Until recently, when asked her favorite male singers, Jordin Sparks topped the list with John Mayer and Justin Timberlake. But the effervescent new American Idol champ said she's got another name to add: Sanjaya Malakar.
"He had so much guts,"' the 17-year-old American Idol winner told The Associated Press. "He had so much strength. He got a lot of criticism, but for him to go out on that stage and hold his head high . . . I really look up to him for that. He's just an amazing kid."
The lanky Malakar, also 17, made a strong impression during the sixth season of the Fox competition, transforming from shy guy to media superstar in a span of weeks.
Sparks said "the point of the show . . . is to keep who you like, who you want to see the next week. Sanjaya gave that to the people."
The two teens will sing with other finalists on the American Idol concert tour, which kicks off July 6 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise and wraps up Sept. 23 in Manchester, N.H.
CARRIE UNDERWOOD AND TONY ROMO KAPUT
According to MSNBC, another celebrity relation-
ship has hit the skids. A source in the Dallas Cowboys organiza-
tion confirms a National Enquirer report that quarterback Tony Romo has dumped former "American Idol" winner Carrie Underwood. But while the ''official'' explanation hints at the couple ''taking a breather'' so Romo can concentrate on the upcoming season, the station's source insists ''it's really over.''
Underwood is said to be devastated about the split -- especially since ''she thought things were moving in exactly the opposite direction,'' said the source.
Underwood's publicist, Jessie Schmidt, responded to the report in an e-mail Thursday. "We have no comment," he said.
The couple has made many public appearances together, including the Academy of Country Music Awards on May 15. Romo was also in the audience at the "American Idol" finale on May 23 as Underwood performed.
The magazine says Romo flew to Nashville to celebrate the singer's 24th birthday and she celebrated his 27th birthday at a Dallas nightclub.
Apparently this isn't the first time Romo has broken things off. According to the Enquirer, last season the QB said he needed to focus on football after they lost their playoff game. Underwood obliged by giving Romo some space, but not this time, the magazine says. This time she is upset.
"Carrie wants a firm commitment from Tony," the source said.
WORKING WARDROBE WITH JORDIN
The Canton Repository interviewed Louisville native and Idol wardrobe stylist Art Conn, whose job it was to take contestants Jordin Sparks, LaKisha Jones, Sanjaya Malakar and other "Idol" finalists shopping for their stage attire.
"I always liken [the show] to going to summer camp," said Conn. "You're in this experience with people for a short while, then everybody goes back to their normal lives. But for a brief moment in time, it's really interesting and life-changing."
Conn, 35, spoke fondly about 2007 "Idol" champion Jordin Sparks, 17, with whom he worked closely. "She's someone who knows what she likes when she sees it, which makes my job easier," he said. "She always had a lot of energy. Usually I have to pull these people along with me. I walk very quickly and I can scan a store in five seconds. But she was always two steps ahead of me."
Asked if Sparks was recognized while shopping for clothing at Los Angeles boutiques, Conn said, "We always try to keep them a bit incognito, but she's a 5-foot-10 girl with big curly hair. You can't really hide her too much!"
Was dressing full-figured LaKisha Jones for the stage a challenge? "I don't think she herself is a challenge," Conn said. "The challenge is the fashion industry doesn't make clothes that are really great for someone who is her size. After size 12, the clothes become really weird, and the shapes are not stylish and funky anymore. It becomes old lady clothes. We had a lot of stuff made for LaKisha. We worked with the designer Tadashi."
Sanjaya Malakar? "The last thing I said to him when he left was, 'You are the bravest 17-year-old boy I have ever met,' " Conn recalled. "He took everything with such a great sense of humor. He's going to be one of the most-remembered 'Idol' contestants ever."
According to Conn, the finalists get to keep 99 percent of the clothing they wear onstage.
At this year's star-studded "Idol" finale, Conn was reunited with 2005 "Idol" winner and current superstar recording artist Carrie Underwood. "We have a lot of laughs," Conn said about Underwood. "She remembers shopping with me and how much she hated shopping in general. Now, of course, she looks amazing."
On last season's "Idol," Conn worked closely with champion Taylor Hicks and first runner-up Katharine McPhee. "It's great to see people you met two seasons ago who didn't know much about clothing at all, and now they are all about fashion and style."
PAULA LOOPY AGAIN?
The New York Post says that Paula Abdul 's behavior seems to be getting wackier by the day. First the paper reported that the "American Idol" judge had lied to fans about how she had broke her nose, saying that she had not tripped over her dog, but had actually pitched a fit, threw something into a mirror or glass object, and a shard of glass struck her in the face, which explained why Paula's nose didn't seem swollen. A rep for Abdul termed the account "absolutely, categorically untrue."
Now the paper says that at the recent Fragrance Foundation 2007 FiFi Awards, the "American Idol" judge was slotted to open the evening -- but she arrived 30 minutes late, and a spy told Page Six she "was so completely out of it" when she finally showed.
"They had to delay the show for her to get there, and it was almost impossible to understand her . . . her eyes were half open," the source said. "She had to have two guys help her to her seat after she left the stage." (though she sounds pretty lucid in an ET.online video that was shot that night, watch video here located on right-hand side of page midway down.)
Her bizarre appearance came just hours before Page Six hit newsstands with the exclusive story of her embarrassing meltdown during a recent conference call. In that jaw-dropping diatribe, she trashed her former publicist, Howard Bragman, ranting, "I don't understand how this man can call me a whining bitch. I've never in my life been called a whining bitch and a loser."
She also wailed on the tape: "I've never been treated this way and I've never seen anybody treated this way. This is just too much to stomach."
In recent interviews, Abdul, who says she doesn't drink, explained she's been on painkillers for years from injuries to four vertebrae in her neck that required 14 surgeries.
Abdul has also denied she is suffering from Addison's, despite discussing the adrenal disease on the leaked conference call with her management. In a tape obtained by the New York Post, Abdul outlines her health problems and talks about Addison's disease, a disorder that causes irritability, chronic fatigue and muscle weakness. However, the 44-year-old insists she is just exceptionally tired.
And in even more evidence of Abdul's strange behavior of late, TMZ.com says it has learned that it was Paula Abdul who told her publicist not to show up to a taping of "The Jimmy Kimmel Show."
An audiotape obtained by the New York Post's reportedly has a sobbing Paula claiming uber-publicist Howard Bragman was a no-show at the May 15 taping. TMZ is told that's so not true. The Web site says it has learned that Bragman was on the way to the Kimmel studio when Paula's assistant called and told him that she didn't WANT him to come to the taping. Bragman said OK, and followed instructions.
Forty-five minutes to an hour later, Paula's assistant called Howard, asking where he was! Howard essentially told the assistant -- uh, hello? You just called me and said she didn't want me there. The assistant responded "Well, you know how Paula is." Howard said, "Yes I do, and I'm not a yo-yo and I'm not a puppet." And that was that.
TMZ contacted Howard Bragman, who would not comment on our story. All he said was, "I'll stand by my reputation if she'll stand by hers." A rep for Paula did not immediately return our call for comment.
Abdul also told OK! Magazine that she’s cut back the meds that she takes for severe neck pain that resulted from a 1987 car crash and a later 1993 plane crash: "I inject myself with a shot of Humira every two weeks. ... I also use Enbrel and Relafen [an anti-inflammatory drug] and the painkiller Lidocaine. If I appear exhausted on television, it’s because I am! I have a lot of sleepless nights because I’m in so much pain. I was taking far more medication on earlier seasons, and nobody said anything."
PHILLIPPI SPARKS ON JORDIN AND SIMON
Excerpts from Sports Illustrated's interview Jordin Sparks' dad, with former New York Giants player Phillippi Sparks:
It used to be "Jordin Sparks, daughter of former NFL player Phillippi Sparks." Now it's "Phillippi Sparks, father of American Idol winner Jordin Sparks."
What you want as a dad is for your kids to outdo you, and that's what happened. Being Jordin Sparks' dad is going to last a lot longer than being Phillippi Sparks the football player.
Were you nervous at the finals?
Not really. I told her to look at it like a football season. I told her this is her Super Bowl. She said, "Dad, don't worry about it. I got it."
Did the cornerback in you want to drill Simon Cowell?
I love him, bro. It's a show, and I understood that. At the beginning we were interviewed by psychologists to make sure if someone said something to our daughter we wouldn't snap [laughs].
Your daughter said that Tony Dungy was her American Idol. Why?
More than anything, it was because of who he is as a man and his character, and the stuff that has affected him. He stayed the same as a good Christian man. I think that was how Jordin looked at. His character and how he fought through so much. That's what she loves him and I love him. He's an awesome man.
Was there anything in your football career that compares to this?
No. This is like 20 Super Bowls. You are talking about being the No. 1 most recognizable young lady in the world right now. I'm still dreaming.
Can you sing?
I sang from third grade to 12th grade. My mom had us in choir. I can hold a tune. Maybe that's where Jordin got her rhythm from [laughs].
You were in the audience when they announced she won. What's it's like to witness your child accomplish her dream?
I was overwhelmed. I was crying like a little baby. That's how overjoyed my wife and I, and her little brother [P.J.] were. We are a tight knit family and to see that moment, she had to work harder compared to the other contestants. She had to get up 4 or 5 every morning to do homework, and do stuff the none of the other contestants had to do. For her to pull through was remarkable.
When did you know Jordin could sing?
The age of 3. She was singing and talking in full sentences. She had a raspy voice like Mariah Carey so we called her Mariah.
Can your wife sing?
No, not a bit [laughs]. She cannot hold a note. But she's brilliant and she can play the piano.
What former teammates or former NFL players have you heard from?
Brian Saxton, Marcus Buckley, Rodney Hampton, Jeremy Lincoln. Darren Woodsen called me and I saw Ray Buchanan in L.A.
In the early rounds, you watched Idol sporadically. Why?
Because I knew there was a bigger picture to what she was going. I knew what was going on. I would give her my advice and text her but we have a son who is 15 named P.J. and so my wife was with Jordin and I had my son.
Does he play sports or sing?
He is phenomenal football player and basketball player. This dude is an academic All-America. I had the opportunity to coach at Arizona State when Dirk Koetter was there. Koetter came up to me and put his arm around my son and said, Oh, we have another Devil here. My son looked at him and said, Only if Miami doesn't want me [laughs].
You've been coaching football [defensive backs] at Glendale Community College?
I was there but I am going to try to coach at Boulder Creek, which is a new high school near me.
She's mentioned Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Leandro Barbosa and Shawn Marion as her favorite athletes. She digs sports?
Listen, we used to take Jordin to the Devils, the Nets and Broadway plays when we were in New Jersey. She opened up the Cardinals Stadium in 2006 by singing the national anthem. I'm telling you from East Coast to West Coast, it was the most remarkable anthem people have ever heard.
So is she going to play the Super Bowl one day?
I already have people from the Super Bowl talking to me. But I'm not going to say anything [laughs]. Oops.
What will Jordin do next?
She is still doing high school. She's home schooled, doing it on the computer. She's very smart. There will also be a American Idol Tour.
Do you miss football?
Every day I miss it. I actually think I can play but everyone thinks they can still play. I miss it every day but I know there is a point in time where you have to let go. If I made a comeback they would probably laugh so I know one thing for sure: I cannot hold guys that are 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds and run a 4.3. That's for sure.
Who was the best guy who ever went up against?
I thought Terry Glenn and Marvin Harrison were beasts. Did I hold my own? Let's just say partly cloudy but fair (laughs).
How much do you worry about the pressure on Jordin regarding things like her looks or weight or what people perceive an American Idol winner should look like?
What is really cool is that Jordin does not care. She does not how people look at her. That was she is so special at 17. If she cared about that, she would have listened to the critics. She is a full-time model for Torrid Modeling [a fashion brand which empowers plus size young women] and that was a blessing.
What's it like when the dream actually comes true?
It's been something she has been working at for a mighty long time in her own eyes. Ever since she went to junior American Idol when she was 14, she told Randy Jackson that she would come back and win American Idol. And it actually happened.
LAKISHA TO BE HONORED IN MICHIGAN
The Associated Press reports that Flint, Mich., native LaKisha Jones will be honored June 11th at the state Capitol in Lansing. Gov. Jennifer Granholm will deliver remarks during the event. Jones will also perform, along with the youth choir from her Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church.
The 27-year-old bank clerk became a fixture on "American Idol." She made the semifinals and remained on the show until May 9th. Despite that setback, Jones' star continues to rise back home. Flint has designated June 9th as "LaKisha Day" when she will be the guest of honor at a homecoming rally at 5 p.m. June 9 at the historic stadium at 701 W. Third Ave. in Flint's Carriage Town district.
The event will be free to the public and will include speeches and performances by various entertainers, including Jones, who says she'll sing "one or two selections from the show."
"I'm looking forward to coming back on the 9th and having a good time," she said by phone from Houston, where she lived for six years and was the guest of honor at a similar rally (watch video here ).
"I'll get to say hello to everybody, get some autographs signed and let the city know how much I appreciate them."
Most of the details of the city-sponsored event are still being worked out by a five-member committee headed by Flint City Attorney Trachelle Young, who organized weekly viewing "American Idol" parties at City Hall while Jones was on the show.
Jones said she has to return to Los Angeles on June 12 for rehearsals for the "American Idols Live" tour.
JORDIN HAS PRE-THANKSGIVING CD DEADLINE
With the sixth season of "American Idol" over, according to MTV, newly crowned champ Jordin Sparks now faces a struggle of a different sort: trying to stay sane.
"This is so intense. It's crazy," she laughed. "I haven't been home yet since I won. I was in L.A. and then New York, and now I'll finally get to go home and spend some time with my friends. I hope."
Such is life for the "Idol" princess. Since taking home the title last week, Sparks has been on a seemingly endless parade of interviews and promotional appearances. And it doesn't look like things will be slowing down anytime soon — quite the opposite, in fact. The show's summer tour kicks off July 6, and Sparks already has a deadline for her debut album. That means it's never too early to begin soliciting for collaborators, a list Sparks says includes a couple of crooners popular with the under-17 set.
"I'd love to do a duet with Mario or Chris Brown ... but let's see what happens," she said. "I have a lot of work ahead of me. I have a deadline [for my album] already. It should be out before Thanksgiving. And I'm going to be doing the tour and trying to find songs at the same time. And then after the tour, it's gonna be record, record, record, write, write, write."
And just what will Sparks' yet-untitled debut sound like? Well, according to her, a lot like ... pretty much everything.
"I can't really describe what I want it to sound like. I'm a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll, a little bit pop, a little bit R&B," she said. "I listen to Nat King Cole and Patsy Cline and Bon Jovi and Heart and 'NSYNC and Britney and Christina and Justin Timberlake too. I want to mix it all together. I hope people like it. On the show, [you had to be] versatile. You had to do everything and twist it around and make it your own. So I'm used to being like that."
And while the pressure will undoubtedly be on Sparks to perform on par with former "Idol" champs, she said she's actually more worried about living up to another set of expectations: those of her young fans.
"The other day, I walked outside, and there were these two little girls out there, and they said, 'Jordin, you're my inspiration! I want to be like you!,' and it was so amazing," she said. "I get emotional about it, because I remember being a little girl and looking up to people. And now little girls are looking up to me, and I love it.
"Being a teenager is hard — I mean, you look at magazines, and it's in your face all the time — 'you've got to lose weight or change or you'll never make it' — and I want to change all that," she continued. "I want to break the mold and be somebody girls look up to. I'm not much of a partyer — I don't drink or anything like that — so I don't think you'll catch me out at all those types of things. I'm comfortable with who I am, and I don't want to change. I love being me. I was happy before 'Idol,' and I'll be happy after."
JARED AND ANTONELLA AT CHARITY EVENT
The New Jersey Courier News reports that "American Idol" semi-finalists and New Jersey residents Jared Cotter and Antonella Barba will help kick off the Somerset Hills Relay For Life, an annual event that raises money for the American Cancer Society, at 6 p.m. on June 8. Both will be available for meet-and-greets following the opening ceremonies.
For the entire evening, volunteers will walk around the lake to symbolize that cancer never sleeps. Over the last four years, the event has raised more than $600,000 to fight cancer.
For more information on the relay or how to get involved, call 908-953-9644.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post xreports that Barba is headed back to school in D.C. The Catholic University architecture student says she'll return this summer to make up the classes she missed while competing on the show, in hopes of graduating with her friends next spring.
Asked what she would do if show biz opportunities arise, she said, "If I want to do music, I'll have to pursue it," she said hesitantly. "Wouldn't it be great if I could do both?"
New Jersey native Barba, 21, was an early breakout star this season. A coltish beauty with a jazzy vibe, she briefly became the most Googled girl in the universe. So of course someone leaked boudoir photos to the Internet; later some XXX-rated photos emerged, though friends denied the woman in them was Barba. When some "pitchy" notes just barely kept her from the top 12, Barba vanished: "I just wanted to stay out of the public eye a bit." While other "Idol" evictees jumped at any fame-extending invitation, Barba says she didn't return a phone call for two months.
"You have to wait for what's right," she said. "You can't take the first thing."
If she had to do it all over again, would she? "Um . . . I don't regret going on 'American Idol.' I'm thankful for the opportunities. . . . Even if you've made right or wrong decisions, you can't regret them, because you've learned from them. Everything happens for a reason. I'd like to know what it is, though."
So, she's coming back for summer classes . . . and definitely for the fall? "Probably!" she said. "It's a question mark."
e-mail Idol Addict