- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2004

Fun at Ford’s

Patti LaBelle made new friends Sunday night at Ford’s Theatre, glomming onto the three country singers of Rascal Flatts the moment she stepped offstage after her own searing vocal number for “An American Celebration,” a taped-for-TV benefit hosted for the third year by “Frasier” star Kelsey Grammer.

“I love their voices. They sound black,” the energetic R&B; diva said, proclaiming a plan to perform with them sometime in the future.

Also taking part in the night’s festivities were singer Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child, actor Gary Sinise and country music star Brad Paisley, who also visited war veterans at the District’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center over the weekend.

Warm and patriotic vibes set the tone for the event, which raised $1.4 million for the historic 10th Street building dubbed “the Lincoln Theatre” by President Bush in a slight flub during post-performance remarks before an audience heavy with government and corporate chieftains.

Among the night’s other notable moments:

• Actor-comedian David Spade poked gentle fun at the prez, saying of all the sport utility vehicles, it’s limos and motorcycles that follow in his motorcade: “No matter how many you have, Puff Daddy always has got you beat.”

• “Jessica Simpson is here, which means we finally have introduced reality TV to the Lincoln Theatre,” declared the gleeful commander in chief, referring to the pop singer who stars with her husband, Nick Lachey, in the MTV reality series “Newlyweds.”

Miss Simpson, at the ripe young age of 23, said she has performed three times for presidents: “I’m a president singer,” she said in trademark ditz-speak.

When questioned about juggling her singing, acting and TV-pitchwoman roles, the Texas-born blonde replied, “I’m going to keep it all going while I’m young.”

Next up for Miss Simpson is a variety special on ABC next month, a sitcom pilot — and, in between, a USO visit to Fort Hood, Texas, to “see those guys who captured Saddam Hussein.”

As for the emcee, Mr. Grammer, a Republican, said of the war in Iraq: “I don’t know if there was any other choice.”

Was he nervous when performing for the president?

“He’s not a nerve-wracking person,” Mr. Grammer said of Mr. Bush.

Ann Geracimos

Rush’s rant

Rush is against the free-trade deal recently inked by the United States and Australia.

Not Rush Limbaugh — Geoffrey Rush, the Oscar-winning actor.

He warned yesterday that the deal could spell trouble for his native Australia’s arts scene.

According to Associated Press, the deal requires changes to rules governing the amount of locally produced shows that must be broadcast on Australian television, prompting fears that local networks will buy more American series.

“The ability to look at ourselves and create art about ourselves is just going to get swamped by the worst kind of blanket programming and wall-to-wall corporate thinking,” Mr. Rush said at a Sydney theater.

Chance for stardom

Think you have what it takes to tangle with the likes of Beyonce Knowles and Justin Timberlake? Rapper Missy Elliott wants to give you a chance to prove your mettle.

From 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow, talent scouts will hold an open-call casting session for aspiring hip-hop and singing superstars at the Sheraton Crystal City Hotel in Arlington.

As part of a nationwide competition, a handful of performers will be selected to travel with Miss Elliott on tour, where they’ll compete against one another for our delectation on a forthcoming UPN reality show.

Carrey’s new ‘do

Wondering why actor Jim Carrey has been parading around lately with a shaved head?

In Los Angeles recently to promote his new film, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” which opens here Friday, Mr. Carrey explained that his new ‘do was necessary for the multiple wigs he’s forced to wear in the forthcoming Lemony Snicket movie, based on the popular “A Series of Unfortunate Events” children’s books.

In the role of Count Olaf, Mr. Carrey will appear alongside actors such as Meryl Streep, Jude Law, Jennifer Coolidge and Billy Connolly.

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

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