Wade on Birmingham

kale the wonder drug

Wednesday, April 1, 2015 by Wade Kwon

Mash some up with your
pills. Rub some on your skin. Snort
it as a powder.

• • •

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Where the old things are: ‘Antiques Roadshow’ in Birmingham

Tuesday, March 31, 2015 by Wade Kwon

Video: Hour 1 of “Antiques Roadshow” in Birmingham,
filmed in 2014

If you like giant pants, and who doesn’t, “Antiques Roadshow” has a leg (or two) up on the competition.

Monday, the first installment of the reality show’s June 21 trip to Birmingham aired nationwide. Three hours total will air from segments at the BJCC Exhibition Hall. One segment includes a painting valued at auction from $600,000 to $800,000. Another features those outsize jeans.

The next part airs at 7 p.m. Monday on Alabama Public Television.

Antiques Roadshow

Ty Dodge of Mountain Brook brought this painting by American artist Frederic Remington. “Antiques Roadshow” appraiser Colleene Fesko puts its value at up to $800,000 at auction.

a masterpiece in three cuts

Tuesday, March 31, 2015 by Wade Kwon

A snip here, a cut
there, soon it will be worthy
of an audience.

• • •

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Tango time for Noah Galloway on Week 3 of ‘Dancing with the Stars’

Monday, March 30, 2015 by Wade Kwon

Noah Galloway and trainer Sharna Burgess tango to
“Rather Be” by Clean Bandit featuring Jess Glynne.

The judges loved Noah Galloway and trainer Sharna Burgess on Latin Night. The Week 3 tango led to fifth place with a score of 30 out of 40 points.

However, the duo had a close call during eliminations, caught in the Bottom Three. Actress/model Charlotte McKinney was the second contestant sent home.

The standings for Week 3:

  • 1. (tie) 34 points: Nastia Liukin, Riker Lynch
  • 3. 33 points: Rumer Willis
  • 4. 32 points: Willow Shields
  • 5. 30 points: Noah Galloway
  • 6. 29 points: Robert Herjavec
  • 7. 28 points: Chris Soules
  • 8. 25 points: Suzanne Somers
  • 9. 24 points: Michael Sam
  • 10. 22 points: Patti LaBelle

The show returns next Monday with the voting results, the elimination and the next round of dancing.

Noah Galloway, Sharna Burgess, JR Martinez, Dancing with the Stars week 3

From left, Noah Galloway, Sharna Burgess and
season 13 “Dancing” champ JR Martinez

• How did Noah do? Let us know in the comments …

The Birmingham channel: The show on the road

Monday, March 30, 2015 by Wade Kwon

A look at Birmingham in videos …

President Obama speaks Thursday at Lawson State Community College on the new steps the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is taking to protect consumers from abusive payday lending practices. From the White House.

Driving while filming, part 1: daytime. From Alex Djesus.

Driving while filming, part 2: nighttime. From Tatiana Youngblood.

Driving while filming, part 3: using a dashcam. From vearexperts.

South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord performs earlier this month at Iron City on Southside. From Will Bonn.

My pal Chanda put together a report on the academies program at Birmingham schools. From Chanda Temple.

Le’Andria Johnson sings “God Will Take Care of You.” From Henry Washington Jr.

Ramsay high boys’ basketball. From Chandler Minton.

Jimmy Swaggart preaches March 21, 1986, in Birmingham. From Louis Calzada.

The Entertainers perform to Pitbull’s “Give Me Everything” at the Alabama Theatre. From Masquerade Dance.

Aerial footage of Patton Park in East Birmingham. From Howard Daniels.

Promotional video “Health Is Movement” from Homewood Friends and Family Healthcare. From KS Films.

Alabama technical mountain biking in March at Oak Mountain State Park. From Lon Cullen.

Mountain Brook High alums return with their college a capella group to perform with the Birmingham Boys Choir. From Starnes Publishing.

See Noah Galloway dance to Darius Rucker.

• • •

Send us links to your videos. | More videos on the Birmingham channel.

app happy

Monday, March 30, 2015 by Wade Kwon

When to breathe, where to
go, what to eat, how to move
and when to upgrade.

• • •

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Books: Excerpt from Amber Benson’s ‘The Witches of Echo Park’

Sunday, March 29, 2015 by Wade Kwon

Amber Benson, The Witches of Echo Park

 

The following chapter is an excerpt from Birmingham native Amber Benson’s “The Witches of Echo Park” [aff. link]. The actress and director has written or co-written a dozen books blending urban fantasy and supernatural thrills. She is best known as Tara from the TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Amber has written and directed several movies, including “Drones” and “Chance.”

Her latest book follows Lyse entering the secret coven of her childhood neighborhood in Los Angeles.

In this excerpt, Amber introduces us to Lyse as she makes an emergency trip home to see her dying great-aunt …

• • •

The staccato cadence of the blond stewardess’ Midwestern twang slammed into Lyse’s head like a sledgehammer, every word a sharpened nail driven into the gray matter of her brain.

Because it was an oversold flight and she’d booked her ticket at the last minute, she hadn’t been able to choose her seat — which meant the airline gave her what was available: a middle seat in between an older grandmotherly type on the aisle and a young Hispanic kid two sizes too big for his window seat. The kid had spent the entire preflight ramp-up arguing with the stewardess over the need for a seat belt extender, and at one point Lyse had almost snapped at the stewardess to leave the poor kid alone. Not just because she agreed with the kid, but because she wanted the stewardess to stop talking.

But she knew she stunk like a distillery and was scared of getting kicked off the flight, so she kept her mouth shut, rejoicing internally when the kid finally relented and, grumbling to hide his embarrassment, took the seat belt extender from the triumphant stewardess, clipping it in place.

Lyse wished there were something she could say to make the kid feel better about being humiliated at the hands of a smug stewardess in a pastel blue uniform, but she decided her continued silence was probably a better balm than any fumbling attempts at commiseration.

As the plane took off, Lyse closed her eyes and tried to sleep, but once they were airborne and the Fasten Seat Belt sign was turned off, she spent most of the flight trekking back and forth to the toilet in order to dry-heave over the commode. She wasn’t sure if the nausea was due to a burgeoning hangover or was just the first sign that she’d given herself a concussion earlier that morning when, in a daring feat of acrobatic prowess, she’d tripped over a bar stool and slammed the back of her head into the kitchen countertop, the soft skin of her scalp connecting with the hard stone to elicit a sharp, teeth-grinding thwack.

To her surprise, she’d found herself relatively unscathed after what could’ve been a major trauma: There’d been no blood, no laceration … just the budding promise of a painful knot.

After the unexpected call from her Great-Aunt Eleanora, Lyse had comforted herself by downing most of a bottle of Tito’s Vodka and passing out with her face mashed up against the cold granite kitchen island. The alcohol, coupled with the horrible dreams she’d had while she slept — dreams that made sure she got no rest — contributed greatly to the accident.

Then hours later she’d been frightened awake by the feel of someone’s eyes on her back. It was unmistakable, the ungodly sense that a stranger was secretly observing her in this vulnerable moment, and fear ran through her body like an electric current.

She’d crawled off the bar stool that’d doubled as her bed, hearing the creak of her bones settling back into place after a long night of immobility. She crossed the hardwood floor on bare feet and got as close to the kitchen window as she dared. She’d never bothered with window treatments — the kitchen was in the rear of the house, and the surrounding shrubbery had seemed thick enough to discourage any prying eyes — but as she squinted out into the pitch-black abyss of her back yard, she found herself wishing for heavy damask drapes, or at the very least those ugly poly-fiber blackout curtains.

Of course, no one was out there. The yard was empty and she was alone, but she had a hard time shaking off the creepy feeling someone had been watching her while she slept. Still groggy, she’d turned away from the window, and that was when she’d tripped over the bar stool and almost brained herself.

It was that goddamned phone call. It had thrown her whole life off-kilter.

“I should have called you sooner, but I wasn’t sure what to say …”

The teasing cadence of Eleanora’s dropped New England r’s as they’d sounded coming through the phone line slipped inside Lyse’s head, a siren’s call to something she did not want to think about.

“They’ve done all the tests, so there’s no reason to get a second opinion.”

Her great-aunt’s words were transient and elliptical, floating in Lyse’s memory like gauzy white light through layers of viscous liquid. She wanted to pummel the memory away, but it wouldn’t go.

“… three months, maybe less than that. Cancer. Started in the blood but now it’s everywhere.”

It was like listening to a song played through an aged and crackling phonograph, vowels and consonants blurring together until they lost their meaning.

“Just … stop talking for a minute. Let me process this,” Lyse had almost shouted into the phone as she leaned against the potting table. Though it’d been past 6 in the evening, the air in The Center of the Whorl, the plant nursery she co-owned with her best friend Carole, felt thick and damp, still oppressive with the day’s heat.

Silence. Then:

“Bear? Are you still there?” Eleanora had used the pet name Lyse had chosen for herself the summer she’d turned 14 — during those 3 sweltering months she would answer to no other name: Lyse was dead, long live the Bear.

Without realizing it, her body had responded to the shock by seating her ass on the concrete floor, the metal leg of the potting table pressing into her back, holding her up like the stipe of a cross as she began to cry.

I’m not gonna deal with this right now, Lyse thought, pushing the memories away as she stared at the blank screen embedded in the airline seat in front of her. She had always taken shelter in denial, using sarcasm and disdain to distance herself from pain. Logic predicated that this was a perfectly normal reaction to receiving unexpected and tragic news, but she’d never really been one to go in for logic — emotion was what ruled her day to day.

Which was why she’d chosen the oblivion of alcohol to get her through the worst of her panic. The only person who loved her was dying, and there was absolutely nothing she could do about it. She was going to be alone in the world again. Like when she was 13 and thought she was an orphan — before Child Services had found Eleanora, who wasn’t really Lyse’s great-aunt (though that was what she’d asked Lyse to call her) but a distant relative on her mother’s side, and Lyse’s whole life had changed for the better.

Lyse shut her eyes, the knot in her throat abating slowly — very slowly — as she tried not to think anymore, to make her mind a blank slate. Somewhere in the middle of this losing battle, she must have fallen asleep, because soon she began to dream. The visions in her head were raw and vivid, full of familiar smells and sounds, the colors bright and lurid. She might have believed she was fixed inside a strange alternate reality if some part of her hadn’t remembered she was flying 10,000 feet above the surface of the Earth.

In the dream she was a teenager again, walking through her old Echo Park neighborhood. There she moved like a ghost through overgrown gardens and derelict houses, visited dusty bodegas selling Santeria charms alongside bottled Mexican soda and Aqua Net hair spray, and stood on concrete retaining walls where shiny spray-painted tags that resembled Celtic knots sprung up like weeds to mark out rival gang territory.

She could taste the past in her mouth, smell it in the air around her as she wandered the streets and stairways of Laveta Terrace, Baxter, Clinton and Curran, each stairwell a link to the landlocked hill homes that were built, so oddly, without street access. Sweat-soaked limbs and squeaking sneakers were her only companions as she trudged up and down the roughly curving hill streets.

Instinctively, she knew that the universe, and everything in it, was held together by webbing as fragile and sheer as the translucent filament of a spider’s home — that her past and present were inextricably linked and had been since the day she’d come to live with Eleanora.

Echo Park was calling her name. It was time to go home.

She woke up when the captain announced the flight would be landing 10 minutes early. She was snotty and bleary-eyed, and it felt as though she hadn’t gotten an ounce of rest in days.

She made her way off the airplane without incident, stopping in the ladies’ room to splash cold water on her face and stare at her reflection in the mirror. She looked like death warmed over: red-rimmed, bloodshot eyes framed by bruise-purple circles, pale cheeks, lips so chapped they were flaking.

As she left the bathroom and followed the influx of people heading toward the exit, she powered her cell phone on. It began to make frantic buzzing noises in her hand, and she stared down at the cracked screen, surprised to discover one new voicemail message and two text messages waiting for her. It was barely 9 in the morning.

Both texts were from Carole: Where are you? I went by the house — we so NEED to talk about that FYI — but you’re MIA, so we can’t. And: What the hell, Lyse? Call me!

The voicemail was from Carole, too — in her emotional upheaval, Lyse had forgotten to call her best friend and business partner and tell her she wouldn’t be showing up at the nursery that morning. She felt terrible, like she’d breached some kind of best-friend trust by not informing Carole she was leaving town, and why.

As she cruised past security and hit the escalator, she texted Carole back: Eleanora called. Long story, but I’m in LA.

She leaned her weight against the rubber handrail as she pressed send, exhausted by this simple task, and then closed her eyes, losing herself in the din of conversation around her.

Lyse felt her mind untethering like a shiny copper penny snaking its way toward the bottom of a detergent-blue swimming pool. The inevitable had happened, and it was as cold and punishing as a lungful of chlorinated water.

“Lyse?”

She opened her eyes and was shocked to find Eleanora waiting for her at the bottom of the curved escalator.

“Eleanora?” she said, and dropped her bag onto the dirty airport floor.

She ran to her great-aunt, flinging her arms around this now-frail creature who’d once been so robust and full of life. She pulled Eleanora in as close as she dared, not wanting to crush her. The two women clung to each other — one a crone at the end of her days, the other a maiden, hale and full of future — and the world around them ceased to exist.

“I’ve missed you,” Eleanora whispered, the sandpaper scratch of her voice tickling Lyse’s ear.

“Me, too,” Lyse replied, meaning it.

Lost in the midst of this bittersweet moment was the realization that Lyse had not told Eleanora she was coming to Los Angeles.

 

“They’ve cut down two more trees, the bastards,” Eleanora noted, pointing out the pale brown stumps to Lyse as they rolled her raggedy metal cart down the uneven sidewalk, passing the last remnants of the majestic ficus trees that had once lined Echo Park Avenue. “Who cuts down living things, Lyse — creatures of the earth that clean the air and give shade to weary travelers?”

The dark green foliage and elegant limbs Lyse had stood under, that had kept her dry from the rain and protected her from the scorching sun during the hottest of the summer months, were gone, replaced by empty dirt plots as barren as newly filled graves.

Lyse knew Eleanora hated backward behavior championed “in the name of progress.” A decade earlier, she would have led the protest, taking names and causing heads to roll, but these days, Lyse realized, her great-aunt was too tired to do any damage to the members of the city council.

“I’ll say a little prayer when I get home,” Eleanora said, patting Lyse’s arm as they walked. “Say a few words to send an ill wind their way, the unfeeling idiots.”

Lyse had to laugh. Even though she still felt that gnawing hollow in her middle, it was amazing how easily her fears could be dispelled by her great-aunt’s blunt New England sensibility.

“I wish all you had to do was ask God to kick their asses,” Lyse replied, running a hand through her chunky bangs so they stuck up like porcupine quills in the heat. Her thick, dark hair grew so fast her bangs were forever in need of a trim, and she was constantly having to shove them out of her eyes.

Southern California was dry — the antithesis of Athens, Georgia, where she lived now, which was humidity city. She wished she’d remembered this fact and brought some heavy-duty lotion with her. Her skin was already beginning to feel dry and cracked. Besides, she was exhausted, and the lack of sleep contributed to the icky “too tight in her own skin” feeling she was having.

“You look tired,” Eleanora said, as if she were privy to Lyse’s thoughts. “You didn’t need to walk down here with me.”

Lyse shrugged and said offhandedly, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead —”

She immediately realized what she’d just said and clapped a hand over her mouth.

Eleanora laughed.

“Don’t censor yourself on my account. I’ve made my peace with Death, Lyse — and that’s all anyone can hope to do in these situations.”

Lyse nodded, but inside she was still kicking herself for her slip of the tongue.

“But here we are,” Eleanora said, turning her cart into the doorway of the tiny neighborhood bodega.

Hola, Eleanora,” the birdlike woman behind the cash register sang brightly as Lyse followed Eleanora inside.

Together, they made their way to the back of the store, where the refrigerator case sat humming, cold bottles of red-labeled organic milk stacked neatly inside it.

Hola yourself, Juana,” Eleanora replied, raising a skeletal hand in the bird woman’s direction as she opened the refrigerator, seeming to pause as she caught sight of her reflection in the glass-fronted case.

Lyse wondered if her great-aunt saw what she saw: sunken cheeks and bruised skin stretched taut over orbital bones. A wraith. The walking dead.

“Is that all today, Eleanora?” Juana asked, the question cutting through Lyse’s thoughts like a freshly sharpened knife.

Eleanora had already moved to the checkout. Lyse joined her and was surprised to see an iPad on the Formica countertop instead of a more traditional cash register. It was a surreal hint of technology in an otherwise old-fashioned setting.

“That’s all,” Eleanora said, retrieving a $5 bill from her wallet as Juana tapped the price into the iPad screen. “And you remember Lyse, my grandniece?”

Juana smiled, her face taking on a beatific glow. “Of course. It’s been a long time. But yes.”

Juana was right. It had been a long time, Lyse realized. At least 5 years since she’d last been home to visit. For some reason, Eleanora had always made the biyearly trek to see Lyse in Georgia, but never the other way around.

Setting the brown paper-wrapped jar of milk inside the basket of her metal rolling cart, Eleanora headed for the door.

“See you in a few days,” she called back to Juana, the whoosh of the air curtain above the entrance ruffling her short gray hair as she stepped outside.

“Little one,” Juana said just as Lyse turned to follow Eleanora out the door. “Wait a moment.”

Lyse nodded, uncertain as to what the birdlike woman wanted. She watched as Juana stepped away from the counter, then picked her way through to the back of the store, disappearing into the stockroom. Through the plate-glass window, Lyse kept one eye on Eleanora, who was standing on the sidewalk, adjusting her windbreaker.

“Here. For you.”

Juana was back, thrusting a cylindrical brown-wrapped package into her hands.

“I don’t —” Lyse started to say, but Juana shook her head.

“It’s a gift. Burn it in the house.”

She smiled at Lyse, her tan skin surprisingly soft and wrinkled under the fluorescent lighting.

“Thank you,” Lyse said.

The package felt awkward in her hands as she left the bodega and stepped out into the heat of the day.

“What did she give you?” Eleanora asked, her sharp eyes glued to the package.

“Don’t know,” Lyse said, shaking her head. “She said to burn it.”

“Hmmph,” Eleanora replied as they continued up Echo Park Avenue, the cart rattling softly as it hit each crack in the sidewalk, the sound lulling in its consistency.

Lyse began to unwrap the package, peeling away the stiff brown paper to reveal the contents nestled inside.

“Interesting,” she said, as she pulled out the long, cylindrical saint’s candle, its smooth glass surface etched with the blue outline of a young woman in a headscarf. A small child sat upon the woman’s lap, its head bowed under the weight of a spiked crown.

“Mother of the Virgin Mary,” Eleanora said, glancing over at the candle.

“You mean Saint Anne?” Lyse murmured, reading the thick block lettering just below the image. “She was the mother of the Virgin Mary? I didn’t know that.”

“She’s also the patroness of unmarried women,” Eleanora snorted. “I think Juana’s trying to tell you something.”

Lyse groaned.

“Great.”

Eleanora smiled as she took Lyse’s arm, leaning on her as they walked.

“Watch out, or you’ll end up an old spinster like me.”

“You’re not that old,” Lyse said, then paused — because this made her think of other things … like the fact that Eleanora was too young to be dying.

“You’re sweet,” Eleanora said, patting Lyse’s hand.

They walked on in silence after that, the sun bright above them, Lyse enjoying the exotic smell of the Spanish jasmine that clung from the gates and fences of the houses on Echo Park Avenue.

“Well, should I burn it tonight, then?” Lyse asked suddenly, holding the candle up, surprised at how heavy it felt in her hand.

“Yes, burn it,” Eleanora said, her voice strangely earnest. “Burn it down until there’s nothing left.”

They reached the front entrance to the old bungalow on Curran, the house Lyse had called home the whole of her teenage years, and Eleanora pulled a set of keys from the pocket of her red windbreaker — even in the heat, her great-aunt professed to being cold.

“I have some business to take care of,” Eleanora said, tucking the keys into Lyse’s hand, their warmth making her palm sweat. “Go inside and take a nap — you look beat.”

Lyse didn’t argue with her great-aunt. She suddenly felt so exhausted she could hardly keep her eyes open. Impulsively, she leaned over and kissed Eleanora’s powdery cheek.

“We need to talk when you get back,” Lyse said, as a yawn escaped her lips.

“Yes, we do,” her great-aunt agreed. “There’s so much to discuss — and so little time left to us.”

“Please, don’t say it like that. I can’t bear it,” Lyse said, pushing back a wave of panic at the thought of her great-aunt’s approaching death. “I just … we’ll talk when you get back, okay? About doctors and second opinions …”

Eleanora nodded as Lyse trailed off.

“Sleep as much as you can, Bear. I need you at your sharpest tonight.”

Lyse gave her great-aunt a funny look.

“What does that mean?”

“It’s nothing terrible,” Eleanora said, offering Lyse the handle of the metal rolling cart. “It’s good, actually. And I promise we’ll talk about it more when I get back.”

With a forced smile, Lyse took the cart, dragging it with her up the stairs. At the top, she turned back around, but Eleanora was already hurrying down the street, her windbreaker flashing blood red in the sparkling light.

From her perch high atop Eleanora’s patio stairs, Lyse was able to look out over Curran Street, at the bungalows and Craftsman homes, the foliage and greenery that peeked out from every garden. Being home after so long made her feel like a teenager again.

I’d forgotten how glorious this place is, she thought — then shivered when something wet landed on the tip of her nose.

Inexplicably, her first thought was blood, but when she looked up at the once-blue sky, she saw it was now a foreboding steel gray — and the splash of wetness was merely a drop of rain. She laughed at her own morbid imagination, then yawned as she rolled the cart toward the front door of Eleanora’s bungalow.

Sleep sounded like the greatest thing in the world.

• • •

“The Witches of Echo Park” (January 2015, Ace)

Amber Benson

#sundayread for March 29, 2015

Sunday, March 29, 2015 by Wade Kwon

My picks for #sundayread for March 29, 2015:

More posts from Wade this week:

The latest #sundayread tweets

something but net

Sunday, March 29, 2015 by Wade Kwon

The accountant fed
each receipt, each napkin, each
stub into the gross.

• • •

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steady the quiver

Saturday, March 28, 2015 by Wade Kwon

Bow before the bow.
Let the vile target tremble
till the point is made.

• • •

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my heart, i give it to you

Friday, March 27, 2015 by Wade Kwon

I spill my guts for
you to digest, not for real
but in many words.

• • •

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the death of signal

Thursday, March 26, 2015 by Wade Kwon

The report is due
any minute. The wifi
commits suicide.

• • •

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protecting the garden

Wednesday, March 25, 2015 by Wade Kwon

Squirrels, rabbits and cats
circled protectively round
the blooming bounty.

• • •

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the wiggly tooth

Tuesday, March 24, 2015 by Wade Kwon

The incisor found
no rest along the bottom
gum, so he cut out.

• • •

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Country-western samba for Noah Galloway on Week 2 of ‘Dancing with the Stars’

Monday, March 23, 2015 by Wade Kwon

Noah Galloway and trainer Sharna Burgess dance
to Darius Rucker’s “Homegrown Honey.”

Noah Galloway went bare chested for Week 2 on “Dancing with the Stars.” The Alabaster trainer with partner Sharna Burgess danced to Darius Rucker’s country single, “Homegrown Honey.” A nice bonus: His finacée Jamie Boyd popped in after the scores.

The couple scored 27 out of 40 points, placing them in ninth place. Redfoo of the group LMFAO was the first contestant eliminated.

The standings for Week 2:

  • 1. 34 points: Nastia Liukin
  • 2. (tie) 32 points: Riker Lynch, Willow Shields, Rumer Willis
  • 5. (tie) 28 points: Robert Herjavec, Patti LaBelle, Michael Sam, Suzanne Somers
  • 9. 27 points: Noah Galloway
  • 10. 26 points: Charlotte McKinney
  • 11. 21 points: Chris Soules

The show returns next Monday with the voting results, the elimination and the next round of dancing.

Sharna Burgess, Noah Galloway, Jamie Boyd

From left, Sharna Burgess, Noah Galloway and fiancée Jamie Boyd

Bonus video: Noah Galloway in the new commercial
for Kenneth Cole’s Mankind Ultimate fragrance.

• How did Noah do? Let us know in the comments …