Stars on Ice
Kurt List

Kristi Yamaguchi and Friends - Phoenix, AZ - Oct. 23, 2009

written by Tina

When it's 88 degrees outside, maybe people don't really think about going to the ice rink to watch figure skating. The audience at Kristi Yamaguchi and Friends was quite small - the side sections only were filled maybe 10 rows back, though the ends went up higher. It was comprised of an enthusiastic blend of Backstreet Boys fans and figure skating fans. There was a definite component of the audience - it seemed at least half - who were there for the Backstreet Boys, chanting "Backstreet Boys!", holding up signs, cheering, singing along, and, in many cases, not sparing much of a glance for the skaters on the ice. However, there were enough skating fans and skating-appreciative Backstreet Boys fans to cheer enthusiastically for most of the skaters, and who stuck around for retakes and warmly gave the skaters their moral support as they attempted to land missed jumps. The Backstreet Boys themselves seemed to enjoy the skating and admire the skaters, and got energetically into performing and interacting with the crowd. Their music is eminently danceable as well, even if it does stick annoyingly in the head for hours afterwards.

Act I

Opening - Everybody (Backstreet's Back) - Backstreet Boys and Cast
The show opened with an appropriate Backstreet Boys oldie, what with the release of a new album for the band. The band was given a bit of time alone on stage to start the song, before the girls strutted onto the ice, looking stunning in black sparkly dresses and knee-high red boots. It wasn't long before the guys joined the girls, skating around them and then dancing with them (Steven dipped Kristi, etc). The opening also featured break out bits for the guys, going down the ice in pairs - Steven Cousins and John Kerr sliding down the ice on one knee arching backwards, Kurt Browning and Andrei Khvalko doing simultaneous butterflies (??), Jozef Sabovcik and Michael Weiss doing spread eagles/freedom blade spread eagles. It also allowed Kristi to be showcased by being lifted by basically all the guys (she's tiny, I'm not sure it takes 5 guys to lower her, but it did look neat), and the pairs to do their thing. It was an energetic opener to start the show.

I Want It That Way - Yuka Sato & Backstreet Boys
Yuka Sato had disappeared not long into the opening act so she could go backstage to change into her costume for the first number of the show. This is THE Backstreet Boys song that gets into my head and sticks and refuses to get out. There is no denying it's catchy, though, with quiet moments and bigger climaxes, which lend themselves well to a skating program. Yuka displayed her simple elegance and grace, as well as that joy that just exudes from her when she performs, and she had a nice skate that helped keep the show's momentum going.

Heaven Can Wait (Meatloaf) - Jozef Sabovcik
It was time to give the Backstreet Boys a bit of a break, as the show transitioned into a 6 song stretch without the band. The audience seemed quite willing to transfer their attention and appreciation to the skaters, though. Jozef earned gasps from the audience with his giant delayed axel, and cheers with his huge layout backflip. The audience also appreciated his fast scratch spin, and were sympathetic when Jozef had an uncharacteristic fall on I think a triple toe by the stage. Kristi's voiceover introduction of Jozef mentioned that it had been 25 years since Jozef had won the bronze at the Olympics, which is hard to believe when you see him out there on the ice.

I've Been Everywhere (Johnny Cash) - Sinead & John Kerr
The audience were primed for entertainment, laughing at Sinead & John's mimed truck driving antics in the beginning, and their goofy closing pose. They loved any bit of gender bending lifting - which happened in both programs, IIRC. Sinead and John tore it up around the ice, displaying dazzling quick feet, sparkling personalities, and great charisma in this country number. I'd never seen them skate live before, and was really impressed.

I'm Yours (Jason Mraz) - Kurt Browning
I have to admit, when I first realized Kurt was skating to "I'm Yours" for this show, I was a tad bit disappointed because I always like to see new programs from him. However, a few seconds into the program, and I was thrilled to have the chance to see it again (not to mention have it broadcast on US TV). Kurt knows how to get the audience into the palm of hand from almost the moment he steps onto the ice, and the audience completely eats it up. This was the best performance of "I'm Yours" I've seen (I saw it early in the Canadian Stars on Ice tour this year). It has a lightness and ease and spring to it that just immediately made you comfortable and completely confident in Kurt out there on the ice, and he completely justified the confidence. Beautiful, easy jumps out of nowhere that were landed with perfect confidence (at least the 3-toe, 3-sal, and 2-axel, I think). Light, springy feet that just danced fleetly across the ice. Perfectly in character facial expressions that weren't over the top but invited the audience right in to have as much fun as Kurt was having on the ice. All the skaters are tremendously talented, professional, wonderful skaters, but Kurt's just got that extra spark, that undefinable something that just says this is a guy born to be out there, entertaining people on the ice. Kristi's voiceover introduction said she'd been friends with Kurt for over 20 years, and talked about what an entertainer he was, which was definitely true this evening.

Halo (Beyonce) - Ekaterina Gordeeva
When Katia initially stepped out on the ice in a beautiful light blue dress and sparkly jewels at the neck, she seemed too elegant to be skating to Beyonce. However, Katia's a gorgeous performer on the ice, and the program just kept building from initial slower, more elegant moves on the ice to going faster and more powerful as she sped around the ice and the music built. She's just got gorgeous deep edges which she uses to give her the sense of just flying across the ice. I'm no expert in judging difficulty of footwork but, as an audience member, the effectiveness of her footwork in interpreting the music was wonderful. It was a beautiful and quite powerful skate. Kristi's voiceover said that Katia had been her friend for almost 20 years (20 years was a repetitive theme) and that she was the mother to two beautiful girls (so hard to believe, looking at her, that she's the mother to a teenage girl) and one of the strongest women Kristi knew.

Atlantic (Keane) - Steven Cousins
The contrast of music in this show was a bit interesting, in that the Backstreet Boys provided upbeat, danceable, (fairly loud) pop, but then many of the songs in between were much slower, quieter, and more subtle. Probably one of the most slow subtle pieces was this song by Keane that Steven skated to. It sounded vaguely Celtic and mournful - a beautiful piece of music, if ever so slightly dull in comparison (in my opinion). Steven interpreted it beautifully, though, skating with heart and feeling to what I *think* was his own choreography. A couple wonky jumps marred things just a bit, but ensured we'd be seeing Steven again for retakes. Kristi's voiceover said that Steven looked like a heartthrob but that when you got to know him, he was as beautiful on the inside as he was on the outside. Steven's reaction when he first heard that in dress rehearsal was comical and very cute.

Total Eclipse of the Heart (Bonnie Tyler/Nikki French) - Elena Leonova & Andrei Khvalko
I wasn't too sure about this pair's decision to incorporate both versions of Total Eclipse of the Heart in one program (my personal preference for the Bonnie Tyler original might bias me), especially since the transition from one to the other isn't entirely smooth, but the audience seemed to eat it up, cheering when the Nikki French version came over the loudspeakers. The program itself, though, was dynamic and exciting, and showcased many of Leonova & Khvalko's impressive lifts and spins, which definitely drew gasps from the audience. Their headbanger, in particular, definitely got the crowd buzzing, and I can see why. I've seen many headbangers as a skating fan, but Andrei seems like he's just flinging Elena around with abandon and not much caution, and her head comes incredibly close to the ice and then goes flying quite high up on the other side of the spin. Definitely impressive, and doing it quite close to the close of the program I'm pretty sure is part of the reason they got a partial standing O.

This is Us - Michael Weiss and Backstreet Boys
I think, given that their new album is entitled "This is Us", that this is one of the Backstreet Boys' new songs. It seemed like a pretty decent BSB song, but I do have to confess that I spent quite a while wondering why they were singing "scissors, scissors, scissors" before my brain parsed out the "this is us, this is us, this is us". What a nice song about scissors! Michael was having a good skate to the song, interpeting it nicely, and getting some good flow on the ice, when about a minute from the end, he suddenly stopped and started making a cutting off motion with his hands, before skating off the ice, mostly on one foot. Turns out that two of the screws on his boot came loose, and his blade to all intents and purposes for the usability of the skate, essentially fell off. The Backstreet Boys, however, completed the song without Michael, so the audience wouldn't have an abrupt cut off to the performance.

Straight Through My Heart - Kristi Yamaguchi and Backstreet Boys
Michael's skate mishap resulted in a bit of confusion, but then Kristi quickly made her way out on the ice to take her place for her one and only solo number of the night. Especially given that there were no group numbers except for the opening and closing, it was rather disappointing that Kristi only skated once in the show. It was particularly disappointing, because, aside from the fact that she seems mostly to be doing double jumps now, she still looks fantastic and skates beautifully, and her DWTS training has only served to sharpen her moves and choreography. The lyrics to the song let Kristi do a lot of miming of pointing a finger gun right back at the Backstreet Boys, which (along with the big grin on her face) tied the musical performance and the skating performance together. The program ended with Kristi dancing on the stage with the guys as they harmonized through the final bars of the song, though it was inadvertently a bit amusing b/c they harmonized for a while and you could sort of tell that she didn't quite know what to do with herself up there after a while. The guys seemed to appreciate her being there, though, and seemed genuinely admiring of her.


Don't Stop Believin' (Glee Cast) - Tracy Tanovich & Michael Chau
Coming back from intermission, the first pair on the ice were the 2009 Junior Pair Champions, who Kristi is mentoring - Tracy Tanovich & Michael Chau. I was very impressed by these two - skating under the lights in a big professional show like this, they nevertheless kept their composure (except for a fall on the throw triple which they fixed like pros in the retakes) and put on a great performance to "Don't Stop Believin'" from Glee (which was a good music choice, given the "Glee! It's Glee!" I heard from around me in the audience). Michael is a very flexible guy, and the two used that to their advantage in their choreography, with the two frequently doing side by side moves and spins that showed off both of their extension and flexibility. These two seem like they'll have a great future, and are a pair to keep an eye on.

Quit Playing Games With My Heart - Steven Cousins and Backstreet Boys
The Backstreet Boys then came back on stage for another one of their hits, with Steven Cousins performing out on the ice. This was a good mellow rocker and seemed a pretty good fit for Steven, who seemed to have fun as he skated, despite the fact that he was skating by a plethora of fans who seemed to have their eyes fixed on the stage, singing along. The Backstreet Boys definitely seemed impressed by Steven, yelling out "that boy's got talent" during the dress rehearsal after this number. It was kind of fun to watch them watch him.

All I Have To Give - Ekaterina Gordeeva & Backstreet Boys
The Backstreet Boys seemed very much admiring of Katia Gordeeva (and who wouldn't be) when she came out to skate to their next number, especially after she came up on the stage to mouth the words and bob alongside the singer (one of the other guys started drifting in that direction after a while, like, can I get in on this action?). Katia seemed to draw energy from the band and the crowd, skating with a wonderfully engaging quality and really getting into the music. There was a mishap that I'm not entirely sure was fixed in retakes though, in that it seemed that the version of the song she had learned the choreography to ended later than the version the boys were performing on the stage. After she went up on stage to "sing along", she stepped off the ice to continue performing, doing a long spread eagle as the song came to a halt, and then seeming rather perplexed why the music had ended. In retakes, the band came back out to perform the song again while she skated, but the same thing happened. Eventually they all just walked off the stage/ice - I'm not sure what resolution they came to, given that she never really ended the program. Guess we'll see on TV!

1000 Miles Away (Jewel) - Yuka Sato
I love Yuka and she gave a beautiful performance of this program, but I couldn't help but feel like Jewel didn't fit in at all to the evening's proceedings. Things would be pretty dull without variety, though, so it's probably not a bad thing that she chose this program to perform. It just was a rather odd contrast from the dynamic performance before it. Yuka's got those whisper-soft edges, nice economical feet, and lovely solid jumps, which all helped me to enjoy a program to a song I didn't particularly feel.

Somebody Like Me (Keith Urban) - Jozef Sabovcik
Jozef Sabovcik is known for doing rock - Meatloaf, Bruce Springsteen, Iron Maiden. He's not known so much for doing country. But Jozef Sabovcik does country surprisingly well. There were bits of footwork and interpretation that were somewhat reminiscent (to my Kurt-centric brain) of some of the country numbers Kurt has done in the past. There were big Josef jumps and his trademark backflip. Overall, this was an enjoyable treat to see Josef try something a little different so well.

Erin Shore and Auld Lang Syne (Royal Highland Dragon Guards) - Sinead & John Kerr
No doubt about it, many of the ladies in the audience liked to see a guy in a kilt. I'm told this is one of the Kerrs' signature numbers, something they're asked to do frequently, and I can see why. The number is high energy, exciting, and fun, and the Kerrs just sparkle all the way through it. The Scottish theme (unsurprisingly) fits them well, and they just draw the whole arena into their performance. It was really fun to watch.

Butterfly Kisses (Bob Carlisle) - Michael Weiss
Kristi Yamaguchi's intro talked about being friends with Michael for a long time, and watching him grow into a devoted father of two, and how this number was dedicated to his daughter Annie Mae, because it was a favorite of hers. I've seen this program before, and Michael performs it beautifully, with a lot of emotion and interpretation. I have to admit though - I can not stand the song and that makes it very difficult for me to get into the program (the fact that the woman behind me couldn't stand it and kept saying so, loudly, didn't help matters). It's a lovely program, though, and the sentiment towards his daughter is very sweet.

Amazed (Lonestar) - Elena Leonova & Andrei Khvalko
I was impressed with Jozef's country number, but by this point in the evening, I started wondering about the prevalence of country twang in this show. I think this was the fourth country-ish song in the show, the third in this act, and given that there were only 20 programs to begin with, 20% of them being country seemed a bit unusual. At any rate, this was L&K's ballady romantic number of the evening, and it was very nice. Even with their softer programs, though, this pair really gets the crowd going with their tricks, and this program was no exception. Another rousing headbanger, and another big response from the crowd.

Bigger - Kurt Browning and the Backstreet Boys
Amusing quote I heard when Kurt stepped onto the ice after the Backstreet Boys - the Backstreet Boys fan behind me bemoaning the need to choose between watching Kurt on the ice and watching her favorite band on stage - "Aw, I like him! I wanted to watch him!" I wasn't entirely sure how familiar the crowd was with Kurt before he skated - he got quite a cheer when he was announced for his first program - but it was really neat to hear how much the people in the audience around me liked him after he skated. The song basically talks about how the girl the singer is skating to is a bigger person than he is (not size-wise) and is a bit of a slower number. Consequently, it was nice to see Kurt pull out his softer more romantic side in his interpretation of the song. Kurt knows how to put a bit of a twist into usual moves that add to the interpretation of the music - a series of spread eagles with shifts to his arm and body position, rather than just a big sweeping spread eagle, different ways of holding his arms or moving in a way that evoked the music more. Unfortunately, Kurt had a few bobbles in this program - a jump that went awry at the end of the ice, which he, in typical Kurt fashion, covered with some self-deprecating humor, and then something else I can't quite recall going wrong at the end, which led to Kurt sharing his disappointment with the crowd at how he came just *this* close to getting it right. Luckily for the fans, this resulted in Kurt having to come out for retakes (which I'm Yours definitely didn't need). Luckily for Kurt, he landed everything first try in the retakes, though he was teasingly admonished by Lea Ann Miller for making it so very obvious to the TV audience he'd screwed up, so they had to retape the whole end of the program to change that.

Finale - Larger than Life - Cast and Backstreet Boys
The finale provided a bit of a counterpoint to the opening - this time four of the guys (John, Steven, Jozef, and Michael) came out first, dancing down the ice before Sinead joined them, taking a turn around the ice with each guy until she reached John and they broke off to do their highlighted bit. The two pairs (including Tracy and Mike, who picked up the group choreography like pros) then came out for highlighted lifts down the sides of the ice. The group danced to the music for a while, and then Kristi, Katia, and Yuka came out together, doing side by side spirals down the ice that were really lovely, and then each doing a different move back up the ice towards the stage. At this point, Kurt joined them, slapping hands with Kristi and then moving off to do some dynamic, fast, high-energy footwork around the periphery of the rink while Kristi spun in the middle and the rest of the skaters circled around her. He skated into the middle, spun her around, and then the group danced down the ice back towards the stage before finally going into a final pose, with Kristi lifted high. Overall, it was a fun closing number - high energy and dynamic, with the skaters really seeming to enjoy the music and the performance.

After the final bows, it was time to regroup for retakes. Lea Ann Miller's voice of God over the loudspeakers provided some of the context and amusement for the audience, while the Backstreet Boys also did their part to engage with and keep the audience interested while they set things up and Katia ran backstage to change as fast as she could for the first retake. There were a LOT of retakes - virtually every skater had something they had to redo - but almost all of them went by really smoothly. There was the aforementioned confusion about the end of Katia's program whose resolution is still unclear to me, but otherwise, almost everyone landed their missed jump on the first try. When they didn't, the crowd was there to support them, and cheered wildly when they did land it. Poor Kristi had a more prolonged retake since she first started to try to redo it when they weren't ready, and then she missed the jump, and then when she went to redo it again, they had to change the tape. She took it all in good humor, though, and kept the audience laughing and supportive. When Kurt came out, he did a quick set of humorous stretches and runner starting poses on the ice that got the audience laughing, and when he finished his retake of his jump (beautiful on the first try) and got enough choreography out of the way for the take, he threw his arms up in a hilarious victory gesture which really got the audience laughing. He then seemed a bit confused as to where his next retake needed to be and what needed to be done, which is when Lea Ann came on to ask him to redo his last spin and closing pose and bows since he'd made it so very clear he'd screwed up during his performance, and the TV audience at home wasn't to know. Though the audience here KNEW EVERYTHING. I was impressed at how quickly Tracy and Michael figured out the retake routine, from walking through the lifts they didn't need to do, picking up the part of music they neded to start performing through, and then nailing the retake. What was interesting was that a number of retakes were done without music - especially the ones that required the band, like Michael finishing the entire last minute of his program with a fixed skate. Makes you wonder how the skaters time things when there's no music to be heard. Unlike some of the other shows, the Backstreet Boys didn't do any songs without the skaters, and no encores, but they seemed so interested in watching the skaters and willing to re-sing numbers where they were needed, that it was neat to see. It's always great when the musical act seems very engaged with the skating and so happy to perform. They didn't really seem to want to leave the stage either!

Overall, I enjoyed Kristi's show quite a lot this year. I wish they would do more group numbers in these Disson shows, though I realize they lack the rehearsal time to really get them right. It was a good group of skaters, though, a really engaged musical act, and a night of great skating. Not much more you can ask for there! The show airs Nov. 1 from 4-6PM ET/1-3PM PT, and it's definitely worth tuning into.