Spotlight on BMI songwriter Bonnie McKee


If you’ve been listening to Top 40 radio for the past few years, then you definitely know Bonnie McKee, even if her face is still relatively new. But that’s all about to change this summer, as the 29-year-old singer-songwriter, whom Rolling Stone named “Best Secret Weapon” in 2011, becomes as ubiquitous as the pop superstars with whom she’s collaborated via her own hit single, “American Girl,” available on iTunes on July 23. With eight No. 1 singles on her songwriting resume, including Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” and “California Girls,” Britney Spears’ “Hold It Against Me,” and Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite,” the self-described “pop star in training” is more than equipped to make her own mark in music. Just like the pop icons she grew up listening to in the ‘80s, McKee’s songs have powerhouse vocals, big choruses and bright, colorful imagery that render them irresistible. “Some of my earliest memories are of watching Madonna, Michael Jackson and Cyndi Lauper on MTV,” says McKee over the phone in New York City, where she’s on a press and promo tour. “I loved how the artists of that era were so visual. Seeing what they could do really modeled me as a musician. Every day I ask myself, ‘What would Prince do?’”

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10 Questions With Carlos Vives


For some, an eight-year hiatus from the music industry can mean total extinction. For BMI songwriter Carlos Vives, it meant exactly the opposite: a rebirth. The 51-year-old Colombian superstar’s formidable comeback in 2013 is a testament to his timeless sound, his growth as a songwriter and his newfound love for life and music.

Flashback to 2004, and Vives was one of Colombia’s hottest musical exports, along with his compatriots (and fellow BMI members) Shakira and Juanes. The work that he and his band, La Provincia, started in 1994 on his breakthrough album of vallenato standards with a modern twist, Clasicos de la Provincia (Classics From the Province), was finally paying off in a big way. He had a GRAMMY under his belt, he could easily sell out arenas across the United States as well as abroad and the sound he created – tropical pop or tropi-pop for short – dominated the airwaves. Life at home was equally great; Vives was happily married with two kids.

But things took a turn that same year. His marriage to Puerto Rican actress, Herlinda Gomez, dissolved and his longtime contract with EMI came up for renewal. When a deal couldn’t be reached, the label let their option expire. According toBillboard, this may have had something to do with the fact that the label was undergoing ownership and management changes around the same time – among other factors. When his management at the time failed to reach a new deal with another record label, Vives retreated from the spotlight in his home country, played the occasional local concert, created children’s music and opened up a nightclub. Happily married to former Miss Colombia Claudia Elena Vasquez, he expanded his family while also writing and producing for other acts. Nearly a decade later, with music industry veteran Walter Kolm as his new manager and Vasquez as his closest advisor, Vives is hotter than ever. Under a new record deal with Sony Music Latin, Vives released his latest album, Corazon Profundo (Deep Heart), in April 2013. The work debuted atop Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart led by the hit single, “Volvi a Nacer” (Born Again). Add to that his recent stint on the Colombian TV edition of The Voice and a worldwide tour that kicks off this month in Panama, and it’s safe to say Vives is back. BMI chatted with Vives via phone about his big comeback, just weeks before he kicked off his tour.

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Zoe Saldana cover story for Latina magazine

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Shattering box office records (Avatar), energizing a franchise (Star Trek), dominating in drama (The Words, Out of the Furnace) — Zoe Saldana can do it all on screen. Yet do we really know her? In this cover story I did for Latina, Zoe opens up about the controversy surrounding her portrayal of legendary jazz singer Nina Simone, her relationship ups and downs and finding the perfect balance between work and play.

This was a fun one and I was flattered when Latina‘s executive editor Damarys Ocaña called it “the best cover story we’ve done on Zoe yet.”

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How John Ortiz stole scenes from Bradley Cooper in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’


It’s hard to steal scenes from Bradley Cooper, but that’s exactly what John Ortiz does in Silver Linings Playbook, one of the clear frontrunners this awards season, with an avalanche of nominations, including Best Picture at the 2013 Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards, and the Independent Spirit Awards.

The movie, based on the novel by Matthew Quick, is not a romantic comedy or a romantic drama; it’s something in between, with characters so crazy they make you feel good about yourself while you laugh so hard you almost cry. And then you actually cry.

That the film does family dysfunction so well is not surprising — David O. Russell (Spanking The MonkeyFlirting With DisasterThe Fighter) wrote and directed it. The Hollywood Reporter recently chronicled the filmmaker’s evolution from 90s indie darling to Oscar contender.

But Russell could not have created one of the year’s best movies without this stellar cast, led by Cooper as Pat Solitano, a former teacher who does a brief stint at a mental institution and then tries desperately to reconcile with his ex-wife. Robert De Niro plays Pat’s father, a man struggling to keep his family from financial ruin and failing miserably at relating to his son. Jennifer Lawrence further complicates things when she enters the picture as Pat’s love interest with her own set of mental issues. But a lot can be forgiven when you look like that. Even Chris Tucker comes out of hiding for this one.

Ortiz (Ronnie) is one of the few people in the world who doesn’t judge Pat when he comes out of the loony bin. The moments in which Ronnie – whose life in suburbia is seemingly perfect with a house, car, job, wife (Julia Stiles) – and Pat bond are some of the movie’s most memorable ones.

If the Puerto Rican actor, 43, looks familiar it’s because he’s been steadily working in Hollywood for the last 20 years, ever since he played Al Pacino’s young cousin Guajiro in 1993’s Carlito’s Way. As artistic director and co-founder of the LAByrinth Theater Company in his hometown of New York City, Ortiz also has a long-standing love affair with the stage.

Ask Ortiz for a Pacino story and he’ll happily oblige, offering the one where he kept blinking in a scene in which he was supposed to be dead. It’s one of the movie’s first scenes and a critical one, setting the tone for one of Pacino’s best gangster flicks.

“I guess I was nervous and had had a lot of coffee, but every time we’d do the scene, [the director] Brian De Palma would yell, ‘Cut!’ says Ortiz.

“This happened so many times,” he adds, “I felt so bad and it was starting to get kind of tense because Pacino had to get on a plane to get to L.A. for the Oscars – he was twice nominated that year – and here we were, having to do this scene over and over again because of me, the new guy. After the director yells ‘Dead man blinking!’ Pacino asks everyone to leave the room except me. He sits down, tells me he’s going to have an espresso, and asks me if I want one. I’m so jittery at this point but how do you say no to Al Pacino? I don’t even remember what was said between us, if anything, but when we’re done with the espresso, he asks everyone to come back in, we do the scene, and De Palma yells, ‘That’s it, we got it!’ People start clapping and Pacino is walking out and getting all these good wishes from everyone. On his way out, Pacino jokes, ‘If I win ’em both, I ain’t coming back!’ It was one of the most generous, empathetic things an actor of his stature could have done,” says Ortiz.

I called Ortiz up while he was in Chicago, rehearsing for the play The Motherfucker With the Hat, co-starring Jimmy Smits and opening January 6, 2013, to tell us more stories.

Did you know this movie would be as special as it is when you first read the script?

No, but I never know how a movie is going to turn out, no matter how good a script is. I knew it was going to be something I had never experienced before, mainly because of David [O. Russell, the director]. He’s such a visionary, such his own person and artist, and there are few of those now. I’m so proud to be a part of this movie. I’ve had a lot of instances where I feel proud of my work but it doesn’t really get out there, or it does get out there and nobody likes it [laughs], so it’s really gratifying and humbling to hear the news that it’s being received so well.

How did you make your character, Ronnie, so relatable and so memorable?

On paper, Ronnie signifies someone who has moved on with his life and has matured in relation to Bradley’s character. So I asked David, ‘Do you think he’s happy?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, kind of.’ I could have talked myself out of a job by saying the next thing that I said, but I go, ‘Well, what if I said the opposite: what if he’s not happy? He seemingly has moved on but he’s actually stuck, and he needs as much help as Pat. What if the unhappiness is stemming out of the idea that he had of marriage and all these other expectations that follow, and he’s at a point right now where he’s just not sure what choices he really made and for what reasons.’ And David was so great – he completely went with it. A lot of directors might have said, ‘We don’t have the time to rewrite the script’ or ‘this movie is not about Ronnie,’ but he really loved the idea of Pat helping Ronnie, and that proving to everyone that he’s capable of giving back, and being helpful to someone else who’s in pain because of what he’s been through.

What was it like working with Bradley Cooper?

We kind of knew of each other in our younger years doing theater, but it was our first time working together. He wasn’t just lead actor on this; he acted like he was part of the ensemble, and he was also a producer on it. From eating with the crew to going over a scene to never being late, he was always very present. He’s definitely made me a better person because of the example that he set. I learned pretty early on that it’s really about the people that you work with. I feel like he and Robert De Niro, who’s the exact same way, are like artistic angels.

Do you think he’s going to be around as long as De Niro?

No doubt. His priorities are set in such a way that there’s no question that he’s in it for the long-haul. He has a tremendous amount of respect for acting.

You once played Willie Colon in El Cantante. What’s your favorite Fania album?

That movie was such a dream for me, it really was. I’m a huge research guy in anything that I do and so even though I was a fan of the music and I grew up with it [in Brooklyn] I didn’t really know the history of it and the impact it truly had until I was able to see a lot of that footage and read stories and just listen to so many of the songs. I had albums all over my trailer and pictures. If I had to pick a favorite album, El Malo would be one of them. That music is good old-fashioned medicine. I actually need a dose of that right now – maybe the Christmas albums.

This story was originally published on Fusion (ABC/Univision).

Interview with Jenni Rivera from Sundance Film Festival 2012 (VIDEO)


Jenni Rivera was never just a singer. She was a savvy businesswoman with her own real estate company, her own line of jeans, cosmetics, fragrances, and more. Recently, she had begun to build an impressive TV resume, as producer of several reality shows on mun2, including one centered on her own life, I Love Jenni. Her next TV project was to be a scripted comedy series in development for ABC, based loosely on her life.

Film was the next frontier for Rivera, and judging by her performance in the hip-hop driven indie drama Filly Brown, there’s no telling how far she could have gone as an actress.

Edward James Olmos, who served as executive producer on the film – which was written and directed by his son Michael D. Olmos and Youssef Delara – calls Rivera’s performance “Oscar-worthy.”

Rivera is hardly recognizable in the film, having shed her usual glammed up hair and make-up for the chola-inspired look of a drug-addicted, imprisoned mother whose daughter (Gina Rodriguez) turns to rapping to help bust her out of jail.

I had the chance to interview Rivera in January during the Sundance Film Festival, where the movie premiered to critical praise. She talked about going the Mariah Carey route in Precious, and how she managed to bring her character to life. It was such an honor to meet her in person and I will always be grateful for that opportunity.

Watch the video interview on Fusion (ABC/Univision), where it was originally posted.


Tego Calderon weighs in on Puerto Rican statehood


He was never flashy, even when reggaeton exploded into the mainstream circa 2005 with Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina.” While Yankee, Don Omar, and Wisin y Yandel were basking in the spotlight, Tego Calderon stayed in the background, experimenting with a sound that was never solely reggaeton or rap. It was poetry, informed by the rhythms and circumstances of his island.

Calderon’s sense of responsibility to make music with a message was handed down. From his late father Esteban, he inherited an appreciation for the older, socially conscious salseros like Ismael Rivera, who exposed racism in Puerto Rican society. Since the early days, when he released 2004’s El Enemy de los Guasibiri up until his most recent work like “Robin Hood,” off his latest album, The Original Gallo del Pais, Calderon has tackled topics like corruption and inequality. And as Puerto Rico continues to grapple with issues like skyrocketing crime, Calderon continues to stay true to that urban vigilante persona.

At 40, Calderon continues to perform for loyal fans all throughout Latin America, dabbles in acting (Illegal TenderFast Five), and commands the respect of his peers and the music industry as a whole. The Original Gallo del Pais was nominated for a 2012 Latin Grammy in the Best Urban Album category (the award went to Don Omar).

A recent phone conversation while he was promoting his latest album reveals that these days, Calderon seems content with his life and fulfilled as an artist and a family man. Whether people buy his music or not almost doesn’t matter, because on any given day, you’ll find Tego Calderon in “El Sitio,” his home and recording studio in Santurce, P.R. – doing what he does best.

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Interview With Javier Bardem: Best Bond Villain Ever?


Is Skyfall the best Bond movie ever? Some critics think so, and that’s not necessarily untrue. The 23rd installment of the longest-running film franchise ever (50 years!) is certainly the best of the Daniel Craig pics, and Javier Bardem’s deliciously wicked blonde-haired villain Silva plays a huge role in that.

He’s not your usual Bond villain, that’s for sure. One of the movie’s best scenes between Bond and Silva, right after they meet for the first time, is oozing with homoeroticism, raising the question: is Bardem playing the first gay Bond baddie? “You could read it that way,” Bardem tells Entertainment Weekly. “The word that [director Sam Mendes] kept using was ‘uncomfortableness’. Beyond the sexuality, he wanted it to feel like you don’t know if Silva’s joking or not.”

Watch here as the Oscar-winning Spaniard breaks down the psychology of his bad guy for me during the recent Skyfall press junket in NYC. Yes, it was as awesome as it sounds to meet him.

If Silva reminds moviegoers of The Joker or other classic comic book villains that’s not a total coincidence, says Bardem. He actually spent time sketching the character, using the skills he acquired during his time studying fine arts in Spain. He then brought those to Mendes and they jointly arrived at this “broken man,” who is so focused on revenge that he will stop at nothing to achieve it.

Can Bond fight such a monster, now that he’s aging and got an alcohol problem? You’ll just have to watch, starting November 9.

Frankie J dishes on his upcoming tour with J.Lo & Enrique

I can’t think of a more deserving person to join Jennifer Lopez and Enrique Iglesias on tour now that Wisin y Yandel pulled out than smooth crooner Frankie J. I caught up with him backstage during rehearsals for Premios Juventud and even got him to do a little accapella which he does so well!

Ivy Queen opens up about finding real love

The woman with a million nicknames (La Caballota, La Potra, La Diva, to name a few) stopped by Univision recently for the Despierta America concert series and chatted with Angie Romero of Fusion (ABC/Univision) about finding love again, her new look, and her new album, Musa.

Exclusive: on the set of Pitbull’s ‘Men in Black 3’ video

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Come with me as I take you behind the scenes of Pitbull’s hot new video for “Back in Time,” the theme song for the upcoming blockbuster Men in Black III, in theaters May 25, exclusively for Fusion (ABC/Univision).