- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2007

It’s all about Oscar

Sunday’s Oscar telecast just wouldn’t feel the same without the “Barbara Walters Oscar Special,” which airs an hour ahead of the big event at 7 p.m. on ABC.

For the 26th straight year, Babs will chew the fat with a handful of this year’s nominees, and she’ll also interview comic Ellen DeGeneres, who is serving as host of the 79th annual ceremony.

The interview subjects and their revelations:

• Best supporting actress nominee Jennifer Hudson, the former “American Idol” finalist who was voted off the Fox TV hit, speaks candidly about the show. The Chicago native and powerhouse vocalist — who, ironically, was born with underdeveloped lungs, according to a story in the March issue of Essence magazine — tells Miss Walters that if she had won “Idol,” she probably would have missed out on the role of Effie White in “Dreamgirls.”

• Dame Helen Mirren, a one-time sex symbol known for disrobing on camera (most recently as Cuba Gooding Jr.’s stepmother and older lover in “Shadowboxer”), discusses the risks she took portraying Elizabeth II in “The Queen.”

• And in a rare and hilarious interview, Eddie Murphy describes the risks he took in acting, singing and dancing in “Dreamgirls” and what winning an Academy Award would mean to him.

Always a winner

Before we learn who’ll take home Oscar gold, cable’s Turner Classic Movies travels back in time with a look at a few best picture winners from years past. Tonight’s lineup:

• The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) — Betty Hutton, Charlton Heston, James Stewart star in the great Cecil B. DeMille’s tale of a circus ringmaster and an egotistical trapeze artist who vie for the love of a pretty acrobat. (8 p.m.)

• An American in Paris (1951) — Dance legend Gene Kelly is an American artist who finds love in the City of Light but nearly loses it to conflicting loyalties. Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant co-star for director Vincente Minnelli. (11 p.m.)

• Gigi (1958) — Leslie Caron is the Parisian girl who’s raised to be a kept woman but, instead, dreams of love and marriage … to the much older Louis Jordan. The film (again, directed by Mr. Minnelli) took home 10 Oscars, including an honorary award for Maurice Chevalier. The French crooner warbles “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” which became his signature song, in the opening moments of the film. (1 a.m.)

• Annie Hall (1977) — Woody Allen both directs and stars in this romantic saga of a comedian and an aspiring singer who attempt to overcome their neuroses and find happiness. (3 a.m.)

Mafia in the ‘mob’

No matter how hard we try to shift gears, talk always turns to the Academy Awards during Oscar week.

Even NBC is getting into the act with tonight’s appearance by Memphis rappers Three 6 Mafia — who, you may recall, last year took best original song honors (we’re sorry to say) for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” — on the game show “1 vs. 100” (8 p.m.).

According to TVGuide.com, a contestant from California and two others from Illinois will individually compete for the $1 million prize by battling the “mob” — a group of 100 that includes Three 6 Mafia, Dr. Ruth Westheimer; the Playboy Playmates, celebrity blogger Perez Hilton and medium and profiler Allison DuBois, the real-life inspiration for the TV series “Medium.”

Sweeney’s ‘Loser’ gig

NBC’s weight-loss reality show “The Biggest Loser” is gaining a new host.

Alison Sweeney, a star of the network’s daytime drama “Days of Our Lives,” will replace Caroline Rhea as host of the show next season. New episodes begin filming in the spring, with a likely airdate in the fall, reports Zap2it.com.

Miss Rhea, who hosted the show’s first three seasons, has left “The Biggest Loser” to work on other projects.

Miss Sweeney, 30, has portrayed Sami Brady on “Days of Our Lives” since 1993, winning several Soap Opera Digest Awards — including one for best supporting actress in 2005 — and a fan award as “America’s Favorite Villain” at the 2002 Daytime Emmys. She’s also made guest appearances on “Friends” and “Las Vegas,” among other shows.

The actress, who has been performing since childhood, has also struggled with her own weight in the past. She wrote about the issue in her memoir “All the Days of My Life (So Far),” which was published in 2004.

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from staff, Web and wire reports

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