‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ celebrates Season 8 premiere in Austin with local contestant Cynthia Lee Fontaine

By Jane Kellogg Murray

Special to the American-Statesman

Television is getting a new crop of queens when the eighth season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” premieres March 7, and Austin finally has its very own glamazon to root for as Cynthia Lee Fontaine vies for the crown of America’s Next Drag Superstar. A regular performer at Oilcan Harry’s, the local Latin diva welcomed her fellow contestants to Texas on Friday night for the show’s Austin premiere party at Ironwood Hall.

RuPaul's Drag Race season 8 Premiere, hosted by Season Six Winner Bianca Del Rio and featuring Austin’s own Cynthia Lee Fontaine, at Ironwood Hall on Friday, Feb. 26, 2016 in Austin, Texas. Erika Rich for American-Statesman
RuPaul’s Drag Race season 8 Premiere, hosted by Season Six Winner Bianca Del Rio and featuring Austin’s own Cynthia Lee Fontaine, at Ironwood Hall on Friday, Feb. 26, 2016 in Austin, Texas.
Erika Rich for American-Statesman


Fans waited up to two hours in a line that went around the block for the chance to meet the new cast, as well as Season 6 winner Bianca Del Rio and famed drag performer Lady Bunny.

Fontaine called out her signature statement (“¡Hola mis amores!”) as she vogued for photographers on the red carpet in a sexy, skin-tight, gold-sequin number that could best be described as Sofia Vergara meets Monopoly man — complete with a top hat and cane.

» See more photos from Friday night’s premiere party

It’s customary for the contestants to design their own looks throughout the show’s filming and on tour afterward, but for her hometown event, Fontaine wore a look designed by friend Erika Lorenk Mykels, a fellow Oilcan Harry’s performer. “I wanted to bring exposure to the talent we have here in Austin,” Fontaine explained.

Born Carlos Hernandez in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the 34-year-old professional singer and dancer had been performing in drag for a decade before auditioning for the Logo show. This season, the series will feature a new crop of celebrity guest judges joining RuPaul, including Nicole Richie, Gigi Hadid, Marc Jacobs, David and Amy Sedaris, Faith Evans, and Chanel Iman.

What would Fontaine do if she snatches the crown and sashays away with the $100,000 cash prize?

“I’m going to buy 175 chalupas and 175 burritos, and we’re going to eat that for an entire year,” she revealed. Spoken like a true Austinite. Los Comales (2136 E. 7th St.) is her go-to spot. “Aye, those gorditas!” She clutched her sequin-covered torso. “Lord have mercy, I cannot talk about eating …”

“It’s a wonderful experience to represent Austin, Texas, my Hispanic community, and my community here in Austin,” she continued. “We are equipped with great performers — female, male, androgynous, campy, trashy, whatever — and this city provides everything in between. So I’m just proud that I can represent a little piece of that and share it with the entire world.”

Austin’s Kiss FM names new morning hosts

Billy the Kidd and Anne Hudson
Billy the Kidd and Anne Hudson

Local, local, local.

That’s the big promise iHeartMedia-owned 96.7 Kiss FM is making about its new morning show.

“The Billy the Kidd Show” debuts Monday, running from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. It replaces Elvis Duran’s nationally syndicated morning show, which originates in New York City.

Duran was dropped locally in January, though he still airs on dozens of other stations around the country.

The Austin-based hosts of “The Billy the Kidd Show” are Billy the Kidd, who arrives from iHeartMedia’s Kiss-branded station in Dallas, and Anne Hudson, who has spent about a decade on iHeartMedia’s Austin stations, most recently hosting middays on KASE 101 and afternoons on 103.1 iHeartAustin.

The two have only known each other a few weeks, but already the chemistry is evident.

“I did some fishing around before saying ‘yes’ and everyone says he’s such a good person,” Hudson said. “He’s creative and insanely talented.”

(He’s also a recovering rapper whose song “Country Girl” climbed pretty far up the charts in 2002. Check it out.)

In Dallas, Billy the Kidd hosted the afternoon drive shift at KHKS-FM, looking at Austin longingly from afar. He’s even offered to pick up fill-in shifts at 96.7 Kiss FM over the years, he says.

“I’ve always wanted to be a part of this city,” he said. “It’s a fun city and mornings are something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Anne and I … it just made sense. I wanted to have mad respect for whomever I ended up working with.”

Both Billy the Kidd and Hudson say their show will appeal to a wide audience. Initially, the plan is to start out heavy on music and, over time, add more talk into the mix. The focus, they promise, will always be on Austin topics.

“We’re going to let the show grow organically,” Billy the Kidd said. “Austin’s a special place and this is a good opportunity. We want to be real. We don’t want to do stale, gimmicky radio bits. The show’s not going to be all about us.”

“This is something new and fresh,” Hudson said. “We want the listeners to be excited, to like what they hear and stick around. We want to have a relationship where we can say anything to them and they can say anything to us.”

Listeners who aren’t near a radio Monday can catch the debut show by visiting 967kissfm.com or via the iHeartRadio mobile app.

“Billy is one of the true great radio talents out there,” said Patrick Davis, senior vice president of programming for iHeartMedia’s Dallas, Austin and San Antonio stations. “In Dallas, he is a radio star and we believe he, along with Anne, can create some really fun and compelling content that the unique Austin radio market is looking for.

“Anne has had tremendous success with middays on KASE 101 and moving her to mornings on KHFI should help write the next chapter in the great history of 96.7 Kiss FM.”

Kiss FM isn’t the only Austin station making changes to its morning lineup in recent months. Majic 95.5 and 93.3 KGSR have, as well.

Austinite competes on Friday’s ‘Jeopardy!’

Mitch Metcalfe (Jeopardy Productions Inc. photo)
Mitch Metcalfe (Jeopardy Productions Inc. photo)

Look for a Central Texan this afternoon on “Jeopardy!”

Mitch Metcalfe, a digital marketer from Austin, will be one of the contestants on the hit game show, producers said.

How’d he do? Tune in to find out. “Jeopardy!” airs from 4 to 5 p.m. on local NBC affiliate KXAN.

KVUE offering buyouts to selected employees

KVUE_2013_LogoTV stations nationwide owned by McLean, Va.-based Tegna, including Austin’s KVUE, are offering early retirement packages to selected employees, the company confirmed Friday.

The buyouts are being offered to workers ages 55 and up with at least 15 years of service, according to published reports.

“In order to accelerate change and reinvest resources in new job positions, KVUE is offering eligible employees a voluntary retirement plan,” KVUE said in a written statement. “KVUE is a leader in the Austin community and this reinvestment will position us for even greater success as we continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of our consumers and advertisers.”

Aside from Austin, Tegna operates stations in a number of other Texas cities, including Abilene, Beaumont, College Station, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Tyler and Waco.

KVUE’s Tina Shively trading a.m. shift for new p.m. gig

Tina Shively
Tina Shively

KVUE’s Tina Shively is trading early mornings for the late-night shift.

Shively, who joined the city’s ABC affiliate about three years ago and has primarily served as a reporter on “Daybreak” and “Midday,” will start a new job Monday as the station’s social media specialist.

What exactly does that entail? KVUE executive news director Frank Volpicella explains: “She’ll cover breaking news from our newsroom Watch Desk during the 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts and contribute to our social media platforms when she’s not on the air.”

It’s similar to the role 4:30 a.m. anchor Cori Coffin plays on the 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. editions of “Daybreak,” Shively said.

“We’re excited about it,” she said. “It’s something new and different. No one else in the market is doing this on the prime time newscasts. Our station is leading the way.”

During a typical newscast, look for Shively to pop up a couple times, depending on what’s going on. One minute, she might be sharing details on a breaking story. The next, she’ll be telling evening anchors Quita Culpepper, Terri Gruca and Tyler Sieswerda what’s trending on Twitter.

“When you tune in, you’ll get to know what’s going on right now and how it’s going to impact you,” Shively said. “It’s going to be energetic, immediate, unscripted, off the cuff.”

Shively says leaving her morning colleagues – Coffin, meteorologist Albert Ramon and anchors Yvonne Nava and Bryan Mays – will be hard, but she’s also looking forward to what’s next.

“I’m going to miss my ‘Daybreak’ crew,” she said. “We’re a really strong family. But I’ve been reporting 10 years now and this is where our industry is headed. I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Longtime Austin traffic reporter Joe Taylor switches stations

Joe Taylor
Joe Taylor

Joe Taylor is back doing what he loves, helping Central Texans steer clear of traffic jams.

Starting today, Taylor, who previously delivered traffic updates on Time Warner Cable News and several local radio stations owned by Entercom, can now be heard on Spirit 105.9.

His reports will air on the contemporary Christian-formatted station between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. and again between 3:45 p.m. and 7 p.m.

“Spirit 105.9 is a completely different direction for my traffic coverage,” Taylor said. “I’ve produced traffic on music stations before, but never in this specific genre. What I like about it is the focus on local content, local voices. I approached (general manager) Tim McCoy because I think Spirit fits with my emphasis on local traffic reporting, something which goes beyond pulling up an app or looking at Google.

“I’m looking forward to joining Steve (Sunshine) and Amy (Byrd) in the morning. They have a huge audience in Austin, one that is pretty new for me, and that’s exciting.”

Taylor says he’s kept busy in recent months working with Number Nine Productions, his company that manages and produces a number of sports radio and television broadcasts. But, yes, he’s happy to once again be covering traffic.

“I’ve missed helping Austinites navigate the roads,” he said. “I’ve posted on social media from time to time about large accidents or big traffic stories, but there’s nothing like waking up with this city every day. I know what I do helps.

“Thanks to all of my social media followers and listeners for their support during the time off. I can’t tell you how many people stopped me and said, ‘Where’d you go?’ or ‘When are you coming back?’ That’s encouraging.”

Get ready for the F-Society Ferris wheel during SXSW

mrrobot__twocolumncontentTuesday, the Austin Movie Blog discussed the forthcoming SXSW panel regarding USA’s critical smash hit “Mr. Robot.”

Here is the description:

Coding on Camera: MR. ROBOT & Authenticity on TV

Sam Esmail, Rami Malek and Christian Slater will take part in a “Coding on Camera: MR. ROBOT & Authenticity on TV” a panel in the Future of Entertainment Convergence track at SXSW 2016. Mr. Robot World Premiered in the Episodics section of the 2015 SXSW Film Festival and went on to win critical and audience acclaim.

(Sunday, March 13, 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM, Room EFG, Austin Convention Center)

But that is, of course, for badgeholders only.

Wednesday, “Variety” reported that  the USA Network would sponsor a ten story, 100-foot ferris wheel “in the heart of downtown from March 11 to March 14 where fans can board one of the gondolas for an aerial view of the city.” This is in tribute to the show’s Coney Island setting, out of which the hacker group F-Society operates.

It will come with a “hacker lounge” and “a retro arcade full of retro games for attendees to play,” a photo booth, giveaways, a screen-printing T-shirt bar and more.

“Mr. Robot” picked up the audience award at last year’s SXSW; the show became a cultural conversation soon after.

2 new TV networks, Grit and Laff, hit Austin’s airwaves

'Ellen,' the sitcom that helped make talk show host Ellen DeGeneres a household name, is featured on the Laff network's lineup. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press photo)
‘Ellen,’ the sitcom that helped make talk show host Ellen DeGeneres a household name, is featured on the Laff network’s lineup. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press photo)

You don’t need cable or satellite to get your favorite TV shows.

Many are available free, over the air – and, thanks to two newly launched networks, that number has grown significantly in recent weeks.

Those two networks, Laff and Grit, are available on digital subchannels of local CW affiliate KNVA.

Laff, as you might expect, has a comedy-focused lineup, running beloved sitcoms such as “The Bernie Mac Show,” “The Drew Carey Show,” “Ellen,” “Empty Nest,” “Grace Under Fire,” “Night Court” and “Spin City.”

“Everyone needs comic release at some point during the day,” said Eric Lassberg, president and general manager of KNVA and its sister stations, NBC affiliate KXAN and MyNetworkTV affiliate KBVO. “We are very excited to introduce Laff and its hilarious shows to Austin.”

Find Laff on Channel 54.3. To view the full schedule, head to laff.com.

The other newcomer, Grit, is action-focused, with a host of classic movies, as well as repeats of well-worn Western TV shows such as “Walker, Texas Ranger,” “Laramie” and “Zane Grey Theatre.”

“The addition of Grit’s action-packed entertainment programming greatly enhances the free, over-the-air offerings KNVA is providing Austin,” Lassberg said. “We are committed to delivering more unique programming not found anywhere else.”

Grit is on Channel 54.2 and its full schedule can be found at grittv.com.

In addition to being available over the air, Lassberg says both networks have already been picked up by some local cable providers, including San Marcos-based Grande Communications and Suddenlink Communications, which serves the Georgetown, Jarrell, Leander and Pflugerville areas.

HBO’s ‘Vinyl’: When records, and the folks who made them, were still king

How do you know you are in a Martin Scorsese movie? Look for the following:

  • A massive coke snort in the back of the limo (the first of many, so many that one wonders if it’s a product placement).
  • A voice-over letting us know backstory we would have to otherwise infer (or learn from another character).
  • Loving shots of recreated 1970s downtown New York, all underbelly and tagged subway cars.
  • The worship of old blues, 50s R&B and primeval early rock ‘n’ roll, to the point where several songs are given their own here-is-the-artist-in-the-imagination-of-the-main-character scenes.
  • An act of savage violence that isn’t completely necessary to the plot but acts as a catharsis for a central character.
  • Mick Jagger’s son in a slightly mystifying role.

A few of these apply to any number of his films, but if the answer is “all of the above,” you are in “Vinyl,” the new 10-episode series airing on HBO, the two-hour pilot for which airs Sunday. Written by “Vinyl” showrunner Terence Winter (“Sopranos,” Boardwalk Empire”), the pilot was directed by Scorsese, who co-created the show with Winter, Rich Cohen and Mick Jagger.

Bobby Cannavale in "Vinyl
Bobby Cannavale in “Vinyl

‘Vinyl” follows Richie Finestra (Bobby Canavale), whose record label American Century is in a bit of a transitional moment. It is 1973 and Finestra is ready to sell the label to the German multinational PolyGram.

But A.C. is struggling: they don’t have the next big thing, nor do they have Led Zeppelin, who they have promised Poly they will sign.

Finestra has the gorgeous wife (Olivia Wilde), the mansion in Connecticut and a few entertaining underlings: Ray Romano is the radio promotions guy Zak Yankovich, prone to slipping some $20 bills and an eight ball of coke to DJs, Max Casella is A&R chief Julie Silver (who we learn passed on Abba) and J.C. MacKenzie is Skip Fontaine, the sort of accountant who can make a load of albums disappear into the East River for tax purposes. (Andrew Dice Clay, of whom I never tire in dramatic roles, is hypnotic as a nasty radio executive.)

The pilot takes its extremely padded time following two threads: where Richie is now (struggling to figure out what his next step is) and how he got there (managing, then screwing over, a young blues musician (Ato Essandoh); doing time at a label cranking out the ’50s R&B Essandoh’s character called “kiddie music”).

The Nasty Bits in 'Vinyl"
The Nasty Bits in ‘Vinyl”

Elsewhere, an ambitious Century gofer (Juno Temple) —  who seems responsible for maintaining the label’s stash of every drug you could possibly want — decides to back a young punk band called the Nasty Bits, whose (bafflingly British) lead singer is played by Jagger’s son James.

(This bit of casting feels just as weird as that time Adrien Brody went from Queens to England to discover punk rock via the Who in “Summer of Sam?” Anyone remember that? Yeah, probably not.)

While the New York Dolls were destroying stages at that point, ’73 is slightly early for this kind of punk. That said, in perhaps the show’s only ingenious move, the Nasty Bits’ music is that of Jack Ruby, a brilliant proto-punk act who were indeed a few years ahead of their time.

It is hard to know exactly what to make of “Vinyl,” except that for every trashy moment that connects (or is at least vaguely entertaining), there are a dozen more that are cringe-worthy Scorsese by-numbers. (Not to mention the egregious coincidences: Ritchie’s limo driver JUST HAPPENS to drive him by a party where DJs JUST HAPPEN to be cutting up records in a way awfully reminiscent of what would become hip-hop.)

Much the like the casino scenes in “Casino,” the stuff about how the record business worked back then is kind of fun (the music supervision, by increasingly legendary supervisor Randall Poster, is top-notch). But, also a bit like “Casino,” everything else (Finestra’s blues fetishism, his excesses, his marital woes) feels warmed over and dull.

There were also the sorts of factual errors that make music nerds nuts but your average “Entourage” fan won’t care about: No, the Mercer Arts Center did not collapse during a Dolls show (if it had, many, MANY more people would have died). Yes, Led Zep’s manager Peter Grant was about twice the size of the actor who played him. Would a British punk in 1973 really be THAT offended by hearing Slade in a record company office? Probably not. (I will just assume they couldn’t license “Dark Side of the Moon” or something of that ilk.)

But, just to zoom out for a bit, it’s my firm belief that pop music in general and rock music were topics about which it was massively difficult to write really good literary fiction.

There are a few decent exceptions: “A Visit from the Goon Squad” does a good job, “Ten Thousand Saints” (a good book which was turned into a movie almost nobody saw) was another.

Film and television doesn’t do such a hot job either. Sure, I enjoy Fox’s “Empire,” but that show is exceptionally canny about its balance of music-making, office politics and shooting people in the face.

(Small aside: You know who would love “Vinyl?” Christopher Moltasanti. Not only is he the ultimate Scorsese fan (recall what he shouts to Scorsese in an early Sopanros episode (“Marty! ‘Kundun’… I liked it!”) but he was the central character in “A Hit is a Hit,” maybe the best episode of television ever made about popular music.  That episode does nearly everything “Vinyl” tries to do but does it richer, smarter and funnier.)

Anyway, the scenes that work best in, say, “Almost Famous,” a movie I have softened on in my dotage, aren’t the scenes of the band on stage (though the performances are uniformly excellent) but of the main character as a FAN — the wonder on the kids’ face as he flips through his sisters records might be the movie’s most perfect moment of actually relating to the music: its wonder, its power.

Same with “Velvet Goldmine,” I movie I like probably far more than it deserves. As a movie about fandom, it is a blast. As a meditation on the actual power of glam, it is less strong.

“Vinyl” wants to be about both the business and the music, to focus equally on both the “suits” and the musicians. This feels like a mistake.  For example, how much less cringe-worthy (and braver) would “Vinyl” be if we never saw the actors playing Zeppelin or the Dolls? If we only heard a recording by the actual artist, not a warmed-over cover by some all-stars.

My favorite moment in “Vinyl” comes when Finestra sees the Dolls, one of the greatest rock bands that ever existed.

He isn’t dancing, he is too overwhelmed, he doesn’t want to miss a detail. It was the only time the felt experience of seeing and hearing truly great music felt authentic.

THAT is what having good ears is like.



Super Bowl ratings: Austin-area audience topped 600,000

Peyton Manning (Associated Press)
Peyton Manning (Associated Press)

Neither Texas team made it to this year’s Super Bowl – no big shock there – but that didn’t keep Austin-area viewers from tuning in Sunday night.

Overnight Nielsen ratings show 361,000 Central Texas households were watching the Denver-Carolina matchup on local CBS affiliate KEYE at its peak, accounting for a whopping 73 percent of all TV sets in use.

That works out to about 545,000 adults ages 25 and up and 607,000 adults ages 18 and up – two of the demographics advertisers love most.

Factor in viewers gathered at sports bars and parties around town, and those numbers would likely go even higher.

Nationally, the numbers were just as strong, with Super Bowl 50 ranking as the second-best Super Bowl in Nielsen overnight ratings history with 114.4 million viewers.