- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2006

It’s Fantasia the movie

For weeks now, the powers behind “American Idol” have been crying foul over the opening sequence of “The Fantasia Barrino Story: Life Is Not a Fairy Tale,” Lifetime’s made-for-cable feature about the Southern-bred vocalist who was crowned the winner of the third season of the Fox TV hit in 2004.

At issue is the movie’s re-creation of the show’s producers trying to persuade Miss Barrino (who plays herself in the film, airing tomorrow at 9 p.m.) to drop out of the competition because of e-mails sent by outraged viewers about her past. Prior to “Idol,” the Grammy-nominated vocalist was a high school dropout and an unwed teenage mom with a toddler — “someone not fit” to wear the “Idol” crown, according to the e-mails sent to the show.

Ken Warwick, one of the show’s executive producers, says that neither he nor Nigel Lythgoe, also an executive producer, “would ever approach a cast member and ask them to withdraw because of personal issues such as these.”

Denying the incident ever happened, Mr. Warwick tells thecelebritycafe.com, “We knew she had a baby right from day one, and she was always strongly tipped to win the competition because she was so good.”

It’s doubtful that the he-said-she-said debate will be resolved — or the controversial footage edited from the film — before “Fantasia’s” premiere tomorrow evening. The dispute, however, shouldn’t stop viewers from tuning in to an inspiring feature that’s (surprisingly) among Lifetime’s better biopics in recent memory.

Based on Miss Barrino’s 2005 best-selling book, “Fantasia: Life Is Not a Fairy Tale,” the film follows Miss Barrino, now 22, from her childhood as the pint-size standout (played by the adorable Jamia Simone Nash, a 9-year-old Virginia Beach native) in her family’s gospel group to her “Idol” victory. In between, she overcomes both the trauma of a rape by a popular high school classmate and an abusive on-again, off-again romance with the father of her daughter, Zion.

Anchoring the project is director Debbie Allen, the multitalented Howard University graduate. Miss Allen gets good mileage from a supporting cast that includes: Tony-winner Viola Davis (“King Hedley II”) as Miss Barrino’s mom, Diane Barrino; stage and screen veteran Loretta Devine as her God-fearing grandmother, Addie Collins; and Kadeem Hardison (reunited here with Miss Allen, who directed him on NBC’s “A Different World”) as her ambitious and domineering father, Joseph Barrino.

There are a few missteps, such as the hokey scene after Miss Barrino’s “Idol” win (judges Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul along with host Ryan Seacrest appear in file footage from the show). Yet Miss Allen quickly redeems the moment with Miss Barrino reading aloud from Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” to young Zion (Micaiah McZeal) — a fitting and touching finale to a real-life Cinderella tale for our times.

Fox digs in

Former Los Angeles Laker Rick Fox is ready to wallow in the tabloid world.

The retired b-baller has scored a recurring role in the new FX series “Dirt,” co-starring Courteney Cox, Associated Press reports.

Production begins this month on the hourlong drama, which stars Miss Cox of “Friends” fame as the editor in chief of two top tabloids. Mr. Fox will play Prince Tyrese, according to his spokeswoman, Lori Jonas.

Mr. Fox, 37, has collected a handful of acting credits during the past 12 years, including “Holes,” “Eddie,” “He Got Game” and “The Collectors.” He most recently appeared as a shirtless, sought-after masseur in “Mini’s First Time.”

He was married to singer-actress Vanessa Williams for five years. The couple split in 2004, the same year he retired from the National Basketball Association.

Can’t ‘Miss’?

Ashton Kutcher’s production company has the green light for a new, single camera comedy pilot, Reuters news agency reports.

“Miss/Guided” centers on a woman who returns to her high school as a guidance counselor. Todd Holland, a three-time Emmy winner for his directing work on Fox’s “Malcolm in the Middle” and HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show,” will direct the pilot.

Written on spec by Caroline Williams, a staff writer on NBC’s “The Office,” the project attracted bids from ABC and NBC.

Mr. Kutcher’s Katalyst Films, which is producing “Miss/Guided,” previously scored with MTV’s “Punk’d” and the WB’s “Beauty and the Geek.”

By Robyn-Denise Yourse and Christian Toto

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