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Hilary Duff's Intimacy Issue: Stage Fright In Reverse
Hilary Duff claims to suffer from a kind of reverse stage fright: She has no problem performing in front of thousands of people, yet she can't deal with one-on-one situations, especially those that involve songwriting.

"It's so funny. I have friends, and even a sister, who can write a song and then go, 'Mom, I wrote a song,' or 'Hilary, listen to this,' " she said. "I don't know how they can do that. I could never write a full song and let people hear it."
Duff's intimacy issue extends to her stage shows. She prefers large, anonymous crowds — the bigger, the better. "It's easier to play a big show than something more intimate," she said. "There's something more comforting about seeing a whole sea of people with glow sticks going crazy than being able to identify people I know out of a crowd of 200" (see "Hilary Duff Launches Tour Amid Sea Of Glow Sticks, In (Gasp!) Only One Outfit").

Duff said she has no problem talking to people she knows, and she's become accustomed to dealing with fans. "But put me in a situation with people my age who I don't know ..." She stopped, as though the prospect were too horrifying to contemplate. She insists she's fine around friends, however. "I am friendly," she said. "I love to talk and tell stories and be loud and goof off." She just doesn't let everyone see that side of her immediately, which makes it hard for her to open up as a songwriter.

"People criticize you so much, and writing about your feelings, what's going on with you, is such a personal thing," she said. "But it's much easier to write it down than to sit and talk about it."

Strangely, Duff's less shy when it comes to writing a song with someone she doesn't know. Even though she just recorded three new songs with boyfriend Joel Madden from Good Charlotte for Most Wanted, her best-of album due out August 16, she worries that "just going into the studio and recording with people you're close to and who care about you" could "mess up" the process. "For the first single, I would only let [Joel's twin brother] Benji be in the room," she said. "He's a really funny guy. He's so nice and makes you feel comfortable. He makes me laugh," she said, describing how he would mock her fear of criticism by shouting, "That sucked. Do it again!" (see "Cheaper By The Duo? Hilary Duff Teams Up With Madden Brothers For New LP").

While she's a long way away from conquering her shyness, Duff considers herself a more confident performer today than when she started, and she gives her fans credit for boosting her self-esteem. "To play to 12,000 people every single night — and all these people came for you?" she asked rhetorically. "They wait in the freezing cold just to wave goodbye to the tour bus. So why not go out there and give them the best of you?"
'Idol' Auditions Kicking Into High Gear With 50 More Cities
Fremantle Media, one of the production companies behind the show, is developing an earlier, optional round to the current auditioning format that will widen the scope to 50 cities and give some 20,000 more singers a shot.

The Idol Auditions Tour, as it will be known, will have judges auditioning the first 500 people (who meet the requirements, of course) to arrive at malls and other locations in cites around the world. The best of those potential contestants will then perform in front of an audience in that city for the opportunity to be fast-tracked through the normal stadium auditions, which see hundreds of thousands of singers in only six to eight cities.

"We came up with the idea for this tour when we learned that one contestant sold her wedding ring to make the trip to audition for 'American Idol,' " Ken Seiff, who is co-producing the tour with his Glowcast Ventures, said in a statement. "We realized that there were probably other contestants who couldn't afford to travel or take time off from work in order to try out for the show. The newest 'American Idol,' Carrie Underwood, had to travel over seven hours to make the trip. We're excited to bring the auditions to the local level because it ensures that the best 'Idol' is found."

Cities and dates for the Idol Auditions Tour have yet to be announced, but it will launch next August, in time for season six of "American Idol."

As for the fifth season, dates have not been announced, but auditions will be held later this summer in Austin, Texas; Boston; Chicago; Denver; Memphis, Tennessee; and San Diego.

"Idol" insiders are expecting a wider range of potential contestants after country and Southern-rock singers (Carrie Underwood and Bo Bice, for those living under a rock) went to the finals last season.

"I think you'll have a lot more people who wouldn't have necessarily entered this competition saying, 'I think I'll give it a go,' " Simon Cowell said. "I think Fantasia started it."

Second season finalist Kimberly Caldwell, who covers the show for the TV Guide Channel, also thinks the tweaks to the show will draw more diverse singers to audition.

"They're allowing new things, songs they couldn't sing a few years ago, [and] contestants can be more interactive," she said. "Doors are opening, but they have to at this point. It gets too routine, and they have to keep their audience excited."
Michael Jackson Hit With $48 Million Suit By Financial Firm
Less than a month after his exoneration by California jurors on multiple child-molestation charges, it seems there's more legal wrangling in store for Neverland's monarch.

On Monday, Prescient Acquisition Group, Inc., a New Jersey-based financial advisory firm, slapped Michael Jackson with a breach-of-contract lawsuit, claiming the pop star owes the company millions for various financial services it has provided since November. According to New York Newsday, the suit, which was filed in Manhattan federal court, demands immediate payment of $48 million — for the costs associated with securing Jackson a much-needed loan.

Prescient's suit claims it lined up several investors to help him pay off his $272.5 million debt to Bank of America. In addition, the suit asserts Prescient helped the singer acquire complete control of Jackson's MJ Publishing Trust, which owns and manages copyrights to thousands of songs, including 251 compositions penned by the Beatles, Newsday reports.

Prescient lawyer Steven Altman told the daily that in April, Jackson's stake in MJ Publishing Trust was threatened when Bank of America found the singer in default on portions of his loans with them. Jackson' publishing company, along with his half of the Beatles catalog (the other half is owned by Sony/ATV Music Publishing), was offered as collateral on some of his loans.

The suit further alleges that Prescient helped secure another $256 million for Jackson, which he had hoped to use in a bid to acquire Sony/ATV Music's piece of the Beatles pie.

"The reality is we have helped Michael Jackson acquire a magnificent asset and he'll be able to fund his exotic lifestyle for the rest of his life," Altman told Newsday. "He was in desperate straits before [investors] came in and paid off Bank of America. We just want to get paid."

Jackson's attorney could not be reached for comment on the suit.
Bush's Approval Rating Down, Concern Over Iraq Rising, Poll Shows
More Americans are doubting the president's word, and Iraq has replaced the U.S. economy as their top priority, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released on Wednesday.

The poll showed that the number of Americans who see President Bush as "honest and straightforward" dipped to 41 percent — an all-time low for his presidency — down 9 points from 50 percent in January. As for those who "doubt his veracity," that number climbed from 36 percent to 45 percent, NBC News reports.

Another new development showed that Iraq has surpassed jobs as the most important issue among Americans, topping the list at 40 percent, while 34 percent ranked the job market as their prime concern. In January, respondents ranked job creation at 46 percent, versus 39 percent for Iraq.

Also, 57 percent of those polled agree with the president in keeping U.S. troops and economic commitment in Iraq until the country can govern itself, and 61 percent agree with Bush's assertion that the war in Iraq is part of the larger war against terror (see "Bush Insists Iraq War Is 'Worth It' In Sober Speech").

In light of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor stepping down from the bench (see "Sandra Day O'Connor, First Woman Supreme Court Justice, Announces Retirement"), the majority said it would be a positive move for Bush to appoint another female to the court (60 percent), and someone who supports references to God in public life (63 percent). However, 50 percent believe the president would be making a misstep if he chose someone who would vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the landmark case that legalized abortion in 1973.

Overall, President Bush suffered a decline in his approval rating, sliding one point from May to 45 percent, despite his involvement at the G8 Summit earlier this month where the leaders pledged $50 billion toward African aid (see "G8 Leaders Double African Aid To $50 Billion"). His disapproval rating went up by two points, hitting nearly half, at 49 percent. Most Americans surveyed also said they disapprove of how he is handling the economy, foreign policy and Iraq.

The poll also indicated that 45 percent of its respondents would like to see Republicans lose control of Congress in the 2006 elections.
Eve Dresses Up As Showgirl For Ad, Bumps LP To Early 2006
Even before a video clip of Eve and her ex-boyfriend having sexual relations mysteriously popped up on the Internet a couple of weeks ago, the multimedia heroine has had to deal with plenty of pressure. The Philly native's been questioned for years about when her next LP is coming, she has to make sure her self-titled TV show improves every year, and she's been bombarded with endorsement and acting offers.

So how does she keep from running off and sticking her head in the sand?

"You have to believe in yourself," Eve said last month in L.A. "Even on your worst days, even on those days when nobody is feeling you, you have to believe in yourself. For me, I just walk the path. I believe everybody has their path. You feel it. Pray. Pray a lot. God is always on your side ... it will all work out."

Eve was in L.A. working on the second hip-hop heavy commercial by Boost Mobile. In the new TV campaign, which will also feature Fat Joe, Eve had to dress up as a ballet dancer as well as a '20s showgirl.

"When I was asked to do this commercial, I was excited because of the first commercial," Eve said. "The pressure is on because you have to top the first one or at least be a good as the first one. I think it will because this is also original. I get offered a lot of different things. I don't want to do anything for money. I don't want to do anything that's not gonna push me or challenge me."

Eve also said she loved having the chance to be put in the spotlight with an old friend.

"One thing I can say about Joe is that I've known him for a while since I been in the game," she said. "He's a cool person, he's a sweetheart. His wife, his whole team ... Everybody I ever met that's down with him is real cool. He supported me on my first video, 'What Y'all Want,' he came down on the strength on Ruff Ryders. That's something I'll never forget."

Lately Eve has been getting support from Dr. Dre. Her debut on Dre's Aftermath label is still being recorded with the likes of the Doc, Scott Storch and Swizz Beatz and is slated for February of next year (see "With Tracks From Eve, Nas, Mary J. On Tap, Swizz Beatz Is Hotter Than Ever"). Her sitcom, "Eve," is slated to return to TV this fall, and the Boost Mobile commercial begins airing August 2.
'Did He Just Call My Name?' — Carrie On Her Big Win
Carrie Underwood, who once famously confused Hollywood stars with stars in the sky, became a star herself Wednesday, winning the fourth season of "American Idol." The 22-year-old farm girl from Checotah, Oklahoma, relied on her powerful voice and (in Simon Cowell's words) "likeability" to edge out rocker Bo Bice, becoming the first country singer to take the crown.(see "Carrie Underwood Wins 'American Idol' ").

The following are excerpts from the press room after Wednesday's finale.

Q: What were your first thoughts after Ryan Seacrest called your name?

Carrie Underwood: "Did he just call my name?" It took me a while to realize he actually did just call my name. Then I was like, "Oh, I have to sing now." There's so many emotions going through me. I was nervous, I was excited. I was scared. It's going to take a couple of weeks. It hasn't hit me at all.

(Click for photos from Wednesday's "American Idol" results show.)

Q: What did you and Bo say to each other on stage?

Underwood: Bo said, "Congratulations kid, you deserve it". And I said I love you. He's like my big brother. We've become so close and I can't think of a better person to be standing up there with me. I'm sure it was close.

Q: How does it feel to hear that 500 million votes were cast throughout the season?

Underwood: This season has been incredibly magical. There's been so many wonderful people. The top 12 was so different, there was something for everybody. That fact that many people voted makes me realize how many people are behind me.

Q: How did you choose your wardrobe tonight?

Underwood: I actually told [the stylists] I wanted to be Cinderella. "Whatever you do, I want to feel like a princess."

Q: Will you ever return to college?

Underwood: I really want to get my degree. I worked three-and-a-half years to get it. But I think I can finish with online classes.

Q: Do you plan to stick around Los Angeles?

Underwood: Oklahoma is where I want to end up. I didn't realize how much I loved it until I wasn't there anymore. The people are what make it. And it's right in the middle of the Bible Belt and church is really important to everyone's upbringing.

Q: What can we expect from your album?

Underwood: I'm definitely going to stick to country, maybe some crossover, like Shania and Faith Hill. That's where my heart is.
Nine Inch Nails Drop Out Of MTV Movie Awards Over Bush Dispute
Nine Inch Nails have dropped out of the 2005 MTV Movie Awards following a dispute over their plan to incorporate an image of George W. Bush into their performance of the song "The Hand That Feeds." Stepping in to fill the void are the Foo Fighters.

The announcement was made Thursday via a statement posted by Nails frontman Trent Reznor on NIN.com.

"Nine Inch Nails will not be performing at the MTV Movie Awards as previously announced. We were set to perform 'The Hand That Feeds' with an unmolested, straightforward image of George W. Bush as the backdrop," Reznor wrote. "Apparently, the image of our president is as offensive to MTV as it is to me. See you on tour this fall when we return to play in America."

MTV announced that the Foo Fighters would be taking NIN's spot on the show late Friday afternoon (May 27). Earlier in the day, in a brief statement, the channel expressed disappointment in Nine Inch Nails' decision to drop out of the broadcast.

"While we respect Nine Inch Nails' point of view, we were uncomfortable with their performance being built around a partisan political statement. When we discussed our discomfort with the band, their choice was to unfortunately pull out of the Movie Awards."

Nine Inch Nails' label, Interscope Records, had no comment on the matter.
Sith' Smashes Opening-Day Box-Office Records
Fans gather outside a Hollywood theater for the opening night of "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith"  

"Judge me by my size, do you?" Jedi master Yoda once famously asked. "Size matters not."

The tiny green Dagobah dweller may want to rethink that statement after hearing about the enormous opening day that his final "Star Wars" adventure,

"Revenge of the Sith," enjoyed on Thursday. Sizing things up, studio 20th Century Fox has estimated that the film grossed $50 million domestically in its first 24 hours, easily passing the records for best opening day and best single day.

It is also estimated that the first shows after midnight took in $16.5 million by themselves, with some 2,900 screenings sold out. Theaters across the country hung "sold out" signs in their windows Thursday as fans vied to get into midnight screenings. Those gargantuan grosses put "Sith" into hyperspace, and it quickly blew past the single-day box-office record of $44.8 million, set a year ago by the second day of the "Shrek 2"opening weekend.

The film also got its revenge on "The Matrix Reloaded," which had held an opening-day record of $42.5 million set when it opened on a Thursday in 2003.

"This is a huge number," Exhibitor Relations President Paul Dergarabedian told Reuters. "I think the sky's the limit right now."

After a pair of logy prequels that had many fans and critics grumbling, the final episode in George Lucas' second trilogy of movies has gotten mostly positive reviews for its thrilling action sequences and elegant handling of the Darth Vader creation myth. And though advance ticket orders are still reportedly coming in at a torrid pace and costumed fans continue to line up across the country, some simply couldn't wait. News broke Thursday that a DVD-quality print of the movie had already been posted online hours before the midnight opening (see "Many 'Star Wars' Fans Skipping Lines, Downloading 'Sith' ").

But even with the pirated version floating in cyberspace, "Episode III - Revenge of the Sith," which had more than 2,900 midnight shows, doubled the midnight take of 2003's "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," which grossed around $8 million from 2,100 screenings.

The eventual first-day take for "The Return of the King" was $34.5 million, and it grossed $124 million in its opening weekend. The previous "Star Wars" sequel, "Attack of the Clones," grossed $30.1 million in its first day, with $6.2 million coming from midnight screenings.

With the "Attack of the Clones" box office in the past and solid reviews giving "Episode III" the strength of a thousand Wookies, George Lucas' final "Star Wars" film will aim to mow down the next batch of records as if they were unsuspecting Jedi. Coming up is the "Reloaded" record for the biggest four-day domestic opening, which currently stands at $134.3 million. Will the Force be with "Star Wars" once again? At this point, not even Jabba the Hutt would bet against it.
'American Idol' Recap: It Will Take A Miracle To Beat Bo Bice
It seems everyone has something to say about "American Idol," and MTVNews.com is no different. Here's the latest edition of our weekly performance-night roundup:

Surprise performance: Someone needed to step up with this season's answer to Fantasia's show-stopping "Summertime," and Bo did just that — but topped it tenfold with his goosebumps-inducing a capella rendition of Badlands' "In a Dream."

Fashion hits and misses: Mirroring the music, it was a night of hits, with each exemplifying their image. Vonzell was fun. Bo was cool. And Carrie was cute.

Judging the judges: Simon delivered one of his best lines of the season after "In a Dream": "You may have just put 34 musicians out of work." Does Randy know that Arsenio Hall actually started the Dawg Pound? Paula seemed back to normal. Clive Davis reminded us how boring guest judges are, but at least he criticized Vonzell — even if it was for the wrong song. The judges were unanimous about Bo making it to the finale, an easy pick, but seemed partial to Carrie.

Best audience sign: "Bo Is Pure Southern Comfort."

Who will go: Carrie failed to step it up, but she's been a favorite for so long, she'll edge out Vonzell.

Who needs to step it up: Carrie would be lucky to be in the finale. To beat Bo, she's going to need a miracle.

Who is the one to beat: Bo not only gave the performance of the season, he gave arguably the second and third best, and all of the songs were completely different. He's got versatility, personality and on top of that, he seems genuinely humble
Topher Grace Joins Cast Of 'Spider-Man 3' ... But As Who?
Marvel Studios Chairman/ CEO Avi Arad announced Thursday (May 19) that Topher Grace is joining the cast of the upcoming blockbuster "Spider-Man 3." Scheduled for release on May 4, 2007, the third movie in the "Spider-Man" saga will unite the "In Good Company" star with previously announced participants Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco and Thomas Haden Church.

"First we had Tom, [now] we have a very interesting guy joining the cast," said a smiling Arad at MTV's West Coast headquarters. "His name is Topher."

Arad said the presence of Grace — whose role is not yet known — will continue a Marvel movie tradition of casting actors who might not immediately come to mind to portray comic book characters. "That's the fun in this universe. We have a good rule about this: There is no against type. You find someone who brings the role of the individual, not the costumed individual, to life. Before we put Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man, if you had said Peter Parker ... if you just did a [survey], I don't think you would have heard too many Tobey Maguires coming to mind."

While Arad and Marvel continue to refuse comment on which characters Grace and Church will play, the 57-year-old Arad did hint that Grace had been cast contrary to the typical nice-guy roles that have made him a household name. "That's a good question," is all he'd say when asked for the identity of Grace's alter ego. "Just before I came here, we were all on the phone with [other Marvel executives] and I said to them, 'Are you nuts? We can't tell anybody who he is. This is all the fun. The fun is figuring out.'

"That's how you have to look at it," Arad said about keeping the fans waiting. "Topher, we believe, is joining the ranks of the incredible actors."

With Church, Arad remains similarly tight-lipped, side-stepping fan rumors that the Oscar-nominated "Sideways" star will take on the villainous role of Sandman. "I don't know," he smiled. "[Church is] all confused, you know, these Texans. Yes, of course he [knows who he's playing]. You know what? The movie is 2007; to be straight about it, it's taking all the fun away. I just love the fact that there are such guessing games going on."

In a statement from Marvel, series director Sam Raimi expressed similar enthusiasm for the casting news. "I couldn't be more excited about the direction we are taking the continuing adventures of Peter Parker. Topher Grace is an extraordinarily talented actor and will be perfect for the complexities of the role we are developing."

While discussing the film, Arad also dismissed rumors that the next two "Spider-Man" movies will be filmed simultaneously, following the cost-cutting formulas of the "Matrix" or "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequels. "Not true," he insisted. "No, it doesn't make sense ... I don't believe it. I don't believe you really save money. What you do, in essence, is you ensure that you book your stars for long enough."

Still, he said excitedly, Peter Parker's next adventure will be the most ambitious one yet. " 'Spider-Man 3' has to be bigger than '1' and '2,' " Arad said, "So storywise it's already bigger, the characters in it are already bigger ... it will already be a handful to [complete it by] May 2007."

More than $1.5 billion worldwide has been taken in by the "Spider-Man" film franchise with its first two installments. "Spider-Man 3," which will be working off a script penned by second-installment writer Alvin Sargent, begins filming early next year.
Justin Timberlake Signs On For 'Will & Grace' Role 
Neil Sean of Sky News reports that Justin Timberlake has signed on to star in three episodes of 'Will & Grace' as the gay boyfriend of Sean Hayes' character Jack. A source said, "He loved the fact he was playing against type and still proved a big hit. He was thrilled to be asked back." Sean added that the *NSYNC star's next solo album will be released in November