Britney in the Studio | Hillary, Michelle Plan Confab | Aretha: Life's a Beach | Nicole's Kids Visit; 'Hancock' Rakes It in; Slip Sliding Away

Britney in the Studio

Britney Spears is definitely in the studio and working on a new album.

Yes, despite unclear signals from various gossip sites, I am told that Spears is working on a CD that Jive is expecting to get out by mid-December.

The album is a follow-up to "Blackout," the Spears album that tanked quickly after its release in late 2007.

How different will the new CD be from "Blackout"? Well, not a lot, really. Many of the same producers and writers will be on this one, too. The main difference will be that this time Spears won’t first self-destruct on the MTV Vide Music Awards and then have a public nervous breakdown while the album is being released.

One reason for the big push to put Britney back in stores is that she owes Jive a lot of money. If they can finish the album and get it out without incident, my guess is that Spears will go out on tour in 2009. Paparazzi, bloggers, this is advance notice to get ready!

Hillary, Michelle Plan Confab

It seems a little far-fetched after such a brutal primary season, but Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama are getting together.

The pair, along with Barack Obama, are planning a two-day event in Washington this October for women.

A letter went out to key Democratic women last week inviting them to participate.

The letter reads in part:

“BARACK, HILLARY, and MICHELLE will join other leaders in a 2-day women's forum to address the issues all women care about: the economy, foreign affairs, affordable health care, as well as the deeper issues that underlie all of our lives — as women, as citizens, as parents of kids who will grow up in this century.

This 2-day event — like all fundraising efforts — has several different levels; $1000 is the basic ticket, $5000, the next level, and for those who can raise $25,000, an extraordinary opportunity.”

The fundraising began in earnest this past Thursday, with 10 women getting on a conference call with Michelle Obama. I’m told there will be such a conference call every week until October, with each of the 10 women involved — all in media — mandated to go out and find 10 more.

Whether Hillary will actually participate still seems to be part of the general confusion of her own concluded campaign. One of her close aides e-mailed me back Sunday night with this message: “Don’t know anything about this. Never heard of it.”

At the same time, I’ve also heard that Caroline Kennedy — who seems to have found her political footing at long last — may be hosting a fundraiser in the Hamptons next month for Barack Obama. The event is supposed to take place at artist Ross Bleckner’s house on Aug. 16. Kennedy is said to be confirmed, although it’s unclear whether the presumed Democratic nominee will be able to attend.

Aretha: Life's a Beach

The magnificent queen of soul, Miss Aretha Franklin, is heading home to Detroit on Monday by bus after her annual two weeks in the Hamptons. She told me on Saturday night at Russell Simmons’ charity fundraiser called Art for Life that the one thing she didn’t get to do this year was hit the beach.

“I may go on Monday before we leave,” she said, “just to have my feet touch the sand.”

The Queen will not be gone for long. She returns on Aug. 23 to perform a fundraiser for the Ross School in East Hampton. In between she has a few dates, but mostly this is a summer for reflecting and planning.

In fact, Franklin is shopping around a new album, talking to various record industry types about her future. At Simmons’ fundraiser — where I also ran into Lorraine Bracco, Brett Ratner, Christy Turlington, Ed Burns and Tracey Edmonds (who escaped marriage to Eddie Murphy last year after a minute) — Warner M. Group’s Lyor Cohen stopped by to say hello.

With Madonna and Nickelback gone, and no new artists on the horizon, Cohen could use some royal help. It’s unlikely he’ll get it, though. The inside word is that Franklin will seek a deal similar to the Eagles' deal with a big retailer.

Meantime, bidding for items in Simmons’ silent auction can be found here.

Nicole's Kids Visit; 'Hancock' Rakes It in; Slip Sliding Away

Last week, I mentioned in this space a couple of times that Nicole Kidman’s older kids had not yet visited her or met half-sister baby Sunday. However, I am assured by Kidman’s rep that Connor and Isabella have had at least some kind of visit to Nashville, where Kidman lives with husband Keith Urban. ...

I did say that Will Smith’s “Hancock” was a $150 million "disaster" when I first saw it. The movie was likewise received with lukewarm feelings by critics. Alas, Smith proved us all wrong. He’s still in that Teflon phase of his career, and why not? “Hancock” has grossed a shocking $191.5 million in the U.S. and almost $180 million abroad. No doubt sequels are being planned, Champagne and Mercedes are being sent to all the participants and rainbows have blossomed over Sony’s Culver City headquarters. There also have been no reports of children’s increased use of the word “a-hole.” I think it’s still a bad movie, but really, what’s the difference now? All goals have been achieved. …

The newly renovated Plaza Hotel is already getting loads of complaints from people who bought condos for millions and millions of dollars. There’s all kinds of talk of shoddy workmanship in the apartments. Certainly, the new lobby and bar above it are incredibly cheap and tacky-looking, not of The Plaza’s stature. It’s very disappointing. Now Edward Tricomi, who just moved his hair salon with Joel Warren there from West 57th St., has confirmed that an ambulance had to be called last week when a patron slipped and fell on the too shiny floor. “Mature” women paying upward of $400 a haircut have been falling all over the salon, according to sources. Frederic Fekkai, anyone?