Mario Vazquez | Jennifer Lopez | Linda Lauren | MP3 Players

'Idol' Dropout Not Idle

I told you last week that ex-"American Idol" contestant Mario Vazquez had already recorded tracks on an album before he joined the TV show.

Now the word is that the album, flamenco guitarist Cesar's "Worlds of Change," is quickly being repackaged and re-merchandised to more prominently feature Vazquez's newfound celebrity.

Steve Dunning of Darque Records in Los Angeles says, "We've released the album. And obviously the fans who love Mario and want to hear him don't have to be sad."

Dunning would not say whether or not he knew Vazquez had entered into the "American Idol" contest when they were making the Cesar ("the next modern Santana") album.

"I can't talk about that," he said.

But sources tell me that Dunning — who said he knew Mario prior to the recording — is repurposing the Cesar album with an eye toward the charts. You can buy the album now in its pristine collectors' state at CDBaby.com.

On Amazon.com, "Worlds of Change" has actually zoomed up to No. 1,160. Since we broke the story about its existence last Thursday, four consumers have posted positive reviews as well.

The album will now probably be called "Cesar featuring Mario Vazquez." Mario warbles lead vocals on tunes like "Soldier of Glory," "Get Up and Dance" and "One Day You'll Be Mine."

And yes, he does sound like Michael Jackson during happier times. I'm surprised radio jocks haven't already ripped "Soldier" off the Web site. It's a natural adult contemporary hit.

Darque is not a big label, but they have national distribution and money for promotion. I'm assured that they will not let this rare opportunity pass by.

In fact, the new strategy on the table is to have Mario tour with Cesar as soon as possible.

Of course, if Mario had stayed on "American Idol" and won, he would have had a contract with J Records or RCA Records, but this will have to suffice.

No Afterlife for J-Lo's 'Rebirth'

Jennifer Lopez 's music career is in big trouble.

Her latest album, "Rebirth," is sinking like it's in quicksand on the charts. When this week's numbers are counted, J-Lo will have sold barely 400,000 copies after three weeks of release.

Most of those were sold in the first week, too. This past week's sales, according to Hitsdailydouble.com and Nielsen SoundScan, will be around 40,000, if she's lucky.

Sales of "Rebirth" are hindered by a couple of things.

First of all, Lopez does not tour to promote her albums. This is a problem, whether it's due to logistical problems, economics or fear. There was some talk of Lopez touring this year, but her desultory appearance on the "Today" show may have persuaded her to rethink that plan.

Second, Lopez does not have a true hit single from this album. Her last album contained "Jenny From the Block," but the new album has failed to catch on the radio.

The Billboard Hot 100 Airplay chart lists Lopez's newest single, "Hold You Down," featuring the appropriately nicknamed Fat Joe, at No. 72. So far there hasn't been much of a clamor from disc jockeys to play it, and that's not a good sign.

Great singles can turn around a whole career. Just ask pop newcomer Kelly Clarkson. She doesn't have Lopez's appeal as a movie star or celebrity, but she's outselling Lopez because of her terrific single, "Since U Been Gone."

Blame for this debacle will probably rest on Lopez's husband, Marc Anthony . He's a great performer, but not one known as a hit-maker, even for his own career.

Anthony, like Ben Affleck and P. Diddy before him, seems to have eased into the quasi-manager role for Lopez at her request. It was apparently his idea to stage that unpopular living room-set duet that the pair performed on the Grammys.

Monkee Predictions

Linda Lauren, who's my favorite psychic — I don't use her, I just like to listen — is making an appearance Thursday morning on WCBS-FM radio in New York. She'll be interviewed by my favorite morning deejay, Micky Dolenz, formerly of the Monkees.

Maybe Linda can use her powers to find out what happened to Mike Nesmith. Or better yet, she can tell Micky what "Randy Scouse Git" meant. Anyway, she's on at 7:20 a.m. EST.

MP3 Players: The Right Stuff

After seeing a very odd review in The New York Times of MP3 players, I thought I'd weigh in on the subject.

I am an avowed user of products from Creative Labs, so last week I was happy to try an iRiver player. The HP10 is a sleek 5-gigabyte player, very handsome in dark grey and black. Napster-to-go is giving them out for free, so I thought I'd give it a whirl.

The iRiver almost had me: The sound is excellent, and the design is very functional and easy to operate. If only it had dedicated software.

Unfortunately, iRiver depends on Windows Media 10, which is a pretty much generic burning, ripping, and filing service. This means a few things, all bad: There is no function to tell you how much space you've used or how many tracks are in the player.

There is simply nothing "iRiver" about the iRiver — it feels like a front for Microsoft. It only works with WM10, which is also a drag.

Downloaded WMA files will not translate into MP3. And WM10, once it's downloaded, moves like a preacher into your "My Music" file. It's all about involuntary conversion.

Of course, there's nothing better than listening to music either live or on a good sound system, using vinyl records or CD's. But with downloading taking over, the popularity of MP3 players is on the rise.

Strangely enough, with all the players having comparable sounds, in the end it's the size and the features 3 the software for transferring and organizing files — that wins the day. Until iRiver comes up with its own software, I'll stick with Creative Labs.