Mario Vazquez | 'SPAMalot' | Betsy Cronkite

Ex-'Idol' Hires Clay's Lawyer

"Personal reasons" be damned. The secret is out (and so is the album).

Mario Vazquez, the guy who suddenly quit "American Idol" last week, has been "Clayed," or should I say, "Aiwakened?"

He's hired former "Idol" runner-up Clay Aiken's high-powered record-industry lawyer. And he may have jeopardized his "amateur" status by being featured on an album that's already been released.

Vazquez, I've learned, has gotten Atlanta entertainment lawyer Jess L. Rosen to represent him. Coincidentally — or not, depending on how you look at it — Rosen is most famous for extricating Aiken from his octopus-tentacled "American Idol" management contract with Simon Fuller's 19 Entertainment last year.

Unbeknownst to anyone, Mario is featured on an album that was originally released last May and had a re-release this week, according to Amazon.com. He sings several pop songs as the only guest vocalist on "Worlds of Change," by an Argentine flamenco and R&B guitarist named Cesar.

The whole thing, which sounds like Santana with a younger, more sanctimonious Michael Jackson, can be heard on this Web site. My guess is some enterprising record exec will pick up the whole thing from Los Angeles-based Darque Records and release it under Mario's name.

Someone else will have to decide if that CD violated the "American Idol" rules. The show's Web site states: "In order to be eligible, the contestants are not permitted to have any CURRENT recording or talent-management agreements."

In leaving the show, Vasquez was obviously convinced of the value of bowing out now rather than continuing through the needless process of competition. Aiken would be his role model.

After losing "American Idol" to Ruben Studdard, Aiken realized that he was stuck with a management contract that kept him with Fuller, the show's owner, for years to come at a very high commission.

Rosen got him out of it and moved him over to Jeff Kwatinetz's behemoth agency, The Firm.

The result is that there is now nary a mention of the lovable, Barry Manilow-like Aiken on the "American Idol" Web site, except for unflattering pictures of him in his pre-makeover nerd days. Ouch!

So I guess it's fairly clear that Mario's "personal reasons" were specifically about the money he could make if he bolted the show before being indebted to them legally and financially for a couple of years.

Rosen, who did not return calls, prides himself on negotiating contracts for artists, according to his Web site.

As for Mario, he's also now using Susan Blond for public-relations help. She's the famous PR lady who once made Michael Jackson's "Thriller" a hit.

Next will come rumors that Mario's been signed for management by Tommy Mottola and for recording by Sean Combs' Bad Boy Entertainment at Warner Bros.

No one confirms or denies this, but either way, Rosen will be racking up the billable hours keeping Vazquez out of court once Fuller realizes what's happened.

Monty Python Goes to Broadway

The Monty Python musical "SPAMalot" is not, as the Playbill says, "the story, in music and song, of Finland's transformation from a predominantly rural agricultural base to one of the most sophisticated industrial and entrepreneurial economies in the world."

It is also not from an idea by "Sid, Coco and Edith Piaf." It is brilliantly written by Eric Idle and it does include the jolly hit "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from "The Life of Brian."

It is mainly Mike Nichols' hilarious staging of the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," complete with hollow coconuts used for the sound effect of horse hooves, chopped-off soldiers' limbs ("arms for the poor") and very serious men dressed up as women.

When I was 14 in 1971, I was obsessed with all things Monty Python. Last night's show did not disappoint in the least.

It's short, but sometimes quality is more important than quantity. It does not have much of a story; it's the King Arthur tale, but that gets lost along the way. But this is one time that story may not matter so much, because you're laughing all the time and listening hard to get the carefully constructed jokes.

"SPAMalot" is a parody, which is important to remember. You also have to remember that Monty Python skits are basically a series of non-sequiturs that eventually add up to something quite mad.

The show sends up everything in a radius of 500 feet, including "The Producers," which is across the street, and "La Cage Aux Folles," in the other direction.

A zillion other things come into play, including "West Side Story" and maybe "Sweeney Todd." There are most of the bits from the "Holy Grail" movie, and lots of added little references to Michael Moore, Britney Spears and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

"Camelot" is remembered in a really spectacular musical number as a grotesque Las Vegas.

"What happens in Camelot, stays in Camelot," one of the characters declares.

That would include, of course, Laker Girls.

There are superb performances of comic mastery. Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce and especially Hank Azaria are knockouts. They each get big numbers, but I guess Hyde Pierce's extremely irreverent showstopper "You Won't Succeed on Broadway," which is more about tweaking "The Producers" than it is about Monty Python, should have local audiences rolling in the aisles for eons to come.

Curry's big, weird ballad, "I'm All Alone," is sung with a big chorus behind him. Azaria gets a disco number that sends his very funny housekeeper character from "The Birdcage" to Barry Manilow's Copacabana.

There are also some real finds in the cast, including Sara Ramirez, who sends up Mariah Carey, Liza Minnelli and modern musicals in general.

She's spectacular, in particular with a recurring ballad that lampoons recurring ballads, called "The Song That Goes Like This." I hope Mariah will appreciate the joke.

Christopher Borle is sublime in multiple roles, especially as Prince Herbert. Christopher Sieber, Michael McGrath and Steve Rosen are onstage almost through the whole show and indispensable as King Arthur's amusing knights.

There were celebrities in the audience last night. We spotted Daryl Hannah and Vogue editor Anna Wintour. I'm sure there were others.

But the real celebrity here is Nichols. How could the same person stage this and direct "Closer" for the screen? Is he schizophrenic?

There aren't many laughs in the dead-serious "Closer," but "SPAMalot" is the happiest of foolishness.

I was thinking of "The Play What I Wrote," which Nichols produced last year, and "The Birdcage," the film he directed with Azaria a few years ago. Both of them were off-the-wall hysterical.

"SPAMalot" is in that vein. Somehow Nichols manages to retain the spirit and content of Monty Python but adds just enough of his magic dust so that esoteric British music-hall theater translates for matinee ladies from Queens. Maybe when he wins the Tony Award this year he can explain how he does it.

P.S.: If you go, make sure to get a copy of the Playbill, a collector's item and a hoot. It contains a whole faux show from Finland called "Dik Od Triaanenen Fol (Finns Ain't What They Used to Be)." The action takes place entirely in a sauna.

Farewell, Betsy Cronkite

I did not know Betsy Cronkite, Walter's wife, well, but as with many of the people you see at dinners and cocktail parties, I looked forward to our chats. She was a delight, one of the most popular and down-to-earth members of the "media set."

Betsy was always warm and personable, and, like Walter, a Grateful Dead fan. They loved being friends with Mickey Hart.

She died yesterday at age 89 and will be sorely missed. Sincere condolences to her family. They've lost a treasure.