“I just feel like it’s too good to be true,” Bones told the Statesman earlier this month before breaking the news on-air. “I never thought I would get a call back. Then they called about two months ago and said, ‘We really think this could be something for you.’ … A couple days ago they confirmed it, they want me to do it.”
This season’s judges are Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie and Katy Perry. Bones will appear as mentor on the show for several episodes in April.
“It’s tough for me to even describe it,” Bones told the American-Statesman. “(But I do) bring something different to the show, meaning I’ve worked in a lot of different formats and these singers are going to be singing a lot of different things. I think I’ll bring perspective to that side of it instead of being another singer or another artist. I’ve done a little artist-ing and a little singing and a little breaking of new talent and a lot of radio. I’ve been on both sides of the microphone.”
The new season of “American Idol” kicks off on March 11 on ABC.
A new holiday tradition is coming to town this December, and, if we’re being honest, it sounds pretty magical.
Austin’s Circuit of the Americas, best known for playing host to the Formula 1 racing series, will this holiday season swap race cars for Santa’s sleigh during the inaugural Winter Wonderland at the Circuit.
According to a press release, this “magical world of holiday amusement” will incorporate a million lights and will feature the following: a tunnel of lights, a walking light trail, a petting zoo, Santa’s workshop, a human snow globe, holiday movies on the lawn and more. A skating rink, train rides, carnival rides, a hot air balloon float, camel rides and souvenir photos with Santa will also be available for an additional cost.
“Winter Wonderland at the Circuit will be a wonderful family holiday experience for Central Texas,” Circuit of the Americas Chairman Bobby Epstein said in a statement. “The Circuit’s Grand Plaza and surrounding grounds will be transformed into an immersive experience of lights, music and fun.”
The event will also feature live entertainment, food trucks, hot cocoa stands and a Bavarian Village with local vendors.
Winter Wonderland at the Circuit will be held Dec. 1-2 and Dec. 8-30. Hours are 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Tuesday. Admission is $16; children 5 and under are free.
By Charles Ealy, Special to the American-Statesman
About 1,000 people packed the sanctuary Saturday at the First Baptist Church in downtown Austin to hear Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks talk about his debut collection of short stories, “Uncommon Type,” with Pulitzer Prize-winning Austin writer Lawrence Wright.
It was the highlight of a day of events at the Texas Book Festival, which was held at the state Capitol and surrounding grounds, with about 300 authors in attendance.
Hanks was genial and gregarious during his talk, revealing that he owns about 140 typewriters. Yep, you read that right. He has a typewriter obsession, he says, and there’s a typewriter in each of the 17 stories in his new collection.
Why so much love for a rather technologically obsolete office machine? Hanks says he loves the idea of permanence – of putting ink on paper, and that most of his typewriters are from the 1930s to the 1960s. But he also says he loves the percussive sound of the keys hitting the paper, signifying that he’s headed for the end of something and helping him along the way.
Of his typewriter collection, he says with a laugh, “It’s easier than collecting player pianos.”
He talked about his love of the late Nora Ephron, the author and screenwriter of such Hanks hits as “You’ve Got Mail” and “Sleepless in Seattle.”
He says he complained about a scene between a father and son in “Sleepless in Seattle” and came up with new lines for his father character. Later, Ephron told him he was contributing to the movie as a writer.
And that started the idea that he might be a writer. But the writing didn’t come quickly. Instead, he thought about it for many years before attempting his first short story.
Hanks read a part of one of his short stories in the collection, “A Special Weekend,” which features Kenny Stahl, a thinly veiled autobiographical character based on himself. It deals with the 10-year-old who goes on a day trip with his mother in a sporty car, and his dad and his mother are divorced.
As Hanks dryly noted after reading part of the story, “Mom and Dad found the loves in their lives,” and he says his mother “found it on her third marriage.”
Wright noted that nostalgia played a prominent role in some of the stories, but Hanks said that of the 17 stories, 12 are contemporary. “I write from a lack of cynicism” rather than relying on nostalgia, he said, adding that he’s interested in “strange moments of serendipity where our lives change … with great connections that we don’t expect.”
“I’m a softie, without a doubt,” he said.
And in that regard, Hanks neared the end of the session by reading a note from a member of the audience, who proposed to his date. The proposal came from a man named Ryan McFarling, and the object of his affection was Nikki Young. Both came up on stage, with McFarling kneeling and Young crying in joy.
It was a moment that warmed my Ben Covington-loving heart: On a recent episode of “Watch What Happens Live” on Bravo, Keri Russell said the cast of “Felicity” might reunite next year in Austin.
Although she couldn’t remember the name of the event (she referred to it as not-South by Southwest but happening in Austin), she likely was referencing the ATX Television Fest, which is known for reuniting folks from beloved shows, including “The West Wing,” “Friday Night Lights” and “Designing Women.” (This year’s fest is June 8-11.)
The late-night and free-wheeling Bravo talk show featured Russell and her “The Americans” co-star Matthew Rhys in a rare joint interview for the real-life couple, who play married Russian spies on long-term assignment in the U.S. on their F/X show. Watch the full episode here.
Russell was responding to a viewer question about whether our curly-haired college heroine might be resurrected in a reboot. That seemed like a straight “nyet,” but she said the Austin fest has been trying to get the cast back together for a couple of years and it seems likely to happen in 2018.
In Austin, ‘tequila cloud’ could be the hippest new tech company. Maybe the kind of place where you can lounge in the bean bag room on Beer Friday. Or, perhaps, ‘tequila cloud’ could be the hottest band at South by Southwest.
In Germany, a land traditionally a little short on whimsy, the ‘tequila cloud’ was a cloud. It was made of tequila. It rained alcohol.
This is not the best possible side effect of climate change, but rather the invention of the Tourism Promotion Council of Mexico and U.S. marketing agency Lapiz, who created the artificial cloud for display at the Berlin creative space Urban Spree earlier this month. The display was meant to urge Germans (long used to rainclouds during their damp and cold winter) to hightail it to sunny Mexico.
But you do not care about German tourism, presumably. You want to know how to get a tequila cloud to rain booze at your next party. “Lapiz formed the ’tequila cloud’ by using ultrasonic humidifiers to vibrate tequila at a frequency that turned it into visible mist, just like a cloud,” digital magazine designboom reported on their site. “The boozy mist then condensed into liquid form as it came into contact with a plastic container, making a real cloud rain tequila.”
The lucky Berliners to visit the display could simply hold a shot glass under the cloud and fill it up with tequila.
With any luck, somebody already is working on vodka snow.
It was so beautiful this weekend it was hard to resist the call of the outdoors. But as you were enjoying time at the park, grilling out in the backyard or even taking a dip in the pool, maybe you heard a faint buzzing in your ear, or even felt a little itch on your forearm. But mosquitoes couldn’t be here already, could they?
“It’s been an unusually warm winter, so it wouldn’t be a shock with the warmer temperatures that mosquito activity would increase,” said Whitney Qualls, medical entomologist with that Texas Department of State Health Services. “We typically expect our mosquito season to be from May through November. Due to warmer temperatures and rainfall, it’s no surprise that mosquitoes are out and about.”
Thanks to the combination of few below-freezing winter days and plentiful recent rains, chances are good mosquitoes will start making a strong appearance this year in April.
There are approximately 3,500 species of mosquitoes, about 175 of which can be found in the United States.
“There’s a number of different mosquitos that are present in Austin,” said Qualls, who studies the Zika and West Nile mosquito vectors. “The Zika vectors breed in containers. Right now is the perfect time to dump out that fresh spring rainfall every three to five days. If people are doing that, they’re reducing the next generation of mosquitoes.”
The Texas Department of State Health Services offers updates every Tuesday on the number of Zika virus disease cases in Texas broken down by the patient’s county of residence. As of the end of last week, there have been seven reported cases of Zika this year: one in Bexar County, one in Brazoria County, two in Cameron County, one in Collin County, one in Lubbock County and one in Smith County. From December 2015 to December 2016, there were 317 reported cases of illness due to Zika.
“We have the right environment, meaning we have warm weather, we have the right vectors, and we do still see a lot of people traveling from areas where there is an ongoing outbreak,” Qualls said. “Conditions are favorable for potential local transmission.”
The Texas Department of State Health Services offers the following tips for protecting yourself from the Zika virus:
• Apply EPA-registered insect repellents.
• Wear pants and long-sleeved shirts that cover exposed skin.
• Use screens or close windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out of your home.
• Remove standing water in and around your home.
• Cover trash cans or containers where water can collect.
By late last week, we knew SXSW keynote speaker Garth Brooks was planning to take the stage for a free show on Auditorium Shores on Saturday. What we didn’t know, however, is that the lucky crowd at the Broken Spoke on Friday night — St. Patrick’s Day, no less — would be treated to a surprise acoustic show as well. Strolling on the stage promptly at 11 p.m. wearing a Lone Star Beer T-Shirt, the country superstar launched into “Friends in Low Places” and went on to dazzle the audience with a 40-minute set that included 17 songs.
Hanson returns to where it all began
Many SXSWers got to see the all-grown-up former kid pop stars at various high-profile shows downtown, but our Statesman video team got the special treat of hearing them dig up an old a cappella tune for a trip down memory lane filmed out at the Krieg Softball Complex, where they had a fateful encounter in 1994 that helped change their career.
Lizzo takes Austin by storm
Lizzo, the 28-year-old rapper and queen of body positivity, ruled the stage at SXSW this year. The Minneapolis rapper was all over the fest, proving why she has long been one of our critic’s faves. Bonus points for her Lone Star ties: Her family moved to Texas from Detroit when she was 10, and elements of the H-Town sound mark her music.
Austin is always swarming with famous people during SXSW, but there are certain celebrities who seem to really, really enjoy their time in our fair city. Here are some folks who seemed to be having the most fun ever over the past two weeks.
What’s the best gift to give an Oscar-winning actress when she’s on the red carpet? A bottle of Franklin Barbecue’s signature espresso sauce, of course. That was the scene last week as Spencer made her way into Austin’s Paramount Theater for the world premiere of her thriller, “Small Town Crime,” and was awarded with the condiment. The gift-giver said he heard she was a fan.
You might not expect to see surfing in downtown Austin, especially when it’s rainy and 40 degrees. But as we all know, during SXSW, anything can happen. Last week on the corner of Congress and Fourth Street pro Flowboarder Sean Silveira tackled the waves on a “pop-up beach” and gave some lessons to “Animal Kingdom” actors Finn Cole (“Peaky Blinders”) and Ben Robson (“Vikings”), who looked like they were having a blast on the immersive installation promoting TNT’s show about a Southern California crime family.
Rachael Ray has never been shy about proclaiming her love for Austin, so as she prepares to return this week to host her 10th annual SXSW Feedback party as well as open her first pop-up boutique, we had to ask: Why don’t you just move here already?
“I think I’m just going to keep making up more and more excuses and more and more things to do there until my husband and I have absolutely no choice but to buy a patch of land,” she said during a phone interview Monday. “I think it’s kind of weird that I’ve been in love with the city for 20 years and I haven’t bought something there yet.”
New this year is Ray’s pop-up boutique, Moxie, located at 1327 S. Congress Ave., which she dreamed up with her friends and stylists Gretta Monahan and Cara Apotheker.
“It was just us girls sitting together saying wouldn’t it be fun if we did a pop-up to see if people like our groove?” Ray said. “We’re trying to show people a smattering of everything we’re interested in in an environment that’s more like a hangout. If they like it, maybe we’ll do it again. That’s our hope.”
Inside the shop, which is open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. through March 19, you’ll find a sampling of Ray’s favorite designers, including several Austin-based brands: Alexandra Dieck’s Lexicon of Style, Kristin Ann Rudge’s Kar-bn and Molly Salvi’s Squash Blossom Vintage. It’s decorated with furniture from Ray’s newly launched furniture line and also features a space to play vinyl records. There’s also a bar where cocktails will be served from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, and brunch cocktails will be available from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
“Rachael is a person who wants everything to be family, friends, and feel like home,” said Monahan, who flew in Friday to oversee the boutique’s opening. “This is super personal for her.”
Ray said she’ll head to the store, which also features a water bowl by the door for her four-legged visitors, as soon as she lands in Austin on Wednesday.
“I’ve brought my dog (to SXSW) every year,” Ray said. “She’s 12 years old and she’s been going there since she was 2. She’s welcome in Austin, and that makes me feel happy.”
Ray will also host her 10th annual Feedback event from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Stubb’s. She said it’s amazing that something that started as a small party has become one of the highlights of SXSW.
“Ten years ago I was petrified. I was like, ‘People are going to throw stuff at me,'” she said about the first Feedback. “They’re gonna be like, ‘What is this cook girl doing down here?’ But I was like, you know what? I love this town. I love music. I write good food. I’m going to give it a shot. We got a couple of small sponsors and we threw our first party and people came and they were like, ‘Wow, this is really good. These bands are pretty cool. This is really fun.'”
This year’s lineup includes Weezer, Action Bronson, De La Soul, Margo Price, Bob Schneider and The Cringe, led by Ray’s husband, John Cusimano.
“We’ve been doing this so long you can actually see an arc of some of the bands,” she said. “A lot of bands have played more than once, but they started on smaller stages. It’s just amazing.”
As for this year’s menu theme? Queso everything, Ray says, laughing. Expect two-beer slow-cooked barbecue brisket over tater tots topped with queso, grilled corn dunked in queso and nachos with queso topped with crumbled chorizo and pico de gallo.
“I worked on this queso so hard. I bet it was tested 55 times,” Ray said. “I am so proud of this queso. … It’s going to taste like Rotel and Velveeta, but upping the game a bit. Honestly if I dipped my arm in this queso I would take a big bite.”
In addition to spending time at the boutique and hosting Feedback, Ray said her Austin itinerary will include stops at Grizzeldas, Wu Chow, Emmer & Rye and Ramen Tatsu-Ya, among other favorites.
“Austin epitomizes everything I love about being an American. It really celebrates the individual, it celebrates artists. It’s conducive to conversation,” she said. “It was green before it was cool to be green. It’s a very loving, social place. I just love being there.”
And if the pop-up shop is a success and turns into something more substantial, Ray said, it could finally give her the excuse she’s been needing to do some real estate shopping in Austin.
“If Moxie does well and is something that’s sustainable maybe that’ll be one of the catalysts for that,” she said. “If I had a reason to go that was business related several times a year, wouldn’t it make sense to have a place there?”
A Disney Channel actress. A reality TV star. A fashion designer. An aspiring astronaut. A country singer who has performed on “Good Morning America.”
The celebrities were out in force on Sunday afternoon for the panel “Gen Z: The New Power Brokers” — and all of them were under 20. During the panel, held at the Radisson Hotel and hosted by digital media company Sweety High in partnership with the Girls’ Lounge, these members of the post-Millennial generation (ages 8-18) touched on a number of topics including their values, inspirations, favorite technology and spending habits.
Members of the panel included: Skye Jackson, 14, star of Disney’s “Bunk’d”; Mackenzie Ziegler, 12, “Dance Moms”; Tegan Marie, 13, country singer; Abigail Harrison, 19, aspiring astronaut; and Alexandra Chang, 17, entrepreneur/fashion designer.
According to Sweety High, Gen Z accounts for a quarter of the U.S. population and will be 40 percent of the population by 2020. This group makes up the most massive, wealthy and technologically savvy generation in American history and has $600 billion in buying power.
During the panel, which was moderated by Sweety High co-founder Veronica Zelle, all said they regularly use four to five social media platforms and often use them to communicate with their friends — even when their friends are sitting right next to them.
When Zelle asked what they would choose if they were stranded on an island and could only access one form of social media, their answers were split. Jackson and Ziegler picked Snapchat, Tegan Marie picked Facebook, Chang picked Instagram and Harrison picked ham radio, “because there are million people who might be able to hear me on Instagram or Facebook, but who I really need to hear me in that situation is the Coast Guard.”
Harrison, who is also known as “Astronaut Abby” and aspires to be the first astronaut to land on Mars, said technology and social media have had a significant impact on the way Gen Z learns as well.
“The social media tools we have in this day and age allow us to have connections around the world. I can no longer just speak to classrooms in the area I’m in; I can talk to a classroom in South Africa or China without ever having to leaving my room,” she said. “These young people around the world are able to see role models no matter where they live. It’s also a tool in the classroom. In middle school, high school and college now, professors say pull out your phone and look this up. It’s really made it so our generation has the world at our fingertips, and with that, we can go out and do anything.”
Everyone featured in the panel has some kind of philanthropic aspect to their work, something they said is important to members of Gen Z. They also said that having a close relationship with their families is key.
“My mom really pushed me in positive way to not be afraid to do anything I want to do in life,” Jackson said. “I love to post pictures of my mom or with my mom.”
Chang, whose mom wrote the book “Legally Blonde,” echoed that sentiment, giving a shoutout to her dad.
“My dad is one of my biggest inspirations,” she said. “He’s by farthe biggest feminist I know. He’s always encouraged me to follow my dreams and my passion.”
The panelists named some brands they like, such as Joyrich, Supreme and Moschino, and said the best way for companies to market to them is through the social media platforms they’re already using.
“We have so much information right at our disposal,” Chang said. “A brand has to work harder than ever to prove to us why they’re the ones we should want.”
The panel concluded with performances by singer/songwriter Tennille Amor and Tegan Marie, who said girl power is as important now as ever.
“I’m all about girl power,” said Tegan Marie. “We have to take over. We’re awesome, so we can’t stop ourselves, and we can’t let the people stop us.”