pilot program online. Later I made some connections standing in the “Star Wars” line at Mann’s Chinese Theater to see “The Phantom Menace”. Then I pitched to Disney. Along the way I met Ciro Nieli (Executive Producer of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” for Nickelodeon) and we began working together on various projects.

NM: Do you have a music ritual or a method of operation for when you create and compose? Or do the projects flow naturally and you write from the heart as it comes along?

SE: I used to write a lot more from the heart when it was personal, like for the band or my own art portfolio. But when it’s a project for a team: my style is based around the desire to reflect the Director’s vision. I want to support the film or the story. I try to stay flexible because you don’t always know exactly what the team wants. My focus for work projects are dictated by the team and how I can bring my own musical style to meet their vision.

NM: I am unfamiliar with writing music and putting audio or soundtracks onto film. What is it like writing for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”?

SE: Ninja Turtles has a lot of underground hip hop influences and a lot of loops. The music is often subtle and grey as to not overpower the story, dialogue or the characters. But the Director is also seeking to get something across that emotes something in a scene that would not be as prevalent without the music accompanying it. Music foreshadows events that are about to happen, or perhaps it uplifts the mood or makes the tone more serious. It all depends on the situation at hand. We have a couple of meetings every episode and we discuss what the scene needs. This helps me create a score that will benefit the character building of the story within each episode.

NM: Did you always intend to write for animation, comics or cartoons? Or did this path sort of unfold naturally?

SE: Yes, it all sort of unfolded naturally. My end goal in the future is to work on movies, but I really love working on animation for television. It’s been a learning experience and very rewarding because I never imagined that I would be where I am now. My roots in music are very scattered and I grew up listening to classical, like Mozart and the greats. Yet I also love metal and alternative. I will play Mos Def, Timbaland and Wu Tang during the same duration as I listen to Bjork or classical. So, yeah, I would like to explore as many characters as possible through TV and film in the future. But I am grateful for where I am right now and enjoy working on animation.

NM: Out of all four ninja turtles (Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo), why is Donatello your favorite?

SE: Donatello seems like the outcast. He’s the brains and the nerd of the group. Donatello is also a romantic yet he’s very shy. And I just like him because he’s cool with being different and I felt a kinship to his character.

NM: Interesting. I relate most to Raphael because he’s the most fiery, hot tempered and yet also the most sensitive. Do you have any favorite hobbies outside of composing music?

SE: I watch a lot of comedy shows and I build LEGO® bricks a lot.

NM: That is awesome. I love LEGO® models. Thank you so much for your time. I enjoyed interviewing you and look forward to watching the TV series with my godson, Micah. He loves “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”.

SE: You’re welcome. I’m glad to hear kids like the show. Thank you for interviewing me today.

To hear a playlist of Sebastian Evans tracks for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” please visit SoundCloud. Also if you would like to watch an engaging video on YouTube posted by Nickelodeon about Season 4 of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and the creators, characters and story line: please refer to the video “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles | Kicking Shell & Taking Names”.

 Note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com in June 2016.  

Bodybuilder Lisa Traugott stars in military-inspired show ‘American Grit’ on FOX

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Bikini bodybuilder Lisa Traugott. Photography provided by ‘American Grit’ on FOX.

Local Austinite, author and bikini bodybuilder, Lisa Traugott, was cast on FOX’s military-inspired show “American Grit”. The show made its grand debut two weeks ago and the third episode, “Moving Camp”, will air this Thursday on April 28, 2016 at 8 PM CST.

Prior to being cast for “American Grit” on FOX—Lisa Traugott wrote a book titled “She’s Losing it!”—a memoir about how she lost 50 pounds at the age of 38 by entering a bodybuilding competition. Over the course of two to three years, Traugott ascended from coming in dead last to the top three placings at bikini bodybuilding and sports model competitions. Sometimes competing against women half her age. (Traugott’s in her early 40’s.) Just last year Lisa won first place in the bikini contest at Texas State Naturals in 2015. And this weekend she will be competing at The Physique Showdown in Houston, TX on April 30, 2016 hosted by The Naturally Fit Federation.

Last year Lisa Traugott was selected as a cast member for “American Grit” and it was a new experience for most of the crew, a different kind of fitness-inspired TV show with a unique edge. Stated on the show’s official website, “FOX has ordered ‘American Grit’—a 10-episode competition series starring WWE Superstar John Cena. Produced by Leftfield Pictures—sixteen of the country’s toughest men and women are split into four teams as they work together to face a variety of military-grade and survival-themed challenges. Cena and an elite group of mentors from the nation’s most exclusive military units will push these civilians beyond their limits. The mentors, known as “The Cadre,” include Rorke Denver, Noah Galloway, Tawanda “Tee” Hanible and Nick “The Reaper” Irving. These real-life heroes who represent diverse backgrounds and top branches of the U.S. Armed Forces will impart their first-hand knowledge and experience to help the competitors work together as teams to surmount near impossible mental and physical challenges. ‘American Grit’ embodies the military ethos ‘no man left behind’ because only the first team to complete the challenges together is safe from elimination. Each episode will culminate in “The Circus,” a punishing, endurance-based obstacle course designed to break the weakest competitors. With up to a million dollars of prize money at stake, this is the ultimate test of strength, grit, the human spirit and most importantly, teamwork.”

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The day that FOX released “American Grit” onto television—Lisa Traugott spoke with Arts & Entertainment writer for Examiner, Nicolette Mallow, at Mozart’s Coffee Roasters waterfront to Lake Austin. The interview below includes anecdotes about Traugott’s journey to TV and the story that lead her to become a bikini bodybuilder.

Nicolette Mallow: Will you tell me about your background in bodybuilding and how you came to be on the show “American Grit”? What was the screening process to become a cast member was like? I’m curious to know how you discovered this show and what it required to make the cut.

Lisa Traugott: Going back to the start, last year in 2015 was a really tough time for me. My mother had advanced stage lung cancer and it was the same time my book was being released. Good and bad events happening at once; I was so stressed that I started gaining some of the weight back that I’d worked hard to lose. To keep myself grounded, I started with a new coach and entered The Arnold Classic, the second largest bodybuilding competition in the world. You have to be selected just to get in. At the time I was 41 and I was competing against women literally half my age. Plus, back then I had never won a competition, and not only had I never won, but I would always come in dead last. So even though I did not have an award-winning body, because I could write a really good cover letter. I was accepted… It was just such a weird time because my mother was in the hospital with pneumonia. And then the same day that her fever broke: I got a text saying that I was accepted into The Arnold. Right then I started jumping around the hospital room in excitement about the future competition. I recall my mother said to me in happiness, “That’s great! But what’s The Arnold?” It was so funny when she said that… But yeah, all the while she’s going through chemo and I am practicing my poses and lifting weights with my trainer, Robin Johnson Jr.. At the time I went to him and said, “The only thing I don’t want is that I just don’t want to come in dead last. I’ve set the bar really low for you as a trainer.” And Robin said to me, “No. That’s the bar that you’ve set for yourself. I have higher standards for you.”

NM: Wow. How did you feel when he said that?

LT: At that moment I realized that I was just afraid. Without meeting a single person, I had already decided that they were all better than me. So I had to kind of throw that mentality out the window. I ended up coming in 20th out of 38 contestants. Which was huge improvement compared to the rest. Plus, as I said before, this was an international competition against women half my age.

NM: Congratulations! That is huge improvement in regards to placement.

LT: Thank you. It was huge improvement. Five weeks later I did another bikini bodybuilding competition, a local show called the Texas Shredder. My mom said to me one day before the show that she had a dream, and in the dream I came in 3rd place at the competition. And it turned out that I did. I won 3rd place. It was nice because my mom got to see me win the award and hold the sword. Three weeks later she ended up passing away… It was just so intense because she died on May 4th and I gave her eulogy on Mother’s Day (May 10th). And then a week later I ran a Spartan Race with my kids. I used fitness to work through my grief and I kept competing and bodybuilding.

NM: That’s admirable you did something so healthy and empowering to get well and heal when it can be so easy for us to slip off into the deep and the dark during tough times. What happened next?

LT: Well thank you… During these competitions, I was blogging about all this and I started getting more readers. It started as something I did for fun. But then at the next show I placed third—and the show after that I placed second. Finally I had one month left. One month between the show I’d placed second and my last show to compete for the year 2015— I went hardcore and did 730 squats a day. How I was exercising and how hard I was training was a reflection of my focus and that I wanted to win.

NM: That is hardcore. So how did the final competition span out?

LT: It was down to me and one other girl, and I thought she had it. But when they declared my number it was so funny because the announcer said onto the mic, “Well, she might write ‘She’s Losing It!’ but she’s winning it tonight”.

NM: That was very clever of him. It’s also really impressive and inspiring how you won first place after coming in dead last with only a few years of experience.

LT: I was so happy! Soon after I placed first at Texas State Naturals, that’s when somebody from FOX called me.

NM: I see. So FOX sought you out for the show ‘American Grit’ and you didn’t initially apply? Obviously a lot of people were watching that competition.

LT: Yes. They told me they had been reading my blog and thought I was interesting and wanted me to audition for the show. When they told me it entailed military style endeavors I thought, “I’m not really qualified for this” and I wrote them saying I was not sure I was right for the role. But they encouraged me to apply and after speaking to a Producer. I sent in a video of my workout routine and my fitness story. Soon after I was flown out to LA and I realized that while I was there: 6,500 other people had auditioned. It blew my mind! In the end, I was one of sixteen cast members chosen for “American Grit”. From start-to-finish, it was an overwhelming, amazing experience that I will treasure for life.

NM: Which team were you cast for within the show? I read it was divided into four teams with four mentors (all Veterans), and it seems John Cena is sort of the head honcho of the reality show and directs all four teams? By the way, John Cena is a beast and I mean that as a compliment. I’ll bet it was fun to meet him and all the military personnel. I grew up with men in the military and the energy has become quite familiar to me over the decades.

LT: Yes, John Cena is such a wonderful person and I really enjoyed speaking with him. And yes, he is a beast! The teams were divided into four: two men and two women on each team. All teams lead by a military hero. My team leader was Noah Galloway, a retired Sergeant for the United States Army. Noah dropped out of college after 9/11 to join the military. During his second deployment, Sergeant Galloway was hit bit a roadside bomb and part of his left arm and most of his left leg were blown off and removed. Yet he still runs and stays fit and was even on the reality show “Dancing With The Stars”. Noah’s story is so inspiring and he really helped my crew and I throughout the process. He really focused on using fitness to deal with any personal problems. Noah was such a good, strong leader and he reminded us to stay humble. So that was sort of the mantra: stay humble… Noah also kept telling us to not focus on anybody or anything else, to keep our mind clear. He really knew that a lot of the struggle is mental, not physical. Noah helped us be the best we could be. He also told us not to pretend, to just be ourselves, and don’t change ourselves to be what we think someone else might want just cause we’re on TV. That helped me relax more given that I’d never been on a reality show before and didn’t know what to expect.

NM: Yes, being around such strong men and women, especially Veterans, would assist in keeping everyone mentally focused and determined… On a different note, let’s talk about the trailer of the show. When I saw it, I noticed that one moment when a woman collapses. Are you allowed to talk about that yet? Is she all right? What happened? I assume doctors were on the scene?

LT: Yes, she is O.K. and we were actually texting earlier. And yes, medical crew and an ambulance were always on site. Doctors were readily available. In the footage she’s taken to the hospital on the spot. What happened is they were jumping in-and-out of buckets of ice, dousing themselves in icewater during winter in the NW.

NM: Sounds almost as if the ice put her body in a state of shock. I can imagine that might happen due to intense and rapid changes in body temperature. I’m glad to hear all is well… Will you please tell me a bit about “She’s Losing It!” and what inspired you to make the blog and write the book?

LT: Aside from using fitness to heal my own life, part of the reason why I wanted to do this show and write a book and a blog. I kind of want to be like the “Rocky” for moms. I turn on the TV and it feels like nobody is fighting for middle-aged women or mothers. So I just wanted to let women know that I’m fighting for them. And that it’s O.K. to be scared and its O.K. to cry. It’s O.K. to feel like you’re not good enough. But to never give up and just take charge of your body and your life. Keep doing it, keep moving in the right direction and keep working. “She’s Losing It!” is like “Pumping Iron” only if Tina Fey played Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ultimately it’s like a “Rocky” story for moms who find the inherent humor in combining strength training with potty training.

NM: That’s very sweet and I know women have thanked you and will continue to thank you for sharing your empowering story. Any plans for the future? Will you write more books and continue to compete?

LT: Oh yes I have so much going on. I’ve got back-to-back competitions. I’m also going to be doing stand-up comedy. I have a thing where every year for my birthday: I scare myself. For my 38th birthday I entered a bodybuilding competition. For my 39th I jumped out of a plane. For my 40th I did pole dancing. And for my 41st I did a reality TV show. This year at 42 years, I am going to do stand up comedy for my birthday. In the end, it’s all so much fun. Also, after I wrote the book I suddenly had women writing me. The women expressed that they loved the memoir, but they were seeking more insights about diet, training rips, my routine and if I had a package for distribution or for sale. Recently I put all that together and it’s now on my website. I just finished filming it and basically it’s different from other programs because I go through the meal plans, exercise routines, a fitness library of exercies and then I have motivational videos. Talking about some of the things I was dealing with like self-sabotage, feeling vulnerable. Staying on track and what happens when you get off track, also I talk about how to deal with time management and having kids while getting fit. I write about how to deal with ‘mommy guilt’ and so I kind of cover all these different topics.

NM: Thank you for taking the time, today, to share your story. I look forward to learning from you.

For more information regarding bikini bodybuilder Lisa Traugott please visit her website at www.sheslosingit.com.

To watch previous episodes of “American Grit” on FOX, and to preview the cast or crew, please refer to www.fox.com/american-grit.

Note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com in April 2016.  

Celebrity personal trainer Larysa DiDio talks fitness, healing and Kung Fu

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Larysa DiDio. Photography by Jack Plunkett.

Celebrity personal trainer and writer Larysa DiDio was a featured fitness instructor at Prevention Magazine’s third annual R3 Summit. Sporting hot pink Nike shoes, athletic gear and a stylish braid: DiDio taught her groundbreaking workout, Fit in 10, that maximizes results in only 10 minutes a day. Afterward, DiDio consented to an interview in the Press room with local Arts & Entertainment Examiner, Nicolette Mallow, on Jan. 16, 2016 at ACL Live at The Moody Theater in Austin, Texas.

Nicolette Mallow: You’re a remarkable athlete and clearly you posses a strong, resilient body to be such a steadfast, successful and powerful instructor. However, when athletes (male or female) get injured. It can be very difficult, almost emasculating, to feel weak doing something that used to come naturally to our bodies. How do you handle injuries, or what advice to you give clients (athletes) when they are in the recovery process after an injury or surgery? How do you keep the mind focused on the end goal without overworking the body in the process, or feeling as if the body lost its physical power?

Larysa DiDio: Week-to-week progress is how I look at my fitness goals when I am injured. Being kind to ourselves as individuals is also an important factor. Talk to yourself positively—turn the negative into a positive—and the healing process goes a lot smoother. Mind over matter really is a huge part of fitness and staying focused. For instance, I’ve broken my ankles twice. The first time I was really annoyed and frustrated. And that did not help me heal any faster nor did it alleviate the pain. Later on, the second time around when I broke my ankle playing outside with my son. Even though I was not pleased to break a bone: I knew what to expect and I had a positive outlook. I knew that in time my ankle would heal and it wasn’t something that would last forever. The second break was a lot easier and the healing process was far less stressful or straining.

NM: For the beginners just starting out fitness classes with no prior athletic training, it can feel overwhelming and intimidating being around those with athletic skills. What is your advice?

LD: The gym should be a haven for everybody, especially beginners. For beginners, the gym is not a place of competition. It’s completely natural for a beginner to be afraid and there’s no shame in that. I advise those just beginning to enroll in fitness classes and work out in groups. That way everyone is in it together, learning the ropes and finding their strengths and weaknesses… When I started fitness classes as a kid, I watched Jane Fonda videos. I watched her videos so repeatedly the video would skip. Jane Fonda was a great teacher.

NM: Do you believe massage therapy is essential to the fitness lifestyle?

LD: Yes. Massage therapy is absolutely essential. And if people cannot afford massage therapy regularly than they should invest in a foam roller and explore foam rolling exercises. It applies the same kind of pressure and manifests the same results as massage therapy.

NM: Out of all the exercises you have mastered or explored. Do you have a favorite workout?

LD: Yes, I love learning Kung Fu. Martial arts has become my favorite workout! I love learning how to train with weaponry. I love Tai Chi. It’s not only logical so that I can and will defend myself if need be. But it’s very empowering and I love crossing the standard gender roles. It’s a great workout for men and women alike.

“Larysa DiDio is a celebrity personal trainer and fitness author. With over 20 years experience in helping celebrities, Olympians, professional athletes as well as moms, dads, and kids meet their health and fitness goals. Also, an accomplished writer of “Sneaky Fitness: How to Slip Exercise Into Your Kids Everyday”– Larysa has provided exciting articles and content for national and trade publications as well as blogs and websites. She’s currently an expert health and fitness contributor to Prevention Magazine, host of “The Perfect” online videos and host/co-creator of “Strogation” and “Fit in 10” Fitness DVD’s with Prevention Magazine. Larysa has appeared on Good Day NY, Better TV and CBS Morning segments to name a few and has been featured in over 50 national women’s magazine. Larysa spends time at schools, hospitals, wellness seminars, and on television motivating and inspiring others to live a healthy, active lifestyle.”

www.larysadidio.com

Note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com in January 2016.

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