Yesterday I had the unusual experience of spending the day backstage at American Idol. I’m sure it's quite a scene on a regular day, but yesterday was off the scale because Oprah Winfrey arrived with an entourage so she could tape an episode of her show after Idol's taping.
I was not there because I work for Fox News. Idol is on Fox network TV.
No, American Idol tapes at CBS studios in Los Angeles, right next to The Wayne Brady Show. Literally, more like right on top of Wayne Brady. Their soundstages are side-by-side and they share a long narrow hallway full of dressing and make-up rooms.
It was there, waiting to watch a taping of Wayne's fun show, that I got to see a slice of Idol. At one point, all the men of the show — Simon Cowell, Ryan Seacrest and Randy Jackson — were all in makeup chairs getting more attention than most women I know. There was a lot of primping for these popular guys.
In the hallways were the finalists for Idol 2, including Clay Aiken, a spike-haired red-headed young guy who was practicing his vocalizing as he paced. Of course, I was a little surprised when I looked him up on the Fox Web site to discover that he started the show with much darker hair and eyebrows.
"Where are you from?" I asked him.
"New York," he shot back in a Southern accent. "No, really, North Carolina." But I think "Hollywood" is the answer now.
Meanwhile, I spotted nearly all the participants who'd been voted off the show in recent weeks. They mill about with the still-active players and the hosts, all chatty and very friendly.
As you may know, Josh Gracin was the latest victim of elimination last night. That leaves Clay, Ruben Studdard, and Kimberly Locke.
Oprah's arrival added to the frenzy going on in the cramped space that Idol occupies backstage. The talk-show queen is a knockout in person, and even though she has a staff, there's none of the security nonsense that often accompanies big stars.
Instead, Oprah's staff was courteous and undemanding. The funniest part of this was the CBS studio staffers, who kept telling everyone, "Oprah is coming. You'll have to clear the hallway. You can just have a peek."
Hilarious. When she arrived, just the opposite was true. Oprah stopped and chatted with everyone, full of charm. When she ran into famed singer Isaac "Shaft" Hayes in the hallway, Oprah traded recipes for barbecued ribs.
"Don't even ask her about ribs," Hayes said when they parted. (He owns his own restaurant in Memphis anchoring Peabody Place.) "She's serious about it."
Winfrey did tell me she'll be reviving her book club shortly, which will be a relief to the ailing publishing industry. Her taped show with the Idol audience will air next week in syndication.
Daniel Day-Lewis may be finished with Gangs of New York, but his family is not done with Miramax. In the fall, I've been told, Daniel's sister, Tamasin Day-Lewis , will publish her first American cookbook with Miramax Books (formerly Talk Miramax Books).
The Art of the Tart, a bestseller when it was released two years ago by Random House in England, does not feature any victual meals or anything involving human entrails — the favorite of brother Daniel's Gangs character. Instead, it's all about desserts and other puff pastries.
Tamasin is on the fast track to becoming the next M.F.K. Fisher, and the sale to Miramax is something of a coup since Random House would have been the likely American publisher.
But the sale does not come from her brother's relationship to the film company, I've been assured. (I asked.) "Tamasin and Miramax Books publisher Jonathan Burnham — who is also British — are old friends," is the answer that came from within the book division.
Tragically, singer-producer-writer Luther Vandross remains in critical condition, in a coma and not likely to regain consciousness after his near-fatal stroke. One can only imagine the pain his family and friends are going through.
It's even more ironic considering that J Records will release Luther's (presumably) final album in early June — and it's his best.
I've never been a huge fan of Luther as a performer — he's too schmaltzy for me — but Dance With My Father would have been a total hit even with a healthy Vandross on hand. The combination of his illness and the top quality of the CD means he will probably have the biggest seller of his career.
Featured on the CD are Busta Rhymes, Queen Latifah, Beyoncé Knowles and Foxy Brown on what will undoubtedly be a hit-single duet of "If It Ain't One Thing It’s Another." Luther himself will have two solo radio hits with "If I Didn't Believe" and "Apologize."
The sure-fire splash here is the title track, "Dance With My Father," which Tamyra Gray of the first American Idol sang on the show recently.
Gray is signed to RCA, which is a sister of J Records; she is now, like Luther, in Clive Davis' camp. She will be the first of many young divas who will turn "Dance" into a diva anthem. Aretha Franklin would do well to include "Once Were Lovers" on her new collection as well.
It's too bad Luther won’t get to enjoy this tremendous success. But the definite No. 1 album will give him a fitting sendoff.