Monday, July 4, 2011

Essence Music Festival kicks off

NEW ORLEANS --- From harmonious Boyz at the beginning to heavenly Jennifer Hudson in prime time to hot and heavy Usher in the midnight hour, the 17th Essence Music Festival rocked the Super Dome with six decades worth of prime R&B and urban pop. Friday night's kick-off to the three-day run drew a dressed-to-the-nines crowd that paid as much as $125 to hear 15 acts in four intimate "super lounges'' and on the vast main stage. Gospel- and soul-inflected sounds from the 1960s, via Irma Thomas and Mavis Staples, mingled with the tough contemporary R&B of Fantasia, the older-school approach of Charlie Wilson and the hard-edge funk of the local Soul Rebels Brass Band. USA TODAY's Jerry Shriver surveyed the scene from the steamy Big Easy.

  • Usher performs at the 2011 Essence Music Festival in New Orleans.

    Gerald Herbert, AP

    Usher performs at the 2011 Essence Music Festival in New Orleans.

Gerald Herbert, AP

Usher performs at the 2011 Essence Music Festival in New Orleans.

Sweet start: Opening the festival in the 6:45 p.m. main stage slot is a daunting task - the Super Dome is vast, the crowds are slow to arrive, and when they do they're picky. But Boyz II Men gamely met the challenge and thrilled their loyalists with an upbeat greatest-hits set. The trio, with two decades of their career and some 60 million in album sales behind them, are dressing middle-aged these days -- gray sweater vest over a tie and white shirt - but their vocal harmonizing still sounded relatively youthful on hits such as On Bended Knee, I'll Make Love To You and A Song for Mama. At one point, Wanya Morris commented that "there must be some Boyz II Men babies in the house,'' noting that while they were recording two decades ago, future parents were otherwise occupied. A wistful End of the Road drove home the point.

Hard charger: American Idol season three winner Fantasia will portray New Orleans' famed gospel pioneer Mahalia Jackson in a biopic later this year, but for her dynamic set she seemed to draw her inspiration more from Tina Turner and James Brown. Hers is not the prettiest of voices, and she's not an all-star dancer. But she projects strength, fierce energy and confidence as she drives home her songs. And she knows how to vary the pace to keep an audience's attention: Upbeat opening number It's All Good gave way to the old-school sounding recent single Collard Greens and Cornbread, and they were followed by a sexy take on Prince's Kiss and an intense, if truncated, version of Bob Marley's No Woman, No Cry. Her empowerment-themed I'm Doin' Me won the biggest ovation.

Soft engagement: Curiously, Jennifer Hudson, who appears to possess the most innate talent of any performer on the bill, had the most difficulty holding the audience's attention. Her voice is a thing of beauty, and she used it to fine effect on numbers such as Where You At? and Angel. But she sang against a neutral-colored curtain, her dancers wore mostly black and white outfits as they flitted in and out, a Weight Watchers plug seemed slightly out of place, and the progression of songs lacked cohesion. Given the lack of production values (especially compared to the Charlie Wilson and Usher extravaganzas that immediately followed), it took all Hudson had to hold the stage. A duet with fellow American Idol alum George Huff on the Jackson 5's I'll Be There and a poignant reading of her own I Remember Me helped immeasurably.

Good-time Charlie: For the third year in a row, former Gap Band leader Charlie Wilson showed that he is perhaps the best true song-and-dance man in R&B today. He may be a 58-year-old recovering crack addict and prostate cancer survivor, but when he half squats with his hands on his knees and does the slow grind with a wicked grin under his pastel-colored hat, hearts tend to melt. His shows are true productions: the energy never lags, the music hardly ever stops, the dancers move with precision and purpose and Charlie projects non-stop cool and satisfaction. Jazz-tinged funk and non-stop party jams like There Goes My Baby, You Dropped a Bomb on Me, Party Train and Charlie, Last Name Wilson kept the crowd on its feet throughout.

Space man: Usher played a well-received show in the city about six months ago but that didn't stop him from reprising many of the sci-fi trappings for the Essence crowd, many of whom come from outside the region. So jaws dropped once again as black curtains dropped from around an area in the center of the Super Dome, smoke billowed and Usher ascended on a crane-driven platform that bore him at least 25 feet above the crowd and slowly delivered him to the stage. Once that stunt was accomplished (he repeated it toward the end of the show during Burn) the sexy, silky singer treated the crowd to a feverish, stylish performance that mixed sci-fi imagery, upscale urban dreamscapes, smart choreography, and edgy but not raunchy sexual fantasies. His shirt came off at the end of Confessions Part II, but only briefly; at other times the wardrobe borrowed from Michael Jackson, Stanley Kowalski, Barry White and those guys in GQ every month. Though the backing music was bombastic at times, Usher's agile vocals held their own on burners such Love in This Club, Lil Freak, U Got It Bad and There Goes My Baby. And in a touching and novel gesture, he didn't sing during his tribute to Michael Jackson, who died two years ago on the eve of Essence. Instead, Usher showcased brilliant dance moves as the band played instrumental versions of Wanna Be Startin' Something, Rock with You and Billie Jean.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011


GUESS WHO was at this year’s Essence Music Festival, signing copies of their latest books? HINT: She was often seen as the personification of Black Beauty back in the 70s… It’s Bern Nadette Stanis, former cast member of the 1970′s … Continue


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Fabolous is showing just how much of a devoted father he is with his latest tattoo.  Instead of getting something he may regret, the Brooklyn native tatted an image that will last forever of his three-year-old son Johan. Famed tattoo artist Mister Cartoon provided him with the artwork. The picture…


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Week in Review: Kate & Wills Hit the Americas After Shia LaBeouf Admits to Hittin' Megan Fox

Happy 4th of July weekend!

But before you settle down for fireworks and BBQ, catch up on the sizzling stories of the past week?because there's nothing more all-American than exercising one's right to indulge in celebrity gossip.

Consider it your patriotic duty!

VOTE NOW: Watch With Kristin's 2011 Tater Top Awards are still yours for the deciding, so click away!

THEY'RE HE-ERE: A few days after enjoying the action at Wimbledon, Prince William and Kate Middleton arrived in Canada for the start of their North American sojourn. The Duchess of Cambridge (and 11th cousin to Jane Austen) switched out of her "casual" traveling togs for a camera-ready midnight-blue affair before they landed and, what do you know, looked pretty picture perfect. On Friday, on what would have been Princess Diana's 50th birthday (thanks, Newsweek, for pointing out the impossible), they made the rounds in honor of Canada Day. The dazzling duo will be in the Americas for 10 days, concluding their trip in Hollywood among the comparably less elite.

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE: Shia LaBeouf spilled the hookup beans in Details and is now feeling a little remorseful about admitting to an offscreen dalliance with Megan Fox while the pair were playing an onscreen item in Transformers. The "f--king idiot" (Harrison Ford's words, not ours!) and object of Selena Gomez's admiration blames his age?he's 25, which is rather old in Hollywood years?but we blame douchiness. And Fox, because she's so pretty, hence everything is her fault. (And Josh Duhamel wonders why poor Megan gets a bad rap...) Meanwhile, Shia called it a "blessing" that Megan wasn't in the third film, but box-office analysts have another word for it: "inconsequential."

BABY FACE: Newlywed Courtney Stodden is really 16, as proven by the birth certificate first obtained by E! News. But isn't it funny how she looks 25 and her 51-year-old hubby, Doug Hutchison, looks 19? And why isn't this illegal again?

SHE WON'T BE BACK: Two months after acknowledging that they were separated, Maria Shriver filed for divorce from Arnold Schwarzenegger after 25 years of marriage and one mindblowing admission that the action hero and ex-governor of California had fathered a son with the family's housekeeper?who only just left her post in January! The question wasn't if Maria would divorce her unfaithful hubby, but when.

PLAZA SWEET: Denise Richards adopted a baby girl and named her Eloise Joni Richards?Joni after her mom and Eloise in accordance with her daughters' input. Sam and Lola have stayed in the Eloise Suite at NYC's famous Plaza hotel with their mom?most notably when papa Charlie Sheen huffed and puffed and almost blew the house down while staying in a room down the hall.

MAMMA MIA: Salma Hayek's fashion-industry titan husband, Fran�ois-Henri Pinault, had a child with supermodel Linda Evangelista years ago. Actually, it was the same amount of years ago that he fathered his child with Hayek.

FREE: Lindsay Lohan completed her stint on house arrest and, after performing more community service at an L.A. women's shelter, headed off to Lexington Social House in Hollywood for supper with Emile Hirsch and other pals.

VOICE OF AMERICA: Seasoned singer Javier Colon won the premiere season of The Voice, which proved enough of a hit for NBC that it will be following the Super Bowl next year?with Christina Aguilera, Cee-Lo Green, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine all along for the season-two ride. Phew!

IN ON THE ACTION: Stephen Colbert, he being a wealthy individual in charge of his very own Nation, has been granted leave to form a Super PAC, which will enable him and his PACmen to raise unlimited campaign contributions for the candidates of their choice.�

TMI: Way to kick a man when he's dead, Mrs. Brady.

FATHER KNOWS BEST: Dannielynn met not be an oil heiress, but Anna Nicole Smith's daughter will always be a princess in dad Larry Birkhead's eyes.

ONGOING ISSUES: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, who's been in and out of rehab for alcoholism, fell off the wagon and ended up in a London hospital...Amber Portwood has admitted she needs help and is in rehab...Brooke Mueller has finished her latest stretch of rehab and is "doing amazingly well"...

SADNESS: Along with Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera mourns the loss of best friend and Jackass costar Ryan Dunn, telling E! News that word of Dunn's death was "the worst news" he's ever heard in his life.

CIVIC DUTY: Los Angeles police are looking to celebs who tweet to spread the word about the July 16-17 closure of the 405 Freeway, which is expected to majorly muck up not only traffic flow but also the Southland economy over that weekend. We are happy to report that every Kardashian kid, plus Kylie and Kendall Jenner, has done his or her part.

YES TO THE DRESS: Kim Kardashian appears to have chosen the designer of the most important couture she'll ever wear: She visited Vera Wang bridal boutiques in both NYC and West Hollywood this week. Nuff said, right?

WEDDING BELLS: Rachel Weisz and Daniel Craig got hitched without making a sound in NYC...Neil Patrick Harris celebrated New York's big news by getting engaged to longtime partner and partner in twin parenting David Burtka...Kate Moss swapped vows with The Kills frontman Jamie Hince in England's Cotswolds district...America Ferrera tied the knot with filmmaker Ryan Piers Williams...Julie Benz is engaged to businessman beau Rich Orosco...Marriage ain't for Charlize Theron...And, despite his recent plan, it's really not for Hugh Hefner, either.

BABY TALK: Tia Mowry welcomed a son, her first child, with hubby Cory Hardrict...Nick Cannon talks to E! News about life with Mariah Carey and twins Monroe (the adorably camera-shy one) and Moroccan...Victoria Beckham has no interest in baring her baby-toting belly (Obviously! She's been wearing nothing but black for eight months.)...Beyonc� is planning on motherhood at some point.

UNHITCHING POST: Scarlett Johansson and Ryan Reynolds are officially single entities...David Duchovny and Tea Leoni have separated for the second time in three years...Onetime Survivor player Jonny Fairplay and his America's Next Top Model also-ran wife Michelle Deighton have separated...Mel Gibson and almost-ex-wife Robyn have settled the terms of their at-times strangely supportive divorce.

FASHION SENSE: Heidi Klum spent an hour with Kim Kardashian and is expected to know everything about her, such as what the E! star is planning to wear on her big day...Check out Kelly Osbourne's Material GIrl ad campaign for Madonna and Lourdes Leon.

FINDINGS: "Macho Man" Randy Savage, who died in a May car wreck, was actually felled by coronary artery disease and suffered only cuts and bruises in the actual crash.

FAREWELL: Nick Charles, veteran CNN sports reporter, died of cancer at 64.

FEUDAL TIMES: Ashton Kutcher took issue with the Village Voice...Tim Daly isn't going to be first in line to see Man of Steel.

WHOOPS: Coming off his gay-slur standup scandal,Tracy Morgan took a wrong turn and ended up in Mocking-the-Disabled-Ville.

MUSICAL NOTES: Rihanna and Chris Brown's wires got crossed at the 2011 BET Awards...Lady Gaga unequivocally denies scamming Japanese earthquake victims...Watch Joe Jonas' "See No More" video right here!...Justin Timberlake has snatched up a stake in the recently sold MySpace, confident he can help return the secondary site to social-networking prominence as a destination for music lovers...Amy Winehouse has fallen prey to, well, lots of things really, but this week it was profane hackers...Here's "Rising," the first video from James Franco's musical collaboration with Kalup was one of 1,500 hotel guests and staffers safely evacuated from a London hotel after it caught fire...Just as "Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall," every Coldplay video is a bit of an event...Colbie Caillat filled us in on her "Brighter Than the Sun" video and life in general...Madonna still has a mission in Malawi...Eminem makes a statement by shooting himself in "Space Bound"...Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video jacket sells for $1.8 million at auction.

TV LAND: Eligible bachelors are dropping like flies on The Bachelorette...Chord Overstreet appears to be the odd man out on Glee...Jeff Probst is headed to CBS daytime...Jake Gyllenhaal tests his mettle on Man vs. Wild...Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson (now there's a surprise) will be back for American Idol's 11th season, but Jennifer Lopez has yet to sign up...Meet the Big Brother 13 newbies...Toddlers & Tiaras never fails to terrify...Behind the scenes at So You Think You Can Dance.

SCREEN PLAY: Newly tattooed Jennifer Aniston fills us in on how she got nasty for Horrible Bosses...Tom Hanks says Toy Story 4 is in the works...Oh, Wild Thing, we think we're starting to get you: Charlie Sheen admits to taking steroids to beef up for Major League...Sarah Palin attends Undefeated premiere in Iowa, slams the haters...Which Robsten costar isn't excited to see the big Breaking Dawn sex scene?...No egg, but there's definitely pie on Robert Pattinson's face in Cosmopolis...Daniel Radcliffe totally cried when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 wrapped...Michelle Yeoh was booted from Myanmar for trying to star in a politically themed film...Check out reviews of Larry Crowne, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Monte Carlo.

TEEN CHOICE: Guess what the Teen Choice Awards are smiling upon these days? It rhymes with "Shylight" and "Larry Kotter."

TRAILER PARK: Colin Firth and Tom Hardy make for appealing espionage in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy...Orlando Bloom travels light (as air) in The Three Musketeers...The task at hand is a dire one for Tom Cruise and Jeremy Renner in Mission: Impossible?Ghost Protocol...Henry Cavill isn't just Superman: He's also one of the Immortals...That's Kelly Macdonald you're hearing in Brave.

CAN'T MISS: We're livestreaming the red carpet premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 live from NYC, starting at 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT on July 11

LAW & DISORDER: Tobey Maguire says he lost enough at poker already...Dr. Conrad Murray takes some time before his criminal trial starts to respond to Joe Jackson's wrongful death suit...Dastardly David "Puck" Rainey from The Real World: San Francisco was busted for domestic violence...Newly declared Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann is no "American Girl" as far as Tom Petty's concerned...Brooke Mueller's going to be getting her child support straight from Charlie's former bosses at Warner Bros. to ensure that she gets paid, as other studios and networks aren't exactly lining up to be his new boss...Salon owner who abused Jennifer Aniston and Anne Hathaway's credit cards sentenced to probation...Paulina Rubio got collared after crashing.

SPREADS: The emphasis is on Gwyneth Paltrow's nudity, er, jewelry in Vanity Fair's next issue...Anna Paquin talks about all things sex (including bisexuality) in the "Transformations" issue of V...Emma Watson reveals in Seventeen that Draco Malfoy, aka Tom Felton, was her Harry Potter crush...Whirling dervish Anne Hathaway fronts Harper's Bazaar.

SURREAL ESTATE: Katy Perry and Russell Brand have plunked down $6.5 million for a spread in the Hollywood Hills...Regis Philbin is selling his perfectly lovely Greenwich, Conn., estate for $3.8 million...But you'll need $18 million to walk in Katharine Hepburn's hallowed footsteps on Long Island Sound...Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne have downsized to West Hollywood and therefore don't need $12.999 million worth of space in Hidden Hills.

SCENE & HEARD: Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez exchanging I-love-yous while shopping at A|X Armani Exchange in NYC...Pippa Middleton and (not Prince Harry, sorry) banker ex Alex Loudon looking friendly in her parents' box at Wimbledon...Angelina Jolie suited up for water sports at the Mediterraneo Bio Park in Malta...Johnny Depp jamming with Alice Cooper at the 100 Club in London...January Jones and Alyssa Milano heading to respective prenatal yoga classes...Beyonc� delighting young fans from the local Boys & Girls Club with a surprise meet-and-greet at a Target in East Harlem...And here's where the stars are going to be on the 4th!

GALLERY: Check out the week's biggest pictures right here


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PIC: Duchess Kate Stuns in 4-Inch Stilettos, Blue Dress in Quebec

2011-07-03 14:39:20

Lady Gaga rocked a two-toned 'do to celebrate a day in her honor in Taichung, Taiwan Sunday.

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PIC: Duchess Kate Stuns in 4-Inch Stilettos, Blue Dress in Quebec

Credit: Arthur Edwards-Pool/Getty Images

Sunday ? July 03, 2011 ? 3:05pm

Another day, another outfit change!

For Sunday's leg of her Canadian tour with husband Prince William, Kate Middleton dazzled in a cobalt blue lace detail "Jacquenta" dress by Canadian designer Erdem paired with four-inch nude platform stilettos. Finishing off the royal's weekend look? A mock-croc clutch bag and sapphire earrings.

PHOTOS: Get Kate's style for less

All dolled up, Middleton, 29, joined her husband, also 29, bright and early Sunday morning for a prayer service aboard the HMCS Montreal, where the couple spent the night.

During the 45-minute interdenominational service, prayers were said for the newlywed royals and for members of the Armed Forces. The couple even sang along in French to the hymn "Je Louerai L'Eternel" (Praise, I Will Praise You Lord).

PHOTOS: Kate and William take a cooking class

The prayer service wasn't William's only opportunity to practice his French. When the couple arrived at the Freedom of the City Ceremony, the Prince addressed his adoring public in their native language. "Thank you for your patience with my accent," he told attendees.

PHOTOS: Recap the royals' itinerary

Later on Sunday, Middleton was seen visiting La Maison Dauphine, a drop-in center for homeless youth, in Quebec. Next up for the royal couple is a visit to Forts-de-Levis, a fort built between 1865-1872 under the supervision of British military engineers.

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Chord Overstreet Dropped From Glee Cast

The Glee community is reeling from a major shakeup after the surprising news that Chord Overstreet, who plays Sam, is being dropped from the cast.

Meanwhile, fan faves Darren Criss and Harry Shum Jr. were promoted to regulars. That's great, but largely overshadowed by Overstreet's ouster.

Ashley Fink, who recurred on season two as Lauren, will return next year, although she has not received the same upgrade as Criss and Shrum.

Overstreet Pic

“well its been a good yr too bad its over, time for summer and starting fresh," Chord - who could still recur occasionally - Tweeted after the news.

It was not immediately clear why the Fox hit decided not to bring back the popular, 22-year-old actor as part of the third season's cast.

What do you think of this surprising news, Glee fans?


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