Sunday, June 10, 2007

Music Fest Fans Embrace Underwood

CMT reports that Carrie Underwood earned the biggest applause of any song performed with "Before He Cheats" at the CMA Music Festival on Friday night (June 8) in Nashville. Women leapt to their feet at the first note of Underwood's hit, as if their seats were hot-wired. This wasn't a casual singalong either; these ladies were vigorously shaking their fingers, their necks and their booties.

Wearing a modern black dress that didn't seem to slow her down on stage, Underwood launched her six-song set with "Beautiful," presumably a song from her new album that's due later this year. The easygoing melody will appeal to country fans, and hopefully, she'll bring all the pop fans of "Before He Cheats" to country radio with the new project. She also submitted a strong and empowering version of "Wasted," her most recent No. 1 single.

At the end of her set, she accepted a plaque for selling 6 million copies of her debut album, "Some Hearts," released less than two years ago. She looked out on the mass of people at LP Field and said, "You know, this all started because you all voted for me on American Idol ... and this belongs to you, too."

Underwood is leading the charge these days when it comes to women in country music. Just a few years ago, women just weren't having any luck with hit singles. Times have changed. Friday night's lineup also included Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles, Little Big Town, Sara Evans, Jason Aldean, Montgomery Gentry, Ted Nugent and Season 5 Idol finalist Bucky Covington, who opened the night with acoustic renditions of "Good to Be Us" and "A Different World."


The San Gabriel Valley Tribune says that "American Idol" winner Jordin Sparks was disturbed and dismayed to learn that obesity expert MeMe Roth was receiving death threats for calling Sparks "a vision of unhealthy."

Sparks, at 17 the youngest "Idol" winner ever, has this to say to her legion of fans: "Leave that person alone! That's not right. It's very intense and it's scary."

After hearing about the death threats, she told the paper, "I'm in shock right now. I don't think anything can really prepare you for stuff like that. But I'm going to take each day as it comes. Hopefully, I'll learn how to deal with stuff the right way."

It helps, she says, that she's the daughter of Phillippi Sparks, former NFL football player with the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys. She says growing up in his spotlight was great preparation for the whirlwind she's been on since her win.

"Being with my dad, we were in front of cameras and photographers taking pictures and people asking us questions all the time. I love talking to people and taking pictures. I'm not scared of the camera. It helped me a lot seeing how everything fell into place for him, so 'Thanks, Dad.' "

She adds, after snagging the grand prize, "He was the first person from my family I saw when I walked off stage, and I don't think I got anything out except, 'I love you.' It was so crazy."

"I'm going to start working on my album as soon as possible, so I'm meeting with some songwriters and producers. I have to have the album out before Thanksgiving. It's going to be really insane during the summer doing the tour and flying in and out to record. We're going to 56 cities, and we'll be out till September. I'm praying my voice keeps up."


Philadelphia Gay News interviewed "American Idol" first-season finalist Jim Verraros, who has appeared in the film “Eating Out” and produced a CD, “Rollercoaster,” since being on the series. Now Verraros is back as the lead in “Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds,” the better-than-the-first sequel to the hit film now out on DVD.

Verraros met with PGN to discuss his acting and singing careers, as well as his sexy scenes in “Eating Out 2.”

Jim, you may be more well-known for singing than for acting — how did you get involved in performing? Would you rather be an actor or a singer?

After I was eliminated [from “American Idol”] back in 2002, I wasn’t even thinking about music to be honest. I had taken such a beating from that show that I was just focused on acting. That was my niche. My cast mates would say, “Jim, you’re fucking hilarious, be in a sitcom or something.” I got an e-mail from my producer about [Q.] Allan Brocka, who was the director of the first [“Eating Out”]. I met him, read the script, fell in love with it, auditioned and he cast me. I don’t really want to choose between either. I want both.

Were you surprised that you were a supporting character in “Eating Out” but the lead part here? How did that come about?

People connect with my role. I don’t know one gay man who does not feel they aren’t “good enough.”

Your character, Kyle, is not a confident guy, which hurts his relationships. How are you when it comes to relationships — shy or in control?

People think that I would be the shy one — to be taken control of — but I’m kind of the more aggressive one. I don’t bullshit. I don’t have time to waste.

Kyle has to pretend to like women to get the hunk of his dreams. Have you ever dated a woman? How far did you get with her?

Yeah, I did date [a girl] in high school. It clearly didn’t work out, but she’s a great girl and I learned a lot. I learned that I’m gay! I’ve had pussy — I’m definitely gay. When I went down on Tiffani in the film, that was method acting — that was going back to the days when I tried to avoid it at all costs.

In the film, your character kisses many men and women. Who gave the best lip lock?

Rebekah is a good kisser; I just had to react badly to it. Marco [who plays Troy], for being a straight guy, is decent. But the men who I had to kiss in the film — what really impressed me was their professionalism, knowing that I was gay in real life. There are two types of straight men. One who is a bit more insecure about his sexuality, who’s homophobic and then you have the straight man who’s like, “Hey, this is work. It’s a fucking kiss and I’m not going to make a big deal out of it.” And the latter is how they were. They made me feel comfortable.

Can you discuss the scene where you teach Troy about the fine art of cunnilingus? How were you and Marco not bursting out in hysterics licking each other’s fingers?

It looks funny. I was worried how it would come off. I wanted to ask about women, if they watch that scene and think it’s hot/get off on it. And some girls are like, “I was a little moist.” So we delivered. That’s all that matters. I know, I’m so crude!

Most of the cast gets naked. But you are wearing two shirts in every scene!

Before we shot, I had worked out for two-and-a-half months so I could feel better about taking my shirt off. It was actually written in the original script that when Octavio [Adrian Quinonez] takes his shirt off [during his love scene with my character], he was supposed to unbutton mine. It never happened. Kyle doesn’t need to [get naked]. I think his character is a bit more conservative.

You had three songs of yours on the soundtrack of the first “Eating Out;” did you try to get a tune in “Eating Out 2”?

I submitted some brand-new stuff to Phillip [the director], and he loved [the songs] but there wasn’t a place for a full song clip in the film. It just didn’t work. I was fine with it.

So while you are waiting for your next film role, are you working on another album?

Yeah, I’m halfway through it. It’s going to be different. It’s going to be rock-ier, but I’m going to throw in some twists just to screw with people. A ballad, and something that’s a bit more urban. I am edgier and sexier than the boy bands. “Idol” molds you into this cookie-cutter thing and when I came out with my album, I think people were excited because it was so different. It had its pop moments but there were some sexual moments, where people went, “Holy fuck, did he just say that?” I kind of like getting that reaction.


She was the one that Idol judge Simon Cowell wanted to win, but coming in third isn't that bad when you're Melinda Doolittle. The singer stopped by People magazine's New York offices to answer questions about winning verus losing, the ups and downs of her new fame, and how's she's handling those high heels. You can watch the video here.


Watch videos of Katharine McPhee performing at the opening ceremonies for the Special Olympics Northern California, June 8, 2007 (unfortunately, the video is shot off the monitor rather than the stage, but at least McPhee received a much more welcome reception than she did in D.C.):

Watch video of Katharine McPhee singing "Love Story":

Watch video of Katharine McPhee singing "Home":


The Houston Chronicle covered LaKisha Jones' home-
coming. Although she moved to Baltimore last year for a bank-teller job, Jones spent more than six years in Houston and was an Abundant Life member. She sang in the choir and worked as a church receptionist.

Jones returned to Houston for a visit after an Idol's multimonth whirlwind. She was welcomed by ALC as well as the city: Mayor Bill White's office presented her with a proclamation declaring May 30 LaKisha Jones Day. "I'm probably the happiest I've ever been in my life right now. I'm not stressed. I'm not nothing at all," Jones said.

Indeed, the Idol nerves that crawled across her face throughout the season were gone, replaced by a welcoming smile and confident eyes. "It just really feels good to be back home, back home with my church family," she said.

"I haven't been to church since I've been on the show because of the schedule."

The Rev. Ed Montgomery and his wife, Saundra Elaine, provided organized weekly Idol-viewing parties at ALC, urging parishioners to vote for Jones. The couple flew out to an Idol taping during Diana Ross week. "I talked to them on the phone and through text messages and prayer — because I needed a whole lot of that," Jones said.

"It gets stressful out there sometimes. You're dealing with a lot of different people and a lot of different personalities."

One of those personalities was contestant Sanjaya Malakar. Jones has repeatedly referred to him as "a little brother that gets on your nerves. "He's so happy all the time. I'm like, 'What are you smiling about? These people are driving me crazy.' He just kind of got caught up into this whole whirlwind. He became larger than the show."

Montgomery beamed like a proud papa when he considered Jones' growth over the last few months. "Just seeing this little girl that was quiet, a little withdrawn, to just open up like a rose and just blossom — that is probably the greatest thing for me," said Montgomery, who first heard Jones sing at a funeral. "It's always been there. It was just a matter of her deciding to get up and do it for herself."

There were close calls. Jones auditioned for Idol in 2003 but didn't make it past the preliminaries. She was also the runner-up in the KPRC Local 2 Gimme the Mike! singing contest in 2005, losing to a country-pop singer.

This time, something felt different for the struggling singer. "I really wanted it more," Jones said. "At the time, in 2003, my daughter (Brionne) was 5 months old. I was going through a lot of emotional, mental things."

Four years later she was more determined. "I was like, 'This is it. I'm going to get what's mine.' " The perseverance landed Jones in fourth place. No small feat, despite hints of disappointment in her voice. "I wanted to win in the beginning," Jones says. "I looked at nobody as competition but me. I was my own competition."

The crowd at Jones' homecoming event at ALC swelled to almost 500 by the time she appeared, despite heavy rain. The evening was a surprisingly effective mix of revival-style exuberance, talk-show charm and glitzy showmanship.

Before Jones belted out a few of her signature Idol tunes, she joined Montgomery and his wife onstage for a seated interview. It flowed as smoothly as a Tonight Show segment, complete with crowd laughter and applause.

Jones looked camera-ready, dressed in a smart white blazer and tailored slacks, one of three outfits she donned during the evening.

After the chat, Montgomery made like Idol host Ryan Seacrest. "Are you ready? Are you American Idol-sound ready?" he asked the audience. "LaKisha Jones is in the house! From this point on, you've got to act like you're in the audience at American Idol."

Jones brought the crowd to its feet with thundering versions of the Dreamgirls showstopper "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" and "Midnight Train to Georgia," both of which she nailed during Idol. Jones couldn't stay too long. "I really don't want to get back on the plane and go back," she said. But she had other obligations.

Up next is the American Idols Live Tour, which features the top 10 contestants. It stops at the Toyota Center on July 15. Jones says she has "a lot of things on the table," including movie and Broadway offers.

And though she left Houston before finding Idol stardom, Jones says she'll return — permanently. She plans to buy a house here and is looking forward to "being a mom again and letting my baby run all over the place."

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© 2007

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