Go Ninja, Go Ninja, GO!
Okay, perhaps reciting the lyrics to the theme song of The Teenage Mutant Teenage Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze isn’t exactly the best way to make a first impression, especially when karaokers would probably boo the horrible rendition, but it seemed somewhat appropriate in the presence of Rob Van Winkle.
Better known to the masses as Vanilla Ice, the rapper exploded on to the music scene thanks to his infectious No. 1 single, Ice Ice Baby, and later made a cameo in 1991’s Ninja Turtles sequel. Sitting in Van Winkle’s dressing room for the reality show Canada Sings, the topic of director Michael Bay rebooting the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise has immediately come front and centre, and so has Van Winkle’s catchy Ninja song.
“You know that song is bigger than Ice Ice Baby right now?” laughs Van Winkle. “Well, the generation that it captured is humongous. They are running the world right now. That’s Obama’s generation! That’s our generation! We grew up to Turtles!”
Back to the business at hand, though. Van Winkle is here to promote Canada Sings, where he, singer Jann Arden and choreographer Laurieann Gibson, judge average Canadian workers who form glee-type clubs to compete for their respective charities. Van Winkle and Gibson spoke exclusively to The Huffington Post Canada about going into season two, which starts tonight.
Canada Sings is definitely not American Idol or The Voice. What have you enjoyed about contributing to the judging panel?
Rob Van Winkle: This is a different type of judging than any kind of entertainment show because it’s very emotional. You can’t be a Simon Cowell on a show like this. You could, but you would be an a**hole, because these people aren’t trying to be the next star. They are doing this for charity. You have to be judgmental on a serious side. It’s really hard. You want to tell them to fix their dance steps or those notes were off. You can’t give them future advice that would help them because it’s not like they are seeking a future with this. This is it for them and they are shining at this given point. You have to take it easy with them and sympathize with them because of their charity and what they’ve gone through. I’m a softie out there. I get emotional and I get goosebumps. Season one got me going like that and I just had a fantastic time.
Laurieann Gibson: Contrary to popular belief, it’s hard to be judgmental. The idea of who is a star and who is not...For me, as an artist, as a creative director and as a choreographer, my whole manifesto is their gift talks to me. It’s this other level of process that I have. So it’s not that hard because I have never believed you can judge talent. It tells you who it is and then it develops itself. You can judge the process of the commitment or their work ethic or the execution... I don’t feel like I’m saying “You’re not good. You’re not great. You’re already great! You got here!” That’s really my belief for real, even in the professional world.
Huffington Post: There’s some new blood here today. Simple Plan’s Pierre Bouvier has been replaced by Laurieann Gibson. Has it been easy to find that groove again?
Van Winkle: Laurieann is fantastic. She has really good chemistry, not to take anything from Pierre. The first season was the first season, but when you change things up, the whole chemistry changes. The show is an even a better production. They’ve added a lot of lights, there’s more stage presence and this huge videotron behind the stage. It’s bigger and better. Jann and I have been through it before and Laurieann is new. She’s now got two episodes under her belt, but she gets it. She was leaning towards us to guide her a little bit. Laurieann was nervous in the beginning and now she’s just being herself. She has the gift of gab like me. I can talk forever. That’s good, because that’s the type of people you need. She speaks her mind and I don’t agree with her sometimes, which is perfect. It’s not an argument, but more of a debate.
Gibson: They tell me that I’m doing well. They are being nice. When I first met Rob, I was like “I just need 24 hours because it’s Vanilla Ice! And I know the whole routine to Ice Ice Baby.” He was very magical to me on stage. He’s kind of like a source of my inspiration and he’s fine! He’s so sweet and smart. For my family, Jann Arden is like “Oh my gosh!” She’s done it her way. For me, she’s been another source of confirmation and inspiration. It was really amazing. I love them genuinely.
Huffington Post: Laurieann, you’ve worked with such superstars as Whitney Houston, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj. What made you want to join this series?
Gibson: I think the show itself, what it’s about and the producers, are so incredible. First of all, I thought “Are you serious? You have a show like this where regular people can access the stage, the lights and the feeling of dancing and singing? And they do it for somebody else? What’s the catch?” And they are like “Nope, that’s it.” I’m like “You’re Canadian and you’re giving me a chance to come back home? Thank you, Jesus!” That was it. I just could not help but being able to stand for something that is so meaningful.
Huffington Post: This is Canada Sings, not Canada Dances, so how important is that showmanship and razzle dazzle to winning?
Van Winkle: Very important. This is still a competition. You’re competing for $25,000, which goes far in these charities. You have to beat the next group. It’s important to have all your chemistry together and it’s amazing how good they actually do in such a short time. This isn’t some hokey little show. These people are fighting for their cause and are really focused on coming out of their cubicle and putting together a fantastic show.
Gibson: It’s all cohesive and it all works as one unit. It’s not “I’m going to singgg, I’m going to dancccee...” That type of separation doesn’t bring the magic out, doesn’t bring the entertainer out. When you get on stage, it is about all of it accumulating into one choice.
Huffington Post: Rob and Laurieann, your ears would bleed if I belted out a whole song. Have you been surprised that these non-professionals can carry a tune?
Van Winkle: Some do and some don’t. I hate to be the critical judge, but am if they pull it off. That’s the great thing about the show. If they were all great, you’d be expecting that all the time. You want to see some people struggle. Some really don’t belong there anyway, but when you give them the chance, some of them shine and shock themselves. I’ve seen a couple of acts that had no idea they’d be that good, and they really kill it. Most of them are very timid and nervous and you can see that from the audience.
Gibson: It’s kind of amazing. I’ve journeyed to a place where people said I have a funny voice and I can’t sing. That really made me insecure. I believe everybody can sing, maybe not like Whitney Houston, because that was an extraordinary gift. I like that everybody is trying and it might not be perfect. It might be that one note that if they worked on it... Or if you are in the chorus or only sing one line, they will find something in your voice. The creative team is doing an exceptional job. Not everybody is born for the Billboard charts, but not everybody wants to be on those charts either. That’s what is so great about this show.
Huffington Post: What words of wisdom would you give these teams?
Van Winkle: I would say have fun. I saw a group yesterday that looked like they had a lot of passion, but what killed them was they did not smile. They were so straight-faced, too serious and too much passion about it. You show me a smile, I’ll show you one back. Smiles are contagious. Smile, especially if you’re on stage. The people that are here are yelling and screaming and holding up signs. They want to see you have a good time, so they can feed off that.
Huffington Post: Taking this concept to our neighbours, would an America Sings work?
Gibson: I’ve thought about that a lot and there’s something brewing here. It would absolutely work in the States. I think it’s almost necessary. Can we see people helping other people for just five seconds? Come on, it’s 2012! I love that this show promotes this really “look inside yourself and could you help the next man if he was in need?” It would do incredibly well over there.
Huffington Post: Lastly, contestants on American Idol get hammered about song choice. Rob, how would you feel if someone busted out a Vanilla Ice tune on Canada Sings?
Van Winkle: I didn’t even think of it until you said it! You can’t suck up to the judges. Hey, it would be what it is, but I’d freak out! You never know. I may jump out of the booth and go dance with them. Now you have me nervous that would happen. Can you imagine? They better kill it!