- - Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rapper Common says role defies slavery’s stereotypes

The history of slavery in America is a history of resistance, rebellion. Yet, movies and TV do not always showcase those themes.

That’s one reason why the rapper Common is excited about AMC’s new series, “Hell on Wheels,” a Western that chronicles the building of the transcontinental railroad.

Common plays mixed-raced former slave Elam Ferguson, who works on the rail system. Portraying a slave, he told the Associated Press, is a big deal, particularly because his character defies the stereotypes often seen in films and television.

“A lot of times we’ve seen slaves obviously going through so much pain and trouble, they were oppressed and downtrodden, so it was more of a lower position. [My character] has been through a lot of things, but is holding his head up high and his shoulders are up strong,” said Common, who was born Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr.

At first, Common said, he wasn’t interested in a TV role, but then his agent suggested he read the script for “Hell on Wheels.” Common said it’s the first time he has played a character so complex.

The Grammy-winning entertainer researched by reading about African slaves of the 19th century and visiting former plantations in South. He calls his journey “deep” and “heavy.”

“I feel blessed that I’m able to represent what a black man, what a black person was at that time,” he said, “but it definitely was some weight and some pain.”

One experience in filming the show, though, was really difficult for Common: when white cast members used the N-word.

“Even if you try to think that they’re acting, it still just doesn’t feel right,” he said. “You get that feeling like, ‘Man, this is not good.’ “

The series, which airs at 10 p.m. Sundays, was filmed in Canada. It centers on Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount), a former Confederate soldier and slaveholder who is avenging the death of his wife. Bonhannon set his slaves free a year before the Civil War. He takes a job overseeing the workers on the transcontinental railroad, which includes Common’s character, Elam Ferguson.

Common, who appeared in “Smokin’ Aces,” “American Gangster” and “Terminator Salvation,” and does a voice in “Happy Feet Two,” said the show focuses on issues that still exist in today’s world.

“Things that we try to hide and put under the table, things that we act like, ‘Oh no, that’s not how I feel’ - some of that is still there from hundreds of years back. It’s still in us and we’ve got to remove it,” he said. “Along with it just being entertaining and being fresh - it’s an important show.”

‘Idol’ winner Studdard divorcing wife of three years

“American Idol” winner Ruben Studdard is divorcing his wife of three years, saying they haven’t lived together since last year.

According to the Associated Press, court records show Mr. Studdard filed a contested divorce last week in Shelby County, where he lives in suburban Birmingham. The complaint says he and Zuri Studdard split in October 2010, and she now lives in the Atlanta suburb of Smyrna, Ga.

The complaint cites a “complete incompatibility of temperament” for the divorce, and it asks a judge to enforce a prenuptial agreement that was signed before they wed in 2008.

Mr. Studdard was known as the “Velvet Teddy Bear” when he won the second season of “American Idol” in 2003.

MTV show to focus on developing new girl groups

Mathew Knowles said there’s a lack of girl groups in the music industry today, so it’s the right time to launch his latest project: a reality show on MTV that follows the development of the group From Above.

“Breaking From Above” premieres internationally this month and in December, and Mr. Knowles said it may be shown in the United States next spring, the Associated Press reports.

“Most reality shows are about putting together groups, this is the opposite,” he said in a recent interview. On the MTV show, he added two more women, for a total of seven competing for a spot in the British pop quintet. It airs over MTV affiliates in 160 countries, including the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy.

He said the group could be trimmed to a quartet or a trio.

The days of girl groups dominating the music scene are long gone. Mr. Knowles said it’s a result of band mates not understanding the roles they play.

“If I’m the lead singer, I’ve got to know that, accept that, and all the members have got to accept it,” he said. “Everybody’s role has to be established at day one.”

Mr. Knowles was the manager of Destiny’s Child, which included his daughter Beyonce Knowles, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams. Originally a quartet, the trio stopped performing in 2005.

Destiny’s Child won two Grammys, had multiple No. 1 hits and multiple multiplatinum albums. Mr. Knowles also managed the group members’ solo efforts and oversaw most of Beyonce’s solo career until they split professionally in March.

Mr. Knowles said before Destiny’s Child signed a record deal in 1997, they had performed about 1,000 shows.

“When you look at reality shows, [the success] comes overnight, and it goes away overnight because there was never artist development,” he said. “[With my new group] there’s something here, but true success in this industry is about a six-year process.”

His company, Music World Entertainment, offers boot-camp training for artists who are looking to improve their skills. He had the members of Destiny’s Child jogging and singing at the same time - to build their stamina - when they were 10 years old.

From Above will release their debut single, “Not the Same Girl,” on Nov. 29. Their album, “Breaking From Above,” will come out digitally Dec. 12.

“The initial launch is based on TV, and we’ve all learned the power in TV in selling music today,” he said.

NPR radio quiz show making leap to television

NPR’s “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me” is coming to TV.

According to the Associated Press, the comedic radio quiz show will debut on BBC America with a year-in-review special Dec. 23. Host Peter Sagal, scorekeeper Carl Kasell and a panel including Paula Poundstone and Alonzo Bodden will discuss 2011’s biggest events.

When “Wait Wait” would make the leap to television long has been a point of conjecture. Now in its 14th season, the show draws 3.2 million listeners weekly on 595 NPR member public radio stations.

“Wait Wait” creator Doug Berman said it will be a typical show, “except NPR has to add a budget line for pants.”

Compiled from Web and wire reports.

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