- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2004

Birth pangs

Maia Morgenstern, the face of Mary in Mel Gibson’s box-office barnstormer “The Passion of the Christ,” breathed a sigh of relief last week as the film finally hit theaters.

“It’s a moment of birth after a long time of waiting. The film is out now; people can see it,” Miss Morgenstern said over the phone from New York.

See it people did, too: Despite, or because of, the controversy surrounding it, “The Passion” took in $125.1 million since opening last Wednesday, unprecedented for a February release.

As a Romanian Jew, Miss Morgenstern has tried lately to stave off charges that “The Passion” is anti-Semitic. “I’m a little bit sad. I understood the reaction was before people saw the film,” she said. “It was more or less a question of prejudging something.”

No matter what one’s religion is, Miss Morgenstern insisted, the movie was meant to speak to everyone: “It’s universal. Motherhood is universal; love between mother and child is universal. It doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish, Palestinian, Egyptian or American.”

Chasez’s 2 cents

Coming out from the shadows of Justin Timberlake, gone-solo ‘N Sync singer J.C. Chasez decried the state of high alert over decency standards on TV and radio.

“I think it’s hilarious that things are the way they are,” Mr. Chasez says in the current issue of Newsweek magazine. “We’re about to elect the leader of our country. We don’t have enough money for schools, we’re at war, and we’re worried about this?”

All’s Phair for Liz

She’s had her share of critical knocks, but Liz Phair remains upbeat.

“I’m always the type of person that is wary to say, ‘We did it,’ but we certainly did accomplish a lot with this record. I kind of knew we would,” the singer told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Once a darling of indie rock, Miss Phair went mainstream last year with her self-titled album, partially produced by the Matrix, the trio behind teen-pop singer Avril Lavigne’s success.

“Liz Phair” was buoyed by the hit single “Why Can’t I?” but drew mostly negative, sometimes hostile reviews. The New York Times called it “an embarrassing form of career suicide.”

“When I’m at the gym and I hear my song come on and people are bopping around to it, I know what it means,” Miss Phair said. “I get it. And I take great pleasure in that.

“Whether they know it or not, they’ve been infiltrated by a thinking, complicated human being. If you buy the record based on the single, I’m going to hit you with some complicated issues.”

Miss Phair returns to the 9:30 Club April 4.

Standing up for ‘Idol’

To all the “American Idol” naysayers in the music biz, Clay Aiken has this to say: People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

“I think if anybody had been offered two, three years ago to take a shortcut, they all would’ve taken it,” Mr. Aiken told The Washington Times. “We worked just as hard. We happened to do it on TV. Any artists who have a problem with it would’ve done the same thing if they had the chance.”

Mr. Aiken and Kelly Clarkson, the “Idol” contestant who won in 2002, the show’s first year, will play a double bill Friday night at MCI Center. He says there’s no rivalry between himself and Miss Clarkson and that the two get along peachily on tour.

“It’s a very quiet, tame tour bus,” he said of their traveling caravan.

As for the current crop of wannabe “Idols,” Mr. Aiken says Jennifer Hudson is his favorite, but “I gotta root for Fantasia [Barrino] and Charly [Lowry], ‘cause they’re from my home state.

“I told them both that neither of them can come in higher than third place because I’ve gotta be the most famous person from North Carolina,” he added.

Take that, Michael Jordan.

Compiled by Scott Galupo from staff, wire and Web reports.

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